Thursday, July 30, 2015

Happy Campers

PicMonkey Collage

We just returned from making great memories on a four day, three night camping adventure, our first as a family.  We camped at Orchard Beach State Park in Manistee, MI.


I was hoping to camp within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore but waited too long to book our site.  Manistee is about an hour away from the dunes, which wasn't ideal, but there was plenty to do in the area.


The campground is along the Lake Michigan shore, and our site was literally steps from a bluff overlooking it. We were able to walk down to the beach to swim and found the large staircase to be well worth the effort.  The stairs and beach were much like what we enjoyed at the house we rented a few years ago located further south down the shore.


We enjoyed a trolley tour of Manistee one morning and were pleased that one of the trolley's two stops was right at the front of the campground.  Manistee is certainly not bustling, but the calm was a pleasant difference from the more touristy Traverse City and Mackinac areas where we have vacationed before. The history and architecture presented on the tour were interesting enough, and the kids did fine on the hour long ride.


Michael and Sophie requested a chance to fish on this trip. We were unsuccessful at catching any fish that afternoon, but spending that time with the kids and giving them a little experience was our real goal.  We'll go again closer to home some time.

Before heading out for this camping trip, the kids and I made a scavenger hunt together with items like "flying insect" and "yellow leaf"  The hunt lasted the whole trip and was fun for all of us.  Surprisingly, we never noticed any animal tracks, so I sent the kids to look for some as we cleaned up the campsite on the last morning.  The hunt was a great way to keep the kids occupied!

Leading up to this trip, we read The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Kathy-jo Wargin and Gisbert van Frankenhuyzen quite a bit this summer.  We borrowed it and a few other camping related books from the library:

The Night Before Summer Vacation by Natasha Wing and Julie Durrell
Camping by Nancy Hundal and Brian Deines
Ladybug Girl at the Beach by David Soman and Jacky Davis

My first attempt to read The Legend of Sleeping Bear earlier this summer was a bit strained.  I was almost as choked up as I was reading Love You Forever the first time when Michael and Sophie were newborns.  By the time we read about the grieving mama bear in the tent the night before our dune climb, the kids were basically telling the story to me.  The book really helped them to understand the geography (Wisconsin is way, way, way on the other side of the lake) and why mommy is a safety nut ("...I am watching over you and loving you forever.")  Sniff.

To get a head start on the heat, we left the campground early for Sleeping Bear Dunes.  We stopped at a scenic overlook and the visitor's center on the way, and looking back I wish we had waited on that, so the air would be cooler.  The weather was pleasant and dry for our trip, but on this day the temperatures did climb into the mid-nineties.

Sophie and Michael did great with the actual dune climb despite the sand already being quite hot on our feet in the mid-morning sun.  The kids wanted to keep on going once they reached the top of the big dune and climbed up and ran back down another small hill before resting at the top of the big dune for a bit.  Mike joked that he ran back down that little dune so fast that his feet fell off, and the kids got a kick out of digging his feet back out of the sand (at the ends of his legs, of course!).  They did the same joke a few times themselves.  We knew ahead of time that hiking the dunes further like Mike and I did years ago when we came by ourselves was not a good plan for this visit.  Maybe when the kids are bigger and on a cooler day. An hour or so on the dune climb was plenty.

No, nobody's crying in this picture.  Smiling.  She's smiling.

After a stressful attempt to take some pictures (sun was too bright for Sophie, and I was putting family Christmas card style pressure on the event--bad combo), we held hands and enjoyed gravity's help as we tumbled back down the dune.


After making some stops along the Pierce Stocking Drive along the lakeshore, we took a side trip into Traverse City for lunch and a couple of drinks at Right Brain Brewery.  A close friend of my mom's has some paintings on display there.  Since we were in the area we couldn't resist a return trip for ice cream at Moomer's.  I think this was our third visit, our second with the kids.  Eating a waffle cone of Cherries Moobilee while watching the cows that aided in its creation has become one of my favorite Michigan summer traditions.

We spent a lot of time in the car that day, but we were okay with escaping that heat.  We hoped to get more beach time back in Manistee, but with a campfire to get going and the day getting late, we just took the kids to play at the park near the city beach.  Like any five-year-olds, Michael and Sophie find playing on a new playground with a a rocket ship structure as exciting (if not more) than climbing a national treasure or splashing in a Great Lake.  Sometimes that works in our favor.


All of our camping nights ended with campfire dinners (hot dogs, hamburgers, hobo ham dinner), dessert (s'mores, campfire apple pies), and sunsets.  We had a good bedtime routine going where we made one last stop at the bathrooms after the sunset, brushed teeth, and put on pajamas in the tent before reading those library books.  That time in our tent with flashlights, sleeping bags, and chats about our day's adventures was my favorite of this trip.  The kids went and stayed asleep like camping champs.

I was even able to drink my coffee in total silence in the mornings.  The memory of that alone could motivate me to do this again in the future.


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