Today I learned the “Pure Michigan” campaign is not just photo shopped images and marketing hype. I must admit our time exploring the Upper and Lower Peninsula have provided some unexpected and breathtaking views.
Winds of 30 mph combined with a high of 58 degrees plus a chance of rain aren’t ideal sightseeing conditions, but it’s the day we had so we made the best of it.
Once we got outside Traverse City headed towards Sleeping Bear Dunes, things quickly became sparse. It is a varied landscape of farmland that reminded me of southern Minnesota, narrow tree-lined roads winding around lakes that reminded me of northern Minnesota, and rolling hills that reminded me of Wisconsin.
On one corner we drove by an old one room schoolhouse. Bell on top. Rusty water fountain on the side. Outhouse with half moon cutout. It didn’t appear to be in use, but it wasn’t in bad shape either. At first I thought how odd that it hadn’t been torn down in all this time; then I looked around and realized with all this open space it’s not like someone needs that lot.
When we arrived at the Sleeping Bear Dunes, winds were pretty strong. And this is sand we’re going to see.
We pulled up alongside this tall wall of sand they call a dune, looked at each other and agreed: Yeah, we’re here, why not climb it.
It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen – 110 foot high pile of sand. I tried to imagine the size of the glacier that left this behind. It’s difficult to capture the enormity in photos, but to give you an idea, the specs towards the bottom left of this picture are people at the bottom of the hill.
Once we were sandblast-polished from our eyelids to our toes, we moved on. As we drove down the coast looking for the the right angle to photograph the dunes, we discovered lots of treasures along the way.
Aral is one of them. As I read about the town that used to be along this coast, it was hard to believe, since now it is nothing but forest and sand.
There are several ghost towns along the coast, where the town grew up around an industry, they used up that resource, people moved away and the town died. In some cases, as with Aral, they even dismantled the buildings and took them along! I had a flashback while standing here of my Dad with a metal detector when I was a kid. This would probably be an interesting area for one of those.
At the end of a narrow dirt road we ended up at the lakeshore near North Bar Lake. Wow! This was one of my favorites of the day. You could have dropped me here blindfolded from a helicopter and I never would have guessed this is Michigan.
The water is Caribbean turquoise, and the cliffs that lined the coast looked more like Costa Rica. And nobody was on this beach!
Along with natural beauty, there’s so much history in this area. We visited the Maritime Museum, where it was interesting to read about the techniques used at the U.S. Lifesaving Station in the late 1800’s, and imagine those brave men plucking someone out of Lake Superior during a storm.
We drove the seven mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which exists thanks to the foresight and determination of one man. Pierce Stocking used to walk the bluffs above Lake Michigan, awed by the views. He wanted to share this beauty with others and at the same time protect the dunes, so he conceived the idea of a road to the top of the dunes. The road was completed in 1967 and Stocking continued to operate the scenic drive until his death 1976. One person can make a difference.
Another interesting character from this area is D.H. Day. In the late 1800’s he moved here from upstate New York to work as an agent in his brother-in-law’s business in Glen Haven. Before long, he bought the whole town. He could see northern Michigan becoming a popular tourist destination, so he invested in a couple of steamers with passenger service. He believed in reforestation long before it became a movement. With thousands of acres of land cleared for lumber, he brought in apple and cherry trees reminiscent of where he grew up. That led to a cannery, of course. Talk about diversification!
At the end of the day we returned to Traverse City with sand in every nook and cranny, exhausted from the wind, and very pleased with our day of Pure Michigan.