According to my readings about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Dune Climb -- which is what it's called on the park service maps -- is the most-visited place in the entire national lakeshore. We went on the first day of our visit, which happened to be the last day of July. The idea was to get there fairly early in the morning, since high heat was predicted for that day, but we are a sluggish family in the morning, so we didn't arrive until about 10 a.m. The heat was already on by then.
"The lake is a lot further than it looks," a park service employee told us as we stopped at the entrance to the Dune Climb parking lot. Meaning Lake Michigan, which you cannot see from the parking lot. All you see is the dune. He added that it was about a mile and a half to get to that body of water, a very long walk indeed considering the terrain. Some people walk all that way, and there are trails. On a cooler day, with slightly older children, we might have too, but like most people we decided to see what was at the top of the dune in front of us, and then come back.
And what a dune. I've seen a few dunes in my time, but this was a monster. It was the kind of dune a Hollywood movie would offer up -- an enormous bulge of sand with a crest so high that you can't see beyond it. Some images are here.
A lot of other people were climbing at 10 a.m., but the dune was big enough to make them seem like scattered ants. We make our preparations, including hats, sunscreen and water, and up we went. It was a slog. One foot up, then it slides down a bit. After all, it's warm sand. Make that pretty hot sand. Step, slide back, step, slide back, step, slide back. Rest. Heat. Sweat. Sand in shoes. Remove sand pointlessly, because it comes back. Step, slide back, step, slide back -- Ann wants help, so I hold her hand most of the way up, which adds even more drag to the climb. Rest. Sweat. Sweat some more. We rest every ten steps or so. Thus Yuriko and Lilly made better time up the Dune Climb, though no one can be said to make good time, not even the athletic-looking couple and their small child who paralleled us for a time.
But the crest does eventually arrive. What will it reveal? A vista of Lake Michigan in the distance? No. More dune. Another slope, not quite as steep, leads up to a place of promised rest, a copse of sand-loving trees amid a landscape of beach grass. Most people aim for it. So do we.
We make it. At any one time, about a dozen people are enjoying the shade offered by those hardy trees. There were benches, but we preferred to sit directly under the trees and drink most of our water and cool off. Even from there, there's only a slight vista of Lake Michigan. Most of what you see in that direction (west, more or less) are rolling dunes punctuated by more trees and beach grass, but also well marked with paths. The more picturesque vista, at least if you want to see water, is back the way you came, to the east, more or less. From the crest the small but pretty Glen Lake is visible, including the viaduct that cuts it into smaller and larger lobes.
We hung around under the trees for 20 minutes or so, with the kids playing in the sand and digging up rocks. The walk down the Dune Climb was much easier, though it scared Ann tremendously, and during the final bit I had to carry her. I would not have been able to carry her up. It occurred to me as we went down that the Dune Climb definitely falls into the category of Things I Should Have Done 20 Years Ago.