While we are volunteering at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge I was finally able to summarize our summer road trip through parts of Michigan. We did a lot of preparation for this adventure and so I thought it might be advantageous for the reader to give a lot of recommendations for RV and non RV travelers to prepare for a trip to “pure Michigan”.
Our trip had a late start and we were so happy when we rolled out of Fort Clinch State Park, FL, heading north; but before I go into more details about our journey, I would like to address the “big elephant” first. End of June, when we departed, COVID was front and center and many friends asked us “why are you heading out now”? We felt, like so many seasoned and new RVers, that being on the road will allow us to reduce our infection risk, spend most of the time outside, make new friends while social distancing and see new places that we have never seen before. . . and our experience proved our point.
We headed to the Upper Peninsula (UP) going through Wisconsin. If you choose a similar route make sure that you plan some time in Door County. Baileys Grove Campground at Baileys Harbor is a great place to stay and a good location to make a day trip to Egg Harbor, Fish Creek (which can be very busy during the main season) and Sister Bay. Make sure you cruise around Peninsula State Park and to visit Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. “Roots Inn and Kitchen” at Sister Bay is off the main road but an excellent place for lunch.
Marquette is a great launch pad for explorations of the UP. It is centrally located and the largest city in the UP. Being the home of Northern Michigan University (NMU), it is young and modern. We stayed at the Marquette Tourist Park Campground, which is located near the NMU campus and close to the city. By the way, the city is very bike friendly, but be prepared for some hilly terrain. The loop around Presque Island is picturesque and shows the rough side of the Lake Superior Shore. Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and it takes a drop of water 190 years to make it through from west to east.
While heading for Presque Isle Park you may get a chance to watch the loading of a freighter at the Ore Dock. Tons of Taconite fill the belly of the ship and it is quite an operation.
The Maritime and the Marquette Regional History Center are great places to spend a rainy day. The History Museum is housed in a wonderfully designed building next to the County Court House and covers the time from the early settlers (which were Canadian Indians) to the industrial drivers of the prosperity of the region.
One of the highlights of our stay in the UP was a boat ride to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We selected Pictured Rocks Cruises for our trip, since they offer a free kennel service on site. Going along the cliff is like going along the longest canvas one can imagine. Colors of white, green, yellow, tan and brown competing against each other and are framed by a cloud streaked sky and the crystal blue waters of Lake Superior. The camera lens cannot picture the outstanding beauty of the colors and the rock formations with names such as Lover’s Leap, Battleship Rock and Chapel Cave.
On the way back to Marquette we stopped at Lakenenland, an outdoor museum with giant sculptures mainly made out of scrap metal. A nice walk and an awesome contrast to Pictured Rocks.
Saturday is a great day to make a downtown excursion especially since the Farmers Market is open. Many vendors with food, produce and art. We were even able to find chanterelle mushrooms, which we have not had since we lived in Germany. Stroll along Washington and Main Street towards the Cider Pond Marina. You will enjoy the fantastic waterfront. It features one of the old and by now inactive ore terminals that reminded me of a cathedral.
The UP is known for its waterfalls. Some of them are accessible on paved roads some via gravel roads (and off road cars are recommended). Canyon Falls is about 45 minutes west of Marquette. It is easy to access and offers a nice hike. The water of the Sturgeon River gushes down the multiple falls and creates a picturesque scenery.
Another nice day trip is to head out to Big Bay. Stop at the trailhead of Sugarloaf Mountain and hike up to the summit. The observation platforms offer magnificent views of Lake Superior and the wooded country around Marquette. Continue heading northwest and enjoy the sight of Big Bay Point Lighthouse. It is now a Bed and Breakfast and the Lake Superior panorama is just amazing. By the way, we have encountered that Michigan has the most photogenic clouds.
Our next stay was south of the Mackinac Bridge at Aloha State Park. It is a great location to experience the area around Mackinaw City. The park has close to 300 sites, is located on Mullett Lake, and is a paradise for boaters. If you are looking for a quiet campground this one should not be your top choice. Crossing the Mackinac Bridge the first time in our motorhome was thrilling. This bridge is an engineering marvel. The suspension design spans close to 5 miles across the Straits of Mackinac and has a clearance of 155 ft. It connects the UP with the Lower Peninsula (LP). We have learned that the “Yoopers” call the LP people either “flat-landers” (since the LP topography is less hilly) or “Trolls” (since they live under the bridge).
Bring enough time with you to visit Colonial Michilimackinac near Mackinaw City. At Fort Mackinac you will step 240 years back in time, enjoying a marvelous history walk. Have chats with the blacksmith, the seamstress, and the master gardener, all dressed in historic costumes, and learn about how things were done “back then”. Experience the soldiers and officers quarters and look over the shoulders of an archeologist, being involved in one of the longest ongoing excavations of its kind in the nation. Bring your camera; your lens will be in for a treat.
Just east of the Fort is Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. It helped passing ships to navigate through the treacherous waters of the Straits of Mackinac and is one of the many “cool” lighthouses of the Great Lakes. If you enjoy micro brews you should consider stopping at the Rusted Spoke Brewing Co. in Mackinaw City. Great wheat beer and excellent Reuben Sandwiches.
Take the ferry over to Mackinac Island and either bring your own bike or rent one. The island is quaint and car free. Horse carriages are the only means of transportation. If you can, be there in pre or post season, otherwise you have to deal with a lot of other visitors that enjoy this fascinating place. We started out biking the Lakeshore Road, which takes you along the entire shoreline of the island including Arch Rock. It offers scenic vistas with only a few challenging hills. In less than two hours you will complete the ride and arrive back at the busy area near the boat docks.
Fort Mackinac, the Governor’s Residence and especially the Grand Hotel are other highlights you should not miss.
The historic Mill Creek Discovery Park was a nice surprise. The mill was constructed in 1790 and a lot of the building material for Mackinac Island was cut here. It operated through 1830 and was rediscovered in 1972. Today it features the reconstruction of an old sawmill. Demos are taking place during the day and it is fascinating to watch how the water of Mill Creek is harnessed to move the saw blade up and down and the log forward. The park also offers hiking trails (bring bug spray) and an observation tower overlooking the Straits.
Due to the availability of sites we moved back to the UP for a few days and enjoyed the Straits State Park. It is right on the north side of the “Big Mac” and a great place to discover the east side of the UP.
St. Ignace, close to the state park, is a charming small town and does not have the hustle and bustle of Mackinac Island or Mackinaw City. Walk along State Street, climb Castle Rock, stop at the Museum of Ojibwa Tribe and learn about their culture and the influence of Father Marquette to the development of the area, get smoked white fish at Manley’s and Pasties at Lahto’s. A pasty is a baked pastry with chicken or beef, potato, turnip and onion. It was spread around the world by Cornish miners. Delicious!
Head north from St. Ignace to Paradise and turn towards Tahquamenon Falls. The falls are striking. The tannin from the swamps upstream colors the water and tints the falls in a palette of yellow, brown, white and ocher. The upper falls are more breathtaking. The lower falls surround a small island and you can rent boats to get to it and to hike the short island trail. This is a place for the entire family. The trails, boardwalks, platforms and stairs are well designed and give visitors of all ages different but always magnificent views of the falls. Don’t miss to head north of Paradise to Whitefish Point Lighthouse. A shipwreck museum is close by.
If you plan to drive up to the Sault-Ste Marie area you may consider to take the long way towards Whitefish Bay and to stop at Point Iroquois Lighthouse, one of our favorites. Head up to Mission Hill and take in the view over the lake and the bay. Stop at Pickles Bar and Grill near Brimley and order the Whitefish Tacos. Yummy! Unfortunately, the visitor platform at Sault-Ste Marie was closed so that we could not have a close look at this genius engineering design.
If you are looking for a nice place to experience the upper western shore of Lake Michigan, Elk Rapids will be a good choice. It is located on the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay and has access to Elk Lake, which connects to a chain of lakes. The Main Street has a nice flair and many inviting stores. Have a look at some of the superbly restored downtown villas and do not miss the art walk along the shore line. Luckily we had friends which were not only excellent tour guides but also offered us to stay at the house of a family member and to park the motorhome for a few days.
The Grass River Natural Area nearby is worth a stop. Many well designed trails and boardwalks will guide you through swamp, forrest and marsh and will increase your knowledge about the flora and fauna of the area. Make sure to go into the fairly new visitors center with an excellent exhibit adding to your knowledge gain of the walk.
It is just 15 miles from Elk Rapids to Traverse City, which has a lively Main Street without any car traffic. Many restaurants have outside seating, offer good food and people watching opportunities. From there enjoy the drive to Northport, stop at one of the local wineries and visit the scenic Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
Mission Point Lighthouse is located on the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, which can be reached from Traverse City. It was built in 1870 and is an exact copy of the Mama Juda Light, which was built on the Detroit River in 1866. The drive through the rolling hills is striking and many cider orchards and wineries have their tasting rooms open. We stopped at 2 Lads Winery and purchased excellent dry rose and Pinot Noir wines. Cheers!
Another nice day trip is to head to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Since we had our dog with us we had a limited choice of trails to take, but Empire Bluff Trail was a winner with breathtaking views of the dunes and Lake Michigan. Glen Haven Historic Village and the Maritime Museum at Sleeping Bear Point are worth a stop. Glen Arbor is somewhat touristy and busy but offers The Cherry Republic, a restaurant and gift store where all is around cherries. Even cherry flavored wheat beer is on tap. On your way back from Glen Arbor test your fitness by climbing up the dunes. A great family fun.
Chief Seattle once said “Take only memories, leave only footprints.”. We had a fantastic time in Michigan and wishing you great travels through a state where the lake waters are clean and colorful and the clouds are eye catching. If you look closely you may find some of our footprints.
Are you wondering where we are and what we have done since end of June when we left Fort Clinch State Park? Well we were “wandering” with our motorhome Loon and made a big loop from Florida all the way up to Michigan and back south to Tennessee. Many memories and images to share with all of you soon.
We have checked into our volunteer location at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge, where we will stay until the end of November. Reelfoot Lake is a captivating place, known for its richness in birds, fish and wildlife, but also for its unique natural history and unique origin. The refuge serves as a major stopover point and wintering area for waterfowl and other migratory birds along the Mississippi Flyway.
Here are some first impressions! More to come.
Some of you may say, how can you travel around the country during COVID. Well, we do it due to COVID. Our RV lifestyle allows us to be social distant and still to meet new people, to be out in the nature and by ourselves for most of the time, to decide not to go into a place where we feel that measures to prevent the spread of COVID are not met.
Wayne Dyer said once “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with”. Our RV lifestyle during COVID is a great and deep couple experience and we feel blessed that we can walk this path together.
For all friends and followers of our journey, be safe, stay healthy and be kind.
Over the last three months I was sometimes frustrated that we had to scrub our plans to travel to Mississippi and to volunteer at Noxubee Wildlife Refuge. What was I thinking? We were able to stay at one of the most beautiful parks in Florida. Fort Clinch provided us with a minimal risk environment and we were able to stay close to our network of friends during the Covid 19 pandemic. We were blessed!
Fort Clinch State Park was a sanctuary during our stay and we were able to watch wildlife and shorebirds as never before. We were blessed!
We had time for day trips like the one to Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens, a manmade park and botanical garden south of Gainesville. What a wonderful place with lakes, boardwalks and flowers galore. We were blessed!
The abundance of colors was overwhelming and created a photographers paradise. We were blessed.
Sometimes one color "jumped out" and made the composition even more interesting. We were blessed!
On the 26th of June we will head out for our 5 month road trip, starting with Wisconsin and Michigan, heading to Kentucky and staying at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee this fall. We will miss our friends here on Amelia Island, but look forward to making new friends and seeing new places. We are blessed!
While we are here at our Florida park location following stay at home orders, we are going through a lot of memories from last years road trip. My business career introduced me to big town America and small town America was foreign to me. And let me tell you, small town USA is alive!
One of our first stops was Blakely, GA, which is nicknamed the Peanut Capital of the Universe. It is located near U.S. Route 27 and had a population of 5,068 as off the 2010 census. Most notable is that the ancestors of Whitney Houston were from Blakely.
Natchez, Mississippi, was an unexpected diamond on our trip heading west. It is located on the Mississippi River and has a population of more than 15,000. It was a prominent city in the antebellum years, and the homes show the wealth of the cotton farmers and the Mississippi River trade during this time.
The St. Mary Basilica is an architectural masterpiece among Catholic churches in the south and is the only Catholic Cathedral in Mississippi. We were blessed to be able to sit down and experience the wonderful Gothic Revival architecture and to pray for a healthy and safe road trip.
Natchez State Park was a wonderful campground selection and the sunsets were a precious combination of all shades of magenta.
One of our next stops was Zwolle, LA. You are correct, it is named after Zwolle in the Netherlands, since one of the financial partners in the Kansas City Southern Railroad was born in this dutch city and requested that this train stop will carry the name of his birthplace. The town is located in the Sabine Parish of Louisiana and had a population of 1,783 in the last census. The highlight of the year is the annual Tamala Festival celebrating the town's Spanish heritage.
Brenham was one off our first stops in Texas. It is about halfway between Houston and Austin and has a population of more than 15,000. It is also known for it's German heritage festival, which takes place in May. Numerous German immigrants settled here in the mid 19th century. It is a vibrant city and the home of the world's largest BBQ pit.
Brenham is renowned as the heart of the bluebonnet region. Driving along the most scenic wildflower roads we passed also historic sites and attractions, such as the place where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2nd, 1836.
Gonzales is the county seat of Gonzales, TX and has a population of less than 10,000. It is one of the earliest Anglo-American settlements in Texas and went through some turbulent history. Mexican authorities once tried to get the one and only cannon stationed in Gonzales. However 18 men fought successfully against the 100 Mexican troops in the Battle of Gonzales. They were cheerleaded by their wives that sewed a flag with the words "Come and Take It". The county jail was the first stop on our tour through the town.
Gonzales is also a town with a stark contrast of well to do areas with beautifully renovated homes and areas that had better times.
Stopping at the discovery antique store, which is 4th generation owned, was a stepping back in time experience. BTW, we have made another discovery while in Gonzales: Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger's long time companion and wife, was born and grew up in Gonzales.
Small Town USA is alive, sometimes struggling, people are proud to live here, and they are trying the best to keep Small Town USA going. In the current times more than ever. Having a better perceptive of Small Town America I better understand the song:
Give me a Saturday night with my baby by my side
A little Hank Jr. and a six pack of lights
Old dirt road and I'll just be fine
Give me a Sunday morning that is full with grace
A simple life and I'll be okay
Here in small town U-S-A.
One of our last hikes at Big Bend National Park was Indian Head. The trailhead is outside the park and can be reached via a dirt road from Study Butte. It is not very well traveled and the only other hikers we did see were our friends Karen and Hal, who invited us to join for this excursion.
The trail opens a window to some petroglyphs, which are more than 8,000 years old. You could spend hours on trying to decipher these ancient rock paintings.
The geological formations are out of this world and made us better understand the Apache legend that after the Great Spirit was done with the creation of the universe, he tossed a large pile of left over boulders and debris on the Big Bend.
Last but not least the trail offers a window to the wonderful skies over Big Bend, with rich blues and contrasting clouds.
Big Bend, thank you for such a great farewell hike!
While we traveled from Texas to Arkansas, we crossed Oklahoma and spent some time at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is an island where the natural grasslands escaped destruction since the rocks underfoot were stronger than plows.
The refuge provides habitat for American Bison and Texas Longhorn cattle.
One unexpected find was the Holy City of the Wichitas. Nestled into the rugged terrain of the Wichita Mountains. It is a recreation of the very streets that Jesus Christ walked and I would like to invite you to walk with me the streets of Oklahoma's Jerusalem.
While we are following our "stay at home" order, we are looking back to our travels last year and all the wonderful people we have met. All the stories would fill a book and all the images would lead to a lengthy slideshow that might exceed your attention span. So, let's do the short version:
We feel blessed for:
During our time at Chisos Basin, we've met two young hikers, Katelyn and Heather. They stayed for a few days and every evening we talked about their hikes and experiences. The last evening we asked them over for dinner and talked long about nature, goals, values, health, and faith. A wonderful evening under a star studded nightly sky. The next morning Katelyn and Heather stopped by with a thank you present, the above drawing from their hike to Emory Peak and a wonderful poem:
I was recently not very active on our travel blog and I am hesitant to make this post. Our family, Peggy, Merlot and I, are self-quarantined on this beautiful place called Fort Clinch State Park as resident volunteers. We are surrounded by tranquility, quietness, and wonderful nature. We almost feel guilty that we were put at this place while others suffer or are self-quarantined in much less desirable places. So, we decided to continue posting to open virtual windows.
Virtual windows to nature:
Virtual windows to wildlife:
Virtual windows to points of interests:
I am certain that on the other side of this we will be able to open the windows and most of all open the doors which prevent us currently to see places and meet people.
I also know for sure that on the other side of this our Nation will be stronger and united.
You were wondering why we have not posted recently on our blog and I apologize for being lazy while we are on Amalia Island, especially since this island has so much to offer.
The "bookends" during our stay are the sunrises and the sunsets:
Between these "bookends" we enjoy doing our volunteer duties, that reach from cleaning up the beach campground to getting the canons in shape and to help with preparing garrison stew for special events:
To fix up the park benches we used the entire arsenal of power tools from sander to grinder to cutter and the benches look like new:
Being here at Fort Clinch State Park also means to make new friends and to reconnect with "old" friends:
We were so happy to get a bouquet of flowers from Louise to thank us for our help:
Being here also means to reconnect with friends that are so dear to our hearts:
Being out here is to connect with nature and to fully understand what it means "that you can shake the sand from your shoes but not from your soul".
Just recently, we made an afternoon trip to the nearby Kingsley Plantation.
NPS gives a good summary of this national landmark:
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many people came to Florida. Some, like Zephaniah Kingsley, sought to make their fortunes by obtaining land and establishing plantations. Others were forced to Florida to work on those plantations, their labor providing wealth to the people who owned them. Some of the enslaved would later become free landowners, struggling to keep their footing in dangerous times of shifting alliances and politics. All of these people played a part in the history of Kingsley Plantation.
The place is like an enormous story teller and even the trees make a contribution.
The tabby buildings were the home of enslaved men, women and children and they were the backdrop of their life. The buildings were erected by the enslaved workers who were skilled carpenters, tabby makers, brick layers, and knew how to use the locally available material such as oyster shells. There are holes in the walls of the slave cabins because wooden spreader pins were used to hold the frame parallel during construction. It would be great if the walls could tell about family life in this slave community.