Hershey

Hershey, PA – September, 2016 When we started making tentative plans for this northeast loop many months ago Jim asked if America’s Largest RV Show could be on the itinerary. The show is hosted by the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association and held in Hershey each September. A quick internet search for the show dates and a glance at the map and I assured him it could be done.

We planned to attend the show the first day, Wednesday. This also happened to be Senior Day. As is our M.O., we arrived 30 minutes before the gates opened. We parked in the huge lot which was free for this event and joined a long line waiting to get in.

Jim’s been 55 almost a year and we’ve only had a few occasions when we’ve benefited from a senior discount that was defined as 55+. For some reason Jim is not nearly as tickled as I am when we save money by being lumped in this category. Even though their website says the senior only qualifies for one half price ticket, they let him buy both our tickets so we got in for $5 each.

The day was forecast to be very hot so we chose to visit the outside exhibitors first. This included acres and acres of every conceivable type of RV, open for perusal. We spent hours checking out a sampling of all types of RVs, from tricked out motorhomes going for half a million to micro tow behinds for less than ten grand.

We thought about what changes we could make to our own home to make it more accommodating. We also seriously considered what type of rig we’d want next if it became necessary to replace ours. We mostly just enjoy poking around in open houses and this was a chance to do so on a micro scale mega times.

There are exciting ideas being incorporated into new RVs. Our favorites were in storage capacity. This Momentum 5th wheel by Grand Design had a feature that definitely made it our favorite even though at 41′ it was longer than we’d ever consider towing and more money than we would pay. It had a rear bedroom that was raised so that there was a small garage in the rear under the bed. This storage area would be large enough for our scooter and kayaks, or someone’s 4 wheeler or golf cart.

About noon we finally headed inside, hot and tired. The Giant Arena had displays all around the hallway at ground level and then filling up the entire court. There were plenty of interesting products and services available and we enjoyed checking them out for a couple hours.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by this event as I had been somewhat disappointed by Quartzite’s RV show. Instead I was blown away. If I was planning to replace an RV within the year, I would try to make it to this show before making a decision on a model. The selection just couldn’t be beat and they were all ready to deal.

While we were in Hershey we had to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World. It was free so what they heck.

Mostly it was a large store with every product Hershey sells in one place. They had some free samples including products that weren’t yet for sale anywhere else. But the highlight was an animated ride taking you through their process of manufacturing products including talking farm animals.

We then visited downtown Hershey and walked around. It made for a nice stroll as there are plenty of cool old buildings. The street was lined with kiss-shaped street lights.

Jim really wanted to visit the Gettysburg battlefield an hour away. We looked into stopping there a night or two after leaving Hershey but couldn’t find a good, reasonably priced camping option. So I lobbied for a day trip instead.

The park was free but the museum and film were not. So we skipped them. We picked up a map at the visitor center and checked out the limited number of free exhibits they did have. Then we headed out on the self-guided driving tour.

The drive was pleasant and there was plenty to see. It was a lovely area.

And the cornfields and split rail fencing took you back in time.

There were numbered stops that corresponded to the map and took you through the 3 day battle. But primarily there were monuments, some 1,400 of them, scattered all over the place.

There were several larger ones, the most impressive being the Pennsylvania Memorial.

During our time in the area we chose to stay at PA Dutch Country RV Resort. It was 15 miles from Hershey but the closer ones were too expensive or booked. Dutch Country is a Thousand Trails property but our Thousand Trails pass does not cover this zone so we booked it through Passport America for $26 per day full hookups. It was a nice park except it was very poorly laid out and many sites were incredibly uneven front to back so I can’t say I’d go back.

Philly

Philadelphia, PA – September, 2016 During a whirlwind tour of the northeast in 2004 we drove right by Philadelphia and didn’t take the time to stop. I’ve always regretted that we didn’t squeeze in a visit to the Liberty Bell at least. So when we planned this trip I hoped that we might scoot over to Philly and check it out.

We had kept the schedule for this jaunt through the north and east rather fluid up to this point but we did have an event we wanted to attend and a reservation made at our final stop of this tour. Luck would have it that we ended up with an entire week to kill before those dates so I gladly planned a full seven days in and around Philly. We stayed outside the city in Hatfield at the Village Scene Mobile Home Park. We were given a lovely sight in the back of the park with full hookups for a weekly rate of $264.

Valley Forge was nearby so we made a visit there our first day out and about. I was surprised to learn that there were no civil war battles fought at Valley Forge. It was simply where George Washington and his troops spent a very rough winter. The soldiers built their own quarters so the construction varied.

There were several large monuments but the National Memorial Arch was the most impressive.

Washington’s Headquarters were the most interesting part of the park. The home that he rented and lived in with Mrs. Washington has been restored and furnished to look much as it would have during his stay. There was a ranger and a costumed volunteer there to answer questions.

Valley Forge had a great visitor center, an informative film, and made for a lovely drive. And it was all free. By the way, if you are a cyclist it was extremely bike friendly.

Jim requested a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary, a once famous prison built in the 1820’s that is now a ruin and a museum. The prison was designed with a hub in the middle which the hallways radiate from so that all the cells could be monitored from the center.

The hallways are filled with tiny doors to small cells. A second story of cells were added to some of the hallways later to relieve overcrowding.

One of the most famous occupants of the prison, Al Capone, lived a bit differently than the average prisoner.

This museum was informative and entertaining. It was a pretty good value, $14 admission each and $10 for parking. We arrived an hour before the museum opened, parked, and walked a half mile to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We walked around the building until we found what we were looking for, the Rocky statue.

Of course, I had to run up the steps that were featured in the movie.

We had left home at 7:30 to hopefully beat the rush hour traffic. We didn’t! We avoided the interstates on the way in as Google traffic showed they were at a standstill. Jim drove through heavy 6 lane traffic down Broad Street. When we left the prison I easily jumped on the interstate and made it home in no time. If we had it to do over we would have left even earlier, like 6 am, or waited until after 9.

For our second foray downtown we chose public transportation. There is a train stop a few miles from the campground where it costs less than $1 to park on weekdays or it’s free on weekends. We planned to catch the 7:30 train and were a little concerned when the ticket office wasn’t open until 8 a.m. and there were no automated ticketing options. But a fellow passenger assured us that we could buy our tickets on the train.

We hopped aboard and a conductor came through the car about 10 minutes later. We bought a day pass for $12 each that allowed us to ride all the trains and city busses we wanted. Then we relaxed and watched the city go by while we road in stress free comfort.

We love to use public transportation when it is reasonably priced. My research said that parking in downtown garages would have cost around $20, assuming our 7 foot tall truck would even fit. The train was definitely a better value.

We arrived at the Jefferson station within an hour. We walked outside and it took a few minutes to get our bearings but we soon figured out which way to head. We walked a half mile to the Independence National Historical Park enjoying the old buildings along the way.

We started at the visitor center. I knew we had to pick up a ticket but that it was free. I hoped our ticket time wouldn’t require us to wait too long. Instead they said if we hurried we could make the next tour time. We wanted to enjoy the visitor center for a bit so I requested a ticket time a half hour later. We checked out the exhibits there and decided to pass on the free films.

We then ambled across the street to see the Liberty Bell which is what I thought the ticket was for. But we walked right in, went through security, and no one asked for a ticket. The light wasn’t in my favor and we had to wait a bit for a 5 second window when no one was standing in the shot but I finally got a pic.

philly-bell

We then moseyed across the street to Independence Hall and learned that our ticket was for a tour of it.

philly-indhall

Despite my confusion and lack of planning we happened to arrive just in time for our tour. It was definitely the highlight of our visit. Our tour guide had this booming voice that made you wonder if he would have a voice left at all by the end of the day. The tour was entertaining and very educational. It ended in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and where our Constitution was drafted a decade later.

We walked a different street back toward the train station. We wanted to roam the Reading Terminal Market. It was filled with booths hawking food and assorted wares. We had philly cheese steaks for lunch and bought some sweet treats from a bakery for later.

The market was practically on top of the Jefferson station so after lunch we made our way down into it. This train station is huge so it was a little more complicated to find which train would take us home and where to catch it. But more helpful passengers pointed us in the right direction and we only waited 30 minutes for the train that ran approximately every hour.

We thoroughly enjoyed the area and I’m glad the oversight of our last trip through was righted.

Niagara Falls

August, 2016 – Niagara Falls, New York & Ontario I have wanted to visit Niagara Falls for many, many years. I can’t claim I’ve never been as there is evidence to the contrary.

I’d guess I was around 2 in that picture so it must be circa 1971 or so. It only took me 45 years to return. I’m so glad I did.

We spent the first full day there seeing everything we could from the American side. Our first view of the falls from Prospect Point took my breath away. The enormity of it is just hard to wrap your head around.

Goat Island is between the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Here is the view from Goat Island of the American Falls …

…and Horseshoe Falls. There is a perpetual rainbow, often two, over the falls, because of the large amount of mist.

Everything I read said we would be paying $10 per day to park but we were pleasantly surprised to find free parking at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. We bought trolley tickets there for $3 each. We hoofed it most of the day but it was nice to be able to hop the trolley back to the truck at the end of the day. The trolley driver said that on slow days they also don’t charge for parking in lot #3.

Our first day at Niagara had really wet our appetite and we could not wait for the next day so we could visit the Canadian side. We had every intention of driving over until the very last minute when Jim suggested we walk. We went back to the free parking we had found the day before, grabbed our backpack, and set off.

It was just two miles from the parking lot, across the international Rainbow Bridge, and all the way to head of the falls. Getting through Canadian customs at 8:30 in the morning was a breeze. There were only a couple people in front of us.  The official  asked us just a few questions and didn’t search us.

Here is the view as soon as you get past customs. The Canadian side was very beautifully landscaped all along the edge of the gorge.

We bought WeGo shuttle passes at the first welcome center we came to so we knew whenever we got tired we could get a lift. The shuttle passes were $7.50 each Canadian so after the favorable exchange rate and with the finance charge my credit card charged for the conversion we paid $6 American.

We weren’t in any hurry to leave the walkway along the gorge for a while. The view of the falls from the Canadian side is so much more complete than the American side. The view across from a waterfall is always better than from the top of it which is basically what you get from the US.

Here some brave souls zip line in front of the American Falls.

The crowds gather early above Horseshoe Falls.

We walked another half mile past the falls up the river admiring the landscaping, river views, and cool buildings. Then we decided we needed a rest so we hopped on a shuttle and rode it the 8 miles that it traveled down river. We rode past neighborhoods, and through downtown, and past every conceivable tourist attraction.

We were actually surprised how crowded the bus was at that time of the day. There were times when it was standing room only and at another point we were the only people on it. The bus turned around at Queenston Heights Park and we continued to ride it back through all the same stops and finally got off when we got back to the first stop after Rainbow Bridge.

We had our lunch in a lovely shaded garden and now that we were rested and nourished we set off to see more sites on foot. A couple people had suggested we visit Clifton Hill, a popular street near the falls. One person even compared it to the Vegas Strip.

So off we went up Clifton Hill. I was surprised to find the main section of this strip was only about a quarter mile long. And we found it to be more comparable to Branson than to Vegas.

But it was entertaining to see and at least the walk back to the falls was downhill. We had seen everything we came to see but I requested a return walk along the falls as the afternoon lighting would make for better pictures.

So we made our way along the now incredibly crowded walkway and admired more of the Canadians’ gardening.

We gazed a final time at the entirety of the American Falls.

And we got more pictures from the bridge, the best place to get a good shot of both falls together.

We were surprised by the 50 cent toll the Canadians charge to get back on the bridge but grateful they provide both a Canadian and American change machine and we actually had a dollar on us. The pedestrian and car lines waiting to get in to Canada in the early afternoon were extremely long. The line of cars waiting on the bridge to get into the US was shorter but we walked back through customs with hardly any wait, answered a few questions, and were back at our truck in no time grateful we had chosen to walk.

Our campground was an easy 15 minute drive from the falls on nearby Grand Island. The bridges to the island charge a toll to get onto the island but not to get off. So we paid something like $3 to get the fifth wheel onto the island and then paid $1 every time we left and wanted to return home.

We camped at Cinderella Motel and Campground where we got an electric site. The sites were close but they were extremely dark and quiet tucked way back behind the hotel. Those are traits we treasure as so many campgrounds have a lot of traffic noise and security lighting.

The Passport America rate was $30 for the first two nights then they charged us their regular rate of $40 for the second two nights. That was almost half what most campgrounds in the area charged. The very best deal in the area is free boondocking at the casino right by the falls. But it was just too hot during our visit to consider going without AC.

My Birthplace

August, 2016 – Ann Arbor to Detroit, MI Our route out of Michigan would take us right through Ann Arbor so I suggested to Jim that we stop for a couple nights to check out this town where I was born. My family moved to Missouri when I was about 4 and I only recall one brief return visit when I was around 15. I thought it would be nice to have a better sense of where I came from. As far as I know, we don’t have family in the area any longer.

Ann Arbor turned out to be a nice college town. The University of Michigan offers many free attractions. You do have to pay for parking but it was very reasonable. Our first stop was the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

It was a magical place with beautiful things to photograph. So many blooms…

and the most gorgeous fish I have ever seen. I kept going back to watch it swim back and forth and try to capture its exquisite fins.

Jim and I were both fascinated by this huge kaleidoscope.

The lovely plant made a perfect backdrop for the kaleidoscope to work its magic.

The gardens contained plenty of nature’s weirder inhabitants as well: a Venus flytrap, the corpse flower plant (not blooming, thankfully), and this sausage tree. What?!

The day had started out a bit drizzly so we barely even touched on their extensive outdoor gardens. Thankfully the rain stopped on our way to the university’s main campus. We first stopped at the Museum of Natural History. It had 3 floors of rocks, stuffed animals, and such but the first floor full of dinosaur bones was the highlight.

Then we wandered the campus gawking at the amazing old architecture. Our favorite place was the law school quadrangle. It was built in the 1920’s in the English Gothic style. Extraordinary!

The details were stunning.

The only building we stepped inside was the law library and it was incredible. There were few students around since it was between semesters.

We debated whether there was anything in nearby Detroit we cared to see and Jim, being a car enthusiast, requested a visit to the Henry Ford museum. Tickets were a hard to swallow $20 for the museum and we decided to add the Rouge factory tour, usually $17 but only an additional $10 when purchased in combination with the museum ticket. Another $20 would have gotten us into Greenfield Village as well, an 80 acre outdoor museum, but we thought the two tours were all we could manage in one day.

The museum had an amazing collection of cars, just about every car you can imagine. Here is the Cadillac President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in. I just finished a very interesting book, Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir, so I found this car, which was described in detail in the book, especially interesting.

There were also trains, airplanes, a few RVs, and lots of neon signs.

I was entertained and Jim was in heaven. I’m glad we arrived at 9am when they opened as it was getting pretty crowded when we left shortly after enjoying our sack lunch in their movie theatre. We chose to head to the factory tour in part because I was cold. It was a refrigerator in the museum and despite wearing a jacket I was freezing.

We enjoyed the factory tour very much. You could walk at your own pace around a second floor mezzanine that ran around the outside of the main factory floor. You watched the actual assembly of Ford trucks. The hundreds of workers and all the automation were extremely interesting. Of course, no pictures were allowed.

We planned to return to the museum but were just too worn out by the time we finished the factory tour. While chatting with one of the tour guides I was told that you can actually buy the combo tickets and then use them separate days. If I could do it over again knowing what I now know, how much there is to see and that the drive from our campsite was a breeze, I would have added the village museum and returned 3 separate days to tour each place separately. But we were very pleased with our visit and satisfied that we got our money’s worth.

We camped between Ann Arbor and Detroit in Ypsilanti. The Wayne County RV Park and Fairgrounds had reasonable rates ($30 water & electric), were conveniently located, and since they had no events going on it was far from crowded.

We spent one afternoon visiting the town of Ypsilanti. It has a charming downtown they’ve nicknamed Depot Town because of its proximately to the tracks. It has many restaurants and a few fun shops.

A short walk across the river there are neighborhoods full of big, beautiful old houses and buildings. That is also the location of the Michigan Firehouse Museum.

For a $5 admission fee we enjoyed a couple hours learning about early firefighting techniques and equipment. Sadly they wouldn’t allow me to slide down the fireman’s pole. But it was fun and informative anyway.

We seriously enjoyed our visit to Michigan and will definitely consider visiting again.

Mackinac Island & Shipwrecks

St. Ignace to Alpena, MI – August, 2016 I’m pretty sure every person I know that ever visited northern Michigan has told me I just had to see Mackinac Island so there was no question we would be going there. The island sits just to the east of the Mackinac Straits which separate Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. The Mackinac Bridge is an engineering marvel that spans the waterway.

Ferries to the island operate from both St. Ignace on the upper peninsula side of the bridge and Mackinaw City on the lower peninsula. The cheapest of the three ferry operators was the Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry at $18 pp. It was the slowest ferry and a bit like a cattle car but got the job done. We caught the first ferry at 7:15 am and had a leisurely cruise to the island with great views of the bridge. Here one of the other ferries races to pass us and get his passengers to the island first.

Some of the best views of the town are from the boat.

The traditional way to see the island is by bike. If you own a bike bringing it on the ferry at a cost of $8 is the way to go. Renting one at $60 per day was out of the question so we chose to hoof it. Since the island has absolutely no motorized vehicles you only had to share the road with bicycles, horses, and buggies.

We walked around the edge of the island till we reached this great view of Arch Rock.

Then we climbed the stairs to get the opposite view.

We continued our walk through the interior of the island where they have a couple great old cemeteries. This one’s earliest occupant was buried in 1833.

Then we made our way back to town where it was starting to get crowded. People were constantly loading into carriages in Marquette Park below Fort Mackinac.

We had a lovely lunch at Millie’s on Main. It was the perfect place to people watch and cool down from our 5 mile walk. We then took a stroll down Main Street and visited several fudge shops. They each offer free samples of fudge which made for the perfect dessert for me as I’m a huge fudge fan.

We made our way back to the docks to wait for our ferry. We were pleasantly surprised when our afternoon ferry was a little nicer than the morning ferry. The upper deck was furnished with comfy patio furniture and there were less than a dozen passengers.

Mackinac Island is definitely worth seeing. Staying on the island a couple days and bringing your own bike would be the ideal way to visit. We enjoyed the town of St. Ignace where we stayed as well. Tiki RV Park was extremely nice. Our water and electric site was only $16 with our Passport America discount.

We made our way from there down the east side of Michigan’s lower peninsula. We spent a couple days in an electric site at Cheboygan State Park, $28 pn. The highlight of this stop was kayaking a mile south to visit a couple shipwrecks in less than 30 feet of water.

Jim jumped out of his kayak and snorkeled over these huge wrecks. One was the Genesee Chief, a 142 foot schooner, that was scuttled here in 1891 after it was determined she could not be repaired.

There were some huge fish like this sucker. That board was a 2 x 12 so the fish is around 4 feet long.

The visibility around the wrecks was around 50 feet. Jim had a ball and snorkeled back and forth for almost an hour. I didn’t mind staying with the boats as I was just a bit uncomfortable swimming that far from shore. I feel so much more vulnerable snorkeling than I do scuba diving.

Next we spent a rainy weekend in Alpena. This was a great little town with an awesome downtown full of fun shops, beautiful old buildings, and lots of cool art.

The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a free museum devoted to the hundreds of shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It was exactly the kind of stuff we were hoping to see at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, but didn’t. It was also the perfect place to spend a stormy Saturday morning.

We stayed a couple miles south of town where we paid $25 pn for an electric and water site at Thunder Bay RV Park. We had hoped to kayak to some shipwrecks in Thunder Bay but the weather didn’t cooperate and after several days of rain we doubted the visibility would be all that good so we moved along.

Tahquamenon Falls & Soo Locks

Paradise to Sault Ste. Marie, MI – August, 2016 The next stop on our itinerary was the Tahquamenon Falls near Paradise, Michigan. We hadn’t made any reservations up until this point because we wanted to spend as much time as we felt like at each of our stops without being rushed to meet our next reservation and I hate paying reservation fees. When we researched the only camping options in the area we were not surprised that they were booked for the weekend so we settled on a single Thursday night reservation.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park has three campgrounds. We got the last site with electricity at the campground furthest from the actual falls, Rivermouth Campground. We paid $33 which included the dreaded $8 reservation fee. We didn’t have to pay the $8 daily use fee since we had bought Michigan’s annual park pass.

We arrived at 10 am even though checkout at Michigan State Parks is 1 pm and check-in is at 3 pm. We took a gamble that the site would be vacated before 1 because we prefer to travel before noon and we had a lot we wanted to see in the area. We discovered the site was still occupied so we parked in their large overflow parking area.

We had lunch then explored the vicinity by foot until the occupant left at noon. We then moved in, set up, and set out to visit the main attraction. It was a 16 mile drive to the lower falls.

Tahquamenon Falls consists of an upper fall and the lower falls with a 4 mile stretch of river between. There is an accompanying 4 mile trail between that is a very popular hike. They even offer a shuttle service so you can make the hike either direction then get a lift back to the start. Unfortunately we wouldn’t have time for that on this visit.

The lower falls consist of several falls on either side of an island in the river. When you get to the main viewing area this is what you see.

Your options from here are to rent a rowboat for $7 per person or $20 per family or be shuttled over for $10 per person. Then you can play in the falls and walk around the island. We chose instead to walk the less than half mile trail to the right hand falls viewing platform you see in this photo.

There is no access to the water from there as far as I could tell but you do get a view upriver that includes a third fall.

There were a lot of people who had made the trip to the island and were enjoying playing in the falls. Without traveling to the island the best view you can get of the left-hand falls is by zooming in.

We then made the 5 mile drive to the upper fall. This is a single large fall and they have extensive trails built along the gorge so you can view it from every possible angle. The best view was from the lower trail below the fall down 200 steps and then a short walk back up river.

We chose to visit Whitefish Point, 17 miles north of our camp, early the next morning. It is a prominent point of land sticking out into Lake Superior that every ship entering or leaving the lake must pass. For this reason the Whitefish Point Lighthouse is considered one of the most important lights on Lake Superior.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located there and even though it was closed we enjoyed walking around the grounds. We would have liked to visit it but they didn’t open until 10 am and we were anxious to be on the road by then. We were excited to get to our next stop.

Sault Ste. Marie is home of the Soo Locks that make it possible for ships to traverse between Lake Huron and Lake Superior which is 21 feet higher. The Soo Locks visitor center is enlightening, entertaining, and free. There is a viewing platform where you can watch ships enter the locks, be raised or lowered depending on which direction they are heading, and then sail away. There is also a small but very informative shipwreck museum.

We seriously enjoyed our time in this community which was colorful and entertaining. I loved how they painted many of their crosswalks.

They have so many incredible old buildings like their gorgeous courthouse.

I was fascinated with this huge building that turned out to be the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant which opened in 1902 and straddles the St. Mary’s River.

I was determined to get some good pictures of it but it was so massive and there was so much crap in the way, powerlines, buildings, etc. I was mostly just successful at getting odd looks from the scores of fishermen that surrounded it.

We were lucky to have arrived in town during their Downtown Days festival. They had lots of street vendors, a petting zoo, and a good car show. Both sides of the street were lined with a great selection of classic cars for several blocks.

We camped at Soo Locks Campground and paid $31 per night for a water and electric site just one mile from downtown. Our site was not waterfront but was just one row back so Jim could see the ships passing from his recliner. It was very entertaining to pull our lawn chairs out to the waterfront and watch the big ships float by.

Across the water was Canada and upstream the Soo Locks, and the international bridge to Canada.

On Saturday there was a speed boat race downstream and the competitors roared past several times.

We loved our stay here and would be happy to return some day.

Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Two Rivers & Manitowoc, WI – July, 2016 Our next destination on the shores of Lake Michigan was Manitowoc and its close neighbor, Two Rivers. Our first stop after setting up at the RV park was the Point Beach State Park. The entrance fee we had to pay along with our campsite fee at the state park we had just departed was good at all Wisconsin state parks for the rest of the day. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have visited Point Beach, but I’m glad we did.

The weather was blustery that day so we only walked along the beach briefly.

The Rawley Point Lighthouse is still very active so this is as close as you can get.

The lodge which now houses a store and nature center was built by the WPA, Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. As always the stonework was the highlight.

Next we took a walk downtown in Two Rivers marveling at the many beautiful buildings. We especially enjoy the number of stunning churches.

The next day was warm and sunny again and we were excited to get an early start. I was pleased to find that the Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc was free and that it opened at 7am. Zoos are a fun place to take a walk but I have been disappointed in our travels at how expensive most zoos are. So I was not about to pass up a free one.

We arrived about 8am and had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. We only saw one other human, a zookeeper feeding the goats. The zoo was small, as was expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The way they had everything fenced often made it impossible to get a good shot of some animals. The cougar exhibit had a glass viewing area inside a fake log for the kids. I climbed inside and Jim coaxed this beauty to walk in front of the glass a few times. She (I’m guessing) wouldn’t give me the time of day when I spoke to her but she responded to Jim and followed him back and forth.

I spent 5 minutes trying to get a decent picture of the bald eagle. Between the fencing and the bird that kept turning his back to me, I got nothing. But I walked away to try and spy a red tailed hawk in the next exhibit and the eagle started showing off for Jim, shaking out his wings and practically posing for him. He was able to lean forward and get a shot with his phone that didn’t include the fence.

Our next stop was the highlight of our weekend. The Wisconsin Maritime Museum was $15 and well worth the cost. One major focus of the museum was on the role of submarines in WW2. Manitowoc shipyards were refitted to build subs at the time and they are understandably proud of the way they came through for the war effort.

The submarine crews would come here to pick up their sub, finish their training, and sail down the Mississippi to the ocean. One sub, the USS Cobia, has returned to its place of birth and is on display. A guided tour is included with your admission to the museum.

Below is one of two hatches that the sailors used to enter the sub. They were also the only means of escape. Up to 5 men were expected to climb in there together.

It makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it. They then had to flood the compartment, open the outer hatch, and make their way up a buoy line to the surface with this crude rebreather.

They had to close the hatch behind them so the next group could go. According to our guide this was only attempted once in two hundred feet of water. Remarkably several men did survive the escape.

Understandably much of the tour focused on the 20 some torpedoes on board. I was more impressed with the number of switches, valves, gauges, and buttons. Every man on the ship knew how to operate every gizmo.

The tour was incredibly informative. There are way too many fascinating facts to share here. You can look up much of the info online by googling USS Cobia.

The rest of the museum was equally interesting. They have many great exhibits including a huge room full of beautiful full-sized boats.

We were slightly disappointed that there was not more information on local shipwrecks. There is a new exhibit opening August 12th that appears to cover this deficiency. But what the museum did offer was so much more than we expected.

We visited another free attraction the next day. The Rahr-West Art Museum is housed in this beautiful mansion. We were mostly interested in the architecture but they did have some nice collections that added to the experience.

We enjoyed our visit to this area immensely and felt that it was a real sight-seeing bargain including our campground. We stayed at Stop-n-Dock in Two Rivers. It was a nice small campground in a great location on the river. We got a full hookup site for $21 per night using our Passport America membership.

Lake Michigan

Belgium to Sheboygan, WI – July, 2016 We had been looking forward to heading north after my family’s reunion for the whole summer. The last two weeks of our stay in Missouri the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. I will never complain about the heat. I love heat! But the closer our departure got, the more we could be found checking the weather at our destination and happily anticipating a break from the high temperatures.

We didn’t have an exact destination in mind but we knew we wanted to get to Lake Michigan ASAP. We also wanted to avoid Chicago completely and didn’t care about stopping in Milwaukee. A brief look at the atlas led me to believe the town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin would be a good place to aim for. We could skirt Chicago, and Milwaukee as well if we chose, it was on the lakeshore, and it was fun to say. “Where are you headed next?” everyone wanted to know. “Sheboygan!!” I happily replied.

The reality was that Sheboygan only has one campground, a state park 7 miles south of town that was booked solid around our intended visit. So I set my sights on Harrington Beach State Park, 23 miles south near Belgium. We made the drive from Missouri in two days traveling 5 hours each day.

I hadn’t made a reservation but was lucky enough to get one of the last electric sites that was available for two days. We would have liked to stay longer but they were all reserved for Thursday. The cost of the site was steeper than I expected. The electric only site was $33 and the day use fee was $11 for a total of $44 per day. Ouch!

The whole park seemed to be just cut into the fields. The sites were plenty large but beyond your mowed site the grass, weeds, and wildflowers were head high. One advantage of this was that it gave you a lot of privacy in camp.

It was still plenty warm during most of our visit, mid 80’s with full sun in the afternoons. But at least you could take a walk in the middle of the day without having a heat stroke. We saw very few bugs while we were there and not a single mosquito. It was pleasant to be outdoors all hours of the day and we took full advantage of that.

We enjoyed walking along the shore of Lake Michigan. The state park’s shoreline, a mile from camp, was sand with some grassy patches. Jim took this panoramic one morning. It skews the shot a little but gives you some idea of how beautiful and vast the lake is.

The park has some lovely, paved paths. Our favorite was the Quarry Trail. An old lime quarry is now a lovely lake. The water is unbelievably clear. You can see the bones of the mine’s abandoned structures under the surface.

The next day we packed our lunch and headed the short distance to the town with the fun name.

We made our way to the visitor center downtown first. We were able to leave our truck there and see the town by foot. We walked along the riverfront boardwalk for quite a ways until we came to the lakeshore and found this.

The Lottie Cooper sank in 1894. But she was salvaged in 1992 and her remains were reconstructed in the town’s Deland Park.

Next we cooled off with a visit to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a lovely and free art museum. The exterior gardens are filled with sculptures by the late Carl Peterson.

Inside are tons of fascinating exhibits. One of several collections we enjoyed was that of T. L. Solien Madison. Probably didn’t hurt that the large painting in the rear has an RV as its centerpiece.

We thoroughly enjoyed a lengthy visit and emerged from the air conditioning refreshed and ready for more. We continued our walk downtown ogling the numerous fine old buildings.

Their farmers market was in full swing in Fountain Park. There was a lot of produce at reasonable prices and we managed to walk away with two full bags for $8. The polka music, which you could hear throughout the park and a block away, certainly added to the fun and festiveness.

After some more wandering we made our way back to the truck down historic 8th Street. Our visit to Sheboygan, although brief, had been fun as the name implied it would.

Round Spring Camp and Cavern

Eminence, MO – July, 2016 The Current River is so long and varied that it’s like having several rivers to choose from. Round Spring is just 12 miles north of Eminence and the river here is a very nice size. It is so much bigger than it is near Montauk where we floated a couple weeks ago and our kayaks often scraped the bottom. But the river is less than half as wide as it is near Van Buren where we went last week.

I made this reservation almost a month ago because this Monday thru Wednesday was the only 3 days I could get an electric site here before we left Missouri. Round Spring is a great campground even though the 6 sites they have with electric and water are in the center and lined up like a parking lot. The fee for these sites is $22 per night.

The spring for which the park was named is a short walk from camp. This picture really doesn’t do it justice. The spring flows into this sinkhole and you can only look down on it from the 15 or so foot bluff around it. Then it flows under a bluff on one side and down to join the river.

There are several great old bridges in the area. This bridge over Sinking Creek is no longer in use. It has some obvious signs of damage. You can see the new metal bridge behind it.

The 9 mile float from Pulltite into Round Spring campground is one of our favorites. Carr’s Canoe Rental will pick you and your kayak up at your campsite and port you to Pulltite for $15 per person, which is extremely reasonable. But we decided to be lazy this trip and not to float.

Instead we found an excellent spot to enjoy the river for a day. Just over that new bridge in the above picture and less than 2 miles from camp is a gravel road to the confluence of Sinking Creek and Current River. It is a free day use area and they have primitive campsites for $5 per night.

Our favorite part of the float from Pulltite to Round Spring is stopping at Sinking Creek anyway. After spending the day floating the frigid waters of the Current the creek water is like a warm bath. It is probably only 10 degrees warmer but it feels amazing.

We spent most of the day sitting in Sinking Creek. Floaters on the river often stopped to enjoy the gravel bar. A father and kids stopped and stacked these rocks.

After a day of fun in the sun we were looking forward to visiting the Round Spring Cavern the next day. On our previous visits the cave was closed for most of the summer due to the White Nose Bat Syndrome. Apparently they determined that the cave was already infected so they reopened it.

They give 3 tours a day and the cost is only $5. What a bargain! It turned out to be a really awesome cave.

Each person carries an electric lantern and the ranger carries a flashlight. These are the only sources of light in the cavern.

It was really fun and challenging to photograph the cave. Of course to compensate for the low light the camera’s shutter stays open longer. The cave formations were good at holding a pose but the people in my shots were not so cooperative.

Since the bats were wiped out the main cave inhabitant is now the salamander. We saw a half dozen of them throughout the tour.

In the very distant past the cave had a much larger inhabitant. There is evidence that giant short faced bears used this cave over 10,000 years ago. There are bear beds, where they have wallowed out an indentation in the clay. And claw marks, this one was authenticated by scientists.

We have been in quite a few caves and we were very impressed with this one, especially for the price.

Jim and I have enjoyed the last two months bumming around our home state, enjoying the clear, cold rivers, and spending time with our family and friends. But we are excited to move on to places we’ve never seen, spend time exploring on our own, and get back into our routines. My next post will be from some place new to us and much cooler.

Charleston

Charleston, SC May, 2016 What a lovely city! We chose to visit for three days. I’m sure we could stay three months and not get bored.

We ventured out to North Charleston our first afternoon to search out a farmers market with live music. It turned out to be rather small but had everything we wanted and the performer was good. After checking out all the vendors and choosing some fresh vegetables, we still had plenty of time to spare so we set off to see what else the area had to offer.

We drove through their historic downtown, which looks like it is worth a stop on a future visit, and made our way to Riverfront Park. It’s a big, wonderful park with lots of beautiful art.

It also contains the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial. This is an excellent memorial that recounts the history of the Charleston Navy Yard that operated here from 1901 to 1996. They had several nice bronze statues. The one in the front is “The Lone Soldier”.

My father was stationed here aboard the USS Adams in the mid 1960’s and both my older brothers were born here. So I found it especially interesting.

The next morning we were raring to go visit downtown Charleston. I suspected parking downtown could be a nightmare in our monster truck, so the plan was to get there early on a weekday, scope it out, and hopefully snag some free on-street parking. The plan turned out to be a good one.

We were downtown about 8am. As suspected many streets were extremely tight. The parking garages we saw had clearances between 6 and 7 feet (our truck is exactly 7 foot tall and we wouldn’t chance a garage that didn’t have at least 7 ½ foot clearance). But we easily found street parking with a 2 hour limit at White Point Garden at that time of day.

This park was at the top of my must-see list. My family visited Charleston when I was a couple years old. Here’s me on my first visit to this park.

And me on our most recent visit.

I have a picture of myself, my brothers, and our cousins lined up on the larger cannon in the right of this photo. So even though I don’t remember that visit, the pictures are part of family lore, and it was a nice place to visit and get some perspective. We then set off to see as much of the downtown as we could in two hours.

We were blown away by all the beautiful homes.

And the amazing architectural details.

I loved peeking into the gardens.

But the churches were the most impressive.

The Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street was my favorite.

It is also a cemetery and the graves are crowded into every available space, even right up against the building all the way around it.

Waterfront Park with its iconic pineapple fountain was a must stop.

Then we walked back to the truck along the waterfront. We didn’t manage to make it back downtown during this visit as we had planned but I know we’ll be back here again and again over the years. We will likely take a cab or public transit downtown if we ever visit on a busy weekend. They also have lots of metered street parking that didn’t appear to take a credit card. So if we came armed with enough quarters we might find a spot to park eventually.

We chose to go to Folly Beach on Saturday. I felt like we got a late start, arriving on the island about 11 am. All the parking lots downtown were pretty close to full. I was expecting to pay for parking but shocked that one lot was actually charging $20. The town also has small lots beside many of their beach accesses that charge $10 but we didn’t fit in their spaces. There is a lot of free on street parking as well but the only spaces we found would have required quite a walk to get to an access. We finally made our way to the county park at the south end of the island and if we go again we’d head straight there. It was $10 to enter put had spacious parking and good beach access.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours sunning and people watching. Even on 85 degree days those cool ocean breezes make it impossible for me to enjoy a dip. I’ve only immersed myself one time this spring, and that was after a morning jog. After a walk on the beach we headed back to camp.

Thank goodness we hadn’t gotten there any later. The line of traffic to get on to the island was now literally 5 miles long. Though traffic was heavy when we got there, it was never at a standstill.

We loved the campground we chose for our visit. Lake Aire RV Park was an easy 15 mile drive all the way to the downtown waterfront, but it felt very remote. It was $28 per night for full hookups with our Passport America discount. It had a large pond with a few of these adorable looking ducks. This mommy had 10 ducklings.