Wildflowers, Dunes, Turquoise Waters, and a Sleeping Bear…Shhh!

Long ago, in the land now known as Wisconsin, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. After miles of swimming, the two cubs began to lag behind.  When mother bear reached shore she climbed onto a tall bluff to await her two babes but the weary cubs never appeared, having drowned in the lake. Mother bear fell asleep waiting for their safe arrival. Impressed by her faith and determination the Great Spirit created two islands, North and South Manitou, to honor the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the dunes, where she waits to this day.    ~  Chippewa legend of the “sleeping bear”

Powerful earth-moving forces of ice, wind, and water, most occurring during the Ice Age, swept glaciers down from Canada, creating the diverse tapestry known today as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This 35-mile stretch of land along Lake Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula (the “little finger” in the Michigan mitten), is dotted with “perched dunes”, formed by glacial sands deposited on plateaus high above the shore.

Where shipping and commerce fueled this region in the 1800’s, today tourism has stepped in, and there is much to tantalize vacationers year-round, given the pleasant summer climate and 80” of snowfall each year. A dramatic National Lakeshore tops the list, but not to be overlooked are miles of sandy beaches to explore, wind-swept bluffs rising 450’ above Lake Michigan, lush forests to hike in the summer and cross-country ski in winter, crystalline inland lakes to canoe and kayak, miles and miles of paved trails to bike, picturesque lakeshore villages to enchant – the list goes on and on. It’s no wonder Good Morning America named Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the “most beautiful place in America” in 2011.

Indigo Bluffs Motorcoach Resort and RV Park is where we chose to stay and although the RV Park was a bit crowded, it still had a peaceful feel to it. Those who travel in a Class A  can get a bit more pampering next door at the Motorcoach Resort.

With so much to offer in the area, our first stop was the Philip A Hart Visitor Center, where we grabbed some hiking maps, watched a short film, and peppered the rangers with questions about area activities.

Here are a few highlights of our week:

1/  Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

A 10-mile bike trail (each way) that continues to grow, with plans to extend it another 17 miles.  This beautifully paved trail currently connects the village of Empire to the artsy town of Glen Arbor.  Parking is available off-road near the trailhead or you can leave your vehicle 2 miles away at the visitor center, which we did.  Stop to explore historic Glen Haven along the way and take the one-mile dune hike to Sleeping Bear Overlook, for some great views of Lake Michigan.  The Heritage Trail is groomed in the winter for those cross-country ski enthusiasts.

2/  Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Named after a local lumberman who helped to build this road, this 7.5 mile drive takes you through beech-maple forests and some spectacular lookouts, the most popular being Lake Michigan Overlook, where an observation tower sits 450′ above the lake level.  Many hopefuls come here to experience a special sunset or tackle the steep dunes.  We were among them but Mother Nature did not cooperate during our stay.

3/ Dune Climb/Dune Trail

I had to join the throngs and do the Dune Climb, a very steep climb through loose dune sand that will leave you a bit breathless, as will the run back down.  The Dune Trail can be taken from the crest of the Climb, the most strenuous hike in the park, 3.5 miles through loose, shifting dunes.

4/  Alligator Hill Trail

No alligators to be found here but 8 miles of beech-maple forests through rolling hills and views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands make up for the lack of reptiles.

5/  Port Oneida Historic Farm Tour

Although NPS is in the process of preserving this area dotted with turn of the century farms, it still makes for a picturesque bike ride down lazy country roads, while you inhale the sweet fragrance of hay and wildflowers strewn across the meadows.

6/  Traverse City

This pristine city on the shore of Lake Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the country and the annual Cherry Festival was in full-swing when we arrived.  We did manage to sneak in and score some grass-fed Michigan jerky (yum) and avoid the carnival scene.  Traverse City also offers four bike trails, kayak launches, several vineyards in the surrounding countryside, seasonal farm stands, and a wide assortment of brew pubs.  We stopped by the North Peak Brewing Company for a sampler…very tasty!

We find ourselves back in northern Michigan again almost three years since we began this roving lifestyle, having watched the fall colors change our last time through.  I had forgotten how striking the landscape – carpets of wildflowers, undulating sand dunes, crystalline turquoise waters, and air so fresh it is intoxicating.


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ~ #3

Hooray!  65 and sunny – ideal for the Pictured Rocks Cruise.  This boat was to take us on much of the same shoreline that we had seen from our hike earlier in the week.  The perspective from the water made for some interesting conversation.

Pictured Rocks is one of four National Lakeshores in the U.S. and is also the largest and the first established, on October 15, 1966.  We could potentially see all four during our visit through the midwest.  We have already crossed two off the list, Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks and plan to see a third, Sleeping Bear Dunes, also in Michigan.  The fourth would be Indiana Dunes.

Some of the oldest exposed sandstone is at Pictured Rocks.  The vegetation set against this pinkish-gray Jacobsville sandstone is striking.  In this part of the UP, storms typically come from the northwest.  A very large island across the channel from Pictured Rocks, Grand Island, takes the brunt of these storms, which helps to protect this vegetation.

Approximately 20 years ago, Terry took his sons to the UP on a camping trip.  We were looking at pictures he took during that time, one in particular, trying to determine which rock formation it was.  We both thought it looked like Miners Castle, with one noticeable difference between his 20-year-old shot and our present day photo.  Look at the two photos below and see if you can tell the difference.

Miners Castle - 20 Years Ago
Miners Castle - Present Day

The reason we were originally uncertain that this was the same rock formation is that the photo from 20 years ago reflects two turrets on its top and present day photos show only one.  We learned during the cruise that a turret fell off of Miners Castle on April 12, 2006.   This sandstone, as we evidenced all along the coast, is unstable.  From the trail that we walked earlier in the week, many postings warned hikers of the danger in standing too close to the edge.

Note the vertical crack in the sandstone, the large boulders lying in the water below, and the kayakers coming in for a closer look.

The remainder of this post will be more picture than prose as I cannot begin to describe the beauty in the rocks as well as they can speak for themselves.

Minerals Leeching from Sandstone against Stunning Turquoise Waters
Caves of Many Colors

We walked right over this rock formation when we hiked the Chapel Basin trail near Mosquito Beach.

Lover's Leap

At the base of Lover’s Leap, the water is only two feet deep so unless you are despondent due to an unrequited love, you would not want to be hurling yourself from the top of this rock.  From the trail we originally thought this rock formation was Grand Portal as it is so spectacular.

This rock collapse took place on Thursday and we took our hike of this section of Pictured Rocks on Wednesday.  The trail is right above where the collapse took place.

Grand Portal

Grand Portal is the highest point in the park, standing proud at 207 feet.

Chapel Cave

While hiking the Chapel Basin trail, we had peered down into the cave but never imagined that our tour boat would be sitting in this very spot!

Chapel Rock

The sandstone supporting the root system for the tree atop Chapel Rock collapsed approximately 40 years ago.  It could be said that Chapel Rock is now an island with its lifeline attached to the mainland.

Spray Falls
East Channel Lighthouse

The East Channel Lighthouse can only be viewed from the water, as it is now on private land on Grand Island.  It was built in 1867 and its kerosene lamp was extinguished for the last time in 1907.

We thoroughly enjoyed the day and believe that this cruise is a must if you find yourself in the Pictured Rocks area.  We are sad to leave this beautiful piece of the Upper Peninsula but look forward to the next leg of our journey.

Our last night’s sunset in the Munising Tourist Park.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ~ #2

Advice from a Waterfall:  Go with the flow/Roar with excitement/Let your cares fall away/Create your own music/Immerse yourself in nature/Stay active/Make a splash!  ~(c) Ilan Shamir  http://www.yourtruenature.com

Another day of fun in the sun.  Well, not quite today, but it wasn’t raining and we did not have to don parkas so off we went to do some more exploring.  Unfortunately, overcast days don’t work so well for taking photos but I told Terry to give it his best shot.

We headed off to the east part of the park today and our first stop was down the beach about 1.5 miles from Au Sable Light Station.  There was a great path that wound through the woods but we opted instead to walk along the beach, which took us all the way out to the lighthouse.  It was much more picturesque, we thought, with the lake breeze in our face and the waves lapping up on shore.

This stretch of beach lines Au Sable Point (French for “with sand”), which as early as 1622 was recognized as a hazard for mariners.  When the lake traffic began to boom in the 19th century with the opening of the Soo Canal, Au Sable Point was particularly dangerous. Many vessels would become victim to its sandstone reef, which is one-half mile wide and stretches out from the shoreline for a mile, lying no more than six feet below the surface is some spots.  Besides the offshore sandstone reef, the region was infamous for its thick fog as well.  Many a ship went aground here and with the weight of the wooden boats and the small engines used at the time, there was no way for them to recover.

We saw evidence of three shipwrecks, all built in the late 1800’s, on this short stretch of beach.  The picture above is that of the Sitka, which went down about a mile offshore in heavy fog and high winds in October, 1904.  She was 272′ feet in length and her bones now lie on the shore at Au Sable Point.

Mariners felt that “in all navigation of Lake Superior, there is none more dreaded by the mariner than that from Whitefish Point to Grand Island”.  Congress took action in 1872, building a lighthouse on Au Sable Point, which was completed in August, 1874.  It is the most remote lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula.

Au Sable Lighthouse from the Beach

We were fortunate to make the decision to tour the lighthouse today as we learned that tomorrow is the last day of the season for doing so and busloads of tourists are brought out for the day.  We had the place almost to ourselves and, although the park ranger was not available to give a tour, Harold was kind enough to do so.  We learned later that the park ranger is Harold’s daughter and he has been volunteering at Au Sable for the past several years.  His daughter completed her thesis on the lighthouse and has gathered extensive data for the on-site museum.

Au Sable Lighthouse from Land

The beacon for the lighthouse projects 18 miles out to sea and is now powered by a photovoltaic system instead of the original Fresnel lens, which still resides at the lighthouse.  In 1968 the Au Sable Light Station was transferred to the National Park Service, although the Coast Guard continues to maintain the beacon and solar panel that charges the storage battery.

A few miles down the road is the Log Slide, part of the Grand Sable Dunes.  These dunes are believed to have developed during the melting of glacial ice about 9500 years ago.

The picture above is where the Log Slide was during the days of the white pine lumber era in the 1880’s.  Logs were hauled to this point by horse teams then slid down a dry log flume to Lake Superior.  They were loaded onto boats and taken to the Grand Marais sawmills.  Although this sandy hill looks more like a gentle slope, it is a 500′ drop to the bottom, with overhangs hidden at the bottom.  We did not venture far down the slope, given the warnings posted.

From here we took a short hike down to Sable Falls, a 75′ waterfall that tumbles over several cliffs until it reaches Lake Superior.

Sable Falls

We had wanted to take some pictures of the changing colors, as it seems the trees are changing color before our very eyes.  We have been waiting for a summer day and the sun peered out when we were heading back to the campground.  This is not the peak season yet but the trees are spectacular.  Enjoy the colors!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ~ #1

Advice from a Lake:  Be clear/Make positive ripples/Look beneath the surface/Stay calm/Shore up friendships/Take time to reflect/Be full of life ~ (c) Ilan Shamir  http://www.yourtruenature.com

Fall has announced her arrival to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  While not at their peak yet, the trees are changing color daily.

Pictured Rocks was our destination and we arrived Monday afternoon at the City of Munising Tourist Park.  There was no one at the campground office so we perused the sites, grabbed one on the lake, paid our fee and settled in.  Later that afternoon Terry walked back to the office to ensure all was well and was told by the attendant that we had chosen the best site in the park.  Maybe she says this to everyone but we certainly think we got lucky.  Stepping out our door, we are literally 20 yards from Lake Superior.  Full hook-ups and right on the water.  Life is good!

It was a little blustery when we arrived but was still warm enough to walk along the beach.  We felt like we were walking along the ocean instead of a lake, watching the waves lapping the shore.  We can walk a mile in either direction and the views from our living room windows are amazing!

Sunset over Lake Superior

Tuesday morning we decided to get the lay of the land.  Our first stop was to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Visitor Center, where we picked up literature on available activities in the area.  I learned that Michigan has more waterfalls than any other state in the U.S. and more shoreline than any state besides Alaska.

From here it was time to do some exploring.  Our first stop was to Munising Falls, a 50′ drop into a sandstone canyon.  Lovely and right within the city of Munising.

Munising Falls

Just a few miles down the road is Sand Point, a picturesque little cove just begging to be photographed.

Sandstone cliffs 5 miles from Munising Falls are known as Miners Castle, for the turret-shaped rock caused by wind and water erosion.  This 9-story rock formation is one of Pictured Rocks most popular attractions.

Kayakers Enjoying the Views of Miners Castle
View from the top of Miners Castle

A one-mile hike through a beech and maple forest and we were rewarded with a view of one of the lakeshore’s most spectacular sights – Miners Falls.  The falls of the Miners River cascade over a 60-foot precipice of sandstone and they were stunning.

Miners Falls

The weather predictions have been for clouds and the possibility of rain over the next couple of days but we refused to let that deter us.  Today we ventured out to get a good day hike in.  It proved to be a sunny day instead and we settled on the Chapel Basin hike.

This is a 10 mile hike weaving through dense beech and maple forests, opening up onto sandy beaches, with Pictured Rock views from almost every turn, and the “cherry on top” was a great waterfall.  Normally a hike of this length would not keep us out 6 hours but today that is just what we did.  There was just too much to see and we wanted to take advantage of the great weather as we know our days of sunshine may be numbered.

The first leg of our journey took us through forest to Mosquito Beach, with gorgeous views of Lake Superior.  The photo below is looking east across the beach.  Notice what the wave action has done to the sandstone formation.

Mosquito Beach

Looking to the west on Mosquito Beach are caves known as the Caves of the Bloody Chiefs, which legend says were used by ancient chiefs to tie captives and let Lake Superior batter them to death.  A rather gruesome story but a lovely sight nonetheless.

View of Caves of the Bloody Chiefs on Mosquito Beach

Three miles further down the trail we saw a breathtaking sight I am sure has captured many a photographer’s eye, Grand Portal Point.  Until September 16, 1900, it contained a massive arch through which a small ship could sail.  Kayakers could still paddle through a small archway until Grand Portal suffered a second collapse in late 1999, inhibiting all boat activity.

The colors and textures that presented themselves along this trail were too numerous to count.

Another 1.5 miles down the trail and we arrived at Chapel Beach and the beautiful Chapel Rock formation.

First View of Chapel Rock
Stunning Up-Close View of Chapel Rock

Back on the trail and we were shocked to see that the tree sitting atop Chapel Rock still has its lifeline on the mainland.  Notice how the root system is suspended over the chasm.

 Although dense, we were surprised at how far into the forest we could see from the trail.  The canopy was high above us and the forest floor was covered mainly with ferns.

Last but not least was a stop at Chapel Falls, the final stunner for this hike.  It has a 60′ cascade and flows down to the base of Chapel Rock.

Terry and I have done our fair share of hiking and feel that today’s hike is at the top of our list of favorite forays into the wilderness.  We can’t wait to continue our UP exploration.

Our Rig at Dusk

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ~ #3

There are a total of six lighthouses placed in strategic points among the Apostle Islands. While here we were able to take a ferry to Raspberry Island and tour their newly renovated lighthouse.

Raspberry Island sits 1.5 miles from the mainland and is 1/2 mile in width at its widest, making it one of the smallest of the Apostle Islands.  It was judged to be the perfect location for the second lighthouse.  Sitting on a bluff at the southwest point of the island, this lighthouse served double duty by showing the way to westbound ships passing Bayfield and directing eastbound ships between Bear and York Islands and into the channel around the mainland to Bayfield.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse cost $6,000 to build and its lantern was first lit in 1863. The current standing lighthouse was completed in 1906.  The light of its lantern (5th order fresnel) can be seen for 10 miles and it flashes once every 60 seconds.  W learned that each lighthouse lantern flashes at a different interval so sailors know which lighthouse they are looking at.

A 3/4 mile trek takes you down to the beach.  Looking from any direction you can see islands dotting the channel.   We are still astounded at just how clear the water is, unlike many other lakes we have encountered.

What Terry and I most wanted to see were the sea caves.  Water is such a powerful force and what the waves have done to the sandstone shoreline, both the thawing and freezing action over centuries, is amazing!  Probably the best way to see these is to go with an outfitter or use your own sea kayak and get up close and personal.  This can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, particularly during specific times of the year.  We were approaching the end of the season for sea kayaking so we decided to take a trail off of the mainland to get a bird’s-eye view instead.  We have been told that some of the best sea caves of the Great Lakes are located on the shorelines of the Apostle Islands.

We were pleased to have another couple join us for our hike, a couple we met while Terry was attempting to maneuver the rig into our site.  They are from Iowa and have been full-timing for the 1.5 years.  We were able to glean a great deal of information from them that will be helpful to us and all had a chance to laugh at some of the goofy things we have both done while on this journey.  We are thoroughly enjoying their company and feel we have developed a new friendship.

Janie & John

Probably the most photographed and the most impressive sea caves are those on Devil’s Island and Sand Island, but those we were able to see from the mainland were dramatic as well.

Kayakers Investigating Sea Caves
The Power of Water
Sandstone and Verdant Forest
Me & Janie Enjoying our Hike

From here we are headed to Houghton, Michigan and are pleased that John and Janie were planning a trip there as well.  We are looking forward to creating a few more memories together.