Sunday, August 29, 2010


We very rarely eat breakfast out, but I wanted to make our last morning in Duluth last as long as I could.  In this endeavor, Amazing Grace restaurant was the perfect accomplice – the service was so slow we considered leaving money to pay for our beverages on the table and walking out.  When it came, breakfast was mediocre, so our recommendation is to pass on meals here but purchase delicious bread from their bakery.  The muffins and scones in the bakery case looked yummy, too.

First in line to cross the bridge. Finally released from the restaurant, we took our last walk on the shore of Lake Superior (sad face) and headed home.  Thirty minutes later we pulled out of the park, on to the main road – just as the alarm sounded on the Aerial Lift Bridge.  As the gates clanged down in front of us, we saw a big freighter far out in the lake chugging slowly toward the channel.  That means a minimum 20 minute stop, so Odel shut down the engine while I started the generator, turned on the air conditioners and started water heating in the electric teakettle to make a pitcher of iced tea for the day’s drive.  We had THE front row seat for one last freighter viewing.  :)

Twenty-five minutes later, the bridge span lowered, the arms went up, and we drove, drove, drove, 240 miles to Crookston, 30 miles shy of the MN/ND border.  For us, that’s a long driving day, 4 1/2 hours of sitting-still-in-our-seats time.  I know from other RV’ers blogs that we are wimps when it comes to travel – but I am so ready to get off my heinie after 4 hours!

Heading West on Hwy 2, smashing bugs. By the time we pulled into little Central Park Campground (click here to read our review and see photos), I felt that Scoopy should be renamed the Grim Reaper.  Insects along Hwy 2, FEAR US!  Dragonflies.  Butterflies.  Bees.  Big, hard-shelled insects that sound like a rock but look like an egg yolk smashed on the windshield.  It was noisy, it was gross, and it was a BIG MESS when we arrived.

We had a pleasant walk through deserted Crookston this morning before we turned the key and headed out.  Half an hour later we crossed into North Dakota.  Tonight, Minot.  Yippee!  :)

Friday, August 27, 2010


Duluth Lakeshore walk Today is as pretty a day as you could ever see.  Walking along the lake shore today, the air was cool, crisp, and sparkling clear… almost enough to make me wish we were staying longer in Duluth! 

I’ve been making a mental transition this week, from our eastern travels to the west.  With the approach of the last of the dreaded Big Three Camping Weekends (Labor Day), we needed a reservation for a site somewhere – and decided it was time to move back into the more familiar territory west of the Mississippi.  On Saturday, we’ll leave Duluth for a week of travel to Livingston, MT (just north of Yellowstone National Park), where we’ll stay over the holiday weekend.  We have a couple of social visits planned along the way – one of which might end up taking place in a rest stop!

We took a break from sightseeing this week and hung around our campsite. Watched neighbors arrive and depart – including a couple with two English Bulldogs (and two more at home).  This guy spent his downtime in the drivers seat, and we often saw the smaller female in the passenger seat – too funny!

Ready to go What you lookin' at??

Travel planning, minor motorhome maintenance, laundry.  We washed our filthy windows!  I planned our meals for the six day trek across North Dakota and Montana; today we’ll go to the grocery store, cut each other’s hair, do the last of the laundry. 

Sound like too much fun, huh???

I also fit in a LOT of reading, sitting outside in the sunshine.  I started and finished “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”, the third of the popular trilogy by Stieg Larsson featuring his gutsy hacker heroine, Lisbeth Sander.   Of the three books, this was the most “dense”; though you couldn’t breeze through any of the three, “Hornet’s Nest” took quite a bit of concentration (and was worth it).  What a shame Larsson died after finishing the trilogy (heart attack at age 50)– I REALLY enjoyed his story and characters.  If you haven’t read the books and plan to, be sure to start with the first, as this is a consecutive story.

And of course we had the freighters to entertain us. 

Passport pagesWhen I blogged about my new guide book to the big freighters, my friend Elaine commented, “Laurie, with your new book, jot down the date and time of sighting next to the entry of each vessel. Used to do that many years ago with the Western Guide to Birds, and it brought back memories when I thumbed through the old book.” 

I had learned that from my BIL Frank back when I was trying to enjoy bird watching (another hobby not for me – I’d rather hunt BIG things than tiny things, I guess).  Elaine’s comment brought to mind my favorite “diary” activity: the Passport to Your National Parks.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but my enjoyment of my Passport grows with each year of travel and park visits.  I didn’t buy mine until our second year of travel, but sections of it are full, now, and I love browsing through it as a reminder of our travels and all we have seen.  If you like visiting National Parks, pick one up!

Monday, August 23, 2010


Our view from site 3 (can't see the Lift Bridge!) We’re back!  Although the full hookup sites at the Lakehead Boat Basin (click here to read our review and see photos) don’t have quite as wonderful a view as the sites without a sewer hookup, we went for FHU this time.  The weather is forecast to be cool, and I’m in the mood to do some indoor cooking, so wanted unlimited hot water.

We moved from Minneapolis back to Duluth yesterday, and this morning began with my early dentist appointment (8:45 am) to repair my broken tooth.  We walked along the lakeshore, up the stairway to downtown Duluth, and arrived early.  If you were to fantasize about a perfect dentist visit (excluding wild notions like hot fudge sundaes and full body massages, or the dentist paying YOU for the pleasure of the experience), this would be it. 

Know Your ShipsThe appointment began right on time.  Incredibly friendly staff and dentist.  Quick, painless work – and the office manager contacted my insurance company (which had told me I would have to pay, then file the claim) and took care of the paperwork, so I only paid my part of the surprisingly low bill.  We were back out on the street by 9:30!  Thank you very, very much, Eileen Patterson, DDS!

Walking back home, we stopped in the gift shop of the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center and Museum, where I bought a book I should have purchased way back in Sault Ste. Marie, when we first encountered the giant Great Lakes freighters and Salties (“lakers” primarily ply the waters of the Great Lakes; “salties” visit the Great Lakes but are primarily ocean-going vessels) – Know Your Ships 2010.  I just can’t get enough of these big ships!  Now, each time one passes, I can look it up in my book and report to Odel its age, length, width, depth and type of engine.  Lucky guy, huh?  :)

Speaking of my lucky guy, he got some cool stuff today, too, to optimize his water supply system.  We were still using our original water hose (8 years old!), but it grew shorter and shorter as Odel trimmed it off a little at a time when the end would start bulging.  Today he not only got a brand new hose, but a new pressure regulator and a couple of quick disconnects.  He spent the afternoon happily building his new water supply system. 

While we were at the RV supply store to pick up the pressure regulator, he started ribbing me about my idea that, when we eventually have a home base, we should downsize our rig.  He pointed out to the parking lot and said, “How about that one?”  Ha, ha, very funny, honey!

Squeezing in, barely!

Getting comfortable??

Tiny Rig Tiny Bed

Thursday, August 19, 2010


No lovely photos, no fabulous discoveries, not much excitement at all.  I can tell you this, though: I’ve lost my enthusiasm for big cities (not that I ever had much). 

We heard from our friends Jeff and Margaret recently, saying they were going to be near Minneapolis for a week, and they had found a good deal (half price) on full hookup sites in a big county park, Lebanon Hills Regional Park (click here to read our review)..  We didn’t have to think long before we decided to join them, since we were planning to head west across SD after our stay in Duluth.  AND… we would be able to visit a Costco!  AND a Trader Joe’s!  Next thing we knew, we had a reservation.

On our day at the Blues Festival in Duluth, I broke a great big hunk off one of my back teeth.  It doesn’t hurt, but I wanted to stay somewhere long enough to get it repaired, which requires a little advance planning.  Looking out into the future, we thought Rapid City, SD, would work.  I was able to get a recommendation from a friend for a good dentist there, and got an appointment for 9/1.

Badlands National Park on a previous visit. Next step: plan our stops between Minneapolis and Rapid City.  We’ve had some real (unpleasant) weather adventures in SD on prior trips, so we started by checking the long range forecast.  Now, I know we have been spoiled this summer, enjoying mostly moderate temperatures when huge portions of the US have broiled… but when we saw forecasts in the 90’s and 100’s in SD next week, we backed away from our western travel plan pretty quickly!  Hiking the Badlands when it’s 97 degrees?  I don’t think so!

So, how about a Plan B?  Where could we find pleasant weather when we left Minneapolis?  Duluth, MN: sunshine and highs in the upper 60’s.  Hummmm… sounds good!  Before we left the Lakehead Boat Basin for Minneapolis, we reserved a full hookup site for a return trip next week.  

Here in Minneapolis, we’ve three fun evenings with Margaret and Jeff.  Today was our big Costco trip (our freezer is packed full again); tomorrow we’ll make a trip to Trader Joe’s; and on Saturday we’ll visit the highly recommended St. Paul Farmer’s Market.  Sunday we’ll head back to Duluth, and Monday I have an appointment with a dentist within walking distance from our campsite.

No doubt Minneapolis has it’s charms, but on this trip I couldn’t muster the energy to do the research to discover them – nor face the urban traffic.  We’ll be happy to restock our freezer, restock our supply of cheap wines, and head back to our studies of the big freighters of the Great Lakes until the weather cools.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


View of Duluth Harbor from Enger Park Every so often, a topic will come up in the “RV’ing Blogger” community that really gets legs!  Not too long ago, Al (The Bayfield Bunch) kicked it off when he posted his long list of what he likes/dislikes in other blogs, with suggestions posted on what to blog, what not to blog, how to blog, why to blog… BOOM, it took off!

Most of us who read and commented on the “conversation” seemed to have one thing in common: we didn’t take kindly to anyone telling us what we should or should not do with our own blogs!  Our little tempest went on for a few days (and we all learned something about others’ likes and dislikes), then quieted down as we all went back to talking about the weather.  :)

Reading through the comments left on Al’s post, it seemed that we readers who also blog fell into two camps: bloggers who would blog whether anyone read or not, and bloggers who blog because other people read their posts.   I’m in the first group.

My blog is a diary, written for me and my family, one I would continue whether or not anyone else was interested.  I enjoy writing, and blogging helps me remember, with detail and photos, things I would otherwise forget.  I LOVE browsing through old blog posts, looking back to see where we were at the same time a year or two or three ago. 

August 2009 – An early morning surprise in Tillamook, Oregon

August 2008 – Hiking, geocaching, and sightseeing the upper elevations of Colorado

August 2007 – An epicurean walking tour of Portland, Oregon

I never imagined the number of readers who would be interested in following our travels.  Though I would continue to blog whether or not it was of interest to others, the comments you readers post add another dimension of enjoyment for Odel and me (and probably for our other readers).  We’ve received great suggestions on places to visit – particularly restaurants – and things to do, sights to see, campground recommendations.  We were moved by your expressions of sympathy when Luna died.  In return, readers have thanked us for suggesting activities and sights they would not have visited otherwise. 

We’ve met readers of our blog in person, sometimes by accident, other times by invitation.  Here in Duluth, we had a delicious lunch with blog readers John and Toni, from our home state of California, after John wrote to let us know they were in the area.  Thanks, you two – we really enjoyed our conversation and the lunch treat.  :)

At our next stop, we’ll be hooking up with our friends Jeff and Margaret.  We first met in Arizona when Margaret walked by and said “Aren’t you Laurie and Odel?”  That started a long conversation that developed into a new friendship, and we’ve subsequently met up with them whenever the opportunity came along.

So, though I blog for the joy of creative expression and as a memory aid (more and more important as the years and experiences roll on), my thanks to you followers and readers who share your thoughts and suggestions with us through your comments.  Your interest and interaction is very satisfying, and appreciated.  We’re glad to have you travel along with us.  :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Crowd panorama According to the woman in the seat adjacent to mine as we dodged raindrops under the “acoustic tent” at the Blues Festival, Friday was the first time in the festival’s 22 year history that the music was stopped (temporarily) because of the weather (lightening).  Odel and I weren’t there on Friday, but we saw it all on Saturday!

The Main Stage at Bayfront Park Planning to attend just one day of the festival (tickets are $40/person per day), we chose Saturday based on the weather report.  On Friday, the heaviest rain fell while we were in a movie theatre, but we got a solid drenching as we walked home after dinner.  Saturday looked perfect, and we headed over to join the crowd around noon.

It has been a LONG time – at least a decade – since I visited a music festival, and I learned a lot yesterday about the difference in my stamina between then and now! 

Like everyone else, we took our folding camp chairs along, and set them up between the main stage (huge, with tons of electronics and lighting, all seating on grass in the open) and the acoustic tent (smaller. covered, considerably more intimate, chairs provided).  Music alternated between the two stages, with smaller acts on the acoustic stage while the large acts set up on the main stage – the audience migrated between the two venues.  Everything was well organized – easy to purchase tickets, very good food available, beverage vendors of all kinds (food and drinks purchased with tokens, which keep the lines moving quickly), plenty of porta-potties with hand washing stations (with soap and paper towels!) – and the music was non-stop.

Keeping Cool with a slurpee Cool Cat

After walking about a mile to reach the park entrance, we spent a few hours in bright, hot sunshine, enjoying the music, the views, and the people watching – plus a few brews and snacks.  Then it was time for a break and a trek back home to apply more sunscreen before we returned for the headline acts.  

Eden Brent Oops, miscalculation: we didn’t need more sunscreen, we needed long pants, long sleeves, and raincoats.  Just after Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Alter Boys (my favorite band name, second favorite act of the day) finished their set under the tent, a strong, cold, wind pushed a big, black, wet cloud over the hills and the main stage.  Odel headed back home to come back with the car and warm clothing; I took a seat in the acoustic tent and heard my favorite act of the night, a solo blues singer from Greenville, Mississippi, Eden Brent.  Wow – could she scorch a keyboard!

Shortly after the moon rose, Odel and I regrouped at our chairs in front of the main stage, awaiting the headline act, Dr. John and the Lower 911.  We put on our raincoats (wind protection), and I draped my sweatshirt over my bare legs but, three songs into the set (9:30), we were ready to find the car.  The crowd had thinned considerably by then, a combination of the windy, cold, damp weather and the average age of the audience, I guess.  :)

He came to dance For me, the smaller, more intimate space of the acoustic tent was the winner.  I prefer the smaller acts, slower tempo, “don’t you wrong me” vocals, keyboard, harp, sax over the kick-ass screaming guitars and mostly unintelligible lyrics of the main stage.  I love bluesy woman, mostly playing the acoustic tent venue.  Where the main stage was loud and fast, the acoustic tent was throbbingly soulful, much more intimate.  

As I write this (Sunday noon), I can hear the music booming across the harbor, competing with the sounds of flags snapping, awnings flapping, and strong winds in the riggings of the sailboats moored outside our door.  The sun occasionally breaks through the thick grey clouds, but sweatshirts appear to be the garment of choice.  I’m happy sitting inside, watching the freighters go by.

Friday, August 13, 2010



Seems like just about everyone, everywhere, is in the sweaty grip of the dog days of summer.  Doesn’t this look tantalizingly refreshing??

My sister, Sydney Brown, is an artist living in Bisbee, Arizona.  I removed the link to her website recently when she was making a change.  Here is the new link:

Sydney Brown Fine Art

Sydney’s husband, Frank, is a talented photographer.  I love  his photo of a storm cloud over the White Water Draw in Cochise County.  To view other fabulous photographs, click on this link:

Frank Baker Photography

Storm cloud at White Water Draw

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Duluth vista Two long blasts, followed by three short ones, deep and rumbling, awoke us at 6:30 am.  I hopped out of bed in time to see an 800 foot long freighter enter Duluth Harbor under the Aerial Life Bridge.  What a sight!  What a great start to the day!

Duluth is the largest port on the Great Lakes, and it shows in the activity of the bridge.  From our site at the Lakehead Boat Basin, we have a front row seat. 

Lakeside Boat Basin is across the Lift Bridge from downtown Duluth.  Arriving or departing, you have to cross the bridge.  In summer, the bridge goes up and down as many as 40 times a day, since only the smallest boats can pass underneath without the bridge lifting… even a small sailboat has a mast too tall to pass underneath.

The Mighty GottWhen we arrived in Scoopy yesterday, the bridge was just going up and we stopped at the end of a block-long line of vehicles.  I got out and walked a block to see what was passing through the canal: the mighty Edwin H. Gott, one of the Great Lakes 1000+ footers.  Yowza!

I wonder… how long does it take to become blasé about these big boats?  I think it would take me a long time! 

Odel turned off the engine and sat, generator running and both a/c’s on, in a line of traffic – along with buses, cars, delivery trucks, even a taxi – that grew longer and longer as the big ship glided under the bridge, through the narrow canal.  Twenty minutes later, the bridge bells sounded its descent, I hurried back to the Scoopy, and we headed across the bridge to our new site.

The Lakehead Boat Basin (click here to read our review and see photos) is something else – always something to watch!  Thirty sites are situated in two narrow asphalt parking lots that are used for boat dry-dock storage in the winter.  We have a water hookup and a solid 50 amps of electricity, a picnic table, and an endlessly fascinating view. 

As I write, I can look out the front window at the small pleasure boats in the marina, then directly across the neck of the harbor to the waterfront park where tents are being erected for the Blues Festival.  Beyond that, the steep forested hillside of Duluth rise abruptly.   Out the window to my right, I watch the Lift Bridge move up and down.  Right now, it is all the way up – that means a freighter will materialize shortly.

Daytime view from the marina…

… and the nighttime view of the same scene.

Life bridge daytime Bridge at Night

In some ways, Duluth seems like a smaller Portland, Oregon.  Water plays a big part in the ambiance of the city, we see lots of joggers, walkers, and bicyclers, and there is plenty of attention paid to being “green”.  The city has done an superb job of rehabbing the Canal Park area – where big, old, unused, harbor-side factories and warehouses have been “repurposed” into retail and office space.  The parks and walkways along the shore of Lake Superior are inviting, with a pedestrian boardwalk separate from a bicycle path.  The green grass of the park space is busy with folks enjoying the lively scene; swimmers enjoy the small beach. 

We pass this lovely garden each time we walk to and fro. After the early morning wakeup call, we headed out before the heat and humidity of the day for a walk.  As we left the marina, the owner, Joel, told us he had 20 rigs leaving today, and 24 arriving.  Wow, that’s a busy day in a 30 site park!  It’s all due to the Blues Festival; Joel says many campers reserve for next year after the festival ends, so campers who hadn’t made reservations far in advance were forced to clear out this morning. 

When we got back from our outing, the RV sites looked almost deserted.  Wonder who our new neighbors will be?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Duluth, Minnesota, our next stop, in the the midst of a gigantic, three-year, “mega-project” (their phrase)!  Consequently, getting around town is mega-confusing for us visitors.

Since we are planning to move from Nemadji Trailer Park and Campground (click here to read our review and see photos) in Superior, WI, to the Lakehead Marina in Duluth’s Canal Park tomorrow, we decided we’d better nail down our route.  I spent some serious time on the 1-35 Mega-Project website this morning studying and printing detour route maps, and then we took off for the 10 mile trip.

This little pedestrian bridge opens to allow access to the small boat marina. Lucky for us, we can avoid the worst of the detours, sticking close to the shore of Lake Superior.  Just one giant, high bridge between us and Duluth, a few narrow downtown streets, cross Duluth’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge over the shipping entrance to the harbor, and we’ll be “home”. 

Between our site-to-be at the Lakehead Marina and the Bayfront Festival Park (site of the Blues Festival) is Duluth’s tourist hot-spot, Canal Park.  Hotels, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, a lakefront walkway, tour boat dock, Great Lakes Aquarium, OmniMax theatre… it is all there, within walking distance of our site at the marina. 

After we successfully negotiated the drive, we parked on the street in Canal Park and set off on foot, heading to the Aerial Lift Bridge.  The original bridge, built in 1904/05 to replace a ferry between Canal Park and Park Point (crossing the harbor entrance), used a gondola hanging from an overhead span (click here to see a cool photo) to transport people and wagons across the ship canal into Duluth’s harbor.  Since 1930, a lift span replacing the gondola has done that job, lifting as many as 40 times a day during the summer shipping/boating season.

A big freighter enters the canal. Passing under the bridge
A big freighter enters the shipping canal…

… and passes under the Aerial Lift Bridge.

Remember the many huge freighters we saw in the locks at Sault Ste. Marie?  If they are going to Duluth, they pass under the Aerial Lift Bridge.  As it was done at the locks, an Army Corps of Engineers (COE) Visitor Center provides information on ships coming and going under the bridge, with approximate times of arrivals and departures. 

In Sault Ste. Marie, we were lucky enough to see the largest ship on the Great Lakes, the 1013 ft. Paul R. Tregurtha, “lock through” – and on the information board at the COE visitor center, we learned that she will be departing the Duluth harbor tomorrow between 12:30 and 1:30.  We should be in our new, dockside site by then, and hope to make it over to the bridge to watch her transit the canal.  Meanwhile, we contented ourselves watching this 600 footer navigate the canal.  I could watch these big ships all day long!

Monday, August 9, 2010


Our view out the window at the Ashland Elks After six great weeks in Michigan, the time came to move on to keep our date with Duluth, Minnesota, for the 22nd annual Blues Festival.  I was sorry to leave the beauty of the U.P. and the many areas we had not yet explored – so we’ll just have to return sometime! 

We left Houghton, MI on a Friday – a not-so-smart move during the busy summer vacation travel season!  Figuring it would not be a vacationer’s hot spot, we had the Elks Lodge in Ashland as our goal. 

By noon (we gained an hour when we FINALLY crossed back into Central time) we had settled into one of the two sloping RV sites in the parking lot of the Elks Lodge, right on the edge of the Lodge-owned golf course (this view out our windows shows the driving range).  By 2 pm, Odel was on the golf course and I was cruising around the area in the Jeep, sightseeing.

The Ashland/Bayfield area is a particularly lovely stretch of Wisconsin’s portion of the Lake Superior lakeshore.  When we visited back in 2003, we stayed near Bayfield, definitely the more upscale and touristy of the two towns.  Bayfield is closer to Apostle Island National Lakeshore, in a hilly area with fantastic views.

Where Bayfield caters to tourists, Ashland appears to be the practical commercial hub of the region.  Ashland’s development was fueled by iron ore – the Chequamegon Bay provided the safe port for loading ore from northern Michigan and Wisconsin into the big freighters for shipment to across the Great Lakes.  Ashland is clearly proud of its heritage and history, and devoted to preserving and presenting it.  They do a GREAT job!

The Storefront Mural

A section of the “Storefront Mural”, representing Ashland’s storefronts from the early 1900’s.

The Oredock Mural

The “Oredock” mural is “under construction” this summer, depicting the Ashland Oredock.

Entering Ashland, the most noticeable structure, huge and mysterious (to us), is the Ashland Oredock, built in 1916 to load iron ore into the freighters that docked alongside.  The dock was 1,800 feet long, the largest concrete structure in the world.  Now abandoned, it is slated to be demolished within the next couple of years, a controversial decision in Ashland.

This summer’s addition to the truly wonderful Ashland Mural Walk is a depiction of the Oredock and the maritime shipping history of Ashland.  We enjoyed watching the artist at work, and viewing many of the other great murals.

Veteran’s Mural

Lumberjack Mural

Veterans Pioneer heritage

We began our day in Ashland with a visit to the two-block farmer’s market, listening to live music as we downed breakfast burritos (eggs, chorizo and spices in a homemade tortilla), then strolled the town admiring the murals and chatting with volunteers running the mural information/fundraising booth.  We heard the story of the long fight to save the oredock, aided by a peregrine falcon that nested at the end of the dock, hindered by a drunken college student who climbed to the top of the oredock and fell into one of the chutes (a call to 911 from his cell phone saved his life).  Now the oredock is doomed, memorialized in the beautiful mural emerging this summer.

Closeup of the oredock with its chutes folded in the "up" position. The oredock – we wanted to get closer.  Massive and crumbling, it grabs your attention from either end of the town. 

We also wanted to visit Kreher Park, a city-run campground and boat launch right in the center of town.  We figured the campground would be crammed with vacationing families over the weekend (hence our decision to use the Elks Lodge parking lot), and we were right. 

Wow, was that placed jammed – but the campground had roomy sites and great views, right on the shore in the shadow of the oredock (filed away in our memory banks for some other time).  I took this photo from the campground, showing the chutes that were lowered into the holds of the ore ships as they nestled alongside.

Another of Ashland’s charms is the long walk/bike trail through the small parks along Chequamegon Bay.  We needed another couple miles to finish up our 10,000 steps for the day, so took off exploring the paved trail.  As we neared the oredock from the other side, a small graveled path near half a dozen very elderly boat sheds lead to the water, and to this scene: the “Injoy” bench!  (Click on the photo below to enlarge it.)

Injoy bench Odel and Oredock

The Injoy bench, at the end of a trail on the bay.

Odel enjoys the bench near the oredock.

After a huge storm on Saturday night, we took off on Sunday morning for Superior, WI, where we plan a short stay with full hookups before we move to our water/electric site at a marina in Duluth for six days.  We have a list of mundane chores to accomplish, and the weather is cooperating – cloudy and foggy, making it easier to stay focused on our to-do list… which is calling my name.  Later!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


This is how our travel day began…

… and this is how it ended.

Driving to Houghton in the rain Site 13 Houghton

Three miles east of the tiny Eagle River community and 5 miles west of the little town of Eagle Harbor on the northern end of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the monks of the Holy Transfiguration Skete of the Society of Saint John run The Jampot.  According to our temporary neighbor at the Elks Lodge in Sault Ste. Marie, The Jampot has the best baked goods and jams on the Keweenaw Peninsula – not to be missed.

Apleasant place to sit on the bluff at McLain State Park, overlooking Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Peninsula, a sharp thumb jutting north into Lake Superior at the top of the U.P., is best known for its beauty and its copper mining history.  We were feeling a little burned out on history, but are always up for beauty… and so much the better if we can find good food along the way.  We packed a picnic lunch and took off for a sunny day of sightseeing.

Our first stop was nearby McLain State Park, 20 minutes from the City of Houghton RV Park (click here to read our review and see more photos) where we are staying.  Michigan state parks charge non-residents a day use fee of $8/vehicle, and is one of the states that charges motor home campers a fee for both their “camping unit” (motorhome) and their towed vehicle (jeep), even though the motorhome will be stationary (like a tent or trailer) during the stay.  Colorado is another state that does this.  Consequently, we rarely camp in state parks in either state, but we do visit as day users.

McLain is a gorgeous state park, with 2 miles of sandy beach on Lake Superior.  We had great weather, and spent a couple of hours hiking and enjoying the beach.  LOTS of people were in the water swimming and splashing, children and adults alike, a relaxing summer scene.

Snow measure Heading north, we thought we saw a huge thermometer looming in the distance.  What was that thing?  A SNOW gauge!  In this photo, Odel is standing at the bottom of the gauge for scale; the top of the gauge shows the record depth of snow (cumulative) in Keweenaw County.  This is what the sign says:

During the Winter of 1978-79, Keweenaw County Established a new snowfall record by tabulating a seasonal total of 390.4 inches of snow.  This could be a new record set in the U.S.A. for the entire area east of the Rockies.  The monthly tabulations for the winter of 1978-79 are as follows:  Nov 49.2 inches, Dec 116.4 inches, Jan 111.4 inches, Feb 53.0 inches, Mar 52.6 inches, Apr 7.8 inches.”

Makes you shudder, doesn’t it??  By the way, the small orange arrow about halfway up the gauge marks the record LOW snowfall, set in 2009.

By now it was well past noon and we were getting hungry.  We pressed on to the north, looking for the fabled Jampot.  Sure enough, just past a little waterfall on a winding road along the shore, we found it:

The Jampot Bakery and Jam Shop.

Odel, the monks and the temptations.

The Jampot Bakery and Jam Store Monks at the Jampot

I don’t know how I managed to get a photo without a car in it; the parking lot was jammed when we arrived, and the little store was packed.  Hungry and faced with an array of delicious baked goods, we WAAAYYY overbought: a peanut butter and jam brownie; a carrot cake cupcake; a loaf of banana/cranberry/walnut bread; half a dozen nut and chocolate chip spice cookies.  The monks of The Society of St. John maintain an interesting website – click here to read a monk’s perspective of living on the isolated Keweenaw Peninsula.

Ft. Wilkins Historic State Park Fifteen minutes later we were enjoying lunch and dessert at a picnic table overlooking the big lake.  Next stop: our second state park of the day (on the same day use pass we had purchased earlier), Fort Wilkins Historic State Park at the tip of the Keweenaw in Copper Harbor. 

Copper was discovered here in the mid 1800’s, and the fort was built in 1844 to deal with the anticipated lawlessness and possible Indian wars that might come with the mining of the ore.  When no problems arose with Indians or miners, the fort closed two years later… then reopened after the civil war as an outpost for peacetime troops to serve out the remainder of their enlistment.   The fort was restored in 1930, and now is the centerpiece of another gorgeous state park.

That was it, the end of the road, out on the tip of the most northerly spot in Michigan.  Nowhere to go but south.

Lift BridgeDuring the copper boom years, the Keweenaw Peninsula presented a challenge to the wooden ships plying Lake Superior.  Part way up the peninsula, a lake and river almost bisected it, but not quite.  Opening the waterway by digging a canal to the west, to Lake Superior, shaved a hundred dangerous miles from a ships voyage - but turned the upper peninsula into an island. 

The Houghton-Hancock Life Bridge, from Houghton on the “mainland” to Hancock on the “island” was the solution and is now the only land link between the northern Keweenaw and the southern Keweenaw.  The first bridge, a wooden swing bridge, was built in 1875.  Fires and collisions damaged a succession of bridges; the current bridge was completed in 1959.  With the advent of the large metal freighters, the number of ships using the canal dropped dramatically, but the lift still is raised for sailboats that use the waterway.

Sunset from the Houghton RV Park.The photo above shows the bridge in “summer” position, raised so that boats can pass under it (it can be raised much higher for taller ships, but of course traffic has to be stopped for that).  In winter, when the waterway freezes and stops boat traffic (November to April), the bridge’s lift span is lowered.  Cars use the top deck; snowmobiles use the bottom deck! 

We arrived home tired and happy, reheated homemade soup and dug into our stash of monk-baked goods.  Sunset comes quite late here on the far, far western edge of the eastern time zone (folks to the south and EAST of us are in the central time zone – go figure!), and I snapped this shot just before I hopped into bed. Good ending!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Scenes from our walk through the forest on the Mosquito Beach trail.

From the eastern edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Grand Marais to the western edge in Munising is a short drive, just 67 miles even when the main road through the park is closed for construction.  We made the trip on Saturday, and settled in to the city-owned Munising Tourist Camp (click here to read our review and see photos of our scenic site) before 1 pm.

It was a rainy day, so we weren’t motivated to undertake a hike, but hadn’t had lunch and didn’t have anything on hand tempting us.  On the advice of an anonymous reader (thank you!), we made a trip to Muldoon’s Pasties and Gifts (say Pass-tees, not Paste-ys), in a little yellow house between the campground and Munising.

Neither Odel nor I have ever had a really delicious pastie, a kind of turnover (usually meat filled) that was the traditional lunch of choice for miners – and the U.P. has a mining history going way back.  The pasties I’ve had were mostly dreary things, lumpy, thick dough surrounding a meat filling completely lacking in seasoning.  But, as I said, we were hungry…

Clear Lake Superior and the rock shelf at Mosquito Beach It is obvious from the number of tables (2 inside and maybe 4 on the deck) that most of Muldoon’s business is take-out.  We ordered at the counter – a beef pastie for Odel and a vegetarian pastie for me – and were immediately handed our choices from a large warming case, neatly packaged in a white paper bag.  On the advice of the counterman (actually, a teenaged boy), Odel ordered a side of beef gravy.  Off to our table, with only minor misgivings.

Wow, were those things GREAT.  Mine especially.  :)    A thin, flakey crust held a well seasoned mixed of finely cubed/chopped vegetables – primarily potatoes, with carrots, onion and (I think) some broccoli.  Delicious, especially with the beef gravy Odel ordered.  His was good, too – he probably liked it better than he liked mine, so we both were happy.

Sunday dawned sunny and clear, and we had a plan.

Seven years ago, we stayed in this same campground and took a hike through the forest to a secluded beach with a wonderful rock shelf extending far into Lake Superior’s waters.  In the last few years, we have wondered whether that beach was as special as we remembered, or whether our memories were colored by the euphoria of our first year of travel and exploration.  Though we didn’t remember the name of the trail or the beach, we decided (last winter) to see whether we could find it again.

Looking at the maps of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we decided we had hiked to Mosquito Beach.  Drive 15 miles east of Munising, hang a left on a dirt road, drive another 5 miles and park at the trailhead.  Two miles of hiking, and you are there:

Lovely water of Lake Superior The Mosquito River where it reaches Lake Superior

This rock shelf is underwater, though the water is so clear you can hardly tell.

This is the Mosquito River, a few dozen feet from where it empties into Lake Superior.

It was just as spectacular as we remembered!  This time, we came better prepared, wearing shoes suitable for wading and carrying our lunch.  We spent several hours enjoying our hike through the woods and wandering the beach, building new memories of this lovely spot.

Lake Superior at Munising Tourist Camp Back home in mid-afternoon, it was a sunny 80 degrees and we did something very rare – put on our swimming suits and jumped into Lake Superior!   (Perhaps “jumped” is not the right word; we sort of “eased” into the lake.)

According to recent newspaper reports, Lake Superior is 15-20 degrees above the normal average temperature for this time of year, on track to break the record of 68 degrees.  In our little corner of the lake, once past a wide band of smooth pebbles, the sandy bottom stretches so far out into the lake that you have to bend your knees to dunk your body underwater, so the water was nicely warmed by solar heat.  Refreshing, fun… it’s summertime!

A hike, a swim – you can guess what came next: a nap.  I can’t think of a way to improve on the day.  Another great memory.