I do not know Michigan well. I have lived here intermittently for a total of about 35 years. While I have made a point of hitting the major museums in the metropolitan Detroit area and even farther afield when my children were young, much of the state still eludes me. I had a few obligatory encounters with it upon first being brought here when I was in high school. I think my mother organized get-acquainted trips to Mackinac (if you are not from here, do not bother trying to pronounce it) Island, Traverse City, and Holland. Only the last one is remembered, because we took pictures of ourselves wearing wooden shoes and standing next to decorative windmills. Shortly thereafter I learned that Holland, Michigan bears about as much resemblance to the country for which it is named as the Renaissance Festival to the actual life of the period. The other trips left no impression whatsoever, if they even happened.
And so, for the first long post-pandemic weekend, I decided to go and look at the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which seem to consistently show up in those “10 Things to See” and “Best of” lists that I usually do not trust. The closest lodging appeared to be in Traverse City, and so I figured we can hit both landmarks with one trip.
Of course, no trip involving me goes completely smoothly. Under the category of “What fresh hell is this”, my car was assaulted by a flock of birds. Or maybe it was one bird. It was all so sudden! One moment we were merrily cruising on a very boring stretch of I-75 at a safe speed of no more than five over the limit, and the next, my entire windshield was covered in a vile substance, reducing visibility in a most dangerous manner. I am not a fan of birds. They have never contributed anything positive to my life, whether in a friendly, decorative, or nourishing manner. This was just a culmination of everything I have always known about them as an unpleasant species. It was all uphill from there.
Because Michigan has an inhospitable climate with more rainy days than Seattle (I read this factoid somewhere and cannot stop repeating it), a long sunny weekend is rare and treasured. Memorial Day being the first long weekend after a dreary winter, most of the state’s inhabitants flock “Up North”, ostensibly to enjoy the beautiful nature. We arrived around the early dinner time. Strangely enough, the nature areas were sparsely attended. Everyone was at the restaurants. Literally every sit down restaurant for miles had a dinner wait list of at least two hours, putting our mealtime somewhere between eight p.m. and next week. We opted to eat what might have been a pressed rat sandwich at a fast food place. To be fair, we did not travel Up North for the food. I am told there are some nice restaurants there, but I remain skeptical.
For dessert, we had gnats. That was surprising and unintentional. Apparently they are plentiful around the Grand Traverse Bay, and pursued us in swarms for the duration of our promenade. While not biting, they were quite aggressive with their intent to enter every orifice. We have managed to both inhale and ingest more than we wanted, which is to say, any. Although I do enjoy trying unusual food, the gnats made me feel a little like being in a Monty Python “Crunchy Frog” sketch.
Overall, this was a very successful trip, and the extra layer of confusion and inconvenience actually added that certain Midwestern charm to the experience. I mean, if everything had been perfect, it would not have been Michigan, but Ontario.
I have been to that area once in the winter (ask me about the ski trip to which my mother brought more suitcases than there were days), but this was really the first time that I was able to walk, observe, and enjoy. The town itself remains indefinable, as I have not noticed anything distinguishing it from any other similar small tourism-focused towns in Michigan, outside of the various local festivals which I have never attended, and so far without regret. I am given to understand that the area wineries are lovely, but again—the Niagara wine region is just as close, and Canada has my heart.
Nonetheless, Grand Traverse Bay is lovely. It is an objectively beautiful area and, gnats notwithstanding, promenading along its shore was a joy. While I do not enjoy aquatic activities, or being wet in general, I like bodies of water on sight, and harbor a hope that my Third Thirty (or sooner) includes being near one. It is not likely to be this particular one, but it sure is picture-perfect.
The main event of the trip, Sleeping Bear Dunes, also did not disappoint. I did not know Michigan had this much sand! I was warned in advance that if one goes down the sand mountain to the water, one must climb back up. As we say back in the Old Country, there are no fools here—of course I did not go down the sand mountain. I am most assuredly not a climber. I stayed at the top and took photos with my phone, though I am sorry I read the plaque about the legend of the sleeping bear—it is very sad. We stopped at the various scenic locations in the national park, enjoyed the views, walked on the trails (I would not call it hiking, which I believe requires a bit more vigor than what we exerted), and returned home. Despite the fact that on a holiday Monday the four hour drive doubled in time spent due to traffic, the trip was ultimately both worth it and not requiring of a repeat. Until some gal pal persuades me to explore the Leelanau Peninsula’s wine country.