. . . A forest fire on the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter. After miles and miles of swimming, the mother bear reached the other side but the two cubs did not. She waited and waited for them until the Great Spirit, impressed by her love and determination, created two islands in the cubs' place. North and South Manitou Islands. Eventually, winds buried the mother bear under the sands where she still waits today.
I'm not really sure what I was expecting of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. It's not like I wasn't expecting it to be cool. Kelli discovered that the village of Empire, where it is located, is pushing to have the Dunes established as the 8th World Wonder. In 2011, ABC's Good Morning America named the Sleeping Bear Dunes the "Most Beautiful Place in America." So we knew this place was going to be cool. But for some reason, the experience far surpassed any expectations I had. That's just how awesome this place was. It left us speechless. It was Kelli's favorite part of the trip. It may have been mine too. (Even though we did visit a number of cool breweries . . .)
Part of our speechlessness was because we were exhausted from carrying two children up this . . .
The "Dune Climb" is over 200 feet high. Pictures, cannot do this climb justice. In places, it is incredibly steep. The worst part is, once you reach the top (of the picture above, where the sand meets the sky), you are not done. You have another daunting climb to make! After caving in on biking 'round Mackinac, we were determined to climb to the top!
Originally we had planned to shop and hang out on the beach in Traverse City on Day 3 and visit the Dunes on Day 4. But the weather forecast changed our minds. Bright, clear skies and cooler temperatures were on schedule for Day 3 and clear skies and HOT temperatures were on schedule for Day 4 so we decided to flip our plans. Traverse City, where we were staying for the next two nights, is located about 2 hours south of Mackinaw City but the village of Empire is located about 30 miles west of Traverse City. So we had over 2 1/2 hours on the road early Wednesday morning but the kids were pros in the car by now. 2 1/2 hours was nothing! Charly watched another movie while Hayes chilled.
It was a good thing we switched our plans and visited the Sleeping Bear Dunes when we did. The sand was hot enough at 10:30 in the morning when the temperature was still cool. The kids were both a little apprehensive at first. The dune in front of them was intimidating, even to Kelli and I! We took lots of breaks and carried them most of the way. Charly could handle the climb for a while but the sand is so soft and with each step you take, your foot kind of sinks deep into the sand. It's exhausting pulling your feet out over and over and over. It was a weird feeling for her. Hayes, would try to climb, but get turned around and then would just plop himself down in the sand and play.
You can see in the pictures above, that a second hill is starting to creep into the setting. Once we finally reached the top of what we originally thought was the top, this second hill still seemed miles away! But we were determined . . . And we weren't the only ones taking lots of breaks. We weren't in a hurry. We had nowhere else to go!
We were stopped by tons of climbers on the way to the top, amazed that we had two children in tow. One woman in her sixties told Kelli she inspired her to complete the climb. She was going to turn back halfway up the initial climb, but instead, saw Kelli and wanted to keep climbing with her family. "If you can do it carrying a child, I can do it!" Our philosophy was, "When will we be back to do it again?"
After an hour or so we finally reached the top. Back toward the parking lot, was a beautiful view of the park and Glen Lake. Behind us, only visible from the top of the hill, was an incredible view of Lake Michigan in the distance. Kelli and I sat down on some stones and didn't want to move for a long time. Charly and Hayes found sticks and began digging in the sand. They were content too.
What took over an hour to climb, took maybe ten minutes to descend. Hayes insisted on being carried but Charly liked running down the dune. We saw kids diving and rolling. One boy wanted to roll down the entire hill, but was afraid he would hit us, so he waited. The impressive views of Lake Michigan and Glen Lake soon disappeared and the parking lot came back into focus. We were exhausted, but fulfilled.
It felt weird to be on solid ground. We visited a gift shop and purchased a couple books for keepsakes. The temperature was rising quickly so we decided a trip to the beach was what we needed to cool down. Plus, Charly was ready to build some sandcastles!