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July 30, 2022: Night Sky Photography Workshop Recap

The workshop this month was attended by ten people. Some drove from Chicago and Detroit for the workshop, others were from far away places and included the workshop as part of their larger itinerary (e.g. from Nevada), and others were from the Keweenaw but wanted to learn how to use their camera better. 

We are in the time of year when the core of the Milky Way is more visible in this region, the primary focus was planned to be about shooting the Milky Way. However, conditions for possible Aurora activity were predicted earlier in the day. So, each of those topics were discussed during the class portion of the workshop. All-in-all, the workshop lasted around two and a half hours, during which time several tips for taking night sky photos were discussed.

The class portion was active and engaging for all the participants. The sky was clear and the group decided to shoot the Milky Way from Bete Grise Beach.

Participants of a Night Sky Photo Workshop on July 30, 2022, set-up and photograph the Milky Way over Bete Grise Beach.

Once we arrived all the participants set up quickly and all started getting great shots right away. 

Although it was not visible from the location selected for Milky Way photos, on my way home following the workshop I did notice that the Northern Lights were visible, so I stopped at one of my favorite locations in the Keweenaw to take Aurora photos and was able to take a nice shot of Ursa Major (The Big Dipper), highlighted with the northern lights. The shooting star, likely from the Perseid Meteor shower (which is building in intensity until August 13th of this year), was a lucky bonus in the picture.

It’s nice to know that people can walk away from the Photo Workshops at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge with the added confidence and technique to capture beautiful images of the night sky, whenever they happen to come upon them.


 




June 25, 2022: Night Sky Photography Workshop Recap

For about a year, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has been hosting night sky photography workshops on or near the date of the new moon each month. This month’s workshop was the first, following our designation the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, by the International Dark-Sky Association – for which the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge serves as the headquarters.

The workshop this month was attended by three people. Since we are entering the time of year when the core of the Milky Way is more visible in this region, the primary focus was planned to be about shooting the Milky Way. However, conditions for possible Aurora activity were predicted earlier in the day. So, each of those topics were discussed during the class portion of the workshop. All-in-all, the workshop lasted around two and a half hours, during which time several tips for taking night sky photos were discussed.

Because this workshop occurred near the summer solstice, the onset of darkness did not occur until about 11:30pm. Additionally, thunderstorms were occurring throughout the area and we had very overcast skies during the class portion of the workshop. The plan was for me to scout locations for conditions between when the in-class portion ended and the “hands-on” practice was planned to begin. Then we all would meet back together and decide whether or not conditions were favorable for photographing the night sky.

After scouting potential locations, we decided that the conditions did not appear promising and we decided to fore-go a photo shoot of the dark sky. However, one participant (Brad) requested that I show him a good location so he could try to go take pictures when conditions were better. I agreed and the two of us went to one of the Lake Superior shoreline locations not far from the Lodge.

While we were there, Brad, used the Photopills App on his phone to pre-plan some shots he thought he would like to take. While he was doing that, I noticed that the sky, far to the north, over Lake Superior was starting to clear. I pointed it out to Brad and told him that I thought the local sky conditions might improve two to three hours later (It turned out that was a gross overestimation.)

Our walk back to our vehicles was about 50-60 yards through the woods, in the direction that Brad had been planning his shots. When we emerged from the woods, most of the sky was crystal clear – all the clouds for at least 80% of the sky had simply dissipated in a matter of a few minutes. It almost felt like passing through the woods had teleported us to another time and place

So, Brad and I quickly returned to the shoreline, where he set up his tripod and camera for the composition of the Milky Way that he wanted. While he was taking those pictures, I took a general picture of the Lake Superior horizon to the north (opposite of the direction Brad was facing) and I surprised to see that we could also capture the distant glow of the Aurora that had been predicted, earlier. When I showed Brad what my camera had captured, he was thrilled beyond description. He told me that he had never before been able to take pictures of the Northern Lights. We ended up staying there for an additional two hours, which gave him the chance to try a number of different compositions, for both the Milky way core and the Northern Lights – and to try various combinations of settings and lenses.

A picture of Brad taking a picture of himself celebrating his Northern Lights victory along the Lake Superior shoreline – under the dark skies of the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park.

I just received the following note from Brad:

I’m so grateful you went out with me, helped with the shoot, and patiently waited for me to get the shots I wanted before leaving. I really appreciate that. Without your help and patience I wouldn’t have gotten all of these terrific shots. It’s rare I’m under dark skies so this was really important to me. Thank you! I have all of these marvelous shots because you stuck it out.

The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has scheduled multiple Night Sky Photography Workshops for this summer season – each one scheduled for a weekend around the time of a new moon. Our next Night Sky Photo Workshop will be held Saturday, July 30th, 2022 at 7:30pm.

Please see our Calendar of Events for the complete listing of upcoming workshops, then contact the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge – Outdoor Activity Center or Events & Education Department for more details and to reserve your space.





April 2, 2022: Northern Lights Photography Workshop Recap

Our most recent photography workshop in our series focusing on photographing the northern lights was another success. We had five people participate in the session (the limit for this session was 6 people). The unique benefit that participants gained from this workshop was that there were four professional photographers on hand to help answer questions: Nathan Bett (the instructor), Heather Krut (Nathan’s colleague), Chris Guibert (KML’s Outdoor Activity Lead), and myself. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with us for being able to get some practical experience following the instructional portion of the evening – the skies were very cloudy and showed no sign of clearing. Nonetheless, Nathan’s instruction and discussion was informative, interesting, and fun. Afterwards, even without having the chance to see or photograph the night sky, every participant expressed great satisfaction to me about what they learned.

For the first portion of the class, Nathan Bett shared his extensive knowledge of auroras, night-time photography techniques, camera technology, and helpful additional resources during a classroom-style presentation. Nathan then spent time helping each participant to become more familiar with their own personal equipment (which ranged from prosumer DSLR cameras to smartphone cameras). Typically, the remainder of the class is used for some hands-on learning, either by viewing the dark sky from one of the golf course fairways at the lodge or venturing out to an agreed upon nearby destination which can also provide expansive views of the sky.

All-in-all, this workshop lasted around two hours, during which several of Nathan’s tips for taking night sky photos were discussed and he was able to spend some time with each participant – getting to know them each a little better and teaching them about their specific cameras and their settings.

Auroras occur throughout the year. However, darkness is needed to be able to see them. The long periods of daylight during the northern hemisphere’s summer months tend to render most of them, during that time period, invisible to our eyes; so, we most often focus on seeing northern lights during the remainder of the year. The months of January, February, and March, because of their long nights, tend to be the most popular times to go Aurora hunting. Additionally, the dates surrounding a new moon tend to have darker nights, which could increase the likelihood of photographing the northern lights (if the weather cooperates). Although the winter season is approaching its end, I can not think of a better way to spend a weekend – using the long, dark nights to learn about and possibly see/photograph the northern lights and then (here at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge) having plenty of snow to play in during the day.

The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has scheduled multiple Northern Lights Photography Workshops for this winter season – each one scheduled for a weekend around the time of a new moon. Our next Northern Lights Photo Workshop will be held Saturday, April 30th, 2022 at 7:30pm.

Please see our Calendar of Events for the complete listing of upcoming workshops, then contact the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge – Outdoor Activity Center or Events Department for more details and to reserve your space.





The Plants and Animals of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge

Finally…after a long time of planning and prep work, I have gotten the Lodge’s iNaturalist project up and running.

Header from the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge’s iNaturalist project page, entitled “Plants and Animals of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.”

iNaturalist (a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society) is a one of the world’s most popular nature apps. It helps people identify plants and animals and connects them with a social network community of over a million scientists and naturalists. By recording and sharing observations of living things, participants also create research quality data for scientists who are working to better understand and protect nature.

Participants, once they have collected enough “Research Grade” observations, are able to create projects within the network. Projects tend to focus on aspects of the living world in which the participants who create them are interested.

For the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge’s project (entitled Plants and Animals of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge), I first needed to create a defined boundary which closely follows the Lodge’s property boundary. A georeferenced “KML” file (that’s the name of the file-type…not, in this case, the initials of the Lodge) was created using Google Earth Pro. That file was then imported into iNaturalist. Once the “place” was created, I was then able to define the parameters of the project – basically, all living things documented by iNaturalist participants which fall within the boundaries of the property.


This is a map of the Keweenaw Muntain Lodge’s property in iNaturalist. Within the property boundaries, you can see the color coded pins for the 90 observations of 60 different species identified at the Lodge, so far.

The purpose of the Plants and Animals of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge project is actually multi-faceted:

1) Many of our guests and employees value their encounters with nature as an important part of their experience at the Lodge. There is always people curious about what they have seen and what they might encounter. This platform will give us all an additional means of sharing that information with each other.

2) One of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge’s values is to “be fearless and persistent in learning on a daily basis.” Using iNaturalist for recording and identifying species on the Lodge’s property is one more way in which people can learn about the plants, animals, and ecology of the the Lodge and or the region.

3) The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is pursuing certification, through Audubon International’s “Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program.” One of the core tenets of that program is that participating organizations must maintain a list of species found on the property and incorporate wildlife management initiatives. Having a project (such as this project in iNaturalist) in which we have a broader collection of people contributing enhances the Lodge’s ability to know what plants and animals we have on the property.

4) The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge regards environmental issues as a very important point of focus. One environmental issue, in particular, which is often related to resorts and golf courses, is the introduction and unintended propagation of invasive species. The Lodge will use iNaturalist to identify locations of invasive species on the property and actively work to remove them.

5) The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge supports efforts in academic research and views the encouragement of people participating in citizen science projects (e.g., iNaturalist) provides data from which researchers may benefit.

6) Our iNaturalist project will serve as the data collection site for future activities (e.g., BioBlitzes) which require the collection of data about plants and animals.

7) We will be able to create checklists from the data stored in iNaturalist, which guests and employees will be able to use if they decide to search the property for unique species they have never seen.

The free iNaturalist app is available for download on iOS devices in the App Store and people with Android devices can download the app from Google Play. The iNaturalist website can also be used for uploading observations and general exploring at https://www.inaturalist.org




Top of the Keweenaw Tidbits: Why red light is better for night-time activities

A question we repeatedly answer when venturing out for night-time activities (e.g., Night Photography Workshops and Moonlit Snowshoe Hikes) is “Why do you recommend flashlights or headlamps that emit red-colored light?”

Flashlights that emit red light work best for night-time activities.

The basic answer to that question is that red-light does not ruin people’s night vision as much as other colors of light, especially white light. So, to maximize a person’s nighttime outdoor experience we suggest using a flashlight that emits red light.

For some people that is a suitable answer. However, I tend to be one of those people who, like a 3-year old, keeps asking “Why?” until I feel I have a good understanding of the science behind a phenomenon. So, to accommodate that persistent 3-year old in all of us, the remainder of this blogpost will delve into the science behind the reduced impact of red-colored light on human night vision.

Natural human exposure to light:

Here, at the “Top of the Keweenaw,” the amount of daylight (which, for simplicity, I will define as the time beginning with morning civil twilight and and ending with evening civil twilight) fluctuates between 9 hours 39 minutes (on the winter solstice) and 17 hours 18 minutes (on the summer solstice. If we sleep, on average, 8-hours per day, that means (prior to the invention of artificial light) humans, living at the same latitude as the region we now call the Keweenaw, needed to be able to see in darkness for up to about 6 hours 20 minutes (for humans living in higher latitudes there were longer periods of darkness).  

Human eye anatomy:

As a flashback to high school biology, the human eye’s form is to serve the function of focusing light on the innermost tissue of the eye (retina), which contains light-sensitive cells. To trigger these light sensitive cells, light must pass through a lens suspended within an opening (pupil), which is capable of changing in diameter depending on the brightness of the environment. When the environment has an increased availability of light, the pupil is narrowed. In low light conditions, the pupil is widened to allow as much light into the eye as possible.

The most common thing that people think of regarding our ability to see at night is that the pupil widens to allow more light in and then constricts when the eye is exposed to bright light. Then, when the light levels decrease again, the pupil widens in response. This response in the pupil is actually relatively quick, so many people think that bright white light has a minimal effect on night vision. However, our ability to see in darkened conditions is a bit more complex.

A simple cross section of the human eye. (Image is in the public domain and was obtained from the National Institute of Health)

Retina composition (rods vs. cones):

Since humans tend to live a diurnal (daytime) life, we need to be able to see in both light and dark environments. For this to occur, our eyes have two types of light sensitive cells:

  1. Cones, which are primarily used for detailed color vision, and
  2. Rods, which function in low-light levels and provide less detailed gray-scale vision.

Early humans needed threat detection at night; so, while rods function poorly for sensing detail, they work best at detecting motion. Since threats tend to sneak up from the side or behind, rods are most concentrated within the retina along its periphery, whereas cones are most concentrated near the central part of our vision. Ultimately, this arrangement of retinal cells allows humans to more effectively detect motion at the edge of their view at night, while being able to see detailed colored objects straight ahead during times when there is more available light. If you have ever noticed that as dusk progresses, it is easier to locate faint stars by not looking straight at them, this is a technique which uses peripheral vision called “averted vision.”

A diagram representing the retinal layers, including the location of cone cells and rod cells (which contain the rhodopsin, a protein critical for night vision). Image obtained from Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site and is is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Rhodopsin:

The way that light sensitive cells work is that they have, like other nerve cells in the body, chemical transmitters which are triggered by a stimulus (light). For rods, that chemical is a pigment protein called rhodopsin (cone cells have different pigment proteins that carry out a similar function). Basically, as light levels drop, rhodopsin begins to become active in the rods and night vision is able to set in.

Photoreactivity of rhodopsin:

As mentioned earlier, people often think that the most important factor for improved night vision is how large the pupil opening becomes as a response to low light. While that physical response is important, pupil diameter actually maximizes very quickly (within a few minutes) to dark exposure; where as night vision can take a very long time to maximize. The more important factor in night vision is the pigment rhodopsin. The way that rhodopsin works is that photons of light strike the pigment, causing it to change shape. That shape-change in the protein then triggers a sequence of reactions, ultimately resulting in an electrical signal which travels along the optic nerve, which is interpreted by the brain. Rhodopsin is so sensitive to light that it can react to a single photon of light (which makes rod cells about 100 times more sensitive to light than cone cells). Once rhodopsin is activated by light, it takes between 20 and 40 minutes for it to return to its original shape, which will then allow it to react to light again. Therefore, even a short burst of bright light (which contains a high concentration of photons) will cause rods to stop working and they will not return to their full capability until the rhodopsin can return to its reactive shape.

It has been discovered that rhodopsin is not triggered by deep red-colored light. However, It is rare to find light that contains a pure single color. Since red-colored light we see often has some blue-light and green-light, it can trigger the rhodopsin in the rod cells. This means that a very bright red-colored light is capable of triggering some of the rhodopsin in rod in red cells and consequently limiting night vision. That being said, a dim red-colored light still remains better for maximizing after-dark vision when compared to lights of other color.

Bring a Red Flashlight to After Dark Events

Here at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, we strongly encourage people participating in after dark events to use flashlights or headlamps which emit red-colored lights. (Please note: While these lights are red-colored, we have specifically selected “red” flashlights that are brighter than most red LED lights. We decided to provide these brighter red LEDs so guests could benefit from improved night vision while still having a bright enough light to better navigate uneven, forested terrain.)

For the reasons mentioned above, flashlights, headlamps, and cell phone lights which emit white light are discouraged. To aid in that request, the Outdoor Activity Center has flashlights which emit red-colored light available for guests to borrow.

The single mode, red LED flashlights used at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge are powerful enough to provide sufficient light to enable night adventurers to see obstacles and uneven terrain but, due to the red light spectrum they emit, they do not impact human night vision as much as standard white-light flashlights.

If you do not have access to flashlight or headlamp which emits red-colored light, it is also possible to convert a standard flashlight to red by:

  • using red cellophane with a rubber band (or a red-colored zip-top resealable bag) to cover the lens of the flashlight. 
  • “paint” the plastic lens of an older flashlight with red nail polish or a red magic marker.

Flashlight Etiquette:

Have you ever been in a dark room for a long enough period of time that your eyes have become accustomed to the low light and then someone unexpectedly turns on the lights? It can be so bright at that initial moment it can feel painful. Please consider that reaction to bright light when participating in after dark events with the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Sudden bright lights can impact the experience of, not just yourself but, others around you. 

Be thoughtful in the sources of light you are producing and follow these suggestions to minimize your light impacts.

  1. Use a light that emits red-colored light.
  2. Never shine a flashlight/headlamp/cell phone light (including a “red” flashlight) in the direction of another person.
  3. If you are wearing a headlamp, remember that if you turn your head toward someone else, you are shining your light directly at them.
  4. If possible, shield your cell phone screen, camera LCD, or other similar screens from others when outside in the dark.
  5. When using your light (even if it is red) around others try to reduce the amount of light being broadcast by covering the lens with your hand and only allowing the amount of light you need to pass through gaps between your fingers.
  6. Use a small amount of dark non-residue tape (e.g., gaffer tape or black painter tape) to cover the recording light on your camera).
  7. Recognize that others might not realize the impact they are having on your experience. When others are using lights, be tolerant if they accidentally disturb you with their light and remain polite if it happens repeatedly.




March 19, 2022: Moonlit Snowshoe Hike Recap

This past December, the Outdoor Activities team at the Lodge was discussing different, special, adventures to offer guests this winter season. Night time snowshoe hikes were one of the ideas. Ultimately, we decided to experiment with offering monthly guided snowshoe hikes under the light of the full moon. This turned out to be a great idea, especially with our drive to promote activities under the Keweenaw night sky.

Beginning a new program of night activities came with its own set of challenges and uncertainties, though.

      1. We didn’t know what participants would expect from such an experience. Would people arrive with headlamps and flashlights or expect to follow a lighted path?
      2. Under normal circumstances, guiding these types of activities has possible complications (e.g., managing large groups, people who might get cold and want to return early, someone getting injured, and varied levels of experience among participants) for which plans need to be established. Add in the darkness of night and potential complications can become very challenging.
      3. The winter weather in the Keweenaw is extremely unpredictable. We could end up planning activities to happen under clear skies or be socked-in with a blizzard that drops 12-18” of snow overnight.

Setting the plan for the guided snowshoe hikes in motion, we ordered flashlights that emit red light for use instead of standard flashlights and headlamps, made sure that at least two staff members were always leading the excursions to ensure that no one went too fast and that no one would get left behind, and set the dates for the hikes based on the full moon dates for January, February and March.

The March 19th guided snowshoe hike had ten participants (nine adults and one child).  Of the three hikes we guided this winter, this hike turned out to be the most challenging. We needed to set the time later in the evening due to the time change which occurred the week previous, meaning that the hike began an hour later than the others. Even so, the excursion began more as a twilight hike, instead of moonlit. 

Also, on that particular evening, the moon wasn’t scheduled to rise until very near the time we would be finishing. This resulted in visibility being far less than the other hikes, for which the moonlight reflecting off the snow had provided enough light that we never needed the red flashlights. On this hike red-lights were definitely needed in wooded, pitch black, sections of the trail. Plus, during the week before the hike, the region experienced unseasonably warm temperatures, which caused portions of the trail to get buried by small avalanches from cliff lines overhead, while other sections of the trail would collapse under foot, due to snow melt undercutting the trail.

With all of the obstacles encountered on this particular hike, though, everyone approached it with an adventurous, helpful spirit and every participant expressed that they had a great time, learned new things, and were pleased they had tried something they had never done before.

As we finished the hike, the moon was rising behind the Lodge, providing a beautiful backdrop and grand finale. The thing we learned on this particular night is that the guided snowshoe hikes at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, no matter if they are dreamlike excursions under the moon and stars or vigorous and filled with obstacles, continue to be a truly fun, joyous, and adventuresome experience. 

Additional Resources





Snowshoe Trail Grooming and Tracking Adventures (A Wolf?)

An important aspect of our winter activities at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge (KML) is that we need to regularly check trail conditions, reset the trails after snowstorms, and sometimes repair trail sections which get damaged from use or changing weather conditions.

On Friday (March 18, 2022), I ventured out on the section of the Snowshoe Trail, which I knew was going to be used for our monthly “Moonlit Snowshoe Hikes” scheduled for the following night. With the recent warming trend we had seen in the region, I was concerned about 1) small avalanches possibly burying one particular section of the trail which passes below a short but picturesque “cliff” and 2) the overall stability of the snow due to the daily cycle of melt and freeze we had seen during the previous week. Inspecting the trail a day in advance would be much better than dealing with unexpected challenges while guiding a group  of guests (potentially up to 20), after dark and in the cold.

Sometimes, though, doing regular tasks at KML provides some unique and unexpected experiences. In this case, as I rounded the snow-buried green for Hole #2 on our golf course, I noticed some animal tracks that caught my attention. Seeing animal tracks in the snow is not an uncommon occurrence and it provides me with a general understanding of the animals that actively use the KML grounds. I commonly see the tracks of squirrels, turkeys, snowshoe hares, mice, coyotes, and foxes while I am snowshoeing. On one occasion, I also encountered a set of bobcat tracks that crossed the trail.

The tracks I saw on Friday, though, were especially interesting to me. The prints were egg-shaped, with impressions from claws present, meaning that they were the tracks of a canine. They were large prints with, what seemed like, a large stride. My initial thought was that the animal making the tracks might be a wolf. However, animal tracks in snow can often appear to be larger than what they actually are, especially if the snow has been melting and refreezing.

For me to make the claim that a wolf (Canis lupus) had passed over the golf course, I needed to eliminate the other possibilities – coyote (Canis latrans) and domestic dog (Canis familiaris) – first. So, I tried to find clear prints that were not deep in the snow, not distorted from any thawing, and easily photographable. It was the final requirement which proved, at first, to be unobtainable. I found tracks on the surface, where the hardened snow was able to support the animal, and left impressions about ⅛-inch to ¼-inch deep. However, given the mid-day light conditions, I could not get any of the pictures of the prints to look like anything other than snow with some texture. Hoping to find some better prints, I followed the animal’s path back to where it had crossed Highway 41 (adjacent to the west border of the KML property). I did not find any suitable prints

At this point, I decided that I likely wouldn’t find any prints that would suit my needs and that I still needed to complete my primary task, inspecting the snowshoe trail. So, I continued on with my trail inspection, accepting that I wouldn’t claim to have found wolf tracks on the property.

When I completed my trail inspection, the tracks remained on my mind. The particular thoughts that remained for me were 1) I might be able to find a suitable print to measure if the animal happened to walk through areas with more shallow snow, 2) if I followed the track, I might come upon other evidence (e.g., scat or a kill site) which could give me more information on the animal’s identity, and 3) the track appeared quite fresh to me and I was convinced that the animal had passed through sometime during the previous 12-14 hours…which meant that it could be bedded down somewhere among the trees and I might even be able to get a picture of the animal itself – if I was stealthy enough. So, I backtracked to Hole #2 on the golf course and picked up the animal’s trail on the opposite side of the green where I had initially seen it.

Because I thought it would be interesting to see a map of where the animal traveled on the property, I turned on a GPS app on my iPhone to record the path I was following. Then I began to slowly follow the tracks in the snow, searching for good prints or other sign the animal may have left, while scanning the land in front of me for any movement or unexpected spots in the snow which might be an animal lying down.

Within 30 feet, I found a print that was excellent for both measuring and photographing. It was at a location near the base of an older white pine tree where the snow had become shallow enough to not cause the print to 1) be obscured by loose snow falling into the print or so hardened that a print was not well formed. Additionally, the print did not sink into the snow too much to cause additional splaying of the individual toes, which could make the print larger than typical. All I had to do was measure it; however, I don’t typically have a tape measure in my possession when I go snowshoeing. I do, though, almost always have camera batteries, which I could use as a size reference in the pictures I took. I measured out two sticks close to the length and width of the print, placed them and the camera battery near the print and took a picture of it all. Even though this still did not immediately tell me the print measurements, after returning to the lodge, I measured the camera battery length and calculated how many battery lengths would meet the lengths of each of the sticks I had placed in the scene. While still imprecise, I was able to determine that the print was just shy of 5 inches and its width was a little bit more than 3 inches.

Animal print with camera battery and relatively straight sticks placed in frame references for measuring at a later time.

Animal print with camera battery and relatively straight sticks placed in frame references for measuring at a later time. Circle indicates the general space of the track measured.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also used my snowshoes in a similar manner for measuring the length between individual prints (the animal’s stride length), which ranged between 2 and 3 feet, even in the deep snow.

Series of tracks leading through an area of rough on the KML Golf Course

Series of tracks leading through an area of rough on the KML Golf Course, with a line added indicating a typical stride length for the animal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With track sizes and stride length that large, I felt I could reasonably eliminate a coyote as the animal which created the tracks. In addition to that evidence, there were also some places where one of the animal’s leg sank deeply into the snow. At those places, I reached my arm down into the depression and noted where the surface of the snow correlated to my arm. In each case, the snow surface was at about mid-bicep on my arm. The tip of my fingers to mid-bicep measures 21 inches. This is telling, because in those instances of deep prints in the snow, the animal’s brisket did not leave a mark on the surface of the snow – further supporting that the animal was not a coyote.

Distinguishing dogs from wolves, especially just from tracks, can be challenging. Certainly, we allow dogs on KML property and we recently hosted Dawg Daze (a skijoring event) on our ski trails. However, tracks of domestic dogs are almost always on or adjacent to the cross country ski and snowshoe trails and don’t lead away from trails without a corresponding track caused by humans who are accompanying the dog. While I haven’t personally encountered nor heard of any free-ranging domestic dogs in the area, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. Another telling characteristic that this set of tracks was not created by a large domestic dog is in the pattern of movement. Most domestic dogs instinctively move in a back and forth (almost erratic) “scanning” fashion, on both small and large scales, whereas wolves tend to walk more directly when traveling.

Wolf track with a line added showing non-erratic direction of travel.

When looking at the GPS trail of the animal’s path across the golf course it is very direct in its heading.

Please note the “gaps” in the GPS trail on the map are due to me losing the animal’s track for a brief period of time due to its ability to intermittently walk on top of the snow. When this would happen, I would shut the GPS app off, begin an arching zig-zag pattern of searching the area to find the next discernible print, and then restart the GPS app when that happened.

For people, wolves have, for a very long time, been controversial creatures on the landscape. In terms of adaptability, the gray wolf (Canis lupus), as a species, is arguably one of the most adaptable top-predators that we know of in North America. They, historically, occupied all ecosystems on the continent, except maybe extreme arctic and alpine regions. The one thing gray wolves do not adapt to well, though, is encroachment by humans. So, where you find higher densities of people you will likely not encounter a wolf. For me to find the evidence of being in the same space as a wolf (within just a few hours) reminded me that even though the region is becoming more and more encroached on by human development it still remains a wonderfully wild place.




2022 Snowshoe Hare Recap

On 12 February 2022, we expanded our winter event offerings by hosting the Snowshoe Hare. The Snowshoe Hare was a celebration of snowshoeing in the Keweenaw. As a themed event, it was highlighted by planned snowshoeing activities throughout the day and evening. Those activities included a presentation on Snowshoe Hare ecology in the afternoon, and hare/rabbit-themed cuisine offered in the Lodge’s restaurant and Little Cabin Café.

The weather conditions at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge cooperated the entire day. The high temperature only reached 7℉. However, the mostly-clear skies and low wind speeds gave a beautiful backdrop to the day’s activities. One person described the landscape as “it’s like Narnia around the Lodge.”

Snowshoe racer, Amy Snow, running on a single-track section of the race course.

A Snowshoe Race was the first activity of the day. The 1.4 mile (2.25 km) course followed a combination of wide, flat groomed and narrow single track trails. The course made its way through the open areas and the wooded settings of the lodge property. Three runners completed the race, with times ranging from 18:04 to 35:48. The overall and top men’s finisher was Drew Wilson, setting the course record of 18:04. Amy Oestreich, the top female finisher, set the course record for women at 25:38.

Drew Wilson, top finisher for the inaugural Snowshoe Hare Snowshoe race.

The second activity of the day was a Mindful Snowshoe Hike, led by Dayna Browning, a certified Koru Mindfulness instructor and wellness advocate from Michigan Technological University. Dayna led eight snowshoers on the 1.5 mile snowshoe hike focused on balance, being mindful and quiet, and connecting with their surroundings. Through her guidance participants experienced nature and the elements using all their senses. One snowshoer reported a great sense of relaxation from the hike, expressing that he felt “refreshed from the moderate activity and the crisp clean air filling his lungs.” Another snowshoer stated she felt peaceful from her heightened sense of awareness among the quiet snow-filled trees.

Mindful snowshoers participate in introductions and itinerary, from instructor Dayna Browning.

Later in the afternoon, Tom Oliver (the lodge’s Events and Educational Specialist) gave a presentation on Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) ecology. Eleven guests attended the presentation. They learned the differences between rabbits and hares, the adaptations of snowshoe hares for surviving the harsh conditions of the north woods, the groundbreaking research on snowshoe hares that has helped biologists understand predator/prey relationships, and what conservation threats exist for snowshoe hares.

“If what you saw was this big…it was NOT a Snowshoe Hare!”

To close out the event, a Guided Moonlit Snowshoe Hike, was led by Chris Guibert (the lodge’s Outdoor Activities Lead) and Tom Oliver. Twenty participants headed out into the still cool air of the night, exploring the forest and grounds of the lodge. In total, the snowshoers hiked about 1.75 miles. Although participants had red-colored lights to help their nighttime navigation, the combination of moonlight and white snow made flashlights unnecessary. While most participants had prior snowshoeing experience, almost none had ever done it at night. The feedback we received for this experience was all positive, with participants using words like “amazing,” “unbelievable,” and “beautiful.”

Moving through the northwoods illuminated by only moon and its light reflected off the snow, is an unforgettable experience

To round out the Snowshoe theme, the Little Cabin Café offered rabbit sausage soup, as a lunch special, to help warm snowshoers coming in from the cold. The flavors of the sausage in the soup were complimented by those of kale, root vegetables, and chickpeas. The restaurant at the lodge offered Hasenpfeffer (marinated, slow-cooked rabbit), served with broccoli and jeweled rice. The Hasenpfeffer was tender and delicious and accented perfectly by the dried fruits in the jeweled rice.  Grand Rabbits Cream Ale by Blackrocks was also available – and on theme.

The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge partnered with Iverson Snowshoes and the Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition (KORC) for this event. Iverson Snowshoes provided promotional materials as well as  a variety of their snowshoe models which could be used by patrons, free of charge. The Iverson snowshoes were borrowed 5 times over the course of the day. KORC had members on-site to explain the efforts of the organization and a specific call to action they are currently pursuing. KORC reported that they had several new members join, as well as a dozen forms for their latest call to action completed onsite.

Lodging guest, Brad Smit, is shown how to lace up the bindings on the Iverson traditional snowshoes he borrowed, courtesy of Iverson Snowshoes.




December 4, 2021: Northern Lights Photography Workshop Recap

Our second photography workshop in our series focusing on photographing the northern lights was a success. We had 4 people participate in the session (limit is 5 persons), along with myself and the instructor, Nathan Bett. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with us for being able to get some practical experience following the instructional portion of the evening – the skies were cloudy and were intermittently dropping a bit of snow. Nonetheless, Nathan’s instruction and discussion was informative, interesting, and fun. Afterwards, even without having the chance to see or photograph the night sky, every participant expressed great satisfaction to me about what they learned.

For the first portion of the class, Nathan Bett shared his extensive knowledge of auroras, night-time photography techniques, camera technology, and helpful additional resources in a classroom presentation. Nathan then spent time helping each participant to become more familiar with their own personal equipment (which ranged from pro-sumer DSLR cameras to smartphone cameras). Typically, the remainder of the class is used for some hands-on learning, either by viewing the dark sky from one of the golf course fairways at the lodge or venturing out to an agreed upon nearby destination which can also provide expansive views of the sky.

All-in-all, this workshop lasted around two hours, during which time several of Nathan’s tips for taking night sky photos were discussed and he was able to spend some time with each participant – getting to know them each a little better and teaching them about their specific cameras and their settings.

Auroras occur throughout the year. However, darkness is needed to be able to see them. The long periods of daylight during the northern hemisphere’s summer months tend to render most of them, during that time period, invisible to our eyes; so, we most often focus on seeing northern lights during the remainder of the year. The months of January, February, and March, because of their long nights, tend to be the most popular times to go Aurora hunting. Additionally, The dates surrounding a new moon tend to have darker nights, which could increase the likelihood of photographing the northern lights (if the weather cooperates). I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend – long, dark nights to learn about and possibly see/photograph the northern lights and then (here at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge) plenty of snow to play in during the day.

The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has scheduled multiple Northern Lights Photography Workshops for this winter season – each one scheduled for a weekend around the time of a new moon. Our next Northern Lights Photo Workshop will be held Saturday, January 29th, 2022 at 7:30pm.

Please see our Calendar of Events for the complete listing of upcoming workshops, then contact the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge – Outdoor Activity Center or Events Department for more details and to reserve your space.

 

 

About the Instructor: Nate Bett

Nathan Bett is a photographer and educator in Hancock Michigan. Although originally from Marquette, Michigan, Nathan recently relocated to Hancock from New York City, where he taught at the City University Of New York, and represented a major camera manufacturer as a technical specialist in photography. He now spends his time indulging in the over abundance of natural beauty in his native UP and spending excesses of time outdoors with his family. Nathan maintains a passion for photography and the outdoors that he delights in sharing with students. His work can be viewed at nathanbett.com and @natebett and @artmonstermedia on Instagram.




November 6, 2021: Northern Lights Photography Workshop Recap

We are now shifting into our northern lights season with workshops, and held our first northern lights photo workshop this past Saturday, November 6th. We had three night sky photography workshops during the summer, and a fall color photo workshop in October. This northern lights photo workshop is a nice transition into the winter, where we have the possibilities of seeing the northern lights in the Keweenaw (October to April has the highest probabilities to see the northern lights).

The northern lights photo workshop on Saturday was a success. We had 3 people at the session (limit is 5 persons), along with myself and the instructor, Nate Bett.  All the participants expressed great satisfaction to me afterwards.

For the first half of the class, Nathan Bett shared his techniques in a classroom presentation. The second half of the class we journeyed out onto the ninth fairway and had some hands on learning.

The “class room” portion of the workshop lasted around an hour and a half, during which time several of Nate’s nuggets for taking night sky photos were discussed and he was able to spend some time with participants teaching them about their specific cameras and their settings.

After finishing up the indoor lecture portion of the workshop, we journeyed to Hunters Point, in Copper Harbor, with our cameras for some hands-on learning.

We were fortunate to have the clouds clear and Nate was able to show the photographers that if the atmospheric conditions warrant it, even with lower KPI values, the sensors of the cameras could pick up Aurora glow. He also demonstrated light painting, during which one of the photographers caught a beautiful bright shooting star. We were out on site until 10:30 pm and participants were still eager for taking more pics.

 

Our next Northern Lights Photo Workshop will be held December 4th.  Please contact the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Outdoor Activity Center or Events Department for more details and to reserve your space.

 

 

About the Instructor: Nate Bett

Nathan Bett is a photographer and educator in Hancock Michigan. Although originally from Marquette, Michigan, Nathan recently relocated to Hancock from New York City, where he taught at the City University Of New York, and represented a major camera manufacturer as a technical specialist in photography. He now spends his time indulging in the over abundance of natural beauty in his native UP and spending excesses of time outdoors with his family. Nathan maintains a passion for photography and the outdoors that he delights in sharing with students. His work can be viewed at nathanbett.com and @natebett and @artmonstermedia on Instagram.