Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fulgurite

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 -- Silver Lake State Park, MI

Occasionally, as thunderstorms pass over dune country, lightning strikes the dune itself. The result is something called a "fulgurite" -- a long, slender, glassy tube produced when lightning travels through the sand seeking solid ground, melting the particles into glass as it travels. Thousands of these fulgurites have been found over the years. Also referred to as petrified lightning or thunder tubes, most range from a few inches to a foot or two in length. One of the largest ever found, which we saw on display, is over 9 feet long. They're very fragile and almost always break into smaller pieces as they're retrieved. Around here, if you're not hanging out at the beach or running fat-tired vehicles all over the dunes, you might be walking through the dunes searching for fulgurites.

Wednesday was a full day for us. First on the agenda was a ride through the dunes. Since the old Blazer isn't dune-ready (tall mast on front bumper with red flag at the top, big low pressure sand tires, doors ripped off, top cut off, muffler removed), we did a Mac Wood Dune Tour. Mac Wood is an institution around here as he's been doing this for over 75 years. Back then he used modified Model A Fords, today a slightly newer and heavily modified Ford Truck. Of course old Mac isn't around anymore, but the business is still in the family. It was fun and got us into a part of the dune you can only see on this ride, as Mac Wood leases 600 acres of dunes from the State Park for exclusive use. Originally, before 1872 or so, these dunes were here and covered with large stands of white and red pine trees. After the Chicago fire, lumber barons bought up these stands of timber, cut it down, and shipped the lumber to Chicago for the massive rebuilding effort. After the trees were gone, wind action and blowing sand prevented re-establishment of the forest. So, all these dune-riding gear-heads have Mrs. O'Leary's cow to thank for their kicks and the sand in their underwear.

After the dune ride, and a big breakfast at a local diner, we headed for the Hart-Montague Trail State Park. This 22 mile long bike trail follows the path of an abandoned railroad right-of-way. We did a little over 16 miles through mostly wooded country-side and stopped half-way for an ice cream cone at the Country Dairy Farm Store. This little operation raises and milks their own cows (over a thousand) and operates their own dairy making organic drinking milk, cheeses, and ice cream -- about as vertically integrated as possible. It couldn't have been more perfectly placed for our ride.

Sore muscles and all, we headed for the Little Sable Point Lighthouse, very close to where we're camping. If you'd glance at a map of Lake Michigan, you'd see two "bumps" along the eastern shore where the land projects out into the lake 20 or 30 miles further than the rest. The lower of these two points is called Little Sable Point, and is only a mile or two from our campsite. The lighthouse was built in 1873, which should ring a bell with you, if you've been paying attention: recall the logging operations that started about this time to help rebuild Chicago. As ships were plying these waters at night or in bad weather, too many of them were hitting these points of land jutting into the lake. The lighthouse reduced the problem.

Roasting hotdogs over a small campfire, we toasted the end of one more day along the trail.

T