Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Mackinac Island

At Lakeshore RV Park Campground, St. Ignace, Michigan...

I need to back up a day and show you a photo of a storm approaching our RV park on Lake Michigan around sunset when we returned from Petoskey:

I was captivated by the speed at which the storm was moving and the waves the wind produced. Since the far shoreline is so distant, the body of water looks like an ocean, especially judged by the breaking of the waves onto the beach. 

Although this was a fairly mild storm, I can see how vicious the weather could be on the Great Lakes and how a huge ship like the Edmund Fitzgerald met its fate. By the way, I had a bit of a surprise from younger members of my family who had no clue about the Edmund Fitzgerald, even though I thought her sinking in 1975 and the loss of all hands aboard seemed pretty well immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot's song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. But then, I thought, that really was a long time ago to the youngsters, who thought that time period was when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. 

Oh well. I won't go into the details of her sinking here; it's too easy to get it from Wikipedia. For those whose interest has already waned to a point where not a single mouse click is worth it, here is a photo of the freighter four years before her sinking near Sault St. Marie, Michigan in 500 feet of water. At the time, she was the largest freighter sailing on the great lakes, and I find her story quite captivating. It is available in a number of books written about the accident.

Photo from Wikipedia

So, I digress; well, that's nothing new, is it? Let's get back to Mackinac Island. We bought a round-trip ticket from St. Ignace on Shepler's, the oldest ferry boat company with the best facilities, we observed. The trip to the island took about 15 minutes, and some of the passengers on the top deck got a little wet from the bow wake caught in the wind. I was one of them, of course. Sandy took this photo of me with my sunglasses removed due to the spray. The right side of my shirt was also wet:

The weather was just about perfect, as you can see...puffy clouds and the temperature in the low 70s.  In the next photo, we're approaching the harbor. I'll have a good photo of the boat later:

The first surprise was that the Michigan governor's summer 'house' is here on Mackinac. Here it is, overlooking the harbor:

 Once docked, you stroll out onto the main drag where, of course, there are no motorized vehicles--just horse-drawn carriages and lorries and about 50,000 bicycles that can be rented from several places near the harbor. If you look closely in the photo below, you can see a horse-drawn carriage going away from the camera and another coming toward it. There's also a bicycle on the right side of the street. I'm amazed that the camera caught only one bike. In another minute, there would probably have been a dozen more in the photo:

The next photo shows some of the very nice older homes on Shoreline Drive, a lovely street very close to the waterfront. We took a long walk on this boardwalk, enjoying the perfect weather, not thinking all that much about the Hades-like oven in some of those states way down south, including the one we call home, whatever it is:

The main attraction in Mackinac, of course, is the Grand Hotel, built by a railroad consortium in 1887 and claiming the world's longest porch, something that is quite believable. Rooms at the opening of the hotel rented for $3 to $6 per night, the equivalent of $85 to $140 nowadays. By the way, you can rent a standard room  today for around $500 per night (but here's the good news: You also get breakfast). It is, of course, the setting for the romantic movie, Somewhere in Time, filmed in 1979, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour:

Below are some more photos of the hotel, starting with the front entrance, where guests are dropped off from carriages and greeted by liveried bellmen with the iconic round hats you see in the old movies. (I'm very irritated that I failed to get a photo of one of the hotel's beautiful carriages, which commoners like us can ride to the hotel for $5.50.)

Inside the hotel to the right is a promenade leading to very upscale shops and a venue for tea:

Forward and left is the main lobby where, if you look closely, you can see a harpist, who was playing softly in the background at the time. It was all very, well, Grand:

Of course, Sandy and I were obligated to make an appearance on the famed porch, in order to get full value for the $10 each they charge just for you to look at the place if you're not registered there:

At the risk of bringing way down the level of sophistication of this narrative, I feel compelled now to point out an observation regarding, well, horse dung. I can't help it; I see things that are unusual or unexpected, and I feel an obligation to comment on them, my only thought being for the humor, edification or disgust of my dear readers, as the case may be. I hope it is more of the first two than the last.

You see, with hundreds of horses pulling carriages and wagons through the streets around town and in the driveways encircling the pristine grounds and buildings of the Grand Hotel, there is almost always within view a little smattering of excreta from these magnificent animals. One thing I've noticed about horses is that they appear to have no sense of timing or modesty as to when or in front of whom these expulsions occur, bless their hearts. 

If these fragrant little piles were allowed to linger through the passage of several dozen horses, the result would be an accumulation that would not fit perfectly the general theme of opulence that is obviously the desire of the hotel management. To my utter amazement, with every one of these, ah, aromatic events, a hotel attendant suddenly emerges from some unseen hideaway, pulling a cart containing a shovel and a broom, deftly scooping up the detritus, leaving the roadway as clean as the day the asphalt was laid down. I estimate that the time that passed before the little pillows dropped and then disappeared to be approximately three minutes. Don't believe me?  See for yourself:

Now this begs the question, "Who, exactly, applies for such a position and how much is he paid?" I also wondered what he says when someone asks what his profession is. I thought it would be a bit unseemly to ask these things of the worker in the photo, so I suppose I will never know the answer. That will be another one of those imponderables, of which I have many, I'm afraid.

I should mention that the gentleman above is not alone, by any means, in his performance of this obviously necessary duty. The town itself employs a whole regiment of these brave poop scoopers, whose job downtown is ever so much more intense, due to the far greater number of horses involved. They do an amazing job of keeping the streets fairly clean but, even so, I must tell you that there is the almost constant slight odor of horse manure in most parts of the town, unless there is a strong breeze blowing off the lake. I would assume, then, that the residents themselves would have the scent wafting up the hill toward them from the harbor. But who knows--perhaps to the natives, it is the smell of money, and there is no shortage of that left behind when the tourists sail away on the last ferry at 10:00 p.m. each evening.

Well, I trust that was quite enough narrative on the matter of horse droppings, so let's move on to something more pleasant--fudge! It is not clear to me what it is about Mackinac Island that compels tourists to buy fudge--and quite a lot of it, based on the number of 
dispensaries lining Main Street. There are no fewer than 13 fudge shops on the island, requiring the importing of ten tons of sugar per week to supply the demand. This is incredible, based on the fact that most of the visitors we saw were hardly spring chickens, including ourselves, and most of whom, in all likelihood, would have gotten a stern lecture from their doctors if they knew they were fudge-diving like this. 

So, you're assuming that we put our good health above the temptation, right?  El wrongo! We moseyed into Murdick's Fudge Company and, immediately spying a stack of substantial little slabs of butter pecan fudge, I demanded a sample, which the young lady behind the counter happily provided. This was lucky for her, because I think I could have taken her hostage, even at my age, if she had refused. 

The sample was small, but it was enough. Sandy and I both love anything butter pecan, and this little morsel was like opium to an addict. "I'll take two dozen," I almost said, catching myself and instead saying, "I'll take one." I thought that was remarkably restrained, and I hoped that some of the chemicals in the the many prescriptions I ingest have taken care of the sin of that indulgence. 

Here's a photo of one of the candymakers who has just poured out a fresh batch of hot fudge onto a marble slab and is waiting for it to cool. The piece in the foreground has been formed and cooled and is ready to cut into slices:

This is the slice of butter pecan fudge that we bought. (It no longer exists):

We also bought some souvenirs for the kids, and there were, of course, many shops open for that purpose.

So that was our experience at Mackinac Island, and we're glad we went. We had always imagined what this famed place looked like, but there's just no substitute for being there.

Leaving for St. Ignace, we thought our ferry was having a race with another Shepler boat of the same type as ours. However, the other boat broke off in a few minutes, as it was headed to nearby Mackinaw City:

I hope you enjoyed our story about Mackinac Island. Our next post will be about Sault St. Marie. Stay tuned!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Traverse City and St. Ignace

Lakeshore RV Park Campground, St. Ignace, Michigan...

We leave behind nearly a week in Traverse City in idyllic weather so cool and pleasant and so different from summer in our beloved Texas. We really enjoyed our stay at Holiday Park Campground, one of the best-kept RV parks we've ever seen. Here are a couple of photos; I could have included many more:

I hadn't included this park on my "Best of the Best" page because its sites are not hard surfaced. However, the graveled sites are so well maintained and the grounds so beautifully kept, I'm going to go ahead and include it. We would happily stay here again.

We spent one day driving on Michigan 22, a scenic 'circle tour' of the peninsula as recommended by Eddie and Jan, and we lost count of the scenic views. Here are a few photos taken on West Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan. I loved the calmness of the bay and the reflection of the sailboat's mast in the water which, by the way, was crystal clear:

 Here's a view of Traverse City from across the bay:

Traverse City is quite a picturesque town, nestled as it is on the bay, with lots of pleasure boats and parks with art displays, such as this one:

It would be very appealing to spend the summer here if you're looking to get away from the heat.

Of course, being foodies, we couldn't resist a stop at Cherry Republic in Glenbrook as we drove around the area; we snagged some delicious cherry goodies to take home:

And then, who could pass up Moomer's Homemade Ice cream in Interlochen?  (There is always a line out the door, no matter what time of day.):

For the day's whimsical shot, I just couldn't resist taking a photo of these gulls that seemed to have posed for me:

I have a thing for gulls. I really like how these birds always seem to be lined up in the same direction. Probably has something to do with the wind. (Or they may just have a little OCD; who knows?)

Saying goodbye to Traverse City, we decided to take the 130-mile drive up Highway 31, where we saw still more delightful towns and scenic views on our way to St. Ignace. As is customary, we usually stop for lunch after an hour or so, and we found a nifty roadside park where we had some hot dogs in a very cool breeze. In fact, Sandy had to go back to the bus and get a jacket, but it didn't detract from our enjoyment of this beautiful little park right there on the lake:

Our first and most impressive view approaching our new destination, St. Ignace, was the Mackinaw Bridge:

At five miles long, it is the longest suspension bridge in the U. S.  It is not clear why the bridge is named Mackinaw while the nearby  island of tourist fame is spelled Mackinac but pronounced Mackinaw. That probably falls into the category of things I will never understand nor spend much time contemplating.

We parked at Lakeshore RV Park, a functional but friendly place not far from the bridge view you see above.  However, our view here from Phannie was a little less impressive, but still, a view of Lake Michigan, nonetheless:

The orange thing you see above is a light underneath Phannie's right mirror that flashes when the turn signal is activated. I presume its purpose is for the benefit of drivers in a blind spot who would not wish to tangle with 16 tons of motorhome turning toward them. I, of course, don't want to do that, either; such a thing can get very expensive, to say nothing of dangerous.

We have several missions while we're here in St. Ignace, but those will appear in forthcoming posts. We were also intent to finding a Petoskey stone for grandson Pryce, who is a rock collector of sorts. This, of course, required a bit of backtracking--35 miles back to Petoskey. This stone is both a rock and a fossil, composed of fossilized rugose coral, supposedly 350 million years old, laid down only in the lower Michigan peninsula area during glaciation. When dry, it looks like an ordinary piece of limestone but, when wet, it displays the six-sided mottled fossilization of the piece. You can see the difference in the photos below:

Using skilled lapidary techniques, the stones can be made into some distinctive and unique jewelry which of course, Sandy would come to own as a result of our quest of that day. This was fine with me, as her birthday had just passed by and, as usual, we waited until she found just the right thing to be gifted for the occasion. A plus was that it is a unique souvenir that she will always remember from this trip, especially as it can be found nowhere else. By the way, it is also the Michigan state stone.

Well, that will do for now. It's off to Mackinac Island, from which our next post will be composed.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Monday, August 19, 2019

We Head Up the UP

At Vacation Station RV Resort, Ludington, Michigan...

I suppose I had better begin posting about our trip up the Upper Peninsula before I forget the subjects of the photos I've taken. (You young people who still have your memories fully functional had better enjoy it while you can; you annoy me to no end.)

Gosh, where to begin? After we left White Pigeon with Phannie's new jacks, we made the fairly short hop to Montague, Michigan, for a brief stay before heading to Ludington, where friends Eddie and Jan were parked for the month. One of the first things we do when we get to a new location is look up the best places to eat. We found a real winner at Pekadill's Deli in Montague (pronounced Mont-ah-gyew), where we were actually able to sit outside and enjoy dinner in perfect 75-degree weather in the afternoon:

As we ate our oversized sandwiches, enjoying the fine weather and beautiful landscaping around us, unbothered by flies or other insects, it was hard to believe this was real. Such an enjoyable outdoor dinner would have been unthinkable in Texas in August. And the flowers! Oh my! Small-town Michiganers are serious about flowers, as you can see from the photo above. There will be more to come.

On the advice of Eddie and Jan, we made a side trip to Muskegon, for another outdoor dinner, this time at the yacht harbor. We just couldn't get enough of the amazing weather that allows this sort of thing as a matter of routine. For us, it was almost chilly here in the low seventies, and I don't think some of our friends in Texas, where there is a real heat wave going on, are speaking to us at the moment.

Then it was farther north to Ludington and Vacation Station RV Park, where we would finally meet up with Eddie and Jan. They are very special to us--fellow Texans whom we got to know through other good friends, Ed and Marilyn, mentioned in a number of posts over the years and also in just a few posts back. Eddie and Jan were extremely helpful in giving us suggestions for scenic drives and things to see in the area.

I should mention that this is one of the nicest RV parks we have ever visited, as you can tell from the photo above and the one below:

A plus about the park is that it is not overpriced, surprisingly enough. (I should mention that it is listed on the "Best of the Best RV Parks" page linked on this blog and has been listed there for a long time.)

Remember my mentioning flowers? Take a look at a few photos I took around Ludington. Many of these small towns are just breathtaking in the beautification efforts of their citizens:

Thanks to our hosts, we got an unexpected chance to see the S.S. Badger docked in Ludington. It is the only remaining steam-powered ferry on the Great Lakes. 

Built in 1953, she shuttles across Lake Michigan from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a distance of 62 miles, carrying vehicles and passengers, serving as an extension of highway U. S. 10. The voyage takes four hours and rarely cancels due to weather. Just as a bit of trivia, the ship burns 50 tons of coal each day, and the ash, previously dumped in Lake Michigan, is now removed from the ship daily, to be used as an ingredient in making cement.

By the way, here's some trivia about vessel nomenclature: Did you know that "S.S" preceding the name of a vessel indicates that it is a steamship? This is opposed to "U.S.S.," indicating "United States Ship" or "U.S.N.S.," indicating "United States Navy Ship," both of which are used to identify a ship operated by the U. S. Navy. There are many other of these identifiers in use among seagoing vessels, but I'm not going to list them here; that is probably enough trivia for this post.

We took a couple of day trips based on recommendations from Eddie and Jan. Highlights of these were a woodworking shop with some remarkable woodcraft for sale and an owner who was an absolute hoot. We also checked out Sanders Meats, a 90-year old meat market in the middle of nowhere--tiny Custer, Michigan--that had some of the best smoked meats and cheeses imaginable. Here is Eddie in one of the walk-in coolers along with a likeness of John Wayne. (This part of Michigan is not exactly a liberal stronghold.)

Of course, we couldn't leave without buying some goodies, so these were among my purchases, all of which were wonderful:

I'll have to say that finding little gems like the woodworking shop and Sanders Meats represent some of my favorite aspects of traveling in the hinterlands. You never know what kind of nugget you'll happen upon completely unexpectedly. I just love it!

As we drove along scenic Michigan Highway 22, we got our first really impressive views of Lake Michigan's blue waters--with no horizon visible, of course, making it indistinguishable from an ocean:

I'll leave this with something that really gave me a chuckle. We were all having lunch at a small roadside eatery just outside Ludington when I made a visit to the men's restroom. Hanging over the urinal was this painting of a rooster that provoked enough giggling from me that I, well, sort of forgot for a minute why I was there. Finally, my stream of consciousness returned, but I still laugh when I see this photo: 

Little quirky things like this bring to mind the reason I get so much enjoyment out of this nomadic lifestyle and the indescribable value to us of this blog, soon to reflect 15 years of our life with an RV from the very first trip in 2005. It also amazes me that, in all likelihood, it has had well over a million page views. (The Feedjit counter you see near the top of the right column started on zero only about six years ago. I set it at zero because I didn't know how many looks it had had in the previous nine years, but I''m guessing it would be over a million by now.) Many thanks to those who have followed along with this nonsense. I hope it has been as enjoyable for you as it has for me to write it. I get the feeling it helps exercise my memory, and there's something else that I don't remember right now. Anyway, we will relive these experiences via these pages long after we hang up the keys, and that will be worth it all.

So, stick around; who knows what we'll find at the next stop!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Phannie Gets New Jacks; I Avoid the Funny Farm (For Now)

At Trailway Campground, Montague, Michigan...

The new jacks are done! I'll give you the details below, but first, a little background info:

I have put up with the infernal Atwood electric jacks that Tiffin--in perhaps one of its two worst engineering debacles--installed on some of its coaches in the mid-2000s; Phannie, unfortunately, was one of those. The other engineering catastrophe was when they installed plywood flooring under the wet bay during the same years; Phannie was one of those, too. I can't imagine who at Tiffin thought that was a good idea; the words "wet" and "plywood" should not even be used in the same sentence. To his credit, Bob Tiffin replaced every one of the plywood floors with waterproof material at no cost to the owners. That episode with Phannie is documented in this post.

I wasn't so lucky with the Atwood jacks. I suppose some owners had pretty good service with them, but I know plenty of others like me who had nothing but trouble. I suppose that, because of the difficulties, Atwood offered an upgrade kit a few years ago that consisted of replacing all the jacks and the brain with what was, supposedly, a more reliable and robust system. Due to my exasperation, I bought the kit and had it installed by Tiffin. For a year or two after that, things went fine. But then I started having trouble with them again and, by this time, Atwood announced that they were no longer going to manufacture the jacks nor were they going to make any parts for them either. I can't say I blame them, failed as they were, but the name Atwood will forever be a dirty word in my vocabulary from now on. So, there went $3,500 that I would much rather have given to family or any worthy cause.

As time went by and the troubles continued, these jacks ultimately became the bane of my existence. Fortunately, I was saved from the funny farm when both HWH and Bigfoot came out with a hydraulic jack retrofit system to replace the junky Atwoods. This was great news! If I get one of these, it can't possibly cost as much as psychiatric therapy, I thought. So, I carefully researched both systems and decided that Bigfoot offered what appeared to be the better designed and more robust product at a lesser cost than the HWH kit. And, fortunately, I had two friends who had the Bigfoot retrofit systems installed recently, and they are very happy with them. Thus, the decision was made and the appointment made with Bigfoot. As you may recall, the previous post left off with our arrival at the Bigfoot factory and parking for the evening.

The next morning, we had gotten up very early to make sure we were dressed and Phannie was all buttoned up and ready to go. Promptly at 0800, there was a knock on Phannie's door, and Jeff said we could go eat breakfast, as they would take it from here. So, we drove into downtown White Pigeon and stopped at Rachael's, a small cafe that appeared to be very popular with the natives. We had a very nice and leisurely breakfast, knowing there would be no need to hurry, as the installation would take 6-7 hours to complete.

After that, we drove back to the main office waiting area, where we relaxed and napped a while. Then we went to get some gas in the car and stopped by the local grocery store before returning to the Bigfoot office.  Soon after that, one of the guys came in and said, "We're all done; come on down to your rig, and we'll show you how to operate it."

I couldn't help but walk around Phannie and admire the shiny new jacks, upon which I had them install SnapPads, at an extra cost of about $200. Then we stepped into Phannie's cockpit to take a look at the new control pad:

Everything seemed pretty straightforward, and I was pleased to have a separate air dump capability, which I didn't have with the Atwood system.  

The Bigfoot system uses an individual extend/retract self-contained hydraulic system for each jack, controlled by a central brain. It will not operate and will alarm if the jacks are down with the engine running, so as to ensure no attempted driveoffs with the jacks extended. It can be operated with automatic or manual leveling, as desired, but the automatic worked perfectly.

Although photos are not allowed by customers during the installation, I told them the installation would be featured in a fairly widely-read RV blog, and they quickly offered to take photos for me, which I appreciated.  Here is a photo of Phannie backed up onto ramps to give the workers more room underneath:

Here is the last look at one of the Atwood jacks that would soon be extracted:

Here is the last Atwood jack, lying pitifully on the floor, as if ready to be picked up by a hearse. Good riddance!

Here is a worker, welding the new jack support in place:

The new Bigfoot jack housing is now in place:

Next, the jack's pump/valve control module and hydraulic reservoir are installed:

Two more pump/valve control modules and reservoirs are waiting to be installed:

After about seven hours, voila! The installation is done and we are hooked up and ready to go; we will make our next stop, Montague, Michigan by 1730.

Here is a photo of one of the jacks extended at our next stop. I love the SnapPads. I should never have a need for extra pads with a footprint like this:

Reaching Montague, we activated the system for the first time and oh, what a difference! After dumping the air, I pushed the auto button and the system activated almost silently and, after a few bumps, the leveling was done. Never before has that task been so quick and easy, and never before has the coach been so level and secure-feeling. To say we're happy would be a huge understatement. Looks like they will not take me away in a strait jacket after all.  Stay tuned as we travel up the UP in the next few weeks.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood