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.