Friday, August 29, 2008

Flats Summer Vacation

For Elizabeth's first summer vacation, we thought there was no better place to go than to the Smits' family cottage on in the St. Clair Flats! The flats is a place like no other that I have ever been and attempting to describe it is certainly no substitute for actually being there and seeing it first hand.
The cottage is a simple little place. Its a tiny bare-bones cottage that on paper sounds extravagant - a remote private island getaway complete with water views from every window, diverse wildlife, specular sunsets and world class fishing and boating just outside your door. In reality its a 100 year old little shack sitting in a mosquito infested wetland that is crawling with spiders, snapping turtles, and gardner snakes, demanding constant maintenance from my parents and anyone who comes to visit just to keep the place up. Ultimately though, no matter how you spin it, its my favorite place in the whole entire world (its high on Kate's list too) and I couldn't wait to introduce our precious daughter Elizabeth to this very special place.

We got some great waterskiing in, here is Casey giving it a go:

My father made a fine showing even through torrential rain started just after he got up. The rain was so bad it stung in the boat, I can't imagine what it was like on skis - nice work dad!

One of the newest additions to the Smits' family fleet included this quick little number. As you can image it was a big hit. In this area, its amazing where all you can go and how fast you can get there on a jet ski. They only draw a couple inches of water when at speed and in a big river delta such as the flats, if its wet, you can probably take the wave runner over it - just don't slow down!
The other new addition to the fleet is the Prindle 16. What a blast! This thing hauls the mail if the wind is up - and we were out there on it just about every windy occasion! On my first sail with my dad we found out just exactly what it took to flip one of these over the hard way. A nice puff came up, the boat just took off and the next thing I knew we are both swimming... good thing the water was nice and warm! Elizabeth had a wonderful time in Michigan. There was never a shortage of loving arms, undivided attention, and new and exciting things to see and take in.
While Ellie isn't quite big enough yet to take the kayaks out on her own she was still able to go along for a ride around the lawn with her good buddy the scrub a dub doggie.

A couple of laps around the cottage is hard work but the princess always seems to get whatever she wants when grandma and grandpa are around.
While in Michigan, Elizabeth made a special trip to see her Great Grand Mother Brege way up in Rogers City right on Lake Huron. It had been many years since I had been in that neck of the woods in the summer time. I had completely forgotten how beautiful it is there.
While we were visiting Grandma Brege, we also got to catch up with several of my aunts and uncles that I haven't seen in a very long time. It reminded me of Christmas long ago, when we would all get together.

My Aunt Carla had also made it up to Rogers City and came out to dinner with us. I'm not sure what the proper relationship terminology is then to describe her relation to Elizabeth... Great Aunt... Grand Aunt... anyone know? What ever it is... it was sure nice to see Aunt Carla. We had a fantastic dinner about a two blocks away from Grandma's house right on the lake and I had some of the best Lake Perch I have ever had! And as odd as it sounds, the french fries were simply spectacular.
After a quick visit in Rogers City we headed back to my parents house in Traverse City, the house I grew up in, so that we could visit my Grandfather who is now a TC resident. Grandpa sure had a fun time with Elizabeth!We even got a couple of decent family pictures in while we were there.
Once we made it back to the flats, my parent's friends (our new friends) Dave and Lisa came by in their newly refitted "fun" boat and offered to take me for a ride! Who could pass up a ride in this thing?!
All I can say is that Dave had the throttle about 1/2 way down and were running down the river at about 50mph according to the speedo. Once we got into the nice flat water Dave opened it up and trimmed it out and the speedometer was buried - off we went ripping across the water with only a few inches of the boat and a little bit of the engine in the water at over 75mph! What a rush...
After my ride, Kate and I offered to head out with them and take a few action shots of their boat. Nice work Dave and Lisa, very cool "toy"!

An interesting thing about having Elizabeth at the flats this year was that Kate and I saw more sunrises than I can ever remember seeing there.
Of course no trip to the flats is complete without a little project. With the latest additions to the fleet, dock space along the seawall was becoming a hot commodity so we headed into town, bought some materials, and built some more dock. Of course this just provided my father yet another opportunity to make fun of my pathetic hammering skills... for whatever reason, I have never been very good with a hammer and probably explains why I usually choose to build with screws and bolts...
The dock was a huge success and offered Elizabeth and Grandpa a nice platform to play with a little toy boat on a string.
Towards the end of our vacation our dear friend Kathy and her new boyfriend Mike came out to the flats to visit. They had a late flight and and Kate and I left to pick them up at nearly midnight from the dock. It was a beautiful clear night with the stars out and barely any wind and we had a beautiful moon lit ride in to pick them up. Our ride back however was absolutely crazy!

Not far from leaving the dock the rain started, and by the time we were in the Baltimore Highway (the channel our cottage is on) the rain became a full on monsoon. The wind was blowing 30+ knots and the rain was coming down sideways and its pitch black dark out - I couldn't even see to navigate the boat down the river and was relying on the chart plotter to guide us in. With all of us crowded under the bimini (in the back of the boat) the engine got stuck in the mud trying to get into the cottage. In the process of trying to get ourselves un-stuck from the mud I sucked up a channel marker into the prop of the outboard and proceeded deploy the anchor to make sure we didn't get blown away and get really stuck... Just as I was about to jump into the water to start sorting out the fouled prop my father showed up in the little whaler to rescue us. Fortunately the prop wasn't too badly fouled and a quick little tug and we were free. With the engine freed up and learning from our last attempt I had everyone head up to the bow and we made in to the dock. This time though, my mother was out on the catamiran ready to be of help if the wind blew us in towards the wall and the next thing we know, she is in the drink climbing back up to the dock - fortunately unscathed. It was quite the arrival for Kathy and Mike. Kate was a fantastic first mate, helping to navigate and helping me out every step of the way. It's never easy being out on the water in a storm but its a completely different situation when its stormy and pitch black out. After all of that commotion, we finally made it back in to the dock and everyone was safe and without damage to the boat. Talk about a grand enterance for Kathy and Mike!
Kate and Kathy had a great time catching up and playing with Elizabeth

We even took Cathy and Mike to one of our favorite stops at the flats: Riverside! Its a little place tucked away off the south channel, one of the larger channels of the St. Clair River delta that have some of the best Pizza and ice cream we have ever had. They also have their famous "Boat Knots" which are little strips of pizza dough rolled up with pizza toppings inside (we liked the Hawaiian Boat Knots which had ham and pineapple), baked and covered in butter and Parmesan cheese. There are simply to die for! Also, the Riverside is just across the river from Canada. Mike had never left the country to were were sure to take him over into Canadian waters - fun times!Of course the inevitable end to our trip had to come sooner or later but what an amazing trip we had this year!
Time for one last family picture before we hit the road. We can't hardly wait until next summer, it will be fun to see how much Elizabeth will have grown by then and all of the new things that she will want to explore when she is there!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Beach!

While on our vacation we made a trip over to one of my favorite northern Michigan beaches - Good Harbor Bay so that Elizabeth could spend some quality time in the sand and water. As you can see, she loved every minute of it! It started off as a beautiful sunny day but by the time we made it out to lake, it had started to cloud up. While it got a little cool when the sun when behind the clouds, it sure made for some spectacular lighting!

I just knew these were going to come out great when we were taking them! I hope you enjoy them too!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Over the winter I had been day dreaming of exploring some of Colorado's natural wonders in search of great fishing, beautiful scenery, and a fun trip that a small group of us could take backpacking. Through a great deal of research we decided to go and explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park which is said to be even more spectacular than the Grand Canyon. All I can say is that we got everything we asked for plus a whole lot more!We left late on a Thursday afternoon and made the long drive out to basically the middle of nowhere Colorado and set up camp at the canyon rim just as the last bit of light faded over the horizon. We got up first thing in the morning and prepped for the hike making a stop by the canyon viewing area to see what exactly this canyon was all about.... The view was simply breath taking but a pressing though instantly came to mind... who's idea was it again to hike to the bottom (and back out)....? - oh yeah-it was my idea...

While we all knew that the hike was going to be difficult, nothing could have prepared us for what was really in store. The sign on the ranger's station claimed that it was a 1.75 mile hike to the bottom with a 2,000ft elevation change. As it turns out, the first quarter mile was pretty flat and so was the last quarter mile which meant that all 2,000ft were lost in about 1.25 miles - not 1.75 - in other words, this was one steep "hike". Most appropriately, this crazy steep"route" down which required scrambling over loose rock and navigating giant boulders the size of Volkswagens, not to mention being lined with 5' tall poison ivy, was named the "SOB Draw" - how fitting!

Somehow this picture doesn't make it look all that bad, but let me tell you, this was one extreme backpacking trip!
After three hours of grueling hiking, we could see the river clearly below and could hear its roar over the rapids. Unfortunately we were completely exhausted leading to probably the most dangerous part of our trip. We still had some steep hiking left over huge, sharp, and often loose boulders and our legs were completely spent! The camp site couldn't have been a prettier sight once we finally arrived.

With only a few hundred yards to the camp site and some rough terrain ahead Kate takes a well deserved break to rehydrate and rest the legs.
We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful campsite. This was about the only flat spot around and incredibly, we had it all to ourselves. The river, loaded with some fine trout was only about 30 feet from our tent and there was some nice shade for the few hours the sun was over head.
Fishing in the canyon was unlike anything that we had ever experienced. The fish were everywhere, they were big, and they would eat just about anything you threw at them regardless of how well you presented it. It was simply unreal!
The Black Canyon is know for its stonefly hatch in the early summer. We were fortunate enough to catch the tail end of it. The huge bugs would often meet an explosive end as the trout would pounce them off the surface. This enabled us to fish large foam stonefly patterns that were just as effective dead drifted as the were submerged through the swing.

The river had been heavily hit by whiling disease a while back and now the Browns rule the river. With so many browns, the streamers proved to be another very effective technique. Most amazingly - we had it all to our selves. I simply couldn't believe that were were there to fish this incredible fishery with no-one else in sight - it just doesn't get any better than this!

Check back in for another post on the Black Canyon Trip shortly...