Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore - Michigan, USA

What began as a general interest gradually was turning in to a full fledged passion. I was exploring more and more than ever. A good thing in USA is that there is no dearth of parks - state and national. You just have to google it. Living in midwest is often ridiculed by many (I mean desis) because midwest doesn't boast of a NYC or a DC, neither does it have the glamor of LA or Vegas. Yes we do have a Chicago, but that's about it. However, lack of the biggest names is the very catch of midwest. It has more unspoiled and less-populated beauty around to look for. Lake Erie and Lake Michigan sprawling across the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois have such dramatic landscapes, that are no where to be seen in the rest of the country. One such very little known national lakeshore is the Sleeping Bear National Park (I say little known because national lake shores are present only in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, and hence it is much lesser talked about, or visited by in comparison to the biggies like Smokies, Grand Canyon or Yellowstone).
We visited the Sleeping Bear National lakeshore in May 2011, which is about 5 hours north to Warsaw, IN. Michigan was already on my hit list as I was really impressed with the scenic beauty in Holland, MI. Sleeping Bear has enough to do to occupy the long weekend or, even if cut short, it is a satisfying experience (like we had). Please be ready with handy maps, as the GPS will not really function here. 
We began our trip with an absolutely romantic dinner at one of the restaurants chosen by my then fiance (I will update the restaurant's name as soon as I remember it, surely because it is a good one and people should definitely go there)We only had one day with us to explore the place and we tried accommodating as much as we could in a day. So, it all began with losing out a trip on a ferry to a nearby "South Manitou Island" by just 2 minutes. Not having known what else to do, we went to the relatively unplanned places. We set out to explore the "Empire Bluffs Trail". This trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and offers amazing views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This trail contains a lot of steps to reach a look out point from where the South Manitou Island and the Sleeping Bear Dunes appear clearly. The look is spectacular and the shades of green and blue water make it more heavenly. After this trail, we set out on the car to the "Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive". 
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive contains approximately 12 view points in a 7.5 miles of the drive in Glen Arbor Township. People usually drive very slow here, so you might as well stop in between and take photographs. The drive is extremely smooth, green and instantly soothing. It starts with a covered bridge and soon shows the Glen Lake, South Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Beach Maple Forest and Lake Michigan Overlook. The curves on the drive are not steep, so visitors can easily afford to turn their heads around to appreciate the amazing vistas. The best point among all these is the Lake Michigan Overlook, which includes a walk on a deck about 150 m above the lake. As we reached there, it was all foggy (at 3 00 PM) and the lake was invisible. For a moment, it felt like we were standing on nowhere. So the only other way to proceed was to get down on the dune and feel the lake right on the surface. Now, this was something I was doing for the first time in years (The last I did was near Jodhpur, India sometime early in 90s)
Descending down on the dunes is easy and ascending is tough. But these dunes were not ordinary. The dune was so freaking-ly steep that if not careful you could slip and roll to the bottom. Although it is not prohibited, but there are warnings and advisories against it. However, like many people there, we overlooked the warning and started our journey downwards the dune. It took us approximately 30 minutes to reach to the bottom, but that was because we really were putting a careful step forward, otherwise it doesn't that long! The view of the Lake Michigan was magnificent and limitless. At the mid-point it was almost like you were standing in between fog, land and overlooking water everywhere you see! The beach at the end of the dune was a small one and it does feel scary to be there for long (although there were many people enjoying themselves and there were loners too, sitting at some eerie corner of the beach, all alone and lost!). The uphill climb took us a good 1.5 hours with a few stops in between, but every minute was worth it. After completing the scenic drive, we drove back to the cottage and went straight ahead to the Glen Haven Beach, putting our trip to the end. Among the little known gems of the midwest, Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is a super delight that should not be missed!

 
      A couple resting near Lake Michigan and the beautiful sunset as seen from the restaurant     

 
 
 
Pictures from the Empire Bluff Trail overlooking South Manitou Island and the Sleeping Bear Dune
 
  
 
Different scenic points from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - A Covered Bridge, Glen lake, Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dune
 
  
Pictures from the descent and the ascent on the dune while overlooking Lake Michigan, amidst all the fog. 
Ending the trip on a calm note at Glen Haven Beach