Up North

As I enjoyed the 70 + degree weather today, my mind goes immediately to our holiday last October, when we also experienced unseasonable 70 degree weather.  Our Indian Summer, or Autumn holiday we experienced Up North, which is a special term generally referring to a place in Michigan in the Northwest part of the state.  My husband had the idea of a Fall color tour; I researched southern Indiana, Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and some other places.  But then we both decided over Sunday breakfast one day that the State of Michigan’s economy could use our tourist dollars, and was also less driving time with kids.  So Up North was chosen.

I was born and raised in Michigan, but I never spent much time in the Northwest area of the state.

Glen Lake view

And may I say WOW!  It is beautiful!  Good Morning America’s viewers recently voted Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the most beautiful place in America (read story here) and now I see why.  You can stand on a sand dune and peek over to Lake Michigan on one side, with the Manitou Islands in view, while still seeing Little Glen and Big Glen Lakes on the other.  The trees were beginning to turn.  It was absolutely magnificent!  We could have easily spent days there, as the entire national park encompasses an area over 30 miles.

So now for a refresher geology course, courtesy of the National Lakeshore.  Glaciers carried a lot of sand and sediment, and when they melted, large hills were left.  Combined with the wind off the lake, a sand dune is formed.  Imagine how big those glaciers once were to leave such a large sand dune!  In Michigan, we are surrounded by sand dunes.  And Glen Lake actually used to be connected to Lake Michigan as glacial erosion carved out both lakes during the ice age.  Then a sand bar developed, which is actually where the present day village of Glen Arbor sits – where we lodged during our journey.

More facts we learned on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which includes both the dunes and a maple-beech forest: how the dune got its name.  The Sleeping Bear Dune has thick vegetation, resembling a bear with its dark, shaggy appearance.  And the Chippewa Indians tell this story:

“Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire.  The bears swam for many hours, but eventually the cubs lagged behind.  Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to wait for her cubs.  Too tired to continue, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore.  The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear.”

View of Lake Michigan & Manitou Islands

The two islands, now named North and South Manitou Islands, can be visited via ferry boat, daily in the summer season and less frequent in the off season.  From what I understand, they are remote camping islands, and for this family, will be visited in the future when we can do it as a day trip.

In true family fashion, we set out to climb the dune, not really understanding what was in front of us.  Sure we could see the top of one dune, but little did we know there were actually about four more ridges to climb over after that one in order to see Lake Michigan!  About half way up the first dune, we realize our two year old has a dirty diaper.  But thinking that were almost there, we trudge ahead.  By about the third ridge, a crying two year old, whining four year old (are we there yet?), and drill sergeant husband all combine to one heck of a tiring morning! But the beauty was magnificent.

After finding lunch at a local tavern, we head south toward the visitors center in Empire, Michigan.  Our children have just fallen asleep, so we seek out another scenic drive and head over to Bar Lake – it looks interesting on the map.  We pass a public beach, but much smaller and rural than ours at home, and then notice some beautiful homes in the distance.  Imagine owning a house here, literally sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Bar Lake on this sliver of land, probably no larger than 50 yards.  Needless to say I bet they don’t have basements!  The drive eventually turned into a private road so we turn around.

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery

We were lucky to have a few hours without the children to tour the wine country on Old Mission Peninsula.  And we also got an impromptu refresher on remembering how to read a map when the GPS fails.  This small sliver of a peninsula in Grand Traverse Bay offers about 7 or so wineries and the drive was absolutely beautiful.  At the tip, there was a lighthouse we could tour.  And it was not only for wine lovers; my husband also found one of his faves – the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery – and we had a nice lunch there too.

We ventured to Leelanau Peninsula on our next driving day.  While larger than Old Mission Peninsula, it was a big farther from our hotel so we really just took it as a driving tour of another magnificent scenic drive, complete with wineries and a lighthouse museum again at the tip.  Oh, and a snake family I almost stepped on at the lighthouse!  I am not a serpent lover, so I quickly hopped over them. They were either very young (imagine large worm-sized) or some type of very small species.  Yuck!

Although Traverse City is the major city in that region, we didn’t spend a lot of time there, other than some short, memory-making pit stops:

  •  Finding a playground on Grand Traverse Bay at an opportune time when my children really needed it, and my two year old wading in the Bay when we had the unseasonably warm mid-70 degree weather;
  • My husband finding another local brewery that just so happened to have a salon in the same building where we could get the kids’ haircuts;
  • Stopping for pasties at the side of the road, reminding us very much of our Cornwall, England adventure

The mission of this trip was really to explore the natural wonders of our state.  And we were so blessed to have the opportunity!  It is amazing what might be in your backyard that you never knew about.  Ahh, one of the few things I remember from my seventh grade Michigan History class, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you!”

About expatmama

Karla Oselka Walsworth is a freelance writer/blogger, born and raised in the great state of Michigan. She has lived abroad twice, most recently in London, and keeps a blog on Expat living and traveling with children, www.expatmama.wordpress.com. Living in the last five years in four different cities, her writings tend to focus on challenges of moving/living with children while exposing them to all this planet has to offer. Karla, who has her MBA from the University of Illinois, and is also a certified 200 hour yoga instructor, has settled (for this moment) in the Midwest. As a recovering accountant and budding writer, she is actively raising two children with her husband Eric, hoping to give them as global a perspective as one can, at ages 10 and 13.
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