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It was Friday, and the day at work seemed to never end. I needed a release. Some good ol’ fresh air and nature should do the trick. I wanted a little bit of a challenge, so I started doing my research and decided that I want to get some good views on my hike after work this day. I came across and started reading about the highest elevation in Oakland County was at Historic Haven Hill at the Highland Recreation Area, in the state park in Highland Township, Michigan.
It would be about an hour drive with traffic during rush hour on a Friday evening, but it may be worth it. Traffic was horrible, and I was doubting my decision during almost the entirety of my drive there. I was a little upset at myself that I forgot to grab my phone charger that morning as well, as I could see the battery level drop percent by percent and into the thirties as I pulled in to the state park entrance, thinking that I wouldn’t have much juice for photos and mapping my hike.
When I pulled up to the gate house, a cheery woman greeted me, noticed my recreation pass and waved me through. I stopped to ask where to get to the hiking trail head, and she advised me that I would want to park at the barn, and just to follow the main road up to the third road on my right, and I would see signs for the equestrian staging area, and assured me that this is where I would want to park and begin.
I then remembered reading online that the hiking trail would cross paths with the equestrian trails. After I found the barn, I parked my truck and stepped out. It was warm, and I was in jeans. I also had forgotten my hiking shoes at home, but that wasn’t about to stop me. I tightened the laces on my tennis shoes, grabbed my bottle of water and began on my adventure.
The reviews online rated the trail as advanced, but I was ready for it. I have been hiking quite a bit lately, and really enjoying the more rustic trails, so this one should be right down my alley. I noticed that I was the only vehicle parked in the lot at the barn. This made me feel great, as I had no other traffic to deal with on my trek.
When I walked up to the trail head map, I realized that the map posted was not the same map I had online. The posted map on the trail was for the equestrian trail, and the posts in the ground had large letters that matched the posted map. However, the map I had online had numbers for the trail markers, but I did not notice any numbered posts on the trail itself. I had a feeling that this may cause me some confusion as to which directions to go, which paths I should take, and possibly even getting a little lost.
Getting lost isn’t all that bad in my mind, however. I feel that if you don’t ever get lost, you never truly find yourself. It’s good for the mind and soul to get lost. I think the majority of society would find it beneficial to get lost sometimes, but I know that the majority of people these days wouldn’t ever let themselves get to that point. They should. Maybe that’s why we came up with the term “get lost.” It was meant to be taken literally, not figuratively. Somehow, it got lost in translation.
“Okay, I have plenty of daylight to get lost, so let’s do this,” I said to myself. Adventure time! The first fork I came to either took me into the woods immediately or up a hill overlooking the barn and the lot where I parked my truck. Up I went to get some amazing views from above. The sun was still high in the sky, and was already causing sweat to appear on my brow as the hill I had to climb was decently steep. The view was definitely worth it. Woods to my left, and the clearing for the barn to my right.
Then, I noticed the trail dipped downhill and curved quite a bit to head down into the woods. This was exciting. Now, I told you that this trail was rated as advanced. Not long into the hike, I almost immediately realized why it was rated this way. The ground was soft and sandy, which caused my feet to sink in a bit, and took more energy to pull my feet out to take a step. There were points that the brush seemed to cover the trail from both signs, having to use my arms to push aside to continue on. The elevation changes were numerous, and at many points, very steep. I almost felt as if one bottle of water wasn’t enough for me, and I thought that the next time I do this hike, I will backpack with multiple bottles and make sure I have my hiking shoes. The other part that caused it to be rated as advanced, I believe, was the countless large piles of horse manure that you had to constantly keep your eyes open for, and having to basically hopscotch your way around.
I was really beginning to enjoy myself, when I noticed a small walking path on my left, off the main trail. It had a small gate and a sign that read “no horses beyond this sign.” Oooh! Exciting! I wonder what’s over this way. Of course, I had to check it out. The tiny trail took me up quite a ways, and the trail narrowed more and more as I continued on up and up and uphill. The forest was dense here, and I had no clue where I was headed, as I did not see this path on the map. When the trees finally opened up, I was on top of a hill, overlooking a parking lot with the backdrop of a lake. My gps told me that this was way off the normal path. Quite a bit south of where I should be, based on the hiking trail. It was a great picture, as I could see that the sun was beginning to get larger, and made for some amazing lighting on the lake ahead of me. Totally worth it!
I had to get back on the trail though, as I had quite a ways to go in only a couple of hours of daylight ahead of me. Back I went, down the same little path that brought me here. I reached the hiking/equestrian trail again and continued.
The terrain was breathtaking, literally, as the elevation changes were getting more and more intense. Then, I noticed a light up ahead, the tress opened up, and as I got closer, I could start to see another lake. The lake was about 20 feet below where I was standing. It was awesome looking down on the lake from this vantage point. I had been to the Smokey Mountains, and have seen some much higher vantage points, but this was great for Michigan. I had to stop and take some photos while I still had some battery power left on my phone.
This is the point where I found out something about my phone that would surely come in handy for me. I wondered if I could still take photos if I put the phone in battery save mode. It worked. Now, I realized that I couldn’t use the flash in this mode, but that’s not something that pertains to outdoor photos during my hikes. Perfectamundo!
After getting back on the trail, I came to a straightaway section in the woods, and a rustling of leaves stopped me in my tracks. I remained still and quiet as I could, crouched down low to try and strain my eyes to see what it was. Nothing was in view, and I knew the sound came from still a ways away from me. But I remained still, and continued to hear whatever it was getting closer. Patience was key in this instance. After about almost 10 minutes of standing still, a flash of brown appeared in the brush. I still couldn’t make out what it was, but it kept moving and kept getting closer to me, little by little. It wasn’t constantly moving, as the sound seemed that it would take a few steps and remain still for a good twenty to forty seconds, then take a few steps again. Also, it wasn’t moving straight toward me, as the sounds slowly zig-zagged as they got closer and louder.
It was at this point that I noticed the light peeking through the trees from the sun was beginning to turn a deeper orange and change the color of the sky from blue to a hint more purplish. I knew that I still had a ways to go, and I still had more I wanted to see. I almost gave up on finding out what creature was heading my way, when suddenly, a head peeked through. It was a large buck. The rack on his head was beautiful. I didn’t get a very long look at him, but it had to have been a 10 or 12 point. I was stooping down, and reached in my pocket for my phone, but I had my bottled water in the same pocket which made a crunching sound and caused me to fall backward. He darted away swiftly at the noise, as I could hear the rustling of the leaves fade away quickly.
Onward. After a bit more walking, I snapped a few photos of the fall colors starting to come out, and some shots of what appeared to be caves made by the trees ahead of me down the trail. The photos do not really do it justice as to the views I was seeing from my own eyes. I came across a large marshy area on my right side, but the grove was so thick, I couldn’t get more than just tiny glimpses until I had an opening just large enough to get a couple photos of just a small open area.
Not much farther, the woods opened up, as a paved road crossed the trail. A sign stated “historical area” pointed to the left. As I looked left, the one lane paved road meandered upward at a pretty steep incline. This had to be the road up to Haven Hill, the highest point in Oakland County. I had to see it. After a quick peek of the clock, I knew daylight was beginning to run short, but I had to veer from my route to see this. I began to run uphill. What a workout. It wasn’t a short distance either. I could feel myself beginning to slow down a bit as the slope didn’t really seem to get any better.
Then I noticed it. On the left, through the trees that lined the road, noticed a tall stone structure. As the brush thinned the further up I went, I realized that it was a tall chimney, and attached to it was a house. Neat! I noticed a sign that stated this was the Carriage House that was built to house the chauffer and the Ford family vehicles, but became the playhouse for the children. The windows and doors were boarded up, but I could bask in the amazing craftsmanship of the build of this wood cabin. The trunks used for the main structure were huge, and carefully chosen. A true work of art.
After walking around the structure, I concluded that the main building must be further up the road, still much higher in elevation. I could feel the altitude change in my lungs. A sign welcomed me as I reached the summit, “Welcome to Haven Hill.” The road circled for the main drive, and an archway led to stone steps heading up to where the main lodge once stood. The remains from a fire were still there, and spray painted was the layout. It was really neat.
After some photos, I had to get back en route. I ran down the paved road back to the trail. It was a lot easier than going uphill, and I got to a point where I was going so fast, by body almost surpassed my feet and I had to slow down. I reached the trail again, and passed a small lake, then I heard leaves moving again. The woods were not as thick in this part, but the sun had almost fully lowered below the horizon, and light was scarce. I had to squint to see, but the buck was back for a quick moment, as if to say goodbye like it knew I was nearing the end of my hike. But as quickly as I noticed him, he was gone. Quicker than I had at a chance of pulling out my phone for a photo.
I went on, and came to a posted map of the trail. I was almost back to where I began my journey. A few more turns, and I could see my truck in the distance. I had been hiking for almost 3 hours, and the last bits of sunlight peeked out over the skyline of trees just beyond the old barn. What an exciting adventure this was. I was exhausted, but felt like I just had one of the best workouts I have had in a while. I want to bring my wife and girls here to see the historical Haven Hill Lodge remains and the carriage house, but when I do, I’m not sure if they would do the full hike that I just accomplished. I don’t think I could manage carrying my six year old, Abby, on my shoulders that long while pushing my 10 month old in the stroller on this trail.