Friday, September 13, 2013

Ludington State Park and Thursday Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Thursday dawned a beautiful day!  Wonderful sunshine after a night of increasingly cooler temperatures--after several days earlier in the week of having to run the air conditioner, we just opened the windows to cool air all night, and, as we were in the Walmart parking lot next to the highway, not too much traffic, so it didn't disturb us at all.

Our first stop was Ludington State Park, where we had a marvelous hike out to Big Sable Point Lighthouse, along the sand dunes and in sight of the lake.  Out at the lighthouse, we were happy to see that you could go up into the lighthouse tower itself.  There is a pretty good-sized house here, always somewhat surprising to see at some of these lighthouses, since many of them are quite small.  According to one of the volunteer guides, this was because some of the light keepers had large families--one bedroom on the first floor and 4 on the second.  The first floor also had the kitchen, living room and storage room for lard oil, since it had to be in a place capable of being kept warm enough not to freeze in the coldest times of the year.  This lighthouse was built in 1867, in response to the increasing dangers to ships due to the treacherous waters near the rocky shore, as well as the heavy fog that so often occurs.  They had a chart on the wall of all the shipwrecks in the area and it was stunning to see how many ships wrecked there, some even after the lighthouse was built.  But, for a mere $35,000--which of course was really big money in 1867--they built the lighthouse, with the tower being made out of brick.  Since the brick was subject to deterioration due to the harsh weather, some years later the tower was covered with iron cladding.  Initially, the light was a 3rd order light, with glass fresnels, the various curved bevels that created the prism-like quality to project the beam of the light farther out--it could be seen 8 miles out into the lake.  The primary duty of the keeper was to make sure the light was always burning, meaning keeping the wick lit and enough oil in the drum to be pumped up to the light.  Eventually they switched to kerosene, then with the advent of electricity, they used two rather large bulbs, and as the technology continued to improve, a series of 4 smaller bulbs.  There was also a fog horn tower, with a foghorn that could be heard for 5 miles out into the lake.  When the fog came in, the keeper would fire up the foghorn, and it would blast for 3 seconds, then off for 3 seconds, then blast again, and he didn't turn it off until the fog lifted.  Can you imagine how much hearing loss that must have caused the keeper and his family??  Ultimately it all became automated, and the last keeper left the lighthouse in 1968.  For years thereafter, the place was vandalized and fell into great disrepair, until a concerned group of citizens formed a foundation to raise money and restore it to its former glory, and now it is maintained by the continuing efforts of this foundation, and is staffed by a cadre of volunteers from all over the country, from April to October.  We met a man from Ohio who comes for two weeks every summer, and the volunteers all stay in the upstairs bedrooms of the house.

We walked up the 136 steps to the top of the tower, up a spiral metal staircase, and on the way up at the various porthole landings, they had the thickness of the walls marked--from over 5 ft. thick at the bottom to under 3 ft thick at the top.  We got some interesting views through the portholes and at the top, as we walked around the catwalk it was really beautiful, to see the lake and then the dunes above the beach.  We walked back to the RV along the beach and saw some beautiful stones and pieces of driftwood.  It's so strange for us, coming from where there is no lake anywhere as big as these Great Lakes, to be walking along a beach that to us looks more like the sea coast rather than a lakeshore!

After lunch we continued north, en route to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Along the way we passed through a number of beautiful, quaint little towns, our favorite being Manistee.  As we came into town, all along both sides of the main drag, between the sidewalk and the street they had planted just tons and tons of gorgeous flowers, looked to be some variety of petunias, but they were just solid.  As these were obviously annuals, it's amazing that a town would put this much money and effort into such a labor intensive project, to plant and maintain these, but it sure was beautiful!

We stopped in Empire at the National Lakeshore visitor center, and had one of the most remarkable encounters with a ranger we've had since we've been on our trip.  Trisha's theory, based on our experience on this trip, is that, by and large, women staffers at visitor centers are far more helpful than men staffers, and this experience certainly supported her theory!  There was a woman and a man behind the counter, and, since the woman was helping someone else, we had no choice but to approach the man.  Well, he was about as reluctant as he could be to offer us much in the way of information or help, unless we just dragged it out of him--like pulling teeth.  We asked about campgrounds and he said well, there's just one, and you passed it 10 miles south of here.  When we asked him if they were full, he first said, well, I have no idea, and just stopped.  Well, Trisha wasn't about to let him off the hook, since we've had many rangers offer to call and check for us.  So she asked if he could call, and he first said, well, I can't make any reservation for you, and I'm not sure I can even get through, so you better just head on back down there--giving every appearance that he wanted us to just stop there--no such luck for him.  Trisha insisted that he call, and he got through right away, and found that they had no sites left.  Then he finally volunteered that there was another campground farther up the road, in the direction we wanted to go anyway, that never fills up.  Had we not pushed him we would have driven 10 miles backtracking, only to find no available spot, and then come back.  Next we asked him if we could see the video, since, like many visitor centers, the sign said video available on request.  Well, he said, I don't want to start it now, since we're expecting a bus tour to come and I don't want to have to run it twice, and they're late.  Very frustrating!  But, this is the No Hurries, No Worries Tour, so we just took a deep breath and came on to the next campground and found a wonderful site amongst the trees.

The place gets its name from a Chippewa legend that a mother bear and her two cubs swam across Lake Michigan, trying to get to the shore.  The two cubs didn't make it, but the mother bear did.  She lay down to sleep, to wait for them, and the legend has it that where she slept, the land along the shore rose up to form the dunes.  The two Manitou Islands, visible from the mainland shore, rose up from where the two cubs drowned.  Pretty cool legend.

We also found a wonderful paved bike trail along the shoreline, so we got in about 9 and a half miles before supper time!  By this time the temperature was dropping enough to make it rather chilly so we both donned jackets for our ride.  But it was exhilarating to ride along the shore for part of it and through the trees for other parts of it, and it's so exciting to see many of the leaves beginning to turn fall colors.  (I'm so thrilled that we're getting into fall and will be for the rest of our trip, just go bonkers when we see these brilliant reds and yellows that we're seeing more of each day, anticipating what we'll see when we get to New England, especially!)  Then back to the campsite for a delicious dinner of steamed broccoli and green beans over quinoa, accompanied by a wonderful salad mix of kale, other greens and veggies that we had bought already mixed at Costco a couple days before.  Here, I must make a confession--for those who know me well, you know that there really have only been 2 foods that I just have never been able to swallow--liver and brussels sprouts.  Well, since we've become vegan, liver is no longer an issue, but I've still resisted the little green balls.  But this salad had sliced brussels sprouts in it and I must confess that they were okay.  Never thought I'd utter those words, but there you go!!  Anyway, the night continued to get cooler, so we closed the windows, and before the night was out we even turned on the heater.  Another wonderful day!!

Ludington has all these beautiful old victorian houses all along the main drag--all beautifully restored and maintained!

A "mini cabin" in the campground in Ludington State Park, as we walked through to get to the lighthouse trail

 Heading up the trail to the lighthouse

Gorgeous Big Sable Point Lighthouse

 Aren't these lace curtains with the lighthouse motif beautiful?

 The replica of the foghorn tower
 Views from the portholes, on our way up the stairs

 Wall thickness markers, as we ascended

 Looking down through the spiral stairwell

 Views from the top of the lighthouse
The current light is no longer made of glass, but rather some sort of plastic, as they had a similar one on display in the little museum, but with the current technology, there is no longer the need for the big glass ones

 the dunes

 The winds were really tossing this boat around quite a bit
Heading back down the stairs
 Views as we walked back along the beach

 Pretty good sized fish carcass

 Never get tired of watching sandpipers whenever we're at the beach!

 The beach club, where they have a cafe and facilities for the beachcombers
 Look at these incredible flowers in Manistee!!

 Family farm market along the road where we stopped and got some gorgeous tomatoes, other veggies and some of their great honey!  Just love these yellow and orange mums--always means fall to me!!

 Beautiful barn, as we neared Sleeping Bear

Isn't this just a great bike path!!
 The "Dune Climb," where you can climb up this big sand dune--lots of folks were having fun climbing up and then sliding back down

 There was a little boy flying his kite at the top of the dune
 Remains of the pilings of the dock in the once thriving little village of Glen Haven, where boats would dock to carry freight and resort-bound passengers

 Pretty nippy down by the water!

 Selfie along the bike path!


  1. great lake house pictures! I am one of those people that believe you could not have too many pictures of lighthouses:)

    1. I'm with you, Chuck; lighthouses are just fascinating!