Vacation from our vacation!

One of the benefits of our work camping job at Wild Cherry RV Resort is a chance to take a break and head out for a bit.  Sort of a ‘vacation from our vacation’, so to speak.  Thank you JoAnn and Paul for covering for us!  

We are headed to Michigan’s Upper Penninsula for a week and a few days.  First destination for last night was slated to be Mackinaw City and an overnight at Mill Creek Campground. Well….our normally trusty Ford pickup Henry had other plans.  :). Remember our post ‘South to Florida’?  You may recall that we had a front caliper lock up on us, so Bass Auto in Talahassee, Florida replaced both front calipers and pads.  This go around, we made it to Elk Rapids, Michigan and Diana noticed a smoking rear wheel.  Yep…same issue.  So we did a quick Google search and found Uncle Rod’s Auto Repair.  Rated very well, we gave them a call.  Mark told us to bring it in, and he assured us we would be able to get the trailer into the lot.  Seeing as it was 4 PM on a Friday, there was no way they were going to be able to get parts AND fix it before they closed.  Mark said we were able to stay in the lot overnight, so we were all set. Uncle Rod’s is a Uhaul facility also, so we did have the option of renting a truck, if we needed to run to the grocery store or check out the town. It was nice knowing we weren’t totally stuck!


What a beautiful campground, Mark!  Clara looks so cozy nestled in next to the tiger and day lilies!  Uncle Rod’s is about a quarter mile from the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay, so we had a nice lake breeze.  Knowing we were going to be running fairly flat terrain, I luckily put about 2/3 of a tank of fresh water in the tank before we left Wild Cherry.  Mark let us plug into their 20 amp electrical outlet, and he even fixed us up with a couple of quarts of Brita drinking water.  Now that’s service!

They do have guest wifi, which was spotty out in our trailer, but there was also a Verizon tower right next door.  5 bars of smokin’ hot 4G LTE!

Uncle Rod’s is far enough from US-31 that we didn’t notice the highway noise.  That was a big plus, as we couldn’t run the A/C with 20 amp.

And they back up to a cherry orchard. The trees had already been shaken, so we grabbed a few stragglers.  Stone Hardy Gold cherries….Yum!

In the morning, Taylor (our mechanic) was there at 8 AM…well before the rest of the crew.  We asked him for a recommendation for a good breakfast, and he pointed us towards downtown Elk Rapids…about a mile and a half walk.  Since the work was going to take a few hours, we decided to hoof it into town.

This is where good travel karma comes into play.  We had travelled through Elk Rapids on US-31 before, but never stopped to really check out the town.  In fact we were PAST town this time when Diana noticed the brakes smoking.  Our little detour to Uncle Rod’s allowed us to stop and smell the Elk Rapids roses!  With the town being about an hour from Wild Cherry, we will come back and do some more exploring in the near future.

First place we saw was a cool art store called Twisted Fish Gallery.

Next up was this funky old motor court called Paradise Pines Motel.  Now closed, this was once a viable business, back when Bayshore Drive was US-31.  When the highway was realigned, these cool little cabins closed up shop.

Next up was this cool old Gulf station.  Somebody enclosed the overhang where the cars would pull in to get gas, but it was still fun to see nonetheless.

Further up the road, the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay came into view.  That is the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, which divides the east and west arms of the bay.

Still further, the road turned into town, and the open waters of Lake Michigan came into view.

Coming into downtown, we saw several interesting places, which we will check out in detail on a future visit.  The town itself is quite charming.

Taylor’s recommendation, Harbor Cafe, was a home run.   The place was hopping! 

Tip the cook and ring the bell!   Thanks, Taylor…for the recommendation AND the great service on our truck!  
Once we got back to the shop, Mark even shot some grease into our Bearing Buddies on our trailer…no charge.  Thank you, Mark, for everything you did to help us out and make the best of what could have been a bad situation.

So, even though life handed us a lemon, we made delicious lemonade out of it.  We actually had a great time, and we met some new faces that we will never forget.  By all means… If you find yourselves in Elk Rapids and need auto repair or a Uhaul, call Mark at Uncle Rod’s.  They do great work at fair prices!

Tonight, we are in St. Ignace at the KOA.  We crossed the Mackinac Bridge in high crosswinds, so we were limited to 20 miles an hour.  Seeing the bridge is 5 miles across, it took us 15 minutes to get from one end to the other.  I was a tad ‘white knuckled’ going over…so that we literally didn’t go over the side…but Diana had all the confidence in the world with my driving,  She fell asleep.  🙂

More from our adventure soon!

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

When people think of Sleeping Bear Dunes, two places tend to stand out above all the others.  One is the iconic Dune Climb.  The other is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Pierce Stocking was a local lumberman who owned a good portion of the land in the area that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore now occupies.  He built the scenic drive prior to the national park’s existence, so that people could enjoy the area’s beauty. He passed away in 1976, the day after the federal government paid him for his land.  The drive was named in his honor. 

Stocking had originally named his drive Sleeping Bear Dunes Park.  He built a covered bridge at this point as an enhancement to the park.  When the National Park Service paved the drive’s 7.4 miles of roads in the 1980’s, they completely reconstructed the bridge, so as to allow higher clearance vehicles to pass beneath it’s roof. The structure was built purely for aesthetics, as there is no water that passes beneath it.

One of the first pull offs on the drive overlooks the two Glen Lakes.  Little Glen Lake, in the foreground, is much shallower than Big Glen Lake in the distance.  Though difficult to see in this photo, there is a distinct difference in the color, due to the difference in the lake’s depths. The two bodies of water are separated by the M-22 causeway.  Alligator Hill, named for the shape of the land seen from this vantage point, is to the left of Little Glen Lake.

Looking north from the Dune Overlook, the upper portion of the dune complex can be seen.  To the right is the parking lot for the Dune Climb.  Beyond it are the iconic barns from the D. H. Day farm.  The historic town of Glen Haven lies beyond that.  Lake Michigan fills the horizon beyond the dunes to the north.

From the Dune Overlook, Diana was able to get this photo comparing my schnozolla to Alligator Hill’s snout.  🙂

Cottonwood trees are common on the exposed dune.  As a cottonwood is buried by the shifting sand, the roots sprout new growth.  As a result, what appears to be several trees, is actually one tree.

Further along, the drive enters the back dune forest.  Here is a fine example of Michigan’s state tree, the White Pine.

The most popular stop along the drive is the Lake Michigan Overlook.

Though permitted, the trip down to the water’s edge is definitely discouraged.

The lake is 450 feet below at this vantage point!  For orientation purposes, this photo looks due west.  Lake Michigan dominates the horizon.  Note the size of the two boats rafted together, as we will revisit them at the end of the post.

There is an excellent viewing platform that extends out over the dune to take in the view.  In the distance, South Manitou Island can be seen.

The platform is so far up, even the planes are flying below it!

Looking to the southwest, Manitowac, Wisconsin lies a good 100 miles away over the horizon.  The lake wraps back around to the left, with Milwaukee and Chicago being approximetely 200 and 300 miles away, respectively.  From this point, a person really is able to fully grasp the size of this body of water.  Look at how tiny the people appear on the bluff!

Heading down the bluff is easy, but coming back up is hard.

Really, really hard.  The pose the gentleman in the red shirt is assuming is known locally as the ‘ant crawl’.  I did the extremely difficult 350 foot climb up Grand Sable Dunes on Lake Superior as a teenager; for now, I will pass on attempting this 450 foot ascent as a 57 year old.  🙂

One of the last vistas on the drive is the North Bar Lake Overlook.  The visitor’s guide explains that the shifting sands will eventually close off the channel between the lake and Lake Michigan.  Noticing all the people down there, we decided to take a closer look.

The lake is still within the national park, and has a nice parking area and outhouses.  It has a sandy bottom, and is fairly warm.

The channel where the lake meets Lake Michigan is extremely small.

There were a few brave souls in Lake Michigan, including Diana…seen here sporting her cute, new hat!

And remember those two boats rafted together earlier in the post?  Here they are from lake level.  They are a LOT bigger than they appeared from up top!

For anyone visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, the scenic drive is a must.  We all owe Pierce Stocking our gratitude for building the road, as it may not have ever been conceived otherwise.  He opened up the dunes for all to see and experience. Take a few hours and enjoy the views, if you find yourself in this part of the world.

Paddling Michigan’s Lower Platte River

Recipe: Start with three couples and one happy dog.  Stir in a teaspoon of nice river and a pinch of perfect weather.  Pour into two canoes and two kayaks and bake them in the sun for a few hours.  Result:  Paddle Primavera! 

Over the weekend, Diana organized a paddle on the Lower Platte River in Honor, Michigan.  Rod and Mary, who are fellow work campers, brought their dog Gracie with them.  George and Grace, seasonal residents at Wild Cherry, joined in the fun.  The journey began at Riverside Canoe Trips, as we were the only ones with our own boats.  Diana and I put in at the National Park Service access across the road.
Here are George and Grace, having a fabulous time.  🙂

And here are Rod and Mary with their dog Gracie.  She was living the doggy-dream!

Diana was sporting her paddling smile as she floated along in her kayak Mustard.  🙂

About halfway through the trip, an influx of party tubes entered the river.  We were a bit surprised at the quantity of them, as it was Sunday afternoon.  Our theory was that most folks would have headed back home to the cities in southern Michigan by then. But aside from the traffic issues, everyone was having a great time!

Once we got to the take out point, we loaded up our kayaks and our friends headed back to Wild Cherry Resort.  Diana and I stayed behind and enjoyed the area awhile longer.
The point where the Platte River enters Lake Michigan is a favorite hangout for families.  The relatively warmer river water is great for swimming.

The bluffs at Sleeping Bear Dunes can be seen in the distance.

I got a kick out of this paddler.  Her paddle is tucked away and she is enjoying a glass of white wine.  Click on the photo and zero in on it.  Now there’s someone enjoying all the region has to offer!

After we left the Platte River, we headed a little farther south to check out Point Betsie Lighthouse.  

We had been there several times in the past, and we have always taken in this iconic view from the south.

The Coast Guard transferred ownership to a local preservation group, and now the lighthouse is open for tours…allowing us to look at the north side. We unfortunately arrived after the last tour of the day, but we were able to walk the grounds.  Our interest is piqued!

The fog signal building appears to be a replica, built on the old foundation.  They also have an oil house to the right, which was used to store the flammable oil required to light the lamp in the tower, back in the day.  We look forward to coming back here when we have more time.

Once we left Point Betsie, it was getting a bit late.  Instead of driving an hour back to Wild Cherry and making dinner, we decided instead to grab a bite to eat at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor.

Art’s has been an area tradition for over 80 years.

Here is one happy guy, knowing that there is a burger on the way with a gluten free bun!

So, from Paddle Primavera to a gluten free burger, Sunday turned out to be a delicious day!

 Workin’ Hard and Playin’ Often!

It is remarkable how a simple answer to a question can be the impetus to overcoming an obstacle.  So it was with Site 94 at Wild Cherry Resort.  A project to build an upscale Class A site had reached the point of laying the pavers.  None of us had ever done that sort of work before, and not much was happening as a result.  When our newest work campers, Rod and Mary, showed up in mid-June, the question was asked if Rod knew how to do pavers. Mary replied “Yes he does”, and Rod was immediately appointed to be the foreman.  🙂

First day on the job, Rod started rounding up the tools needed and put us to work.  Here he is manning a rake, with Paul on the compactor.

Jim S. (the owner) started running sand with the Truckster.

As the week wore on, the crew kept at it.  I missed part of the work when we made our previously scheduled trip to St. Louis.  Our goal was to have the site finished for the July 4th weekend.

Rex, our longtime mower, kept the rest of the park looking great while we were tied up on the site.  Rex celebrated his 91st birthday last week with happy hour at his and Nellie’s place.  The only thing that keeps Rex from mowing is an invitation to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan.  🙂

After the pavers were laid, we spread a sand/concrete mix over the top and Rod shook it in with the compactor.  

We then swept off the excess and Rod sprayed the site with water to set the mix and the pavers in place.

The site also features a lower patio, which Mary did the landscaping on.


From left: myself, Dave, Rod, Mary, Rex and Paul….
…and the owner of Wild Cherry, Jim.

After working our tails off, we welcomed the first motor home onto Site 94 on July 2nd.  🙂  Time to play!

One of the many things we took in since then was Paddle for Pints, which I have previously posted about.  A few days later, Diana’s cousins Reed and his wife Emily, and Nancy and her husband David came over from Luzerne to visit.

We took them to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and hiked up to Pyramid Point.  Here is Reed and I looking out towards North Manitou Island.  After we completed the hike, we had a nice lunch at Hearth and Vine at Black Star Farms.

And then there are evenings on the patios of the local wineries, which feature local musicians.

Here we are with Camilla at Aurora Cellars, listening to Drew Hale.

Mary noted on a later visit that Drew has a Zac Brown influence.  I also detected a little Keith Urban in his voice.

And here is singer/songwriter Blake Elliott at Shady Lane, an event we also attended with Camilla. Blake is often compared to Traci Chapman but, per Robert Downes from Northern Express, is as “hard to pin down as liquid mercury”.  Crazy good, for sure!

And here are The Accidentals at Blustone.  We showed up later here with Rod and Mary after listening to Drew Hale again with Paul and JoAnn.  Camilla is out in the crowd already.  🙂   If you haven’t heard of The Accidentals, chances are you will someday.  Fresh out of high school and Interlochen, their list of accomplishments is amazingly long.  The girls play 12 instruments between the two of them. Best described as indie/folk/bluegrass….uh, well…they really defy description.  🙂

And it is cherry picking time!

Before the mechanical shakers came in, we were told we could pick some for ourselves.  Here is Diana picking some black sweet cherries.  Oh, my….they are delicious!

And while Jim S. and a few others were picking cherries, I was driving the Truckster around, picking up golf balls.  Always a nice way to spend an hour.  🙂 I’ve also been tackling a fence painting project, along with my normal duties on my work days.  Diana has been very busy with the office, which is a huge job.  As is evident, we are working hard and having fun!  We are fortunate to be part of a great group of people, both workers and seasonal residents.  The weather is outstanding…low humidity and temperatures just below 80 for highs.

If you are looking for a place to spend a nice vacation, come on up and see us!


Paddle for Pints

Sometimes an event presents itself that defies logic.  After all, what sane person would jump in their kayak and paddle from brewery to brewery along with 125 other kayakers?  Well, when Diana’s cousin Abby told us about Paddle for Pints in Traverse City, and proposed that the family join the Ale Trail, how could we refuse?  On Monday, we made our way down to Traverse and joined in the fun!

Paddle for Pints starts out on Boardman Lake on the south side of town, follows the Boardman River through the city, and ends at Clinch Park on Grand Traverse Bay.  On a normal summer day, it is a fairly easy paddle.  Monday was a bit different, and it offered up a couple challenges.  There was a stiff 20 mile-per-hour breeze coming from the south, out ahead of a cold front that was approaching from the northwest. On top of that, the National Cherry Festival was in full swing.  The cherry capital was packed with people!

As we were checking in, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds streaked overhead as they were leaving town.  They had performed a series of air shows over the weekend for the cherry festival.  The power behind a squadron of F-16’s commands your attention!

The first leg of our paddle was from the north shore of Boardman Lake at Hull Park. A special note:  When we purchased Ketchup and Mustard (our kayaks) twenty years ago, Hull Park was the place that Eastern Mountain Sports allowed us to compare brands of boats. This was a homecoming of sorts.  🙂   On this day, we paddled to Right Brain Brewery, about 1/2 mile south along the lakeshore.  As previously mentioned, there was a strong southerly breeze, so my camera stayed safely packed away.  The above photo was from a previous event on a much calmer day.  We plowed straight into the whitecaps and did just fine.  

  At Right Brain, from left: Michael, Tim, Abby, Emily and Thomas.


From left: Marlana, David and myself.

The trip back to the river entrance on the north end of the lake was fairly easy, as the wind was at our backs. Once we were on the river, the wind was no longer a factor.

While this event was mixing boating with drinking, everyone was behaving responsibly on the water.  For us, we were enjoying seeing Traverse City from a perspective that we had never seen before.  As stated in previous posts, we have been coming here since the 1970’s, yet we have never paddled the river through town.

As evident by the smile on her face, Diana was having a great time!

Halfway through town, we had to portage around the dam.  It was at that point we visited our next two breweries.

Here is Nancy, Ben and Michael being photo bombed while we waited in line.  🙂

While at Rare Bird Brewery, we were able to grab something to eat to go with our beverages.  Diana managed to get us a couple of leather couches around a huge coffee…er…beer table while we waited for the food.

From left: Abby, Thomas (standing), Michael, Marlana, Josh, Ben, Diana and Tim.  Not pictured are Emily, Nancy, David and myself.

Back on the river, we had one last paddle to complete.  We had only hit three breweries over the course of three hours, so everyone was fine.

As seen in the photo above, there was a pedestrian bridge with several supports extending into the river.  Just as we approached it, two girls managed to get their kayaks sideways and block off most of the river. Diana backpaddled until a hole opened up and managed to shoot through.  I was tangled up with one of the girl’s kayaks, and as I pulled her bow around, my kayak got sideways.  I had to lean downriver to keep from swamping my boat, and I was able to get my bow around and through the bridge supports. Whew!

After paddling through downtown, the river emptied into Grand Traverse Bay.  Once in the bay, we had to paddle a half mile back west to the marina at Clinch Park.  Unfortunately, even though we were at the south end of the bay, the swimming area on the shore kept us a good 200 yards out.  That stiff southerly breeze was able to churn up the waves in that distance, so we had to work hard to get across.  We all eventually made it.  🙂

Once on shore, there were several more breweries within walking distance.  We chose to forego visiting them and instead rode back to retrieve our vehicles from Hull Park.  Diana’s cousins had to get back to Luzerne, Michigan…an hour and a half east…so they headed home, once they loaded up their kayaks.  Diana and I only had a 20 minute drive back to Wild Cherry Resort, so we decided to check out the National Cherry Festival, seeing the marina was smack dab in the middle of it.  While we were there, we saw some of the children’s portion of the cherry pit spitting contest.

We found it to be amusing to watch the kids.  We were amazed to find out the pit spitting record in Traverse City is 88 feet!  The official world record is 95 feet, but the unofficial record is 110 feet!  

Paddle for Pints proved to be a great time. Though we were apprehensive about the wind at the beginning of the event, we all made it through safe and sound.  Diana and I enjoyed seeing Traverse City from a vista we weren’t used to seeing it from, and breweries we hadn’t had a chance to experience.

A little weekend jaunt to Alton, Illinois

We broke the cardinal rule of full time RVing. What rule is that, you ask?   I’ll explain more about that in a bit….

On Thursday, we drove our Ford Escape from Lake Leelanau to visit Diana’s mom. We then continued on to Donaldson, Indiana to visit my aunt and uncle, whose birthdays were both this weekend.  Aunt Marge is 91 and Uncle Ed is 89.  Both are my mom’s siblings, and are doing well. We stayed overnight, then headed to our friend’s house in Alton, Illinois the next day to spend the weekend with a total of four families of our college friends.

Along the way, we stopped for a photo at Weezy’s, an old Route 66 roadhouse that is alive and well.  Illinois still has most of its portion of the famous highway intact, as it runs alongside Interstate 55.  We ate at Weezy’s the last time we were through with our friends Mike and Cindy, and we couldn’t resist the photo op this go-around.

We made it to Jim and Sue’s place by early evening.  As you can see, they have a fabulous view of the Mississippi River from their deck.

  A few years ago, they purchased this stately, century old home which sits high on a bluff along the Mississippi.  It was built for a riverboat captain, and is absolutely beautiful inside and out.

They also have a great view from the front porch.

Here is a closer view from the back deck.  The building in the foreground is the Abbott Machine Works.  Just beyond it is the Great River Road.

Pulling in the horizon with my telephoto lens reveals St. Louis and the Gateway Arch. Between Alton and St. Louis lies the Missouri River, as it converges with the Mississippi just south of Alton.

The previous owners added this dining room, along with an upper deck.  It really is a great place to entertain guests.

On Saturday morning, we decided to take a walk through their neighborhood and into downtown Alton.  

  From the street, we were admiring this gorgeous home with a commanding view of the river, when the owners, Janet and Rich, walked out.  We asked them if they would take a group photo for us when Rich said “Why don’t we take it on the point?”  The point he was referring to was a huge concrete patio/pedestal of theirs that jutted out from the bluff.  Very nice, indeed.

Thank you, Rich and Janet!  From left to right:  Me and Diana, Karen and Bill from Livonia, Michigan, Paul and Sheryl from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Sue and Jim from Alton. We missed Mike and Cindy from Kalamazoo and Scott and Jan from Rockford, Illinois, as they were unable to attend.  With everyone’s busy schedules, it was quite an accomplishment to get a date that worked for eight of us.

Downtown Alton offers the conveniences of a large city, yet retains the charm of the historical town it is.
At Lincoln – Douglas Square, there are two bronze statues commemorating the last and most important of the seven debates of 1858 between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln for the Illinois Senate seat.  The issue of slavery was the primary concern.  While Lincoln ended up losing the election, the spotlight that was shone upon him after the debates ascended him to victory over Douglas for the U.S. Presidency two years later.

The plaque in the plaza explains the importance of the site.

Another thing downtown Alton is known for is the flooding it endures from time to time.  This year’s rains have swollen the Mississippi River to the brim.  The businesses along the river are having to run pumps in their basements to remove the water.

Along our walking tour, we stopped at Mac’s for lunch.  They offered a large menu, and everyone was pleased with their meals.

After lunch, we headed to see Jim and Sue’s youngest son play baseball.  They were playing a double header.

Jake is quite the accomplished baseball player.  Though they lost the first game, Jake’s pitching, base running and hitting skills ended up making the difference in the second game, and propelled them to victory.  All three of Jim and Sue’s children are athletic, and their daughter Jessica won the Illinois state track championship as a high school junior in the Division 1-A 200 meter dash.  She currently runs for Southern Illinois University.  Josh, their oldest, a multi-sport athlete and our godson, will be attending law school at SIU this fall. A special treat for me was realized on Friday when it dawned on me that I had seen my godson and godfather (Uncle Ed) on the same day.

Later in the evening, we made the pilgrimage to Fast Eddie’s Bon Air, an Alton landmark.  The watering hole was opened in 1921 by Anheuser Busch.  It was sold ten years later to the Balaco family, who operated it for 50 years. Then, in 1981, Eddie Sholar bought the place and turned it into the establishment it is today.  Up until recently, the 1/2 pound burgers were 99 cents.  They are now $1.99.  They also have steak kabobs, peel and eat shrimp and a few other items, all ridiculously cheap.  When Illinois enacted an indoor smoking ban, Eddie bought the side street next to the bar from Alton and made an outdoor enclosed ‘patio’, complete with stage, additional bar space and water misters to keep the patrons cool.  We had a really good time, although it was a bit loud and crowded.  We have been there before in the middle of the afternoon and, while still lively, it is a little more our speed.  The Bon Air is definitely the place to be in Alton. If you go, remember that it is cash only. It is a lot of fun!

On Sunday morning, Karen, Bill, Sheryl, and Paul headed home.  We stayed one more day, and took the opportunity to head up to Grafton along the Great River Road with Jim and Sue.  The parkway runs alongside the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, and it features limestone bluffs that tower high above it.  Just upstream from Jim and Sue’s house is a painting of the Piasa Bird, next to a cave in the bluff.

The bird is an Illini Indian legend as a creature that would emerge from the caves and devour men.  The painting was first recorded in 1673 by Father Jacques Marquette.  Alton celebrates the legend and maintains the painting. It should be noted that the bluffs are frequented by vultures, as the updrafts created by them are favorable for soaring.

We arrived in Grafton and found the southern half of town to be quite busy.  There were many touristy shops open and doing quite well.  The northern half of town was a bit different….

The Great River Road currently disappears into the Mississippi halfway through Grafton.  The water was still rising, so this area is probably underwater now.

There are a number of streets that run between the main road and the river in Grafton, and they are obviously well under water.  With that being said, Grafton is used to this, so they manage and thrive in this environment.

On the way back to Alton, I was able to get this photo of just how high the water was.  There was a constant parade of uprooted trees flowing down the river, and at one point over the weekend, we saw someone’s dock and boat hoist float by.  The flooding is nowhere near as bad as it was in 1993, but it is definitely causing some issues with the resident’s daily lives.

So, what was the full time RVer’s rule we broke?  That would be the 2-2-2 rule.  No more than 200 miles a day, a 2 night minimum stay, and be off the road by 2 PM.  Well, on Monday, we drove the entire route home in one day.  A total of 592 miles!  We were home at 9 PM, including the time we spent visiting Diana’s mom in Grand Rapids.  I am fairly certain that is the longest day we have ever driven since we were married in 1982.  Needless to say, our Sleep Number bed felt pretty good that night!

Traverse City Wine and Art Festival

One of the things Northwest Michigan is known for is its wines. On Saturday, we were fortunate to be able to spend the afternoon at the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival.  A friend of ours who works with one of the local vintner’s associations, helped us to secure tickets.  Thank you, Camilla!


The annual festival is a combination of wine tasting and education, local gourmet foods, area artists, and music.  One of the bands on this year’s slate was The Verve Pipe, an alternative rock band that is fairly well known.

On the way into the event, we saw this cute, little Airstream trailer.

There were three young women there who have been traveling around the state to different festivals, collecting postcards created by people on why they love Michigan.  Diana created a lakeshore scene, and I did my best to recreate Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, which my great-grandfather built.  They will be displayed along with thousands more at a large art exhibit to be announced later.

 The event was held at the Grand Traverse Commons, formerly the Traverse City State Hospital.  This sprawling complex, built in 1884, was one of three psychiatric institutions in the state.  When it closed in the 1980’s, it appeared to be headed for the wrecking ball.  Local visionaries took over and turned it into a conglomeration of shops, coffee houses, restaurants and such.  Talk about repurposing something!

There was a good crowd at the festival, right from the start.  As the afternoon headed towards evening, even more people streamed in.

 Lee Lutes, head winemaker at Black Star Farms, had the honor of kicking off the festival with a champagne saberage, basically opening the bottle with a saber.  He was surrounded by fellow winemakers from the region.


There were three large tents with local wineries represented.  Our tickets included four free wine pours each,  with additional pours available for purchase. Another tent was dedicated to wine education.

There were several artists practicing their crafts at the event.  We spoke with a few of them about their work.  It is interesting to hear how they view their subjects and how they convey those images through their artistry. 

And the music was outstanding!  Here is saxophonist Phil Denny, cranking out the jazz tunes.  They had two alternating stages, so the sounds flowed as freely as the wine  🙂

It was great to have all of these artists and vintners in one location. If you happen to be in the area next summer, we highly recommend attending the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival. If you can’t make it, try to catch a wine trail event, as they are all very well done and are always a lot of fun. They are held throughout the year. You won’t be disappointed!

Getting into the groove

We are a month and a half into our work camping job, and we feel that we are settling in.  We’ve had a lot going on, as we are having to move Diana’s mom to a higher level of care.  We have been making weekly trips to Grand Rapids, which ends up being 3-1/2 hours each way.  Most times we do it in one day, although there have been a couple of times we have stayed over.  So far it seems to be working well, and allows us plenty of time to enjoy Leelanau County.

The park is in full summer bloom.  The lily pads on the pond are blooming and look amazing!

The poppies out in front of the office are huge!  I’ve never seen them in bloom before, so it was a treat when they opened up.

The lodge looks great with all of the planters full of flowers.  The owners hosted an event last week for a local resident, Joe Herman, who is battling esophageal cancer.  They had a silent auction, dinner and a pancake breakfast the next day.  It appeared that half of Suttons Bay showed up!  Everyone had a wonderful time, and Joe was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the community.

The weather hasn’t been ideal for kayaking, as it gets cold up here!  Lake Michigan is slow to warm up in these latitudes.  🙂  We’ve had our fair share of fog lately, also.  That will all change shortly, as the sun is about as high in the sky as it can get.  The next few months should be ideal for getting Ketchup and Mustard out on the water!

One nice thing about the cooler weather is that it was ideal for splitting wood.  And, boy did we split wood!  The highlight of my summer was when George, Rex and I spent an entire day splitting and loading up a couple of these racks.  George is our woodsman, and he is a workhorse.  I handled everything he threw at me.  But the best part was that Rex ran the splitter…all day long.  If you remember from our earlier posts, Rex is a 91 year old D-day vet.  He does not have one ounce of ‘quit’ in him.  He was right in there piling wood with us.  The reason he is still able to do this type of work?  He never stopped….that’s why!

Diana has been extremely busy taking care of business in the office.  Only one person staffs the office at a time, so things can get pretty hectic!  At the end of our shift, we are both fairly tired, so we usually go for a drive to unwind and see what’s happening in the area.

Last night, we drove past the D. H. Day Farm near Glen Haven. The barns are privately owned, even though the land is within the National Lakeshore. Diana and I both agree that these are our favorite barns ever.  🙂  We will visit Glen Haven and do a post about it, as it is an interesting place.

So, even though we haven’t done a lot of hiking, kayaking or biking, we have definitely experienced the area.  We feel like we are getting to know the locals, breathing the fresh air, drinking the water (and the wine!) and feeling the breeze.  Our motto has always been “Don’t just see it, BE it”… and we really feel this summer has held true to that.

Fife Lake / North Country Trail


On Saturday, we drove southeast about 45 minutes to the village of Fife Lake.  This is a town we have a long history with, as stated in an earlier post.  The Grand Traverse Hiking Club chapter of the North Country Trail Association was celebrating the designation of the village as a ‘Trail Town’.  They were also dedicating the completion of the 21 mile Fife Lake Loop on the 4,600 mile long North Country Trail (NCT), along with a one mile spur trail that connects the NCT to the village. The celebration included a 2.7 mile hike.  We were shuttled out of town and we hiked back in.

There were around 40 people on the hike.  The weather was perfect: dry, clear and in the low 70’s.

The point that we started from was about 1/2 mile from where Diana’s parent’s cottage was.  We used to cross country ski on this portion of the trail when it was just a local pathway through the woods, so it was exciting for us to see it being administered by the National Park Service now.  More than half of the North Country Trail is complete (2700 miles); an amazing accomplishment, seeing it was just established in 1980.

The trail is well marked with blue blazes on the trees.

There are also signposts all along the trail, so it is fairly easy to follow.

The NCT skirts through Spring Lake State Forest Campground.  Spring Lake is a little body of water that connects by a small channel to Fife Lake.  It is very peaceful in the campground, even though it is fairly close to US-131.

After we left the campground, we met Luke Jordan, a gentleman who has hiked the entire trail, even along the incomplete portions.  He is in the process of having his book about the experience published.

At one point, the trail crosses the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad.  These tracks are used maybe one or two times a week.  This is the route that Ernest Hemingway used to take on his trips north to Walloon Lake from Chicago.

We also traversed a newly completed bridge over a small creek.

When we were hiking on the spur back into town, we met Linda Forwerck.  She is the Fife Lake Township Supervisor.  We had a delightful conversation with her about all of the exciting things that are happening in the area.  Fife Lake was a logging center in the 1800’s, and at one time there were three sawmills on the lake.  Today, there are several businesses in town, all doing quite well.  The trail town status will bring even more business to the village.

Some are housed in century-old buildings.  Diana’s dad used this hardware store often.

The hike ended up at Fife Lakeside Park.  The North Country Trail Association had tents set up, handing out information about the trail and volunteering opportunities.  They also had food and soft drinks, along with a trio playing contemporary music.

  The park has a small beach, and is located next to the state boat launch.  Fife Lake is best described as one mile in diameter, and is fairly close to symmetrical.  There are two small islands in the southwestern portion of the lake.  This photo looks towards those islands, and the cottage Diana’s parents owned is just to the left of the islands and just to the right of the tree in the foreground.
The Grand Traverse Hiking Club had their trailer at the event.

Inside was just about anything they would need to construct a trail.  They are obviously well organized!

While we were at the park, we heard a commotion by the tracks.  We went over to investigate.

We saw these little restored railroad service cars coming down the tracks.  After a little investigation, we found out that they are part of an organization called the North American Railcar Operators Association.  They are all privately owned, and they take tours on local railroads.  This particular event had 40 cars and went on a round trip from Traverse City, through Petoskey and Cadillac.  It cost each car a little over $500, and that included two night’s lodging.  We’ve never seen anything like it.  Their air horns were particularly amusing!

After the event, we took the Escape out on the two-track seasonal roads south of town. We were curious to see some of the outlying portions of the trail.  

This is Headquarters Lake, which is a large wetland.  It is fed by Fife Lake Creek, which is the outlet from Fife Lake.  The water finds its way from Headquarters Lake into the Manistee River, then into Lake Michigan and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The NCT runs alongside the creek and Headquarters Lake.


We used to snowmobile and ski along these two-tracks. It was a lot easier to find our way this time, as we had Google Maps to guide us!
At the southern end of the loop trail, we came to the Old US-131 State Forest Campground.  It is located on the Manistee River.  Part of our reason for checking it out was to find a kayak take-out point on the Manistee. The canoe launch looked like it might be difficult to use to disembark.

We did find this trail sign though.  Looks like an easy 2400 miles to go to get to the eastern terminus of the trail in New York!  Eventually, they will link it to the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.

After leaving the campground, we headed down to the rest area on the new portion of US-131.  There is a boat launch at the south end of the rest area, and it has a nice concrete ramp. We decided that this would be an ideal place to use as a kayak take-out. Plenty of parking to stage a vehicle also.  We talked to the owner of Missaukee Paddlesports at the ramp, as she was waiting for a group of paddlers to come in.  She tipped us off to a put-in a little ways up the river. Looks like a paddle day is in our future.

On our way out of the rest area to go check out the put-in, we noticed this sign for the NCT.  Looks like an easy 2200 miles to the western terminus of the trail in North Dakota.  There it links up to the Lewis and Clark Trail.

All in all, it was a tremendous day to get out in the woods.  What made it better was the fact that we were familiar with these pathways, and to see them being celebrated as a national treasure just made it that much sweeter.

Do you have a favorite trail that you would like to share?  We would love to hear about it!


Leelanau County, Michigan was shaped during the last ice age by the continental ice sheet that covered the area.  While that geology is a subject I intend to write about at a later date, my focus in this post is the town of Suttons Bay.  This little hamlet has become one of our ‘go-to’ place for services, as it sports a laundromat and grocery store.  It is also home to many unique shops and restaurants, along with a Saturday farmer’s market.  While driving on the back streets of town, we began to notice something very different about the village: the heavy concentration of fieldstone homes.  As many of you know, the glacial ice sheet that covered the northern United States deposited a layer of rounded stones in all shapes and sizes.  The soil in the Leelanau region of Michigan is full of them.  As a result, the local architecture reflects the presence of the stones, as they provided a cheap and abundant building material.

This is a charming home that uses natural fieldstone for all of its exterior walls.

Many of the homes use the stone for the foundation only.

This beauty took that a step further to include a fieldstone chimney.

This one appeared to have concrete below the decorative fieldstone. 

There was a builder’s trailer parked in the driveway of this home.  It appeared to be in the process of being renovated.

One of my favorites was this bungalow.  Take a close look at the detail in the railing of the porch.  The insets in the center of the railing employs the use of smaller diameter stones.  The gargoyles are the ‘piece de resistance’, as this structure really stands out among the others.

The stones are also used to construct retaining walls and borders throughout the town.  Wild Cherry Resort has also used fieldstone in this manner.

The use of the stones is not limited to older structures.  This is actually a modern home that sports a layer of the rounded rocks.

The crown jewel of the town is Union School on St. Mary’s Street.
This charming structure was built in 1907.  It was recently converted to four condominiums.  Looking at it, I couldn’t help but imagine the children who took this building for granted, only to realize as adults how fortunate they were to attend classes in such a beautiful school.

If you find yourself in Suttons Bay, get off the main road and check these structures out.  It is worth the few minutes it takes to drive through the town.

What sorts of indigineous stone have you noticed being used in the buildings in your area?

Bill and Nancy

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