Thursday, July 2, 2009

A trip up Sugarloaf Mountain

Just west of Marquette, Michigan, along the shores of Lake Superior, is a rough granite knob known as Sugarloaf Mountain. It's a bit of a clamber to reach the summit, but well worth it. Once the crest has been reached, the climber will be rewarded with some of the finest vistas to be had anywhere in the Upper Peninsula. I made the trek this morning, and saw many interesting things, some of which follow.

It takes about a nanosecond of immersion in these cool forests to realize that this isn't Ohio anymore. The glossy orchid-like leaves of Bluebead Lily, Clintonia borealis, are everywhere, sometimes forming giant colonies. We have but two or so little patches in ALL of Ohio. Up here, it is everywhere.

The recent trend of cool temps and spitting drizzle continued today. This sort of weather is generally bad for bug-watching. But should you be fortunate enough to find an insect, it is likely to be cooperative, as wet refigerated bugs are more approachable. This is a beautiful little brachonid wasp resting on the stem of a King Devil hawkweed, Hieraceum cespitosum.

I was delighted to see the woods filled with Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus, a robust member of the blackberry family.

Back home, all too many of the woods are filled with bush honeysuckles - nasty, invasive Eurasian weeds. The forests of the Upper Peninsula are well stocked with a beautiful native shrublet: Northern Bush Honeysuckle, Diervilla lonicera.

Its small lemon-yellow flowers are held on short pedicels in the leaf axles.

Eye-catching were these robust maple leaves; tricuspidate, or three lobed. It's Striped Maple, or Moosewood, Acer pensylvanicum.

No mystery as to how it came by the name Striped Maple. The small trunks are rather outrageously colored in ribbons of green and white.

Nearing the rocky granitic promontories near the top of the mountain, I spotted this nest of Dark-eyed Juncos tucked back in a rocky alcove, partly shielded by ferns. The young juncos are but a few days old; you can see the fleshy yellow gape of their bills within the finely woven grassy cup.
Perhaps the most beautiful of the bellflowers, Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, formed small clumps on exposed rocky ledges.

Finally, the summit was reached and this was one of the rewards. Awe-inspiring views are mundane along the Upper Peninsula shoreline of Lake Superior, but one doesn't tire of such vistas quickly. Cold, mysterious, and infinitely wild, Lake Superior is the second largest freshwater lake in the world. From this spot, it is about 160 miles across to Canada. The giant lake stretches 300 miles from east to west, and it is 1,330 feet down to the bottom at the deepest spot. You'll not see many swimmers, even on the warmest days. The water doesn't warm much past 42 or so degrees even in the summer. If we could somehow pull the plug and dump its water, the contents would flood North AND South America to a depth of one foot.

Craggy and barren, the several billion year old granite of Sugarloaf Mountain's summit looks rather inhospitable. But some very interesting plants grow there...

It was a treat to see small clumps of Shrubby Fivefingers, Sibbaldiopsis tridentata, eking out a living in exposed rocky crevasses.

This little Potentilla, a member of the rose family, is tough as nails and thrives in brutal conditions such as those on the summit of this mountain.

All too soon, it was time to descend. But the few hours spent on Sugarloaf Mountain were filled with interesting observations, and some of the best vistas that the North Country has to offer.


Tom said...

Very Nice Jim.

Scott said...

That looks like a great place!

Don't you just love the latin name of thimbleberry... Rubus parviflorus (small flower)? Its flowers are certainly far from small!

Ian Adams said...


Glad to see you are visiting some of my favorite places in the UP of Michigan. Great natural areas and 200+ waterfalls. Bond Falls and Sturgeon River Canyon are two of the most photogenic. I assume you are heading to the Ridges Sanctuary on the Door peninsula to find the Hines Emerald. They are common there, plus you should see Racket-tailed, Brush-tailed, Williamsons and Kennedy's Emeralds, and Canada Darner. Just hike the paths between the spruces - the dragons roost in the trees when not hunting.

If you have time, visit the Mink River Preserve, which is another beautiful natural area near the tip of the Door peninsula.

Good Luck,

Ian Adams

Jim McCormac said...

Hi all and thanks for the comments. I agree, Scott, whoever named thimbleberry must have just looked at some monstrosity of a Rubus!

Thanks for all of the helpful suggestions, Ian! And indeed I was headed to The Ridges, and if you look at my latest post you'll see that we were successful with the emeralds. That is truly a spectacular place! I ran out of time before it was possible to visit Mink
river and some of the other spots I'd like to see, but I'll be back...


AMIT said...

Great photos taken.

Alternative energy

Anonymous said...

Awesome little website you've created here. I've never been to your neck of the woods but share your enthusiasm with Ol' Mother Nature and appreciate the glimpse into a region I'd otherwise never begin to appreciate.