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.

Pictured Rocks and Mooching at a Casino

Menominee to Munising, MI – August, 2016 We made our way into Michigan’s upper peninsula and stopped at J.W. Wells State Park. We snagged a lakeside site so our kitchen window looked out over Lake Michigan. It was a lovely place to relax for a couple days.

The next day we hauled the kayaks 20 feet to our beach and set off. We were shocked by how clear the water was. You could see the rocky bottom well after the water was over our heads.

On the left of the pic are some of the lakeside sites just up from ours. The arrow points to where we paddled to, the mouth of Cedar River, two miles away. We took a break on the beach before paddling back.

Jim bought a one day fishing license online for a reasonable $10. He had a few nibbles but finally on the way back he landed this good size bass. It was at least 12 inches. I was close enough to get a picture of his catch before he released it.

Everyone kept saying the sunrises were not to be missed. Each day seemed to dawn overcast and I never was blown away.

The campground was extremely nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The cost for the electric site was a reasonable $20 a night but we did also pony up $31 for a state park annual pass rather than pay the $8 per day park use fee. We expect to visit enough Michigan State Parks to come out ahead.

We were looking forward to our next stop and I was especially looking forward to saving some money on camping fees. I had read that just outside the town of Munising where we were headed was a casino with free electricity. I was so in.

We arrived before noon and had our pick of the 8 sites. Even though the marked spaces weren’t much bigger than standard parking spaces we were able to hang off the edge of the parking lot and mostly fit even with our slides out. Later that day a tiny Airstream moved in to the right of us and they were the perfect sized neighbor.

The next morning we had lots of neighbors but most cleared out pretty early and the next evening it filled up again. Our intel was correct, the sites were free and there was no registration or restrictions of any kind on their use. Sure it was crowded but we were busy sightseeing all day and I was sure ecstatic to save the $28 per night I would have spent at the next cheapest alternative.

The main draw here was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 42 miles of scenic shoreline on Lake Superior. There were also many beautiful waterfalls both in the national park and around Munising. First we visited the waterfalls nearest town. Both were just short walks from their parking areas.

I didn’t even notice the stacked rocks in this photo of Wagner Falls until I got it on the computer.

Next up was Munising Falls.

We also visited Sand Point just outside of town. It was a lovely beach with a view of the adorable East Channel Lighthouse across South Bay on Grand Island.

Then we headed out to explore Pictured Rocks. The most scenic spot that is easily viewed from land is Miners Castle. It is also closest to town so it was very crowded.

There was also a nice view from there of a good stretch of the shoreline. The local outfitters rent kayaks from Miners Beach below and lead trips out to the castle and back.

Next stop was Miners Falls.

It is a long drive between points of interest in this park. It was a 35 mile drive to our next stop, a walk along Twelve Mile Beach. Another 9 miles brought us to the Log Slide overlook where we had this beautiful view of Au Sable Light Station.

I would have loved to hike to it. But it is a 3 mile hike one way from the nearest access point and we had a pretty full day already. We would have come back to do it the next day if it hadn’t been such a long drive.

Our last stop was at Sable Falls 7 miles further.

And a short walk beyond that is a beach covered in beautiful multicolored stones.

From there it was an hour drive back to our parking lot with the free air conditioning. We had every intention of staying a third day and night to kayak either at Sand Point or Miners Beach. Even though the next day was the warmest of our visit it also turned out to be the windiest whipping the water into a frenzy. So we scratched that plan and departed for another adventure.

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.

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.

A Great Weekend and One Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Van Buren, MO – July, 2016 We have an annual tradition of floating the lower Current River at Van Buren every July with as large a group as we can get together. We skipped that float last year and I missed it. I requested we revisit that tradition this year. Our 4 best friends agreed to join us and we had a really awesome weekend.

There are many, many campgrounds in Van Buren but we have only ever stayed at the Family Campground off M Highway upriver of town. The primary reason for this is that they have an amazing gravel bar that you can drive down to. It is usually busy in the afternoons but about dinner time the crowds disperse and we often serve big meals on our tailgates, build a fire, and hang out in and by the river until late.

For a private river campground this is the least buggy I’ve encountered. Their full hookup sites are $51 per night and are located near the office and pool. They won’t admit it but they are having serious issues with their sewer. If we stay here again we’ll choose an electric only site for $43. We’ll be nearer the river and away from any overflowing sewers. We can then have their honey wagon pump us out or dump at our next campground.

We could consider another campground but once again our choice comes down to location. We want to float into camp and the other campgrounds would require a much longer float. We prefer the less than 5 mile float to this camp.

This is the river where we specifically come for the crowds. It can get pretty crazy but I’ve never experienced anything vulgar or obscene here. It’s just a lot of locals and visitors getting together to float a pretty harmless section of the Current that has lots of big gravel bars. We like to keep this float short in distance and stop often.

We had had a few friendly words with a group of folks in camp and so the night before we floated we walked over and asked if they’d be willing to shuttle one of our trucks back to camp the next morning. Twenty dollars for about 30 minutes of their time seemed reasonable and they agreed.

The outfitters put everyone in at a place called Waymeyer. Several years ago we discovered the Chilton boat ramp a mile upstream and we prefer to put in there. We headed there this time and found the rain the day before had washed out the road. So we had to turn around and put up with the crowds at the regular put in.

Whether we float from the boat ramp or put in here we always stop across the river from Waymeyer and watch the spectacle for a while from a large gravel bar. Tubers outnumber kayakers and canoers here and there are a good number of rafts as well.

On most Saturday mornings there is a continuous stream of people from their shuttles into the water for hours on end. This weekend the water was a little high and it wasn’t quite as busy as usual. In past years I have literally looked down river and not been able to see the water for all the floaters.

Since the water was flowing pretty fast we stopped every chance we got and still made it back a little sooner than normal. My friend’s dog, Odie, has become quite the float companion. He knows how this is done.

Sometimes we like to float from camp down to Big Spring. It can be a peaceful float on a weekday or early Sunday morning.

You know you are about to reach the Big Spring takeout when you see these old bridge piers on either side of the river.

I do not recommend floating the 18 miles below Big Spring. The river gets big and slow and there is a lot of boat traffic.

Don’t miss Big Spring if you visit this area or even pass through. It is one of the 3 largest springs in the US. And it is gorgeous!

Some of my earliest memories are of family trips to this park. There are great little tunnels above the spring that young’uns can crawl through. Or an adult can take pictures from.

As a child we always climbed the steep hill next to the spring.

There are now signs discouraging this and I have to agree it no longer looks like a good idea.

The Big Spring is on the right but there is usually at least a trickle of a waterfall just downstream, on the left in the above photo. This trip the water was flowing so good that it almost stole the show.

After two fun days on the river we were making preparation to leave on Sunday morning. This is when the weekend started going downhill. We were just about packed up when I tried to put one of our living room slides in and got an awful noise about 6 inches in. Jim spent an hour under the slide trying to diagnose the problem. He finally had to disconnect the motor so the brake on it would not prevent him using the hand crank to crank in the slide. Then he had to reconnect the motor so the brake would keep the slide in for our trip. We still weren’t sure what was wrong but at least we could make the trip to our friends’ driveway near Springfield where he could work on it more.

An hour outside of Springfield things really went south. It felt to me like we had suddenly run off the road and hit a soft shoulder. Instead we had lost a tire. Jim saw it roll across the road behind us as he struggled to get our rig safely off the road. We got out to assess the damage.

All 8 lug nuts had been sheared off and the tire damaged the aluminum skirting on the rig, broke the fiberglass rear fender, tore up the insulation under the belly, and bent the rack that caries our kayaks and generator. We assessed the situation and decided instead of using our Good Sam Roadside Assistance to arrange a tow that we would use the one good tire to slowly make the 2 mile drive to the nearest campground. I phoned them to confirm they had room for us and we made it there safely.

Jim looked over the damage some more and decided there was nothing more he could do on a Sunday. So we set up for the night including Jim getting under the slide, disconnecting the motor and hand cranking out the slide. Then we went back to the highway and found our tire, which had a finger size hole in it. At least we had the wheel now.

Long story short, my amazing husband managed to do most of the work himself and get us on the road by noon the next day. He took the wheel to a local tire shop where they put on a new tire. In the meantime, he got the hub off and pounded the lug studs out of it. We got new lug nuts from a local trailer dealer. Then he installed the new tire. The whole ordeal cost us about $175.

We made it to our friends’ drive where Jim hammered out the aluminum skirting and started repairs to the fiberglass and insulation. It will never look perfect again but eventually we will order a new fender skirt and it will look pretty near normal.

Jim also took the motor off the slide and found a missing gear tooth. We had to order a new one and here’s is where the wallet took a real pounding. It cost $800 for a new one! But we got it overnighted and from there it was a quick fix and we were able to get on the road by the next weekend and didn’t have to cancel any of our fun plans.

After 18 months on the road, we are grateful that this is the biggest problem we have encountered. It could have been so much worse. Jim could have lost control or that tire rolling across the road could have caused an accident. We are blessed!

If you are in the Mansfield area I highly recommend the Laura Ingles Wilder RV Park, super nice people, clean park, and under $20 with Passport America for an electric and water site.

Montauk State Park

Salem, MO – July, 2016 We enjoyed an awesome 4th of July weekend with family and friends. After the festivities we were looking forward to a few quieter days. We headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks. Montauk is a beautiful trout park.

It has an old mill that they open for tours a couple times a week.

The source of the Current River is Montauk Springs. The river then flows over 100 miles, growing in size with the addition of water from the many springs along the way. A few years ago Jim and I decided to float every inch of the Current from the state park border to the Arkansas state line during one summer. We divided the river into a series of 13 day floats.

One of the hardest things to accomplish was putting in at the state park border. You are not allowed to float inside the state park and a private individual owns the property immediately following the state park. So our solution was to drop our kayaks off on the side of the road just inside the state park. We scrambled down the steep embankment in the below photo then floated about 150 yards in the forbidden state park waters before reaching its border.

It is only a couple miles to the first commonly used put in, Baptist. The park service does not encourage anyone to float above Baptist so they don’t clear away any trees that might get caught in the stream during flooding. We were told by a fisherman that wades that section, that after recent flooding it is currently unfloatable.

For this visit we decided to float the seven and a half miles from Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry. We hired Jadwin Canoe to shuttle our truck to the takeout for $40. This was more money than we wanted to pay but a fair price for the number of miles involved and cheaper than their competition.

This section has many caves and some drop dead gorgeous bluffs.

We only had one day available to float so even though we knew there was a good chance of some rain that day we decided to go for it. It started drizzling about halfway through the float. Luckily we were able to find this great place to wait it out before it really let loose.

I had some extra layers of clothing with me and we always keep some disposable rain ponchos with us so we stayed pretty comfortable. I was surprised how many people continued to float by during the 2 hour storm despite the lightning. A local couple stopped after a while and it was nice to have someone to visit with and pass the time. Since they had lived in the area their whole lives we learned a lot of interesting local history.

The storm passed and we were finally able to get under way again. A highlight of this particular float is Welch Hospital and Welch Spring. If you don’t know what you are looking for you can easily miss it. You will hear the roar of the spring and you want to stop on the left before the spring water exits into the river. Usually there will be some boats there already.

You can walk over to the remains of the historic hospital. In the early 1900’s a doctor built this room over the mouth of a cave and claimed that the fresh cave air flowing into the room could heal what ailed you.

Walk up the steps for a great view inside the hospital.

Welch Spring flows from under a bluff next to it. You can reach the spring by road and a short hike. You can see that path across the water in the following pic. You are not supposed to wade across to the hospital however and it would be really cold besides.

Jim enjoyed some great fishing on this float. He caught two good sized trout, one at least 14 inches. Unfortunately both times I was too far downriver to get back for a pic. We still had trout in the freezer from Roaring River so we didn’t keep either of them.

A couple miles past Welch Spring is the takeout at Akers Ferry. The Ferry has said “Temporarily Out of Service” for a few years now. The very first time we visited here was the only time I have ever seen it in service.

Montauk is a good sized campground with electric only sites for $24 per night. It is well maintained but they have had some recent flooding so our site was a bit on the muddy side. The park has great cabins, a nice store and restaurant, and plenty of places to walk.

That’s Entertainment

We gave a lot of thought before hitting the road to how we would keep ourselves entertained while traveling all over the place. We like to watch a few hours of TV most nights. Neither of us can read after dinner without falling asleep.

We had Dish for more than 15 years but we wanted to try going without it to avoid the expense and the hassle. We hoped to be able to get the networks digitally over the free airwaves most of the time. The networks are where our favorite shows are anyway.

We are spoiled by living with a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) all those years so we wanted a way to record TV shows when we could get them. We refuse to be a slave to the TV’s schedule. We wanted the shows recorded so we could watch them when we felt like it and fast forward through the commercials.

We finally found a digital recorder that would record over the air TV. We couldn’t find it in any retail store. But we were able to order it from Best Buy. It is now available at Walmart.com.

It works much as the old VCRs did. You have to tell it exactly when to start and stop recording. It is a little more complicated than the satellite companies’ DVRs where you can just say record all of a certain show.

So every time we moved Jim would determine if we did indeed have any TV reception and, if so, if any shows were going to come on that we would want recorded. He found the TV Guide app very helpful to find local programming and an app called OTA (over the air) Map to know which direction to point our digital antennae. Then he would set up the recorder to record them. This process was rather time consuming but time is something we have plenty of so no problemo.

After 18 months on the road I can tell you we had some TV reception about half the time. When we were near big towns we could get all the networks and even some great free movie channels. But in some of the more remote areas we didn’t have any signal. Many of the places that didn’t have a TV signal were also too remote to be near a Redbox where we could rent movies.

We anticipated this though and that is why we had been hoarding DVD movies for a couple years. Whenever we found a movie at a garage sale, flea market, or a store’s bargain bin that we thought we’d enjoy we snapped it up.

We also used the TV DVR to record a ton of movies from Dish before we left and copy them to DVD. We took advantage of the free weekends Dish often offers for their premium movie channels like HBO and Starz. But we found many great movies on the regular channels in our basic Dish package like Spike and TBS.

We have well over 200 DVD movies and a couple of our favorite TV series stored without their cases in two DVD storage cases. Many of these are our favorite blockbusters or classics that we could happily see every couple of years.

We had pretty much gone through all of them about the time we hit Quartzite and the digital airwaves didn’t have a lot to offer for a while after that. If one of our friends hadn’t loaned us a rather lengthy TV series we might have gone a bit mad out in the dessert. But thankfully it kept us entertained until we made our way east and started getting reception again.

We each have one favorite show that we missed and we discovered we could catch up on them online at CBS.com. We would do this on the rare occasion we were in a campground with good enough Wifi to stream video or if we got to the end of our cell phone cycle and had enough data left. We also missed out on a lot of news. Jim missed his morning news, me not so much.

We got to South Carolina and realized that the signal available on the property we intended to spend the next 10 weeks on was nil. Jim started campaigning for a satellite receiver and I agreed. The initial equipment cost, around $700, was the biggest obstacle.

However, the $50 monthly package is very doable. My favorite feature of the RV plan is that we can suspend service any time we want and reinstate it when we choose. So if we end up in an RV park with free cable for a time or in a place can’t get any signal for a while we don’t have to pay for programming we aren’t using.

We talked to a Dish authorized dealer in SC and got all kinds of incorrect info, like that it was impossible to have a DVR in a camper. I called Dish and they were pretty useless as well. I finally asked “don’t you have people who specialize in RV satellite?” Only then did they tell me to call another number and I reached the helpful people at Dish For My RV. They had all the right answers, got the equipment shipped to us, and helped us get it set up.

Jim had researched all the options and knew he wanted the Wineguard Pathway X2 satellite. All you do is place it where it has a clear view of the southern sky and it does the rest. It spins around and locates the satellites.

When all goes well it only takes about 10 minutes to get it set up and our shows are programmed to start recording automatically. Of course, many campsites have too many obstacles to get a clear view. We occasionally have to resort to hauling the dish onto the roof for better reception. And we’ve been a couple places where the trees were just too thick or there was a big hill in the way and we had to go without satellite for a couple days. But we can still watch all the things we previously recorded on the Dish DVR.

We were worried such an expensive piece of equipment just sitting outside our trailer might grow legs. So we added a little security. Jim uses a 30 foot cable and a padlock to attach it to some part of the trailer or a tree. It makes it a little more difficult for it to disappear. I actually don’t mind when we haul it up to the roof because I feel like it is really unlikely to be stolen from there.

Jim made one other major upgrade to our TV watching experience. He bought a small projector. The Vivitek Qumi Q5 projector with 500 lumen. He considered buying it at Best Buy for $500 but found a refurbished one on Amazon for $250.

He got a 35 x 62 inch piece of screen material from Amazon for $25. We attached it with Velcro to a piece of 1″ PVC and hung it over the window directly across from our reclining loveseat. When the TV is off it blends in nicely. No one has noticed the projector hanging from the ceiling or the screen covering the window unless we pointed it out to them.

An unexpected bonus of this setup is that it makes using the Xbox more enjoyable and we have started using it again mostly for my workouts. We have had the new equipment for 3 months now and are extremely satisfied with both the projector and the satellite service. I don’t think we will run out of entertainment no matter how remote we get.

Beaver Lake & the White River

Eureka Springs, Arkansas – June, 2016 A couple of our friends wanted to dive a local lake. I’m not a huge fan of lake diving so it’s got to be pretty near perfect conditions for me to agree. We picked a beautiful weekend and the clearest lake in our vicinity and made it happen.

Here is the Beaver Dam with Beaver Lake behind it. The arrow shows where we dove. Beaver Lake generally has the best visibility of any of the local lakes.

On this trip the vis averaged 15-20 feet. We chose to dive on a Friday and arrived at the site around 8 am. Luckily we had it entirely to ourselves for a couple hours.

The site which I believe is called Dam Site North Bluffs Park had many items purposefully sunk by local divers. There was a large houseboat, a jet ski, and an airplane fuselage among other things. Our favorite was a VW Beatle.

I know that is a horrible pic but it is a fairly good representation of what things look like in the lake. We were able to find most of the items that were there and then we returned along the shore and stopped to feed hot dogs to the fishies. Here is our dive buddy, Danielle, with one of the many fish friends she made.

I was enjoying the fish immensely until one of the perch mistook my ear for a piece of dog. I didn’t realize they had teeth! We did see several really big fish but none of the larger ones stopped for a snack.

This is one of the two best lake dives I’ve ever experienced. The other was also in Beaver Lake where they have sunk a school bus and placed mannequins in and around it. The bus is only accessible by boat though. If you want to dive any of these places C&J Sports will turn you on to all the details.

More friends joined us on Friday night and we planned a float for Saturday morning. The White River flows from the Beaver Dam when the Corp of Engineers chooses to release it. There is no current to speak of when they are not releasing water.

We put in just below the dam. All of the following pictures were taken by our friend Amy who had the foresight to bring a phone. Here’s a pic she took of us at the put in with fly fisherman wading behind us.

The water is incredibly cold because it is released from the bottom of the lake. It actually hurts to wade in it. But on a hot June morning floating through the mist created by that cold stream was like having outdoor air conditioning.

We planned a short 2 mile float since there would be no current. They were scheduled to release water that afternoon but we had no intention of floating past lunch. Being on a river too cold to comfortably swim in on a 100 degree day was not our idea of fun.

So we slowly paddled the two miles in a couple hours. There were plenty of places to stop. The rocks at one stop looked like they had been purposefully placed there.

We saw lots more fisherman but only saw one fish caught all day. Jim didn’t have any luck at all and soon quit and just enjoyed the view. The scenery all along the float was breathtaking.

The water was crystal clear as well. So the scenery under the surface was equally intriguing.

In the afternoons we stayed cool by hanging out in the lake. Our favorite spot is the gravel bar on the island where the Dam Site Lake Campground is located. Since only campers are supposed to use it, it is never crowded.

We weren’t able to get a campsite on the island this particular weekend so we were staying at the Dam Site River Campground in the Parker Bottoms loop. This gave us access to the gravel bar on the island however.

Even though this campground wasn’t our first choice, it turned out it probably was the best alternative for us. Did I mention it was HOT? The lake campground has little shade and we likely would have baked. All the sites at the river campground were under a canopy of very tall trees. The electric only sites were just $20 per night.

The river ran beside the campground but there was no reasonable access to the river from it. But a short ways down the road past the campground was a beautiful access where you could fish, enjoy the cool breezes off the chilly water, or even dip your toes in if you were feeling really brave.