Nature Lovers will like the open spaces, dense forests and stunning sunsets of the Great Lakes region. The area is suitable for sporting and nature-oriented holidays. The Great Lakes are a series of interconnected freshwater lakes along the Canada-United States border in the northeastern part of the United States. There are five lakes, including 35,000 small islands and covering an area of 94,250 square miles: Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Four of the five lakes share a border with Canada. Only Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States. Lake Superior is the second largest lake on Earth by area. The area is dotted with state parks promising great hiking and water sports, including sailing, kayaking, canoeing, diving, and fishing. A journey to the Great Lakes region is an opportunity to discover the great North American spaces… So, are you ready for some exercise ? Let’s follow a hiking trail in one of the many parks or a beautiful bike paths along the shore of one of them ?
Lake Michigan is known for its long sandy beaches and dunes like those at Muskegon State Park, established in 1923 and covering 1,233 acres. This park includes two miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan and over one mile on Muskegon Lake. It is nice to relax or walk on these dunes as soon as the sun comes out… and to stay until sunset. We can bask in the purity of the air and enjoy the clear view that extending to the horizon… with the Muskegon lighthouse as background. Sunrise and sunset on the lake are beautiful. I am not tired of this show, as the light is so beautiful and the colors so different each time! The Italian author of Aphorisms, Fabrizio Caramagna, describes it so well, “Quelle sensibilité à le soleil! Rougir tous les soirs lorsqu’il se couche” (How sensitive is the sun! It blushes every night when it goes to bed.) Lake Michigan is vast. 307 miles long and 118 miles wide it feels like a sea… or rather like the ocean if you take into account the numerous lighthouses along the coast – waves, seagulls, sand, lighthouses and above all a gigantic blue expanse ! Only the sensation of salt on your skin after a swim is missing… It is a real paradise for freshwater sailboat sailors. Some surfers even enjoy the waves, or rather the wavelets…
The locals claim to have the most beautiful beaches and the most beautiful sand dunes in the Midwest ! You are not convinced yet ? Let’s explore Silver Lake State Park, a little gem in Michigan, located on the shoreline between Muskegon and Ludington. It is less popular than Sleeping Bear Dunes located just to the south. Silver Lake State Park offers stunning dunes covering an area of 2,000 acres and nestled between the shores of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. The park is 1.5 miles wide and 3 miles long. A large part of the park is reserved for hiking. This area is called the Walking dunes… You can attack the dunes with leg-power alone… and surely get sore calves. While most people climb the first dune, not many go deeper into this desert sand… Let your imagination wander. It is almost like Arrakis, the fictional desert planet… will I meet a Fremen just over the next “Dune” ? Probably not… your only companions will be tree stumps and trunks, traces of ancient forests. Nothing can break the enchantment (not even the smallest grain of sand) of this immense panorama of dunes that seems to descend endlessly into the intense blue of the lake. A vertiginous descent leads you to the coastline of the lake. Its long sandy beach dotted with driftwood, stretches in front of you between the grass dunes and the blue waters… Ideal for lazing around ! If you are more of a fan of “motorized hiking”, do not panic, the northern area of the park is an all-terrain vehicle park where you can enjoy driving on the dunes. Thus, you can pretend to be “Stéphane Peterhansel” and dream of being at the steering wheel of an all-terrain vehicle on the famous Paris-Dakar race… Otherwise you can simply have a thrilling drive on sand with one of Mac Woods Dune Rides !
Under the term “National Park”, we tend to think of the vast and mountainous parks of the American West, but the terminology includes less well known smaller parks… The Cuyahoga Valley National Park lies south of Cleveland and north of Akron, Ohio. It is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, but unknown to Europeans. The park was established in 2000. It is a chance to fill your lungs with chlorophyll a few miles away from the urban area of Cleveland and Akron… The park follows the Cuyahoga River for 84 miles along the foothills of the Allegheny Mountain Range. You surely wonder: how did she find out about this park ? Simply by reading the thriller by Fabio M. Mitchelli, “La Compassion du Diable.” The tale (beware sensitive souls !) takes you into the mind of a serial killer: in June 1981, in the area of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, near Cleveland, two big blue containers were discovered by the forestry unit. Inside, an absolute horror: decomposing bodies with a repulsive smell…. A duo of criminal investigators, rather badly matched, Freddy Lawrence and Victoria Fletcher, are in charge of this strange case ! Fortunately for me, the discovery of this park is much more fun and colorful than the dark and depressing novel ! Let’s start our visit at Brandywine Falls, a 65-foot waterfall and the masterpiece of the park. The one-mile Brandywine Gorge Trial allows the visitor to explore the waterfall’s surroundings and discover the beautiful autumn vegetation, a festival of red, green, and orange. Here is a stump with its bright orange polypores, and here an Orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), its small flowers of flamboyant orange spotted with red ? Water droplets often give a shiny silvery look to the leaves, like a jewel. This effect is the origin of its English name, “Spotted jewelweed.” The juice extracted from the stems and leaves is said to be a remedy for rashes and itching caused by insect bites, nettles and poison ivy… the Impatiens Capensis mixes the useful and the beautiful: Mother nature has done quite well ! In addition to Brandywine Falls, the centerpiece of the park, the park counts 70 other magnificent waterfalls, including Blue Hen Falls or Bridal Veil Falls, all accessible via short and easy hikes.
If you prefer more “peaceful water for fishermen and paddlers”, then do not miss Kendall Lake, an artificial lake created in 1935. Kendall Lake is the largest lake within Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The lush, seemingly calm lake is teeming with catfish, bass, bluegill, and pan-fish. The loop trail around the lake offers a chance to observe the wildlife, including beavers, squirrels, Canada geese, geese and other water birds ! You can walk, bike and run along the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail that follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal, constructed between 1825 and 1832 as a means of transporting goods. The trail along the path that the mules used to tow the canal boats takes you through wildness forests and wetlands. A journey on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is another way to explore the park, a 3-hour ride. You can get on and off at any of the many stops along the route, such as at Brecksville Station, and enjoy the surroundings and visit one of many historical attractions including the Boston Store built around 1836 as a warehouse and boarding house for workers, the Wilson Freed Mill a grist mill dating from 1855, and the Canal Exploration Center that has stood at lock 38 for over 150-years. This latter has been a tavern, a boardinghouse and a blacksmith shop. After enjoying the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it is time to leave for Cleveland and, especially, the shores of Lake Erie. Erie is the fourth largest by surface area of the five Great Lakes. It is also the shallowest and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes. The average depth is 62 feet and the deepest point is 210 feet. The surface area is 9,910 square miles. Because of its shallowness it is the most unpredictable. It is often calm but with the slightest breeze waves built quickly. We arrive just on time to enjoy a beautiful sunset against a reddish orange background. We are completely hypnotized by the graceful movement of the waves and the light that dances over the skyscrapers of Cleveland, offering a show worth of the Apocalypse… The dark blue color of twilight takes over from the bright colors of the sunset letting the City Lights bewitch and captivating us… in the background the full moon adding a scintillating sparkle to the atmosphere against the dark blue sky.