A year ago on August 2, a powerful storm packing winds in excess of 100 miles-an-hour rolled off of Lake Michigan and took dead aim at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Fortunately, no one was killed and very few people were injured. While there were dozens of homes and businesses damaged, the majority of the devistation was to the canopy of trees in the area. A prime example of that is Alligator Hill.
Named for its resemblance to a resting alligator, this rise of thickly-forested land lies within the boundaries of the national lakeshore. A series of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, totaling over 7 miles, traverse the length of the hill. The winds from the storm raked along the ridge, funneling into the ravines on either side and laying 150 year old trees into piles exceeding 10 feet in height. The trail system was closed following the storm and was only recently reopened to hiking. After our friends Lane and Patti hiked it, we decided to go check it out on our anniversary this last Saturday, August 6th.
As the map at the trailhead suggested, we snapped a photo to take the map with us. It’s nice that these signs are clear enough to be able to read on a smartphone. The NPS really does a good job at Sleeping Bear, and we appreciate it. Our route for the day would take us to Islands Lookout and Big Glen Lookout. Including a side trip to view additional storm damage, we totaled 4.7 miles.
Once on the trail, we were greeted by the cool canopy of trees that made up the majority of the path, prior to last August. Having not hiked here before, we aren’t sure if the two-track appearance of the trail existed before the storm. A lot of equipment had to come through this area to reopen the upper portions of the route.
Before long, we started to see some of the downed trees. There was no doubt that this was the result of straight-line winds, as these giants were all dropped in an easterly direction.
After a short stretch of blown out forest, we returned to the canopy of trees. It was there that we came upon one of the best views we’ve ever seen at Sleeping Bear…the Islands Lookout.
Look at that water. One of the hikers at the overlook commented that it reminded him of the Carribean. We never get tired of looking at these waters, and this particular viewpoint really puts it all in perspective. Off in the distance is South Manitou Island to the left and North Manitou Island to the right.
Continuing around to the right, you are able to see just how wide the vista is here. Looking with the naked eye, I spotted something on the horizon between the islands. I zoomed my camera in as best I could, but I still couldn’t tell what I was seeing until I got home.
It was a fairly large Great Lakes freighter steaming north towards the Straits of Mackinac!
Leaving the viewpoint, we headed towards Big Glen Lookout.
This is the ‘spine of the alligator’, so to speak. This area was hit hard, as you are able to see. Still, it was interesting to see how other plant life was coming up from the forest floor.
Common Mullein were sprouting up everywhere!
Again, we entered an area of forested canopy before we arrived at our next viewpoint.
Big Glen Lookout overlooks what is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Big Glen Lake. Almost perfectly round and surrounded by high hills, the lake doesn’t have a lot of big waves, making it a boater’s paradise.
Heading back towards the trailhead, we took the path that runs below the ridge on the south side. This is the area that the storm hit first.
It looked like a war zone. The National Park Service is contemplating what to do with the timber. One school of thought is to leave it natural while the other is to remove it to lessen the extreme fire danger. Either way, it was an amazing thing to see!
These trees were shattered. It was interesting to see how the core of the tree seperated from the rest. We saw several examples of this.
We can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been on the trail that day, as there was nowhere to hide. It’s humbling to think of the power the storm was packing.
It wasn’t too long before we were back at the trailhead and our vehicle. What would have normally been a nice hike to a couple of great viewpoints has become a lesson in the tremendous forces that nature unleashes from time to time. We are really glad we did this hike and we recommend it to anyone visiting Sleeping Bear.