My Midwest Great Lakes trip was now heading into the east Lake Michigan part of the tour. The boat tour around Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was the last scheduled boat or park tour on the trip, so my last two stops at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes National Park would be just personal exploration hiking tours, requiring no advance bookings. I fully expected to be able to see both sites in one day of travel. I checked out of my comfy motel stop in St. Ignace, had breakfast in a diner down the road, and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, the main connection between the two Michigan peninsulas. The Mackinac Bridge was a part of Interstate 75, allowing me to enjoy a limited access expressway for the first time since I headed up to Duluth through Minnesota. However, the bridge was going through its own summer road repair season as traffic was reduced to a couple of lanes on the southbound side. The bridge crossed over the connection strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, giving me a good view of both lakes as I crossed over, which allowed me to now claim that I have had the chance to see all of the Great Lakes in my lifetime. Just a few miles south of the bridge, my path directed me off of the interstate, which was heading down the center of the Lower Peninsula, onto US routes that were headed along the Lake Michigan shores of the peninsula in order to get to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which only led to more cross traffic and summer road repair season sections along the way.
By late mid-morning, I reached the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center in the nearby town of Empire and got some exploration tips from a ranger. I drove up into the park and turned off onto a scenic drive in a forested area along the top of the dunes. I found a parking area and hiked up a small path to a point where the open sand dunes sloped sharply down to a small shore along Lake Michigan. The views were fascinating and inspiring. It was also amazing to see the number of people who decided to try and walk down the steep slope. The perspective of understanding how geology, an ice age, and time dug out the deep areas that became the Great Lakes was in full view at this overlook. I took my photos and headed back to the car. I completed the scenic drive and drove back down to Empire, where I had my first non-tote bag lunch at a busy café near the visitor center.
After lunch, I drove out, following the mapped out directions that would lead me down to Grand Rapids, where I would reconnect with the interstate highway system into Indiana. However, the dreaded summer road repair season, including a twenty mile northbound detour for one small section of a fully closed road, created delays in my time schedule. Once I got to Grand Rapids and back on the interstate highway system, it was in the late afternoon, and I realized that I would not be able to make it to the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center before it closed. I headed directly to the Chesterton hotel I had booked my room and checked in for the night. After getting my dinner, I connected online to determine my hotel options for the final segment heading back home. Since my visit to Indiana Dunes National Park was now moved to the morning, delaying my start back west, I decided that the little side drive up to the southern portion of Wisconsin was not necessary. The rural area around Bayfield and Apostle Islands had given the Wisconsin perspective, so after visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, I was going to hop onto Interstate 80 and head back home to Colorado. I booked a hotel stop west of Des Moines.
The next morning, I enjoyed my hotel breakfast, checked out, and headed directly to the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center, where I got some guidance from a ranger on the best trails to experience. Indiana Dunes was the smallest of the five natural destinations I had planned on this tour, and it was interesting to see that the central, easily-accessible beach area between the two ends of the park was still under the Indiana State Park system with an entry fee, while the national park areas were free. Per the ranger guidance, I headed to the eastern side of the park to a parking area near Kemil Beach. Since Indiana Dunes had only been re-designated from a national lakeshore in 2019, it was interesting to see that the park signs still had not been updated to Indiana Dunes National Park. I started out by taking a small hike around the forested Dune Ridge Trail, then I walked up the road to the small sand trail out to the beach area. The dune and beach area was a lot more level than the impressively steep slopes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but I still admired the simple natural vibe of the southern lakeshore of Lake Michigan in this newly re-designated national park.
After taking in another great perspective, I drove out of the park and hopped onto I-80 just a couple of blocks away. I reached my hotel in Des Moines that night, and then made it back home the following day. As I was driving through Iowa on the first day of this trip, I was amazed to see the many wind power farms along the way, so on the way back home, I stopped at a rest area in Iowa and took photos of a nearby wind farm. It was a perspective that was just as important as visiting the national parks, as it demonstrated our ability to continue to learn how to use the wonder of nature to empower us all. This was another great road trip.