- Beautiful but Deadly: A Snowy Owl at Old Mission Point
By MIKE NORTON
OK, the muscles are a little sore this morning. And I’m not sure if that’s from snowshoeing the Empire Bluff Trail on Friday afternoon with a five-year-old on my shoulders, or from skiing the big loop above Old Mission Point on Saturday. All I can say is that winter is definitely fun this year!
The five-year-old wasn’t mine, by the way. She’s the daughter of Wisconsin travel writer Julie Furst Henning, who writes for Road Trips for Families, and who was in Traverse City this weekend with her mom and two of her three youngsters, Owen and Marie. Eager to show them the wonders of the Sleeping Bear Dunes in winter, I took the four of them on a showshoe hike to the Empire Bluffs, forgetting how quickly a kid can get tired trying to navigate deep snow.
My goal was to get Julie out to the lookout at the end of the trail where you can see the big dune to the north and the huge mass of South Manitou Island floating several miles offshore. She may be a Wisconsinite now, but Julie grew up in Michigan, and is descended from the Fursts who were lighthouse keepers on the Manitou Islands several generations ago. Mission accomplished…
Giving Marie a ride on my shoulders was a great blast from the past. My own daughter Elizabeth (now 22) probably spent several hours a day on my shoulders when she was that age, and it was fun being the Henning family’s unofficial “sherpa” for the afternoon. But I think the Hennings didn’t really start having fun until they were free to explore on their own.
They sure did a lot, anyway. Snow-tubing at TimberLee Hills, visiting the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, and checking out the wide menu of outdoor activities on tap at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. In case you didn’t know, The Resort has a pretty good variety of things to do on weekends; they’re turned their golf Clubhouse into a Winter Activities Center featuring cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating. You can either bring your own gear or rent stuff from them.
- Snowmobiling at Grand Traverse Resort
They’re also doing snowmobile rides, thanks to the good folks at Blue Sky Rentals, dogsled rides through Wiggi’s Mountainside Huskies, bonfires with s’mores and a pretty decent selection of kids activities, from a snowman-building contest and snow-castle construction project to s’mores and campfire games with their winter mascot, Bogey Bear. A pretty good introduction to winter for folks who aren’t really sure how their kids are going to react to all that snow!
I did take one more ski trip on my own over the weekend, around the big loop above Old Mission Point, and I’m glad I did. Apart from the usual great views, the snow conditions were wonderful, and I got my first sighting of a snowy owl in several years. These huge birds, big as small dogs, are winter visitors to the area from the Arctic, and I used to see them all the time when the winters were colder. (Perhaps their return is a sign of more normal winters to come.)
Unlike other owls, they hunt quite comfortably in daylight, perching in high trees at the edge of fields and roadways and watching for mice, rabbits and other prey. In spite of their cute appearance, they are pitiless hunters who can swoop down silently from the winter sky to deliver death with beak and talons to any creature foolish enough to poke its head above the snow. This one didn’t consider me worth his attention. All things considered, I’m cool with that….
Monday’s weather is rainy and messy. I’m pretty confident it’ll get cold again soon, thanks to my owl friend, but I hope it gets back to straight-up winter weather before tomorrow!
- Cross-country Skiing at Grand Traverse Resort