Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


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Back from my long(ish) weekend trip to the outskirts of the Lower Peninsula and the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. Very nice indeed. I don't think of Michigan as having big beaches with BIG migrating dunes on it like what you might see out in North Carolina around the Outer Banks. Actually, Sleeping Bear Dunes aresupposed to be the largest free-standing dunes around. I'm not quite sure what that means though so, as a friend says when he has a fact in a void to share, "I read it in the New York Times." Gives that fact an air of veracity and import it wouldn't otherwise have, right?

Geographically this park is located on the west side of the LP right by Traverse City. We stayed at the D.H. Day campsite which sits on Lake Michigan and has some nice beach area to use. The campsite is part of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and I suppose you can call it rustic which means no nice spiffy stuff you might find at a place like, ugh, a KOA. No flush toilets, bathrooms, showers. Spigots with good water coming out and pit toilets are the extent of it. 80 campsites of varying degrees of privacy. Our first night we found ourselves in a site which wasn't the best and some of our neighbors were horridly loud (drunk) and made sleeping a bitch (the weather was hot and sticky, too). We left A-squared much later than we had wanted too (at least then I wanted too) and didn't get to the campsite till about 9:00pm Friday (call it a 5 hour or so drive sans stops). I'd just purchased a tent, shown here, the day before (the one I had looks really bad and I didn't quite trust it) and so setting that up was a new experience. It was very simple. We had 2 tents for the four of us - I got mine all to myself.

Saturday it was off to the Dune. But first we moved our campsite to a much more private and pleasant location. The loud people of the night before followed us, but were quiet that night.

Hiking a sand dune is NOT easy. We had chosen to do a 3 or so mile hike (felt like more) from the entrance of the Sleeping Bear Dune park to a beach on the other side which fronted on the Lake. Being sand your steps just sink right in. No rebound. The ups are a real pain and I felt it in my calves. The scenery though is well worth the hike. You can easily see the dune and plants competing with each other. The dune grass has footholds of varying strength and it is easy to tell where the dune is winning as it shifts. You can see tress that are still alive, but mostly buried with just their tops showing and roots sinking deep in the ground. You reach the top of a part of the dune and think you're done, but there might be a dip and another up. It looks like a great 3-d function plot full of local maxima and minima and large vistas of the dune, Lake Michigan, Glenn Lake, and off in the distance farm land and forests. I took some good pictures.

You come up on the beach suddenly; it is quite secluded. I'd never been swimming in the Lake and was looking forward to that. The weather had changed by this time having started out very clear, bright, hot, and sticky to impending storms. But, I sucked up my gut and went into the water. Once you get in it isn't bad. Sure the water is cool, but it is the wind that really is a bother. The water was very clear and quite lovely. From a distance it was a dark blue-grey. We had fun on the beach.

Heading back from the beach worrying about getting soaked you could see some things more clearly than before including wild flowers of various colors popping up all over (some of it reminds me a bit of what I saw in Colorado in Alpine Tundra). We made it back before the rains came.

Back to the campsite for our dinner around the campfire. We never managed to get a good roaring campfire going. It was a bad-fire-day. Some of that is because it had been raining somewhat, but the big factor was the lousy wood we had purchased. Still, we managed to get everything made. I tried a burger in an onion boule. It was delicious. The onion gets wonderfully sweat and tasty and if you're careful you can eat it like a normal burger. We had lemon chicken (didn't eat since I'm psychologically allergic to that), roasted garlic (yum!), corn, and potatoes. A very good campfire meal topped off with, of course, s'mores which worked moderately well. Went to the beach afterwards to enjoy the dark and open skies and lake. Star gazing was tough that night (Friday was clearer), but the beach affords great views of everything including that night some wonderful lightning. We got back to our tents just before the storm really opened up on us. That night's sleeping was much more pleasant.

Sunday a slow, leisurely (un-organized), morning breakfast of various yummies including bacon (that was a flop since our fire again wasn't to great - we have mucho leftover), eggs, pancakes, coffee (bit weak), and then more time at the campground beach and swimming (just me) in the very blue Lake Michigan. We stuffed up Paul's mid-size Dodge with careful PRECISION PACKING (what a chore) and broke camp around 3:30. We had thought about heading over toward Mackinaw and then back to Ann Arbor, but it was just too late by then. We went through the Scenic Drive instead.

The Scenic Drive (Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive I think) is not what you expect. We all were thinking of a lovely road with fine views. I had something like Skyline Drive in mind: great scenery and occasional overlooks displaying grand vistas. We were wrong. It had that, but it felt more like a tour or amusement park ride where you drive a car around a track and gawk at what you might see. It just felt wrong. The Sleeping Bear Dune view though was impressive and we want to go back to that and hike down to the beach at the bottom (400 some feet down on a steep dune slope) to enjoy the Lake there. It would be a killer climb back up though! Even though the drive felt rather tour-like it was fun. We then checked out the Maritime Museum which is a reconstruction in large measure of what the coast guard station looked like seventy odd years ago. A spartan hard life for those men back then. I enjoyed it. I think if I had to do military type duty I'd rather do that type of work than something else.

It was then off on the road and back home. We stopped at a restaurant Paul and Beth had enjoyed the previous year for dinner and were treated to a very rude waitress. Paul thinks she was rude because we smelled of wood smoke and were noxious. We may have had some of that smell, but I don't think we were noxious and certainly no worse than what you'de smell in a smoking section (they had an active one). The food was good though. The restaurant was in Travers City and is called, I think, Shelde's.

Got back to A-squared around 12:30am and that was the end of the little trip. I highly recommend the northern parts of Michigan and I know I've only seen just this one teeny bit. I want to go back.

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