Along Lake Michigan's eastern shore, the area's "marching dunes" have swallowed up numerous homes. Sandbox, however, survives. Three years ago, Maureen and Paul Moravec bought the run-down house and rebuilt it from the ground up. Now they hire a crew each year to haul away truckloads of sand encroaching on the cottage. "It's amazing how quickly the sand builds. One day, you'll notice a little knoll coming up, and in a year or two, you'll have 20 feet worth of dune," Maureen says.
Though relentless, the dunes act as a major draw for visitors to this section of southwest Michigan's shoreline. From atop the five-story hill shadowing Sandbox, breathtaking blue-water views abound. Kids dig at the monster dune's base, scamper over its slopes, and even "snowboard" on its surface, polished smooth by the wind's scouring. Leave your strollers and wagons at home, Maureen tells guests. To haul toys, towels, and cold drinks over the mounds, bring sleds.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, civil engineer Dan Meyers wanted an "old-fashioned beach house" for his family's vacation. "We love the cottagey feel," says the repeat renter and father of two girls, ages 5 and 8. "If you track sand in the house, you just sweep it back out again."
Though not fancy, the 1,000-square-foot home, a few hours east of Chicago, enchants visitors. Dan and his family appreciate the bright, open second story, with its fully equipped kitchen and lofty living room, dominated by a beach-rock, wood-burning fireplace. Sliding glass doors open to an L-shape deck, where a large tree sprouts through a hole cut in the floor, giving the secluded home a Swiss Family Robinson feel. Two bedrooms fill the ground floor-one with a queen-size bed and the other with a double bed and a twin bunk. The deck shelters an outdoor shower.
The house, adjacent to Van Buren State Park, also sits near a biking trail. Plenty of wildlife-deer, foxes, an occasional eagle-cross the woods and dunes, Maureen says.
Sandbox suits those willing to sacrifice convenience for quiet. The beach does not lie at the end of a short boardwalk. Instead, guests grab one of the home's walking sticks and hike 15 minutes up and over the marram grass-covered dunes. The payoff? Miles of white sand with no houses or condos to spoil the views. The water appears Caribbean blue from on high. Soft sand carpets the lake bottom, and thanks to a shelf that extends 100 feet or so into the lake, the shallow water near the shore warms to 70 degrees by midsummer.
When guests tire of solitude, they drive five miles north along the lakeshore to South Haven, home of the annual National Blueberry Festival in August. There, they eat freshly caught walleye; stroll along the Black River, where hundreds of yachts and sailboats bob in slips; browse art galleries; and check out the Friends Good Will, a replica of an 1811 square topsail sloop at the Michigan Maritime Museum. Summertime Thursdays in South Haven mean free concerts in the bandshell.
But Sandbox has a way of keeping renters close by. Log benches surround one special feature-the fire pit. On mild evenings, this magical spot often hosts marshmallow roasts and stargazing. A climb to the top of the dune on a clear night, Maureen says, yields a view of "the lights of the Sears Tower winking at you from across the lake."
(published July/August 2005)