One of the best things about full-time RV life is when a solo day trip turns into an awesome adventure. Recently, I packed a backpack with water, lunch, and my National Park Passport Book and took a road trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore just outside of Traverse City, Michigan.
The day was sunny and clear and the two-hour drive was both scenic and blissfully traffic free. I came upon the Welcome Center and stamped my National Park Passport. After a stroll through the museum, I entered the room for the educational movie.
During the movie, I learned how the dunes were a masterpiece of ice, wind, and water; how the ancient glaciers formed the Great Lakes; and how today the wind, rain, and currents move shoals and shape the lakeshore and the surrounding dunes. It’s a unique ecosystem with dense forests, massive rolling sand dunes, and crystal blue water. While the scientific explanation for the formation of the lakes and dunes was fascinating, I find the Native American version more heartbreaking.
The Legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes
Many, many years ago across the Great Lake in Wisconsin, there was a time of starvation for both humans and animals. A mother bear with two small cubs was desperate for food and gathered her cubs to swim across the massive lake to the opposite shore to forage for food. “Swim. Swim hard. You can do it,” she encouraged her tired cubs. Mama Bear and her cubs swam for hours, but the babies started to tire. “Look! There’s the shore,” she told her cubs. “You can do this. Swim. Swim.” The cubs tried their best, but were too exhausted. Just in sight of the shore, one of the cubs succumbed to the lake and drowned. The mother’s heart was broken and she begged her one remaining cub to keep swimming. Shortly thereafter, the second cub went beneath the water’s surface. Mama Bear made it to shore, but lay prone and cried in despair. As she was consumed by grief, two islands emerged offshore in the spots where her cubs had died. To this day, the large Mother Bear stays on the shoreline overlooking her cubs.
Inside the film room was a series of four framed pictures. At first, I thought they were paintings, but upon closer inspection realized they were quilts.
The intricate needlework was breathtaking. All of those exquisite colors were pieced together to form this profound piece of art. This is how they looked up close:
And here is the credit to an incredible artist, Ann Loveless:
After viewing the Welcome Center and getting directions to the Pierce Stocking scenic drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes, I headed out on the day’s adventure. It didn’t disappoint.
Sun peaked through the lush trees as I meandered slowly along the drive. I stopped a few times to hear the sounds of the deep woods and get a glimpse of wildlife. I didn’t see any this trip, but there was evidence of an entire forest life that waits for peace and quiet minus human activity.
As I drove further into the national lakeshore, the landscape started to change to rolling dunes with blooming flowers, hardy trees, and thick golden sand. There were many pulls-off for short hikes to walk among the massive sand dunes. The trails were beautiful and held a panorama of the rolling landscape.
About midway on the scenic Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive was the turn-off for Sleeping Bear Dunes. It was short moderate walk uphill. Once the hill crested, there was a dazzling display of a million shades of blue–it was almost impossible to see where the lake ended and the sky began–all the way to the horizon. The dune was approximately 450 feet tall and almost a complete straight drop to the shoreline. In fact, this warning sign was one of the first things seen when cresting the massive dune.
As always, there were tourists who thought they didn’t need to heed the warning. There was a couple struggling the uphill climb when I was there. Another visitor told me they had been there all morning trying to make their way back up the dune. While it is not recommended to go down Sleeping Bear, there are dunes just a quarter mile up the road that are for descending and climbing, but it is physically arduous and there are warnings everywhere.
The daring notwithstanding, Sleeping Bear was stunning. Here are some of the photos taken from the summit:
After viewing Sleeping Bear, the drive continues on for a couple of miles. It amazes me how people are in such a hurry on the nature drives. I like to go slowly and actually see things, so I often pulled aside to let cars pass along their merry way. If I had been traveling just a tad faster, I would have missed this gnarled, root-mangled tree holding on for dear life to a small dune. To some, it may just be a tree. For me, it talked to my heart–as silly as that may sound. It was tenaciously holding on, struggling to adapt to its changing surroundings, stubbornly refusing to let loose of its hold to the earth, and still standing tall and proud despite its struggle. The tree was almost my favorite part of Sleeping Bear, and it was totally missed by cars whizzing by.
After the scenic drive, there was a historic town called Glen Haven tucked up on the edge of the lakeshore. It’s a sweet little town with buildings not in use–at least on the day I visited.
Across the street was the crystal blue of Lake Michigan with a smooth beach for wading and swimming.
Sleeping Bear Dunes was beautiful, and I don’t regret taking the drive to see it. Quiet, peaceful, majestic, energizing, inspiring–all of those adjectives are there to be experienced.
Yes, it was a sweeeeeeeeet adventure!
Safe travels, Dawn
P.S. There is a video version of this excursion on YouTube. It can be viewed by clicking here: RandomBitsRV
Where Are We Now: Southern Louisiana.
Where Are We Headed: Austin, TX, eventually to CA.
Location of Blog Post: Lake Michigan, outside of Traverse City.