Tag Archives: travel

A Day-to-Day Guide to the Alaska Highway

How to Drive it in 6 Days at a Moderate Pace

So…  you are thinking seriously about going after the Road Trip of a Lifetime… and maybe you are having anxiety issues thinking about all that could happen.

I’ve said this before: Yukon Do It!

When Kaye and I made our epic journey towing our 28-foot fifth wheel, we had our copy of Mileposts and our paper maps in the truck cab and referred to them constantly… and everything went just fine.  We didn’t have any problems, going or coming.

Our first camp north of the border was at Chilliwack, BC

But it would have been so much easier if we had had the piece I am writing for you right now —  a daily guide that would connect the dots from Point A to Point B each day.  Well here it is.

Before You Start.

First of all, make sure your vehicles are in good condition.  Have a mechanic replace any worn belts or hoses and change the oil in your tow vehicle.  Tires should be in like-new condition all the way around with a good spare on hand.

Take a supply of cash along with your credit cards which may or may not work at some road houses.  There are ATM’s in a few spots along the way delivering Canadian currency, of course.

Get used to navigating without your cellphone.  You are not likely to have service except in a few towns.  Weak wifi can be found at a few RV parks so each night you can plot your map apps for the next day (GPS may work when wifi doesn’t).


Getting to Mile Zero

The official Alaska Highway begins at Dawson Creek in northern British Columbia.  When we did it we had to drive 1,900 miles from Ventura, California and it took us 8 days.  Just to get to the START of the Alcan.  We stayed at Northern Lights RV Park on the hill west of the town of Dawson Creek.

The official start of the Alaska Highway, mile zero.

Day 1:  Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson.  282 miles.

Stock up on provisions before leaving Dawson Creek; you won’t find another good market for several days.

Fill the tank, then drive your first 101 miles to the Esso at Wonowon, BC.  Fill up again.

Drive 181 miles over easy hills and through forests on wide open highway to Fort Nelson. We chose the Triple G RV park for our overnight.  The power grid ends at Fort Nelson.

We passed roadhouses that had been closed, some for a very long time.

Day 2:  Fort Nelson to Coal River (or Watson Lake)  225 (or 319) miles

Fill up the tank and head uphill from Fort Nelson.  You will be topping a high pass a couple of hours in; remember to engine brake – downshift to second gear – on the downgrades to save your brakes.  This section takes awhile if you are towing a heavy rig; your speed will be down to 35 MPH on winding mountain roads.

At 118 miles stop at Toad River for fuel… and lunch if you want.

The restaurant at Toad River Lodge has 6,800 baseball caps on the ceiling!

Drive another 107 miles to Coal River Lodge, Muncho Lake BC, a lonely outpost in the wilderness.  Basic services are available including diesel fuel and at the restaurant inside, their signature buffalo burger at a ridiculous price (everything north of Dawson Creek will be expensive).  There is a bare bones campground with 20-amp electricity and a laundromat – all run from a generator onsite.

We had the campground to ourselves at Coal River Lodge for the night.
The pies and the buffalo burgers were all home cooked by Donna at Coal River Lodge.

We found friendly owners and had a great time at Coal River, but not everybody will like the spartan accommodations that haven’t been upgraded since the place was built in the 1940’s.  If it is not to your liking, fuel up and head for the Downtown RV Park at Watson Lake another 101 miles.

Day 3:  Coal River to White Horse, Yukon Territory.  359 miles

Fuel up.  This is a more ambitious jaunt, with two stops.  First drive 101 miles to Watson Lake  (if you didn’t go there last night).  Tour the Sign Forest in the middle of town and fuel up at the Tags station at the west end of town where there is a deli with deep fried delights and a little store.  You will be criss-crossing the BC/YT border a couple of times today.

We added our sign to 70,000 others at the Sign Forest at Watson Lake, YT.

Drive on through the forests and hills to Teslin where you can fuel up again at the Yukon Motel & Restaurant (ATM) or Mesutlin Trading Post.  Then on to White Horse and the Pioneer RV Park where you might get wifi.

If you have any mechanical issues, you might find help in White Horse.

Alaska Mountains edit 0042
The road mostly follows the valleys between the mountains and is a relatively easy drive.

Day 4:  White Horse to White River.  249 miles

Fuel up and head west to Haines Junction.  We experienced some awful roads and construction in this section, but maybe it is all fixed by now.

Fuel up again and continue to White River and the Yukon Lodgings Campground which is easy to miss on the left after a bend in the road in the middle of nowhere.  There is no town (keep an eye on your mileage and watch for it).  If you come out of the woods and cross a river and come to Beaver Creek, you just passed it; maybe just stay at Beaver Creek where there is a motel and an almost RV park. Basically a parking lot.

There is no end of beautiful scenery along the Alaska Highway.

Day 5:  White River YT  to Delta Junction AK.  249 miles

Fuel up at Beaver Creek, then head across the U.S. border and at 142 miles stop at Tok.  Fuel up at Chevron or Shell or Tesoro.

Head west to Delta Junction another 107 miles and maybe camp at the Alaska RV Ranch.

Congratulation!  You have just completed the official Alaska Highway, approximately 1,365 miles!

However, you are still in the middle of nowhere.  So…

Day 6:  Delta Junction to Denali National Park.  244 miles (through Fairbanks AK)

If you go southwest through Anchorage, add another 100 or so miles.

The Alaska Range escorts you toward Fairbanks.  You don’t have to drive over those mountains.

At Fairbanks or Anchorage, stock up on provisions at the Fred Meyer store, because everything at Glitter Gulch (the tourist village a mile from the entrance of Denali National Park) will cost at least TWICE the price and many items will not be available at all!

Congrats again, and check this off your bucket list!  You have covered the Alaska Highway – and beyond, a distance of 1,580 miles (by way of Fairbanks).

Two dozen shops, outfitters and eateries line the boardwalk at “Glitter Gulch”.

We stayed at Rainbow Village RV Park behind the row of log cabin shops on the east side of the highway in Glitter Gulch (affectionately called “the Canyon” by the locals).  It is not actually an incorporated municipality so your map app won’t find it.  Try searching for Healy, a small town north of the Canyon a few miles, or try Denali National Park; you’ll only be off by a mile.

We stayed about six weeks, hiking and biking around the area and venturing into Denali National Park for hiking and sightseeing.  Then we took 11 days to make the return trip down to Lincoln Nebraska, then home to Michigan a few days later.  We covered about 7,500 miles over all.

Now you only have to make it back down!

So are you going to do it?

I would love to know what you are thinking.  Let me know in the comments below.

Denali edit _0006
Denali – the mountain – is still 90 miles away.  Take the park bus for a closer look.

Disclaimer:  Though I have done my best to update and verify this information since our own trip, things can change from season to season along the Alaska Highway.  (We found that even the Mileposts resource was inaccurate at a couple of points.)  You are responsible for your safety and accommodations on this road trip of a lifetime!

Have fun!

12 Wild Places Where I Have Spent the Night… in no particular order

For a guy who has spent much of his life on one adventure after another, this could be a really long list.  To narrow it down, I will post only my favorites…. and tell why they have special appeal to me.  Since I am a quiet laid-back guy, most of these are away from the crowds and the noise of the popular parks and resorts.

Valley of the Gods, Utah.

The desert landscape is remarkable enough; it is an extension of the iconic Monument Valley Tribal Park a few miles away.  But when the sun sets you discover you are in Dark Sky country.  The Milky Way is dazzling above and hanging over the nearby cliffs.

My free campsite was just below a huge butte and there wasn’t a level spot to park, so I drove onto some rocks to level the camper for the night.  Complete solitude.  And almost unnerving silence.

Valley of Gods pickup campsite crop


Bob V.O.G. Milky Way corner fix 2


Hole-In-The-Rock Road, Escalante, Utah

After spending a rainy afternoon at Devil’s Garden, I drove a couple of miles farther down the washboard road and found a flat spot on the open prairie across from Dinosaur Tracks road.  This is boon docking – no facilities.  No problem, I am self-contained with the truck camper.  And all alone for the night.

pickup at Devil's Garden
On a rainy day at Devil’s Garden near Escalante, Utah, I was glad not to be camping in a tent.



Pacific Coast Highway, Seacliff, California

It is hard to find places where one can camp on the beach.  Especially on the west coast.  This park is two miles long and about 20 feet wide.  Everybody gets a 40-foot-long space to park for the night and our rig fit exactly from bumper to bumper.   You can walk the beach for miles.  No hookups.  Again, no problem.

Seacliff overnight CA _0007



Coal River Lodge, Coal River, Yukon Territory

I think this was one of the most remote campsites we ever stayed at on our epic trek along the Alaska Highway.  At Milepost 533, Coal River is one of the original Roadhouses built to accommodate the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942-1943 and is beyond the reach of the electric grid.  They were generating their own power while we were there.  We had the campground to ourselves with hookups to water and electricity.




Denali Canyon “Glitter Gulch”, Parks Highway, Alaska

After driving up from southern California, we were fortunate to find a campsite at the Rainbow Village RV Park right behind the coffee shop where our daughter was working every summer.  We stayed half the summer, biking the canyon and hiking the ridges and peaks surrounding the village.  A highlight was backcountry hiking with two of my daughters inside Denali National Park.

The RV was nestled snugly behind the row of log cabin tourist shops, a great base of operations.


Wendi could write her own story about “wild” places she has stayed the night.  She spent 12 summers in a row in this dry cabin near Denali.


Dauphin Island, Alabama

One winter we set out to camp only on islands where we could walk the beaches all winter long.  Dauphin Island was our choice for the month of January and we were camped in the woods a short walk from the gulf beach and historic Fort Gaines.

Dauphin Island beach edit 2480
The beaches along the Gulf are white sand.  Dolphins cavort just offshore.

Dauphin Island campsite

Fort Gaines surrendered to the Union Navy during the Civil War.


South Manitou Island, Leland, Michigan

This is one of my favorite backpacking spots that’s not far from my home in Michigan.  The island is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and is run by the NPS.  It is entirely covered with hardwood forests or perched sand dunes.  The extensive network of hiking trails can thoroughly exhaust even the most hearty of souls.  As a lifelong adventure sport director, I have been there several times with groups of kids.

Hobo dinners are wrapped in foil and cooked directly on the campfire.  No pans, no grill, no problem.




The Cove, Samana, Dominican Republic

What I liked about our winter vacation rental on the beach was not the infinity pool or the air-conditioned condo, but the close interaction with the natives.  Many resorts are isolated and walled away from the locals meaning you miss a lot of the indigenous flavor.  Our beach was shared with the fishermen and their kids.  We were able to walk to the local tienda for a cold Coke and provisions for cooking our own meals.  Local shuttles would take us to the nearest village for a few cents.


DR edit 0128

DR edit 0017


Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan

The lighthouse is staffed by teams of volunteers who spend two weeks living in the original light keepers’ quarters and running the gift shop, museum and tower which is open for a fews hours every day.  The rest of the time we are free to hike the dunes or splash in the refreshing waters of Lake Michigan.


Volunteers take turns preparing meals for each other in the old kitchen.  Also the best place to get wifi.


Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan

We used to live about an hour’s drive from this park so we got to know it pretty well.  One of our favorite things was when we were lucky enough to get one of the campsites that are right on the shore with our rear bumper almost hanging over the beach.  The water is shallow and stays warm in the fall so we would often wait till after Labor Day when the kids were back in school and there was plenty of elbow room in the park.



Sierra Madre Mountains Trek, Central Mexico

I usually avoid the resorts when I want an authentic experience and hiking in the mountains of Mexico is one I have been able to do several times.  Usually I have been directing a group of youths on a cross-cultural experience.  The organic nature of this kind of adventure means that we eat the local foods and use the local outhouses. –  if there are outhouses.  Fun!

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Redwoods National Park, California

Okay, I have spent the night in at least 15 of the most amazing national parks.  That could be a list all of its own.  But the Redwoods were so remarkable I had to mention them.  We pulled into a deserted county park in the redwood forest late at night and weaved our way between the giant trees that showed in the headlights.  We found a spot to set up the tents and went to sleep.  Climbing out of the tents in the morning, we were rendered speechless at the fantasy land that surrounded us.  Nothing tops this.  Huge!

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Well, this listing is just a sampling of the wild places where I have stayed.  It makes me sad to leave out a whole bunch of wonderful places.  Maybe I should  write a Part Two including Glacier National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the over-water bungalow in the Maldive Islands…  and so on.

I would be interested in hearing about a wild place you have stayed in the comments below.  Do tell!


Note:  Header photo at the top is Butler Wash, Bluff, Utah, banked by cliffs on both sides and sheltering many ancient cliff dwellings nestled on the ledges and alcoves.

If Variety is the Spice of Life, I am a Well-Seasoned Soul

I have been skinny-dipping at night immersed in the glowing bioluminescence of an island lagoon in the Indian Ocean (Sorry, no photo).  Green “sparks” darted in all directions when I splashed my arms in the warm tropical water.

I have crawled around in the “wild” (non-commercial) caves of Southern Indiana and played fluorescent frisbee in the Monument Room, a cavern the length of a football field and over a mile from the entrance of Buckners Cave.

1986 album pic.46
Some of my sixth-graders posed in the Monument Room of Buckner’s Cave.

I have been frightened by the steep descent on the edge of the cliffs after topping Summit Pass heading across the Yukon Territory on the Alaska Highway, my 3-1/2-ton RV pushing me toward the sharp turn and the cold lake below the drop-off at the bottom of the grade, second gear engine braking all the way.  Whew!


I guess I am one of those restless people who can’t sit still for too long before needing a change of scenery.  For most of my life I satisfied by wanderlust with summer camping trips and weekend getaways.  Later, Kaye and I took to the road full-time.

My kids loved all that “variety” and became world travelers.  And now my grandkids are getting a chance to experience the great wonders that our amazing world has to offer.


I hope you are following your dreams – and the open road, if that’s part of it for you.

Have fun and be safe!

Life Hacks #1: Trying Stuff Out

When I was 16 years old and expected to choose a direction for my life,  I was a bit nervous about making a bad choice and ruining my life.  By high school graduation day everyone is supposed to have made up their minds and be heading off to college, the military, or “entering the workforce” – which meant going and getting a job right away.

Young people are expected to make most of their epic life-directing decisions between 16 and 21 years old:  Picking a career, choosing a life-mate, finding the right home, etc.  It’s down-right frightening.  No wonder many choose to put off those decisions as long as possible.

I chose to get a four-year education degree and headed off for college.  Four years later, right on schedule, I married my college sweetheart and we both applied for teaching positions in her home town and were both hired on the spot.

I went into teaching not even knowing if I liked kids.  Fortunately, my long-term worries – about going the wrong direction and ruining my life – were  resolved:  I loved my new career (Kaye says I am just a big kid anyway, so working with students was a lot like playing with my friends) and stuck with it for 27 years until I could take an early buy-out and switch careers.

That was when I started a log home construction company, hired a crew of carpenters, and started building log homes all around the state of Michigan.  I was now self-employed and working with my hands as opposed to sitting in a classroom every weekday.

And the change was wonderful.  I found that I loved the flexible schedule and working outdoors much of the time.  I was the boss.


My approach to the journey of life has relaxed over time.  Looking back, I realize that if  during my first teaching assignment I had discovered that I hated working with children, my life would not have been ruined.  I would have changed directions and tried something else.

And as a youth mentor for most of my adult life, I have often shared this sage advice:  How will you really know who you are and what you like to do unless you try stuff out?  If something doesn’t work for you, you simply chalk it up to experience, make a shift and head somewhere else.

Monday, March 19, 2007 (34)
Fortunately for me, being a youth mentor meant playing with my friends!

Really, the biggest hindrance to this philosophy is when you become embedded in a job and a routine that you grow to hate and you are so much in debt that you can’t afford to make a change.

Okay, maybe your life is miserable for now, but you are not really stuck there.  It may seem like it takes forever, but you can dig yourself out and move on.

When Kaye and I got the travel bug, we owned too much property and owed too much money to even consider a change.  Debt is like a ball-and-chain that anchors you to one spot.  But with careful and determined effort we were able to shed our burdens and free ourselves.  We sold some acreage, put renters in the house and hit the road.  Two years later we sold the place and went full time in the RV.  Our former fetters shrank and vanished in the rearview mirror.


Then we applied the same principles to our gypsy life:  How to decide where to go?  Try stuff out.  Don’t like the big cities?  Take the backroads.  Don’t like driving?  Take the plane.  Don’t like air travel?  Take the train.  Don’t like the over-populated RV parks?  Try the state and national forest campgrounds.  And so on and so on.

And finally, don’t like being away from the grandkids for so long?  Head back home and park in their backyard!

And what’s the end product?  In the middle of a lifetime of trying things out, you end up knowing what you like and mostly doing what you want.  And that’s the best way to live.



September Solitude in Michigan’s U.P.

One nice thing about the late summer and early fall is that summer vacation has ended and the kids are back in school so the parks are virtually empty and it’s easier to find a campsite.  Traffic is thinning out at the popular attractions and the pace is relaxed.

The second blessing is that the lakes are still warm enough for a refreshing dip.  The water of the Great Lakes cools down more slowly than the air temperature in the fall, so though the days are cool and comfortable and nights are getting chilly, the water is still enjoyable.

Here are some quiet spots where you will likely find the crowds thinning out after Labor Day.

Whitefish Point

There is a world-class Shipwreck Museum that’s part of the complex at Whitefish Point Lighthouse north of Paradise.  The state forest campgrounds are still open into October, and there are abundant vacation rentals and cabins in the area.

Whitefish Point HDR boost

Want a historical adventure?  Stay overnight at the old Coast Guard Station at Whitefish Point.

Crisp Point Lighthouse

It’s best not to attempt the road to Crisp Point with a low-slung sedan.  You’ll be bottoming out several times on the one-lane 19-mile logging road that is rough and sandy and takes an hour to drive one way.

Your reward for the tedious drive is a remote lighthouse on a mostly deserted stony beach.  The site is tended by volunteers who stay in their campers next to the beach.

Crisp Point Lighthouse edit
Rock hounds love the pickin’s at Crisp Point.

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

The trailhead to the isolated lighthouse is at the Hurricane River Campground that is part of the large Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  The 1.5-mile hiking trail hugs the shore just above the rock ledges and stony beach.  The road through the national lakeshore is nicely paved but winding, so your average speed will be about 35 mph getting there.  Don’t rush.

Au Sable Point HDR boost

AuTrain Bay, AuTrain

This tranquil shoreline is super easy to reach as highway 28 runs right along the lake here just a few miles west of the little village of Christmas.  Pull off at one of the beautiful roadside parks where there are restrooms and running water.

The sandy beach is walkable for nearly a mile and the water is shallow enough for wading and swimming.  Rocky outcroppings bookend the beach at both ends.


Scott Falls is visible from the highway, but pull into the roadside park at the east end of the bay for an easy walk across the road to this personable little falls where you can walk right up to it… or behind it.  On a warm day it may seem to invite a shower, but you are in for a bit of a shock, as the water is not as warm as the lake.

Scott's Falls lomo

This is a great time of year to explore the wilderness of northern Michigan, but the window of opportunity is short.  By October 1st the lake will likely cool beyond the tolerable range and a tranquil dip in Lake Superior will be out of the question.  Snow isn’t unheard of in this part of the world during the month of October, and the warm pasties will warm body and soul at the local restaurants in Munising.

So get while the gettin’ is good.

Life’s a Trip – When You Are Alone

Life’s a Trip, Part 5

Not everybody likes to be alone.  Extroverts and socialites have a hard time understanding why anyone would go out of their way to be by themselves.  But introverts and loners get it.  Sometimes it requires solitude to refuel the emotional tank, and there is nothing lonely about it.

I have lived in urban locations where the only place I could be alone was sitting on the toilet.  But that’s doesn’t satisfy if you are anxious in small spaces.

These are some locations where I have been able to find solitude outside of the bathroom.  Some of these take a lot of effort to get to, while others just take some strategic planning and/or timing.

The Alaska Highway

Yukon mountains
The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of rugged mountains, valleys, forest and tundra.

Okay, this is a big challenge.  You will have to block out a couple of weeks to make this drive… and that’s just one way.  Double that if you are driving it both out and back.

The aloneness that I sensed in the middle of the Yukon was so intense that it made me nervous.  Hundreds of miles to the nearest mechanic.  But if you want to be alone, you will have your way out here.  Sometimes, when I would pull back onto the highway after a fuel stop or overnight camp, I would look both directions for traffic and not see another vehicle.  Not one, as far as the eye could see.

I think your solitude quota will be satisfied easily while you travel the Alaska Highway.

We had the campground entirely to ourselves at Coal River Roadhouse, Yukon Territory.

For more on the Alaska Highway, read my related post here.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

SBDNL solitude edit

This is a popular northwest lower Michigan destination for families with kids.  Try hiking,  beach combing, dunes climbing, and a 27-mile-long bike path that runs through deep forests and dunes.

You will be with crowds at the popular Dune Climb and the Scenic Drive which lands you at the top of the dunes 400 feet overlooking Lake Michigan.  What a view!

But there is a solitary spot at the top of Sleeping Bear Point, although at sunset there will be a few folks who will trek out to see the million dollar sunset over Lake Michigan.  From Glen Haven, take the blacktop road west to the end and then drive down the gravel lane to the trailhead parking lot where there are restrooms. You might want flip flops for about a hundred yards until you reach the foot of the dunes, then go barefoot.

The national lakeshore also includes two large islands, South Manitou Island (seen in the distance in the photo above) and North Manitou Island that have many miles of deserted beaches and unspoiled forests.  Take the boat from Leland, Michigan; advance reservations are necessary.

The Channel Islands, California

Channel Isles solitude edit
Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands.  Hard to believe it is almost within sight of Los Angeles.

Call ahead or go online for reservations on the passenger ferry from Ventura Harbor, Ventura.  You may be accompanied by dolphins on the cruise over.  Cool.

Once you disembark there will be a short orientation talk from the ranger, then you are free to wander about the island without distraction from crowds of hikers.  The trails on the high cliffs are impressive and the drop-offs intimidating, so mind the edge.


Valley of the Gods, Utah

Valley of Gods pickup campsite crop

During the day, an occasional SUV will pass by as you settle in at your free campsite in the desert just about 30 miles from the famous Monument Valley Tribal Park where there are bus loads of visitors swarming the overlooks.  At Valley of the Gods, you will be alone most of the time and at night the quiet and solitude can be almost unnerving.

Once the sun sets over the cliffs nearby, the wind will completely stop – along with that awful moaning sound in the top of the butte that towers over the campsite – and you’ll be in the dark.  If you ever wanted to film the Milky Way above, this will be the spot without any interfering light from the nearest city over a hundred miles away.

Bob V.O.G. Milky Way corner fix 2

Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen's Garden cover crop

This one calls for some strategy.  Bryce is second only to Zion National Park for the number of visitors in the desert southwest.  That means you’ll have to find the more remote hiking trails to find solitude.

Or go at night.  This was my strategy when I was looking for those trails with the tunnels cut through the rock; I was looking for a certain photo setting, sort of an Indiana Jones theme.

The Queen’s Garden Trail was busy with hikers as I headed down off the rim into the canyon in the late afternoon, but as dusk fell they disappeared.  I was totally alone for my evening photo shoot…  and for the entire climb back to the rim after dark.

The White Rim Road, Utah


Again, Canyonlands National Park is heavily visited, though not quite as much as Arches National Park nearby.  But there are hiking trails off the rim that are only sparsely traveled.

And if you drive below the rim, you will find even more isolation.  The park service puts a quota on the number of visitors on the White Rim Trail, so you will have to plan ahead. You can make campsite reservations as much as 4 months in advance on their website.

Be advised, this drive is not for the faint of heart.  The drop-offs are hundreds of feet.  A Jeep or SUV with four-wheel-drive will work the best and they can be rented by the day from the outfitters in Moab nearby.

If you really want to be alone, take the Potash Road from Moab and, once you leave the pavement onto the gravel, you will be able to get to the White Rim without meeting another vehicle.  Stop anywhere along the way for a solitary view of the Colorado River a thousand feet below or the massive cliffs and dry creek beds through which you will be driving.  (See my 11-minute scary video of the White Rim Road here.)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Saturday, February 10, 2007 (44)

Again, this is a hikers’ mecca and the trails that skirt the cliffs 200 feet above Lake Superior will be busy with adventurers.

But, if you drive east from the town of Munising along the shoreline, you will find the less traveled county road H-58 that wanders through the forests above the lake connecting scenic overlooks with rustic campgrounds.  Hike to Au Sable Point Lighthouse and see a scant few other wanderers, and linger at Sable Falls on your way to a campsite at the little village of Grand Marais or one of several national forest campgrounds that are carved out of the deep woods.


So, there are lots of locations where one can be alone, but sometimes they are difficult to find.  These are just a few of the sites I have found… and now you know about them too.

Life’s a Trip – Even When You Stay Put

This is the third in the Life’s a Trip series.

Life can be an amazing journey even when you are stationary for long periods of time.  Some folks are happy to put down roots in one place and never be curious about the distant horizon.  Adventure seems frightening and inconvenient.  As Bilbo Baggins says in Lord of the Rings, “We have no use for adventures – nasty disturbing uncomfortable things;  make you late for dinner.”

And that’s fine.  If you don’t have a desire to see the world, don’t let me or anyone else prod you into far-flung unpleasantries.

But then there are people like me.

Though I lived for 43 years in one secluded rural retreat, my routine was punctuated by adventure.  Whether heading up north to camp in the woods, down south to crawl around in the caves, out west to hike in the mountains, or over the ocean to an island hideaway, I couldn’t sit still for long.

So the last few years Kaye and I have been pioneering with an RV, living on the road, always peering around the next bend to get a glimpse of what we haven’t seen before.  And it has been fun.

But right now, my travel quotient is satisfied.  I am ready for a break.  We have visited 49 of 50 states and are not making plans to visit Hawaii.  At least not for now and maybe never.

But I think I am ready for a different kind of adventure.

While taking a breather from travel and staying in a small apartment for the past several months, we have plugged into the local scene and gone after other stuff that we like to do.  We didn’t get enough of hosting foreign exchange students in our home when our kids were in high school years ago, so we have had a lingering desire to  work with international students again.

We started volunteering at the local campus of the University of Michigan and helping internationals to improve their conversational English and learn more of American culture.

And we really came alive.

When we discovered that a historical house was on the market only a 10-minute walk from the campus, we jumped (carefully) at the chance to buy it, and today we signed the papers.

We are going to stay put for awhile and pursue our own brand of urban homesteading.  Pioneering without wheels, as it were.

The House

Our “new” house is 117 years old and already set up for urban homesteading in the inner city.  There are rain barrels at the four corner downspouts, raspberries along the fence, an herb garden where the front lawn used to be.  The climbing roses have been growing on the front fence since the 1920’s.  There is a storeroom in the cellar for stockpiling canned goods and drinking water.  Cool.

For a long time I have wanted to experiment with solar power;  this house has a southern exposure that will accommodate my future solar panels.  We might start composting too, just like my grandmother did back in the day, feeding those tomatoes that will grow in containers along the back wall.

It seems that urban homesteading is essentially a return to the way our ancestors lived a hundred years ago but updated with a lot of modern technology.

Owning property again – on a much smaller scale than before – does not mean we won’t travel anymore.  We still have the fifth wheel so when the travel bug bites we can answer the call of the wild.

Stay tuned for reports on our latest pioneering adventure, a trip back in time, as it were,  in the historical district of Flint, Michigan, in the center of the university neighborhood.  Just around the corner is the Durant-Dort Office building where General Motors Corp (GMC) was founded in 1908!

It looks as though what’s next for us going forward, is a trip backward in time!

The vintage house presides over a quiet historical neighborhood.

Read Kaye’s spin on this new venture at her blog.

Life’s a Trip – At the Beach

This is the second in the Life’s A Trip series.

There are many ways to approach the journey of life and we have explored a bunch of them.  This is about the different beaches where we have lived for a time.

One of Kaye’s favorite activities in the whole world is beach walking.  I love sitting and soaking up the sun and synthesizing vitamin D.  So beaches work for both of us.

Tropical Beaches

It seems that the ultimate destination in the Caribbean is the beach and we have had the experience of enjoying many of them, mostly in the Dominican Republic, one of our favorite island winter respites.

Playa Rincón, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic.

Because of it’s remoteness, this beach is still largely undeveloped.  It is possible to be alone and unbothered.  We first visited this beach in 1990, camping in a tent in the coconut grove.  Our last visit there -via a rented quad runner – was in the winter of 2016 and it was still unspoiled and beautiful.

DR Bob on quad
Our favorite ride to Playa Rincon is the rented four wheeler.

BobnKaye wquad on Rincon

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DR edit 0801

La Playita,  Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

The Little Beach offers snorkeling on the reef just offshore, and there is a beach restaurant and masseuse on hand.  It was a 15-minute walk from our last vacation rental in the little fishing village.

la playita scene

La Playita at evening

DR 4 Palms vivid

Las Galeras Municipal Beach, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

A short walk from our vacation rental, the “town beach” offered beach bars and “tipico” restaurants and shuttle boats to other beaches nearby.

Las Galeras bob table beach

The Cove, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic

This beach is smack in front of the resort by the same name and is shared with the local fishermen who store their boats on shore every night.  The local kids love to get attention from the tourists and will put on a show whenever there is a camera around.  We stayed here for the winter of 2013.

Hammock Bob at the Cove

DR boys on palm tree

Dominican beach boys frolick fix

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DR Birdsall edit 0012
At the Cove we could buy the fresh catch of the day directly from the fishermen on the beach.

West Coast Beaches

Santa Barbara Beach, California.

This large beach is nicely maintained by the city of Santa Barbara.  There is a bike path, volleyball courts, an art show every Sunday, and a wharf with restaurants on stilts.  We visited several times when we were doing the work-camping thing at nearby Fillmore, California, in the winter and spring of 2014.

Santa Barbara Beach volleyball

Santa Barb beach at sunset

While in California for the winter, we also explored Mugu Point Beach and had lunch at the famous beach diner, Neptune’s Net pictured in movies and TV shows.

We also enjoyed camping at the beach at the linear park at Seacliff where the beach was walkable for miles.  Boon docking at its best (no hookups).

The campground is linear at Seacliff, California, 2 miles long and 20 feet wide.

The Gulf Coast and East Coast

Dauphin Island Beach, Dauphin Island, Alabama

In the winter of 2015 we set out to spend the entire winter on island beaches.  Dauphin Island was our home for January where the beaches are white sand.  They are walkable for many miles.

Bob on Dauphin Island beach 2511

St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, Florida

We spent the month of February in this historical town where driving on the beach is permitted.  Bonus!


Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle, North Carolina

In March, our RV site was a short dune walk from this beautiful white sand beach.

Driving on the beach is permitted at Emerald Isle… for a price.

The Great Lakes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan

Being Michiganders most of our lives, this is probably one of our most frequent beach destinations.  Of course, Lake Michigan is too cold for swimming except in the late summer and early fall.


Empire beach at twilight

Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan.

The closest beach to our house for over 40 years, this beach and several others along the east shore of Michigan were our favorite sun-and-sand destinations in the summertime.

Port Crescent silhouette 0020

Turnip Rock 0004
Turnip Rock is a kayaking destination reached via a 1-1/2-hour paddle along the shore from the harbor at Port Austin, Michigan.

So this is a sampling of the many beaches where we have spent some time.

Life’s a trip!  What is your favorite beach?

An Alien Adventure at the Arches

Southwestern Safari  Milepost #7

I met a Star Wars stormtrooper while hiking in Arches National Park. He was posing for his young son who was shooting photos  under a rock formation that looks strangely like Darth Vader. They had driven over from Colorado to get that photo (above).

That says a lot about the bizarre magnetism that Arches exerts on artists and adventurers – not just from the next state, but from all around the world.  There were buses full of tourists and hikers who were anxious to experience the otherworldly landscape that is reminiscent of the desert planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies (those scenes were actually filmed in Tunisia).

Young Liam steps to the side while tourists snap photos of his dad, Brack Lee, as the stormtrooper.
Young Liam steps to the side while tourists snap photos of his dad, Brack Lee, as the stormtrooper.

My encounter with the movie character did not actually surprise me in the least as I rounded a bend in the trail on the back side of the North and South Windows.  I had actually searched for an affordable costume on Amazon when I was planning my expedition;  I could easily visualize a Star Wars character in this setting with no real stretch of the imagination.  The most authentic costumes were quite expensive and I ultimately built my own cowboy and Indian costumes instead, which also fit the desert theme.

A small group of hikers lingers in the huge eye of North Window.
A small group of hikers lingers in the huge eye of North Window, another bazaar formation.
South and North Windows glow from the reflected light on the back trail where I met the storm trooper.
South and North Windows glow from the reflected light on the back trail where I met the storm trooper.
Double Arch is short distance from Darth Vader rock... and actually did show up in Start Wars movies.
Double Arch is short distance from Darth Vader rock… and actually did show up in Start Wars movies.

A rock shaped like Darth Vader is only the beginning when one continues to explore the geological wonderland that is Arches.  The park sits on the huge seismic Moab Fault, but it must not have been active for a very long time or hundreds of these fragile formations would have collapsed by now.

Rock strata have slipped several feet along the Moab Fault made visible by the rock cut for highway 191 across from the park entrance.
Rock strata have slipped several feet along the Moab Fault made visible by the rock cut for highway 191 adjacent to the park entrance.
There are hundreds of precarious balanced rocks which will be vulnerable to the slightest jarring earthquake.
There are hundreds of precariously balanced rocks which are vulnerable to the slightest tremor.

I can only imagine how drastically the landscape will change if ever this region is jarred by a major earthquake.  The park holds more than 2000 arches and as many balanced rocks and in fact, a few of them collapse without provocation every year.

I had to get myself in a shot with Landscape Arch before it collapses and is gone forever.
I had to get myself in a shot with Landscape Arch before it collapses and is gone forever.

One of the most frail spans, Landscape Arch is longer than a football field but only 11 feet thick at its thinnest point.  Hikers are not permitted beneath the arch since a 70-foot-long slab fell from it a few years ago.  I noticed an awed hush among the hikers near the span, as though the slightest noise would produce a vibration that would end the structure.

Of course, the signature formation in Arches is the aptly named Delicate Arch, so famous a landmark that it appears on the Utah license plates.  It is as ironic as it is iconic, as the hike is all uphill and steep, making this famous place almost out of reach to the general population.

I found the view quite worth the hike.  This was one of two sunset hikes for me inside the park.  South Window, where I met the stormtrooper, was the other where I returned for nighttime photography.

Delicate Arch is as popular as it is prominent on a high outcropping of red rock.
Delicate Arch never reveals itself along the trail until hikers reach the high amphitheater after a strenuous climb.
Fans of Delicat Arch hike uphill for a mile-and-a-half to gaze at the rock until sunset.
Fans of Delicate Arch hike uphill for a mile-and-a-half to gaze at the rock until sunset.
The trail hugs the cliff face behind the mountain before arriving at the high amphitheater where the arch stands.
The trail hugs the cliff face on a ledge behind the mountain before arriving at the high amphitheater where Delicate Arch stands.
Park Avenue is bordered by high rock walls called fins. Balancing rocks line the ridges.
Park Avenue is bordered by high rock walls called fins. Balancing rocks line the ridges everywhere.

While hiking back to the trailhead with a stormtrooper and his son, I was also scouting the landscape for some night sky photography and I was pretty sure I had found the best spot at South Window.  I checked the compass on my iPhone to discover that its orientation situated it crosswise to the Milky Way, which would be perfect for my picture, but of course, I wouldn’t know for sure until the sun went down.  Grabbing some supper in the camper, I then hiked back to the spot around behind the formation before sunset and waited for dark.

I climbed up into Double Arch but decided it didn't face the right direction for night sky shots.
I climbed up into Double Arch but decided it didn’t face the right direction for night sky shots.

I had talked to other photographers at the trailhead and they were headed for Turret Arch and Double Arch, but when I reached my spot on the backside of South Window, I was all alone.

And I was not disappointed.

As the light faded, the Milky Way slowly came into view – exactly where I had predicted.  I set up the tripod, got the camera automatically doing its thing and then climbed up into the huge rocks to “paint” the arch with some warm light from an old dive light I had saved from my scuba diving years.  It had a soft diffused beam that would work better than a focused flashlight.

There is something truly awesome about being alone in the desert at night adding my own touch of artistry to the universe.

There is something truly awesome about being alone in the desert at night adding my own touch of artistry to the cosmic canvas.

For me Arches National Park lived up to its reputation as a land of intrigue and unforgettable experiences.   High hikes to fantastic panoramas,  encounters with other enthusiastic hikers along the trails, and a  dark night under the stars — after an encounter with a Star Wars impersonator — all added up to an epic life experience.

Hooray for adventure!

stormtrooping hiker img_0553

3 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot out of Me

This is the 6th in a series on my Southwestern Photo Safari.


I didn’t really know what I was in for when I planned my route across southern Utah.  I actually thought I had prepared pretty well, but the maps don’t even come close to conveying the extremes of these roads that cut through deep canyons and alternately wind across high ridges with drop-offs on both sides. I watched lots of YouTube videos of other travelers’ adventures and still wasn’t able to grasp the scope of what lay ahead of me.
It’s probably a good thing, or I might have lost my nerve. As it turned out, it seemed that my itinerary alternated between scary drives one day and scary hikes the next.

This is about three of the most adventurous drives I encountered on my photo safari to southern Utah.

The Hogback on Highway 12

I ended up driving this road twice since my side trip to Capitol Reef National Park was an out-and-back overnight trip from Escalante rather than a loop route.

Highway 12 cuts across ancient sandstone benches called slick rock.
Highway 12 cuts across ancient sandstone benches called slick rock.

Escalante road

Highway 12 east of the town of Escalante is a study in extremes.  Much of the route east and then north to Torrey is across bare stone landscape called slick rock.  It’s not actually slippery, since it is sandstone; its surface is more like sand paper.

The road drops into the Escalante Canyon and heads north up the other side.
The road descends into the Escalante Canyon and heads north up the other side.

The route drops down into the canyon to cross the Escalante river and then climbs as quickly up the other side to traverse the Hogback where the drop-off is 600 feet on both sides of the road!

The Hogback winds along the ridge with drops on both side.
The Hogback winds along the ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides.
A view into the canyon on the west side of the Hogback.
A view into the canyon on the west side of the Hogback.

There are a couple of turn-outs where I was able to stop for some photos and video, but most of the high section is narrow and winding with no shoulders or guardrails.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

(My video gives a much better idea of what the Hogback is really like;  I have posted the link to it at the bottom of the post.)

The Shafer Trail

This is one of the most extreme roads in America,  and should not be attempted by anybody with acrophobia – a true fear of heights.  Mostly Jeeps and SUV’s travel the gravel road because the hairpin turns are tight and will not accommodate long vehicles.   Would-be adventurers with trailers and motorhomes should absolutely stay away.   Just park your RV in Moab, rent a Jeep from one of several outfitters, then head out here for the drive of your life!

The switchbacks of the Shafer Trail are hanging on the edge of the cliffs.
The switchbacks of the Shafer Trail are hanging on the edge of the cliffs.  The White Rim Trail can be seen cutting across the lower plateau in the distance.

The Shafer Trail connects the Island In the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park with the White Rim plateau as it drops more than 1000 feet in about 2 miles of steep switchbacks and hairpin turns.

Shafer switchbacks

Of course, there is no room for guardrails on these steep cliffs and shoulders are non-existent.  One wrong move and it’s a tremendous tumble to the pearly gates!

(Go to my 26-second video of this road at the bottom of the page.)

The White Rim Road

This tortuous trail follows a 100-mile-long route through the Canyonlands National Park on what could be considered the middle level of the park, as it were.  The lower level would be the Colorado and Green Rivers, and the top level would be the high mesa called Island in the Sky.  Most tourists only get to visit the upper level, but they are able to peer down 2200 feet into the canyons on three sides of Island in the Sky.

The road traverses gullies and gorges on its way to the White Rim.
I came in on Potash Road which traverses gullies and gorges on its way to the White Rim.

The White Rim Road requires high clearance and four wheel drive.  Unless you are peddling it;  mountain bikers take 4 to 5 days to travel the route, camping in campgrounds at night.  Jeepsters usually take 2 days or more to cover the 100-mile loop because they are in low gear much of the time, only barely staying ahead of the bikers.

The road follows the edge of the White Rim which is 1000 feet above the Colorado River. The drop-offs are impressive.
The road follows the edge of the White Rim which is 1000 feet above the Colorado River. The drop-offs are impressive.

My day-trip on the White Rim was an out-and-back from Moab, Utah, via Potash Road as an alternative to the Shafer Trail.  I only ventured about 25 miles out as far as Musselman Arch, and then back, and it took all day because of the grueling conditions.   Stones, gravel, bare rock, steep grades up and down, dry and wet creek beds;  at one point I drove up a dry wash for some distance, secure in the knowledge that no rain was in the forecast and no flash flood would be forthcoming.

I drove up a dry wash for a while, between cliffs of red rock.
I drove up a dry wash for a while, between cliffs of red rock.

The views from the edge of the Rim are absolutely incredible!  The road travels on the cusp of the drop-off for several miles in some places.   Of course, the road is only one lane, which means when you meet another vehicle, somebody has to back up to the last turn-out so they can pass each other.  That encounter happened to me three times on a particularly dangerous stretch on the ledge!

Views from the edge are impressive.
Views from the edge are impressive.

Most adventurers take the 100-mile loop and only have to drive it once, but since my trip was an out-and-back, I got to see it twice.  That meant twice the white-knuckle fun on the White Rim Road.

On one of the most scary mountain sections, I stuck a video camera to my windsheild with a suction cup mount and captured 11-1/2 minutes of stomach-churning adventure.  I have posted the clip on YouTube so the whole world can view it.

I finally made it back to Moab by nightfall and drove straight to the car wash to reward my truck for its faithful performance on the awful trail, then I headed across the street to the Moab Brewery to reward myself for my awesome off-road driving on America’s second most radical road.

If you ever plan to drive this challenging road, I suggest you view this video so you will know what you are in for.  Full screen mode will give you the greatest gasp-per-mile factor (bottom of the list below).


View the 35-second video:  A Drive on the Edge – the Hogback on Highway 12

View the 26-second video:  Driven to the Edge – The Shafer Trail

View the 11-1/2 minute video : A White-Knuckle Drive on the White Rim Road.   Click Full Screen for the best scare.  If you are afraid of heights, maybe take a Xanax first!

Thank you for coming along!

Find the other posts in this series in the left sidebar or go to Posts By Destination and click Southwestern Safari.

What’s Your Travel Mode?

Milepost 1-18-16                                   – at a vacation rental in the tropics

Travelers come in all sizes and shapes, and so do their travel preferences and their budgets.  Not everybody can afford to start out with a 40-foot motor home towing a boat.  Young families usually start out with tents or pop-up campers and graduate to more comfortable amenities later on.

When our kids were young and we had foster kids and foreign exchange students, we drove a full-size van every day of the week, so when we wanted to head out on a road trip, we just threw the tent and cooler – and the porta-potty – into the van with our sleeping bags and away we went.  It was rather an all-purpose vehicle.  We could only afford one vehicle at a time, so it had to be versatile.  We stayed in campgrounds or in the national forests where the camping was free.

A van is a very versatile vehicle for road trips with a family.
A van is a very versatile vehicle for road trips with a family.

Family Camping

But the budget is not the only consideration that has a bearing on our travel mode.

Destination is another.  You can’t very well take a motor home when you are flying to the tropics for the winter or traveling to Italy for an art tour.  On the other hand, if you are planning to hike along the Appalachian Trail you would need the lightest of tents and backpacks.  Weight would be a consideration that might limit you to one can of Spam for the entire trip.  Darn!

Further, the type of travel comes into play.  What is the experience you are looking for?  If you want to motorcycle the length of Route 66 with other Harley enthusiasts, your equipment is pretty much going to be determined by the requirements of that particular mode of travel.

Suitcase travel is a mode that will take you a lot of places but not to the backcountry.  It is the thing for staying in hotels, bed & breakfasts, cruises and vacation rentals, but you’ll need to switch to a backpack if you are hiking down through the Andes in South America.

Since we hit the road, Kaye and I have frequently switched modes when we were ready for some variety.  We drove the Alaska Highway – the ultimate road trip – with a pickup and a fifth wheel camper which we stayed in for months at a time.  That was how we also did our work-camping where we earned a winter campsite in southern California by working 20 hours a week at the campground.

Last fall, when I wanted to head off on a solo photo shoot, I threw a small tent, an air mattress and a cooler into the back of the pickup and took off for the state forest  in northern Michigan where the facilities were rustic and the stress level almost non-existent.  (Towing a fifth wheel is not entirely stress-free, especially through cities and along truck routes.)


It is entirely likely that over the course of a lifetime most of us will experience an evolution of travel modes, starting out small and gradually growing as our travel tastes change over time.

Mind you,  I do recommend planning.  It might be nasty to invest in a huge camping rig (with a monthly payment to match) and then wake up some morning in a crowded RV park with the realization that what you really wanted was to sail around the Bahamas, gunk-holing from one sheltered cove to the next.

On the other hand, there’s probably no harm (other than the cost) in trying things out.  If one mode of travel doesn’t suit your fancy or you get tired of it,  try something else for awhile.

This has been our objective since we sold the house a while ago and took to the road.  Let’s see where this takes us.  We’ll try RV-ing for a while and then change it up when we need some variety.

Right now, the RV sits in storage, the plumbing winterized against the Michigan cold and snow,  while Kaye and I sit on the veranda of our vacation rental in the tropics in a quiet little fishing village at the end of the road in the Dominican Republic.

Dinner on the beach is part of the setting here in the tropics.
Dinner on the beach is part of the setting here in the tropics.

Hey, whatever blows your hair back (if you have any hair).  When it comes to travel, almost anything goes – at the right time in your life and at the appropriate price tag, and in the preferred mode.

Hey, go see stuff!  And have fun!

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Our daughters thought a Conestoga wagon might be a fun mode of travel when we were touring the Southwest.

Flexibility Makes the World Go ‘Round

Milepost 10-13-15      Montour Falls, New York

… or flexibility is the mother of invention…  or flexibility is the spice of life.  Or something like that.

Anyway, for career wanderers, flexibility is an essential ingredient in keeping life moving along smoothly.  The fact is, stuff happens, and sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men…  get torpedoed.

Our tentative plans for the next year are already laid out, but they are not written in stone.  They can’t be.  Because life happens, and things change.  There are changes in the weather, there are changes in family plans.

And mechanical repairs.  We were planning to tour New England right now, virtually extending a trip to New York to deliver a load of furniture I had built for a customer there over this summer.  I took the pickup in for a routine oil change… and ended up having the entire front end rebuilt when the technicians saw worn edges on the front tires.  The work was scheduled for the following Saturday, the day we were to leave, and it extended into the next week as servicemen found more worn parts.

The upshot was that we didn’t have time left for the planned excursion to the east coast, since we wanted to be back to Michigan for a rendezvous of all of our kids in one place at the same time (they have become quite the traveling vagabonds as well and don’t cross paths but a couple of times a year).

So what do full-time adventurers do when their plans are destroyed?

They make new plans.

While checking the route to New York I had discovered some rugged features including box canyons and waterfalls not far from our drop-off point.  Bingo!  New adventure.

As someone said lately, “Never waste a good fiasco.”  Or when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  Or when life hands you grapes, don’t wine about it.

Anyway, we modified our plans and spent a couple of days climbing around the waterfalls at Watkins Glen, New York.

I loved it.  Maine coast, eat your heart out.  We will get to you another time when we have the time – and a red convertible – to do it properly.

50 states will wait for us.  We are stuck for the time being at 43.  And that is fine.

Here are some photos I shot while exploring the canyons of western New York.

Visitors enter Watkins Glen through a tunnel (right) and stairways onto the first of several stone bridges.
Visitors enter Watkins Glen through a tunnel (right) and stairways leading to the first of several stone bridges.
The first bridge spans the gorge over the first of 19 waterfalls and cascades.
The first bridge spans the gorge over the first of 19 waterfalls and cascades.
Rainbow Falls has a magical quality that adds to the overall mystique of the canyon.
Rainbow Falls has a magical quality that adds to the overall mystique of the canyon.
The trail leads behind this waterfall, then into a spiral tunnel with a circular stairs cut from the inside of the cliff.
The trail leads behind this waterfall, then into a vertical tunnel with a spiral stairs inside the cliff.
I liked that Eagle Cliff Falls was easily accessible after a short hike and a few steps. Warmer weather would have definitely precipitated a spontaneous shower under the torrent.
Eagle Cliff Falls was easily accessible after a short hike and a few steps. Warmer weather would have definitely precipitated a spontaneous shower under the torrent!
The Finger Lakes region of New York is wine and fruit country; roadside fruit markets abound.
The Finger Lakes region of New York is wine and fruit country; roadside fruit markets abound.

Anyway, if variety is the spice of life ( and to full-time adventurers it really is), then flexibility is the mother of invention.  It results in the invention of the next side trip… and more adventure.

Michigan Renaissance Festival – A Step Back in Time

Milepost 8-30-15                                     The ultimate summer festival

The RenFest at Holly, Michigan, runs on weekends from late August to Early October each year.  I visited on a Saturday and found it uncrowded and in tip-top form.  The re-enactors and vendors and visitors all seemed to be in a good mood and ready for some fun.  This being my first visit – and photographs being my top priority – I chose not to go in costume.  Of course, there were plenty of costume shops open, so I could have rented or purchased a tunic and a sword.  Maybe next time.

Here’s a photo line-up of this colorful historical attraction.  (Click on any photo to view it in full screen mode.)

Renaissance Festival trio edit

Renaissance Festival portrait

Renaissance Festival portrait ort

Renaissance Festival edit 2



Renaissance Festival vendor edit

Renaissance Festival stage edit

Renaissance Festival edit



Renaissance Festival pathway edit

Renaissance Festival Knight edit




Whenever I return to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, I have decided that a sword is a nice thing to have, but I am going to avoid a kilt.  That’s just me.  Do what you want.  It’s all good.  And it’s all a lot of fun.

And don’t miss the traditional turkey drumstick for lunch.  It’s actually slow-smoked and tasty.

And then there is the ubiquitous dill pickle right out of the barrel.

Hmm… so much to savor and so few summer days left.

Here is the link to the RenFest website.  Have fun!

The Perfect Home

Milepost 5-24-15   Clearwater Campground, Ortonville, Michigan

In our wanderings over 43 of the 50 states and several foreign countries, Kaye and I have not found the perfect place to live.  But we have happened upon some pretty wonderful settings.  In fact, after returning from our winter sojourn in the south, we have set up habitation at a remarkable campground in Ortonville, Michigan, where the nearly perfect balance exists between rural rest and city convenience.

Only 12 miles from our grandkids, we live in a park with a beautiful lake with a trail around it fringed by protected wetlands and mature forests of oak, maple, beech and pines and frequented by wild geese and whitetail deer.  McDonalds is right across the street and A&W – the old fashioned kind with the car hops – is a 15-minute walk up the street, and there are shopping malls a few miles away at the outer fringe of the Detroit metropolitan urban sprawl.

Our exercise regimen is nicely facilitated by a 1-mile trail around the lake.
Our exercise regimen is nicely facilitated by a 1-mile trail around the lake.
The marsh marigolds are in blossom in the neighboring wetlands.
The marsh marigolds are blossoming in the neighboring wetlands.

The perfect home doesn’t exist anywhere.  But when we lived in the rural Michigan farm community where we raised our kids and owned a 30-acre Christmas tree farm, we often reveled in the changes of the seasons right outside the windows of our 10-room house in the woods.  We felt that we were enjoying the almost perfect location for our family at the time.

Our perfect house in the woods in rural Michigan.
Our perfect house in the woods in rural Michigan.

Except that I couldn’t keep the car clean because the gravel roads turned to mud with every rain storm.  I watched the rocker panels and the fenders rust out in slow motion right before my eyes.  And it was a half-hour drive to Walmart and more than an hour to the nearest shopping mall.

It seemed there was a trade-off in everything.  Being a school teacher, my kids would ride to and from school with me rather than riding the bus to our small town district of less than 800 students.  The students seemed more laid-back than their suburban counterparts and didn’t seem to have anything to prove.  Our kids thrived.  But they eventually grew up, went to college and then were too educated to find professional jobs in the country.  They left the area and pursued their own lives, leaving us alone on our mini-paradise.

Our Christmas Cabin was the headquarters for the Christmas tree farm.
Our Christmas Cabin was the headquarters for the Christmas tree farm.

And the mowing got tiring in the summer – and there was a lot of it.  And the firewood processing and snow removal, though good for the physique, became wearisome in the winter.  The elements were relentless.  Winter became life-threatening as we got older.  The place was no longer ideal for us in the mature stages of life.

We talked about where we would like to live as we started to downsize and list the property for sale.  It might be outside the edge of a city where we could live in the relaxed atmosphere of the country, while being within a few minutes of the conveniences of the metropolis.

And here we are.  At least for the summer.  We like it well enough to already be talking about returning here every summer for the next few years.  We love the beauty and comfortable climate of Michigan in the summer and fall, but not during the harsh winter.

I have concluded that the ideal home is a somewhat elusive concept that changes with the seasons of the year – and with the seasons of life.  What is perfect at one phase of life may become less than ideal later on.

Having sold our labor-intensive property last year after a four-year downsizing, we are now in discovery mode, exploring every part of the United States (and outside the borders if we want to) in search of adventure and new experiences.  An aside from our quest to see new places is the underlying search for the next perfect home.  That greener grass on the other side (except that I don’t own a lawnmower anymore).

Alaska was a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in another place with harsh winters.
Alaska was a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live in another place with harsh winters.

And apparently, It is rather like aiming at a moving target for us at this point in our lives.  Michigan in the summer and fall, points farther south in the winter.  On the move right after Christmas with the rabid cold nipping at our heels as we leave the state and scurry south for warmer comforts.

Right now we are in a nearly ideal spot (except it’s a campground and there’s no privacy) and there is a swimming beach here and a playground for the grandkids.  And there are five pizza joints in this town – we have started sampling them.  Because part of finding the elusive perfect place to live in the world is also the important quest of locating the best pizza.

Our current campsite is blessed with grass, but somebody else does the mowing.  That's what I'm talking about!
Our current campsite is blessed with grass, but somebody else does the mowing. That’s what I’m talking about!

I am thinking that the perfect spot in life may be less about greener grass and more about perfect pizza.

Anyway, Kaye says that though there is no perfect home in all the world, there is a place that is just right for us for here and now.  And that is a truer quest, as the perfect place does not exist, we are in that place that is just right at this point in our lives.  And loving it.

I hope you are finding that sweet spot too.

Not owning a gas grill since the downsizing, I do my grilling right on the campfire now... in pursuit of the perfect steak.
Not owning a gas grill since the downsizing, I do my grilling right on the campfire now… in pursuit of the perfect steak.

(Featured photo at the top is log cabins that are for rent at Clearwater Campground.)

Old Folks in an Old Town – St. Augustine

Milepost 2-18-15   St. Augustine, Florida

It’s the middle of the winter and we are in the middle of our sojourn at St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest town in America.  They are celebrating their 450th anniversary this year, so there is a lot going on here.  Then again, this is one of those hidden pearls where there is always a lot to enjoy, even when there’s nothing special happening.

When we pulled into town and moved into our campsite near the ocean, we were surprised to see vehicles driving on the beach.  Yes, this is one of the few places in the world that accommodates the sport.  The beach is a hundred yards wide at low tide allowing plenty of room for walkers, bikers, kite flyers and four-wheel-drivers all at the same time.

4X4's are permitted to drive on the beach for ten-mile stretch.
4X4’s are permitted to drive on the beach for a ten-mile stretch.

The historical fort is well preserved and maintained by the National Park Service.  Castillo de San Marcos was built in the 1560’s using the local coral stone (coquina) quarried from Anastasia Island near where we are camped.  This is the third of four historical forts I’m visiting this winter.  (I’m planning a post next month reviewing all the forts on my itinerary.)

Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.

St. Augustine is built to accommodate the thriving tourist industry and there are trolleys running tours every day throughout the historical downtown district.  Some of the old narrow streets are closed to vehicle traffic so visitors may peruse the old shops at their leisure.

St. George Street is now a shop-lined attraction for walkers only.
St. George Street is now a shop-lined attraction for walkers only.
Many of the original buildings - like the old governor's house - were built with coral stone.
Many of the original buildings – like the old governor’s house – were built with coral stone.

A great place to get an overview of the area with a bird’s-eye view is the huge old lighthouse dating back to 1861.  One of the more recently-built landmarks, it was built of brick.  In fact, it took more than a million bricks to construct this 165-foot-tall edifice, one of the tallest in the country.

St. Augustine Light lomo

Only the young and most physically fit will make quick work of the 216 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
Only the young and most physically fit will make quick work of the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
The tower climb offers a rewarding view of the surrounding city and waterfront.
The tower climb offers a rewarding view of the surrounding area and nearby waterfront.

Kaye and I are engaged in an ongoing challenge of testing the local eateries.  It became apparent very early on that we will certainly run out of time before we manage a comprehensive knowledge of the plethora of amazing culinary options here.  But we’ll do our best.

Average temps here are in the 60’s during the day and the mid-40’s at night, so we are enjoying our success at finding an affordable location for missing the brutal winter weather back in Michigan.