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Riding the Dunes
by Andrew L. McFarlane

In the Heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes Wagon Dune Rides
The DunesmobileToday, taking a truck loaded with people tearing around the Sleeping Bear Dunes would land you in jail and probably brand you for life as an eco-criminal.

But before the days of endangered pitcher thistle plants and piping plovers -- when most people thought that a fragile ecosystem was something you better pack with extra styrofoam for shipping, there were the Dune Rides.

Don't get me wrong -- this isn't a Limbaugesque plea for a return to the Good Old Days, but when I came upon this old brochure last summer at a garage sale, I had to have it. What's more, after looking at it for the better part of the year, I knew that I had to share it.

It all began long before I was born. When, according to the brochure:
"In 1935 Louis C. Warnes equipped a car with special motor and giant tires for personal pleasure trips into the vast sand lands near his home. Friends begged him to take passengers. Soon he added other cars and trained drivers...."
For over 40 years the "Dunesmobiles" rode over one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world, bringing those to young, old or lazy to walk closer to the beauty that dwells in the heart of the Sleeping Bear. I rode the dunes only one time, in the summer of 1976. My memories are of sun, sand and what seemed then to be great speed. With the coming of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the days of the dune rides were numbered and in 1978 the dune rides ceased altogether.

Today, the building sits empty in Glen Haven and the trucks have been pressed into service by Manitou Island Transit and far fewer people get back into the "real" dunes. The result is probably best for the health of the dunes, but it also means that for folks who won't journey more than a few hundred feet from their cars, memories of the Sleeping Bear Dunes will consist of a few runs up and down the dune climb.
The Bear
The Bear -- which has since disappeared
To the Dunesmobile, Robin!
A "Dunesmobile" on the
specially constructed gravel road

Copyright 1999 Manitou Publishing Co., Marion and Louis Warnes & Andrew L. McFarlane • All Rights Reserved.

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