Tag Archives: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Michigan 2018 Wrap-up

Almost as fast as it began, our late summer in Michigan has come to an end.  The last few weeks were a flurry of activity, work, and fun!  Check it out:

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My sister Judy and brother-in-law Dale came to visit.  They went on a hike with us to Pyramid Point and checked out the maritime museums at Sleeping Bear.  We finished up the day with dinner at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor.  It sure was good to see them!

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We also had a visit from my cousin Sue and her hubby John.  Its always fun to hang out with these two!  We caught a sunset with them at the Lake Michigan Overlook and a late dinner at Cherry Republic.

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Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David also stopped by, as did Nancy’s brothers Jerry and Reed.  After that, we saw our friends John and Julie, and then Diana’s cousins Evelyn, Linda and Brenda were in town.  We also were able to see our friends Camilla, Lane, Patti, Rod, Mary, George and Grace again.  Hope I didn’t miss anyone!

While at the National Lakeshore, we were encouraged to visit as much of the park as possible.  By doing so, we were able to give accurate information to our guests in the visitor center.  While out checking Good Harbor Beach, Diana spotted this cloud pattern, which is pretty typical over the peninsula.

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All that water makes for a dynamic sky.  🙂

The end of the season saw our maritime museum receive a fresh coat of paint.

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It was a tedious project, as there was lead paint that had to be removed. They really did a nice job!

We also were able to take a tour of Glen Haven with our supervisor, Marie.

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Here she is explaining the construction of the Sleeping Bear Inn.  The hotel was built in 1857, and the park is hoping to have it restored and put back into use.  Marie is a wealth of knowledge and a joy to be around.  🙂

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And here is one of the longtime residents, Leonard Thoreson, filling visitors in on the area history.  His parents owned one of the farms that is now part of the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.  Leonard can be seen riding his bike through the park just about daily.  The white plate on the front of his bike says “91”, which refers to is age.  What a treasure.

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One really fun thing we did was to work at the big relief map at the visitor center.  Here’s Diana explaining the park’s features to our guests.  It’s neat to learn about people’s interests, and match them up with what the park has to offer. People were really appreciative of our efforts.

Soon it was time to leave.

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We didn’t get a photo of Judy and Paul or of Bob and MaryJo, but we did get one of Rick and Debbie!  We sure enjoyed sharing our little campground with all these folks!

From Leelanau, we headed to Grand Rapids for a week.  While there, we were able to buzz down to Indiana to see my aunt and uncle again.  Both are doing well.  We also took care of annual physicals and such, finishing up the week in Kalamazoo for Western Michigan University’s homecoming.

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The weather wasn’t the greatest, but the rain held off for the game.  Western beat Eastern Michigan 27-24, so that added to the fun!

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We had quite the crew, first and second generation Broncos!  Brian and Sarah (olive and black shirts in the center) are getting married in a few weeks, and circumstance doesn’t allow for the group to attend, so….

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…we held a Bronco wedding!  Sarah was the Broncette and Brian was the Bronco.

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Brian’s brother Eric was the ring bearer, and he had us in stitches.   We had a reception, cake, dancing…you name it, we did it.  Diana and I even won the anniversary dance for a change! The entire event was way beyond what any of us thought it would be.  Man, we have fun when we get together!

From there, we headed to southeast Michigan to see Diana’s family.

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From left, our nephew Jared, Diana’s sister Cheryl, Dan and Becky (our niece), Diana’s brother-in-law Doug, Diana and I.  We had a great time catching up with everyone!

From there, we visited Diana’s uncle Bob and cousin Debbie.  While we were there, we camped in Diana’s hometown, Ortonville…just across the street from where we were married 36 years ago.  It was fun to be back there.  🙂

This morning, we headed south out of Michigan.  We are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Michael, as it is crossing our path to Florida.  It will be long gone by the time we get to Georgia, but we don’t know what sort of damage we are going to find.  The next few days should be interesting.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Shipwrecks and Lifesaving on the Manitou Passage

One of the consistent statements we hear from visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is that Lake Michigan’s Manitou Passage looks like the Caribbean.  When the sun shines on these crystal clear waters, the deep blue and turquoise colors are breathtaking.

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Peaceful scenes such as the 1000 foot freighter American Spirit steaming past the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse in the distance are common here in Leelanau County.  Looking at this, it’s difficult to imagine the fury the lake can unleash…often within a matter of minutes.  Many a mariner has been caught unaware in these waters, and their ships have been wrecked near these shores.

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This chart shows the ideal route that ships aim for as a dotted line.  By going this direction a vessel can shave 60 miles off of their trip between Mackinac and Chicago, as opposed to going west of the islands.  This archipelago can also act as protection from strong westerly winds.  During a fierce gale in 1913, the steamer Illinois found refuge in South Manitou Island’s crescent-shaped harbor by nosing into the beach and keeping the engines running forward for 50 continuous hours.  It was at that point that the wind subsided enough for a crewman to go ashore and secure the ship to a large tree, so they could power down the ship.

Back in late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there weren’t any decent roads in northern Michigan and the lakes were considered a highway.  It wasn’t unusual for 100 vessels to be in the Manitou Passage on a given day, as it was also a major fueling station.  Wood was the fuel of choice back then for steamships, and these shores had plenty of it.  All of that traffic, combined with the occasional storm, brought about many shipwrecks. Over 100 vessels were known to have run aground, with many of them being refloated and saved.

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Over 50 were left in place to be dismantled by the power of Lake Michigan’s waves.

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One such ship was the Walter L. Frost, which ran aground along South Manitou Island’s shore in 1903.  It wasn’t too many years until nothing remained above the lake’s surface.

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In 1960, the Liberian freighter Francisco Morazan grounded on South Manitou Island after losing power, running over the subsurface remains of the Frost (blue arrow) in the process.

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Today, the remains of the Morazan are a visible reminder of just how brutal this lake can be to a ship….

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…and a flyover will reveal many of the other wrecks in the passage.

We had an excellent example of the moodiness of Lake Michigan this past week.

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This is a photo of the 620 foot long Mississagi, heading south through the fog towards Muskegon on Thursday.

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On the ship’s return northward on Friday, it was met with 50 + MPH gusts coming from the northwest.  As a reference, this photo was taken on the east side of the Manitou Islands, so the ship was not experiencing the high waves that were occurring out in the open lake on the west side.

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But look what the captain did once he was past Leland and North Manitou Island.  With the full brunt of the gale hitting them broadside, he choose to turn the bow northwestward and head across the lake to calmer waters along the Upper Peninsula shore.  Once there, he turned northeastward and headed towards the Straits of Mackinac.  As he passed Mackinac Island, he witnessed the only shipping casualty of that day’s storm. The tug and barge Defiance/Ashtabula had run aground.  Once the gale subsided, that ship was able to be freed from the clay bottom with little damage.  The storm was strong enough to not only close the Mackinac Bridge to high profile vehicles but also the Soo Locks.  That rarely happens.

Nowadays, rescues are performed by the Coast Guard with helicopters and enclosed motor lifeboats.  Back when the Illinois sought shelter in South Manitou Harbor in 1913, the U.S. Life Saving Service (USLSS) had other equipment at their disposal.

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For the wrecks that were farther than 500 yards from shore, the USLSS would use an open surfboat to rescue stranded sailors.  The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station performed 5% of their rescues in this manner.  But since most wrecks occurred along the shore, a beach apparatus was employed to bring the crew to safety.

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That consisted of several lines, a breeches buoy, and a cannon (called a Lyle Gun) to fire the initial line over the ship.  The breeches buoy was nothing more than a pair of pants (britches) attached to a life ring.  What this apparatus amounted to was similar to a modern day zip line.

Here at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we perform a daily demonstration (summer months only) of the beach apparatus using young volunteers from the audience as surfmen.  This program is called Heroes of the Storm.

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Here is Captain Diana with her crew, Raggedy Ann and Andy, calling for help from her stranded ship.  A simulated Lyle Gun fires a projectile with a line out to the ship, which allows the captain to drag out the heavier rescue lines.

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Here is Captain Jim on another occasion sending Ann towards the shore in the breeches buoy.

A special treat occurs on Thursdays, right after the Heroes program.  That is the day an actual Lyle Gun is fired.  This cannon is the only gun invented by the U.S. Army to save lives instead of take them.

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An 18-pound projectile, similar to the one I am holding here, is loaded into the Lyle gun.  A 200-yard long shot line is tied to the end of it.  That is fired out into Sleeping Bear Bay each week.  Once the line is hauled back in, it is hung along the station’s picket fence to dry.  Once dried out, it is the park volunteer’s job to ‘fake’ the line into what is called the faking box.

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Here is Diana winding the rope around the faking box pegs.

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And here we are with 200 yards of faked rope.  There is a lid that is put over this afterwards. Once at the beach, the whole thing is turned over and the rope is slid off the pegs and into the lid.  Hopefully it doesn’t tangle when they fire the gun!  Let’s find out in this slo-mo video.  This took place the day we faked the rope:

Lyle Gun video: CLICK HERE

So there you have it.  That brought a smile to our faces!

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Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

The Finest Hours

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back” 

Unofficial Coast Guard motto

 

September 8, 2018

A few months back, you may recall that we stopped into the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station while we were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore.  One of the reasons for that visit was to see how a tour of a maritime museum is conducted.  Our tour guide, a National Park Service volunteer named David, inspired us with his ability to portray what life in the U.S. Life Saving Service was like.  While we were there, he gave us a tip to go see a famous Coast Guard boat that was docked in Rock Harbor, some 30 miles to the south.  It was the subject of a movie called The Finest Hours.

This turned out to be a case where history stared us right in the face and we didn’t catch it.

The next day, we set off to explore Cape Cod’s elbow, first visiting Chatham, and then Rock Harbor.  At Chatham, we parked in front of the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. This complex overlooks the Chatham Bars, a series of sandbars that extend out into the ocean.

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We were a bit more focused on this shack constructed along the shore, but we did note how far out the waves were breaking on the ever-changing sand bars.  Shortly after taking this photo, a driving rain came in off of the ocean, so we failed to photograph the station and lighthouse.  Instead, we headed up to Rock Harbor to see the boat that David had mentioned.  Once at the dock, we were greeted by this sign:

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Still not familiar with the story or the film The Finest Hours, we descended to the lower dock to examine the boat.

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Obviously well restored and impressive to look at, the CG-36500 was tied up with little explanation to it’s storied past, short of the fact that it was a gold medal boat that had saved 32 men.  Not knowing much about Coast Guard history, we focused on how impeccable this boat was and not much else.

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The fittings on the craft were impressive.  Still, we were somewhat more interested in the U.S. Life Saving Service on this trip than the Coast Guard, so this small beauty’s story didn’t fully grab our attention.  We left the dock with the intention to see the movie and to research the boat’s story.  One thing led to another, and that didn’t happen.

Fast forward to our boat museum in the former Glen Haven Canning Company building at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   When we started our stint as volunteers here at the beginning of August, it was hard not to notice the largest boat in the museum as being similar to the CG-36500 we saw in Massachusetts back in May.

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Turns out it was not only similar, but built from the same blueprint.  Our boat, the CG-36527, had been stationed at Duluth, Minnesota.

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Both crafts, along with the 128 sister TRS 36-foot motor lifeboats, were built by hand at the Curtis Bay Yard in Maryland.

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Not being in the water, it appeared much larger than it’s fleetmate out on Cape Cod.  The boat is self-bailing, self-righting, 10 tons and its motor will run upside down.  Solid as a stone and virtually unsinkable.  It is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

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The ‘pudding’ bumper on the front is a work of art.  Visitors comment that it resembles a mustache.

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Standing on an easel by the front of the craft, this poster is displayed.

There’s that movie we failed to see…

So we watched the movie, then read the book of the same title.  The story goes like this:  A ferocious winter storm off the coast of Cape Cod in February of 1952 caught two World War II era tankers in its grip.  Both ships split in two between their bows and sterns.  The Fort Mercer was able to get a distress call off, and the Coast Guard sent most of their boats to assist in rescuing that ship’s crew.  The Pendleton wasn’t able to get an SOS off before it broke up, and it wasn’t until they were noticed on radar that the Chatham stationmaster Daniel Cluff went into action.  He ordered Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber to gather three other men and head out in the CG-36500 to see if there were any survivors.  Doing so meant they had to cross the dangerous Chatham Bars that we mentioned earlier.  Those sandbars have been known to rip boats to pieces in mild seas, and the waves that afternoon were upwards of 60 feet high!  Most of the locals considered it impossible.

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.”

Crossing the bar meant timing the waves, gunning the throttle on the upside and switching to full reverse throttle down the backside…so as to keep from driving the bow into the sand.  The ship’s compass was ripped loose and lost overboard almost immediately and the windshield was shattered.  Miraculously, they made it past the bars, but they were now running purely on Webber’s knowledge of the currents and the winds.  They somehow found the stern of the Pendleton, which was still afloat.  On deck were 33 men, anxious to get off.  (It was discovered later that the bow section had partially sank, killing the captain and crew that were in it.)

Remember, the CG-36500 is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

Suddenly, a Jacob’s ladder was thrown over Pendleton’s stern and the men started down.  Webber brought the little lifeboat in close to get each man, backing away in between to keep from smashing into the tanker’s side.  Men were packed into the survivor’s cabin and onto every available space on deck.  The only man that didn’t make it was Tiny Myers, the ship’s 300 pound cook.  He fell into the sea and a wave threw the lifeboat into him, killing him.  Once everyone was on board, Webber pointed the CG-36500 back towards shore, hoping to beach it somewhere.  The tide had risen and they were able to cross the bars rather quickly.  As luck would have it, they ended up at the mouth of Chatham Harbor and were able to come directly into the dock with their soaked and freezing survivors.

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All four crew members were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their efforts.  They tested CG-36500’s limits, which in turn performed beyond its intended purpose for them.  The mission is considered to be the Coast Guard’s greatest small boat rescue ever.  The craft continued to serve until it was decommissioned in 1968.  It was donated to the Cape Cod National Seashore with the intention that it would be displayed in a museum.  Funds never materialized, and the boat was left to rot in a storage yard, totally exposed to the elements.  The Orleans Historical Society acquired it in 1981 and restored it to the operational beauty it is today.

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In 2002, the crew was reassembled for the 50th anniversary of the rescue, and they were able to take the CG-36500 out for a tour of the harbor with Webber at the helm..  That would have been a sight to see. Clockwise from the front:  Andy Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, Charles Bridges (Pendleton crewmember who later joined the Coast Guard), Ervin Maske and Bernie Webber.

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If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop in Rock Harbor and view this wonderful piece of history.  Maybe rent the movie or read the book. Or if you find one of the 15 or so remaining 36 footers that grace our nation’s maritime museums, take a moment to imagine that night in 1952 when the Coast Guard witnessed their finest hours.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Sleeping Bear 2018

July 29 – August 14, 2018

We are happy to be back in Leelanau County, Michigan for the months of August and September.  We will be volunteering for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   As we did for Oregon State Parks, we will be working as Interpretive Volunteers throughout the park.  Our duties include working in the two maritime locations, the visitor center, and as narrators on bus tours of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

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As compensation, we are given a campsite at D.H. Day Campground.

We came in a few days early and camped at Leelanau Sands Casino, just north of Suttons Bay.  In order to stay there, we had to sign up for a Players Club card.  First time cardholders are given $10 in free slot play.

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I had a pretty lucky night.  The machine I was playing started going wild!  The guy next to me was laughing, as he thought I was doing pretty good for a 30 cent bet.  When I informed him I was playing on the casino’s money, his jaw hit the floor.  By the time we walked out, I was over $180 in winnings.  Not bad for someone who doesn’t frequent casinos!

Before we headed to Sleeping Bear, our friends Linda and Steven came and stayed next to us at Leelanau Sands.

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We all went to Patti and Lane’s house for dinner, along with Rod and Mary.  We also went out to eat a few times and checked out Peterson Park.

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We love the view from up there, as it’s possible to see four islands on a clear day.

We also went kayaking on Little Traverse Lake with Lane and Patti.  Here they are heading back out after we had to get ready to go back to our camp.

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Pretty soon, it was our first day on the job….which also happened to be out 36th anniversary!

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Here we are in the Cannery, which is a fruit processing plant turned boat museum.

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The boat I am sitting in front of is identical to the one from the movie, The Finest Hours.  It is self-righting, self-bailing, practically unsinkable and the diesel engine will run upside down.

The other maritime location is the 1902 lifesaving station.  The boathouse is said to be the most completely equipped station in the United States.

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Here I am letting one our visitors feel how heavy the Lyle gun projectile is.  That particular gun would shoot a line over a disabled ship in order to establish a lifesaving zipline, then called a breeches buoy.  The Lyle gun was the only cannon ever developed to save lives, instead of taking them.

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We also have two open surfboats on display.

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And every afternoon, the park puts on a program called Heroes of the Storm, a reenactment of how a Lyle gun rescue works.  Seven children are pulled out of the crowd to serve as surfmen.  The sailors they save from the ‘ship’ are Raggedy Ann and Andy.  It’s really fun.  🙂

And on Thursdays, the park fires off a real Lyle gun.  It is a sight to see!

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The initial blast…

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…pushing out the flame and the projectile.

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As the projectile gets dragged by the shot line coming out of the blue box, it turns around and heads out over the water….

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…eventually landing 200 yards out, dragging the shot line behind it.  The surfmen back in the day could launch the projectile up to 600 yards.

We also worked at the Port Oneida Fair, which is a celebration of the early 20th Century rural culture. Living history activities were held at several of the historic farms, as well as the school house, that are a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Diana worked at the washtub station, teaching children how to do laundry.

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When the local TV station started filming, we  decided to watch the news that night.  Not only was she on there…

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…so was I, teaching kids how to run a corn sheller.  🙂

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One gentleman was even teaching youngsters how to play a hammer dulcimer.

Blacksmith Shop

And who is that in the Blacksmith shop?  Well that is Diana, providing lunch relief for the blacksmith and keeping the fire going, while explaining the role of the blacksmith in the town of Glen Haven.  🙂

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We also were visited by our friends Jodee and Bill!  Here we are at Music in the Park in Northport.

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We also checked out Sleeping Bear and the Old Mission Peninsula with them….

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…and their sweet fluffy dog Tessa.  🙂

Our last night with them, we managed to get tickets for The Accidentals.  We have been following this trio for several years now.  Their latest album Odyssey has been played in our CD players from Oregon to Florida to Maine and back to Michigan.

The Accidentals

Diana and I have seen them perform twice in the past at outside venues, but it was great to see and hear them inside an auditorium.   The four of us were blown away, hooting and hollering throughout the show.  If you ever have the opportunity to see them, don’t miss it.

Well, that gives you an idea of what we’ve been up to the past few weeks.  Stay tuned for our next post as we continue to find new adventures to share with you.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Port Oneida Fair

In the mid 19th century, northern Europeons began settling into the area between what is now known as Pyramid Point and Glen Arbor, along the shores of Sleeping Bear Bay. Thomas Kelderhouse, the owner of several cargo ships on Lake Michigan, realized the potential of the area’s timber during a stopover on South Manitou Island. He made a deal with a local landowner on the mainland, Carsten Burfiend, where Kelderhouse would build a dock if Burfiend would donate the property adjacent to it. The resulting port was named after the one of the first ships to arrive, the S.S. Oneida.

Over time, the land was cleared of it’s timber and farmed.  The sandy soil wasn’t the best for crops, but the longer growing season along Lake Michigan helped sustain the community for a time.  Eventually, most of the buildings were abandoned.  When the National Park Service first acquired Port Oneida in the 1970’s, the policy was to remove the buildings and let nature retake the land. Fortunately, the funds weren’t available at that time to remove the structures.  Eventually that policy was changed, after the public realized that the county roads were going to be removed also….thereby eliminating access to the area beaches.  As a result of it’s time in limbo, Port Oneida is one of the largest examples of a pre-modern rural community in the United States.  The buildings are now being preserved, as is the history of those early settlers.

Each August, the National Park Service partners with the nonprofit Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear for the Port Oneida Fair.  The event showcases rural life as it would have been in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This year’s fair was held over two days, up from the usual one day event.  Admission is free, although a park pass is required to be on the grounds.

Spread over five seperate farms, there were many different demonstrations as to how things were done in the past.  Above, a man rides in a horse drawn buggy across a field at the Dechow farm.

Oxen in their yolks, ready to do some work in the fields!

A young boy using a shaving horse and a spoke shave to shape a piece of wood.

This woman was demonstrating the art of spinning wool.  She was really good at it.  🙂

This display from the Empire Area Museum had two hand-cranked phonographs; the one on the right was an Edison.  A far cry from listening to music on your iPhone. 😀

There were several bicycles on display.  This one was actually a predecessor to the high wheeler.

We found this oil-burning headlight to be interesting.  Note the red lens on the left side.  The right side is green, just like a boat would have.

This little McCormick-Deering gasoline engine was chugging along.  It was connected to a water pump.  They had several examples of old engines, one of which was powering a Maytag washing machine.

A pair of beautiful draft horses.  The front one is a Belgian and the one behind is a Percheron.

Just across M-22 from the Dechow farm is the Olsen farm.

This home is the showcase of Port Oneida.  It doubles as an information center for the historic district.

This gentleman was playing a hammer dulcimer.  To me, they are one of the prettiest sounding musical instruments ever made.

This man was explaining the uses of the flax plant.  In his hand was a by-product of the processing of flax, called tow fibers.  This was timely for us, as Diana had just mentioned earlier this week that she wondered where the term ‘tow head’ came from for blondes.  Well, he explained that the term came from the similarity of the color of the fibers to blonde hair.  He also told us that the fibers were used to make rope, hence the term ‘tow rope’….and towing your car, and so on.  Pretty cool.  🙂

The woman with him was spinning tow.  Both of them were wearing clothes made from tow.  Sorry about the angle of the photo: that’s a fiber spindle, not a flute.  🙂

From the Olsen farm, we continued down the road to the Burfiend Barn.

Outside the barn, children and adult volunteers were making wooden barn pegs. They drove the wood through cylindrical tubes with wooden mallets.  Each new peg drove the last one out of the tube.

Inside the barn, the string band Carter Creek was putting on a show.  We really enjoyed listening to them, especially when they played an old favorite of ours…John Prine’s ‘Paradise’.

We really enjoyed our day at the Port Oneida Fair.  If you are ever visiting Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore the second Saturday in August, be sure to save the afternoon for this event.

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Concert at the Dune Climb

If there is one iconic image of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it would probably have to be the Dune Climb.  For those who have not been to Sleeping Bear, the Dune Climb is the place where visitors are allowed to crawl up the sand dune and run or tumble back down.  Viewers of the sitcom ‘Home Improvement’ may remember the episode when Tim the Toolman Taylor and his family came running down the dune on a family vacation.  It’s great fun, especially for children.  🙂

Once every summer for the past 18 years, the National Park Service and the Glen Arbor Art Association turn the sand hill and park below it into a concert venue, as part of the association’s Manitou Music Festival.  This year’s free concert featured an eclectic folk-Americana group out of Chicago, of all places, called the Way Down Wanderers.  While they were true to traditional bluegrass with their choice of instruments, their style was much more diverse…ranging from Merle Haggard to their own pop/folk-infused songs.  They had a lot of energy and put on a spirited show.  We were their with several friends, and with a delicious spread of food and drink, we settled in for an evening of entertainment, people watching and conversation.  I pulled out the Nikon and turned the lens loose on the crowd for a plethora of candid photos.  Enjoy!

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Partway through the show, Diana checked her Facebook account, as one of our college friends was in the area and she wanted to see if he was at the event.  He wasn’t, but she did notice that our friend Camilla had posted that she was there.  She had ridden her bike from D.H. Day campground, where she was spending the weekend.  

I spotted her high up on the dune…without any wine.  Diana dispatched me with a Solo cup of Pinot Grigio.  Remember, I said children like climbing the dune..hoo-boy, tough climb!  I did an end-around, came up behind her and said “it sucks when you forget your wine.” After a hug, she headed down the hill with me and joined us!

She took one of her famous selfies before the end of the show.  🙂

It was another great evening in Leelanau with friends and the folks who are spending their summer up here in the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan.  Stay tuned for more fun!

Ready for the Season!

We have returned to Wild Cherry RV Resort on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula for another season….and it is good to be back.  We arrived Friday afternoon, set up our rig and locked onto one of the best satellite signals we’ve ever pulled in on our DirecTV.  Life is definitely good.  🙂   We were greeted by Patti and Lane, and also JoAnn and Paul.  It was great to see them all again.  While I was setting up, Rex drove up in his pickup to say hello.  He and Jim (the resort owner) spent the morning getting the riding mower ready to go, as Rex will be starting to mow on Monday. He had set up his 5th wheel earlier in the week and was having a little issue getting his Dish Network signal locked on, so he asked if I would help him with that. Diana and I jumped on the golf cart and headed down to his and Nellie’s rig.  To remind everyone, Rex will be 92 years young this summer, and his charming wife Nellie will be 90.  They proceeded to pour us a drink, as we all know that aiming a satellite is easier with a vodka and tonic.  🙂  Rex and I headed outside to move the dish, while Diana and Nellie stayed in to watch the signal meter on the screen, calling the numbers to us through the open window.  Factor into this that Rex and I are both somewhat hard of hearing…and you basically have  the makings of an ‘I Love Lucy’ skit.   Even with my Dishpointer app on my phone, we were only able to get the meter to about 50%…which I was sure wouldn’t be enough.  I called Dish.  After telling the tech that “the neighbor moved it” …with me being ‘the neighbor’, he worked a little magic on his end and suddenly Rex and Nellie had great reception!  They insisted on taking us out to dinner to thank us, so we headed into town for a bite to eat.  Just getting to spend time with these two is a treat for us.  Let’s change that earlier statement to life is definitely better than good!  🙂

Saturday morning came early, as Diana and I had agreed to dive right in and work.  JoAnn and Paul had been covering the place since May 1, so they headed downstate to their daughter’s place for Mother’s Day weekend.  Rod and Mary will be here this coming Friday.  Paul and Jim had set up most of the picnic tables already, so I finished that project.  I also helped Jim with a new drain tile along the entrance road.  He handled most of that with his John Deere front end loader, something he is a master at.  Diana started in on the paperwork in the office.

And once again, the woods surrounding the resort are filled with trillium!  The trees are starting to leaf out and soon our wooded tent sites will be filled with campers.

The flowering trees are beginning to bloom, and the apple and cherry blossoms will soon be covering the hillsides throughout Leelanau County.

On Saturday, I picked up where Paul left off on edging the patios.  As you can see, our lakefront sites are wide open right now, so it’s a perfect time to come up and spend a few days.  The only thing you will hear is birds, frogs, crickets and…during the day…Rex mowing those hills.  🙂  Shoulder seasons in Northern Michigan are magical.

Mosquitoes are rarely a problem here.  It’s also very dark at night, so if the sky is clear, the stars are insane!

The wineries, shops, and restaurants in the surrounding villages are all open for business. People are taking to the woods in their annual hunt for morel mushrooms.  We hope to get our trikes on the trails soon, as the weather has been warming up into the 60’s in the afternoons. And this is a fabulous time to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Leelanau Conservancy preserves.

Leelanau was calling us, and we are really glad we got up here as quickly as we could!

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Wild Cherry RV Resort
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The Leelanau Conservancy 

  
One of our goals in becoming fulltime RVers was to better live out our motto ‘Don’t just see it…BE it!”  We’ve always done our best to be a part of where we were visiting during our weekends and summer vacations, but we felt that goal could never fully be accomplished until we could actually spend some quality time in each place.  This summer, the time we have spent on the Leelanau peninsula has proven that to us.  We had been coming here for years,  visiting wineries and exploring the Sleeping Bear Dunes. We honestly were concerned that we had covered the place prior to this summer, and that we would grow tired of being here after six months. Those concerns were soon eased. Leelanau had not revealed all it’s secrets in our past visits…not by a long shot.

Enter the Leelanau Conservancy.

Back in the middle of the twentieth century, this peninsula was a sleepy agricultural domain, dotted with small villages.  Sleeping Bear Dunes had yet to be designated a national lakeshore.  Few people knew of the natural beauty that exists up here.  Even fewer people understood what would happen once the masses discovered Michigan’s little finger. Ed and Bobbie Collins are two of those people.  They purchased Leland’s historic Riverside Inn in 1980, restored it, and then operated it until 1988.  They became concerned with the subtle development pressures that were beginning to mount, following the establishment of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  They established the Leelanau Conservancy, a non-profit organization aimed at preserving the land and water resources on the peninsula.  Their goal was to not only protect undeveloped natural areas outside the national park, but to also preserve the area’s rich agricultural heritage.  To date, the conservancy has preserved over 19 square miles of Leelanau County’s 347 square miles of land.  16 square miles are secured with conservation easements, while the other 3 square miles are natural areas owned by the organization. Add to that the 90 square miles protected by the federal government at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and you end up with over a quarter of the county protected from development.  And when the land under the villages and roadways is deducted from that remaining square mileage, the unpreserved square mileage starts to shrink. As a result, we aren’t seeing housing developments being built on the tops of the hills, and there is still only one traffic light and one fast food franchise (a Subway in Suttons Bay) in the entire county.

  

All too often, prime farmland in this country is sold to developers for housing.  The high prices offered to the farmers are just too hard to resist.  This is where the conservation easements become such a key factor in the Leelanau Conservancy’s efforts.  The way they work is like this:  the difference in the value of the land between agricultural and subdividing it for homes is determined.  The landowner enters into an agreement with the conservancy and attaches a conservation easement to the deed that forever restricts the land from being used for anything other than agricultural purposes.  1/2 of that difference is acquired through federal grants secured by the conservancy and is paid to the landowner.  An additional 1/4 is paid to the landowner by the conservancy itself.  The final 1/4 is donated by the landowner themselves, even though no money effectively changes hands on that portion. They are then eligible for tax breaks on their property for doing so.  The land is still theirs to farm and to sell, but the value is permanently diminished, as the deed will always carry the development restriction.  The important thing here is that, while this land is pretty to look at, it is also a highly unique microclimate on the 45th parallel that is prime for growing cherries, apples, hops and grapes.  Over half of the nation’s tart cherries come from this region.  As older farmers decide to retire, the younger farmers are able to afford to purchase land that would otherwise be too expensive.

  

And you can only imagine what the cost of the land is after Good Morning America and USA Today recently showcased the area.

So the next question is: where does the conservancy get its money from?  Donors….lots and lots of donors. The last annual report online lists ten pages of donors.  People up here are serious about keeping development out and protecting this agricultural jewel.

  

An aerial view of the area shows how important the Leelanau Conservancy is to the county. That sleepy peninsula from the middle of the last century?  For the most part, it still exists.  In many places, farms still run to the water’s edge.  Existing structures are consistently renovated.  Agriculture is found in a place you would least expect to find it. Yes, there are a few pockets of unwise development, but they are more the exception than the rule.

Over the next few posts, we will showcase some of the natural areas that the conservancy have been able to protect.  The past few weeks, we’ve been able to hike the trails at three of these preserves.  What we’ve found has impressed us, as these areas are much more rugged and wild than the trails in the national lakeshore.  

Are there similar conservancies that you have discovered in your travels or in your area?  We would love to hear about them!

A Perfect Autumn Day at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Today was just about as perfect as a day could possibly get.  October in Michigan can be a mixed bag, weather wise, but today was begging us to come outside and play!  72 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and a strong, warm breeze coming out of the south. So…play, we did!

  
We loaded up our TerraTrikes and headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  The portion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail that we planned on triking was from the Dune Climb back east to D. H. Day Campground.  This is the portion of the trail that suffered the largest damage from the storm on August 2nd.  It’s also one of the flattest portions of the trail.  :). We pulled into the parking lot of the Dune Climb to see that we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful weather!

  
Out on the trail, the fall colors were evident in a few places.  With Leelanau County being surrounded by the waters of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay, the weather is moderated by their warmer temperatures in the fall.  So while the rest of lower Michigan is at peak color, we still have a lot of green leaves here.  In fact, a lot of those green leaves are drying up and falling to the ground before changing color!

  
The trail heads east through low dunes towards historic Glen Haven.

  
There are several restored buildings in this former lumbering and fishing town.  The red cannery building in the photo now houses a maritime museum.  There also is a beach here.

  
Farther to the east of Glen Haven is D. H. Day Campground.  This is one of the old log buildings back from when this was a Michigan state park.  This campground was closed for weeks following the August 2 storm, as there were hundreds of trees down.  How no one was hurt, let alone killed, is beyond belief.  The National Park Service did an amazing job of cleaning up the campground, as there isn’t much storm evidence left here.

  
That’s not the case on other portions of the trail.  Many of these fallen trees will be here for years to come.

The portion of the trail we rode wasn’t too long, so we decided to go for a hike!  Last week, Howard and Linda from RV-Dreams hiked the Empire Bluffs Trail and wrote a blog post about it.  The trail is about 45 minutes from Wild Cherry Resort, and tucked away on the south end of the village of Empire.  We’ve been coming to this area for years and never knew it existed.  Proof that you learn something new every day!

  
At 1.5 miles round trip, this was slightly longer than the Pyramid Point trail we have been doing.  

  
The sunlight was streaming through the trees, creating a surreal scene.

  
There were deep ravines and towering hills, typical of the back dunes that dot the shore of Lake Michigan in the state.

A clearing appeared to our right, and we were greeted with this view.

  
Here is Sleeping Bear Dunes in all its splendor.  Lake Michigan to the left, North Bar Lake to the right.

  
The trail continues on towards Lake Michigan, and becomes a boardwalk as it crosses onto the fragile dune above the shoreline.

  
Once out on the dune, we were treated to this spectacular vista.  The large waves that are breaking on the shore looked tiny from up here.  To the left, out over the lake, South Manitou Island can be seen in the distance.

  
There was a steady stream of people coming out to enjoy the view.

  
To the south, across the shimmering water, is Point Betsie.

  
After soaking in the view for awhile, we headed back down the trail.

  
Near the parking lot, I took a photo of these trees.  We aren’t quite sure if they are going to end up being colorful this next week, but we are hoping they are.  A lot of the maples closer to our campground are turning quickly, and they are beautiful…so here’s hoping for some pretty colors!

On the way back home, we stopped at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor and got Diana a piece of cherry pie.  I opted for a cherry ginger ale.  Yum on both counts!

So today was about as good as we could ever hope a day could be.  We are certainly glad we made the decision to come back north for October!

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

When people think of Sleeping Bear Dunes, two places tend to stand out above all the others.  One is the iconic Dune Climb.  The other is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

  
Pierce Stocking was a local lumberman who owned a good portion of the land in the area that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore now occupies.  He built the scenic drive prior to the national park’s existence, so that people could enjoy the area’s beauty. He passed away in 1976, the day after the federal government paid him for his land.  The drive was named in his honor. 

    
Stocking had originally named his drive Sleeping Bear Dunes Park.  He built a covered bridge at this point as an enhancement to the park.  When the National Park Service paved the drive’s 7.4 miles of roads in the 1980’s, they completely reconstructed the bridge, so as to allow higher clearance vehicles to pass beneath it’s roof. The structure was built purely for aesthetics, as there is no water that passes beneath it.

  
One of the first pull offs on the drive overlooks the two Glen Lakes.  Little Glen Lake, in the foreground, is much shallower than Big Glen Lake in the distance.  Though difficult to see in this photo, there is a distinct difference in the color, due to the difference in the lake’s depths. The two bodies of water are separated by the M-22 causeway.  Alligator Hill, named for the shape of the land seen from this vantage point, is to the left of Little Glen Lake.

  
Looking north from the Dune Overlook, the upper portion of the dune complex can be seen.  To the right is the parking lot for the Dune Climb.  Beyond it are the iconic barns from the D. H. Day farm.  The historic town of Glen Haven lies beyond that.  Lake Michigan fills the horizon beyond the dunes to the north.

  
From the Dune Overlook, Diana was able to get this photo comparing my schnozolla to Alligator Hill’s snout.  🙂

  
Cottonwood trees are common on the exposed dune.  As a cottonwood is buried by the shifting sand, the roots sprout new growth.  As a result, what appears to be several trees, is actually one tree.

  
Further along, the drive enters the back dune forest.  Here is a fine example of Michigan’s state tree, the White Pine.

The most popular stop along the drive is the Lake Michigan Overlook.

  
Though permitted, the trip down to the water’s edge is definitely discouraged.

  
The lake is 450 feet below at this vantage point!  For orientation purposes, this photo looks due west.  Lake Michigan dominates the horizon.  Note the size of the two boats rafted together, as we will revisit them at the end of the post.

  
There is an excellent viewing platform that extends out over the dune to take in the view.  In the distance, South Manitou Island can be seen.

  
The platform is so far up, even the planes are flying below it!

  
Looking to the southwest, Manitowac, Wisconsin lies a good 100 miles away over the horizon.  The lake wraps back around to the left, with Milwaukee and Chicago being approximetely 200 and 300 miles away, respectively.  From this point, a person really is able to fully grasp the size of this body of water.  Look at how tiny the people appear on the bluff!

  
Heading down the bluff is easy, but coming back up is hard.

  
Really, really hard.  The pose the gentleman in the red shirt is assuming is known locally as the ‘ant crawl’.  I did the extremely difficult 350 foot climb up Grand Sable Dunes on Lake Superior as a teenager; for now, I will pass on attempting this 450 foot ascent as a 57 year old.  🙂

  
One of the last vistas on the drive is the North Bar Lake Overlook.  The visitor’s guide explains that the shifting sands will eventually close off the channel between the lake and Lake Michigan.  Noticing all the people down there, we decided to take a closer look.

  
The lake is still within the national park, and has a nice parking area and outhouses.  It has a sandy bottom, and is fairly warm.

  
The channel where the lake meets Lake Michigan is extremely small.

  
There were a few brave souls in Lake Michigan, including Diana…seen here sporting her cute, new hat!

  
And remember those two boats rafted together earlier in the post?  Here they are from lake level.  They are a LOT bigger than they appeared from up top!

For anyone visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, the scenic drive is a must.  We all owe Pierce Stocking our gratitude for building the road, as it may not have ever been conceived otherwise.  He opened up the dunes for all to see and experience. Take a few hours and enjoy the views, if you find yourself in this part of the world.