[highlight color=”black”]WEDNESDAY WANDERLUST[/highlight]
True statement: I’m a sucker for a good Native American legend. Maybe I’ve been smoking on the wrong peace pipe, but there’s something about the mix of Americana and mythology really gets my brain juice flowing. It could also be because I grew up in Michigan, a state in which almost every stream, hill, or valley has a Native American myth to explain its presence. My favorite of them all is the story of Sleeping Bear Dunes, and it doesn’t hurt that the dunes themselves are a must-see destination for nature travelers.
As the Chippewa legend goes, a mother bear and her two cubs saw the coast of Michigan from the western shore of Lake Michigan. In an attempt to flee from the famine spreading throughout what is now Wisconsin, the three bears started swimming toward the fertile land across the lake. When they were just a few miles away from their destination the two cubs drowned, leaving the mother bear to mourn her children alone on the shore. Seeing the mother’s sadness, the Great Spirit Manitou created two islands where the cubs had drowned, then covered the mother bear in a blanket of sand creating the Sleeping Bear Dune.
From the sandy cliffs of Sleeping Bear Dune you can still see the two “cubs” in the water, only today they’re called North and South Manitou Islands. Now, isn’t that just the cutest story about bear cubs dying you’ve ever heard? There’s even a children’s book about it that you can buy when you visit. And trust me, you should visit.
Besides having a great legend associated with it, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — one of only four national lakeshores in the United States — is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, which is saying a lot because the last time I saw it in person I was about 8 years old and the image has stayed with me. If you don’t trust the 15-year-old memory of a travel blogger, maybe you’ll believe the “tens of thousands” of Good Morning America viewers who selected Sleeping Bear Dunes as the most beautiful place in America.
Outdoor activities are plentiful all along the lakeshore (biking, hiking, kayaking, etc.) but the best way to enjoy Sleeping Bear Dunes is to park along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, take off your shoes and socks, and attempt to climb the wall of sand. From the top you can see for miles across the lake, and if you’re feeling rambunctious you can tumble your way to the bottom. Warning: expect to find sand in bodily crevasses you didn’t know existed for weeks after this experience.
Now stop listening to me ramble and go see the dunes for yourself. I recommend staying about 30 minutes east in Traverse City and driving over for a day trip, but if you’re really feeling the nature vibe you can pitch a tent and camp right in the middle of the park at D. H. Day Campground. There isn’t any electricity and bathrooms are referred to as “vault toilets,” but if it floats your eco-friendly boat then I say go for it.
Have you ever been to Sleeping Bear Dunes? What was your experience like?