Sleeping Bear Dunes

Last weekend was my first solo adventure in a long while. I headed north to lower Michigan’s national park: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It formed from legislation the year I was born, in 1970. Public land around private inholdings from Point Betsie to Leland was federally protected (click for map). And two islands. More recently, in 2014, Congress and the President upgraded specific areas to wilderness.

At this time it was winter, so the island ferries would not run. Recently fallen snow covered much of the land. But I camped, hiked, and drove my way from one end to the other to get a feel for this place. I found the predominant hiking to be mile-long runs to the beach from trailheads along M-22. You can grab a few cross-country loops from 3 to 5 miles. More, coupled together. Around Glen Arbor, you can climb the dunes over the proverbial mother bear. And on the horizon, you see the 2 baby bears: North and South Manitou Island.

Of course, I was alone in the campground. I followed tracks of cross-country skiers, a hiker, their dog on the single track trail. But there were few others braving the weather in this backcountry. Between my forays between dunes, forests, and wetlands, I chatted with Meg and Randy at Leelanau Coffee Roasting Company.

Then it was on the evening of the second day that Sleeping Bear touched me. Beige sands and white drifts framed the evening turquoise of Lake Michigan. Pink, purple, and red highlights brushed the shoreline by an otherwise unseen sun. Other people came and left when they couldn’t see the direct sunset. In their absence, the silence and aesthetic drew me in. Compared with larger public lands West and East, this is not dramatically remote. Still, it preserves space in an otherwise impacted world. A place where nature, wildlife, and the spirit of adventure can resuscitate life.

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