Camping With Canines: Dunes and Dogs

11 07 2018

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was the first of our two major destinations on this trip.  I don’t feel sorry for Michigan residents living so far from the ocean.  According to World Book Encyclopedia (v.13, p.500 of the 2000 edition) Michigan has 3,288 miles of shoreline, “more than any other state except Alaska.” And by the end of the day, I felt like I had walked at least half of that (although my cell phone only registered a little over six miles).

Excavated by glaciers thousands of years ago, Lake Michigan forms the western border of Michigan.  Winds across the lake have deposited massive sand dunes, making this the world’s largest freshwater dune system. Nowhere is this more evident than at Sleeping Bear Dunes, where rolling dunes cover the landscape with one dune towering some 450 feet above the lake.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (13)And the name? Native Americans tell of a time of hunger when a bear and her two cubs tried to swim across the lake in search of food.  Close to shore but too exhausted to continue, each cub in turn sank into the water, becoming the North and South Manitou Islands.  The mother bear was able to wade onshore and climbed onto a high bluff.  She lay down looking out over the water where her cubs had died, heart-broken, where she resides today in the form of a slowly shifting sand dune.

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The Sleeping Bear, seen on the top right, was a landmark used by Indians navigating these waters.

Time to explore!  We traveled with Deborah, John, Tristan, and dogs to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear.  Stops along this loop led to a number of vistas and hikes, but the most memorable for me was the Cottonwood Trail.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (9) Only 1.5 miles in length, it was listed as “strenuous,” and it lived up to this description.  Our dogs pulled us eagerly through the trail which wound through the dunes, up and around, and then to the top of the Dune Climb.

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At the top of the Dune Climb

Looking down on the Dune Climb, we saw sand, sand, and more sand, with the bottom hidden by a small plateau of… sand.  Hundreds of people-shaped ants were crawling up the dunes and then racing back down.  With a wild gleam in our eyes, eleven-year-old Tristan and I took off down the dunes barefoot.  The thick sand cushioned our long strides as we barreled down the steep slope.  It was as close to flying as I have ever experienced!

Once at the bottom, we caught our breath and looked up.   The top of the dune was not visible; the sand disappeared into the sky.  When I asked Tristan if he was ready to go back up, he looked at me in confusion: “Aren’t they gonna come pick us up?”  We had ample opportunity on the long climb up to discuss the topic, “Cost and Consequences of Actions.”

Back in the car, we headed to Glenn Haven, a ghost town with an old fruit cannery-now-boat-museum, general store, and blacksmith shop.  Of most interest at this stop were, in order of preference, the restrooms, the picnic area, and the beach.

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We only had energy for one more stop on this Scenic Drive: the Maritime Museum.  Dogs were not allowed on the grounds, so Brian hung out in the parking lot with them while I went through the museum.

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Pip, with her Yoda ears and her tongue sticking out, lets her thoughts be known at being banned from the premises.

Starting at the turn of the 20th century, a life-saving station had been housed here.  The Manitou Passage, the channel between the Manitou Islands and the mainland, was a heavily-used shortcut for shipping between Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac but contained dangerous shoals.  Shipwrecks were frequent.  For eight months out of the year, seven surfmen drilled constantly to hone their rescue skills, saving thousands of lives in this time before radar, radios, and helicopters.  It’s hard to imagine the toil and danger these men put themselves through, all for less than $1 a day.

I thought about this as I licked my $4 ice cream cone back in Glenn Arbor.