Grand Lake, CO (September 8 – 15, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 8th, we drove 155 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake, CO.  Although there was a 48-mile route available by driving through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), the steep inclines and sharp drop-offs on this route made us decide to take an easier, although longer, path.  The new route took us in a southerly direction from Estes Park to I-70 and then up the other side of the park to Grand Lake.  Although the drive required lots of ascents and descents and many sharp turns, it was quite scenic and a lot less scary that a drive through RMNP would have been.

The Grand Lake area was savaged by a wildfire in October 2020 that burned 194,000-acres, making it the second-largest fire in Colorado history.  In fact, it burned 120,000-acres in a single day, making it the fastest-spreading fire in Colorado history.  We checked in to Winding River Resort for a one-week stay.  Although the campground was now nearly 100% operational, the surrounding hills were black with debris from the fire.

Jarrod and Jess drove up from Denver late that night.  Since Jess needed to work on Thursday and Friday, they stayed at a nearby hotel for the first two nights. On Thursday, Jarrod rode his bike over from the hotel.  We headed to the Arapahoe National Forest and hiked the 4-mile loop trail around Monarch Lake.  The trail wasn’t too taxing and was mostly shaded.

As we walked along the far side of the lake, Jan noticed a bull moose at the water’s edge.  Although the trail was well above the water, we were eventually about to make out two bull moose, each with a large rack.

Video of bull moose

As we approached the end of the loop around the lake, we found a sandy beach and Jarrod was able to do some fly-fishing.  Unfortunately, he was only able to get a nibble.

Jess came by for dinner, after completing her workday.  The campground caters to horse owners and has their own horses for trail rides.  Although most of the horses are in pens or a pasture near our site, there are a pony and a small burro who seem to have free range of the campground.  The pony and burro dropped by after dinner to munch on the limited grass on our site.

On Friday morning, we relaxed and took care of domestic chores while Jarrod fished and Jess worked a half day.  In the afternoon, we entered RMNP on the eastern edge of Grand Lake and hiked the East Inlet Trail.  The hike was only about 2.5-miles but took us out to a spectacular valley with a panoramic view of the mountains and a stream running through it.  There was a log stretched across the stream.  First, Jess went part-way across but, then, Jarrod successfully got all the way across and returned without ending up in the water.

After dinner, we drove into RMNP and observed lots of elk and moose grazing near the Trail Ridge Road.

On Saturday, we drove up the western portion of RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road almost to the summit.  We stopped several times along the way.  We spent some time observing a female moose grazing on the grass and then did a couple of short hikes. 

Later, we went into the town of Grand Lake and had ice cream at Dairy King, a small shop that’s been in business for 68 years.  Next, we strolled along the main street of downtown Grand Lake and visited a number of shops. Jarrod and Jess headed for home after breakfast on Sunday.

On Saturday evening, Phil had developed the chills and his temperature rose overnight to 102.6.  Very similar to his health issue in August, his temperature would lower to nearly normal in the morning but would creep back to a high fever in the afternoon and evening.  Rather than wait four days to seek medical attention, as we had done in August, we decided to hit an Urgent Care on Monday.  We drove 82-miles to an Urgent Care in Breckenridge, CO because Jan needed to pick up a prescription from Walgreens and the nearest Walgreens was in Dillon, 10 miles from Breckenridge.  As before, Phil was tested for Covid, got a negative result and the doctor prescribed antibiotics.  The highlight of the day was really the drive to and from Breckenridge.  The vistas around every bend were stunningly beautiful. 

After a day and a half on antibiotics, Phil’s temperature stayed below normal all day and night and he felt well enough to make the long drive to Grand Junction on Wednesday.

Estes Park, CO (September 3 – 8, 2021)

On Friday, September 3rd, we drove 223 miles to Estes Park, CO where we spent five nights at Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Resort.  The drive was mostly along I-25, but the last 26 miles were through the steep and rocky Big Thompson Canyon and had nearly continuous curves.  The campground is located a short distance from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  We had a beautiful view of some of the surrounding mountains from our living room window.  Shortly after getting set up, we had a brief drizzle that provided us with a fabulous double rainbow.  The campground was then visited by a huge bull elk that drew quite a crowd of campers to watch it.  While the elk was still in the field below us, Jarrod and Jess arrived for their three-night visit.

After breakfast on Saturday, Jess and Jarrod took turns driving us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove up the Trail Ridge Road to the Ute Trail.  We hiked a short distance on the Ute Trail but the cold temperature and strong winds forced us to turn back. 

We then drove down Bear Lake Road to Sprague Lake, where we hiked around the lake.  We took a shuttle to the Glacier Basin campground where we hiked the Glacier Basin and Wind River trails. 

After completing these hikes, we walked a mile back to Sprague Lake where we had left the car.  When we arrived at Sprague Lake, we discovered a large moose in the lake that had drawn quite a crowd of spectators.  After observing the moose for a while, we drove back to our campground.  As we exited Bear Lake Road, we observed a large herd of elk by the road.

On Sunday, Jarrod and Jess again drove us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove to Lava Cliffs, near the highest point in the park.  We hiked out to the rocks, despite strong winds and cold temps.  After visiting the cliffs, we continued up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center.  During this drive, we passed through the highest point on the road at 12,183 feet.  On our return down the Trail Ridge Road, we stopped at a couple of parking areas and went for short walks into the park.

We spent Sunday afternoon in the town of Estes Park.  We first visited the Estes Park Arts & Crafts Festival.  Afterward, we drove to The Dunraven Inn on Lake Estes and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers.  On our way back to the campground, we passed the Stanley Hotel where a portion of the film “The Shining,” based on Stephen King’s novel, was filmed.

On Monday, we returned to RMNP and hiked the six-mile Cull Lake loop trail.  It was a warm day but the cool breeze and shade on much of the trail make it a delightful day for a hike. 

After reaching Cull Lake, the return portion of the loop trail was largely downhill and took us along a stream.  We took a break along this portion of the trail and enjoyed dunking our feet in the cold water of the stream.  After completing the hike, we stopped at the RMNP sign for our photo shoot.

Upon returning to our rig, Jarrod and Jess packed up and headed for home.  We will see them again in a few days in Grand Lake.  After dinner, we returned to RMNP to look for elk.  We drove around quite a while and, although we did see a few elk and deer, we didn’t find a large herd of elk until we headed for home.

Custer, SD Area & Douglas, WY (August 25 – September 3, 2021)

On Wednesday, August 25th, we arrived at Fort Welikit Family Campground in Custer, SD in the mid-afternoon for a weeklong stay.  Our pull-through site was long enough but required a lot of care to fit in between trees on all sides.  The trees precluded the use of our satellite dish but, fortunately, the campground provided 70 cable channels.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the campground.  It was quickly apparent that we were going to need to get adjusted to the high altitude.

On Thursday, we drove to Custer State Park.  We first stopped at the Visitor Center.  We examined many of the displays and watched a video about the park, narrated by Kevin Costner.  Then, we drove the Wilderness Loop through the park.  Our first animal encounter was with a bison that was sauntering up the middle of the road.  Rather than risk trying to pass it, we followed behind it until it finally decided to leave the road.  Farther down the road, we encountered a large herd of bison crossing the road and we watched from a safe distance.  There were quite a large number of calves with their mothers.  We got lunch at a food truck and, somewhat rudely, both ordered bison burgers.

After lunch, we continued on the Wilderness Loop and encountered a pack of burros.  They had been fairly far away until some of the spectators pulled out bags of carrots and apples.  It didn’t take long before the crowd was surrounded by burros looking for a handout.  Jan got to feed one of them, then made friends with one of the babies.

When the food ran out, the burros departed and we continued our drive.  At the end of the loop, we drove up a one-mile gravel road to the Mt. Coolidge Scenic Overlook.  The drive was somewhat scary, since we were next to a cliff with few guardrails, but, fortunately, there was very little opposing traffic.  Once we reached the summit, we climbed the observation tower but we were chased back down by a huge swarm of gnats.

On Thursday, we returned to Custer State Park and drove the 14-mile stretch of SD-87 known as the Needles Highway due to its tall granite peaks, resembling needles.  The highway was constructed in 1922, when it was considered by many to be impossible to complete.  The highway was extremely winding but contained numerous pull-offs that allowed us to enjoy the scenery. 

The most famous part of the drive is the Needle Eye Tunnel.  This one-way tunnel is only 8’0” wide by 9’9” high.  We were lucky to get through the tunnel with no delay but watched quite a traffic jam develop once we reached the other side.  A large crowd grew to watch a dually squeeze through the tunnel.

Needle Eye Tunnel, as seen through our dirty windshield

Our final stop was at Sylvan Lake.  We ate lunch, then hiked the one-mile trail around the lake. 

After a relaxing day on Saturday, we were back on the road on Sunday.  We began by driving the Iron Mountain scenic highway.  Like the Wilderness Loop and Needles Highway we had done previously, this highway was designed on foot and horseback by Peter Norbeck, former South Dakota governor and US senator.  All three of these highways were designed to be driven no faster than 25 mph.  The 17-mile Iron Mountain Road was constructed in 1933 and includes magnificent views of the Black Hills, single-lane tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore and three pigtail bridges.  A pigtail bridge is a road bridge that loops over its own road, allowing the road to climb rapidly. 

After completing the Iron Mountain Road, we visited the Mount Rushmore National Monument.  We hiked the one-mile Presidential Trail that took us near the base of the monument.  Unlike our previous visit to Mount Rushmore many years ago when we froze, the weather on Sunday was sunny and a comfortable 77 degrees. 

On Monday, August 30th, we met Eric and Julie Paulikonis for lunch at Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grill in Hill City, SD.  Eric and Julie had been the tail gunners for our caravan to Alaska in the summer of 2018.  It was great to see them again and catch up on what we’d been doing since that trip.  After lunch, we went to the Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City for a wine tasting. 

We both had dentist appointments in Rapid City, SD on Tuesday morning.  On the drive to Rapid City, Jan was able to capture some pictures of the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.  Our morning appointments were finished by 11:30 but, since Jan needed to return at 1:30 for a minor repair to some previous dental work, we had two hours to kill.  We drove to downtown Rapid City and explored the Main Street Square.  Rapid City has sculptures of all of the US Presidents on the downtown street corners.  After checking out several of the Presidents, we stopped for lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Company.  The restaurant is in a former station of the Rapid City Fire Department.

On Wednesday, September 1st, we drove 168 miles to Douglas, WY, where we spent two nights at the Douglas KOA.  Other than a couple of long construction zones, the drive went smoothly.  There was little to do in Douglas so we spent a couple of leisurely days there.

Getting Back on Schedule (August 17-25, 2021)

Our issues with the RAM’s DEF pump and the fifth wheel’s hydraulic system had knocked out about three weeks from our original travel itinerary for the summer.  When we finally got the green light to get back on the road on August 17th, we needed to decide where to reconnect with the plan.  Phil considered various options and decided we should plan to rejoin the plan in Custer, SD on August 25th.  Although we had to cancel the first three days of our 10-day reservation in Custer, Phil developed a doable itinerary that would take us more than 1,600 miles over eight days. 

We left RVs for Less in Knoxville, TN the morning of Tuesday, August 17th.  We drove 235 miles to Clarksville, TN where we spent the night at Clarksville RV Park.  The first 100 miles were driven through the rainy remnants of Hurricane Fred but the second half of the drive was dry and much easier.  With our early departure and the hour gained with the time zone change, we arrived at the campground around 1:30 pm.  After getting set up, we did some exploring in Clarksville.  Both Jason and Jarrod had graduated from Austin Peay University in Clarksville more than a decade ago so we were curious to see how things had changed.  We drove through the campus and past the apartment buildings where they had lived for a few years.

On Wednesday, we got another early start and drove 277 miles to Shelbyville, IL where we spent two nights at Robin Hoods Woods.  Again, the drive was uneventful but, given the back-to-back travel days and the longer-than-usual drive, it was rather exhausting. 

We spent part of Thursday exploring the town of Shelbyville.  We drove to Lake Shelbyville and viewed the dam.  We also drove through downtown Shelbyville and took pictures of the courthouse and sculptures of the Lincoln – Thornton debate on August 9, 1856.  Abraham Lincoln and Judge Anthony Thornton had met on the steps of the old courthouse to debate the expansion of slavery into new Federal territories.

On Friday, we drove 277 miles to West Liberty, IA where we stayed two nights at Little Bear Campground.  We spent much of Saturday, August 21st, visiting the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in nearby West Branch, IA.

Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in a two-room cottage in West Branch.  His Quaker family had helped settle the town.  His father, a blacksmith and, later, a farm implement dealer, died when Herbert was six.  His mother, a Quaker minister, died four years later.  Herbert was split up from his two siblings and moved to Oregon to live with his uncle.  He later earned a degree in geology in the first class of Stanford University.  He then went to work in the California gold mines and, later, joined a British mining firm and became a mining engineer in Australia.  In 1899, he married Lou Henry, who he had met at Stanford.  They immediately moved to China where Hoover continued his career.  He earned a reputation as a “doctor of sick mines” and circled the globe several times with his wife and two sons.  By age 40, he was a millionaire. 

Hoover gave up his mining career and, instead, focused on humanitarian efforts to feed starving Europeans during and after World War I.  He then served as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge.  Hoover easily won the presidency in 1928.  Unfortunately, the Great Depression began after he had been in office for eight months and, by 1932, unemployment had reached 23%.  Although he introduced a number of reforms that paved the way for later New Deal measures, his popularity evaporated and he lost the 1932 election to FDR.  Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Hoover in the bottom third of presidents.  However, Hoover’s reputation recovered in his later years due to his humanitarian efforts.

After touring the Hoover Presidential Museum and Library, we watched a video at the Visitor’s Center and visited Hoover’s 14-by-20 foot birthplace cottage, the Friends Meetinghouse, a blacksmith shop similar to his father’s, the one-room schoolhouse and the gravesite of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover.

We then drove to downtown West Liberty, IA and did some grocery shopping.

On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Onawa, IA where we spent two nights at On-Ur-Wa RV Park.  Although the drive was largely uneventful, it was rather disconcerting to drive all that distance and still be in the same state.

On Monday, we drove into downtown Onawa and saw what is claimed to be the widest main street in the U.S.

We then visited the Lewis and Clark State Park.  We explored a replica of a keelboat that was used by the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

On Tuesday, August 24th, we drove 235 miles to White Lake, SD where we overnighted at Circle K Motel and Campground.  The campground was nothing special but it was close to I-90 and had large, big-rig-friendly sites.

On Wednesday, we completed our 1,600-mile in eight day trek to get caught up with our summer travel itinerary.  We had intended to drive 285 miles to our campground in Custer, SD.  However, when we reached the Badlands, we took a 20-mile detour along the scenic drive through Badlands National Park.  Phil got in for free because he had his Senior Access Pass.  By sheer coincidence, Jan was also able to get in for free, saving the $30 regular admission price, because it was National Park Founders Day.  We drove the full loop and stopped a couple of times to enjoy the viewpoints.  The road was very winding but, fortunately, traffic was light so Phil had no trouble keeping our fifth-wheel on the road.  Jan took quite a number of pictures as she drove along, as well as when we stopped for lunch at one of the viewpoints.

The Road to Being Repaired (July 30 – August 17, 2021)

On Friday, July 3oth, we left Montello, WI and began our journey to Knoxville, TN for our August 3rd service appointment at RVs for Less.  Our first day took us 255 miles to Secor, IL (near Champaign) where we spent the night at Hickory Hill Campground.  Since we were only overnighting, we decided to keep hitched but ended up making multiple adjustments to get level.  It started drizzling as we prepared to leave on Saturday morning and we drove through rain for much of the 298-mile trip to North Bend, OH.  With the time zone change, it was after 4:30 pm by the time we arrived at Indian Springs Campground, where we had planned to spend two nights. 

However, after getting set up, Phil checked his emails and found that he had one from Karen Burson, owner of RVs for Less.  She informed Phil that they were going to reschedule our service appointment until August 24th, three weeks later.  Karen had just learned that her daughter, Amber, had scheduled us for the week that General Manager Ken Rife was going to be on vacation.  Phil had called Ken in early July about our hydraulic leak and leg issues.  Ken had told Phil that he would be on vacation the week of August 3rd but that his staff would be able to take care of us.  Ken had instructed Phil to send Amber a list of our service needs and she would get us scheduled.  Phil sent the list to Amber, with a copy to Ken, on July 9th and Amber replied that she had scheduled us for August 3rd.

Phil responded to Karen that the delay was unacceptable, since we had cancelled several reservations and backtracked from Wisconsin to make the August 3rd appointment.  Although Karen stuck to her decision that we shouldn’t come when Ken was gone, she did agree to get us worked in on August 10th.  Although we were still very unhappy, a one-week delay is better than three weeks.

The next challenge was to find reservations for the extra week, especially with early August being a peak vacation time.  We were able to book two more nights at Indian Springs Campground, to give us time to explore our options and we also had no problem pushing off our August 2nd reservation in Heiskell, TN for a week.  We were able to book Wednesday and Thursday nights at Grand Ole RV Resort.  However, when we tried to find reservations for the weekend, we couldn’t find any vacancies anywhere in central Tennessee.  Finally, we found a site at the KOA Nashville North despite their website previously showing no sites available.  Although the rate of nearly $90 per night for Friday and Saturday nights is higher than we have ever paid (and the KOA Nashville North definitely doesn’t warrant such a rate), we were just happy to have some place to park.

On Tuesday, August 3rd, we visited the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY.  This replica of Noah’s ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world, standing 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet wide.  Although they acknowledge the need to take a lot of artistic license with the design and furnishings, due to limited details in the Bible, it is nonetheless an impressive creation. The three decks of the ark are filled with exhibits that are designed to answer questions and skepticism about Noah’s ark and the biblical flood. 

After we’d explored the ground floor and the first deck, we were both starving so we headed to Emzara’s for a huge buffet lunch.  We then needed to walk off our lunch by visiting the animals in the Ararat Ridge Zoo.  We especially enjoyed watching a two-toed sloth that was more active than its reputation.

We next returned to the ark and completed the second and third decks.  On the way out of the park, we attended a portion of a gospel music concert.

On Wednesday, we drove 267 miles to Goodlettsville, TN.  The first 90 miles were slow due to delays caused by road construction.  After getting set up at Grand Ole RV Resort for two nights, Jason arrived with a carload of Amazon purchases we had had shipped to his house.  We watched a female musician perform for a while, then headed to O’Charley’s for dinner. Jason joined us again for dinner on Thursday and Phil grilled us some steelhead trout.

On Friday, we had to make our 4-mile move to the Nashville North KOA.  Since the posted check-in time wasn’t until 2 pm, we stayed at Grand Ole’ RV Resort until their checkout time at 11 am.  Nothing was said when we arrived at the KOA at 11:07 am.

We really didn’t do much during our three days at the KOA.  Jason was able to join us every evening.  Unfortunately, Phil developed a fever of 101.1 degrees shortly after dinner on Saturday.  Phil’s fever broke overnight and his temperature was closer to normal for most of Sunday.

We had learned that the scarcity of available campsites in the Nashville area was partially due to the Music City Grand Prix being held that weekend.  140,000 race fans were expected to attend the three-day event.  Rather than pay over $80 a ticket and sit outside in 90+ degree temps, we opted to watch the race on TV from our air-conditioned living room.  It was interesting to watch Indy cars race through the streets of downtown Nashville. 

Unfortunately, Phil’s fever returned late Sunday afternoon, hitting 101.9 degrees.  This was to become a pattern over the coming days.

On Monday morning, Phil’s temperature was somewhat lower and he felt well enough to make our 205-mile drive to Heiskell, TN.  We made it safely to our site at Raccoon Valley Campground and were able to relax for a while before Phil’s temperature shot up to 102.6.

 Once again, Phil’s temperature had dropped to a non-fever level by Monday morning so we were able to make the 20-mile drive to our dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville.  We were pleased to get immediate attention to our list of repair items, unlike most of our future visits. 

We managed to get some lunch at O’Charley’s, make a Sam’s Club run, and return home before Phil’s temperature starting climbing again.  This time, it peaked at 104.0 degrees.  After four days of increasingly high evening temps, we decided to get some medical attention. 

Phil scheduled the first available appointment for a COVID test, at 10:15 am on Wednesday morning, at a Knoxville Urgent Care.  Although we had an oil change scheduled at 1 pm at the Knoxville Mazda dealer, we figured there should be plenty of time for both.  We were almost wrong!  Phil had requested a COVID test just to be safe, despite having been vaccinated and the fever being the only real COVID symptom.  This test was advertised as having 15-minute results but, apparently, that depends on when they start the clock.  While he was waiting, Phil tried postponing the oil change but was told that the next opening was over a week away.  Finally, at 11:45, the PA entered the exam room with the expected negative COVID test result.  After asking a number of questions, she prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic and Phil exited at 12:15 pm.  Under their COVID protocol, non-patients were not allowed in the waiting room.  Given the temperature being in the 90s, Jan had needed to find shelter for most of the over-2-hour wait at a nearby Starbucks.  We managed to pick up Phil’s prescription at the nearby Walgreens and make the 30-minute drive to the Mazda dealer, arriving right at 1 pm.

Continuing the trend, the oil change took longer than predicted.  During our wait, Jan discovered that Knoxville has a large used book store not far from the dealer, so that became our next stop.  The store, McKay’s Knoxville, was amazing and we both found a lot of books to buy. 

Phil took his first of 10 daily antibiotic pills.  However, the warnings of potential side effects were rather sobering.  The most common appears to be tendon swelling or snapping, especially for those over 60.  The warning also advised users to consider whether the risk of this injury was potentially worse than the illness you were trying to treat.  Very comforting!

The fever did return, as usual, that afternoon but was not quite as high as the previous day.  We were hopeful that we were finally turning the corner.

On Thursday, August 12th, we were told that we would need to be out of our rig for about four hours so the dealer could repair our issues with our hydraulic lines and our front legs.  The plan was that this would complete the list of needed repairs and we could expect to be back on the road by Friday morning.

Since we hadn’t anticipated our stop at McKay’s Knoxville on Wednesday, we had had no books to exchange.  We remedied this with a return visit on Thursday when we used exchange credits on a few additional books.  We now both have more than enough books to last us through the year.

With stops at a couple of additional retailers and lunch at Panera, we had managed to kill the four hours.  As we returned to the RV dealership, our rig was being moved back into position.  Although we found a few minor issues than needed to be addressed that afternoon, it clearly looked like we were really going to be out of there on Friday morning, in record time.

Phil’s fever returned again Thursday evening but, again, was slightly better than before.  Phil spent much of Thursday evening working our travel plans, with a goal of reconnecting with our original itinerary in South Dakota.

Since we had anticipated a much longer stay, Jan had booked a hair appointment for Friday morning.  While Jan headed to her appointment, Phil booked us a campground for Friday night, refueled the truck at Sam’s Club, and did some grocery shopping at Walmart.  We were both working around a schedule of hitting the road around noon.

The first sign of trouble came when Phil received several text messages from Ken Rife, the GM at RVs for Less.  He learned that, when Ken had contacted our vehicle service contract company for reimbursement, they had balked at the size of the bill and decided they need to inspect the work themselves.  However, they wouldn’t be able to do so until Monday; Tuesday at the latest.  Although an additional three-day delay took another bite out of summer travel plans, the benefit of the delay was that it would buy Phil more time to recover.

Phil’s temperature reached 101.0 on Friday night but broke overnight.  He woke up soaking wet but his temperature was down to 96.0.  It never went back above 98.2 the rest of the weekend.  Phil continued to take the remaining antibiotics but we were optimistic that the mystery illness had passed.

On Monday, August 16th, the CoachNet rep came to RVs for Less to inspect the work that had been done.  Per Ken Rife, the rep had no knowledge of RVs and simply took a lot of pictures.  He was unable to provide an authorization for the bill until he had a chance to review it with his supervisor.  Rather than hold us up any longer, Karen told us Monday afternoon that we were free to leave.  We made plans to get on the road early Tuesday morning.  The remnants of Hurricane Fred were forecasted to hit the Knoxville area all day Tuesday so we stayed hooked up Monday night.  We were rather unlevel all night, which made it difficult to walk around in our rig.  We hit the road early on Tuesday morning in a light drizzle.

At Home with the Ehlenfeldts – July 26 – 30, 2021

On Monday, July 26th, we left Door County, WI and drove 177 miles to Montello, WI where we spent four nights at the home of our friends, Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt.  The trip went smoothly and the truck continued to exhibit no DEF system issues.  When we arrived, Todd did a masterful job of getting our fifth wheel backed into their driveway, without hitting any of the trees that bordered the entrance.

We spent the rest of the day socializing on the hillside overlooking Buffalo Lake.  The temperature was in the mid-80s but the breeze off the lake made it delightful.  Todd and Beth fixed us dinner and we enjoyed dining outdoors.  There were heavy rains and strong winds overnight, resulting in many downed branches.  We were too tired to notice and slept through most of the storm.

On Tuesday, we all went to the Wisconsin Dells.  After walking along the downtown storefronts and the Riverwalk, we cooled off with refreshments at the Riverwalk Pub.  We then caught a shuttle that took us to the Original Wisconsin Duck tour.  We rode in a WWII amphibious vehicle known as a duck.  The driver splashed us into the Wisconsin River and Lake Delton, climbed over sandbars, and covered over four miles of scenic wilderness trails.   

On Wednesday, we explored downtown Montello with Todd and Beth.  We walked along the Fox River, explored a store crammed full of lawn art, and visited the Montello waterfalls.  Next, we drove to Beaver Dam to meet Beth’s twin sister, Linda, and her brother-in-law, Bob.  Linda is a retired beautician and she cut everyone’s hair while we visited.  We next stopped at the Ooga Brewing Company for drinks.  Phil had a Weirdo in the Window and Jan chose a Drive By Frootin’.  We ended the day with a buffet dinner of Chinese food at Ming’s Garden.  Strong winds were forecast for Wednesday night so we moved our vehicles to a neighbor’s driveway but, fortunately, the storm mostly missed Montello.

We spent Thursday relaxing.  The weed cutters had been busy most of the week so Todd and Jan were able to fish from the dock.  Jan prepared an early dinner and, again, we were able to dine outdoors.  After dinner, we played several games of cornhole.  The women ended up winning, two games to one.

We got going early on Friday morning and were ready to roll by 10 a.m.  We said our goodbyes, but with the knowledge that we’ll be together again in Gulf Shores, AL in November.

Door County, WI (July 21-26, 2021)

We arrived at Baileys Grove Campground in Baileys Harbor, WI late in the afternoon on Wednesday, July 21st, for a five-night stay.  We were greeted by our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who had arrived on Monday and were parked practically across the street from us.  We had also planned to arrive on Monday but, due to truck problems, had had to cancel the first two nights.

After we got set up, we socialized with the Ehlenfeldts and they were kind enough to serve us dinner.  We then sat around their campfire until exhaustion from the prior three days’ activities had us heading off to bed.

On Thursday, the Ehlenfeldts showed us around several towns in Door County.  Our first stop was in Sister Bay.  After walking along the beach and marina, we visited Stabbur at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and enjoyed some refreshments at an outside table.  We were able to see the sod roofs on the authentic Swedish log buildings but, unfortunately, the goats that eat the grass on the roofs in the summertime were absent.  We then visited a number of shops along Sister Bay’s main street.

Our next stop was Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek.  This establishment had all sorts of cherry products.  They even had a setup for competitive cherry pit spitting.  The ladies did wine tastings and we bought a bottle of cherry wine.  We also stopped at Wood Orchard Market in Egg Harbor and made some more purchases.

We had dinner reservations at Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil in Fish Creek.  We got back to Fish Creek early so we killed time by visiting several shops.  The actual fish boil occurred precisely at 5 p.m. but we grabbed a table at 4:30 to watch the preparation.  The owner, a third-generation operator of the fish boil, did an excellent job of explaining the process.  He began by cooking baby red potatoes and onions, then added Lake Michigan whitefish steaks, and finally added corn on the cob.  He regulated the temperature by stacking, and removing, pieces of wood along the edge of the pot.  As the fish cooks, a film of oil begins at accumulate on the surface of the water.  The culmination of the process came when the owner threw a can of kerosene on the fire, resulting in a huge flame and the boiling off of the film of fish oil.  The kettle of food was removed from the flame immediately and was delivered to our table within a minute.  The food was delicious, although picking out the bones from the whitefish required a lot of care.  As though we hadn’t had enough to eat, the meal ended with a slice of Door County cherry pie.

After dinner, we returned to the campground and sat by the Ehlenfeldt’s campfire until we were driven indoors by mosquitos.

On Friday, we said goodbye to Todd and Beth.  We will be joining them at their home in a few days.  We then drove to Sturgeon Bay to explore the area.  We took the truck in order to further test the effectiveness of the repairs to the DEF system.  Fortunately, all continued to work as it should.  We visited two lighthouses; the Sturgeon Bay Canal Station Lighthouse and the North Pierhead Lighthouse.  Reaching the North Pierhead Light required walking down a long breakwater.

We then drove back into Sturgeon Bay and walked across the Michigan Street Bridge.  This bridge provided a beautiful view up Sturgeon Bay to the north.  After crossing the bridge, we strolled along the waterfront before returning across the river on the Oregon Street Bridge.  This bridge provided views of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, built in the late 1800s. 

We then strolled along the shops in downtown Sturgeon Bay and sought shelter from the heat at the Starboard Brewing Company.  We tried a couple of their microbrews and shared a plate of local cheeses.  Throughout downtown, we saw numerous cherry sculptures that had been decorate uniquely.

On Saturday, we drove to Egg Harbor and Fish Creek and visited some shops and purchased some cheese.  We then returned to Baileys Harbor and strolled along the main drag.  We stopped at Chive Food Truck for a couple of drinks and an order of fried cheese curds.  We sat in Adirondack chairs overlooking the street and the bay and enjoyed watching the world go by.  The temperature was in the low 80s but sitting under large shade trees with a breeze coming off the bay made it feel great. 

On Sunday, July 25th, we decided to explore the northern end of Door County.  However, as we were leaving Baileys Harbor, we discovered that there was a farmers’ market on the town square.  We parked and checked out all the stalls, including one with live alpacas. 

We then headed north and passed through Sister Bay, Ellison Bay and Gilts Rock.  We continued on towards Northport but soon found ourselves in a line of cars waiting for the ferry to Washington Island.  We turned around and returned to Gilts Rock, where we visited some gift shops, and then on to the Ellison Bay County Park and its scenic overlook.

As we returned through Sister Bay, we stopped at Al Johnson’s Stabbur again for some liquid refreshments.  Once again, the goats were missing from the rooftops.

After stopping for groceries at Piggly Wiggly, we decided to check out the Cana Island Lighthouse.  This 85-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1869 and automated in 1944.  The island is accessible by a tram ride across a shallow causeway.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to make the trip to the island, especially with a car full of groceries on an 85-degree day.  We had to settle for a view of the lighthouse from across the bay.  Our final stop was a brief one at the sand beach on Lake Michigan near Baileys Harbor.

All’s Well That Ends Well (July 19-21, 2021)

On Monday, July 19, we began what we believed would be a 228-mile drive from Manistique, MI to Baileys Harbor, WI (in Door County).  Phil had booked a service appointment at Chrysler World in Abrams, WI to get the DEF counter reset.  It was 144 miles to Abrams so, by the time we arrived, the RAM was showing only nine more miles until we would be limited to 5 mph.  Since the reset we had had done in Escanaba, MI had only taken about 20 minutes, we were hoping that we would be in and out quickly.  We had planned to drop the fifth wheel at a Phillips 66 station near the dealer.  Phil had used Google Earth to verify that there was a large lot where we would be able to park.  However, when we arrived, we discovered the service station was out of business.  Regardless, we pulled in and unhitched the trailer in the vacant lot.  Jan sat in her car by the rig while Phil took the truck to the dealer.  It was good that she stayed because a man from a business on the property came to ask her what was up with the trailer.  It was clear that he didn’t want us there long-term.

The expected 20-minute service appointment turned into a 4-hour emotional rollercoaster and ended on a really bad note.  Over the course of the afternoon, Phil learned that the reset that had been done in Escanaba was possible because of an available software update.  However, the update couldn’t be done again and the mechanics in Abrams couldn’t find any way to reset the counter.  At one point, they had gotten the DEF pump to work again and it looked like they might be able to get us back on the road.  Unfortunately, the pump stopped working as soon as they took it out for a test drive.  Brad, the service manager, spent much of the afternoon trying to find another DEF pump, either from another dealer or a used part supplier, but with no success.  With no short-term solution to our problem, Brad called numerous people to see if they could tow our fifth-wheel to our reserved campsite in Baileys Harbor, but the earliest available tow would have been a couple of days later.  After exploring options of where to park the fifth-wheel, the dealer got permission from the Wisconsin DOT for us to park it in the Park and Ride lot next to the dealership.  By this point, the RAM was down to one mile until we would be limited to 5 mph.  That was just enough for us to get the rig moved and the truck returned to the dealer.

When we got in the fifth wheel, it was too hot to consider spending the night.  With no electrical hook-up, we would not have been able to run the air conditioners.  With our batteries nearly six-years old, Phil was hesitant to extend our bedroom slide since we might not have enough juice left to get it closed again.  We had been running the refrigerator on the inverter but knew that we would exhaust that power supply soon.  Since we had our refrigerator and freezer fairly full, we had to decide what food to try to salvage.  We filled all our coolers with what would fit and bought a 20-pound bag of ice from the Shell station. 

Phil contacted one of the owners of the campground in Baileys Harbor and cancelled our weeklong reservation.  Under the circumstances, she was kind and waived the one-night cancellation fee.

Phil starting checking for a place for us to spend the night.  Abrams, WI is a very small town and had no lodging nearby.  Green Bay was 12-miles away but all the hotels cost $120+.  Phil finally settled on a $65 motel that was 33-miles north of Abrams.  We quickly learned that you don’t get much for $65.  Check-in was a unique experience.  We each had to provide our drivers licenses and fill out a lengthy registration form, with eight sections which each needed to be initialed.  We then learned that we would have to wait 15 minutes to get in our room because the comforter was in the dryer.  We didn’t even want to think about why the comforter had to be washed.  When we finally got in the room, it wasn’t terrible but the bed was very hard.  We tried the TV but we were only able to get one channel. 

After our stressful day, we fell asleep quickly.  However, Phil was awakened at midnight with hip hop music blaring outside our door.  The music continued for about ten minutes, then stopped, only to return about ten minutes later.  Sometime later in the night, a train roared past the motel with its horn blasting.  With all the stress of our truck issues, Phil found it difficult to get back to sleep after these episodes.  Although Jan was able to sleep through the noise, the hard bed kept her awake much of the night.  People started leaving the motel before 6 a.m., which made for an early awakening. 

Phil spent most of the night pondering our options.  He had talked to a diesel mechanic on Monday about having the emission system deleted and, although illegal, was starting to seriously consider it.  However, it would have required us to get the truck towed 91-miles to Florence, WI and we would have still had to get the trailer towed to some campground, assuming we could get reservations.  We had previously located a new DEF pump at a Dodge dealer in Sauk City, WI and had scheduled an installation for July 27th.  However, it was 168-miles from Abrams to Sauk City and we didn’t want to have the truck towed that far.  The best option appeared to be for us to drive to Sauk City and buy the part and return it to Abrams to have it installed.  However, we had sensed some reluctance by dealers to selling the part, without doing the installation, so we weren’t sure the Sauk City dealer would agree to this option. 

Fortunately, when Phil called the Sauk City service manager on Tuesday morning and gave him our sob story, he agreed to sell us the part.  We quickly checked out of the hotel and began a long day of driving, despite being exhausted.  We ended up covering 370 miles and, other than pulling through a McDonalds for breakfast, didn’t stop for meals.  We managed to buy the pump in Sauk City and hand it over to the Abrams service manager before he left for the day at 4:30 p.m.  He assured Phil that he would get the pump installed on Wednesday, although it might be late in the afternoon.  We were feeling optimistic so we called the campground in Baileys Harbor and reclaimed the remaining five days of our reservation.  The owner had to do some rearranging but managed to get us our original site for the whole stay.

After our Monday night motel experience, we decided we needed better lodging for Tuesday night.  While we were driving, Jan was able to find us a good rate at a Country Inn & Suites in Green Bay.  Compared to the motel, the room at the Country Inn was wonderful.  We walked to a nearby pizzeria and had a delicious Chicago-style pizza.  We slept much better on Tuesday night, although Jan did roll off the queen-sized bed during the night.

We killed time on Wednesday morning and stayed in the room until the noon checkout time.  Since we were in Green Bay, we decided we should visit Lambeau Field, rather than just hang out at the Chrysler dealership.  Although we didn’t get to tour Lambeau Field, we did spend over an hour at Titletown, a unique community development next to the stadium.  In addition to restaurants and a hotel, Titletown features a large public park with outdoor games, fitness activities and a winter skating rink and tubing hill.  The Play 60-theme area has a regulation football field, electronically-timed 40-yard dash, climbing structures, slides and more.  Throughout the plaza, there are horseshoes, bean bag toss, shuffleboard, bocce, ping pong and foosball.  They also have books, magazines, board games, and art supplies ready for use, all free of charge.  We climbed the tubing hill and played some shuffleboard.

We returned to the car dealership around 2:30 and were relieved to learn that the repair work was going well.  At 4 p.m., the repairs were completed and we were able to get on the road again.  After retrieving our fifth-wheel from the Park and Ride lot, we began the 87-mile drive to Baileys Harbor.  We did have to stop once along the way due to our front legs dropping but, other than that, the trip went smoothly.  We are both very hopeful that our truck problems have been resolved and that we will not have to face such a stressful situation again.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (June 15 – July 19, 2021)

On Tuesday, June 15th, we drove 63 miles north to Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  The beginning of the drive took us over the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge.  The height of the bridge and the metal grating on the road bed is reportedly terrifying for some drivers.  Until COVID hit, the bridge authority used to make employees available to drive your vehicle across the bridge if you were too scared to drive it yourself.  Despite a number of lane changes due to bridge repairs, neither of us found driving across the bridge to be very scary.

Sault (pronounced “soo”) Ste. Marie, the oldest city in the Midwest, was founded in 1668.  It lies on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is right across the river and is connected by the International Bridge (now closed to us due to COVID).

We stayed at Aune-Osborn Campground for three nights.  All the sites are back-ins but, using Google Earth and the campground map, Phil had selected a site that was very easy to back into.  Our site only had a 30-amp electrical hookup but the weather was mild enough that we could get by with only one air conditioner.  We were only one row away from the St. Mary’s River and, since the site behind us was not occupied for the first two days, we had a clear view of the river, and Canada, from our living room windows.

After getting set up, we sat outside and watched soldiers of the Michigan National Guard erect several sections of a pontoon bridge on the river.  Our neighbor told us they do this exercise every year, to prepare for the possibility of the International Bridge being destroyed in a wartime attack.

Our site also provided us with a great view of the large vessels transporting cargo between the two Great Lakes and, in some cases, on to the Atlantic.  The Soo Locks, through which these large ships travel, is a short distance up the river from us.  Jan enjoyed shooting pictures of the many cargo ships as they sailed by us. 

On Wednesday, we visited the Soo Locks, which are managed by the US Army Corp of Engineers.  There are four locks: the MacArthur, Poe, Davis and Sabin (closed).  The Poe Lock, the largest of the four, was rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate 1,000-foot vessels.  Plans are underway to replace the Davis and Sabin locks with another lock that can handle 1,000-foot vessels. 

More than 11,000 vessels pass through these locks every year, transporting iron ore, coal, limestone and grain. Upon our arrival, we went up on the observation platform.  We watched a large cargo ship pass through the Poe Lock and two tour boats pass through the MacArthur Lock.

We then spent time in the Visitors Center where we examined numerous informational displays and watched several videos dealing with the history and operation of the locks.  We learned that, before the canals and locks were built, rapids dropping 21 feet in less than a mile, stopped all boat traffic at this point.  Locks have been used for thousands of years and use gravity to raise or lower boats between two elevations.  Although there have been major improvements in machinery, the Soo Locks still use gravity, not pumps, to move millions of gallons of water to help boats bypass the rapids.  We also learned that the 75-mile-long St. Mary’s River is technically not a river, but a strait, a series of lakes and connecting waterways.  It takes freighters about nine hours to pass through the St. Mary’s River, navigating a series of tight turns.

We then had an early dinner at Muloney’s Irish Pub, before returning to the observation platform to watch another large cargo ship pass through the Poe Lock on its way to Lake Superior.

After returning to the campground, we went for a walk along the river and discovered a local park and a ferry that transports cars to Sugar Island, a 14-mile-long island known for bird-watching.

On Thursday, we drove to Brimley, MI and hiked the Mission Hill trail.  This 4-mile hike was lollipop-shaped.  The first half-mile had a very steep descent and, since we returned on the same path, a steep ascent on the return.  The rest of the hike was a loop that paralleled a lovely lake.  The outbound trail was near the banks of the lake, while the return was on a ridge high above the lake.  The trailhead was at an observation point that provided a beautiful view of the lakes, with Lake Superior in the distance.

On Friday, June 18th, we left Sault Ste. Marie and drove 77 miles west to Newberry, MI, where we spent five nights at Kritter’s Northcountry Campground. 

We spent Saturday exploring Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  The Tahquamenon Falls consist of two sets of waterfalls on the Tahquamenon River.  As much as 50,000 gallons of water per second flow over these falls, making them the third most voluminous waterfalls east of the Mississippi.  Adding to Tahquamenon’s majesty is its distinctive colors: bronze water from the tannic acid of decaying cedars and hemlocks along its banks, and bright white foam from the water’s high salt content.

Our first stop was at the Lower Falls, a series of five waterfalls flowing around an island.  We hiked a 2.9-mile trail that wound through the state park before bringing us to the edge of the falls.  At the gift shop, we bought some FROG jam, consisting of fig, raspberry, orange and ginger.

We then drove four miles upstream to the Upper Falls.  The Upper Falls are more than 200 feet across and have a drop of approximately 48 feet.  We hiked a 1.9-mile path that took us first to the brim of the falls and then to the gorge.  Accessing the platform by the falls’ brim required going down 94 steps; the viewing platform at the gorge required going down 116 steps.  In both cases, the return up the steps was much more challenging than the descent.

We finished our day with a late-afternoon meal at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub.  It seemed unusual to find a microbrewery in a state park but the food and beer were both good.

We spent Sunday in Paradise.  Paradise, Michigan, that is.  We visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.  Whitefish Point has been called “the graveyard of Lake Superior.”  Since navigation began on Lake Superior, there have been approximately 550 wrecks.  More vessels were lost in the Whitefish Point area than any other part of Lake Superior.  This compact museum traces the history of Great Lakes commerce and the disasters that sometimes accompanied it.  Several shipwrecks were chronicled, each with a scale model, photos or drawings, artifacts from the wreck, and a description of how and why the ship went down.  Most compelling is the Edmund Fitzgerald display, with a life preserver, the ship’s bell and a videotape showing pictures of the 29 crewmen who perished in the 1975 wreck, as well as film footage of the ship prior to the wreck.

We next visited the Whitefish Point Light, the oldest active light on Lake Superior, constructed in 1861.  We toured the Keepers Quarters Dwelling attached to the light.  The dwelling has been fully restored to reflect the life of the lightkeeper and his family at the turn of the century, circa 1890-1920.  Although the dwelling looked very attractive, life for the keeper and his family was quite difficult.  The pay was very low and they had almost no contact with civilization away from the light.  Since 1971, the light, fog signal, and radio beacon have been automated and controlled from Sault. Ste. Marie.

We also visited the U.S. Coast Guard Lifeboat Station.  Established in 1923, this was the first station of what was then known as the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  We saw a restored surfboat, as well as a hoist that was used to rescue crew from ships that ran aground.  Between 1871 and 1889, Service-wide, surfboats were launched 6,730 times, rescuing 6,735 victims of shipwreck.

Our remaining two days in Newberry were rainy and quite a bit cooler.  The daytime highs never got above 61 degrees and the nighttime lows were in the upper 30s.  We spent most of these days reading and were able to take advantage of the campground’s book exchange to get three new books.

On Wednesday, June 23rd, as Phil was sweeping branches off the top of our slides in preparation for our travel, he discovered that one of the cables on our bedroom slide had snapped.  Fortunately, we were able to get the slide closed, using the remaining cables and with Phil and the campground owner pushing the slide in from the outside.  The slide remained in place as we drove 77 miles to Christmas, MI, where we spent the next week at Pictured Rocks RV Park.  Unfortunately, there were no mobile RV techs in either the Newberry or Christmas areas.  Phil called the service department at a large RV dealership near Marquette, MI (our next stop) but learned that they were already booked out until late July.  Fortunately, Jan was able to find a mobile RV tech in Baraga, MI and we set up an appointment for the repair to be done on July 8th, while we’re in Iron Mountain, MI.

Thursday’s forecast called for rain most of the day so we decided to use the day to get oriented to the area.  The weather turned out to be much nicer than expected. Our first stop was at Munising Falls.  There was a half-mile boardwalk to the falls.  The pathway split and each way took us up steep stairways that led to either side of the falls.

We next stopped at the Wagner Falls Lookout.  This time, the path to the falls was only .2-mile. 

We then stopped at Muldoons Pasties so Phil could dine on the Michigan Upper Peninsula’s signature dish, the pasty (rhymes with “nasty”).  Muldoons was just one of several pasty shops we saw as we drove through Munising. The pasty originated in Cornwall, England.  In the 1840s, many miners left the UK to work in the copper mines in the UP of Michigan.  The pasty, which is a pastry shell that contains beef, potatoes, carrots and rutabegas, was the ideal meal for a miner.  Since the miner’s hands were dirty, they would hold the pasty in one hand by the crimped crusty edge, eat the middle, and then toss the edges aside.  Phil thought the pasty tasted OK but Jan decided to pass on trying it.  At one pound, the pasty left Phil feeling overly full for the rest of the afternoon.  Jan made a new friend with Sasquatch.

After Muldoons, we drove to the Grand Island Scenic Overlook.  Grand Island, roughly the size of Manhattan, lies on the other side of Munising Bay.  While there are some private landowners, most of the island is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and is largely wooded. Automobiles are not allowed, except by special permit and by island landowners.  A ferry connects the island with the mainland.

On Friday, we explored the Miners Creek section of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Our first stop was at the upper and lower overlooks at Miners Castle.  The sandstone cliffs are known as Miners Castle due to the nine-story high rock formation with turret-like shapes formed by wind and wave erosion.  Unfortunately, thick fog limited our visibility. 

Next, we attempted to hike the Miners Castle to Miners Beach trail.  Although the trail was unmarked, the first mile was fairly simple to follow.  However, after we crossed a bridge, the trails began to split and head off in multiple directions.  We tried multiple paths, each leading to a dead-end, but, with no cell service to enable the use of the Alltrails map, we finally gave up and found our way back to the starting point. 

After getting back to our car, we decided to drive to Miners Beach.  Since the temperature was only 60 degrees, we were surprised to see a lot of people relaxing on the beach and some children in the water.  We also saw a large number of kayakers returning from their tour on the bay. 

Our final stop was at nearby Miners Falls.  We hiked down a .6-mile path to reach these falls, which have a 40-foot drop.

On Sunday, we headed to Autrain Falls and hiked a .8-mile trail that first took us to the lower falls and then, back up the river, to the upper falls.  On our way back to Christmas, we stopped at a scenic area that overlooked Lake Superior.

What would Christmas be without Santa’s workshop?  Unfortunately, we discovered that Santa’s Workshop is now permanently closed, so we were unable to visit Santa.  However, we were still able to see what is supposedly the world’s largest Santa and the largest concrete Frosty the Snowman.  Next, we visited the Kewadin Casino.  We were each given $13 credit on our player’s cards and, after playing the slot machines for an hour, left with more money than we had risked.

On Monday, we did a 2.5-hour Pictured Rocks cruise.  We arrived an hour early and were first in line, so we were able to get very good seats. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a 40-mile stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, was authorized as the first national lakeshore in 1966.  Sandstone cliffs tower 50 – 200 feet above the water.  Streaks on the cliffs occur when groundwater oozes out of cracks in the rock.  The dripping water contains minerals that leave behind a colorful stain as the water trickles down the cliff face (iron – red; manganese – black/white; limonite – yellow/brown; copper – pink/green).  Near the turnaround point of the cruise, the ship captain pulls the boat into Chapel Cove so we were within a few feet of the rocks.  On our return, we passed the decommissioned East Channel Lighthouse on Grand Island. 

Boat backing out of Chapel Cove

On Wednesday, June 30th, we moved 38 miles to Rippling River RV Resort in Marquette, MI.  Checkout time at Pictured Rocks RV Park was 11 am and the official check-in time at Rippling Rivers RV Resort wasn’t until 3 pm so we needed to kill some time.  We stopped at the Michigan Welcome Center and took a short hike along Lake Superior.  Despite this, we still arrived at Rippling Rivers around 1 pm.  We needed the extra time, since we were in a back-in site.  We quickly remembered why we almost always book pull-through sites, as we had a lot of difficulty getting into our site.  Although the site was plenty wide, the road was narrow and was lined with decorative boulders and small trees that served as challenges.  Jan tried to give guidance over our cell phones but we kept losing connections.  We finally got into our site but not before providing quite a lot of entertainment for the other campers.  Marquette, with a population of 20,000, is the largest town in the Upper Peninsula and is home to the only Wal-Mart in the U.P. so, after getting set up, we headed there and stocked up on staples.

On Thursday, we visited Marquette’s historic downtown district and explored some of the shops.  We then headed to Presque Isle Park, a peninsula about four miles north of downtown.  The park provides a microcosm of the area’s beauty: rocky bluffs, tall pines, and lovely Lake Superior vistas.  We hiked the 2.5-mile loop trail around the circumference of the park.  We stopped at Blackrocks, an ancient rock formation on the upper end of the peninsula, and watched a father and daughter leap from the 10 to 15-foot cliffs into the crystal water below.  After completing the loop trail, we walked out on the breakwater toward the Presque Isle Lighthouse.  The final approach to the lighthouse would have involved climbing over a long stretch of boulders but we opted to call it a day instead.  From the breakwater, we were able to view the Marquette Ore Dock.  This huge structure, which extends .25-mile out into Lake Superior, is designed to load 600-foot-long ships with taconite pellets deposited by overhead railroad cars.  Unfortunately, no ships were being loaded at the time.

On Friday, we drove 59 miles west of Marquette and hiked the 4.5-mile out-and-back Canyon Gorge Trail.  The first 2/3 of this trail took beside the roaring rapids of the Sturgeon River as it passed through a gorge carved out of black rocks.  As we had seen at Tahquamenon Falls, the tannic acid derived from decaying cedars caused the water to be a deep bronze.  There were numerous waterfalls along the way, although the highest only had a 30’ drop.

Sunday was July 4th and was an unusually hot day for the U.P., with a high of 91.  We planned to take it easy, due to the heat.  We drove to view the Warner Falls, which our guide book described as “among the most scenic of the Marquette region’s waterfalls.”  Unfortunately, the falls were not easily accessible so we did not get a very good view.  Next, we headed north of Marquette to Sugarloaf Mountain.  We hiked an easy 1.4-mile loop trail.  Although the trail was easy, there were a large number of stairs that needed to be scaled to reach the overlook and this was quite strenuous in the heat.  We had planned to attend some of Marquette’s July Fourth festivities that evening but the heat changed our minds.

Monday was about 10 degrees cooler so we decided to hike the 2.4-mile out-and-back Dead River Falls trail.  It was a beautiful trail that took us along the Dead River to numerous waterfalls and rapids.  The hike turned out to be considerably more strenuous than we had anticipated, with lots of ascents and descents as well as numerous rock scrambles.  When we reached the furthest point, we removed our boots and socks and cooled our feet in the river.      

When we had arrived at Rippling Rivers on June 30th, the truck had flashed the message that our DEF system issue had returned and, in 120 miles, we would be limited to 5 mph.  After disconnecting, Phil drove the truck a couple of times and the message never returned.  However, on July 7th, we drove 79 miles to Iron Mountain, MI, where we stayed at Summer Breeze Campground for three days, and the message returned almost immediately.  By the time we got parked at Summer Breeze, we only had about 40 miles left before we would be in limp mode.  We found a Dodge dealer in Iron Mountain and we were fortunate to be able to get in that afternoon.  That was the good news; the bad news was that we need a new DEF pump and that part had a three-month back order.  The service manager told Phil he could reset the counter on the truck so we could go about 500-600 miles before it would shut us down.  He did say it could possibly be less if we were towing.  We would need to find Dodge dealers along the way to reset the counter each time we ran low on miles.  The following day, Jan made several phone calls and was able to find the DEF pump we need at a Dodge dealer in Sauk City, WI (near Madison).  We scheduled the repair job for July 27th.  With 500 miles before we would face the DEF issue again, we figured we could continue with our travel plans, although we would need one counter reset along the way, in Sturgeon Bay, WI. 

In addition to the truck problem, we discovered that the motor on our electric power cord reel had apparently burnt out.  More significantly, we also discovered, upon arriving at Summer Breeze, that we had an issue with our hydraulic lines on our fifth wheel.  After getting set up, our front legs sank somewhat.  Jan re-leveled the rig and, fortunately, the legs remained extended this time.  However, we discovered hydraulic fluid was leaking and pooling up on one of the landing pads.  After evaluating possible options, we decided to return to our dealer in Knoxville, TN for repairs.  Phil scheduled a service appointment for August 3rd, after getting the truck repaired on July 27th.  Unfortunately, this will require us to cancel a month of reservations that had been booked months ago.

On Thursday, July 8th, we had two service techs from Superior Mobile RV Repairs come to our campsite to repair the broken cable on our bedroom slide-out.  The repair job went surprisingly quickly.

On Friday, we drove to Norway, MI and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Piers Gorge Trail.  The Menominee River runs from near Iron Mountain to Green Bay, WI, forming nearly half of the Michigan-Wisconsin border.  It narrows through Piers Gorge, a run of whitewater rapids and waterfalls.  In the mid-1800s, loggers relied on the Menominee to float logs to the river’s mouth.  This stretch of rivers created major logjams so they built a series of wooden piers to slow the current and channel the flow – hence the name.  This was a beautiful hike, as it kept us close to the river most of the way.  We saw a number of whitewater raft tours on the river but, unfortunately, did not get to see any of them pass through the wildest rapids.

On Saturday, we drove 115 miles to Manistique, MI where we had reserved nine nights at Manistique Lakeshore Campground.  Manistique is on the northern edge of Lake Michigan.  We had a long pull-through site and were positioned so our living room window gave us a view of Lake Michigan.

The drive to Manistique was far from uneventful.  The dreaded DEF system issue returned almost immediately and, by the time we reached our campground, we were down to 92 miles before we would be limited to 5 mph.  So much for being able to go 500-600 miles before having this issue again!  In addition, Jan noticed part way through the trip that our front legs had dropped.  We stopped and retracted the legs again.  Fortunately, they remained retracted for the remainder of our drive.

On Sunday, we attempted to forget our troubles and got out to explore the area.  First, we spent some time in downtown Manistique and did some shopping at the Mustard Seed, a local gift shop.  We then visited the East Breakwater Lighthouse.  The light, standing 35’ tall, was built in 1916 and automated in 1969.  After scrambling over a lot of boulders, we managed to reach the concrete breakwater and walked out to the lighthouse.

We next drove about 22 miles to the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse.  Pronounced “sis-shwa” – French for “only choice” – it sits at the end of a finger of land that offers boaters the only choice for hiding from storms along this stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline.  The lighthouse, built 1892-1895, is still operational but is no longer manned.  The Historical Society from the neighboring town of Gulliver has done an excellent job of filling the two-story keeper’s residence, boat house and fog horn building with tons of memorabilia.  We watched a video documentary that told the history of the lighthouse and included interviews with people who had worked or lived at the lighthouse.  Toward the end, we climbed the 97 steps to the top of the lighthouse and were able to see far out into Lake Michigan.

We dined at Clyde’s Drive-In.  Although car hop service was available, we opted to go inside and eat at the counter.  This restaurant was a throwback to the 1950s and was clearly popular, based on the number of cars in the parking lot.  We each had burgers and shakes, and split an order of sweet potato fries.

On Monday, we walked the 3.2-mile down-and-back Manistique Boardwalk.  This paved path, with occasional sections of wooden boardwalk, wound its way along the Lake Michigan shoreline and took us past the Manistique Light.  We watched the dredging operation in the harbor and discovered a large frog.

On Tuesday, we drove to the Big Springs known as Kitch-iti-kipi.  This spring is on the western side of Indian Lake and is 45 feet deep and 200 feet across.  Beneath the Big Spring, the rock formation is cracked, allowing the pressurized water to squirt into the pool through a dancing layer of sand.  The water bubbles up from the earth at a rate of 10,000 to 16,000 gallons per minute and flows continuously throughout the year at a constant 45 degrees.  The state park provides a glass-bottom raft that is propelled by passengers along a cable tethered to either shore.  The crystal-clear water allowed us to watch the gushing springs, skeletons of downed trees and many large trout.

On Wednesday, Phil took the truck 54 miles back to Escanaba, MI to get the Performance Control Module (PCM) reset.  This appeared to have been successful in getting us up to another 200 miles before we will need to get it reset again.  Assuming this process continues to work, we will need to have the PCM reset three more times to get us to Sauk City, WI, where we will have the DEF pump replaced. It’s annoying and expensive but, if it works, we will be greatly relieved.

On Friday, we drove to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  First, we hiked 4 miles on a couple of trails along the Upper Goose Pen Pool that are primarily used by cross-country skiers.  The scenery was beautiful but we were bothered by huge flies.  We finally had to resort to wearing our mosquito nets on our heads and dousing ourselves in bug spray.  Next, we did the seven-mile wilderness wildlife drive in our car.  We saw lots of swans and turtles.

On Saturday, July 17, we spent the afternoon sitting in our chairs on the campground beach, overlooking Lake Michigan.  We broke out our beach umbrella for the first time.  The water was fairly warm.  We watched quite a few of our fellow campers swimming but we only waded in a short distance.

Lower Michigan (May 27 – June 15, 2021)

On Thursday, May 27th, we got an early start and drove 190 miles from Elkhart, IN to Ludington, MI where we spent five nights at Poncho’s Pond RV Park.  We set up in a light drizzle but managed to get finished before the heavier rain began.  The campground was very attractive and our site was on the edge of a large pond.  However, our pad was quite narrow and not long enough to accommodate all our vehicles.  Since the campground rules prohibited parking on the grass, we needed to remove the bikes and bike rack so our car wouldn’t be sticking out into the road.

The weather for the entire Memorial Day weekend was quite cool.  The highs for our first three days never got above 60 degrees and Memorial Day itself was only slightly warmer. On Saturday, we drove to Ludington State Park on the edge of Lake Michigan.  We hiked 4.5-miles out-and-back on the Lighthouse Trail.  The trail first took us to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1867 after 12 ships had wrecked in the area in 1855.  On our return, we climbed the dunes at the site of a shipwreck and the former site of a station of the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  Unfortunately, there were no remains to be seen.

That evening we drove to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the sunset.

On Sunday, we returned to Ludington State Park and hiked the 2.5-mile Lost Lake and Island Loop Trail.  This loop trail took us around the circumference of Lost Lake, with us hiking along Hamlin Lake on the return.

Monday was Memorial Day.  We returned to Ludington State Park for the third day and hiked the 2.3-mile Skyline Trail.  The middle of this loop hike involved climbing over 200 stairs to the top of a sand dune that provided a view of Lake Michigan.  The trail ended at the Hamlin Dam which feeds the Sable River.

We then drove back into Ludington and hiked along the Ludington North breakwater to a lighthouse, a distance of one-half mile in each direction.  We were glad the waves were not as strong as we had observed in previous days and we managed to walk the breakwater without getting wet,

On Tuesday, June 1st, we moved northerly to Traverse City, MI.  With only an 82-mile drive from Ludington and check-in not allowed until 2 pm, we had a leisurely morning and departed at 12:30.  Although our starting and ending points were both on US-31, the GPS took us on a rather circuitous route.  We arrived at Holiday Park Campground at 2:30 for our weeklong stay and found that our area of the campground was largely devoid of other campers.  We expect that to change on the weekend.

On Wednesday, we drove to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Lake Michigan and the giant dunes were formed 14,000 years ago when the glaciers receded.  Over time, forests have developed in much of the area.  After a brief stop at the Visitors Center, we drove the 7-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and got out to explore at several of the stops.  One of the stops provided a 450-foot steep climb down a dune to Lake Michigan.  There was a warning sign stating that a rescue from the slope would cost $3,000 so we just watched from an overlook as some of the younger, and more adventurous, climbers took the challenge.

Our next stop was at the Dune Climb.  We struggled in deep sand to get up the massive dunes and managed to get a view of Lake Michigan in the distance.  We decided not to attempt the entire Dune Climb Trail, which would have entailed walking four miles in the deep sand. 

After a stop in Glen Arbor for some ice cream treats, we hiked the 2.9-mile Good Harbor Bay Trail.  This loop trail took us through thick forests and a swamp.

On Thursday, we drove to Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, MI.  This state park is one of the largest in Lower Michigan.  It is named for its 49 acres of old-growth pine forest, some of the last remaining in the state.  After exploring the displays at the Visitor Center, we walked along a path through the old-growth forest.  We stopped at the Chapel in the Pines, built in 1953.

We then toured the Logging Museum, with its depiction of the state’s 19th-century logging era, when Michigan led the nation in sawed lumber production.

We then did a scenic drive on dirt roads that wound through the forest.  After the drive, we hiked the 3.3-mile Ausable River Foot Trail.

On Friday, we started our day at the Blue Vase Book Exchange in Interlochen, MI.  This bookstore operates with a unique business model, selling used books, DVDs, games, and vinyl records.  In addition to selling books online, they allow customers to bring in their gently loved books and exchange them for different ones.  Generally, they give one half the store value in credit that can be used to buy books from their very large inventory.  We took in ten books we had finished and left with ten new-to-us books.

Next, we drove to downtown Traverse City and spent time exploring the East Front Street shopping district.  We stopped for lunch at a collection of food trucks.  After checking our a few stores, we wandered down to the marina on West Grand Traverse Bay.  Before leaving downtown, we stopped at the Grand Traverse Pie Company and bought a peach pie.  Our final stop of the day was at Walgreens, where Phil got his second dose of the Shingrix vaccine.

On Saturday, we visited The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, on the grounds of the former Traverse City State Hospital (previously known as the Northern Michigan Asylum).  After visiting several of the shops, we took a two-hour guided tour of the hospital.  Our tour guide, Vanessa, had grown up at the facility as the son (then named Ben) of the hospital’s Superintendent and as a part-time employee in the Maintenance department.  She shared a lot of amusing and sad stories about life at the hospital and her interactions with the patients and staff.  We learned a lot about the history of the hospital and its approach to dealing with mental health issues.  Our tour included visits into the former chapel (now a reception hall), one of the unrenovated buildings and a walk through the brick steam tunnel built in 1883.

Construction of the Northern Michigan Asylum began in 1882. In spite of a time of hand tools and mule power, the immense task of constructing the huge hospital took less than three years to complete. By November of 1885, it received its first patients. The main structure (Building 50) was almost one quarter mile long, with over 300,000 square feet, and employed central heat and electric lights. With a rudimentary understanding of germ theory, a state-of-the-art ventilation system was designed that would use large fans to force air through underground tunnels, into the basement and up flues in the building. Almost immediately after completion of the original building, there was demand for additional patient rooms. Standalone cottages were constructed to serve the increasing patient population. 

The Northern Michigan Asylum was built more than six decades before the use of the first psychiatric drugs. Founding Superintendent Dr. Munson believed in the Quakers’ moral treatment movement. Central to this belief was Dr. Munson’s philosophy that “Beauty is Therapy.” If patients were surrounded by a beautiful environment, from the architecture to the campus grounds, their emotional and mental state would be uplifted. Dr. Munson made an effort to ensure that patients felt at home, rather than trapped in an unfamiliar place. Each patient room had a window and view to the outside. This let in an abundance of natural light and allowed every patient the opportunity to enjoy a view of the campus.  Use of physical restraints was forbidden, except for the most extreme patient situations. Meals at the hospital were served in dining rooms on fine china, atop white linen tablecloths. Fresh flowers and plants decorated dining tables and resting areas. Artwork and inspirational sayings adorned the walls of the wide hallways.

By 1966, the hospital population hit its peak with 3,600 patients and 800 employees.  However, as the patient population dropped in the 1970s-1990s, some of the buildings were shuttered or demolished.  The state and community debated the preservation or demolition of the facility.  In 2002, the Minervini Group LLC acquired a 36-acre parcel and renovation began.  Today, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons contains offices, residential lofts, a senior living facility, and numerous shopping and dining establishments.  Numerous events are held on the grounds throughout the year.  Renovation of the outbuildings is still a work in progress.

Following our tour, we had a late lunch at the Red Spire Brunch House in the lower level of the former hospital.

On Sunday, we headed to the farmers’ market in Interlochen.  Although there were a lot of vendors, it must have been too early in the year for vegetables and we left empty-handed.  However, we did stop at the Blue Vase Book Exchange again and left with another ten books.  We should now have enough reading material to last us quite a while.

On Tuesday, June 8th, we drove 120 miles to Mackinaw City, MI where we will spend a week at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.  We had expected to take I-75 most of the way but the GPS had a different idea.  We drove almost the entire trip on US-31, which took us along Lake Michigan and by a number of beautiful lakes.  It was a longer trip, timewise, but definitely more picturesque.  Our campsite was a large pull-through with plenty of privacy.  Although not on the water, we could see Lake Huron a short distance from our site.  A beach with a clear view of the Mackinac Bridge was only a short walk away from us. 

Unfortunately, halfway through the trip, Phil’s truck started giving him a message of “DEF System Service – See Dealer.”  DEF is the acronym for Diesel Exhaust Fluid and can create a serious problem for a diesel truck.  If unresolved, the truck will be limited to driving at 5 mph.  In fact, as Phil continued to drive, the truck messages began to display more ominous messages, beginning with “5 mph in 150 miles” and counting down from there.  Upon arriving at our campsite, Phil found that the closest RAM dealer was in Cheboygan, 14 miles away.  We drove the truck to the dealer and hope the issue can be resolved within a few days.  We were fortunate that the issue arose when we were still close to a large town.

After leaving Cheboygan, we explored downtown Mackinaw City.  We selected Noona Lisa’s Italian Ristorante for dinner.

On Wednesday, we drove to Wilderness State Park and hiked the North Country Trail Sturgeon Bay South Loop.  When we arrived in the parking lot at the trail’s geo-coordinates, we only found one trailhead and began down that trail.  After a mile, Phil checked our progress against the Alltrails app and discovered we had headed north when we were supposed to go south.  We backtracked and discovered the correct trailhead was across the road from the parking area.  The first half of the hike wasn’t really a trail at all.  Instead, it was a pleasant stroll alone the shore of Sturgeon Bay.  The return portion of the loop involved many fairly steep ascents and descents.  It was rated as moderate difficulty and reminded us of the moderate trails we had hiked in Maine. We ended the hike with a total of 7.6 miles.

On Thursday, we took the Star Link Ferry to Mackinac Island.  Our ferry was one of the few that included a route under the Mackinac Bridge.  The trip to Mackinac Island took about 40 minutes. 

Mackinac Island was first settled by Europeans in 1670.  The island was owned by the French, British and Americans over the next 150 years.  In the 1820s, the island was the center of a large fur trade.  By the late 1830s, commercial fishing was the primary industry.  Following the Civil War, the island became a popular tourist destination. Mackinac National Park was created in 1875 as America’s second national park, just three years after Yellowstone.  In 1895, the Federal government transferred the national park to the state of Michigan.  Three years later, the first automobile appeared on Mackinac Island, frightening horses and threatening the island’s carriage trade economy.  After receiving a petition from the tour operators, the village council quickly banned “horseless carriages.”  To this day, no motor vehicles are allowed on the island.  Tourists and residents alike must rely entirely on horse-drawn carriages and bicycles to get around on the island. 

Upon arrival, we strolled down Main Street and purchased some fudge at Murdick Fudge.  We continued our stroll along the bay, before stopping at the Grand Hotel.  This beautiful hotel was built in 1887 and still demands huge room rates.  In fact, we were charged $10 a piece simply to tour the hotel and grounds. 

After leaving the hotel, we strolled along Market Street.  Lilac bushes were everywhere and were in full bloom.  Their aroma helped to offset the ever-present scent of horse droppings.  We then returned to Main Street for lunch and, after checking the menus at numerous restaurants, we dined at Horn’s Gaslight Bar.  Following lunch, we visited a lot of shops on Main Street.  By mid-afternoon, the weather had gotten quite cool, with strong winds and a temperature of 62 degrees.  Phil gave into the chill and purchased a sweatshirt.  We also picked up another chunk of fudge at Murdick’s.  After some additional sightseeing and a brief stop in the Sainte Anne Church, we boarded the 5 pm ferry for our return to Mackinaw City.  There was still a lot we hadn’t see on the island but we decided to make a return trip later in our stay.

Friday was a rainy and dreary day so we stayed indoors most of the day.  At 5 pm, Phil finally heard from the service manager at the Dodge dealer that the truck was ready to be picked up.  Since the service department was closing and we were only 15 miles away, Phil asked the service manager to just put the key in the truck’s console and leave the truck unlocked.  However, when we arrived in Cheboygan, the truck was locked.  After dinner, Phil located the spare key and we returned to the dealership to retrieve the truck.

On Saturday, we explored downtown Mackinaw City.  As we arrived, we discovered a large event happening in the local park.  We later learned that the 1st annual Mackinaw City Motorcycle Rally was being held this weekend.  There were well over 1,000 motorcycles in town and bikers were everywhere we went.  Our first stop was at Michilimackanac (Mackinaw’s original name) State Park.  This was Michigan’s second state park and is home to two historic sites, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Colonial Michilimackinac.  The park provides a great view of Mackinac Bridge, where the motorcycle rally had scheduled a parade over and back.  Unfortunately, due to a fatal motorcycle accident, traffic across the bridge was backed up for hours.  Due to the gridlock of bridge traffic, we were unable to get across town to see the McGulpin Point Lighthouse.