Dog Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL – December, 2016 Our youngest daughter has moved to Florida. We are very excited to have her here and have been enjoying spending time with her and our grand-doggy, Sasha.

Our daughter loves the beach and she adores her dog, so we couldn’t wait to take them to Dog Beach.  It’s a beach just for our four legged friends and the people who love them. It is located 10 miles from our campsite. It has a Fort Myers Beach address but it is just as close to Bonita Springs. It is on Lovers Key right between the two towns.

We have now visited twice and had an absolute ball both times. We met some very nice people and some downright adorable dogs. This old girl was used for breeding and gave birth to 54 puppies before her current owner adopted her.

Sasha has shown absolutely no love for the water up until now.  She has been to beaches before and she enjoyed the sand but hated the waves.  She has shown an equal aversion to rivers and lakes.  But she has had very positive experiences at Dog Beach.

For one thing there are no waves. The beach is in an inlet so it is protected. It is also very shallow water, one to two feet depending on the tide. The dogs are so much fun to watch!

The pure joy they exude is infectious!

Dog Beach is all about making friends.

And getting to know them better.

When one throws a toy at Dog Beach it is understood that it may not be your dog that retrieves it.

A young fellow showed up with an old dog and a wake board and I was very curious if the dog would be riding it. They went all the way to the other end of the beach so I got out my camera to spy on them. I couldn’t believe when I actually got some pics of a dog riding the wake board.

It was only upon closer inspection of the pictures after I got home that I realized it wasn’t his dog on the wakeboard. His dog is the black one watching while a random dog hopped on his owner’s wakeboard! He rode it like a pro though! The young man rode it the rest of the time.

We will be making many more trips to Dog Beach. If you are a dog lover you should definitely check it out if you visit the area whether you have a dog along or not.

Imperial River

Bonita Springs, FL – November, 2016 Just a mile from our winter campground is Riverside Park, the highlight of which is the Imperial River. It’s a great place to wander or ride a bike. I can’t believe it took us almost 2 months to get around to kayaking this river. We chose to float it on Black Friday, preferring the solitude of the water to the craziness of the retail scene.

The put-in is in the far left in this photo. It is right beside a pedestrian bridge to a large island.

We had visited the park a half dozen times and hadn’t noticed much of a current, so our plan was to paddle up river and float or paddle back. But once on the river we realized that at this particular time at least, there was no discernable current, so we chose to paddle toward the gulf and take our chances that the paddle upstream wouldn’t be too difficult.

After you leave the borders of the city park the banks of the river are all privately owned and often lined with houses and docks. But there is still plenty of nature to witness, like this amazing tree with an intricate pattern of roots around its trunk.

We saw plenty of birds.

And here everyone seems to want to get in the pic, from the bird statues in the upper right to the turtle poking his head up above the log.

I saw one duck and when I went to investigate I found the whole family patiently waiting for their photo op.

It was the lizards that really stole the show. Jim noticed this monster on a dock. He was HUGE, at least 5 feet from tip to tail and he was incredibly colorful.

I managed to get a few shots of him before he moseyed to the other end of the dock and out of sight.

Directly across the river was this little (in comparison) bright green fellow.

The only downside to floating through neighborhoods is the complete lack of places to stop and take a break. After about an hour and a mile and a half of paddling we decided to turn around. It was a good decision as the wind was picking up and could have made it harder to paddle back later in the afternoon.

We talked to a resident working on his boat and he told us the tides do affect the water level in this area. He said the only time you see much of a current though is when strong winds blow the water out of the bay at the end and the water empties from the river to fill it or when the wind blows water into the bay and it backs up into the river.

On the way back Jim passed within a few feet of this lizard without noticing him.

And we only saw this one because we heard the rustle of palm fronds and looked up. He was way up there and really moving.

There were kids jumping off the docks just upstream of the take out. You wouldn’t catch me swimming in this water. There are way too many alligators in these parts! Of course, the boys were fearless and daring each other to do more complicated flips into the water.

We are looking forward to floating this river again and again.

Atlantic Coast

Satellite Beach, FL – November, 2016 There are a lot of places we plan to visit while wintering in Florida. But our number one travel priority was rescheduling a visit to the east coast to visit my aunt and cousins there. We had scratched our scheduled visit at the beginning of October due to the unwelcome arrival of Hurricane Matthew.

We enjoyed three relaxing days filled with fun, food, and plenty of socializing. We stayed in an inexpensive hotel near the beach that we only saw to sleep at night or for brief rests between social calls. Satellite Beach is on a barrier island just south of Cape Canaveral and across from Melbourne on the mainland.

Our first full day in town we were treated to an awesome jeep ride down the A1A through the towns of Indialantic, Melbourne Beach, and all the way to Sebastian Inlet. We had originally planned to camp near the inlet at the county’s Long Point Park. We made a loop through the campground and agreed we definitely want to spend some time there on a future visit.

While in the park we saw these odd looking birds. There were several following a guy with a 5 gallon bucket around. I assume he had bait in there. A brief internet search turned up the name Wood Stork for the creatures.

On our return trip we detoured over to the inland side of the island in places. A lot of docks on this side were damaged by the hurricane.

One of my cousins lives on a canal that connects to the Banana River. Though it is called a river it is really one of two brackish lagoons between them and the mainland. The second is called the Indian River.

The canal is a great place to fish and watch for wildlife. They called it a manatee highway, since manatees travel up the canal every morning and back out to the river every evening.  Apparently the highway gets a ton of traffic when the temperatures fall.  Jim did see a manatee from their dock but I missed it.

We borrowed their tandem kayak one afternoon and Jim paddled us to up to where the canal ends. We traveled under a couple streets. They often site manatees in these ponds and people would stop on the sidewalk to look for them. But we only saw a couple turtles there.

When we reached the end the canal was about 30 feet wide and we were surrounded by homes and dilapidated boats. We waited quietly for a few minutes and then heard a watery exhalation to our right. We turned quickly to see a snout disappearing below water. We watched that spot in the water expectantly only to hear another behind us.

We ended up seeing at least three manatees who seemed to be playing with us. No matter where we concentrated our attention and the camera’s lens they always popped up in the opposite direction. Over the course of a 10 minute encounter we caught a glimpse of their snouts over and over but their backs only a handful of times.

The water was murky so we couldn’t see a thing below the surface. I finally got one pretty decent shot. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and are optimistic we will have more encounters with these wonderful creatures this winter.

Since I knew we’d see plenty of sunsets over the gulf the rest of the winter, I hoped to catch a couple sunrises while on the east coast. Our first morning we chose breakfast over the sunrise and took a long walk on the beach afterward.

We had to be careful not to step on the crabs which were almost impossible to see against the sand. We only noticed them when they scurried for cover to get out of the way of our gigantic feet.

There were lots of signs of the hurricane here as well. There were uprooted trees and many of the accesses to the beach and steps to private homes and businesses were damaged.

Our second morning we managed to sleep in and missed another sunrise. On the morning we planned to leave we were up early and ready to hit the road. We grabbed a cup of coffee and stopped at the beach on our way out of town. When we arrived there were two lovers and one yoga enthusiast waiting for the spectacle.

Over the next 20 minutes as the day arrived so did many more spectators the most famous of which was this guy.

If we had any doubts that we had indeed stumbled upon Santa’s summer home they were squelched when a pair of young ladies walked by and exclaimed “look Santa’s here again”. I’m sure he is a local celebrity. We were all finally rewarded for our patience with the most glorious of sunrises.

Naples

Naples, FL – October, 2016 Soon after getting settled at our winter RV park it was time to pack up and head a whole 10 miles south to hang out with our friends. This was the third time we had rented the same beach house in North Naples. Our friend’s relatives own the property and we are grateful to benefit from the family discount.

We all adore the house and love the location in the well know neighborhood of Naples Park. The house is three bedrooms and two and a half baths. It is spacious, beautifully furnished, and best of all has a heated pool.

We enjoyed just over a week’s visit with one couple. Another couple that has joined us on previous visits said they couldn’t come but at the last minute they changed their minds and flew down for the weekend. We all had fun as always and got caught up on everything we had missed in the 3 months since we left Missouri.

The nearest beach to the house is called Vanderbilt Beach. It is a near perfect beach with soft sand and waste deep water for a long way out. This beach is close to neighborhoods, condos, and hotels so it is generally bustling.

The big event every day is sunset. They are just beautiful here. Since our visit was before the time change we often ate before 5:30 then made a beeline for the beach to catch the show.

Only a mile farther from the house was the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. This beach gets a little narrow at high tide but it is a nice alternative to Vanderbilt and not quite as crowded. It’s always interesting to see what’s been washed up on the beach.

This state park is another good sunset spot.

There is a dead tree there that people have loaded with shells which looks pretty cool.

Jim and I don’t go to bars often but one notable exception is a dive near the Naples house that we simply must visit each time we are in town with our friends. Jim’s favorite T is from there and seems to sum up their outlook.

The bar is called the North Naples Country Club. The name is meant in jest as it is far from sophisticated. Just our kind of place!

The best part is it’s within walking distance of the rental house. It’s a fun, friendly place if you are ever in the vicinity. And the food ain’t bad either.

One of our favorite places to visit is in downtown Naples. The Naples Pier is an enjoyable, free place to kill an hour or two.

It is a free fishing pier so with or without a fishing license you can fish here to your heart’s content. If you hang around a little while you will likely encounter your fair share of interesting characters. You may overhear some colorful language and you will almost definitely note some distinct regional and foreign accents.

Many people, primarily older gentlemen, come here almost daily to fish and maybe share a fish story or two. Most of the fishermen are more than happy to offer advice on techniques, bait, and such. There are a few that are tightlipped and maybe a little grouchy, but very few.

The pier is also a great place to observe nature. You are almost guaranteed to see dolphins.

There are usually schools of bait fish around the pylons and if you are lucky you might see tarpon working them into a frenzy. I have also seen ray and jellyfish and we once saw a fisherman pull in a little blacktip shark!

Naples Beach stretches as far as you can see on either side of the pier.

And if you get bored with all that there’s shopping, restaurants, and more shopping within a few blocks. If we are there on a Saturday we enjoy a stroll through the farmers’ market. It’s a little high end for us with lots of food vendors (who spends $15 on lunch at a farmers’ market?) but colorful and entertaining just the same.

My girlfriends and I were lucky enough to run into this guy out shopping with his friends.

He even let us hold this one who was quite a ham.

Naples is quite large and I know it has a whole lot more to offer. Since it’s so close to our home for this winter, we are looking forward to discovering more of this great town.

Hurricane Matthew

Walterboro, SC to Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016 Jim and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on October 5th. We always imagined going somewhere extra special to mark this momentous accomplishment. As the date loomed closer we tossed around ideas but the timing wasn’t right for a trip. We finally realized that the way we’ve been living since we retired makes every day extra special and is a continuous celebration and we really didn’t need to do a lot different to make this one day stand out.

So to mark the occasion we decided we’d spend a few days in St. Augustine, Florida. It’s a town we’ve always wanted to visit and never managed to. And it was conveniently on the way to our next destination to visit family a little further south on the Atlantic coast.

We left South Carolina on Monday to make a two day trip of the 4 hour drive from Walterboro. We had heard about hurricane Matthew at this point but it didn’t look that threatening. We weren’t blind, just optimistic and figured we could always change direction if necessary.

I found a Passport America park half way to St. Augustine in Brunswick, Georgia with full hookups for only $22. The Golden Isles Vacation Park had very mixed reviews so I was not expecting much. We were very pleased to find a well maintained and laid out park with a nice pool and easy access to the interstate.

Later that day the storm forecast worsened. Jim was up watching hurricane coverage in the middle of the night and decided St. Augustine wasn’t such a great idea.  I found a Thousand Trails park that was in the middle of the state that we could go to the next day. We planned to spend our anniversary there and watch the storm to decide our next move.

The good news was that our Thousand Trails zone pass didn’t expire until the end of October so our reservation at Three Flags RV Resort in Wildwood Florida wouldn’t cost us a dime. This gave us the luxury of making a reservation for the full 5 days we had planned to stay in St. Augustine. We were able to cancel the somewhat expensive beach adjacent resort we planned to splurge on for our anniversary and since they were ordered to evacuate within the day they didn’t charge us a cancellation fee.

We moved to Wildwood on Tuesday and Matthew wasn’t forecast to hit until Friday so we put deciding our next move on hold for a couple days. We were optimistic we could ride out the storm in this camp 75 miles from the east coast. And we were hopeful that the whole mess might blow by so we could continue to our Sunday reservations on the Atlantic and visit my family.

In the reviews of this Wildwood, Florida campground everyone kept referring to something called the villages. Turns out The Villages is a massive retirement community that was planned around three town squares. Each square has its own personality but they all offer a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment options and are open to the public. One of the coolest things The Villages offer is free live entertainment in all three squares every evening at 5.

We decided to visit one called Lake Sumter Landing and enjoy some shopping and a lunch out for our anniversary. We figured we’d visit the other squares over the following days and catch some of the evening concerts. Lake Sumter Landing had several blocks of unique shops. One gift shop had a gentleman playing an organ for its customers.

True to its name the area was situated lakeside.

The golf carts outnumbered cars here and many were very fancy. They had their own system of streets coming to and from their gated subdivisions.

We had plenty of options for lunch but chose Cody’s Original Roadhouse and enjoyed our anniversary meal very much. All anyone in the restaurant was talking about was the hurricane and it was interesting to hear about it from the residents’ point of view. We got back to camp to an unexpectedly sunny afternoon and were able to spend a couple hours at the campground’s pool with cocktails to top off our special day.

By this point we had gotten word that our family on the east coast was evacuating their homes. We also got a call from the campground we were scheduled to visit the next week informing us they were shutting down and didn’t know when they would reopen. The winds in Wildwood were forecast to be in the 40 mph range during the hurricane and although we felt confident we could ride that out we didn’t see the point if we wouldn’t be able to head east after the storm passed.

I was able to move up our reservations at the campground we planned to visit the following week. It was 7 miles from the gulf and the winds were forecast to only be in the 20’s. We left early on Thursday and hightailed it to Bonita Springs so we could get settled and batten down the hatches before the storm arrived.

Hurricane Matthew didn’t have much of an effect at all where we were. The winds stayed in the teens all day and we got some drizzle but no downpours. We drove to the beach for a walk midmorning and it was blustery with high waves but made for a nice outing. We were grateful to hear in the following days that our family returned to only minor damage on their east coast properties.

We are very excited about our winter plans. I’ll share more about that and our new campground next week.

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.

Catskills

Accord, NY August-September, 2016 We briefly visited the Catskills in 2004 and longed to return. When I say briefly I mean it was one stop on a 5 day, 5 state whirlwind tour of the northeast that we dragged our youngest daughter, then 12, along on. It was a marvelous adventure and the only time we could spare from our busy lives at the time. We do things differently these days.

We chose to stay for a week this time and picked a home base in Accord from which to explore this vast park. At first it was hard to choose where would be best to launch our explorations from but after some research it started to become clearer pretty fast. We couldn’t afford to spend a whole week if we had to pay over $50 a night to camp. The only reasonably priced option we found that was close to where we hoped to be was SoHi Campground in Accord which offered a weekly Passport America rate of $225.

Minnewaska State Park had been our primary stop on that long ago trip and was high on our list of must sees. There the lovely Peter’s Kill (kill means creek in these parts) runs through the park. A hike takes you along the creek to the top of Awosting Falls.

Then it continues down to the bottom of the falls. The last time we visited in the spring so there was a lot more water. Here’s my baby in 2004.

Here is the falls on this visit. That’s Jim standing beside it.

You can see the falling water a little better from the side.

The rocky bed of the kill itself was just as fascinating as the waterfall.

There are other waterfalls if you continue downstream or you can head up to a gorgeous lake and hike all the way around it if you choose.

This park is only 10 miles off Interstate 87 and well worth a visit if you are passing through.

One of our favorite day trips this time around was to Kaaterskill Falls. It is the highest two tiered waterfall in New York state. The moderate 1.5 mile hike into it is accessed from a pretty small parking area and then a short walk down the highway. You should get there early if you want a space because the next best alternative is a hike of many miles.

We arrived around 8am on a drizzly weekday morning and were about the 4th vehicle there. We didn’t have to share the trail in with too many people but by the walk out the trail traffic had picked up considerably and the parking lot was almost full when we pulled out around 10am.

The view of the entirety of the falls is pretty.

You can then walk up around a hundred stairs to get a better view of the upper fall which is downright stunning. The stairs then continue to the top but we didn’t proceed.

Jim pointed out this fellow to me on the way in. I have an especially strong dislike of millipedes and was careful where I put my hands the rest of the hike. He was around 5 inches long!

Each day we explored another direction and enjoyed views like this one from the truck. This was because there were almost no scenic pullouts. We took turns driving so one of us could concentrate on keeping the truck safely on the narrow roads leaving the other free to rubberneck.

Jim tried his hand at fishing the famous local trout streams. The most disappointing part of this endeavor was just how limited the access was to these waters. It didn’t help that his back was bothering him and just about all of the limited accesses we did run across required scrambling down steep embankments which he was not up to. It wasn’t too big a deal since we didn’t see a single other fisherman (or fish for that matter) which is probably because the stocked streams are fished out by late summer.

Despite this fact we enjoyed a couple hours at the infamous Junction Pool where the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc Creek meet.

We wandered the main street of mountain towns like Phoenicia and Roscoe. Both were charming but didn’t take long to explore as many of the shops were closed on a weekday. Woodstock was the exception.

We stopped in after our hike to Kaaterskill Falls. We had lunch at the Catskill Mountain Pizza Company where they sell pizza by the slice for very reasonable prices. Jim’s sausage slices were bigger than his head and all three of our pieces came to just $10 (cash only).

This town has a lot going on and doesn’t slow down because it’s noon on a Wednesday. There are plenty of interesting shops offering everything from healing crystals, to funky clothing, to palm readings.

If you get tired of walking you can grab a seat and the people watching will keep you entertained while you rest. The folks here are all about self-expression. I’m certain we saw a few hippies that came to the area for the summer of love and loved it too much to ever leave.

When I heard that there are 5 old fire towers still standing throughout the park I wanted to climb at least one. There is an organization that maintains the trails to these gems and even opens them to visitors on summer weekends. We waited toward the end of our week when Jim’s back was better and headed to the Red Hill Fire Tower, the easiest one to reach.

The trail was 2.8 miles roundtrip but was still a bit of a struggle because it was rarely a clear trail. It was full of rough rocks and tree roots most of the way.

The elevation gain was around 1000 feet and was a pretty steady climb. You finally come out of the dark woods to a view of the sixty foot tower built in 1921.

We had come on a Friday so the top was not open but we climbed up to the top of the stairs and enjoyed some spectacular views of the mountains and forest to the east

and of the Rondout Reservoir to the south.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weeklong visit to the Catskills. It wasn’t exactly what we remembered or expected but was extraordinary all the same.

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.

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.

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.