PHOTO ESSAY: My first adventure with the Great Old Broads for Wilderness at Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore



I knew who I’d be meeting before I met them. How did I know? Because every woman there would have already identified with that fabulous, “in your face” phrase “Great Old Broads for Wilderness.”

And, I discovered when I did walk into that cozy cabin with a fire going in the fireplace, right during “cocktail hour” after a nearly 8-hour journey from Indiana (which I quickly corrected, for them, to InDiana (goddess of the woodlands)) through flaking snow! — some of the Great Old Broads there had identified with the phrase for decades; others not so long, and one had just now come into it, and was still, you might say, a bit leery, trying it on for size. Me? Though I didn’t pay the special $25 fee to become a member during this, their 25th anniversary year up front, I knew that I might after the weekend was done. It all depends, I thought.

It all depends on what? I didn’t know. Basically, on how I felt once the weekend was over.

So. I walked into that cozy cabin and right away realized that I should have brought the bottle of wine stowed in my car right then, rather than later. So I went back out to get it. Somebody, I think it was Deb, called it “two buck Chuck,” and yes, that is what it was, it’s the shiraz that I drink when I do drink, which is not that often, and only with others. Even so, I felt insulted. Briefly. The “insult” passed through like a flash, and actually, of all the women there, maybe ten? — depending on the day and the hour, Deb, a wilderness educator turned boat builder, turned into my favorite sister.

Here she is.
DebWe were all sisters, reminding me of my own six sibling sisters, in that, just like my familials, we argued, laughed, clashed, flowed, moved in a current together, listened to each other’s stories, and just basically “got along,” famously.

Deb and Barb both helped me erect my tent. I decided to put it up after the first night, which I spent in my cramped Prius — to prove to myself that I could do it; I didn’t need to rely on motels when on the road. Though invited, I didn’t want to move into the cabin, since I’m a light sleeper and even tiny snuffling snores bother me.

(Wow! I discovered that had I taken a poll on how many of us are light sleepers, we would have found that most of us are. Is this part of being a Great Old Broad, this middle of the night sleeplessness that sends some of us into meditation, others into restless fury, or prowling about, or reading?)

I didn’t ask Deb and Barb to help me put up my tent. I guess they just intuitively knew that I needed help. And in fact, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t ever put it up before, that, in fact, I didn’t even know how it got stored in my basement! Was it really my tent? A carry-over from my marriage to Jeff, dead these 12 years after our 12-year union? It turned out this tent was missing two stakes and a tiny rope line to hold the rain cover over one side of the tent. Deb went out to her capacious tent (two rooms) and found what I needed. Even brought me two tiny rope lines, since they were yellow, and attached them to both sides; that way I could have color symmetry on both sides of the tent! That little aesthetic balancing detail cracked me up. Wish I had taken a photo of it. Oh well!

Most of the photos I took were not personal, but inspired by the vistas we encountered at this incredible Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I do have two from our first night there, however, when we welcomed the first of three speakers (one each evening),

first lecture slidefirst lecture.2who educated us as to the geology, flora and fauna, threats, and other interesting facts about this storied place. The part I liked best had to do with the American Indian legend from which the place got its name.

Something like this:

A female bear decided to swim from the western to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan with her two cubs. By the time she crawled ashore at the dunes she turned around and saw that her cubs were not there. They had drowned enroute. Forever after the grieving Bear sits on the top of the dunes, looking out at the lake, waiting for her cubs, now symbolized by the north and south Manitou islands.

And the part I like least, in fact the part that made me sick to my stomach, was the fact that the Great Lakes, we learned on the second night, are now filled with tiny microplastic beads, each about the size of a grain of sand.

Microplastics threaten Great Lakes marine life

Our speakers ate dinner with us too, and for this first speaker (above) we playfully vied with each other as to which Old Broad got to wash his plate. At first, sitting to eat with a bunch of uninhibited, playfully ornery old women, he seemed a bit leery; but when assured that the Broads welcome “Great Old Bros” into the fold, and invited to tell us about himself, he relaxed.

The next morning, we were up bright and early, so that we could drive to the Visitor Center by 8 A.M. and meet the ranger who would direct us to the beach that we would clean up as our service to that wonderful place, 32,500 acres of which, on March 15, 2014, had just received official designation as a national “wilderness.”

(Interesting: I didn’t realize this new “wilderness” designation until our final morning there. Where was I? Everybody else knew and were surprised I didn’t. It must have been something that was mentioned after I had gone to my car or tent to sleep.)

Here we are getting ready to go, on that bitterly cold morning, each of us secretly (after all, some of us still didn’t know each other very well) wondering how long we would hold out in the biting cold and wind, and to that end, furtively gathering whatever we’d need to stay out there for however long it took. For me, warm scarf for neck, warm hat, windbreaker over jacket plus two more layers, etc.

in driveway

Once at the National Park Service headquarters, after the Ranger’s introduction, we eagerly agreed to remain in our seats and watch the 15-minute introductory movie (knowing it would keep us warm and inside a bit longer . . .)

And wow, what a movie it was. Very very beautiful photography. That’s where I learned about the Great Bear legend. I am not alone in my surprise at the level of artistry in the film. And that, I think, is when the magic began. The artistry of the film, while extraordinary, must have been inspired by the beauty and grandeur of the place in its reality. All weekend long, I felt utterly stunned.

Even the weather couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. In fact, before long, the weather gods decided to not only cooperate, but to offer us a sky panoply to rival the vistas below. As you shall see . . .

Here’s my first shot, at the parking lot on the dune above the designated beach for clean-up. As you can see, the sky was still grey and cold looking, but the vista, even then, enchanting.

service vista.1

Okay. We trudged on down off the dune onto the thick, fine sand of the beach, to get our pincer sticks and black plastic bags. Some went left,

service beach.2

others, right.

service beach.1

Picking up itsy bitsy pieces of plastic that mostly looked like parts of water bottles or their caps — plus maybe hundreds of cigarillo ends! Did one guy smoke them all? Strange. They littered both sides of the long beach.

As those of us on the left got to the place where a small river met the lake,


the sky imperceptibly began to brighten, the air warm. Wow. BLUE sky! (No chemtrails either!I wonder if the Great Old Broads know about chemtrails. I brought the subject up with one of them, and didn’t get a reaction. It’s as if we can’t take that info in until we’re ready to do so. Reminds me of 9/11.)

sky glory beach
river fades to lake

beach sky glory

By the time we had combed the entire beach, two hours had gone by and we were all happy campers.

group shot beach

For some reason I have completely spaced what we did that afternoon, though I do know that we sat on the beach and shared what we had prepared for our lunches. I brought a dozen hard-cooked eggs u with me from InDiana. Some of them were eagerly snatched. Others went home with me.

Ahhh. I do remember. We went to see the “Treet Farm” (not sure of the spelling), one of, we found out later, 1500 “inholdings” in the park that have been negotiated, one by one, to become part of the Park’s property. The Treet family settled the place some time back in the 1880s, and they were an enterprising lot. It’s a beautiful place, up an old road lined, now, with trees, ramps, and trillium.


The homestead:

treet farm.2

Of course we had to take a group photo, this one circling the giant old basswood tree on the Treet Farm property.

group shot tree

View of their concrete garage (the roof of which they formed by piling up sand underneath all the way up!).

concrete garage

Vista from the homestead, which had been the fields they farmed.

treet farmI think the female ranger that went with us — she was great, after 35 years still excited by what she was explaining — said that the family gave it up in 1910? Or was in the 1930s. Can’t remember.

We then hiked across those fields, to come suddenly upon a cliff with a vista I will never forget. Their farm was actually the top of a huge dune! Or rather, the dunes in this park are actually on top of hills.


treet farm vista 1

The next day’s tour (the limo tour, we called it, since Jan’s van felt so luxurious), brought further wonders in this habitat that is as varied and offers vistas to rival any in the west, where I come from (lived in a 20-foot diameter yurt in the Tetons for 20 years). Plus, the place did feel “wild,” in the best sense of that term: untamed, still its untrammeled self.

BTW: speaking of “the wild,” one evening I mentioned the famous poster, “God bless Wyoming and keep it wild!”


and Barb said, “Oh! I’ve got that poster framed, hanging on my wall.” Yep. We certainly all felt like sisters.

Our limo driver Jan BTW, is a retired librarian with Michigan’s Cranbrook Institute of Science, and we all agreed she was the main connector among most of the women there. Along with Karen, she had organized this “Broadwalk,” the first of its kind in Michigan. The ten of us hailed from Michigan (three from the U.P. i.e., Upper Peninsula), Wisconsin, Illinois and me, InDiana. Thank you Karen and Jan!

Great Old Broads for Wilderness, which started out in Colorado, was apparently surging into form via the same zeitgeist wave that birthed Crone Chronicles: A Journal of Conscious Aging, the magazine I founded and ran for 12 years, in Wyoming, back in 1989. Both of these organizations took “in your face” names, in part, to jolt us into shifting the way we think about the aging process. Back then, I noted the announcement of the “Great Old Broads” immediately, and was thrilled to know of their existence. This, however, was my first personal experience with them, as well as my own first experience with the wilds of Michigan.

Okay, once again, here’s the promised tour photos, one after another. Note that the sky played a big part, gifting us with its own parallel glories. As if the same divine painter brushed above and below into fuller being.

Here’s an eroding dune.

eroding dune

Here’s my totally favorite shot.

on tour with clouds 2 tour vista 1 tour vista 2 tour vista 3 tour vista looking south tour vista north tree frame tour vista

Hard to believe, eh?

Okay. The final group of pictures I took on my own walk, just me, that afternoon, on a nearby trail to the dunes and another beach through a forest. Again, one after another, this time in chronological order.

final walk

final walk 2


final dunes

final dunes with treeson dunes final

Sand circles . . .

sand circles

Looks like an animal carcass . . .


Sitting selfie on beach. Pausing on my solitary walk to rest and reflect, after three days of bustling camaraderie, my monkey mind finally quieted down.

sitting selfie

On way back. Notice how the sand dune ramps neatly into the woods!

dune into forest

One more evening of fun, frolic, and education, on the final morning we just had to take another family photo, this time with the giant banner logo:

Sunday morning

final group shot with sign

I bought two tee-shirts (one long sleeved) and a couple of bumper stickers. My favorite? “Great Old Broads Do It in the Wild” And I’ve decided to send in the $25 special offer membership fee. Can’t wait for another Broadwalk. Maybe in the Smokies? Or here, in the Deem Wilderness?

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6 Responses to PHOTO ESSAY: My first adventure with the Great Old Broads for Wilderness at Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

  1. rose day says:

    …fabulous photos…what a great group of gals!

  2. Mary Peterson says:

    So glad you were there with us. Your photos are great, and your observations very revealing.

  3. Nancy says:

    Love your photo essay. I had no idea Lake Michigan was so beautiful. What a fun experience and great photos.

  4. This is great, Ann! Thanks for trusting in Broads and your membership. You are a great writer! Almost like being there.

    Broad wishes for your continued involvement!


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