Surprised by Sand

This past weekend, my sister Alison and I took our second hiking trip together. We planned a shorter hike than last year and parked such that we could hike a short distance (under two miles) to our campsites, pitch our tents, then do day hikes unencumbered by packs. I must say it was an excellent strategy.

So on Friday afternoon we quickly found ourselves setting up our tent at Masse Homestead backcountry campsite on the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The hike to the site was eerily silent. We heard no birds or humming insects, encountered no other hikers, and spoke little as we walked a narrow path through a largely open, mostly deciduous woodland.

To Masse Homestead

Masse Homestead is a smaller site, with only three campsites allowed. There was some mold growing in the food box, so we opted for the food pole to keep our rations away from bears. The soil was sandy, making the tent setup smooth and bathroom breaks easy (apart from the mosquitoes). And in just a matter of minutes, we were ready to check out our surroundings.

Masse Homestead

The old bearded ranger (“I’ve lived in Grand Marais all my life but I’m slowly moving west. I’ve gotten about two and a half miles so far.”) told us about a very steep, sandy trail that led up to the dunes. It was easy to spot (harder to climb) so we grabbed cameras and water bottles and headed up.

Trail up to dunes

Near the top, one gets the very queer feeling that you are going through C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe to Narnia.

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And, in fact, I think what awaited us took our collective breath away just like Narnia did for Lucy.

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The last time I could see this much landscape all around me, I was in a plane.

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There we stood, upon the very highest point of the Grand Sable Dunes, and all around us was wilderness.

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The only sound was of the crickets and cicadas.

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At that moment, we felt as though we must be the only two people on earth.

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We hiked over the dunes, up and down, for a long time before we even approached the edge, losing site of the big hill we first stood on and the opening in the trees that would lead us back down to our tent.

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But how could we not be drawn by this landscape to abandon the trail and set off to blaze our own?

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We stopped (quite sensibly) at this line of wet sand that ran across the top of the slope. Had we taken very many more steps forward, we might have found ourselves sliding down 300 or so feet into Lake Superior.

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Instead, we rested our feet a bit and took in the incredibly blue lake and the cool breeze.

Erin on the Dunes

Besides some tracks in the sand (coyote, deer, crow, and one set of bare human feet) and one pile of scat (bear) there was little evidence of life up there beyond dune grasses, scrubby junipers, poplars, and wild roses.

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We would discover later that night that the dunes are a favored spot for huge clouds of gnats (or some related tiny flying insect) but that is a post for another day.

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