Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore became a park on October 21, 1970, encompassing 35 miles of the Michigan shoreline as well as two wilderness islands. Within the parks boundaries are 26 inland lakes, more than 80 ponds, 8 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a lighthouse and more than 100 miles of trails, among many other natural and historic features. It was a lot to cover in one day, but we hit the highlights, and one could easily spend their entire vacation in the area, finding many activities to occupy oneself with!

"The park is named after a Chippewa legend of the sleeping bear. According to the legend, an enormous forest fire on the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter, determined to reach the opposite shore. After many miles of swimming, the two cubs lagged behind. When the mother bear reached the shore, she waited on the top of a high bluff. The exhausted cubs drowned in the lake, but the mother bear stayed and waited in hopes that her cubs would finally appear. Impressed by the mother bear's determination and faith, the Great Spirit created two islands (North and South Manitou Island) to commemorate the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the sands of the dunes where she waits to this day. The "bear" was a small tree-covered knoll at the top edge of the bluff that, from the water, had the appearance of a sleeping bear. Wind and erosion have caused the "bear" to be greatly reduced in size over the years. Today only a small remnant remains." (Wikipedia). 

We started out at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire MI, to buy our day pass into the Lakeshore ($10.00) and pick up maps. Our first stop was the Empire Bluff Trail, pet-friendly, and set out through the trees on a 1 1/2 mile walk to the bluffs.
After walking uphill through the woods for quite awhile, we reached the boardwalk along the bluffs.

The view of the shoreline culminating in the massive 450 foot dunes we will see up close later. South Bar Lake on on the right hand side, separated from Lake Michigan by the sandbar.

After the Great Lakes were formed by the glaciers, an ideal setting for the formation of sand dunes was left behind. Prevailing westerly winds blow across the lake and hit the sandy coast on the windward side of Michigan. Two kinds of dunes are built in Sleeping Bear: beach dunes develop on the low-lying shores of Lake Michigan that are predominately beach sand. Perched dunes sit high above the shore on plateaus. The glacial sands left atop these plateaus supplied the material for these dunes. The dunes are constantly migrating, sometimes covering parts of the forest with sand, then moving on, leaving behind "ghost forests" of dead trees. The U.S. Coast Guard buildings now in Glen Haven had to be removed from Sleeping Bear Point in 1931 because migrating dunes threatened to cover them. 

Some of the wildflowers and grasses that grow on the dunes. They play an important role in dune development by acting as obstacles that slow sand-laden wind and force it to drop its load. Their roots hold sand in place and stabilize the dunes. But strong winds can strip plants from a dune and carve out a bowl-shaped blowout formation.

After our hike, we stopped in the small town of Glen Arbor for some lunch. Glen Arbor is situated along the north shore of Glen Lake, and Crystal River runs along the road through town. It was a very tourist-oriented town, with tiny streets all leading down to the water, several B&B's, cute little cafes, and many art galleries and gift shops. It was also very crowded :-)! We stopped into the IGA there and ordered some sandwiches from the deli counter, and had lunch on the picnic table out front next to the sidewalk. Need I say the Casey and Chelsea were instant hits with the strolling tourists? We are so fortunate that they are so well-behaved!

After lunch we set out on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
 "Pierce Stocking spent his youth working as a lumberman in Michigan's forests. He loved the woods and spent most of his spare time there, developing a self-taught knowledge of nature.
He used to walk the bluffs above Lake Michigan, awed by the views of the dunes, Lake Michigan and the islands. He wanted to share this beauty with others and conceived the idea of a road to the top of the dunes.
As a lumberman, he had built roads in difficult terrain before. The planning for the road began in the early 1960's, and in 1967, the road, then known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes Park, first opened to the public.
Stocking continued to operate the scenic drive until his death 1976. In 1977, the road became part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Several years later, based on public opinion, the drive was named the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive." ( National Park Service)

The Covered Bridge entrance to the drive. I didn't know this before, but covered bridges were developed to protect wooden bridges form the wet weather that would rot out the wood. It was cheaper to replace the roof of a covered bridge than replace the supports of a non-covered bridge.

The Glen Lake overlook. Glen Lake is renown for its beauty and recreational activities. It was quite cloudy this day, so we didn't get to see the awesome blue of the water. The lake appears split in two by the construction of the "narrows" bridge. Glen Lake used to be connected to Lake Michigan in glacial times, but the dunes formed a massive sandbar that separated the two, and now the village of Glen Arbor is situated on that sandbar. The hill on the left leading down to the narrows is called "Alligator Hill", and you can pretty much visualize an alligator shape there.

Dune Overlook. This is the eastern edge of the dunes, at one of the highest points at over 200 feet. This is an example of the "blowout bowls" discussed earlier, and on the distant horizon you can see the wilderness islands of North and South Manitou Islands. These pedestrian only islands are accessible by ferries from the town of Leeland, but not pet-friendly :-(, no dogs allowed.

One of Casey's many adoring fans! I'm not sure what he was looking for, but he was watching something!

More wildflowers...I'm going to have to get a wildflower guidebook I guess!

Lake Michigan Overlook. We are at the top of the dunes. Notice the little dots in the middle of the picture? This is a couple standing on the edge. It's a 450 foot drop from there to the water. Visitors are strongly discouraged from going down, as its extremely strenuous to come back up....and the only way out would be to come back up!

Here's a view from the side, and some people who did not heed the warnings struggling to make it back up...look how tiny they look, as well as the boat WAAAY down at the bottom! There is a sign posted stating rescues of exhausted climbers will have a payment due!

The boardwalk down to the observation platform built over the dune.

Cresting the dune....

View to the east.....

and view to the north. The dark green vegetation covered hump is the remnants of the sleeping mama bear dune. North Manitou Island is on the horizon. 

The North Bar Lake overlook at the end of the drive. Michigan state really has done a beautiful job of erecting and maintaining these facilities.

We then drove through the historic area of Glen Haven, home to the U.S. Coast Guard Station Museum, and several other historic buildings. Port Oneida Rural Historic District showcased typical turn-of-the-century farms. I really liked this picture:
The big barn with the baby barns was too cute! I wish I had a blue sky though...

Continuing down Highway M-22 we came to the village of Leland, and Fishtown. Fishtown is a historic district comprised of shanties and docks that are reminiscent of life and commercial fishing 100 years ago. 

View down the riverfront to Lake Michigan

Along the docks

Otter along the riverbank!

The two little guys having fun with mom

Parting shot of the dock area

After walking around Fishtown and watching the otters play, we headed back on the road and headed up to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, and the Leelanau State Park. The  Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Fog Signal House were located here, and are on the National Register of Historic Places. 
The lighthouse was built in 1852.

The Fog Signal house was built in 1899

We then headed back down the east side of the Leelanau Peninsula, through several more cherry orchards, vineyards, and the town of Sutton's Bay, another popular tourist town due to its location right on Grand Traverse Bay. Back through Traverse City, we picked up a pizza for dinner as we headed back to campground. Time to pack up the duffles and get ready to head out early Friday morning, as we had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us back to Waldenwoods, and back to work Friday afternoon.

It was a great side trip, and we enjoyed it very much. Its a beautiful area, with many more attractions than we had time for. I highly recommend it, although it's not as highly recommended by us for the cabins at Timber Ridge. They were nice enough, but the furniture was horribly uncomfortable, and the bed completely uncomfortable. For the price we paid, it was not worth it. But if you're camping in your own trailer, it was a nice enough campground. 

This week we are struggling with record high temperatures and humidity, as is much of the country. Tomorrow is supposed to be the worst day, with actual temps near 99 and heat index up to 110. We had planned on going to the Ann Arbor Street Art fair for our day off, but with this miserable heat it would not be any fun whatsoever. So as the dogs already had accommodations booked at Camp BowWow, we will be going to a nice air-conditioned movie theatre instead, and seeing the last Harry Potter movie. 

I also wanted to say that for people looking to buy RV's and wondering how the air-conditioning holds up in this kind of heat...ours is doing great. We did not elect to have a second unit put on, but did have the bigger 15K BTU put on. We are running on 30amp, and the air-conditioner is doing a wonderful job of keeping the trailer cool. We are practicing power management, and placed the hot-water heater on propane, and so far 
have had no issues or breakers popping. Its good to know the one unit is adequate for the job!

So stay cool everyone, and see you soon!


  1. great photos today, Al and Karen!!..looks like you are at the ocean not a great lake!!!

  2. Great picture of Casey. What a beautiful place. I just love watching otters. Glad you guys are having so much fun.

  3. I feel like I've been on a fabulous trip with a wonderful and very well informed guide. I was at Sleeping Bear Dunes years ago and remember hiking UP a very TALL dune. Hope I wasn't one of those people who didn't read the signs. But at least they didn't have to rescue me!

    Thanks so much for this trip with the great pictures. Loved the otters especially. They are one of my favorite animals.

  4. Enjoyed the photos and description of the area. I lived in Traverse City back in 1972; I hear that it has changed a lot since then.