My friend Tricia (who I’ve known since elementary school) invited a group of her friends and family to go camping, and I was lucky enough to be able to go!
We headed out last Wednesday morning. Tricia picked me up at my parents’ house at four o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t exactly bright-eyed or bushy-tailed, but I was excited to be spending a few days away from the rest of the world.
Tricia’s sister, Becky, and her friend Matt came along as well. We were packed in pretty close and cozy-like, but that was okay for me. I fell asleep for quite a bit of the ride up because I had been up late for a couple of nights previously (as well as the fact that it was a four o’clock pickup).
We stopped a few times along the way and arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes around nine o’clock in the morning. We pulled into D.H. Day Campground, and marched up to the office. A sign on the door said, “One party in office at a time” or something of that nature. I checked to make sure that there wasn’t a party in the office, and then opened the door saying, “Whoo, party time!” However, the lady working the front desk did not look amused.
She showed us which sites were open and also said that we could look around before choosing a site, but she did expect us to “come right back as soon as we found a site.” I think my “party” comment made her think we were some restless gypsy hooligans or something. So, we sallied forth and found campsite number 58 to our liking since it was mostly tucked away from the rest of the campground and had direct access to Lake Michigan.
We went right back to the front desk and got our passes and everything squared away. Since Tricia’s husband is in the military, we got our park passes at a reduced rate!
After this bit of business was squared away, we decided to go check out “Dune Climb.” For those that don’t know, it’s a very large sand dune that is set up for people to take a long and rolling hike to Lake Michigan and back.
This is the first hill of Dune Climb - pretty steep!
While the hike takes about four hours, we decided to do just a portion of it. The first hill is quite steep and tall. Every step you take causes you to slip into the sand, so it feels like you have to work almost doubly hard in order to reach the top.
Once we reached the top of the first hill/dune, there were some marvelous vistas of the surrounding countryside. There was the Glen Lakes, Alligator Hill, and you could even see some of Lake Michigan off in the distance.
Glen Lakes and Alligator Hill
A Path at Dune Climb
Dune Climb Lookout
We stayed at the top of the hill for a long while and just took in the majesty of the place. It is such an amazing spot, and I really enjoyed just taking pictures and relaxing.
After that, we did some dune jumping down the climb. If you’ve never been dune jumping, I would highly recommend it. All you do is take a running leap off the steeper parts of the hill and because of the grade, it feels like you fly for a very long time until you land in the soft sand. It’s an amazing feeling!
I'm Jumping off a Dune!
I combined three images of Matt Jumping into this one
I combined three images of Becky Jumping into this one
I combined three images of Tricia Jumping into this one
At the base of the dune climb, we found some park workers setting up some chairs. We asked them what was going on, and they said that the new “Heritage Trail” was opening up. There will be a 27-mile multi-use trail linking Sleeping Bear Dunes with Glen Arbor, Glen Haven, and beyond, and the ribbon cutting ceremony was that very morning. We had unintentionally walked a little bit of it earlier, so we were on the trail on the first day it opened!
We had a late lunch at Riverfront Pizza and Delicatessen. I had a whole small pizza to myself, and I took advantage of it. I really enjoy the pizza there, and I totally oinked out, and it was delicious!
We saw some wildlife on the side of the road from time to time
A fawn wandering nearby
That evening, we went to a presentation on the stars that was given by a nice lady named Marie. She told us some Native American stories of the stars, and also told us how read star charts. We found out that that night, we could see the International Space Station between 11pm and 11:05pm. We sang the Monty Python song about the “ever-expanding universe” which was quite silly, but I know that I had a lot of fun.
After the presentation, we went to watch the sunset on the Stocking Scenic Drive’s Empire Bluffs overlook. A group of clouds came in and obscured the sun, but it was still a beautiful place to be. I absolutely loved the experience.
A panoramic view of Sleeping Bear Dunes (click on this or any photo to enlarge)
Looking on Lake Michigan
At Empire Bluffs, the wind was incredibly strong!
Matt and Tricia experiencing the winds on Empire Bluffs
It whipped sand up in my eyes quite mercilessly even though I was wearing sunglasses. It wasn’t even a terribly strong day for that part of the world, but it sure felt strong to me.
Later that evening, we sat on the beach and watched the International Space Station pass by overhead. It was amazing to think about how fast that little piece of metal is orbiting our vast planet. It sped across the sky and was out of sight in a matter of minutes. The wind was soft on the beach and the sky was pretty clear. It was a beautiful night to watch a space station.
The next day, we went kayaking down the Crystal River with kayaks from Crystal River Outfitters. That was a lot of fun! The day was warm and sunny, but not too hot. The water was cool and there was a nice settling breeze at our backs. The outfitters took us upstream of our final destination, so paddling was quite easy.
Becky and Tricia Kayaking the Crystal River
Becky and Matt shot ahead of Tricia and I quite quickly. But, the river itself was filled pretty well with a lot of trees, curves, and other obstacles. Tricia had only been kayaking once before, so these obstacles posed a bit of a challenge for her at first. After a while she got the hang of it though.
A Riverside Flower
Tricia Navigating the Crystal River
At one point, you have the choice of either “shooting the tube” or portaging the kayak. Being the adventurous sort that we are, we all chose to “shoot the tube.” That consisted of taking the kayak through a large metal tube that had a pretty steep drop in elevation. Matt and Becky went first. I let Tricia go ahead in order to be a gentleman, and after about thirty seconds, I went. I angled perfectly in the tube, and it was pretty cool to feel myself jettison out of the tube into the river. However, as soon as I got out, I realized that the current was really strong and there was a sharp curve immediately out of the tube. Also at the same instant, I saw that Matt and Becky’s kayaks were overturned, and Tricia was stuck! I started feverishly back-paddling and was able to turn my kayak around and on the other side of the river. Then, I put my kayak on the shore, and walked across the river to help the others. Tricia was still in her kayak, so we got her unstuck and she was able to make it across the river. Matt and Becky were turning Becky’s kayak over when I got back, and so I helped them. Then, I helped Matt right his kayak. It was quite the ordeal, but it was definitely something I will remember for a long time to come!
After we returned, we went to eat at Art’s. It’s a local tavern in downtown Glen Arbor, and they have excellent food. We sat out in their patio that is right next to the sidewalk on M-22.
Becky and Matt at Arts
We were able to people watch, talk, and relax under a red umbrella while the time floated by. I had a burger and we all shared a basket of tater tots. All of that was most excellent.
A little chipmunk stopped by to say hello.
Later that evening, my friend Emily met up with us. She led us on a beautiful hike to a lookout that she was aware of. The view from that lookout was spectacular and awe-inspiring. You could see for a very long way out at Lake Michigan. The lookout had a steep embankment that led to the beach far below, and you could see the waves that looked very tiny, though they were probably a couple of feet high.
View from the Scenic Overlook
It Looks Like an Ocean!
Emily at the Overlook
Here I am at the overlook
We then checked out Empire Beach in all its loveliness. We had a great time jumping in the water while Tricia took some photos. The light was casting lots of great shadows all around as the day waned, and I felt like I was in perfect heaven with the sound of the waves dancing all around us.
The Lighthouse at Empire Beach
After Empire Beach, we went back the campsite and made a fire. Around the flickering light, we talked, laughed, and made s’mores. I really enjoyed everyone’s company, especially Emily’s since I hadn’t seen her for a while. Matt was a little confused about Marie’s telling of the Ojibwe story of Sky Land from the night before, so I told it again for him (with input and help from Tricia on some of the details). [If I remember, I will post what I remember of that story on this blog.] Before long, Emily had to leave because she had to be up early for work the next morning. We said our goodbyes and then we hung out for a while at the fire. We decided to do a four o’clock run in the early morning hours to watch the sunset from the Glen Lake Overlook off Alligator Hill. So, we decided it might be best for us to turn in a bit early ourselves.
Four o’clock came mighty quickly, and at first, we took a vote of whether or not it was a good idea to run this early. The sky was just starting to turn gray, and I don’t think our minds had shrugged off sleep while we were talking. The conversation went something like:
Matt: It’s time to get up…
Matt: It’s four am. Are we sure we want to do this?
Becky: I don’t know
Tricia: You guys can go, but I don’t think I will.
Matt: I’m thinking we could do it tomorrow.
Becky: That might work.
Me: I’ll do whatever you guys want.
Matt: My vote’s for staying in.
Becky: Mine too
Me: Well, I guess that’s what we’ll do then.
Then, we all went back to sleep…or so I thought. About half four, Becky said that she couldn’t sleep, so we should just go. Matt said okay, and I acquiesced as well.
We rushed around and got ready to go. We drove to the trailhead, and then ran the trail up to the lookout. It’s quite a challenging trail because it is almost entirely uphill, and quite a climb at that. At last, we arrived at the Alligator Hill lookout and the sun was almost cresting over the hills out to the east. We stayed and watched the sunrise for a while. Then, we walked down to the Glen Lake Overlook and hung out there for a while.
Sun Rising off Alligator Hill
The First Rays of Sun off Alligator Hill
Sunrise Off Alligator Hill
We jogged from the Glen Lake Overlook back to the Alligator Hill and back toward the trailhead. A few minutes into our run, I felt really good, so I asked Matt if he wanted to race. Then, I just took off like a jackrabbit from a hound. We both ran super fast the rest of the way. Matt said that he finished the two miles in something like nine minutes! It was definitely the fastest two miles I’ve ran in a long while!
That afternoon, we went to “Riverside Canoe Trips” and took tubes down the Platt River all the way to Lake Michigan.
Tubing the River
That trip was pretty good, though we did run into these strange creatures in the river that I hadn’t seen before. My best guess is that they were lampreys in their larval stage. It was pretty gross to see them, but I think that many of them might have been killed or something. They just sort of floated along the bottom and didn’t seem to move. I grabbed one and it didn’t seem to move even when it was out of the water. It felt pretty cold and slimy, so I threw it back in after grossing everyone else out.
After the tubing was complete, we lay out on the beach for a while. I fell asleep on the beach, and when I awoke, Tricia said that I might be sunburned. I thought it strange because I had reapplied (SPF 30) between tubing and the beach, but she proved to be correct. My entire back had become sunburned! For the rest of the trip, I tried to apply a lot of aloe to help cool the burn.
We went back to Riverside and had some burgers for dinner, and then went back to the campsite. Becky and Matt went off to the beach while Tricia and I stayed around the campsite. Tricia was reading the last “Hunger Games” book, and I was more than content to just sit down and relax. We waited till sunset was nearly upon us and then went to beach. We took quite a few photos, some of which turned out pretty good (in my most humble of opinions). It was fun to have someone else who likes to take photos with me as we could see some shots that each of us liked, and others that gave us ideas for the next shot.
I See the Moon!
We had a lot of fun with that until it was quite dark. Meanwhile, Becky and Matt had returned to the campsite and were trying to start a fire. However, Tricia had taken the car keys (since there would be no one there!). Becky texted Tricia and let her know that they were waiting. When we returned, it was pretty dark. We started a fire forthwith and soon we were basking in the flighty rays of the burning logs yet again.
Before long, it was time for bed. We put out the fire and went to sleep.
The next morning, Becky and Matt went for a bike ride and when they returned, we got some breakfast around. It looked like it was going to be another great day. We left about midmorning to go up to Leland, Michigan and Fishtown. Fishtown is a nice little touristy place that tries to recreate the look and feel of a fishing village, but each of the village “houses” was a little shop selling different wares.
A boat at Fishtown
I had been there in the past, so a lot of memories swarmed over me. It was nice to remember a lot of the good times I had spent there in the past. We had a delicious pretzel-bread sandwich at the cheese shop (on Emily’s recommendation), and I must say that it was amazingly delicious!
Finishing Lunch at Fishtown
After Fishtown, we headed back towards the campsite, but first, we stopped and did the Pyramid Point hiking trail. That trail has some nice views of the Lake and you can almost see in all directions for miles. Additionally, the trail winds through some nice lowland meadows and forests, as well as the steep point and dunes. I really enjoy that hike every time that I can take it on account of all the changing scenery.
A View from Pyramid Point
Matt, Becky, and Tricia at Pyramid Point
That evening, we went to IGA and bought supplies for “hobo stews.” The idea is that you put a bunch of “stir fry” ingredients in tin foil and throw it on the hot coals of a fire.
Making Hobo Stews!
It is amazingly delicious! Since this was to be our last night there, it was a very bittersweet fire. We had a great time, nonetheless.
The next morning, we packed up our things. We did so in quite a hurry because it started raining lightly. It stopped by the time we had everything packed up though, so that was nice. We left the campsite fairly early and headed into Traverse City. We saw a couple of fine sights, and then had some delicious food at Don’s Drive-in, an old fifties-style diner. I had a large strawberry shake and some sliders, and they were both quite lovely.
We hung out for a little while, and then began the long ride back home. On the way back, I admired some of the pictures I had taken, and thought about some of the highlights and memories from the trip. Overall, I think it was a trip that I really needed, and it was a trip that I really had a great time with as well. What fun!
Matt, Becky, Tricia, and I