I’m in love with a sand dune.

This past holiday weekend, I went on a road trip inspired by an article about Michigan’s scenic highway M22 in this month’s issue of Midwest Living. I want to give you a quick travelogue in case you’d like to follow this same route yourself.

On Friday after work, I made the approximately two-hour drive (with traffic) from Grand Rapids to Manistee, where M22 begins. I immediately went to Manistee’s working Coast Guard lighthouse, where I got some pictures and stuck my feet in the sand for the first of many times over the weekend. Then I crossed the Manistee River (like many of the towns I visited, this one has two bodies of water–in this case, the river and Lake Michigan) to the small but vibrant downtown area. By 7:30, a lot of places had closed already, but I picked up some delicious shrimp tacos at The Fillmore and took them back to my hotel. I stayed in Manistee’s recently remodeled Super 8, which was much nicer than I had expected. (By the way, expect lodging prices along M22 to be jacked up over holiday weekends, as is generally the case in vacation areas.)

I got up early the next morning and went for a short run along the well-lit Riverwalk. After grabbing some free breakfast at the Super 8, checking out, and visiting the lighthouse one more time, I hit the scenic road. My first stop (other than at the very nice EZ Mart in Onekama) was in Frankfort, which turned out to be my favorite town along M22. First, I visited the picturesque Point Betsie lighthouse north of town. I didn’t stay there long because I got drenched by a sudden rain shower that was probably worse on the point, with its wild waves and fog, than it would have been in town. Soaked, I headed into Frankfort to do a little shopping. I bought a sandpiper hoodie at Michigan Rag Co., which specializes in casual wear screen-printed with cute animals, and a pair of fleece-lined leggings at a women’s clothing shop a few doors down. (I wish I could remember the name.) Because I was still wet, I ended up changing into my new clothes at one of Frankfort’s public restrooms. I was highly impressed by the fact that most of the towns along the highway provide free public restrooms near their waterfront areas.

I got back on the road and next stopped in Empire, where I got a sandwich from the Shipwreck Cafe. (All the sandwiches are named after ships that went down in Lake Michigan–I had the Three Brothers, an Italian sub.) Then I hit the Empire Bluffs Trail. Although the views along this hike were breathtaking, I was frustrated and a bit frightened when the trail, which the Midwest Living article had led me to believe was a 1.5-mile loop, did not seem to be looping back around. When my footing got harder to maintain (I was hiking along the side of a dune) and I was no longer seeing other people on the trail, I decided to turn around. I think I still got the full experience, though I’d be interested to go back and see if there’s another trailhead. I next went into Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park (it costs $20 per car for a pass that lasts for a week–kind of high if you’re only planning to be there for a short time, like me) and drove the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which includes a covered bridge, some beautiful woods, and the Sleeping Bear Dune itself. I didn’t enjoy the dune as much as I might have on another weekend; it was crawling with people, many of whom were ignoring the sign cautioning them against going down the steep slope lest it take them two hours to climb back up. It’s still an amazing sight, though. By the way, if when I say “dune” you’re picturing gentle, rolling hills like at Kitty Hawk, NC, think instead of a massive sand bluff overlooking the lake.

My hotel that night was in Bear Lake, so I had to retrace my steps to get there. Fortunately, nothing along M22 is that far apart. I probably could have stayed in Manistee that night as well, but it was fun to experience the Alpine, a Budget Host Inn that retains the charm of an old-school motor lodge. After checking in and hanging out in my room for a while (the rooms need some updates but are clean and comfortable), I went back into Manistee to do some more clothing shopping at a store I’d seen the night before. Then I went to Onekama for the second time that day (though at first I didn’t realize it was the same town) and had a chicken finger basket and a peanut butter milkshake at Papa J’s, where you can also play putt-putt if you’re not traveling alone. (I enjoyed traveling alone for the most part, but there were a few times, like this, when I would have liked to have a buddy!)

The next morning, I went back to the EZ Mart in Onekama for a breakfast sandwich, and then I went to hike another trail. I am so thankful to the manager of the Alpine for recommending the Arcadia Bluffs trail area; this was not originally on my list of things to do, but it ended up being possibly my favorite experience of the trip. The highlight of this trail system is another dune, Old Baldy. You can either take a short, half-mile walk directly to the dune, or you can take a mile-long scenic hike through the woods, which I did on the way out. (I took the short way back.) Although Old Baldy looked a lot like Sleeping Bear to my untrained eye, I enjoyed the experience so much more because I was the only person standing on the dune–partly because it’s less popular and partly, I’m sure, because it was still relatively early in the morning. I got tears in my eyes from the magnificent curve of the dune, the stunningly clear blue water, and the stillness of everything but the breeze and the gentle lake waves.

Okay, I said this was going to be a “quick travelogue.” I should have known. I’ll pick up with the second half of my journey next week.

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