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Great Lakes Road Trip: Part 3 - Sleeping Bear Dunes of Michigan

Give a kid a 150 foot sand dune to climb and even Yoshi & Zelda take a back seat. It was out of the way - the pinkie of Michigan’s "mitten" - but that just made it more appealing. I wanted someplace remote and real and that’s what we found. Took long enough to get there - we literally passed through a lakeside festival in Traverse City - and had to skip Hemingway’s haunts in Horton Bay, but we wanted remote. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a National Lakeshore run by the National Park Service. The kids were antsy and ready to roll so we proceeded directly to Dune Climb. Cars lined the long parking lot like crickets at the foot of the sweeping, daunting sand pile. Like sand? Like wind? Like adventure? This is the place. Son and Daughter kicked off their shoes and started running up the hulking hill, but even their enthusiasm couldn’t keep them going at that pace. I plodded deliberately through the shifting sands, sunglasses keeping the windy grains from meeting my temperamental contact lenses. Pausing when necessary, in time victory was mine. The view from the top, back down towards our start, was inspiring. Glen Lake, a shade of powder blue not unlike my sister’s eye shadow from 1973, held the horizon, while the lumpy green hills surrounding it slithered into formations such as "Alligator Point". This is one big dune. I knew Lake Michigan lay further ahead somewhere but I never did see it from this location. The sand just seemed to go on forever, taunting me, and my so called stamina. The sand meets the grasses first in little tufts, then in curving arcs of vegetation. We stretched out on the sand in one such inlet and breathed in the sea air. Dune Climb wasn’t deserted, yet somehow up here, observing these stubby tufts, we had this turf all to ourselves. Georgia O’Keeffe once said of New Mexico’s dark blue Pedernal mountain "God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it." This day we took home Michigan’s dunes, in our shoes and in our subconsciousness. Achingly windblown, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive seemed like a good next move. Cars travel the seven mile loop to Lake Michigan views and visitors have several places to get out and explore. A wooden boardwalk called us uphill to a long weatherbeaten dock jutting into Lake Michigan. My contact lenses won this round - a screwdriver to my eyeball would have been more pleasant - so Spouse had to lead me out of the windstorm. Son shreiked with excitement as the gusts drove sand particles into his bare legs like needles. Later, the park ranger casually relayed that a major wind storm had passed through off of the lake. Funny, that unexpected drama just made it that much more memorable. Up the main road a piece was the Coast Guard Station at Sleeping Bear Point. I loved the little enclave of buildings filled with white rescue boats trimmed in blue, barracks of past rescuers and a divers mask. Son and Daughter by now had lost any patience and only reluctantly completed their booklets for the Junior Ranger program. Frankly we were all a little worn. Luckily we hit on a little piece of Michigan heaven in the nearby town of Glen Haven. The Cherry Republic was more popular than Visine up in these parts, so we parked down the road a bit and tromped over to it’s wooden porch. I had read it was the place to go, and it was a highlight. Sophisticated and fun, I could have moved right in. Spouse and I sampled the Cherry Wine while Kids tried the Boom Chugga Lugga Cherry Soda Pop. Wow! We left with some of each. Later, I couldn’t figure out why we hadn’t bought more. Back at the ranger station, Kids received their Sleeping Bear Dunes Junior Ranger pins and patches. A sucker for patches, my heart skipped a beat at the display case lined with Junior Ranger pins, patches, and booklets from National Parks across the country. Each is a colorful work of art and holds memories of trips past and future. A friendly ranger, overhearing me remarking on the Zion pin we had at home, shared a tale of one summer he spent as a ranger at Zion years ago. We both agreed it was one of our favorite places in the National Park system. Food’s a good thing when you travel and this time we really got it right. I had read about The Cherry Hut (yes, some laugh at my routine of typing up notes before I travel), the "Family Restaurant Since 1922" located in Beulah. The monster-sized cherry face menu boasts a week’s worth of choices for the cherry fanatic : Cherry Chicken Salad Plate (Michigan Dried Cherries, Almonds, and Celery with a Cherry Muffin and Fruit), Cherry Ade, Cherry Pie with Cherry DuBonnet Ice Cream, and even a Cherry Jelly and Peanut Butter Sandwich. There is but also plenty that’s non-cherry for lesser mortals. Best pie I’ve tasted since I picked those cherries off the backyard tree in New Jersey, my mother baking them into a flaky, homemade pie. This place would make up for several of the crappy places we’d eat at on this road trip (you know who you are!) when we were too tired or too hungry to care. Ahh, Michigan.


This post first appeared on The Road Traveler, please read the originial post: here

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Great Lakes Road Trip: Part 3 - Sleeping Bear Dunes of Michigan

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