Sunday, August 2, 2020

Smiling Bear Dunes

My wife the master of the malapropism was telling a friend of hers over the phone about her latest achievement..." I climbed the dune at Smiling Bear in Michigan" and that image hasn't left my head.
To be a tourist in Michigan means you to visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes on the western lakeshore and we dutifully pointed the nose of the Promaster in the direction of the Sleeping Bear which may or may not have been smiling.
Access is wide open and free and easy so we got there as fast as I could wake up and get our camper van in gear. It was light at 5:30 so we were off with sleepers in bed and me alone at the wheel. That was when I passed a construction site and saw a rosy dawn colored opening across the water and snagged the first picture at the top.
Dogs are not permitted on the dune climb, and I can only imagine the inconsiderate among us have failed one too many times to pick up after their animals in that giant sand pit in the sky. So instead Rusty and I took off on a cross country ski trail(!). That was a first for both of us however as it is summer the temperatures even in the frigid north didn't allow for actual snow just yet so we walked like normal people while my wife made her way to the top of the first dune.
It looked steep but at that hour the dew was still heavy and I suspect the sand was glissading less than it might at noon which apparently makes the walk to the lake a two hour feat of endurance.
The van I parked in a quiet part of the vast spacious parking lot which dd not stop a youthful berk from parking right next door as we returned so I had Rusty paused while the mask free dope faffed around preparing for his epic hike. 
Rusty didn't think much of the pet prohibition as he is always perfectly behaved, mostly, but he took it in stride.
Evidence that Herself made it to the top and with no great difficulty she reported. All those hours of watching work out tapes in quarantine. She misses the gym but she has favorite trainers on video in this modern and messed up era.
Hordes of coronavirus fanatics clumping together on the main part of the dune.
Me being slick with the reflection in the side window of the van:
You might ask yourself who cares about a sand dune but I have to say that aside from the incongruity of the location, a geological accident left behind by a careless retreating glacier millennia ago, the size of the thing, the purity of the sand and the steepness of the slopes are quite fascinating.
I hope my pictures give some idea of the grandeur of the spot, and if they don't you need to trust me that this place is worth a visit.
And if not the dune then the Pierce Stocking scenic drive just a few miles south of the main dune climb.
A local fellow who worked as a woodsman and came to love the forests of Michigan built a seven mile loop through the woods and let people pay to drive between 1966 and his death ten years later. 
The road, here overlooking Glen Lake said to be the most beautiful of all, was added to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore in 1976. I heard a run they charge $25 to drive the loop which seems a bit steep.
When we drove into the road a new entry station appeared to be under construction but the road was open and unattended. So we drove. Here's the man responsible:
We stopped along the drive at a scenic overview and once again congratulated ourselves on being able to park our long van, 21 feet overall, in car parking...
The views were worth the drive of course and the stop.
The information board from the National Parks Service invited the viewer to imagine stepping up here 8,000 years ago, the first human to see this countryside...
It was, I have to say an evocative thought. My wife has a national parks passport now she is 65 and I always appreciate these spaces preserved forever (I hope).
I noticed no No Pet signs and without thinking too hard about it we walked up the trail and found ourselves on yet another dune with An Awful Warning. Don't get stuck at the bottom because to rescue you from the cling will cost $3,000 and put rescuers in danger. Made sense to me and Rusty showed no inclination to take a downhill slide. 
I hope the pictures speak for themselves. Visibility was gorgeous. Temperatures were warm, near 80 degrees I think but not such that you burst out sweating. There was a cool breeze off the water. As a visitor who was on her third visit to the dunes remarked, conditions were perfect.
She said, from a. safe distance, that it was worth while being here on a cloudy drizzly day, though for myself a bright crisp sunny day added markedly to the experience.

It was a place fit for contemplation.
And relaxation.
I did not go close to the edge. Apparently some young adults had made the trip to the bottom to try to beat their record back up of 25 minutes.  I just found the whole drop off creepy and at age 62 I am happy not risking my new improved pelvis in another pointless adventure.
I am grateful to the positive chorus of voices telling us to visit the dunes and make the scenic drive.
If Michigan with its beauty hasn't impressed you nothing will in my opinion.

We spent several days and Harvest Host nights in the Traverse City area, a circle about an hour's Dave from the city and we would have stayed longer. My wife is form that the soonest I retire is 2022 and she has a point, more money etc... but were it up to me I am close enough I'd just as soon kept going, aiming south only with the onset of winter. These parts really are that pure.