Archived Story

Cruising Michigan’s sunset coast

Published 9:10am Thursday, June 26, 2014

I grew up in Michiana, on the very outside edge of Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

As a kid, one of my favorite summer outings was to climb in the back of my Dad’s 1964 nine-passenger Chevy station wagon with the rear-facing back seat and power rear window, and head for Warren Dunes and Tower Hill.

Think of Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Vacation, driving the “Family Truckster,” only with two girls sitting quietly in the seat behind the parents, and three adorable boys (ages 10, 11, and 12 — don’t believe the “adorable” part) sitting in the rear facing seat with control over that power rear window. The things that flew out of that rear window could fill a story that should never be written (but, probably will).

We didn’t go on a lot of family outings. When we did, it was going to be an all-day affair because dad was going to get his money’s worth. For my four siblings and me, a trip to Warren Dunes State Park meant spending half the day scaling Tower Hill and trying to run back down without ending up face first in the sand, followed by seeing how long we could swim before the balmy waters of Lake Michigan numbed everything but our vocal chords.

Mixed in between were vain attempts to keep the sand off the peanut butter sandwiches in the picnic basket, accompanied by prolonged exposure to the sun without any benefit of sun blocker.

By the end of the day, my Dad was still determined to get his money’s worth. Exhausted from hours of running up and down the beach, frolicking in the frigid waves and eating sand sandwiches, the seven of us (We’re including Mom and Dad. Remember them? Dad drove and Mom made peanut butter sandwiches – sand was added later.) made the most perfect recliner chairs.

This was done by digging a depression into the still warm beach sand, scooping and piling the sand to the side of the hole away from the water, settling your behind down into the hole, leaning your back against the stacked pile of sand, and voilà, the perfect reclining chair for sitting back and watching the sunset.

Could my old man get his money’s worth, or what?

By the end of the day, five kids were either sound asleep or wishing we were so someone would carry us back to the car. Mom and Dad would carry the two littlest kids and we older three had to wake up and trudge all the way back across the sand and parking lot – a big deal after a long day of trudging up Tower Hill and falling back down.

I must confess, as a kid, being “forced” to watch the sunset seemed kind of lame. However, when the conditions were just right, when the sun and the atmosphere harmonized in perfect pitch, even an 11-year-old juvenile (not quite yet delinquent) had to admit it was worth waiting for.

To this day, I am awed by Lake Michigan sunsets.

Recently, I visited Mackinaw City with a day trip out to Mackinac Island. I stayed in a very nice hotel with a third-floor balcony and lakeside view. Wanting to get my money’s worth, I woke early, poured some Irish cream in my coffee (yes, the real stuff) and settled in on the balcony to watch the sunrise over Lake Huron. It was magnificent. The sun pushed above the horizon just as the Star Line Ferry’s hydra-jet sprayed a 50-foot water plume as it streaked across the shimmering morning sunbeams on its first voyage of the day.

Once the sun rose a few more degrees above the horizon and the morning spectacle had diminished, I went back to bed.

Sunrise is overrated. Give me a Lake Michigan sunset any evening.


Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His optimistic “glass full to overflowing” view of life shapes his writing. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. Wilson touts himself as “a dubiously licensed teller of tall tales, sworn to uphold the precept of ‘It’s my story; that’s the way I’m telling it.’” He can be reached at


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