August, 2017 – Saginaw, Michigan

The trip south from Tawas was along the shore of Lake Huron around to the “thumb” of Michigan.  Our next stop was a campground called Ber-Wa-Ga-Na Family Campground not to far east of Saginaw.  This campground is what I would call a family campground as it had a LOT of things for children.  This had a swimming pond separated by a bridge to a fishing pond.  In the swimming pond they had two floating platforms, a trampoline on rubber floats, and quite a few kayaks that could be rented.  They also rented reclining scooters for the kids, a soccer field with two small nets, a full basketball court, a volley ball court, and an extensive playground with forts, ladders, and slides.  The most interesting feature was a small basketball court with 16 goals spaced out around it.  The backboards were all different ranging from very tiny and tilted backboards to curved and bent backboards.  The goals were also lowered for smaller kids.  There was certainly a lot of children playing all during the week, especially on the weekend.  All of the RV sites were designed to be back-in, but since we arrived on a Monday we were able to pull through the site behind ours, so it was easy to get into.  The TV reception was very good and their WiFi was great.  The only problem we had was our electrical hookup.  When we plugged in our surge protector to their pedestal, it came up just fine but was not giving out any power to the RV.  At first we thought the problem was with our electric cord, which was slowly pulling loose from the surge protector.  We had bought a replacement a year ago, so we got out the new cord and hooked it up.  Still no power to the RV.  So we unplugged the surge protector and cleaned the connections and hooked back up.  This seemed to fix the problem, however, about half a hour later the power we out again.  I attempted to clean the connections again, but no luck.  Kal called the company’s customer assistance who suggested it was either a loose wire, which made sense, or something about the brass connections expanding over time and not making a good connection.  This sounds very flaky to me, but since I did not have a star shaped screwdriver that would fit the screws, I could not check for a loose wire.  We decided that the surge protection was just too critical so we needed to buy a replacement.

Kal found some RV supply shops in the area, so we headed out to see if we could find a new surge protector on Tuesday.  The first two RV shops we went to only carried minimal surge protectors, which we did not want.  I am convinced that low power can be as dangerous as spikes so I wanted a protector that would cut off if the power dropped to much.  We finally found an RV dealer in Lapena, Michigan that could order a replacement unit and have the next day.  So we ordered one and left our phone number to contact us when it came in.  Since the weather forecast was for possible storms on Friday, we should be fine for a couple of days without a protector.  All this running around on Tuesday pretty much shot the day.

Not wanting to just wait around for the surge protector to come in, we decided to explore a nearby state park called Sanilac Petroglyphs State Historic Park.  Their website stated this was the only location in the state with Native American petroglyphs.  It is a small park, tucked out of the way from just about everything, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  I have seen petroglyphs before, but they have always been on the side of a cave or overhang.  These petroglyphs are carved symbols and pictures on a horizontal chunk of sandstone about 1000 square feet in size.  The more discernible images were cut about an inch into the relatively soft sandstone.  More modern graffiti and vandalism had already destroyed many of the symbols before the state put up a 10 foot high fence around the rock and covered it with a wooden roof to protect it from the elements.  However, this roof also created perpetual shade and since the rock is still in the open the resulting moss and lichen have continued to destroy the remaining petroglyphs!!  Thankfully they had already done multiple plaster casts of the symbols and are now looking into treatments to protect the rock.  We learned all about this from a volunteer at the site that gave us a 45 minute “tour” of the rock.  He had a lot of stories about the symbols you can still see and those that were now difficult to see he pointed out with a small lasar pointer.  We really enjoyed our “tour” which was suppose to take only 20 minutes, but we got into multiple discussions.  In fact, we would have spent more time with our “guide” except another family showed up interested in his tour.  In addition to the rock there was also a one mile loop trail that crossed the Cass River, which was the main reason the Indians had chosen this location in the first place.  Unfortunately, one of the two bridges across the river had collapsed, so it was a 1.5 mile hike up and back the longer of the two sections. The trail was flat and except for the bothersome mosquitoes (even with bug spray), the multiple interpretive signs along the path were interesting.  Not only does the trail cross over the Cass River on a swinging bridge, which was a lot of fun, but the original military road passes close by, as well as, an old logging camp.

Since our “tour” of the petroglyphs and hike took only a couple of hours, we decided to continue on to the north to the tip of the thumb for a last look at Lake Huron.  We drove to Albert Sleeper State Park on the shore of Lake Huron where we got a nice view of the beach and lake.  Our main purpose was to find a nice place for lunch, which they had, however, the sand dune was blocking any view of the lake from the picnic table.  In addition, the main reason for the park was the beach and campground, so there was no Visitor Center or any place to get a hiking map of the park that we could find.  When I checked later while I was writing up the pages for this blog I did find information about hiking trails, but without a smart phone, we had no way to know while we were there.  In any case, this got us back to the campground in time for Kal to drive back to the RV dealer to pick up our new surge protector.  We both felt much better knowing we would be protected in the future.


The forecast for Wednesday was for rain showers throughout the day, so we were looking for something to do that would be more inside than outside.  The closest casino was back where we were last week, so that was not a good option.  While talking with fellow campers and the staff at the front desk, we were told we had to visit the town of Frankenmuth, which was suppose to be a Bavarian style town designed for tourists.  While we don’t generally enjoy “tourist traps” we decided to give it a chance since the wet weather would likely keep the crowds down.  There is certainly a lot in Frankenmuth to snag your money if you are interested in such a thing, from craft stores and tourist “gift” stores, but there were also a number of high quality shops as well.  For those not interested in shopping there were also carriage rides, boat rides, a huge Christmas store, and other attractions.  My only interest was to get to sample some local craft beer and enjoy a German style lunch at a Biergarten, if we could find one.  Our first stop was at the tourist center where we got a good map of the small town with all its attractions and it is quite a list.  Our first impression of the town was very positive as the main street is lined with flowers and the store fronts have all been modified to reflect the Bavarian theme with lots of murals.  We did wander through a couple of shops over the next couple of hours and saw a mix of items from the bizarre and trashy to the exquisite and expensive.  The parts I remember the most are the Frankenmuth History Museum and lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery.  For the cost of $2, you get to explore the small museum to learn the history of the town.  As the name implies, it was founded by German immigrants in the 1840s that came from the Franconian region of Bavaria.  It started with just a few families with the expressed purpose of creating a strict German Lutheran community that would maintain its language and culture, while at the same time conduct missionary work with the local Indians.  Of course, by this point in time, the Indians had been mostly pushed to the western part of the state so they did not find many “savages” to convert to Christianity.  However, they found some good farmland and began to grow their community.  Over the first decade additional families joined them from Germany and eventually there were 4 nearby communities, Frankenmuth, Frankenlust, Frankentrost, and Frankenhilf (now called Richville).  Many of these families were craftsmen so in addition to farming they created local industries noted for their wool, cheese, sausages, and beer.  They created self sufficient communities that survived the Great Depression quite well, although their strong ties to Germany caused some problems during the world wars.  After World War II, the town of Frankenmuth began to court the tourist trade and began the process of converting the center of town to this purpose and quite successfully.  We found the Woolen Mill in the center of town is still be in operation producing some very fine hand made bedding material.  I tried to convince Kal that we deserved some of this luxury, but the price was just too much for our budget.  In any case, we did locate the Frankenmuth Brewery which the oldest craft brewery in the state opening in 1862.  They had an amazing selection of craft beers that they brewed and we each decided to get 5 oz samples of 4 beers each.  We also ordered lunch, where I sampled their local sausages.  I have to admit all of the beers we sampled were very good and it was amazing that we could find so many that were not too “hoppy” for our taste.  Their brown ale was my favorite, but I could enjoy any of the 8 beers we sampled.  After our late lunch, the rain finally started to fall in earnest, so we made our way back to the car, although we had to stop and wait for the 3:00 performance of the glockenspiel at the Bavarian Inn.  A glockenspiel is a fancy clock which traditionally has figures that rotate out from the face of the clock to tell a story.  Their glockenspiel told the story of the Pied Piper and was quite cute.  Unfortunately, the story is done with a prerecorded sound track that did not take advantage of the multiple bells.  However, they did play a few tunes with the bells as part of the overall performance, of which, we did not stay around for as the rain had become heavy by this time.  Although we are still not that interested in visiting tourist traps, as a rule, we both found Frankenmuth to be an exception and deserves a visit if you are ever in the “thumb” of Michigan.

Friday we just stayed in the campground where I worked on making reservations for the rest of September and planned out our trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast for the winter.  While I look forward to our summers exploring parts of the country we have never seen, it is also nice to spend a few months in more familiar territory.

Saturday was a beautiful, cool day following the cold front that had come through, so we headed to Saginaw to explore the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.  As with most wildlife refuges, the Shiawassee’s main purpose is to provide wetlands for migrating waterfowl.  I guess they are wildly successful since it was reported that during the fall and spring there are over 25,000 Canadian geese and 40,000 ducks that use the refuge.  However, in August, we did not not see that much wildlife.  We did get a good view of a mature bald eagle sitting in a tree and watched a deer parallel us for a while in the woods during our hike.  The Refuge is located at the confluence of 4 rivers, the Cass, Flint, Bad, and Tittabawassee to form the Saginaw River that flows into Lake Huron at Bay City.  Consequently, there is a LOT of wetlands of all kinds in the nearly 10,000 acres of the refuge.  Before its establishment in 1953, it was agricultural land which meant they had to dig massive ditches to lower the water table for farming.  Some of these ditches have been removed to restore the natural hydrology, while others are being used to control the flooding of areas to improve the habitat quality for the migrating birds.  There is a 7.5 mile driving tour of the refuge that highlights all of the varying habitats with many places you can pull over, as well as, viewing decks.  There is also a trail that bisects the main area of the refuge with many side trails and loops, of which we created a nice 2.5 mile hike for us.  Once again, we really enjoyed our time in a wildlife refuge and look forward to the next one we come to.  The only negative was when we were about half way around the driving tour and saw the bald eagle in the treetops.  I went to pull out my camera, only to find that it was gone.  It had most likely fallen off my belt when I removed the water bottle I had taken for the hike.  We drove back around to the parking lot for the hiking trail, but someone had picked it up.  We also dropped by the NWR office, but since it was closed over the weekend (which I found strange) there was no chance they might have turned it in.   I lost those pictures from the hike, but had already downloaded everything else to the computer.  I will just have to buy another camera, which in addition to the new surge protector we had to buy this was turning into an expensive week!!

Sunday was once again spent in the campgrounds getting caught up on this blog and just enjoying the cool Michigan weather in the middle of August.  With temperatures in the low 70s, I feel sorry for all of you that are looking forward to the end of the 90 degree heat of summer.  Come visit us next year when we explore the summers in Wisconsin and upper peninsula of Michigan.


August, 2017 – Tawas, Michigan

It is now time to begin our slow trip back to the Alabama Gulf Coast for the winter, although we still have a few more weeks in Michigan before we leave the Great Lakes region again.  Since for the past few weeks we have been enjoying Lake Michigan, it was now time to head to the east side of the state to the shores of Lake Huron.  I always find it surprising to be reminded that Lake Huron is actually the second largest Great Lake, since most of the shore line is in Canada.  Only the state of Michigan along the “thumb” of the state borders on Lake Huron.  Our first stop was to the north of the thumb as we headed southeast to Tawas, Michigan on the shores of Lake Huron.  Most of the trip was along I-75 so it went very quickly and we soon pulled into our next campgrounds, Tawas RV Park.  I was a little concerned about this park from the internet reviews and I was very pleased to see that they did not know what they were talking about.  Tawas RV Park is a beautiful RV Park with luscious green grass and tall stately trees throughout.  Most of the sites are for “permanent” seasonal campers, but all the sites were beautifully maintained lending to the atmosphere of the park.  They do maintain about a dozen choice sites near the front the park for transient campers such as ourselves.  We were also surprised to find out they offered cable TV, which made Kal happy with the opening weekend of the English Premier League to look forward to, and the WiFi was the best we have ever seen with their repeater less than 2 feet from the back of the RV.  We were in heaven!!  Initially we had a problem with the site they put us on as the RV had to be placed on two concrete strips which put us too close to a tree for the slide on the left side.  I was concerned that putting the RV forward enough to miss the tree would make it impossible to reach the electrical hookup that was located at the extreme back of the site.  Thankfully, they had another site available that did not have any of these problems, although it also had no shade either.  I easily put the RV into the site, which was a bit short meaning we had to park the truck at an angle into their very nice grass.  They were okay with this so we were good to go.  The only complaint Kal had with the site, which had a concrete porch, was the use of the cable TV.  With the way our RV is wired we have to place their cable box in between the outside feed and the TV in the front room inside the RV.  This means the TV in the bedroom did not get cable, so we had to turn off the cable at night so she could receive the limited selections over the air to go to sleep.


Using the internet to find local attractions, Kal found a Lumberman Monument on the Huron-Manistee National Forest less than 30 miles from the campground.  It sounded interesting so we decided to check it out on Tuesday and I am glad we did.  Of course, I have known about the lumber industry in Michigan since I was an undergraduate forestry student.  During the later half of the 19th century, the lumber industry in Michigan was HUGE supplying most of the building material for the farms and cities in the mid-west boom following the Civil War.  The practice was to buy the land cheap, clearcut all of the old growth white pine, and move on with no efforts to reforest the land.  Once Michigan was cut out, this same practice moved to the southeast, however, it was not to long before replanting became a standard practice.  This was not done in Michigan, however.  It was not until the Great Depression in the 1930s that major replanting was done by the CCC, so this land remained non-forested for nearly 50 years.  While a lot of the land was cleared of the stumps and turned into farm land, not nearly all of it was suitable for farming.  Thus there was a LOT of erosion and devastating fires!!  This Lumberman Monument pays tribute to this hundred year period with a nice bronze statue, small exhibits of a log jam on the river and how the logs were piled along the steep banks of the river during the winter.  When the thawing ice and spring rains, the rivers would run deep enough to drop these stored logs into the river creating huge log runs down to the sawmills.  Loggers would ride these floating log islands keeping the logs moving and freeing up multiple log jams along the way at the risk of their own lives.  It must have been an exciting life, however, I don’t think I would have enjoyed living in the still freezing rivers for days on end.  There was also an exhibit within a log cabin dedicated to the many CCC camps in Michigan during the Great Depression.  By planting millions of young seedlings (mostly red pine) they created the National Forests of today, which being no more than 80 years old would still be considered young forests.  Even today you see only a few white pine trees regenerating underneath the red pine and yellow birch overstory, which is next successional stage along with hemlock and spruce.  It will be hundreds of years yet before you see any stands approaching the old-growth condition of these extensive white pine forests.  Although Kal was not interested, I also hiked down the over 400 steps to the bank of the AuSable River where they had an example of the “floating kitchen” that would have been in use during the logging days to supply meals to the loggers on the river.  Finally there was a short hike to an overlook of a 200 foot sandy bluff that would have been covered with logs during the winter to be released into the river in the spring.  There was also a short nature hike through an mature red pine stand that is being actively managed on the National Forest.

After exploring the Lumberman Monument, we decided to check out the 22 mile long River National Scenic Byway of which the monument is just one stop.  Along the byway are a number of other stops of natural and historical significance.  For example, there were a total of 5 hydroelectric plants constructed along the AuSable River to supply electricity initially to Flint Michigan in the early 1900s.  These old brick plants are themselves historical landmarks and they are still in use today, although they provide power for only about 45,000 people in the immediate area.  There is also the Canoers Monument which celebrates the longest non-stop canoe marathon in North America that has been held nearly every year since 1947.  This is a 14-19 hour marathon that covers 120 miles of the AuSable River with portages around each of the hydroelectric dams.  Unfortunately the marathon is held in July, so we had missed it be a few weeks.  There are also a number of overlooks of the river to be enjoyed and a couple of more opportunities to hike down a long staircase to the river bank.  However, after the hard climb I had earlier, even I was not interested in doing it again.  What we thought would be an hour looking at a statue of a logger turned into a full day event along the AuSable River in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

Wednesday was another beautiful day so we decided to explore the nearby state park, the Tawas Point State Park.  From the parking lot of the Walmart in East Tawas the day before, you can easily see the spit of land that extends out into Lake Huron creating Tawas Bay, which is actually the beginning of the much larger Saginaw Bay.  It is a short drive along the land jutting into the lake to the tip where you find the state park.  The major attractions of the park are the tent campground and sandy beach along Lake Huron.  The waters are supposed to be shallow and warm during the summer, but we were not there to swim.  We found out that there was a hiking loop that circled the point about 1.5 miles in length.  However, the trail is not very well maintained.  It begins along the crest of the sand dune on the north side of the point, but much of the trail has been overgrown with the beach grasses and difficult to follow.  As you approach the tip you are forced back to the woods road used by the Coast Guard to maintain a small weather station at the tip.  The trail back on the side of Tawas Bay is often underwater depending upon the water levels in the lake, which I would guess was fairly high as much of the trail was underwater.  However, we still enjoyed our walk which ended at the lighthouse on the point.  The lighthouse is supposed to be the last of the Victorian style lighthouses remaining on the Great Lakes, however, it was currently closed for renovations and closed to the public.  All total we spent just a few hours in the park and headed back to the campgrounds for lunch and an early afternoon.

Since the weather was suppose to be stormy on Thursday, we decided to spend the day in doors out of the weather and headed north along Lake Huron to Alpena on Thunder Bay.  For a century Thunder Bay was a major highway of ship traffic traveling from the iron and copper mines along Lake Superior to the industries in Detroit and Cleveland.  Hundreds of ships a day would pass by Alpena on this journey and pass each other.  This level of traffic and the storms, fog, ice, etc made for a lot of shipwrecks, mostly from collisions between ships.  There are hundreds of shipwrecks extending all the way south to Lake Erie.  To provide a level of federal protection of these shipwrecks, NOAA designated Thunder Bay a National Marine Sanctuary in 2000, the first in the Great Lakes.   A relatively new museum was built in Alpeena and it was there that we headed.  Once we got there we learned of the boat tours in a glass bottom boat to a few of the shipwrecks, however, due to the impending weather they were canceled for the day.  This made the decision easy as to whether we wanted to pay for a tour.  However, the museum was well worth the trip.  It begins with an explanation of the process used to restore and preserved artifacts removed from the shipwrecks including a peek into their working lab, although nobody was working while we were there.  There is a large scale reconstruction of a typical steamer of the day along with the sounds as it is being sunk by the storm tossed lake.  This was very well done.   This empties into an example of what you would see if you dove on a wreck, that was also very well done.  There is also a large room full of artifacts removed by the SS Petumba that includes everything from eating utensils to cabinet doors.  Quite an impressive collection, although since it has become a National Sanctuary any removal of artifacts is a serious crime.  Along with a number of small exhibits about the different kinds of ships that have wrecked and some short movies about shipwrecks and the history of the sanctuary, it was a very informative couple of hours.  Out the backdoor of the museum is a riverwalk along the banks of the river that empties into Lake Huron.  Along this very nice walk are a number of interpretive signs about the shipping industries and murals on the back side of the old pulp mill that is falling apart today.  After the walk we even managed to eat a picnic lunch at a nice city park before the weather moved in with rain and wind the rest of the afternoon.

Not trusting the weather on Friday we decided to stay in the campground to do laundry and clean the RV.  Saturday morning was spent with Kal watching the opening of the English Premier League on TV, which pretty much shot the morning.  Therefore, we decided to spend the afternoon at a nearby casino, the Saganing Eagle Landing Casino at the western end of Saginaw Bay.  Once again we found plenty of slot machines in our price range ($0.30 or less) to keep us busy for a couple of hours.  For a change, we even managed to do fairly well.  I came out a winner for the afternoon with a couple of moderate jack pots and Kal managed to pocket about half of her stake.  While we did not come out ahead overall, it was a fun way to spend about $20.  I did manage to force Kal into getting a late lunch at Arby’s, so it was a pretty good day.

Sunday was once again spent in the campground where I spent time getting caught up on this blog and getting ready to move out on Monday.

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.


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.


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.


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!!