A Sleeping Bear Sundae

Dozens of flavors of ice cream, and each one more delicious than the last. How does anyone choose? That’s the way I feel at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. There are so many great trails. How do I choose?

Too hot on an August day for the wide-open trails through the dunes. Too crowded for the Cottonwood Trail. The Empire Bluffs Trail? My favorite, but I’ve done it before. Maybe something new? Maybe something with a meadow, and cool woods that open onto Lake Michigan. A triple-scoop Sleeping Bear Sundae, as it were. Maybe the Pyramid Point Trail? Continue reading

Caught Between Three Lakes

Each summer members of my father’s extended family gather at the summer home on the shores of Lake Michigan. Each year, I am privileged to join them for a few days. My primary focus is on spending time with cousins, swimming, playing games, enjoying the beach, and savoring good food with good company. But I always have time for hikes and exploration.

Nearby Ludington State Park has a number of great trails, all of them tempting. It’s tough to choose between them! I don’t spend much time on the decision. On this trip to the park, I walked my favorite loop, for the umpteenth time. Not to worry, there’s always interesting things to see on the Lost Lake, Ridge and Island Trails. Three trails, three lakes, and me caught between them, caught in all their wonder. Continue reading

On the Shores of the Inland Sea

Summer morning, Lake Michigan. The path to adventure beckons! Come, spend a day with me. Let us see what treasures we find along the shores of the inland sea.

Silky soft sand gives way to an endless ribbon of pebbles.

Like snowflakes, no two pebbles are alike. Each glistening gem shines in its own unique light.

Patches of wildflowers flourish in the dune meadows.

In the marsh at the foot of the breakwater, a Great Blue Heron stalks his prey.

Ahhh – lunch!

In these parts, the forests march clear to the edge of the water. Fallen timber abounds, exposed to the wind, waves and sun, weathering into marvelous driftwood tableaus.

What have we here? Critter tracks run like zippers up and down the sand. Tiny tracks mean tiny critters. It’s likely this was made by a bug.

Along the path, grasses dance in the breezes that sweep over the dunes.

Afternoon lengthens into lingering evening. Cocktail hour for bees! For tonight’s drink, we offer the nectar of Russian sage.

The glassy calm waters of the big lake entice the paddler to sea with the offer of a golden sunset.

In the glow of the evening, a sailboat awaits tomorrow’s adventures.

The sun sets on Lake Michigan, an enchanting finish to a delightful summer day spent on the shores of the inland sea.

Lost and Found

Lose yourself in Nature and find peace.   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a few hours along the lake shores of Western Michigan, one loses sight of many things – and finds so much more.

LOST: Traffic.

FOUND: Freedom.

LOST: Pavement.

FOUND: Softness.

LOST: Smog.

FOUND: Clarity.

LOST: Noise.

FOUND: Tranquility.

LOST: Trash.

FOUND: Beauty.

LOST: Deadlines.

FOUND: Constancy.

LOST: Budgets.

FOUND: Treasure.

LOST: Self-doubt.

FOUND: Tenacity.

LOST: Narrow-mindedness.

FOUND: Perspective.

LOST: Stress.

FOUND: Imagination.

LOST: Anger.

FOUND: Serenity.

On Empire Bluff

The old ones say “the journey is the destination,” and many times that is true. There were wonders to be found along the trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes, to be sure. But the destination – oh, my, the destination…

The destination at the end of this trail quickly became my new favorite place in Sleeping Bear: Empire Bluff, a sandy ridge high above Lake Michigan. The path to it snaked through thick forests of beech and maple, ending at a boardwalk along the bluff. 160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4791acsOpenings in the greenery offered a sneak peak of the vistas to come.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4806acsLooking down at Lake Michigan 400 feet below. The variety of hues never cease to amaze me. How many names are there for these shades? Blue, green, turquoise, aquamarine, cerulean, azure, beryl, cobalt, peacock… I don’t think there are nearly enough words to describe the colors of the lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4846acsThe view from the Empire Bluff Overlook. The shoreline stretches north along the Empire Embayment. A sand bar separates South Bar Lake from Lake Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dune itself – or what is left of it after years of wind erosion – is a small dark hill perched on the tip of the sandy bluff in the distance. Offshore to the left, partially obscured by cedar trees, is South Manitou Island.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4895acsEveryone comes for the view. Not everyone pays attention to it. Sometimes I wonder where the next generation of conservationists will come from if kids never get their faces out of their phones, even when in the presence of beauty such as this.

At least some folks are putting their phones to good use. I took cell photos here too, mostly to tease my friends: “I’m on top of the world, and you’re not!”

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4873acsNot all is right with that world up here, but it’s hard to find fault with this loveliness. I was enthralled with the purple flowers that covered the open sandy slopes. I couldn’t resist them, even though I knew them for what they were – a dreaded invasive plant.

Spotted Knapweed, Centaurea stoebe, to be precise. It’s an Eastern European aster that arrived on the West Coast in the 1800s, probably in an alfalfa shipment. In 80 or 90 years, it spread to 26 counties in the Pacific Northwest. 20 years later, it was in 45 of 50 states. A pioneer species, it takes over fields, road sides, sand prairies, anywhere there is open disturbed land. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

But it’s such a pretty nasty

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4834acs2This metallic green sweat bee thought so, too. There are a lot of species of sweat bees all over the world. Which one this is, I have no idea. It was enough to just watch it flashing emerald green in the sun, busily pollinating the invasive plants.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4885acsDriftwood and weathered old logs made for decorative accents among the wildflowers, grasses and small shrubs.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4880acsA pair of Bald Eagles soared over the ridge.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4919acsThe joint was jumping, literally. Grasshoppers abounded. If I got too close, they’d hop a foot or two in the air, and fly away with buzzing wings. In flight, they looked like butterflies. Here’s the Grasshopper King, about to take up his scepter.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4933acsLooking up the hill to the east.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4898acsBeyond the boardwalk, the sandy trail continued along the knife’s edge of the bluff. To the south is Platte Bay. I turned back here, leaving other wonders to be discovered another time.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4811acsThat’s the thing about favorite places. They always leave you wanting more.

On The Trail of A Sleeping Bear

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-6-otter-creek_5015acsIf it’s Michigan, it must be Sleeping Bear Dunes.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-5-empire-trail_4997acsEvery summer that I visit Michigan, I try to spend a day in the sprawling Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Every summer I discover a new favorite place.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and Glen Haven.

The Port Oneida Rural Historic District and Platter River Point.

This year it was…

Wait. We have to get there first. In Sleeping Bear Dunes, the journey is the destination. Here are some scenes from the trail.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4734acsGlaciers played a large role in shaping the hills and lakes of the area, depositing deep layers of sand and debris. In this poor soil grows a dense forest of maple and birch. Scattered boulders known as “erratics” were carried here by glaciers from their origins far away.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4776acsAlong the path I look at every fern. Finally, a wood fern I can identify. See the spores along the margins of the frond’s pinnules? It’s a Marginal Wood Fern!

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-6-otter-creek_5049acsOtter Creek.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-2-stocking-drive_4644acsMy new friend is bright-eyed and curious.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4737acs 160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-7-otter-lake_5070acsSunny opening in the woods along the shore of Otter Lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-7-otter-lake_5059acsOtter Lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-5-empire-trail_4987acsThe best destinations offer journeys of their own. This path took me to my new favorite place in Sleeping Bear Dunes…

Paddling Michigan

110708_mi-club-mich_5097acsI learned to kayak in Michigan.

I’d spent my adolescence canoeing, but decades had passed, and kayaks were a different craft altogether. So I listened carefully as Betsey showed me how to get into the kayak, and warned me of the dangers of getting broadside to the waves. Then she gave the stern a little push and said “Paddle!”

Faced with deceptively strong one-foot waves and starting to veer dangerously sideways, I did just what she said. One stroke. Hmm, this odd paddle has a blade on the other end too. Let’s try that one. Two strokes. Then three, four, five strokes, and without knowing it I was out beyond the waves, maneuvering the boat like I’d been born to it.

I was a kayaker.

110718_mi-club-mich_5083acsFlash forward five years, and once again I found myself in Michigan, this time with a lot more kayak experience under my belt. I’ve paddled ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both with companions and alone. Heck, I even own my own kayak now. But until this year, my Michigan paddling had been lake-bound: Lost Lake and Hamlin Lake, Lake Michigan.

No more. This year, I finally got out on a Michigan river. Two of them, in fact!

Up first, the Lincoln River. Getting there required a 1½ mile paddle north on Lake Michigan. During which time I realized that I’d left my waterproof point-and-shoot camera behind. Phooey.

150822_mi-lake-michigan-kayak_1934acsI’d tried this trip the year before, but had been turned back by wind and powerful longshore currents. Don’t the clear skies and crystal aquamarine water of this photo from last year fool you. Lake Michigan is not to be trifled with. Underneath that rippled surface was a northward flow as unyielding as any spring tide.

No such drama from the lake this time! This year she was a lamb, lying calm and blue under sunny skies. The trip to the mouth of the Lincoln River took a mere fifteen minutes. Once there, I sought the shelter of some trees. It was getting hot, and the shade was welcome.

160723_mi-lincoln-lake-102454acsAnother happy fifteen minutes took me under a footbridge and into Lincoln Lake. Finally I gave in and dug my cell phone out to take photos. I own two DLSR cameras, four lenses and a waterproof camera, and there I was, using a phone camera.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_102746acsLooking back toward Epworth Heights. My great-grandfather built a house in this Methodist resort a century ago, and my dad and his cousin Sherry spent summers there throughout their boyhoods. I grew up with Dad’s tales of Michigan, and fell in love the first time I set foot in the state. Must be in the blood.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_103728acsTranquil scene along the Lincoln River. I spotted several Great Blue Herons, a couple of Belted Kingfishers and numerous turtles along the shores of white pine, hemlock and birch.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_110150acsThe mouth of the river, with Lake Michigan beyond. A nice day for a paddle, no?

An even bigger adventure awaited a few days later. My cousin Becky, her husband Ron and their friend Mark invited me to go on a day-long canoe trip on the Pere Marquette River.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4094acs Looking over partner Mark’s shoulder, Becky and Ron in the red canoe about to slip around the bend.

Canoeing! I’d lived in canoes as a teenager – I’d paddled, floated, talked, sang, ate and even slept in them. This was familiar as coming back home.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4102acsAnd yet, not so familiar. The rust showed. I was surprised at how awkward canoeing felt. I had always paddled in the stern of a canoe when I was young, so that’s where I asked to be. Poor Mark gamely put up with my out-of-practice (and very different) paddling style for the day. He was generous with his tips and I learned a few things from him. I definitely wasn’t the veteran canoer I used to be.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4116acsOur lunch spot along the Pere Marquette River. The river is lined with white pine, birch, cedar and beech trees, along with wild rice plants. Tiny damselflies were everywhere. We passed a white-tailed deer and her fawn, and two wood ducks, and were in turn passed by a Belted Kingfisher.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4121acsAfter lunch I amused myself looking at the pebbly riverbed. I think there might have been small fossils embedded in at least one of these rocks.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4126acsThen I remembered my camera is waterproof. I’ve always wanted to try an above-the-water/ below-the-water split shot. The rapidly moving water makes for an unusual boundary.

When we got back on the river after lunch, Mark took over in the stern. I spent the rest of the trip wondering where to put my feet. There is NO space in the front of a canoe. Now I am quite sure that I’ve never paddled in the bow before in my life.

With experienced Brother Mark at the helm, I had time to do a little more photography…

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4148acs…And sit back and soak in a beautiful day paddling on a wild Michigan river.