From Race Track to POW Camp and Back

Just a few miles from my home is a sign that says “P.O.W. Camp Owosso.” The sign is outside of a oval track for car and motorcycle racing.

Being new to this area, this sign caught my interest and I decided to do some research on the camp. Here is what I found.

During World War II, over 6,000 prisoners were housed in Prisoner of War (POW) camps in Michigan. While approximately 1000 were held in the Upper Peninsula, most were housed in the Lower Peninsula. Many camps were held at former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks that were no longer in use.

In Owosso, this racetrack that was not in use because of the war was chosen for a prison camp. Reports of exactly how many prisoners were held here vary between 350 and 1000. After the war the Germans were returned to their home and the administrative records were deposed of in the 1950s.

The men were housed six to a tent and the area was surrounded by a fence. In the winter time they were moved to the barracks at Fort Custer.

(picture thanks to Dominic Adams | dadams5@mlive.com)

Due to the draft, the U.S. had a huge labor shortage. The government allowed POWs to be used for labor in nearby farms or businesses. W.R. Roach Canning Company was the principal contractor with the government for prison labor. But many also worked on local farms. The prisoners were paid for their labor with 80 cents per day going to them and the rest of the wage going to the federal government to maintain the camp. The 80 cents was given in canteen checks which could be used for cigarettes, candy and other personal items not provided by the government. Most worked for six days per week at 8 to 10 hour days. While the men did not have to work outside the camp, most preferred that to staying in the camp as there was a little more freedom and most farm families would feed them lunch. The government provided a couple of slices of bread and a piece of meat or cheese for lunch, but the families felt this was not adequate for manual labor and many allowed them to eat the noon meal with their family. This led to friendships between the farm families and the POWs and they remained friends after the war ended.

(National Archives picture “German Prisoners of War at a camp near Owasso, Michigan, being paid with canteen checks by Camp Commander Captain Ohrt.” Dated 8/8/44 – photo by Sgt. S.L. Hertel.)

Reports from that time indicate that the men were well behaved and there was little attempt to escape. But then where would they go? Thousands of miles from home over an ocean and with their German accent, they would quickly have been captured.

However, at Camp Owosso there was an escape attempt that included two local girls. In July, 1944 two local girls helped two men escape from the Canning Compay where they were working. They spent the night in the woods before being captured by authorities.

The girls probably did not realize the consequences of their actions. Found guilty of conspiracy, Kitty Case received one year and three months and Shielry Druce was sentenced to one year and a day.

The girls’ motive for helping the men was not given but one of the girls testified that she was in love with one of the men. This attempted escape brought lots of new attention to the local county. You can read a novel based on this story. Cottonwood Summer by Gary Slaughter.

The prisoners were also heroes to one family. Eva Worthington had just come home for giving birth to her tenth child when her house caught on fire. Her husband, superintendent of the Roach Canning Factory, was at work. Several prisoners saw the fire, hurried in and wrapped Mrs. Worthington in a mattress and carried her to safety.

When the war ended the men were returned to their homes, but some came back and settled in the US, at least one man marrying an American young lady he had met while working outside the camp.

Today the racetrack once again welcomes family and racers to enjoy the sport. Owosso Speedway is one of the premiere short tracks in the state of Michigan featuring constant side by side action and fun for the whole family.

Want to Live in a Lighthouse?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a lighthouse? Well – in Michigan you can have the chance to experience life as a lighthouse keeper.

Interested?

Mission Point Lighthouse is located at the end of M-37 where the road ends at West Grand Traverse Bay.

The drive along the peninsula is a beautiful one with cherry trees blooming in the spring and vineyards all along the route. Ten wineries make up the wine trail. You can take a few hours or an entire day and enjoy tasting the different wines and enjoying the beautiful views from the vineyards. This drive was listed as one of ten beautiful coastal drives in North America by USA Today.

When a large ship during the 1860’s hit a shallow reef and sank just in front of where the lighthouse now sits, Congress authorized $6,000 to construct the lighthouse. Construction was delayed until 1870 because of the Civil War. From 1870 through 1933, Mission Point’s light kept the waters at the end of Old Mission Peninsula safe for mariners. Decommissioned in 1933 it was replaced with an automatic buoy light just offshore. Today the lighthouse is open to give visitors a look at what life was like for lighthouse keepers who lived around the turn of the century.

There are beautiful views of the Bay and trails through the trees surrounding the lighthouse.

Over the years seven different keepers lived in this house. One keeper, Captain John Lane, worked with his wife, Sarah. Upon his death, she continued to serve at the lighthouse for a few more months being the first and only female keeper in the lighthouse’s history. .

Because of the beautiful beach and surrounding forest with trails, by the turn of the century, visitors began coming. A fence was erected to protect the lighthouse and a wooden walkway was added so visitors could easily access the each and get a good look at the front of the lighthouse.

It is interesting that the lighthouse sits on the 45th parallel or halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.

The lighthouse offers a chance to actually experience life as a lighthouse keeper. You can stay in the lighthouse for a week or more. During that time you will work in the gift shop where you can meet and talk to visitors who come from all over the world.

The quarters is equipped with kitchen appliances, dishes, cooking utensils, small appliances and a washer and dryer. They also provide free WIFI, cable service and central air conditioning. You will be expected to bring your own bed sheets, pillows, blankets, towels and food. There are two single beds and a sleeper sofa in the living room.

You will need to be able to limb the 37 steps to the tower where you will need to clean the windows, sweep stairs and vacuum daily.

Training will be given upon arrival. While you will be busy at the lighthouse during the day you will have plenty of time to explore Traverse City and the surrounding area each day after 5 pm and on the one day off allowed during each week’s stay. However, you will be expected to spend each night in the lighthouse.

There is a great demand for this opportunity as many who have tried the program come back each year.

Sound interesting? Check out this link to the lighthouse keeper application.

Old Mission Peninsula – A Vision of Cherry Blossoms!

With the easing of restrictions in our state and since we have received both doses of the vaccine for Covid, we took a trip north to Traverse City, Michigan. Grand Traverse Bay created by the glaciers is a beautiful bay 32 miles long and 10 miles wide. In the middle of this bay the glaciers left a 19-mile long peninsula. This area is filled with beautiful small hills and rich, fertile soil. The moderate climate is ideal for farming.

Long before the white man came this peninsula was the home of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. There they raised corn, pumpkins, beans and potatoes. They also had planted apple trees.

In 1836 the tribes made a treaty with the USA in which they surrendered much of their land in this area. In return the USA agreed to provide the Indians with missions, schools, and Indian reservations.

The Presbyterian Church sent Reverend Peter Dougherty to the region in 1839 and he established a church and a school for the tribes still living there. The federal government paid the Presbyterian Mission Board $3,000 to maintain the mission. In 1842 he built his home which is believed to be the first frame home north of Grand Rapids in Michigan.

This is a replica of the original mission church. Originally built directly on the Bay it was moved up a hill to be safer from the water.

Solon Rushmore bought the home from Dougherty in 1861. For approximately 100 years it remained in the Rushmore family and was at one point turned into an inn.

Over the next ten years more and more European settlers came to the peninsula. In 1852, Dougherty and the tribes decided to move across the West Grand Traverse Bay to an existing Native American village. Situated on Leelanau Peninsula, this became the modern city of Omena. Calling this place “New Mission” the community they left became “Old Mission.”

During his time there Dougherty planted cherry trees. It quickly became clear that this was an ideal place for the orchards and cherry trees began to be planted all over the peninsula and the surrounding area. Lake Michigan moderates the Arctic winds in the winter and cools the orchards in the summer.

Today the whole area – both the Old Mission Pennisula and the Leelanau Peninsula are beautiful every spring as the many cherry trees produce their beautiful blooms.

In July Traverse City hosts a Cherry Festival. The population is just over 15,000 but during the Festival the city greets over 500,000 visitors from around the world.

While we would avoid the city in July (too many people for this old couple) visiting it in May when the trees began to bloom was a trip worth taking.

Exploring Southern Michigan

Almost two years ago my husband and I moved to Michigan.  Situated close to the middle of the “mitten” we have spent the last two years exploring this beautiful state.  We have fallen in love with the many small towns around the state that are full of arts and crafts, charming down towns that have preserved the older buildings and, of course, the many towns built by Lake Michigan with their beautiful beaches and historical lighthouses.  While it would be hard to pick one town over the other, I must confess I especially loved Holland during the tulip festival and Frankfort was probably my favorite.

Some of our trips started out with a particular town in mind but most of the trips we just got in the car and headed north – east – west.  Getting off the interstates and taking side roads led us to discover many lovely towns and beautiful scenes that we would have missed if we had stayed with the main road.

Yesterday we decided to head in a direction we had not taken – south.  Heading south we discovered the area looked more like our home in Illinois.  More corn fields, more open areas with fewer trees.  The majority of trees were – like back home – deciduous.  While there were evergreen trees they were in the minority.

It was nice to get the sense of being back home, but I must confess in my opinion the southern part of Michigan does not begin to compare with the beauty up north.

However, we did discover two interesting towns.

  • Jackson Michigan

The town of Jackson claims to be the birthplace of the Republican party.  (I have found other towns making that claim.)  There is a plaque commemorating a meeting held in 1854 that Jackson claims was the start of the party led by anti-slavery men.  oaks

 

 

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Jackson also lays claim to having the first prison in Michigan.  Today the old prison area has been turned into the Armory Art’s Village.  Situated behind a 25-foot stone wall, these apartments are home to emerging artists and musicians.

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They give tours of the old prison site, but due to the virus restrictions we were not able to take the tour.  Something to put on our bucket list for later.

Jackson also has several buildings/areas that were part of the underground railroad – but again because of the virus we were not able to visit them.  Add that to the bucket list.

  • From Jackson we headed west to Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College sits in the heart of the city.  The school was established by Free Will Baptists as Central Michigan College at Spring Arbor in 1844.  In 1853 it moved to Hillsdale and changed its name.  It was the first American college whose charter prohibited discrimination based on race, religion or sex.  Hillsdale was the second college in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women.

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The college was very active in the fight to end slavery with more students enlisting to fight for the Union than any other western college.  More than 400 students fought for the Union and sixty gave their lives.  Four students earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, three became generals and many served as regimental commanders.  In honor of that heritage the college had a statute of an Union soldier on its campus as well as Frederick Douglas.

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We also saw statues of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Leaving Hillsdale we headed back home.  While I must confess my trip south was not as beautiful as the trips we have taken north, still it was good to have discovered more about our adopted state, Michigan.

I vote that our next road trip takes us back north!

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying Retirement – My Husband the Artist

When my husband and I married years ago he told me he used to paint.  However, he only had one painting to show me.  It was one he had given to his oldest daughter.  I found it interesting because if you looked at one way it appears the people were walking forward side by side; viewed at a different angle it appears they are walking to the left – or is it to the right?

 

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Over the years he had given all his other paintings away.  I tried to encourage him to take up painting again.  One evening he sat down and starting painting.  I loved the finished product.

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My camera does not do the painting justice.  In the trees above there is a small cabin but my camera does not pick that up.

He did not continue painting because being a pastor and a family man his time for painting was limited.  Also we had no area where he could really set up his paints and work at his leisure until a painting was done.

While he did not paint, his love of art was clearly seen in our home.  We often visited art galleries and art shows and he collected quite a few beautiful paintings.

Thankfully, retirement has arrived.  Now he has the time to devote to this love of art.  He also now has a place of his own where he can set up his paints and canvasses and work without the need to set up and put away his work each day.

Last spring we were fortunate enough to buy a condo.  The basement was unfinished and he quickly went to work to make a studio for his art.

He loves to paint the sea with the beautiful sky above.  In our new home state of  Michigan he has plenty of sites to inspire him.  Michigan also has so many small towns with great art galleries and we have loved exploring them.

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Making road trips, he also finds inspiration.  Driving through South Dakota with the treeless view inspired this painting.

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A trip to South Carolina led to these two paintings.

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One of my favorites is Storm at Sea.  You can see the rain coming out of the dark storm clouds.  Looking at the ocean it invites me to wade into the waves as they rush to the shore.

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He recently has a display of his work at the local art gallery featuring his series based on the Creation story in Genesis 1.

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Of that series my favorite is the first one where he tried to imagine Genesis 1:1  How do you capture the Spirit of God hovering over the waters?  To him, it was the darkness with the flame of fire since God’s spirit is often depicted as fire in the Bible.

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While he is no Rembrandt, I am so glad that he finally has a place of his own to enjoy expressing himself in his paintings.  He even set up a page on  Facebook – PWL Art Gallery.

He has worked hard all his life and as he approaches his 80th birthday, I’m thankful he has time to devote to his love of art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wait Was Worth It!

Home again after taking a trip to the top of the mitten to see the Tunnel of Trees.  Since moving to Michigan last year I have heard a lot about this short section of highway (approximately 27 miles) that follows the shore of Lake Michigan and the Little Traverse Bay.

Told by many how beautiful it is in the fall when the trees all turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange, I have waited all year to make the trip.

Was it worth it?

Yes – and no

Basically I was told three main things about the tunnel.  Two of which I found to be true.

The road was said to be very narrow.  Boy was it!  There is no center line painted on the road.  Many places were so narrow when we met another car one of us had to pull over on the tiny shoulder so the other car could go by.

I was told it was very windy.  Boy was it!  We would just get through one stretch of curves when we would find another one waiting.

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But there were no colors!  No oranges, reds or yellows!  The website for the Tunnel of Trees indicated that this time was the peak for the colors.

Disappointed!!!

I am guessing if we returned in a week we would find the colors and the beauty they talked about.

However, the trip was not in vain.  While there were no colors in the tunnel driving across the middle of the mitten getting to and from the tunnel there were colors everywhere.  We discovered that the trees near the lake turn colors slower than inland.

So – now we know.

While the tunnel was a disappointment – the trip was not.

 

Acres and acres of trees – as far as the eye could see – brilliant colors!

What an artist God is!  And what variety!  He could have made one tree – but look at all the different trees we have.

The wait was truly worth it!

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A Very Unique Sculpture Park

Getting ready for a fall road trip, I recently opened some pictures from a fall road trip taken three years ago.  While driving through the scenic St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota we found an amazing outdoor sculpture park.

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Founded in 1996 Franconia has an active artist residency program.  Each year the park has over 150,000 visitors.  They offer yearly fellowships and internships for up to 40 visual artists.

The park is free and open 365 days a year although I am not sure I would want to visit in the winter – Minnesota winters are brutally cold – at least for those of us who live further south.

The park covers 43 acres and shares over 120 sculptures created by artists-in-residence.  Since the sculptures change over time the ones we saw may no longer be there but they were definitely unique.

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I must confess I am not sure I would call some of these sculptures “art” but they were interesting and the walk was nice with all the beautiful fall trees.

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Looking at these beautiful trees, I am so ready for our road trip next week.  Heading to the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan for the “Tunnel of Trees.”

Fall is my favorite time of the year!

What season do you like the best?

Are you planning any trips to see the beautiful fall foliage?

 

 

A Busy Summer is Over – But 2020 is Coming

Hard to believe it has been one year already.  Exactly one year ago today my husband and I left our home in northern Illinois and traveled to the middle of Michigan to a new home.

The metropolitan area we lived in known as the Quad Cities has a population of over 400,000.  It includes five larger cities:  Moline, East Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River and Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side.  Interspersed between and around those five larger cities are many smaller town so that you can drive from one town right into the next.

Moving from that highly populated area to a small town of less than 8,000 is quite a change.

But it has been a fun year as we have spent the summer exploring our new state of Michigan.

Our first road trip was to Flint Michigan – a city we heard so much about in the news for the water crisis.  Visiting the city we found there is a lot of history beyond the news reports.

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From Flint we headed to Frankenmuth a place where you can enjoy all things Bavarian and it is Christmas there all year long.  Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria

Come spring, we headed out again.  The first trip was a short one – just a few miles down Route 21 to Ionia.   On the way there we turned off to look at a small town on the way.  Muir.

There was really nothing there to recommend the town except we came across this historic church.

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You can read more about this historic church in my post Getting Off the Beaten Path

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this church is considered to be the mother church for the Disciples of Christ denomination in the Grand River Valley and is one of Michigan’s oldest Disciples of Christ congregations.

On to Ionia where we discovered a beautiful courthouse that boasts black and white marble floors, fourteen marble fireplaces and a beautiful walnut and butternut staircase.

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The town has some beautiful old Victorian homes and I loved the brick streets still in use on Main Street.

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Next stop was the Fort Custer National Cemetery.  All the flags along the main entrance to the cemetery was very impressive.

In early spring we headed to Holland the Tulip Festival.

Beautiful does not begin to describe this visit!  This town is on our list to revisit next spring.  We only spent one day there but next year we want to take two to three days to take in all the beauty.

Check out all the beautiful pictures and story of Holland in my post:  Welkom to Tulip Time

My husband has began painting again and one of his goals this summer was to photograph and then paint some of the many lighthouses in Michigan.

We captured Big Red at Holland.

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Big Red Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan.

Beginning American history nuts, a visit to the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids followed.  I was never a fan of President Ford but after visiting the museum and reading more about him, I came away with a much different opinion of him and his time in office.

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Read more about the museum at Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

Lowell Michigan was our stop in July.  The day we were there they were celebrating their annual Riverwalk.  What fun we had watching the parade and all the ducks.

We enjoyed the views of the Flat River and our delicious meal at the Flat River Grille.

Getting off the beaten track we discovered a village almost lost to the world just a few miles north of Lowell.

The village of Fallassburgh is like stepping back in time.  Way off the beaten path, few visitors find their way here, but it was a beautiful, peaceful place.  A Village Time Forgot

As we enjoyed the lakes and beaches and neat little towns we found a desert in Michigan.  Well, not really a desert but some great sand dunes.  A Desert in Michigan?

As summer came to a close we visited two more towns and they both rate, along with Holland, as ones I want to visit and spend more time in next summer.

First one was Manistee.   Not one but two beautiful beaches and another interesting lighthouse made this a favorite.  Which Town is My Favorite?

Our last town of the year was Frankfort.

It has been a busy summer!  One more trip to make before winter sets in.

Next week we head out for the tunnel of trees.  Voted by USA as the Best Scenic Autumn Drive in America I’m looking forward to that trip.

Hibernating then for the cold Michigan winter, we will be drinking hot tea as we watch some of our favorite movies by the fireplace while studying maps and making plans for another summer of adventures, God willing, in 2020.

 

 

 

Even My Husband Speaks “Southern”

I’m still laughing today!

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All my married life my husband has teased me about my “southern twang.”  There are many words that I clearly do not say correctly – that is – if your standard is the “General American” accent.

Brendan Houdek, a Speech Coaching Associate at New York Speech Coaching and the Head of New York Speech Pathology describes this manner of speaking as:

“this term is typical when referring to a dialect that is clearly American, but has none of the distinctive features that categorize a particular region, ethnic group, or  socioeconomic status. Upon hearing someone speak with this particular dialect, it would be difficult to determine where he or she is from, other than being from the United States of America.”

Although I was born in Illinois (southern Illinois) all my life people have consistently asked me what part of the south I am from.  They usually guess Tennessee or Kentucky.

When I purchased a smart phone and began using the app that allows me to speak my text, it was hilarious some of the ways the app interpreted what I was saying.  One text  repeated a phrase I said – but the phrase came out totally different from what I said and was using what I would call “bad language.”  My youngest daughter who received the text, knowing how much I frown on “bad language,” had to forward it to her siblings with a note that basically told them:

If you get a text from Mom and she is swearing at you, she has not had a stroke or become senile, she is just using voice translation for her text.

They all had a good laugh at my expense.

Following up on that I recently discovered that much of the way I speak can be traced all the way back to my Scot-Iris ancestry.

Check out my story:

Smart Phones and Southern Twang

So, for years my husband has had fun laughing at my accent.  He always has this big grin on his face when people ask me where I was born and comment on my accent.

But this weekend it was my turn to laugh.

We ventured out on a road trip to a nearby town and checked out the art galleries and antique stores.

Entering one store, I quickly found a collection of old books.  I’m a book lover and my attention was all on the books.  My husband, who never meets a stranger, struck up a conversation with the owner of the store.  I had not said a single word when I heard the owner ask my husband where his home was.  Telling her he was originally from Illinois, her response made me laugh.

“It must be southern Illinois.”

She indicated she heard a southern twang in his voice.  He was speechless as he had never been told that he had an accent.

After all these years – I’m laughing at him.

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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).
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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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