Tag Archives: travel

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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The beaches along the Gulf are white sand.  Dolphins cavort just offshore.

Dauphin Island campsite

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sweet!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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Valley of the Gods, Utah

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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.

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Bryce Canyon National Park

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Our favorite ride to Playa Rincon is the rented four wheeler.

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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.

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La Playita at evening

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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.

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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

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Dominican beach boys frolick fix

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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).

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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.

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St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, Florida

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

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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.

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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.

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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?