Posted by: kerryl29 | July 16, 2018

Sleeping Bear Dunes: Just the Beaches (and Dunes), Ma’am

The very name of the place–“Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore”–conjures up images of…dunes….and lakeshore…and, I suppose, sleeping bears.  (In truth, the sleeping bear part of the name stems from a Native American legend involving the distant appearance of one of the main dunes areas, but I digress.)  As I noted in the first post in this series, there’s much more to the region than dunes and beaches, but those are major elements of the park’s landscape.  This post will focus on those particular points of interest.

Good Harbor Beach at Sunrise, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan


It’s my sense that when most people think of beaches they naturally conjure up notions of ocean beaches.  It’s certainly my first instinct.  But I’ve done a fair amount of photography on Great Lakes beaches, which bear both similarities and differences compared to ocean beaches.

Platte River Morning, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

The Great Lakes contain fresh water, unlike the saltwater you’ll find when seaside.  Fresh water can beset all kinds of problems upon photographic equipment but it’s not nearly as corrosive as seawater.  Whenever photographing near the ocean I take great pains to minimize–any contact between my tripod and saltwater.  Even if I’m able to avoid such contact completely, the wind can–and does–blow elements of salt all over the place, so I always wipe down my tripod after photographing on an ocean beach.  I have no hesitation about allowing my tripod to make contact with the wet stuff when I’m photographing near freshwater, including along the Great Lakes.

Platte River Beach Black & White, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

On the other hand, sand is sand, and you’ll find plenty of it along the shores of the Great Lakes, just as is the case on ocean beaches.  Sand can really wreak havoc with photographic equipment so when photographing at any beach, I try to avoid changing lenses and try to minimize the amount of extending and retracting of tripod legs, to avoid allowing grains of sand to become caught up in the works.  If there’s any inkling of this having taken place I always disassemble and clean the tripod at the end of each day.

Good Harbor Beach Sunrise, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

I’ve photographed along the shores of three of the Great Lakes (Michigan, Superior and Huron) and, with very few exceptions, have found that ocean beaches are much, much deeper than those of the Great Lakes.  As a result, photographing along Great Lakes beaches can be more challenging from a compositional standpoint and in terms of the ability to avoid having footprints mar the scene.   Rarely, for instance, will the reflective effect of wet sand, so frequently encountered on a broad beach impacted by the relative consistency of ocean waves, be found at the Great Lakes.

Platte River Beach Black & White, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Freshwater lakes aren’t susceptible to the tidal forces present in oceans and the impact of waves on adjoining beaches varies accordingly.  While the daily effect of tides can sweep a beach clean of footprints, ocean beaches usually require the less reliable force of the wind to achieve the same effect.   And, of course, the kinds of elements one might see on the beach will vary.  Driftwood and beach stones can be found, if you know where to go, on both ocean and Great Lakes beaches, but offshore rocks of size are much more likely to be found at the former than the latter.  The wildlife is, of course, quite different as well.  And while estuaries can be found in both locales, they take on a very different look along the Great Lakes than in ocean environs.

Platte River Beach Black & White, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan


Outside of other dunes areas around the Great Lakes, my only experience with dunes photography is the time I spent at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  That trip, made in 2007, was an entirely different kind of experience, and not only because there’s no water and the dunes at White Sands are snow white in color–though those are two significant differences.  The dunes at White Sands are overwhelmingly…well, sand, broken only by the occasional yucca cactus or mostly buried cottonwood tree.  (See below.)

Dunes Abstract, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Heart of the Dunes black & white, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

But the dunes at Sleeping Bear are pierced by grasses and clusters of cottonwoods.  There aren’t many wide expanses of unbroken sand.

Dunes Black & White, Lake Michigan Overlook, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Dunes Grass, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

At White Sands, the wind essentially “cleans” the largely unadorned dunes every night, eriasing any footprints created that day.  But at Sleeping Bear, all of the vegetation makes it harder for the wind to accomplish its task.  We saw that on the transition from our third day in the park to the fourth.  The wind was substantial on the morning of the fourth day and was beginning to obscure the previous day’s footprints, but it wasn’t able to sweep the sands clear in one evening.

Dunes & Cottonwoods Black & White, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Dunes & Cottonwoods, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

As a result of the different elements present, the dunes at Sleeping Bear have more of a “traditional” landscape feel than those at White Sands, which is the most graphic locale I’ve ever photographed.  One isn’t “better,” in my judgment, than the other, but despite the dunes commonality, the places emit a completely different feel.

Cottonwoods Black & White, Lake Michigan Overlook, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Cottonwood Cluster, Lake Michigan Overlook, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

As you can see from the images in this post (and the last one), I produced a lot of black and white photos at Sleeping Bear.  This theme will be the primary subject of a later post.



  1. The images are stunning! Clouds and water are a winning combination. 🙂 🙂

    • Thanks!

      Yes, we were fortunate to have some very interesting skies during our time at Sleeping Bear Dunes and given the opportunities for expansive views–particularly when lakeside–the clouds acted as a tremendous incentive to photograph.

  2. Very nice captures! Gives me some insight for when we are there in a couple of weeks.

    • Thanks! Hope you have a good trip.

  3. Fantastic images as ever! Funny you should mention dunes… I got up close and personal in my latest post with a favorite beach, yours and mine! Did you make it to the northern end of Meyers Beach, or was it Hunter Cove? The sand sculpted us as much as the sand. That dratted summer wind from the North.

    Just an aside… it seems the highway signs insist on calling it Myers, but there are other sources that include the first “e”. Meyer also seems to be a common family name in this neck of the woods, so I opt to include the extra letter. 😀

  4. The photos from the Platte River area of Sleeping Bear are superb. The clouds are such a strong element in those images.In the Good Harbor Beach Sunrise shot, the contrast between the detail and texture in the driftwood and the smooth water and clouds makes for a compelling image.

  5. Beautiful work, Kerry….

  6. […] Beaches and dunes.  Forests.  I know I just scratched the surface at Sleeping Bear.  I look forward to further […]

  7. wow! love your posts!

  8. Whoa nice shots 🙂 Kepp up the amazing work 🙂
    Check out the beaches on my blog post of my home island! Have to say home is still home and I love the beaches here 🙂 Be sure to check them out and stay tuned for more beaches I am planing to visit 🙂

    • Thanks, I’ll check out your stuff at the first available opportunity.

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: