The Sleeping Bear Dunes (or Day 3 of Nathan's visit)

Thursday began as every Thursday begins, with a sunrise, in this case one that had already begun creeping in through the bedroom curtains. I love the spring and summer when the sun is out so much earlier in the morning. It was lovely to wake up and be able to look out of the window at woods and know that if I opened the window and let in the cool morning air I would hear the sound of a peacefully moving river not far away.

We were in the car again for another adventure that morning, headed for the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Some history of the area: “The Sleeping Bear Dune is estimated to be about two thousand years old and has a fascinating history. It is classified as a perched dune because it is perched on top of a plateau, high above the lake. When the dune was forming, it was not at the edge of the bluff, but somewhat inland. Wind carried sand from the upper portion of the Lake Michigan bluff inland and deposited it to form the Sleeping Bear Dune.” ~
Sleeping Bear Dune Official Website

We drove through Traverse City again to get to Empire, MI., where the National Park is, though this time as we drove into the city we
came in from another direction which allowed us to see the Bison herd that lives in Traverse City.

After paying $10 to get a pass into the park (a pass that apparently we did not even need since there were no rangers to check) we began the scenic
car tour of the park, stopping along the way to admire overlooks of Lake Michigan and the North and South Manitou Islands, which I learned: “North and South Manitou Islands were settled while Michigan was still young, with European immigrants and the US Lighthouse Service establishing permanent settlements on the islands in the 1840s. The Islands were an important stopping point for ships on Lake Michigan, providing wood for the early steamers, food, and ice among other things. South Manitou Island also was the only natural harbor for 220 miles along the Michigan shore, and many ships weathered fierce storms there.” ~Leelanau/Manitou Islands Info. We were told by a park ranger that some of the original families still have houses on the islands and are allowed to stay on until there is no longer anyone in the family to live there, at which point the property will be purchased by the park.

I was glad that I read part of The Legend of Sleeping Bear to Nathan at the bookstore the day before because I thought it was nice that he knew the Native American folklore surrounding the Dunes. I had t
o put this quote in from the book, “Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but eventually the cubs tried and lagged behind. Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. Too tired to continue, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear.”
~Kathy-Jo Wargin,
The Legend of the Sleeping Bear. This book is awesome!

After our drive through the park, Nathan and I decided to take on the 3 mile Dune walk, which was a great way to really have an appreciation for the Dunes. My favorite area was what is called a “bowl,” where the winds blow in hard from the water and sweep the sands around in a circular motion, which leaves the area smoothed out and shaped like a bowl, hence its name. It felt like a desert when we walked through, very lonely and with barren trees, dead stumps that stand pointy and grey and make up what is called a “ghost town.” That name felt fitting especially when we came across a little skull from probably a snake that had been there so long it too was bleached white.

We were going to take on the big Dune climb which is an uphill wall of sand, Michigan’s own pyramid, but I wanted to take Nathan to Benzonia to see my favorite little shop,
Gwen Frostic Prints, so we missed that hike in my pursuit to get to Benzonia. Gwen Frostic was a Michigander, a native of the Benzonia area, where she worked as an artist, both drawing and writing until she died in her mid 90’s when I was in my undergrad. Her prints suggest a simplistic love of nature and animals and the peaceful harmony we can obtain with them just by careful observance. My favorite is her little raccoon, which I pasted on the page.

We arrived only to find Gwen Frostic’s shop closed; we arrived 20 minutes after closing time. So, we headed back to the cabin and after getting lost and turned around about one hundred times because I insisted that we could find our way without a map, though I eventually bought one-I swallowed my pride when I came to the conclusion that at the rate we were going, Nathan would spend his whole vacation in my car!

By the end of that day I was ready to pack my bags and move Up North so I could be near closer to nature. Being there made me regret our return trip back to the city which was slated for the next morning. I tried not to think of it, instead I focused on the low hum of the cabin heater and the good memories I would take away from that place.

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