Still Chasing Lighthouses

The forests in Michigan in the latter half of the nineteenth century helped build the expansion in cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.  Along with the abundant supply of trees in Michigan, the Great Lakes provided the means to transport the lumber to these cities.  But lighthouses were necessary for ships to navigate safely in the unpredictable waters of the Great lakes.

Two of these lighthouses were Big Sable Point Lighthouse and Little Sable Point Lighthouse.  In our recent road trip to the west side of the mitten we explored from Frankfort to Ludington and on our list of “must sees” were these two lighthouses.

Unfortunately we discovered a visit to Big Sable Point Lighthouse required a walk of  1.8 miles there – and then back.  My husband could probably have made the walk, but for me it was impossible.  So the only thing we have of Big Sable Point Lighthouse is the pictures we got from post cards.

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They do offer a bus ride to the lighthouse twice a year so I am hoping next spring we can go back and ride out to the point.

The French explorers called this area Grande Pointe au Sable.  The stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline between Big Sable Point and present-day Ludington was a dangerous area.  Twelve ships wrecked in 1855 leading the state to ask the federal government for a light station here.

In 1867 Big Sable was built.  Its tower is 112 feet high, only one of a few Michigan lighthouse reaching 100 feet.

Shortly after its construction was completed the brick began to crumble.  Steel plates were installed around the light tower.  Cement was then poured between the bricks.  Mariners complained that they could not see the tower during the day because the bricks, which were cream colored, looked too much like the sand.  Thus the black and white colors.

This lighthouse was the last of the Great lakes to become electrified.  That paved the way for automation and the lighthouse was closed in 1968.  However, the light still comes on automatically at dusk until dawn and can be seen approximately 18 miles out in Lake Michigan.

Disappointed that we did not make it to the lighthouse – but that gives us something to plan for our summer trips in 2020.

Thankfully we were able to reach Little Sable Point Lighthouse.  Named by the French Petite Pointe au Sable is translated into Little Sand Point.

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Constructed in 1874 it is one of the tallest in Michigan at over 100 feet.  There are 130 steps to climb to the top.  A few years ago I would have attempted it.  Sadly, today my arthritic knees did not permit that.

Still, it was great to see the lighthouse and the beach there was beautiful.

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Funds for the lighthouse were approved by Congress in 1872 but the point was inaccessible by roads so construction was delayed until 1874.  Even today getting there by road was a little scary.  Very narrow and winding with little room for two cars to pass.  When I was beginning to think we were driving to the middle of nowhere, we turned a corner and there it was.

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Like Big Sable Point Lighthouse, this lighthouse was also painted white so the mariners could see it better.  Since it was the lighthouse keeper’s responsibility to paint the tower each year, I am sure this was not a decision they welcomed.  In 1977 the tower paint was removed and the lighthouse was restored to its original brick.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse has the special distinction of having a woman lighthouse keeper.  She only served for one month but my research showed me there were many women who manned lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes region.

As I shared in an earlier post, Michigan with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  We have spent this summer exploring many of them – and my husband has been busy painting some of them.

Michigan’s Lighthouses

Summer is going by so fast, I am not sure how many more lighthouses we can tour this year – but that will give us something to look forward to when the winter snows comes.  If we ever run out of lighthouses to explore in Michigan, our neighboring state, Wisconsin will provide more lighthouses for our adventures.

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A Desert in Michigan?

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!

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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.

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My husband and I chose to take the tour and it was quite a ride.

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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.

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Along the way were things designed to give a laugh like this pair of legs sticking out of the sand.

We stopped at the top of one of the biggest hills and got out to take some pictures.

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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.

Copyright © 2001 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Geological Survey Division (GSD).
The DEQ GSD grants permission to publish or reproduce this document, all or in part, for non-profit purposes.
The contents of this electronic document (whole or in part) can be used if, and only if, additional fees are not
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This copyright statement must appear in any and all electronic or print documents using this file or any part

 

 

 

Am I a Michigander, a Michiganian, a Michigander, a Michiganite, Michiganese, or a Michigine?

Well now I guess it is official.  As of April 8, 2019 I have become a Michigander.

Six months ago my husband and I moved from northern Illinois to St Johns, Michigan – just about 20 miles north of the state capital of Lansing.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would spend the last years of our life in Michigan.

Both of us were born and raised in Illinois.  My husband was in the USAF for 20 years so he spent much of his early adult life out of the state.  However, upon his retirement he returned to what was home.

I spent a couple of years out-of-state also but most of my 71 years has been spent in Illinois.

Illinois

  • corn fields
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • boyhood home of Ronald Reagan
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Major winter storms, deadly tornadoes and spectacular heat and cold waves.
  • The worst state in the union for financial stability

Last October we moved to Michigan and rented a small house.  We were not sure we would like St Johns and did not want to make a commitment until we determined whether we liked it or not.  We followed our daughter and her family here and said we would give it a year’s trial.

After six months we like Michigan, we discovered we like Michigan.

Michigan

  • The Mackinac Bridge – one of the longest suspension bridges in the world
  • Battle Creek – cereal capital of the world
  • lighthouses
  • Great Lakes
  • Motown Records
  • apples

So we purchased a condo and on April 8 – my birthday – we signed the closing documents.

All this week we have been packing boxes and moving the smaller items.  Since we moved only a mile away we were able to actually hang up pictures and put up curtains.  Today family and friends helped us move the heavy furniture.

So now here we are – officially Michigander or Michiganian or whatever!

 

 

Happy Birthday Michigan!

On January 26, 1837 the state of Michigan became the 26th state in the United States of America.

That makes the state 182.

I have only lived here four months but I have found so much that is interesting and I can hardly wait until spring to begin exploring.

  • With 3,200 miles of shoreline Michigan claims more lighthouses than any other state.
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Big Sable Point Light

  • Michigan touches four out of the five great lakes, more than any other state: Huron, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

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  • The legendary children’s story of Paul Bunyan is believed to be based on a French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian Fournier,  who moved to Michigan after the Civil War to take advantage of the high-paying logging industry.  While Minnesota also claims Bunyan as theirs, two towns in Michigan make that claim.  Ossineke has a giant statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox.

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  • The Cross in the Woods Catholic shrine in Indian River has a 55′ foot cross carved from one redwood tree.  Raised in 1954, a sculpture of the crucified Christ was added to the cross in 1959.  My husband and I visited this shrine several years ago when vacationing in Michigan but I am looking forward to seeing it again come spring.

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  • Mackinaw Island is high on my list of places to visit. The island sits between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.  Since I’m a history nut I want to visit Fort Mackinac which was founded in 1780.  Another fort, Fort Holmes, was built during the wall of 1812 and has been reconstructed.  No cars are allowed on the island so that should make travel interesting.
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Mode of transportation on this island

  • Mackinaw Bridge is one my husband and I crossed on our first visit here.  It is a little scary if you are afraid of heights.  The towers reach 554 feet above the surface water.   Five miles long it is the longest suspension bridge in the Americans.  Known as “Big Mac” it  links Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas. When we planned our trip in Michigan a few years ago it included crossing this brige to the upper peninsula.  I was fine until I read how high the bridge was.  Then panic set in because I have a terrible fear of heights.  When we drive through a mountainous area, I often have to close my eyes to avoid a complete panic attack.  Caught between my fear of heights and my desire to see the upper peninsula, I started my day with my devotion before we headed to the car for the trip.  What a pleasant surprise as I read the devotion for that day.  So thankful that God cares even about our silly fears.  The devotion from the book of Habakkuk that day said:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places

I was now calm and ready to go.  My husband has no fear of heights and was not concerned about driving across the bridge.  However, when we were about half way across the bridge I looked at him and he looked terrified too.  It is a beautiful sight – but I’m not sure my husband is ready to drive over it again.  We shall see.

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There’s so much more to see, learn and explore.  But for now, Happy Birthday Michigan!