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.

The Forest Primeval

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9078acsNo cathedral built by man could match the majesty of this forest sanctuary.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9082aRugged russet trunks rise straight and true to the arched ceiling of deep verdant green.

All is hushed but for the small rustlings of squirrel and chipmunk congregants below, and the whisperings of the wind in the pines that tower above.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9104aThe floor is laid, not with stone, but lush ferns and wildflowers. Where some old giant has fallen, light streams through the canopy as through stained glass. Porcupines, pine martens and bears have all walked the aisles of this forest older than time.

The air is still, the mood solemn, the spirit mysterious, eerie, primeval.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9101aOnce upon a time, pine forests covered 10 million acres of the North Country. Now only small remnants remain. This 49 acre old growth white pine forest endures at Hartwick Pines State Park in Michigan.

The pines here are thought to be over 300 years old, stand 120 feet or more, and may reach four feet in diameter at breast height. Eastern hemlocks and red pines attend these kings. Below them is a shaded understory so dark, it seems eternally twilight.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9116aAt the edges, where maples and beeches mingle with the pines, rests a small chapel.

A church within a church.

Quaint and cozy, yet somehow superfluous.

Are not the pines themselves enough to inspire reverence in such a setting?

Must people seek the Creator within walls while all of Creation stands without?

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9214sStep from the forest cathedral, and other mysteries beckon the soul.



This dirt road, for instance.

Don’t you want to know what’s around the next bend?

Let’s see what we can find.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9134aThe Au Sable River meanders its way through wetlands and woods, singing a soft hymn as it goes.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9173aTwo very different dragonflies share a pew.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9185acsA Northern Crescent butterfly preaches from a sunflower lectern.












MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9211a

A choir of brightly cloaked angels.


MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9245acsGlory, Glory, Hallelujah!

Glory Lake reflects the glory of northern Michigan in the colors of azure sky, cobalt water, and emerald pines. At the top of a tall tree nearby perches an Osprey, looking for prey.

Glory Lake, and its sister, Bright Lake, are kettle ponds formed during Michigan’s glacier period. Ice blocks that broke off from the glaciers formed depressions that filled with water after the glaciers retreated.

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9294acsA trail leads from the ponds into a diverse woodland.

Besides the aspen at left, there are white, red and jack pines.

Spruce, hemlock, and cedar.

Beech, maple and oak trees.

Shrubs, ferns, wildflowers, and a potpourri of plants are also abundant.

It’s a botanist’s dream.


MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9286a

Behold! – Lycopodium!

These are club mosses, but don’t be fooled by that name. They are not true mosses at all, but vascular plants.

Like teeny tiny Christmas trees a few inches high, they bring joy to those who spot them.

These little plants are much favored by the true of heart.

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9281aAt trail’s end, a quiet spot for contemplation. From towering pine trees to miniscule club mosses, ferocious dragonflies to gentle butterflies, the mysteries of the land inspire reverence and wonder.

May Nature’s blessings be with you all. Go in peace.

Michigan Rara Avis

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8872acsHow far would you travel to see a rare bird?

I flew 800 miles and then drove 150 more to see this one: a Kirtland’s Warbler (Life Bird #188).

Okay, full disclosure; I was going to Michigan anyway. I did plan my trip for late June and then drive across the state for a glimpse of this bird, though. I didn’t fool around trying to find this rare, flitty little warbler by myself, either. I took a tour sponsored by Michigan Audubon and led by a very knowledgeable young woman.

What’s so special about this bird that people travel hundreds of miles and take tours to see it?

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8914aKirtland’s Warbler is a Federal Endangered Species, and it nests only in young jack pine forests in Michigan and Wisconsin. It was listed as an Endangered Species in 1967. In 1973 the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team was created, with representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Audubon and other organizations. The following year 167 singing male warblers were recorded, a record low number.

Conservation measures enacted by the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team are working. In 2011, 1,828 singing males were recorded, well beyond the plan goal of 1,000. In fact, the number of warblers has exceeded the recovery goal for over a decade.

MI Grayling State Forest Jack Pine_8868aTwo-track road through a jack pine plantation in Grayling State Forest, an area actively managed for Kirtland’s Warbler.

MI Grayling State Forest Jack Pine_9039acsPine cone of a jack pine tree. See how it’s closed up, with its seeds still inside? This is a serotinous cone. It only opens and drops its seeds under the high temperatures of a wildfire. Jack pines have adapted to take advantage of frequent fires.

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8892acsKirtland’s Warblers have adapted to take advantage of jack pines. Young pines, that is. They nest on the ground under cover of the drooping lower branches. One pair needs at least 8 acres, and maybe as much as 30, of small pines. Once those trees reach twenty feet, the birds no longer nest there. Historically, frequent wildfires maintained this young jack pine habitat. Since this is the only tree the warblers nest in, they are dependent not only on jack pines, but frequent fire.

Except that fire is a tricky thing to manage. In 1980 a controlled burn got out of control and led to a wildfire that burned 25,000 acres and killed a USFS biologist. So now the Recovery Team relies on that nemesis of many environmentalists, clear-cutting. Areas of about 4,000 acres each year are logged and replanted with jack pine seedlings on a rotating basis, ensuring that there is always suitable habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler.

Also, Brown-headed Cowbirds frequently lay their eggs in Kirtland’s Warbler nests, leading the warblers to raise cowbirds rather than their own young. So cowbird control is a critical part of the plan.

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8901acsEven though the Kirtland’s Warbler has exceeded its recovery goal, the need to suppress natural wildfires to protect life and property means that continued management with human intervention will be needed. But it’s not just this little half-ounce warbler that benefits. Young jack pine habitat is beneficial for wild turkeys, badgers, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, numerous birds and at least two threatened plant species.

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_9054aOh, it figures. My closest and sharpest photo of a Kirtland’s, and what do I get? A bird butt! Turn around, please…


MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_9055aThat’s better, but now there’s a stick in the way. Move a little to the left, please?

These fashion models, they’re just so flighty.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_9960acsHere’s a bird I did not plan for. This is a Piping Plover (Life Bird #189). I found him in Buttersville Park, just south of the Ludington South Breakwater.

On the Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers have Threatened status, but in the Great Lakes region they are officially Endangered. These little guys like to nest right on the beach and dunes, in cobblestones or sparse vegetation. Humans and pets using the beach disturb the birds, sometimes leading to nest abandonment. In addition, people and vehicles may accidentally crush eggs or tiny young chicks. Add in predation by wild animals and habitat loss due to beach development and it’s no wonder this tiny bird is in trouble.

People are helping the Piping Plover, though. Nesting habitat is identified and monitored, with human access restricted where necessary. Active nests are fenced to keep people and predators out.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_9976aWait! Don’t fly away mad!

MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida Grouse_0916aAnother completely unexpected bird, this Ruffed Grouse (Life Bird #190) is anything but rare. In fact, they are widespread all across the U.S. They are really elusive and hard to see, though – in some areas.

My friend Don, convinced he’ll never see a Ruffed Grouse, has made it his life’s goal to hear one drumming in its spring courtship ritual.

Imagine his surprise when I e-mailed this photo taken at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida Grouse_0892acsFor that matter, imagine my surprise when I turned down a dirt road and came upon this bird strutting around. It paraded slowly down the road for quite some time while I took photos right from the front seat of my car. It didn’t seem at all concerned by my presence. It appears that, unlike shy Eastern grouse, Midwestern birds are much bolder.

MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida Grouse_0890acs

I’m ready for my close-up now.

Light Up The Sky

MI Fireworks_2027acsThe Fourth of July celebration in Ludington, Michigan moves to the lake in the evening. Fireworks are a great excuse for one big beach party!

MI Fireworks Beach_1892acsComplete darkness doesn’t arrive here until 10:30, so there’s plenty of time for other entertainment. People gather in droves at the city park, and bonfires stud the shore of Lake Michigan. Fireworks start going off up and down the coast long before dark.

MI Fireworks Badger_1844acsLucky boat owners will anchor off the shore for a unique view. Others will sign on for a special tour by the S. S. Badger, Ludington’s beloved car ferry.

MI Fireworks Lantern_1926acsUnique lanterns drift through the air.

MI Fireworks Lantern_1916acs

As darkness falls, another lantern is prepared for flight.

MI Fireworks Badger_1957acsThe Badger, maneuvering into position to give her passengers the best view. Let the show begin!

MI Fireworks_2001aMI Fireworks_2002a

MI Fireworks_2007aMI Fireworks_2010MI Fireworks_2011aMI Fireworks_2033aMI Fireworks_2040aMI Fireworks_2046a

After the grand finale, Mother Nature lights up the sky over Club Mich with her own brand of pyrotechnics.MI Fireworks Stars_2065acs

Small Town Americana

MI Parade 2_1154acsNothing says the Fourth of July more than a small town parade. And nobody does it better than the small Western Michigan town of Ludington. Everybody turns out to celebrate the country’s birthday. One parade participant estimated the crowd at 30,000, quite a feat for a town of 8,000.

People start lining up chairs at dawn. When the show gets under way at 2 in the afternoon, spectators are packed three and four deep on the sidewalks for the entire one mile route.

MI Parade 1 Audience_1714aMax’s owners cheerfully waved me to an adjacent open spot on the curb when they saw my camera. Front row seat! Everybody’s genuinely friendly in Michigan.

MI Parade 2_1186aThe parade started with a bang, courtesy of the Civil War re-enactors and their cannon.

Youngsters  know to be prepared for the concussion when the cannon goes BOOM!

MI Parade 2_1260aAlso making noise was the Ludington High School Band.

MI Parade 2_1526acs copyThe Harvest Festival Queen, from neighboring Scottville, waves to the crowd.












MI Parade 1 Audience_1575acs4

Not every beauty was participating in the parade. A few were watching it, and hoping for candy.

MI Parade 1 Audience_1630a

Future Miss Ludington.

MI Parade 2_1542acsThere are certain requirements for any parade. Like floats…

MI Parade 2_1214aThe local contingent of fire engines…

MI Parade 2_1664aMI Parade 2_1633acsA long line of classic cars…

MI Parade 2_1703aAnd in farm country, tractors.

MI Parade 2_1712aAlso marching in the parade were gymnastics and dance groups, the Rotary Club’s Briefcase Brigade, Smokey Bear, a young fife and drum unit, and a string band that had me wondering at first how the Mummers got here from Philadelphia.

The 4-H Club and Mason County Sherriff’s Office each brought their equestrian units, with the obligatory clean-up crews, who got big cheers from the crowd.

This entire 2-hour spectacle was just the warm-up act for the main attraction…

MI Parade 9 Scottville Clown Band_1744acsThe World Famous Scottville Clown Band!

MI Parade 9 Scottville Clown Band_1757acsEveryone in Michigan knows the Scottville Clown Band. They’ve been around since 1903, after all.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, I have no idea how to describe them and do them justice.

Philadelphians might look at it this way: Take a really good brass band, throw them in a vat with the wenches and clowns of a Mummers Comic Club, stir it up, and what you’ve got is the Scottville Clown Band.

MI Parade 9 Scottville Clown Band_1755aRowdy, bawdy, and hilarious, these guys are also very talented musicians. They come from all over to perform many times over the course of a year. They also sponsor music and performing arts scholarships and fund a band shell in Scottville.

MI Parade 9 Scottville Clown Band_1816acsMostly they just make people happy.

MI Parade 9 Scottville Clown Band_1784aLike drum lines everywhere, Scottville’s drummers are mild-mannered and well-disciplined.

MI Parade 9 Scottville Clown Band_1813acs Oval 3Of course there has to be a tuba-player in a tutu.

MI Parade 2_1601acsTime to wave good-bye to this year’s Fourth of July parade.

Stroll down to the beach, maybe enjoy an adult beverage or two, and rest up. The party continues with fireworks tonight!MI Parade 2_1317a



MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6031a By now the interested blog viewer will have gotten the idea that I’m rather fond of wildlife. You might think by the sheer number of bird photos that winged creatures top my list, but in fact I’m a mammal kind of girl. My all-time favorite animals are American black bears. All right, I admit, it’s the cute factor, but if I were twenty-five years younger I’d be in school right now, studying to be a wildlife biologist and hoping to work with black bears.

Frustratingly, I’ve never seen one. When I was 16, one strolled through my unit at summer camp, and I slept right through it. The Philadelphia Zoo has Asiatic black bears, but not American, and when we visited the Cape May Zoo, their bears were inside while the enclosure was being cleaned. I even have bad luck at zoos.

MI Mitchell SP Sign_7536aThe closest I’ve gotten is this sign, near Mitchell State Park. Not your average “Deer Crossing” sign is it?

It’s becoming my new excursion mantra – “Great trip! But NO bears…”

Here are a few Michigan images that didn’t make it into previous posts, but I like too much to leave out.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6183aLost Lake, Ludington State Park

Sign CollageMichigan Highway 116 runs past endless beaches and right into Ludington State Park, and M-22 is the route through Sleeping Bear Dunes. The locations they provide access to are so popular there’s a whole cottage industry of M-22 and M-116 trinkets. Also common are Michigan T-shirts: “Lake Michigan – Unsalted and Shark Free”.

MI Mitchell SP Flower_7240aMI Mitchell SP Flower_7383aOn the trail at Mitchell State Park

Ludington CollageSome things you might see around Ludington, including art at the Waterfront Park, and the House of Flavors. Fantastic ice cream with really creative flavor names. “NSA Feature Flavor”?

MI White Pine - 19 Windmill_5471aAs the sun sets on another wonderful sojourn to Michigan, good memories flood back:

  •  MI Tricycle Kim_7701 acsTelling time by the toot of the Badger’s horn
  • Getting Jersey-sized waves on the first day
  • Dirt roads and red barns
  • Kayaking
  • Betsey’s delight with the scallops at Steamer’s
  • Meeting Doug and Suzanne – YAY! – and Terry and the Obrechts
  • The Club Mich sign
  • Getting lost
  • Barefoot Brownie ice cream, aka Bear Claw
  • Michigan cherries
  • Sherry’s battle with the ants
  • Going from way too hot to almost cold, and getting to wear an International House sweatshirt when it was too cold
  • Sherry whistling the blues to the accompaniment of Doug’s guitar
  • That darn tricycle
  • Forgetting to sign the garage before I left

Most of all, long conversations with wonderful people. I’m especially grateful to Betsey and Sherry – thanks guys for inviting me into your wonderful home this summer.

On the way out of town, let’s take advantage of one more opportunity to have the “Ludington Experience”, shall we?Stearns Park Collage

The REAL Ludington ExperienceMI Sunset_5732a

Coming up: Summer’s Fleeting Beauty

Michigan’s Shy Wildlife

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Northern Pearly-eye_6060a I went to Michigan hoping to come home with lots of amazing wildlife shots. Last year I saw minks, for gosh sakes. And this year I have this great new long telephoto zoom lens. Confoundingly, Michigan critters are quite camera shy. No mink, no deer, only one chipmunk.

Birds – oh, yes, there were birds. I could hear them all around me, nattering away constantly. But they insisted on playing hide-and-seek with me, teasing with brief flashes of black and yellow, but never settling down long enough to visit.

Here are some of the animals I did manage to capture, mostly of the winged variety. Above is a Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly in Ludington State Park. Check out the natty striped antennas.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Bird_6213aAmerican Redstart, Ludington State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Bird_7291aSong Sparrow, Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Bird_7415aChickadee, Mitchell State Park.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Bird_6402aUnidentified Warbler, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Maybe a female or juvenile Blackburnian? A little help, anyone?

Eagle Filmstrip 1 No text A juvenile Bald Eagle searches for prey, spots his quarry, closes in, and – IMPACT!

Eagle Filmstrip 2 No Text

To the victor goes the spoils.

Looks like fish for lunch today.

MI Nordhouse Dunes GSF Butterfly_5898aGreat Spangled Fritillary, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Who comes up with these names, anyhow?

MI LSP Sable River Trail Common Buckeye_7084a Common Buckeye, Ludington State Park.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Widow Skimmer_6452aWidow Skimmer, Ludington State Park.

MI LSP Sable River Trail E Pondhawk_7051aEastern Pondhawk, Ludington State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly_7458aSometimes dragonflies, butterflies and birds of the same species come in different colors. Usually it’s a male/ female thing. For instance, here’s a Ruby Meadowhawk female. Not particularly Ruby, is it? MI Mitchell SP Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly_7365aBut here’s the male Ruby Meadowhawk, and now it’s obvious where the name came from. Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Wildlife Midland Painted_7353aAnd now, for some scaly things: Midland Painted Turtle, Mitchell State Park. The front fellow’s a little shy, typical of most of the critters I saw – or didn’t see – in Michigan.

Near misses: Occasionally along the Mitchell Heritage Nature Trail I would hear “shish-shishhh-shish” as a small snake slithered off into the grass. I rarely actually saw them. I also heard the distinctive banjo-like “twang” of a Green Frog a few times.

MI White Pine Village_5430aEnding on a furry note: Chipmunk, White Pine Village.

Coming up: Mich-mash

Sleeping Bear Dunes: Dune Culture

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6846ac What else is there to do on a warm and sunny day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, after spending several hours on the Scenic Drive? Why, the Dune Climb, of course.

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6600aThe National Park Service would really prefer that visitors not climb just any dune in the park, due to their fragility and steepness. So the Service has set up this 150’ high dune where people can climb safely. And what a set up it is: There’s a huge parking lot, restrooms, a Park store, picnic tables and vending machines. All of which is smartly situated at the bottom of the dune. When you climb, you get the hard part over first, and then get the fun of running back down.

Dune Climb Collage Nearby a wooden beam shows the progress of the moving dune. It was placed here in 1985, and the edge of the dune is now sitting around 66’ in from the end; that means the dune is moving at a rate of 2.36’ a year.

I was a bit of a party pooper here, and didn’t climb the dune. I don’t really like going uphill in soft sand under a hot sun. Besides, the NPS vending machine ate my money without giving me a Klondike Bar, so I was cranky. I did go for a peaceful walk in the woods along part of the paved Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. I also enjoyed reading the license plates in the parking lot. There were people that drove from as far away as Idaho and Vermont.

Glen Haven Collage 1Glen Haven is a village restored to its heyday as a company town and port for steamboats. Sleeping Bearville, as it was once known, was active from 1865 on. Above, clockwise from top left: The Sleeping Bear Inn, which was built in 1857 and served guests until 1972. The awning of the Glen Haven General Store, as it appeared in the 1920s, when it was run by local lumber baron D. H. Day. The Blacksmith shop.

Glen Haven Collage 2David Henry (D.H.) Day ran the town of Glen Haven from the late 1800s to the 1930s. He financed and built houses for the workers, and was school superintendent. Above, clockwise from top left: The house Day built in 1890 for his wife – she preferred living over the store! The Glen Haven Canning Company, started in the 1920s by David Day Jr. after the collapse of the lumber industry, canned cherries, peaches and apples; today it houses a small fleet of old Lake Michigan boats. A house for a worker’s family. One of the boats on display in the Cannery.

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6913aSky, lake and the fishing boat Aloha.

In 1901, a United States Life Saving Service station was built on Sleeping Bear Point. It was much needed – there have been more than 50 shipwrecks in this vicinity. The Service became part of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915. By 1931, the station had been nearly buried by sand, and the buildings were pulled, by horses, to their present location. The introduction of “unsinkable” 36’ motor boats, which could only be launched from harbors, made beachside stations like Sleeping Bear Point obsolete, and it closed for good in the early 1940s. Today it houses a museum showcasing crew life, the Life Saving Service and Great Lakes maritime history.

Maritime Museum Collage Above, clockwise from top left: the main crew quarters. The boat house. A view of the lake from an upstairs window. Part of the crew’s bunk room. The room housed seven men, who each had their own bed and small closet. Quite an austere existence for men who stood ready to risk their lives in the worst of conditions on a daily basis.

In the evening I drove around the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, a community northeast of Glen Haven that includes 16 historic farms. Several of the barn photographs that appeared in the earlier “Farm Country” post were taken here, including D.H. Day’s elaborate white barn. I wandered down a dirt and gravel road for a long time, and had to wonder why I did, after nearly getting stuck on a sandy hill. Then, when I reached a pull-out at the side of the road, it all became clear.

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6993aDeep green trees, crystalline blue water: this is what I remember when I think of Michigan.

Coming up: Michigan’s Shy Wildlife

Sleeping Bear Dunes: The Scenic Drive

00 A LegendSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwest Michigan’s Lower Peninsula encompasses 50,000 acres, including 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and the Manitou Islands. There are 100 miles of hiking trails, winding through forests, lakes, beaches and those famous dunes. Within the Lakeshore are historic sites like the company town of Glen Haven, three former U.S. Life-Saving Service Stations, and the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.

00 Lake Mich Pan 2 ACWith only a day at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and so much to see and do, where do you start? That’s easy: with all the “touristy” things! Chief among them is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This 7.4 mile drive was built in the late 1960s by lumberman Pierce Stocking to show visitors the natural wonders of the area he loved. It became part of the Lakeshore after his death in 1976. The drive winds through the woods and along the dunes, offering spectacular views at 12 stops along the way.

01 MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6493 aThe Covered Bridge. I’m a sucker for covered bridges anywhere, but this one is especially scenic. And topped with a National Park Service arrowhead, no less. It’s nestled in a forest of maple and beech trees which blankets the steep hills and valleys.

02 MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6499 aGlen Lake Overlook. Glen Lake, like Lake Michigan and the other smaller lakes of the area, was carved out by glaciers long ago. As the ice melted, deposits of sand and gravel were left behind to form hills. The hill at the left is known as Alligator Hill because of its resemblance to an alligator’s snout, not because there are alligators on the hill!

03 MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6526aDune Overlook. Here you can see some of the dunes that make up the Lakeshore. Most of the dunes have been around for ages, and the vegetation that covers their surfaces helps to stabilize them. Occasionally the wind scours a depression free of plants and creates an area known as a “blowout”.

04 Cottonwood CollageThe Cottonwood Trail. One and a half miles through the dunes, up and down hills of soft sand in a blazing sun. Not usually my idea of a good time, but I really enjoyed this walk. There were great views to be had at the top of those sand hills: the “Dune Climb”, the D. H. Day Farm, Glen Lake and Lake Michigan.  The trail gets its name from the stands of Cottonwood trees that provide welcome shade as well as beauty. Lots of interesting wildflowers and shrubs can be found here, including buffaloberry, dune grass, the threatened Pitcher’s Thistle, and bearberry. I recognized not a single one, not being smart enough to pick up a trail map until I got back from the hike.  I wished more than once that my Weed Warrior friends were along; they would have had a blast identifying plants.

07 Beech Maple Collage aThe Maple/ Beech Forest. Coming down the backside of the dunes, you plunge into a cool, leafy green forest. The predominant trees here are Sugar Maple and American Beech, with Hemlock, Basswood and Black Cherry trees scattered throughout. This is a climax forest, the last stage in the transition of ecosystems from dunes to woods.

09  A MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6718 a Lake Michigan Overlook. Lake Michigan was carved out by glaciers, and filled when the ice melted nearly 12,000 years ago. The water shimmers through crystalline shades of blue and aqua, varying with the lake depth. The bluffs that line the shore are 450 feet high, and precariously steep. The NPS warns people not to run down the dunes, both to protect the fragile ecology of the dunes and prevent further erosion, and to protect visitors.

Sure, it’s easy to go DOWN the dune, and there’s an inviting swim at the bottom. But then you have to climb back UP, a chore that can take up to two hours as you crawl upwards over gravel and loose sand.  Occasionally people need to be rescued, and the nearby town of Glen Arbor has a four wheel drive vehicle for just that purpose.

09 Lake Mich Overlook CollageAll the warnings don’t stop people from trying it. You can see how steep it is, and how hard it is to get back up. Better to take in the view from the observation platform, but hold onto your hat! It’s windy out there.

10 MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6746a Sleeping Bear Dune. Here is the dune of legend. At one time it did look like a sleeping black bear. It was also inland from the edge of the bluff, and stood 234′ high. Over the years the front of the bluff has eroded away, as has part of the dune itself. It is now at the edge of the bluff and only 132′ high. In time it will disappear altogether. Across the water at the left is one of the Manitou Islands.

11 MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6834aNorth Bar Lake. North Bar Lake was once a bay. Over time wave action has worked to carry sand across the mouth of the bay and close it off nearly completely. Only a small channel remains to connect it to the Big Lake. The warm waters make the lake a popular swimming destination and children can’t resist playing in the channel.

12 MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6488aPine Plantation. A few posts back we talked about the stands of pines planted to replace the forests that had been logged a century ago. These are red pines, and you can see how they are planted close together in uniform rows. When trees grow like this, it is difficult for other vegetation and other types of trees to get the space, light and nutrients they need. In Sleeping Bear Dunes, the National Park Service is gradually and selectively cutting pines to encourage a more natural mixed forest. That’s the kind of logging I can get behind.

 FUN FACT: Sleeping Bear Dune, like many of the high dunes along the Lake Michigan coast, is a “perched dune”. What is a perched dune, you ask? No, it doesn’t perch on a tree branch like a bird. What it perches on is a glacial moraine bluff. Okay, what’s a “moraine”? It’s any accumulation of debris left behind by glaciers, in this case gravel and sand. Much of the geology of this area was formed by glaciers, from the deep depressions that became lakes, to the bluffs and hills deposited by retreating ice.

13 Lake Mich Bar Lake Pan ACSSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1973, and is run by the National Park Service; in 2011, a “Good Morning America” viewer poll named it the “Most Beautiful Place in America”. Who am I to argue with that?

Coming up: Dune Culture

Farm Country

Country Road Pan a Ahh, Western Michigan. My yearly escape from the pavement, smog and traffic of suburbia. Here I find relief in sparkling lakes, sandy beaches, deep green forests, and spectacular sunsets – with nary a traffic jam in sight.

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6989aAnd then there are the farms. Lots of farms. Lots of farms with fields of green and gold dusted with purple.

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6897aAnd the barns! Red barns, white barns, beautifully weathered old barns.

DSC_0288 aThe area near the coast is a hot bed of fruit production, thanks to Lake Michigan’s warming influence and a longer growing season. Fruits grown include peaches, pears and plums, apples and apricots. But what Mason County is famous for is its tart cherries. Wonderful, dark, juicy cherries.

Guilty confession: this is a stock photo, not one of mine. There sat a bowl of beautiful cherries in Betsey’s kitchen, and it never occurred to me to take a photo. Stupid me – I ate them instead.

MI Farm Country_7577a MI Farm Country_7573aMI Farm Country_7597a Of course, there are other things raised here besides fruit. Like asparagus and snap beans. Corn and wheat. Dairy cows and other livestock. Christmas trees!

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_6985a MI Farm Country_7623aMoo cow.

MI Farm Country_7610a MI Nordhouse Dunes_5952aOn a corner in the middle of nowhere, a country store. Well, to a suburban girl like me it seems like the middle of nowhere. No doubt the locals consider it a congested intersection. In fact, you can find it on Google Maps – at the corner of West Nurnberg and North Quarterline Roads. Reckon that’s progress for you.

MI Farm Country_7594a MI Farm Country_7618a

Mennonite girl working in a roadside field. Farming is a way of life for the sizable population of Mennonites and Amish in Michigan, as it is for communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and other locales.

Country Roads Collage b The dirt and gravel roads I traveled on in Michigan had me wishing for my trusty Forester SUV instead of a rental sedan. I wouldn’t have tried the road at bottom left even if it wasn’t a private road.

MI Sleeping Bear Dunes_7043aMI Farm Country_7566aThe End.

Coming up: Sleeping Bear Dunes