at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

Off the Grid: Backcountry Camping

Tom and I have always loved camping. One of the things that first drew me to Tom was his love for adventure and the outdoors, and one of the things I appreciate most about our relationship is being able to share those sorts of experiences together.  From annual camping trips to Manistee (Tom's been camping there every year for the past 25+ years), to backpacking on Isle Royale, to hiking at nearby parks and random weekend adventures -- it's been a lot of fun.  At the end of July, we got to add a new adventure to our list: Backcountry camping in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.  It's something we've talked about doing for a long time, but had just never jumped on. As we were planning our annual Manistee camping trip this year and realized we might not get a camping site, we decided it was time to give the Dunes a try.  The Wilderness Area is directly adjacent to the campground we normally go to, and we'd hiked a lot of the trails already, but there was still more to explore.  And, to add an extra element of fun, this was the first year we'd have a dog with us!

We decided that we wanted to do a cross between traditional "car camping" and backpacking -- by selecting a campsite that was not too far from the parking lot, we could carry more weight than we normally would backpacking and could even bring a cooler.  We planned to hike maybe a mile down the beach and set up camp in the woods just behind the dunes.  Tom had a brilliant idea to buy this awesome new, huge rolling cooler that is supposed to keep things cold for 5 days.  You see, the worst part about backpacking (besides pooping in the woods) is having to eat sub-par food.  We wanted to be in the wilderness for 4-5 days, but we also wanted to eat well. Therefore, giant rolling cooler.  It was a success in that we packed in lots of tasty food and drinks and it stayed super cold the entire trip.  It was less successful in that it probably weighed 100 lbs. going out and didn't so much roll over the sand as...sink into it.  

Who's cooler? Just to give you an idea of how big this cooler is...

Needless to say, after about a half mile of dragging the big cooler through thick sand while also carrying a 60 lb. backpack (have I mentioned that I love my husband?!), Tom was ready to set up camp. I just had to carry my measly 27 lb. pack and reign in the dog!  

We actually found a great site, behind two rows of dunes, just into the woods.  There was a good spot for the tent, for the hammock and for a fire.  The dune just in front of us was the perfect spot for lying in the sun on the couple warm days we had. I was so grateful to have some sunshine and actually have it be warm enough to take a couple dips into Lake Michigan.  

A view of our campsite from the dune

view from the top of the dune - I love Michigan!

Nothing beats a Manistee sunset
We also happened to have a great climbing tree on our site -- BONUS!

The third day we were there, a huge storm blew in from across the lake.  Fortunately, the worst of the rain and storm just missed up, blowing slightly north.  However, we had incredible winds the entire night! It was windy enough that we couldn't have a campfire that night, so we hunkered down in our tent and did what anyone else would do on a stormy night: Watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!

Yes, we did bring electronics on the trip. Actually, Tom bought this really cool solar panel charger for our devices, too.  It was neat to watch the sun's energy power our electronics.  We had a little bit of music going, we watched Dr. Horrible (which also happens to be the only thing we did with technology on Isle Royale -- now, it's tradition!), and we used our phones to check weather, check messages and find geocaches! Oh, and take pictures. Lots of pictures. We didn't really get reception through most of the dunes, which was fine, because we wanted to be mostly disconnected at any rate. That's part of the beauty of camping.

Our last full day camping turned out to be a beautiful hiking day. Although we had hiked some of the trails in the Wilderness Area, we had not hiked them all.  We planned out a route to take us to the parking lot at the far end of the wilderness area and from there to Nordhouse Lake.  In between, we decided to stop to do a bit of geocaching. What's geocaching, you ask?  You are not alone.  I don't think anyone I've talked to about our trip has known. But you should -- it's like treasure hunting (more info here), and is tons of fun!

Does this pack make my butt look big?
I just love forests; the scenery, the smell, the sunlight
filtering through the leaves...
No, that's not a pinecone...

The trails that go past Nordhouse Lake seemed to be less traveled than the paths closer to the dunes. When we found the lake, I was stunned by the beauty.  It's not a huge lake, but the scenery is so pretty.  There was a sort of peninsula that came out into the lake with gorgeous views and a potential campsite for next trip!

One view of Nordhouse Lake from the peninsula
Also a great spot for a Husband / Puppy portrait!
Happy and Tom fording Nordhouse Lake!

As would be expected (and as we hoped), we found out that Happy LOVES camping.  He would've run the entire trail system if we had let him.  He enjoys laying in the hammock -- with or without us! And, he has discovered the love of his life: hot dogs.  We had Happy hooked up to a tree with his long wire lead most of the time.  It gave him a good amount of room to romp around.  One night, we were just partway up the dune cooking hot dogs and Happy was just out of reach of us.  He was utterly distraught. At first, I thought he just wanted to be by us, as he's usually not himself (Happy) if he cannot be where we are.  However, I soon discovered by the look in his eye and the drool in his mouth that the hot dogs were what he was really after. He even resorted to digging frantically at the dune, as if he could, by digging, get the top of the dune (and the beloved hot dogs) to roll his way.  Don't worry, we didn't let him suffer long.  He enjoyed a couple hot dogs among other delicious treats on our trip. As Tom told him: camping is a time to enjoy junk food!

I'll just rest up here on this table while you chat...
Happy's new favorite thing EVER
Speaking of food... we did eat pretty well.  We had hot dogs, but the good kind, which are extra tasty cooked over a fire in the woods.  We had chicken and rice one night.  The cold night we had soup (not so good).  We cooked potatoes in the fire.  We made doughboys and even pigs in a blanket.  We had sandwiches for lunch, plus cheese, summer sausage and crackers; we had lots of snacks, and of course Jiffy Pop.  

Cooking fireside chicken

Doughboys! We dipped them in jam.

cheesy potatoes

I also tried out a "backpacking" recipe I saw on Pinterest: Eggs in Orange Halves.  I have to say, this is really not a backpacking recipe, as you're likely not going to be carrying heavy citrus fruits and definitely not going to be able to keep eggs cool.  At any rate, it seemed like a fun idea for our in-between type camping.  We cut the oranges in half and ate out all of the fruit. I decided that Egg Beaters would be much easier to bring than whole eggs, so we used that, and I threw in some onions, bell peppers and cheese.  We set the oranges near the edge of the fire and waited for them to cook.  It took a while, and some of the eggs puffed up and spilled over the edge.  Tom also had to come up with some make-shift tongs to move and rotate the oranges. The end result was actually pretty scrumptious. The orange gave a unique, but good, citrusy flair to the eggs.  However, the oranges really didn't hold much egg.  We decided that if we tried this again, we'd use grapefruits.

We also didn't have plates, so we served these up on the leftover Jiffy Pop pans
All in all, we had a great, relaxing trip. It's nice to step away from the busyness of life and just enjoy nature and enjoy time with one another.  We'd definitely do this trip again, and I look forward to more exploring around the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area in the future!

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!