Fulgurite And Test Hill
When we arrived Wednesday at Silver Lake State Park to pitch our tent, the ranger warned that a big storm was forecast to hit in a couple hours. My wife Wendy expressed her doubts, then asked, "What are we supposed to do. Go to a hotel?" The ranger said he was just passing along the information.
After the designated hour of 3 p.m. passed with nothing but sunny skies overhead, Wendy felt obliged to stop by the ranger's office to let him know he was wrong. "Yeah, we missed that one," was his response. But he actually only missed by a letter. The big storm hit around 3 a.m., not 3 p.m.
That night while we slept in our three tents, a thundershower accompanied by some very strong winds rolled through the campground. Our small tent was weathering it fine, but I peeked out to see part of my son Greg's tent flapping violently, as if it were a flag in a gale. Greg was working on making adjustments.
We had problems of our own. Our queen air mattress developed a slow leak and by the time the storm passed we were sleeping on mother earth. Not as soothing as it may sound. So we escaped to our car, only slightly more comfortable, where we stayed till dawn, occasionally turning the electricity on to check the time, which also turned on our headlights brightly illuminating my in-laws tent and waking up the occupants . . . which they complained about later. Hea, no reason all of us couldn't share the grief.
Next day I convinced my son and nephews that there was gold in them thar sand hills. Gold in the form of fulgurite, a tube formed when lightning hits the sand dunes, fusing the sand particles into a type of glass. Four of us scoured the pedestrian area of the dunes but camp up empty-handed, though I did get a digital photo of a bobcat track.
Later when we took our traditional MacWoods dune scooter ride I asked the driver who said he had been roaming the dunes for over a dozens years whether there were bobcat prowling the sandy hills.
"No," he said simply.
Bummer. No fulgurite, no bobcat.
But I did experience something new this year that I hadn't in our 15 or so previous trips to Silver Lake. My brother-in-law Randy and I got to ride in the public ORV portion of the sand dunes, the only such designated area in Michigan.
My son Greg joined us. His wife's sister-in-law Kate was at the wheel as we plowed sand, skimmed through standing water and dodged other off-road vehicles of all makes and models. For a finale, Kate debated whether to climb "test hill", a very large dune that provides a definite challenge for the driver. Go for it, we said.
First attempt ended well short of the summit and we backed down. Try again, Kate wondered? Randy said sure. This time we made it almost to the peak, to the sand ridge that ran along the top of the dune. That's as far as we got. And with our front wheels hanging a few inches in the air on one side of the peak, with the back wheels buried in sand, that's as far as we were going. Stuck!
So we were a spectacle for other drivers (see pictures) until rescued by a nearby Jeep. They attached a strap to our back-end and pulled us backwards to where we were drivable again. No more attempts on the summit today.
Remember the Rat Patrol, the old TV show in which soldiers raced around the desert in jeeps and stuff? Kinda felt like that until test hill. After that, I felt like the "drat patrol."