Michigan is full of beautiful places and almost entirely, they are associated with a Great Lake. After 10 days spent on Lake Huron near one of world’s largest cement plant and limestone quarry, going west to the Lake Michigan side was like traveling to another world. Parked on Lake Leelanau on Leelanau Peninsula between Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, we were surrounded by a hilly patchwork of orchards and vineyards and small lakeshore towns with yacht-filled marinas as large as the town itself.
While growing up in Gaylord Michigan, Lake Michigan was to me largely inaccessible. A scenic drive along its northern shorelines offers very few places to park the car and walk to the water. Mostly, private property separates the road from the lake, making the Great Lake nothing more than a glitter of blue between the trees and houses captured by a fleeting glimpse as you drive through a tunnel of trees which contributes the ‘scenic’ part of the drive.
The Lake Michigan side of the state is impressively beautiful. Relating to this is that Lake Michigan’s shoreline contains the largest freshwater sand dunes on the planet. The sand gives the clear turquoise water an iridescence. The coastal sand forests are unique and provide an ecosystem for a variety of animals and plants. But where there is unique beauty, there are buyers. The picturesque Glen Lake located a short distance from Lake Michigan is the perfect example of this. In the 1920s, an exclusive resort was planned to overlook the picturesque coastal lake. It was to include an 18-hole golf course, an airstrip, tennis courts, bridle paths, polo field, a ski jump and toboggan run, and more than 100 estates – all ‘ideally restricted’.
Fortunately, the stock market crashed and investors pulled their money. A decade or so later, residents began to imagine another use for the land. In 1970, Congress established the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with the intention of preserving Michigan’s outstanding natural features. Eventually, more of Michigan’s dunes became protected with the passage of the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act in 1976. Today, the state of Michigan along the entire expanse of Lake Michigan has several designated state parks where the dunes and water can be accessed by the public.
One morning, I left the RV and drove to Empire Bluff, located within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The hike to the bluff is a mere .75 miles but it is a steady incline all the way. Soon, I was rewarded for the effort as I stood alone on top of the bluff gazing over Lake Michigan. Between me and the shoreline was a 450-foot nearly vertical drop. The Great Lake was breathtaking in the silence of the sandy ecosystem. I had a 180-degree view of Lake Michigan’s sparkling clear blue water gently disturbed by a slight breeze – to the left and to the right as far as my eyes could see were magnificent dunes and nothing else. I wandered around the sand and interrupted my views of the water to examine the wildflowers and grasses – a brilliant show of resilience in a stark environment. Such are the dunes, a wilderness of sand created by wind. Nature’s brilliance!
As I stood on the bluff looking at the endless horizon of Lake Michigan, I felt so lucky to be in an amazingly beautiful and unique place, like I have in so many others places Vivian and I have traveled to. Enjoy these photos from our time on ‘The Third Coast”.
And if you enjoy this blog, please check out some of these others about Michigan, one of our favorite states to explore – and we’ve done a lot of exploring there!