Joining the Amazon CamperForce

When we decided to retire, become fulltime RVers and travel North America, we knew we would want to supplement our retirement savings on occasion.  That would be accomplished through ‘work camping’, which involves some sort of work being done in exchange for a campsite. Our jobs the past two summers at Wild Cherry provided us a free place to stay in a fabulous location for two easy days of work each week.  Many of these campgrounds offer fulltimers additional compensation after a certain number of hours to entice us rolling retirees to come and work for them.  Recognizing the work ethic this segment of society has to offer, several companies that have nothing to do with camping are jumping on this bandwagon.  One of the biggest examples of this is the online retailer,

To pass along a little history, was founded as Cadabra, Inc in 1994 by Jeff Bezos in his garage in Bellevue, Washington.  

One of his lawyers misunderstood the name to be cadaver, so Bezos changed it to Amazon, as the Amazon River was “exotic and different.”  It’s also the biggest river in the world, just as he hoped his company would be.  Furthermore, he noted that it was at the top of the alphabet, thereby appearing at the top of an alphabetized list.  The company went online in 1995 as a book retailer (I remember that!) and eventually began selling everything from A to Z with a smile, as indicated in their logo.    

I wonder where he got that idea?

Amazon survived the dot com bubble burst and turned a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.  The company went public with an initial public offering of stock at a price of $18 a share in 1997 (actually equal to $1.50 after three stock splits early on) and is now trading at $822 a share.  It is mind boggling to think that a person who would have invested a mere $2000 in the company in 1995 would be a millionaire today from just that one transaction!  In 22 short years, the company has over 100 billion in annual revenue (2015) and over 250,000 employees in 16 countries….and it all started in a garage.

With that kind of explosive growth, logistics come into play.  Fulfillment centers (known from here out as FC) need to be placed near airports that are serviced by shipping companies, and also near a stable workforce.  Campbellsville, Kentucky was a perfect choice, as a 1998 closing of a Fruit of the Loom textile plant left a fairly new building vacant and over 800 workers unemployed.  It was also very close to the Louisville airport (airport code SDF), also known as Worldport, United Parcel Services main hub.  The new FC in Campbellsville opened in May of 1999 and was named SDF-1…or the first FC to ship out of that airport.  Being centrally located in the United States, SDF-1 played an important role in Amazon’s success.

Amazon started offering items other than books in November of 1999.  It wasn’t long before consumer buying habits started shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to buying goods online.  In 2005, the term Cyber Monday came into existence, referring to the first workday after Black Friday, when many people sit at their desks and do their holiday shopping instead of their jobs.  The Amazon FCs started feeling the pinch, and armies of temporary employees were brought in to help with the increased workload.  In Campbellsville’s case, many were bussed in from Louisville and housed in local hotels.  As is often the case with temps, quality and attendance issues arose…and sleepy little Campbellsville was having to deal with a segment of society that tend to cause problems.  

In 2008, the FC in Coffeysville, Kansas began a pilot program to hire work campers to help with the holiday rush, known in Amazon circles as peak season. That program has since been expanded to several other FCs…including Campbellsville…and has been given the name Amazon CamperForce. The upside for the company is that the majority of these workers are retired and have a great work ethic and attendance.  The only drawback is that they tend to want to change the Amazon way of doing things, as they come from careers in which they did things differently.  That fact is stressed at orientation, saying “it’s a job, not a career”.  The company sends recruiters to RV shows around the country to recruit new workers each year.  We put our names on the list at the Tampa RV Show in January, after reading the accounts of several friends and family members who had done it in the past.  We already had ties with the company as advertisers through our Associates account (located at the bottom of each post), so we thought it would be fun to see what makes the place tick.

We arrived on October 8 to find a newly remodeled facility.  Our friends Peg and Michele who worked last year pointed out that the building is vastly improved, and is much cleaner.  The regular workers (known as Amazonians) seem genuinely happy that we are there, probably because the CamperForce can be counted on to get the job done without too much drama.  Our first morning was orientation, led by a very entertaining and informative gentleman named Kelly Calmes.  That was followed by safety school in the afternoon.  The remainder of the first week was 5 hour work days in our departments, meant to harden us for the 10 hour days that were to follow.  We were assigned to packing, which I will talk more about in a future post.  

Looking pretty good at 6:15 AM for Breast Cancer Awareness Week!

For now, I will leave it at this:  our first week went really well. We found the work, the environment and people enjoyable.  We are amazed at the process, and I kept finding myself looking back to my career in manufacturing and thinking ‘THIS is how we should have done things’.  Granted, their system is not perfect…but when you consider that almost every package they deliver is on time and correct, it’s pretty darned slick.

And it all started in a garage just a mere 22 years ago…

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Always in our hearts

Leelanau….a peninsula, a county, a state of mind.  It is a place we’ve written about extensively over the past couple of years. Not only has it been our landing for the past two summers, it has been a place we’ve known well for most of our lives.  A place of indescribable beauty, this finger of land has woven its way into our souls like no other could ever hope to.  We have traveled most of the United States and Canada as a couple and are confident in making that statement.  The friends we’ve made there share that sentiment and our love for the region.  It’s a place where people don’t lock their doors, as the only things stolen are the iconic M-22 highway signs…as visitors want to take a piece of the region home with them.  

With that being said, our goal has always been to return to the places we’ve traveled to and experience them more fully in our retirement.  We must move on for an extended period and begin our journey through North America. The difficulty in doing so is immeasurable, but comfort lives in the understanding that we’ve already found our eventual summer roost, and that we will most definitely be back in the future.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of activity for us.  Following the Harvest Stompede, our fellow RV-Dreams family members Bob and Kathrun stopped in at Wild Cherry for a few days on their journey westward from Nova Scotia. We met them at the rally we attended in Goshen, Indiana in September, 2014.  You may recall that we toured San Antonio with them earlier this year.

We pretty much ran the wheels off the Escape during the time they were here.  It’s always great seeing them!

We also made a quick trip to Kalamazoo to see our college friends and go to a Western Michigan University’s football game.  Our friends’ son, Billy, made the team as a walk-on this year, and while he has yet to see playing time, he has gained a wealth of life experiences being on the team. We are so proud of him for working so hard to reach his goal.

Western won over Georgia Southern 49-31 and extended their record to 4-0, having beat two Big 10 schools along the way.  They are now 5-0, having just beat their arch rival Central Michigan 49-10. Go Broncos!

After Kalamazoo, we stopped at my sister and brother-in-laws home on Long Lake near Harrison, Michigan.  

It’s always good seeing Judy and Dale!

Dale took Diana and I out with their ATV on the land they just bought near them. It was fun checking out the many two-tracks that run through the property.

When we got back to Leelanau, we had a house warming at Lane and Patti’s new home that they are building.

Our friends Camilla, Rod and Mary were there also.  The house is still under construction, but some of us are leaving…so the party couldn’t wait.

Patti and Lane had to open their gifts before the sun set, as the electrician still needed to hook up the lights!

On Wednesday, fellow RV-Dreamers Cori and Greg stopped by to meet us.  They were traveling through Michigan, so we invited them to the Wild Cherry potluck that was happening that evening.

We have been following Cori’s blog, The Restless Youngs…but this is the first time we had met them.  They are super people, and we enjoyed getting to know them!

On Friday, we hooked up and said our goodbyes to our friends at Wild Cherry.  

Paul and JoAnn gave us a thoughtful going away present, which was very sweet of them.  We want to extend a sincere thank you to Wild Cherry’s owners, Jim and Sandy, for their friendship and hospitality the past two years.  They are a sweet couple and we wish them well with the resort. We definitely plan on taking them up on their offer to return in the future!

So what’s next for us?  Well, we are stopping in Grand Rapids for a week to take care of health and hair appointments.  We are also dropping off a few things at the storage room.  We made a quick run to Indiana on Saturday to see my Aunt Marge and Uncle Ed, as it is going to be awhile before we get back this way. From Grand Rapids, we are headed to Campbellsville, Kentucky to work the peak season at Amazon.  We are looking forward to the challange!  From there, we are planning to return to Melbourne Beach for the winter, then it is a ‘jello plan’ to head west.  More about that as we get closer to that time period.  We are excited to see what the future brings, so we hope you stay tuned!


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Harvest Stompede

It began with a limerick:

A Gerwurstraminer from Shady Lane

Can be enjoyed in the sun or the rain

It sure beats a beer 

that is brewed south of here

And the view from their deck is insane!

Last October, the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association held a poem contest on Facebook and I won with that entry.  Of course, I was the only entrant.  😉  The cool thing was that I won two free tickets to any event that the LPVA was hosting over the course of the next year.  With one event left before the year was up, we decided it was time to get on the wine trail!  The two day event was called Harvest Stompede, which kicked off with a series of foot races through one of the local vineyards on Saturday morning.  After the races, the wine trail opened with 22 vineyards featuring one of their wines along with a food pairing.  All of them offered additional tastings of between three to five pours.

Our friends Patti and Lane also had tickets. Since we all had commitments on Saturday, we decided to visit the trail on Sunday.  Lane was gracious enough to drive, which we really appreciated!

First stop was Black Star Farms.  The netting on the vineyard in the photo above is used this time of the year to keep the birds from eating the ripe grapes.  This has been one of Diana’s and my favorite wineries on the peninsula for years.  We’ve stayed at their inn as our mid-winter getaway several times during our careers, including one magical night between Christmas and New Years Day when we had the entire inn to ourselves. 

For the Stompede, Black Star was featuring tomato braised beef meatballs with a creamy parmesan polenta paired with their Red House Red.  Unfortunately,  I had to pass on most of the offerings for the day, due to my gluten allergy.

Next up, we stopped at Ciccone Vineyards.

This winery is owned by Silvio (Tony) and Joan Ciccone…known to many as the singer Madonna’s dad and stepmom…but around here as pretty darn good winemakers and a sweet couple.  Tony has been making wine since he was a kid in Pennsylvania.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about this location is walking into the kitchen area for the food pairings.  Joan usually has some Italian dish going that smells like so many of my childhood friends’ homes back in Detroit.

This time around, she made her famous Oriental salad paired with their Gerwurtztraminer.  I really missed the smell of marinara, but it never hurts to change things up.  😀

Patti wanted us to see the amazing view from Ciccone’s barn, so we walked up the hill to check it out.  Our friend, Mary, has done the flowers for weddings here and has told us how great of a venue it is.

This cavernous building plays host to wedding receptions and other events.

This is the view looking east out of one of the windows.  That’s the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay with the Old Mission Peninsula beyond it.

This vista looking west from a tent they had set up outside the barn.  They are definitely on the top of the hill.

As we were walking around, we saw Tony talking to some people who were also checking out the view.  It was a nice opportunity to speak to him one on one about his vineyard.

Here’s Lane and Tony discussing the different varieties that he grows on the property.  

This particular type of grape is used to make Gerwurtztraminer, which is one of my favorites.

Tony also told us we were welcome to come pick grapes with him in a few weeks. Hmmmm….might have to consider that one.  

He says he puts complete strangers at one end of each side of a row and that they know each other’s life stories by the time they get to the other end.

We enjoyed getting the chance to speak with him in his little slice of heaven.  😀

Next up…or should I say down the hill…was Chateau de Leelanau. 

Their tasting room is in a barn with several other businesses right alongside M-22.  I do have to say that the atmosphere is not what you would expect from a winery, but they definitely have their winemaking down pat.  

For the Stompede, they were pairing a smoked beef brisket and cheddar slider with a choice of one of their Tractor Pull hard ciders.  I thought the cider was very tasty.  The slider looked yummy!  We sampled some of their other wines and thought they were very good.  I’m glad Lane put them on our tour.   😀

From there we dropped down the peninsula to Shady Lane Cellars.

This was the subject of my limerick! Their patio is a great place to spend a summer evening, especially when they have a musician performing. 

Their offering was a BBQ chicken flatbread paired with their 2014 Pinot Noir Rose.  We sampled a few of their other wines, including their outstanding 2013 Blue Franc. They have what we feel are the best reds on the peninsula, and their whites are also excellent.

Our next stop was Brengman Brothers Winery.

This is a beautiful location and a premier wedding venue.  As a matter of fact while we were here, we ran into our friend Julie and her daughter Maren, who is having her wedding reception here next year. 😀

The tasting room is just gorgeous!

They were serving chips and spinach dip paired with a choice of their Runaway Hen White or Brengman Brothers Vignoles.  
After Brengman Brothers, we headed over to Longview Winery.

Winemaker and owner Alan Eaker has an outstanding cherry wine and also a very interesting cherry mead.  We ended up buying a bottle of each.

Here he is serving up his son’s roasted salmon chowder which was paired with his Dry Riesling.  Lane said the chowder was simply outstanding.

From there we drove up to Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery.  

Bel Lago means ‘beautiful lake’ in Italian, as this winery sits high on a hill above Lake Leelanau.  Their winemaker, Charlie Edson, is well respected in the area for his skills in producing quality wine.

For the event, they served a smoked cherry barbecue pulled pork with cherry tortilla chips paired with Bouquetti.  Lane pointed out that someone was watching the number of people coming in the door and bringing out just enough fresh servings of food as they entered.  Very nice.

Diana and Patti were definitely having fun!

After that, we zoomed up to Laurentide Winery. Named for the continental ice sheet that shaped this region 10,000 years ago, this winery pays tribute to the earth the vines grow in.

That’s co-owner Susan Braymer holding a bottle of the day’s featured wine, Sauvignon Blanc.  Her and her husband Bill have worked very hard to perfect their wines and it shows.

Susan’s food pairing was her creamy cucumber soup, which was served chilled.  When I asked her if it was gluten free, she replied that it definitely was. Woohoo! My first gluten free pairing of the day!  Thank you, Susan…it was delicious!

At that point the clock was ticking towards the trail’s 5 pm ending, so we made one last stop at Boathouse Vineyards on the way back to Wild Cherry Resort.

This is one of Diana’s and my favorites.  Their 2014 Pinot Grigio (sold out) was my all-time favorite, and their 2015 is extremely close!  Their lawn extends down to The Narrows, which is the channel between North and South Lake Leelanau.

Their pairing for the day was a blackberry brie tartlet served with their 2013 Pinot Noir.

When we were done, we plopped into their Adirondack chairs and called it a day.

Even the clouds seemed to smile and wink at us, as if to say “great job!”

If you ever get a chance to experience a Leelanau Peninsula wine tour, by all means, do so. If driving is a concern, half price tickets are available for designated drivers (food only), or you can book a limo or van through one of the local tour services. More information on the events being held throughout the year are available at

A Very Busy Summer

If it seems like our posts have been a little spread apart this summer, you are correct in that observation.  Our plans for our time in Michigan this year included a few renovations with our rig and finishing up Diana’s mom’s business.  We also hoped to spend more time just enjoying Leelanau and sharing our discoveries here on exploRVistas. We did accomplish what we had planned, but there were a few obstacles thrown in to make life interesting.  Top that off with an extremely full resort and…well…there wasn’t much time for writing!  Things are settling down though, so here’s a summary of our past few months.

After spending the last half of April and the first week of May in Grand Rapids (doctor visits and working through Mom’s business), we headed north to Wild Cherry Resort near Lake Leelanau.  We knew that we had two renovations we wanted to get to this summer…new carpeting and a new kitchen countertop and sink.  Before I could get to either of those, Diana and I were looking at our entry steps, as there was a loose piece that needed some attention.  As we were inspecting them,  Diana noticed several cracks in our frame.  That lead to having quite a bit of welding done to our rig, something I covered in detail on our post, A Solid Foundation.  When I was finishing up that job, I noticed that one of our leaf springs was completely worn out.

That’s the new spring on top of the old one.  I purchased four new springs and, with the help of my neighbor Tom, we installed them in an afternoon.  It sure was nice having his help, along with the use of the resort’s tools!  Just about the time that job was completed, we were hit with a doozey of a hailstorm.

A solid 10 minutes of marble to golf ball sized hail.  Both of our vehicles sustained damage, along with all three of our slide room toppers.  Several people in the park lost all of their roof vents, but those of us with MaxxAir covers did just fine.  Unfortunately, my tonneau cover on the truck looked like someone had taken a ball peen hammer to it.  

Thank goodness our insurance covered it all. In the midst of getting the vehicles fixed, I decided that I’d better get going on the countertop, if I had any hope of getting it done this summer.  I used to make them for a living in a factory setting; this was going to require field work.  Fortunately the resort has a table saw in the barn.  Jim let me build the top there and I had it installed in short order.  

We are happy with the way it turned out!
As soon as that project was complete, we called a local flooring installer and started the process of having our carpeting replaced.  I had been worried about a soft spot in our floor that I wanted to fix, so I told him I would remove the old carpeting.  Upon doing so, I noticed that the RV manufacturer had cut a hole in a perfectly good, one-piece subfloor.

Not sure why they did that, but they evidently thought that putting a hundred staples around the edge would hold it in place.  The portion over the heat duct had nothing supporting it.  I removed the board and built a support structure below it with square aluminum tubing.  After re-mounting the board, the repair was as solid as the rest of the floor.  Problem solved.

The carpet installation process took a week, as the installer had to subcontract the binding on the edges that hang off the slide rooms.  That meant cramming our vehicles full of the stuff that normally was in our rig.  We kept the Escape driveable, but the truck was completely packed. Jim let us store our loveseat and dinette on a utility trailer in the barn, which was a huge help.

Again, we were really pleased with the results!  Nothing like soft carpeting between your toes!  😀

So while it’s been a busy time, it’s been a great summer in Leelanau.  Autumn is fast approaching, and there are several things we would like to do before we leave.  Stay tuned to see what’s next!


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The Manitou Islands

Approxametely 15 miles west of Leland, the Manitou Islands rise from Lake Michigan. This archipelago is a vital part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, yet very few visitors ever get there. A few weeks ago, Diana discovered a trip that the Leland Historical Society was taking to both North and South Manitou Islands on the same day. Ferry riders normally get to choose between one or the other, and the transit schedule North Manitou requires overnight tent camping. This once-a-year trip offered both islands! Seeing that we had never been to either one, we decided to join the tour. Joining us would be our friends Camilla, Lane and Patti. The trip was supposed to take place on Tuesday, August 23, but it was delayed two days because of strong southwesterly winds. As luck would have it, that put the trip on Thursday, August 25th…the 100th birthday of the National Park Service!

We arrived at Fishtown in the village of Leland, ready for adventure! For those who have never been to Leland, Fishtown is the historic dock where Lake Leelanau empties into Lake Michigan. Some of the old fish processing shanties have been turned into a collection of gift shops, while others still house fisheries.

Our vessel for this special trip was the 52 foot Manitou Isle. Built in 1946, she has seen a lot of use in her 70 years. The larger and newer ferry on the left is the one that is used daily.

On the way to the islands, we passed the North Manitou Shoal Light Station. This lighthouse was built in 1935 and was the last manned offshore light on the Great Lakes when it was automated in 1980. It sits in 26 feet of water and the focal plane of the light is 79 feet above the surface of the lake. The sea birds sure appreciate it! The lighthouse is currently up for auction, with a bid of $10,000 already posted online. If you are considering bidding on it, be warned that it is still active…including the fog horn. 🙂

As we approached our first stop, the South Manitou Light Station came into view. 

After years of visiting this region, we’ve finally made it to South Manitou Island! The smaller of the two isles, South Manitou is 8.2 square miles. There is a ranger station that houses a few seasonal workers, but no permanent residents. That’s not to say it was always that way though. The island has been home to lumbermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers, and lifesaving crews. 

This relief model of the island shows how the western side is dominated by dunes. Both North and South share this feature, as do the Fox islands to the north, as well as most of the shoreline of the mainland in Leelanau County. The model also shows the crescent-shaped harbor, which is the only natural deep water harbor between Buffalo, NY and Chicago. The football-shapes in the water are shipwrecks. The one on the right is the latest shipwreck, the Francisco Morazan…a 234 foot steamer which ran aground in a November gale in 1960. Most of the vessel is still visible above the waterline. Time constraints did not allow us to visit the wreck or the giant 500 year old cedar trees that stand west of it.

If you recall in my previous post, Port Oneida Fair, I spoke of a ship owner named Thomas Kelderhouse. On this day, we were honored to have our tour guide be his great-great-great granddaughter, Kim Kelderhouse! Here she is explaining the legend of the Sleeping Bear, which is how the dunes and the national lakeshore received their names. According to Native American folklore, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a great forest fire in Wisconsin. Knowing their only escape was to get to the other side, they swam day and night. The cubs lagged behind and drowned just off the Michigan shore, where their mother waited for them. The Great Spirit eventually covered the cubs with sand, creating the Manitou Islands. As the mother bear slept, he also blanketed her, creating the Sleeping Bear dunes. As Kim stated, it is indeed a sad tale.

After leaving the dock area, which is where the former lifesaving station stands, we split up into two groups. One group headed to the farm and cemetery, and our group headed with Kim to the lighthouse.

South Manitou Light Station was first established in 1840. The original tower was replaced in 1858 by the cream brick structure in the photo above, which had a lantern room on top. It was deemed that light was too short (64 feet), so the current tower was built in 1872, closer to the water. It has a focal plane of 104 feet above the lake surface.

Kim explained how the spiral staircase is only supported in the center. If it were attached to the sides, the tower would crumble as it shifted in the wind and the stairs pulled at the walls. I’ve been to many lighthouses over the years and never knew that fact. Learn something new every day!

The third order Fresnel lens is a replica. The light shines nightly from May through October.

Here’s the motley crew on the lighthouse gallery!

Kim took us into the keeper’s quarters, which is awaiting restoration. The windows were recently replaced, thereby stabilizing the building.

The lack of a ceiling upstairs allowed us to see this interesting twist in the chimney, which made it possible to exit the roof without disrupting the rafters.

From the lighthouse, we headed back to the boat and headed off to North Manitou Island.

Just a couple of kids out for a boat ride.  :)

As was the case at our previous stop, North Manitou Island’s dock is near the lifesaving station.

The unique thing about this location is that it is the only remaining station to have buildings that were used from the beginning of the Lifesaving Service through the Coast Guard.  This boathouse is the only remaining example that used the original 1854 standardized plans, and it was built that same year.

The 1877 Lifesaving Station was a combination crew quarters and boathouse.  It was later converted to quarters and a storehouse by the Manitou Island Association, and then to a dormitory by the National Park Service.

As was the case on South Manitou, North started out in the lumbering business selling cordwood to passing steamers.  When the trees were exhausted, the Manitou Island Association formed, which farmed the land.  A large barn from the farming era still exists to the north of the village near the dock.

A unique feature on North Manitou is Cottage Row.  There are 10 parcels that were owned by successful Chicago business owners who vacationed  here in the summer months.  The cottages on these lots were built between 1893 and 1924.

This cottage, the Monte Carlo, was designed by a 26 year old Frank Lloyd Wright when he was employed at the Sullivan firm in Chicago.  It was built in 1894.

Also built that year was the Trude-Fiske cottage.  It remained in the family until 1979.

The Wing Cottage was also built in 1894 and was owned by several families over the years.  Note the fieldstone foundation.

The Riggs-Londergan Cottage was built in 1924.  The Manitou Island Association purchased it in 1958.

This is the Katie Shepard Hotel, which is currently being restored by Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear volunteers.  It was built in 1895.  Although plans aren’t firm, the thought is that visitors will be able to use it as an alternative to tent camping, similar to a hostel.

There are a few other cottages, including one that was ordered out of the Sears catalogue.  Diana found it interesting that, of all the places these wealthy city dwellers could have chosen to spend their summers, they decided on an island in northern Lake Michigan without electricity or running water.

From North Manitou, we headed back to the mainland to the dock at Fishtown.

Camilla took one of her famous selfies to document our safe return!  What a great day with friends!


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Port Oneida Fair

In the mid 19th century, northern Europeons began settling into the area between what is now known as Pyramid Point and Glen Arbor, along the shores of Sleeping Bear Bay. Thomas Kelderhouse, the owner of several cargo ships on Lake Michigan, realized the potential of the area’s timber during a stopover on South Manitou Island. He made a deal with a local landowner on the mainland, Carsten Burfiend, where Kelderhouse would build a dock if Burfiend would donate the property adjacent to it. The resulting port was named after the one of the first ships to arrive, the S.S. Oneida.

Over time, the land was cleared of it’s timber and farmed.  The sandy soil wasn’t the best for crops, but the longer growing season along Lake Michigan helped sustain the community for a time.  Eventually, most of the buildings were abandoned.  When the National Park Service first acquired Port Oneida in the 1970’s, the policy was to remove the buildings and let nature retake the land. Fortunately, the funds weren’t available at that time to remove the structures.  Eventually that policy was changed, after the public realized that the county roads were going to be removed also….thereby eliminating access to the area beaches.  As a result of it’s time in limbo, Port Oneida is one of the largest examples of a pre-modern rural community in the United States.  The buildings are now being preserved, as is the history of those early settlers.

Each August, the National Park Service partners with the nonprofit Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear for the Port Oneida Fair.  The event showcases rural life as it would have been in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This year’s fair was held over two days, up from the usual one day event.  Admission is free, although a park pass is required to be on the grounds.

Spread over five seperate farms, there were many different demonstrations as to how things were done in the past.  Above, a man rides in a horse drawn buggy across a field at the Dechow farm.

Oxen in their yolks, ready to do some work in the fields!

A young boy using a shaving horse and a spoke shave to shape a piece of wood.

This woman was demonstrating the art of spinning wool.  She was really good at it.  :)

This display from the Empire Area Museum had two hand-cranked phonographs; the one on the right was an Edison.  A far cry from listening to music on your iPhone. 😀

There were several bicycles on display.  This one was actually a predecessor to the high wheeler.

We found this oil-burning headlight to be interesting.  Note the red lens on the left side.  The right side is green, just like a boat would have.

This little McCormick-Deering gasoline engine was chugging along.  It was connected to a water pump.  They had several examples of old engines, one of which was powering a Maytag washing machine.

A pair of beautiful draft horses.  The front one is a Belgian and the one behind is a Percheron.

Just across M-22 from the Dechow farm is the Olsen farm.

This home is the showcase of Port Oneida.  It doubles as an information center for the historic district.

This gentleman was playing a hammer dulcimer.  To me, they are one of the prettiest sounding musical instruments ever made.

This man was explaining the uses of the flax plant.  In his hand was a by-product of the processing of flax, called tow fibers.  This was timely for us, as Diana had just mentioned earlier this week that she wondered where the term ‘tow head’ came from for blondes.  Well, he explained that the term came from the similarity of the color of the fibers to blonde hair.  He also told us that the fibers were used to make rope, hence the term ‘tow rope’….and towing your car, and so on.  Pretty cool.  :)

The woman with him was spinning tow.  Both of them were wearing clothes made from tow.  Sorry about the angle of the photo: that’s a fiber spindle, not a flute.  :)

From the Olsen farm, we continued down the road to the Burfiend Barn.

Outside the barn, children and adult volunteers were making wooden barn pegs. They drove the wood through cylindrical tubes with wooden mallets.  Each new peg drove the last one out of the tube.

Inside the barn, the string band Carter Creek was putting on a show.  We really enjoyed listening to them, especially when they played an old favorite of ours…John Prine’s ‘Paradise’.

We really enjoyed our day at the Port Oneida Fair.  If you are ever visiting Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore the second Saturday in August, be sure to save the afternoon for this event.


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Alligator Hill 

A year ago on August 2, a powerful storm packing winds in excess of 100 miles-an-hour rolled off of Lake Michigan and took dead aim at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Fortunately, no one was killed and very few people were injured. While there were dozens of homes and businesses damaged, the majority of the devistation was to the canopy of trees in the area.  A prime example of that is Alligator Hill.

Named for its resemblance to a resting alligator, this rise of thickly-forested land lies within the boundaries of the national lakeshore.  A series of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, totaling over 7 miles, traverse the length of the hill.  The winds from the storm raked along the ridge, funneling into the ravines on either side and laying 150 year old trees into piles exceeding 10 feet in height.  The trail system was closed following the storm and was only recently reopened to hiking.  After our friends Lane and Patti hiked it, we decided to go check it out on our anniversary this last Saturday, August 6th.

As the map at the trailhead suggested, we snapped a photo to take the map with us.  It’s nice that these signs are clear enough to be able to read on a smartphone.  The NPS really does a good job at Sleeping Bear, and we appreciate it.  Our route for the day would take us to Islands Lookout and Big Glen Lookout.  Including a side trip to view additional storm damage, we totaled 4.7 miles.

Once on the trail, we were greeted by the cool canopy of trees that made up the majority of the path, prior to last August.  Having not hiked here before, we aren’t sure if the two-track appearance of the trail existed before the storm.  A lot of equipment had to come through this area to reopen the upper portions of the route.

Before long, we started to see some of the downed trees.  There was no doubt that this was the result of straight-line winds, as these giants were all dropped in an easterly direction.

After a short stretch of blown out forest, we returned to the canopy  of trees.  It was there that we came upon one of the best views we’ve ever seen at Sleeping Bear…the Islands Lookout.

Look at that water.  One of the hikers at the overlook commented that it reminded him of the Carribean. We never get tired of looking at these waters, and this particular viewpoint really puts it all in perspective.  Off in the distance is South Manitou Island to the left and North Manitou Island to the right.

Continuing around to the right, you are able to see just how wide the vista is here.  Looking with the naked eye, I spotted something on the horizon between the islands.  I zoomed my camera in as best I could, but I still couldn’t tell what I was seeing until I got home.

It was a fairly large Great Lakes freighter steaming north towards the Straits of Mackinac!

Leaving the viewpoint, we headed towards Big Glen Lookout.

This is the ‘spine of the alligator’, so to speak.  This area was hit hard, as you are able to see.  Still, it was interesting to see how other plant life was coming up from the forest floor.

Common Mullein were sprouting up everywhere!  

Again, we entered an area of forested canopy before we arrived at our next viewpoint. 

Big Glen Lookout overlooks what is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Big Glen Lake.  Almost perfectly round and surrounded by high hills, the lake doesn’t have a lot of big waves, making it a boater’s paradise.

Heading back towards the trailhead, we took the path that runs below the ridge on the south side.  This is the area that the storm hit first.

It looked like a war zone.  The National Park Service is contemplating what to do with the timber.  One school of thought is to leave it natural while the other is to remove it to lessen the extreme fire danger.  Either way, it was an amazing thing to see!

These trees were shattered.  It was interesting to see how the core of the tree seperated from the rest.  We saw several examples of this.

We can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been on the trail that day, as there was nowhere to hide.  It’s humbling to think of the power the storm was packing.

It wasn’t too long before we were back at the trailhead and our vehicle.  What would have normally been a nice hike to a couple of great viewpoints has become a lesson in the tremendous forces that nature unleashes from time to time.  We are really glad we did this hike and we recommend it to anyone visiting Sleeping Bear.

Concert at the Dune Climb

If there is one iconic image of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it would probably have to be the Dune Climb.  For those who have not been to Sleeping Bear, the Dune Climb is the place where visitors are allowed to crawl up the sand dune and run or tumble back down.  Viewers of the sitcom ‘Home Improvement’ may remember the episode when Tim the Toolman Taylor and his family came running down the dune on a family vacation.  It’s great fun, especially for children.  :)

Once every summer for the past 18 years, the National Park Service and the Glen Arbor Art Association turn the sand hill and park below it into a concert venue, as part of the association’s Manitou Music Festival.  This year’s free concert featured an eclectic folk-Americana group out of Chicago, of all places, called the Way Down Wanderers.  While they were true to traditional bluegrass with their choice of instruments, their style was much more diverse…ranging from Merle Haggard to their own pop/folk-infused songs.  They had a lot of energy and put on a spirited show.  We were their with several friends, and with a delicious spread of food and drink, we settled in for an evening of entertainment, people watching and conversation.  I pulled out the Nikon and turned the lens loose on the crowd for a plethora of candid photos.  Enjoy!
















Partway through the show, Diana checked her Facebook account, as one of our college friends was in the area and she wanted to see if he was at the event.  He wasn’t, but she did notice that our friend Camilla had posted that she was there.  She had ridden her bike from D.H. Day campground, where she was spending the weekend.  

I spotted her high up on the dune…without any wine.  Diana dispatched me with a Solo cup of Pinot Grigio.  Remember, I said children like climbing the dune..hoo-boy, tough climb!  I did an end-around, came up behind her and said “it sucks when you forget your wine.” After a hug, she headed down the hill with me and joined us!

She took one of her famous selfies before the end of the show.  :)

It was another great evening in Leelanau with friends and the folks who are spending their summer up here in the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan.  Stay tuned for more fun!

The Blue Angels from a Different Perspective

As stated in our last post, the Blue Angels were in Traverse City to kick off the National Cherry Festival.  This was their first appearance since they lost one of their pilots in a crash back in April.  We’ve been catching occasional glimpses of them over the campground recently. Earlier in the week, they screamed up behind us while we were biking the Leelanau Trail with Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, causing me to duck out of instinct!

Parallel to all of this, our friends Rod and Mary were in the process of settling into their new-to-them Ericson 30 plus sailing sloop.  After navigating it from its previous home port of Boyne City and getting a feel for what-went-where, they invited us out for a day of sailing, along with our mutual friends Lane and Patti.  Our plan was to journey from their slip in Suttons Bay to the south end of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay to view the Blue Angels air show.  Diana’s and my actual sailing experience at the helm has consisted of piloting a Sunfish around Fife Lake, so we knew the concept of tacking and jibing.  I’ve helped raise the sails on large schooners before in Maine, but that’s about it with a multi-sail vessel.  No doubt, this was going to be a treat!

For perspective, our trip was going to take us from Suttons Bay (denoted with the green bubble), around Stony Point and south to Traverse City (red bubble) and back.  Round trip distance was around 40 miles.

Mary pulled the bow line, jumped on board and we were off!

Rod motored us out of the harbor and out across Suttons Bay.  A former career captain for a major airline, he has the calm demeanor needed to handle a larger craft like this.  He has had other smaller sailboats in his youth, but this is new territory for him.  Lane and I crewed for him, with both of us being newbies.  Rod provided clear instruction to his mates and we learned quickly.  The only casualty of the day came early on, as a wind gust caught the bill of the captain’s favorite Gulfstream hat and sent it over the stern.  Davey Jones is sporting a new cap.  :(

There wasn’t much wind to be found in Suttons Bay, so we motored out around Stony Point.  Rod commented that his two cylinder 16 horsepower diesel sounded like the African Queen.  It definitely chugged right along!

Here’s Lane scanning the shoreline behind us after tending to the forward sail, known as a jib.

Before too long, we had wind in the sails and we were cruising south.

Diana, being the Girl Scout she is, came prepared with an additional hat.  Rod gladly made use of it.

Patti and Lane were drinking in the view also.  :)   We started out with a fickle wind, but the breeze picked up as the day progressed.

As we passed Bowers Harbor, we saw several planes and jets doing acrobatics over Traverse City.  Following that, the Blue Angels’ C-130 transport nicknamed Fat Albert took to the stage.

This giant plane made several tight turns and climbs, passing just above the water in several cases.  On its last pass southward across the water, it made a steep climb over Traverse City and the five Blue Angels jets came screaming northward underneath it.  One had to temporarily drop out of formation with an unknown issue, but the other four continued on.  They looped off to the west and headed up to the top of Grand Traverse Bay, then blazed southward past us!

They were really moving!

Here’s what a 20 mile long smoke trail looks like at water level.  :)

It’s amazing to see them fly so close together!

Before long, the fifth plane rejoined them and they were really putting on a show!

This is one of my favorites.  Nothing like a supersonic game of chicken.  :)

As the show wound down, a wave of watercraft headed northward past us, kicking up an unpredictable chop.  Patti had headed below deck to retrieve a bottle of dry reisling to toast the day and christen the vessel. She stood in the hatchway with an open bottle as we came about and didn’t spill a drop…a testament to her sea legs and the craft’s stability!

On our way back north, we passed the topsail schooner Manitou, which was also under full sail.  The wind had swung around to the north, so we had to tack and jibe all the way back.  Fortunately, the bay is wide and over 300 feet deep, so we were able to complete the trip with just a couple of manuvers. 

We pulled back into Suttons Bay just before sunset, all of us a bit tuckered out.  :)

We helped Rod and Mary stow the main sail, then headed back to the campground to let their dog out for them.  We all had a marvelous time and really learned a lot!  Thank you for the wonderful day, Rod and Mary!

It’s Festival Season!

The weather has warmed in Northwest Michigan, the tourists are rolling in and the cherry trees are taking on a definite red hue.  That can only mean one thing: festival season is upon us!  With the relatively short season at the 45th parallel, the next few months are going to be jammed full of activities.

On Saturday, Diana and I went to the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival with our friends Patti and Lane.  Earlier this month, on the day I was having our frame welded, Diana worked at the Leelanau Vintners Association to help them get ready for the event.  Our friend Camilla works there and needed assistance on decorations.  Diana also was able to enlist Patti and Lane to help. In exchange, we received tickets for the festival!

Here is the trio with a sampling of their handiwork.  It took them a fair amount of time to wrap each bottle in twine. They did a really nice job!

Each ticket got us a stemless wine glass, eight tasting tokens and a food ticket.  Additional tasting tokens and food tickets were available for purchase.

Here Patti is showing off her food choice.  Looks yummy!  

Each winery from the Leelanau Vintner’s Association had their own booth set up on the perimeter of the grounds.  There were also several local artists, along with a stage featuring four music acts.  We tasted several different wines, skipping some of the wineries that are close to our campground, as we get to them often enough.  After that, we took a special Chardonnay tour.  This was led by Jay Briggs, winemaker at 45 North Winery.

Jay took us to several different booths to sample different Chardonnay offerings.  Along the way, each winemaker explained their process, the types of barrels used to age the wine and so on.  It’s amazing the work that goes into making wine, and no two batches are ever the same.  While Leelanau is prime real estate for growing grapes…that’s why there are 26 wineries here…the dynamic weather on the peninsula can make or break a crop.

Another thing that is evident is how these folks all work together.  They share their ideas and are all friends with each other.  There aren’t many industries who can boast that sort of business model.🙂

Another thing they do is the saberage ceremony, led again this year by Lee Lutes, winemaker from Black Star Farms.  He opens a bottle of Champagne with a saber, striking it on the neck of the bottle.

I was lucky enough to photograph the top of the bottle as it came off the end of the saber.  :)

After that, Camilla gathered us all for a selfie.  :)

The day was a lot of fun, and darned if we didn’t close the place down!

As an added bonus, our tickets included free tastings for the next week at the wineries.  That’s quite a bonus!  So on Tuesday afternoon, we went with Patti and Lane to three wineries near us.

First up was French Valley.  They are located on Suttons Bay, which is on the eastern side of the Leelanau Peninsula.  We sampled five of their wines and decided that we would be back to enjoy a bottle along with one of their wood-fired pizzas.

They have an outstanding view from their lawn.

Next up was Leelanau Cellars.

Their tasting room is a few miles north on Omena Bay.  Again, we sampled five wines and ended up buying a bottle from them.

They are in the same building as one of our favorite restaurants called Knot Just a Bar.  We’ve often commented that Omena Bay looks like it could be along the coast of Maine…but this is part of the Great Lakes, so no salt and no sharks.🙂

Our last stop was farther north in the middle of the peninsula at Green Bird Organic Cellars and Farm.

Patti took this photo of their vineyard.  One of the owners explained to us how they purchased the 67 acre organic farm from the previous owner, Good Neighbor Organic.  He and his business partner changed the name and are raising their families on the land with their wives.  There is also a distillery on the property, owned by another friend.  Quite a bit is happening with these ambitious folks.

Here we are with one of the owners Ben, on the right and Bill, the owner of the distillery.  These people are passionate about what they are doing.  We sampled several of their products, including some of Bill’s rum.  We purchased a bottle of Green Bird’s pear cider.  That visit capped off a really great afternoon with our friends Patti and Lane!

Our tasting tickets are good through this coming weekend, so we hope to get back out and sample a few more of the peninsula’s offerings.  This weekend starts the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, so things will be extremely busy.

The Blue Angels are in town, putting on their first show since they lost one of their pilots in a crash earlier this year.  One of the planes was practicing over the campground yesterday doing barrel rolls and inside loops.  We are anticipating seeing more of them today.

It’s been a great start to a busy festival season in Leelanau, and we are really looking forward to the next few months.  If you are in the area, stop in and join the fun!


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