Saturday, June 18, 2016

After the cramped quarters of Detroit, we were all pretty excited to get to a place with more normal living arrangements. And do some exploring!

Spirits were high as we drove across Michigan. ...Not to mention the fact that the drive was made more exciting by us brokering a deal on a new-to-us old 12 passenger van over the phone as my mom kindly test drove it for us back in Missouri. But that's another story....

The weather was downright frigid as we unloaded into our cozy Michigan cottage nestled along the shore of Glen Lake. We were pretty excited when we found that the little kitchen came pre-stocked with coffee.

That warm drink, and the cute electric fireplace, got me through all the unpacking and bed making and quick run to the nearby high-falootin grocery store. 

It being so cold, we were content that first evening to hunker down inside and eat our first hearty home-cooked meal in days. 

 The kids were so stoked about their awesome bunk bed room that bedtime was a happy routine, and Clay and I even got to relax on the couch with an old VHS movie and  Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer, salami and gourmet cheese (vacation necessities). 

**For those of you who are fellow lovers and connoisseurs of ginger ales.... we rated Barritt's at five stars  -- right up there next to Blenheim's. Good quality ginger ale is the only drink that makes me reel back with the intensity of each sip, and then keep coming back for more... Now if only I could find some decent stuff around home!**

Next morning, bright & early, was adventure time! 

Our cottage was conveniently located a couple miles down the road from Sleeping Bear Dunes, and our first destination was the main Dune Climb

We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, and perhaps that was for the best. We came, dressed in coats to ward off the chilly morning air, unsure of just how far we were planning on hiking, but full of energy and excited to see such mass quantities of sand.

We made it up the first main climb from the parking lot, passed where all the crowds of uncommitted park-goers were, and ventured off into the land of unknown dunes.
Dunes, after dunes, after dunes. 

From the top of the first climb we could look over Glen Lake, and pick out where our cottage was generally located. 

The Dunes Trail

We naively thought, after not really carefully looking over our park map, that Lake Michigan would just be a short hike over a couple dunes. Right??? ...Not quite. 

Reality hit after we conquered the first few dunes, and our calf muscles were starting to warm with the exercise, and we encountered this sign:

In case you can't read that, it says: 

Lake Michigan is 1.3 hilly miles from here. 
You should have adequate water, footwear, 
and fitness level to hike the remainder of the trail." 

So... five kids, aged 8 and under (the littlest one in a backpack), and a 4+ month pregnant woman equipped with a couple bottles of water and some granola bars should be all set. I think.

Sure, why not. We decided to go for it. At least take one giant dune at a time and see how it goes. And after each one.... just one more... we must be getting really close... 

The kids were *amazing*. Particularly Susannah, with her tired little legs, just trucking along and hardly complaining at all. I was pretty proud of our tough littles.

We stopped about half way to dole out some water and rest. And take a family picture (with the camera balanced precariously on some coats on top of a dune bank). 

We encountered some fellow travelers here and there in sparse numbers, looking more fatigued than we were. This gave us more hope than their surprised remarks about our bravery (foolhardiness?) and their encouraging words. 

We also stopped now and then to let the kids make sand castles. Which is all they really wanted to do anyway. 

Margaret discovered she could make these cool edges along the sand banks and started making those every chance she got.

Then, at long last, we crested the last dune and found ourselves on the shore of Lake Michigan  !!

Everyone was pretty excited, to say the least....

 Beautiful, piercing blue water... Absolutely gorgeous.        And frigid.

The kids slowly numbed themselves enough that they got braver and braver with their wading explorations.


 I even joined in the fun for a while.

We could have stayed here for hours and hours, but the realization that we still had to walk all the way back to the van finally settled in and we reluctantly turned our backs to the water.

Now was when those little kid legs were really tested, and they passed with flying colors. Clay and I did find ourselves having to be extra super-duper chipper, cheerful and encouraging though, when spirits began flagging a wee bit. 

We sang rounds ("My Paddle's Keen & Bright" seemed appropriate for the setting) and coached everyone up and over each dune.

It was a bit overwhelming as we crested each huge dune and found yet another even bigger one ahead of us. Pictures just don't do justice to the sheer size and steepness of these sandy hills.

It gave me a chance to quote my favorite memorized poem, "The Walrus & The Carpenter" (which I frequently quote whenever I get the chance)

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

It wasn't all a trial, though, despite my description thus far. The dunes were beautiful, rugged and awe-inspiring. We loved exploring and sharing it as a family. The excitement of it all, the deep sense of satisfaction that we made it all the way to Lake Michigan, and the memories made singing songs and building sand castles along the way were well worth the exhausted legs.

And the weather could not have been more perfect. After the frigid weather the day before, the warm spring sunshine breaking through was a welcome sight, and the cool breezy air kept us from getting too warm or dehydrated. Though we did wonder why in the world we wore our winter coats...

By the end of the hike the kids were finding any way they could to rest their legs. Rolling down the last few dunes provided a new source of entertainment.

And then! Glen Lake came into view!

We were worn out, extremely happy to see our van, and even happier that we had had such a perfect day together enjoying some wild new scenery.

It also felt indescribably good to empty our shoes before collapsing into the van. They had a bit of sand in them.....

Empire Bluffs Trail

The owner of our cottage recommended this trail for family hiking, so we checked it out on our second day. William said it was his favorite, and we all agreed it was a very pleasant hike.

We were glad we did the Dunes Trail on our first day at the park, so we got to experience the classic Sleeping Bear Dunes scenery and also get the big hike done on our first day when we were fresh and full of energy.

Empire Bluffs Trail was a much shorter, kid friendly, shady, forested, and generally pleasantly relaxing hike.

Spring flowers were scattered all over the forest floor and I was pleased to see some familiar old friends from my days as a northerner... we spotted Trilliums, Trout Lilies and Dutchman's Breeches..

And, oh look, I caught a snake.

The kids enjoyed climbing some fallen trees and logs along the way.


And then we made it to the top of the bluff where we were rewarded with some scenic overlooks.

At the end of the trail was a lovely view of Lake Michigan with the dunes running all along the coast.

The first night at the cottage I read the kids The Legend of Sleeping Bear, which was a beautifully illustrated children's story that happened to by lying on the coffee table. It captured the kids' imagination and was a fun read before we went out to hike on the dunes, though I wasn't quite prepared for the sad ending (**spoiler alert** all the bears die....). The entire time we were hiking the Dunes Trail the kids were trying to guess which dune was the Mother Bear. It wasn't until we were on top of Empire Bluffs that we could easily see the little dune on top that was "Mother Bear".

Clay and I sat on the benches and soaked up the sunshine and beauty around us while the kids played happily in the sand and built more sand castles. Then we got to walk down hill all the way back to the van.

Back at the cottage, after some lunch and rest time, we let the big kids play in the very shallow and kid-safe Glen Lake which was just across the road. With Sleeping Bear dunes in the background.

Though we were in the midst of an obvious tourist destination (miles and miles of cute rental guest cottages, gift shops and quaint restaurants), we beat the seasonal crowds and essentially had the place to ourselves. We were very pleased with our little cottage and would recommend it if anyone was looking for a place to stay in the area! The price seemed very reasonable, and Ray was a great temporary landlord -- he even mailed us back our little stuffed monkey that got left behind, much to the joy and relief of the kids.

That evening, the last night of our brief  vacation, we spent a couple hours at

Sleeping Bear Point

 We didn't hike the whole loop there, but just took the trail section that led to Lake Michigan. For those who are looking for a fun beach where you can play in the great lake without having to complete the Dunes Trail.... this is for you. 

It reminded me very strongly of Cape Cod -- minus the salty ocean breeze and multitude of fun crabs, jellyfish and other sea creatures. And rowboats. Etc.

Still, the resemblance was there. And I enjoyed it. 

To complete the resemblance we came across these signs:

And I was in high heaven getting to see the familiar sight of these plover tracks....

And then a plover flying back to his better half who was on the nest... 

Ah, took me back to the good ol' days of shorebird monitoring at Barnstable....

It was fun sharing the sight with the kids.

 There were also rocks to skip (Hattie liked that part):

Cahokia mound replicas to build out of sand:

And sticks to draw in the sand with:

We even made a family portrait in the sand:

Then, on the way back, the kids had the most fun of all when they found the perfect place to roll in the sand:

Things got even more fun when Daddy joined in the games:

Susannah stuck with much safer option of scooting down.

On our way to and from the Sleeping Bear Point trailhead we also drove through the historic village of Glen Haven and past the Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum, unfortunately, was not yet open for the season (a disappointment for us). And though we didn't stop to walk through the town and read the signs in front of each historic building in town, we enjoyed the auto tour of Glen Haven. We did stop briefly and let the kids inspect this boat:

 What a wonderful way to end our last day in Michigan. A brief but happy exploration of a new bit of countryside. 


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