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Several weeks ago I was invited by GMC to preview their 2013 Terrain Denali in Traverse City, Michigan. I’m offered many trips so what especially caught my eye about this one was that I had never heard of Traverse City before. I figured if this is the area GMC selected to invite a group of journalists and bloggers to drive their upcoming car models it must be worth seeing.

One part of a smooth driving day was seeing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a live geology lesson along 60 kilometers (~35 miles) of northwestern Michigan coastline. The sands are the front line in an epic battle between two of nature’s most powerful forces: wind and waves.

bear dunes scenic turnout

The dune was formed 2,000 years ago, the result of glaciers from the last Ice Age melting 12,000 years ago [PDF]. Today it is kept alive, partially, by Michigan Lake’s stubborn winds pushing back off the water. On the drive up to the dunes themselves you can see of how high the glacier elevation was and how quickly vegetation rushed in to fill the void of ice and water.

sleeping bear national dunes lakeshore forest

Further up the serene driving trail, to the edge of the dunes where the sands drop a steep 140 meters (~450 feet) down.

sleeping bear dunes

This is the view of Sleeping Bear Dunes from off the pier shown above. To give the picture some perspective, there is a couple walking along the shoreline, can you see them?

sleeping bear dunes

There is but one way to get down to the shore from here…and only one way to get back up. It’s not for the lighthearted or light-walleted either, there are signs along the path warning you that that rescues aren’t free.

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sleeping bear dunes climb

So think twice before going down or only follow someone big enough to carry you back up.

sleeping bear dunes

In this struggle between land, air and water, the sand is slowly losing to the power of the waves below. Every 10-15 years large chunks of land spill down below as the dunes, with no vegetation to support them, are swiftly (geologically speaking) eroding.

people at sleeping bear dunes

What was just as surprising to me is how few people, outside of Michigan, actually visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (Around a million tourists annually with most being Michigan residents.) I’m convinced if Michigan were its own country, more travelers would go out of their way to see such an impressive sight. (Or even just know about it.)

sleeping bear dunes

Entry into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is $20 and there’s more to see than the dunes themselves. It’s also a popular surfing area and boating area so distracting that if it weren’t for the Denali’s lane departure warning, I probably would have driven it off the road. And gotten lost without the GPS. Though I still think it was a shame not to have loaded a sandboard before leaving Traverse City, there was plenty of room in the back, as well as in my distorted imagination.