Lake Michigan’s evening breeze blows across our faces as we take a leisurely stroll along the cordwalk, amongst the sand dunes of Kohler-Andrae State Park in Wisconsin.
When I think about sand dunes, I envision just that: sand dunes, free from vegetation. Just Bing “sand dunes” and look at the images that come up! But much to my surprise and intrigue, a wide variety of plant life has taken root here, from juniper creeping low along the ground, to towering white pines.
How does a delightful landscape like this come to be? The glaciers are to thank. Approximately 14,000 years ago, what we now know as Lake Michigan was carved out by part of the Wisconsinan glacier.
As this huge slab of ice melted, sand (and water of course) was left behind. Over thousands of years, as water levels decreased, sandy beaches were revealed. The wind and waves of Lake Michigan are responsible for the endlessly shifting dunes that stand here today. Not even the cordwalk is immune from blowing sand!
Our walk begins at the south end of Sand Dune Drive, and the cordwalk takes us up and down the dunes (just scroll down and look at the Runkeeper elevation graph!). I’d compare it to a roller coaster, except our legs are doing all the work on this ride!
We meet up with Creeping Juniper Nature Trail Loop, along which we learn more about this ecosystem and the many plants it contains. Beachgrass is the first to take root and begin stabilizing young dunes. On the other end of the size spectrum, Northern White Cedars also grow here; and while sandy dunes do not provide the normal moist soil that these trees enjoy, the coolness of the lake makes this an ideal home for the “Tree of Life”.
Keep a look out for splashes of color in the form of wildflowers and berries!
After completing the loop, we head back south along the cordwalk. Your first right will take you up to a lookout point. Have a seat on the bench, enjoy the peacefulness, and ponder the natural history of this timeless landscape.
Whether you’re taking a day trip or merely need a 60-minute intermission from your drive to or from the U.P. (that’s us!) or Door County, Kohler-Andrae State park is ready and waiting to recharge your batteries!
What’s your favorite place to stop and stretch your legs when you’re road tripping?