Bryce Canyon

Bryce, Utah – July, 2017 I was beyond excited to finally see Bryce Canyon. When we came this way in early May of 2015 it was still too cold to visit. This national park sits at close to 8000 foot elevation.

The weather forecasts at that time of year were not at all appealing. We weren’t interested in freezing our butts off! Now that we were planning a visit in July, that elevation was very welcome.

We could not get a reservation inside the national park so we chose a private campground about 20 miles from the park’s entrance. Red Canyon RV Park was a good jumping off point. Our full hookup pull thru was around $40 per night.

We arrived and got set up before lunch as is our M.O. After a quick bite we were ready to get a look around and do some hiking. We didn’t want to drive to the national park that afternoon.

We were in luck. We only had to head east a few miles to reach the Dixie National Forest and the scenery changed dramatically. We were soon engulfed in vivid red cliffs.

We stopped at the National Forest visitor center and picked up a hiking guide. Several hikes left from their parking lot so off we went. There were many intersecting trails so we weren’t sure what trail we were on all the time. Around every corner was a new view.

We were having so much fun we had wandered a few miles before we hardly realized it. We found these cool caves toward the end of the hike. We were too pooped to try to get up to them by that time although we really wanted to explore them.

Thankfully we only had to find a path down to the road and there was a bike path on the other side that easily got us back to our truck. Here is a view from across the road of the area we climbed around.

The next morning we jumped up bright and early and headed to Bryce Canyon. We drove to the visitor center, checked it out, and got a map. Then we waited out front for their shuttle.

Bryce has a shuttle that continuously makes the rounds of all the popular spots in the northern portion of the park. We love being able to hop on and off a shuttle at will. And it makes it so easy to hike between stops and not have to hoof it back the way you came.

The shuttle is optional in this park. You can drive everywhere if you want. But we usually choose a shuttle when available. Why hassle with traffic and parking when someone else is willing to do that for you?

This morning our plan was to ride to the end of the shuttle line, Bryce Point, and then hike the Rim Trail back to Inspiration Point. From there we could choose to hike further along the rim or ride a bus to each of the next viewing points. Here is our first good view of the canyon from Bryce Point.

And further along the trail, a look back at Bryce Point from the other side of the canyon.

In no time we put a couple miles behind us and reached Inspiration Point.

We then chose to ride the shuttle to the other easily accessible viewpoints.

The next day we took a guided tour of the southern two thirds of the park which is not serviced by the shuttle. The park service offers free tours each morning and afternoon. We reserved a spot on the 9:30 am tour. The bus can pick you up from any of several points in the park; the campground, the visitor center, the lodge. We chose to board at the bus terminal.

For this tour you stay with the same bus, driver, and group of passengers for its entire length. The tour is about 3 hours. You are driven to the southernmost viewpoint in the park, Yovimpa Point. Then the tour stops at each of the viewpoints along the way back.

I didn’t think the views were as spectacular as the ones in the northern part of the park. But they are still pretty awesome.

My favorite stop of the tour was Natural Bridge.

The tour was fun and better than driving the whole route ourselves. Our driver had lived in the area for something like 30 years and had worked for the park for more than 10. He was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining.

The next day we headed to Utah’s Kodachrome State Park which is about 20 miles southeast of Bryce.

We hiked the Grand Parade Trail before 9 am. This trail included a couple of box canyons which were fun to explore. It was challenging to photograph them at that time of day. But it made for a comfortable hike.

We then got back on Scenic Byway 12 and continued east through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It was an incredible drive with plenty of oohing and aahing, and head turning (on my part, Jim had to keep his eyes on the road). There were unfortunately hardly any places to stop and take it in. One of the only scenic pullouts afforded you this incredible view.

The pink cliff at the top is called Powell Point and the area below it is dubbed the badlands. According to the placard this was the “last uncharted territory in the continental US”. By 1879 Powell’s men had filled in the blanks.

We continued on to the town of Escalante and visited the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center there. We wanted to take a back way home and they gave us a Forest Service map and assured us that our truck could easily manage the route. Turns out almost any vehicle could drive the well maintained but gravel FH 17. It took us up and over a mountain for some spectacular views. Do you see the rain coming down on the left side of this picture?

We then headed down the other side of said mountain to the ghost town of Widtsoe. There are only a couple old buildings standing and there are some newer residences in the area.

The way the light played inside the building was really cool.

We then visited their old cemetery which was pretty interesting.

By then that storm was catching up to us so we headed the truck toward home.

Our last morning we again hiked in the national forest. Arches trail was only 2 miles from our campground.

Depending on whose description of the trail you were reading, there were one to two dozen arches that could be seen from the trail. This is probably because unless you inspected them closely it was not always clear what was a true arch.

It was also not entirely clear where the trail was much of the time. Nevertheless, it was fun trying to spot as many as you could while scrambling up and down the hill and around the various hoodoos and formations. And it was an enjoyable hike that was easy to complete before we got on the road to our next destination.

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.

Niagara Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowds gather early above Horseshoe Falls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Roaring River State Park

Cassville, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I enjoyed a week living in the city, getting caught up on annual appointments, and visiting our kids. Then we were ready for some fresh air and fresh fish. So we headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks, Roaring River. I mentioned it briefly last summer. But it has so much to offer it deserves its own post.

We have visited this park at least once a year for about 20 years. I clearly remember tent camping near this very spot when our baby was about 4. We have visited in a succession of campers since then; from our first 1970 Coleman popup, to our Trailmanor, and finally graduating to 5th wheels. We have so very many wonderful memories here!

I was really looking forward to hiking all my favorite trails again. There are 7 trails totaling just over 10 miles. You can also add a lot of mileage to the hikes by walking to the trailheads instead of driving.

The most interesting trail in the park is Devil’s Kitchen. It is a mile and a half with quite a bit of elevation gain. The payoff is beautiful bluffs along much of the trail followed by the highlight. Devil’s Kitchen is a half-hazard looking pile of rocks that form a cavern.

Supposedly the cavern hid guerilla soldiers during the civil war.

My favorite part of the Fire Tower Trail is the less than 1 mile section between the end of campground C and where the trail crosses the highway. The path leads you between the river and a very scenic series of bluffs.

The shortest hike in the park is Deer Leap. It is 100 steps leading to an overlook with a view of the hatchery and the spring pond.

The pond is where they keep the big momma trout they use to stock the remainder of the stream.

Spring water gushes out of the ground under this cliff and there is often some runoff from above creating a waterfall.

It’s fun to watch the fish in the stream even if you have no interest in catching and/or eating them. The water is so clear there are many great fish photo ops.

Trout is our favorite freshwater fish to eat so thankfully Jim did have some luck and caught enough for two plentiful meals. Here is day one’s catch.

You probably see some sad, dying fish. I see trout almandine!

It was super hot during our visit but thankfully there are plenty of places to keep cool around here. In the middle of the park is a popular swimming hole that is very family friendly and has enough water coming in and out to keep it fresh when the water is reasonably high.

Later in the summer this water can become a bit stagnant. Then people tend to gravitate to the camp swimming pool, which can be a lifesaver if you have kids in tow.

Some parts of the trout stream are designated multi-use and wading and swimming there can be fun. Our favorite swimming spot is a short drive past campground C. It is the first right after the Fire Tower Trailhead on the left. There is a memorial gravesite for the Russell’s, the original homesteaders, who wisely located their home next to a perfect little swimming hole. The water is usually about waste deep and has its own scenic bluff and waterfall.

We have visited this spot many times and never ran into another soul. I’m sure someone had swum their before our arrival one day because the generally clear water was mucked up. But it was still refreshing.

The campground here is extremely well maintained. Our spacious, electric only site averaged $24 per night including the reservation fee. The park has lots of cabins and a lovely lodge so it is a great place to meet family and friends that want to enjoy the great outdoors with you but aren’t thrilled about camping.

The Chatooga

Long Creek, SC – May, 2016 The Chatooga River is in the very northwest corner of South Carolina. In fact, the river is the state line between SC and Georgia for a good ways. It is in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains and is considered South Carolina’s high country. The hilly landscape was a welcome change after a couple months circling the relatively flat areas around our property which they call the lowcountry.

This river drops dramatically and has many class 3 and 4 falls. We really wanted to kayak it but decided to wait until our next visit as the water could be better if it was a little higher. We also agreed we would probably do it in rented kayaks. The reason we came to this conclusion is twofold. Their inflatable kayaks are perfect for these falls and they are lighter to carry. Most of the put ins and take outs on this river are a quarter mile walk. There is no way we are hauling our heavy plastic kayaks a quarter mile.

Instead we visited all the access points we could reach. The river is most accessible where Highway 76 goes over it. Here the quarter mile path to the river is paved. There is a short spur where you can view a beautiful class 4 falls called Bull Sluice.

If we do float section 3 someday this will be the only class 4 we will face and it is right before the takeout. Apparently you can port around it on the other side of the river if you are not up to it. That’s probably what I would do, although if their boats handle the class 3’s upriver as well as they claim maybe I’ll have enough confidence to tackle this one when the time comes.

Our favorite spot on the river was Woodall Shoals. It was an easy drive on back roads from our campground. The path down to the river was not paved and in fact was a little confusing until you learned your way around. But the reward for the short walk was outstanding. When you reach the bottom you have to scramble over these cool rocks to get to an awesome swimming spot just above them.

Or you could hang out on the left end of them in the shallows and watch the entertainment.

We enjoyed Woodall Shoals so much we went there to swim and watch people run the rapid every afternoon of our stay.

This area is known for its many, many waterfalls. There are road signs everywhere that say such and such falls this way or that. The only problem is they don’t tell you how far you might be driving to reach them or what kind of trail you might have to navigate to see them. After some research we discovered quite a few require a strenuous hike of several miles. We visited Issaqueenna Falls because we read you can easily see it from an overlook after a short walk. We discovered that foliage has grown up there and completely blocks the view of the falls. The best view we managed was this behind the falls view of is first drop.

Its frustrating knowing there is a gorgeous 100 foot fall right in front of you and you can’t see it. At the same park though is a very cool tunnel that was well worth the visit. I love the tree roots in this pic.

Stumphouse Tunnel is 1600 feet deep. It was dug pre civil war as a train tunnel. The mountain proved too hard and when the railroad ran out of money they gave up on the project. You can apparently walk in about halfway before a gate stops further progress. But if you want to do that bring your rubber boots.

An easy waterfall to visit is Chau Ram.

It is the centerpiece of a county park.

One morning we headed over the state line to Georgia to explore the Tallulah Gorge State Park. It is a beautiful place that is worth a visit if you are in the area. We made about a two mile hike that included over 600 stairs. Here is the path down and the bridge that crossed the gorge.

When you get there the views aren’t really that spectacular. Here is the view straight down from the bridge.

We enjoyed the walk but the best views are from the easily accessible viewpoints near the visitor center. Like this one of L’Eau d’Or, French for “water of gold.”

It wasn’t easy finding a campground in this area. We finally found one that wasn’t on any of our camping apps. The Chatooga River Resort and Campground has some hotel rooms, a large tent camping area, and 8 RV sites with water and electric but no dump station for $38 per night.

We got site 5 which is the only one that was available all 4 nights we were there. It was extremely unlevel and we ended up using all our leveling blocks, a 6×6 we keep in the truck, and some landscaping blocks someone left in the site and we still weren’t as level as we would have liked. We would go back as long as we could get site 6 or 8 next time.

The campground was a short drive from a winery and a distillery. The Chatooga Belle Farm had a neat store and was a popular lunch spot by the looks of the crowd. They charge $5 for wine tastings so I didn’t bother since their price for bottled wine was twice what I would have considered paying.

The farm’s distillery had their grand opening while we were there. I don’t know if they will always be that generous with their free samples or if it was just a grand opening thing. But they gave you about 5 shots at the bar and then had little shots of mixed drinks made with their moonshine as well.

Jim owns a still with one of his buddies so he enjoyed getting to look at their equipment and talk to them about their process. They had a big deck off the back and a bluegrass band was playing both Friday and Saturday afternoon.

We really loved this area and only saw a small fraction of what we wanted to. We added it to the growing list of places we hope to spend a month or possibly a whole season in some day.

Charleston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And me on our most recent visit.

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

We were blown away by all the beautiful homes.

And the amazing architectural details.

I loved peeking into the gardens.

But the churches were the most impressive.

The Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street was my favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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