Just Go Explore the UK

On Monday morning, we had set up a trip to pick up our motorhome with our first London Uber driver, Dhanashekar. He was so helpful to us the first trip, we knew he would be perfect for the trip up to Just Go motorhome hire on the north side of town. He even carted our luggage into the building for us upon arrival.

We were happy to find the people at Just Go to be wonderful and the facility to be spotless. Our motorhome appeared to be brand new, even though it had a full summer’s use and 16,000 miles on it. After a familiarization tour, we spent a half hour or so moving in. With that, I climbed into the drivers seat and we were off!

Driving on the opposite side of the vehicle was a bit strange at first, but a helpful post and video by the RV Geeks when planning the trip left us no surprises when we headed out. After a day or so, it became second nature. We stopped to get groceries and headed to our pitch, which is what they call a campsite over here.

Diana proceeded to make us a delicious spaghetti dinner. Pardon the pile of stuff on the bed, as we hadn’t totally settled in yet.

You can see the great layout we have: a full bed and bath in the back, huge fridge and freezer, kitchen with oven, sink and hob (range), a big table and front seats that swivel. Tons of storage too…all packed into 22 feet of length! Four huge skylights that open, plus one in the bathroom. It even has solar.

Our first full day on the road took us to Lincoln. Our goal there was to see the Lincoln Cathedral.

Our little Scout slid into this car park just fine. A word on the car parks: While researching for the trip, we found that most of these have a low clearance bar across their entrances. That most likely is to prevent people from using them as overnight facilities. We scoped out the ones that do allow motorhomes before we left the States (that’s what they call the U.S.) so we weren’t fighting that battle once we got here.

To get to the cathedral, we had to walk the northern perimeter of the Lincoln Castle, which was a nice stroll by some really quaint buildings.

It was on that stroll that we caught our first glimpse of our destination, Lincoln Cathedral. At that moment, to our delight, the bells started ringing. Construction on this beauty was begun in 1072. For 238 years, beginning in 1311, it was the tallest building in the world. Interestingly enough, the building it surpassed was the Great Pyramid of Giza.

At that time, it had a lead-clad wooden steeple nearly as tall as this central tower that gave it that title. That spire was lost to a windstorm in 1548.

The gargoyles are so amusing.

This one is leaning on a lead downspout. The building is covered with them, no two sculptures are the same. It is believed that they ward off evil spirits.

When we visited, Lincoln University was holding their commencement in the cathedral. Until that was over, we were only allowed to see the rear portion of the interior.

Believe it or not, this is the back….

…and this is the area where the choir sits. While we were in this area, we spied a woman dusting. When Diana mentioned to her how nice it was to see everything being so well cared for, she said “I just like to polish and shine.” Westminster Abbey could learn a thing or two from her. Lincoln Cathedral was spotless and smelled good too! Listening to the hoots and hollers from the graduation ceremony made it feel alive and current, not just a part of history.

While we were there, the pipe organ played at the end of the commencement. It reminded me so much of how my mom could lift the roof off a cathedral when she played the pipe organ. I think she was smiling down on us as we enjoyed the moment.

Once the organist was finished and applause faded, we were allowed into the front of the building.

The view looking straight up into the central tower.

Looking from the main entrance towards the center of the church. The organ sits directly under the central tower in the middle of the cathedral.

This baptismal font dates from the 12th century. It is one of seven surviving Tournai marble fonts in England. Can you even imagine the generations that shared the rite of baptism in this jewel? It is mind boggling.

Next up is a trip to York. Harry Potter fans might find that one interesting. We even had a slight hiccup on the way there, which you will definitely want to stay tuned for. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

London Wrap Up

Our four day stay in London gave us a nice flavor of what the city has to offer. In this post, we will detail our last couple of days in this worldly place, along with our observations of a few of the differences between the United States and the United Kingdom’s cultures and ways. We hope you enjoy the tour!

On Saturday morning, we had tickets to tour Westminster Abbey. This is the church where Princess Diana married Prince Charles back in the early 1980’s. Having seen a fair share of cathedrals in our day, we expected this to be the spit and polished pinnacle of what had experienced in the past.

The building dates back to the 1060’s, so it’s age far surpasses anything we had ever been in. It is downright ancient. The first thing I noticed when walking through the doors was not the soaring ceiling, but the musty smell that can only come from a thousand years of existence. Spit and polished, it was not. But moving beyond that, it was spectacular. One thing that stood out to us was the sheer amount of people who have been buried or commemorated inside the edifice. The number is currently in the vicinity of 3300 souls. Almost every corner of the building is filled with memorials, statues, tombs and such.

Photos were not allowed inside, so we grabbed a few appropriate ones from Pinterest. As you can see, some of it felt a bit cluttered, taking away from the openness usually experienced in this type of building. The halls were loaded with famous Brits: names like George Handel (Hallelujah Chorus), Issac Newton, Mary-Queen of Scots, Edward the Confessor, Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. The sheer volume of recognizable names was mind boggling. We paid extra for a tour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which occupy the upper levels of the church.

That ticket afforded us a tremendous view from behind the high altar, back towards the front of the building. Somewhat of a narrow feeling, but spectacular in its own right.

The only grave that is not allowed to be walked on is the one for an unknown British soldier who was killed during World War I. The stone is surrounded by red poppies, reminiscent of the ones that the American Legion pass out on Veteran’s Day in the U.S.

We really enjoyed our visit to this amazing church.

Afterwards, we made our way around the corner towards Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Parliament building.

Unfortunately, this is the view we had of Big Ben. As a matter of fact, much of London is under scaffolding. The entire skyline is filled with tower cranes.

We did get a peek at one of the clock faces though!

We also had a front row seat for a Brexit demonstration in Parliament Square Green. We really didn’t want to stick around for that too long, as it seemed a bit raucous.

From there, we headed up to the British Museum.

This large facility houses a great many of the world’s treasures, clocking in at over eight million works. It was the first national public museum to ever be established, and has free admission (a £5 donation is suggested). Our goal here was to see both the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The Rosetta Stone is the only remaining piece of a larger tablet that allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was actually the same decree issued in three languages: hieroglyphics, Egyptian demonic, and Greek. Knowing the Greek allowed translation of the other two languages.

While there, we also saw the Elgin Marbles, which are the carved panels off of the gables and roof perimeter of the Parthenon in Greece. We were so fascinated (and tired) when we looked at them, we forgot to get photos.

Here is a photo from Guide London that shows the detail of these pieces. They date back to around 600 BC. There is quite a bit of controversy over Great Britain having them, and Greece is campaigning to get them back. We will leave the arguing to them, only to say that they seem a bit out of context in the middle of London. Quite a bit like the Wright Cycle Shop and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory being located in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. We did enjoy seeing them though.

Sunday found us heading to two places with possible connections to Diana, which she is still trying to piece together the details on. Diana’s grandmother’s maiden name was Shepherd. Back in the early 1700’s, Edward Shepherd developed a small square just north of Green Park called Shepherd’s Market.

Today it is a small collection of shops and cafes. It sits a few steps from the current Saudi Arabian embassy. It was nice to be able to walk through an area bearing a familiar family name.

We also went to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The latter actually has a connection to her father’s side, a man by the name of Lawrence Halstead.

Lawrence was the Keeper of the Keys at the Tower of London in the 1600’s. He would’ve been involved in the nightly ceremony of locking the front gate by candlelight, a ceremony that still takes place today. We tried well in advance to get tickets to the event, but it was sold out. Seeing that this is where the Crown Jewels are stored, his job was quite important.

Next to the Tower of London sits the iconic Tower Bridge.

What a stunning piece of architecture! Seeing photos of it in the past, I imagined it to be bigger than it was. It was quite compact, and took just a few minutes to walk across. Still, what a treat to be able to do that. Interestingly enough, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is actually older than this structure.

Our last stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum. Again, a free museum housing a huge amount of worldly treasures.

This is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s small notebooks, circa 1500 or so.

They had a special exhibit on photography, which included an impressive display of cameras from over the years.

Here’s a couple of blasts from our past. On the left is a Kodak Instamatic, complete with flash cube. I had a Kodak 104 version of this. My sister had the camera on the right, a Polaroid Swinger. Remember the TV ad? Meet the Swinger…Polaroid Swinger… Sorry if you remember it, as you won’t be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the day. :). We wrapped up our visit to the V&A with a snack in the courtyard.

What a great place to hang out for a bit and enjoy the day.

So, how did we get around London? Well, we started out on foot. During one of our first excursions, we looked for a public restroom and were told to use the one at the Green Park Tube (subway) station. Remember, we are veteran subway riders in NYC, so we thought nothing of it. Seeing the dirty conditions of the restrooms and station in London (worse than NYC, in our opinion), we decided to use Uber to travel longer distances. That service worked exceedingly well for us. It was entertaining to converse with the drivers, most of who were Middle Eastern or from India. One spoke very little English, but he had a great Motown playlist coming from his speakers. Nothing like navigating the streets of London to the Four Tops. :). A word on those restrooms: they charge 50p (equivalent to cents in the US) to use the dirtiest facilities we have ever seen. One would think that money could be used to clean and maintain them. Our recommendation is to make sure you use a restroom at any museum, restaurant or retailer before leaving.

Also, here are a few things that we found different than what we are used to in the US. Of course, driving on the opposite side of the road stands out. That doesn’t translate into walking, though. Where we tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk (like we drive), the British left hand driving doesn’t carry over to their walkways. One of our Uber drivers likened the disorganized manners of those hoofing it as spaghetti. That pretty much sums that up! :). Furthermore, as a result of the ancient age of London, the roads don’t have a lot of order to them. No grid patterns here, folks. That actually is somewhat charming, and it all seems to work just fine. Yes, the roads do have lines painted on them, but they are hand painted and are all a tad confusing to us.

And one last word about our flat. As I said before, it is located in a row of 1920’s era buildings in Knightsbridge/Chelsea.

Our courtyard featured these large maple trees. Definitely a nice view to look out on. We were just a block from the V&A and were convenient to many of the sights in the city. Being able to eat all of our breakfasts and a couple of our dinners there worked well for us. Small grocery stores were located close by, so no worries on getting food. Our host provided us with several breakfast items, along with laundry detergent and soap. We were even able to do our laundry in the flat, giving us a fresh start for our trip. We were extremely happy with our accommodation choice.

And what is up with those doorknobs in the middle of the door?

It has to do with symmetry. With the jumbled state of the roadways in London, order and balance has to be established somewhere! On the practical side, it makes the door a lot harder to open and close.

And what on earth happened to my iPad plug? That is actually an adapter to fit the British 230 volt system. Apple iPads and iPhones are dual voltage, so no need to convert, other than the adapter. Exercise caution with your laptops, curling irons and such, as you may need a converter.

That wraps up the London portion of our journey. Monday afternoon, we Ubered up to get our motorhome north of town with our first driver. He was extremely helpful to us in arranging that. We will begin to detail that portion of our adventure in our next post. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

First Tastes of London!

Well, the time has finally come to take the exploRVistas entourage overseas! On Wednesday, we made our way to Chicago O’Hare to catch our British Airways flight to London Heathrow.

We caught a red-eye out of the Windy City at 9 PM, arriving in London almost 8 hours later. That translated to after 10 AM in the UK. We would like to say we slept on the 747 on the way there, but the seats were as cramped as if we had been flying on a commuter jet. Oh well, at least my gluten free meal was good! Couple that with a bottle of wine and we made do.

We even were lucky enough to get to climb down a flight of stairs with our carryons when we arrived at Heathrow. Hmmmm….

Moving on, we grabbed our bags and headed to our Airbnb in a cute little black taxi.

This was our first taste of traveling on the opposite side of the road from what we’ve seen our entire lives. Our driver was excellent, the cab was spotless and the trip from the airport was quick! Our accommodations are located in a series of 1920’s era flats, close to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Everything was pretty much as we expected it would be, with our host stocking our refrigerator with plenty of goodies. 😊. We made our way to a local pub for dinner.

Diana had fish and chips…

…and I had a bunless burger with fries. Everything was delicious.

Friday found us heading towards Buckingham Palace, as we had 2:30 PM tickets to tour the state rooms. We decided to walk there, a distance of a few miles or so. First stop was to Harrod’s Department Store, as we had heard that their food hall was an outstanding place to grab lunch.

To say that Harrod’s is outstanding is really putting it mildly. The displays are the best we have ever seen in any large retailer.

And it really dazzles at night! But back to lunch. We purchased some take-away salads (to go) and headed to Hyde Park to find a place to eat them.

A park bench by the pond did just fine…especially once the pigeons figured out we were eating veggies and left us alone.

We then made our way to Buckingham Palace. The Queen is currently in Scotland for the summer, so the building is open for tours.

Photos were not allowed inside. We marveled at the extent of what we were allowed to see, from the ballrooms to the room where the Queen bestows knighthood on her subjects. Tours were pretty much self-guided (with the aid of headsets and a mobile audio tour device). Docents were stationed throughout to answer questions.

The gardens out in front of the palace were gorgeous. So colorful for so late in the summer.

This is what the rear of the palace looks like. The Queen holds her garden parties on this lawn each year. What really amazed us is the amount of infrastructure that is in place for the summer tours that all disappears before she gets home. Elaborate displays, gift shops, rest room buildings…all of it is taken down in two weeks time. Admission fees are used to help cover the cost of the palace maintenance.

And wait….did I say the Queen was in Scotland???

By golly, they all showed up to explore the vista with us! Diana is displaying her best Queen face, keeping with her British ancestry. 😐

That wraps up or first impressions of the UK! We have a few more days in London before we head out in our rented motorhome. Be sure to stay tuned for all of that and more. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

The Pull of Leelanau

There is definitely something magical about Leelanau.  Standing upon the hills that are the remains of long ago glaciers, we get a sense of calm that we have yet to find elsewhere.  Miles of orchards, vineyards, shorelines, trees, and meadows continue to pull us in.  In reading that, one would think that the question at the end of our last post would be answered…will we be back next year?  It turns out that we indeed will be, and it will definitely be different than it has been in years past.  More on that in a minute.

I’m happy to announce that the rope project is complete!

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This is the last piece they asked me to do; a rudimentary barrier across a set of concrete stairs outside the Cannery.  Out of 200 feet of rope, I ended the project with a foot to spare.

Also, we had a nice surprise when a couple walked into the Cannery and asked “Are you exploRVistas?”

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It was long time blog followers Kathy and John, who came all the way from Delaware to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes!  It was fun to visit with them for a bit and we wish them well in their travels.

So, back to the future.  Over the past several years, I’ve had a habit of browsing on Zillow, the real estate website.  Those sessions always ended with a ‘maybe someday’.  Well, someday has arrived.  We found some land with a view, a hill, a driveway, a building site, deer tracks, trillium, and bunch of maple trees.  Seeing that it is a glacial moraine composed of sand and gravel, it passed the perc test with flying colors.  We mulled it over, sorted out the initial details, and closed on it this past week.  Will this take us off the road as fulltime RVers?  Not for several years, as we are going to build in phases.  We intend this to be a summer home, as we plan to continue to winter in Florida, sprinkling spring and fall travel into the mix.  We will change our status at the national lakeshore to community volunteers, once we complete our upcoming project.

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Here is our building site, looking south.  We have room for a small home, a large garage, and an RV or two.  A few of the trees will come out to open up a long view of the surrounding area.

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This view is looking north.  There are lots of possibilities as to what we will do with the space.  We will be doing most of the work ourselves, so plan on us taking a few years until our heads hit the pillows in our new home.

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One of the first things we wanted was a shed to store a few things in.  We’ll attempt to get that built in the time we have before we head to the UK.

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If it doesn’t get totally done, we will finish it when we get back.

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Diana is making sure the site doesn’t get reclaimed by the forest.

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She is making quick work mowing the ground cover the previous owner put in. Our new to us string trimmer is perfect for the job.

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A few of the leaves have started to turn color, so we should be in for quite a show when we get back from our trip.  Our trees are about 90-plus percent maples.

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Be sure to stay tuned over the next several years as we turn our little slice of heaven into a place to call home.  This next week will be a busy one, so look for our next post to come from somewhere in London.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Very Different Year

When we chose to return to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this summer, we were hoping to build upon what we learned in 2018.  That has indeed happened, making this a very different season than we experienced last year.  And even though the subject matter was pretty much the same at our venues, the constant flow of new visitors has made each day unique and special.

When we first arrived, Ranger Matt asked if we would learn a new skill and work it into our interpretation; rope splicing and binding.  Many of the ropes in our museums were becoming frayed and worn and needed replacing.  Also, since our structures were built at the beginning of the 20th century and are not entirely critter-proof, mice find their way in during the winter.  Evidently, Mickey and Minnie have a thing for hemp.  🙂  I was given 200 feet of synthetic rope to replace the old lines with.  Larry, a volunteer with Inland Seas Education Association in Suttons Bay, stopped by to teach me how to backsplice a rope into an eye splice, along with making a sailmakers whip to keep the rope ends from fraying.

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This is my first attempt at a sailmaker’s whip on a practice piece of hemp rope.

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The lines are intended to act as a non-intrusive barrier between the visitors and the artifacts.

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The new line is much thicker than the old.  I found it difficult to maintain the structure of each strand, due to the slippery nature of the synthetic line.  Still, I was pretty happy with the way it ended up.  Note the hooks, which are made in our blacksmith shop.

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I needed some additional hooks and spikes for the Cannery, so Linda and Liz made them for me.  They are two of our volunteer blacksmiths, and they did an outstanding job!

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While I worked on the rope, the view from our ‘office’ was amazing!  Off on the horizon, the 1,000 foot freighter Mesabi Miner steams empty from delivering a load of iron ore to the steel mills near Chicago.

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Some days reminded us of the reason the lifesaving station was located where it was.  Here is Old Glory flying straight south on our radio tower/flagpole, with gloomy skies looming overhead.  Could the gales of November be far away?

 

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That earlier peaceful view can change in an instant.  In this photo, the 767 foot long freighter Philip R. Clarke heads north along the horizon through heavy seas.  Seas like this brings a crystal clear reality to our interpretation of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, as the visitors get a glimpse of what the surfmen were up against.  Most shake their heads in disbelief that they would row out into those conditions.

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The park’s Heroes of the Storm program helps folks to visualize a beach rescue using a Lyle gun and a breeches buoy.  Here is Ranger Gayle explaining the role of the 7 surfmen who worked at the station.

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One of the surfmen acts as the black powder charge in the gun, as the crowd yells BANG.  Here he runs at full speed with the projectile, trailing the shot line.  Captain Diana waits with crew member Raggedy Ann aboard the ‘sinking ship’ (our flagpole) for the line to arrive.  Every program has a fresh set of characters, and is as entertaining for us as it is for them. 🙂  Sadly, this year’s high water levels brought about a temporary halt to our actual Lyle gun cannon firing each Thursday.

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The beach has all but disappeared.  The small cannon recoils backwards a few feet when fired, and the required distance for safe viewing would put our visitors in the fragile dune grass.  Lake Michigan has risen 9 inches in May alone and is 33 inches above average at near record levels.  To get Lake Michigan and Lake Huron (hydrologically one lake) to rise just one inch, an additional 390 billion gallons has to be added to it!

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Another foot and we might be mopping the floors in the Cannery!

It hasn’t been all work up here in Leelanau.  We did manage to get out for a ride on the Leelanau Trail, our favorite rail trail.

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It’s hard to see Diana’s TerraTrike grin from behind, but it is there.  🙂

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And the Music in the Park concert series continues for a few more weeks in Northport.  Plenty of dancing and wine make for a great evening each Friday.

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Indeed, Leelanau is a great place to be.  A few more weeks and this season will be a memory.  Soon we will be coming to you from new vistas in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  Will we be back to Leelanau next year?  If we do, we are sure it will yet again be different than years past. Be sure to stay tuned to our next Saturday morning post to see if 2020’s plans include this little slice of heaven.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Planes, Boats, Automobiles and Music

Leelanau and Benzie Counties, MI – July 19-25, 2019

Keep on movin’…

If there is one statement that can describe our last week, the aforementioned line would be it.  Finishing up our shift at Sleeping Bear Dunes last Friday, we hightailed it up to Northport, Michigan to see a musical duo named Mulebone  

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We had listened to this Brooklyn, NY based pair back in 2017 and couldn’t wait to see them again.  The music they play can best be described as ‘roots blues’, if you can imagine such a thing.  Their hit Keep on Movin’ provided a theme for our week to come. We met up with our friends Rod, Mary, Lane, Patti, JoAnn, Paul and Skip, along with several other acquaintances.  A great evening, indeed!

Saturday morning found me opening the Cannery boat museum, while Diana was off to the Visitor Center to answer questions for the park’s guests.  While I was vacuuming, I heard a roar much louder than the Dyson I was dragging behind me.

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Four A-10 Warthogs buzzed Glen Haven, doing a wing wag as they passed.  I managed to get a photo of the last one as it flew by.  Later that day, we had a torrential downpour that lasted a good portion of the afternoon.  A couple on their bikes holed up in the building with me while the rain fell.  The noise level on the roof was deafening!  So much for any chance at the lake levels going down. 🙂

That night, Diana and I headed back to Northport to see one of our favorite bands, The Accidentals.

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Taking their name from the accidental musical note, Katie Larsen and Savannah Buist met by chance in a high school orchestra class.  Joined later by Michael Dause, this trio turns out some very innovative music.  They were recently signed by Sony Masterworks and are fresh off a tour of the United Kingdom.  We’ve seen them numerous times; the most recent being last year with our friends Jodee and Bill.  Unfortunately, the word ‘accidental’ reared its ugly side on Sunday as the group left Traverse City:

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Someone ran a stop sign and t-boned their van.  Luckily, everyone….and most of the equipment…is ok.  Sad to say that Katie’s carbon fiber cello took a direct blow and will never play their hit Michigan and Again again.  Instruments can be replaced though, as can vehicles.  They are already back on the road and their music lives on.

Keep on movin’…

Our Sunday was a bit better than theirs.  We drove south into Benzie County and visited Point Betsie Lighthouse.

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This gem was built in 1858.  The grounds consist of a combined lighthouse/keeper’s quarters, fog signal building, oil house and a separate lifesaving museum/gift shop.

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The museum had several pieces of authentic lifesaving equipment, including this time clock the shore patrol would’ve carried on their nightly rounds.

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The idea was that they would walk to a post several miles down the beach and insert the key that was attached to it.  That proved to their station’s keeper that they walked the entire distance.

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I found this photo interesting in that it shows the lighthouse depot at the foot of Mt. Elliott Street in Detroit, which still exists. My great-grandfather and his crew departed from that very same dock on the USLHS Amaranth in 1892 to build Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.  The depot is about 1 mile from where he lived at the time.

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The museum also had this display that showed how to balance containers on a ship.  Being the hands-on guy I am, I picked up one of the blocks, which in turn caused the boat to roll over and dump the entire cargo.  Diana proceeded to reload the blocks on the deck and send the boat on its way.  🙂

Once we finished up at the museum and fog signal building, we headed into the lighthouse.

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The view to the north from the tower shows the entrance to the Manitou Passage.  The beach patrol from the adjacent lifesaving station would’ve walked north several miles each night to the key on a post.  The men at the Sleeping Bear station would walk south to the same post. We’ve made it our goal to attend the lighthouses’ bicentennial in 2058.  We will be 100 at the time.

Keep on movin’…

Monday found us on a morning hike before our shift in Glen Haven.

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Our purpose was to test out our new double-collapsible trekking poles that we are taking to the UK in September.  We like them so far.  The trail we chose for our hike was Alligator Hill up to Islands Overlook; an easy three mile round trip.

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This is Sleeping Bear Point from that viewpoint.  The black roof of the Cannery and the flagpole at the lifesaving station can be seen in the photo.

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This is the vista looking north.  South Fox Island is to the left and Pyramid Point is to the right.  Truly a spectacular view.

Tuesday saw me complete a project I’d been wanting to do since we purchased Hank the Deuce:

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This tonneau cover is specially designed to work in conjunction with my behind-the-cab toolbox.  It rolls up tight against the box when I’m hauling the fifth wheel.  It will keep the hitch and the other goodies we carry back there out of the weather.

Keep on movin’…

To wrap up the week, we met up with our friends Paul and Sheryl.  We’ve known each other since our college days at Western Michigan University.

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We met for dinner at Cherry Republic on Wednesday and took in the Empire Bluffs trail on Thursday morning.  It was good to see them again!  We followed that up with another shift at the Cannery and on to the next week at Sleeping Bear.  Keep on movin’!

Stay tuned for our next Saturday morning post as we look for more of northern Michigan’s gems.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

A True Hero of the Storm

Every so often as people travel through time and space, the stars align to put them right where they need to be.  Such is the case with a gentleman by the name of Richard Selissen.  In November of 1958, Dick was a cook on the Coast Guard cutter Sundew, which was stationed in Charlevoix, Michigan.  Back then, as is the case today, large cargo freighters steamed up and down Lake Michigan carrying goods between various ports in the region.

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Just last week, I photographed the Wilfred Sykes as it steamed north through the Manitou Passage and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  This particular vessel was built in 1950. Eight years after the Sykes went into service, the steamer Carl Bradley was steaming north on November 18, 1958, from Chicago to its winter lay-up port of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

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The 639-foot Bradley had been on the lakes since 1927, and had recently been hauling limestone between Rogers City, Michigan, and Chicago.  Two hours out of Manitowoc, U.S. Steel (the ship’s owner) sent orders  for the vessel to make one last run to Rogers City to pick up another load of stone.

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On many days, Lake Michigan looks like the photo above.  But this inland sea has been known to change in an instant.  On that day in 1958, a fierce gale was building as a storm system moved across the Great Plains of the central U.S.

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When these storms kick up, its not uncommon for the freighters to experience conditions as are shown in the photo above.  On November 18, the captain of the Bradley hugged the coast of Wisconsin to shield it from the sixty-five mile an hour wind that was coming from the southwest.  At some point, he knew he was going to have to turn northeast towards the Straits of Mackinac.  He did that just prior to the entrance to Green Bay.  The ship was moving with the wind with following seas and seemed to be doing well. Suddenly, the crew heard a loud thud.  The great ship had snapped in two in the middle.  A mayday was sent out and the thirty-five men abandoned ship into the relentless seas.

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The Bradley’s final resting place is shown in red on the map above at a depth of 360 feet.  The Coast Guard sent out several vessels to search for survivors, one being the Sundew, with a quickly assembled skeleton crew.  As the cutter left Charlevoix, local residents gathered to watch them head into the gale, fearing it would be the last time they would ever see the vessel.  The Coast Guard motto of ‘You have to go out…you don’t have to come back’ was surely on everyone’s minds that day. The captain of the cutter Hollyhock, which assisted in the search, described the trip as a “visit to hell”.

As the Sundew reached the Bradley’s last known position, Dick Selissen took up a position in the pilot house to assist in the search for survivors.  He spotted something unusual in the waves and notified the captain of it’s position.  It was a raft containing the only two survivors, Frank Mays and Elmer Fleming.  They had somehow managed to hang on through the night in the fierce gale and freezing temperatures.  Before they headed back to Charlevoix, the crew managed to pull 8 bodies of the Bradley’s crew out of the lake who hadn’t survived the ordeal.

Rogers City, where 23 of the Bradley’s men were from, lies 80 miles east by land of Charlevoix on Lake Huron.  Many of the crew’s families headed west across Michigan to await the Sundew’s arrival.  It was a somber sight as the ship came into port, her flags shredded from the storm.  The Bradley’s sinking hit Rogers City hard, as many families lost their sole breadwinner that day.

Fast forward many years later to a Walmart in Zepherhills, Florida.  Dick Selissen struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was very familiar with Dick’s summer home of Charlevoix.  It turns out that the man was Frank Mays, the seaman that Selisson had spotted in the raft so many years before.  Once again, the stars aligned.  What are the odds of that encounter happening?

This past Wednesday, Mr. Selissen visited our lifesaving museum at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  He struck up a conversation with fellow volunteer Lucy about the 36-foot motor lifeboats that he also had crewed on while in the Coast Guard.  I showed up in the middle of the conversation at our shift change, when he mentioned he had been stationed in Minnesota at the time.  I asked him “where in Minnesota?” and he said “Duluth…on the CG-36527.”  I told him “Sir, your motor lifeboat is a half mile up the street in the red Cannery building”.

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He had no idea it was there.  He was thrilled!  Again, the stars aligned for this hero of the storm.

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What an honor it was to be able to speak with this gentleman.  Thank you for stopping by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Mr. Selissen!

Be sure to stay tuned for more about our summer in Leelanau in next Saturday morning’s post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Now That We’re East…Let’s Go West!

Southern California – July 5-8, 2019

No sooner did we settle into our spot at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, than we flew back out of Traverse City to San Diego, California.  This trip was made to celebrate Diana’s uncle and step-aunt’s 90th birthdays.  We had seen them back in 2017 and really wanted to be there to celebrate with them.  Don’s children, Barry and Sandy, made plans for a grand birthday party to ensure the day would be extra special.

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Walking into the terminal in San Diego, a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis hung from the ceiling.  Ryan Airlines in San Diego built the original version for Charles Lindbergh, in which he was the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean nonstop in 1927.

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The airport also has this sculpture in their rental car center called Hive.  If you look closely, you will notice that it is comprised of 2200 Ford F-150 rear view mirrors.  Not to worry…Ford owners know that once you hit the gas, these are not needed. 🙂

Our base of operations was this cool little Airbnb in Temecula.

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This gem is hosted by Naomi and is called the Olive Tree Cottage.  We highly recommend it, if you find yourself in the area.  Also, note the SUV.  Since Hertz was out of Fords, we grabbed this Buick from the Gold lineup, in honor of Uncle Bob.  You may recall that he and his wife Marion passed within the last year. He spent his entire career at Buick in Flint.  This Encore was a fun little ride, but it couldn’t hold a candle to our Escape.

And here is a fun little slo-mo I took of the hummingbirds playing by the feeder on the porch:

 

It’s amazing to watch how they use their tails to keep still.

Friday afternoon we met up with Diana’s cousins Debbie (who flew in from Michigan), Barry, and his wife Dawn. We had a great time exploring Temecula. After a long day of flying and visiting, we settled in back at the cottage for the evening. Diana heard the closet door rhythmically rattle and thought ghost???  It couldn’t be…this place is too new.  I was sitting on the edge of the bed taking my shoes off and noticed the entire bed moving.  Was I still on the plane?  No, it was the Ridgecrest 7.1 earthquake, nearly 150 miles away from us!  No damage in Temecula…only a gentle rocking back and forth.  It took awhile for the chains on the ceiling fan to stop swaying.  🙂

The next day was the party, which was held in Escondido.  Around 120 relatives and friends were there to celebrate with Don and Barb, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

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This is Barb and Don with Sandy and Barry behind them.

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Here is Diana with her cousin Wyatt.  His twin brother Wesley was there also, so it was good they had name tags.  🙂

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And here is Diana with her cousins Debbie (Marion & Bob’s daughter), Evie (Ken & Margery’s daughter), Sandy (Lucille & Don’s daughter) and close family friend Jan.

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Don addressed the gathering, starting with “I’d like to say a couple of words.  Thank you.” He and Barb were highly appreciative of the outpouring of love that was sent their way.

The next day, several of us met for lunch and then went to Barry and Dawn’s place in Sun City for the afternoon.  It was a nice wrap up to a great weekend.  We flew home on Monday, passing several of the sites we had seen on our trip west earlier this year.

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Here is the western edge of the Grand Canyon.  The thing I find amazing about this photo is the fact you can make out the curvature of the earth at 36,000 feet!

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Here are the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.  We didn’t have the time to visit them, but we were in the vicinity.

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And here is Bryce Canyon from the west side.  Rainbow Point is to the right and Sunrise Point and Sunset Point are to the left.  We even flew directly over Jim and Barb’s bardominium in South Dakota.  🙂

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It certainly was a great weekend in Southern California.  We are so glad we were able to celebrate with this charming pair.  🙂  We will see them at their 95th!

Next up:  We reunite with friends in Leelanau, and find new adventures in Northern Michigan.  All this while preparing for our trip to the UK in September.  That will be here before you know it.  Look for that in our next Saturday morning post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

 

A Surprise Along the Missouri

June 13, 2019 – Pierre, SD

Sometimes a trip to Walmart turns into an unexpected adventure.

Once we headed east out of the Badlands, we made a two-day stop at Chamberlain, South Dakota.

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Chamberlain is the spot where I-90 crosses the Missouri River.  It has long been a favorite spot of ours, as the rest area at the top of the bluff affords a sweeping view of the prairie interacting with the river as it rolls towards St. Louis.  Both in 1804 and 1806, Lewis and Clark passed through here with their Corps of Discovery.  My cousin George Drouillard made three additional passages through here after his trips with the Corps.

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Its not difficult to take the bridges out with your mind and imagine the early nineteenth century expedition gliding past this vista.

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A recent addition to the rest area is a statue of a native American woman called Dignity.  This  50-foot tall installation was brought to this site in one piece in 2016.  The work is intended to honor the Lakota people who are native to this area.  Many people think this is Sacajawea, which it isn’t.  She joined and left the Corps of Discovery in North Dakota and was not with them at this point.

Our day off from traveling turned out to be much more than we thought it would.  Needing to make a Walmart run, we decided to backtrack up the Missouri to the state capital, Pierre.  In the process, we discovered we had been pronouncing the town’s name incorrectly all these years.  Maybe it’s my French-Canadian heritage, but I had been saying ‘pee-air’ since studying state capitals in school.  The easiest way to remember how to pronounce it is to drop the ‘re’ off the end and think of a fishing pier.

Our day trip took us along the back roads through the Lakota reservation along the river.  We saw the tribal headquarters, perched high above the Big Bend of the Missouri.

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This huge horseshoe in the river is nearly unchanged from when Drouillard and John Shields explored the neck of land between it in 1804.  Captain William Clark described it in his journal as follows:

We Sent a man to step off the Distance across the gouge. He made it 2000 yds. The distance around is 30 miles.

Before crossing the river into Pierre, we stopped at Fischers Lilly Park in the adjoining town of Fort Pierre.

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Here the Bad River flows into the Missouri.  At this spot Lewis and Clark met with the Teton Sioux tribe over a six-day period.  Language barriers led to an armed conflict, but Chief Black Buffalo diffused the situation and allowed the Corps to pass through.  Note that this spot was the first place the U.S. flag flew over South Dakota.

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From the southern river bank, the unassuming capitol building can be seen above the trees.

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The inside of the seat of government in South Dakota is anything but unassuming.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

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We spent a fair amount of time walking through the building, peering into the House and Senate chambers, as well as this impressive rotunda.

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While we were there, they were setting up to unveil three new statues to add to the Trail of Governors on the city’s streets.  Similar to the statues of U.S. presidents in Rapid City, this installation in Pierre honors the state’s leaders since it was admitted into the Union in the late 1800’s.  I was granted permission to take this photo, as long as I didn’t post it until after the ceremony on June 15.

Speaking of statues, there is a memorial on the capital grounds honoring eight South Dakotans who perished in a plane crash in 1993.

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One of them was Governor George Mickelson.  You may recognize his name from the multi-use trail that runs the length of the Black Hills.  The group was on an economic development mission to save the largest agricultural processing employer in South Dakota at that time.

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The granite memorial is topped by the sculpture Fighting Stallions, which was originally done in mahogany in 1935 by Korczak Ziolkowski. He is better known for his work on the Crazy Horse monument near Custer.  The original wooden carving is in the museum at Crazy Horse.  Note that the entire sculpture is supported by the one stallions tail.

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While we walked around the memorial reading the stories of these eight, this curious bunny kept watch over us but did not seem to be frightened by our presence.  We felt as at ease as this little one in this beautiful place along the Missouri.

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The next day, we departed Chamberlain for points east…ultimately ending up in our summer locale at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.  This wraps up our exploration of the western U.S. for this year…or does it?  To find out more about that, you will have to tune in next Saturday morning.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

Badlands – in More Ways Than One

June 11-12, 2019 – Badlands of South Dakota

Badlands National  Park holds a special designation for me, as it was the first national park I visited in my youth. Since that time, we have been to many places that have similar qualities – particularly the Painted Hills in Oregon.  But none of those venues seem to combine the mud-like quality of the formations with the sharp spires that occur throughout this park.  Couple that with the fact that they rise from green prairies and you have a true ‘east meets west’ situation.  On this particular trip, we found that last reference had much more than one meaning.  More on that in a minute…

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After setting up camp in Wall, we headed on I-90 to the east entrance of Badlands National Park.  This area was known to the Lakota people as mako sika, which roughly translates to ‘land bad’.  They were also the first to notice fossilized remains of sea creatures, leading them to correctly assume that the Badlands were once under water.  That’s quite the assumption for a tribe that was thousands of miles from the nearest ocean!

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Since becoming a national park, those fossils have become a focus of scientific study.  Besides the shells and fish bones you would normally expect in a marine environment, species such as alligators and rhinoceros were found here.  When we visited in 1990, I found a small jaw fragment while on a ranger-led tour.  Hopefully it is still where I observed it.

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The park is also home to a wide variety of present day wildlife.  Here are several female Bighorn sheep that decided to moon the photographer.

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We saw prairie dogs by the hundreds.  This chubby guy stopped his meal long enough to pose for a profile shot.

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And this trio was not letting us pass until we snapped an image of them for the blog.  Consider it done!

As I had mentioned earlier, this trip introduced us to more than one meaning for the name ‘badlands’.  When exiting off of I-90, we saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  After questioning the ranger at the Badlands visitor center, we decided to tour there the next day.

Heading east again on I-90 from Wall, our first stop was just off the highway at Exit 116.

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Along the side of the dirt road, this fenced-in compound sits in plain sight.  Not long ago, this was one of the United States’s hundreds of active missile silos.  This small parcel of land held a missile that was 120 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  If launched, the missile would’ve flown over the North Pole to Russia in about a half hour.

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This facility was labeled D-9 of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron.  Look closely at the map and you will see the towns of Wall, Sturgis, Belle Fourche, Lead, and Rapid City.  Chances are you’ve been within a stone’s throw from one of these silos at some point and didn’t even know it.

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At this particular silo, visitors can peer in from the top to see a deactivated Minuteman II missile.  These particular rockets were taken out of service and most of the silos were imploded after the START treaty with the Soviet Union.  About 150 silos remain in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana with the much more powerful Minuteman III missile in each of them. 

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Growing up just three miles from the massive industrial complex known as the Ford Rouge plant, I was always aware that there was a big Russian target on my head.  Not a comforting thing to think about as a teenager, believe me.  With that in mind, I peppered this ranger with a myriad of questions about these silos.  He was actually a a missile commander back in the day, and was extremely open about the workings of this facility.

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This heavy concrete lid covered the silo at one time.  It is currently welded partway over the silo, in accordance with the treaty.  In the 1983 television movie The Day After, there was a scene showing these lids retracting just prior to the missiles launching to their intended targets.  That scene sticks in my mind to this day.

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This is actually a hardened communications antenna.  Think of it as a nuclear-proof cell phone tower.  The ranger informed us that it would have not withstood a blast, even though that was the original intention.  When I could think of nothing else to ask, I thanked him for keeping us safe over the course of his career, which he appreciated.

After that sobering visit, we continued to Exit 130 and the Minuteman Visitor Center.

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This facility has a museum, theater and gift shop.  A gift shop???  Do you really want to be reminded of a possible nuclear holocaust by drinking your morning coffee out of a Minuteman Missile mug? We viewed the movie, which started very much like The Day After, showing peaceful scenes with flyovers of fields of grain and unending prairies.  It didn’t take long for it to show images of nuclear weapons detonating, the polar opposite of the earlier idyllic segments.  After going through the nuts and bolts of the Minuteman program, they got to the story of one Stanislav Petrov, a missile commander from the Soviet Union.  Remember this man.

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Seen here during a visit to the Minuteman National Historic Site a few years ago, he is credited with single-handedly saving the world as we know it.  In 1983, just before the above-mentioned TV film aired, this commander was alerted by his men of five incoming U.S. missiles on their radar screens.  Tensions were high at that time, as the Soviets had just shot down a Korean Air Lines 747 with 246 souls on board.  Petrov looked at the images and said “How can this be?”  He knew the U.S. would launch far more than five missiles, so he held back from reporting what he was seeing.  It turned out to be sunlight reflecting off high altitude clouds over North Dakota.  Had he let his superiors know, missiles would have started flying in both directions.  That inaction simultaneously ruined his military career and saved us all.  He eventually suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress of it all.  And if that wasn’t frightening enough, we learned later on in the museum that incidents like this happened twelve times…six on each side.  In one of them, someone on the U.S. side inserted a training floppy disk into a computer which lit up the radar screens with incoming Russian missiles.  Fortunately, someone discovered the error before the U.S. retaliated to a non-event.

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In hindsight, the quote on this display in front of the visitor center may be impossible to achieve, due to the human factor involved with these weapons.  After visiting this facility, we skipped the Junior Ranger badges this go around.  Personally I went a good half hour before I could say anything, as I had a sizable lump in my throat from that film.

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Still, it was a well done historic site worth visiting.  Petrov himself stated that never in his wildest dreams would he have thought he could visit such a place on the ‘enemy’ side.  Yes we were the enemy to them, as they were to us.  Hopefully, the only thing we ever see flying over Wall, South Dakota are rainbows and clouds.  Our wish for future generations is that the only ‘bad lands’ are the Lakota mako sica hills that dominate the landscape east of the Black Hills.

Next up, we head east through the remainder of South Dakota into the Missouri River region of the state.  Along the way, we found a pleasant surprise nestled along the river’s banks.  Be sure to stay tuned for that in next Saturday morning’s post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

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