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The two RV Gypsies
ready for their 11th sand dune adventure, this time at
Sleeping Bear Dunes Natural Lakeshore
and The Dune Climb
September 15, 2015

sign: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a United States National Lakeshore located along the northwest coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan in Leelanau and Benzie counties near Empire, Michigan. The park covers a 35-mile-long stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou islands. This Northern Michigan park was established primarily because of its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena. In 2011, the area won the title of "The Most Beautiful Place in America" from Good Morning America. In 2014, a section of the park was named the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness by the United States Congress.


Lee photographed the map shown below, but he didn't really read it, and Karen Duquette didn't even see it, or they would not have climbed this dune, or perhaps they would have only climbed the first sand dune. They just did not realize what they were getting themselves into. The sign said it was an hour's hike to the steep bluffs 400 feet above Lake Michigan, but it took the two RV Gypsies much longer than that. The whole trip was about 3.5 miles and actually took about 3-1/2 hours, which they later learned was the norm for most people.

sign: Sleeping Bear Dunes Area aerial map showing the distance from parking lot to Lake Michigan
description of the sand dunes

The two RV Gypsies have climbed many sand dunes, so they wanted to climb the Sleeping Bear Dunes, located north of Empire on M-109. Here they found pure, wind-blown sand to climb, then they expected to run or roll down the dunes to the picnic area for a break and some refreshments and then head up the dune again. Then they planned on driving to Lake Michigan for a swim. Below: Karen Duquette getting ready to climb what she thought was the one and only sand dune here.

the sand dune as seen from the parking lot Karen Duquette ready to climb the sand dune

Half way up the dune, Karen turned to check on Lee, who was busy taking photos of Karen's butt as she climbed higher.

photo from half way up the sand dune Karen Duquette almost to the top of the dune

Karen laid down to rest while waiting for Lee to arrive at the top of the first sand dune. She thought they would relax, roll down the dune and drive to the lake. She still didn't realize what they had gotten into.

Karen Duquette plops down into the sand Lee Duquette taking a selfie

Below: Glen Lake and the parking area from the top of the Dune Climb1 and the two RV Gypsies were already getting tired, but happy. The sand was so soft, that each step left very deep footprints in the sand.

Glen Lake Lee is always a clown

When the two RV Gypsies reached the top of the first dune, people told them there were two more dunes, so they took a deep breath and decided to keep going. They wanted to get to Lake Michigan. In reality, that meant climbing and descending about 8 more steep dunes before getting to the lake, (they still didn't realize that), and then they had to repeat the process to get back. Lee made a joke that they were so tired that they disappeared into the sand and only their shadows were left. When they eventually returned, it was almost true.

another dune to climb shadows of the two RV Gypsies

Each dune was steep, but the steepness doesn't always show in photos. Notice how small people look even though they are not that far away; that is because of the steepness. Everyone they met kept saying "only two more dunes to go".

small people on the dunes another dune with various trails

At the top of the next dune, the two RV Gypsies could actually turn around and still see Glen Lake.

Lee Duquette a tired Karen and Glen Lake

The two RV Gypsies saved energy by taking breaks while on the Dunes Trail to Lake Michigan. They met a nice man named Ted along the way that was having the same level of difficulty, but the three of them just would not quit. This is the most strenuous trail in the park. While only 3.5 miles round trip, it is all soft sand and they found that climbing the multiple dunes along the trail was quite a challenge. This was especially true because it was a hot, sunny day. They didn't bring a lot of water because they didn't know how long this hike was. They really wanted to get to Lake Michigan though, and tried not to think about how they would get the energy to walk all the way back to their car.

Karen Duquette struggling to  the top people at the top of a dune

At this point, they met several groups of young people who were turning around here. But Karen, Lee, and Ted decided not to be quitters. Notice the sign below telling people that they should be of adequate fitness level in order to continue the 1.3 miles to Lake Michigan.

Karen Duquette takes a break 1.3 miles to go

They could see a glimpse of Lake Michigan in the distance, so they thought this would be their last dune. NOT true!

a glimpse of Lake Michigan another dune to climb

They got to the top of that dune and realized they were not even close to Lake Michigan yet.

a sort of level stretch getting closer to Lake Michigan

The texture of the sand changed and there lots of prickly tufts of vegetation, so Karen put her water sandals back on.

prickly tufts of vegetation the two RV Gypsies
and sand dune to climb many trails to choose from

There's no help for the weary!

Karen clings to a pole Karen Duquette clings to a pole

Below: The two RV Gypsies never figured out what the numbers on the posts meant, because they went from 16 to 17 to 18 then to 23. At first Lee thought it meant how many tenths of a mile to the lake, but that sure wasn't the truth.

strange marker in the sand

Karen Duquette was so tired that she crawled up the next steep sand dune. Even crawling took a lot of energy, maybe even more. The steepness of the dune makes her look so tiny in the first photo below.

Karen crawls up the dune Karen crawls up the dune

The two RV Gypsies eventually got to the top of the last dune and looked down at Lake Michigan - Finally!

the last dune Lake Michigan
Karen Duquette hurries to Lake Michigan

The waves looked pretty big and everyone thought it was too dangerous to go into the water, so Karen sat at the edge figuring the waves would wash up to her and refresh her. The water was cold, but not as cold as Lake Superior had been.

the two RV Gypsies at Lake Michigan Karen Duquette sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan

The waves looked even bigger as they approached Karen Duquette and the shoreline.

Karen Duquette sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan Karen Duquette sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan

Look at the size of the rock that a wave threw at Karen. It landed on her belly.

a big rock that landed on Karen's belly a big rock that landed on Karen's belly

The next wave rolled Karen over sideways. Lee yelled at her that if she got washed out into the lake, he could not save her.

Karen Duquette sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan a wave rolls Karen over sideways

The waves grew bigger and stronger, so Karen decided it was not safe to sit there anymore. Her bathing suit was full of sand.

big waves on Lake Michigan big waves on Lake Michigan
big waves on Lake Michigan big waves on Lake Michigan
big waves on Lake Michigan

Then it was time to start the long walk back to the car. The two RV Gypsies took a lot of rest stops along the way, and at times Karen duquette just plopped down into the soft sand and wondered how she was going to continue. But of course, they had no choice, and an hour and a half later they were at the top of the last sand dune looking down at Glen Lake again.

Along the way they met mostly young people, and when the two RV Gypsies told them how many more dunes they had to climb to reach the lake, most of the people turned around and didn't continue their journey.

Karen was going to roll down the last sand hill like she had done in the past, but there were too many people at the bottom of the hill. A tour bus had arrived and the tour bus people were just walking all around the bottom of the hill. So Karen had to walk down the last sand hill like everyone else. This was the only sand dune hill that anyone could roll down, because it was the only wide one. Karen knew from past experience that a person doesn't roll down a sand dune in a straight path. The two RV Gypsies were mighty hungry because their lunch was in the car all of this time. This was definitely an adventure to remember.

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