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Monday, September 1, 2014

South Manitou Island backpack Trip

On this long weekend, I sit on my wood floor with the candles lit, windows open, rain pattering, chili stewing and thoughts swirling as I enjoy the first weekend of being home in over a month. Ahhhh I've never been so excited to sleep in, make breakfast and clean this neglected apartment. Reflecting on my busy, adventurous month, I am sore and beaten down but fulfilled with a sense of accomplishment. Why work hard to travel, explore and learn on the weekends? Well to me, there is nothing in the world that makes me feel more alive than being out in the element learning about the ecology and culture of a new place. I love being submersed in the unknown and I absolutely love adventure. But with that, I also travel to learn of places that I'd like to bring my future children and family. I can't help but to think ahead - it motivates me.

On this trip, I was seeking a bit of solitude after a busy couple of weeks. I decided to head north alone to explore South Manitou Island, which is located in the lower peninsula of Michigan. The tall dunes, chilly breeze, and miles of shoreline to backpack lured me in.

Red skies at night, sailor's delight; Red skies by morning, sailor's take warning. After twelve hours of driving north, the road I was on brought me to this beautiful place - Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan. En route, I passed many sleepy towns, including Glen Haven, which is where this gem lays. Lakes and water sports, cherry stands, mom-and-pop restaurants, vineyards, and a constant breeze could sum up my drive. 

Glen Haven was founded in 1851 and housed a saw mill, cherry cannery and Coast Guard life saving station. I was in awe as I pulled up to such a well-restored town in an area with such a small population. I'd imagine it looks very similar to how it did during the 17th century. 

On my way up, I passed through Traverse City where I bought a map to plan my trip and a sandwich to keep me fueled. Miles later in Glen Arbor, there was a campground area but I was so tired that I decided to drive right through into Leland, where the ferry was set to depart in the morning. Luckily, the lot was part of a lighted marina, which had wi-fi. I always bring a blanket and pillow for emergencies so I hunkered down for the night with the windows cracked to let in some of that fresh Lake Michigan air. I slept in, brushed my teeth and headed over to the ferry house to grab a sandwich and my ticket. The weather was nice at the moment but changing quickly as a layer of fog billowed over the glassy calm water.

From Leland, it takes about one and a half hours to reach South Manitou Island. Still groggy from my make-shift sleeping situation the night before, the old over-zealous Italian ferry-mate seemed to understand, picking fun of me from across the vessel. I think he thought I was hung over so he insisted that I try their "world famous" bloody Mary. I complied and needless to say, it was as world famous as it could get in a red solo cup, deluded with alcohol. Rise and shine!

As we reached shore, the Island park ranger gave his spiel and we were off. Of the 30+ visitors, I was the only person to request a pass for the furthest campsite on the island - Popple camp site. He warned me that the winds would be very strong that night and to lay low when I arrived.   

Popple camp site ended up being well worth the hike. I passed an old farm and a lush beech-maple forest full of wildflowers along the way. There was a strong scent of wild onion along the hike. I set up camp and went against the ranger's advice to check out some of the tall perched dunes the island had to offer. The photo to the right shows a view of North Manitou Island from my campsite. The Manitou Islands are known for their tall perched dunes and the vista views that they provide.

After climbing several hundred feet to see the tall perched dunes, I decided to hike east past the campsite to Gull Point. The very tip of the point is normally closed off to backpackers because it is a breeding ground area for the endangered piping plovers. The name "Gull Point" made complete sense as there were bleached bird bones strewn about. The mixture of sand, bones and lake tossed granite and limestone was artistic. I hung out there for almost an hour before heading back to cook dinner. The winds, scents and chilly breeze had me reminiscing about growing up near the ocean.

On the way back to the campsite, I caught a couple of familiar sites. Hoary pacoon and green milkweed are common plants throughout the native prairies of North Dakota where I worked as a Biological Science Technician during the summer of 2011. They thrive in sandy, acidic conditions of the north and were a nice site to see among the dune grasses.

On my final day, I woke early to catch the sunrise before hiking over 10 miles of beach back to the dock. Along the way, I passed an old weather station, the wreck of the Morazan (1960), and the South Manitou Island lighthouse. Also, I found dozens of dead waterfowl species washed up likely from the abnormally cold weather we've had recently.

I spent the weekend looking for a gift to a friend that I had learned about in Traverse City when I overheard an old couple talking about Michigan's claim-to-fame, the Petoskey stone. This rock is really an ancient lithified coral formed over millions of years. They are mostly limited to upper Michigan. I always try to bring back pieces of my trip as gifts because I think it's important to pay your blessings forward whenever possible. This trip surly was a blessing and I'm anxious to show South Manitou Island to friends and my future family one day soon. Cheers!