Tag Archive | Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

MI Road Trip: A Scenic Drive and Children’s Story

Did you ever read the Pippi Longstocking books as a child?  The ones about the little girl with the braided pigtails, superhuman strength, and spotted horse?  I did.  And this blog has nothing to do with Pippi Longstocking, except…  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has a scenic drive called the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which I will always remember as the Pippi Longstocking Scenic Drive!  There is absolutely no relation, except the slightly similar name that makes my imagination run wild.

The drive is named for Pierce Stocking, a local lumberman who began building the road in the 1960s.  He thought the area was so beautiful that he wanted to share it with people.  He charged $2 per car to drive the scenic road.  Stocking also built the covered bridge on the drive.  The scenic drive became part of the national park, and is now maintained by the park service along with the rest of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

After we made it back from The Dune Climb – and poured the sand out of our shoes – again… we decided to do the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The light was really fading at that point, so I didn’t know how much we would see on the 7.4 mile drive.  But as it turns out, there is a beautiful, historic covered bridge right at the beginning, and we happened to find a deer grazing right near the bridge. The photo isn’t great, because it was dark, but I enjoy the memory.

Covered Bridge on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Covered Bridge on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The drive has 12 scenic viewpoints – one that looks over the dune that we had just been hiking on! It was interesting to see it from above – and to watch the last straggling hikers make their way home.  Other viewpoints give a view of Glen Lake, and the forest that makes up much of the scenic drive.

A view of the dunes, with North and South Manitou Islands in the background

A view of the dunes, with North and South Manitou Islands in the background

The next viewpoint we stopped at provided the best view ever. A wooden walkway leads you out onto a platform overlooking a bluff with a 450 foot drop down to Lake Michigan.  Looking out over the water, we watched the most amazing hot pink and orange sunset. The colors were spectacular, reflecting on a lake that sparkled like glittering diamonds. Wow – I was completely at peace, except for the ever dropping wind chill.

A spectacular Lake Michigan Sunset!

A spectacular Lake Michigan Sunset!

After the sun dropped below the horizon and my camera’s batteries died (probably because I took so many pictures of that amazing sunset!), I was walking back down the short path to the car. Jon had gone ahead because he was cold. There wasn’t much light left, so I stopped when I saw an animal that looked like a raccoon emerge from the woods and start walking to the parking lot.

After cautiously following it for a minute, I realized it was a porcupine! It was the first time I’ve ever seen a porcupine in the wild! I didn’t get any photos, but it was really neat to see.  When we got to the parking lot, he crawled under somebody’s car, hung out for a minute, then scooted out the other side back into the woods.

And Jon and I headed towards our final destination for the night – Traverse City!

Have you driven the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive? 

MI Road Trip: The Dune Climb!

Have you ever hiked over 4 miles of sand dune?  We did, and I tell you, it was a really great workout!  After visiting historic Glen Haven and the Life Saving Station at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we were itching to get more physical with nature.

The Dune Climb starts off with just that – a climb up a very large sand dune. It is huge – the people near the top look like little ants. We heard you could hike all the way to the lake – a round trip of 3.8 miles (we took a little detour, so we went more than 4), but we weren’t really sure what to expect. So we started climbing, in the soft, fine sand – perfect sand for a beach! It was tough to climb in – I started feeling it almost right away!

The beginning of The Dune Climb

The beginning of The Dune Climb

We stopped a couple of times on the way up the hill to look back at the view – a gorgeous view of the forest and a nearby lake – picture perfect. I could have stood there for hours just looking at that view (you will see this is a theme for this hike)…

The view of Glen Lake from the top of the first dune

The view of Glen Lake from the top of the first dune

When we got to the top of the hill, the dune flattened out and did a couple of gradual ups and downs. So we kept going.  Peaks and valleys of sand, one after another; we were only able to see the hill immediately coming up in our path. We started finding wooden markers with numbers; we hadn’t noticed them before. The crowd thinned out, and we found ourselves hiking through the loose sand with almost no one else around.

We had been hiking about 45 minutes and had just passed a marker with the number 11 on it when we came upon a group coming back from the other direction. A young lady explained that we just had to get to marker 27 and we’d be at the lake. My heart sank – we were less than halfway – which seemed to mean at least another hour to get there. I thought about turning back, but Jon really wanted to go all the way… What we didn’t know then is that I’m positive that the markers are NOT equidistant (do I get bonus points for using the word equidistant in this blog?).

Up one hill, down another… This is a very strenuous hike, due to the fact that you are always on a hill, and you are hiking in soft sand. But we made it to the lake, with the most fabulous pebble beach, and only 5 other souls… We sat on the beach for a little while, and I took some photos, and posed in some too.  I took the opportunity to pour the sand out of my shoes too!

I loved just listening to the waves lapping the shore, and seeing the gorgeous reflection of the sunshine on the water.  But before too long, we had to turn back, because the sun was already sinking lower in the sky, and we didn’t want to get caught after dark.

Me – Posing with splendid Lake Michigan

Me – Posing with splendid Lake Michigan

The sun over the water on Lake Michigan

The sun over the water on Lake Michigan

We hiked back – and of course it seemed like it went on forever, because now we knew we had to make it to marker 1.  Jon of course powers along, and I bring up the rear. It was peaceful – just me and my heavy breathing…

Me on the way back to the beginning…

Me on the way back to the beginning…

After we made it back from The Dune Climb – and poured the sand out of our shoes – again… we decided to do the scenic drive.  I’ll post about that next!

Have you hiked The Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes? 

 

MI Road Trip: Glen Haven and Saving a Life

Once Jon and I got to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we started out by driving down to the lake to the tiny abandoned town of Glen Haven.  We drove past the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which I put on our list of things to do later in the day, and the Dune Climb, which Jon put on our list of things to do later in the day.

Glen Haven was founded in 1857 with the name Sleeping Bearville, then became a company town in 1865 when a sawmill was established there.  The town’s main source of industry was to provide cut wood for the steamships plying the lake, as well as food.

The Sleeping Bear Inn – Built around 1865

The Sleeping Bear Inn – Built around 1865

Later, a cannery was opened there; the location right on the lake meant it was perfect for hauling the catch right up to the dock, offloading, and canning. Over the years, the timber declined and the shipping industry slowed.

They also didn’t anticipate all the sand, and the fact that the sand blew everywhere, and shifted… Over time, the sand shifted and the dunes gradually began taking over the town. After battling the sand for years, many of the residents finally just gave up and moved away.

We also wandered over to the Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station.  It was constructed in 1901, to provide further protection for the sailors on the lake.  Being a sailor was a dangerous occupation – during the harsh winter of 1870-1871, 214 sailors lost their lives on the great lakes alone.  Over the years, technological advancements lessened the need for large numbers of lifesaving stations, and Sleeping Bear Point closed its doors during World War II.

The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station – Now a Maritime Museum

The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station – Now a Maritime Museum

The life saving station was closed when we visited (during early to mid-October it is open, but only on the weekends), but we were able to check out the outside of the house where the life savers lived, as well as the boathouse, tucked securely out of harm’s way from the water, with two sets of tracks to slide the boats down to be launched.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see given everything was shut up tight until spring, we were a little surprised to find people wading in the water. It had warmed up quite a bit since the morning, but I wouldn’t say it was swimming weather. But I guess there are hardier souls than I, as evidenced by the large numbers of polar bear swims each year.

But after touring around, what I hadn’t found was the Visitor’s Center. The GPS had told us that we passed it, but I hadn’t seen it, and I thought maybe it would be down at the water. There was one in Glen Haven, but it was closed, and it didn’t seem large enough to be the main one. Plus the radio channel (don’t you love it when parks have their own radio channel!?) said it was open until 5. I convinced Jon to backtrack before the Dune Climb, because it would be after 5 when we finished hiking, so I could get my stamp. He grudgingly agreed.

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

We found it off the main road about 50 feet on a little side road, and I was able to get a map, my stamp and a book on Michigan lighthouses. And postcards… because no visit to a Visitor’s Center is complete without postcards… And then off we went to the Dune Climb!

MI Road Trip: Sleeping Bear Dunes History

Long, long ago, an enormous forest fire along the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake. They attempted to swim to the opposite shore, but that was so far away. Eventually, the mother bear made it to land, but her two cubs had tired and lagged behind.

She waited, watching for them, unwilling to accept that they had drowned. She lay on the top of a bluff, watching the sea, and waited so long she was buried by the shifting sand dunes. The Great Spirit was impressed by her patience, and created two islands in the lake to honor her lost cubs.

The story is an old Chippewa legend that tells the tale of the area. The two islands are North Manitou and South Manitou Islands, visible off the mainland. The sleeping bear, buried under the dunes is still visible in the form of two dunes in the shape of a bear, although they have eroded significantly over the last many years.

In terms of National Park Service parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a more recent addition to the portfolio, becoming the first National Lakeshore on October 21, 1970. At that time, the Park Service already had several National Seashores, including Cape Hatteras and Point Reyes, and the general sentiment was that the lakeshore along the great lakes was America’s third coast.

However, the creation of a park proved more controversial. The residents of the Sleeping Bear Dunes area have long considered themselves to be the stewards of the land, and they didn’t want tourists overrunning their pristine and quiet countryside. Not to mention the fact that parks don’t pay property taxes, and the conversion of this land would have a significant financial impact on the local communities.

But the area contains amazing natural beauty, including forests, beaches, sand dunes and evidence of ancient glacial phenomena. Not to mention the historic buildings and cultural richness of life in the area, with a historic lighthouse, three historic Life Saving Service stations (the precursor to the modern Coast Guard) and an extensive historic farm district.

The government was eventually able to win the favor of the local residents by agreeing to compensate local government for the lost property tax revenue, and by absorbing North Manitou Island into the park.

The park is well loved today for its camping and hiking opportunities, and the pristine beauty that surrounds the visitor. One can’t ignore the draw of swimming in the lake either when the weather is warm, somewhere along the park’s 35 miles of shoreline.

In 2011, Good Morning America gave it the title of “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” Visitation is estimated to have been 1,280,932 in 2010 – more in the summer months, but there are hikes that would be lovely with snowshoes as well. I can only assume the “Most Beautiful” title has increased visitation in the years since.

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

We visited in October, so swimming wasn’t really on the top of my list, although we did see tourists dipping their toes and wading in the water at Glen Haven. I will be posting about our adventures at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore next!