DETROIT - Everyone has seen Michigan’s fall colors from a car. Many have seen them on woodland hikes, and some people make trips to view nature’s glorious display from kayaks, mountain bikes and hot air balloons.
But how many have seen the beauty of the autumn woods from a buggy pulled by a team of sled dogs, some of which may have run the legendary Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska?
That’s the unusual option being offered by Nature’s Kennel near McMillan in the central Upper Peninsula from now until the color season ends in late October in that neck of the woods.
Tasha Stielstra, who runs the sled dog training facility with her husband, Ed, a seven-time Iditarod musher and finisher, said the tours on the buggies run over the same trails used by the dogsleds in winter, through stands of hardwood that by mid-September are blazing with incredible leaf colors.
“We have to run the tours in the morning at first,” Stielstra said. “It’s still September in Michigan, and it’s hot for these dogs,” which can happily curl up under the snow for a nap at 30 below zero.
The animals that mushers refer to as Alaskan sled dogs don’t look much like the furry pedigreed malamutes and Siberians you see in TV movies about Alaska.
They’re leaner, long-legged mutts with a Heinz 57 ancestry, but all of those ancestors loved to run and had endurance.
These dogs are adapted to cold climates, and the Stielstras exercise more than 150 of them that live in Nature’s Kennel during the winter by offering dogsled tours that range from a couple of hours to a couple of days.
But the dogs need to get exercise even in summer, and the Stielstras used to accommodate them in the cool of the morning by having them pull four-wheel ORVs.
But now they have buggies that carry four passengers and are able to combine the training and exercise sessions with color tours. Visitors can do everything from learning how to harness and rig the dog teams to simply sitting on the buggy and enjoying the view.
“It’s been really hot this summer, but the color is starting early this year,” Stielstra said. “It should be really well-developed by this weekend, and it can last right into the end of October if the weather is right.”
The dog-team color tours cost $75 per person, and reservations are required. Contact Tasha Stielstra at Nature’s Kennel at 906-748-0513.