August, 2017 – Mackinac City, Michigan

After starting our travels north this year from the coast of Alabama in February, we are finally approaching the northern terminus of our travels for the year.  We came north through the corner of Mississippi, central Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and now Michigan.  As expected the weather has been mostly pleasant since we arrived in Michigan with temperatures in the mid 70s to low 80s and the forecast for this week was eventually to be in the low 70s, with a few days not to get out of the 60s!  What a way to spend the summer!  Our trip from Sleeping Bear Dunes was mostly east to the central part of the state.  Of course the state of Michigan gets a whole lot narrower as you approach the Straits of Mackinac which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  We actually stopped about 30 miles south of the straits since it made a huge difference in the cost of the campgrounds of about $10 a night.  We stopped at a campground called Michigan Oaks about 4 miles from Interstate 75 which would take us to Mackinac City and Mackinac Island.  Michigan Oaks looks to be somewhere in between a commercial park and a state park, as the sites are spacious with a lot of large trees.  However, the ground is sandy with very little grass or other vegetation.  Since we arrived on Monday, they had a few choices of campsites we could use for the week, which is one reason we like to travel on Mondays.  Even though there were very few RVs in the campground on Monday, they only had 4 sites that would not reserved for the coming weekend that would be large enough for our RV and have electric and water hookups.  This campground did not have any sewer hookups, which is one reason it is cheaper, but this is really not a problem since they had a dump station and we were only staying a week.  After looking at the sites we decided to take the one they had originally booked us for as I thought I could pull straight up into the site across from us and back straight in.  However, I was wrong on two accounts.  First the sites were so sandy that I spun out before I got the RV far enough up the slight grade to straighten it out.  Second, there was a couple of trees in the way that made it very tricky to get the RV into our site.  I had to pull the truck forward at least six times before I got the RV backed up in the correct orientation and on the level part of the site.  Then we discovered that the electric pedestal was far enough behind the RV that the electric cord would not quite reach.  We backed the RV back as far as we could possibly go and thankfully it was just barely close enough.  These sites maybe spacious, but they certainly are not designed for RVs as big as ours!!  In any case, we had only 30 amp service and were sharing the pedestal with another RV.  In fact, the owners came by later to tell us not to run the a/c and electric water heater at the same time as it would likely ruin the pedestal, as it had in the past.  Thankfully, the temperatures moderated by Thursday so we did not need the a/c after Tuesday.  I will admit the pedestal did get awfully hot whenever we were both running our a/c units.

Campsite

Our main reason for camping in this area was to visit Mackinac Island, however, we decided to wait on this until the temperature dropped a bit later in the week.  Instead we spent Tuesday traveling to Petroskey on Lake Michigan to the Odawa Casino.  This is another Indian casino in the state and actually one of the nicest we have seen.  It is a beautiful venue located close to a major town with all the amenities.  Once again we took our usual stake into the casino hoping to break even for a change.  We found a wide range of slot machines to choose from (over 1000 available) and had a very good time.  Of course, it did not hurt that Kal hit a large jackpot of over $50 on one machine and I managed not to loose my entire stake.  We actually came out $20 ahead for a change!!  While not enough to even buy dinner, we do enjoy playing around for a couple of hours trying our luck.

Wednesday was again going to be in the low 80s with a good chance of rain so we decided to put off the island for another day and headed to the Upper Peninsula.  The Mackinac Bridge over the straits is an impressive suspension bridge being over 5 miles in length (of course the “suspension” part of the bridge is less than a mile of this length).  They were also doing maintenance on the bridge so the traffic was down to a single lane both directions, which was slow enough that Kal did not complain about the fact she was on a bridge suspended 100 feet above the water.  We stopped just over the bridge in search of Father Marquette National Memorial at St Ignace.  After the GPS incorrectly took us to the campgrounds on the wrong side of the interstate in the Straits State Park, we got directions to the correct location.  It turns out that the National Memorial is actually a part of Straits State Park and consists of a single open-air “Visitor’s Center” with exhibits about Father Marquette.  If you know anything about Father Marquette, it is probably that he is credited with mapping the Mississippi River for the French in 1600s.  While this is certainly true, he is better known in the region for his missionary work with the fur trappers and local Indian tribes founding the mission at St. Ignace.  In 1672 he did join the expedition with Joliette to travel south along the Mississippi River.  Of course, they were hoping it would turn west since they were looking for the northwest passage to California on the west coast.  Once they got to the Arkansas River it was obvious this was not going to be the case, so they turned back north traveling up the Illinois River to Lake Michigan instead of taking the chance of encountering the Spanish if they continued south.  Unfortunately, most of Joliette’s journal and notes were lost or damaged during the journey, so Marquette’s journals and maps became part of history, even though he was only the priest on the journey.  Besides learning a bit about Marquette life at the Visitor Center, there is a short path through the woods with interpretive signs about the Indian culture and native trees and plants along the path.  It is not clear whether this is actually part of the National Memorial or Straits State Park.  There are a couple of nice overlooks of Mackinac Bridge along the path, which once the sun came out from behind the cloud cover, was a spectacular sight from the UP.

While I was thinking that we would travel to the Upper Peninsula to get a quick look at Lake Superior, once we found out it was over an hour across the peninsula, we decided not to.  Instead we headed back across the Mackinac Bridge to Mackinac City where we ate lunch at the nice city park along the shores of the strait.  After lunch we walked over to Fort Michilimackinac (what a name!) which is a 17th century fort.  The most amazing thing about the fort is that since it was moved to Mackinac Island during the Revolutionary War, it has remained undeveloped and undisturbed.  Since 1959 there has been continuous archeological research being done every summer that has uncovered some amazing things.  As they slowly uncover the area within the fort, determine where the buildings stood, and learn all they can about the structures, they are slowly reconstructing the entire fort.  They are only about 3/4 done with this project which is going to take a long time yet before they are finished.  Within the fort there is an active archeological site where we watched workers slowly scraping the dirt into sieves and recording everything they find, which is a LOT!!  Also within the fort are very interesting exhibits in the various reconstructed buildings.  They have even reconstructed the soldiers latrines in their original location.  In one of the buildings you take some stairs down underground where they demonstrate in a series of exhibits the entire archeological process of uncovering the foundations of the buildings, cellars, and artifacts.  There are interpreters wandering everywhere dressed up in period clothing that can answer any questions your might have.  For instance, we learned a great deal about the gardens they had behind nearly everyone of the houses within the fort.  This fort began as a fur trading post by the French where fur trappers and local Indians would meet with traders laden with trade goods from Montreal every spring.  The fort would be a bustling town during the summer only to become nearly abandoned in the winter.  The French lost the fort after the French and Indian Wars at which time the British occupied the fort in 1761.  The British attempted to continue the practices of the French, however, they rule was considered very harsh in comparison according to the local population.  As part of a larger movement known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, the local Ojibwe tribes captured the fort in 1763 hoping to drive the British out of the Great Lakes region.  The story of how they captured the fort is interesting.  The invited the British to come out and watch them play a ball game similar to Lacrosse, that they held in front of the main gate to the fort.  The Indians were not very good, multiple times losing their ball over the fort walls.  They got the soldiers used to abandoning their positions to chase down the ball, while the commander of the fort stood outside watching the game.  At one point, the ball was once again lost over the wall and grabbing weapons that the women had hidden under their blankets, they stormed the fort.  The locals merchants and fur traders in the fort were not interested in aiding the soldiers, so a number were killed and the fort taken.  They held onto the fort for over a year, before agreeing to give it back in exchange for annual gifts and looser policies.  During the Revolutionary War, the British were concerned with the successes of George Rogers Clark to the south in Indiana and along with Fort Detroit, felt threatened.  In 1781 they decided to move the fort to the limestone bluff on Mackinac Island which was more defensible.  So over the next two years they dismantled the fort and moved it to the island, over ice in the winter and by boats in the summer.  They even moved nearly all of the buildings.  I suspect only part of the reason was to deny the fort to the revolutionists.  Another part was that they had already cleared all of the forests of usable timber and firewood for miles.  In any case, Fort Michilimackinac was dismantled and the remains burned during the Revolutionary War.  We spent better than 4 hours exploring the many exhibits and building of the fort which meant a later then normal return to the campgrounds.

On Thursday we figured it was now or never, even though it was still overcast with a good chance of rain, to head over to Mackinac Island.  I was really looking forward to this trip, as it is one of my boyhood memories during a family trip to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal.  As a 12 year old I recall being impressed with an town that had no cars and all traffic was still by horse carriage.  Of course, nowadays the major transportation is bicycles which I swear outnumber the number of people on the island any given day.  There are still plenty of horse drawn carriages, but not like I remember it all those years ago.  We drove to Mackinac City where we bought tickets for Shepler’s Ferry to the island.  The trip across the Straits of Mackinac takes about 30 minutes since they have to take a detour under the Mackinac Bridge to show it off to the tourists.  It was as impressive from underneath as from the surface of the bridge.  We bought package tickets that included the Carriage Tour and Fort Mackinac, as well, so we had a full day planned.  We found the Carriage Tour without a problem and only had to wait about 15 minutes for our carriage, along with about 12 other tourists.  The ride up to Surrey Hill is a pleasant ride with a tour guide full of stories and jokes to entertain the tourists as the two horses plod up the hill.  The most interesting part of the trip is the view of the Grand Hotel, which was the premier resort destination for the rich and famous in the early 1900s.  It had probably one the longest covered porches in the world!  At the top of Surrey Hill you exit the carriage to explore the venues at this spot.  We were not interested in the butterfly conservatory, so we headed on down to the Surrey Hill Museum.  This is actually part of the stables for the Grand Hotel so you can take a look at the horses, however, the main draw is their collection of carriages.  Although they have over 25 carriages in excellent condition, they are a small sample of the many types and manufactures of carriages before the advent of the automobile.  They have a wide range of carriage types from the super ornate to very simple, utilitarian carriages.  They even have a horse drawn hearse.  After spending about an hour looking at all the carriages we boarded another carriage, this one holding over 35 people with 3 horses to pull it.  The tour now ascended into the forests of Mackinac Island State Park.  It was interesting to learn that this State Park was the second National Park after Yellowstone in 1875.  It was administered by the War Department through Fort Mackinac until 1895 when it was transferred to the state.   This was certainly an easy way to explore a little of the park.  There is a single stop along the way at the Arch Rock, which is a famous geologic formation of a free standing limestone arch that gives an interesting view of the Straits.  After reboarding the horse drawn “bus” we descended back through the forests to Fort Mackinac where we exited to explore the fort.

As I learned the day before, Fort Mackinac was constructed in 1871 using the materials from Fort Michilimackinac, although in this case the main construction material was the abundant limestone on the island.  Unlike Fort Michilimackinac which was abandoned in 1871, Fort Mackinac continued to be used as a fort to the end of the 19th century.  Therefore there were a lot of improvements and modifications over the years.  For instance, they had a schoolhouse within the fort for the education of the soldiers.  Eventually a bathhouse was installed with running hot and cold water for personal hygiene, flush toilets, and a post canteen to try to keep the soldiers from frequenting the bars in town.  While not very successful, it was at least a good attempt.  Even before Mackinac Island became a major summer resort location in the 1900s, Fort Mackinac was seen as a luxury posting for officers.  The only claim to fame at the Fort came at the very beginning of the War of 1812.  In July, the British landed a large force on the north side of the island.  Once they brought cannons up to the highest point on the island they were able to shot down into the fort.  As the American garrison numbered only 60 soldiers they quickly surrendered and the British once again occupied the fort until the end of the War of 1812.  In 1814, the Americans did try to retake the fort by following the example of the British.  However, the British had fortified the summit with Fort George, a wooden stockade, and were able to easily repel the American attempt.  Following the war the Americans renamed the fort to Fort Holmes and today there is supposed to be a reconstructed stockade at the top of the island.  After eating a late lunch at their Tea Room in the fort, we descended back down the hill to the center of the town to explore a few more historic buildings.  It turns out that our admission fee to the fort also covered the entrance fee to some of these historic buildings.  For instance, there was the American Fur Company Store where fur trappers would trade their furs for all kinds of things, some of which were on display.  A part of this building was also devoted to the legacy of Dr. Bowman and his groundbreaking work on the stomach.  A fur trapper, Alexis St Martin was accidentally shot in the stomach while in the company store.  At the time stomach wounds were nearly always fatal, but somehow Dr. Bowman was able to save his life.  However, the hole in his stomach never completely healed growing just a flap across the opening.  Dr. Bowman was able to insert all kinds of things into the stomach on a string and take sample of the stomach contents for years afterwards.  He conducted thousands of experiments that greatly expanded our understanding of the digestive process.  He would insert pieces of food on a string into the stomach and periodically check to see how much had been digested!!  GROSS!!  We also visited the Biddle House from the 1700s where we had a nice conversation with a volunteer cooking the kitchen of the house.  We found out a lot about their diets and cooking strategies, especially on an island from which all the trees had been removed for years. After walking around town for a while I even convinced Kal to stop at a pub so I could sample one of their local beers.  I had a very good brown ale from a Michigan brewery while Kal bought a new jacket with Mackinac on it.  Except for the purple color (it was all they had on sale) it looks very nice on her.  Around 6:00 we boarded the ferry to travel back to Mackinac City and the 30 minute drive to our campsite.

After the very busy last couple of days, we decided to laze around the campgrounds on Friday, so when Saturday promised to be a cool day with temperatures not climbing out of the 60s, we decided to explore another state park.  Our destination was a hike in Wilderness State Park on the the coast of Lake Michigan just a few miles outside of Mackinac City.  We found the park with no problem, but found the Ranger Station to be closed on a Saturday!  However, they did have some trail maps outside the office, which we grabbed.  Unfortunately they were a bit confusing, so we had some trouble figuring out the location of the trailhead.  However, once we finally found it, we found a series of hiking trails of varying lengths.  It was no problem putting together a hike of just over 3 miles through the Michigan forests.  The trail started along a small pond with a pretty dam, which then slowly descended towards Lake Michigan.  After traveling a mile along the creek we took a trail that crossed a couple of sandy ridges to another trail along the ridge.  Climbing up and down the small slopes of sand was a challenge at times, but for the most part it was an easy walk through the woods.  We then ate a quick lunch overlooking Lake Michigan before heading back to the campgrounds for the evening.

Sunday was another beautiful day in the low 70s and bright sunshine.  However, we decided to just take it easy in the campgrounds so I could get caught up on this blog.

July, 2017 – Empire, Michigan

Once again traveling up the west coast of Lake Michigan, our next stop was Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore which is located at the base of the finger in the extreme northwest of lower Michigan.  Sleeping Bear Dunes has 35 miles of lakeshore along Lake Michigan and its many beaches, historical sites, and hiking trails are a major draw for tourists.  There are a lot of campgrounds, lodges, etc, in the area to support the tourists and all of them are EXPENSIVE!  We were lucky to get a reservation at Indigo Bluffs RV Resort, which was 3 miles away from the Visitors Center to Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the only thing that was available over the weekend was one of their “premier” sites.  This cost us over $60 a night, which is the most expensive fees we have ever paid.  I suppose it was worth it, although the site itself was not all that impressive.  It was a pull-through site with full hookups and a concrete porch out front.  However, the site was relatively small with very little room between the porch and the next site.  It was by far the busiest campground we have stayed in for a while during the week and by the weekend it was packed.  It may have cost us a couple hundred more to stay there, but the proximity to the National Lakeshore was great!!  This was obviously “the place to be” in Michigan for the summer.  I have to admit that the additional distance north made a difference in the temperatures, which stayed out of the 80s all week.

Campsite

On Tuesday, we headed west 3 miles to the Visitors Center of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to gather information about hiking trails and points of interest.  After collecting the information we were looking for, watching their 15 minute overview of the park, and finding out our Senior Pass would cover the entrance fee, we were ready to go.  It was obvious it was going to take more than a day to do everything we wanted to do, so we decided to start slow and look for a hike away from all the tourists.  We drove south to the extreme end of the park to a trail through the upper Michigan forests.  It was a 2.5 mile loop trail, with a short side trail to get our first look at Lake Michigan from the top of a sand dune.  We decided not to walk through the beach sand the additional 1/4 mile to the lake itself as we would have other opportunities later in the week.  The temperatures stayed in the upper 70s, so the hike was very pleasant, but after hiking up and down the small dunes along the trail, we had had enough for one day.  We did try to get to beach area of the nearby campground, however, cars were already overflowing a good mile behind the parking lot for the beach once we got there.  Therefore, we headed back to the campground to wait until another day.

Wednesday was predicted to be stormy (and it was) so we decided to see if we could find the Leelanau Sands Casino.  As I mentioned previously, we were located at the base of the finger that extends north into Lake Michigan and the casino was at the tip of the finger on the east side.  So we traveled north along the west side of the finger and then cut across it to the other side, traveling through some beautiful forests, orchards, and lakes.  To our surprise, the Leelanau Sands Casino is a small casino located with a nice view of Lake Michigan, which was stormed tossed with the incoming weather.  As we arrived before lunch on a weekday, the casino was nearly empty.  This was great, since it meant it was quiet and we had our pick of the slot machines.  Unfortunately, the slot machines were very tight, so it took only a couple of hours before we were finished losing about half of our usual stake.  As we were leaving the weather finally hit and we were drenched getting to our truck.  On the way back to the campsite we were using the GPS to find a grocery store.  One of the drawbacks to this part of Michigan is that the majority of the population are tourists or summer only residents.  The winter are simply too severe to support local businesses.  This means all the grocery stores are little more than country stores and did not carry much of what we were looking for.  We did locate a small store with a VERY small parking lot and purchased just what we had to have.  Once again it was a fairly early return to the campground where we watched it rain off and on all day.  Thankfully, no severe weather like we are used to this time of year in the south.

Thursday was another beautiful day with temperatures in the low 70s, so we headed out for another day in Sleeping Bear Dunes.  This time we started out with the 7 mile driving tour, which is a one-way drive through the forests and dunes with numbered stops.  There is a brief description of each stop in the Sleeping Bear publication we picked up in the Visitors Center.  Unfortunately, for most of the stops this was about it.  I was disappointed there were not short trails at each of the stops to get off the road and take a look.  There was only one stop where this was possible and it made the entire trip worthwhile!!  The tour climbs up the backside of Sleeping Bear Dunes where you can hike across the top of the dune to two great overlooks of Lake Michigan and North and South Manitou Islands.  As you walk up the final piece of the back of the dune you are hit with an amazing view.  At this point you are over 400 feet above Lake Michigan and in front of you is a VERY steep drop down to the lake.  For the first 300 feet it is all deep sand and the final 100 feet becomes more rocky with glacial till that lies beneath the sand.  The shear magnitude of the drop to the lake is awesome.  Although warned not to do it, many visitors attempt the climb down to the lake.  While the trip down the steep slope of sand would be terrifying enough, the climb back up would be impossible.  Most people take over an hour to make this climb back.  Those that cannot make the climb can be “rescued” by boats stationed at the base of the dune for a hefty fee.  We obviously did not even consider the attempt.  Instead we made the walk along the top of the dune to another overlook of the two islands.  Walking over a half mile in these deep sands was enough of a challenge for us, but it was certainly worth the effort.  We did stop at each of the numbered stops along the drive and took short walks either into the woods or along the road.

Since this drive took only about an hour to complete, we still had most of the day ahead of us, so we drove on to Glen Haven Village.  Along the way we went by the Dune Climb area, which is one of the most popular spots for tourists outside the many beaches.  At this location, visitors are welcome to attempt to climb up a 100 foot dune and then slide, roll, or run back down.  It looks like they were having a lot of fun, but it was not for us!!  We did get out to take some pictures and laugh at their antics.  From their we drove on around to Glen Haven Village.  This is the historical village founded and ran by D. H. Day, who is a famous in this part of Michigan.  In the late 1800s, he purchased the land and timber along this part of the coast to cut lumber, primarily to be used as firewood by the steamships.  There were small villages all along Lake Michigan at the time for the same purpose.  With the decline of timber harvesting, nearly all of these villages are now gone, however, D. H. Day did everything he could to keep Glen Haven a viable community.  His attempts even extended to his harvesting practices, where he paid his loggers a better wage, had better living conditions in and around the village, and even was the first to practice single tree harvesting instead of the preferred clearcutting of the day.  When timber harvesting began to dry up he diversified.  He used the cleared land to grow crops, primarily corn and hay, to support of his extensive dairy enterprise.   He also imported cherry trees, built a cannery, and bought ships to transport his produce to markets in Chicago.  In the 1900s he expanded even further to create a tourist trade with a lodge, the first public campground in the area, and a fleet of dunemobiles outfitted with huge rubber tires for the dunes.  He even constructed the driving tour to the top of Sleeping Bear Dune that we had explored earlier.  Through his work on the State Park Commission his campground even became the first state park in Michigan.  Of course, it is now part of the National Lakeshore, but it still bears his name.  All in all, his legacy to this part of the state was huge, the impact still evident today with the many cherry tree and other orchards and the huge interest in tourism.  Consequently, many of the original buildings in Glen Haven, are now tourist attractions including the General Store, the blacksmith shop, and the cannery which today is a museum with an impressive collection of small boats that have been used through the years in Lake Michigan.  The lodge also still stands, however, it is not open to the public unfortunately.  After exploring the village and boat museum, we ate lunch on one of their picnic tables.  I was also able to finally get close enough to Lake Michigan to touch it!!  We discovered that every Thursday afternoon they have a demonstration of the Lyle gun on the beach.  After a fun presentation with kids in the audience simulating firing the gun to demonstrate the life saving technique of stringing a line and pulley to a ship in distress.  It was an impressive system that we had seen before used along the Atlantic Coast.  After this demonstration by the kids, they then loaded up and fired a Lyle gun shooting a weight attached to a line out about 200 yards into the Lake.  Although we had seen the land demonstration before, this was the first time we had seen an actual Lyle gun in action.  After this long demonstration which lasted nearly an hour, it was getting late in the afternoon, so we headed back to the campground for the evening.

On Friday, it was back to Glen Haven Village to explore the Life Saving Station that had been moved close to the village from its original location out on the point.  This location was much better for the Life Saving activities, however, once this was abandoned the site was slowly being covered up with sand demonstrating these dunes are still in motion. They therefore moved the building to a more protected location, which explained why their rails used to move the large boats to the water did not come close to reaching the lake.  They have a nice display of the life saving equipment in the shed which would have held their boats.  The most interesting item was a small boat that could be pulled through the water using the same system of ropes they showed the day before with a pair of shorts attached to a life preserver.  This small boat had a cover that would be sealed to keep the occupants from drowning.  However, this cover also made it airtight so they had a limited amount of time to get them to shore before they suffocated.  As far as the volunteer was aware, this boat was never actually used.  The life saving stationhouse also had some very nice exhibits about the life and duties of the men manning the station.  I was a little disappointed that there was not more information about the uses of each room in the house.  They even had one of the rooms upstairs laid out as a replica of the ship’s wheelhouse with pictures around the perimeter of a stormy sea.  Why they would do this is not clear, except as a way to highlight the ship instruments.

After exploring the Life Saving Station we proceeded on to the other historical area, Port Oneida Historical Farm District.  This is suppose to have multiple farms from the late 1800s and early 1900s to explore, however, there was road construction that all but blocked the road to Port Oneida.  As this was the only way to get there, we decided to instead find another short hike further to the north.  We found a small picnic area on the shores of Lake Michigan for lunch that was away from the crowds and then another 2 mile hike looping through the natural forests near the lake.  It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

KalTakingBreak3

After our experience with the crowds during the week at Sleeping Bear Dunes, we decided not to push our luck over the weekend.  Since the farming district was the only other place we wanted to explore, we decided to forego the opportunity and just stay in the campground over the weekend.  On Saturday, we did make the trip over to Traverse City to a Walmart, but other than that we just stayed put.  Sunday was again spent in the campground doing laundry and cleaning the RV.  Thus ended a great week in northern Michigan enjoying yet another great national park!!

July, 2017- Ludington, Michigan

Now that we are finally in Michigan for the rest of the summer, we can once again slow down in our travels between stops, so the trip from Grand Rapids to Ludington was less than 100 miles.  Nearly all of the trip was along I-96 and US 31 which is a 4 lane highway, so it went pretty easy, especially with a stop at the rest stop on the interstate.  We made it to our new campground outside of Ludington, Kibby Creek Campground.  This is a highly commercial campground of moderate size near Lake Michigan with all the amenities and very little room for the campers.  All of the sites were back-in sites and it was obvious that we were going to have a problem getting our RV into the site with the trees on both sides and a big boat parked just across from our site.  Once again I am thankful that we travel on Mondays since there was nobody staying in the site directly behind ours.  By moving a picnic table we were able to pull through this site into ours without having to deal with the boat in the way to the front.  Therefore, we got into our site very easily and got hooked up with no issues, even though the water hookup was just within range for a single hose.  We would be sharing the hookup with two other sites before the week was over.  The bathrooms were especially noteworthy, as they had been renovated only a year ago.  There were two adjoining bathrooms for both men and women and they were designed to appeal to different age groups.  One bathroom was painted in garish colors, obviously for kids, and the other was wood paneled in subdued colors with very nice fixtures, obviously for the adults.  After trying out the garish colors once, I was convinced to only visit the more subdued bathroom!

Campsite

We choose this location to once again be near Lake Michigan, so on Tuesday it was time to seek out one of the many Michigan state parks along Lake Michigan.  Thankfully, Ludington State Park was very close and it turns out it is one of the top rated parks in the state.  When we arrived at 10 in the morning it was obvious why it obtained this rating.  It is located on the shore of Lake Michigan which there is a nice beach area, but it also includes Hamlin Lake which has a long history.  Back in the mid-1800s, this was the site of the small lumber town, Hamlin which was named after Lincoln’s Vice-President.  In 1852, Charles Mears dammed up the Big Sable River and dug a new channel into Lake Michigan.  The dam provided power for a shingle mill at the dam, a holding pond for logs, and a sawmill at the entrance to Lake Michigan.  He built the small town of Hamlin to support these operations.  In 1888 the dam broke and much of the town was lost.  The dam was rebuilt, however, in 1912 it once again collapsed taking out the rest of the town.  By this point, the lumber industry had died out so there was no need to rebuild the dam.  However, in 1914 a new concrete dam was constructed to support the resort industry that had sprung up around the lake.  Today the dam is the centerpiece of Ludington State Park and is where we started our exploration of the park.  After taking a look at the dam, we proceeded along a nice paved hiking trail that runs along the Sable River below the dam.  We did attempt to climb one of the sand dunes at the dam to get a view of Lake Michigan only to be disappointed as we were still at least two dunes away from the lake.  The climb up the dune was grueling enough to convince us we were not going to do that again, although a lot of visitors do.  Instead we proceeded down the paved trail along the river watching all the other visitors enjoying a lazy float on the water.  After about a half mile we came to the beginning of their Skyline Trail which was originally constructed by the CCC back in the 1930s, but has obviously been rebuilt since then.  It begins with a long series of wooden stairs to climb up the a wooden boardwalk along the top of the dune.  After thinking seriously about the climb, I convinced Kal to give it a shot and we made the climb up over 100 steps to the top of the dune.  Thankfully, the wooden boardwalk not only made walking much easier then the deep sands, but it also protected the dune.  From the top of the dunes we did get some great views of the surrounding dune complex and Lake Michigan as well.  The trail then descends back down to the river where we continued our hike back around to our truck.  The views certainly made it worthwhile to make the climb!  We then had a nice leisurely lunch at the Hamlin Lake beach area before heading back to the campground for the afternoon.  It was good that we arrived at 10 in the morning, since by 2 in the afternoon the cars were lined up for a couple of miles trying to enter the park.  I assume a lot of the holdup was due to the lack of any parking until someone, such as ourselves, left for the day.  It is a VERY popular state park, even during the middle of the week.

After the strenuous climbs on Tuesday, we were looking for something more sedate for Wednesday and choose to check out the White Pine Village.  We had seen signs for it on our drive into Ludington the day before and Kal had checked it out on the internet.  It is a private “pioneer” village that captures the history of Macon County.  What we found was a real jewel!!  White Pine Village consists of some 30 buildings, most of which they have moved to this location to create the village.  Some of these are what you would expect, that is, a home, a barn, and a blacksmith.  This being a village, you would also expect a schoolhouse, a church, and a general store, all of which are included.  What I did not expect was the County Courthouse, since this was the original county seat, a fire house, hardware store, post office, doctors office, print shop, and an operating sawmill.  There was also a “luxury” cabin from the days when Hamlin Lake was a resort, a trappers cabin, and a sugar shack.  As you expect all of these were filled to capacity with artifacts along with interpretive signs and labels everywhere.  However, in addition, there were a number of small museums devoted to different topics.  This included a lumberman museum with all the tools of the trade; a lumbering museum about the lumber camps when lumber was king; a music museum about local bands; an Artisan Center for weaving, sewing, and quilting; a Time museum full of clocks of all kinds and information about the local watch making industry; and the Rose Hawley Museum that covered just about everything else that has happened in the county.  I especially liked the extensive exhibits in the Jorrisen Barn that covered the history of agriculture from horses to modern equipment and also included a section on the dairy industry.  I learned a lot about the operation of a dairy farm that I did not know.  I also liked the sugar shack where I learned all about the making of maple syrup from collecting the sap to boiling down the syrup.  I was especially interested in one technique used by the Indians.  Instead of boiling the sap to remove the water, they would allow it to freeze overnight removing the ice in the morning.  While this would not remove enough water to make actual syrup, it would concentrate the sugars enough for a lot of purposes.  Of course, I also enjoyed looking at the small sawmill, which until recently they had powered with an old tractor.  When it finally broke down a few years ago, they replaced it with a diesel engine.  When we arrived we had thought we might spend an hour looking through the various buildings, however, we spent nearly 4 hours in the village. Since we were so close to the campground (less than 10 miles) we opted to return for a very late lunch instead of seeking out a picnic area.

Thursday had a “chance” of rain so we decided to check out the casino in Manistee, the Little River Casino.  Like all the other casinos in the state, this is owned and operated by a local Indian tribe and was a very nice facility.  While not as large as other casinos in the state, the Little River Casino had all we wanted.  There were over 1400 slot machines, many of which could be played for $0.30 or less.  We had a very enjoyable couple of hours at the casino and managed to lose only about $40.  We then ate lunch at a local restaurant before heading back to the campground.

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Friday proved to be another beautiful day, although a bit hotter getting up into the mid-80s.  We had been enjoying the weather the last couple of days when it did not get out the 70s.  Kal was not really interested in doing anything, so I decided to check out a disc golf course we had driven by on our way to the Ludington State Park.  It was only about a 15 minute drive to the course.  Unfortunately, I got a late start in the morning as it was already past 11 when I left and the course winds through a dense forest, which means there was no air movement.  As the temperatures climb into the upper 80s during the early afternoon, I began to suffer.  The course itself is well maintained, but heavily wooded.  This meant there were a lot of trees to hit and I spent the entire afternoon doing just that.  In addition, the distance between holes was sometimes as much as a quarter mile, which meant there was a lot of hiking as well.  By the time I got to the back 9, I was having to stop at just about every hole to rest my hip, which was giving me fits.  My best shot of the day came on the last hole which had an open fairway, of which there only a couple on the entire course, of about 250 feet before a group of trees.  My shot was flat and straight and went around 250 feet, which for me is great off the tee.  However, as my entire day went, the shot was directly at the group of trees in the middle of the fairway and landed just behind them giving me no clear shot at the pin!!  I believe for the entire afternoon I managed to get par on maybe 3 holes.  NOT a good day for disc golf, but a lovely afternoon hiking through the Michigan forest.

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The weekend was spent doing laundry, cleaning the RV, working on this blog, and generally being lazy around the campsite.  Except for Kal traveling into town to fill up the truck with diesel, we did not leave the campgrounds.  Rather we watched all the kids with their families have a great time camping out!!  Not a bad life, ha ha.

July, 2017- Grand Rapids, Michigan

Our trip north for our first week in Michigan was another long trip of over 3 hours to Indian Valley Campground, just south of Grand Rapids.  After we negotiated our way around all the road closures in Indiana, which we had finally figured out how to do, we found our way into Michigan with little trouble.  Most of the trip was heading north on I-196 which runs right along the coast of Lake Michigan, although you don’t get any views of the lake along the interstate.  I know because I was looking the entire time.  Unfortunately, the interstate never gets closer than a couple of miles to the Lake. When I-196 headed east towards Grand Rapids we cut off the Interstate since signs were warning the M-6, which is the beltway around the south of town, was closed.  We headed cross country on small county roads, which turned out to be an excellent choice for once.  We arrived at Indian Valley Campground just after lunchtime and got checked in with no problem.  They even provided assistance with backing up our rig, which was a big help since there was a large earthen berm across from our site.  Except for misunderstanding his signals a couple of times, we got the RV backed into the site in good shape.  Our site was located just behind the office, which meant we were very close to the bathroom.  However, this also meant we were right outside their indoor swimming pool, the first we have seen at any RV park.  During the day, you could hear squeals and laughter from the pool, but the walls cut out most of the noise so it was not really a problem.  Since they closed the pool at dusk, there were no late night parties to contend with.  Our site had full hookups with 50 amp service, which was nice for a change, good TV reception from Grand Rapids, good internet connection, and a concrete porch right out front of the RV.  In total, it was a very nice campground.  We even had a view of the Thornapple River since our section of the campground overlooked a lower section along the river.  There was even a small pond between us and the river where they had a fountain that lit up at night.  Very pleasant!!

Campsite

The weather forecast for Tuesday was hot, at least for Michigan, which meant temperatures in the upper 80s.  So we decided to head into Grand Rapids to explore the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.  We have visited a number of Presidential Museums in the past and were looking forward to the experience and the Gerald Ford Museum did not disappoint.  The building itself is an impressive glass front building that reflects the Grand River and skyline of Grand Rapids, since the museum is located on the edge of downtown.  Inside, the museum is divided up into a number of exhibit areas covering the totality of Gerald Ford’s life and career.  We learned a lot about his childhood that we never knew, such as he was not born Gerald R. Ford, but Leslie Lynch King, Jr.  His mother divorced Leslie King in 1913 when Gerald was 6 months old.   His mother, Dorothy, remarried Gerald Ford in 1916, but Gerald R. Ford was never formally adopted and did not legally change his name until 1935.  We also learned about his love of the out of doors, including sports and the Boy Scouts, where he attained the rank of Eagle Scout.  I knew that Ford excelled at sports, playing for the University of Michigan football team.  What I did not know, was that he was the starting center for the team during their undefeated seasons in 1932 and 1933 and continued to star for the team the following year when they only won a single game in 1934!!  The reason given for the abrupt turn around was the loss of a number of key players to injuries, which obviously did not include Gerald Ford.  After a BS in Economics from Michigan and a law degree from Yale, he joined the US Navy at the start of World War II in 1942.  Most of his service was aboard the air-craft carrier USS Monterrey in the Pacific where he was the assistant navigator and Sports Officer.  Even though their ship was never damaged by the Japanese, they almost lost it during a typhoon in 1944!!  A number of airplanes broke loose and started a major fire that nearly sunk the carrier.  In total the typhoon sunk 3 battleships and killed over 800 sailors, much more than any single engagement against the Japanese!!  This was all new to me.  Following the war, Ford ran for and won a seat on the US House of Representatives where he continued to serve for 25 years.  His goal was to become the Speaker of the House someday, which he came close to as the Minority Leader before becoming Vice President.  While in the house he was a long standing member of the House Appropriations Committee and was probably the only President that could actually read and understand a Congressional Budget!!  He was also appointed to the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy.  He was VERY well respected by the his fellow Representatives who nearly unanimously confirmed him as Vice President to replace Spiro Agnew who resigned over tax evasion and money laundering charges.  This was the first and only time the Vice-President replacement clause of the 25th amendment has ever been used.  I do remember when this happened as I was in college at that point in time.  It was also at this point that the Watergate scandal was building steam and President Nixon was getting in deeper and deeper trouble.  When he eventually resigned in 1974, Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as our 38th President, the first and only to ever serve without running on a Presidential ticket!!  I remember his Presidency as a time when the US needed to heal and I agreed at the time with his pardoning of President Nixon.  I had had enough of Watergate and knew we needed to move on, which would have been very difficult with a prolonged legal battle.  I also recall his efforts to stem the run-away inflation at the time and his attempts to improve unemployment,  After all, I might be entering the workforce myself in a couple of years!!  Finally, his efforts with the Russians over SALT II was greatly appreciated.  I was also not surprised that he was not reelected in 1976, as the nation was ready for a change from anything dealing with Nixon, which also tainted Gerald Ford.  We really enjoyed the different exhibit areas with all the interactive features.  There were numerous opportunities to use their touch screens to get much more information about any period of his life.  They even had a mock-up of his Oval Office, with original memorabilia he had displayed.  I was especially surprised to see a model of the space shuttle, until I realized this program had started with Ford testing the Enterprise re-entry system.  After spending nearly three hours in the museum we took a walk outside to the tomb where Ford and his wife are buried and then across the street for a late lunch at a restaurant.

Wednesday started out raining so we took the day to drive about 30 minutes further southwest to the Gun Lake Casino.  As with many casinos this is also owned and operated by local Indian tribes, in this case, the Gun Lake Tribe.  It is another very large casino with over 2000 slot machines, multiple gaming tables along with craps and roulette.  Of course, all we are interested in are the slot machines that can be played for $.30 or less.  Thankfully, they had a number of available slot machines in our price range and we had a very enjoyable early afternoon playing slots.  After we had lost about half of our stake, we left the casino where it had stopped raining and headed on back to the campsite.

Thursday we spent in the campgrounds doing laundry and cleaning, which was badly needed since it had been nearly two weeks since my last cleaning.  You wouldn’t think that two weeks would make that much of a difference, but I could tell some of it needed cleaning bad!  Especially the toilet.  Rather than using the two machines in the campground, Kal chose to find a laundry in the local town.  After the GPS took her to an industrial and then a residential area without any laundramats to be seen, she finally found one.  This was probably her worst experience in locating a laundry since the GPS usually does a pretty good job, in the sense they usually exist even if they have closed.

For Friday we made reservations to rent two single person kayaks to float down the Thornapple River.  It was nice that we were their only couple for Friday at 11:00 as it got much busier by the afternoon and especially on Saturday.  They drove us upriver 9 miles to the dam on the river to put into the river.  At that location in Middleville, they have a very nice put in.  They have a floating dock with a series of rails and handles.  You put the canoe or kayak into the the rails where it sits on metal rollers.  You then simply sit down on a flat level surface that has rollers.  Then you grasp the rails and an easy pull launches you down the rollers into the river as if you are on glass.  AMAZING!!  We were early enough in the day that we had the river to ourselves.  We saw no one else on the river for the next 3 hours as we slowly floated down the river.  Unlike previous trips through wilderness areas, such as the Green River at Mammoth Cave National Park, this was more residential.  There were houses and docks scattered ever once in a while intermingles with wild banks of maple, beech, and sycamore.  The only excitement (if you can call it that) was steering around downed trees that had fallen into the river.  Even with a “seat pad” that we used as a backrest, we luckily found a small island where we could beach the kayaks and get out to stretch our backs and legs.  After three hours of lazy travel we began to approach the campground which was our take out.  By this point there were some visitors floating in inner tubes and small rafts.  One young boy had got himself caught behind a willow tree that was partially in the river.  He could barely reach the water on either side of his tube and all he was accomplishing was spinning in circles as the slow current was enough to keep him pinned against the tree.  The rest of his family was quite a ways down the river and could not hear his screams for help.   So Kal steered her kayak to his tube so he could grab hold of the rope used to lift the kayak.  She back paddled him away from the tree.  However, he was a long way from the rest of his family so I offered him a tow to get him back close.  He seemed to really enjoy the experience as I slowly pulled him close to his family, although it was still a lot faster then he would have gone with just the current.  The family was surprised to see him being towed and his sister obviously would have wanted to “catch a ride” as well.  A few hundred yards further and we were at the take-out.  A very enjoyable and relaxing experience that I would strongly recommend.

On Saturday we had plans to meet up with Kal’s second cousin, Faith and her husband Ricky who had recently moved back to Michigan.  They were having a party for their daughter at the city park in Spring Lake, Michigan which was a 45 minute drive.  We met their family there and had a nice couple of hours catching up and meeting his family.  Faith spent nearly the entire time with us talking and exchanging stories of family.  We had a good time interacting with all the kids running around from us to the two playgrounds and back.  After an enjoyable couple of hours we drove back to Grand Rapids and found an Applebees along our route.  As we often try to do, we seek out an Applebees or Buffalo Wild Wings to watch a soccer match.  This match was the US Men vs Honduras in the last round robin game of the Gold Cup.  Although the US was already guaranteed to move on to the knock out stage of the tournament, if they could win by at least 3 goals they would win their group and would face a third place finisher in the semi-finals.  By half time they were up 2-0, but it was not until late in the game that they got the third goal and this was after missing two penalty shots!  We were hoping for an earlier finish because this put us back into the campgrounds after 10:00.

The late night on Saturday did not cause any real problems as we simply slept in on Sunday and spent the day relaxing in the campground and working on this blog.

 

July 2017 – Hanna, Indiana

After traveling slowly to reach Indianapolis by the end of June, it was time to pick up the pace.  We have until the middle of September to be back in Ohio to be reasonably close to Maryland for the birth of our first grandchild.  This left us about two months to loop through Michigan and Ohio.  So we started with just over 3 hours traveling north from Indianapolis to the Michigan state line.  Our next stop was at Hanna, Indiana, which is about 10 miles outside of Valpairiso and a half hour from Lake Michigan.  The Last Resort Resort is a small campgrounds right on US 30, so it was easy to get to, but we also had to live with the road noise from this busy highway.  About half of trip was along I-65 heading towards Chicago, before we headed straight north on US 421.  There was thankfully a rest area outside of Lafayette to give us a break on the trip.  Over 75% of the Last Resort Resort is filled up with seasonal campers, leaving only about 10 sites for RVs and a lot of nice grassy tent sites.  We had one of the back-in sites, but thankfully there was enough room in front to put the RV into its location with little problem.  The back of the site was up against a dirt berm that blocked a lot of the highway noise, but also put the back end higher than the front.  For the second time we actually had to raise the front end to level it, but this time we used all of our wooden pieces to keep from using much of the feet so we did not have the problem of it popping all week like it was coming apart.  The sites were on the small size from side to side and was so short that we had to park the truck next to the RV taking up nearly all the room we had between the sites.  Other than that, we had good TV reception and internet connection so we were all set up for the next week and a half, since we had to stay through the 4th of July four day weekend.

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Since we had not done anything for the last couple of weeks (except flying to Dallas for a wedding) we were ready to get out.  So on Friday, we headed back south to Lafayette to explore the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe.  Over the past month we have learned a lot about the history of the Indiana Territory, which centered around the Territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison.  His primary mission as the Territorial Governor was to negotiate treaties with the various Indian tribes in the territory to secure land for new settlers.  Of course, the Indians were not too thrilled with being forced to sell their land and having to move ever west.  This had already occurred throughout what became parts of Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio.  In response the brothers Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh had created a confederation of dissatisfied Indians from all the local tribes.  Tenskwatawa was known as The Prophet, because their efforts began as a religious calling seeking to return to ancient ways.  After starting their efforts in Ohio, they relocated to the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers creating Prophetstown.  While the movement began as a peaceful effort, the Prophet’s brother, Tecumseh could see no way this could continue and began recruiting warriors as well.  In particular, Tecumseh disagreed with the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809 that purchased over 3,000,000 acres from some of the tribes.  His argument centered around the notion that all Indian lands were held in common by all the Indians and so any sale had to be agreed to by all tribes, not just those currently living on them.  Of course, this was considered to be ridiculous by Harrison.  Tecumseh met with Harrison in 1810 and again in 1811 at Harrison’s headquarters in Vincennes with no impact.  After the meeting in 1811, Tecumseh continued on south into Creek territory in Tennessee to attempt an alliance with the Creek Nation.  While this was not successful, it did encourage part of the Creek Nation, known as the Redsticks, to rebel causing the Creek War that was a part of the War of 1812 in the south.  While Tecumseh was away to the south, Harrison seized upon the opportunity to remove the threat of Prophetstown to the north.  He gathered his forces of about 1000 men that was a mix of regular soldiers, Kentucky volunteers, and Indiana militia at Fort Knox, just north of Vincennes.  In September, 1811 this force moved north stopping near Terre Haute to build Fort Harrison on the Wabash River while waiting for supplies to arrive.  With fresh supplies, the force moved out on October 28 to Prophetstown which they reached on November 6.  Tenskwatawa sent a message asking for a ceasefire until the next morning when they could meet in peace.  Harrison agreed and his small army set up camp on a hill about a mile from Prophetstown.  However, Tenskwatawa and his warriors had other plans.  They surrounded the camp during the night with plans to attack at dawn.  However, at 4:30 some of the Indians were spotted and sporadic gunfire broke out.  Even though they did not construct any defensive works, as they probably should have, Harrison had ordered the men to sleep with loaded rifles.  Therefore, they were able to respond relatively quickly.  Over the next two hours the Indians tried multiple times to overrun the camp from different directions, but were repulsed each time.  The Indians then retreated to Prophetstown, denouncing Tenskwatawa for not protecting them with his magic and subsequently abandoned the town.  Harrison spent the rest of the day and the next day building defensive works expecting further attacks that did not come.  When they entered Prophetstown on November 9, they found it abandoned and they burned it to the ground.  Although the battle was reported as a great victory for Harrison, eventually propelling him to the Presidency with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”, it had little real effect.  The Indians continued to fight back against the taking of their lands and even reestablished Prophetstown.  This all became part of the War of 1812 a year later, in part due to the British continuing to supply the Indians with munitions to attack the settlers.

The camp and battlefield of Tippecanoe has been protected since the days of the battle, partly because it was still Indian land after the battle and once settlers moved into the area, the battle was well known.  Consequently the area had never been farmed and some of the trees are old enough to have witnessed the battle in 1811.  They have a very nice museum at the battlefield that provides a lot of information about Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh, as well as, Harrison and his troops.  There is nice film giving details about the battle itself and finally exhibits giving general information about the aftermath of the battle.  Outside, the battlefield is maintained as a park with numerous monuments showing where the officers were killed during the battle.  Actually there is not much to see outside of the museum since they entire battle occurred in one spot.  After eating lunch we had plans to explore Prophetstown State Park to see its location, however, the weather did no cooperate.  While eating lunch we watched some dark clouds moving in and just as soon as we had decided against going to the state park, the skies opened up and it POURED.  We had to pull off the highway into a fast food parking lot to wait it out.  So we got back to the campground sooner then we had planned, but since it rained for most of the afternoon, it was the best we could do.

With the beginning of the long fourth of July weekend on Saturday, we decided to stay in the campgrounds.  Besides the weather continued to be stormy all weekend.  So I spent some time over the next couple of days finishing up the maintenance on the RV which meant treating the rubber seals on the slides, checking the lug nuts, some simple oiling, and treating the hitch to remove the rust.  All together this did not take very much time over the weekend, so the rest of the time we just relaxed in the campground.  While we did not do anything much on Monday, either, we did drive to Plymouth, Indiana to watch their fireworks display.  As we got there an hour before the show, we were able to get a great location with our chairs just in front of the truck with an unobstructed view of the fireworks.

Tuesday was the fourth of July, which unlike the other campgrounds we have stayed in the past two years, they did not have any special plans to celebrate in the campgrounds.  Of course, this is discounting the silly golf cart “parade” they had consisting of 4 noisy golf carts covered with American flags!!

On Wednesday we made our way over to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which was the whole reason for camping in the area.  It should have been a 30 minute drive to Lake Michigan, but with the road construction on US 421, US 30, and US 5, we had a difficult time making our way over to the lake in less than an hour.  The Indiana Dunes has an interesting history as a series of compromises and conflicts between conservationists wanting to preserve the unique and varied ecosystems in the dunes and industrialists wanting to create a new port on Lake Michigan in support of the steel mills and power plants in the immediate area.  The efforts to “Save the Dunes” began in 1899, but it was not until 1966 that the National Lakeshore was formed from a purchase of about 8,000 acres.  This has been expanded to over 15,000 acres with additional acquisitions that is broken up into a number of units along Lake Michigan.  The Lakeshore includes 15 miles of lakefront and ecosystems ranging from bogs, marshes, lakes, dunes, and forests.  Since 1966 there have been many ongoing efforts to restore the ecosystems and preserve those that remain.  In many cases, these efforts are still not complete, so you get to see them in progress.  There are numerous trails for hiking, biking, and horses that cover each of the varied ecosystems.  The Visitor Center itself was a bit disappointing as they have only a small exhibit room with examples of the ecosystems and information about the trail systems.  I was hoping to learn more about the history of the area, but I had to learn this from the Internet and a PBS program we had seen a few months ago.

Since Kal had been fighting a summer cold for the last few days, we wanted to take just a couple of short hikes and there were quite a few to choose from.  You could spend an entire week hiking even a small part of the available trails.  We choose to start with the Great Bog Trail, which was close to the Visitor Center and was a level one mile loop trail through a bog that they are still working on restoring.  They are now attracting some of the waterfowl such as herons and cranes to the bog and we certainly saw and heard our fill of frogs along the trail.  It was a nice shady walk on a beautiful late morning.  While we did not see much in the way of wildlife, except for a single heron across the bay, we enjoyed the walk.

After this short walk we took a drive along the lakeshore to at least get our first look at Lake Michigan.  Once again it is a big lake that is impossible to see across, just like Lakes Erie and Ontario we saw last summer.  Unfortunately the stretch we drove down was all private property, so there was no place to park to take a closer look.  The only public parking area was full, so we just continued on our way.  Along the lakefront there was a surprise consisting of 5 old homes known as the “Century of Progress Homes”.  Sounded like a contradiction in terms until you find out they were brought here from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago!  At the time they were considered the state of the art in construction techniques for affordable and efficient housing.  Once of the buildings was constructed of steel and glass from which they discovered passive solar heating.  This was embarrassing during the World’s Fair which was highlighting the advantages of central air conditioning!!  This building even had a small hangar for a personal plane, which was believed at the time to be just around the corner.  Unfortunately, this building was under massive restoration while we were there and was all covered up with what looked to be insulation.  In fact, the only building to have survived the ravages of time was the one constructed of Louisiana cypress logs.

From there we pulled into the parking lot for the Dune Ridge Trail, which is 0.75 mile hike up to the top of a 200 foot sand dune covered with grass and trees.  By this point, the temperature was in the upper 80s and Kal decided not to make the hike after about a quarter mile of trudging through deep beach sand to reach the dune.  I continued on the trail while Kal returned to the truck.  Even though it was a short hike, it was still a challenge climbing up the backside of the dune to the top.  The fact that it was all loose sand on the trail did not help.  From the top you get a good view of the surrounding bog and marshes to the south.  Even though the brochure said you would get a good view of Lake Michigan to the north, you could not see the lake through the carpet of black oak leaves.  Still it was a good hike in an ecosystem I am not well familiar with.  After a late lunch we decided to return to the campground as Kal was still not feeling well.

For the next three days we just stayed in the campgrounds where I worked on this blog, extended our reservations through September, and doing laundry.

On Saturday our old neighbors from Auburn, the Zutters, came by the campground to see us.  They had been visiting family in South Bend over the fourth, so it was just a little out of their way to stop by.  It was a wonderful and short visit that we thoroughly enjoyed.

On our last day at Last Resort Resort, Kal was feeling well enough to explore more of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  For this day our objective was the Mnoke Prairie where they are in the process of restoring a small patch (120 acres) of long grass prairie.  However, first we took a 1.2 mile loop trail through the forested ecosystem to two historical sites.  The first was the Chellberg Farm, a 1900 farm following old Scandinavian traditions that has been restored to the turn of the century condition.  The other historical site was the Bailly homestead.  Joseph Bailly was likely the first settler in the region when he established a trading post in 1822 trading beaver furs from the Indians for manufactured products.  While the trading post was eventually dismantled for constructing other buildings on the property, his 1835 home still survives today.

After this short walk, we drove over to the one of the trailheads for the Little Calumet River Trail that is a 3 mile long loop.  From this trailhead it is a short walk to explore the part of the trial that winds through the Mnoke Prairie.  They are currently using high school projects to grow native grasses and forbes to be planted in the prairie, while at the same time they are trying different strategies to control the many invasives including periodic control burns.   Unfortunately, Kal only made it about 0.25 miles into the prairie before the sun got too hot for her.  I continued on the 1 mile trail through the prairie down to the Little Calumet River and the bridge over it.  At this point I wish I would have called Kal to meet me where we had parked earlier to explore the farm as it would have been about 1.5 miles further.  For some reason I decided to hike back the 1 mile through the prairie instead.  While it was interesting to see the prairie again from a slightly different perspective, the upper 80 degree heat in the sun was almost too much for me.  After another late lunch in the small picnic area at the trailhead, we headed back to the campground.

June 2017 – Indianapolis, Indiana

Since we had only about 70 miles to travel north along IN-37, which is a four lane highway to Indianapolis, the trip was short and uneventful.  We pulled into Lake Haven Retreat just after noon and got checked in with no problem.  Our site was a pull-through site that was more than long enough for both the RV and the truck with full hookups.  The site was gravel and perfectly level, so the set up was simple and quick.  For being just minutes from downtown Indianapolis and just two miles south of the beltway, it was a surprisingly nice location.  Lake Haven is an older campground, but they have done a great job in maintaining the campground.  Within the last couple of years they have expanded the campground and we were located in this newer section.  While the sites were larger, they also had no shade trees at all.  We were certainly going to be using our air conditioner a lot over the next 10 days.  There was also an RV repair shop in the campground that was very busy with working on RVs, both within the shop and on rigs in the campground.  It would certainly be convenient if we had needed anything done, but the work I planned on doing while we were there I could handle myself.  Kal was in seventh-heaven, as we also had cable TV that worked without a box (which meant it worked on the TV in the bedroom as well) and they had excellent free Wi-Fi with a repeater about 10 feet from our RV.  In addition, there was a Kroger with 1.5 miles and another one 3 miles away.  Finally, there was a Camping World within 15 miles where I could get the supplies I needed for the RV.

However, our main reason for staying this close to a major city was to be close to the airport.  As will likely become standard in the summer, we will have to be close to a major airport at least once so we can either fly out to see our family or so they can fly in to visit us.  However, this time we were not going directly to see any of them as we were all traveling to Dallas, Texas for our niece’s, Michelle, wedding.  This had been planned for months with William and Kristin driving to Texas where they will meet up with Nikki and Chris in Austin for a couple of days before the wedding.  We will be flying out of Indianapolis to Dallas where we met Jenny coming from Orlando.  All of us will converge on an Air B&B house with three bedrooms for the entire family.  Our flight was leaving early on Friday morning, so for the next couple of days we stayed in the campground and got ready for the trip.  Obviously getting ready to travel did not take very long, so for the most part we relaxed in the campgrounds while I got caught up on this blog and figured out our future travels in Michigan.

Our flight to Dallas left the Indianapolis airport at 8:00 in the morning which meant we were at the airport by 6:00.  As we figured it was a quick 15 minute drive from the campground to the airport, where we found parking with no problem.  Their shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal got us there with plenty of time to spare.  The flight to Dallas was only 90 minutes and we landed just after Jenny did.  So I waited on our luggage, which consisted of a single suitcase, and met both of them at the rental car center.  Once we had the rental car it was about a 40 minute drive to our “house”, half of which was just getting out of the airport (that place is HUGE).  We did stop for lunch along the way and still managed to get to the house an hour before William and company made it from Austin.  Our “home” for the weekend was a very nice townhouse with a small living room and kitchen along with the master bedroom and 1.5 baths on the ground floor and two bedrooms, bathroom, and nook with a futon for Jenny on the second floor.  It was immediately obvious that this was going to be a whole lot better then staying at a motel, especially since our family gets along so well.  Kal and I are very proud of our family, since they not only get along with each other, but are all easy going and enjoy doing the same things.  This includes playing games of all types.  One of our favorite games is spades and I did bring a couple of decks of cards along with the hope that we would could find some time to play a little over the next two days.  I should not have worried about it, because as soon as we got settled in the house, William pulled out the cards and the spade games began.  I was surprised over the next two days how much time we found to play spades as there was a card game going whenever we had any free time.  I was equally surprised and pleased that both Chris and Kristin got involved immediately in the first game of spades.  I did not get to play any before dinner, however, I enjoy watching and helping both of them as much or more than playing.  Both of them are still relatively new to the game and they only get to play spades when we get together, but they are both turning out to be good players.  In particular, is Chris who played it for the first time last summer during our time at Niagara Falls.  Having never played any card games before, he has shown a very good card sense and even though he could not always state why he made a bid, he was usually correct.  His playing has also improved immensely.  I would guess that he has really gotten to enjoy the game, as he played nearly every game over the next two days.  We did have to break after a couple of hours to go to dinner, being hosted by Kal’s brother Mark at a restaurant called The Time Machine.  While not technically the rehearsal dinner for the wedding, he had invited all the out-of-town family which amounted to 23 guests.  The restaurant was itself interesting, as the waiters and waitresses are all in costume of some movie or cartoon character and the tables are within various structures from teepees to cars to spaceships within the restaurant.  Our large party were all places within their “schoolhouse” which we filled to capacity.  Rather than having everyone ordering separately, which would have been a nightmare, Mark ordered a large buffet style dinner of chicken and brisket (which was really just a large pot roast).  While the food was not the best, the company certainly was and we all had a great time with Mark and Pam’s extended family.  Once we were finished it was back to the house for more spades and drinks.  Not only did we have plenty of the required beer, but William also brought along a fifth of tequila for what has become a Somers tradition of “tequilla shots” whenever we get together.  What started at my retirement party has become a family tradition that I hope continues for a long time.   The spades games continued until after one in the morning and I did get to play quite a bit, even though Kal went to bed relatively early.  She claimed that all the noise we were making made her feel right at home.

On Saturday we rose fairly early for a 10:00 wedding to a heavy set of thunderstorms.  Unfortunately, the storms lasted up to the wedding which meant we were all crowded into a small reception room and an area out front which they covered with a tent.  It was a relatively small wedding and the ceremony was actually very short with simple vows.  I should mention that the theme for the wedding was Disney, which included the decorations, place cards, wedding program, and even the music.  All of the music before, during, and after the ceremony and through the reception was Disney.  Now while this may sound strange, they considered any music that was used in any Disney film was appropriate.  While there was certainly a lot of music from all the Disney cartoons, there was also more contemporary music ranging from country to pop to hip-hop as well.  In total, I found it to be very appropriate and it was fun to watch the various sing alongs that would break out from time to time.  They even had a “waffle bar” during the reception that I found to be quite appropriate and well received as a brunch.  Their Disney theme even extended to their honeymoon which will be a Disney Cruise in September.  We got lots of pictures and even more great memories.

Following the wedding we retired back to the house for more spades while we waited on Kal’s family to join us for a “baby shower” for Kristin.  Chris ordered pizza from a local restaurant (which meant that it was within 30 miles which is “local” for Texas!) and once we all had something to eat we got down to the shower.  Kristin got some interesting gifts including a Disney train and baby clothes, including an entire outfit knitted by Kal.  After the shower we split up for a game of charades using an app on the smart phone to give suggestions.  Everyone got really into it and we had one of the more enjoyable games of charades I have ever played.  Michelle and her new husband, James, even dropped by for a while to see everyone.  After everyone left it was back to playing spades and even Kal finally got to play a bit.  Once again we played until after midnight before reluctantly turning in for the night.

The next day, Sunday was time for everyone to head back home, except for Jenny who was going to spend a couple of more days with Mark and Pam.  William and Kristin got on the road by 9:00 and after dropping off Jenny we drove Nikki and Chris for their morning flight.  Thankfully, their flight was delayed so we had time to eat lunch with them before they left.  This left us nearly 4 hours before our flight left, so we found a bench outside where we watched the coming and goings of travelers until we were both tired of waiting.  The flight back to Indianapolis nearly went off without a hitch except for our luggage.  Since we had checked the bag when we first got to the airport, our suitcase caught an earlier flight.  Of course, we did not know this until we had waited and watched all the luggage from our flight go around the baggage carousel.  Once we were sure it was not there we found the baggage claim office and sure enough there was our suitcase.  We could have gotten out of the airport at least a half hour sooner if we had just thought to check there first!!  In any case, we were soon back to the RV.

Instead of leaving the next day, Monday, as we normally do, we had decided to stay a few more days waiting until Thursday to move further north.  This gave us a couple of more days at Lake Haven where I spent the time doing maintenance on the RV.  This included washing and treating the roof, washing the outside of the RV and the truck.  I almost made a serious mistake, since I was suppose to pay them for the privilege of washing our rig myself.  I guess this is to pay for the extra water, but I really doubt we spent anywhere close to $7.50 of water!!  Luckily Kal found the note in their brochure of rules after I was asked about it from another camper.  So after I was finished with the roof, we stopped by the office to pay for the privilege.  Still this is better then most other places that clearly state that RV washing was not allowed – period!

The only other thing we did the rest of the week was to spend part of the day on Tuesday visiting the Indiana Grand Racing and Casino about 30 miles away in Shelbyville, Indiana.  This was a very impressive casino and racetrack.  The casino floor was a massive 200,000 square feet in size full of slot machines.  It is advertised to be a Vegas style casino, which I suppose it was, however, I was disappointed that all their “table games” were e-based games.  No living people as dealers and no physical cards either.  After a couple of hours, we had played out our $40 stakes and came out losing about half of it, which is pretty standard for us.  However, as we were leaving we decided to take a look at the racetrack and found out that this was one of the days during the week they had thoroughbred racing.  It was the fifth race of the day and the horses were nearly at the gate, so we stayed to watch.  We had a great position right at the finish line and got to watch them loading up the gate.  Unfortunately, one of the horses got spooked and ended up on the ground, mostly under the gate.  They had to clear the other horses back out of the gate, after which the down horse got back up.  I don’t think he was seriously hurt, however, he was scratched from the race.  They quickly reloaded the gate and the horses took off around the track.  It was our first chance to watch a horserace live and it would have likely been more exciting if we had bet on a horse.  Still it was kind of fun to watch and Kal would be interested in attending a racetrack in the future.  We will have to see what we can find.

June 2017 – Bloomington, Indiana

While the trip from Vincennes to Bloomington was only about 2 hours in length, we had a good time with our GPS unit.  I suppose I-69 is relatively new since our Road Atlas, which is 4 years old, shows it as a dotted line only halfway to Bloomington.  However, it was surprising that our GPS, which we update fairly regularly, does not have the interstate at all.  For the record, I-69 is completed all the way to IN 37 just south of Bloomington, which is a major 4 lane highway as well.  It was fun watching our GPS spin and recalculate every few minutes as it continued to try and reroute us on all kinds of backroads.  I was a little surprised that it never commanded us to “Land the plane”, since it must have thought we were flying!!  In any case, we pulled into Hardin Ridge Recreation Area in the Hoosier National Forest just after lunch time.  After spending a week on the wide open floodplains of western Indiana, we were now back into very hilly and wooded terrain around Monroe Lake.  This will be our last time this summer to stay in a Federal campground since from here on they are too old for RVs and we will have to stay in commercial campgrounds.  At least the bathrooms had flush toilets unlike the previous USFS campground.  In fact, this was a very large campground with over 200 sites, however, all of them were back-in.  They are all large, spacious sites with a LOT of trees and underbrush.  The trees on the other side of the road and drainage ditch right along the road certainly had me worried about backing the RV into our site.  However, the site was angled just enough to make it possible and I am actually quite proud of the fact that I backed it up without having to pull forward and all in one shot!!  I am certainly getting better with backing it up.

Campsite

We spent Tuesday in the campground with me working on the blog as we waited for my sister, Suzy, to drive up from Tennessee to spend the week with us.  It was great to have company, although we did not do anything all that much different then we usually do.  Unfortunately, the weather turned hot and muggy with temperatures in the mid-90s most of the week with thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.  After a week in the 70s with no rain, we felt we were back in Alabama.  Thankfully, there was plenty of shade although no wind in the forests.

We did challenge the weather and got out a couple of times during the week.  On Wednesday we drove over to Seymour, Indiana to explore the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, the oldest refuge in Indiana.  Back in the 60s the federal government bought up some old farm land that was prone to flooding in order to create this wetland and they are slowly recovering the natural vegetation.  While the wetlands and grasslands are coming along just fine, the forested areas are going to take a while.  You can still tell they are old farm fields, especially since they continued to farm much of it for feedstock until the 1980s.  Along with a very nice Visitor Center that boosts a quartermile paved path around a couple of small ponds, there is also a 4 mile driving tour.  This tour has 12 number stops with explanations in a brochure giving management information.  You get to see all of the varied habitats on the refuge and there are a couple of short trails to wooden overlooks.  It was a short walk through the grasslands to the overlook at North Endicott Marsh where they had a couple of stationary viewers you could use.  Unfortunately, by late morning there was not much to see out in the marsh.  The better walk was the 1 mile loop trail that went to an overlook of Richert Lake.  The trail was recently mowed and traveled through some of the recovering upland forests to the lake.  We had to pick up the pace over the last quarter of the trail to beat the thunderstorm that was rolling in for the afternoon.  We decided not to eat a late lunch at the Visitor Center as we would likely get wet and just headed on back to the RV for an early supper, after stopping at the Walmart in Seymour of course.

On Thursday we decided to try our luck again and headed south to Spring Mill State Park.  This park turned out to get quite the location.  In addition to Spring Mill Lake and picnic areas, there were numerous hiking trails, caves to explore including a boat tour, an inn, and bikes you could rent.  Our main reason for visiting, however, was the Pioneer Village of Spring Mill.  In 1817 a huge grist mill was built utilizing the water flowing out of the caves.  This grist mill is easily the largest grist mill I have ever seen!  It is a massive three story stone building with 3 foot thick walls and a mill race supported by stone columns.  On the hour they give a short presentation of the history of the mill and town along with a quick demonstration of the mill, which still works, although the water is now piped in instead of flowing down the mill race.  After the demonstration, we spent some time in the upper two floors which were an extensive museum with artifacts all the way through the history of the region.  Back in the 20s and 30s the CCC did extensive reconstruction of the mill and town buildings that grew up around the mill.  Consequently there is a lot to see of the town of Spring Mill than just the grist mill.  There is a stone manor house that has a floor plan that convinced us it must have been a duplex as it is certainly split down the middle by the fireplace.  Behind is a nice flower garden with many native flowers and herbs growing.  Along with the house there is a one-room schoolhouse that they called a nursery, a carriage house, exterior kitchen, and spring house.  The town of Spring Mill also had a tavern/inn that was built when it was a major stop on the stagecoach line, a blacksmith, an apothecary, and a mercantile.  There were also a number of houses, some of which had been moved to the area, but others that were original.  They have all of them filled with artifacts from the time period and some of them are being used by local craftsmen.  We got to watch a loom making a rug, a leatherworker and a potter making trinkets for sale.  By the time we had spent nearly 3 hours exploring the town, we were all ready for lunch which we ate at the picnic area just outside the Pioneer Village.  After lunch I tried to talk everyone into exploring one of their many hiking trails, but by this point the temperature had once again climbed into the mid-90s and I could get no takers.  So we headed back to the campground before the thunderstorms could get started up for the evening.

Friday and Saturday we just spent in the campground getting caught up with Suzy and her family and playing some games.  Unfortunately, watching TV was a challenge as we only sort of received a couple of stations and then only in the evenings.  The most consistent station was a PBS channel out of Bloomington, which I was surprised we did not get better since we were so close.  I assume the hills and woods disrupted the signal.  We had a great time with Suzy and it was nice being able to sit and talk without a house full of children since her daughter and her two children live with her in Tennessee.  None of us had anywhere we had to go and nothing we had to do, so we did exactly that for a change.

Suzy left to return to Tennessee on Sunday and we decided to just stay in the campground ourselves.