Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Two

Heading north from Crystal Lake we quickly entered the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the large, sprawling federally-protected area of coastal dunes stretching for miles along the shoreline.  Although large sand dunes can be found all over the Great Lakes, they are particularly prominent along the southern and eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  We in fact began our trip not far from another great stretch of dunes, those in Indiana at the southern tip of the Lake, where much of them are now enclosed in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  The most majestic of all the Great Lakes dunes are said to line the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan. 

We took a short detour off M-22 to find a special area called the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a federal park with a seven-mile paved lane that winds through the woods atop a stretch of high dunes.  The scenic overlooks are stunning – Lake Michigan is on one side and inland Glen Lake is close-by on the other.  At the entrance to the park visitors must stop at a small booth to pay an admission fee.  We were greeted there by a very friendly park ranger.  He was so friendly in fact that we waited about five minutes while he engaged in a seemingly quite pleasant chit chat with the folks in the car ahead.  We later saw that those people were an elderly couple, with plates from an eastern state, so apparently both parties had much to talk about.  The wait was well worth it.

An inland lake -- Glen Lake -- in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The Sleeping Bear Dunes is a rolling landscape of very high sand dunes, one section of which, to Indians and early explorers alike, looked from out in the Lake like a giant recumbent bear. 

Trees, grasses, and other plants surprisingly can grow in the dunes by sending roots far down for water and anchorage.  Here a clump of trees stand tall in the sand against the winds:

I had been there once before, as a boy on a car trip around Lake Michigan with my parents and brother.  I remember being awestruck by the height of the dunes.  My brother and I found them irresistible and so slid and tumbled all the way down to the bottom far below.  Once at the water’s edge, I remember looking back up and wondering how the heck we were going to get back to the top.  It took a while.

From high atop a great dune, South and North Manitou Islands are clearly visible:

South (left) and North Manitou Islands
Reluctantly we left the national park, regained Highway M-22, and continued north into the Leelanau Peninsula (the little finger of Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula).  We passed through Glen Arbor and other scenic lakeside towns and finally stopped in Leland, which is the terminus of the ferry to the Manitou Islands.  Leland was a great place to stretch our legs, order fresh Lake Michigan whitefish, and sample wines at the tasting room of a Leelanau winery.  We had had a first visit just last year when we met up with friends who had boated across the Lake from Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, out way over the horizon.  

The distance to the Manitou Islands is almost 18 miles.  An old friend tells me that as a younger man he kayaked from Leland to South Manitou Island.  I suppose I believe him. 

Leland; the ferry terminal is the small brown building in the left center
We continued on M-22, first north further into the Leelanau peninsula, then inland for a short while until we hit Grand Traverse Bay at the other side of the peninsula, where the road then took us south, with the beautiful Bay on our left, into Traverse City where we spent the night.
[Part 1 is here.]

R Balsamo

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