Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The changing landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I admit it, I've lived in Indiana my whole life and have never visited the dunes in northern Indiana along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

I can now say, though, that I have visited the dunes of Lake Michigan. I just traveled to Michigan to do it.

As the week warmed up and the sun struggled to shine again, Mom and I took a day of our Traverse City-area vacation to head west to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This park area came highly recommended by friends who've lived in the area.

Neither Mom nor I are sit-forever-on-the-beach people, so we did a driving tour of the area that included the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive within the park. It's a 7.4-mile tour that was well worth the visit. Along the drive, you get to see and understand the landscape and formation of the area, which includes both forest and dunes.
These dunes were much taller and more expansive than I'd imagined, and it also put into perspective for me just how big the Great Lakes really are. At one point along the drive, you can walk out to an observation deck that sits about 450 feet above Lake Michigan.
The dunes drop off steeply from the top of the dune to the shore of the lake, and some brave souls chose to descend the slope and then climb back up to the top. We stood and watched them for a while and couldn't help but think that it looked like they were voluntarily competing in a challenge on the Biggest Loser.
The landscape was really beautiful and incredibly delicate. We were amazed to see with our own eyes just how much it changes from year to year, primarily by wind alone. Some trees' roots were entirely exposed, leaving them barely hanging on.
In some ways, it reminded me of Yellowstone, because the dunes are so different than the landscapes I'm used to. Areas of Yellowstone made me think of the surface of the moon, with small geysers and bubbling mud pots scattered throughout the park -- and the dunes, in some ways, felt that way, as well.

As we left the park, we stopped by the park-sanctioned Dune Climb, a specific dune open for climbing, to see the people taking the challenge to the top. This didn't seem nearly as impressive after seeing the folks on the dune earlier in the park, but I'm sure it was more difficult than it looked! I know how challenge it is just to walk on flat, level ground in sand, so I'm sure trying to climb it is 10 times harder.
This is definitely an area of Michigan I'd recommend visiting, and you should do it soon, before the dunes are worn away!

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