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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
For more on the Alaska Highway, read my related post here.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
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
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
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.
Bryce Canyon National Park
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
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
So this is a sampling of the many beaches where we have spent some time.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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!
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.