Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

What a WONDERFUL DAY in the neighborhood!!   The sun is shining and the air is warm!  The neighbors are great!   The new ones AND the others from years past!  Fred and Barbara are English!  Deb and Bill from Indiana, Earl and Laura from Arkansas, and Ron and Katie from Pittsburgh, Pa! They have all aided in completing part of our Forest Bucket List – a campfire with roasted marshmallows!  The firewood was provided by a big dead limb that hung over our driveway AND the bright blue truck!  The storm last week brought down part of it and after that H began parking his truck in the empty drive next door.  The forestry truck finally arrived one day to finish the job and the downed limb was just enough to afford a very nice fire!

Part of the Annual Bucket List ALWAYS includes hunting for a bear or deer. Both have been accomplished!  Kayaking with the manatees has been checked off as well.  We were out sharing the experience with two young ladies, one on a paddleboard and one in a kayak but we left the water before they did.  As I looked back out over the fairly calm scene, I saw a large dark body skim the top of the water and then saw the ensuing splash as the young lady on her stand up paddle board lost her balance in the excitement of having a manatee surface that close. When she resurfaced the laughter ricocheted out over the surface of the once quiet water!!  Of course, after her struggle to regain the flat top of her board, and subdue the amount of embarrassed laughter – I added to her situation by loudly clapping and cheering from on shore!  Always glad to help!

Last week we checked off St Augustine and this week we checked off Daytona Beach. H squeezed the truck into a parking spot right by the fishing pier and boardwalk.  We took our annual stroll up and back on the wide boardwalk.  The sun was warm and inviting and lots of families were taking advantage of it!  H noticed the bungee jump had been moved to the other side of the waterfront park and we went to see what the newest ride that was with it. A huge wind generator type blade with a 2-seat bucket on each end began rotating and it was impossible to not hear the screams from the passengers being swung up and over – and over – and over. When that ride was over the bungee ride sent 2 other brave folks soaring way up high and bouncing way low – over and over!  Enough!  My stomach was queasy just watching! 

The “neighborhood” is filling up!  The nights are now lit up with lots of sparkling Christmas lights at most of the campsites.  Part of the added population is because it’s a beautiful weekend and some are just more “snowbirds” arriving!  Needless to say there was a good turnout at the Christmas Party Potluck that American Land & Leisure Company put on for the campers this afternoon!  AL&L run the office and are the maintenance folks for the Ocala National Forest Campgrounds.  Bob, the elf with the big striped slippers, has been here since the 1960’s!   Aren’t they all cute?
  I think Santa needs to put back on some weight tho!  There was plenty of delicious food and we all left with full tummies and empty dishes.  My pot of Sweet and Sour Green Beans was well received!  The only thing left in the bottom of the pot was a dibble of sweet & sour juice!

Christmas is coming!  Our afternoon is going to be enjoyed at Dick & Sharon’s always lovely home in Ocala.  It’ll be great to see Rick and Terry and John again! Our pretty little Christmas tree will be packed down, and the outdoor lights tucked away for the move down to our next stop in our winter venture.

Until our next blog conversation, please have a blessed and wonderful Christmas Holiday.  Without Jesus’ birth – there would be no reason for this or any other season!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Salt Springs Florida

Florida!  We made it and it only took 5 and a half days to do it! 

Fernandina, out on A1A was the first stop – it was lunchtime!  H found a seafood place – The Beach Diner and it reminded us both of the Anna Marie’s Oyster Bar Restaurants in the Sarasota area.  We both love Anna Marie’s and this one is good too!  To work off our excellent lunch we knew we needed to walk the main (Centre) Street of the touristy old fishing hamlet.  We did – stepping in and out of small shops, all the way to the huge antique mall at the edge of downtown and back.  Chatted with a Deputy Sheriff and then headed out of town – down condo lined A1A, across Amelia Island and onto the Talbot Islands.

Little Talbot Island State Park is old and in need of updating!  The last time we were there we were in the silver pickup truck with the popup camper.  MUCH easier to maneuver than this “train”!  Narrow and winding does not say enough.  Neither does the term “jungle”!   We wiggled into our site for the night and settled in.  The first wave of rain in the much forecast upcoming rain and cold front event hit us during the night.  When we stepped out in the morning – we were sitting in a huge swampy puddle!  H had to pull the truck and train out before I could grab the leveling ramp and chocks without wading thru the muck!

On our way towards I 295, the northern bypass around
Kingsley Plantation
Jacksonville, H found a sign for the Kingsley Plantation – the oldest plantation house still standing in Florida - and chose to turn in.  We expected a short drive to this National Park Preserve but the sandy, rutted, narrow road extended deep into the swamp for several miles before it deposited us at the St George River and the plantation itself.  Back in the late 1700’s it was the river that was used for transportation – way easier than tramping thru the jungle, dragging a 35 ft trailer!  We strolled thru the grounds and inspected the barn, the kitchen building, the main house and the slave quarters that were made out of tabby – a cement like mixture of lime from cooked oyster shells, sand and water.  This extremely interesting bit of history showed the life of Zephaniah Kingsley and his wife Anna whom he bought as a slave in Haiti.  He freed her and their children in 1811.  Spain lost control of Florida in 1821, and the laws became intolerable regarding freed people.  In 1837 he moved Anna, their 2 sons and 50 of his now freed slaves to Haiti, a free black republic, so they would not lose their freedom. 

We pressed on in the rain, up and around Jacksonville and down thru Palatka then on to Salt Springs Campground – our home for the next 2 plus weeks.  H will no longer need to hook / unhook the train each morning and evening!
Our home at Salt Springs

The Cold Front with its thunder and lightening have come and gone.  Temps are mild once more.  We’ve settled in and besides doing a lot of walking and bike riding we’re working on our “Forest Bucket List” –

1.     Day tripping: Micanopy was 1st with its antique lined streets and quaint old homes.  Coming back to camp we ended up on a sandy forest road and ran into a “road closed” 
Down town Micanopy
    sign and a detour – deep in the middle of the forest!  Go figure!

Alcazar Hotel

     Shooting skeet:  Followed by lunch at Corky Bell’s in Palatka and a jaunt to St Augustine to see their famous Christmas lights.  Since we arrived before dusk, H just had to do his annual drive on the beach!  The Old Town was festooned in millions of white lights, as was the nearby college and the 1888 Alcazar Hotel, modeled after a Moorish Castle in Southern Spain, which is now a museum and city hall.  I loved how the water splashing from the ornate fountain created all the dancing reflections.

 3.     Attendance taking:  Almost daily trips to the beautiful clear blue spring to watch the elevated water level slowly slide back down to normal  after all the previous rains!   Fat Mullet still leaped high out of the water and then resumed their position in the swirling mass of silver bodies in the massive school of fish.  Bass, bluegill and even a perch swam innocently back and forth.  Two good-sized blue crab seemed to dance as they moved under the sparkling water.  A small alligator tried to hide in plain sight in the bed of grasses at the mouth of the spring but we saw him anyway!

Tomorrow we meet Dick and Sharon for lunch in Ocala!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Heading South 2017

Friday, December 1st – our Official First Day of Winter 2017/18 arrived earlier than either one of us wanted.  Getting up at 5 AM and getting on the road before 6:30 AM is ridiculous!!  But we did it anyway.  Shut off the water, locked the door behind us and climbed up in the bright blue truck and headed south!  The day was full of sunshine and blue skies and the miles rolled on!  That is until we reached southern Ohio’s farm fields where a soft haze of fog lay in wispy layers. 

crossing the Ohio River
The closer we got to the Ohio River, the thicker the fog got. As we crossed the tall double spanned bridge, the fog stayed over the river and we drove back into the sunshine! It was as tho it was not allowed to leave Ohio!  We rolled right on past our planned 1st night’s stay in Kentucky!  Kingsport Tennessee was a push but Warriors Path State Park was our new destination.  We had camped there before on one of our ways home but this time all but one camping loop was closed off and the only site we would fit in was as uneven as you could imagine.  We used just about all of the wooden blocks we had and were still a quarter bubble off!

The next day was uneventful as we rolled along – up and around each mountain and down the other side.  I got to look out over the edges and enjoy the colorful toy train setup that was spread below in the valleys.  The distant mountains were in shades of blues and grays, cloaked in fog and low clouds!  Across North Carolina and into South Carolina we charged!   A new to us state park – Wateree Lake State Park was selected for the nights stay!  Wonderful accommodations!  Autumn was still residing in the park and across the lake were hues of oranges and yellows. 

As we stood, soaking up the peaceful scene, boats began appearing from all directions of the lake and congregating at the boat launch.  It was a catfish tournament and the fishing time was just about up.  While bass fisherman seem to require much fancier, obviously more expensive fishing equipment, this group of hardy fellows had boats that ranged from small dingy camo colored runabouts to large family oriented pontoon boats.  Unfortunately, it was cold out and we were feeling chilled so back to the warm “condo” we went without seeing or knowing what monster fish won the contest.

In the morning, instead of backtracking west to the main highway, H listened to his GPS and she took us on a winding road that sometimes was in view of the extremely lengthy reservoir/lake below us! Sometimes the road hugged each cove and sometimes it crossed over the creeks and rivers that stretched out from the main lake.   It would have been a wonderful motorcycle road!  Finally back on a state road that was actually on our map, we continued our trip towards Myrtle Beach!

Huntington Beach State Park, just south of totally touristy Myrtle Beach and Murrell’s Inlet – the restaurant lined, condo crowded, historic jetty of land, used to be the winter home of the famous sculptor – Anna Hyatt   Huntington and her philanthropical husband - Archer Huntington.  In 1930, they purchased Brookgreen and 3 adjoining plantations and began construction on “Atalaya” castle the following year.  Archer designed the square structure with an intricate covered walkway in the central courtyard, from Moorish architecture that he was fond of.  The one story brick home was to be used as a setting for Anna’s sculpture work.  Across the highway is 2,500 acre Brookgreen, which is now a Garden and Museum.  It is home to many of her famous works of art and hosts many festivals.

My dear friend Sue, whom I went to high school with, lives just northwest of Myrtle Beach and is the main reason I wanted to revisit this area!   She met us for supper on the day we arrived and chauffeured us up and down the strand of Murrells Inlet, explaining the history of the area.  We enjoyed a seafood meal at Creek Ratz Waterfront Restaurant.  “Creek Rats” are local kids who grew up playing in the swamps and marshes of the inlet!    Behind all the waterfront eating places and bars was a gaily decorated wooden boardwalk that extended for quite a ways and we strolled along it, enjoying the evening a little longer!  All the bright Christmas lights danced and sparkled on the dark water.  The next day, Sue picked me up again and we spent the day together!   Just two good friends – catching up and sharing memories and talk of kids and grandkids!  She showed me Murrells Inlet in the light of day.  We even walked the fishing pier. I got to see what her life was like in Myrtle Beach!  We even got a little shopping done!
Murrells Inlet in the light of day

The rain and cold front that has been chasing us since we started this journey was catching up and H wanted to stay ahead of it as long as we could, so, off we went again, heading south.   Charleston, SC was one option but we took the bypass and kept going – Georgia was now on H’s mind and Savannah was the new destination!  Skidaway Island State Park is OLD and is in need of repair but is always a good stop over for the night!  Parked and secured, we left the condo in a handy pull thru site and headed for historic downtown Savannah.  This old town is decorated for Christmas and the cobblestone road by the river’s edge was fairly full of shoppers and even a few street entertainers vying for attention. The next morning we headed straight on down hectic I 95 and crossed into Florida just before noon!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Michigan's West Coast

By now you should know that when the maple trees in our side yard start to turn red at the top, fading to orange then yellow and still keeping the green leaves secure at the bottom – it’s time for H to plan a trip – somewhere – anywhere!  Would it be Maine this year?  Boston?  Pennsylvania?   An interesting state park in Illinois that we just learned about or back up to see the colors of Michigan?  Yep!  Michigan and its gorgeous coastline, deep forests and unique lighthouses and famous sand dunes won again!
Ludington Lighthouse

During the wonderful summer months, Ludington State Park is FULL to the brim with gaggles of camping families and vacationers so it is impossible to get a site.  After Labor Day it’s different and we managed to get a good site for a couple of days!  The Big Sable Lighthouse is located within the park and the Big Sable River runs right thru the park and empties into the great expanse of Lake Michigan.  Entering the park along the coast of Lake M is reminiscent of driving along the peninsula of the Gulf Shores National Seashore Park in the panhandle of Florida – blowing and drifting sand everywhere!   This sand is lovely pink/beige instead of the glistening white of the Gulf!  In downtown Ludington, the gigantic passenger/auto freighter, the SS Badger, was not traversing the 60 miles from Manitowoc Wisconsin to Ludington this day because the waves were 18 ft tall!  At the end of the ½ mile long cement breakwall the imposing 57 ft tall, steel plated North Breakwater Lighthouse guards the Pere Marquette harbor and downtown Ludington.
M 22 Overlook
When we started this journey north, the weather was cool and damp. Heavy rains and winds came during our 1st night (hence the 18 ft waves) but on Sunday as we ventured farther north the sun was bright and promising! On Rt 22 is a “Scenic Turnout” sign that failed to mention just how many steps one has to climb to get to the tippy top of the wooden stairs and thankfully secure decking on the top!  I made it – slowly, one step at a time up those 100 steps and kept reminding myself to breathe!  The view of the skyline above the treetops, the road that lay behind us, and the many shades of blue that is Lake Michigan was well worth the effort!

15 minutes out of Platte River Campground, a phone call confirmed that there were only 2 available “walk in” sites in that Sleeping Bear National Park Campground.  One was going to be ours for awhile!   Site 212 was level and long enough for the truck and train.  To find the park, using your left hand as the map of the “Mitten of Michigan” - Sleeping Bear is at the last joint of your little finger!!
The dark water is Platte River Salmon

As the Big Sable River runs thru Ludington State Park, the clear waters of the Platte run thru the southern edge of the Sleeping Bear National Dunes, not far from the roadway to the Platte River Campground and the beautiful beach at the Lake Michigan Park at the end of the road.  Between the campground road and the beach parking lot, there are two small gravel roads that lead back to the river.  At the end of one of those dusty paths is a small dam like affair called a weir.  In the summer months the gate in the weir is kept open.  The tubers and kayakers just paddle on thru on their way to the lake.  In the fall however, the gate is closed during the salmon run when the mature Lake Michigan fish return upstream to spawn in the same place as they were born.  Swarms of huge dark fish gather at the lakeside of the weir, fighting the current and trying to follow their instinct and swim upstream. On this sunny warm weekend day, the kayakers were out in full force and now had to portage around the metal dam.  Parents were letting their small children wade in the water, chasing the frantic fish.  Little did they realize that some of those hormone-crazed fish already had hooks and barbs stuck in their mighty jaws from previous encounters!  Had those fish rubbed against those tender little legs with 2 of those 3-pronged barbs still sticking out . . . . I shudder to think about it!  The guard at the small office showed us a day’s collection of hooks taken out of the fish caught in ONE day the previous week.  We toured the fish hatchery in nearby Honor and then returned to watch in amazement as hordes of huge dark fish in the race were lifted up by a huge rake affair and unceremoniously flipped into large tote like boxes to be shipped off for processing.  The selected fish that were allowed to pass thru the capture process swam upstream to the weir at the hatchery and their eggs and milt were collected before they would die.   All of the fish – the ones captured and the ones allowed to pass thru die after spawning.  By harvesting them – the pristine river would not be polluted by the mega amount of dead fish carcasses.
Pointe Betsie lighthouse

The rest of our time “Up North” included visiting other iconic lighthouses – the 1851 Grand Traverse Bay at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula, the 1853 Pointe Betsie which sits at the top of a massive cement embankment, White river, Muskegon South Pier, Grand 
Traverse Bay Lighthouse
Haven and of course the "Big
Red" Lighthouse in Holland.

While in the dunes area a MUST Do is the scenic drive thru the heart of the Sleeping Bear National Park.  From our very first ride thru the park, back in our motorcycle days – the views and the drive NEVER disappoint.  From the tall wooden observation platform, high up over the dunes you can see the shrinking “Mother Bear” dune watching out over the lake for her two cubs – the 2 Manitou islands in the distance.  Sadly time and erosion have diminished her size.  Also from the high perch, you can lean on the sturdy railing and watch the fool hearty folks quickly descend the steep dune and then struggle to slowly creep back up the steep loose sand!
The little black dots are people on the dunes

From our last campsite at the Fisherman’s Landing City Park Campground in Muskegon, our fall venture was cut short due to the inclement weather that arrived.  We were on the northern edge of the deluge of rain and strong winds so we missed the 6-8 inches of rain that dumped just south of us. Luckily, on our way back home we were mostly eastbound being pushed from behind by the 20-30 mph winds!
Fisherman's Landing campground
We’re safely home and all is well!  The train is ready for travel again in just over a month.  The gardens are about ready for winter – just in time for our first frost and falling leaves!   See you next trip, dear friends!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Northern Michigan week 2

I have gone back and re-read our July/August blogs from the last 2 years!  Last years trip and story about Petosega is just about the same as this year’s!  We are still in awe of God’s gorgeous landscapes that he calls Northern Michigan!  Every time we come rolling over a certain hill on the way to Petoskey and the agriculture quilt-block of farm fields open up before us, I catch my breath! Yes, I do get the camera out and ready but there is no chance of catching that vision on film.  First are the fields of dark brown horses, then the curve of the road in the sunshine. Past that are the fields of golden grain, perfectly straight rows of vegetables and the yellow tassels that top the ripening corn that stand calmly, surrounding the picturesque red barns.  Past all that are more hills and the first glimpse of Petoskey and the blue waters of Lake Michigan.  Once again we found ourselves strolling along the waterfront parks, admiring the harbor and expanse of blue beyond.
Petoskey Harbor
And once again we enjoyed a wonderful Polish dinner at the Polish Kitchen – this time with our hometown neighbors, C&T and their handsome son, Nate who was up visiting them from Georgia!

Harbor Springs is another beautiful, historic town that sits on the opposite bank of the bay and can be seen from the harbor in Petoskey!  Both towns have quaint tourist shops that line the downtown areas and manicured grounds and gardens along the walkways by the bay.  We arrived just in time to observe a sailing lesson for a handful of soon to be dare
Harbor Springs
devil sailors in their little white “bathtub” boats with their bright blue and white sails!  The little fiberglass vessels at first looked indestructible but the longer we watched – we realized they were tip-able after all!!  After many near misses and even more almost tips – one small craft did finally go bottoms up and the young crew ended up in the cold water!  Not to worry – everyone had life jackets on and the adult instructors were there quickly to rescue the crew and teach them how to right their upside down craft.  All ended well!

This north shoreline is it’s own protection from the west and north winds so  docks stretch on for the length of the town!  Some docks were lined with small rubber landing boats that serviced the many anchored boats that dotted the bay. Some docks had the average sized sailboats or motor powered runabouts. Then there were the docks that had the yachts pristinely moored to their chocks!  The  “Seaquest” is owned by the son of Dick and Betsy DeVos, the founders of Amway.   Built in 2008 and at 163 ft, it is valued at $40 million!  On another dock was the “Lukousarus” out of Boca Raton, Fl and is valued at $1.69 million.  Handsome young men in matching white attire were busily “swabbing” her decks and polishing all her chrome!

Our stay was drawing to an end and we still wanted to go find our “old” neighbors who had sold their home and moved up to Sault Saint Marie!  Thursday arrived and the forecast was for clouds and possible rain so we made a beeline for the Mighty Mackinac Bridge and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The winds were kicking up and the precipitation was coming down but we got in line with the rest of the rain soaked vehicles and drove out onto the 5-mile long, famous suspension bridge.   At first we drove on the outside lane – the SOLID CEMENT outside lane!  Road repairs then moved us all to the inside lane – the OPEN GRATED METAL inside lane – where it felt as tho the van tires were wiggling from side to side and if you looked down you could see the white caps on the water - some hundred or so feet below! 
Thru St Ignace with a stop for pasties and then we were back on I 75 north - 60 miles to the “Soo”.   From memory we remembered part of their address and how to find their 3-story home near downtown and lucked out and found them almost right away!  A wonderful visit included the grand tour of their “work in progress” remodeling project before we bid adieu and headed out once more.

On Friday the sun was shining again and we “headed out once more” – heading south towards home – just “towards” home!  We still had two more nights out!  Wilson State Park is in Harrison Michigan on the NW edge of Budd Lake.  We vaguely remembered camping there in the past but it was way too far in the past to remember much – other than it is right across the road from the fairgrounds.  We arrived late Friday morning and the loop we were assigned was beginning to fill up with great groups of tents and Ninja Warriors on their little two wheelers!  By Friday evening we were surrounded!!  Green Ninja Turtle bike helmets with red sashes and orange sashes were zooming around and around the camping loop!  We were getting dizzy!

The boat launch to this lake is on the opposite side of the lake but we found it and launched quickly and easily.   On our tour around the lake we each caught 2 fish but H’s 2 could have passed for bait instead of supper!  Not a problem – we tossed them all back anyway and headed out to the local restaurant for their fish dinner!

Sunday came early and we headed home – retracing our journey back down the way we came.  It’s always fun to go but it is good to come home!  We’ll be doing this again so check back to see where the “tan train” wanders next!

Monday, July 31, 2017

UP North

Camp Petosega
While in Florida, you know I like to refer to things that we’ve done in the past or places we’ve been before with SPFB – See Previous Florida Blog. Well, every late July, early August we’re up in Northern Michigan or even over the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula.  So, here it is – SPMB!!   This is not our first time to this beautiful, well cared for Emmet County Park called PETOSEGA on the SE shore of Pickerel Lake.   Each campsite is spacious and separated from the next by Birch, Poplar, Maple, and/or Pine trees with lush undergrowth.  The grounds are mowed and watered. The modern playground areas are cushioned with heavy rubber padding.  There is even a tiny museum - housed in the rear of one of the 7 rental cabins!  The long narrow beach is not nearly as spectacular as the ones in Florida but it is shallow for the kids and gives a wonderful view of the lake!

Pickerel Lake is connected to the Inland Water Route – the 40-mile stretch of lakes and rivers between Cheboygan on Lake Huron and Conway, which is about 2 miles from connecting to Lake Michigan.  We fished Pickerel Lake and H caught a small Pike, which quickly got tossed back in.  We ran the boat up and around Crooked Lake and Crooked River to the Dam/Lock and back.  The next time we trailered it to Burt Lake and headed
towards the always-interesting Indian River.  The same antique boat houses still house antique wooden boats with fascinating names and the still well cared for colorful quaint cottages, still have layers of flowers and rock formations, Tiki Bars and monster pontoon boats moored along side or in custom boat slips, notched into the breakwall.  Under I 75, then we zig zagged along between the green and red channel markers leading the way thru the tall sawgrass marsh to Mullett Lake.  The signs still say “Wildlife Area” and we did get to see Loon parents and their 2 teenage children before they ducked under the dark water.  Of course there were also the swan families and the always-present groups of Canada Geese bobbing in the small wakes of the passing boats!  Out on the huge Mullett Lake, the winds and waves were too much for even this trusty little Tracker fishing boat so we swung around and headed back up the river.  As we rounded one curve in town we came upon a group of tentative teenagers who must have been debating as to whether they should jump into the cold water and chilling currant or not.  So I helped them along by yelling: “ Go Ahead – JUMP!”   And they did!!!

Of course, we’ve been out revisiting our other favorite spots in this historic and scenic county at the very tip of the “Mitt of Michigan”!  A ride down the coast to and thru Walloon Lake to have lunch with friends in Boyne City was first.  We wandered in and thru historic downtown Petoskey and “had to” stroll along the waterfront and inspect the vast collection of boats in the well-secured harbor.  Last year it was boys who were doing the fancy dives off the protecting breakwall – this year it was the girl’s turn!   It rained the whole time we were in Mackinaw City but we had our rain-jackets in the truck so enjoying the walk to Skalawags for whitefish lunch was NO problem!  The Mighty Mac Bridge was shrouded in mist and light fog!  From there a swing down the Huron side of the “mitt” to Cheboygan included a stop at the still over cluttered junk store in town!  We even bought a movie since the TV reception is nihl up here.

No trip north would be complete without a visit to the “Red Roof Inn” – the log home of M&D up on Paradise Lake!  We missed having B&C with us since the 3 “boys” grew up together in Swanton Twp as kids and makes the visit even more fun!  We girls always have fun together!  The good food and good company had to come to an end tho since the sun was starting to slip to the horizon. The sighting of a timid deer as we left their tiny back road home was our exclamation point to a really good day!

Our stay up here in the north woods still has more lunches out with more friends from home, more boat rides and MORE fishing!  From here we move south to another Michigan State Park and MORE exploring before we make the final run for home!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Northern Michigan

We’re loaded and we’re ready to go.  No – wait – gotta fix the boat trailer lights.   Now, we’re ready – here we go.  No – wait – gotta stop and fix the burnt out bulb in the “train” back light.  OK, Now we’re finally on our way NORTH!  Our route this year has mirrored our trip last year – across on Rt 50, up Rt 52 and onto Rt 127.  It’s SO much easier than fighting traffic back- ups and potholes on US 23 thru and around Ann Arbor. 
S. Higgins Lake St. Park

Houghton Lake and neighboring Higgins Lake have 3 state park campgrounds with a combined 700 campsites between them – all of which were filled for the weekend so H’s choice for a place to park for 4 nights was West Houghton Lake Campground on Old Rt 127.  While there is nothing special about this unassuming campground it’s best feature is the green grass and the proximity of the DNR boat launch right across the road!  On Weds afternoon, as soon as we were parked and leveled in the lumpy green grass, we launched the Tracker and headed out to explore the southern end of the lake.  On Thursday the wind whipped up so we headed out to survey the surrounding countryside and back roads, leaving the boat and trailer behind.  A drive thru each of the 3 state parks confirmed their popularity!   It’s a good thing we added the Michigan Parks Passport sticker to our van’s license fee this year!  We’ve gotten our money’s worth out of it already – boat ramps and inquisitive drives thru state parks!

Houghton Lake is shallow with olive green water.  Higgins Lake, 11 miles to the north is the opposite with crystal clear DEEP blue water with 22 miles of shoreline.  While Houghton Lake is on average under 10 feet deep – Higgins Lake depths are mostly double digit with the 1st digit being between a 5 and a 9!  We launched at the DNR site on the west side of the north lake and cruised easily around Flynn Island (See the map of the lake!) and aimed the boat towards the state park on the south shore.  A dredged channel with green and red buoys on either side led the way thru the shallow clear water along the shoreline to the protected harbor.   On the cream colored sand, a group of wedding goers were gathering to celebrate a couple’s vows!  Their white and khaki clothing silhouetted against the blue water and the bluer sky!  It was hard for the sweet little girls in their long white sundresses to stay away from the beckoning sand and rocks by the waters edge!
Crossing back over the still calm waters, we passed between several boats that were anchored and fishing.  Look at the map again and see what looks like an island in the southern end – that is a shallow area that is under only 1ft of water!  As we neared it and saw the bottom getting closer – I actually SAW several good sized fish as they darted away from the disturbance the boat was causing!  H pivoted the boat around and we retraced our path back to deeper water and then drifted – casting our favorite lures out and letting them fall deep in the water before reeling them back to the boat.  BAM!   I caught one!  BAM!  H caught one too!  This was repeated until we had enough Rock Bass for a meal!  Those scrappy little fish with the bright red eyes are fun to reel in and even better to fry up in Bisquick and Beer!  Sweet and mild!  Alas – the sun was hot and we were too so we took our day’s catch and headed back to camp.  H had fish to clean!

Saturday’s weather forecast was rain.  The storms that were predicted had passed us by but we did wake up to a gentle rain on the roof.  That meant breakfast out!  Roscommon is north and east of Houghton Lake and east, across US Rt 75 from Higgins Lake.  One of our favorite breakfast spots on trips in the past was a little German CafĂ© right in the center of town. This old building leaned at such an angle that even back then we thought the windows would crack and the building would fall over!  It is still there but is now Roscoe’s Restaurant.  They no longer serve potato pancakes that used to draw us in but their breakfast plates were piled high with delicious food.  Even my weird sounding MEATLOAF Scramble was yummy!
While in town we found a very busy canoe/kayak launch site on the South Branch of the AuSable River.  We watched as several novice groups of landlubbers attempted to climb ungraciously into the narrow, wobbly kayaks.  It was only after the last of them headed awkwardly down the river and we had returned to the van that I realized that I did bring the camera and it was in the van!!  Back to the river for pictures – without any kayak craziness!  That was found farther downriver!  We happened upon another smaller launch site and found that some inexperienced canoeists were stuck cross wised in the river, causing such a traffic jam like 5 o’clock traffic in the big city!  As more and more kayaks, tubes and canoes came downstream – the boat jam got worse!

Houghton Lake

Since H had forgotten to take his drone with us on Thursday’s day of exploration – we needed to go back to the DNR boat launch and take some pictures high up over this end of the lake.  The sky was dark but  - not to worry – this storm passed us over also!  And see the bridal party waiting
to have their pictures taken?  (Bottom left) It must be the weekend for weddings!  It’s also the weekend for us to move farther north!  Tomorrow’s the day!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Southern Ohio In June

A trip south!   Well, southern Ohio!  I75 out of Toledo is now 3 lanes but the construction is not totally done and the amount of overloaded semi trucks still rumble and roar down that road.  St Rt 68 was our preferred choice and the well-groomed fields and historic old towns were much more enjoyable!  H chose John Bryan State Park for our first nights stay.

John Bryan St Pk is one of the first state owned parks and sits between Yellow Springs and Clifton on the Little Miami River Gorge.  Ohio State Parks have no water hookups at the individual sites and this state park has only latrines – no showers, no flush toilets.  However – the sites are spacious and the campground is located on the crest of several rolling hills, which made up for everything else!    Yellow Springs is known for its liberal arts college – Antioch College and its alumni Rod Sterling (Twilight Zone) and Leonard Nimoy!  3 miles east of John Bryan Park is historic Clifton and the still operating 1802 mill that bears its name. The Clifton Gorge Mill sits ON the edge of a shallower portion of the gorge.  The Mill now has a restaurant and gift shop.  The Mill is hung with millions of white lights that are lit each Christmas season.  Next to the mill is a covered bridge, which afforded a great place for pictures of the shallow gorge, waterfalls and water wheel.
Caesar Creek St. Park

I thought we were in Florida – the heat and humidity was present and our “move down the road” the next morning was a lengthy 28 miles from John Bryan St Park to Caesar Creek St Park!  While northern Ohio is as flat as a pancake, the southern part of this beautiful state is all rolling hills covered in magnificent woodlands, limestone cliffs and meandering rivers – including the Little Miami River, which has a earthen dam at the southern end of the lake.  The Caesar Creek area was named for a black slave captured by the Shawnee on a raid to the Ohio River.  They adopted him and gave him the valley as his hunting ground.  The valley was impounded in 1978 by the Army Corps of Engineers to assist in the flood control of the Little Miami River watershed.  The 4,700 acre park was dedicated soon after.

Each day was full of exploring the different sites in the park along with trips to nearby Lebanon, Dayton - even Cincinnati and Covington Kentucky!  In Lebanon – I finally got to eat at the site of Ohio’s Oldest Inn!   “The Golden Lamb” was established in 1803 and in 1815 a two-story Federal style brick building replaced the original log tavern.  Our lunch was great but even greater was knowing that the likes of Mark Twain, Dewitt Clinton, Charles Dickens, Wm Henry Harrison and Ulysses S Grant also ate and slept there! Guests are encouraged to explore the upper floors of the building and to look into the uniquely furnished rooms with the name of the famous visitor who stayed there!
Carillon Park

In Dayton, H was in his glory – reliving all the trips he and his fellow NCR co workers made there in order to learn their life’s trade!  National Cash Register has now moved to Atlanta Georgia and their old headquarters complex is now the University of Dayton!   The former education and dorm campus is now the campus of a Christian school!  Our first major stop on that day’s list of places to revisit was one of Dayton’s best known landmarks - Carillon Historical Park – directly across the street from the original HQ buildings and easily seen from the I75 expressway nearby!   This 151 ft tall carillon with 57 bells was a gift of Colonel Edward Deeds (past NCR Chairman & founder of the Delco Corp) and his wife Edith who was inspired by carillon music she heard on a trip to Europe.  Her carillon was completed in 1942 and its beautiful music can be heard yet today.  Colonel Deeds opened the historical park with displays that focused on Dayton’s transportation, industrial and inventive history.  Our favorites were:  the history of NCR and the collection of 90+ cash registers, the building that houses the history of the 1913 Great Flood that destroyed most of Dayton and of course everything of the Wright Brothers! 
Cinci River Front Park

Our jaunt to Cinci was on sometimes winding but always scenic state roads so to avoid the always-hectic I75.  We ended up on Rt 52 – right along the massive Ohio River and right into a busy downtown!  We were surprised to see all the pedestrians who were heading towards the river – most of whom where attired in the color RED!  We soon realized that there was a baseball game between the Cinci REDS and the LA Dodgers at their waterfront stadium. (Cinci lost by one point!)  Over just ONE of the many bridges that cross the massive Ohio River to Covington, we found a good spot for a great view of the impressive skyline of the expansive city we had just left! 

Also, another sight that is in clear view of I75 is the old German Mainstrasse Village and it’s stately red brick clock tower.  There happened to be a 3-day festival going on, so several blocks were closed to vehicle traffic but wide open to pedestrians and to all the beer, food and other various vendors!

We came  - We saw – We took pictures!  Monday arrived – still hot and muggy with a promise of rain so we hitched up the “train” and headed north once more.    Our next venture will be even farther north!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Spring Time Day Trips

Florida seems like such a long time ago!  Here it is the middle of June!

The “tan train” has been back to the factory again - - but now it’s better than brand new!!!  The folks at the Forest River Repair facility in Goshen went above and beyond H’s expectations on fixing the trailer – even tho it is out of warranty! 

Of course, when we went to pick up the trailer – we couldn’t just drag it back home without stopping for an overnight stay somewhere!!  That “somewhere” happened to be the Elkhart County Fairgrounds Campground, which was about 2 miles from the repair facility.  A nice overnight place to stay - - with very clean bathrooms and parking pads that were long enough to accommodate both the trailer and the truck. While the sites were not overly large – they were still ample.  And plenty of freshly mowed green grass!!

Goshen is the RV/Trailer Capitol so everywhere you looked there were parking lots FUILL of RV’s waiting to be delivered.  Once out of town the countryside was rolling hills occupied by neat and tidy Amish farms, complete with black buggies and fields of grazing horses and black and white milk cows.
Linton Gardens 
Just north of Goshen and neighboring Elkhart, we found Linton Gardens, a spacious garden and gift store, surrounded by sprawling acres of various displays of uniquely named bushes, flowers and trees!  Interspersed were child sized Victorian houses and Oriental buildings and even a petting zoo in one far corner.   Inside the huge gift shop, the aisles meandered in and out of smaller rooms, each with it’s own unusual theme – from fairies to ferns and from succulents to shoes!!!  What patience H exhibited while I browsed!!!

Our other trips have all been of the “day” variety and mostly involved the boat and fishing!  Each week we’ve attempted to spend a day out and about – not worrying about the yard, the garden or the house.  We’ve revisited some of our favorite picturesque inland lakes that dot the landscape in southern Michigan!  On Evans Lake in the rolling hills of Irish Hills, H caught 2 fish and I caught 5 - all catch and release because Michigan’s Bass Season was not open yet!  North Lake – appropriately named is north of Ann Arbor and was calm and serene when the Tracker was slid into the water the next week.  We caught a few sweet pictures of some of the many doting swan parents and their fluffy gray, pretty soon to be white, cygnets!   This time H caught 5 fish and I only caught 2.  While we normally have the fun little contest of who catches the first, who catches the most and who catches the biggest – by far I believe this “mama” takes that prize!  It’s a good thing H had the net with us!  She was/is too big to eat and it still wasn’t open season so, yes, she is also back in her lake!   On Center Lake, between Napoleon and Michigan Center, the lake was SO weedy that we got tired of catching
North Lake
“GRASS pike” and only a few small bass.  That day we called it quits early and headed back home.  Our last fishing day was on another favorite lake – Baw Beese Lake up in Hillsdale.  It was a coolish day to begin with but the winds were so strong that H had the engine turned all the way to one side and still had trouble keeping the boat going straight.  No fish on that lake but after lunch we stopped at Bird Lake - a little further down and on a backcountry road.  Once the boat was in the water, I told H, “OK, so catch a fish!”    And he did!  I teased him that it was the first time I had told him to do something and he actually did as he was told!!   Giggle!!

My Gnome Village is all back in place amongst the clusters of hostas and the other small plants under the protection of the tall Spruce tree.  The noisy wrens are darting in and out of their house that hangs from a low limb.  The newest additions to the village are a Mickey Mouse and an antique looking red mailbox!   Mickey came from a second hand store in Florida!  In his previous life he was a sippy cup from Disney World!  Now he is the official “G’Nome Land” Greeter and stands under an arch made of children’s Duplo plastic building blocks!  The mailbox is a birdhouse from Joann’s and now has a red button covering the entry hole!  See – it even matches the red “telephone booth”!  Of course there is a snail by the mailbox and a gnome with a laptop sitting by the phone booth!  - - OF COURSE!!!

The vegetable garden is all planted and almost all mulched with layers of newspapers and grass clippings to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. We’ve cut back a little on the amount of tomato plants this year – only 14 and 5 varieties.  The plethora of gorgeous spring flowers has all faded.  The poppies are big, bright and beautiful but they too will soon be gone.  The summer’s collection of lilies and coneflowers are just budding. The ever-growing amount of weeds is momentarily under control.  The bugs have been sprayed for and the flowerbeds all fertilized.   Now it’s time to pack the “train” and head out for another adventure!  We’re heading for south central Ohio.  Wish we could see you there!