The Secret Dune...
I came across Old Baldy by pure accident. A couple months back I was doing a search of Michigan summits (please try to withhold your laughter) and one jumped out at me. This one was located in Leelanau County an easy 2-hour drive from my home. Not a mountain or hill, but rather a dune, I soon discovered that Old Baldy in fact sat within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Immediately I consulted all maps and trail guides at my disposal and none, I repeat NONE, mentioned Old Baldy or even a trail by name!
As it turns out Old Baldy is a fairly popular destination within the lakeshore for those who know of its existence. Towering nearly 400' above Lake Michigan Old Baldy is actually a southern extension of the higher and more popular Empire Bluffs to the north. Though not the highest dune in the park the location of Old Baldy makes it unique. At this location in the park the dunes barely penetrate a mile inland. Thus, from the bare summit of Old Baldy one is treated to unrestricted views of Lake Michigan as well as the forested hills and valleys to the east. It is quite an incredible setting.
The trailhead to the Treat Farm and Old Baldy begins at an unmarked gate at the corner of Norcronck and Stormer Roads. The trail immediately starts the slow climb into the wooded dunes.
The day was a warm one, temps in the mid-30's and rare February sunshine made for a wonderful walk in the woods.
After a half-mile the trail reaches the Treat Farm which dates back to 1912. The buildings are closed to the public pending restoration but wandering around them was still a very interesting experience.
The backside of Old Baldy is fully visible from the farm, the trail I'd be following heads out across the field.
Wandering around the backside of the farmhouse I found this ginormous Basswood tree. This tree was at one time a state champion but is now slowly dying.
Tracks in the Snow
High clouds were starting to move in so I decided I best hurry if I wanted to get any blue-sky shots from the dune.
As the trail rounded the south side of Old Baldy the snow became covered in a thick coat of sand, blown through the trees during high winds.
I won the race against the clouds, but just barely. The view north from where the trail hits the edge of the dune was amazing, though very windy.
Looking 200-or-so feet down to the big lake the water almost looks warm,except for the ice pack which tells a different story.
From the point where the trail reaches the dune edge the bulk of Old Baldy rises another 200' above you to the north.
There is no marked trail to the top so I decided to follow the southern ridge which I hoped would offer better views and keep me out of the deep snow in the bowl.
Into the Bowl
Unfortunately the "ridge" didn't extend to the top so I was forced to drop into the bowl for the final push to the top.
Common amongst the dunes, "ghost trees" rise out of the sand. i wonder how long it had been since they were first covered.
As I rose higher views back to the south started to open up. Unfortunately, due to the late afternoon sun and the thickening clouds photos in this direction don't do it justice.
Lack of Snow
The final climb took me up the bowl that forms the summit of Old Baldy. Needless to say, at this point the snowshoes came off.
Up We Go
Looking back as I neared the top the snowfield and brush I had fought through earlier looked very far below.
After a somewhat tiring climb (sand always sucks) I reached the summit ridge of Old Baldy and the views opened up in every direction.
Looking 400 vertical feet down the bowl that forms the summit of Old Baldy to Lake Michigan. This particular formation does not bode well for the dune. The bowl shape is the tell-tale sign of this being a blowout dune meaning that its lifespan may be coming to an end.
The Treat Farm was visible far below, nearly obscured by the trees.
As the dunes don't extend very far inland in this area the views of the forested interior hills of the Lower Peninsula were expansive.
My gaze was continually drawn to the southern horizon where the views stretched away to distant Point Betsie. Again, the sun foiled truly spectacular pics but the experience was stunning none-the-less.
With more clouds moving in and rain forecast for early evening I didn't stay long. With one last look at the lake I turned back into the woods.
I decided to head cross country on the way back to save some time. The terrain was quite steep and I quickly discovered where all the snow ended up that should have been on the lake-side of the dunes. The snow here was easily 3-feet deep.
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