September, 2018 – Dubuque, Iowa

For those following this blog, you know that it has been raining in southwest Wisconsin, on and off, for the past two weeks and this week began no differently.  We got a break on Monday and were able to travel a couple of hours further south along the Mississippi River to the southwestern corner of Wisconsin without being rained on.  Our new location is the Grant River Campground, another Corps of Engineers campground along the Great River.  As before the river has been largely tamed with a series of locks and dams that maintain the water levels for shipping and thus the existence of COE campgrounds.  This week we are just across the river from Dubuque, Iowa so we had a good choice of stores and restaurants to choose from.  Unfortunately, the TV reception was not much better as all of the stations are out of Davenport, still a ways to the south.  When we pulled into Grant River we found that the “office” was only open from 5-8 in the evening during the week, so we were on our own to located our reserved site.  The first stop, however, was to pull into a small parking lot at the boat ramp to fill up our water tank since this campground is another one without water hookups.  Except for this minor deficiency, it was a lovely campground, well maintained by the Corps and had a nice view of the Mississippi River.  Unfortunately, our campsite had us facing away from the river and directly at the railroad tracks about 50 feet away.  In addition, I had managed to reserve the only campsite in the entire campground without a concrete pad for the RV.  Instead we were on gravel, which again was not really a problem.  The real problem turned out to be the railroad tracks!!!  During the afternoon a large train pulling 70-100 cars roared by at maximum speed every half hour.  As I mentioned we were only about 50 feet from the tracks and no more than 100 feet from the crossing where the road into the campgrounds went over the tracks.  This meant that trains traveling in either direction were blasting their horns at us multiple times as they approached the crossing!!  We thought it was kind of a novel experience hearing the horns and feeling the RV tremble every half hour.  However, when this nonsense continued throughout the night, with a train at least every hour, it became too much.  We talked with the volunteers when we checked in at 5:00, who said the traffic was about twice normal due to the flood damage we had witnessed last week.  However, even at half the traffic, it would have been a real problem, especially at night.  I guess they never got the backlog cleared up during the week, as we continued to see huge trains with 3-5 locomotives every 20-30 minutes all week!!  By the end of the week, we were more tired from not getting a good night sleep then by any other thing we did during the day.

Rather than making dinner that night, Kal agreed to check out the local Potosi Brewery in the nearby town of that name.  It was an interesting place since they had taken over an entire block of the town with their brewery, bottling, museum, and restaurant.  We had a nice dinner along with 6 five ounce glasses of a sampling of their brews.  There were some very good ones.

BreweryComplex

Once again Tuesday was rainy on and off all day, with the forecast of clearing by Thursday.  So we spent the day getting the laundry done and cleaning the RV.  While it was good to get these chores out of the way, I was ready for it the weather to improve.

Wednesday was another dreary day, although it was mostly just drizzle all day.  For something to do more than anything, we headed into Dubuque to find the Q Casino.  It turns out that this casino is owned by the city and run as a non-profit!!  This was the first time I know of that we have run into such a thing as a casino being a source of revenue for a city, outside of taxes.  In any case, it was a nice casino with a large gaming floor and a wide choice of gaming tables and even a poker room.  We did not care about any of that as we were interested in the slot machines.  As usual it took only a bit than an hour to run though our stake we neither one of us doing very good.  While we did not lose our entire stake, we both lost money for the day.  We went back to the campground in poor spirits, partly due to our gambling luck and partly due to the weather.

As forecasted Thursday did turn out to be a beautiful day.  So we headed south to Illinois heading to the town of Galena.  Last spring we had learned about the importance of lead mining in this area which in part led to the Blackhawk War that Abraham Lincoln served in.  We also knew it was the location of the only home associated with President Ulysses S Grant.  Our first stop in Galena was his home on top of a hill across the river from downtown.  We learned that Grant and his wife moved to Galena from St. Louis after he left the army after a 15 year career.  He was an unsuccessful businessman on his own in St. Louis and moved there to assist his brothers in his father’s leathergoods store in 1860.  He spent the winter of 1860-61 traveling extensively in the northwest meeting with customers before rejoining the army in 1861 when the Civil War broke out.  He began commissioned as a Colonel in the 21st Illinois Volunteer Regiment, but was quickly promoted to more senior commands.  Following his great success in the Civil War, Grant returned to Galena to a hero’s celebration.  In recognition of his notoriety, a small group of Galena businessmen bought his a nice home, fully furnished, to present to General Grant.  He only lived there a few years, as he was elected to be President in 1868 and moved to D.C.  Although he returned to visit from time to time, he continued to use it as his permanent address.  Following his death, his children continued to keep the house as a memorial to their father and eventually gave it to the city of Galena who eventually turned it over to the state.  Since nobody lived in the house since Grant moved out, nearly all of the furnishings are original.  This was amazing until I recalled that the house came fully furnished.  No wonder the furnishings looked mismatched without any true theme since it probably does not reflect the Grant’s tastes at all.  Even then it was an interesting collection of period pieces and artifacts and our tour guide was a lot of fun.  After the tour of the home, we spent some time checking out the statue of Julia Grant in front of the house and the spectacular views of the town of Galena across the Galena River.   After the weeks of cloudy and dreary skies, the bright sunshine on the roofs and steeples in town was amazing.  We also checked out the country store they had moved to a location next to the house and their other attempts to turn this into an historic district.

Following exploring Grant’s home and surrounding area, we were ready for lunch.  So we headed off down the hill to the banks of the Galena River where we found Grant’s park.  Here is the “official” location of the statue of Grant along with a number of artillery pieces from the wars the citizens of Galena served in.  Of particular note was the actual first rifled cannon fired during the Civil War against Fort Sumter.  How the town of Galena ended up with this cannon after its extensive use during the Civil War was pretty amazing.

After lunch we were ready to explore more of Galena and I was interested in finding out more about the history of lead mining in the history.  Therefore, we headed into town to find the Galena and U.S. Grant Museum.  This was a great find since I found a complete history of the town during its heyday as a lead mining metropolis to the years of dominating steamboat traffic on the upper Mississippi.  The existence of lead sulfide in the area is due to two factors.  First, there are extensive limestone deposits from an ancient seabed that have been filled with nodules of lead and zinc from ancient hot springs.  Second, the region was missed by the last ice age which scoured off these limestone deposits from the area to the east and west.  The presence of lead was well known by the local Indians who had been using the lead for ornaments and body paints for centuries.  The presence of these deposits was noted on French maps from the 1600s and there were a few attempts to mine the lead as early as 1790.  With the first official mining lease in 1822, the first mining boom in the US was begun.  As the number of lead mines and population of Galena continued to increase the economic importance of Galena on the Upper Mississippi River began to dominate the region.  It became a major steamboat port through the 1840s but then the tide began to turn.  Deforestation and mining operations soon silted up the Galena River where the town was still three miles from the Mississippi.  In addition, railroads were expanding opening up east-west routes instead of the north-south river routes and Chicago became the major hub instead of Galena.  However, the biggest problem was the decline in the demand and price of lead which put many mines out of business.  The final straw was the Civil War which limited trade along the contested Mississippi and drained most of the work force from the town.  Galena never recovered and almost became a ghost town.  However, due to its proximity to Chicago it became a favorite location for artists and began to be known as an artist community.  This group began moving in, renovating the boarded up shops and homes and today Galena is a preserved snapshot of the architecture of a prosperous pre-Civil War town.  In addition to all this history, the museum also has one of the original lead mine shafts uncovered when they added an addition to the building that you can look down into.  The second floor is mostly devoted to Grant and the Civil War.  The most interesting part of this exhibit was the story of the other 8 Civil War Generals that came from Galena, the most from any single city in the Union.  Of course, some of these were promotions after their death, but still it was an impressive accomplishment.  After spending nearly 3 hours in the museum, we were both pretty much done for the day and headed back to the campground.

Friday was another beautiful day, although a bit overcast, and I was ready for a hike.  For this reason we went in search of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area outside of Dubuque, Iowa.  We made the mistake of letting our GPS take us to the Mines of Spain and it led us to the south entrance of the park, which was the wrong end.  Without any information about the hiking trails, we first wanted to find some kind of Visitor Center.  As we drove through the park, passing one trailhead after another, we came upon the Julian Dubuque Memorial, so we checked it out.  This turned out to be the burial spot of Julian Dubuque, the first European settler in the area from whom the city of Dubuque is named.  Back in 1788, Julian Dubuque, a Frenchman from Quebec, obtained a signed agreement with the Meskwaki Indians giving him the right to mine for lead in the area along the Mississippi River.  Since the territory west of the Mississippi was Spanish territory at the time, he also obtained a land grant from Spain in 1796 and thus the name Mines of Spain.  He was never very successful mining for lead but he continued to live in the area, trade with the Indians, and even marry the daughter of the local chief.  When he died the Indians erected a log crypt over his grave which was replaced by the stone tower that rises above the Mississippi River today.

After checking this out we once again went in search for some kind of Visitor Center.  A map we saw at a couple of the trailheads showed an E.B Lyons Interpretive Center that sounded promising, but the maps were not clear on how to get there.  After going all the way back to the southern entrance, we finally figured out that the entrance to the Interpretive Center was on a residential street, not the Recreation Area.  We finally found the Interpretive Center where we found the information we needed and a nice trails map.  Of course, by this point we had wasted the entire morning, so we went in search of a hiking trail after eating lunch at the center.  As the terrain was very hilly, we were neither very sure we wanted to take on any of the moderate hikes and the difficult ones were out of the question.  Therefore, we choose an easy 2 mile loop trail on top of a ridge.  This turned out to be a very nice hike along the edge of a restored long-grass prairie, with convenient swings through the cool wooded ravine that had benches.  Thankfully, the weather remained cloudy limiting the effect of the warm afternoon sun hiking in the open.  While not the hike I was looking for when we set out, it was still a nice walk through the tall grasses of the prairie and made for a successful day.

As usual the weekend was time to relax in the campground and get caught up on this blog.  At least relax as much as we could with noisy rumbling trains whipping past every half hour!!  We were sure glad to leave this campground in search of more peace and quiet.

August, 2018 – LaCrosse, Wisconsin

After some steady rain on Sunday, we were fortunate that it stopped sooner than forecast and we were able to hook up the RV after it had dried off.   With more rain in the forecast for Monday we headed southwest out of Wisconsin Rapids towards LaCrosse on the Mississippi River.  We ran through some sprinkles along the way but had enough time to get set up at our new location, Blackhawk Park Corp of Engineers campground, right alongside the main channel of the Mississippi River.  The most amazing part of the trip was the change in topography.  Most of the trip was through rolling hills, until we got to within about 10 miles of the Mississippi River.  At this point the topography became very hilly with steep sided valleys.  As we learned at a Wayside stop we pulled into, this is the Driftless Region that extends through the southwest corner of Wisconsin into Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois.  Due to some very hard rock formations the last ice age bypassed this area flowing instead to the east and west of the region.  The glaciers scoured off the tops of the hills to the east and west, but left this region alone which is evident by the lack of glacial drift and thus the name.  Most of the area is dominated by limestone from ancient seas and over time hot springs had forced lead and zinc into the porous limestone.  The native Indians had been mining the lead for hundreds of years and French voyagers knew about the lead deposits way back in the 1700s.  This led to an fascinating history of the region that we will explore more fully in the future.  Once we got to the Mississippi River Valley south of LaCrosse, we entered a different world with 400 foot bluffs on both sides of the river and just a narrow strip of land for the highway and railroad right alongside the Mississippi.  This was certainly not what I expected!!

After a nearly 3 hour drive, we timed it just about perfect, pulling in at 2:00 when their office opened up.  We pulled the RV down to the site I had reserved only to discover that it was going to be too small to park the truck with the RV.  In addition, it was angled backwards on their one-way road around the campgrounds and a large tree right at the entrance was going to make it VERY difficult to back the RV in.  Fortunately, one of the rangers saw us pulling in and met us at the site.  He agreed that it was not going to be easy to get into the site and offered any of a number of open first-come, first-served campsites.  Again the advantage of traveling on Mondays came to our rescue.  Since it was already threatening rain, we wanted to get set up quickly and pulled the RV around to a one of a very few pull-through sites they had.  We were able to pull easily into the site and get hooked to the electric, which was 50 amp instead of the 30 amp I had reserved.  Unfortunately the flush toilet bathroom and showers were on their other loop and all we had on this loop was a pit toilet.  Since we have our own showers, this was no problem and we were fine all week with their pit toilet.  We also had a very nice view from our site of the Mississippi River and the barge traffic as the channel wound around the many large islands in the area.  Bottom line was that we were very much happier with this site then the one I could reserve and thankful they let us move.  Soon after we got hooked up, the skies opened up with intermittent thunderstorms all afternoon.  As we found out over the week, it was definitely the monsoon season along the upper Mississippi River as we had only two days without rain all week.  On Monday, the heaviest rain fell in LaCrosse which had flash flooding that evening as the storms “trained” over their location.

Campsite

The weather on Tuesday was no better, as we had storms literally all day and it was our turn to be “trained” in the evening.  We had over 8 inches of rain on Tuesday and thankfully the campgrounds was not prone to flash flooding.  The town of Coon Valley, that we had passed close to the day before, had serious flooding in the town and the rain closed WI 35 to the north, cutting us off from LaCrosse.  It also caused major damage to the train tracks along the river, interrupting a VERY busy train track most of the week.  Even though we did not suffer a “flash flood”, the rain was heavy enough to create a 3 inch deep lake directly off the steps.  Thankfully the gravel pad was high enough that we maintained a 3″ wide path to the front of the RV, from which we could circle around the road to the truck which was parked at the back of the RV.  We did manage to drive south to cross the Mississippi into a grocery store in Lansing, Iowa before the heavy rain hit in the afternoon, so we were well supplied for an extended period if necessary.  We also checked with the rangers about the danger of flooding from the Mississippi which would force us to move.  Generally, they have about a week’s warning for any flooding of the Mississippi and projections at Fleming showed a peak of a couple of feet below the level where they would evacuate the campgrounds and this would not be until Thursday.  So we felt somewhat safe staying where we were.

Flooding

Wednesday was cloudy and cool with only a slight chance for more rain.  The highway north was still closed, so our only option was to head south.  This was fine with us, since we were very interested in exploring Effigy Mounds National Monument which is just north of Marquette, Iowa that is across the Mississippi from Prairie du Chen.  Since the Effigy Mounds are on top of the bluff we figured they would still be accessible after all the rain.  As we expected, we had full access to the Effigy Mounds.  After exploring the exhibits in the Visitor Center, we headed out on the trail to the mounds.  Of course, since the mounds were on top of the bluff, this meant an arduous trek up a series of switchbacks to the top 400 feet above the river.  Once we got on top of the bluff the trail was essentially level.  The Fire Point Trail is a loop trail, so we decided to first hike along the edge of the bluff to get some great views of the Mississippi River Valley before checking out the mounds.  The Little Bear Mound Group begins with a small bear shaped Effigy Mound and then is a long series of about 20 circular mounds leading out to Fire Point.  Thankfully, they keep the entire area mowed as the mounds are no more than a few feet tall and would disappear under any ground foliage.  It is interesting that they use of burial mounds in the shape of animals, i.e. Effigy Mounds, is primarily restricted to the corner of where Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois come together, extending east to Lake Michigan.  While the simpler circular burial mounds date back thousands of years to the Early Woodland Periods, the use of Effigy Mounds dates back to the Late Woodland Period from 1400-750 B.P.  They often used older mounds, simply adding to them as archeological evidence of artifacts found in the few mounds that have been excavated.  There is quite a confusing history of mound building that they do a good job explaining in the Visitor Center.  From the start of the Little Bear Mound Group it is only an additional 0.25 miles to check out the Great Bear Mound Group.  The main attraction of this group is the Great Bear Mound which 42 meters long and about a meter high.  Even then it is a little difficult to make out on the ground and pictures just can not do it justice.  The trail then goes nearly all the way around a smaller bear mound which is more easily seen because of the changing perspective.  At this point we were both ready for lunch so we made the hike back to the truck which was must faster heading downhill.

After lunch we explored another interpretive trail from the Visitor Center along the Yellow River.  This boardwalk was a nice easy walk along the banks of the Yellow River.  Along it we learned that the Visitor Center is actually on the site of an Indian village which at one time had a large number of mounds where the parking lot is today.  Unfortunately, farms had already destroyed all but three of these mounds before the land was set aside for the National Monument.  This is also the case for nearly all of the thousands of mounds that once dotted the landscape all the way to Lake Michigan.  The bluffs in the Driftless Area made this area unsuitable for farming and thus protected the mounds overlooking the Mississippi and is the reason the National Monument is at the extreme western edge.  There are some other trails to more mounds, in particular the Marching Bear Group to the south, but since the trail to the top of the bluff goes straight up we decided strongly against it.  Both of us had had enough of climbing for the day.

Thursday was another beautiful day and now that the highway to LaCrosse had opened one lane, we decided to head into LaCrosse in search of one of the Visitor Center for the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states encompassing 240,000 acres along 261 river miles.  It is part of the very important Mississippi Flyway for migratory birds and this is its primary purpose.  It extends from Wabasha, Minnesota to the north to Cordova, Illinois to the south on both sides of the Mississippi.  In fact, the COE campground we stayed in is about halfway through the refuge in the LaCrosse District.  The Visitor Center for this district is just north of LaCrosse. We had some trouble finding it, since our GPS took us to a small office in LaCrosse instead of the new Visitor Center.  They gave us a map to the Visitor Center, from which we found it with no problem.  It is a very new facility and had some nice exhibits about the river habitat and wildlife.  It also had information about restoration efforts to recover the islands in the river.  For shipping purposes, the upper Mississippi has a series of dams to maintain river levels of 9 feet for barges.  This has created a series of “pools” which has been a great benefit for some migratory species.  However, other species depend on the island habitat which was destroyed erosion caused by these pools.  They have had marginal success in restoring some of the islands with more work to come.  Unfortunately, when we asked the volunteer at the desk about hiking trails, we got basically a blank stare.  Since most of the recreational activities on the refuge is by small boats, I guess there is not much interest in walking.  After a few minutes he told us about some local hiking trails in the area, but none of them were on the refuge.  However, with all the rain, he was concerned about the accessibility of the trails and so were we.  Therefore, we decided to limit ourselves to a 2 mile loop trail they had at the Visitor Center through their restored tall grass prairie.  While I greatly appreciate their efforts to restore an important habitat that was very prevalent pre-settlement, I must admit that it sill looks like just an abandoned field.  I suppose part of this impression was due to the proximity of industrial buildings and a residential area next to the river which ended up in most of the pictures we took.  In any case we saw a lot of beautiful yellow goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, and sunflowers alongside tall stalks of Indian grass and big bluestem.    After eating lunch in the truck, Kal complained again about the tires.  Once I got out of the truck and watched the tires, I could clearly see the driver side tire wobble.  Kal found a distinctive bulge in the tire indicating belt separation.  So we headed into a Tire Plus store in LaCrosse and got two new front tires.  She was certainly correct about the tires as the ride got noticeably smoother.  Instead of returning immediately we splurged further and bought a new lawnchair and hat at Gander Outdoors before finding a Mexican restaurant for supper.

After two clear days, Friday was the beginning of the next round of storms over Labor Day Weekend.  The rain was suppose to start in the afternoon, so in the morning we drove over to Lansing, Iowa to check out Mt. Hosmer City Park that had been recommended.  After an uphill climb in the truck around some switchback that were too tight for the truck without backing up, we reached the top of Mt Hosmer, 450 feet above the river.  We were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Mississippi River Valley!!  It was spectacular.

Since there was not much else to do on Mt Hosmer once we took all the pictures we wanted, we headed back south again to Marquette, Iowa.  By this point it had started to rain lightly again, so we did not feel guilty about checking out the Casino Queen.  The Casino Queen is a replica of a large steamboat that carried passengers and freight up and down the Mississippi River back in mid 1800s.  It is three floors of slot machines, gaming tables, and even a restaurant.  We spent our time on the third floor which gave some great views of the river out the windows in the front of the ship.  While the river could be distracting, we managed to spend a couple of hours in the casino.  While Kal had a miserable time, I could not seem to lose.  She spent her stake while I was still on my first $10, having won enough that we came out in total ahead by about $50.  That they way it often goes with one of us having a great time while the other wonders why we bother.

As forecasted the entire Labor Day Weekend was a bust due to the weather.  It rained a good part of both Saturday and Sunday maintaining our lake in front of the camper all weekend.  Thankfully, the rain was not heavy for the most part so there was no additional flooding in the area outside of a few short flash floods and we never could tell the Mississippi had risen at all during the week.  We were lucky that the Auburn-Washington football game was on TV, so were able to watch the game without traveling anywhere on Saturday.

August, 2018 – Wisconsin Rapids

The last leg of our two split weeks was a 2.5 hour trip southwest to Wisconsin Rapids.  I was sorry to be leaving the northwoods with its spruce and fir as we now headed into the mixed pine/hardwood forests of central Wisconsin.  I look forward next year to return to the northwoods when we explore northwestern Wisconsin and the state of Minnesota.  In any case, our next stop was Deer Trail Park Campground between Wisconsin Rapids and Nekoosa on the Wisconsin River.  When we pulled into Wisconsin Rapids we began seeing multiple signs about road construction ahead on WI 13 with an 11′ width restriction.  This made Kal extremely nervous as she was convinced we were between 12 and 13 feet wide.  I was not so sure, but I did want to take any chances either.  Before we crossed the Wisconsin River, there was a sign for a detour on WI 73, but since this was going to be on the wrong side of the river, we decided against it. However, Kal got more and more nervous and when we pulled up to the beginning of the road construction she bailed out and pulled into an Applebees parking lot to turn around.  While we took a quick break I got out a measuring tape to check our width and found it to be just less than 8 feet.  The 13 foot width we were worried about had to do with campsites once we put the slides out.  Now that we were sure we would alright we proceeded to go through the construction zone.  We had nothing to worry about as we had more room here then we had dealt with multiple times in the past.  When we made a right turn onto WI 73, I realized that we could have gone that way as well, as it crossed the Wisconsin River just before the turn on County Road Z into our campground.  We got another surprise when we turned onto County Road Z as it was also closed ahead due to a bridge.  Thankfully, our GPS gave the campground as 4 miles away and the road was closed just over 12 miles ahead.  We did not have to find a way to turn the RV around as we came to Deer Trail Park Campground well before the bridge that was out.  I was surprised to see how large Deer Trail Park Campground was as I was under the impression it was a small RV Park.  However, there were over 100 sites, of which a large number were for transient campers.  We had a very nice pull through site that was plenty long enough for big rigs.  Getting in and setting up was very easy.  The only strange thing was having to share electrical and water pedestals with our neighbor, which meant we would in effect be sharing a “front yard” with our other neighbor.  Thankfully, they try to rent every other site to minimize this and we did not have anyone on the site next to us all weekend.  That evening we were visited by a Wisconsin native camping near by interested in knowing why we were so “far from home” and whether we knew where Waverly, Georgia was.  It turns out he is the proud owner of a logging company that used Franklin skidders, which has been out of business for a number of years.  There was this guy in Waverly that had a large supply of replacement parts for Franklin skidders and he was going there this fall to stock up on parts.  We had a good time talking about forestry in Wisconsin and his experiences cutting wood to supply the many pulp mills along the Wisconsin River in the area, including a large paper mill in Nekoosa.  We had a great time talking with him a couple of more times over the weekend.

Campsite

I am beginning to believe that this must be the rainy season for Wisconsin as there was again heavy rain on Friday with predictions for additional rain on Sunday and Monday.  This meant another trip to a casino on Friday and since there was one literally just across the Wisconsin River from us, it was an easy decision to make.  This time it was back to another of the Ho Chunk Gaming Casinos, this time in Nekoosa.  All of the Ho Chunk Casinos in Wisconsin have been nice, but this was my favorite.  It had a great selection of slot machines that we could choose from in a very nice atmosphere.  Kal did not have a good time, quickly losing her stake.  However, I did fairly well with two large jackpots so we just about broke even for the day.  Even though she did not have much fun, I found it quite enjoyable.  Go figure?

Saturday was going to be our only chance to get out before it started raining again, however, Kal was not interested in traveling over an hour to a potential hiking trail at a state park.  Therefore, I decided to take the truck and check out one of the four disc golf courses close to Wisconsin Rapids.  Since the other courses were only 9 holes I choose to play the disc golf course at South Wood County Park which had 12 holes.  This park surrounds the 148 acre Lake Wazeecha, a few miles outside of Wisconsin Rapids.  It is stretched out all along the shore of the lake with multiple small parking lots and facilities.  It took a while to find the right one with the disc golf course, but I finally found the right one.  The course is squeezed into a very small area between the road and lake.  It is on both sides of a heavily used bike/hiking trail, at least on a nice Saturday afternoon.  Much of the course is heavily traveled since the bathroom is located at the parking lot instead of near the picnic areas along the lake.  This made the course difficult to figure out as there were few obvious paths to the next tee box.  All of the fairways are less than 300 feet, which are short, but the large number of trees still made it a challenging course.  Especially for me, since I tend to hit a tree on just about every tee shot.  There are even a couple of fairways where you have to be careful not to throw your disc into the lake.  I had a good afternoon playing disc golf and watching all the people enjoying a bite to eat, swimming, water skiing, or being bounced around on an inner tube behind a speeding boat.  More than once I saw kids being thrown into the air.

As predicted, Sunday developed into another day of thunderstorms by late afternoon while we spent the time relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.  I did find some time to work on this blog in and around all the day’s activities.

August, 2018 – Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Leaving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we traveled basically west crossing over our path north last spring.  We traveled to a different campground south of Rhinelander, Pelican Lake Campground.  As the name implies it is on the shores of Pelican Lake with access to the lake across the road from the campground itself.  Pelican Lake Campground is a medium sized campground that is mostly filled with seasonal RV, few of which were occupied during the three nights we stayed there.  The owners were extremely friendly and helpful, even providing assistance with backing the RV onto a grassy site.  In fact, he was a little too helpful.  Initially I came in too wide and was in the center of the site instead of the left edge.  Since the hookups were all at the extreme back end of the site, it was questionable whether the electric cord would reach the pedestal.  The owner wanted me to reposition the RV over a couple of feet, which I attempted to do.  However, with a series of decorative rocks across the dirt road meant I could not pull up very far.  I should have known that I could not move the RV over much more than a foot at a time and he steered the back end all the way into the corner.  Of course, this meant I could not straighten up the front end before running out of room.  By the time I pulled up and tried it again, I ended up at almost a 45 degree angle in the site.  Disgusted, I pulled out to start over again and this time came in so tight that I nearly ran over their wooden post and small tree.  However, this angle got me straight into the site at the extreme left side. Of course, this meant the slides would push against the branches of a balsam fir and maple tree, but I was not about to move the RV again.  We unhooked the RV, got it leveled, and put out the slides.  When Kal went into the RV she could not get the TV remote to work to scan for channels.  After replacing the batteries, she realized we had no power coming to the RV.  Checking our fancy surge protector, it indicated a faulty ground wire on the pedestal and refused to operate.  We went back up to the office to let them know and hoped we were not looking at having to rehook the RV and move to a different site.  The owner came out with testing equipment, but before opening up the pedestal he asked us to check the 30 amp hookup.  This seemed to be fine and we would be okay with just 30 amps.  However, before he left I had Kal try the 50 amp again and sure enough it was now fine as well.  I don’t know it he has a loose ground wire or if the surge protector had a glitch, but we had no more problems while we were there.  Strange.  The only real drawback to the campground was the placement of the dump site.  It was located on the wrong side which meant we would have to circle around twice through the campground in order to use it.  Since we were only staying for three nights, we decided not to dump the tanks when we left on Thursday.

Campsite

Especially since we had already checked out the area last spring, we did not have any plans for the next three days.  Since Tuesday threatened rain all day, we decided to drive over to Mole Lake to check out the casino there.  It is a small casino, but had plenty of slot machines to spend a couple of hours playing.  We did about average for the two of us, coming out losing over half of our stake, but still had a pretty good time.

Wednesday was another slow day with me cleaning the RV while Kal got the laundry taken care of.  The rest of the day was spent working on this blog and relaxing in the campground.

August, 2018 – Iron Mountain, Michigan

For our last stop in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we headed west from Manistique to Iron Mountain.  As the name suggests this is in the heart of the Menominee Iron Range from which millions of tons of iron ore was mined from the 1870s to the 1930s.  After seeing the iron mines on Lake Superior earlier in the summer, I thought it would be interesting to explore the more productive iron mining region in Michigan.  Although the iron deposits were discovered before the Civil War, the war delayed construction of the railroads needed to transport the ore to Escanaba on Lake Michigan.  As the railroads pushed into the Menonimee Iron Range, mines and towns sprang up along the way and Iron Mountain was one of the largest.   The Chapin Mine in Iron Mountain was the most productive mine in the region.  Our stop for the half week was just north of Iron Mountain, Summer Breeze Campground.  This is a nice, medium sized campground, with full hookup sites, of which more than half are pull-through sites.  Therefore, we were able to easily park the RV in the site and get set up on Thursday.

Campsite

I was interested in exploring the history of iron mining in the region, so on Friday we headed into Iron Mountain to check out the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum.  At the same location was another museum devoted to the World War II Gliders made in the Ford Motor Plant in Kingsford, Michigan.  Kal was really more interested in this museum and we weren’t really sure we wanted to spend the extra fee to see a huge water pump.  Since we had plenty of time, we decided to do both museums and I am glad we did.  While without a doubt the Cornish Pump Engine was HUGE, spanning 54 feet from the floor and 75 feet in length.  The steam powered flywheel is 40 feet in diameter and weighs 160 tons!!  While the flywheel would only turn at about 10 rpm, it would still pump over 4.5 million gallons a water a day from the Chapin Mine.  Obviously the Chapin Mine was one of the wettest iron mines ever, but it was also the most productive so I guess it was worth it.  While this engine does dominate the museum, after a couple of pictures to capture its size. there was little else of interest.  However, once you turn your attention to the other exhibits you find a treasure trove of information about iron mining.  There are displays about the early history including discovery and attempts to extract ore before the Civil War, as well as, separate history of every mining company in the area.  Scattered through these displays are everyday artifacts of the miners lives and personal equipment.  Finally, they have an extensive collection of mining equipment ranging from ore cars, electric engines, jackhammers, scrappers, etc.  It you are interested in iron mining, this museum is a must see.

Directly behind the Cornish Pump Museum is the World War II Glider and Military Museum.  Part of this history is the purchase of 313,000 acres of timberland by Henry Ford in the 1920s.  As this was during the decline of the iron mining industry, it was a welcome source of employment for the area.  Ford purchased the land in order to build a self-sufficient automobile manufacturing plant.  In addition to the a huge automobile factory to produce the old Woody Wagons, there was also a huge sawmill complex and hydroelectric plant to provide the wooden frames, floorboards, siding, and wheels for the cars.  An interesting sideline at the time was the development of charcoal briquets from the sawdust leading to the formation of Kingsford Charcoal that is still the leading charcoal manufacturer.  As with many industries during World War II, the automobile factory was retooled to produce war materiel.  In this case, it was to produce the Model CG-4A gliders, taking advantage of the huge sawmill.  From 1942-1945 they built 4,190 wooden gliders, nearly as many as all the other producers of gliders combined.  These gliders were a single use aircraft landing silently at night behind enemy lines to deliver troops, jeeps, and other supplies.  They were used in nearly all theaters of the war from Europe to China and the Philippines.  Within the museum is one of only seven gliders to have survived the war and you can learn about the construction and operational techniques from the well done exhibits.  There were also exhibits with war memorabilia and even the vehicles made by the plant before the war, including the Woody Wagon.  However, the glider was definitely the main attraction.

On Saturday, we were in the mood for a hike along the Menominee River, so we headed to Peirs Gorge which was recommended by the campground owners.  It was a good recommendation as the hike upstream along the Menominee River was an easy to moderate hike with nice views of the river.  Along this 5 mile stretch of the river it cuts through the lower reaches of the Menominee Iron Range creating a nice Class II and possibly a Class III cascade.  Since we were there Saturday morning we had the path to ourselves except for a small group of wedding planners setting up for an afternoon wedding ceremony with the cascade as a backdrop.  He was placing a series of small rocks with arrows painted on them to direct the wedding party to the location for the ceremony.  There were suppose to be 4 cascades on the river, however, after hiking a half mile from the third cascade, we gave up and turned around.  On the way back we saw the first of many white water rafts coming down the river.  For some reason they were each towing a second raft.  Just upstream of the Class III cascade they pulled in and dropped off this second raft before proceeding over the falls.  The reason for the second raft became obvious when we saw them disembarking from the rafts to hike back up to ride the cascade a second time!!  While unusual, I suppose it makes sense since the entire gorge is only about 5 miles long and would take less than 20 minutes to come down in a raft.  Being able to ride the best part of the trip a second time would make the overall trip worthwhile, I suppose.  In any case they seemed to be having a great time and we got some nice pictures of them going over the small waterfall.  We got back to the truck just in time to watch the wedding party preparing to hike up to the ceremony which more than filled the small parking lot at the trailhead.

We spent Sunday relaxing in the campground, while I put some time in on this catching up with this blog.

August, 2018 – Manistique, Michigan

After saying goodbye to the family at St Ignace, we set out to continue our journey through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this time staying to the southern edge along Lake Michigan.  We traveled for about 1.5 hours along US 2 with many sights of Lake Michigan to the south.  Thus we saw three of the Great Lakes this summer as we circumnavigated the peninsula.  Since it was already the middle of August, we decided to pick up the pace so we would have more time to explore the western part of Wisconsin as we began our journey south for the winter.  Thus our stay in Manistique was going to be only for 3 nights on the first part of two split weeks.  Our next location is about 6 miles north of Manistique on the shores of Indian Lake, which is the fourth largest lake in the U.P.  Appropriately named, the Indian Lake Travel Resort, is a relatively small campground with less than 100 sites tightly packed around a single loop.  Most of the sites along the outside of the loop had seasonal campers leaving less than half the sites for transient campers on the interior of the loop.  In addition, there were 4 pull through sites lined up at the office as you entered the campgrounds and we got one of these spots.  It made it very easy to get in and out of, however, it eliminated any view of the lake.  We were also parked right next to the their propane filling tank which made me very nervous.  All of the sites were very small and tightly packed together with barely enough room for a picnic table.  As we were there for only three nights it was adequate even if it would not make my list of favorite campgrounds.

Campsite

Since we had spent the last week with the family using our linens and towels for their beds, we had a LOT of laundry to do!!  Thus Kal spent a major part of Tuesday doing laundry while I got the RV cleaned up and working on catching up with this blog, as I was now two weeks behind.

Now that we were all caught up, we went to explore a state park we had been hearing about on the TV for the past month: Palms Book State Park.  This is the home of Kitch-iti-kipi, the largest underground spring in the U.P.  The spring is 400 feet across and 40 feet deep with an impressive outflow of over 10,000 gallons per minute.  The water quickly empties into Indian Lake so fish have free access to the pool and there are a large number of very large trout in the pool.  The water is absolutely clear, even if it has a slight sulpher smell from the underground minerals it picks up, and the fish can be easily seen swimming around in the pool.  There is a history of rafts and boats for tourists since the late 1800s and today they have a self-propelled raft with a glass bottom.  We crowded onto the raft with the surprising number of people at the park on a Wednesday morning and the kids kept themselves busy propelling the raft.  This meant they turned a large wheel attached to a cable that spanned the pool.  As the raft slowly made its way across the pool you can either look out over the edge of the raft or through the enclosed glass bottom in the center.  We got a lot of good pictures of the trout in the pool and even a short video of the rippling sands on the bottom as the water gushed in.  It was really cool, especially for being less than 10 miles from the campground.

While the spring was really neat, it takes less than an hour to explore everything this park has to offer.  Therefore, we went in search of a hiking trail in the Indian Lake Stat Park on the south shore of the lake.  In a very nice picnic area with shelters and bathrooms constructed by the CCC and WPA in the 1930s, they have a one mile loop trail.  The trail runs along the shore of the lake and then up into the forests between the lake and highway.  I was surprised to see the very young condition of the forest, which was mostly scrub and small trees, after knowing the CCC and WPA established the state park.  Part of this was due to the swampy nature of most of the trail, but still I was disappointed not seeing a more mature forest.  In addition, the trail is heavily used by mountain bikers, which meant you had to watch your step since it was muddy and torn up for most of the mile.  They have attempted to fix some of the worst areas by putting down small logs across the trail, but this made it even more treacherous to walk on.  In any case, we had a quick hike in the woods before heading back to the campsite for lunch.

August, 2018 – St Ignace, Michigan

WOW!!!  This was the kind of week with the family you dream about.  While it is always good to see the family, to be in a position to bring the entire family together in a great location, such as Mackinac Island, is simply GREAT!  It is especially great when everyone in the family truly enjoys each other’s company.  I personally did not see a single disagreement all week, which either means there was perfect harmony or they hid it well from me.  The addition of 1-year old Liam to the family gathering was a constant source of amusement for everyone, especially Kal and Jenny.  The family came from all directions, with Jenny flying in from Florida, William and Kristin driving from Maryland, and Nikki and Chris driving south from Canada after spending a few days camping there.  As I mentioned in the previous blog, we picked up Jenny at the Sault St Marie airport on Sunday, which meant we had an entire day with her before William’s family showed up Monday afternoon.  Nikki and Chris drove in on Thursday giving us a great weekend.  We only had a 1 hour trip from Bay Mills to St Ignace, so we arrived just after lunch and pulled into a nice pull-through site right next to the office.  While we could not see Lake Huron from our campsite, we did have a sewer hookups which was essential to handle all the showers all week.  Even though the sites are close to each other there is a nice screen of trees providing some privacy.  Since the road next to our site was the main exit from the campground and also the way to the dump station, there was a good bit of traffic all week.  However, this turned out to be a plus as it provided Liam with something to watch when he was outside.  The location was also very easy to get the RV in and out of.  I would not want to attempt to back the RV into most of the back-in sites in the campground.  In summary, it was a very nice campground and absolutely perfect for the family.  William, Kristin, and Liam arrived late in the afternoon and we got them set up in our tent in the area of the campground for tents.  This was a bit of a walk from our campsite, but they had a view of Lake Huron from their site and drove the car up each day to bring Liam.  Since they only used the site to sleep, it worked out well.  I should mention that having five adults was perfect, since this always left at least one adult to watch and play with Liam, but also left 4 adults to play spades whenever we had some free time.  Even meals were relatively easy as there were plenty of hands to pitch in.  For the most part meals were kept simple so the time spent cooking was kept to a minimum.

Especially after two days spent on the road for William, they were perfectly happy to relax in the campground on Tuesday, although we did discuss preliminary plans for the week.  Jenny and Kal were very happy playing with Liam, which gave William and Kristin as much of a break as they could get.  Especially since Kal and I visited the area last summer, we were also perfectly happy to just spend the time with our family.  We had already seen everything in the area we were interested in.  Thus Tuesday was spent relaxing, playing spades, playing with Liam, making meals, and drinking beer.  It was GREAT!!

Wednesday started out much the same in the morning with a communal breakfast.  The main plan for the day was for William and Kristin to head over to Mackinac Island to celebrate their 9th wedding anniversary with a nice dinner and carriage ride on the island.  This meant they were going to leave Liam with the three of us for about 4-5 hours as this was the maximum Kristin could go without breast feeding him.  This is a good point to talk a bit about our grandson, Liam.  He is all but one year old with his birthday later this month and is just about ready to walk.  He has got crawling down to a science employing three different techniques on his knees, toes, and a combination.  He is also learning to climb and come down stairs and the three steps we have in the RV was perfect for him.  While inside the RV he had the run of the living room and bedroom if someone was with him.  He is not yet strong enough to open any of the cabinets so just keeping things out of reach was sufficient to “baby proof” the RV this year.  Future visits will be more of a challenge.  When outside he was confined to someone’s lap or to our collapsible wagon, which worked great for this purpose.  We don’t own a rug to go on the ground since it is so hard on the grass and the ground around our RV was dirt and rocks.  Not easy to get around on your knees.  Liam is a very happy baby, laughing at all the funny sounds and faces of his aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  He is perfectly happy playing by himself on the floor or sitting in someone’s lap.  He and I had an enjoyable time playing with small rocks, of which there was an abundant supply outside.  I could keep a constant supply of rocks in the cupholders of our chairs for him to pull out and examine before dropping them.  I even filled up his pockets with small rocks for his mother to discover when she returned from Mackinac Island.  That made for a good laugh although we were still picking up rocks inside the RV for the next couple of days.  We had a great time playing with Liam all evening and he made it just fine for nearly 7 hours since they missed their ferry from the Island and did not get back until after 9.  Let me just say that Liam has the personality and smile to just light up a room.  Although I am just a little bit biased.

Thursday morning was again spent relaxing around the RV which means playing with Liam and playing spades.  If you are getting the idea that this family plays a lot of spades, you are correct.  There is usually a game going on with people replacing each other as needed.  Even Kristin and Chris have become very good spade players and are always ready to play.  Bryna (Nikki) and Chris pulled in early in the afternoon from their vacation in Canada.  After getting them set up in their brand new conversion van, we had to take a look and find out about their trip so far.  Nikki certainly has caught the “camping bug” and Chris seemed excited about the experience as well.  I hope they find many opportunities in the future to get out for at least a weekend every now and then.  Once again their site was a short distance from the RV as they wanted to have a view of Lake Huron and it was a great view with the beach right outside their camper.  Once again they were perfectly happy to relax at the RV for the rest of the day, playing cards and drinking beer.  We had bought a case of beer in Wisconsin to try and had a half case of the Hi-Wire brown ale.  Chris had brought a cooler full of Canadian, Pennsyvania and Vermont beer he had purchased along the way.  So we had plenty of new beers to try and we sampled them all.  We now had two more adults for spades which meant everyone had a chance to play or not as they desired.  I wonder how long it will be before Liam joins us to make two games possible?  After dinner we had our now “traditional” toast with tequila shots and then celebrated Liam’s first birthday.  Kristin had bought a chocolate cream pie for the occasion and after some encouragement he proceeded to smear chocolate cream pie all over his face.  Once he understood that we wanted him to make a mess, he really got into it!!  A lot of pictures and videos were taken.

Friday was our day to explore Mackinac Island, so we had made arrangements with Sheplers Ferry to pick us up at the campground at 9:00.  We had a quick breakfast mostly fixed the night before and caught the shuttle with time to spare.  However, William and Kristin drove their own car the 5 miles to the ferry since it was easier transporting Liam that way.  The shuttle also carried our four bikes for the kids to ride on the island.  We caught one of the special ferrys that traveled under the Mackinac Bridge which was a treat for everyone, especially since it was not raining as it did last year when we did the same thing.  Just like last year, we bought the combination ticket for everyone which included the carriage ride through town and the state park which makes up 80% of the island and entrance into Fort Mackinac.  As I mentioned this was exactly what Kal and I did last summer, which was great, since now we could both concentrate on watching everyone else enjoy the experience.  We saw the same sites and even heard many of the same stories from the carriage drivers and it was all brand new seen through the eyes of our family!!  Just like last year, the timing was perfect at the Fort since everyone was hungry and we caught lunch at the Tea Room in the Fort.  Unlike last year, the weather was beautiful and we enjoyed eating on the veranda overlooking the town and harbor.  After lunch we spent an hour looking at the Fort and then descended down to the grassy park in front of the Fort.  If you are interested in the the sights of either the carriage ride or the fort I refer you to the blog and pages from last year, as everything is the same except for the weather.  While Kal, Jenny, Liam, and I played and relaxed in the park, the two couples retrieved their bikes and rode the 8.2 miles around the island.  Surprisingly, this took them only an hour and everyone was ready for some shopping and dinner.  We leisurely shopped along the main street of town until we came to a nice restaurant for dinner.  We ate a long meal beginning with multiple appetizers and ending with some very good entrees, although Kal and I just split a meat and cheese plate as we were already full from the appetizers.  We also sampled some Michigan craft beers they had on tap.  Except for some mix ups with their taps that led to some interesting reactions when the beer was not what we expected, it was a very enjoyable meal.  From there we found some great ice cream for dessert and caught the ferry back to St Ignace.

After breakfast on Saturday morning we discussed what everyone wanted to do for the day which included Fort Michilimackinac across the bridge in Mackinac City.  If we had not explored it last summer, I probably would have pushed to go.  However, nobody was all the interested and were more interested in just relaxing in the campground.  Following lunch we decided to pack up the beer and chairs and head down to Nikki and Chris’s campsite for an afternoon on the beach.  Chris had brought along two collapsible kayaks which I had never seen the like.  Each was a flimsy plastic shell that would fold up completely for storage inside the van.  Once put together with straps it was a serviceable kayak, although not made for anything but flat water.  William and Chris took the kayak across the small bay on Lake Huron which was absolutely calm that day.  Even then they said it was a challenge to keep from tipping the kayak over.  Kal and Chris then took them out to explore the marshes close to shore.  After this it was time to introduce Liam to Lake Huron.  The water was very shallow a long ways out from the beach and everyone but me went wading.  While not sure at first, Liam quickly got the hang of sitting and crawling in the water although splashing was only fun until he splashed himself.  Along with some beer and spades, it was a VERY enjoyable afternoon on Lake Huron.  In the evening we finally pulled out the firewood I had purchased earlier in the week and had a fire to melt some marshmallows for smores.

Sunday was a somewhat sad since we had to say goodbye to Jenny who had to catch her flight back to Florida in the middle of the afternoon.  To brighten everyone’s spirits William talked us into going to the Garlyn Zoo, about an hour away along the coast of Lake Michigan.  It is a small family owned zoo, with a surprising number of animals from around the world.  Many of the animals could be fed using the food you could purchase and Kristin and Liam had a great time doing just that.  They even had some animals I never seen before such as reindeer and asian bear.  There were free ranging chickens, ducks, and peacocks running around everywhere which led to some fun as they snatched food from unsuspecting children.  After spending about an hour and a half at the zoo, it was time for Kal and I to take Jenny to the airport.  After saying goodbye we left and the rest of them went in search of a restaurant in St. Ignace for lunch.  Although the party was coming to an end, we still found plenty of time for more spades and beer in the evening.  Since Jenny was no longer in with us, William and his family packed up our tent and moved into the RV for the night in order to get an early start in the morning.

Monday was time for everyone to pack up to head home, starting with William, Kristen, and Liam who got an early start right after breakfast.  They had the farthest to go and wanted to make at least Cleveland before stopping.  After they left we took our time getting packed up and it was nice that Nikki and Chris hung around until we were ready at about 11:00.  There was quite a lot to do to get packed up as we had pulled nearly everything out of the RV for the week.  With their assistance, the loading with smoothly and easily and we pulled out at the same time.  Nikki and Chris heading to Holland, Michigan for the night and we headed west along Lake Michigan to our next stop in the Upper Peninsula.SomersClan