We arrived at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point on April 10th. Pelican Point, the base RV park, is very nice. This is a relatively new park, located well away from the busy areas of the base. The sites are paved with full hookups, and half of the sites are pull-throughs. In addition to a bathhouse and laundry room, there is a small community room. There is a boat launch a short distance from the park, and a bike path that runs all the way to the Exchange/Commissary.
We have Key West friends that live in the area and we made arrangements to meet them while we were there. We met Lynn at her house and drove to Beaufort to Dave and Clara’s house. Beaufort is a beautiful waterfront community. Clara grew up in Beaufort and they live in the family home. They are familiar with all the great places to eat and took us to a wonderful seafood restaurant.
We kayaked on the Alligator Cut, the river by the RV park, that is a branch of the Neuse River. I’m not sure where the name came from, but we didn’t see any alligators.
We headed to Richmond, VA on Saturday, April 16th. In Richmond, we stayed at the MWR campground at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). Located south of Richmond, it afforded us a great base for exploring the city. The campground is small, only six sites, laid out in a circle, with plenty of open space between the sites. With a campground so small you would think it would be easy to schedule, but that must not be the case. As we were setting up another couple arrived and were booked into the same site. Fortunately, after a series of phone calls we got it all sorted out and we both ended up with a free night to compensate us for the hassle. We shared a couple bottles of wine and had a good laugh about it.
We arrived in Richmond on Saturday, and Sunday was Easter. We found a very nice church close to the campground – Beulah United Methodist Church. It was an enjoyable experience with our favorite hymns, a solid message, and they even gave us bags of candy as we left the church.
I love exploring history where it actually happened. Our first stop in Richmond was the American Civil War Museum. They did a good job of summarizing the conflict, but it seemed a bit superficial. I guess knowing so much history can be a problem sometimes. Exploring history is not always pleasant. It causes you to face both the good and bad of our nation’s past. This museum accomplished the goal of presenting the past so we can apply what we have experienced and learned to our future.
After the museum, we had a full schedule ahead of us. We walked under the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge to Belle Isle. There is a pedestrian walkway suspended under the bridge. This was certainly more pleasant than walking next to the busy traffic of US-301.
Belle Isle has been the site of a fishery, a Civil War prisoner of war camp, home to the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Company, and a hydroelectric plant. It is now a green space for the city of Richmond. There is a network of walking and biking trails, and picnic areas. You can visit the ruins of the hydroelectric plant and the nail company, as well as the site of the Civil War prison camp. The trail network was a bit confusing at times, but we avoided betting lost and enjoyed walking the trails.
Next we walked to the Virginia State Capital Building. This building was designed by Thomas Jefferson, and has a statue of George Washington that is an exact replica of him. The sculptor made a plaster cast of Washington’s face and extensive measurements of his body before he even began his work. We took a guided tour that gave us the history of the building as well as the history that surrounded it.
After the Capital Building we walked a few blocks to have an early dinner at the Sine Irish Pub. It was a nice, relaxing meal after a busy day.
On our way back, we walked along the Canal Walk that included a section of murals. I found this one particularly interesting.
The next day we took it easy and we explored the area around the campground. We were surprised to learn that the Richmond DLA was home to a herd of elk. A local farmer, James Bellwood, had imported some elk from Yosemite National Park and Washington State and they evolved into a good-sized herd. When his property was sold to the Army for the Richmond Supply Depot, his heirs insisted that the herd be continued and maintained on the property.
On Friday, April 22nd we drove to Fort Belvoir, VA and Washington, DC.
We left Key West on March 10th and headed for the Tampa area. We made an overnight stop at our “go to” campground on the Tamiami Trail (US-41), Midway Campground, operated by the US Forest Service. It’s not easy to find campground vacancies in Florida for this time of year, but we were able to get a site at Sundance Lakes RV Park in New Port Richey. Pat’s brother and sister, and their spouses rented a house in the area and we wanted to spend some time with them and our niece, Robin, and her family. After a week of enjoying time with family and friends, we made an overnight stop in Titusville to take our granddaughter, Katrina, out to dinner. She is a freshman at the University of Central Florida.
One of our favorite RV parks in Florida is at the Naval Station Mayport. Pelican Roost is right on the shore of the St. Johns River and ship watching is a favorite pastime. Our morning exercise routine became a more pleasant experience with a nice beach for our walks. We watched a fleet replenishment ship leave port for a shakedown and return. It was interesting to watch the harbor tugboats maneuver the ship away from her moorings, after which it left under her own power. Another significant sighting was watching the Destroyer Orleck sail up the river to Jacksonville. The USS Orleck is a Korean War era destroyer that was moved from Lake Charles, LA to be a Naval Museum in Jacksonville.
Two of our friends, Ray and Harriet, pulled in a few days after us. They joined us for dinner at the Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant and birthday cake at our rig to celebrate my 73rd birthday. We don’t often have the opportunity to celebrate these occasions with friends, so that made it special.
Our first site was the Boone Plantation. Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 when Englishman Major John Boone came to Charleston and established a lucrative plantation on the banks of Wampacheone Creek.
The farm passed through a series of owners and was eventually sold to Harris M. McRae and his wife Nancy in 1955. The McRaes continued to farm the land, and they opened the plantation to public tours in 1956. Boone Hall is still owned by the McRae family, which has made great efforts to preserve the original structures and gardens. Today, Elizabeth McRae operates an agricultural and historical tourism business on plantation grounds. Mount Pleasant’s Boone Hall Plantation has remained as one of our nation’s oldest and most prominent plantations. The mansion that exists on Boone Hall Plantation today was built in 1936 by Canadian ambassador Thomas Stone. We were only able to tour the first floor because the second floor is reserved for the use of the McRae family. Part of the plantation that remains are the slave quarters. These lodgings are now the site of many presentations that include the history of slavery in the South and the conditions that they endured. I was impressed that there was no attempt to romanticize or “sugar-coat” how the slaves lived and worked.
“Exploring The Gullah Culture” is a unique presentation where the lives of the slaves can be experienced firsthand. Boone Hall is the only plantation in the Charleston area to present a live presentation of this unique culture adapted by African slaves. We listened as a true descendant of the Gullah people presented the history of this culture through storytelling and song.
Next to the Boone Plantation was a small plantation owned by Charles Pinckney. He was one of the drafters of the Constitution. It is always interesting to see where history actually took place, rather than just seeing a display in a museum.
Our next trip was to visit the Summerville Azalea Festival in Summerville. This is a three-day event to raise money for the Summerville YMCA. The town of Summerville cordons off three blocks along Main Street for a wide variety of vendors and food trucks. We had a great time wandering the vendors, picking up a few items and sampling the food offerings.
On Saturday, we visited the Friends of the Hunley Museum. The CSS Hunley was the only true operational submarine in the Civil War. James McClintock, Baxter Watson, and Horace L. Hunley were the inventors and builders of the CSS Hunley. Hunley recognized the importance of breaking the Union blockade and keeping supply lines open to the South. These three developed two prototype submarines, the Pioneer and the American Diver, before creating the Hunley. The Hunley arrived in Charleston on August 12th, 1863, and the crew quickly began testing the Hunley in Charleston Harbor.
On a moonlit night in February, 1864, the crew of the CSS Hunley had the calm sea they had waited for and embarked on their ambitious attack. The target was the USS Housatonic, one of the Union’s mightiest and newest sloops-of-war. The Hunley’s approach was stealthy and by the time they were spotted, it was too late. As the Hunley approached the ship, the alarm sounded and the sailors fired their guns, the bullets pinging off the metal hull of the Hunley. Below the surface, the spar torpedo detonated and the explosion blew a hole in the Housatonic. The sloop sank in less than five minutes, causing the death of five of its 155 crewmen. However, the submarine and crew disappeared into the darkness of the sea.
After fifteen years of searching, on May 3rd, 1995, best-selling author Clive Cussler and his National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), team finally found the submarine. Using a magnetometer, the NUMA crew located a metal object about four miles off the coast of Sullivan’s Island. After diving in nearly 30 feet of water, they removed three feet of sediment to reveal one of the Hunley’s two small conning towers. Bringing the Hunley back to land proved to be an engineering challenge of unprecedented proportions. Further complicating matters was the presence of human remains within the submarine. Friends of the Hunley Chairman Warren Lasch brought together a high caliber team to recover the remains of the crew and restore the Hunley.
Our next campground was Myrtle Beach State Park. This is our favorite campground in Myrtle Beach. It is like a forested oasis in the midst of commercial RV parks. This is a place to relax and enjoy the ocean. We got to walk on the beach for miles as well as ride the multiple bike paths. There was a multitude of geocaches in the area for me to find. One day the air was warm and the waves were high – that made for a perfect day for body surfing in the ocean. What a fun time!
That’s me, body surfing in the wave.
Saturday, April 10th, we pulled out and headed to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point in North Carolina.
We departed from Patrick Space Force Base on Dec 9, 2021 and drove to Sigsbee Island RV Park at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West in one long day. We arrived after dark and, as required by their policy, we spent the night in the office parking lot and checked in first thing in the morning. As opposed to previous years, we would not be rotating between dry camp and full hook-up sites (a process known as rotation or shuffling), but remain in dry camp for our three-month stay. We knew this from the start and were ready, both physically and emotionally.
We were used to arriving later in December and having around a dozen sites from which to choose. This time dry camp looked like a ghost town. I can only remember one time when there were so many vacant sites. On the plus side, there was no waiting in line to use the showers!
Because we were not “shuffling,” we put up more decorations and made our site more permanent than past years. We had a nice site, close to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, with a shade tree – life is good!
We got right into the swing of things. I hooked up with the Navy Chaplain to play at Sunday Chapel services. The Base Chapel is always in need of musicians to lead the music during the Sunday Worship. There was already another guitar player, but he was an air traffic controller and his work schedule prevented him from playing on a regular basis. We picked up a third sailor who played guitar and drum a week before we left. It was a unique situation where I was able to select the songs we would sing every week.
We began our routine of riding our bikes all the way around the island (It is only two miles wide and four miles long), and watching the sunset with friends. Snorkeling is fun here as we could snorkel right off the shore in the campground. I found two new sunken boats with loads of fish around them, including a large Goliath Grouper and a Green Moray Eel. I hadn’t seen these kinds of fish off the campground in past years.
We arrived in Key West in time for the annual Army vs. Navy Game and were able to watch it at the Sunset Lounge, our campground Tiki bar. Unfortunately, Army lost 😦
We wanted to participate in some of the Key West Christmas activities and we were not disappointed. There was a Christmas lighted boat parade, Christmas Trolley Tour, and a bicycle parade through old Key West. We had a great time.
Many parts of Key West were decorated for the Christmas holidays. Key West started out as a fishing village, and developed into a tourist town. This has resulted in some unique decorations, such as this Christmas tree made from crab traps.
Happy hour dining is a long-standing tradition in Key West and we visited some of our favorite haunts. One of our favorites, Turtle Kraals, had gone out of business, but was purchased by the Boathouse. The food and service at the new Boathouse at Turtle Kraals was just as good as at its old location.
Kayaking is always high on our list of fun things to do. We were able to kayak with a couple of different groups. We kayaked in the salt marshes and mangroves behind the Key West airport followed by a lunch at the Hurricane Hole Marina. Later we kayaked with another group through the mangroves at Geiger Key with lunch at the Geiger Key Marina and Fish Camp. It was so much fun to share this activity with other campers. We rediscovered the canal that runs through the base housing area. On windy days, it is a quiet and enjoyable paddle. There are always iguanas hanging out on the trees along the shore, sunning themselves, and a variety of fish.
I normally volunteer as a docent on the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Museum. However, she had been towed to Tampa and dry docked to have repairs made to her hull. She returned on January 1, 2022 and we were on hand to welcome her home. We were surprised when we were pressed into duty to help guide her into her mooring at the Truman Waterfront and help set her mooring lines in place on the wharf. It was a fun night!
We spent the next five weeks cleaning her up and rebuilding all of the display areas. When most of us signed up as volunteers, it was to act as a docent, orienting visitors on the self-guided tour and answering questions. Now there were many other tasks that needed to be done, and we jumped on them. Finally, we had the Ingham open for tours on February 8th and we could put away our brooms, mops, and paint brushes.
Every Friday morning we helped with “Plogging the Keys,” a City of Key West program to keep Key West an attractive vacation destination. In short, we picked up trash! There was a regular group of volunteers (about twelve or more), a mix of residents, snowbirds, and military retirees from the campground, that made a point of giving back to the community. The City of Key West is actually paid a fee for cigarette butts from an organization that recycles these into another product. Harriett and Ray Riendeau took this to the next level and organized a Plogging event to clean the causeway at NAS Key West.
Music has always been a part of our time in Key West. There are entertainers in many of the restaurants and pubs. In the campground, we have a group of amateur musicians that met every Wednesday afternoon for a “jam session” where we took turns leading a song with the group. It was a great opportunity to learn new songs and improve our skills, and just a lot of fun. Sometimes we even had an audience! I discovered later in the season that one of the guitar players was the brother of one of my soldiers in Company F (RANGER), 425th Infantry and was also a retired Michigan Guardsman – what a small world!
After Christmas, a couple of vacationing, drunken bozos thought it would be a good idea to burn a Christmas tree leaning against the iconic Southernmost Point in the USA marker. While the concrete structure was fine, the paint job was ruined. Pat and I happened to ride by one morning when it was partially repainted and had a picture taken with this “work in progress.” By the way, the two bozos were identified by a local bartender that they had given a hard time, and were arrested and fined.
Pat and I either walked through the campground or rode our bikes around the island for exercise almost every morning. In Key West you just never know what you might see as you ride around town.
The Key West Half-Marathon is one of the most popular half marathons in the country. Conducted every year in January (except in 2021, when it was a virtual race), it draws runners, walkers, and wheelchair racers from all over the country. We have volunteered for this event for the last five years, selling merchandise and staffing an aid station (water point) to hydrate the racers. For all but one year, the weather has been challenging. This year had high winds (20+ mph), blowing water over the seawall onto the course. We got soaked! However, we felt we were providing a needed service, and we enjoyed celebrating with the racers at the finish line party.
We celebrated the Super Bowl with a watch party at one of the campsites. Our friend, Rudy, makes this an annual event, projecting the game onto the side of his fifth wheel trailer. Good food and camaraderie, combined with an OK football game, what could be better?
When the Cutter Ingham was towed to Tampa for repairs, it consumed all of the funds that had been raised for a major overhaul and there was a need to rebuild the bank account. To further that goal, I presented a benefit concert at the Southernmost VFW Post. We had a great turnout, mostly from the campground. I was so psyched by having so many friends in the audience to support me! I had modest hopes to raise a couple of hundred dollars and ended up raising $950 – I was thrilled. Needless to say, the crew of the Ingham was thrilled as well.
Pat and some of her friends visited the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, a butterfly park that houses 50 to 60 different species of live butterflies from around the world.
Traditionally the campground would be the scene of many parties. Due to COVID-19, many of these were small get-togethers. In February, we revived an old tradition of the “Sigsbee Shuffle.” This is like a progressive dinner. We would gather at one of the campsites, be treated to drinks and snacks by a team of hosts, and then move on to the next site. Approximately 90+ Shufflers joined in the fun. It felt like old times!
As the end of February approached, some of our friends were going to head Up The Road, also known as UTR. We hosted a UTR party to send them on their way in style. One thing about Sigsbee, there is always something to celebrate!
With every passing day, we saw one friend after another head up the road. Three days before we were scheduled to leave, we were able to move into a full hookup site. Here we were able to give our waste tanks a thorough rinsing, vacuum the carpeting, and a few other maintenance items. On March 10th we made our last goodbyes and headed UP THE ROAD.
Manatee Cove RV Park at Patrick Space Force Base is a nice location. The park itself is right on the shore of the Banana River and a short bike ride away from the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day (or night) you have a great view of launches from the Kennedy Space Center. The downside is that they don’t accept reservations and you drive down with no guarantee of getting a site. We were lucky and we are all set on site #61.
We made contact with a veteran of my old National Guard unit, Company F (RANGER) 425th Infantry. Gary Siedel and his wife, Linda, moved to nearby Melbourne after he retired from the Southfield Fire Department. We shared a meal at the Manatee Cove Marina and an evening of Karaoke at their community clubhouse.
Our oldest granddaughter, Katrina, is enrolled in her freshman year at the University of Central Florida. We couldn’t be this close to her with paying her a visit. We enjoyed having lunch with her and getting a tour of the campus. It’s hard to believe this child I used to rock to sleep is now a young woman, starting out on her own! Unfortunately we were having so much fun together, we forgot to take any pictures.
The shortage of workers is affecting the Outdoor Recreation Department like the rest of the country. It took awhile for them to get activities coordinated, but they overcame that and got activities going as in past years. We now have karaoke once a week in the Community Center and the campground bowling league had its first practice session on November 15th with competition starting on November 20th. The league is fun. While everyone tries to bowl their best game, no one really cares about the score, just having a good time. The league is scheduled on a day when the bowling alley is not open, and we have the place to ourselves. Although no one really cares about the score, it’s pretty bad to get beat by VACANT, a player who isn’t even there!
Outdoor Recreation hosted a Welcome Back Luncheon to kick off the “high” season (when the bulk of the campers are here) and I was able to entertain everyone with a guitar concert while we were waiting for the food to be served. Unfortunately, there were no pictures.
After spending the summer in Washington with almost no rain, we have been blessed with an abundance of it here. Our site is prone to flooding and we have had a small lake next to our door several times. Fortunately, we have a platform so we can sit outside even when the ground is saturated. Thank goodness for small favors!
The Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts at nearby Eastern Florida State College is the venue for many great performances. We have listened to Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas albums for years. Now we were able to watch Mannheim Steamroller give a Christmas performance at the King Center. What a great performance! Watching the musicians was as entertaining as listening to them.
We were considering several options for Thanksgiving dinner when one of our friends suggested that a group of us go to the “Mansion.” That sounded good to us and we couldn’t have been more thrilled. Tony and Lori invited their neighbors, Josh and Cassandra. While the Mansion was very busy, we had a small alcove all to ourselves. The food was delicious and the portions were huge! All of us took leftovers home with us. After our meal, we retired to Tony and Lori’s RV for a game of Dominoes. We had introduced them to Dominoes the week before and Tony fell in love with the game!
We discovered that Josh and Cassandra were also kayakers. Consequently, we invited both couples to join us for kayaking in the Thousand Islands at Ramp Road. We enjoyed paddling the trail through the mangroves and we checked the homes that none of us could afford in some nearby canals.
I enjoy entertaining with my guitar and I followed up my performance at the Welcome Luncheon with another performance in our Community Center. We had about twenty people show up and it was a good night for all.
One of the benefits of staying on the Space Coast is the opportunity to watch launches from the Kennedy Space Center. For nighttime launches, we only have to walk to the north end of the campground for a clear view of the launch. I want to thank my friend, Jim Belisle, who is a better photographer and has better equipment than I do for these terrific shots.
Every year Wickham Park, part of the Brevard County park system, hosts a fundraiser for the local Boy Scouts with their Space Coast Christmas Light Fest. One of the weekends is set aside as a “stroll though,” with no cars allowed. Two of our Key West friends, Steve and Kathleen, joined us for this. We started with a meal from a group of food trucks and then walked the 1.1 miles of lighted displays. It was a pleasant night for it and we had a wonderful time.
One of the last things we did was to visit the crafts fair at Historic Cocoa with Tony and Lori. There were plenty of shops and street music. One of the treasures we left with was a small steel drum. The jury is still out on how well I can play it!
Eventually, our time at Patrick SPB came to an end. We pulled out on December 9th and headed south to the Southernmost point in the USA – Key West.
We love going back to Michigan for several reasons. Not only do we enjoy Michigan as a pleasant place to stay, but a lot of our family and many of our friends are still here. We also maintain our doctors, dentist, and financial advisor here.
Our first stop was in Grand Rapids. Our “go to” campground for this area is Woodchip Campground. Woodchip is like a wilderness oasis in a residential neighborhood. Here we feel like we are “up north” but have a short drive to shopping.
We had my cousin, Barb, and her husband, Karl, join us for lunch so we could catch up on what they have been doing. We are close friends with two of Pat’s high school classmates and we were able to meet them for dinner at a local pub. They had recently returned from a river cruise in Europe. Their stories got us thinking about taking another cruise sooner rather than later!
Our next stop was Bad Axe where we “moochdocked” in Pat’s brother’s backyard. Geri and his wife, Marcia, are always great hosts. I was able to wash our trailer and truck and get some other small maintenance items completed. It is so much fun to crawl under the trailer to grease our suspension! Pat and Marcia shared the meals and Geri and I did the grilling. One of our “go to” RV dealers is Marlette RV, south of Bad Axe. We arranged for them to check and repack the seals on the trailer wheels on the day we moved from Bad Axe to Lansing. Marlette RV is very dependable. If you find yourself in the Michigan Thumb and need RV repairs or service, check them out.
Our final stop in Michigan was where we started our RV journey over ten years ago, Lansing, MI. Our favorite campground here is Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Once a KOA, it is now family owned and the staff does a great job. We make an annual pilgrimage here to see our doctors, dentist, and financial advisor. Between initial examinations, test, and follow-ups we were pretty busy. Of course, we had time to see our son, David, at our favorite pizza place. Our friends, Sue and Gary Aten had us over for dinner as well. My sister, Susan, drove down from Canadian Lakes to join Dave and us for lunch. After a week taking care of business, we began our drive south to Florida.
Our plan was to stay at Patrick Space Force Base’s RV park, Manatee Cove, before we continued on to Key West. The problem was that Manatee Cove doesn’t take reservations. We really didn’t want to drive down there and find there were no sites available. We decided we had to “sprint” from Michigan.
We drove 1,256 miles with a Walmart stop in Lancaster, OH, a KOA campground in Wytheville, VA, another Walmart in Walterboro, SC.
Finally we made it! We pulled into Manatee Cove shortly before noon on our fifth day (Oct 18) on the road, and were able to get a nice site. There were eight sites open, but only two that we liked. It was good to get somewhere to stay for a while. We had a busy afternoon washing the bugs off the front of the trailer, borrowing a mower to mow the grass on our site. (Yes, the park does it, but no one knows when they will get around to it and the camp host had a loaner.)
We are here until December 9th when we will move to NAS Key West. We are hanging out, doing some serious relaxing. This is the first time we have stopped for more than a week since we left Washington on September 7th.We have already met two other couples that we know from previous stays and are looking forward to some kayaking, rocket launches, and some beach time with swimming in the Atlantic.
We left Camp Murray on the Tuesday after Labor Day (September 7). We had a variety of stops planned, some quick overnights in truck stops and Walmarts, combined with longer stays in established campgrounds.
Our first significant stop was in Montana. A couple of years ago we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a wine tasting and rafting trip on the Clark Fork River with Pangaea River Rafting in Superior, MT, near Missoula. We decided to try their white water rafting this time. I have decided one benefit of rafting late in the season is you may be the only ones in the raft! On both trips, we signed up for a public trip and ended up getting a private trip.
Our river guide was Holli and she was great, very professional and personable. She kept us entertained with a running commentary on the river and other sights. The water levels were lower than spring and early summer, but it was still fun. The water may not have been as fast, but there were more rocks exposed, or just below the surface. That made it entertaining. This river trip included a lunch on shore. Holli pulled us onto a small beach and proceeded to get things set up while Pat and I explored along the shore. What a delicious lunch! Grilled chicken salad with chocolate brownies, made fresh that morning for dessert!
We camped at the nearby Quartz Flats National Forest Campground. This is a unique campground in that you enter it through a highway rest area. There are loops of the campground on both the east and westbound sides with a tunnel that connects them. There are no utilities in the campground so we fired up our generators for electrical power.
After two overnights in a truck stop in Bozeman, MT and a Walmart in Sheridan, WY, we arrived at Ellsworth AFB in Box Elder, SD. This was not a random stop. We are members of Americas Mailbox, a mail forwarding service that provides us with a legal physical address as well as forwarding our mail. We have to stop in South Dakota once every five years to renew our driver licenses. We drove to the Americas Mailbox office to pick up our mail and then to the Driver License Bureau to renew our licenses. Now that the important stuff was completed, we could relax. If you like aviation history, Box Elder is home to its own Air and Space Museum. It is quite impressive and includes a B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers in its outdoor display.
After four nights at Ellsworth, we left on September 16th. We spent an overnight in a Walmart in Sioux Falls before we arrived at the Veterans Memorial Campground in LaCrosse, WI.
This is a county-run campground on a first-come, first-served basis. We had no problem getting a nice site, but we had called several times to make sure there would be sites available before we arrived.
Wisconsin has a series of state-operated bicycle trails, based on old railroad lines. The LaCrosse River Trail has a short connecting trail from the campground, so Pat and I rode our bikes from the campground into LaCrosse. After wandering around the downtown area for a while, we had pizza at Polito’s, a very minimalist, but welcoming establishment and rode back home. It was about a twenty-six mile round trip.
The last time we came this way we camped on an island in the Mississippi River and kayaked in the main channel of the Mississippi. This time we paddled the Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail through the backwaters of the Mississippi. What a difference! I dropped Pat and the kayaks off at our launch point, dropped off the truck at our take-out point and rode my bike back to the start. We were on small canals through hammocks and grasslands. Between the directional signs and my GPS, we were able to stay on course. It was a nice way to see a different part of this historic river.
On our way back to the campground, we stopped at Grandad Bluff. This commanding viewpoint overlooks the entire LaCrosse area. From this vantage point, you can see forever! There are several picnic areas in the complex, including a shelter at the highest peak.
We left LaCrosse on September 21st to drive to Milwaukee. There is only one RV park in Milwaukee and that is the State Fairgrounds. If you are looking for a campground in a natural, wooded setting, this is not it! It is essentially a parking lot with water and electrical hookups. As bad as this may sound, it was perfect for what we wanted. Pat’s sister, Mary Lee, and her family live in Milwaukee and their daughter, Ashley, works for Summerfest, an annual music festival in Milwaukee. In our planning, we thought that the last weekend of Summerfest would be while we were there. Well our planning was off and we missed it by a week! However, Ashley gave us a tour of the Summerfest grounds.
The State Fairgrounds are right off of another one of Wisconsin’s bicycle trails, the Hank Aaron State Trail. Before we could use the trail, I had to get one of Pat’s bike wheels replaced. I had contacted a local shop called “Wheel & Sprocket” while we were in Washington. They set aside the proper wheel and were ready for me when I brought the bike in. They had it done the next day and had adjusted the brakes for no additional charge. If you are ever looking for a good bike shop in Milwaukee, I heartily recommend “Wheel & Sprocket.”
We enjoyed our time with Mary Lee and on Sunday, September 26th, we left for Michigan.
Camp Murray is our favorite of the three and I hesitate to tell everyone about this hidden gem. It is tucked away on the shores of American Lake. The shoreline of the campground is a channel between the mainland and Barlow Island. This channel is blocked by mooring buoys, making it a safe place for swimming and other kid activities.
All of the sites are full hookup sites and, with a couple of exceptions, are pretty spacious. When we first arrived we were fortunate to get into site A-1. I consider this to be the best site in the park and could not believe we were lucky enough to get it. It is right on the lake and your door opens directly onto the beach area. Later in our stay, we moved to C-5 on the back row. The “backyard” areas here are huge with three community fire pits.
As opposed to the other two parks that are limited to 14-day stays, you can get a reservation at Camp Murray for up to 30-days. When your time is up you have to leave for a minimum of three days before you can return. Another benefit is that you can wash and do maintenance on your RV in the park, which is not allowed at Lewis or McChord.
American Lake is a popular destination for boating. Many of the service members live in the housing areas near the lake and take advantage of this great recreational resource. A marina on base supports JBLM families. Weekends find the portion of the lake surrounded by JBLM property a popular spot for boaters to relax and swim. We like to kayak in the lake and found some of the best blackberry plants along the shore for easy picking.
A special attraction of Camp Murray is the opportunity to watch military exercises on American Lake. We have been able to watch helicopter helo-casting by the 2nd Ranger Battalion and helicopter personnel recovery winch operations.
At Camp Murray, there is a green space between two rows of campsites that forms a natural amphitheater. I took advantage of this to present two folk music performances to our little RV community.
We enjoyed bicycling in the area. From Camp Murray, it was a short ride over Freedom Bridge to Lewis Main (the old Fort Lewis) and Unity Bridge connects Lewis Main to McChord Field. Most of the roads in the area have paved bike/walking paths or bike lanes on the roads. On occasion, we would combine our biking with shopping at the Base Exchange or Commissary.
Obviously, we enjoyed our time at Camp Murray. The staff is friendly and cooperative. It was fun having the family join us for fun in the water and dinner.
However, in life all good things come to an end and we hooked up our trailer and started our journey east on September 7th.
The “Go To” hiking in the Seattle/Tacoma area is Mount Rainer. There are great trails there and the sights are truly amazing. However, it is a long drive to get to these trails and I wanted to check out some of the local trails.
The Sequalitchew Creek Trail is in the small town of DuPont, right across I-5 from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This is a short trail, (3-mile round trip). The transition from urban to forest and back provides a great distraction from the buzz of urban life.
From the City Hall parking lot, I followed a little trail down through a forested canyon for about one and a half miles. I searched for and discovered several geocaches along the trail. The cool green tunnel was welcome respite on a hot day. At the end of the trail, there is a pebbled beach where there are old rail lines. I took a break for lunch and relaxed while watching the boat traffic in the Tacoma Narrows. Further out on the horizon, I saw some great views of Puget Sound and the mountains beyond.
The Nisqually River Delta, a biologically rich and diverse area at the southern end of Puget Sound, supports a variety of habitats. Here, the freshwater of the Nisqually River combines with the saltwater of Puget Sound to form an estuary rich in nutrients and detritus. These nutrients support a web of sea life – the benefits which extend throughout Puget Sound and beyond.
The Refuge is located eight miles east of Olympia and has four miles of trails. The one–mile accessible Twin Barns Loop Trail is open year round. The Nisqually Estuary Trail is four-mile round trip from the Visitor Center. A portion of this trail is closed seasonally during the waterfowl hunting season. The trails provide views of wildlife habitats and access to observation platforms, a tower, and blind.
Our daughter, Elisabeth, has been out here before and she took Pat and me along to show us the sights. A lot of this refuge is reclaimed land formed when dams and levees were built to create a rich farmland. Eventually the farm failed as a result of many factors and the National Wildlife Refuge was established. Although the visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, the trails were open. The tidal area had a lot of wading birds as well as other wildlife.
I hiked the Outer Loop Trail (4.3 miles). This is the longest trail in the park. I wanted to try out a new backpack and thought this would be a good shakedown for it. The trail is well established and well marked. This trail is used by many walkers, hikers, and runners. Even though it is located in north Tacoma it has the same feeling of many of the trails at Mount Rainer. The views across the Tacoma Narrows are scenic. The deer in the area are very used to people and did not dart off into the trees when I happened across them.
Point Defiance is also home to the Point Defiance Zoo and the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. The original Fort Nisqually was located in nearby DuPont, home to the Sequalitchew Creek Trail. This replica was built in the 1930’s by the Work Progress Administration (WPA) as a part of the larger Point Defiance Park. The fort is staffed with re-enactors that demonstrate living in the frontier Pacific Northwest.
After spending two months in the south Tacoma (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) area we decided for a change of scenery and traveled to Westport on the Pacific coast. What a change in temperature! We went from hot to generally cool temperatures. Depending on the winds, it got downright cold for short periods.We stayed at the American Sunset RV Park and Campground. Our daughter, Elisabeth, and our daughter-in-law, Sandra, and our granddaughters, Katrina, Clarissa, and Sierra, joined us. Sunset is a nice park, right in the town of Westport, making it very convenient for a number of reasons. The twins, Clarissa and Sierra, are doing summer workouts for fall cross-country; Pat and I like to ride our bikes in the morning; and it is a short drive to shops and dining.
We started out walking along the shore at the entrance to Half-Moon Bay. This wall of boulders is a big line of defense against storm winds and erosion. To say it was fun traversing the boulders was an understatement; our granddaughters love to climb on rocks!
There was an unloaded freighter riding at anchor in the bay, but the big attraction was a kite-boarder. We watched him preparing his rig on the beach and then heading downwind. Even though he was wearing a wetsuit, he still looked COLD!
Sandra and Katrina (oldest granddaughter) had to go back home after a few days. The next day we took the twins kayaking on the John’s River, east of town. It was a great day for kayaking. The current was light enough that we could paddle up and down stream with little effort. On our way back to the boat ramp, we turned off the main channel and wandered through some side channels for a little adventure.
One afternoon, Pat, Elisabeth, granddaughter Sierra, and I hiked some of the trails at Twin Harbors State Park. There is a good-sized network of trails in the park. They pass by some of the campground, the inner dune zone, and onto the beach. The beaches in Washington are busy places. You can expect to see picnickers, clammers (people digging for clams), vehicles driving on the beach, and surfers. Making makeshift shelters from driftwood is also a popular activity.
One afternoon I rode my bike to the Westport Maritime Museum. I am the big museum person in the group and visited this one on my own while the rest relaxed at the RV park. The museum occupies the old Coast Guard Station. This building provided the office and living spaces for the Coast Guardsmen who operated the station. The displays described the life of the Coast Guard and the fishing community in Westport. For me the highlight of the visit was in the building that used to house the lifeboats – it now holds a display of the Destruction Island Lighthouse lens. The Fresnel (pronounced Fruh-nel) Lens was a revolutionary improvement to lighthouses. This unique lens focused a relatively small light so it could be seen for miles. A First Order Lens is the largest and used to mark hazards to ships. The smallest is a Sixth Order Lens and is used to mark docks and other structures in a harbor. The museum has a First Order Lens that has been fully restored. This is the only First Order Lens I have ever seen up close and personal. The docent on duty did an excellent job of explaining the lenses and their uses. For a lighthouse fanatic like me, it was an excellent visit.
That afternoon our son, Scott, joined us and the next day we drove south to Willapa Bay to kayak on Smith Creek. The paddling was great. We paddled upstream until we ran into a logjam that we couldn’t cross. If the tide had been in, we might have been able to explore farther upstream. We paddled downstream until we found a tributary and turned into that. We eventually ran into a dead end and headed back to our launch site. Overall, it was a good time.
On Saturday, we went to the beach at the Westport Light State Park. Going to the beach in Washington is not like going to the beach in Florida. There weren’t many sunbathers as there wasn’t much sun and it was a cool day. There were many surfers as a lot of the local shops offer surfing classes on the weekends. There were strong winds and we brought our kites along to fly. After our time at the beach, we went to the downtown area for ice cream cones. A fitting end to a good day.
Sunday, we packed up and drove to the Holiday Park FAMCAMP at McChord AFB. While at McChord, we reorganized and repacked some of our gear that we used at Westport and relaxed. We had a mobile RV repair come out to work on our air conditioner and, fortunately, it was an easy fix and they were able to repair it onsite.
A week later, we were back at Camp Murray. Our next move will start our journey to Michigan.