So, we rolled up to the Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park entrance and I was reading the sign for prices and noticed a yearly pass. My first, though fleeting, thought was, why would anyone want a season pass? Every year, my parents brought us to the sand dunes to play, but honestly, once a year is more than enough. Heck, it takes an entire year for your calf muscles to unwind.
We were on the Pierce Stocking scenic tour and we stopped at the Dune lookout- which was in deed beautiful. There was a tour bus full of people on the lookout and you know what they say about a crowd of people all looking at something … it must be good. We meandered over and I was only able to catch a snippet of the guide’s story about the logging business and how still to this day, over one hundred logging ships pass by on Lake Michigan.
It was actually my husband who noticed, way down below, a house and a far. He inquired and we were told that family used to own as far as the eye could see, which is a really long way. It was hard to fathom. Then, the State came in and requisitioned all their land other than their family farm to make it into a State Park. They tried to take the farm as well, but the courts sided with the family. My children were outraged. It would seem they haven’t been paying attention in history. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a crying shame ANYONE could take such a majestic piece of land from the rightful owners.
When we got to lookout number 9 it was very congested so parking was a “bear.” We followed the crowd and there is almost no way to describe the vista. I’m pretty sure you could have driven a Mack truck into my mouth because it was hanging open so wide. It’s remarkable that particular view is not one of the Wonders of the World, because I’ve seen some pretty noteworthy things and I was rendered speechless.
One of the most striking features is what can only be described as a drop off where the sand meets the lake. As people ran and walked toward what looked like the end of the world, I had to wonder if that particular view is why Columbus thought the world was flat. It was unnerving to watch people literally disappear and you have no idea what is on the other side. My children took off at break neck speed as I’m reading the huge warning posted by the path. “To reduce risk of injury and rescue. Do not go down. If you do, enjoy the two hour walk back up.”
I yelled, OK, we can call it a scream to them to STOP. They all did because my children are afraid of me because I don’t threaten them, I have consequences for rule violators. As a cloud of sand settled, they turned back to me, faces looked as if I had handed them cotton candy and told them they weren’t allowed to eat it. My heart was crashing in my chest at the thought of them disappearing forever. Search crews mobilizing. Explaining what happened to our mothers.
I motioned for them to come to me at which point I directed their attention to the sign.
“Rescue?” My cautious one inquired.
“Two hours?” My lazy one asked; he is also my cautious one.
“For you, ten hours, if you actually ever made it.” Same child and he moves at the speed of ice melting in the North Pole. We call him the three-toed sloth, which naturally drives him nuts. Not nuts enough to increase his tortoise-esque pace, however.
Having meandered over to the overlook, my husband came back energized and rife with photos of people who had walked all the way down the dune and were swimming in Lake Michigan. The kids’ eyes became big as dinner plates and they began to jump up and down begging.
“Ok, let’s do it!” We said simultaneously. Our eyes met and my right eyebrow arched indicating my desire to pull rank. He was not to be deterred.
“Obviously it’s safe or there wouldn’t be so many people down there. I do need to manage your expectations however. It is a LONG way down and an even longer way up. As we run toward the water, it will be one of the most fun experiences of your life. On the way back up, you will feel like you are going to die. Your legs will cramp up to the point you think another step is impossible. You’re going to complain the whole time,” he pointed at my complainer. “You’re going to whine until I’m ready put you out of MY misery,” he pointed at him again.
I made it clear I had NO intention of going and suggested they do a half way down dry run this year and if everyone makes it without serious injury or death, next year we could arrive earlier so it wasn’t so hot. Though they were still longing for the water, my sloth and our daredevil daughter agreed to the terms.
My youngest son, who I now realize is my smartest child because he sat with me in the car, declined based on sheer effort alone. He did some drawing while I knocked out some work. I was startled when the driver’s side door opened at the thirty-five minute mark and my husband leaned in. I thought he was going to talk to me, but then I noticed he was bracing himself with hands on knees.
“Wow, Daddy, that was fast,” I threw him a smile.
“I’m not going to be able to speak to you for a while,” he gasped and I couldn’t help but giggle. He handed me a nice sized rock and collapsed into his seat. We are building a new fire pit this summer so everyone is on high alert for good rocks. I looked in my side view mirror only to see my oldest son slide down the side of the truck onto his bottom. When I opened the door he was pouring a bottle of water over his head and great streams of dirty sweat sluiced down his face and onto his shirt.
I was about to laugh at him when my daughter appeared with a look on her face I’d never seen in her life. It was a milieu shock, horror, foul smell, confusion and complete bewilderment. I erupted into a fit of laughter as she stepped over her brother (no man left behind was not part of her code at that point) and dragged herself into the car.
It was about five minutes before my eldest was able to get buckled up and for anyone to actually articulate.
“Arguably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done,” my husband sighed and put the car in gear.
“Totally stupid, Dad and I was YOUR idea.”
“Worst idea EVER!” From the back seat.
“I knew it was stupid, that’s why I stayed with Mom. She’s way smarter.”
We’d only gone a few hundred feet when he pulled the car over and asked me to drive.
“I have one calorie left in my body and I don’t think I can do it,” he said. Once situated, he expounded on the experienced. “It was all fun and games on the way down, right guys? I set a timer for five minutes and we stopped. I told them to turn around and look up. I was even shocked how far we’d come and the water was still REALLLY far away! Jamesyn took off for the top. I timed her, it took ten minutes. Cage actually made it back in fifteen. At that point, I was on my third break. It was a literal living hell. It’s straight up! You have to monkey walk, there is no other way. If you stood up you’d fall backward.” He was speaking in breathy sighs and behaving as if he were recounting an horrific event he’s narrowly escaped. I couldn’t stifle intermittent giggles.
“A guy and his six-year-old son passed me heading down while I was resting. I told them to go back. It’s a trap. I actually heard sirens calling to me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back. I thought I’d never see your beautiful face again.”
“It only took me fifteen minutes! Who’s the three-toed sloth now? It’s Dad!”
“It was pretty bad, Mom. Dad wasn’t looking so good so I went down to try and help. I gave him more water.”
“Food,” my husband barked. I knew exactly where I was taking them for sustenance. You’ll see my review of the Empire Village Inn.
I can tell you one thing, I now understand why people would get a yearly pass. I can imagine going up there every night to watch the sunset with my husband, enjoying the morning with a cup of coffee … oh, and I can’t WAIT for fall. You must take the Pierce Stocking scenic route. Well worth the extra time.