Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Quiet Week

Well, we're not quite sure what happened, beyond a guess that an automatic update to Windows must have occurred at some point, which reset some of the connections to the internet. We've got those straightened out, and now seem to be buzzing along fine again. In fact, 4G has rolled out in areas around here, and every now and then the aircard picks up on it. Between 4G and using Google Chrome, it feels just as fast as the cable modem did back in the sticks n'bricks!

Last weekend it was still pretty hot, although not in the 100's like it was the day we went to see "Harry Potter". It kept things low-key around here, and I spent my hours in the park store cleaning shelves, re-organizing merchandise, and getting orders ready to go in on Monday. Lorraine is also teaching me to make "swirlies" out of plastic canvas, and I'll take a picture to show you all. They're pretty neat, simple decorations to hang from your awning, and we're putting up some in the cafe as decorations. Some of the campers here were watching us make them, and expressed an interest in learning, so Monday morning I'm going down to Michael's to pick up some supplies, and we'll be doing a class on Monday afternoon. Should be fun!

Tuesday was sunny and warm, but the humidity was way down so it encouraged us to go out for a walk. We drove to Brighton Recreation Area about 20 minutes away, and walked the 2-mile Brighton-Katchin trail. It was a pleasant walk through gently rolling woodlands, and reminded me of our walks behind the Noyac Golf Course back on Long Island. There wasn't much in the way of scenery, but it was quiet and secluded, and there were many songbirds out and singing. The trail head started in the day use parking area, and I walked over to check out this imaginative way to disguise a damaged tree that needed to be cut down:

The detail in the carving was quite impressive! I took a couple shots of Bishop Lake, and the swimming/picnic area was quite crowded on this hot sunny day.

Wednesday after I finished at the park store, we drove over to Pinckney and had a visit with Lorraine and Doug at their home on the lake. It was really nice there, houses along the canal leading into the lake. It was drizzly, but we still decided to go for a ride along the lake in their pontoon boat. I don't have any pictures as I had forgotten my camera, but it was really neat, and the houses along one section of a canal were beautiful. We anchored in "the shallows" to let the dogs go out for a swim, which they thought was great! I was surprised to learn that the shallows were actually in the middle of the lake, which just seemed bizarre to me. Threatening thunder and a distant bolt of lightning cut short the exploration, and we headed back in for a quick dinner of burgers and baked beans. Thanks Doug and Lorraine!

Both Wednesday and Thursday nights we had horrific thunderstorms, the worst we've had since setting out on the road. There were times the rumbles shook the entire trailer. Poor Chelsea was in the shower most of the night Thursday, and we didn't sleep too well either! They went on all night long, and some campers here who didn't put their awnings up before going to bed found themselves without awnings in the morning!Our screen room held up just fine again, it's one tough little screen room! Lightning actually hit the guard booth at some point over night, frying the system that opens and lowers the gate by the proximity cards. They had to replace the motherboard in the computer for that yesterday.

So far the weekend has been nice, sunny and hot again. The storms seem to have brought the humidity back! So I'm selling a lot of ice and ice cream. The wedding hall is very busy with weddings this weekend, along with a family reunion, and tomorrow I understand band camp is arriving for the week. That should be interesting :-). I took a picture of the garden toy I had bought back in Glen Arbor:
We call him "Kevin" because he looks like the giant bird in the Disney movie "Up", one of our favorite movies. He's stuck in the planter box I have by my steps. I also got a new window for my entry door:

There was a member here who does these stained glass windows as a side job, and has all his materials and tools in a utility trailer he tows behind his motorhome. This is supposed to be the Cape Hatteras lighthouse at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He'll also take a any picture you have and duplicate it in a window, but of course that's much more expensive. I was happy with this one, and it makes the trailer seem more of my own.

We have no big plans for this coming week again. Al has played golf with two other workampers, Bill and Shirley, and really likes the course. One of the workamper perks here is passes to play golf on the resorts course, The Majestic. They can play the last 9 holes of the 27 hole course for free, which is really nice. Al says the course is beautiful, and says I should come along for the ride one day with my binoculars as there are birds everywhere. I just might do that. Next Thursday we may take a ride over towards Lansing, where there's a park with a hike they call "The Ledges". We'll see how hot it is! Our next road trip isn't until the second week of August when we are going over towards Silver Lake State Park on Lake Michigan. We do need to watch the budget on these side trips, fuel is still expensive! And we are planning on heading up to Pictured Rocks National Shoreline in the U.P. right after Labor Day. 

That's about it for now. Mostly working and staying close to the campground. I'll hopefully have more exciting pictures coming along soon. Until then, don't get bogged down in the "dog days of August"!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Blogger Issues

Just a quick note to let everyone know we are fine. I was having some issues with blogger and picasa, and now we are having connection issues with the laptop, so something funky is going on. Other than that, all is fine here!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heat, Ford and Harry

Today, like much of the country, was a completely miserable hot and humid day. Temperatures were forecast to reach 100 degrees, with the heat index over 110. I have been repeatedly assured by native Michiganers that this is NOT normal, but it doesn't make anyone feel cooler! Our original plan for our day off today was to drive down to Ann Arbor and stroll around the Ann Arbor Street Art fair, but with these temperatures we decided that would definitely be a BAD idea. Since the dogs were already booked at Camp Bow Wow for the day, we chose to go back to the Henry Ford Museum, and take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. We did not have enough time to do this tour the last time we were there, and an indoor tour sounded really good :-).

The Rouge Factory is the first factory of its kind in America. Henry Ford had realized quickly that he needed to be able to produce his autos faster than he was able to in order to grow the business to meet demand. he developed the first assembly line method of construction, and conveyors to bring parts down to the production floor. he also wanted to become self-sufficient, in that he did not want to have to slow production because they were waiting for parts. So he created plants that would utilize raw materials shipped in to make their components right on property. Power plants, blast furnaces, foundries, glass-making plants, anything that was needed to make any component of an automobile was added to the Rouge plant. At its peak in the 1930's, the Rouge plant covered more than 2000 acres and employed over 100,000 people.
This blog will be short on pictures, as photography through most of the tour is prohibited. There are 6 stations to explore at the facility. There's 2 theaters, the Legacy Theater which goes through the history of the Rouge, and the Art of Manufacturing Theater which chronicles the marvel of modern-day manufacturing, showing every step from vehicle conception to the final roll-off of the assembly line. Stations 3 and 6 go together, the Observation Deck and the Living Laboratory Tour, which showcases some of the Rouge's environmental innovations. Station 4 is the Assembly Plant, where you walk an elevated walkway above the Dearborn Truck Plant's lean and flexible assembly line. This was extremely interesting, and we were fortunate enough to be visiting while the Ford F-150's were being assembled. The viewing platforms total about 1/3 of a mile, and takes about an hour to walk around to allow for adequate time to observe the various assemblies taking place. There are also short videos along the route showing how they do such things as installing the components of the doors, the tire assembly, and so many other things. It was really quite fascinating, even for a non-automotive person :-).

Station 5 is the Legacy gallery, with historical vehicles made at the Rouge on display, including the 20 millionth Ford produced.

At the end of the tour, we hopped back on a bus to take us back over to the Henry Ford Museum. We had also bought tickets to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II" at the IMAX theater in the museum, (in 3D!!) so we had about an hour to kill before the movie started. We went down to the Michigan Cafe in the Museum to find some lunch. let me tell you, there are many places that could take a lesson on how to run a cafeteria from this one! It was clean, well organized, a really nice selection of food to choose from, reasonably priced, and the food was downright tasty! Al had an open-faced pulled pork sandwich on a thick slice of bread, with a thick creamy mac n'cheese for a side, and I had cheddar sliders with caramelized onions, and the mac n'cheese as well. It was a lot of food to eat, and was very good. It was too much food, actually, as we had no room for any of the yummy looking desserts at the dessert table!

After poking around the museum store for a bit, we headed over to the theater, and got in line for the movie. I loved the banners hanging over the queue:

The movie was excellent, and so much fun to see on a 3D large format screen. It also amazed me that it was a totally different movie-watching experience here from in New York. In new York, people are constantly doodling around with cell phones, texting during the movie, talking, and constantly moving around. here, everyone sat down, the lights went down, and everyone watched the movie! No talking, no jumping up and down, no cell phones. It was lovely :-)!

So, that was our day off this week. A couple of good activities to do indoors on an unbearably hot day. I hope for all our friends and family on the east coast that this intense heat wave isn't quite as bad once it gets there. Be careful, drink lots of water, and we'll see what happens next week. Hopefully, we'll get some cooler weather to go visit some new parks around here :-).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore became a park on October 21, 1970, encompassing 35 miles of the Michigan shoreline as well as two wilderness islands. Within the parks boundaries are 26 inland lakes, more than 80 ponds, 8 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a lighthouse and more than 100 miles of trails, among many other natural and historic features. It was a lot to cover in one day, but we hit the highlights, and one could easily spend their entire vacation in the area, finding many activities to occupy oneself with!

"The park is named after a Chippewa legend of the sleeping bear. According to the legend, an enormous forest fire on the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter, determined to reach the opposite shore. After many miles of swimming, the two cubs lagged behind. When the mother bear reached the shore, she waited on the top of a high bluff. The exhausted cubs drowned in the lake, but the mother bear stayed and waited in hopes that her cubs would finally appear. Impressed by the mother bear's determination and faith, the Great Spirit created two islands (North and South Manitou Island) to commemorate the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the sands of the dunes where she waits to this day. The "bear" was a small tree-covered knoll at the top edge of the bluff that, from the water, had the appearance of a sleeping bear. Wind and erosion have caused the "bear" to be greatly reduced in size over the years. Today only a small remnant remains." (Wikipedia). 

We started out at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire MI, to buy our day pass into the Lakeshore ($10.00) and pick up maps. Our first stop was the Empire Bluff Trail, pet-friendly, and set out through the trees on a 1 1/2 mile walk to the bluffs.
After walking uphill through the woods for quite awhile, we reached the boardwalk along the bluffs.

The view of the shoreline culminating in the massive 450 foot dunes we will see up close later. South Bar Lake on on the right hand side, separated from Lake Michigan by the sandbar.

After the Great Lakes were formed by the glaciers, an ideal setting for the formation of sand dunes was left behind. Prevailing westerly winds blow across the lake and hit the sandy coast on the windward side of Michigan. Two kinds of dunes are built in Sleeping Bear: beach dunes develop on the low-lying shores of Lake Michigan that are predominately beach sand. Perched dunes sit high above the shore on plateaus. The glacial sands left atop these plateaus supplied the material for these dunes. The dunes are constantly migrating, sometimes covering parts of the forest with sand, then moving on, leaving behind "ghost forests" of dead trees. The U.S. Coast Guard buildings now in Glen Haven had to be removed from Sleeping Bear Point in 1931 because migrating dunes threatened to cover them. 

Some of the wildflowers and grasses that grow on the dunes. They play an important role in dune development by acting as obstacles that slow sand-laden wind and force it to drop its load. Their roots hold sand in place and stabilize the dunes. But strong winds can strip plants from a dune and carve out a bowl-shaped blowout formation.

After our hike, we stopped in the small town of Glen Arbor for some lunch. Glen Arbor is situated along the north shore of Glen Lake, and Crystal River runs along the road through town. It was a very tourist-oriented town, with tiny streets all leading down to the water, several B&B's, cute little cafes, and many art galleries and gift shops. It was also very crowded :-)! We stopped into the IGA there and ordered some sandwiches from the deli counter, and had lunch on the picnic table out front next to the sidewalk. Need I say the Casey and Chelsea were instant hits with the strolling tourists? We are so fortunate that they are so well-behaved!

After lunch we set out on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
 "Pierce Stocking spent his youth working as a lumberman in Michigan's forests. He loved the woods and spent most of his spare time there, developing a self-taught knowledge of nature.
He used to walk the bluffs above Lake Michigan, awed by the views of the dunes, Lake Michigan and the islands. He wanted to share this beauty with others and conceived the idea of a road to the top of the dunes.
As a lumberman, he had built roads in difficult terrain before. The planning for the road began in the early 1960's, and in 1967, the road, then known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes Park, first opened to the public.
Stocking continued to operate the scenic drive until his death 1976. In 1977, the road became part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Several years later, based on public opinion, the drive was named the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive." ( National Park Service)

The Covered Bridge entrance to the drive. I didn't know this before, but covered bridges were developed to protect wooden bridges form the wet weather that would rot out the wood. It was cheaper to replace the roof of a covered bridge than replace the supports of a non-covered bridge.

The Glen Lake overlook. Glen Lake is renown for its beauty and recreational activities. It was quite cloudy this day, so we didn't get to see the awesome blue of the water. The lake appears split in two by the construction of the "narrows" bridge. Glen Lake used to be connected to Lake Michigan in glacial times, but the dunes formed a massive sandbar that separated the two, and now the village of Glen Arbor is situated on that sandbar. The hill on the left leading down to the narrows is called "Alligator Hill", and you can pretty much visualize an alligator shape there.

Dune Overlook. This is the eastern edge of the dunes, at one of the highest points at over 200 feet. This is an example of the "blowout bowls" discussed earlier, and on the distant horizon you can see the wilderness islands of North and South Manitou Islands. These pedestrian only islands are accessible by ferries from the town of Leeland, but not pet-friendly :-(, no dogs allowed.

One of Casey's many adoring fans! I'm not sure what he was looking for, but he was watching something!

More wildflowers...I'm going to have to get a wildflower guidebook I guess!

Lake Michigan Overlook. We are at the top of the dunes. Notice the little dots in the middle of the picture? This is a couple standing on the edge. It's a 450 foot drop from there to the water. Visitors are strongly discouraged from going down, as its extremely strenuous to come back up....and the only way out would be to come back up!

Here's a view from the side, and some people who did not heed the warnings struggling to make it back up...look how tiny they look, as well as the boat WAAAY down at the bottom! There is a sign posted stating rescues of exhausted climbers will have a payment due!

The boardwalk down to the observation platform built over the dune.

Cresting the dune....

View to the east.....

and view to the north. The dark green vegetation covered hump is the remnants of the sleeping mama bear dune. North Manitou Island is on the horizon. 

The North Bar Lake overlook at the end of the drive. Michigan state really has done a beautiful job of erecting and maintaining these facilities.

We then drove through the historic area of Glen Haven, home to the U.S. Coast Guard Station Museum, and several other historic buildings. Port Oneida Rural Historic District showcased typical turn-of-the-century farms. I really liked this picture:
The big barn with the baby barns was too cute! I wish I had a blue sky though...

Continuing down Highway M-22 we came to the village of Leland, and Fishtown. Fishtown is a historic district comprised of shanties and docks that are reminiscent of life and commercial fishing 100 years ago. 

View down the riverfront to Lake Michigan

Along the docks

Otter along the riverbank!

The two little guys having fun with mom

Parting shot of the dock area

After walking around Fishtown and watching the otters play, we headed back on the road and headed up to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, and the Leelanau State Park. The  Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Fog Signal House were located here, and are on the National Register of Historic Places. 
The lighthouse was built in 1852.

The Fog Signal house was built in 1899

We then headed back down the east side of the Leelanau Peninsula, through several more cherry orchards, vineyards, and the town of Sutton's Bay, another popular tourist town due to its location right on Grand Traverse Bay. Back through Traverse City, we picked up a pizza for dinner as we headed back to campground. Time to pack up the duffles and get ready to head out early Friday morning, as we had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us back to Waldenwoods, and back to work Friday afternoon.

It was a great side trip, and we enjoyed it very much. Its a beautiful area, with many more attractions than we had time for. I highly recommend it, although it's not as highly recommended by us for the cabins at Timber Ridge. They were nice enough, but the furniture was horribly uncomfortable, and the bed completely uncomfortable. For the price we paid, it was not worth it. But if you're camping in your own trailer, it was a nice enough campground. 

This week we are struggling with record high temperatures and humidity, as is much of the country. Tomorrow is supposed to be the worst day, with actual temps near 99 and heat index up to 110. We had planned on going to the Ann Arbor Street Art fair for our day off, but with this miserable heat it would not be any fun whatsoever. So as the dogs already had accommodations booked at Camp BowWow, we will be going to a nice air-conditioned movie theatre instead, and seeing the last Harry Potter movie. 

I also wanted to say that for people looking to buy RV's and wondering how the air-conditioning holds up in this kind of heat...ours is doing great. We did not elect to have a second unit put on, but did have the bigger 15K BTU put on. We are running on 30amp, and the air-conditioner is doing a wonderful job of keeping the trailer cool. We are practicing power management, and placed the hot-water heater on propane, and so far 
have had no issues or breakers popping. Its good to know the one unit is adequate for the job!

So stay cool everyone, and see you soon!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Exploring Done

Last Wednesday, our explorations of the state of Michigan led us to "the Cherry Coast" in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula. Traverse City is the center of the region, and we decided to make our home base for this trip at Timber Ridge RV and Recreation Resort. They had cabins and cottages for rent there, and had vacancies for the two nights we were looking for. So, last Wednesday we loaded up the truck with our overnight gear and the dogs and headed north.

A bit more than half-way there we passed right by William Mitchell State Park, which looked like a nice place to stop and stretch our legs with a walk. Its so wonderful that Michigan State parks are pet-friendly, it affords us the opportunity to walk in beautiful settings with our pups! Once again, the park did not disappoint: the nature trail was great, the trail well-groomed and marked, even had descriptive sign posted at the highlighted area. The campground was very nice as well, with many sites right along the canal that runs between Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac. It seemed many campers took full advantage of the recreational fishing, bringing along their boats that were tied up all along the canal.

Heading out on the 2 1/2 mile loop trail to see what we can find!

Benches provided strategic resting spots for wildlife observation. Unfortunately for us, the waterfowl must have had other plans for the day, as there were no signs of anyone home!

Water lilies in bloom

Crossing the marsh on the well-maintained boardwalks

A forested "island" within the marsh

Gee, I wonder what he could be looking for...again?!

Some very photogenic fungi on the side of a tree

Some of the wildflowers in summer bloom, with the busy bee perched atop. These bees were very strange, they sort of hovered in the air like little helicopters.

It was a really beautiful afternoon!

After leaving the park, we headed up towards Timber Ridge, with a pit stop at Culvers, home of the famous butter burgers and frozen custard. I know, I'm around ice cream all day, but I have to tell you, the Culver's fresh frozen custard concrete mixers are worth stopping for :-). Thus fortified, we continued on, even though "Samantha" (the GPS lady) took us on a very strange route to the campground! Once there, we checked in to our cabin:

It was cute, one bedroom/bathroom with a small kitchen and small sitting area, and an outside picnic table and fire pit. The campground was pretty busy, and had tons of stuff for kids to do. It looked like a really neat place if you had a family. We unpacked the truck, and headed out again, determined to drive up the Old Mission Peninsula area of Traverse City. It was only a 25 minute drive to the end from where we were, and it was a beautiful night. I was hoping to see a nice sunset :-).

Traverse City is a summer tourist town for sure. It has been rated in the top ten American beach towns, the only one not on an ocean. As we drove around the bay towards the peninsula, the road was lined with hotels, motels and condos along the beach side, and restaurants, gift shops and related tourist shops on the other side. It was very crowded also! But once we turned off onto the peninsula, it was as if the traffic and crowds melted away behind us. The peninsula was settled in 1839 by two missionaries, hence the name. It became the "Old Mission" when they moved their mission house across the bay to the Leelanau Peninsula. M-37 is the central road down the peninsula, 17.25 miles long, and was named a Scenic Heritage Route in 2007. And it certainly was beautiful! Acres of cherry orchards and vineyards surrounded us on both sides of the route, and there were many farmstands set up, but alas, they were closed for the evening :-(. 
One picture to capture both the cherry trees and the grapevines!

We stopped here for some dinner, at the Old Mission General Store. The General Store has been here since the mid-1800's, and houses not only grocery items, candy, ice-cream and some grilled items, but also a collection of antique goods. It was very interesting to wander around in, but no photographs were allowed inside the building. Al ordered the fish and chips, and I had a hamburger and chips. They were both very good, and we had a nice picnic on the tables along side the building. 
The Mission Point Lighthouse at the park at the end of the peninsula
You can just barely see Al and Chelsea headed out along the sandbars as I was dawdling taking pictures. I had to wait for people to move out of my picture space :-).

The lighthouse from the beach

The beach from the lighthouse...I thought these turned out pretty neat!

The scenery as I hurried to catch up. It was really a most interesting landscape here. The water was very shallow and rocky, with the sandbar stretching out quite far into the bay. 

We had a feeling the sunset was not going to disappoint us tonight, so we settled in for the show. It was so quiet, there were only a few other people around and quite widely scattered around. The only annoying thing was with the night being so still, there was " a cloud of evil spawn of gnats" as Al put it hovering around our heads!

As we watched the sunset on the west, the moon was rising behind us in the east
The stillness of the shallows made for some great reflections of the pinks and oranges of the sunset

The fiery finale as the sun sank below the horizon

As we drove back down the peninsula, the pinks reflected beautifully here in the waters of Bowers Harbor

The final rays over the vineyards

It was now after 10:00pm, and we headed back to our cabin, to get some sleep and get ready for Thursday's adventure at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I hope you enjoyed this tour, and I'll be back tomorrow for the conclusion of our adventure!