Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

This is a slow day???

Saturday June 7, 2013
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore
Empire, Michigan


*It appears I need to clarify that on yesterday’s Dune Day post my statement “ the 3.5 mile Dune Trail to Lake Michigan and back” meant 3.5 miles round trip.  Some folks thought we hiked 7 miles in the sand.  We’re pretty hardy but that’s a little over the top even for us. Sorry for the confusion.


A more relaxing day today. Or so we thought.


After our exercise day in hiking the 3.5 mile Dune Trail yesterday, we chose an easier day today.  This morning we are driving the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. 

This amazing road was built by one man who wanted to share the views which awed him with others.  I am just amazed that one man could own this much land and that he could build a road this long.  The road was known as Sleeping Bear Park when it opened to the public in 1967.  Stocking operated the road until his death in 1976.  The following year it became part of the park and was renamed in his honor.



The forest along the drive is primarily maple and beech, the typical climax forest for this area.  It is a really lovely tranquil woods.   There is not another car around.   I do love these early mornings.

There are 11 numbered pull outs on the drive.  Many of them are short paths to over looks.  The first if a covered bridge. A picturesque detail that Stocking built into the scenic drive.  It’s amazing to me that this one man created this road, this bridge, all the paths and turn offs just to share the beauty with the public and to hopefully concentrate them in one area to protect the dunes.   I wonder what he would think of this area now and what the park has done.




Another stop is a look out over Glen Lake.  The forested hill is called Alligator Hill.  Does it look like that to you?  The hill is actually a glacial moraine made up of sand and gravel carried along by the glacier.  When the glacier melted the run-off streams deposited great piles of sediment to form the hill.  The “snout” of the alligator is a wave cut terrace of a lake that occupied this basin during glacial melting.   There are about 9 miles of hiking trails here.  I don’t think we will get to them this time.  Glen Lake is only one of over 20 inland lakes within the boundaries of Sleeping Bear Dunes National lakeshore.



We learn what a real blow out is and it has nothing to do with a sale.



From this dune overlook is on the eastern edge of the dunes about 200 feet high.  In some places the dune fronts advance a few feet per year while in other places the dunes are stabilized by plants and show no movement at all.  This is why staying on the trails and not blazing new ones is so important.  To stabilize the dunes.


Just in front of us is a big sandy area that has no vegetation.  We learn from the pamphlet we have purchased from Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, well worth the price of $3 or 2 for $5 at the visitor center, that these areas are called “blow outs”.  The sand has been blown out by the wind and the dune grass and bushes have not been able to grow back to stabilize the dunes.  The sand in these areas is dished out by the wind forming these sandy depressions.






We are just trilled to be the only car on the drive this early in the morning.  Every pull out is empty and we can stop along the side of the road to take a closer look at this tree clinging to the dune which is eroding out from under it.  Look at those roots.






We leave the dunes for a bit and head into the shade of the Maple Beech forest.


What gorgeous lofty trees.   I love these beech toes.





Stop number 9 is one of the easiest walks to see Lake Michigan in the park.   So if you don’t need to be right on the shore and don’t care to walk miles over dunes, this is your chance.    A boardwalk path leads to a wooden platform overlook.

At spots the boardwalk is being covered over by sand and the trees are being left on islands.









The size of these dunes and the color of this lake are just magnificent.



Next time we come back, I expect these trees will no longer be here unless those grasses can hold on to this little island on which they now stand.






Another windy day on Lake Michigan.   Maybe I need a hair cut.  Although it’s nice having it keep my neck warm.





Where is this Sleeping Bear?



The next stop is one we are really looking forward to as we have not been able to figure out which dune is the Sleeping Bear.  From our guide book we discover why.   The Sleeping Bear dune is the large dune about 1 mile north of this observation deck along the edge of the moraine bluff.  It hardly looks like a bear now because it has been eroding rapidly in recent years.  Around 1900, it was a round knob completely covered with trees and shrubs.

The Sleeping Bear Dune is estimated to be about two thousand years old.  It is classified as a “perched dune” because it is perched on top of a plateau, high about the lake.  When the dune was forming, it was somewhat inland – not at the edge of the bluff as it is today.  Wind carried sand from the upper portion of the bluff and deposited it to form the dune.  Over time the bluff eroded away and the dune is not on the edge of the bluff and is beginning to erode away itself.  For many years it was about 234 feet high with dense plant cover but by 1961 it was only 132 feet high and it continues to erode.  I couldn’t find any information on what height it is now 50 years after the last measurement but obviously much less.

The major cause of erosion is wave action wearing away at the base of the bluff on which the dune rests.  AS the west side of the dune by the lake loses its support, it cascades down the hill to the beach.  The wind is also a major factor in removing sand and destroying the dune’s plant cover.  it is only a matter of time until the “Bear” disappears completely.

The name of course comes from what the Native Americans called this area.  It is said that a mother bear and two cubs set out to swim across the great lake.  The mother reached the other side ahead of the cubs and waited for them to arrive.  She waited and waited but they had drowned and returned as the two islands off the coast, South and North Manitou islands.  They are being watched constantly by the mother bear.

No wonder we couldn’t find the bear.  It’s the eroded  dune on the right of this picture just on the edge of the bluff.








The last stop on the drive is #11, the North Bar Lake Overlook.  When we walk over to the observation deck we see a small lake in the far distance.  We learn that it was formed behind a sand bar at the edge of Lake Michigan.  At times the wave action builds up the sand bar and separates North Bar Lake from Lake Michigan.  At other times, a small connecting channel exists between the two lakes. 










We finish the drive and head over to take a closer look at North Bar Lake.


This little lake occupies part of an ancient bay on Lake Michigan flanked by Empire Bluffs on the south and Sleeping Bear Bluffs on the north.  Because it is smaller, it will be warmer than Lake Michigan and the sun can warm it up more quickly.  It is surrounded by pure sandy beaches.  When we arrive only a couple of people are there but before long they come with their picnic supplies and beach blankets.

It’s a really lovely lake and I find for myself that it is much warmer than Lake Michigan.  I take a walk in each one.  At first Lake Michigan seems fine, chilly but OK.  But after a couple of minutes my toes are beginning to complain and I high tail it back to the little channel and into North Bar.   I walk all the way around the edge of North Bar in the water.  It is wonderful.  By the time we leave kids are in the water with their inner tubes and their shrieks fill the air.






The inlet



Today there is a sandbar





I’m walking just outside the channel as the water flows into Lake Michigan.  It’s getting cooler.



Ok so it’s cold out here and I’m heading back in a hurry.






Why not go to Empire Bluffs now?

We’ve been to Sleeping Bear Bluffs on the north of the ancient lake which led us to Bar lake in the middle so we’ll just round out our day by taking the trail up to Empire Bluffs the north end of the ancient lake.

But first, lunch.   There is pretty much always a picnic table in a beautiful setting anywhere you go in this area. 




The trail to Empire Bluffs is only 1.5 miles round trip.  It is one of the most popular trails in the park so we are not surprised that there are a number of cars in the parking lot.  But lucky for us, many of those people come walking out while we are having our lunch and we have the trail nearly to ourselves as we begin our walk.




The trail is lined with wildflowers.   Masses of wild columbine, false solomon’s seal,  bluets, white violets and the very end of trillium which I am very sorry to have missed.  The profusion of flowers is just beautiful.

















The view down to the Sleeping Bear Bluff is as beautiful as the walk up to it.   We get a sneak peak on the path as we approach the viewing deck.










We have two errands to run before heading back to Winnona. 


Well not quite errands but Gemma’s has an ice cream called Eskimo Kisses.  It is coconut ice cream with chocolate flakes and I give it 5 thumbs up.  If you are in Empire Michigan, stop by Gemma’s and check out her flavors.   No I did not order a triple scoop.  That is actually a single.  They know how to treat ice cream lovers at Gemmas





Last but not least is a stop at Norconk Farm whose sign on M 22 on the way to and from the campground about a pound of asparagus for $2.25 has enticed us every time we drive by.  Today is the day. 

Asparagus is very popular here as it grows well in sandy soil and is the very first green thing to show up after the long winter.  The family has acres of asparagus and sells  over 50% of at their road side stand and to local restaurants including a daily run 40 minutes away to Traverse City where the chefs of some of the most popular restaurants are waiting for it to arrive.





The farm stand is on the honor system.  Weigh your asparagus and deposit $2.25 per pound.  We buy 1 1/3 pounds and leave $3.00.  A little sign says, if you feel you must steal from us be sure to leave your name and address so we can return the favor and take some of your stuff.   LOVE IT!




Guess what we’re having for dinner?


  1. We had asparagus for dinner too but I doubt it was as special as yours.

    I will, however, check out Gemma's when we get there. My mouth is watering :)

  2. coconut ice-cream with chocolate flakes and fresh asparagus - yum!! and, coolness and all that beauty :)

  3. Being there so early in the morning, I guess you did not get to see any crazy folks running down/climbing back up that 450 ft. hill down to the lake . . . like my crazy sons have done! We'll have to try Gemma's ice cream this year -- those are some generous scoops!

  4. I love asparagus. I bake it in the oven - olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice--toasted bread crumbs on top. Hmmm Hmmmm good. Interesting story about Bear dune.

  5. Wow, that's a single scoop of ice cream?? That deserves one more thumb up just for the size of it!

    Beautiful wildflowers.

  6. Fresh asparagus! My favorite vegetable! Lucky you to have it from a local farmstand. The color of Lake Michigan is just breathtaking -- and the wildflowers are lovely. Even if your hike in the sand dunes was 3.5 miles, that's still probably like 7 miles when you consider hiking in soft sand. You guys are great adventurers. And I like the way you treat yourselves with ice cream. Another of my favorites. :-)

  7. 2,000 years old… wow … hate the erosion but it is a part of nature. Our Native Americans sure provided us with some great legends…

    oh, look at you and your HUGE dip of ice cream… pfffffft !

    Great tour and photos as always m'dear!

  8. What a lovely place! I hope I get back that way some day in the future, and I'll make it a point to see Sleeping Bear Dunes. I just love fresh asparagus, and eat a lot of it when it's in season.

  9. After that "single" scoop of ice cream, Asparagus seems like just the right thing to have for dinner;o)) Really was a wonderful day... beautiful wildflowers, towering trees and some amazing views!!! Sleeping Bear Bluff photos are my favorite:o)

  10. I had no idea this area was so vast. Makes me realize how much our traveling patterns have changed since we were there. If I recall, we only had a couple of days in that area and only one to explore Sleeping Bear. The funny thing is, we thought we had "seen" it. That's laughable now! Can't wait to go back. Curious as to what you pack for your picnic lunches!

  11. Amazing how big that lake is, could be the ocean! Great looking scoop of ice cream, too :) I love fresh asparagus, we wrap in foil with olive oil and seasonings and put on the grill, yum!

  12. Gorgeous place there! Glad you had the road to yourself. And, also the Empire Bluffs walk. Such magnificent trees and waters! So much abundance-of blue, green, flowers, ice cream and asparagus. Great day!

  13. we really enjoyed our tour of the great lakes last year and glad to see you found a nice beech (even if it was a tree)...

  14. Fresh Asparagus mmmmmm. I used to hate it because my mom boiled it into oblivion. Now it is one of my favorites - on the grillmmmmm

  15. Oh what a fabulous day...and fresh produce and ice cream to top it all off! Perfection!

    Fresh produce is one of the things I am most looking forward to as we head into the Pacific North West for the summer!

  16. Everything is so beautiful. I can't believe those huge dunes and the view from the top is spectacular. I love that there are no homes and everything is kept in it's natural state.

    Fresh picked asparagus....what a find. I think I'm going to have to get some for dinner tonight now that you've made me hungry for it.

  17. Ice Cream..... sounds like a perfect dinner to me!! I so love that the scenery has changed so much. It is what keeps travelers going. Around every corner a new view. I am anxious to see where you head next.

  18. I'm glad the mosquito swarms don't seem to be an issue anymore. Your pics and information are great - we have never been to the area and I keep adding to the number of days we want to stay there! You're forgiven for the confusion on the length of the trail, and we might actually tackle it now :-).

  19. Thanks for labeling your flower pics. I like that. Fresh asparagus sounds wonderful.

  20. I liked this drive, and these overlooks so much better than hiking the dunes. . .LOL!

    And you got quite a deal on that asparagus. . .I paid $3.50 a pound. . .but it was delicious!

  21. I love the little lake. Of course, everything is beautiful and I'm so encouraged that there is no mention of mosquitoes. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Now you know why the locals were all facing the dune, the water is too cold! (And maybe it acted as a windbreak?)

  23. Asparagus farm! Now that is farm that I can entice Steve to go. He just whispered in my ear, " I want to go there." He makes a good asparagus salad.

  24. I'm so happy you're enjoying my home state. My favorite color is green and Michigan has every shade imaginable! the last time we visited we were there for the cherry harvest....good memories!


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