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.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (19)

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.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes dune climb

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.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (20)

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.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (1)

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.

Camping With Canines: Of Leaks and Lakes

6 07 2018

We headed out early from Clifty Falls on our way to Fruitport, Michigan, where my cousin Susan lives.  The sky was a lead blanket of clouds with a forecast of 100% chance of rain, but we hoped to outrun it.  No such luck.  We soon were engulfed in rain that ranged from light showers to torrential downpours for seven of our eight hours of travel.

There was one bright spot.  In North Vernon, Indiana, we stopped for a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s.  The place was buzzing with farmers, and they all seemed to know each other.  Conversation skittered across the room: “I see you got your crop in yesterday before the rain hit.” “Yup, got lucky.”

As I stood in line, a farmer came up behind me and tapped my shoulder.  “Do you know what kind of horse this is?” he asked, displaying a 25-cent coin showing a patriot riding a horse.  My mind raced through my short list of horse breeds.  Couldn’t be thoroughbred. Standardbred? No.  “Quarterhorse?” I guessed.

“Dang, you stole my joke!” he replied, as I slowly realized that it was a joke.  Guess I really needed that coffee!

The guy then pointed to the fellow behind him. “Hey, you know why this guy drove way over here to get a cup of coffee?  It’s 10 cents cheaper here!”  To which the farmer behind him said, “No, it’s 5 cents cheaper!”

Back on the Interstate, our world became white as visibility shrank with the rain.  To make matters worse, the road was paved in cement slabs, and the interaction between our car and the camper had us bucking down the highway.  Today was June 21, the summer solstice, and I can attest that it was indeed the longest day of the year!

By the time we reached my cousin’s house just outside of Muskegon, Michigan, the rain had finally stopped.  Susan wasn’t home from work yet, and never having been there, we hoped that this was indeed her house.  We set up the camper. Ugghhh. Our camper leaked.  Puddles of water were all over the inside and our pillows and cushions were soaking wet.  Susan graciously threw what she could in her dryer, and we had enough dry cushions that we were able to cobble together sleeping space.

Susan fed us a lovely pasta salad dinner and then took us to nearby Hoffmaster State Park on Lake Michigan to walk the dogs.  Shae and Pip were ecstatic to be off-leash, and enjoyed cavorting on the path through the woods with Susan’s dog.  The sun was almost setting by the time we reached the lake, and the dogs splashed and raced up and down the narrow beach.  Heading back, we took a wrong turn, such that we were treated to night sounds as we hiked though the darkening forest.  My phone clocked us at 4.9 miles.  Not bad for a travel day.  And to make our perfect evening even better, we stopped at the Whippi-Dip for ice cream cones!

After a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes and scrambled eggs, Susan took us for a quick tour of Muskegon. In the latter half of the 19th century lumber baron Charles Hackley made a fortune here and then donated a good portion of it to the town.  Hackley’s influence still infiltrates Muskegon with the intricate architecture of the Hackley and Hume (his partner) houses, the city park lined with statues of Union generals, and the library with a carved sandstone entry way, mosaic foyer, and stained glass windows depicting famous literary icons.

We left Muskegon around noon and traveled toward our next destination, Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  We pulled into our home-away-from-home later that afternoon, a quirky place named Empire Township Campground, with one flush toilet for the entire campground, numerous vault (pit) toilets, and showers where for 50 cents you could bathe for three minutes.

Deborah and John McMurtrie had driven up from Kalamazoo with their grandson Tristan the day before and met us at the campground to make plans for the next day.  After dinner, we headed with them to the small tourist village of Glen Arbor, where we strolled down to say hello to Lake Michigan and then through the town, stopping at a rock shop to admire Petoskey stones, the state stone of Michigan containing fossilized coral from the Devonian era.  From then on, we scoured the beaches for this sought-after stone, but to no avail.

6.22.18 Petoskey stones

We were tired by the time our heads hit the pillows.  I invited Pip to sleep on her mat at the end of my bed, but she was not satisfied, and throughout the night she kept inching her way up toward my head when I would push her back and the process would begin anew.  Shae, on the other hand, was content to sleep on her mat on the floor until around 6:00 when she would jump up on Brian’s bed and hunker down until we finally stirred about 30 minutes later.  Sleeping with dogs is a contradiction in terms.

Camping With Canines: The Plan and First Leg of Our Great Lakes Trip

4 07 2018

Our adventure to the Great Lakes evolved with twists and turns from the planning stages up until our last night camping.  We started planning months in advance with our friends John and Deborah McMurtrie, looking for somewhere to go in June that would be cool and scenic, our two criteria for a summer vacation.  We were intrigued by Isle Royale National Park, an island in the middle of Lake Superior, but it soon became apparent that it was out of our reach.  We settled on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan and Pictured Rock National Lakeshore on Lake Superior in Upper Peninsula Michigan.


As time went on, a cousins’ reunion in Indiana was added to our plans as was a visit with another cousin in Michigan and a stopover in Minocqua, Wisconsin where my niece and her family would be vacationing. Our plans were to tent-camp on the way up, leaving our dogs under the care of our daughters, and meet up with the McMurtries at Sleeping Bear.  We arranged for a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner, to the uninitiated) that we would share in Grand Marais, a little town just outside of Pictured Rock.  Babe’s Place was a two bedroom house conveniently located for all our adventures. Perfect!

6.26.18 Grand Marais near Pictured Rock (37)

Babe’s Place, Grand Marais, MI

Our first game-changer came just a few weeks before we were to leave.  We bought a used A-frame pop-up camper.  Outfitted with AC, heater, microwave, stereo, and refrigerator, this was living in the lap of luxury when compared with our normal Spartan tent life.  No more sleeping in a hot, stuffy tent and worrying about the chance of rain!


The second major twist in plans came two weeks before leaving, when we decided that rather than leave our pups behind, they would come along.  As mobile as babies (but with a lot less noise), camping with canines was not an issue.  Our dogs would stay on leashes or long leads and could sleep in air-conditioned comfort with us. However, the house in Grand Marais was a problem.  Understandably, no dogs were allowed.  We sent word to the owners, inquiring about nearby kennels (none) and asking as a last resort if it would be possible to park our camper there for our dogs to stay in.  Their response stunned us.  No.  And furthermore, it was strongly suggested that we cancel our reservation.

Cancelling was not an option.  Deborah was flying in from California with their grandson Tristan, and John was driving up.  They needed a place to stay.  Scrambling, we assured the owners that of course we would never have the dogs in their house and we did not wish to cancel.  After a search on the Internet, we discovered a campground nearby, and decided to tag-team staying there with the dogs.  Our only concern was that this campground did not take reservations.  We would have to get there as early as possible and hope for the best.

Our first leg of the trip took us almost-uneventfully to Franklin, Tennessee, where we would drop off my g-nephew Nate who had been with us for the week and then spend the night with my niece Becky’s family.  I say “almost-uneventfully” because of what happened in Atlanta.  Atlanta, a city that I will never willingly travel through again.  Driving through the center of the city (which was actually suggested by our GPS as shorter than the I-285 bypass) in four lanes of unyielding traffic and pulling a 1500 pound camper, our car’s engine inexplicably shut off.  Power steering off, hazard lights flipped on, heart pounding, hoping that for once Atlanta drivers would show mercy, somehow I was able to move the car slowly to the outside lane and then onto the shoulder of the road. Whether by the grace of God or the self-preservation instincts of the other drivers, I brought the car to a stop without so much as a horn blowing.  Once stopped, the car started again without complaint and I was able to inch up the shoulder to a nearby exit and then through the streets of Atlanta and back on the highway.  Hours later when we reached Tennessee, my heart was almost beating normally.

Despite our concerns, our mixed-breed mutts Shae and Pip took to the long car rides without hesitation.  Pip stayed in the back of the car while Shae commandeered the entire back seat; they settled in quickly and slept most of the way.  We stopped more frequently for stretch breaks, something as useful to us as for them.  They became adept at jumping back into the car and later sleeping on their beds wherever the night found us.  And likewise, our noses adapted to the constant doggy odor that soon pervaded the car and camper.  Traveling with canines was easier than we had imagined!


This photo is from a previous trip; without tent gear in the car, this time the dogs had much more space!