Summer plans revealed and a work camping opportunity

Leelanau County, located north of Traverse City, Michigan has always been one of our favorite destinations.  It is home to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, many quaint little towns, a few dozen wineries, and miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The Leelanau Peninsula is a place that has called out to us.

 

 

No matter the season, we have spent a lot of time enjoying this amazing piece of real estate.  In 2011, ABC’s Good Morning America voted Sleeping Bear Dunes the most beautiful place in America.

 

 

While it is difficult to compare the varied landscapes in America, we do feel the area ranks right up there with the best of them.

 

 

In recent years, the area wine industry has become a major player in Michigan’s economy.  Along wih it, the foodies have descended upon the area. Mario Batali spends his summers here.  The food and wine are delightful!

So, you ask…what does that have to do with our summer?  Well, we are going to be work camping at one of our favorite resorts!

  
Wild Cherry Resort is located between Sutton’s Bay and Lake Leelanau.  Besides us, there is one other couple and room for a third (due to a recent cancellation). This will be our first work camping job, so while we know the park well from staying there, we haven’t seen it as workers.  We have spoken with the staff in the past, and all of them have enjoyed the experience.

If you are interested in spending the summer work camping in an amazing part of the world, contact Jim at Wild Cherry through their website wildcherryresort.com.

  
Hopefully, we will get to enjoy the summer together!

Central California – Throwback Thursday

“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

John Muir

Yosemite National Park has always been high on our list of places to visit, but seemed out of reach for an RV trip in our working days.  In early 2005, we happened upon round trip tickets to Sacremento from Chicago Midway on Southwest Airlines for $99 each, so we made plans to head west and check it out without the RV. After touring the California state capitol, we headed to Yosemite.  Our base while we were in the area was the unique Penon Blanco Lookout bed and breakfast in Coulterville.  One of the great features of Penon Blanco was the stocked refrigerator in our room.  Each day, we would head out with our cooler packed with their drinks, and they would refill the fridge each day…no additional charge.  They would even replace the beer and wine!  (That policy appears to have changed since then, per their website). We stopped at the local deli each day to stock up on food, which allowed us to picnic outdoors.  As a result, we felt like we were still on an RV vacation!

When we arrived in Yosemite Valley, we were awestruck.

  

Yosemite was everything we had hoped it would be.  The vistas were simply amazing.  As a bonus, we were fortunate to be able to experience the valley with the waterfalls flowing heavier than they normally would be in the summer months.  This was due to the heavy snowpack in the Sierras from the previous winter. What a difference between then and the drought conditions that exist now!

  

Here is El Capitan standing proud against a gorgeous blue sky.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Yosemite, El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world.

  

From the lookout at Washburn Point, visitors really get a sense of the magnitude of the valley.  Here is a profile photo of Half Dome as viewed from the west.

  

Looking north from the northern edge of Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls can be seen across the valley.

  

Looking back east, the valley appears in all of it’s grandeur.  It is easy to see why Ansel Adams loved to use Yosemite as a subject of his photographs.

  

Yosemite is also home to a stand of Giant Sequoia trees.  Some of the trees in the Mariposa Grove are 3000 years old.  Looking up at one of these beauties really puts things in perspective, in terms of a human’s lifespan.

While we were there, we decided to spend one day exploring the eastern side of the Sierras.

  

On our way across on Tioga Road, we saw this view of Half Dome from it’s eastern side.  Most Yosemite visitors don’t get to see this side of the landmark.

  

Heading across Tioga Pass, we encountered leftover snow from the previous winter.  It is always fun to see the white stuff in mid summer!

  

Our destination for the day was the old mining town of Bodie, California.  Now a state park, Bodie is well preserved by the dry conditions that exist on the east side of the Sierras.  We definitely want to spend more time in this town!  On our way back, we encountered a young couple who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  They had gotten off the trail to get supplies, and we’re trying to get back to camp before sundown.  We had rented a Ford Expedition and had plenty of room, so they got a ride from us back to camp.  They were fairly ‘ripe’ from hiking, but it was fun to talk with them about their experience. We don’t usually pick up hitchhikers, but it seemed pretty obvious to us that they were thru-hikers.

Once we left Yosemite, we headed to San Francisco for a few days.  Our base in the City By The Bay was the Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf.

  

Here is Lombard Street, which is billed as the ‘crookedest street in the world’.  It was fun to walk down the sidewalk, and was even more fun to drive!

  

Getting a chance to ride one of the famous cable cars was a special treat for us Midwestern kids.  🙂

While we were there, we ventured up Columbus Avenue to a restaurant called Mama’s.  Our breakfast that morning became the benchmark to which all others are measured for us.  Simply outstanding.

  

Across the street from Mama’s is Washington Square Park.  Each morning, the local residents begin their day with Tai Chi.  It was fascinating to watch.

Once we left San Francisco, we headed north along the coast.  The coastal fog was very thick that day, so we asked a local if there was any chance at seeing the sun.  We were told to drive north to Tomales and if the fog hadn’t lifted by then, head east to Sonoma Valley and skip the coast.  That is what ended up happening.

Sonoma was enchanting, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.  We toured many of the shops in the area and visited a couple of wineries.

  

We took a tour of the Benziger Family Winery, which was very interesting.  Here is a photo of their cellar.

  

It was here that we learned how a winery uses the topography of it’s property to produce various types of grapes.  It all has to do with the amount of sun a vine receives each day as to what variety is grown on a specific parcel.

After we finished up at Sonoma, we headed to Napa Valley to tour more wineries.  Once we got there, we realized that Napa was geared more towards production and was not as quaint.  Next time through, we plan on focusing more of our time in Sonoma.

So thanks to some great airfare, we made a trip that might have otherwise been delayed until our retirement.  John Muir’s words struck a chord with us, and we are glad we followed in his footsteps.

Frankenmuth

On our way back from Florida, we received word that our friend Mike’s father had passed away on Easter night.  So, we spent one night in Byron Center before heading to the east side of the state.  Mike and his wife Cindy both grew up in Essexville, at the base of Michigan’s thumb.  Mike’s dad was a hard working farmer and was well loved, as was evident by the packed funeral home the night of the viewing.  His red Farmall tractor was parked out front with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in the seat.  What a great send off.

Our go-to campground in that area is the Jellystone Park in Frankenmuth, which is about 1/2 hour south of Essexville.   At first glance, this park appears to be high priced, somewhat tight and geared towards kids…all of which is true.  But, there is so much more to this story, especially for us.

  

Yogi has taken care of us over the years.  When Diana’s dad was suffering with terminal cancer in Flushing (just to the south), we parked our travel trailer here and Diana used it as a retreat to come back to and regroup.  The staff was as good as gold to her.  They also have one of the best indoor pools you will ever find at a campground.

 

It comes complete with an excellent climate controlled environment, huge whirlpool, and an evening adults only hour.  Nice.

Frankenmuth is known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria.  Settled in the mid 1800’s by Immigrants from what was Germany’s Franconia region, Frankenmuth has become one of Michigan’s prime tourist destinations.

 

  

Most folks come for the family style chicken dinners at either the Bavarian Inn…

  

 

…or at Zehnder’s.  Both are great, but our favorite is Zehnder’s.  We both have a lifetime of experiences in this restaurant, from our early childhoods until now.  :). There also is a brewery/restaurant in town, along with other popular food destinations.

If shopping is your thing, Frankenmuth has an array of quaint stores with plenty of offerings.  Perhaps the grandest shopping experience in Frankenmuth is Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland. (Wally Bronner wanted to make sure people remembered the holiday was Christ’s birthday, hence the case-sensitive spelling.)

  

Bronner’s bills itself as the world’s largest Christmas store.  It is open 361 days a year and is loaded with every kind of ornament imaginable.  They also have outdoor displays that are lit year-round.

  

And even though the focus is Christ, Santa Claus is also well represented. But perhaps one of the most compelling features of Bronner’s is the Silent Night Chapel.

  

The chapel is a 1:1 replica of the chapel in Oberndorf, Austria.  The hymn ‘Silent Night’ was first played on Christmas Eve in St. Nicholas church in 1818.  After the church was razed, the chapel was built on the altar site.  Wally Bronner travelled to Austria in the 1980’s and obtained permission to construct a replica in Frankenmuth.

  

Surrounding the chapel are these signs displaying the lyrics in over 300 languages. The speakers in the surrounding landscaping continually play different versions of the hymn. Pretty nice tribute for a simple but powerful tune.

So if you are ever driving up I-75 in lower Michigan, be sure to check out Frankenmuth.  It is definitely different than what you would expect from the area.  The people of Frankenmuth should be no suprise though, as they are as hard working as most of the rest of area’s residents…people like Mike’s dad.  You will feel very welcomed here.

Musings from our trip back to Michigan

While our trip back to the Mitten State was largely uneventful, there are always things that catch your interest and are worthy of a mention.  Here are a few of our observations.

 

We originally saw this Uhaul and trailer in Gainesville on I-75.  He was doing about 60 MPH, and the rear tire on the other side of the trailer was shredded and sparks were flying everywhere.  We slowly passed him. Diana informed him he had a flat, and he waved that he knew.  35 miles later, he pulled into the rest area behind us.  We are not quite sure how that was even possible!

 

We saw this rig in Alabama.  That is a Ford F-350 single rear wheel truck, just like ours.  We are just under the truck’s limit wth our fully loaded 31 foot trailer.  I have to believe this Ford is overloaded.  Situations like the above two scare us, as they are jeapordizing other people’s safety.

  

We saw this rig in Nashville near the Grand Ole Opry.  It makes us wonder just what country music star it belongs to. 🙂

  

Another GMC motorhome!  We saw it in almost the same location as the last one.  Great to see them, as I said before.

 

We always love to see newly built highways.  So new, in fact, the Garmin thinks we are driving across a field.  Time to update.  Recalculating!

 

 

When hanging out in Florida near the Everglades, do as your wife does and wear bug spray.  Here is one of my chigger-ravaged ankles.  I drove all the way back to Michigan in sandals, as socks drove me nuts.  🙂

A couple of other notes we want to pass along:  We updated our Harvest Hosts post to include Diana’s candlelit video of the sounds of the ranch.  So, if you saw the post before the video was posted, it is worth it to go back and check it out.  Also, we added some photos this morning that our niece took to the Al Kaline Delivered post.  She took some great family pics that show what a great time we had.  🙂

So, as uneventful as the trip was, there was plenty of interesting things to take in.  We love being able to travel, and are thankful for this nomadic life of ours.  We hope you enjoy riding along with us!

Harvest Hosts

Friday morning, we left Naples, Florida with the intention of driving to the state’s panhandle and staying at a Yogi Bear park in Madison. Along the way, we encountered heavy traffic, as the snowbirds moved north.  Spring breakers were headed south, resulting in miles of vehicles sitting still on I-75.

  

  A lot of those people on the other side had just driven straight through from Michigan.  That is not our idea of fun.

Along the way, Diana looked on the Harvest Hosts website to see if there were any farms or wineries in the area.  For those of you not familiar with this, Harvest Hosts is a U.S./Canada-wide network of wineries and farms who allow people to spend the night on their property in their RV’s.  In exchange, it is customary to support their business by purchasing their goods.  I selected our one year membership (normally $44) as a door prize at the RV-Dreams 2014 Fall Rally, and Diana selected our GoVino wine glasses for her prize, which brought about a few good laughs!  Anyway, Diana found Golden Acres Ranch, just about 1/2 hour past Madison in Monticello, Florida.  She called to see if they had room, and they did!  We pulled in just before dark and got set up for the night.

  

  

There was a big ol’ full moon rising above the live oak trees. The ranch was absolutely beautiful, and the sounds of the animals was a welcome change from the highway noise.  We were a good 10 miles off of I-10, so we didn’t hear any traffic.  What we did hear was guinea fowl, bullfrogs and Great Pyranees barking in the distance.  What a welcome change.  Before turning in, we purchased some farm fresh eggs, homemade Mayhaw jelly, a bar of locally made lavender soap, and a jar of Tupelo honey.  Even with all of the interesting sounds from the livestock and the frogs, we slept extremely well. 

Click here to listen to the sounds on Diana’s short YouTube video.  Enjoy the candles on our table.  🙂

In the morning, we ate some of the eggs we purchased, then we toured the ranch with Bobbie Golden.  She and her husband Fred started the ranch as an encore career, and have quite a lot on their plate!

 

Here is a photo of Bobbie with one of her Tennessee Fainting goats.  These goats stiffen when startled, which makes them appear to faint.  They make great pets!  This beauty has blue eyes.

  

They are adorable!

 

 

Here is Diana holding one of the baby goats.  That made her day!

 

 

They also have sheep on the ranch. We learned that sheep tails go down and goat tails stick up.

  

There were several guinea chickens running about, and they could really move!  Bobbie and Fred also have several Great Pyranees dogs to guard the livestock.

 

They are beautiful dogs, and remind us of our male Golden Retriever, Dakota, who passed in 2004.

 

These three were born last fall. And they loved Diana.  🙂 

 

 

What a great place to park for the night!  Be sure to check out their website to understand the uniqueness of the Mayhaw trees and pond, and to learn about the upcoming Mayhaw festival being held at the ranch in May.

Part of the Harvest Host experience is boondocking.  For those of you not familiar with this concept, boondocking is when you park without hookups…no water, sewer or electric.  Some RVers have generators to produce electricity and some have solar panels on their roofs.  RV’s have large fresh water holding tanks and sewer tanks. Depending on your set-up and how miserly you are dictates how long you can boondock.  We don’t have solar or a generator, so we are limited to how long we can stretch our house battery.  Many of our lights are 12 volt, along with two exhaust fans, and our water pump.  Our stove runs on propane, as does our water heater, furnace and refrigerator.  We lit candles in the evening and used battery powered lanterns, so our battery was still full when we left. Just in case, we unplugged the truck from the trailer, so as to not run down the truck batteries.

Once we left the ranch, we decided to take a different route, in order to avoid the interstate traffic.  We took a route that Diana’s dad used to rave about, and one we never had a chance to try.  We drove north from Monticello on US-19 to US-84 and west to US-231.  On 19 and 84, this is what the road looked like:

  

 

Wow.  Barely a car in sight, and four lane divided highway the entire way….all posted at 65 mph outside of the few towns we encountered.

We ended up for the night at one of our favorite stopover campgrounds on the Michigan/Florida route:  Deer Run RV Park just north of Troy, Alabama.

  

It is a beautiful setting, and the campsites are spacious.

  

 

We ended up with a very nice pull through site that allowed us to stay hooked up to the truck.

So, what started out being a hectic drive up I-75 ended up being one of the most relaxing experiences we have ever had.  Many thanks to Bobbie and Fred Golden, two of the most delightful people we have ever met.  And thanks to Don and Kim Greene of Harvest Hosts for donating the membership to RV-Dreams!  We will definitely be renewing it! 

Last full day in Naples

Today was our last day before heading back north.  While we would love to stay longer, we are so glad we made the effort to push this far south.  We love this area.

I didn’t post yesterday, because it was an errand day.  We upgraded our phones at Verizon, went to Whole Foods and Publix, came home and made barbeque chicken and mashed taters and veggies.  Mmmmm……

  

Here is my first picture with my iPhone 6.  🙂

Today was another beach day.  We went to Delnor-Wiggins State Park.

 

Nice beach with plenty of parking and restrooms.

 

 

Even the dolphins were having fun!

 

 

We had our beach setup going, and we did not get burned. It is just not worth it to us to do that.  I have to tell you, that beach cart earned it’s place in our trunk, for sure.

After the beach, we headed over to Pincher’s in Tin City.  The latter was built as an area of commerce in the 1920’s along the waterfront.  Today, it is an assortment of eclectic shops and restaurants.  Pincher’s is a local seafood place with a lively atmosphere.  We both had grouper.  My gluten-free version came broiled with cole slaw and apple sauce, and Diana’s was a traditional deep fried sandwich with a mountain of fries.  We laughed how no one could possibly eat all those fries…except possibly me in my old gluten days.  🙂

After dinner, we had a chance to walk the park at Club Naples RV Resort tonight and get some photos.

 

 

Here is an example of how the rigs back up to each other.

 

 

This is an empty lot that someone recently pulled out from.  The rig goes on the sand next to the patio.

 

 

And here is one where the entire lot is paved.

So while the park is close quarters, it is very, very nice.  Everybody loves it here, which is a great sign.  Their community areas are first rate and well maintained.  The staff is extremely friendly. I am sure we will be back someday.

Tomorrow, we start back north.  We will be taking our time on the way back, as the trip down was a bit of a push. We will do our best to post on our travels!