Stinchfield Woods is, hands-down, my favorite hiking spot in all of Southeast Michigan. Located in Dexter on 777 pristine acres of rolling hills covered in hardwoods and evergreens (plus several hundred acres of additional adjacent land), Stinchfield Woods is the granddaddy of dog outings, the creme de la creme. At about 30 miles from home, visiting Stinchfield is a special occasion, too, which I like: it adds to the excitement. I’ve been hiking Stinchfield since 1996, and I never tire of it or take it for granted. Its majestic beauty always fills me with a hushed awe.
Jane and I visited yesterday after lunch, hiked about ten miles, and left exhausted and satisfied. We even discovered new trails – a special thrill as I thought I had every inch of the property committed to memory. It was a very special day for Jane, because it was her first time to hike the woods with complete liberty. During our first year together, she was always tethered to a 50-foot lead. In December, our last visit, she hiked sans lead but was weighted with a 15-pound backpack that kept her focused and unable to perform her amazing (and terrifying) vanishing act. Yesterday she did it all on her own. Twice she stuck her nose to the ground and took off running, but both times I was able to call her back. Sweet girl. She so desperately wants to run away, and I feel badly that I can’t meet that need of hers. She can run around me, parallel to me, and in front of me, but the hound in her wants to run away from me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to satisfy that desire of hers.
At any rate, we enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and I was exceptionally pleased by Jane’s obedience and restraint. The temperature rose to the upper 50s, and we worked up quite a sweat on the steep trails. Stinchfield’s trails are moderately to very challenging, so I don’t recommended them for beginners. There is a wide, mile-long “boulevard” of a trail with a moderate incline that bisects the property that is appropriate for the casual walker, hiker, or runner, but the best workout and the most beautiful views are found deep inside the woods, accessible only by secondary and tertiary trails and deer paths. There’s an old gavel pit in the middle of the site, and Jane and I hike out to it every time to take in the best view in Washtenaw County.
Yesterday we climbed down into the middle of the pit, and the temperature rose five or ten degrees. Jane loved nosing around in the tall grasses and weeds down there – I suspect it’s a rodent superhighway – and I spotted my first garter snake of the season. It lifted its head to check me out, then slithered away moving in and out of the dead grasses. I followed it for a bit trying to get a decent photo, and it stopped every few feet or so to stand up and rescrutinize me. When I suddenly heard several other snakes moving around underfoot I hightailed it out of there. As fascinating as they are, I respect the privacy of a nest. That’s a bit too up close and personal for me.
If you haven’t been to Stinchfield Woods, I strongly recommend a visit. It’s perfect in all seasons. (It’s especially nice and cool on hot summer days.) Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, carry food and water, and allow yourself to become completely lost. Trust me, it’s the tonic for all that ails you.