When I think of sand, I think of the desert. But how neat to enjoy sand dunes right here in Michigan – right alongside a beautiful lake!
We explored the sand dunes at Silver Lake. They are located along Lake Michigan between Muskegon and Ludington. Over 2,000 acres of sand, the dunes are part of the Silver Lake State Park. The park also includes four miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, a mature forest, hiking trails and a sandy beach.
The state has set aside 450 acres for off-road vehicle rides. Riders can bring their 4 x 4’s or they can rent off-road vehicles specially designed to meet the challenge of driving on sand. An ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) sticker and a ten-foot orange flag is required to drive on the area.
There is also a section set aside for pedestrians to walk or sand board.
The southern section is reserved for those who do not want to drive or walk on the sand dunes but do want to explore them. Mac Wood’s Dunes Rides has leased this section from the state park since 1930 and takes visitors on a great ride.
My husband and I chose to take the tour and it was quite a ride.
Our driver was a retired school teacher who has been driving the buggies every summer for 20 years. The ride was about forty minutes and covered seven miles of up and down and around corners. Although he never went faster than 35 miles (I was sitting next to the driver and kept an eye on his speed), it seemed much faster. When we got the top of a hill he would speed up just before we headed down. The kids on the ride loved that and screamed with delight. We were entertained with silly stories by our driver and he also shared some of the history and ecology of the sand dunes.
We stopped at the top of one of the biggest hills and got out to take some pictures.
Some of the information he shared with us explained a little of how the dunes were formed. His explanation was simple, but here is a more detailed explanation for those of you who are interested.
When you think of sand dunes, you commonly associate them with the desert. If Michigan is not a desert, then why do we find dunes here? The answer lies in the Great Lakes, primarily Lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. All along the shores of these
beautiful lakes, wave action sorts the sediments in the near-shore area. As the waves pound the beach, much of the finer-than-sand-sized materials are carried out into deeper water while the sand-sized grains and larger particles and pebbles are moved nearer to the beach. During storms, large quantities of sand are moved past the beach. Eventually these piles dry out. Until the sand dries, water between the grains holds the sand together. The adhesive quality of the water makes the sand temporarily immobile. The adhesion does not remain after the sand dries. The dry sand can then be transported and winnowed by the wind. The wind carries the sand inland, where it is deposited as a dune. A plant or some other object may deflect the wind. The deflection causes the wind velocity to decrease, and the sand is dropped or deposited. This leads to the formation of a larger and larger mound that will eventually become a dune. In time the mound may
become big enough to cover the object that started its formation. In Michigan the supply of sand is not constant. So, in time, the dunes become covered with grasses and other forms of vegetation – even trees. In fact, some of Michigan’s sand dunes look more like “tree dunes”. The climate encourages this vegetative cover. The presence of ground water near the surface further promotes vegetation. When vegetative cover prevents
the wind from moving the sand, the dunes are stabilized. However, if the protective vegetation is removed, or if there are exceptionally high winds or the groundwater
level drops, the sand is exposed to wind erosion, and movement or migration begins again. The area where migration begins is called a blowout. Renewed dune movement can bury anything in its path, even the forests which once may have stabilized the dune. An example of a buried forest can be seen at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.
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