Autumn in the Dunes

“Nature’s Spotlight — November Gales at Sleeping Bear Dunes”
“Nature’s Spotlight — November Gales at Sleeping Bear Dunes” | “The plan was to get a late autumn shot of Empire Bluffs. I was pleasantly surprised after hiking there to see these beautiful strips of light streaming through the clouds and hitting the waters of Lake Michigan.” Photography by John McCormick;

Shifting sands and dune grass whisper the Anishnaabek legend of a mother bear and her two cubs, driven by fire from Wisconsin into Lake Michigan toward safety on the opposite shore. Though the exhausted young cubs succumbed to the waves before they could reach land, the mother bear waited and watched for days from atop a high bluff for their return.

Touched by her devotion, the Great Spirit Manitou created two islands in memory of the two cubs and eased their mother’s sorrow by drifting her into peaceful slumber, faced in their direction.

“Because the sun is lower in the sky, it lingers longer at sunset. And the landscape itself seems to relax into autumn’s slower pace.”
— Steven Huyser-Honig

“Dune Detail, Silver Lake State Park”
“Dune Detail, Silver Lake State Park” | “The curving shapes of yellow Lake Michigan beach sand cover the top of a tall frozen dune at Silver Lake. At sunset, this distinctively yellow sand often turns a rich, brown sugar color.” Photography by David Roossien;

The endearing Legend of Sleeping Bear accounts for scenic expanses of rock sediment, sand and debris left in the wake of massive ice sheaths that retreated 11,800 years ago in northwest Michigan, including the acclaimed Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook and a three-mile stretch of isolated, impressive dunes perched on South Manitou Island’s western perimeter.

But the trademark legacy that glaciers left to the Great Lakes State — the largest collection of freshwater dunes in the world, more than 275,000 acres — extends from Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan’s southwest corner, up along the Gold Coast to Sturgeon Bay Dunes at the Lower Peninsula’s northwestern-most point, along with P.H. Hoeft State Park and Seagull Point along the Mitten’s northeast shore and Port Crescent State Park in the Thumb.

Sweeping expanses can be found fringing Lake Superior’s coast in the Upper Peninsula, too, including Redwyn’s Dunes Sanctuary in the Keweenaw Peninsula and Grand Sable Dunes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Michigan-based photographers share moments spent among dunes across the state, captured during autumn after summer crowds have dispersed and nature presents a new palette of hues.

“Because the sun is lower in the sky, it lingers longer at sunset,” notes Steven Huyser-Honig, who resides in Grand Rapids. “And the landscape itself seems to relax into autumn’s slower pace.”

“Michigan Lake Sunrise, Silver Lake Dunes”
“Michigan Lake Sunrise, Silver Lake Dunes” | “Lake Michigan wind carves and sculpts the landscape, making for spectacular features lit by a fall sunrise.” Photography by Mark Graf;

“Fall is by far my favorite time of year to visit northern Michigan — especially Sleeping Bear Dunes,” says Brian Edward of 22 North Photography in Traverse City.

“Although people tend to think of the dunes in terms of the lakeshore and the sand dunes and bluffs, the vast majority of the area is covered by forest. This makes for some spectacular scenery the first two weeks of October,” Edward says.

“Ground Cover Along Grand Sable Dunes, Autumn”
“Ground Cover Along Grand Sable Dunes, Autumn” | “A myriad of autumn colors and patterns provided a visual feast of botanical treasures in this groundcover carpeting the edge between sand and forest.” Photography by Mark S. Carlson;

Discover other spectacular seasonal photos by visiting the contributors’ websites.

To learn more about tracts of drifting wind-carved slopes that are accessible to the public as parks, preserves and national lakeshores, check out “The Complete Guide to Michigan Sand Dunes” by Jim DuFresne (2005, University of Michigan Press and Petoskey Publishing Co.).

“Grand Sable Dunes Sunrise, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore”
“Grand Sable Dunes Sunrise, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore” | “This sunrise shot of the Log Slide Overlook, noted to be one of the Upper Peninsula’s most dramatic panoramas, was taken along the Grand Sable Banks, which rise to heights of up to 300 feet above the shore of Lake Superior. The Grand Sable Dunes, on the top of these banks, are a desolate landscape with some jack pine forests near the edges.” Photography by John McCormick;
“Big Sable Sunset, Ludington State Park”
“Big Sable Sunset, Ludington State Park” | “Dunes around Ludington State Park are great to visit in the fall when summer crowds are gone. The walk to Big Sable Lighthouse on a crisp fall day is awesome — the dune grass begins taking on more of an amber color. This image of Big Sable Lighthouse, taken in early fall, sits among rolling dunes and can be viewed from all sides easily.” Photography by Brian Edward;
“Painterville Creek, Warren Dunes State Park”
“Painterville Creek, Warren Dunes State Park” | “Fall is my favorite season to photograph along Lake Michigan’s shore. The crowds of summer are gone. Here, Painterville Creek cuts a lazy path to Lake Michigan along the southern boundary of Warren Dunes State Park.” Photography by Steven Huyser-Honig;
“Color Tour, Vineyard Hill”
“Color Tour, Vineyard Hill” | “Northwest Michigan’s dune country is most notable for its massive sand offerings, but just up the road in the rolling hills, you’ll find ideal settings for vineyards, orchards and more recently, hopyards!” Photography by Ken Scott;

Freelance writer Lisa M. Jensen resides in Rockford.

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