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
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.”
“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.
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.).
Freelance writer Lisa M. Jensen resides in Rockford.