Category Archives: Friends

Leelanau, 2017

There is just something about Leelanau County that keeps drawing us back.  Since we were coming back to Michigan for annual doctor appointments, we knew we would definitely want to make time for our beloved finger of land on northern Lake Michigan.

On September 24, we headed across the Mackinac Bridge, completing our quick trip across the Upper Peninsula.

It’s always a thrill to pull a 13 foot tall fifth wheel over this span…especially since the railing is only 3 feet high!  The Mackinac Bridge Authority limits loaded trucks to 20 mph for good reason, as the crosswinds can be formidable. As a result, I had a good 15 minutes to ‘enjoy’ my unobstructed view over the rail on the 5 mile crossing. 😉

We stopped by Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to see how it was doing.  You may recall that my great-grandfather was the general contractor on the lighthouse and barn way back in 1892. I worked with Mackinac State Historic Parks for several years to get to light station reopened as a museum.  It’s great to see that the buildings are in fine shape.

The next day, we headed toward Leelenau.  When we drove through the intersection of Grandview and Division in Traverse City, we essentially completed our circle of the country we began last October 1st.  It was pretty overwhelming to reflect on the amazing experiences we’d had over that time period. It was also exciting to see what was new on the peninsula.

Our friends Rod and Mary had built a beautiful cottage just up the road from Wild Cherry Resort, so they invited us to use their RV pad.  They worked their tails off over the summer and have ended up with a dandy little slice of paradise!  We really appreciated being able to stay on their property.  We had piled up a ‘to-do’ list of items that needed attention on the rig, so I picked away at most of them.  It was there that our refrigerator door fell off, so that assumed the top item on my list.

We also stopped into Wild Cherry and saw Jim the owner, Paul, JoAnn, Skip and Rex.  Later in the week, I saw Rex’s wife Nellie in the grocery store.  Rex broke his leg earlier in the summer but is back mowing at the age of 93.  I snuck up alongside of her and said “Hey, Beautiful…how are you doing?”  She said “Well, hello!  I’m fine…it’s him that’s the problem!”…pointing to Rex back by the meat department.  😊

Rod also took us out sailing on Suttons Bay.  The breeze was stiff enough to allow us to sail with only the jib.

Mary and Diana were enjoying the wild ride!

On Saturday, September 30, we went to Leelanau UnCaged with Lane, Patti, Rod and Mary.  The event was a street fair in Northport which morphed into a park party with three bottles of wine and snacks from the town grocer. 😉   The six of us previously had gotten together for dinner at our place a couple of days before and also got together later in the week when Lane and Patti had us over to their place for dinner. It’s always a great time when we are together!

Later in the week, we went over to John and Julie’s new place on the southern end of the county.  John was one of my college suite mates and a fellow Zamboni driver.  He and Julie just built a really cool place that features beams and planks from a huge pine tree that grew where the house now sits.

After we hung out there for a bit, we headed to the village of Cedar for dinner.  Man, it’s great to be able to catch up with these two!

On Tuesday, Diana and Mary headed to Grand Rapids to do some shopping and to check out Meijer Gardens and some of the Artprize entries there.  I rode along with Rod to Traverse City where he was having his boat stored for the winter.  It was neat to see the process of pulling the vessel out of the water.

First thing they did was lift the mast from the boat, secure the rigging and then store it on a trailer with a multitude of other masts.

Then they had Rod pull the cruiser into slip and over the slings.

Up she goes…

…and loaded on the cradle.  Pretty cool name, seeing that Rod is a retired commercial airline pilot who took up sailing.  😎

It sure was great to get back to Leelanau for a few weeks and see everyone!  From here we head down to Grand Rapids for our doctor’s appointments and to see more friends and family.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with during our time there!

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Across the Top of Michigan  

Heading out of Duluth on Friday September 22, we made a beeline through Wisconsin to our home state of Michigan.  It had been almost an entire year since we left; the longest stretch either of us had ever been away.  Even though our point of entry was over 500 miles from the towns we grew up in, it felt like we were home. 😊

Looking at that big, blue Pure Michigan sign, I could only imagine Tim Allen describing the beauty of the Upper Peninsula in one of those iconic ads for the state.  Speaking of which…we were surprised to have seen one on TV this summer while we were in Oregon!  As we headed through Ironwood, I popped in The Accidentals latest CD Odyssey, just to complete the Michigan experience.  😎

One thing we had noticed as we headed east across the country; the campgrounds were expensive for what we were getting.  This fact was especially true in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota…with prices over $40 a night in almost every instance.  That price is fine if we are looking at a beautiful view…but more often than not, we were next to a set of train tracks in a gravel lot.  Well, when we arrived in the U.P., we found a sweet little overnight spot with a price that was tough to beat.

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In the bustling town of Bruce Crossing, we pulled into Stannard Township RV Park.  Twelve pull through, first come – first served sites, 50 amp electric, water, dump station, restroom and shower house for $10 a night.  Now that’s more like it!  Though it is located on US-45, the highway is lightly traveled in that area…and the railroad had been turned into a trail.  Bruce Crossing has a couple of bars, a cafe, store, gas station, and is located close to several nice waterfalls.  We were through the area back in 2015 when we visited Bond Falls on our 33rd anniversary.  

The next day, we headed northeast to the town of L’Anse (pronounced LAHHnse) to meet up with our forever friend, Debbie!

Diana and Debbie were Girl Scouts together in Ortonville when they were growing up.  They know all the songs they learned back then and will gladly sing a duet, if asked!  Debbie lives in Houghton now, halfway up the Keewenaw Peninsula.  We met for breakfast, which she insisted on picking up the tab.  Thanks, Debbie!

From there, we headed down to Canyon Falls.  This is one place we had not seen yet, so we pulled in to check it out.  It doubles as a roadside rest area, so there was plenty of room for the RV.

Along the 1/4 mile trail to the falls, we saw this interesting clump of trees growing over this boulder.

There was a little bit of fall color starting to show along the way.

The largest falls were difficult to view, as there wasn’t a trail to see them from the front…only from above.  Still, they were very pretty!

After returning to our vehicles, we made the choice to head back into L’Ance to check out a campground a little northwest of there.  Our original plan was to drive 96 miles to Munising, but the day was so unseasonably warm, we wanted to go swimming in Lake Superior.  If there is ever a time to swim in this frigid body of water, late summer or early autumn would be it!

We scored a ginormous site at Ojibwa Recreation Area.  This site had 50 amp electric, but we needed to obtain water at the dump station.  This little slice of paradise cost us $19 a night and included our own personal sandy beach on L’Anse Bay.

We both stood thigh deep in the chilly water for a loooong time before going any deeper.  We eventually ended up diving in, hoping all the while that our hearts wouldn’t stop from the shock!  Those kids behind us were in and out of the lake all afternoon and evening…the water temperature didn’t faze them a bit. 😊

On Sunday, we made the decision to head directly to Mackinaw City, a trip of about 240 miles.  That’s about the upper limit we like to drive in a day, especially considering the route was mostly two lane roads.  Just west of Munising, we pulled into a roadside turnout to stretch our legs.

This is the view from our parking spot. There were several NO CAMPING signs, for good reason!  We rolled up our shorts and waded out as deep as we could.  Boy, did that feel good!

The crystal clear water and sandy bottom were really a nice break in the middle of a long driving day. 😊

Next up:  we cross the Mighty Mackinac Bridge and head towards Leelanau for a visit with friends.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Feeling ‘Midwest’ in North Dakota 

When we last posted, we were leaving Jim and Barb’s place in the Black Hills of South Dakota and heading up to Bismarck, North Dakota.  We broke that trip up into two days, with a stopover in Bowman, ND for the night.  The trip from Bowman to Bismarck on Friday, September 15 was pouring rain with a stiff headwind.  Even though we were losing elevation across the plains, the transmission in the truck was constantly downshifting to compensate for the rush of air coming at us.  The upside?  Free car washes!  I barely recognized the truck, as the layer of tan Oregon dirt on it had become part of the North Dakota soil beneath it.

Once in Bismarck, our goal was to see a friend of ours who lives there.  Nina has been working as an engineer for a road construction company in the area after graduating from Michigan Tech a few years ago.  We met up with her and her friend John, who was visiting from Minneapolis for the weekend.

We had breakfast and checked out the street fair that was going on downtown.  Very fun!

Nina is part of the second generation of our WMU friends. It was great to see her and to also meet John! 

That afternoon, Diana and I headed to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.  It’s located directly adjacent to the State Capitol.

Diana saw this unique bison statue, which uses reinforcing rod for the fur near its head.  :). While we found the museum interesting, we realized that we really prefer to see artifacts in context; in other words, where the history actually occurred.  They definitely had a lot of things to look at, though!  A little bit of everything that is North Dakota.

A nice surprise for me was that the state tree of North Dakota is the American Elm.

Growing up in Detroit, almost every street was lined with these vase-shaped giants.  It gave the roads a bit of a gothic archway effect.  Dutch Elm Disease wiped most of them out, and I watched as they cut them down, one by one.  To say I was thrilled to see these in North Dakota was a huge understatement!

The next day, we met up with our friends Kat and Bob, who we last saw in Prineville, Oregon.  They are headed to the sugar beet harvest, so we took the opportunity to check out a few Lewis and Clark sites with them.  The first place we visited was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Washburn.

It is a beautiful building with nice collection of some of the items that would have been brought on the expedition.

One particularly interesting piece was this air rifle; the same type that Meriwether Lewis took along on the journey to impress the natives.

  But the best part of this museum was located a few miles up the road:

A re-creation of Fort Mandan, the place where the expedition spent the winter of 1804/1805.  Now this is in context!  While this fort isn’t the original, nor is it even in its initial location (which could possibly be underwater, as the river has changed course), it is built to the specifications described in the journals, using the same materials. Not only that, it is furnished and stocked with similar items that would have been there when the Corps of Discovery occupied it.  If that isn’t enough, tours are led by interpretive rangers, who encourage visitors to actually pick up and examine the different items in the outpost.  They sure know the way to these history buffs hearts!

Our interpretive ranger, Robert, explained each room in the fort to us.  While there were only 6 people in our group, there was also a tour bus that was being led by another ranger.  Robert explained that the combined groups totaled the amount of people who lived at the post, so it was a great visual in that regard.

Here he explains the lead canisters that Meriwether Lewis had designed to store the gunpowder in.  Each one contained 8 pounds of lead and 4 pounds of gunpowder, as it took half the weight in powder to propel a lead musket ball.  Each was sealed with wax to keep the powder dry, which it succeeded in doing the entire journey.

This would have been Lewis and Clark’s quarters.

By golly…Bob makes a pretty darned good Meriwether Lewis!

When Robert found out I was related to George Drouillard, he decided to put me in his clothes to see if there was a resemblance.

I do believe I have the French-Canadian nose down pat!  We want to give a huge thank you to Robert and his colleagues, as they deliver on what is an important piece of American history!

We had one other thing that we needed to do before we left there:

Diana wanted to see the statue of Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland dog.  😊

From Fort Mandan, we drove up to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

While this looks like a lawn with mounds scattered around it, it’s actually where Sacajawea lived with the Mandan Indians.  These mounds are all that remain of the earthen lodges they lived in.

This is an example of the exterior of one of the lodges…

…while this would’ve been what the interior looked like.  Quite large, sturdy and warm.  Even still, the natives only expected them to last around 10 years.  Not your average teepee, but I’m sure the winters up here dictated the use of these!

It was great to see Bob and Kat again, and to experience the transition from the West to the Midwest in beautiful North Dakota!
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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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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The past couple of months could be labeled as ‘the summer of really old stuff’ for us.  Whether it’s looking at galaxies or nebulae through Prineville Reservoir’s telescope that are thousands of light years away or hiking among rocks that are even older, we’ve seen things that are downright ancient!  Even being the history and science buffs we are, some of what we’ve seen has been hard to wrap our minds around.  One place in central Oregon that examines this prehistoric strata is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Spread out over a wide portion of the area in three locations, this park is home to fossils that date back 40 million years!  It also is fortunate to have some of the most stunning scenery in the state.

During our time in Prineville, we made three separate visits to John Day Fossil Beds.  Our first two were to the Sheep Rock and the Painted Hills units.  One of those visits was with our friends Bob and Kathrun, on our way home from our day trip to Kam Wah Chung.  Our last visit to the park this past week was to the Clarno Unit, so we could get out to see some actual fossils embedded in the exposed rocks.

The Sheep Rock unit is where the Thomas Condon Visitor Center is located.  This was our first stop.

Mr. Condon was a minister/scientist in the 1800’s who believed that the church had nothing to fear from the concept of evolution, as it was simply God’s way of working.  During his time at The Dalles, Oregon, he was intrigued by the fossils that gold miners would bring him.  That led him to Oregon’s interior and the area surrounding John Day.

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The visitor center named after him is outstanding!   The first thing we did upon arrival was to get our Junior Ranger books.  Looking through them, we knew this was going to be a difficult subject to grasp, as it spans so many millions of years.  We started through the gallery, which goes from the oldest fossils to the newest.  The floor is painted different colors to show what era or age you are in, which we found helpful.

To fully understand what happened to make this area such a treasure trove of fossils, you have to first know that this land was once the coastal area of Oregon.  The Cascade Mountains had yet to rise to the west, and the area around John Day was itself a volcanic region.  In fact, it was tropical, featuring versions of many of the creatures found in our current southern climates such as: giraffes, crocodiles, and hippopotamus.  Each volcanic eruption would bury more and more plants and animals, building layer upon layer in giant time capsules.  Over time, the volcanoes became extinct and the volcanic activity moved west.  As the current Cascades rose, the moisture from the ocean was somewhat cut off from the John Day region and the area became the high desert it is today.  Wind, rivers and rain eventually eroded the land, creating the massive valleys in the area and exposing millions of years worth of fossils, all stacked up like a giant birthday cake.  The lower the paleontologists looked on the hills, the older the fossils were!

As we worked through the Junior Ranger book, we began to understand how large of an area the fossil beds covered.  One of the ages actually extended all the way down to Prineville over 100 miles away, which we know is part of an extinct volcano.  The other thing we found extremely interesting was the timeline of the modern day horse.  They began as very small animals, evolving over time to nearly the size of today’s equines.  They were prevalent in both North America and Eurasia, but became extinct here around 11,000 years ago.  When the Spanish explorers came here in the late 1400’s, they unknowingly reintroduced them to the continent.

We completed the books and were sworn in as… Senior Rangers!  Wait a minute….what’s up with that???  Must be because my head was too big for the hat!

Once we left the visitor center, we explored the surrounding Sheep Rock area a bit.

The Cant Ranch is just up the road, and is an interpretive site run by the National Park Service.  It was closed the day we were there, so we walked around the grounds.

How’s that for a view from your back porch?

Just south of the visitor center is Picture Gorge.  Named after petroglyphs high on the gorge walls, this cut through the hills was created by the John Day River.  We drove through this with Bob and Kat, and it’s a great example of the layering in the area.

On our visit to the Clarno Unit, we took the 1/4 mile Fossil Trail and examined the plant fossils embedded in the rock.

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The hills across the road are all that’s left of the ancient volcano that created the palisades at Clarno.  Imagine that someday giants like Mt. Hood will be whittled down to this size.  Also note the evidence of the recent wildfires on the hills.  We saw miles and miles of charred land.

We saw fossilized leaves and sticks….

…a very-much-alive Western Fence Lizard…

…and a rabbit.  Good thing the volcano isn’t active, Mr. Bunny, or you could end up a fossil!

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With us examining every book and cranny of the rocks on the trail, that quarter mile took a long time!  The palesaides faced south, so the sun reflected off of them and the temperatures soared quickly.  We decided to save the other trails for another time.

The other place we visited, both with Bob and Kat and by ourselves, was the Painted Hills.

These hills were actually part of an ancient riverbed, with the alternating colors coming from different climactic periods.  As forces beneath the surface uplifted the soil, erosion exposed the layers we see today.

We really enjoyed exploring John Day Fossil Beds over the time we were in Central Oregon!  We just scratched the surface, that’s for sure. 😉

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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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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!