Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 25, 2016

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, September 2016

Porcupine Mtn MapThis was out third trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park but it was different from our past trips.  This time we were meeting Pat’s brother and sister and their families.  Where normally we would be out on the hiking trails, our time was spent mostly visiting, strolling through the Union Bay Campground, preparing group meals, and playing with our niece’s daughter, Addy.

Mary Lee, Pat’s sister, from Wisconsin and our niece, Tara, from Michigan were planning a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Since it roughly coincided with our return to the Midwest, we invited ourselves to join them.  The weather forecast was to be cloudy and rainy, but we lucked out and had four pretty nice days.  Yes, we did get some rain and overcast days, but when you looked at the forecast compared to what actually happened we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Each family planned one of the major meals and the food was delicious and plentiful.  We are all going to have to focus more on our exercise routines after this weekend.  In fact, the food was so good I never got around to taking any pictures of us eating it!  After dinner each night we sat around the campfire for a relaxing evening – a traditional family camp out!

dscn1226We don’t often have four year old kids around anymore, and we all enjoyed taking Addy for bike rides, having her help fix meals, and playing Frisbee.  She is already an authority on many subjects and listening to her explain things was just a lot of fun.

One day we drove over to the Presque Isle River to look at the falls.  The DNR claims that the Porcupine Mountains is the largest state park in the country with a total 60,000 acres and 40,000 of them designated as wilderness.  In fact when we drove from Union Bay Campground on the east side of the park to the Presque Isle River on the west side, we changed time zones!

dscn1218There are three major waterfalls on the Presque Isle River and we visited two of them.  There are trails and boardwalks that lead to the falls.  Before you ask, “What are boardwalks doing in a wilderness park?” the boardwalks prevent the thousands of visitors to the falls from damaging the surrounding area beyond repair.  Without the designated trails and walkways, new trails would be made with every visit and the forest floor would be destroyed.  It was wonderful to see the falls through the eyes of a four year old.  It’s like seeing it for the first time.

dscn1238Geri and his wife, Marcia, attended a wedding in Minnesota on Saturday and while they were gone we went to the Lake of the Clouds overlook.  It was a wonder to see this huge lake far above the level of nearby Lake Superior.  Again, Addy provided her own brand of entertainment as we explored the area.

dscn1279On Sunday, we packed up.  Mary Lee and her husband, Welton, headed back to Wisconsin while we headed for the lower peninsula with Geri and clan.  Our two families spent the night at Straits State Park in St. Ignace with a great view of the Mackinac Bridge.  It was a nice change of pace to be able to share our experiences with family.  Monday morning showed us crossing the “Big Mac” on our way to Lansing Cottonwood Campground.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 22, 2016

Paddling the Mississippi River in LaCrosse, WI – September 2016

Years ago I presented a workshop in Winona, MN and stayed at a hotel in LaCrosse.  As I was driving to the hotel I watched the Mississippi River and thought it would be interesting to camp along it and to kayak in it.  As we plotted our route from Washington to Michigan, LaCrosse was right on the way and I thought it would be fun to act on my thoughts from long ago.

dscn1181We stayed at the Pettibone Resort on Barren Island in the Mississippi River.  This is a nice RV park with many sites that are right on the water.  We originally made a plan to paddle up through the backwaters and portage out to the main channel of the Mississippi River then ride the current back to the campground.  However, Wednesday morning we found a good spot to launch directly into the west branch of the Mississippi.  We discovered that the current wasn’t flowing too fast and we tried paddling into the current in the main channel.  It wasn’t hard so we ended up paddling all the way around the island.


We saw barges being pushed by a tow boat downstream.  On the far shore we watched  a stern-wheeler river boat leaving its dock to head upriver, both a reminder of the major forms of river traffic on the Mississippi.  On the shore of the island we saw a row of houseboats, some of them more house than boat.  All of this gave us a sense of what life on the Mississippi might be like.

Past the houseboats we saw several turtles sunning themselves on logs along the shore. No matter how quietly we paddled, as we approached they slid off the logs like a row of dominos.  Further upriver we played tag with a large blue heron that would launch itself off its perch as we approached and fly upriver until we caught up with it and the process started all over again.  Finally it took off for the far shore and the game was over.

dscn1213It wasn’t especially hard paddling upriver, but we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the head of the island and turned downriver.  We paddled past more houseboats, including one that I particularly liked.  dscn1216As we passed the campground we saw some campsites that were occupied by long-term campers that had gazebos, decks, and potted plants. While it’s nice to have a place to go on a regular basis, I prefer our style of staying long enough in an area to see everything we want to see and then moving on to another location.  After more than five years on the road there is still more to see.

The next morning we were on our way to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 19, 2016

Why is it called Sioux Falls? September 2016

sioux-falls-mapWhy is it called Sioux Falls?  Because it has a significant water fall!  We were driving across South Dakota, headed for Michigan and planned this as a short stop – only two nights.  Sometimes when we make such stops we just hang out and rest for the next leg of the trip.  South Dakota is not known for its lakes and rivers and I thought, “If it’s called Sioux Falls, there must be a water fall ” so we did some research.

dscn1168Centuries ago the Sioux River flowed straight south.  During the Ice Age a glacier blocked the normal flow and diverted the river to swing west and then east creating the S-curve that we see in the river today.  The new riverbed flowed over quartzite, a hard rock that resists erosion.  The soft surface soils were eroded away, leaving the quartzite riverbed, creating a series of waterfalls.

dscn1160You won’t see a tall, majestic waterfall, but a series of small falls, each feeding into the next.  We really enjoyed wandering around the falls.  The park is laid out in a way that allows you to walk over the quartzite rock without being herded by fences and rails, making it a unique experience.  You can see the remains of the Queen Bee Mill and have a light meal in the old Power Plant building, which now houses the Falls Overlook Cafe.

At the Visitor Center you can climb a tower that offers an awesome view of the falls.

dscn1173Sioux Falls has a loop bicycle trail that starts at Falls Park.  We rode the trail that led us along the river and past a series of parks.  Even though this was a Monday, there were many other people biking, walking, or running on the trail.  We also shared the trail with some deer that were very comfortable being around people.  Part of the trail ran along the top of a levee that is part of the Army Corps of Engineers flood control program.  As we rode along I spotted several flood gates that would release water into low laying areas if the water threatened to top the levee, as well as dams that would hold water back during times of high water.  If you want to avoid some steep uphill climbs, ride the trail in a clockwise direction.

We enjoyed our day at Falls Park and I recommend Falls Park and the Sioux Falls Bike Trail.

Tuesday, September 13th, we were on our way to LaCrosse, WI.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 12, 2016

Teddy Roosevelt and “Strenuous Living” – September 2016

tr-1I have always been interested in Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.  In his youth he suffered from a range on illnesses that left him almost incapacitated.  He was also very nearsighted which caused him to wear glasses most of his life.  Yet he overcame these obstacles.  He developed physically as well as mentally dscn1079and later would credit much of his success to “strenuous living.”  In his early twenties he took a trip to the West and loved the experience.  This left a fondness in his heart for the wildness of the frontier and the strenuous living that went with it.  He made many more trips to the West to hunt and fish.

Things were going well for Roosevelt, he was succeeding in business and politics and was married, with their first child on the way.  Then disaster struck.  dscn1138His wife died in childbirth and his mother also died on the same day, February 14, 1884.  Theodore was in shock.  He had just lost the two women that mattered most in his life.  He sank into a depression and his family and friends encouraged him to go somewhere to grieve.  That somewhere was the area of the Little Missouri River near the town of Medora in western North Dakota (then the Dakota Territory).  Roosevelt had built a small cabin and had invested in a small cattle ranch, the Maltese Cross.  He stayed here from 1884 to 1886.  During this time he spent hours herding cattle, hunting for food, letting nature help him to cope with his loss.  This area is now the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

dscn1092We set up camp in the Cottonwood Campground.  It is a nice campground with mostly pull off sites so you don’t have to back your trailer into the site.  It is also dry camping.  We filled our fresh water tank at a water point near the entrance and there are several water faucets throughout the campground.  There are no electrical hookups so we used our two Honda generators to power our trailer.

It rained during much of the second we were there, but we hiked a portion of the Lower Paddock Creek Trail.  Unfortunately the rain had turned the trail into a greasy mud that hung on our boots like magnets to iron.  Consequently we decided to turn back and try hiking later in the week.  One of the advantages of being fulltime RVers is that we can stay in an area long enough to sit out a few days of bad weather.

After getting cleaned up we toured the Visitor Center and were able to tour Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin that he and his crew built in 1883.  It was here that he returned to in 1884.  The Maltese Cross Cabin wasn’t remote enough and it was during this time that he built his Elkhorn Ranch.  At the Elkhorn Ranch his closest neighbor was ten miles away.  While the Maltese Cross Cabin has been maintained, the Elkhorn Ranch has all but disappeared and only the foundations remain.

20160905_112407Near the Cottonwood Campground is the Peaceful Valley Ranch.  The history of this ranch is older than the history of the park.  It was cattle ranch in the 1800s, a dude ranch in the 1920s, the headquarters of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Work Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, park headquarters in the 1950s and 60s, and a facility for guided horseback rides until 2014.  The buildings looked like they were built in the 1800s, but are in good shape.  The ranch gave you a real picture of life on the range during Roosevelt’s time here.

dscn1113On our last full day in the park the weather cleared up and we drove along the 36 mile Scenic Loop Drive.  This drive gave us a great view of the terrain and we stopped at several points to take pictures of wild horses and bison grazing on the open range.  At one point we had to stop to let a herd of bison cross the road so we could continue.  We have been in many parks that had prairie dog towns, but we rarely saw any prairie dogs, yet here we saw prairie dogs dscn1121climbing in and out of their holes and running from hole to hole all over the place.  There are several short hikes along the road and we took a couple of them to get some great views.  At Buck Hill we were able to have a panoramic view that took in almost all of the South Unit of the park.

After the drive we planned to hike a trail that started at the Peaceful Valley Ranch and crossed the Little Missouri River, but we soon discovered there was no bridge so we just hiked around the nearby area.

If you are interested in reading more about Theodore Roosevelt, I recommend a trilogy by Edmund Morris.

This is one of my favorite Roosevelt quotes –


The next morning we were glad we were heading on to our next stop as it was just pouring rain with thunder and lightning.  It was like nature was telling us we had overstayed our welcome.  Next stop – Box Elder, SD.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 9, 2016

Custer’s Last Stand – September 2016

custer_last_stand1As we planned our route to Michigan I noticed that we would be driving near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  I didn’t want to bypass this site of American history so we planned it as a stop.  After a long drive from Missoula, we spent the night at Grandview Campground and RV Park.  The next morning we got an early start to avoid the hottest part of the day.

The Ranger staff at the Monument have a full schedule of Ranger-led activities available.  We started the day with the Battlefield Talk that described the history of the western expansion and how it drove the Native American tribes out of their ancestral lands and onto reservations.  He described the various treaties that had been made with the tribes and how officials in Washington were willing to break them when they were no longer convenient.  Eventually Washington decided to move all tribes on to reservations and sent the U.S. Army to enforce this

battlefield-1He then described how Custer, with a force of about 600 cavalry troopers attacked a Lakota and Cheyenne encampment on the Little Bighorn River.  He sent one force under the command of Major Reno to attack the camp. Meanwhile he led the remainder of his regiment around the flank to cut off the fleeing wives and children so he could hold them hostage and force the warriors to surrender.  Reno’s force of 225 troopers was counterattacked by close to a thousand warriors and was forced to retreat to nearby high ground.  When Custer attacked from the flank the Indians turned their attention on him.  Custer found himself facing between 1,500 and 2,000 warriors and was forced to retreat to Last Stand Hill where his entire force was destroyed.  By the end of the battle the 7th Cavalry had lost the five companies under Custer, about 210 men and another 106 killed or wounded in the force led by Major Reno.  The Indians lost no more than 100 killed.  I, for one, could see the battle played out on the hills we could see in front of us.  I could envision the Cavalry and the Indians as they maneuvered against each other.


After this talk we purchased a DVD for a driving tour of the area.  I found this to be a great way to experience the battlefield.  As we drove we were treated to a narration that described the battle and how archeologists reconstructed the events from artifacts found on the battlefield.


Initially no memorial was created to honor the Native Americans who struggled to preserve and defend their homeland and traditional way of life. Their struggle was never formally recognized until 1991 when the President George Bush changed the name of the battlefield and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial. The memorial expresses the theme – “Peace Through Unity.”  It provides a place where American Indians can celebrate and honor the memory of their relatives – and the women, children, and men who took part in the battle.


Much has been written about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and a lot of it is not very accurate.  However, it is obvious that Custer led his Seventh Cavalry into a battle where they were totally outnumbered and out fought by the combined Lakota and Cheyenne force.  For the Indians this was a case of winning the battle and losing the war.  The Lakota and Cheyenne won the battle, but it was the last battle they ever won.  They fled north into Canada, but ended up returning to the United States and onto various Indian reservations.

For a good book that seems to be more accurate than most, I suggest you read “The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn” by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 7, 2016

River Rafting with Wine, Smoke Jumpers, and Montana History – August 2016

We left the Tacoma area on August 28th and headed east over the Snoqualmie Pass.  As we drove east I was struck by the difference in terrain.  We had just left the deep forest of the Cascade Mountain range and now we were driving through desert.  The mountains force the clouds to give up their rain on the western side, so there is nothing left to fall on the east, hence the desert conditions.

DSCN0989We were on our way to Superior, MT.  My wife, Pat, had arranged for us to raft the scenic portion of the Clark Fork River and do a wine tasting at the same time – what a great way to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary!  We camped at nearby Quartz Flat National Forest Campground.  This was an unique place to spend the night.  The entrance is through a rest area and there is a tunnel under the highway to connect to the rest area (and another loop of the campground) on the westbound side.  Someone in state government was thinking outside the box when they designed this setup.  We arrived around lunch time and drove to Pangaea River Rafting later in the afternoon.

DSCN0990Pangaea River Rafting has a unique program where they take you down the river on a raft and treat you to wine, snacks, and a light dinner in the raft!  Our guide, Meagan, was terrific!  She told us about the river, pointed out osprey and turkeys, and kept our wine glasses full as we drifted with the current.  We rafted the scenic portion, downstream from DSCN0996a series of Class II and III rapids, so the river was gentle and relaxing.  We chatted and enjoyed the late afternoon sun shining through the trees on the western bank as we floated downstream.  There were a few spots where the water formed rapids and Meagan took us through them to provide a few thrills.  It was a great time and a lot of fun!

DSCN1003The next morning we drove to Jim & Mary’s RV Park in Missoula, MT.  Our primary reason for stopping here was to visit the Forest Service Smoke Jumpers Center.  As a former Army paratrooper, I was interested in seeing how the Forest Service paratroopers worked and were trained.  I have been fascinated by the Smoke Jumpers ever since I saw a Walt Disney program about them when I was a kid.  We were led on a tour of the Smoke Jumpers Center by a veteran Smoke Jumper who began his service in 1961 at the age of 21.  The first thing that struck me was that the Smoke Jumpers make much of their own equipment.  While they purchase the parachutes, all of the packs, harnesses, and other equipment are sewn by the Smoke Jumpers themselves.  A big difference between Smoke Jumpers and military paratroopers is that Smoke Jumpers often land in trees on purpose because they can get closer to the fire.  We saw the rough terrain suits Smoke Jumpers wear.  I thought they were made of heavy canvas and discovered they are now made of Kevlar! DSCN1006 I never knew that Kevlar could be sewn like any other cloth.  Like most fire fighters, the Smoke Jumpers are paid to wait (for a fire).  Once the alarm is sounded they drop whatever they are doing and suit up.  They have two minutes from the alarm to boarding the jump aircraft, no time to make mistakes.  That kind of response is the result of training and repeated practice.  Just like Airborne Infantry, the parachute is only a means of transportation to get to where they have to fight.  They are fire fighters first, and parachutists second.  All-in-all, this is a great tour that takes you into the actual work spaces of the Smoke Jumpers and gives you a very clear idea of what these brave men and women are called on to do.

DSCN1026The next day we drove into Missoula and rode our bikes on the Riverfront Trail System.  As we rode the trail we stopped at the Carousal for Missoula.  In 1991 local cabinet maker Chuck Kaparich told the city, “If you give it a home, and promise never to take it apart, I will build a carousal for Missoula.”  The city fathers agreed and Chuck, with a crew of hundreds of volunteers, assembled an antique frame and constructed more than 40 ponies, two chariots, 14 gargoyles, mirror frames, and the largest band organ in continuous use in the United States.  It is a popular attraction and there were several kids on the carousel while we were there.  Pat was able to take a ride for under a dollar.

DSCN1033Another unique stop on the Riverfront Trail was the Boone and Crockett Club.  It was founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt and housed in the old Missoula Train Depot.  Its mission is to promote the conservation and management of wildlife, especially big game, and its habitat, to preserve and encourage hunting and to maintain the highest ethical standards of fair chase and sportsmanship in North America.  For over a century the Boone and Crockett Club has championed the passage of laws, the establishment of institutions, and the designation of wild lands which today make up our nation’s conservation system. The National Forest, the National Park, and the National Wildlife Refuge Systems exist today in large part because of the extensive efforts of the Club and its dedicated membership.

Our last stop of the day was Fort Missoula.  The fort was established in 1877 in response to local requests for protection in the event of conflict DSCN1046with the western Montana Indian tribes.  Fort Missoula was never a stereotypical walled fort, but an open fort that required the troops to perform offensive, active patrolling in the area.  The history of the fort included its use as a CCC camp during the depression, and an Alien Detention Center for German, Italian, and some Japanese internees during WWII. There is a great display of Missoula history in the Museum and several original buildings scattered throughout the facility, including an actual Forest Service Lookout Tower.  Today the fort is home to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.  Other government agencies such as the Forest Service, and non-profit organizations occupy many of the buildings on the property.

The icing on the cake was a performance at the RV park called “Montana Melodies.”  Two men who were Forest Service firefighters and still live in the area serenaded us with songs of the area, including some they had written themselves.  This was followed by a serving of huckleberry ice cream from the park staff.  What a great way to end our visit!

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | September 2, 2016

Junior Rangers at Mount Rainer, August 2016

DSCN0940Mount Rainer dominates the eastern skyline of the Seattle/Tacoma area.  A volcano that made its last major eruption too long ago to remember, it is still an active volcano.  We were able to have our three granddaughters stay with us for another week and we thought a trip to Mount Rainer would be a great activity.

The girls have been able to visit several of our National Parks and have participated in the Junior Ranger Program at each one.  Our visit to Mount Rainer was made with the goal of the girls adding another Junior Ranger badge to their collection.  If you have visited a National Park with a child who went through the Junior Ranger workbook, you probably learned more about the park than other visitors.  This program causes you to look at some things in the park that you would take for granted or would normally escape your notice.

As we went through the entrance station we picked up the newsletter that lists all of the Ranger-led programs.  There was one scheduled to start about as soon as we arrived, so I dropped off Pat and the girls so they could attend the program while I parked the truck.

DSCN0962We hiked the Skyline Trail to see the park up close.  The first half was almost all uphill, but offered awesome views of Mount Rainer and the Nisqually Glacier.  Along the way we stopped to see marmots and chipmunks.  The girls thought it was really unique to see snow on the ground in August and had to play on it.

There is a big emphasis to keep all hikers on the designated trails.  There are volunteers hiking the trail to assist hikers and encourage them to stay on the trails.  One gave the girls buttons saying, “Don’t be a meadow stomper.”  It’s a shame, but even with all of the warnings we often saw hikers straying off the trail.  Mount Rainer and other National Parks are wilderness areas.  The parks allow millions of visitors to experience this wilderness by containing the destruction caused by all of these visitors to a confined area.

DSCN0952We stopped for the lunch we had packed at Panorama Point.  The view was amazing.  There was a large snowfield where we watched a group of hikers learning how to hike on ice and snow.  The chipmunks in the area obviously know where everyone stops to eat, they were all around us hoping we would drop something.

The last half of the hike was on the reverse slope and the view changed from rocky slopes to grassy alpine meadow. DSCN0975 There were several streams with waterfalls running through the meadow, fed from the melting glaciers.  The girls splashed water on themselves to cool off.  We saw one group soaking their feet in a stream, but it was getting late, so we didn’t join them.

When we arrived at the Paradise Visitor Center they girls finished up their workbooks.  After they were reviewed by a Ranger, they were sworn in as Junior Rangers for Mount Rainer National Park.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | August 14, 2016

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula, July 2016

Olympic NP MapOlympic National Park is a million acres in the Olympic Peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound.  The park is unique in that it is actually three parks in one.  First, there is the temperate rain forest in the Hoh and Quinault regions.  Second, the Pacific Coast at Kalaloch, Mora, and Ozette.  Finally the mountains, highlighted by Hurricane Ridge.  These three regions are tied together by the lakes, lowlands, and rivers of Elwa, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc, and Ozette.

We took our daughter, Elisabeth, and our three granddaughters, Katrina, Sierra, and Clarissa on a road trip to explore all three of these regions.

20160725_160030We drove about 110 miles to our first stop, the Quinault River Inn on the shore of Lake Quinault.  Elisabeth had done some preliminary research and we had a rough plan.  After setting up, we drove to the Quinault Ranger Station to DSCN0771get some detailed advice.  We got Junior Ranger workbooks for the girls and headed out from the Ranger Station on a short hike into the rain forest.  The rain forest was a different environment than I have hiked in before.  The amount of fallen trees and the moss that covered nearly everything was impressive.  The girls were checking off things in their workbooks and drawing sketches as we followed the trail.  We passed by a waterfall that they felt had to be explored in detail.  The trees were HUGE!  The amount of rainfall in this region causes trees to grow like they were on steroids.  The heavy rainfall also accelerates the decay and growth of moss and various fungi.

After this hike we took a short drive to see the world’s largest spruce tree.  This tree is 191 feet tall and almost 59 feet in circumference.  From there we drove to a nearby waterfall and climbed around the rocks at the base of the falls.  It was great fun that brought out the kid in all of us.

DSCN0805Many RV parks don’t allow ground fires, but the Quinault River Inn had a community fire pit with a rack of split wood.  For dinner on our first night, we gathered around the fire for pizza made in our cast iron pie-irons and S’mores, the girls’ favorite campground dessert.  The evening was cool, but comfortable in sweatshirts and it was a great end to our first day.20160726_110330

The next day we hiked a nature trail that gave the girls many opportunities to complete portions of their Junior Ranger workbooks.  We saw huge trees that had fallen due to wind or disease, one was so big we could walk the length of it.  After lunch we hiked another trail to a homestead.  Two families had occupied this homestead for over forty years.  We could see where and how they lived as we read the trail guide.  There was a big contrast between the old forest and the second growth trees that were taking over a portion of the land that had been cleared for the homestead.

The next day we drove to the Quilette Oceanside Resort, an operation of the Quilette Indian Tribe.  This RV park is right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and is part of the coast area covered by the National Park.  The girls loved the beach and wanted to go swimming right away.  We walked the length of the beach and through the campground, and then they were off for the water.  I’m not sure they were prepared for water that cold, but that didn’t stop them.

DSCN0836The next morning we woke to a thick fog, so we took time to make pancakes for breakfast.  The girls always enjoy helping Pat in the kitchen.  The fog cleared a bit and we walked out on the breakwater, and then back to the beach.  The weather was strange.  While the girls were playing in the water and sand, the adults relaxed in the sun, although the beach was surrounded by fog.  After a break for lunch we were back on the beach again.  DSCN0852The girls enjoyed playing in the sand and climbing on the large trees that had washed up on the beach.  They always seem to enjoy burying themselves in the sand, but this time they took it to new heights, or should I say depths?

We had a fire pit at our campsite and treated everyone to apple pie, made in our pie-irons.  Another special treat!

Friday morning we drove to Port Angeles to visit the mountains of the Olympic National Forest.  Along the way we drove along the shore of Lake Crescent and stopped to enjoy a view of the lake.

20160729_152751After setting up camp at the KOA campground, we drove to the National Park Wilderness Information Center to get more information on hiking and Ranger-led activities so the girls could finish their last requirement in their Junior Ranger workbooks.  We got some great advice, checked out the displays, then headed to the Port Angeles Visitor Center.  There we picked up some maps, bought a few postcards and went up in the Observation Tower that gave us a great view of the harbor area.

That night, at the campground, the girls were able to take a short wagon ride and see a movie with the rest of the campground.  You can generally count on KOA campgrounds to have activities on the weekends.

We got an early start the next morning and drove into the park for a Ranger-led hike in the Heart of the Hills campground.  The Ranger, Kyle, was a kindergarten teacher during the school year and did a great job relating to the kids.  Even though the hike was geared to young kids, the adults learned a lot about the woods and its creatures.

20160730_122239(0)From there we drove to DSCN0901Hurricane Ridge to hike to Hurricane Hill.  The trail was only 1.3 miles one way, but we climbed 650 feet in elevation over that distance.  I didn’t think the girls would be excited about the hike, but they moved out quickly.  As we started out we spotted a black tail deer right next to the trail, so close you could almost reach out and touch it.  The deer are obviously very comfortable with people here!  In a little over an hour we reached the summit of Hurricane Hill.  Talk about an amazing view – awesome!  20160730_133903If we thought the deer were friendly, the chipmunks were more so.  As we were eating there were chipmunks scampering all around us, hoping for a handout.

The hike back to the truck was  a lot faster.  We stopped at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to get the girls’ Junior Ranger Badges and we found Kyle, the Ranger from the morning, there to complete the process.  20160730_153213He complimented them on doing such a thorough job and swore them in as Junior Rangers for Olympic National Park.  Whoever dreamed up the Junior Ranger Program should get a raise.  It’s a wonderful way to encourage kids to learn about the National Parks.  After a full day of hiking we relaxed at the swimming pool and the hot tub – a great way to end the day.

Sunday morning we headed back to the Tacoma area and Camp Murray.  It was 410 miles all the way around the peninsula, but a wonderful trip.  We saw a lot, learned a lot more, and did it all with our daughter and our granddaughters, what a great time!

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | August 9, 2016

Whidbey Island, WA – July 2016

Whidbey Island MapWhidbey Island is located in Puget Sound, north of Seattle.  Our reason for traveling to Whidbey Island may seem a bit strange.  Many, many years ago I saw one of those disaster movies where the President and First Family were flown to Whidbey Island to escape some kind of virus.  Ever since I have wanted to see Whidbey Island.DSCN0582

We traveled from the Tacoma area on July 10th and enjoyed an easy drive on a beautiful day.  We stayed at the Cliffside RV Park that is part of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.  We have stayed at many military campgrounds across the country and Cliffside RV Park is THE BEST park we have seen.  The park is on the shore of Puget Sound and the sites are terraced so almost every site has a view of the water.  The park was rebuilt in 2012 and Ken, the camp host, gathered flowers from multiple sources and landscaped the entire park with flowers.  There are cut flowers in the restrooms and laundry room, and even available to put in your RV.

DSCN0604Whidbey Island is known for its kayaking and we spent an afternoon kayaking in Deception Pass. Deception Pass is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island. A group of sailors led by Joseph Whidbey, part of the Vancouver Expedition, found and mapped Deception Pass in 1792.  George Vancouver gave it the name “Deception” because it had misled him into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula.

DSCN0586You have to plan your kayaking DSCN0592around the tide as it is a major change in water level between high and low tide.  It was exciting to paddle in the open water along the high cliffs and watch a harbor dolphin playing nearby.  As we tried to paddle through Deception Pass we discovered just how strong the tide was.  As we entered the Pass it was a slack tide (high tide turning into a  low tide) we were paddling like mad and merely holding our position against the current.  After a few minutes of this we turned around and let the current push us back toward Puget Sound.

The period of time we were on Whidbey Island is known as “Race Week,” a series of sailing races in Penn Cove and the Saratoga Passage.  We did some sightseeing in the little village of Coupeville and we able to see the racers in Penn Cove.  Coupeville is a bit touristy, but not over the top.  It still looks like the small fishing village it was in the 1800s.

DSCN0646Deception Pass State Park has some great hiking trails.  One day, instead of our normal exercise walk at NAS Whidbey Island, we hiked the Summit Trail at Deception Pass.  The weather was perfect, cool, but clear most of the time.  There were excellent views of Deception Pass Bridge and you could see for miles from Goose Peak, the highest point on the hike.

I took a side trip to see Fort Casey and Admiralty Head Lighthouse on the Puget Sound shore.  Fort Casey was one of three forts constructed defend the naval base at Bremerton and the industrial base of Seattle/Tacoma.  This is the best maintained coastal artillery installation I have ever seen.  At most historical sites the fortifications have deteriorated to the degree that they are unsafe to walk on.  DSCN0621Not these, they were solid, with fresh paint.  The ladders and walkways were intact, safe, and available to visitors.  The most impressive part of the fort are two “disappearing cannons,” so named because they would be retracted out of sight after firing. In the early 1940s the U.S. military determined that naval and long-range aircraft had made the forts obsolete and the cannon were removed to be used as scrap metal.  The State of Washington was able to procure two “disappearing cannon” that were in the Philippines under Japanese control and not scrapped to install at Fort Casey.

We met some friends that we had made in Tampa, FL that live north of Deception Pass in Anacortes.  Larry and Tina gave us a tour of the area and we had dinner in town.  Larry and Tina are pretty unique in that they were fulltime cruisers, sailing the oceans before they settled in Anacortes.  While we were eating they told us about San Juan Island, the ferry system, and the best way to visit San Juan Island.

The next morning we were up early to take the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  The fare is very reasonable if you are not taking a car, bikes, or kayak, and there is plenty of room for passengers.  There are even some jigsaw puzzles scattered around on the tables to use to pass the time.  Friday Harbor is quite touristy, but not oppressively so.  You feel like you are in a normal community as you walk through the shopping district.

DSCN0682Larry and Tina told us to make DSCN0684sure we visited the Whale Museum and that was great advice. In 1979 the Whale Museum became the first museum dedicated to whales living in the wild.  The museum promotes stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research. There were the usual displays of whale skeletons and charts of where they travel in the Puget Sound.  However, the surprise was that they have been able to identify specific whales and their family trees.  Notations are made as the families change with new births, deaths, and sometimes, just disappearance.   This identification is not done with beacons or GPS devices, but by physical attributes that are different from whale to whale.

DSCN0723We wanted to put the kayaks in the water one more time before we left, so we drove over to the former seaplane base of the Naval Air Station.  This time the tide was rising.  We could feel the current but it wasn’t as strong here as it was in Deception Pass.  We paddled up a small estuary and around the small harbor.  We saw a small harbor seal, but it was being shy with us and we couldn’t get very close to it.  We also paddled past several large sailboats and yachts in the harbor, they were all quite impressive, but more than I could or wanted to afford!

DSCN0730Sunday afternoon, we visited the Blooms Winery, that had live entertainment.  It’s a small winery in a small group of shops.  It was supposed to be a blue grass band, but one of the band members was sick so their violinist teamed up with a friend who played guitar and they improvised a great performance.  Sometimes the violinist would start a song, the guitarist would listen for awhile and then join in with a harmony.  I wish I could play a fraction as good as this guy!  We wandered through the shops for a while, and listened to the group while sharing a bottle of Riesling.  All in all, a nice afternoon.


Tuesday morning we got an early start to avoid some of the I-5 traffic near Seattle and headed back to Fort Lewis.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | July 2, 2016

We Finally Made It To Washington

Seattle MapWe began our journey to Washington in March and, eleven states later, we arrived at Camp Murray Beach Campground near Lakewood, WA on May 25th.  At the risk of revealing a great secret, Camp Murray Beach is a hidden jewel.  This military campground is operated by the National Guard Association of Washington at the Washington National Guard’s Camp Murray, adjacent to Fort Lewis.  It’s a small campground, right on the shore of American Lake.  Even if you don’t have a lakefront site, you can count on a view of the water.

DSCN0403Our oldest son, Scott, and his family live in the area.  We planned to spend most of the summer here, spending time with them and having our three granddaughters stay with us on occasion.  The girls’ end of the year school activities were in full swing.  Within a week we were able to attend Clarissa and Sierra’s violin concert and watch Katrina’s school choir performance.DSCN0437

Scott and Sandra bought kayaks for the girls and we brought the kayaks out to the campground for them.  This is perfect spot for kayaking.  They can paddle in a channel that is between the camp lakeshore and a small island, without worrying about power boat traffic.  The girls have been using our kayaks off and on for a couple of years and have become pretty good paddlers.  We paddled to Shoreline Park, the swimming beach at nearby Fort Lewis, and to the public boat launch next door.

DSCN0418The weather was getting better with every day and we took advantage of it to paddle our kayaks around American Lake.  The south end of the lake borders, Camp Murray, Fort Lewis, and the American Lake VA Medical Campus.  The north end is all civilian with a couple of parks, boat launches, and some really nice (expensive) private homes.  It’s fun to imagine owning some of these properties even though it will never happen.

DSCN0444The next weekend we were all on the lake.  Scott and Sandra bought a canoe to compliment the kayaks and the Wangen armada paddled to Shoreline Park.  While the girls played in the sand and swam in the very cold water, Scott, Sandra, and I paddled our respective boats around the south end of the lake.  We look forward to this as being the first of many such outings.

After our long journey from Florida, it’s nice to be in one spot for an extended period of time.  We walk almost every morning on a route that travels on some wooded trails along the lake, through the buildings of Camp Murray, and the Army Travel Camp of Fort Lewis.  It’s just a short drive to Fort Lewis for trips to the Post Exchange and the Commissary for shopping.

DSCN0423As a veteran, Memorial Day has always been an important day on the calendar.  This year we were able to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  It was held at the old Camp Lewis Cemetery.  There are very few recent burials here as this cemetery was established in 1917.  We were able to see headstones of soldiers who had fought in the Civil War as well as those who protected settlers in the western expansion along the Oregon Trail.  The ceremony, including personnel from the Army at Lewis Main and Air Force from McChord Field was moving as we rendered a salute to our fallen warriors to the sound of Taps.

DSCN0492All three girls have been involved in swim clubs since they were old enough to swim.  We attended a dual meet at their home pool one evening.  They have definitely improved since we last saw them.  That weekend we traveled to Port Orchard, near Bremerton, to watch them in a league meet that lasted the entire weekend.  Scott and Sandra were busy in the role of volunteer officials.  We were able to see them in action as well was cheer the girls in their events.  The pool area was not set up for such a large meet and people were sitting everywhere, even bringing in lawn chairs.  The last event was Katrina swimming the 400-yard freestyle.  What an endurance event!  She swam well and kept up a good form all through the event.  When she climbed out of the water she was totally exhausted – what a champ!

We celebrated Father’s Day by watching Scott serve as the day’s Worship Leader at his church.  Later we gathered at our trailer for more paddling on American Lake and having the whole family together for dinner.

We are looking forward to spending more time together over the next two months.

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