Michigan’s Sandy Shorelines

Milepost 7-2-13 

  Michigan is defined by it’s natural boundaries – the Great Lakes.  The lower peninsula is shaped like a mitten which is bordered by sandy beaches on the west-facing shorelines along Lake Michigan and mostly stony beaches facing east along Lake Huron (see my earlier post describing some of Michigan’s Rocky Shorelines).

  Probably the most impressive stretch of sandy shoreline is near Traverse City at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore which includes several miles of perched sand dunes along the Leelenau Peninsula and the large offshore archipelago, North and South Manitou Islands.  These large sloping sand dunes tower 450 feet above the beach and Lake Michigan.  The Manitou Islands are premiere backpacking destinations and offer real seclusion for the wanderer seeking remote solitude.


The view of Lake Michigan from atop the bluff at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

  South Manitou Island has designated campgrounds, fresh water supplies, lighthouse tours and shipwrecks.  On North Manitou hikers are allowed to camp anywhere away from a body of water or a historical building (there are remnants of ghost towns on both islands) and must filter or boil water for drinking and cooking.  Friends of mine who just camped on North Manitou two weeks ago reported that they didn’t see another human being for several days while hiking and camping on the large island.


Hikers descend the dunes for an evening swim in Lake Michigan – before the grueling return climb.

  The west Michigan shore is basically a 200-mile-long stretch of sandy beach that is interrupted every few miles with a lighthouse and harbor town.  Not only the area inhabitants but also thousands of tourists have tapped in to the beauty of this region with swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, diving, four-wheeling, kite boarding, skinny dipping… and a whole lot more.


Young hikers on South Manitou Island.

Many of the beaches that line Michigan’s west coast are managed by city and state park services, and private land owners keep an eye on their waterfronts, but there are vast stretches of sand that don’t seem to be regulated by anybody – there’s simply nobody around.  Ah, what seclusion, what freedom, what natural beauty, stretching for miles and miles!


On the eastern side, there are also golden sands that border the sunset side of Michigan’s “Thumb” from Caseville up to Sleeper State Park and Port Crescent State Park near Port Austin at the tip of the Thumb where the beaches end and the stony bottoms of the eastern shores take over.


South Manitou Island snorkelers leap from the wreck of the Morazan, a freighter grounded during a blizzard in 1960.

(This activity is not endorsed by the Park Service.)

  There are few places where it is legal to drive your Jeep on the beach, but at Silver Lake Dunes you are welcome to drive around on the sand dunes in your dune buggy or other four-wheel-drive vehicle, and there are many campgrounds nearby.


  Visitors are often surprised at the shorelines of Michigan and the vast beauty – and recreational opportunity – that they present.  One could spend a lifetime enjoying all of this, but there’s something to keep in mind before scheduling a visit here:  Michigan is crossed by the 45th parallel, the latitudinal half-way point between the equator and the north pole, and this means that winters are harsh here.  And the beaches are deserted while the local inhabitants hibernate next to the fireplaces in their cabins.  The lakeshore is not a safe place to be when the snow is blowing, the wind is howling, and the ice is piling up on the beach in huge mounds.  That’s why many Michiganders head south for the winter.


  But in the warmer months the Michigan shorelines – whether sandy or stony – are some of the most inviting spots in the midwest!  My personal favorite time is September after Labor Day when the kids have gone back to school and the campgrounds are empty but the water is still warm enough for wading, snorkeling or diving (I keep a wetsuit with my snorkeling gear in case the water temp isn’t quite warm enough for me) .  And the cool evening temps make the campfire even more appealing.  Ah, peace and quiet!


Each September, Kaye and I camp within a few yards of the beach at Port Crescent State Park

Michigan’s Rocky Shorelines

Milepost 7-1-13 

Michigan has more shoreline than either Florida or California.  And it has more inland lakes (about 11,000) than Minnesota, which is said to be “the Land of 10,000 Lakes”.  And Michiganders own more boats than the constituents of any other state.  I guess maybe it is the “Texas” of freshwater lakes.

  Much of Michigan’s shoreline is rugged and rocky, especially surrounding the upper peninsula where there are forest-covered cliffs and crags and boulders along many miles of the shore.  The lower peninsula is sandy along the entire west side bordering Lake Michigan, but the eastern shore, bordering Lake Huron, is a mix of stoney bars and sandy beaches.  You could generalize that if the beach faces west, it is sandy, and if it faces east, it is stoney.

The Lower Peninsula

  The only real stretch of rugged shoreline in the lower peninsula is at the tip of the Thumb where there is an outcropping of shale that stretches for several miles.  The most prominent landmarks are Hat Rock, Table Rock, and Turnip Rock.  These are accessible mostly from the water, as there is private property bordering much of this shore.

Turnip Rock is best reached by canoe or kayak.

  As the crow flies, Turnip Rock is a couple of miles east of the village of Port Austin, but the trip by water is much farther because there is a stone bar that extends almost 2 miles from shore, so the boater must add several miles of paddling to get around this formation, unless he is willing to portage across the stones to shorten the trip (wear heavy-soled sandals or sturdy water shoes).  On a nice day it takes about an hour-and-a-half, unless the wind is against you.  This upside-down “V” route takes you within a half mile of the Port Austin Reef lighthouse at the northernmost point.

Port Austin Reef Lighthouse is 2.5 miles from land.

  During my last visit there it seemed odd to me to be able to get out of my kayak and walk around on the flat shale bottom in only 2 or 3 feet of water… when I was 2 miles from the nearest shore!

  It’s a good idea to call ahead for availability of rental equipment at Port Austin Kayak Rentals.  After a hard day of paddling on the lake, I found Joe’s Pizzeria in Port Austin to be a welcome landing for delicious pizza and pasta and a whole lot more.

The Upper Peninsula

Michigan is rich in hiking destinations.

Michigan’s most famous shoreline in the upper peninsula is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which is managed by the US National Park Service.  This impressive Lake Superior shoreline is dominated by sheer cliffs that reach over 200 feet high and are punctuated by arches, overhangs and caves.  There are hiking trails that follow the tops of these cliffs making it a popular backpacking destination.  

Hiking trails are perched atop the cliffs and call for caution.

A few campgrounds are scattered throughout the park, and it’s important to make reservations early if you hope to get a good campsite.  This is back country camping, so there are few water pumps to be found.  Most everyone dips water from the lake or stream and either boils it or filters it for drinking and cooking.

It is possible to see the Pictured Rocks from below by boarding a tour boat in the town of Munising a few miles to the west.  Also, kayaking is becoming an ever more popular means of getting up close to the caves and arches that undercut the huge cliffs.

Board the tour boat for an up-close look at the cliffs.
The cliffs are riddled with caves and natural arches.
Spray Falls drops 75 feet directly into Lake Superior.
Hikers get their fill of the spectacular grandeur from the vantage points along the cliff top trails.

  The Pictured Rocks are not the only picturesque shoreline along Lake Superior.  Among the other famous locations is Isle Royale, a large and remote rocky island that is home to populations of both wolves and moose.  Camping and hiking on Isle Royal is limited and requires working months ahead to reserve a spot on the ferry and a back country camping permit.

  Lake Superior waters are always cold even in the late summer, so swimming is not usually on anybody’s agenda.  If you’re kayaking, have a way to keep warm with a wetsuit or warm waterproof clothing.

  After your hiking or kayaking adventure, don’t forget to enjoy one of the famous north Michigan pasties at one of the local eateries like Muldoon’s Restaurant in Munising which always gets good reviews for its authentic Scandinavian cuisine.

Tulips and Old Technology

Milepost 5-20-13  

  Last weekend my wife and I visited the west coast of Michigan for an early anniversary get-away, and we were privileged to see some famous sights and meet some interesting  folks along the way.

The DeZwaan Windmill dominates the landscape at Windmill Island Park.

  Our first stop was the Windmill Park in Holland, Michigan, where the annual Tulip Festival had just ended the day before.  The tulips were in top form, and the 400-year-old windmill was open for tours.  Our guide was a Dutch American woman named Irene who was able to climb five flights of stairs to the fifth floor of the mill to give us a tour.  This particular mill was a fully operational grist mill that grinds flour with the power of the wind, and there is some really old wooden technology inside.  The gears are all made of wood, mostly ironwood, which is self-lubricating.  It was bought from the Dutch and shipped to the US in 1964 sporting an array of bullet holes from being strafed by warplanes during World War II.  It’s the last windmill that was allowed to leave the Netherlands as they had just declared all their windmills as historic sites and were beginning to restore many them.


Irene gives a knowledgable and friendly tour of the old windmill.

  Next we had lunch with some friends at a Dutch restaurant called the DeBoer Bakery on the north side of town.  The cuisine was authentic and delicious.


The 120-year-old Maplewood Hotel.


  We stayed at the Maplewood Hotel in Saugatuck for the next two nights, a nineteenth century edifice with much of the original woodwork intact.  The floors creaked appropriately in a lot of places as we rambled through the convoluted corridors, and we imagined spooky tales of ancient ghosts roaming the halls at night.

   Killwin’s fudge shop in town was open and we took full advantage.  Scooter’s restaurant on the waterfront has some of the best pizza in town at a reasonable price.



  We spent the second day of our trip near the Lake Michigan waterfront in the town of St. Joseph enjoying the parks and the wharf.  This was my first opportunity to shoot the lighthouses there, and I was also happy to find the fishermen on the jetty hooking some catfish.  I don’t know if these guys knew I was coming or what, but their attire was perfect for the setting.






   The Beachside Deli is an authentic Mediterranean restaurant downtown where the Greek gyro sandwiches are filled with a delectable mix of lamb and chicken and a specialty sauce.  Mmm, terrific!  It’s on State Street near Broadway (not near the beach).


  Kaye and I love the west side of Michigan, and return year after year to enjoy these very picturesque and welcoming people and places.  I hope you get a chance to visit there too.  There is a lot to see!



The lighthouses on the pier at St. Joseph/Benton Harbor guide the boats going and coming.

See a gallery of my Holland/St.Joe photos at my photo website here.  Click “Slideshow” in the top right corner to view the photos in full screen mode.  Thanks!

The Dominican Journal

  Well, the finished photo journal entitled, “The Young Men and the Sea” has arrived and I have proofed it; it looks fine.  Fifty pages and 150 beautiful full-color photos depicting the people and culture of the eastern Samana Peninsula in the Dominican Republic.  It’s a hardcover collectible, a coffee table book with which I am well satisfied.

  What I’m not happy with is the price.  I researched several printing companies and discovered that nobody is able to deliver a quality photo journal at a reasonable price.  Something about the heavy stock photo paper and all that vivid ink.

  Anyway, I’m planning to order a quantity of them soon, and hoping to offer them on eBay and Amazon; I have business accounts at both vendors.  Watch for them.


Dominican Carnival

Milepost 2-27-13  Okay, I now have almost 300 photos edited from my winter in the Dominican Republic, and I’m about to start compiling the Photo Journal, the coffee table book that has been the object of this cultural project.

  But I need your help.  I feel that I have a working knowledge of the culture from living there for extended periods of time, but I’ve been stumped by a couple of things and would like to have my readers help me gain some background information on these things before I begin on the book.  My goal is to have the book ready by the end of April.

  Here’s one of my puzzles:  While shooting the Carnaval Parade in the town of Samana, I photographed some guys who were covered with oil – at least I think it was oil.  I touched the one guy and sure enough I ended up with a black smudge that I had to stop and clean off before handling my camera any further.

These guys were part of the Carnaval parade in Samana, Dominican Republic.
These guys were part of the Carnaval parade in Samana, Dominican Republic.

  Besides the oily guys in this entourage, there were also a guy with his hands bound in cuffs, a “tyrant” behind them flogging them with a branch, and they were taking donations with a big can and a bag.

  What is the back story on this tradition?  What do these guys represent?  If some of you would do some research and link me to the information, I’d be very thankful.  If you come up with some good stuff, I’ll mention you as a contributing researcher in the book.

  Email me or make a comment here on the blog with the links.  My email is: rasims@juno.com

  Thank you!

Oh, here’s the link to my online-store and photo gallery that has 275 photos from the Dominican Repubic:  http://simsshotsphotography.zenfolio.com/p391431575

Make a donation quick before these guys try to hug you!
Make a donation quick before these guys try to hug you!

 Update:  Okay, folks, I’ve had some people help me out with some great resources.  It turns out that Los Africanos pictured here are representing the original African slaves who were brought to the Dominican Republic and became part of the Dominican heritage.  They take donations from bystanders who don’t want to be hugged by them!

Here are a few more photos from the Carnaval parade in Samana:

Los Tainos, the re-enactment of the original indigenous Indians.
Los Tainos, the re-enactment of the original indigenous Indians.
Los Tainos, the weary warriors after their dance through the streets.
Los Tainos, the weary warriors after their dance through the streets.

See lots more photos at my galleries: http://simsshotsphotography.zenfolio.com/p391431575


Milepost 1-23-13  Even the young boys contribute to the family business of supplying seafood for the table or the nearby market. They use a single fishing line wrapped around a plastic water bottle and expertly ply the waters from shore. It’s a slow and methodical mode of operation, but it works. Sometimes. I was impressed with the patience and talent with which these boys worked, and without any supervision; their dads and uncles were out on the ocean after all, bringing in the bigger stuff.

The neighbors have become familiar with my presence by now and seem to enjoy finding photos opps for me; I have been invited to shoot the local baseball games, the school, and many families and their small family businesses. I’m getting more ideas for my upcoming photo journal.

The Young Men and the Sea

Milepost 1-22-13  The Dominican Republic.  I have arrived at my winter seaside home in the Dominican Republic and already met a bunch of the local fishermen. My posts will probably be quite short because the absence of internet; I have to go to town to connect, so here’s a photo of the guys dragging their boat out of the sea in the later afternoon. This process is repeating every day as the men leave every morning for a day on the ocean – usually two guys in each boat – and then return with their catch in the late afternoon. They have to recruit a crew to move the boat each time.

More later.


Travel and Life on the Open Road