Wednesday, June 04, 2008


North of Ludington, Mich., there's a Manistee National Forest campground whose main draw is its location very near Lake Michigan. Unlike Bear Track, this campground was pretty much full on Memorial Day weekend, so we gave up on the idea of moving our tent there for the second and third nights of the trip.

But nearby was a shady spot to prepare lunch, and some playground equipment, all at some distance from the actual campsite, so it wasn't crowded. After lunch, we followed a path through a mix of trees and increasingly sandy soil into dunes anchored by varieties of beachgrass and shrubs, and then down a hill to a wide beach along Lake Michigan. We were at the northern edge of the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.

The remarkably focused Get Off the Couch website has this to say about it: "Nordhouse Dunes is a National Wilderness Area within the Manistee National Forest. Although only 3450 acres, it is a unique ecosystem, and is the only designated Wilderness in the Lower Peninsula. The trails are minimally signed if at all, in keeping with the ambience of wilderness."

In other words, you just wander around. The lake is to the east at all times, and it would be hard to get lost. So did we have a wilderness experience? No. Lilly and Ann were taken with the beach, an enormous stretch that featured only a few people at any particular time, including a cluster of beach volleyball enthusiasts (every jack one of them male, alas). So we parked ourselves there.

It wasn't a classic beach, but a likable one. A handful of sand reveals colors all the way from off-white to flat black, making it overall less than the bright white of prestigious beaches. There were no shells lying around, though Ann was happy to collect a lot of small rocks. The water was intensely cold, so no one was swimming, and while the sun was high and warm, the wind off the lake was cool. The girls ran around a lot, stuck their feet in the water, and buried various parts of themselves, or their parents, in the sand. Yuriko and I found a convenient driftwood log to prop ourselves up against and read (1688: A Global History by John E. Wills Jr. in my case). So it was either sit around in a place like this:

Or go climbing the sandy hills, which looked like this:

I walked around the hills behind our stretch of beach for a few minutes, but sand is hard to hike. Not only that, I wasn't going to pry the rest of my family away from a likable beach for a walk away from the cool lake breeze -- a walk in which every step was half again as much effort as normal because of sinking into the sand. So I returned to the driftwood log. Sometimes travel is just a day at the beach.


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