Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Of the four elements, Water was the dominant one during our counterclockwise trip around Lake Michigan. How could it have been otherwise?

We touched the great lake itself a number of times. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore includes a feature called the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, created privately by a man of that name but absorbed into the park system after his death about 30 years ago. Scenic is no exaggeration. The road winds through hilly, forested territory, opening up from time to time with views of massive sand dunes or Lake Michigan or both. At one point, there’s a plank walkway through sandy, grassy scrub to a lookout structure built on the side of a cliff about 400 feet above Lake Michigan, with its blues and greens and shallows and deeps and long horizon. South Manitou Island is off to the north from that vantage, and Point Betsie juts out into the lake toward the south.

Near the lookout, it’s possible to climb down a very steep slope to the lakeshore. A sign at the top warns people that climbing back is extremely exhausting –- the exact term it uses. A steady stream of lunatics were climbing down to the lakeshore anyway, in the 90-plus heat that last day of July.

No reason to be extremely exhausted, since Lake Michigan is easy to access nearby. We’d set up our tent in the Platte River Campground within the national lakeshore’s boundaries, and about a mile down the road was a waterfront park managed by Benzie County. The park encompasses the mouth of the lazy, slow-flowing Platte River, which makes a sharp turn just before entering Lake Michigan, forming a long peninsular beach on the big lake. But most people hung out on and in the river. We did too. At about two feet at its deepest and with its gentle current, even a child as small as Ann could walk across it.

It was still hot at about 4 p.m. when we arrived at the park. As soon as we could, we joined the waders and splashers in the river, along with inner-tube floaters and canoe paddlers who came in a steady trickle from the forested upstream direction. Lilly and Ann looked for shells, played in the mud and built sand structures on the side of the river with good sand for it. The first thing I did was sit down in the stream and use my hands to pour water over my head. What better use for river water on a hot summer day?

At the Mackinac Bridge, which has stood across the Straits of Mackinac for 50 years now, we drove across right after a heavy rain, when the green and white marvel of bridge engineering still dripped and collected puddles of water. Yuriko was driving, so for the first time I could see the crossing as a passenger, and took a long look at the Lake Huron side, the vast blue, the long line of the horizon. So far that view has been my only view of Lake Huron, three times now. Whenever I look at the outline of Huron on a map, I dream of seeing its shoreline in greater detail.

Our crossing was on August 2. We’d only learned about the collapse of the I-35W bridge that morning, at a convenience store in Charlevoix, Michigan, when we’d seen the headlines in a newspaper. Unfortunate food for thought while crossing the world’s third-longest suspension bridge, though I’m fairly sure that the Mighty Mac will endure long past my lifetime.

At an obscure rest stop on US 2 in the Upper Peninsula, west of the town of Epoufette, wooden steps lead from the facilities through a thick brace of trees to a wide sandy beach on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Further south such an expanse further south would be speckled with waterfront development or, less likely, be a state park or other protected zone. People were there besides us, but not many. The water was very shallow fairly fall out. I wandered maybe 50 feet from the shoreline where the water was only a few inches deep: the Jesus walk.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, which Yuriko and I toured separately (no kids allowed), has a water feature. Wright dammed a creek at the base of the hill where he built the house, making a large pond that’s undeniably picturesque. An example of organic architecture? Sure thing, Frank.

The nucleus of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, is a row of century-old structures lined along the Baraboo River, a tributary of the Wisconsin. Much of the museum, including the venues for the museum's circus acts and a couple of buildings devoted to amazingly ornate circus wagons, are across the mid-sized Baraboo, with the two parts of the museum connected by a footbridge.

The Cave of the Mounds, near Blue Mound, Wisconsin, was formed by the action of water over the unimaginable millennia. And it is still alive and growing, festooned by stalagmites and –tites and a zoo of other rock features. The cave dripped on each of us during our visit, including a direct hit by a mineral-rich drop on Yuriko’s eye that stung for a few minutes.

To do the Dells is to encounter water. We rode the Ducks -- former US Army amphibian vehicles now pressed into the service of tourism -- through the forest and onto the Wisconsin River and the manmade Lake Delton. At the Riverview Park and Waterworld, where we spent Monday afternoon and part of the evening, water came in the form of kiddie pools, regular pools, a wave pool, and slides of various lengths and courses. The first thing I did in the waterpark was stand under a mushroom-shaped fountain from which water poured. What better use for pool water on a hot summer day?

Finally, at Blue Mound State Park, where we camped in Wisconsin, the evening of August 4 was cloudy but dry. At about 10 p.m., as we were in our tent but not quite asleep, it started to rain. I woke many times during the night and each time it was still raining, and no drizzly rain either, but two-fisted, he-man rain. It rained, and rained, and rained. Sometimes lightning, sometimes thunder, but always rain, till dawn. Water entered our waterproof tent in some quantity. It was the single longest episode of rain I can ever remember.

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