Sleeping Bear Dunes

In college, I had a suitemate from Michigan. When the rest of us discovered she had never seen the ocean, it became something we had to do. At the end of spring semester, we all rode the train out to Coney Island so that Josie Jo could see the Atlantic for the first time. When it came time for the magic moment, we walked down to the ocean... and she shrugged. "It looks like Lake Michigan," she said.

About nine years later, I finally understood what she meant.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore runs along miles of Lake Michigan, but the dunes off Pierce Stocking Drive are the main attraction. It was late afternoon when we visited; the light was perfect. And while I'd already gotten a sense of how massive the Great Lakes can be, spending time on or near the water on Lake Huron and Lake Superior, this view of Lake Michigan really drove the point home.

The dunes are named for a Chippewa Legend in which a forest fire on the opposite shore forced a mother bear and her two cubs to swim into the water to escape. While the mother bear made it across, her two cubs faltered and fell behind. The mother bear waited on the far shore. As a reward for her faith in her children, the Great Spirit created two islands - North and South Manitou - to honor them, and the sand gradually covered the sleeping mother bear, where she still waits to this day.


Out of all the places we visited in Michigan, if I had to pick just one, this would be the place I'd recommend to international visitors. The sense of peace, the enormity of Lake Michigan, the soft curve of the earth that you can witness from high atop the dunes... it was the perfect way to end our Michigan trip.


The following day, we were supposed to be headed home, but I'd missed out on one thing - getting a stamp in my National Parks Passport. The headquarters had been closed by the time we'd rolled through the previous day. Now usually, I'd let it slide (I'm missing stamps for several major parks despite having visited), but at the moment, I was 3 for 4 on Michigan National Parks. (They've since added a few.)

So we drove back to the visitors center and got my stamp, then headed down to Platte River Point for an early picnic lunch, enjoying our Michigan cherries, wine, and other local goodies. We stopped by one final lighthouse down at Point Betsie before tucking inland to head back toward Ann Arbor, and on toward home.


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