Thursday, December 25, 2014

Salt Springs Area

December weather in North Central Florida means heaters on at night and shirt sleeve temps during the afternoon so by the time the morning news is over and the coffee pot is empty it’s either time to ride the little wheels up to the office for emails or climb in the big blue wheels and head off for a day of sightseeing (aka exploring!).   H was determined that we should head up thru Palatka and over to the coast in the St Augustine area.

Ravine Gardens
Those of you who have seen my “jacket of many patches”, know that I am missing at least 6 already visited Florida state park patches.  Ravine Gardens in Palatka is one of them.  On our third attempt for a patch, we finally were able to purchase one.  It was quite an ordeal for just a one inch by three-inch patch – at first the ladies in the office could not find them, then didn’t know the price and then were unable to break a $5.  H finally put the amount on his credit card – the entire $1.65.  The ladies were left with the dilemma of how to account for that enormous sale on their records!  

Ravine Gardens
We were finally able to meander down the asphalt drive and stop to gaze over the side of the deep grotto that was lined with mature oaks, magnolias and azaleas.  Down the middle was a small winding ribbon of water that extended from one end to the other.  High over the gorge were several  long narrow suspension bridges and steep wooden steps leading up out of the deep cut.   As we approached the backside of the main building we passed thru the formal garden areas that were outlined with low block walls that were build in the WPA era.   Pools, fountains, arches and brick paths completed the scene.   Then we climbed in the truck and drove the entire 1.8 mile drive around the ravine, past where we had just walked and saw even more of the park!
Fort Matansas

Fort Matansas
On the southern edge of St Augustine, the beach access was open and the truck steering wheel involuntarily made the left turn and we ended up out on the swishy sand once again.   The end of the beach trail puts you on A1A and the entrance to Fort Matansas.  With a 30 minute wait for the pontoon boat ride up the river to the 16th century, small stone structure, we watched the introductory movie and then walked the small beach and noted how far out the tide had gone, leaving smelly damp rocks and crustaceans behind.  Our boat captain was very knowledgeable and explained the French and Spanish interest in the fort and the river leading to St Augustine that it protected.   On our last visit, the day was gray, cold and windy but today the sun was shining and from up on the fort, still guarded by big black cannons, you could see St Augustine to the north and A1A and the ocean that lay beyond to the south.

Heading back home thru Palatka, our stomachs began to complain about being ignored for so long.  Someone had recommended Corky Bell’s Seafood Restaurant and so we put it in the GPS.  We found it right by the bridge on the wide lumbering St Johns River.  Our meal was good but the view from the sprawling outside terraced patio was the highlight.  The sun was setting and its golden light glowed on the wooden docks with their tall pylons and the over grown jungle that clung to the rivers edge.  The reflections on the calm still water made it hard to tell where the water ended and the real docks began.  
View from Corky Bell's
On Saturday Santa and Mrs. Claus came to visit all the little and big kids at the campground!  What a jolly couple they were as they rode thru the park, greeting everyone and inviting all to come and say Hello at the holiday setting the camp hosts had prepared.   Santa chatted with each small child for a few moments before letting them select a gift out of his big gift box.  Just like any old married couple – they bantered back and forth and the jovial old gentleman chortled and Ho-Ho Ho”d between each banter!   The office staff acted as his assistants in their green shirts and big green hats complete with large pointed elf ears!
Merry Christmas

On to Ocala we trudge!   By the looks of Dick and Sharon’s brightly lit tree, Santa has beaten us there!   

May your Christmas find you with family and friends, remembering that Jesus IS the reason for this season!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

North central florida

We made it - - - NO PROBLEM!    Down I 95 to Jacksonville, around the west side and on down to Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest. See Previous Florida Blogs for our pictures of our past stays here. Management here was so strict last year that most of the campers who stayed here all winter moved on and never came back.  Our favorite camp hosts are gone and there are even fewer campers.  Now under new managers – some of the stupid rules have eased – support jacks can now be off the pavement for one. 

We enjoyed B&C’s company for another day and took them around our favorite local sites including the beautiful crystal clear springs with its swarms of massive Mullet fish swimming in slow motion.  While enjoying the view a Bald Eagle flew over!  Out to dinner at the Bass Champions Restaurant was the great end to a fun day.  On Tuesdays thru Thursdays they feature a “Beat the Clock” pricing system.  The time the waitress takes your order is the price of your meal!  Ours was $4.20!  Our friends have left now to finish their journey south to Lake Placid.  Later this winter we’ll meet up with them when our journey leads us closer to their neighborhood.  

Things are calm now – we’ve settled in to a routine – riding our bikes each day, meeting new folks from a lot of different states, enjoying the freshly prepared chicken livers from the local grocery, adding up all the sightings of the variety of birds, always “hunting” for deer or bears and always out exploring!  HAD to head to Daytona Beach and drive on the beach and see how things have changed.  On and off the beach and then to the boardwalk and watch the screaming teens swing up and down in the double bungee ride that towered way above even the tall round ferris wheel.  The fishing pier stretched out into the ocean and gave an even better view of the rolling waves, the wide sandy beach, the forever line of towering condos and the ribbon of boardwalk that lay between the sand and the towers. 

As long as we were on the coast we wandered farther south and ended back out on the beach.  We drove on the hard packed sand till it ended at a fishing jetty lined with some serious looking fishermen.  From out on the jetty we turned and saw the tall stately red light house standing watch over the beach and dividing inlet.  Upon closer inspection we found the 175 ft tall Ponce      Inlet Lighthouse. It is the highest lighthouse in Florida!  H also drove by a 1942 Willys Jeep but didn’t think to get a picture of the bright red vehicle!

Back closer to home we finally yanked the kayaks out of the back of the truck and plopped them into the water of the Salt Spring Run – just outside of the walled in spring itself.  Several years ago we had been greeted by several manatees when we were out in our fat orange bubble kayaks and H even got some great pictures.  This time we paddled around and around, past the Anhinga lined buoys that kept the boats out of the spring before we spotted a big lump just floating in the deeper water.  The water was cloudy in that area due to its depth and vegetation.  H stuck his camera under the water and started clicking away.  I sat very still and the “lump” moved ever so slowly towards me but did not dive down.  I was able to see the two scars on his forehead, possibly caused by a boat propeller.  I reached out and touched his thick leathery skin and scratched his neck and back.  Very slowly he slithered down and slid calmly under my vessel.  Our boat ride was complete after we paddled into the mirrored waters of a narrow creek that lead off the run and H scared TWO gators and a multitude of fat turtles!!  
Yesterdays exploration venture started out to be snorkeling at Alexander Springs but it was a tad too chilly and we chickened out.   Sighting a pair of Pileated woodpeckers squawking at each other up in the trees made up for our disappointment tho.  As long as we were that far south we kept going and ended up finding Lake Eustis and the pedestrian dock and adjoining clump of Cypress Trees still dressed in their fall colors.  The patch of sea grasses was home to a neat brown snake, curled up on a stump and a wet Anhinga drying her feathers after fishing for her lunch.  If you double click on the picture to make it larger – you can see her!
We’ll be here in Salt Springs for a few more days and then it’s on to Ocala for Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

South to warmer weather

Happy Thanksgiving!  Like a lot of folks, our holiday was filled with family and food.  And then we repeated it on Sunday at a bountiful buffet brunch at a wonderful old 1923 school building that has been restored for display and for use for special events.  This special event was called Christmas with 2 of our kids and 5 of our grandkids!  The time was short but it was good to have them all together.

Monday morning came early - - well, that and we woke up early!  Last minute chores and packing done, we rendezvoused with our dear friends, Bud & Carol at our designated Kroger parking lot and off we went. We got in line with the “go to work group” of drivers and wound thru and around all the orange barrels and lane changes of the I 475 construction. No Problem!   We forged ahead to Rt 68 and breakfast at a good truck stop restaurant in Mt Victory.   NO PROBLEM - and so far we had only missed one turn!   H checked the wheel temps on the trailer – all 4 were fine and the truck was doing great!    On to the Columbus bypass, Rt 270 and the rain started.    NO PROBLEM!   South on Rt 23 to Circleville, where we stopped for gas.  It was still raining and the wheel was now smoking.  (See blog from our return home trip from Florida last spring).  We sent B&C on to Kentucky ahead of us and we hunted for a repair shop.  We finally found Barnitz Automotive Shop in a tiny town called Kingston and he got us right in.  Barney works out of his home garage and we parked in his circular driveway, next to his home and just in front of his 3 bay garage for the night.  No one close had the parts we needed so H and I drove back up to Columbus to the Redneck Trailer Supply so Barney could repair the wheel in the morning.  While the two men worked on the injured trailer together, his wife Fran and I got acquainted. 

Dreher Island St. Park  S.C.
On the road by noon, we stayed the next night at the Paintsville Lake State Park where B&C had stayed the night before. It looked like a nice park but it was raining and getting dark when we arrived.   Again we woke up way too early and pulled out at 7am.   That’s when the deer came out across the road in front of us!  We pushed on across Virginia and Tennessee, without too much more trauma.  The day was fog, rain, sunshine and repeat.    We waved as we passed the Tennessee Welcome Center where we spent an afternoon last spring!  The map showed that Dreher Island State Park was fairly close to the interstate but we ended up following the GPS and it lead us on a much longer, out of the way route.  The park really was not really on AN island – it was a chain of jagged forested islands that was formed when the river was dammed and the valley flooded.  Of course the campground was on the last island of the chain!  Our spot was high over the clear water below and was carpeted in falling oak and sweet gum leaves.  Thankfully none of the pinecones fell and hit the trailer since they were the size of small footballs!

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island 
North Carolina was now behind us and on across South Carolina we drove.  H checked the temps of all 4 wheels - like a hovering mom and her ailing children, each time we stopped for gas or a bite to eat.   No problem.   The problem this day was all the either blind or ignorant drivers who did not see the headlights on our bright blue truck, pulling a big white bulletin board of a trailer and going speed limit on the expressway!    One semi truck pulled out from the side of the road and RIGHT into our path.   Luckily H managed to brake quickly enough to avoid a collision.  We endured several more such incidents before we pulled into the campground in Charleston where B&C were already parked and waiting for us.

Jekyll Island 
Thursday we again hit the road and headed for Georgia.  H was still checking the wheel temps.  No problem.  We made it to Georgia when a passing truck driver motioned to us that a trailer wheel was smoking.  This time H had a spare bearing and switched it, right there on the side of   I 95 while 3 lanes of traffic roared by.  This time we were directed to Walker’s Trailer Repair just off the exit for Savannah.    This time all 4 wheels were checked and the other 3 were replaced. 

We have finally made it to the campground on Jekyll Island and are parked next to B&C again!   We’ve now toured the island and enjoyed all the Thomas Kincaid Christmas lights of the historic areas.  We’ve been here before but it was fun showing our friends the sights!

Tomorrow is Florida – hopefully, with no more problems!

Jekyll   Island 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Michigan Sunrise Side

Autumn in Michigan is synonymous with color!  Red sumac, orange maples, gold birch and aspen and dark green pines!  Our Fall Color trip was just a few days before prime color but it did NOT disappoint!   Crisp, cool mornings, dark rolling storm clouds interspersed with periodic bright blue skies kept our senses guessing.   This time, our venture started out on the Lake Huron side of the state, beginning in Pinconning and pausing in Tawas City where we parked at a Passport America campground that was okay for the price we paid but certainly not for the price without the discount.   The good part was that since it was not right on Lake Huron, as the city park is, the gusty lake winds were buffered somewhat before they slid into the campground.   Breakfast was the first day’s agenda and we found a tasty one at the local restaurant in downtown East Tawas!  Exploring was next and we headed north - towards Alpena, stopping every little bit to check out a park or shop or a lighthouse.  The upcoming weekend was the local lighthouse festival so we missed the doings at the Sturgeon Point lighthouse and school but the views of the threatening storm clouds over the expanse of empty beach was impressive.
  On our way back to camp we traveled the “River Road National Scenic Byway” which is a 22-mile rambling road, which runs west from Lake Huron in Oscoda and follows the always beautiful Au Sable River.  We stopped at dams, checked out the campgrounds where we have stayed before, revisited the Lumberman’s Memorial Monument which is a 15 ft bronze statue that represents the 1800 lumber industry.  We even managed to descend the 300 steps at Iargo Springs to view the natural springs ¾ of the way to the rivers edge.  We took advantage of the several viewing decks and thankfully managed to ascend those 300 steps back to the top!  Further west were several more viewing areas with awesome views of the winding river and her wider pond areas with hillsides splattered with bursts of color

 The next morning, after another good breakfast at another good restaurant in town, we did get to climb the close together, circular, open steps of the Tawas Point Lighthouse and scan the horizon from the very narrow top!  We climbed slowly and came down more slowly - me with my eyes fixed on the back of H’s head, one hand securely on his shoulder and the other gripping the cold metal railing!

From Tawas we moved farther west to Rose City and secured a good spot in the Grouse Haven campground in the Rifle River Recreation Area.  H did see a grouse!  We also saw a deer and 2 of her teenage fawns and a handful of huge black turkeys!  As always we retraveled the gravely, one way, VERY narrow roadway that meanders thru the park, past the 5 secluded pristine lakes and the primitive campgrounds snuggled into the dense woods.
One of H’s favorite things to do in this area is to “hunt grouse” - - from the drivers seat of his truck!  And we did!  Once we left the city limits of Rose City we found a sandy two track and followed first one and then another and another – going north, then east, then west and then north again!   After one of those turns we ended up on a power line trail.  At the top of the big soft sandy hill, which was obviously very popular with other 4-wheelers, you could see the light tan ribbon of trail lying out in front of us!  We ended up in Mio and never drove on a paved road till we reached that city limit!

The weekend was approaching and we were to be at the Bay City Conservation and Gun Club so H could participate in a Sporting Clay Event on Sunday so on Saturday morning we headed south.   The fella’s at the club welcomed us and assisted in getting us set up and hooked into their electric power for the evening.  With the afternoon open, we asked for directions on finding the Dow Gardens in Midland, which was about 20 miles away.  We had seen signs for the gardens on our previous trip thru that town and were anxious to see them up close.  I am so glad that we did!  The grounds are on 110 acres that was the original family estate of Herbert H Dow the founder of the Dow Chemical Co.  He and his wife Grace raised their children there and their son, Alden B Dow built his modernistic home there in 1942.  He studied under Frank Lloyd Wright before becoming a famous architect in his own right.  His home and studio seem as if they are growing in the middle of a pond!  Some of the buildings and features in the garden were designed by Alden, including the “Sun Bridge” which casts a perfect circle on the calm waters of the stream that pass below it.  Even tho the bright colors of the summer blooms have faded, the fall foliage still glowed along the stepping stone walkways, or near the bouldered passageways or around the bend from the bridge built out of clinkers.  It must have been prom night in Midland because the park became overrun with pretty girls dressed in their finest, escorted by lanky teen boys in their matching tux.  Helicopter Moms with busy cameras hovered over and around all of them!!  It was indeed a great spot for prom pictures!!!  But the sun was sinking lower and the temps were dropping and getting colder so we knew it was time to head back to base.

The Bay City C&G Club sure put on a nice event for their shooters.  Bob fixed breakfast for everyone and while the guys were out “hunting” for those wary bright orange clay pigeons, he prepared chili, brats, beans, hotdogs and brownies for the cold, hungry hunters!   Since H shot in the first group that went out, he was back fairly early so we enjoyed a good meal, said our thanks and good byes and headed south and home. 

Another great adventure completed and logged!   Just think – it’s now November and in a month we’ll be leaving home and headed south.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gettysburg and East Coast

The robins have all flown south.  The brightly colored male hummingbirds are gone.  The little female “her-mers” are fighting and scrapping over the feeders – they need to store up energy for their long flight.  H got the itch to be gone too!  We’ve been home barely a month and he is restless already! 

Last year at this same time we loaded up the 2006 Chrysler Town & Country and headed west to the Pacific Ocean – following Route 66.   This year he chose the opposite direction and we headed for Gettysburg, Pa first and then on to the Atlantic coast. The weather was PERFECT!  Blue skies, mild temps and all the kids were back in school!

The fairly new Visitors Center and Museum at the Gettysburg National Military Park and Battlefield is now a large round red barn type structure.  After watching a film, our group moved upstairs to the newly renovated Cyclorama, which is an awesome sound and light show of the amazing 377 ft painting depicting Pickett’s Charge.  It was originally painted in 1884!  The circular room, along with the lights and sounds made this historic 3-day battle come alive!  From there we drove the marked roads thru the now peaceful rolling countryside and imagined the battle that took more men’s lives than in any other battle on American soil – before or since. The Union Army casualties were 23,000 and the Confederate Army – 28,000.  We climbed a tall lookout tower and gazed over the fields that look much as they did in 1863.  At Little Round Top, we found the statue of Brig Gen G K Warren, still on his watch against the opposing southern army. From there we visited the Pennsylvania Memorial built to honor the over 34,000 men who fought in that battle.

From there our route took us thru Dover Delaware and out to the first city in Delaware - Lewes.  It is also the southern port for the ferry that runs from there to the picturesque Cape May, NJ!  We visited the historic WWII training grounds in the Cape Henlopen State Park before moving on down the barrier island to Ocean City Maryland for the night.

When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Margarite Henry who wrote a lot of horse stories.  One series was about the Spanish ponies that were shipwrecked and survived on Assateague Island.  That island is now the Assateague Island National Seashore  - and the ponies are still surviving, still wild and still live on the island.  Our last trip thru this area was a long time ago on a 750 Yamaha – PRE big red bike!!  This time H slowed down long enough for a side trip so I could finally see “the ponies”!  On the Maryland side they are allowed to still run free.  Hence, horse poop everywhere - on the roads, in the campgrounds – EVERYWHERE!  To reach the herd on the Virginia side, you must go out, around and back across the island of Chincoteague before reaching the National Park once more.  On this section, the herd is semi-contained in vast fields and forests.  Their admiring audience can see them but not get too close.  Each summer this herd is still rounded up and swam across the channel at low tide – just like in Margarite’s books!  Some of the ponies are sold to keep the herd’s number manageable.   After a festival – the remaining ponies are swum back to their island home.

The 20-mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnels are an engineering wonder.  They connect the long thin finger of land that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Chesapeake Bay, to the mainland of Virginia where Norfolk and Virginia Beach meet.  These 2 ribbons of pavement seem to just hover over the expanse of salt water and then, to accommodate the Naval vessels and other ocean freighters stacked high with cargo, the ribbons seemingly disappear under the water.  The two deep tunnels on this route are a mile long each.  At the southern end of the one tunnel is a turn out area complete with a restaurant and a fishing pier that was populated with a dozen or so fishermen.   One fella had just caught what seemed must be a rather hefty fish and we were all anxious to view his catch.  After a lengthy, back and forth struggle his catch was hoisted - a 3 foot Stingray!!  Another fella had to stand on the barbed tail while he struggled to retrieve his hook and line from the rays bottom side!   Our lay over for the night was Virginia Beach where we did find time to unfold our little bikes and ride the 4-mile boardwalk from end to end!  Each pedestrian crosswalk was graced with it’s own nautical theme – a school of large blue striped fish, seagulls or a very impressive statue of King Neptune.  The electrician that was working there just below the railing was from Grand Rapids Michigan.  Our very lovely motel was on the southern, more peaceful, end of the boardwalk and used to be a Hilton. Our room was on the 5th floor, third from the center on the south curve of the building.  All the rooms faced the swimming pool and vast blue ocean on the other side of the boardwalk. H had “Happy Hour” on the balcony!  We woke to the sunshine peaking around our curtains!

With the van now pointed NW across the state, I knew our trip was winding down. We did stop and investigate the ruins of Jamestown – the very first settled colony in the whole country. Our always favorite Shenandoah National Park and the curving, up and down two lane road they call Skyline Drive which is woven across the tops of the mountain range from south to north led us closer to home.  From there it was just a matter of 150 miles across West Virginia on Rt 50 before we would enter Ohio across from Parkersburg.  The rest is history – road construction, traffic, and more road construction.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Michigan Upper Peninsula

Out of sight – out of mind?    It’s true!   No wifi and being on the go all the time means you write the blog when you get home.  Well . . .  we all know, once home there is laundry, yard work and all that other catching up to do.  Now we’ve gone again and are back and I still have to tell you about the rest of our Yooper trip!    I’ll get right to it!

From Indian Lake State Park, our little caravan headed northeast across the Upper Peninsula to Tahquamenon State Park and the tea colored Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls.  Remember our school days when we read about Longfellow’s story of Hiawatha building his canoe on the Tahquamenon River?  The Upper Falls is the 3rd biggest fall east of the Mississippi and is 200 feet wide with a drop of almost 50 feet.  Five miles downstream is the Lower Falls which is a series of falls that cascade around an island that can be reached by rowboat or by swimming/wading across just a bit upstream by either brave, stupid or adventurous souls!  The river bottom is slippery rock and the currant is swift and strong!   The campground is located just around the bend from the lower falls and is extremely popular in the summertime with campers with families and their pets. Our site should not have been assigned to anything bigger than a pop up camper but H managed to get us wiggled in and situated.  And with the assistance of an extension cord we reached the electrical post that was being shared by 3 camping units!  The campground was crowded and the evening air quickly filled with smoke from all the green firewood that was being sold by the local pickup truck that slowly crawled thru the park each day!  Mosquito control?

Further east is Sault Saint Marie, Michigan and her famous Soo Locks. Across to the north of the 4 locks is the industrial town of Sault Saint Marie, Ontario!  To the west of the locks is Lake Superior, to the right, past all the islands that dot the way, is Lake Huron.  The campground stretched along a curve in the waterway about a mile east of the locks.  You could “feel” the gigantic freighter approaching before you could see it.  When you did see it – it was close enough to read her name and what country she was from.  I had such fun hollering for Carol to come see, whenever one was coming by!  Once we even jumped in the truck and chased to town and ran (?) quickly to the 2 level viewing platform to watch her approach the westbound lock!   She had to moor for awhile, tho, because 3 other freighters were either in the lock or next in line. We watched as the water in the locks slowly filled or emptied and each 500-foot long vessel entered and then slowly moved on, once the level was adjusted and the powerful gates opened once more.  On a visit to a park just past the campground, H tried his luck at casting a line in the water and promptly snagged it on a hidden rock!  Oh well.   It was worth the trip anyway because we got to watch a westbound freighter approach and cause a small fishing boat to bob and bounce as the behemoth vessel pushed the massive wake away from her bow.

Oh - if you need a good restaurant while in town – try the grill RIGHT across from the locks - Good Pasties and good breakfast!

60 miles to the south is Saint Ignace and we parked there at the state park once again before crossing the Mighty Mackinaw Bridge to the lower peninsula of Michigan and once more became Trolls.  Remember?  Yoopers ( U P’ers ) live north of the bridge – Trolls live “under” the bridge!!

 Our next stop before heading home was the Pet-o-sega Campground just east of Petosky. This beautiful, county campground is nestled on the southern shore of Pickerel Lake on the western end of the Inland Waterway that we’ve written about in the past.  I hope future trips north will include this pretty spot!   A return visit to Legg’s Inn in Cross City was a MUST!  This time the weather was warm and the bright beautiful flowers on this high cliff overlooking Lake Michigan made the visit complete!  Friends, Mel & Donna even came over for a visit one afternoon and to enjoy some burgers on the grill with us!

A lovely, fun trip!  Some new sights and some good ones revisited! 

August is now over.  Labor Day is past.  The garden is done.  The maple tree in the side yard is turning red.  All the kids are back in school!  Time for another trip!    I’ll post that soon!   I promise!   I won’t forget!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Still in the land of the Yoopers

Indian Lake State Park is stretched out across the southern edge of Indian Lake, the fourth largest inland lake in the U.P. and is in the middle of the Hiawatha National Forest.   It is 6 miles long and 3 miles wide.  The land was acquired in 1932 and the 2 picnic shelters, which are made of huge, black logs and large sandstone blocks were built using CCC and WPA workers.   We selected one of the few available lakefront campsites and H deftly backed the condo in at an angle that would allow the best view from the back window.  It was so close to the waters edge that during the night you could easily listen to the waves lapping the shoreline. It was going to be perfect for sliding the portabote off the truck and practically right into the water - - IF all the ducks would get out of the way!  Families of ducks and ducklings of various sizes called this shoreline home!  The weather was gray and cool so of course we felt the call of town and headed back the four miles to Manistique to reacquaint ourselves with this busy little historic town.  The red brick 1921 water tower and nearby siphon-bridge are still listed on all the brochures!  The harbor was hosting their annual salmon and trout fishing tournament but we arrived there just as the winners were being announced.  Downtown was quaint and had more full stores than empty and the shopkeepers greeted everyone who entered their shops.  On Monday, it was way too windy and the waves were topped with whitecaps so the boat stayed on top of the truck a bit longer!  Our campground hosts, Ralph and Karen are real Yoopers – accent and all and shared local information and gave me a cute story about the “Creation of the U.P”!  They even served coffee every morning, starting at 8 a.m.   Bud and Carol arrived from their trip up thru Wisconsin and we all relaxed and caught up with each other’s travel adventures! 
Munising Falls

Pasties were on the “must find” list for Tuesday so we all loaded in Bud’s Chevy Equinox and headed north to Lake Superior and the small town of Munising, the home of Murdock’s Pasties AND of course the Pictured Rocks National Seashore.  The last time the 4 of us were in Munising, B&C attempted to see the beautiful sea sculptures by water but were turned back by the fog.  The boats were not venturing out in the wet/windy weather today either.  It was even TOO cold to order pasties at Murdock’s and sit outside to eat them.   We stopped at the Visitor’s Center and then drove up the road and walked the short pathway up to see the 20-foot vertical drop of Munising Falls.  There was plenty of white spray coming over the high cliff and splashing down on the rocks and tree trunks that had fallen in its path before stumbling and bubbling down the rocky creek-bed.  We did find our pasties at Shooters Firehouse Grill and were almost as good as Murdock’s!   Our return trip home always requires a different route back and we ended up on a forest road heading south.  One side-venture turned into a 2-track road that even dared to boast a sign that stated it was an “Adopt a Road” – and it dead-ended into a small boat launch and a pretty little lake!

Wednesday started out windy – AGAIN, so we headed to town for breakfast!  The Cedar Street CafĂ© was the mutual choice and H and I chose to split a “Garbage Omelet”!  Well worth the price and PLENTY for us to share!   From there we strolled out onto the long cement break-wall, lined with huge quarried boulders, built out into Lake Michigan to protect the harbor and the mouth of the Indian River.  At the very end of the jutted barrier was the bright red  Manistique light house.
Back at the campground, since the sun had come out and the winds chose not to blow any longer, it was time to get the boat in the water!  We sure were not going to get another chance on this lake.   Off the truck, unfolded and put together, it slid easily into the shallow (now calm) water.  Off we went, mighty fishermen, out across the vast open waters!   Again, the fish, teased us by nibbling and yanking at our lures.  Finally, H landed his feisty small mouth bass.  I followed with a nice sized brightly colored yellow perch!  His bass was bigger than my perch but my perch was at least big enough to keep!  We didn’t.  Three more small perch made it to the boat before we called it quits and headed back to shore to regale about our fishing prowess to B&C!!   After “Happy Hour” the clouds moved back in and before our supper was over, the winds and rain returned.   Oh well, time to pack down anyway because it was time to head out in the morning.  We’ve more places to go before we have to go south instead of going further north.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Up North

Between late June and late July, our trips have been limited to just daytrips because our annual “Up North Trip” always happens in late July!  One such trip was a boat ride, starting out in Sandusky Bay about 50 miles east of Toledo and venturing out onto Lake Erie (Oh No - - - another Great Lake!)  Our ride took us along the downtown area of Sandusky Ohio and out and around the peninsula that the whole world knows as Cedar Point - - the amusement park that is home to all the famous sky high, fast moving roller coasters.  From our floating, bobbing perch out on the water, the set of coaster cars looked like inchworms slowly creeping up a long skinny branch and then zooming down the steep other side at 60 miles per hour!  We crossed the choppy bay waters to the famous Marblehead lighthouse that sits on thick layers of rugged limestone and finished up around island that held the historic prisoner camp and civil war cemetery - Johnson’s Island.   Our other road trip took up to Baldwin and Houghton Lake Michigan, checking out campgrounds and small lakes on the way up and back.

And now we are really UP NORTH!  This annual trip began in Gaylord Michigan at the county park on the west side of Otsego Lake.  The campground was pretty full but there was one lakeside site available and we took it!  Our big picture window looked out over a sandy beach complete with a relaxing 4-person swing and tall shady trees. Downtown Gaylord is Alpine in design and architecture and hosts an Alpine Fest each summer.  We just missed it!  But we did not miss seeing the herd of elk that live in a multi acre enclosure on the outskirts of downtown!  Lots of babies and their mommas and lots of mammoth big bulls with their wide velvety antlers!  They are very flighty creatures. When one got spooked, they all got up from their resting spots and galloped out onto the wide open field before them. Once there, the whole group stopped and grazed again.  We were also fortunate to visit with good friends, Glenn and Beth whom I’ve known since high school.  We won’t say how long ago that was but we did just celebrate our 50th class reunion last September!

We went up and over the Mighty Mackinaw Bridge to spend a night at the Straits State Park in St Ignace, JUST over the 5-mile long, double arch that was built in 1957.  On the west side of the bridge is Lake Michigan.  On the east side is Lake Huron.  Remember that the back of your left hand is Michigan? The tip of your long second finger is where the bridge is.  Those that live in the Upper Peninsula are called Youpers (U P’ers).  Those of us who live “below” the bridge are called “Trolls”! 

Heading west on Route 2, the road follows the shoreline of the rugged, beautiful, extremely blue, Lake Michigan. The roadway is lined with lush green pine trees and dotted with the occasional Pasties Shop. (Pah-stee, NOT Paste-ee!!)  We stopped and enjoyed one of those handholdable potpies filled with meat and finely chopped vegetables but smothered with rich brown gravy on our way to Brevoort Lake National Forest Campground.  This park sits on a prominent peninsula and is surrounded by sandy beaches on one side and lily pads and thick forest on the other.  While we did not get one of the many wooded lakeside spots, our inland spot was wide and sunny which was perfect for the cool weather and no electricity.  H put together his little PCV pipe trailer and we towed the Portabote to the small boat launch.  On our 1st day of fishing and exploring this 6-mile long wilderness lake, I “let” H catch the first fish and the most.  I caught the biggest!  On the 2nd day, I again caught the biggest, the 1st and the most – all 2 of them. H caught one.  It’s just too bad that not one of those pretty yellow perch were big enough to keep, filet and fry!  But it was indeed a fun time, trying to snatch all those many nibbles on our lures. While out on the lake we encountered an eagle soaring high overhead and looking for his lunch with his dark wings outstretched and his bright white tail acting as his rudder, guiding him in the thermals above.   A lone loon kept diving down into the deep water and swam farther away, avoiding our curious gazes.

On one gray foggy afternoon we ventured out to find something exciting that we had not seen before.  We stopped at the Cut River Bridge parking area and walked out across the 640-foot long green cantilever steel bridge that is 147 feet above the tiny river below.  At each end of the bridge is a set of stairs and passageway under the intriguing structure, which lead to the other walkway on the opposite side of the heavily traveled road.  In one of the under bridge passages was a round topped, narrow wooden door with a brass plaque which read “ T Troll”!  On our way back, the GPS took us on a “trail” that lead thru deep green forest and then out across a wide sandy meadow. Alongside the rutted sandy trail were cars and trucks parked haphazardly every bit of the way.  They were out picking wild blueberries! So we also stopped and picked some. To complete our venture we finally saw a deer and H even stopped the truck to investigate some strange looking tracks in the soft sand.  Bear Tracks!  But we saw no bears.  Back at camp, the tiny but tasty blueberries tasted sweet on our pudding that evening!
The air has turned even cooler and the rains have moved in. Thunderstorms are threatened.  Time to move farther West on Route 2 to Indian Lake State Park, just west of Manistique.  Time for some electricity!  Our shower in the “condo” works just fine but we don’t push much water thru.  Time for a GOOD, HOT shower - - and shampoo!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mid Michigan

Enough is enough!   We’ve been home for over 2 months.  All of H’s doctor appointments and checkups have been met.   My eye surgery was April 15th and I have healed VERY well.  I can now read street signs and I can go outside without BOTH a baseball cap AND my huge sunglasses!   My garden is planted and most of the “crops” are doing great – the tomatoes have blossoms and the peas have pods.   However, H is restless and it was way past time to uncover the “condo” and take her out for a spin!   We headed NORTH up US 23!  Our first stop of the day was for breakfast at a well-known Michigan “travelers” restaurant called Tony’s.   Thru out the state they are best known for the amount of bacon served with their huge breakfasts!   H ordered eggs, potatoes and of course the bacon.  I ordered eggs and toast! They do not serve just 2 eggs but 3!   H’s week’s worth of food came out on a platter and the bacon was piled at least 10 inches high!  We split the potatoes and both gorged on the bacon and still took home a “to go” boxful and chomped on it for the rest of the week!  Off of 23 is another famous Michigan town – Frankenmuth.  It is as German as it sounds, only modern and full of tourist shops, architecture and, of course, Bronner’s Christmas Shop.  It’s always a must to park and walk from one end of downtown, across the bridge, to the other end of all the German themed shops and restaurants, checking them out as we stroll to see if anything has changed since our last visit.  Our final stop was in Bay City at the Bay City State Park.  It was Wednesday and Michigan schools are still in session so the park was pretty empty!  A few weeks from now and that won’t be the case!  When asked where in Michigan you are from, a Michigander will raise his left hand and point to a spot on the back of it!  We live in the extreme lower right at the very base of the thumb and wrist.  Bay City is just above the joint where the thumb meets the hand.  That open area is the Saginaw Bay and the thumb area is called – The THUMB!!  Go figure!  On our second day we went exploring and ended up at the tip of the thumb.  The lay of the land was extremely flat and the agriculture went from potatoes to sugar beets.
To enlarge pictures just click on a picture

When the road ran closer to the waters edge we got our views of Saginaw Bay and then as we rounded the top of the vast peninsula, we looked out over one of the 5 beautiful Great Lakes - Lake Huron.  Grand Harbor was our last stop and we had to check out their man made harbor.  A grated walkway led out over the sandy beach till it reached a massive cement breakwall that jetted out into the lake. Its long curved arm provided much needed protection for the many moored boats nestled at the marina from the wind and waves coming off the rolling blue green waters.  The winds were calm and the air was warm while we were on land but once we ventured out to the end of that wall, we were both wishing we had our jackets to ward off the cold winds.

The next leg of our adventure led us thru Midland and Mt Pleasant Michigan to a picturesque lake that was only one in an extensive chain of small pretty lakes.  Tubbs Lake State Forest Campground is not just rustic but it is PRIMITIVE.  Outhouse and pitcher pump!  Of course the “condo” has its own “facilities” and H brought the Honda generator, so we were good!   Our campsite was one of the prettiest that we have ever been blessed to park in!  Situated up on a small sandy cliff, it overlooked a lake that would make you feel like you were up in Canada!  A pair of loons floated by each morning and evening and their melodious calls floated on the quiet night air.  During the daylight hours there was a gentle breeze that kept the mosquitoes at bay. The lengthy course of the lakes and rivers that joined them were lined with cattails filled with Redwing Blackbirds or vast sections of floating waterlily pads and bright yellow lotus blooms that also had more than their share of darting, diving birds.  As we slowly cruised by one such section, I noticed a baby Canada goose all alone, while 2 families of geese were grazing up on shore.   It was stuck and was struggling to get away from the goofy looking craft that was going so close by him.  H circled back around and cut the motor. The baby was panicking and diving under water to escape!  As I grabbed him and gently lifted him out of the water, I found a fishhook stuck in its tummy and fish line cutting into its small black leg.  Once on board, he lay quietly in H’s lap while H cut the hook and removed it.   I cut the fishing line and unwound it from where it was embedded around its leg.  Back in the water, he squawked and called for his folks!  I never even got a picture till he was safely back with his family and we were back on our way. 

Our third and last stop was to another of our favorite Michigan campgrounds in Hart.  Hart is in the middle of asparagras country and we just missed their annual Asparagras Festival.  But we did not miss the Silver Lake Sand Dunes.  See Previous Michigan Blogs and you’ll see H’s truck (and previous Jeep Liberty) proudly poised at the top of the high white sand dunes!  It was a quiet day on the dunes so we aired the tires back up and went to re-visit the little touristy town of Pentwater, which sits on the shore of one of the other Great Lakes – beautiful blue Lake Michigan!  We did our usual stroll thru town and inspected the 3 story antique store before checking out the Charles Mears State Park, nestled behind a large dune on another of Lake Mich’s sandy beaches.  The whole campground is one big sandy beach!

Oh well – the rainstorms are coming in so it was time to head for home.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

NC and Tenn. Heading home

The Charleston weather was warming!  The sun was shining!  But – more rain was in the forecast.   According to the weather news from the norther’ regions – temps were rising for the weekend but more of the white stuff was on the horizon.  Time to go!  Gotta’ make it home before more precipitation hits us – the wet kind or the white kind!

Not a good camp spot
The route across SC, thru Columbia was good.  We had gone from the Low Country with all its history, and expansive salt marshes that changed from one mucky brown to another depending on if the tide was in or out, to tall sweet smelling pine forests that came right up to the highway in places.  My dear friend Sue, in Conway NC had warned me about all the ice damage that we would be seeing along the way – and we did!  All the way to Columbia the road crews were out in force trying to get all the broken limbs and downed trees cleared from the roadsides, but the lane closures caused only minimal delays and traffic was fairly light.  From the dense pine forests we moved to NC and her rising mountains!   Up and up!  Round and round!  The wide 4-lane ribbon of road took us higher and higher – and H’s big blue truck buckled down and did his job well!  We slid on past the sign that said  “Blue Ridge Parkway” and fond memories of riding the motorcycle on that beautiful road came flooding over me!

Good gas mileage the hard way
Up at the top of the mountain we passed a scenic overlook and I sighed.  I wanted to see over the edge!  And it was time for a butt break!  There was another turnout up the road and H pulled off and parked on an almost level spot near the stairs that led up even higher.   As he removed himself from his seat and walked back past the truck and attached “condo”, he immediately noticed the smoke coming from one of the wheels on the trailer.  Ouch!  It was way too hot to touch!  Black greasy stuff was splayed all over the wheel.   The wheel bearing had gone out – and we were stuck on top of a NC mountain with no towns other that Johnson City Tennessee which was 40 some miles to the north.  And there is NO cell phone service on the tops of mountains!  When the tire cooled enough, H struggled but managed to wrangle the wheel off of the axle and got it into the back of the truck.  There was a sign that said the Tennessee Welcome Center was a mile down the road.  With 4way flashers on and with only 3 tires on the “condo” we limped slowly down the berm of the road to the very welcomed visitor center!  The folks there were wonderful and bent over backwards to help us!  (Not so for the people at State Farm’s “Emergency” Road Service number tho)  With the assistance of the visitor center’s phone and their good advice, a tire and truck repair company was contacted and they ordered a semi truck with a flat bed trailer to come and scoop us off the mountain.  Before we could be “scooped” tho, H had to slowly and cautiously back his 3-legged trailer up the awaiting tilled truck bed.  The biggest concern was the height of the trailer with air conditioner on top being able to pass under the overpasses! For the first few, our thoughtful tow driver pulled off the exit ramp and down the entrance ramp on the other side.  Other times, he would put on his flashers, slow down and move to the berm to creep under each viaduct with us following closely behind.  Thankfully, our “condo” was safely carried down the road to the “Free Service Tire Company” where we would spend the night attached to an extension cord they had left out for us. 
 We were awake early Saturday morning and there were lights on inside the building, so, by 7:30am H had the truck and trailer pulled into one of the large bays.  Fresh hot coffee and a clean bathroom awaited us inside the spacious waiting room/office area!   What a great bunch of men work for this company that was started in 1919!   They had the bearing and tire we needed and the price charged was fair and very reasonable!  We were on the road by 10:30 that morning!

Across the rest of east Tennessee and the corner of Virginia and on across Kentucky to the Ohio River, we kept pushing on north.   One more cold night was needed to be spent before we could pull in our own driveway and sigh a sigh of relief!   H set the GPS for the Great Seal State Park near Chillicothe Ohio, but she took us up and around narrow hilly roads where the truck tires sent gravel flying as it tried to get traction.  No state park was found and H’s nerves were sparking with tension so we moved on.  Deer Creek State Park just west of Circleville was our second option and we parked just before dark.   We put the slide out and plugged in the heater – one more time! 

Sunday afternoon we hit the Michigan state line!  We were home!