Category Archives: Family

Rural Indiana – The Heart of the Midwest

There’s something about Indiana that makes Midwesterners like ourselves feel centered.  Perhaps it is because so many interstates converge on Indianapolis, which has earned the state its moniker The Crossroads of America.  Or maybe it’s the laid back rural landscape that holds very few surprises as we travel over it. Having lived our adult lives in West Michigan, the US-31/I-65 corridor through the Hoosier State has become a familiar route to us, as it was our preferred path south for our Florida vacations.  Even though we’ve yet to reside in the state, we’ve come to know it fairly well.

© 2017 Google Maps

Our first stop on our way south on Thursday was the town of Donaldson, Indiana.  Located on the old Lincoln Highway, this unincorporated community sports a post office, a railroad crossing and not much else.  If you keep going beyond the tracks for a mile or so, a steeple appears above the treetops. You may have recalled our post Paradise in a Corn Field back in 2014, when we introduced you to the beautiful convent where my aunt lives.  This is that steeple and convent.

Now known as The Center at Donaldson, this gorgeous piece of real estate is something to see.  A few years ago, my uncle (my aunt’s baby brother) took up residence at the independent living facility the sisters operate on the grounds…so we get to visit both of them on our way through!

Aunt Marge just turned 93 and Uncle Ed is now 91.  Both are doing quite well.  It was so good to see them!

The sisters graciously allowed us to park the rig at their receiving facility overnight, complete with electricity and water.  We left them a donation for their kindness.  

If you are ever going to be in the area, let them know through this link so they can give you a tour of their facility.  You won’t be disappointed.  People of all faiths are openly welcomed.

On Friday, we continued south around Indianapolis to Seymour, Indiana.  This is John Cougar Mellencamp territory.  We didn’t see any ‘little pink houses’, but the one that motivated him to write the song supposedly still sits west of town.  Our destination that day was Chateau de Pique Winery, a member of Harvest Hosts.

This 80 acre vineyard sits in the middle of some beautiful rolling farmland.  The tasting room is housed in this barn.

Angel greeted us and introduced us to their wines.  Yes, they also serve beer and mixed drinks as well.  We took a bottle of their Cabernet Franc home with us to enjoy that evening.

Our camping spot was behind the outdoor reception tent, complete with water and electric hookups.  Most Harvest Hosts don’t offer any hookups, so this was a treat!

Up the hill from our spot was this outdoor wedding venue.  They held a rehearsal just after we took this photo.  Not wanting to crash the party…

…we held one of our own.  😊   If you are a Harvest Hosts member, put Chateau de Pique on your radar!

Next up, a trip down memory lane in Kentucky, plus several places we had not seen before.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Click here to stream John Mellencamp’s Pink Houses on Amazon Music Unlimited!
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Further South in Michigan 

Who says you can’t go home?

Once we left Leelanau, we headed south and set up base camp in Byron Center to take care of our various doctors’ appointments.  When we arrived at Woodchip Campground, we experienced a bit of deja vu, as we were assigned the site next to the one where we wintered in 2014/2015.  With just one week scheduled to accomplish everything we had planned this go-around, we had our work cut out for us.  Still, we made sure we had time set aside to see friends and family and have some fun!

The first visit we made was to see my sister Judy and her husband Dale.  We failed to get a photo this year, but it was great to see them!

Here’s a photo of us from last year.  They took a cruise to Alaska in May and were fortunate enough to see Denali without clouds for almost their entire stay!  

Ok, so hang on…I’m going to my best to confuse the heck out of you on this one.  The next day we visited our friends Diane and Terry.  Diana taught with Diane, and Diane’s sister-in-law Diane.  Yes, Diane, Diane and Diana…and they were actually a team of three several years!  Anyway, Diane and Terry had a former German exchange student of theirs visiting while we were there.

We hadn’t seen Adrienne for several years, so it was definitely a nice surprise!

Later in the evening, Diane’s brother Bob and his wife Diane showed up with their triplets!

My goodness, these three are growing up!  From left to right is Allyson, Diana, Anthony, and Madelyn.  Anthony finally achieved his goal of growing taller than Diana!  So we failed to get a photo of either Diane….

…but we did get a photo of Terry giving Adrienne her first motorcycle ride!  It sure was good to see these friends!

The next morning, Diana had a mammogram appointment, which turned out great. We then buzzed out to Holland to get an adjustment from my long-time chiropractor.  If I could have him tag along on our travels, my back would be eternally grateful.  🙂 After that we headed to Detroit for a Tuesday appointment with my doctor at Henry Ford Health System.  This was a routine follow-up from my prostate surgery back in 2010.  On the way, we went to Flushing to see Diana’s Aunt Marion, Uncle Bob, and her cousin Debbie.  We really enjoyed visiting with them.  We then dropped south to Ortonville to visit the cemetery where Diana’s family is buried.  From there, we drove to Mt. Clemens and stayed the night at our niece Becky’s house.  Once again, we totally failed to get photos…arrrghh.  Becky and her hubby Dan were excellent hosts and made us a yummy dinner. Diana’s sister Cheryl also came over with our nephew Jared.  It was great to see everyone again!  Tuesday’s appointment went extremely well, and I’m happy to report that I’m coming up on 8 years cancer-free.  Yesssss! ☺️   We then drove back to Byron Center.

Sound like a full week?  Well, the week ain’t over yet folks….

Wednesday morning, we both had our annual physicals with our primary-care physician, then had our teeth cleaned at our dentist.  The physicals went well; the dentist, not so much.  It turns out we both needed crowns.  One of those resulted in us pushing our stay in Byron Center into the middle of the following week.  And just so we could say we had a happy hump-DAAAAY, I started my colonoscopy prep in the afternoon.  Oh joy.  After drinking a gallon of that horrible concoction, I was moved to use many bad words in my opinion of its maker. 

Thursday was my colonoscopy (my third) and all was well…except this is the second time in a row I’ve woken up halfway through.  Jeez…knock me out already, would ya?  Good part is, I’m good to go for another 5 years.

Friday was my appointment for my crown.  I was able to get a one-visit crown, which was a traumatic 3 hour long deal the last time I did it.  This time, while still 3 hours, was much better.  I asked for gas.  😉   

So by this time, you are probably thinking we are ready to drop, right?  Not.  We headed to Kalamazoo for WMU’s Homecoming!

From bottom left: Jim, Mike, Bill, Nina, Karen. Back row, from left: Billy, Cindy, Sue, Diana, Sheryl, Paul, Jim

We crashed at Mike and Cindy’s house for the weekend, even though they were going to Detroit on Saturday morning for a wedding.  Their son Brian and his girlfriend Sarah came over and took the role of surrogate hosts; oh, my…we knew the day would come that the kids would have to chaperone us!

Saturday came, and so did the rain and lightning.  It poured hard all day long, and the storms forced the postponement of the football game until Sunday.  

There was concern that the game would have to be played at a different location, as Waldo Stadium was completely flooded.  With a Herculean effort, more than a million gallons of water were pumped from the field in time to play Sunday afternoon.  Not sure how that affected folks downstream, though.  Anyway, most of us skipped the Sunday version of the game, as we needed to head out.  For us, that meant Byron Center again.

Monday we ran a bunch of errands.  One cool thing I want to highlight about that:  while we were at Camping World, I brought in a step I had purchased a while back.  One of the legs had broken on it, so I wanted to see what the warranty was.  The box didn’t say, but it did say that it was rated at 1000 pounds.

And seeing as we are Good Sam Life Members, Camping World was able to tell exactly when we bought it.  May of 2012.  Probably way out of warranty, but worth a call.  Stromberg Carlson requested a photo and a proof of purchase (which Camping World provided), so we zipped that all off to them.  Within an hour, they were sending us a new step!  That is great customer service that deserves to be mentioned.  And a big shout out to the Byron Center Camping World for their assistance!

On Tuesday, Diana went to lunch with her friend Colleen.  They grew up together in Ortonville, and she now lives in Rockford, just north of Grand Rapids.  I stayed home and caught up on a few projects and repairs.  Wednesday was Diana’s crown and we were ready to go.  We lifted our jacks Thursday morning and headed south towards warmer temperatures and more adventures.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with!

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A Bunch of Fun Meet Ups in the Black Hills!

A few posts back, during our wrap-up of our time in Oregon, we received an offer from Jim and Barb to stay on their property in South Dakota.  We had been following their blog, Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure, since 2014….yet we hadn’t met in person.  Our original plan was to take our time and visit several Lewis and Clark stops on our way through Idaho and Montana, but the smoke in those states put a damper on that.  We were scheduled to meet a friend on her day off in Bismarck, North Dakota on September 16, so a detour to South Dakota would add 300 miles to the trip. 

Except this isn’t a trip….it’s a journey.  😊

We had the time, our home has wheels, and we really wanted to meet them!  We found our way towards their place and up to the back of the property, to a site that Jim had just leveled out for us with a skid steer.  Sweet!

How’s that for a view?  To top it off, Jim and Barb made us a delicious dinner of Pasha Lake walleye.  Very tasty!  We then watched the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints…which was OK with me, as my Lions had won earlier in the day.  The Vikings and Lions are in the same division.

Of course, their dog Daisy had to let me know what she thought of the Detroit Lions team colors on my shoes.  😉

The next day, we walked their property and checked out some of the trail cameras they had placed.  They revealed that there is plenty of wildlife that make their way through the land!  We then went for a drive with them and saw the Crazy Horse Memorial.

This is definitely a work in progress.  It’s hard to imagine how huge this carving is, until you zoom in on the top of the warrior’s arm.

Those are two huge backhoes up there!  There is a lot of controversy surrounding this monument and Mount Rushmore, as the Oglala Sioux consider this sacred ground.  Since this mountain is being carved, it would be nice to see it finished.   The Native American museum at the site is very well done.  Tribes from all over the country are represented.

The next day, Diana and I met up with her cousin Nancy and husband David.  You may remember them from our trips to Big Bend and also to Napa Valley.  They were on their way from visiting David’s South Dakota relatives and heading out to see their niece and family in Colorado. Getting to see them was another bonus to being in the area. We toured Mount Rushmore this time!

Walking on the Presidential Trail, you really can see the intricacies of the carvings.  But when you back away…

You can clearly see they’ve been busy adding additional figures…by George!  

On our way out of town the next day, we stopped by the Mt. Rushmore KOA and saw our friend Kathy, who we met at Amazon last fall.  She’s been working at the campground all summer and has really enjoyed it.

We failed to get a picture, so I borrowed her Facebook profile photo.  She’s the one on the left.  😉

So as far as detours go, this was an excellent side trip!

We really appreciated Jim and Barb’s generous offer and we had a marvelous time with them!  It will be great to meet up again down the road, that’s for sure!

Up next, we move up to North Dakota. More time with friends and some great Lewis and Clark discoveries!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Click here for Black Hills items and everything else under the sun on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

A Surprise Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

When Lewis and Clark first formed the Corps of Discovery, it consisted of 59 people and one dog.  Most were military men, but some were civilians.  Of those, Sacajawea, her husband Charbonneau, and their baby Jean Baptiste are probably the best known. Another who has often been written about was an interpreter and fur trapper named George Drouillard.

© lewisandclarkinkentucky.org

Drouillard was considered to be one of the most valuable members of the expedition, as he excelled at trading with the natives, was able to recover stolen horses, was a skilled hunter and knew his way around in the wild.  He was extremely hard working and loyal. Having been born to a Shawnee mother, he knew the ways of the natives as the Corps travelled through the west. At the end of the journey, Meriweter Lewis reported to Thomas Jefferson that, “If it was not for George Drouillard, the Expedition would have never survived.”

While I was reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage this past spring, the line “Born north of present day Detroit, Michigan…” caught my eye.  A number of years ago, I researched my father’s side of our family.  I had heard some history from my dad about how Peche Island, a small piece of land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, was “swindled” away from our family by Hiram Walker, and that his great grandma had put a curse on the island.  Dad vehemently refused to have any Hiram Walker bottles in his liquor cabinet, so I was fairly sure there was some teeth to the story.  In searching “Peche Island” on Google, there was a very interesting article in the Walkerville Times called The Curse of Peche Island, in which my great-great grandmother, Rosalie Drouillard LaForest, had cursed to Walker’s men who forced her off that nothing would ever come of the island….and to her word, nothing ever did. There have been several attempts to develop the island, and they have all have failed.

So there was that name; Rosalie Drouillard LaForest, born north of present day Detroit, Michigan.  I pondered the connection while reading Ambrose’s account and wondered, is it possible that I’m related to George Drouillard?  Well, one thing the French-Canadiens and the Catholic Church do well; they keep great birth, death and marriage records.  Couple that with the excellent genealogy sites available on the web, I was pretty sure I’d be able to follow it back and find out.  I tabled the search, as we were concentrating on traveling across the country.

When we were staying at Lewis and Clark Caverns this past week, I read how Lewis, Clark, Charbonneau, Drouillard, and Sargeant Gass had hiked over the very land we were camped on. The tabled search came back to my mind, so I dug into it.  I knew George was born in 1773; this was going to go back a ways.  As follows:

James Belisle (me)

Rene Belisle (my dad)

Mamie LaForest Belisle (my grandma)

Alfred LaForest (my great grandpa)

Rosalie Drouillard LaForest (my great-great grandma)

Francois Drouillard (my third great grandpa)

Alexis Drouillard (my fourth great grandpa)

Francois Drouillard (my fifth great grandpa)

Jean Baptiste Drouillard (my sixth great grandpa)

Well, Jean Baptiste had another son named Pierre, who had a son named George Pierre Drouillard.  In his genealogy listing, it states that he was an interpreter on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Well, dang….from what I can gather on the web, George is my first cousin, six times removed! 

I was actually able to trace back to a seventh great grandfather, Simon Drouillard, a French soldier who had served under Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit.  Simon was attacked and killed by the Iroquois in 1733 near Detroit.  His son and my sixth great grandfather, Jean Baptiste, was killed in the French and Indian War at Pittsburgh in 1755. He was the first family member on my grandma’s side to actually settle in Detroit, back in 1749.

Before we pulled out from Lewis and Clark Caverns, we headed into the hamlet of Three Forks.  Our destination, just west of town, was a fishing access on the Jefferson River called Drouillard.  It was here that my cousin met his early demise at the hands of the Blackfeet Indians in 1810.

George and two other companions were ambushed while they were checking their traps along this stretch of the Jefferson.  He was working for the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company at the time.  He had been warned about going out without a larger group of men, but he felt he was too much an Indian himself to be caught. According to one account, the two men with him were lanced… but Drouillard met a much more gruesome fate.  When a search party found them later, George had been hacked to pieces.  Perhaps this was in response to a killing of two Blackfeet by him and Meriwether Lewis four years earlier, after the Indians had stolen their horses.  No one knows for sure, but his death sent a message that the Blackfeet didn’t want white men trapping fur in their territory.  George Drouillard was buried in an unmarked grave on the river bank.

A small memorial marks the approximate location where he met his fate.  

We paid our respects and headed to the other side of Three Forks to find the headwaters of the Missouri River, which we will touch on in another post. 

It was really interesting for a history buff like myself to find this bit of information.  I’m definitely going to journey back along the other branches of my family tree to see what I can find.  What connections are in your past?  We would love to hear about them.  Who knows…maybe we are cousins!

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A biography of George Drouillard and other interesting searches on our exploRVistas Amazon link can be found HERE.
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

The Unexpected Upside of Fulltime RVing

The biggest surprise to us about fulltime RVing has to be the social aspect of it.  When we prepared to hit the road, we thought we might feel distanced from friends and family.  Social media, this blog, work camping positions, and being members of the RV-Dreams family have helped alleviate that concern and have greatly expanded our circle of friends.  And while the places we visit are the focus of our journey, it’s the people we meet in each locale that end up standing out in our minds!

On July 15, our RV-Dreaming buddy and fellow lighthouse host Rick and his dog Maxine came to visit us at Prineville Reservoir.  He will be beginning his journey east soon and wanted to see us again before he left Oregon.  Since we were working, we brought him along to the programs we were helping out with.

It was great to spend more time with these two!

Maxine felt totally at ease here.  She looked right at home perched outside Mariah’s office.  🙂   It was sad to see them go Sunday morning, but we will definitely see them again down the road!

On Monday morning, we took the rig north to Parkdale to see our friends Bob and Kat.  You may recall that we met at the Fall 2014 RV-Dreams rally, and we met up again in San Antonio and in Lake Leelanau.  They are working at Toll Bridge County Park as hosts.

They suggested this beautiful site, just feet off the east fork of the Hood River.  😊  They made us a yummy dinner, which was appreciated after a day on the road!

On Tuesday, we took a tour of the Columbia River from the Bridge of the Gods up to Maryhill and back.

Our first stop was Stonehenge, a World War I memorial put in place by Samuel Hill.  He was the person responsible for the beautiful Columbia River Scenic Highway on the Oregon side of the waterway.  He first tried to get the State of Washington to build it and when they refused, he approached Oregon with the idea.  Thankfully, they approved construction.

From there, we visited Hill’s Maryhill estate.  This grand structure was built using forms and poured concrete, employing the same methods that would be used in building a highway overpass.  It now houses an art gallery.

The museum houses more than 80 works by Auguste Rodin, including The Thinker.

After that, we ate lunch at Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon, Washington.  

An outstanding meal with a beautiful view of Mt. Hood in the background!

We then crossed back into Oregon and checked out Vista House.

Looks like a good place to explore some vistas!  😎

From its’ perch high on the cliff, the building offers a commanding view of the gorge!

Our last stop was Multnomah Falls.

We had seen this beautiful set of waterfalls back in 1996, and they were just as pretty as we remembered them. It was a great way to cap off a really fun day with friends!

So whether it is family, old friends or new, this life on the road has been anything but solitary for us.  August 11 will be three years since we moved into our RV fulltime, and what a wonderful time it has been.  Here’s hoping we have many more roadiversaries and opportunities to spend time with others along the way!
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Our favorite ‘Friends’ sign and many more items available by clicking HERE on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Friends, Family, and the Foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains

After spending time with family in Oceanside, we headed up to San Dimas to establish a base to do more exploring and visiting.

We were fortunate to snag this site at East Shore RV Park, which featured a tremendous view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Our focus during our time here was to catch up with some old friends, visit with more family, and see some of the local sites.  We also honed our urban driving skills on the famous L.A. freeways!

On Thursday, we headed towards Woodland Hills to visit with friends.  We stopped along the way at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery, as Diana noticed there were several celebrities buried there.  We saw the graves of Bette Davis, Liberace, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

It was not lost on us that we were there on May 4, otherwise known as Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you).

From there, we went to one of Diana’s friend’s home in Woodland Hills.

Here we are with Debi and her husband Jamie, along with Debi’s parents, Jeane and Ron. Debi’s mom was one of Diana’s Girl Scout leaders along with Mrs. Faust. (We visited Mr. and Mrs. Faust a couple of years ago in Michigan). Having the same leaders from second through twelth grade made this group of girls very close and many of them still keep in touch. Their troop was very active with many camping trips, including a two week Hike Across Michigan. Diana joked that Debbie’s dad and Mr. Faust should have earned merit badges for driving motorhomes full of teenage girls from Michigan to Yellowstone National Park and back.  It was great to catch up with all of them and to finally be able to meet Jamie!

On Friday, a longtime friend from college came to visit us!  We hadn’t seen Tim since he left West Michigan in 1989 to work for Paramount Pictures.  He and his wife Kim have two lovely daughters and have had great careers in Hollywood. It was really good to catch up with him.  😊

On Saturday, we headed to Pasadena to catch up with Betsy and her husband Wayne.

We met Betsy back in college and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Wayne was our tour guide for the day as we checked out the area.  They treated us to dinner afterward, which was very sweet!

He works at The California Institute of Technology, so we were able to get an in-depth walk through the beautiful campus.  It’s inspiring to note that 33 Nobel Prize winners have graced these grounds.

The fictional characters Leonard and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory work at Cal Tech.  We didn’t see them here at the astrophysics lab.  😉

From there, we checked out Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Rose Bowl, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.

This is the Red Carpet area that leads into the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held.  It’s actually a mall that is lined with stores on both sides, which are curtained off for the show.  Who knew?

I’ve always known that I had stiff competition, in the fact that Diana wanted to marry Opie when she was growing up.  😉  (I always did like the nice guys 😊 Diana).  Thank you for the marvelous day, Betsy and Wayne! 

On Sunday, we went to Glendora to visit with more of Diana’s California relatives. Diana’s mother was the youngest of eight children. One of Joyce’s sisters, Lucille (Don), and one of her brothers Ken (Margery), and their families moved from Michigan to California in the 1950’s. Diana is one of 23 cousins on her mother’s side. The main reason for coming to California this spring was a long overdue visit to see these family members, and it was wonderful beyond our expectations!

Seated in the front is Aunt Margery.  From the left are Judy, Mike, Evie, Gregg, Judy, Diana, myself and Wes.  A total of 20 of us attended a get together at Aunt Margery’s home. We were so excited about seeing each other, we failed to get photos until after the following people had left: Uncle Don & Aunt Barb; Barry & Dawn; Evie’s daughter Kelly, her husband Mike, and their son Oliver; Judy’s son Wyatt, his wife Syndi, and their sons Gage & Gavin. As stated in our last post, Diana had not seen some of them since she was a young girl. Others she had yet to meet. We were moved at the outpouring of love from them, and we are determined to not let so much time pass before our next visit!

From the excitement and bustle of the Los Angeles area, we move next to the majesty of the High Sierras.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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The Big Bang Theory and other great items from exploRVistas Amazon link are available by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

Oceanside and San Diego

After spending a considerable amount of time in the desert the past few weeks, we crossed over the Laguna Mountains in Southern California and into the wonderfully cool temperatures of the San Diego region.  Our plans were to see Diana’s relatives who live in the area.  We arrived in Oceanside on April 27 and met up with Diana’s cousin Barry and his wife Dawn for dinner. 

The next day, the four of us hopped the Coaster train to San Diego to do a little touring!

These tiled pillars in the Santa Fe Depot were fabulous!  The building was opened in 1915 and has been in use ever since.  It was built by the City of San Diego in an attempt to lure the Santa Fe Railroad to make it the western terminus for its transcontinental railroad.  Los Angeles ended up winning that competition.

We walked to the bay to see the aircraft carrier USS Midway and to check out the waterfront.

I even kissed one of the pretty girls while we were there!

We had a nice lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, caught a pedicab back to the depot and headed back to Oceanside.  Our driver was very upbeat and entertaining, despite having to haul four adults across town.  😉

The next day, Diana and I hopped in the Escape and headed back south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

One of the surprises for us was the Veterans Memorial on Mt. Soledad.  There were semi circles of black granite tiles with veterans names, photos and stories inscribed in them.  Any U.S. veteran, living or dead, can have a plaque there.  Prices start at just under $1,000 and go up, depending on the size of the tile.

From the top of the memorial, there was a tremendous view to the north…

…and to the south!

From there, we skirted the western side of San Diego to visit Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse.  This maritime sentinel had been on our list of places to see since way back at the turn of the millennium when we were members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.  That organization featured the lighthouse at that time and caught our eyes.

Built on the top of 400 foot high Point Loma in 1855, the lighthouse was the highest in the United States during its 36 years of service.  It’s demise was brought about by the fact that it was too high to be seen by ships during foggy periods, resulting in the lighthouse keeper occasionally having to discharge a shotgun who warn passing ships.  To solve that issue, the New Point Loma Lighthouse was constructed in the late 1800’s at the base of the hill.

While it was a simple home in a remote location, the views from the windows of the harbor and the ocean made life here worth the hardships.

The next day, we got together in Oceanside with several of Diana’s relatives at a gathering that Barry and Dawn hosted at their timeshare.

On the left is Gregg and Diana’s cousin Evie, who Diana hadn’t seen since she was in fifth grade. On Diana’s left is her cousin Sandra, who was visiting from Delaware.  Next is Dawn and Diana’s cousin Barry, then Aunt Barb and Uncle Don, then me.  Several of us went down to the beach to watch the sunset later on.

Diana and I finally put our feet in the ocean, marking the completion of our trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific!  Thank you so much, Dawn and Barry!  We had a fabulous time! 

On Monday, Barry and Dawn took us on a tour northward from Oceanside up to Huntington Beach.  We made stops in San Clemente, Balboa Island and Huntington Beach, where they treated us to lunch.  We really enjoyed spending some quality time with them!

The following day, we went to see Uncle Don and Aunt Barb at their place in Escondido.  They took us out for lunch and we also spent some time visiting in their beautiful home.  It was great to be with them! 🙂

That wrapped up our time in Oceanside!  Next up, we move north to San Dimas to explore the Los Angeles area and to visit with friends and more family!  Stay tuned!

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Austin and Westward Across Texas

Once we left the Gulf Coast, we headed back up to Austin to visit with family for several days.  Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, who we went to Big Bend with last year, live in Austin. Diana’s cousin Jerry had spent the winter there after retiring, so we also wanted to see him before he headed back to Michigan. They all went out of their way to show us a great time in this fun town! 

First up on Thursday was a trip with Jerry out to Johnson City to see the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s boyhood home.

While his family had a fair amount of wealth, they lived simply in a rural Texas style.

The woman in the visitor’s center referred to LBJ as “a little stinker” during his days in Johnson City.  I’ll bet he was.  😉

From there, we drove west to Stonewall to the LBJ Ranch, otherwise known as the Texas White House.

This is still a working cattle ranch.  The road meanders through the property, as do the prize bovine. 😃

The visitor’s center for the ranch is housed in the former aircraft hanger.

LBJ would fly in to the ranch on this Lockheed JetStar that he dubbed “Air Force One Half”.  We found it interesting that he spent 20% of his time in office at his home here in Texas.

The wing on the left with the covered chimney was his fully functional presidential office.  The gentleman on the left was our tour guide.  He told us that a man on a tour he gave earlier in the day was the brother of the Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet, who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after JFK’s assasination.  The ranch is where the Kennedys were to spend the night of November 22, 1963, but that was not to be.  

This was LBJ’s domain. He used his 6’4″ frame…and several chairs that sat taller than the guest seating…to persuade people.  He felt self conscious around the Ivy-leaguers who ruled in Washington with himself only having a Texas teacher’s college education, so he would bring them to his ranch where they were out of their element. He achieved a lot in a short amount of time at this location.  He died of a heart attack in this home at the age of 64, six years after he left office.

That evening, we went to a place in South Austin that Jerry had discovered called the Saxon Pub.  Austin has a tremendous music reputation, and this night lived up to it.  

The headliner was Patrice Pike.  She and her band put on an amazing show.  At one point, she morphed one of her own songs into “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, sliding into the drummer’s place.  That left the drummer no choice but to beat the wall with his drumsticks.  The audience definitely got their money’s worth!

The next day, Diana and I met up with Jerry, Nancy, and David.

Our destination was the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The facility had a natural feel to it, and the buildings blended well with the surroundings.  Austin, in general, excels in their use of the local limestone in their architecture, giving the town a warm and inviting feel.  We enjoyed our visit to the gardens, and followed it up with lunch at a local barbecue joint called Salt Lick.  That was delicious!  Later that evening, Jerry’s son Ben and daughter-in-law Sara had us over for dinner, which was even better!

Here is Diana loving holding their son Cole.  What a cutie!

Saturday afternoon we headed over to Nancy and David’s home for dinner.  Their sons Thomas and Robert, along with their wives Marlana and Tashia were there, and also Jerry, Ben and Sara. There we had a birthday party for Sara and Cody Lynn, Nancy and David’s granddaughter.

Here is Cody Lynn showing off her new sticker book we got her.

We thought her brother Hayes might like a present also, so we got him a magnifying glass.  It was a hit!

Cole was enjoying a little lawn time.  😃

Sunday evening, we headed downtown to see one of Austin’s unique phenomenons, the evening bat flight.

When the Congress Avenue bridge was reconstructed in 1980, the gaps under the roadway unknowingly provided an ideal place for bats to roost.  Up to 1.5 million bats reside there by mid summer, and their nightly departure draws quite a crowd.  From our vantage point, we couldn’t see them very well…as it was quite dark when they began leaving. Still, it was a hoot to see the people hanging out to watch.

Monday, we began our journey west!  First stop was the tiny town of Junction to meet up with fellow RV-Dreamers Debbie and Steve!  We set up camp at Schreiner City Park, which allows three days of free camping.  We found this and the park mentioned in our last post on the AllStays app.

It’s pretty tough to beat that site!  Just beyond that shelter is the junction of the North and South Llano Rivers that give the town its name.

As a bonus to getting to see Debbie and Steve (seated behind me), we were able to meet Pam and Red, who are also fellow RV-Dreamers.  What a great evening!  If you are counting, that’s four couples from Howard and Linda’s rallies that we’ve met up with in Junction in the past two years.

The next day we headed to Balmorhea State Park in Toyavale.  This location is getting out there in the West Texas desert and featues a huge natural spring.  In the 1930’s, the CCC turned it into the attraction it is today.

From this panoramic shot, it looks like a normal public swimming pool.  What you aren’t seeing is…

…the natural bottom or the fish!  We did go for a dip, which felt really good.

We also enjoyed watching the roadrunners and the bunnies at our campsite.  

On Wednesday morning, we headed west toward El Paso.  For some reason, Diana and I had pictured it to be a sleepy West Texas outpost…not realizing that the city is home to well over 600,000 people!  With construction on Interstate 10, the trip through town was a bit more than we expected.  😊.  We enjoyed our trek across Texas and are looking forward to what comes next.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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A Four State Weekend

No sooner than we were all settled into our site in Leelanau, we jumped in Edsel the Escape and headed back south to Indiana. This was a planned trip, as my Aunt Marge was going to be celebrating her 70th Jubilee as a Catholic nun.  My cousins and my sister all were there, along with our spouses and my Uncle Ed (her brother and my Godfather).  Of the fifteen sisters who were in her class in 1946, five were here celebrating on this day.  Two others were celebrating 50 years, and Sister Johnilda would have celebrated her 80th Jubilee and her 100th birthday this month, but she passed in April.

The event was held at the Ancilla Domini chapel in Donaldson, Indiana, which resembles more of a cathedral than a chapel.  It’s stained glass windows and hand carved statues are all imported from Germany.  The altars were made in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  This branch of the sisters of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ immigrated from Germany in 1918.  The chapel and motherhouse was built in 1923, the year before my aunt was born in Detroit. As the pipe organ played, memories of my mom…an accomplished pipe organist…came flooding back.  I was a mess, to say the least.

Diana and I stayed at their retreat center, Lindenwood.  My uncle lives in their independent living center, which is actually in the 1923 motherhouse and is open to the public. The sisters also have a two year liberal arts college that started in 1937. They’ve recently noticed the birth rate falling in the surrounding community, so they are building dormitories to attract international students.  These ladies find ways to not only survive, but to also thrive and grow!  If you are ever in the area, be sure to stop in for a tour.  The sisters are always happy to have visitors. Ancilla Domini is listed as one of the top 15 hidden gems in Northern Indiana.

The photo above shows the existing dorm and dining hall, along with a second dorm being built. The sisters also have a complex that is their retirement and nursing home.  The nursing home is where my aunt currently lives.  Her eyesight is very poor, but with her independent spirit, she still tries her best to move around.  She recently fell and injured her neck, so her orthopedic surgeon has her in a doozy of a neck brace and wheelchair.  She isn’t very happy with the arrangement.

But don’t pity her.  She’s still talking about the things the sisters are doing and looking towards the future.  This is one amazing and spunky lady.

And this is her baby brother, my Uncle Ed.  He will be turning 90 this June.  🙂

These sisters were all novices (trainees) under her at one time.  There was also a table of people she used to work with at St Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne, including the CEO.  It was my aunt’s job to see that they followed their mission as a Catholic hospital.  It’s been 20 years since she has worked there, yet here they were here this day to celebrate with her.  She was obviously respected and loved by them.

A sister (by birth) of one of her novices had recently been fighting cancer and made several of these fleece blankets while undergoing chemo treatments.  She explained that it was her way of focusing on giving to others, rather than dwelling on her own health issues.   She gave one to my aunt…

…and one to my uncle.  That was very sweet of her .  🙂  We wish her good health in the future.

After we left Donaldson, we headed to Wisconsin to see Diana’s cousin and his wife.  We had a family heirloom that we wanted to take to them, and we also wanted to see the stately 1930’s home they recently purchased.  We left Indiana, scooted around Chicago and crossed into Wisconsin.  They live just across the border in Brodhead.

We really liked their place!  With my love of history, this home was right up my alley.

Lots of classic lines and period furniture, yet very comfortable.

While the home had an elegance to it that would typically make a person be afraid to touch anything, Duane and Gisela’s warmth and hospitality made it a cozy nest.  🙂

With them living in Wisconsin, they were sure to take us to the local dairy.  Sorry about the wind-blown hair, guys! We all got a chuckle when I said “Say cheese!”  The creamery’s offerings were delightful. The countryside surrounding the community consisted of rolling hills and neatly manicured farms.  We decided that we need to return to the area someday and do more exploring.

From their home, we had two options to get back to Wild Cherry.  We could drive either north or south to get around Lake Michigan.  If it were later in the spring, we might have chosen north.  Instead, we decided to retrace our steps and stop in Kalamazoo, Michigan to see our college friends Mike and Cindy. I wish I had photos, but we started right in talking and catching up…and never let up.  🙂  To offer a little history, we both had our houses built at the same time, and the four of us traded labor when we moved in back in February of 1999.  Amazingly, it was sunny and in the mid 40’s both weekends, which is unheard of in Michigan.  When we head back for homecoming at Western Michigan University every fall, the gang either hangs out there or at Paul and Sheryl’s house.  This particular evening, the four of us went out for pizza and then we spent the night.  They had to go to work the next morning, so they told us to just kick back and enjoy the place…which we did!  We ended up finally leaving at 10:30 AM.  🙂  After running some errands in Grand Rapids and Traverse City, we pulled into Leelanau by early evening.  Rod and Mary (who we worked with last summer, then spent the winter near in Melbourne Beach) arrived while we were gone, so it was great to see them again.  Their dog Gracie was happy to be back also.  🙂

That was our four state whirlwind weekend. We made a lot of memories in a short amount of time!  Thank you to our family and friends for making us feel so welcome and loved.  🙂

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Northward!

After our visit to Austin, Texas, we turned our wagon train northward towards Michigan for the summer.  We are returning to Leelanau for at least one more go-around, as we really enjoyed working at Wild Cherry. We met so many great people while we were there, and we want to spend more time with them!  We would also like to do some more exploring in the area. Our trip was a little bit faster than we planned, as my aunt hasn’t been doing well.  She fell and injured her neck, so we pushed a little harder to get back than we normally would have.  She is stable and in good hands, but we just really wanted to see for ourselves that she was ok.

On our way through Arkansas, we spent the night just south of Little Rock. We parked the rig, not even setting up, so we could get downtown to see the William Clinton Presidential Library before it closed for the day.  I’m going to borrow a thought from our friends Bob and Pat at Michigan Traveler and state that Diana and I like to visit Presidential museums, libraries and homes.  Doesn’t matter the party to us; if they were President of the United States, they’ve earned a place in history and our visit to their museum.  So please hold the political comments.  :). I’ll report on the nuts and bolts of the places.  Everybody has a different viewpoint on how they interpret the presentation of history, so I’m not even going to try to tell how I felt in this or any presidential museum…because you may feel differently.

The building itself was interesting in the fact that the upper floors were supported by this one set of columns on one end.  There’s the fire exit intertwined in it, unless you want to do a high dive into the Arkansas River.  🙂

Just inside the main door is one of the limousines used during his presidency.  Made in Michigan, as are most all of them.  This one is a Cadillac, but most have been Fords. 🙂

The Oval Office is an exact replica of how it was during Clinton’s term in office.

We have seen a few of these re-creations now, and this was the best…simply because they let you actually sit at the desk.  Of course they take photos of you and try to sell them to you for way too much money, but to sit at that desk and look around that room…well, that’s pretty neat.  Actually, that’s very neat!   I had to let that moment soak in for a minute.  🙂

They also had a replica of theWhite House Cabinet Room, which we found to be impressive.

The second and third floors were an open atrium with exhibits on both sides.  Those columns contain a portion of the hard copies of the library’s archives.

Bill and Hillary in their younger days.  I got a kick out of this photo, purely from the standpoint that we have college photos that could rival that.  🙂

Down the center of the atruim were these eight panels that discussed the timeline of each year of his presidency.  While we were viewing the displays on the back side of these panels, a small entourage walked through.  A woman was giving a tour to a well-dressed gentleman, and a few others were tagging along.  Then I noticed a man in a suit next to me, nonchalantly looking at a display.  He was wearing an earpiece…as were several others around the room!  Secret Service types everywhere. None of them were looking directly at us, but you bet we were being watched!  Not sure who the gentleman being given the tour was, but he had to have some major level of importance to be given that sort of protection.  Don’t make a false move, kids….

We enjoyed the Clinton Library, just as we do all presidential museums.  It was a very well thought-out design, and it was full of memorabilia and a plethora of information.

After we left Little Rock, we headed towards Indiana to see my aunt.  Earlier in the trip, I noticed I wasn’t able to get my expandable wheel chocks between the wheels on the passenger side of the trailer.  I thought maybe it was because I was on an unlevel surface…except it kept happening campsite after campsite.  Hmmmm….. Prior to our stopover at Effingham, Illinois, we noticed the right side of the trailer drooping. I thought one of our MORryde suspension springs was going bad, so I called ahead to MORryde headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana to schedule service.  Upon reaching Effingham,  I crawled further under the rig and noticed this:

Oops.  One of our sets of shackles had broken and the leaf spring was resting on the underside of the frame.  I called a local RV mobile tech who came out and installed new shackles on that one spring.  From there, we headed straight to Elkhart.

MORryde has six slots with 20/30/50 amp electric for people waiting for service to park in.  Even if you are scheduled to have service, it can take a few days to get in.  They are busy, and business is good.  So we camped there for two nights, listening to freight trains and the construction project next door.  Having read more than once about the scheduling and the trains on Howard and Linda’s RV-Dreams Journal, we rolled with it.  When we knew the first day that we weren’t getting in, we headed back an hour southwest with the Escape to see my 91-year old Aunt Marge. While the brace she was in seemed very uncomfortable for her, she seemed to be in fairly good spirits.  She definitely was getting good care.  If you recall our post from September 2014 called Paradise in a Corn Field, my aunt is a Roman Catholic nun.  She took her vows in 1946, after leaving home for the convent in the early 1940’s.  This will be her 70th year as a nun, and the Sisters are having a Jubilee in mid May.  We will be heading back down for that, as will the rest of the family.  Her baby brother, my Uncle Ed…who will be a very young 90 years old this year…also lives on the property.  The Sisters have a retirement community for the general public, and he hangs his hat there.  He’s my Godfather, and being with him is like being with my late mom again (before she had dementia)…funnier than all get out and sharp as a tack.  Those two were peas in a pod, and he chokes up at the mention of her.  No visit to see Aunt Marge is complete without seeing Uncle Ed.  He is doing fantastic.  🙂

Back at MORryde, we were able to get in the next day.  Sergio, our mechanic, came running out to tell us that they had a cancellation and that he was ready for us. Just like that, Clara was behind closed doors and Henry was all alone in the lot.

Ketchup and Mustard kept a lid on the situation.  🙂  About 5 hours later, we were good to go.  Sergio installed a heavier version of their MORryde vulcanized rubber shear springs than we previously had, much heavier duty shackles than before, new greaseable bolts (the original ones couldn’t be greased), checked the brakes and repacked the wheel bearings. I also had them readjust our pin box, as our trailer had been riding nose high.  Sergio had Keith bring the nose down two inches.  We still have plenty of clearance between the truck rails and the underside of the fifth wheel, and the lower front end will help us level easier in situations where we don’t unhook the truck and trailer for the night.  With us having the Escape to drive at our destinations, we don’t need to unhook…as long as the campsites are long enough.

 It is here I want to say something about the standard equipment suspension on most trailers.  Even though Colorado put on MORryde equalizers, they failed to put on greaseable bolts or heavy duty shackles.  Our friends Tracy and Lee at Camper Chronicles just had the same issue with their shackles on their Open Range fifth wheel.  They did as we did and opted for the heavier duty shackles and greaseable bolts.  They are headed to Alaska this summer and thank goodness that didn’t happen to them in the middle of the Yukon.  The heavy duty parts don’t cost much more, and I believe that they should be standard equipment on all trailers that still use leaf springs.

From MORryde, we drove 20 miles east to Shipshewana for a few nights.  We needed a break!  Nothing like planting yourself in the middle of Amish country to slow down your heart rate.  :). We enjoyed our time there, then headed back up to Grand Rapids.  I must say, the trailer felt like it was riding on a cloud. We needed to be in Grand Rapids to take care of a few things, in regards to Diana’s mom.  Once we are done here, we will be heading up to Leelanau!  If any of you are going to be up that way this summer, please let us know.  We would love to see you!
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