Thursday, September 10, 2015

Along Lake Michigan

Some days are just gorgeous, and sometimes even I cannot resist a little time at the beach.  I do have some favorite spots and this summer I took my son to one of them.  The location is the amazing dunes of the east side of Lake Michigan and my favorite spot to visit is around Holland, Saugatuck, and Douglas.  There's a hometown feel to Douglas that I've never been able to explain, but it's comfortable there.  Saugatuck is the playground for wealthier types from Chicago, but it's beautiful and the shopping is good.  Holland is that quirky little city that you'll always remember fondly after visiting.  All together they make a trio that's irresistible in the summer.  Even for a non beach girl like me.

Holland is known for it's Dutch heritage.  There are obvious signs all around, from the tulip festival to the wooden shoe place to the bridges, locks and shops in Windmill Gardens Park.  It's a lovely place to spend the day with beautiful gardens, authentic crafts from times gone by, shops, a carousel and so on.  It's a beautiful place to spend a little time.

Oh yeah, they do have a full sized authentic Dutch windmill that you can tour as well.

But the Holland area has a huge history and the Dutch History is only part of the story.  Most of the rest of the story comes with the dunes.  The whole area around Holland is made of sand.  There are some dunes that are as high as 350 feet, and the people at Saugatuck Dune Rides will take you out to see them in style.  Dune schooners are a way of life along the east shores of Lake Michigan.  The dunes cover so much land that hiking them is not the best way to appreciate them.  Specially designed dune schooners can take you to the best spots to see the views from these amazing monsters, and the drivers will also tell you a little bit about where they come from and how the humans have learned to coexist with them.

We joke about all the sand, we admire the views from the tops, and we enjoy the vastness of them.  We drive dune schooners on them, surf down them, and hang glide off of them, but in the past there have been real problems.  The grass that is growing across the dunes was planted by volunteers in the 1960's and 1970's.  The dunes were taking over and they had to find a way to stop it.  Underneath these very dunes are the remains of an entire town called Singapore.  In some places along the shore you can see the remnants of the foundations of the town.  The rest is somewhere underneath the 350 foot hills that we call the dunes.

The views are amazing though and the rides are fun and thrilling.  I recommend the dune schooner rides.  They are a lot of fun and a little education.  In addition to the dunes that the schooners run on, there are over 100 miles of dunes in this section of the shore.  In the Holland area are Holland State Park, Tunnel State Park, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and Oval Beach State Park in Saugatuck/Douglas.

Oval Beach is a great place to spend your time at the beach.  No offense to any of the others, but Saugatuck Dunes is a long walk to the beach.  Holland is the one that all the tourists visit when in town from Chicago.  I like the local spot and Oval Beach is that.  The beach is open until sunset, so that you can see the amazing sun at work over the lake.  I really enjoyed this visit, because we met a very nice family visiting from Northern Michigan and the kids all had a really good time.  That's the benefit of the local beach.  People are friendlier and the whole atmosphere is more relaxed.

There are plenty of things to do in the area besides go to the beach.  Saugatuck has a nightclub, a lot of great shops, the yacht club for all the wealthier visitors, restaurants, and great views.  If you like, just outside the Singapore Yacht Club is the story of the town that got devoured by the dunes.  It's an interesting read.  It's a great place to relax along the way.  They even have a paddle wheeler boat that will take you all around the area, including out onto Lake Michigan.  We were very busy on our road trip and the stop in the Holland area was relaxing and gave us a chance to recharge before heading back east and home.  The views are great, the parks are good, the beach is fun and relaxing, and the food is great.

Michigan is full of friendly and amazing people.  The greater Holland area of the Lake Michigan Shore is no different.  It's only a couple of hours from Hell and only a couple of hours from the north shore by Sault St. Marie.  It's only a hop skip from Chicago on the other side, whether you go by car or by boat.  The bottom line is that it's really not far from a lot of places.  It's just one of those places that you kind of want to go to and be in the know.  It's quiet, friendly, beautiful, and fun.  It's the kind of place you don't want to miss, even if you just stopped by to see the view.

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