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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What did you do on your Summer Vacation?

My sister was home for the first time in 10 years. She and her family stayed in a cabin on a local lake and planned a week of high adventure. The oldest kid is 11 going on 12 and the youngest is barely two years old. I, being newly interned in my position, had one day to join them. I chose the Dune Climb.

The Dune Climb is the main attraction of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a National Forestry Service park that stretches many miles along the Lake Michigan Coast on the Leelanau Peninsula and encompasses both North and South Manitou Islands. The stretch of water between the islands and the peninsula is known as the Manitou Passage and sports several shipwrecks which periodically have bits lurched to shore by the Winter's ice floes. This Winter with the reappearance of ice caves was especially bountiful for beach wrecked bits of ships.

To get to the passage from the parking lot you simply climb this dune. It looks like a sand pit for a quarry doesn't it? Just a big sand hill, no problem. Right?

Wrong. The degree of slope on this thing is deceptively steep. Even the well muscled have trouble getting up here. But if you think that there is water on the other side of this hill... think again. Another smaller hill rests in a bowl behind this then continues, as the sign says, for "Another 1.3 hilly miles" before you get to water.

My sister and her crew were quite obviously the first up the hill. I had the camera and wanted to get this shot.

These are the Glen Lakes with the narrows cutting across them. If you wonder why anyone would climb this pile of sand, this view is one of the reasons.

The other reason is the stunning view once you get to the top of the second dune. I would love to tell you that we made it to the water. But I did not. And my camera didn't even make it to the top of the second dune. Apparently my rechargeable batteries don't hold the same charge that they did two years ago. So you will have to go here for the virtual tour. I was so mad.

Once my little cousin and I got up the hill,our fair skin got the best of us and we sat in the shade for close to two hours. Our one bit of shade was inside the bowl of a shallow canyon of sand. It would have been a perfect place to play with the fish eye lens. It was gorgeous and close. I could have played with the panorama setting as well. But we had a good chat about life and everything. Then as things go, our paranoia got the best of us. We hiked up the second dune rise.

And from there we saw the face of the Manitou cliff that everyone sees in stylized representations of the dune area, But that is all we saw. Even though we left early enough to get there before the sand was Lawrence of Arabia hot going up, we weren't that smart or lucky on the way down. We sought shelter again, pulled out the art supplies in my pack and waited for the entourage to return from the sea. It wasn't a long wait.

The trek back down the slopes were horrific. We almost lost one cousin to heat stroke but she muddled through and had my brother drive her car. We almost lost me to heat stroke but I was in the shade most of the time. Once we got to base camp and water life was so much better. We did the Pierce Stocking Drive. Fortunately I have photos from last year's day tripwith last year's boyfriend. Unfortunately these are not the best photos you will ever get of the area. Last year was hazy because of the drastic contrast of air and water temps. This year... the camera had no juice. This is just how stunning the views are.

From the overlook you can both islands on a clear day. On a day like this,not so much. Even this close up panorama didn't do any justice at all to the majesty of the view. On a clear day you can see how the legend was born. On a hot July day like the one we ventured up the dune on it is hard to see what possessed anyone to climb this thing as see the resemblance to the story. Honestly, I wondered for the millionth time what possesses anyone to climb the dunes,,, even for the spectacular view. I suppose it is the age old answer...

Because it is there.

that deep green shadow in the mid ground is where the lake is. Since our youth
it has become green with plant life since the National Park Service forbids
"restoring" the beaches for recreational use. They hope it will revert to its
natural wild condition. In the mean time... swim if you like. 
From another overlook further along the drive you can see one of the Bar Lakes. Two kettle lakes were formed as the glaciers that deposited the dunes receded. I don't know if I believe that this lake, North Bar, has not been completely measured because it is so deep. But I do believe there are big ass fish here.

When we were in high school and community college age, my friends and I would come out here and make the trek in from the unpaved parking lot to the lake to perch atop a dune between the kettle and the big lake. We would play on the Michigan shore, traverse the dune for a splash in water warmer than a bath and then dowse oursleves in the cold waters of lake Michigan. It is a Trolls Shake and Bake Sauna. Yooper's will know what I mean. In this picture you can see the Empire Bluffs in the background. The village of Empire lies on the other side of that point along with the smaller kettle, South Bar Lake. South Bar is completely cut off from Lake Michigan.

Here is the best shot I could manage of North Bar's inlet to Lake Michigan. The greened over dune just to its right is where we had bonfires and I was introduced to the life long love that is a Dr.Pepper obsession. Thank you D. Scaer!

The best way to describe a kettle lake is to have you envision the edge of a kettle. It has a thin lip, a slight slope then goes straight down and into the belly of the pot. And, when you take a running leap off of the dune that is about the experience you have. Needless to say I would have bee a dish known as chicken a la king. I'd heard enough stories about man eating trout that I wasn't about to just "jump in with both feet". And I sure as hell wasn't going to be the first sucker in line. Living in a region ripe with legend and lore, I also didn't want to be the first person to discover our own Champy or Nessy. Especially since, in the belly of the beast, I'd get no credit for the discovery.

When we were kids there was definitely a lot more to see on this drive. It is growing well, erosion seems to be under control and the land is returning to its natural state. Though, I dare point out here that the Indian population indigenous to the region had been tramping through here and wearing down the dune grass since before the white man came and skunked them on trades. The dune buggies that tore the place up in the 40s and 50s were a bit much but there is really only so much a few hundred kids in the summer can do.

If you would like to get to North Bar to see this geologic treat yourself you can take the main road out of Empire up a county road instead of taking 22 to 109. Or, if you are on Pierce Stocking and don't mind a two track, you can take Schauger Hill road. If you do be warned, it is dangerous at high speeds. It;s like driving through Jurassic Park, If it rains a little there are deep wash outs. More than one axel has been severed on this road. But if you have a sense of adventure and a cheap car that will meet ORV standards by all means enjoy Schauger Hill safely. It is my preferred entrance into North Bar's rec area.

Mostly Pierce Stocking Drive is a botanical feast of soft and hard woods, and conifers that make you wonder how any thing can grow out here to any great height. The winds off the Dunes are brutal. M-109 can be closed for days due to drifts of either snow or sand. When the rest of Leelanau County is clear in Winter the passage between the Dune Climb and Glen lake can be dangerous with gusting winds that will move your car off the road if you aren't paying attention. In the 8 years of my paper route out here there was not a Winter day in which both hands were not on the wheel. And very often my stomach was up in my throat.

You have to be  tough to survive these conditions. And no where is that more evident than in the gnarled and exposed roots of the Cottonwood grove. This is what it looks like to hold on for dear life.

Once we left Pierce Stocking we headed into the Village of Empire. South Bar lake for all the sun drenched, ready to pass out people in the car. The water was nice and full of people. The sun was still hot. It was a short cool off before heading back into Traverse City for a scoop of Moomer;s Ice Cream. Tell you what, that mint felt good on my insides. Even having sat in the shade and wearing sunscreen, and taking an umbrella (yes I did.) I was about done in when we got to my sister's place.

Quick nap. Dinner of brats and another nap while the kids colored or slept & I wandered home.

To come down with Strep two days later.

Sister met me at the Doctor to say good bye. She thinks she broke me. Honestly, with the hours I have been putting in it was a matter of time before something felled me. And here we are on Tuesday, 3 days since she headed for home, and I am still sick. Doc says strep. My throat says things that I can not repeat in any language which essentially amounts to "I hate you."

It was good to do this with new people. I mean my sister and I have done this a few times, for school, with neighborhood kids and then with our friends in high school. I went last year with the boyfriend. And everything is different when you do it with kids. It's always fun for them. Sometimes not so much when they realize how big this adventure is going to be. But the coming down always makes up for it. I met a new cousin. Hung out with a cousin I knew. And even if I couldn't make it to the shore and my camera died 6 pictures in  it was still a good time.

I only wish that I could call this a Summer vacation instead of Summer Sick leave. Vacations are always much more fun and, for me, involve far less vomit.

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