Category Archives: National Parks

Kings Canyon National Park

We almost didn’t go….

After a very full day on Wednesday, May 10 at Sequoia, we planned to spend Thursday getting caught up on chores and such.  We planned our visit to Kings Canyon for Friday, still not totally sure what we were going to find there.  We seriously considered skipping it all together, as a quick check of Google Street View wasn’t revealing much more than a tree-lined road.  Well, something stirred in us that Thursday morning and before we knew it, we were in Edsel and headed for Sequoia’s brother to the north!

Rather than take the same road we took the day before, we decided to try the road that ran west of Sequoia through the foothills. What started out as a two lane road with painted lines quickly turned into a narrow country lane, somewhat reminiscent of the roads we experienced in Kentucky.  I had to tame my inner Formula One driver, so as to not go over the side. 😉. The road gained elevation as we went, eventually leading us to the entrance to Kings Canyon.

Looking at this photo and the previous one, it’s hard to believe they were taken an hour apart!  Our fears of a cloudy day soon dissipated as we drove further into the park.  We stopped at the Grant Grove Visitor Center to gather more information about Kings Canyon and ended up speaking to Ranger Meredith, a seasoned dynamo full of enthusiasm for her beloved workplace.  That stop paid off in gold as the day progressed. As we headed to the heart of the canyon, the road actually leaves the park for a stretch and enters Giant Sequoia National Monument.

This outstanding area was elevated to monument status in 2000.  The road through it is the only way to get into the main portion of Kings Canyon. With most of the turnouts on the opposite side of the road, we opted to catch them on our way back home.  Seeing what we had to look forward to was like knowing we were going to have a great dessert after our meal.  😃

One thing Ranger Meredith asked us was “Any geologists here?”  We expressed our interest, so she told us to go exactly 1/2 mile past Boyden Cave and look at the rock wall on the driver’s side.  She said that even though there isn’t a pulloff, stop in the road and take a photo…and if the cars behind us didn’t like it, too bad.  😉

Wow!  I guess this says a lot about the makeup of subterranean California!

From there, we headed upriver to Grizzly Falls.

This powerful torrent was the culmination of Grizzly Creek just prior to it entering the Kings River.

From there, the road re-entered the national park.  Our next stop was Roaring River Falls.

It definitely was roaring!  Diana asked a NPS trail worker what we could expect to see in July, if we had come then instead.  He said that the river would actually be higher in July, as the warm temperatures would be melting the mountain snowpack more quickly than it currently was.  

From there we went to Zumwalt Meadow.

We crossed this suspension bridge along the way.

We also had to cross over this flooded pathway, as a small creek was over its banks in this section of the trail.

This was the payoff at the end of the trail!  It was a very peaceful place to be.  From this point, the road went just a little farther to a place called Road’s End.  Diana spoke with three hikers there who had crossed the Sierras from the east.  It took them six days.  They had snowshoes as part of their gear, and they mentioned that there still is a lot of snow at the higher elevations.  There are several trails that leave from Road’s End that are more our speed, and we definitely want to return to try them in the future.

Heading back out the same road, we had a little surprise along the way.

Three wide load trucks with what appeared to be some sort of temporary housing units on the back came by!  I was over as far as I could possibly get, and had a few thousand foot drop off to my right.  Yikes!

The difference in height between the river and the mountaintops is around 8200 feet, making Kings Canyon one of the deepest canyons in the United States!  

As I stated earlier, we almost didn’t make the trip that day.  The next morning, the clouds hung at 2000 feet, so we wouldn’t have seen much of anything.  We were glad we made the effort when we did, so we were able to see the spectacular scenery that Kings Canyon has to offer.

Though it is a bit of a challenge to get to, take the time to experience it.  You won’t be disappointed!

Next up, we head towards Napa Valley!  Be sure to stay tuned!

Sequoia National Park

At a coffee shop in Kentucky last November, we scheduled a five day stay at Yosemite National Park as part of our trip to Oregon from Florida.  Record rainfall this winter took out a couple of key bridges between the campground we had reserved and Yosemite, and it would have increased the trip into the park to 2-1/2 hours.  While considering our options, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks showed up on our radar.  A few phone calls later, our new destinations were set!

These two parks are operated as one administrative unit, but are vastly different.  With that in mind, we will give Kings Canyon its own post following this one. We arrived on Tuesday, May 9 and set up base camp at Kaweah Resort in Three Rivers, just outside of Sequoia’s southwest gate. We drove up to the visitor’s center and picked up our maps, information, and our Junior Ranger book.

The next day we set off to discover Sequoia National Park!

As we entered the foothills, it quickly became evident that the roads were full of curves and hairpin turns.  It was seldom that we cleared 30 miles an hour, which was just fine with us.  There were plenty of turnouts to allow us to get over and let those with a tighter schedule to pass.  It was in these foothills that Moro Rock first came into view.  Knowing there was a pathway to the top, we headed that way.

Our first stop was at Hospital Rock.

This gigantic boulder was the winter home for up to 500 Potwisha Indians, and features several petroglyphs.  Hale Tharp, a settler originally from Michigan by way of Placerville California, gave the rock its name after two acquaintances of his were treated by the natives there for injuries they had sustained elsewhere in the mountains.

Just before Moro Rock is a trail leading to Hanging Rock.

Not exactly a place a person would want to be in a rain, ice or snow storm.  😉 The view from there was outstanding!

The trail does offer one of the better vantages of our next destination.

After the Hanging Rock Trail, we then began our ascent up the spine of Moro Rock.  The 350 rock stairs were fashioned in the 1930’s by the CCC and provide a fairly (but not totally) safe route to the top.

This is definitely one place where you want to heed the Stay on the Traîl signs!

Looking back, Hanging Rock can be seen in the center of the photo.  That’s quite a drop off.

The view from the top is breathtaking!  We want to note that this is not a place to be if there is a threat of bad weather.  Lightning can be an issue up here.  We also saw one woman scooting back down on her bottom, so a fear of heights comes into play on this climb.

From the vistas of Moro Rock, we descended into the forest that this park is so famous for.  Actually, the word descended  is a misnomer.  We gained a fair amount of elevation before we reached the taller sequoia trees.  That boggled our minds as typically the higher the elevation, the shorter the trees. That’s not the case here!

Words can not describe how impressive these trees are.  That tree is most likely well over 1000 years old.  The small tree to the left is also a Sequoia.  The bark on these trees is soft and squishy, about the consistency of a ripe avocado.  As you can see on the smaller tree, the needles are similar to a cedar or arborvitae.

They actually grow in a mixed forest.  There are several groves of them scattered around the park.

And there’s Diana waving from Edsel in the Tunnel Log!  

We traded photography duties with a couple at these twin sequoias.  One of the trunks showed a large forest fire scar.  These giants rarely succumb to fire, as the bark is flame resistant.  The trees have a surprisingly shallow root system, considering their size. The usual cause of death is that they simply lose their balance and fall over.



Which is exactly what happened with the Buttress Tree.   This giant actually toppled over in 1959 on a clear day with no wind.  It’s remarkable how little it has decayed since then.

And here’s two sequoia wannabes with the real deal!  I guess this could be called a shameless sequoia selfie. 😉

Of all the mammoths in Sequoia National Park, one stands larger than the rest.  In fact, it is the largest tree by volume on the face of the earth!

The General Sherman Tree!

This coniferous colossus is estimated to be 2200 years old!  To give visitor’s an idea how tall it is, the trail from the parking lot 1/2 mile away begins at treetop height (275 feet).  Walking back up the trail afterwards…at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level…really drives the point home.  This tree is simply magnificent.

Next up is Sequoia’s neighbor to the north, Kings Canyon National Park!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Organ Pipe and a Low Tire

After leaving Tucson, we made a quick hop over to Ajo, Arizona to see Organ Pipe National Monument.  Seeing that this was one of our shorter travel days at 136 miles, we thought we would do a little exploring after we set up camp.  As we started to drive away from our campsite, the tire pressure warning indicator came on in the Escape.  Well, Ajo isn’t exactly a booming metropolis, so we asked the campground owner where we could find a tire store.  They suggested the used tire shop down the street.  The business consisted of a well worn building filled with old equipment and a bevy of used tires.  It was run by an older Hispanic gentleman and his wife, who happened to be eating their lunch at a combination desk/kitchen table/parts counter.  I immediately could sense that this guy had been here for years and knew his stuff.  😉. He jacked the car up, took the wheel off and proceeded to dunk it in an old claw foot bathtub filled with dirty water.  It didn’t take long before he found the leak, which actually was from a failed patch that we had done in Kentucky.  He explained that it was too close to the sidewall and would never hold long term, so I had him plug it and went off looking for a new tire.  There was a Napa parts store close by and he explained to me that the closest tire dealers were in Phoenix.  After a few phone calls, I located an identical Goodyear SR/A at a Goodyear store in Goodyear, Arizona, of all places. So off we went on an 80 mile journey to Goodyear.

After paying for the tire, I couldn’t help but ask Nile the store manager if there was a connection between the town’s name and the tire company.  He explained that the city was named after the business, and that the store we were standing in was one of the first Goodyear tire stores.  He showed us an old photograph on the wall of the building in its early years, which looked like not much more than a 1920’s era gas station.  Over time, it had morphed into the full service auto center it is today. Back in 1916, Goodyear purchased a large amount of land in the area to grow cotton, which was used in tires back in those days.  

They eventually build this aerospace facility there, which manufactured blimps and airframes.  All of this amazing history we might have never known, were it not for that low tire pressure warning!   We drove the 80 miles back to Ajo, making what was our shortest travel day of this trip our longest. 😊

The next day, our friends Jeanne and Keith drove down from Mesa, so we could explore Organ Pipe National Monument together. We met them at the 2014 Fall RV Dreams Rally and had lunch with them last April in Junction, TX. It was great to see them again! Our first stop was at the Kris Eggle Visitors Center.

It was named for National Park Ranger Kris Eggle, who was killed in a shootout in the park with Mexican drug smugglers in 2002.  Kris was a Cadillac, Michigan native, and was previously a ranger at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Stocked up on information, we set out to explore the park.  We chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive as our first trip of the day.

It didn’t take long before we found a crested Organ Pipe cactus…

…and our second Western Diamodback rattlesnake of the trip!

This double arch was perched high up on a mountain ridge.

This unique Saguaro caught our eye also.  

The blooms were close enough to get a good look at.  Amazingly, a bee had descended into this bloom as I prepared to take this photo.  It completely disappeared into the flower!

Along the way, we saw this unusual outcropping.  What does it remind you of?

After the Ajo Mountain Drive, we decided to go down and take a look at the border.

Wow.  This was not the friendly border we had experienced in Big Bend last year.

At a few points, the border fence snaked up the hillsides.  After driving a few miles along it, we decided we had seen enough.  We headed back to Ajo to check out a little more of the town.

We toured the Immaculate Conception Church, with its colorful stained glass.  We also visited the town plaza, although most of the businesses surrounding it were empty.  

That didn’t matter, as we had a great day with Keith and Jeanne!

Next up: California.  Stay tuned to see what we discovered!

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 Saguaro Serendipity

Diana and I have seen a huge chunk of this continent, but we had never seen a Saguaro cactus (pronounced sa-WAH-row) until this past week.  As we drove into the Sonoran Desert on I-10 in Arizona, they began to appear along the roadside.  Diana likened them to cartoon characters and my mind immediately went to the Peanuts comics, in which Snoopy’s brother Spike always seemed to be surrounded by them.

We were concerned that we were going to arrive in Tucson too late for any hiking or meetups, as it was getting too hot, the snakes were out, and all of our blogging buddies had headed north. After we set up at Mission View RV Resort, I decided to see what was happening online.  I noticed that Steve and Mona Liza from Lowe’s RV Adventures had posted that they were still in town, even though they were supposed to have moved on. Although we had followed their blog for years, we had yet to meet them. Well it turns out that Steve found out he had cancer that required surgery.  We contacted Mona Liza and said we would like to meet them, if they were up to it.  I explained that I was a 7 year cancer survivor, and was doing well. She replied that Steve was in the hospital recovering from his surgery, but she would love to meet us.  We set up a time to meet for dinner the next night.  

The next morning, we were up early to try to beat the heat.  Our destination was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  This facility is a combination of zoo, botanical garden, art museum, aquarium, and aviary.  It was recommended to us by several people, and we figured it would be a good introduction for us to the unique Sonoran Desert.  While we aren’t on board with caging otherwise healthy mammals, we thought the other aspects of the museum were well done and helpful.

The desert blooms were absolutely beautiful.

This spinytail iguana kept watch over the surroundings.

The butterflies were enjoying the spring blooms.

The museum had a great hummingbird aviary.  This is a species called Anna’s Hummingbird.

And just to prove this was more than just a zoo, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake slithered across a very busy pathway in front of us!

One thing we learned after getting to the Sonoran desert was that the Saguaro cactus normally bloom in May.  Most winter RVers miss this, as they typically move north before the cactus show their flowers.  As luck would have it for us, the blooms appeared early this year!

The bees were hard at work pollenating them.  Each individual bloom is open less than 24 hours before it closes to begin the process of becoming fruit.

Even the doves enjoyed a soft place to land!

After we finished at the museum, we went to Saguaro National Park West.  We picked up our Not-So-Junior Ranger book so we could learn more about the park.  Seeing that this park has an east and west unit, we saved the bulk of the exploration for our trip to the east unit the next day.  We headed back to Tucson and met up with Mona Liza.

What a fun and energetic person to spend an evening with!  We went to dinner with her at a funky little outdoor restaurant called La Cocina.

She cracked up after she caught me trying to take a photo of her listening to the band.  We had a great time, and it was good for all of us to get together and talk.  Here’s hoping Steve’s recovery will go smoothly and we will all enjoy a meet up in the future.

The next day, we checked out Saguaro National Park East.  We took the 8.3 mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains.

Remember the cartoon characters?  “These flowers are for you, my dear!”

And check it out…we became Not-So Junior Rangers!  Thanks to Gaelyn at Geogypsy for tipping us off to this great program.  It makes exploring the parks that much more fun!

Next up, we head to Ajo!  Stay tuned for that adventure!

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Glistening White Sands in a Mysterious Basin

After we navigated our way through El Paso, we saw a big yellow sign up ahead…New Mexico!  Diana had been there as a youngster, but I had never set foot in its boundaries.  Officially, it was my 49th state, and it was our 48th as a couple. (Neither of us have been to Hawaii, and Arizona was in our youths.)

I got out of the truck and stomped my feet in a happy dance! It was good to be there!

The branches of the ocotillo cactus were clelbrating along with us!

We set up base camp in Las Cruces on Wednesday, as we wanted to see White Sands National Monument the following day.  

Wednesday evening, we did a little exploring. This is the town square in neighboring Mesilla, where the Gadsden Purchase was signed in the 1850’s.  That transaction was when the U.S. bought southern New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico, mostly so a southern transcontinental railroad route could more easily be established. As a result, the land that Tucson, Bisbee and Yuma sit on are part of the United States.

This building, now called the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, was once the Capitol of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was also where the famous outlaw was found guilty and sentenced to hang in 1881.  He escaped from the jail and was killed later that year.

The temperatures had been steadily rising as we journeyed west, so we knew we needed to get out to White Sands early on Thursday.  Having spent plenty of time on the sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, we were expecting White Sands to be a lot warmer than it was. 

The majority of the morning was actually a bit chilly!  

We drove the loop road and got out at several stops to climb up on top of the hills to get a better view.

The dunes seemed to go on forever!  This area is so vast, it can easily be seen by astronauts from space.  This national monument sits in a large basin that is bordered by mountain ranges to the east and west.

Despite the barren appearance of the landscape, signs of life were everywhere.  The sand…actually gypsum…was cool to the touch.

The roadway through the dunes was hard packed sand and was well maintained.  As we drove around, Diana read the park literature to me that explained the proximity of the monument to the nearby White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.  Occasionally, unexploded bombs land in the monument, so there are warnings not to pick anything up.  Also, they advise that GPS devices will occasionally be blocked, as well as US-70 being closed for missile testing a few times a week.  Several times, the lady in our Garmin would announce “Lost Satellite Reception”…even though we has an unobstructed view of the sky in all directions.  In addition to that, we kept hearing an occasional boom.  There definitely was some strange things happening out there.  

After visiting the monument, we drove north to Alamogordo to see what was there.  We weren’t very impressed with the town, so we headed back southwest.  We tried to catch a glimpse of the landing strip at Holloman AFB where the Space Shuttle Columbia landed once, even taking a dirt road along the perimeter of the base.  No luck on that one.  The Garmin continued to announce that the satellite reception had been lost….and we heard more booms.  Heading back down US-70 towards Las Cruces, we spotted a sign for a missile museum at White Sands Missile Range.  With all the strange goings on, our curiosity got the best of us…so we headed towards the base. Yes, I realize that we had our fill of plane, ship, and automobile museums on this trip…but this was missiles!

Getting on the base was easier said than done.  We were subject to a security clearance check in a building before we reached the gate, then our vehicle was going to get a good going over.  We chose to leave the vehicle parked outside the gate and walk in.  It was nice to know that we passed the security clearance!

The display area consists of two museum buildings and an outdoor display area.  We started out in the main museum building, which we found to be fascinating.

This is a WAC Corporal rocket.  One of these launched from White Sands in the 1940’s and was the first manmade object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

I found this map interesting.  It showed the locations of the Nike missile sites that formed the Ring of Steel around important locations during the Cold War.  I never knew that Detroit and Chicago actually had missiles, nor did I know that the U.S. left so many major cities unprotected. I did know my hometown had a lot of Russian missiles aimed at it though!  So in an odd sort of way, I found this display comforting.

Remember these drills?

The other building at the museum houses a restored V2 rocket.

This is one of the rockets the U.S. captured from Nazi Germany at the end of WWII.  The scientists who developed them, including Werner von Braun, surrendered to the U.S. and were brought to White Sands to assist with our missile program. The knowledge we gained from the Germans and these rockets allowed us to become the superpower we are today.

From there, we toured the outdoor display area.

Remember the Patriot missiles from the Gulf War?  Here is a great example of one.

This is a Fat Man bomb casing…the same as the one that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

And a Nike Missile…the type that protected our cities in the Cold War.

While the display was sobering, it was indeed ‘the real deal‘.  None of it was sugar-coated, therefore we found it to be immensely interesting.  As we were walking around the displays, we heard more booms.  This is an active base and the testing goes on with regularity. We can only hope that it will keep us out of harms way.

We only lightly touched on New Mexico, and we will be sure to see more of it in the future.  Stay tuned as we continue to head west!

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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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The Manitou Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the motley crew on the lighthouse gallery!

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

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

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

Just a couple of kids out for a boat ride.  🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Port Oneida Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alligator Hill 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving the viewpoint, we headed towards Big Glen Lookout.

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

Common Mullein were sprouting up everywhere!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for the Season!

We have returned to Wild Cherry RV Resort on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula for another season….and it is good to be back.  We arrived Friday afternoon, set up our rig and locked onto one of the best satellite signals we’ve ever pulled in on our DirecTV.  Life is definitely good.  🙂   We were greeted by Patti and Lane, and also JoAnn and Paul.  It was great to see them all again.  While I was setting up, Rex drove up in his pickup to say hello.  He and Jim (the resort owner) spent the morning getting the riding mower ready to go, as Rex will be starting to mow on Monday. He had set up his 5th wheel earlier in the week and was having a little issue getting his Dish Network signal locked on, so he asked if I would help him with that. Diana and I jumped on the golf cart and headed down to his and Nellie’s rig.  To remind everyone, Rex will be 92 years young this summer, and his charming wife Nellie will be 90.  They proceeded to pour us a drink, as we all know that aiming a satellite is easier with a vodka and tonic.  🙂  Rex and I headed outside to move the dish, while Diana and Nellie stayed in to watch the signal meter on the screen, calling the numbers to us through the open window.  Factor into this that Rex and I are both somewhat hard of hearing…and you basically have  the makings of an ‘I Love Lucy’ skit.   Even with my Dishpointer app on my phone, we were only able to get the meter to about 50%…which I was sure wouldn’t be enough.  I called Dish.  After telling the tech that “the neighbor moved it” …with me being ‘the neighbor’, he worked a little magic on his end and suddenly Rex and Nellie had great reception!  They insisted on taking us out to dinner to thank us, so we headed into town for a bite to eat.  Just getting to spend time with these two is a treat for us.  Let’s change that earlier statement to life is definitely better than good!  🙂

Saturday morning came early, as Diana and I had agreed to dive right in and work.  JoAnn and Paul had been covering the place since May 1, so they headed downstate to their daughter’s place for Mother’s Day weekend.  Rod and Mary will be here this coming Friday.  Paul and Jim had set up most of the picnic tables already, so I finished that project.  I also helped Jim with a new drain tile along the entrance road.  He handled most of that with his John Deere front end loader, something he is a master at.  Diana started in on the paperwork in the office.

And once again, the woods surrounding the resort are filled with trillium!  The trees are starting to leaf out and soon our wooded tent sites will be filled with campers.

The flowering trees are beginning to bloom, and the apple and cherry blossoms will soon be covering the hillsides throughout Leelanau County.

On Saturday, I picked up where Paul left off on edging the patios.  As you can see, our lakefront sites are wide open right now, so it’s a perfect time to come up and spend a few days.  The only thing you will hear is birds, frogs, crickets and…during the day…Rex mowing those hills.  🙂  Shoulder seasons in Northern Michigan are magical.

Mosquitoes are rarely a problem here.  It’s also very dark at night, so if the sky is clear, the stars are insane!

The wineries, shops, and restaurants in the surrounding villages are all open for business. People are taking to the woods in their annual hunt for morel mushrooms.  We hope to get our trikes on the trails soon, as the weather has been warming up into the 60’s in the afternoons. And this is a fabulous time to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Leelanau Conservancy preserves.

Leelanau was calling us, and we are really glad we got up here as quickly as we could!

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Wild Cherry RV Resort
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