Friday, July 30, 2010

Sault Ste. Marie and the Bridge!

The next day we went to Sault Ste. Marie and to the Soo Locks. It was a fun day and while we have been there before, it is always great to see. And this time, unlike the others, there was a freighter going through one of the locks. We stayed and watched that ship and a sightseeing boat and a pleasure boat about the size of ours lock through. It was quite interesting and the weather was great for watching. Afterwards we went to the Lockview Restaurant and had lunch. Then we visited the shops before heading back to the camp.

We left early the next morning and headed south to Mackinac City. We got to the bridge before noon. It was very windy and I was a little nervous making this crossing. I don't care for bridges and this one is no exception. It certainly is not for lightweights. The last crossing we made was very early in the morning with no wind. There was wind all day this time, so there was no escaping it. Whitecaps were roiling in the water below. The first part of the passage was smooth, but when we got to the first tower, there was road construction and we had to move to the inside lane which is open grate. The open grate coupled with the wind gusts made the motorhome pretty squirrelly on the deck. The maximum speed is 45, but loaded trucks are reduced to 20 and I figured with the wind I would slow down. It helped immensely and I was glad that when I did get hit with wind, I didn't have anyone next to me going the other way. I was glad to get back on terra firma in the lower peninsula.

We drove down the east side on Lake Huron and stopped at the Mackinac Mill Creek Campground. BIG RIGS STAY AWAY FROM THIS CAMPGROUND. What a mess. Course, they are "big rig friendly" in the books and their website and I have to say our site was nice. HOWEVER, going in they have metal road signs on stands in the roadway and you have to wind your way around them. All traffic going to the west side of the campground (which is where the big rig sites are) must enter AND exit on the same road and the approaches and the turn itself are no wider than one lane, so you must sit and wait. As we approached the turn we notice a large semi truck waiting to come out. We couldn't turn and neither could he, so we drove on and used the map to get ourselves around the roads and headed back the right direction. We were back in an older section with very tight turns and two way traffic on one lane roads. What a fright. We finally ended up back where we were to take a turn and went the wrong direction and drove right back out of the park on the roads we were supposed to be going in the opposite direction! GRRRRRR. No where to turn around. We drove three miles back down the road to turn around and then drove back into the camp. This time a large 45-foot motorhome was coming out. We both squeaked by each other and we finally made the turn and got back into our camp. We got into our site without a problem and I promptly got the wine out and had a glass to calm my nerves. Terry took a nap. We decided when we left the next day we would leave early in the morning and I drove ahead in the truck to clear a path. That worked.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the city and shopping. Found a lot of fudge shops. . . surprise, surprise. But once again, the weather was great and we saw the boats running back and forth to Mackinac Island.

We did run out and see the McGulpin Light, another light house on the Great Lakes. It had fewer steps to negotiate, so I had an easier time of that.

We got out in the evening, after dark, to take a picture of the bridge. It was lit, but it was hard to get a very good picture. The last time we were here, it was the 50th anniversary of the bridge and there were a lot more lights, but it is still neat to see at night.

Till next time. . .


Thursday, July 29, 2010

More casinos!

While in Munising, we took took a drive up to Miner's Castle. This is a rock formation on the cliffs of Lake Superior. We got a good look at the Castle and the lagoon that lays at the bottom of the cliff. We could look across the bay, Trout Bay, and see the famous "pictured rocks." We were able to see them from several angles by the drives we took. There are boat rides you can take to see them from the water and we would have enjoyed that, but once again, we don't want to leave Neal, our dog, for that long. A pet is a big responsibility and Neal is 14 years old. He doesn't really require more care, but more potty breaks, etc., so we want to make sure he is cared for. We do love our boy.

While we were there, however, the ranger pointed out the resident eagle in a tree above Miner's Castle. I got some pictures of him, but he was far away. You can, however, see him clearly. We also saw some kayakers in the water. They were the Hobi Adventure Island Kayaks and I want one. They were pretty cool. They have sails and outriggers and paddle action foot gear which propels the boat through the water. Very cool. Did I say I want one?

We drove out to Sand Point on our way back from Miner's Castle and visited an old Coast Guard station. It wasn't called that back then, but they had a boathouse with a boat on runners that they could push or wench it out to the lake. It was on the shore and the rails went straight out to the water for a quick launch. It was used for water rescues.

When we left Munising, we headed over to Brimley, Michigan. Along the way we stopped at the Frontier Bar and Campground. Surprisingly, it was a decent camp with wide open spaces and not too many using the back row. We had full hookups and good 50Amp service. We were just there for overnight and then continue on to Brimley.

In Brimley we parked at the Bay Mills Indian Casino RV Park. If you are noticing a common theme here, it is casinos. We are not gamblers, although we don't mind being entertained a bit. But many casinos today have RV Parks and MOST offer very nice RV facilities at very reasonable prices. The hope is that you will enter the casino and spend big bucks as well, but that isn't for us.

As it was, we went to one casino which gave free play for new customers (many do), but because my birthday was this month, I got double free play! Whoo Hoo! So I immediately went to the "special machines" this casino set aside for using the free tokens and won $58. So now when we go into a casino, I pull out some of that money and play. I still have some of it left and I have been entertained a great deal! Playing like we do, it would be a miracle if either of us hit on anything, but like I said. . . we just hope to be entertained for a bit.

While we were staying at Brimley, we did do some sightseeing and visited the Iroquois Light, a lighthouse on Lake Superior. It is on the west side of the Soo Locks and ships must pass through this area going to/from the locks. While we were visiting the light, a freighter was passing through the bay and I was able to snap some pictures. There were 72 steps to the top of the light. There is no longer a lens in the light tower, but the view is really great.

I have been impressed with the water in Lake Superior. The water is so clear that I imagine you could see for several feet if you were out in the water. The beaches are clean and the water is not dirty at all. It was cold, however, and we didn't feel inclined to do any swimming.

Have I mentioned the weather up here? Since we left northern Indiana early in the month, our weather has been gorgeous. I think we may have had some showers one day, but it has always been in the low 70's to mid 80's for daytime temps and 60's at night. This has been through South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and the U.P. It has been perfect for sightseeing and driving around. Sunny and clear and warm, but not hot. Couldn't be better. I know Indiana has been sweltering and we thought as we came south it would start to heat up, but so far the temps are holding. Whoo hoo!

Till next time. . .


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Camping on Lake Superior

We arrived here at the Munising Tourist Park Campground (Munising, Michigan, U.P.) mid-afternoon. It was not where we intended to stay, but the other campground didn't work out. It looked to be a pretty nice camp, but they were supposed to be a Passport America camp, in fact, they are. . . but not today. . . not to us. They said they don't honor it during July (how convenient). The book said "subject to availability," and they were about 50% booked. Hmmmm. Terry had to give them a credit card number to hold a spot and she gave him a site number. When we got there she apologized and said that someone else had rented that spot we reserved and she had another one for us. I thought since they didn't have the site we reserved I would ask for a clarification on the Passport America problem. They said they don't honor it in July. I said then it needs to be in the book or on the website. They blamed PA for changing the information they had submitted. And that while they don't offer it for July, she is able to give it for one night only. So I said that instead of the two nights we had requested, we would take it for one night at PA prices. No can do. Because we had called to make a reservation, they cannot give it to us. . . only if you come in off the street unannounced, then you can get it. What a crock. In other words, "Yes we participate, but we don't ever give it out." Terry got pretty mad at this point and told her that we wouldn't take it period because that was not right and we did not care to do business with them. They said that was fine. I made them verify we would not be charged for any reservation, since they had actually cancelled our spot anyway. I will be calling PA tomorrow to complain.

We drove on east on US 2 and got frequent views of Lake Superior. We had rain most of the day but it wasn't a hard rain. We stopped at one roadside rest area and snapped a picture.

We eventually made it to Munising, Michigan, to a lake-side park. We are almost boondocking here. We have 30Amp and it isn't too good, but it is working so far. We walked a couple rows over and took a picture of the beautiful sunset over the lake. We are hanging out here tomorrow as well so we can watch the race. We have been missing them of late.

Till next time. . .


Friday, July 23, 2010

Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth is one place we have never been and is very much a place that requires more than the one day we had to give it. But suffice to say that we will probably come back again and see something different from this trip. And we really are just passing through this time, on our way to the northern route through the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan.

We camped at Saginaw Campground in Saginaw, Minnesota, about 18 miles from the city. There is major road construction on the bridges around the town and we ended up driving the route we would have to take to get from the west side to the east side. It is a good thing we did because when I am driving Phaeton Place, I don't like surprises and there would have been a few on this route. But it certainly was do-able and in the end, when we left this morning, we sailed right through without so much as a blip.

So yesterday when we went into the city from our location, you crest a hill and see the city down the hill. The hill is steep and you drive down at a perilous angle, then when you meet a cross street it flattens, you go across that street, then angle down to the next, etc., until you reach the area near the waterfront. How fun was that? It was a lot of fun and a neat excursion to the water in our truck. It would have nearly been impossible in the motorhome, but fortunately there are routes around for big rigs.

We were looking for the Lake Superior Maritime Museum. It wasn't where Mr. Garmin said it was. . . ho ho ho. . . no surprise there, so we just found a parking lot, parked and started walking around, ducking in and out of the many shops. We were right at the lift bridge, so there was a lot to see. We asked one shopkeeper about the museum and it turns out it was just on the other side of our parking lot. Looking toward our car, we could read the sign on the building of the museum. We walked over and went through the museum. It was free and a nice little museum. There were exhibits of the boats that sail the Great Lakes, past and present, and information about the important of shipping on the lakes. The museum sits right on the canal that was dredged to allow boats to enter the harbor without going out around the peninsula. The bridge that was built to connect the "now" island, originally was tall and had a gondola which transported people, horses, and supplies to the island. It was eventually replaced by a lift bridge. The lower span raises when boats need to enter into the harbor. We saw several vessels enter and watched the bridge raise and lower.

We drove out on the island, crossing the lift bridge. There are a lot of houses on both sides of the long, narrow island. There is really only room for one row of houses on either side and a road in between. Out at the end of the point, there is a park, so we got out and walked over the dunes on the pathway and took a long look at Lake Superior. It's big!

This morning we left Duluth and Terry was able to capture a picture or two of the view from the motorhome and we entered Duluth. It is quite a view. Our route today did not include any of the roads we had yesterday and we were able to get around and out of the town in good time.

We drove east on U.S. 2 and are stopped at the Frontier Bar and Campground. My kind of place. Hah! We did manage to drive ten miles back and visited the Bad River Indian Casino. We won again! It was a good time. On the way back, we drove down to Saxon Harbor which is a park-like area with a small marina, campground and a house or two right on Lake Superior. I had not taken my camera with me, so I had to take pictures with my phone. I don't have cell coverage here right now, so I have to wait until I have a signal to transfer them.

Tomorrow we will cross over into Michigan, the U.P. Another time zone to cross. Man, I am getting mixed up with this time thing. I still have jet-lag from the last time zone.

Till next time. . .


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Long day. . .

We left Jamestown, North Dakota, this morning headed for Fargo about 94 miles down the road. We have been having an issue with "tire thump" and Terry had examined our one front tire and found it to be flat spotted and cupped on the edges. In addition, it felt quite uneven when you passed your hand over it. My greatest concern was a blowout. The tire is only 18 months old. We changed both front tires in April 2009 when we had a front end alignment. There was plenty of tread on the tire, but it still was thumping pretty good.

Yesterday Terry called around because there aren't many large cities in North Dakota and he wanted to see if there was a tire store where we could get it checked. He found one at Fargo. . . Fargo Tire. He called and they said they could work on it whenever we got there. Damien was very helpful when we got there and looked the tire over pretty good. He said it was damaged from being out of alignment. I am puzzled by this because last year when we had the work done, it was definitely hard to drive with the wheel jerking all the time. Now the wheel isn't doing that but I seem to be able to feel vibration in the accelerator. But he said that was the problem and the tire was ruined. We could have put it on the back and he said it would actually smooth out, but we opted not to do that at this time. They had a matching tire they put on and then it went to the alignment bay. The guy was working on a vehicle, but was to start on the motorhome right after lunch and it would take two hours. So by 3 p.m., we should be ready to roll.

We got Neal and took off in the truck. We drove through downtown Fargo which is a pretty hoppin' town. They do have some shopping centers out on the west side, but the downtown is pretty much alive. They even had a theater which was showing movies. We took Neal to Petco and put him in a cart and walked around for awhile looking for the new treats he really likes. They didn't have any, so we went to Petsmart. They didn't have the exact ones, but we got some similar. We also checked out a city park we had thought about camping at. It's a good thing we checked it out. It was a very nice park and we let Neal out to "do his business," but it would have been hard for us to get in there. They didn't have their trees trimmed back very well.

We arrived back at the tire store around 2:30 and had to wait about an hour. But the alignment guy said the coach was out by about one inch, which is bad. They thought perhaps we didn't get a good alignment last year. That was done at a Freightliner shop, but who knows? The only thing is that we had tire and wheel issues that had to be taken care of AFTER the alignment, so maybe those things affected the accuracy of the process. At any rate, we were out of there by 3:30 and rolling down the road. The coach drives nicely and I no longer feel the vibration in the accelerator pedal. The guy did tell me that while the tire was riding very rough, it would not have blown out from that problem. That is good to know because that was my greatest fear. I do know what to do--I have watched the Michelin Man's movie several times, but I still don't want to have that experience if I can help it.

Even though we spent 5 hours there, we are still on schedule. Well, we don't really have a schedule, but Terry had planned on staying tonight at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Minnesota, and we did get here. We had to play musical sites to find 50A big enough for us, but we finally got settled.

Later we went over to the casino and I have to say we are both winners! I won $32 and Terry one $16. Not bad and we had fun doing it!

Till next time. . .


Monday, July 19, 2010

Meet White Cloud. . .

More details later. . .
Dakota Miracle and Dakota Legend.

We are in Jamestown, North Dakota, at the Frontier Fort campground. Just down the road is the Frontier Town tourist trap. BUT, drive through the "town" and you can go to the National Buffalo Museum. They have a small herd of buffalo including THREE white buffalo. The oldest is White Cloud. She was born in 1996 elsewhere and given to the museum. Her fifth calf was a white buffalo. They did some testing on her and she is a true albino. She is almost blind, which is probably not a big deal to her, because buffalo do not have good eyesight. Her calf is Dakota Miracle and another brown cow buffalo in the herd gave birth to a white buffalo, Dakota Legend. No testing has been done to determine if they are true albinos. Some that are not true albino may actually grow in a darker coat as they get older.

We got up and out earlier than usual this morning because the white ones hide in the shade once the sun gets hot. So we were able to see them quite closely and get some great shots. I'm not sure why I am so in awe of these majestic animals. I guess it has to do with surviving an unholy slaughter that decimated the 30-60 million animals in the 1800's down to a couple hundred. Through the efforts of many, the species was saved and the total in North American now ranges about 400,000. I think that includes Canada.

The weather here in North and South Dakota has been super great since we have been here. The days are warm and we put on shorts. If we are out in the evening with Neal, we have to put on longer pants and a light jacket. Just about perfect. Haven't noticed mosquitos so I am quite happy about that.

To back up a little, we left Spearfish, South Dakota on Saturday and drove in the wind to Belfield, North Dakota. The drive was quite taxing because of the wind. It just would not quit. We spent the night right off the interstate at Trapper's Retreat in back in the campground. From there, we drove to Medora, North Dakota, and explored the southern part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It actually is called the Badlands of North Dakota. It is similar to the Badlands in South Dakota, but yet different. There is more green and basins that look like cattle could graze. There are buffalo there, but we only saw a lone bull a couple times. There were lots of prairie dogs and Terry thinks they are really cute. They are fat and stay very close to their burrow. With the window down, you could hear them "bark" which is more of a chirp.

Sunday we drove on over to Jamestown, which is where we are camped next to the Frontier Town. Since today was my birthday, we went downtown to the Buffalo City Grill. It was a great dinner and they weren't very busy since we went early. We got great service from our waiter and spent some time chatting with him.

We are heading to Fargo tomorrow. We do not plan to stay there, but we are having a tire problem. We have one cupping on the outside and it is thumping. I noticed it a long time ago and it is steadily getting worse. Not sure what has caused it as this is a fairly new tire, having been changed in April 2009 when we did a front end alignment, etc. The other front tire is fine. Terry has called ahead and the tire center is expecting us. We do have a good spare, so that may be what we use. If they find anything else wrong, like a shock, or something, they can take care of it. Hopefully it won't delay our getting to the casino! Just may not have any money left to gamble with! Hah!

Till next time. . .


Friday, July 16, 2010

Corvettes and Harleys!

Yesterday we made the short hop from the Rapid City area over to near Spearfish, South Dakota. I am really likin' this land, though. It is positively gorgeous. I could easily spend my summers here--not the winters, however. Too many places on state roads with signs saying, "Closed if lights are flashing" and then they have railroad crossing arms that will lower across the road to prevent anyone from driving in. That can only mean one thing. . . SNOW! Hah. The hills are beautiful. They appear grassy with pine trees dotting the landscape and forests on the hillsides. Streams meander through the endless valleys.

We got set up in our campground which is very nice and very expensive. Even though we balked at paying $96 for two nights, in another two weeks, the Harley Davidson motorcycle rally at Sturgis will be underway and the sites will go for $125 a night. We won't be here then, but we are seeing lots of motorcycles. We drove on into Deadwood and parked and shopped and even tried our luck (bad) at the casinos in town. When we were here 30 years ago, there were no casinos--gaming was introduced in the 80's to rejuvenate the town and to restore it to the tourist destination it once was.

After leaving there, we drove to Spearfish, which is just five miles down the road. Spearfish is hosting a Corvette rally this weekend and there are hundreds of them all over town. Most of them are newer 'Vettes, but I did see a split window Stingray which was pretty cool.

As I was outside this morning, I saw some campers getting on their Harley with sidecar and working on setting up their GPS. I took a doubletake at the sidecar, but there sat a Labrador Retriever sitting patiently waiting in the sidecar. I ran over because I wanted to get a picture. We had actually seen them the day before on our way over here and I wished I had gotten a picture, but this was even better. Emma is the dog's name and she is a big lab mix. She is a rescue and has quite a story to tell. She has a website Emma and has quite a list of accomplishments. She wears "Doggles" to protect her eyes and a shirt to protect her from chafing because she had a pretty sturdy harness as well. They said she loves to ride and stays down in the seat very well, but does enjoy seeing the sites. They had quite the setup.

We decided to head west and go into Wyoming. The Devil's Tower is just under 60 miles from here, so I wanted to go to see it. We started off and then discovered that the Vore Buffalo Jump was just 2 miles off the road at the Wyoming Visitor's Center. This is a sinkhole, a very large and deep sinkhole, the Native Americans used to kill buffalo to provide meat for their families over the winter. It is a sad thing to think about, the animals being killed by the thousands, but these people revered the buffalo and used every part of the animal for food, clothing, and shelter. It is estimated, according to our guide, that 15-20,000 buffalo may have met their demise here. The Indians would drive the buffalo across the ground and steer them toward the sinkhole. They would be nearly stampeding when they reached the precipice and would fall to their deaths below. There would be more people waiting at the bottom of the pit and they would start butchering the animals immediately. Any that were not killed by the fall were finished off quickly. They are digging at the site and uncovering the bones. There are multiple layers of bones from years and years of use. This jump was discovered when they were building I-90 through the area. They planned to fill in the sinkhole and pave over the top, but when they were digging, they started finding bones and so the road was eventually diverted a few hundred yards away and the site is being excavated.

From there we got back on the interstate and drove to the road that leads to Devil's Tower. This is a massive rock tower that rises 867 feet from its base and stands 1,267 feet above the river. The diameter of its base is 1,000 feet. Fifty million years ago molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it coooled it contracted and fractured into columns. Over millons of years, erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed Devils Tower. It is impressive. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument.

When we left there, we continued driving on the loop back to our road. The scenery was spectacular. What I like most is that there are people here, but it is not crowded. The hills are nothing short of spectacular and I hope we come back sometime.

Till next time. . .


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Busy, busy, busy

I have been too busy to post. We have been going somewhere every day here in the Black Hills. We drove over here on Sunday and are camped at the Heartland RV Park in Hermosa. The park is on route 79, so there is easy access in and out of the park. We are right next to route 36 and 40 that both go into Custer park. Since I haven't posted in a few days, I will make a few "mini" posts to keep things organized. Most recent activities are first. . .

Today we started out through the park once again and headed over to Custer. We had wanted to walk through the town. We also knew that friends of ours, Rod and Marsha, have a house here near Custer. They actually full time, but have just purchased this house recently. We really had no idea where it was, but I searched on the internet and got an address and we decided to try it. We drove back and were pleasantly surprised that we found their house! They have been doing some work on it and it is very attractive. They have room to park several motorhomes and they did have two friends there with them camping in their yard. We had a nice visit with them.

We drove on to Custer and did some walking in the town. They have buffalo statues on each street corner and each is painted up differently, kind of like the "painted ponies." They are close to life-size however and the paintings on them depict scenes around the Black Hills. On the road back through the park we once again saw more buffalo. I never get tired of seeing them. They are very majestic animals and I am glad they were saved from extinction.

Tomorrow we leave here and head up toward the Lead/Deadwood area. We are actually going to be camping in Spearfish. We will spend two nights there and then move on into North Dakota.

We started our day Tuesday by running up to Rapid City. Terry had to have blood work done and we had a couple prescriptions to get refilled. We had been checking for the businesses we use along our route through North Dakota and discovered we had to get this taken care of now as our preferred businesses are not in the areas we were going. Not a problem. While we were in Rapid City, we took a drive downtown and it was much as we remembered it. They do have a nice downtown with lots of interesting looking shops.

Afterwards we drove out and down the west side of Custer Park and saw some different scenery. There was a petting zoo kind of attraction that had goats on a walkway strung in the air. There was a ladder type ramp for them to climb on. It was interesting to see these sure footed goats up there eating the hay set on the walkway. We drove through the park to the town of Keystone and did some browsing through the shops there. We later took a drive on the wildlife loop and as anticipated, we saw more buffalo. We had thought we would see the "begging burrows" but for some reason, they remained elusive this week.

We had a beautiful start to the day, but there was some rain forecast later, so we took off in the morning for the monuments. We took 40 into the park today and along this road, we actually could see Mount Rushmore miles away. As we got closer it was more visible. It certainly is impressive. We were last here 30 years ago, but it looks the same. The difference is the parking. Now the park service has leased the parking to a concessionaire and it costs $8 to park to go see the FREE monument. A lot of people are not happy with this and it does seem like a lot of money to park. There are several buildings on the area below the mountain, including a museum, gift shop, viewing area and restaurants. We got there about 10:30 and it was already crowded, but it was much worse once we turned around to leave. The gift shop was packed and we gave up trying to even look in there.

We left Mt. Rushmore and traveled over to see the Crazy Horse monument. This is a mountain being carved in the likeness of Crazy Horse and his horse. He is pointing out over the mountains and valleys. When we were here 30 years ago, there were no buildings, except the sculptor's house. Now there is an entire complex consisting of museums, theaters, restaurant, the house, and various statues sculpted by the artist. The artist, now deceased, and his wife had 10 children, 7 of whom live there and work on the mountain. This is going to be much more impressive than the Mt. Rushmore carvings and it promises to have a campus which will include a college complete with medical school. The face of Crazy Horse is basically finished, and in one of the pictures you may be able to see the outline of the horse's head. The problem is that this project so far has taken 63 years. Who knows when it will be all finished. Surely not in my lifetime.

Sunday. . .
We got our camp all set up and it started to rain. It actually rained quite hard and for quite some time, so we just stayed in. Later when the rain subsided, we decided to go on a drive to see where some attractions were and to map out our strategy for the next couple days. We entered the park and almost immediately we saw a large herd of buffalo, a.k.a. bison, walking down the road. It was still raining some and they were stopping periodically to drink from mud puddles. The mommas and the calves were together and the bulls were interspersed. Some of the bulls were absolutely huge, probably close to the 2,000 pounds they can grow to be. Traffic was pretty much stopped as everyone was taking pictures. I got a movie of one bull walking down the middle of the road, snorting all the way. I don't think he was too happy with all the traffic. It was quite a site to see. Along the way, we passed through three tunnels. They were very narrow and we had to be careful not to scrape the car.

Till next time. . .