Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lake Muskallonge State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Here is one of those places that I picked for us to visit and things didn’t work out as planned.  The plan was that we would stay at this state park on a beautiful lake while we were exploring the eastern side of the 40 - mile long Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (NL), Tahquamenon Falls and the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.  The plan made sense – stay at a nice place and explore a beautiful area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  But, things did not work out as planned.

As we were driving the RV to the campground Betsy pointed out a sign that said “Pavement Ends in 45 Miles.”  If my calculations were correct we would get there just before the gravel and dust but I kept my fingers crossed anyway.  Luckily, we got to the campground at Lake Muskallonge State Park just before the pavement ended but that meant the road we were going to take after the state park to our next campground was gravel and later we learned, full of pot holes, so plans were going to have to change.  We wiggled into our spot in the state park and had a nice view of the lake and were happy. 

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The next day we loaded up the car and headed west to Grand Marais to see Pictured Rocks NL.  The washboard pot-holed gravel road was certainly not the 24-mile path we were going to take the RV down and it was good we drove it first in the car to discover this.  We arrived at the park and were eager to see some of the waterfalls and hike the trails.  A nice ranger greeted us and dropped the bomb that dogs were not allowed on practically 98% of the trails in the park.  Ugh!  I had even looked in the park brochure online which just gave generic information regarding dogs but no mention of the park being so dog-unfriendly.  We did manage to park the car in the shade, roll down the windows and make the quick trip to the falls without Spirit.  So much for visiting Pictured Rocks from this location so we headed back to Grand Marais where we walked around town and found a place on Lake Superior for Spirit to swim and forget about the long bumpy car ride.


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We really enjoyed the state park and found it very relaxing but it was not as close to attractions as we originally thought.  Many of the roads to those attractions are gravel and take twice as long to get there so we scrapped them.  Sometimes all the hours spent planning just don’t work out but that’s o.k. too.  In fact, we spent more time relaxing about the campground and finishing long-overdue chores. 

One of the best aspects of our visit was getting to know the super nice family that parked next to us.  We freely admit to having anxiety when a truck with kids pulls into a site next to us.  Usually that scenario reeks of kids screaming, training wheels grinding on the asphalt, and parents eager to ignore their obnoxious rug rats.  This time was different.  The kids hoped out of the truck and started helping mom and dad ready the camper for their stay instead of fighting or starting to chop down a perfectly healthy tree.  Over the course of our stay we got to know this lovely family from Wisconsin who shared information about where to go and what to see in the area and their home state. 

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Thanks for being such great neighbors and dispelling some of our myths.  We even ended up spending a great evening on a cruise boat with them exploring Pictured Rocks NL from the other end of the lakeshore.




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Were Featured on MightyGoods!

When we were contacted by someone who expressed interest in highlighting our story in a segment called “car living,” we were skeptical that we fit their criteria.  Our response to them was “sure” if you consider a 45’ motorhome car living.   After all, we are always interested in sharing our story and encouraging those interested in full-time RVing to take the plunge. 

Turns out they did want to publish our story.  They picked our brains with questions that we gave lots of thought to and came up with this MightyGoods Car Living article that tells our story. 

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We are so glad MightyGoods contacted us because they introduced us to so many inspiring people who do amazing things in their lives.  They feature people who climb, bike, run, surf, and lead nomadic lives (not like on a camel nomadic life but like us).  Travel is such an education that opens your eyes, mind, and soul to the beautiful places, cultures, and people that share our world.  Hope you enjoy their stories as much as we have.  Happy camping.






Sunday, August 13, 2017

RV Park Review - Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground (Mackinaw City, Michigan)

Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground is a really large campground comprised of 600 sites (200+ are full hook-up) and a mile of accessible shoreline along Lake Huron with awesome views of the Mackinaw Bridge and Mackinac Island.  The campground has all types of sites to fit any campers' desire from rustic tent, cabins, and those that fit any size RV's complete with full hook-ups.  The most desirable sites are the waterfront ones where you are greeted with great views of the Mackinaw Bridge, stunning sunrises, and pretty lake scenery.  The location of this park is only about five miles to downtown Mackinaw City and the ferry boat taking you to Mackinac Island.  

One great feature about this park is that there is a dog-sitting/walking service offered by the campground owners daughter.  For $20 she came to the RV twice during the day and spent an hour and a half walking our dog while we were gone all day to Mackinac Island.  It was the best $20 we spent!  We didn’t have to worry about our dog as she was having fun walking and swimming while we were away (we even got a picture texted to us and updates – thanks Amy). 

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Some of the roads in the campground are gravel and were quite dusty when we were there in July. All sites are gravel/grass with fire pits and picnic tables.  We stayed in two sites (#697 pictured above) because we made our reservations late and could not get the same site for our entire stay.  Site #697 was a nice pull-thru on a corner but the tall bushes provided plenty of privacy.  The second site (#87) was a back-in and was not quite as private between us and our neighbors.  Both were plenty long and wide enough to accommodate our 45’ RV and tow car at our site and easy to get in and out of.  The roads are big-rig friendly and there are plenty of sites that will accommodate large RVs.

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The most sought after sites are those right on the water.  The sites have great water views but you are much closer to your neighbors on each side than the ones right behind you.  Along the waterfront is a big green space where anyone is free to enjoy the view and use one of the many community fire pits. 

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Although all sites have fire pits and picnic tables, we decided to have our fire on the water and really enjoyed the views.  There are tons of amenities at this park as you would expect with a park this size…swimming pool, arcade/game room, basketball court, swimming beach in the lake, playgrounds, kayak/canoe launch, free miniature golf, camp store, and much more. 

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The park advertises that dog parks are “coming soon” but were not completed when we were there.  There are three bath/shower houses and a scattering of pit toilets around the property.  There are signs along the grassy waterfront area that say dogs are not allowed but if you go to the far western side of the park they can go in the water there.

If you are looking for a quiet place to camp, this is probably not the place for you.  There were lots of busy kids, activities, car traffic, and sites with big families.  Some of the features we liked about this park are that you are close to town and the dog walking/sitting service is super helpful if you have a dog.  The grassy area along the waterfront is a nice place to hang out and gather with other people.  There is a free shuttle to the Mackinac Island ferry terminal so you can avoid the cost and hassle of parking. 

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Downtown Mackinaw City has numerous things to do including the old fort and lighthouse, the Mackinaw Bridge Museum, and (our favorite) the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw.  We found the Mackinaw Bridge museum to be very entertaining.  The museum is free and located above Mama Mia’s Pizza because the restaurant's owner is a former iron worker who worked on the bridge and started collecting and displaying items.  The museum has grown into quite the collection as other people started sending him memorabilia and artifacts.  The museum is free and has a few rooms of exhibits as well as three movies and films to keep you entertained.




Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ship Viewing in the Soo, Michigan

The town of Sault Ste. Marie (commonly just called “The Soo”) straddles the U.S. Canadian border  and made a name for itself because of the shipping locks which are the spine of the coal, iron ore, and grain industries.  Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Canada are divided by the St. Marys River which connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The name Sault Ste. Marie in French translates to “Rapids of the St. Mary” and the rapids explain the need for the locks.  Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan settled by Native Americans and was a crossroads of fishing and trading of tribes around the Great Lakes.  In the 18th century, the settlement became an important center of the fur trade but the falls proved to be an obstacle with moving goods.  Boats and supplies would have to be ported around the falls which was a difficult and lengthy process sometimes taking weeks.

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In 1796 a canal was dug on the Canadian side to allow ships a safe passage bypassing the rapids of the St. Marys River becoming the first lock.  The lock was destroyed in the War of 1812.  The first American lock, the State Lock, was built in 1853 and instrumental in improving shipping traffic as it was much larger and more efficient.  Over the years, the lock system has expanded and improved and sees more than 11,000 ships and millions of tons of cargo that pass through its gates.  Today there are four locks on the American side (one of which is closed) which has become a popular tourist draw. 

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The locks are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and there is an on-site visitor center and viewing area (both of which are free).  The visitor center plays a series of movies and has exhibits talking about operations and history of the locks.  A board displays the times, names, and lengths of ships moving through the locks and their estimated time of arrival so you can make sure you get to see the locks in operation.  Step outside  the visitor center to the viewing platform where you rise above the locks for a great view of the ships moving the 21 feet up and down in the lock.  This is especially impressive when it is a 1,000-foot long freighter in the lock.  For those wanting to experience the locks first-hand there are boat tours that will do just that.  They take you through the large locks on the American side and then back through the historic lock on the Canadian side.  While we were there we saw a Canadian Coast Guard ship and the 858-foot freighter the Roger Blough move though.

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Gravity alone moves water in and out of the lock chambers.  Huge culverts run below the lock floors allowing water to flow in or out of the lock depending on which valves are opened.  To raise the level, the emptying valve at the lower end of the lock is closed and the filling valve is opened allowing water to flow into the chamber from the Lake Superior level.  To lower the lock the filling valve is closed and the emptying valve is opened allowing water to flow out to the Lake Huron level.  It takes 22 million gallons of water and an average of 40-60 minutes for boats to pass through the locks.

How the Locks Operate
The lock on the Canadian side is quite smaller and used for pleasure craft and much smaller boats than commercial freighters.  The original lock was constructed in 1895 and later updated in 1998 was and is flanked by historic buildings and is  an interesting contrast between the old smaller locks compared to the large ones on the American side.  The area is a National Park and also hiking trails that take you to the rapids and around the locks.  Two foot bridges span the locks which you are allowed to stand on during operation so as you straddle the locks you watch the water rise and fall.

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A while back someone referred us to a restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie that he claimed has the best hamburgers.  When he also mentioned that it was a nothing to look at, eat in your car restaurant under a bridge, we knew we had to go there.  So off to West Pier Drive–In with empty bellies and high expectations.  The cheeseburgers were huge and really good with a bargain price of $5.50.  If you are in the Soo, we highly recommend dropping by for a bite. 

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While in Canada, I decided to check out the Bushplane Museum while Spirit and Betsy went for a walk along the waterfront.  The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of bushplanes and incorporates their role in forest fire management in North America.  Inside the 64,000 sq. ft. hangar are 24 vintage aircraft many of which you can venture inside while others are transformed into interesting simulators giving you a birds-eye view.  Interestingly they have exhibits on the original style pontoons that were used in water drops and demonstrated how they were filled by being dunked into a water source and then released over the fire.  The museum has two movie theaters one of which is a really cool 3-D movie on wildfires and wildland firefighting that gives you an incite as to how aerial assault on forest fires is performed with amazing aerial footage.  The other movie takes you along on an adventure with a bush pilot flying over the Canadian wilderness.  The scenery in the movie is stunning and you understand the difficulties of flying in such remote areas.  Admission to the museum is $7 which I found worth it especially because of the emphasis on firefighting and my past experience as a wildland firefighter.

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The town of Sault Ste. Marie definitely embraces its shipping history which is seen throughout the town.  There is the Long Ship Motel, the Lock View Restaurant, the Soo Locks Brewery, and many more businesses with names regarding the shipping industry and the locks.  To maximize your ship viewing opportunities, simply logon to the website BoatNerd which has real time data on ships in the Great Lakes.  Click on a ship icon and it will tell you where it is going, what it’s cargo is, how fast it is going, its length and other facts.   I found this website quite interesting and helpful to predict when the lock traffic was picking up.  The great thing about Sault Ste. Marie is that there are a couple of campgrounds (and an Elks Lodge for you members) right on the water so you don’t have to leave the campground or the RV to see the ships pass by. 

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