Monday, October 8, 2012

Sleeping Bear Redux

I think it is safe to say that pretty much everyone has a place in their hearts that they are drawn to, inexplicably, like a moth to a flame. There exists some magic, some mystery yet familiarity that keeps us intrigued and smitten, like a school girl with a crush. These places haunt us, calling out to us like spirits from beyond the grave.

I am finding that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is, for me, one of those places. I don't know exactly what it is about this area that is so appealing. I think all of the Lake Michigan shoreline--most of the Great Lake's shorelines, for that matter--are very visually appealing, and you just can't beat big water for drowning your demons. There are lots and lots of parks all along the coasts, and each has their draw, but it is this park, this place, that I keep coming back to.

So, for my annual "Up North Autumn Escape" I decided to spend three or four days at the Dunes.  I drove our old conversion van rather than the RV because I wanted to be pretty mobile. It has a fold-down seat in the back that converts to a full-size bed, and I packed a small folding table and chair to set up behind the front seats (the middle row captain's chairs had been removed) so I had a place to sit and read after dark. A cooler full of food, camera gear and warm clothes and I was ready to go!

I drove up on a Tuesday, through some beautiful fall colors along Highway 115, which cuts diagonally from the center of the state northwest to Frankfort, just south of the park. I arrived around 2 pm, got my campsite at the Platte River Campground (modern--I wanted electricity so I could plug in a space heater) and hiked down to the beach.

The walk from the campground to the beach is about a mile. The trail passes by the "hike in" campsites, not really backcountry but not sites you can pull your car up to. There is a modern bathroom with showers in the parking area, and the trailhead to Platte Bay. For over 1/2 mile the trail passes through a coniferous/hardwood forest, where I saw several warblers and this thrush.

Swainson's thrush? Not completely sure, but looks paler than the hermit thrush.

It was a windy day, and therewas  a lot of noise from the wind in the leaves. But at some point before I exited the woods I realized I could hear a very steady roar coming from in front of me--the sound of waves pounding the shore! Soon after, the woods opened up and I found myself in an open dune area studded with pines.

I trudged along through the sand, up one rise and down. At the top of the last rise I stopped and gasped.
There before me lay the Platte Bay, with Empire Bluffs and the Sleeping Bear laid out under the crisp blue sky.

I have been here before, although not this exact spot--once farther north along the bay and once south at the Platte River Point. It's not like I didn't know what to expect as I topped that last rise. But something about this scene literally took my breath away.

The Sleeping Bear with North Manitou Island to the left.

Empire Bluffs. A building in the tiny town of Empire is just visible on the shore left of the bluffs.

The wind was fierce coming off the big lake, and I only saw three other people on the beach that day, at quite a distance. I pretty much had the place to myself.

Platte Bay
 I found a log and sat down, my back to the wind. I had remembered to pack ear muffs and gloves, thank goodness, or I wouldn't have lasted long. I read a little and wrote some, then turned around to watch the gulls cruising the shoreline.

Herring gull

As I watched the gulls, a lone sanderling caught my eye. I was following him with my camera when I noticed a little brown bird scurrying along the beach, then another, and another. Hello, what have we here?!?  I was pretty sure this was a new bird for me. I was so excited!!

I did a quick change and put my long lens on, then squatted on the beach and waited for the birds to get closer....

Next: Well, you'll see!

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