On The Ridgeline

MI Ludington State Park_9626aLudington State Park is only five minutes away from my family’s home in Michigan. Its lakes, dunes, woodlands and miles of trails draw me there time and again.

MI Ludington State Park_9390acsThe Island Trail running between Hamlin Lake and Lost Lake is my favorite place to explore. Birch, maple and pine trees line the sandy path.

On one hand, grassy marsh meadows soon give way to dark Lost Lake. On the other, big Hamlin Lake lies sparkling in the sun.

MI Ludington State Park_9420acsThis year I finally had a chance to walk the Ridge Trail and complete the loop. As you would expect from its name, the Ridge Trail runs along a sand dune ridge. Unlike the smaller grassy beach dunes, these dunes are wooded.

The trail climbs so steeply at first as to need wooden stairs, and then settles into a gentler rise. The top of the ridge is narrow; just on either edge of the trail, the land drops precipitously into deep valleys.

MI Ludington State Park_9516acsThe higher you climb, the more exposed the ridge becomes. Old tree stumps show the effects of wind, rain and sun.

MI Ludington State Park_9430acsIf you’re tired from the climb, you can have a seat. Dunes are living things, constantly shifting with the winds. Here the sand is slowly devouring this bench.

MI Ludington State Park_9541aAs the dune is blown away from the bases of the trees, it reveals a marvelous tangle of twisted roots. Lichen and moss clothe the exposed bark.

Roots like this and the weathered remains of old trees lie everywhere on the ridge, a sculpture garden left behind by elfin artists.

MI Ludington State Park_9578aFrom the summit, Lake Michigan appears, playing peek-a-boo between the fallen trees.

MI Ludington State Park_9586acsThe Old Sentinel.

MI Ludington State Park_9616acsFurther along, a side trail winds through open dunes to overlook Hamlin Lake. A great spot for lunch, except for the mayflies. Can you see that X-shaped thing hovering over the small bush in the center? (As always, click the photo to see a larger image.)

No, that’s not a tiny spaceship. It’s a mayfly that managed to photo-bomb my perfectly nice landscape shot.

FUN FACT: Mayfly naiads (the immature stage) live a year or two on the bottom of lakes, molting several times. The final molt produces the adult mayfly, which will live only a day or two. They’re harmless to humans – except that often they all mature at once, creating swarms that can really annoy the unsuspecting picnicker.

MI Ludington State Park_9695aWhat goes up must come down, and soon enough the Ridge Trail descends to rejoin the Island Trail.

Last winter was rough here in Michigan, and portions of the path must be traversed with care. Erosion along the shore of Hamlin Lake undermines soil and trees alike.

MI Ludington State Park_9760aIn a marshy bay of Hamlin Lake, a Great Blue Heron pauses from fishing to offer a fitting benediction to a happy day on the trail.