Northern Michigan is full of natural wonders.  Sand dunes, rock formations, caves, mosquitoes the size of small birds…….haha just kidding.  They’re big, but they’re not that big.  I have lived in Petoskey for over 15 years and have never made the two-hour drive to check out the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Not on purpose.  I wasn’t avoiding them.  I honestly just kept forgetting they were there (I know, I know: HOW do you forget about the existence of giant sand dunes?!?!  I don’t know…..life?).  So, on a spur-of-the-moment, restless kind of Sunday, the family hopped in the truck for a day trip to the Dunes.

It was the end of April, which I have dubbed “nothing season”.  Northern Michigan thrives on tourism of various types, but the end of April is between seasons; the snow is gone and ski hills are closed, but it’s not warm enough for summer beach goers and boaters.  There’s nothing going on, hence “nothing season.”  I’ve heard it referred to as “mud season” too, due to everything being wet and muddy from the recent snowmelt.  I figured this was a good time to go to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  The snow was gone, the sun was out and the temperature was above 40°F.  There wouldn’t be crowds of people yet, it’s still too early for black flies and mosquitoes, and it’s not stifling hot.

We had about 8 hours to spend and I had laid out a plan.   We started off at the visitor’s center, where I purchased my very own National Parks passport.  How exciting!  I haven’t been to many yet, and I hope to fill that passport up with lots of stamps, aka “cancellations.” I’m not really sure I stamped mine correctly.  I mean, there’s so many pages of spots for stamps, and they aren’t labeled, and my daughter just picked a spot to stamp, all willy-nilly.  Are there like, rules, or instructions or something?  At least she stamped in the “Midwest” section.  Side note about the park passport: did you know that, if you visited any national parks before you bought your passport, apparently you can write to those parks with the date you were there, and they’ll send you a notecard or piece of paper stamped with that date, so you can add it to your passport without having to revisit those parks.

DSC_0003Next on the plan was the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4-mile roadway with “scenic vistas and gentle curves” in addition to a covered bridge and a couple overlooks.  I was really looking forward to the views from those overlooks.  I have seen pictures, and I knew the real thing would be so much better.  However, when we pulled in, we were greeted with a “road closed” sign.  I assumed it was a seasonal closure.  The park’s website says it closed that day (that figures) and will remain closed until mid May because “crews will be using heavy equipment in order to move sand to prepare the overlook for the season.”  Bummer.  We opted to go the Dune Climb instead where, despite being determined to keep my feet on solid ground at the bottom, I ended up grabbing my inhaler and climbing to the top.

market22-2We had lunch at this adorable little deli in Maple City called Market 22, where you’ll find hand-written chalkboard signs, pressed tin, fresh bloody marys, local beer and wines for sale, smiling faces and darn good sandwiches.  I highly suggest checking them out!

There was a boat museum we were going to visit, but it too, was closed.  Our last stop of our Sleeping Bear Dunes visit was a short hiking trail to Pyramid Point. There’s a 2.8-mile loop you can hike, but we just did the short walk to the lookout.  It’s .6 of a mile, all uphill, but trust me, it’s SO worth it.  The lookout is nearly 300ft above the surface of Lake Michigan.  It is not recommended to go down the face of the dune, for several reasons: first, the more people that go down, the more the dune erodes; second, it takes most people two hours or more to climb back up; and last, if you can’t make it back up, you’re responsible for paying for the rescue crew to PicsArt_04-28-07.10.32come get you, and it’s not cheap.  Stay at the top and enjoy the ah-MAZ-ing view.  I mean, the colors in the water are just…wow! Teals and blues blend and mix and swirl together, at the bidding of currents and wind, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  I just wanted to sit and stare at it all day.   I could have too, if hubby and daughter weren’t there.  They can only sit and stare at something for a few minutes, not all day, before they’re ready to move on.  Off in the distance you can see North and South Manitou Islands, as well as South Fox Island.  Did I mention the water?  I’m gonna mention it again.  Gorgeous and vibrant and just……gah!  You need to see it for yourself!

You’ll notice this post’s title says “part 1.”  Since several of our intended stops were not open during our visit, we plan on going back – maybe this summer, maybe next.  We also only visited the portion of the park that is north of Empire.  There’s another section south of Elmira we want to check out too.  Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever been to Sleeping Bear Dunes and, if so, what was your favorite part?

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