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Friday, July 29, 2011

Mackinac Island

     We spent a full day in St. Ignace, MI so that we could pay a visit to Mackinac Island.  It afforded a bunch of nice pictures, but before I get to that, I'll start with a shot of the bus in the campground.
     Most of my Yankee readers will figure out what that red and white pole that is attached to the hydrant is.  For the Houstonians and their ilk in the audience, that pole is so that the hydrant can be found in the winter!  We are just north of the 45th parallel, so we are closer to the North Pole than the equator.
     Today was an ideal summer day to visit the island.  As most of you know, Mackinac island has no motor vehicles.  There are hundreds of draft horses that, in addition to transporting tourists, provide 24/7 taxi service and routine deliveries to support the many restaurants and small shops.  Only the police and fire departments have a few trucks.  Normal police patrols are on bicycles.  In the 1800s it was the home of Fort Mackinac, the site of the first battle of the war of 1812.  Today it is the home for 520 permanent residents and a large tourist business.  The state owned governor's summer home is on the island.  During our ferry ride to the island we made a diversion under the Mackinac Straights Bridge...all 5+ miles of it.
     A couple of observations about the bridge...only the top third of those towers are above the water.  The water here in the shipping channel is 300 feet deep!  Notice in the third picture that the structure is almost delicate.  The road bed is mostly steel grid decking.  That is for two reasons.  First it saves a lot of weight over the more conventional concrete road surface.  Also, it is much more flexible.  The length of the span and the strength and duration of the winter winds dictated a structure that could deflect up to twenty feet (!) and still return to its original position when the winds subside.
     This is a shot of the Grand Hotel, a world-famous hostelry with 480 individually decorated two alike.  The covered porch, said to be the world's longest, is over 400 feet long.  With 600 employees it is the island's largest employer.
     Up on the ridge line is the aforementioned governor's house.  The carriage tours are comprised of two parts.  The first part around the markets and historical district are two horse teams.  At the top of the hill you transfer to carriages pulled by a three horse team with 35 passengers for another hour and a half.  At the transfer point there are a number of attractions including a butterfly house.

     As we wandered around the island, our guide struggled to make his line of patter last for ninety minutes.  He was pretty good, but his attempts at humor included a number of lame jokes that were real groaners.  Actually, I think I got the best laugh of the trip.  He asked if anyone knew what breed of horses was pulling our wagon.  I said, "They're Belgians."  He asked how I knew, and I said,"their accent".  It wasn't great, but it was bettern' his.  We stopped to take pictures of a scenic natural stone arch and to water the horses.

     Well, that's ten pictures; probably too many for an easy download.  Next post will be from Canada

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Enjoying Empire, Michigan

     This is actually a small hotel just across the channel from the "Cove " restaurant in Leland.  It is part of an historic fishing village on the shore of Lake Michigan.  The next picture shows a strange watercraft.  The boat is used for gill-netting.  The Indian tribe here has maintained its traditional fishing rights and are the only folks allowed to use gill-nets.
     The area has dozens of wineries, several craft breweries and no end of fresh produce with an emphasis on cherries.  At a surprisingly large institution known as the "Cherry Republic" in Glen Arbor I bought an assortment of jars of cherry products.  Don't think "dessert"; this stuff includes salsas, spicy jellies, barbecue sauces, etc.  Expect to see some at the Maine happy hours next month.  One of the interesting crops necessary to support those micro-breweries is hops.  The next shot is of a hop farm.  I asked Durelle to get in the picture so that you would believe how tall those plants are.
     Empire was founded at the end of the nineteenth century as a lumber mill that initially provided firewood for the steam boilers of the fleet of Great Lakes ships that used these waters.  Later they expanded to lumber that was shipped mostly to Chicago.  In front of the Empire Museum is an unusual conveyance for hauling logs.  It consisted of a two-wheeled, horse drawn carriage that suspended logs below it.  Its uniqueness comes from the ten to twelve foot diameter of the wheels. 

     When it comes to unusual vehicles, have you ever seen a hearse on sleigh runners?  You have now.
     This is a very pleasant small town.  The proprietor of the only local grocery makes his own bratwurst of several varieties.  I stocked up on some of those as well.  I doubt that I would be inclined to spend the winter here, but this is obviously a close-knit community that represents the best of what we are all about.  On a closing note, I have a picture taken from the door of the bus as Durelle, Dick, Jeanette, daughter Kathy and grandson Charlie sit around our fire bowl after supper.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Empire, Michigan

      We arrived Thursday.  I've been a little slow in reporting in.  We had just finished a couple of weeks in Illinois and Indiana with heat index temperatures over 110, plus we have been doing a lot of driving.  So it has been wonderful to chill out (pun intended), relax, get laundry done and crash for a while.  We have stayed at this campground twice before in 2003 and 2008 back when it was known as Sleeping Bear Campground.  In perhaps the most dramatic turnaround I have ever seen in this business, it has morphed into one of the nicest high end resorts around.    
     It is now called Indigo Bluffs.  I'll spend some more bandwidth in the future extolling the virtues of this place after we have checked them all out.  As you can see, the sites are well separated by acres of wild flowers.  The parking is on a massive slab of concrete that was embossed just before hardening so that it looks like flagstone.  Then the concrete was sealed.  For those of you who remember, it is exactly what I did for our driveway in Nashua in 1990.  In lieu of a fire ring, there is a fire bowl on four legs with a ceramic tile ring around the perimeter.  A couple of substantial chairs complete the patio.  The manager who accompanied us to the site and got us set up said, "If you'd like some firewood, call and we'll bring it down in a golf cart."  We are going to spend a week here because this is where Dick and Jeanette Daniel live.  Dick and I were college roommates for four years.
     Empire is a town of 760 that is completely surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park on the shore of Lake Michigan.  The Daniels are among that half of the population that spends twelve months a year here.  Last night we went out to eat at an old time local restaurant called the Manor.  After some spicy mussels, I had a lake trout.  Today Durelle finished up the laundry chores and we went to the Daniel's for supper and bridge.
        This is their back yard with greenery on the latticework over their deck.  There is an abundance of veggies and flowers that struggle to survive the host of deer that share the yard.  
     The weather was perfect for eating outside.  Check those steaks!  It was a pleasant evening with comfortable breezes off Lake Michigan.  After supper the guys spotted the girls the first game, and then eked out the next two for a 500 rubber.
         The last picture doesn't really fit into the narrative, but I thought you might enjoy seeing Baxter contemplating the black-eyed susans.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Heading north tomorrow

     Tomorrow we head north up into Michigan.  We are sure looking forward to cooler temperatures.  Today the heat index hit 112 again.  We have been staying inside much the same way that steady rain keeps us inside...not fun.  Fortunately the two A/Cs have performed well as has the refrigerator.  The first picture today shows the agricultural nature of this area.  However, a picture in the other direction would show a huge Bridgestone Tire warehouse.
     We took advantage of our delay here by going down to the Rock Island Arsenal, a landmark since1865.  It was a hassle of detours, one-way streets and closed ramps to get there; but once we got onto the post, we discovered a quiet little island (literally) of tranquility.  It's a piece of history sitting in the middle of the Mississippi River in Moline, IL.  We took advantage of the PX and commissary.  We also enjoyed the old architecture of the post.  As we left, Durelle snapped a number of pictures out the window of the Jeep.  With the help of a bit of photo-editing her pictures are pretty good.

     Many of the office buildings on the post date from over a century ago and reflect favorably on an earlier time.  It has quite a different flavor than a modern, sprawling Air Force Base.  I think I would have enjoyed an assignment here. 

     As an arsenal, you would expect that there would be displays of some of their products.  There are.  Durelle did a good job of capturing some of them.  In addition there is a large confederate cemetery as well as a VA National Cemetery.
     Getting off the post and back on to the interstate 74 north to I 80 was more difficult than getting on, but we figured it out.  The last picture was another window shot as we crossed the Mississippi northbound back to the campground.,
     The picture shows a sternwheeler casino boat berthed on the west side of the river.  The quad cities have been fun, but we are sure anxious to be heading north.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Davenport, Iowa

     Forgive another day with no pictures.  It is partly due to a 350 mile day, and partly due to trying to figure out how to take a dramatic picture of a cornfield that extends to the horizon.  Actually, I'll take one tomorrow that shows a field of alfalfa, I think, that abuts the campground and does indeed extend to the horizon.  It's hard for an old New Englander to appreciate.
     Knowing that it was going to be a long, hot day, we were rolling at 0745.  By the way, the anomalous behavior of the jacks in Lincoln, NE appears to be history.  Knock on wood.  As we traversed Iowa from west to east on I-80, Durelle was monitoring the leaderboard from the British Open instead of tracking our progress on the DeLorme navigational system.  We arrived and were set up in Davenport, IA by 1500.  We bought fuel today for the first time since 2 June (at $3.869).  It is hot.  the mercury is in the high 90s and the heat index is well into triple digits.
     After I came in from finishing the setup process, Durelle said, "I'd like you to try one more time to see if the Kingdome can find the satellite."  I had rebooted 3-4 times in the past to no avail.  Muttering something about "doing the same thing again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity", I unplugged the Kingdome, waited a while, and plugged it in again so that it would have to re-initialize in a new location.  We could still not hear the servo system.  Perhaps the drone of two A/Cs was a factor.  All of a sudden, we heard some audio and, lo and behold, we watched the tail end of the women's soccer world championship.
     So, here we are in Davenport because of an appointment with a Kingdome dealer.  We'll try to verify operation tomorrow morning and/or cancel the appointment.  I think we'll stay with our current reservations.  We'll take advantage of the Commissary and BX at the Rock Island Arsenal, do some wash, and wander around the quad cities.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

North Platte

     Again, no picture, just a quick recount of our trip from Estes Park to North Platte.  It incorporated the extremes of driving a motorhome: steep mountain descents, narrow city streets and the arrow-straight ribbons of concrete across the great plains.  In the first hour we went 30 miles and dropped over 3,000 feet.  Interestingly, my mileage on the computer at that point said 12.6!  I was using the engine brake the whole way.  The city driving was before the descent.  Estes Park has places that are pretty cramped for maneuvering a 'big rig'.  In the center of the shop district oncoming traffic prevented me from taking a right hand turn wide enough to avoid clipping the corner of the curbing with my right rear.  As I completed the turn, I heard squealing tires.  Immediately ahead was an empty bus stop.  I pulled in to check on things.  The jolt to the Jeep's steering locked the wheels in an off-center position.  After I "unloaded" the steering wheel and reset the key, everything was fine and no harm done.  So the Jeep was dragged against its will at a VERY LOW speed for a VERY SHORT distance.  It would not have taken long in that mode to have lost a couple of tires or worse.
     When we left the temperature was 50 degrees, and last night we had to run both air conditioners.  When we pulled in yesterday afternoon, we went through the usual drill for a one night stand.  We had a pull-through so there was no need to unhook.  I didn't even need to connect to the sewer.  I stopped, turned off the engine, moved the key to the accessory position, hit the switch to activate the automatic leveling jacks and got out to connect power, water, and the cable.  At that point, Durelle was walking the dog, and she announced, "We're not level, and the right side wheels are off the ground."  The jacks on the right side had gone to their maximum extension and stopped.  I went back inside to retract the jacks and start over.  Although the HWH control panel was lit, none of the buttons responded.  I 'rebooted' the ignition and turned the control panel off and on again.  Still no luck.  I tried recycling again with the same result, then called a local RV service center.  They came within a half hour and tried unsuccessfully to find a manual release valve.  Then one of the went inside to try the controls.  Everything worked both using the manual and automatic modes.  The only explanation we could come up with was that there may have been a thermal cutout that had been activated, and normal operation resumed after the strained mechanism cooled down.  Although I have made screw-ups before, I'm absolutely certain that this was not "pilot error".  We'll see what happens when I retract them to leave.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brief Note from Estes Park

     We are parked facing south.  Last evening the sun had descended behind the Rockies to the west but was still illuminating the cloud tops to the east...our left.  The moon, two days short of full, was rising above the clouds.  Durelle was watching the TV, the Espys I think, and she suggested that the scene was a photo op.  I told here I didn't think there was enough light.  A bit later she asked me again, so I got out the camera, opened window by the dinette and took one shot.  Sometimes she's right.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wandering around Estes Park

     There are hundreds of these little ground squirrels running around the campground.  They pop up out of innumerable holes and squeak.  As you can imagine, it is a most aggravating environment in which to take Baxter for a walk.  Today we made a short excursion back to RMNP.  We went just far enough to visit the sheep lakes and listen to the ranger expound in some detail regarding the elk and the sheep.  It was not the right time or season to expect to see any of either, but the scenery was pleasant.  On the way back into town to do a bit of exploring I took the pictures below of an idyllic home site.  You could fish from your deck!

     What do you think?  Would that deck be suitable for happy hour?  We then drove into town and stopped for a couple of ice cream cones...Oreo cheesecake and mocha almond fudge in homemade waffle cones...not bad on a July day.  We then wandered up the hills south of town to have a look at Lake Mary.  If you look closely on the right hand side of the picture, you'll see a large, red-roofed lodge on top of a ridge line.  Location, location, location.
     On the way home we came across a herd of alpacas.  I couldn't resist taking their picture.
     So, it was just another lazy day in the high country with no need for air conditioning.  Life is good.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rocky Mountain National Park

     Before we start on RMNP, I wanted to include one shot taken from our campsite.  It is a picture looking southwest as the morning sun gradually creeps down the mountains creating a cinnamon landscape.  The weather is what one would expect here at this season and this altitude.  It gets into the high 70s or low 80s in the late afternoon until widely scattered thunderstorms rumble through the area.  Sometimes they hit you; sometimes they don't.  Overnight lows get down close to 50.
     Today, after Durelle watched the finale of the LPGA open from the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, we packed the camera, binoculars, the dog, and some water bottles and headed up route 34 to RNMP.  By the way, the Golden Age Pass saved us twenty bucks.  For you folks over 65, check it out or email me.
          This shot was taken before we had really started to climb.  We are well below timberline.  Whereas the dramatic pictures in this corner of the world are usually great barricades of snow covered peaks, I have always loved the high, upland meadows as shown here.  This is absolutely prime elk country.  Forty years ago on my only and unsuccessful elk hunt I watched the sun come up over just such a meadow in SW Colorado while listening to wolves serenading each other...wonderful memories,
  The title of this next picture is,"No Visible Means of Support".  At one of the pull offs we stopped to walk the pup and take a few pictures when I spotted these clumps of daisies (?) apparently growing out of bare rock.  As I came back toward the Jeep, Durelle said,"Did you get a picture of those flowers growing out of the bare rock?"  Hey, we agree on the important stuff.  We continued to climb, and soon passed 11,000 feet which is timberline.  

          Here things turn majestic.  The snow never goes away.  There were many places where the snow melt was running across the road.  We elected not to continue on to the Trail Ridge Road.  We probably should have.  Durelle wasn't too comfortable with the altitude and lack of guard rails.  That road is the highest major highway in the US and it tops out at 12,183 feet!  It is a spectacular place.  I highly recommend that you add this road to your bucket list, but take it easy and respect the altitude.  Old farts need plenty of oxygen.
     I included this picture, not for its beauty, but to document the beetle damage that is being done to the Ponderosa pines.  As far as I can see, the spruces and the aspen are not involved, but many large stands of pines are blighted.
     After we descended back to Estes Park, we left Baxter in the bus and headed into Estes Park for lunch and to get acquainted with the city.  Obviously it is a tourist mecca.  Souvenir and tee shirt shops abound.  There is a nice river walk through the city with many places to sit and watch the (high) water of the Fall River rushing through the city.  There are places where the water is diverted into wading pools where you can sit and cool you lower extremities in water that a few hours before was snow.  We chose to eat at a rooftop Mexican restaurant that is the real thing.  Below is a picture of my entre.
     I do not know what it was called.  It was served in a bowl of volcanic rock that must have weighed twenty pounds empty.  It was enough for two (or three).  When was the last time you saw Frank Cloutier use a take out box that contained more than he ate?  There was skirt steak, pork and chicken.  There were Poblano peppers, chilis, onions, peppers and tomatoes. The sides included tortillas (on the right) and beans, guacamole and pico d' gallo (on the left).  I'm still not sure if supper is necessary.
     This is great country.  The only negative is that the KingDome which finds our satellites for DirecTV has stopped working.  There is a dealer about twenty miles east of here in Loveland, and we can stop on our way out.  In the meantime we do have cable, but it does not meet Durelle's requirements.  We'll find a way to work it out.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Estes Park

     Just a short note tonight.  We are at the Elk Meadows RV Park just up the hill to the west of Estes Park.  The elevation is 8100 feet.  Tomorrow we'll wander around a bit with the camera.  The scenery is spectacular.  After we left Boulder, we had nothing but winding, climbing turns.  I pulled off a couple of times to let traffic pass me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Renaissance Festival at Larkspur, CO

     This was a pretty big deal.  Every weekend in July the little town of Larkspur holds a Renaissance Festival.  From what I can tell, there are several thousand people that flock to the site each day to revel in crafts, food, drink, somewhat bawdy entertainment and animal rides for the kids.  It seemed to me that at least half of the attendees were in costume.  There were more bustiers than in a Victoria's Secret shop.
     The site is a fairly steep hillside at about 7000 feet...non-trivial for us old farts.  Nonetheless, we persevered.  Fairly early on I bought a very nice walking stick and made good use of it.  I haven't had one since my backpacking days in Colorado forty years ago.  We arrived at 1000 as the gates opened and walked up the hill checking out the shops and the other participants.
 I included this picture for two reasons.  The stilt walkers were typical of the period entertainment.  Also notice the rear view of good friend and classmate, Buzzy Glenn on the right.  The ratio of shoulders to waist is NOT representative of we folks who are approaching our middle seventies.
         One of the highlights are the jousting contests.  They have three; one at 1130, one at 1400 and one at 1730.  The first one, which we saw, did not include simulated combat.  Rather, there were exhibitions with lance, sword and javelin.  The picture above captures a horseman (knight) at full gallop slicing a cabbage in half with his sword.  It was a hot, mid-nineties day with a lot of hill climbing, so we bailed out around 1330 after we stopped for a drink.  Durelle and Buzzy had diet Pepsi while I had a Coors.  Would you believe that I got carded.  I told the serving wench that the last time I was carded was before she was born.
     As we were leaving, I took one more shot to show that most of the attendees were in costume.

Larkspur, CO

     Yesterday was a long, tough day on the road...21 miles, 30 minutes, and 8.1 mpg!  Our thirty days at USAFA were up, and we weren't ready to leave the area yet.  So, we got on I-25 at North Gate Blvd. (exit 156) and drove north to exit 174, Castle Rock.  I didn't even bother to hook up the Jeep.  Durelle drove it.  All of the pictures were taken from inside the bus at our campsite.    The last one was taken from the bathroom window.  Most of the sites are carved out of the hillside and are surrounded by scrub oak that is 6-8 feet high.  We are afforded nice views with unusual privacy, but it is a bit tougher walking Baxter up and down the hills.
     Today we will go into Larkspur for their annual Renaisance Festival and go back in time seven or eight centuries.  I'm told that the activities even include jousting.  I hope to get some good pictures for the next blog.  Stay tuned.