By now you should know that when the maple trees in our side yard start to turn red at the top, fading to orange then yellow and still keeping the green leaves secure at the bottom – it’s time for H to plan a trip – somewhere – anywhere! Would it be Maine this year? Boston? Pennsylvania? An interesting state park in Illinois that we just learned about or back up to see the colors of Michigan? Yep! Michigan and its gorgeous coastline, deep forests and unique lighthouses and famous sand dunes won again!
During the wonderful summer months, Ludington State Park is FULL to the brim with gaggles of camping families and vacationers so it is impossible to get a site. After Labor Day it’s different and we managed to get a good site for a couple of days! The Big Sable Lighthouse is located within the park and the Big Sable River runs right thru the park and empties into the great expanse of Lake Michigan. Entering the park along the coast of Lake M is reminiscent of driving along the peninsula of the Gulf Shores National Seashore Park in the panhandle of Florida – blowing and drifting sand everywhere! This sand is lovely pink/beige instead of the glistening white of the Gulf! In downtown Ludington, the gigantic passenger/auto freighter, the SS Badger, was not traversing the 60 miles from Manitowoc Wisconsin to Ludington this day because the waves were 18 ft tall! At the end of the ½ mile long cement breakwall the imposing 57 ft tall, steel plated North Breakwater Lighthouse guards the Pere Marquette harbor and downtown Ludington.
When we started this journey north, the weather was cool and damp. Heavy rains and winds came during our 1st night (hence the 18 ft waves) but on Sunday as we ventured farther north the sun was bright and promising! On Rt 22 is a “Scenic Turnout” sign that failed to mention just how many steps one has to climb to get to the tippy top of the wooden stairs and thankfully secure decking on the top! I made it – slowly, one step at a time up those 100 steps and kept reminding myself to breathe! The view of the skyline above the treetops, the road that lay behind us, and the many shades of blue that is Lake Michigan was well worth the effort!
15 minutes out of Platte River Campground, a phone call confirmed that there were only 2 available “walk in” sites in that Sleeping Bear National Park Campground. One was going to be ours for awhile! Site 212 was level and long enough for the truck and train. To find the park, using your left hand as the map of the “Mitten of Michigan” - Sleeping Bear is at the last joint of your little finger!!
|The dark water is Platte River Salmon|
As the Big Sable River runs thru Ludington State Park, the clear waters of the Platte run thru the southern edge of the Sleeping Bear National Dunes, not far from the roadway to the Platte River Campground and the beautiful beach at the Lake Michigan Park at the end of the road. Between the campground road and the beach parking lot, there are two small gravel roads that lead back to the river. At the end of one of those dusty paths is a small dam like affair called a weir. In the summer months the gate in the weir is kept open. The tubers and kayakers just paddle on thru on their way to the lake. In the fall however, the gate is closed during the salmon run when the mature Lake Michigan fish return upstream to spawn in the same place as they were born. Swarms of huge dark fish gather at the lakeside of the weir, fighting the current and trying to follow their instinct and swim upstream. On this sunny warm weekend day, the kayakers were out in full force and now had to portage around the metal dam. Parents were letting their small children wade in the water, chasing the frantic fish. Little did they realize that some of those hormone-crazed fish already had hooks and barbs stuck in their mighty jaws from previous encounters! Had those fish rubbed against those tender little legs with 2 of those 3-pronged barbs still sticking out . . . . I shudder to think about it! The guard at the small office showed us a day’s collection of hooks taken out of the fish caught in ONE day the previous week. We toured the fish hatchery in nearby Honor and then returned to watch in amazement as hordes of huge dark fish in the race were lifted up by a huge rake affair and unceremoniously flipped into large tote like boxes to be shipped off for processing. The selected fish that were allowed to pass thru the capture process swam upstream to the weir at the hatchery and their eggs and milt were collected before they would die. All of the fish – the ones captured and the ones allowed to pass thru die after spawning. By harvesting them – the pristine river would not be polluted by the mega amount of dead fish carcasses.
The rest of our time “Up North” included visiting other iconic lighthouses – the 1851 Grand Traverse Bay at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula, the 1853 Pointe Betsie which sits at the top of a massive cement embankment, White river, Muskegon South Pier, Grand
|Traverse Bay Lighthouse|
Haven and of course the "Big
Red" Lighthouse in Holland.
Red" Lighthouse in Holland.
While in the dunes area a MUST Do is the scenic drive thru the heart of the Sleeping Bear National Park. From our very first ride thru the park, back in our motorcycle days – the views and the drive NEVER disappoint. From the tall wooden observation platform, high up over the dunes you can see the shrinking “Mother Bear” dune watching out over the lake for her two cubs – the 2 Manitou islands in the distance. Sadly time and erosion have diminished her size. Also from the high perch, you can lean on the sturdy railing and watch the fool hearty folks quickly descend the steep dune and then struggle to slowly creep back up the steep loose sand!
|The little black dots are people on the dunes|
From our last campsite at the Fisherman’s Landing City Park Campground in Muskegon, our fall venture was cut short due to the inclement weather that arrived. We were on the northern edge of the deluge of rain and strong winds so we missed the 6-8 inches of rain that dumped just south of us. Luckily, on our way back home we were mostly eastbound being pushed from behind by the 20-30 mph winds!We’re safely home and all is well! The train is ready for travel again in just over a month. The gardens are about ready for winter – just in time for our first frost and falling leaves! See you next trip, dear friends!