One place I’d heard of but not yet seen since moving to Michigan, was Sleeping Bear Dunes. People told me how big, tall, steep, and impressive the dunes were, but having seen what passes for mountains around here my expectations were low. Doug and I drove up the hand-shaped Michigan lower peninsula, heading for the pinky/ring finger. Michigan is two peninsulas surrounded by a whole bunch of big lakes and, in an unusual display of common sense, has a name from the Anishinaabe that means – Big Lake. Michigami.
Another well-named place was this view of Alligator Point. Compared to other Alligator Points I’ve seen, this one looks much more like an alligator. Since alligators are not native to Michigan, I wonder who named it and what name it had originally.
And then we came to the dunes. Having lived on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts I’d seen plenty of charming, modest dunes. Well, forget that! These dunes were huge, steep, amazing, and nothing like any dunelets I ever saw before. At the top of the Lake Michigan Overlook, on the scenic drive in the national park, we were 450 feet above the lake. It sloped down at a 33 degree angle. A large warning sign advised the public that there was no way back up but to climb, and a helicopter rescue cost $3,000. The Park Service is very good on information like that. Since I’m a writer, not a hiker, I stayed up top and took notes.
Working with words as I do, my next question was: what about the name Sleeping Bear Dunes? This one has a sweet, sad story, also from the Anishinaabe, about a mother bear and her two cubs. They lived on the Wisconsin shore, and due to famine in one version, or fire in another, had to flee for their lives into the lake. They swam and swam, but only the mother bear made it across. She climbed the bluff and sat there, watching for the cubs, but alas they drowned. She still sits there, watching for them. Some say the Manitou islands (see them in the blue haze) are the cubs, still in the water. The small dark knoll atop the dune in this photo was originally larger and more ursamorphic, but has been much eroded by heavy storms over the last two or three hundred years.
Sand dunes erode, shift, and move (slowly) about. For some decades now, people have been planting cottonwood trees to help stabilize the dunes. Most trees give up when buried in sand, but a cottonwood will send up a whole new tree from its roots. They also turn a lovely, bright golden yellow in the fall.
It was a gorgeous day. I believe I took 200 pictures – it wasn’t easy picking just six to show you. We returned to our motel tired and happy, greeted by a nearly full moon rising artistically through the trees.