Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Flying Bear Visits Sleeping Bear: Dunes (Day 2)

No flying today.

We awoke in Traverse City to the discouraging threat of clouds and rain.  Making our way downstairs at the Fairfield Inn, I noticed that while the decor differed, the floor plan was identical to the last Fairfield we visited in Kalamazoo.  The breakfast, too, seemed stock: hard boiled eggs, cereal, DIY waffles, fruit.  Stock, but more than adequate.

I cast uneasy glances toward the cloud cover as we drove to the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center located at the intersection of M-72 and M-22 in Empire, MI.  Would it rain and spoil our trip?  It seemed that rain and sand would make for a challenging combination with a five year old in the mix.

At the Visitor Center, we paid our national park fee and collected the materials The Bear would require to earn her Sleeping Bear Dunes Junior Ranger badge.

The Dune Climb

With our solid breakfast still going strong, we elected to start the day with the "dune climb", a region of relatively stabilized dune that afforded a path directly to Lake Michigan for anyone willing to trudge through a few miles of sand.

We shed our shoes, leaving them in a pile at the base of the dune, and progressed barefoot (bearfoot?).  Like hobbits on a quest, we were.  The Bear was way ahead of us, falling prey to the illusion that the top of the dune was within easy reach, and used much of her energy early.

It was an illusion to which I had also succumbed as a child.  Upon reaching the "top", The Bear discovered that it was merely an inflection point in the slope of the dune.  The slope was shallower, but there was much more climbing to do.

Photo by Kristy.

Sometimes, it was easier to carry The Bear as we continued the climb.  

At other times, when The Bear claimed to be too tired to go any further, I would suggest that I could run faster than she could.  Thus exercising my parental powers of manipulation, I would find myself following the diminutive explorer as she climbed ahead of me.

The dreaded rain never came, only a sprinkle that lasted moments.  The cloud cover moved off to the east over Glen Lake.  We turned west, toward the clearing sky and Lake Michigan.

Grassy areas surrounded small, sandy seas as we progressed closer to Lake Michigan.


"I can see the bear cubs!" shouted The Bear when Lake Michigan finally came into view.  South Manitou Island was directly ahead with the North island off to the right.

Both islands can be seen from this vantage point.  We would explore the islands more closely the next day.

Turning 180° to the east, the cloud cover had moved inland.  It would dissipate soon enough.

One of the suggested activities for an aspiring Junior Ranger is a service project such as picking up litter from the park.  Here, The Bear found someone's Capri Sun pouch and Kristy tucked it away in the garbage bag she brought along for exactly that purpose.  It was not until hours later that we discovered a hole in that garbage bag that had allowed rancid beer to drain from the trash to the beach towel Kristy had in her backpack.  I had no idea that one could even buy Pabst Blue Ribbon anymore.

Photo by Kristy.

I know that I don't look it, but I had a blast at Sleeping Bear.  There exists another version of this picture where I'm smiling, but the kid is making an unintentionally goofy face.  Intentionally goofy faces are great but, given the situation, I decided to take the hit here.  Really, it is all about The Bear.

As I watched this scene, I heard that music from Star Wars where Artoo is being stalked by the Jawas.

We never reached Lake Michigan, but we hiked for a couple of miles and enjoyed the wonderful,  unique scenery and terrain.

I don't think that The Bear minded not reaching the lake.  She was content to play in the largest sandbox she had ever encountered.

From the dune climb, we proceeded into the town of Glen Arbor for lunch at a place called "Boondocks" that appeared to have a Bear-compatible menu.  I was pleased with the choice because I was offered a Bells Oberon right after we sat down, which was the closest I would come to Kalamazoo on the entire trip.

Pierce Stocking Is Not Some Kind of Footwear

Next, we proceeded to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a twisting avenue that transitions from typical Michigan forest to the dune ecosystem with startling rapidity.  The road brings visitors right to the highest part of the dunes, about 400 feet above the surface of Lake Michigan.

It is a long, steep way down to the beach.  The beach is visible in the above photo as the narrow, light colored strip of sand at the water's edge.

Despite the many signs urging park visitors to stay on the trail because climbing the steep dune could be hazardous to both dune and climber, plenty of "brave" (or illiterate) souls were attempting the climb.

A deep groove was worn in the dune where people were climbing down toward the lake.  Other signs warned that, if you needed to be rescued by the Coast Guard, you were assured of receiving a bill for the full cost of that rescue.  Evidently, signs make for poor deterrents.

Finally, the erosion feature we observed during our aerial reconnaissance the day before made perfect sense.  Was it wind that caused the erosion?  Rain?  No.  It was created by people who cannot or will not read signs.

We stayed on the trail.

Rescue on Lake Michigan

We hopped back into our spiffy rental Escape and made our way to the Maritime museum where Park Ranger Matt demonstrated how the United States Life Saving Service (USLSS) would rescue crews from the treacherous passage between Sleeping Bear and the Manitou Islands.  Using the Lyle Gun, a lot of rope, some pulleys, and a life preserver with pants sown into it (the fabled "breeches buoy"), the USLSS could save entire crews without ever leaving the shore or putting their own lives at risk.  At the end of the exercise, Raggedy Ann and Andy were saved, the captain went down with his ship, and The Bear had enough credits to earn her Junior Ranger Badge.  It was late in the day and time to head back to the Visitor's Center.

Photo by Kristy

But first, The Bear and I had to play with this old pump at the Maritime museum.

Check out the new Junior Ranger!

"Heavens to Betsie!"

Recycled aerial photograph from 2009.

In 2009, Kristy and I were returning from Mackinac Island when we flew over this picturesque lighthouse on Point Betsie.  It was the first time I became aware of this lighthouse and the photo has remained one of my favorites from that trip.  With the Point not far from Sleeping Bear, I suggested that we drive to the lighthouse so that The Bear could see it up close.

We found ourselves on a beach near the base of the lighthouse, with waves crashing against the sand.

While I took pictures of the lighthouse, The Bear hunted for rocks.  I was reminded of the plaque that used to hang on the wall of my grandmother's house that read "old rock hounds never die, they just slowly petrify".

The Bear adores rocks and has ever since she first toddled out on the daycare playground at age two.  She used to bring home rocks in her pockets and shoes (yup, her shoes) nearly every day.  Sometimes, she still does.

Kristy and I watched The Bear play in the surf.  Occasionally, Lake Michigan would reach up and soak The Bear's pant legs; mischievous old lake.

We returned to Traverse City after a very full day of vigorous exploration through beautiful scenery.


  1. More awesome shots - as if I even need to say that on your blog at this point.

    I remember having those exact feelings (the lake's just over that hill - oh wait...) the first time I went to Sleeping Bear as a kid. Perhaps an even fonder memory was pretending I was an astronaut as I ran down the dunes, bouncing 10-15 feet with each step. At least it felt like that much in those days!

    Good call on the Bell's. Oberon > PBR, for sure.

    1. LOL..."Oberon > PBR". Isn't that the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics?

  2. Grandma Howe would be so proud that her great-granddaughter has apparently inherited her love of rocks. No matter where we went, Mom was always on the look-out for a pretty rock or two and I'm now the proud owner of quite a few of her rocks. Love, Mom