Michigan isn’t what you would expect

Sand+dunes+in+Michigan+

Photo by Kim Fleming

Sand dunes in Michigan

By Kim Fleming, Round Table reporter

When people in the Middletown Valley think of Michigan, they probably don’t think of it as anything out of the ordinary.

They don’t picture crisp, blue waves capping miles off the beach. They don’t associate the state with monstrous sand dunes or a vast history of famous shipwrecks or peddling down endless miles of bike trails in the early fall when the northern leaves glow with their vibrant colors. They don’t picture smooth, glass-like water when it settles down at night, nor do they think about such water clarity in which various species of shimmering trout, bass and other fish can easily be seen from the surface. They don’t think about the hustle and bustle of downtown tourist shops  on a Saturday afternoon or the gentle humming of passing jet skis. They won’t think of early morning sails on a sailboat when the wind seems to be blowing so forcefully that they know everyone will have the exact same idea. And surely, they won’t picture the seemingly infinite number of pink cherry blossoms fluttering in the breeze that rolls off the lake at the cherry festival in early July. They don’t picture Michigan as anything special.

They’re wrong, though. Michigan is an extraordinary state, home to natural landforms and bodies of water not found anywhere else in the world.  I mean, how many other places contain 3,126 miles of freshwater coastline? None. Michigan may not seem like a go-to vacation destination, but it has so much to offer.

I have had the opportunity to visit this stunning state twice and am definitely hoping to go return.

My dad, who had been visiting my great uncle at his lakefront house located in Traverse City, Michigan annually to fish for many years, finally decided to take me up with him in the summer of 2014. My great Uncle Don was sick with an incurable cancer and my dad wanted to make sure I had time to visit with him before he passed, as it was looking like he wouldn’t be here for much longer. I was hesitant at first to go, I hadn’t seen Uncle Don in a long time and I had never been to Michigan, but I couldn’t be happier that I decided to go. I’ll never forget the look on Uncle Don’s face when I walked into his room where his hospice bed sat. He was genuinely surprised and incredibly happy to see me, too. It’s a face I’ll never be able to recreate.

The anecdotes and little pieces of advice he shared are something I’ll never forget either. From “Have a little fun each day,” to “Save five or ten dollars from each paycheck you get or amount of money you earn and put it in savings no matter how hard it is at the time. You’ll appreciate it when you’re older,” or his story about how his fourth grade teacher wanted him to try farming, so he started a potato patch in a small area of a field on our family farm, which he ended up hating and neglecting to take care of. He also told a story about when my grandfather, some friends and him were out fishing and a waterspout had appeared. They were desperately trying to get off the water and the local reporters headlined the article they wrote, “Fishermen Challenge Waterspout on Grand Traverse Bay.”  It’s moments like these that are impossible to put into words – they’re full of emotion, love, and knowledge to be passed down from generation to the next.

Unfortunately, shortly after my visit with him in Michigan, Uncle Don’s health took a turn for the worse and he passed away about three weeks after my dad and I got home from our trip. His passing made me greatly appreciate the time I had spent with him.

Along with having visiting family, I also went touring around upstate Michigan, which was unlike anything I had ever done before. I was amazed at how clear and blue the water was. Never before had I seen such turquoise water, color deepened with the depth of the lake. We also took a drive out to the Old Mission Lighthouse and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. The dunes were most likely my favorite place to tour during the trip.

Right on the shore of Lake Michigan stood enormous sand dunes, towering 500 feet above the water in places. It is nearly impossible to put the beauty of the dunes into words. I could see for miles away from the shore. It was hard not to get lost in the deep blue hues of the lake. There was one portion of the park that allowed people to run down to the bottom of the dune and climb back up. At the top of the dune stood a sign, warning patrons that others have died while running down the enormous 450 feet of sand inclined at a 45 degree angle, and that it costs $200 to have the fire department rescue you from the bottom if you cannot make your way back up.

Despite the warnings and having a sprained ankle at the time, I still ran down the dune and came back up rather quickly, taking about 30 minutes to climb all the way back up as opposed to the two hours the sign warned it could take. It was a liberating and exhilarating feeling, to seemingly fly down the side of a dune without a care in the world.

Michigan is famous for its many shipwrecks which can be seen from the surface of the gorgeous, translucent water. My dad and I visited some of these wrecks and went to a museum to learn about the history behind them.

In the early 1900’s, timber ships traveled on Lake Michigan to transport hundreds of tons of timber between Wisconsin and Michigan. Timber was northern Michigan’s main export at the time. However, due to unpredictable conditions of the massive lake, many ships sunk while making the trip. Sudden storms often cropped up and set the calm lake into motion quickly, from relatively flat water to 20-foot waves. Ship captains didn’t have time to react and got tossed around quite terribly, which almost never ended well. However, it was such an amazing experience to see these ships at the bottom of the lake and learn the history of how they ended up there.

Looking back on this trip a year later, it was easily one of the best vacations of my life thus far. It established Michigan as one of my favorite places in the world; it also means so much to me because of memories of my great uncle.

When I think of Michigan, I think of family and beauty. I think of nature and all of its amazing features. I think of old laughs and new beginnings. And most importantly, I think of all the opportunities the world has to offer, even if it might not appear that way upon first glance.