Saturday, July 31, 2010

2010-25 Houghton/Hancock Michigan

Houghton/Hancock Michigan
Copper Country

Campground:  Hancock City Beach/Rv park.  $20-22.  Electric and cable Tv.  Nice wooded setting.  Some sites along Portage Lake.

I traveled the rest of the way to the Houghton/Hancock area in the U.P. and quickly set up my campsite with views of Portage Lake.  My sister Ann (she’s the oldest), I being the youngest and always will be, got together for an evening of reminiscing and talking about our current lives as well.  Discussions of mystical visions within the family that were never spoken of, to the joys of having made it to retirement age filled the evenings conversations.  Family being foremost on our minds.

A day or two later I joined up with a friend of mine, Ron who’s working up here in one of the newest National Parks,  Keweenaw NHP.  I had planned an adventure to find the Trailer Park Taj Mahal in Zeba Michigan.  It was listed as one of 7 Rv wonders of the World.  Ron had heard of it and even had a picture of it, so with my internet description we headed out towards Baraga/L,anse  in search of the MH park that was built on steel girders and was multi-levels in height.   We stopped in the L,anse visitor center for directions, but no one had heard of it.  I suggested that they really should bone up on the history and national landmarks in their area.  Ron and I grabbed a local map to make sure we were headed in the right direction to Zeba and off we went.

Unfortunately, it does not exist
Having missed the side road we were supposed to turn on, we doubled back and finally found Zeba road.  No MH park.  Circling down the next road we passed lake side homes, but no MH park.  We were directed across the county road to the other side and there was the Zeba MH park, with it’s loop road as described (the street sign had been removed, no wonder we missed it the first time around), but no high rise homes on steel girders.  We stopped again and asked a couple of workers repairing an ancient MH if they knew where this Taj Mahal of Trailer parks was.  No on had a clue.  We began to think that maybe it had been torn down, as it may no longer meet safety codes.  What with small travel trailers and MH’s stacked this way and that up the side of a hill on steel frames.

Our next stop was the local library, thinking they surely would know the history of such a unique structure.  As I eagerly got the to counter and asked the Library staff for some information, they looked at me like I was a nut.  I showed them my computer print out of the directions and description and suggested they check it out on the Internet themselves.  It quickly began to dawn on all of us that Ron and I had been Cyber Punked.  Imagine.  It was all a hoax.  Well I never…. We had a good laugh over it, still a bit befuddled that I’d been punked.

Ron then suggested that we explore an Indian cemetery he had found a couple years ago.  It had unique huts known as spirit houses built over some of the grave sites.  It was supposed to be on Indian cemetery road, but we couldn’t find that road so we just went down a couple others and before you knew it, we’d found the cemetery.  A historical sign described the Piney Indian Cemetery, part of the Chippewa Indian Reservation.

Days later, after enjoying the wonderful weather up here on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I met up with my 4 cousins at the Michigan House in Calumet.  A perfect location to have lunch with relatives I never knew I had until Henry started doing our family genealogy and created the Palosaari/Luukkonen Family History.

What interesting conversations with my new found relatives and friends.  We discussed everything from sightings of  Moose, which they have been attempting to reintroduce into the area, to remedies for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  One being to soak chunks of eggplant in a bowl of water for a couple of days in the fridge, then drink the water.  Donald tells me the water has almost no flavor, though it is quite purplish in color.

the old family home

In the evening, I went over to Houghton where they have free concerts on Thursday nights in a parking lot down near the new Portage Township Library and Portage Lake.  Odd they don’t hold it at the City park with it’s band shell.  Heard a small trio of young performers first.  The lead singer belted out her songs (which all sounded the same to me) with such a high pitched voice amplified by two large speakers. The sound was quite painful to listen too after all I was sitting in the front row.   Fortunately the next band, the Backyard BBQ band was really good.  A mix of Memphis Blues, New Orleans and rock really rocked the house.  Or in this case, the parking lot.  The set up and location appear to be an afterthought and I hope they eventually find a better location for a great summer evening event.

So as you can see, I’m enjoying my visit to my home town of Houghton and the Copper Country.  I have another week of exploring and visiting while here in the U.P. so if any other exciting things happen, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Friday, July 23, 2010

24-2010 Entering the U.P. of Michigan

Munising Michigan
Hancock Michigan

Campground:  Kewadin Casino.  8 parking sites with elect.  Free.  Example of other campgrounds in the area:  Forest campground (across the street from the casino) $16 primitive.  City of Munising campground, $25-$30.

Campground:  Hancock city Beach park.  Sites $20-22.  Electric and Cable Tv.  Drinking water throughout park but not at each site.  I have a site on the water.

I’ve arrived in the most perfect summer weather, having hit Michigan.  For all those looking to head to the mountains in the east or out west looking for cooler weather, why not consider a beautiful state like Michigan.  Evening temps in the low 60’s.  Daytime temps around 75.  Refreshing.  Glad I’m up here.

I’ve left my Sisters home in Whitehall and headed north along hwy 31.  Past Christmas tree farms, thick forests and the occasional fruit orchard.  31 eventually dead ends.  A turn to the right along hwy 10 brings views of abandoned homes maybe 100 years old.  Windows blank and dark, roofs sagging or caved in from too many snow storms in the past.  The area becomes less and less populated which is hard to do as the state, especially inland, already appears sparsely populated.  Excepting the occasional lake that can be viewed from the road.  That’s where you’ll find dozens of cabins dotting each lake.  Summer cottages.  A tradition in the north country.

I merge onto  highway 131 continuing north and it too eventually ends and becomes a two lane rural road.  Erie, as I head further into northern reaches of wilderness.  I stay overnight in Wolverine just north of Gaylord.  This area has the largest elk population east of the Mississippi.

I had planned an excursion to Mackinac Island, but decide instead to continue my journey into Northern Michigan.  The U.P.  For some reason wanting to touch the soil where I grew up.  Besides, I saw on TV the other night that the island is crammed with tourists and a recent sailing race just ended on the island.

Our recovery dollars are at work in the U.P.  Roads leading into Munising are having sections of concrete replaced.  Most of the “highways” up here are two lane country roads.  I quickly set up at the Kewadin Casino parking lot/camp spot.  Went inside and received $10 of free coins for playing their slots, it being my Birthday month.  So with getting three days free camping and the $10 in free play, I’m ahead about $70.

I noticed a sign advertising a concert in the park as I drove through town.  Went back downtown around 7 and was treated to two awesome Air force bands.  A Jazz band with singer and a full Big Band.  Most of the players are in the National Guard and hale from the St Louis area.  These two bands were so much more professional then the one I heard in Montague the other week.  A joy to hear, smooth clear precise music.  I particularly loved the Tuba player and his song about Cuban’s loving the rumba on a Tuba.  A fun energetic song.  The tribute to Judy Garland was well done.

I stopped at the visitor center and got an awesome map showing the locations of 14 waterfalls and 5 lighthouses in the area and one old iron ore furnace.  Tours of shipwrecks, Grand Island and Pictured Rocks National Park can fill easily days of adventure for anyone.  I asked about the short summer tourist season and the gal at the visitor center said they do pretty well during the summer and winter, as the winter brings on all the snowmobilers to the area.  Summer all the tourists take in motels close to town.  In winter they fill all the cabin and motels on the outskirts of town to take advantage of being close to the snowmobile trails.

I drove the remainder of the distance to the Copper Country and my home town of Houghton.  About a 150 mile drive with views of lake Superior, tons of forests and small towns along the way.  It's good to be back in the U.P.

Looking forward to visiting my other sister Ann for two weeks and enjoying wonderfully cool weather along with sunshine and breezes.

Always more photo's on Picasa.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2010-23 Whitehall Michigan, Family Visit

Whitehall Michigan
Montague.  A two week family visit.

I've arrived in Michigan and will be visiting my sister Dorothy for two weeks.  I had dreams of good cooking for months as her husband Dave is a wonderful cook, but at this point it’s not to be.  Like a number of my readers are experiencing, our Dave is not doing well health wise.  It’s one of those situations where we’re all trying to figure out what’s best when the patient does not want to go to a doctor or hospital to have things checked out.  What to do.  None of us are qualified to determine the “right time” to go in.  So we muddle through, worried that we are making the right decision or non decision and have sleepless nights worrying about our loved ones.

Dorothy is holding up as well as can be expected, going to work, running home at lunch time to check on her husband, doing the chores Dave would normally do.  Neighbors hover and stay the afternoon concerned about their buddy and trying to add comfort where they can. Calls back and forth between two daughters in St Louis and Florida add to the drama as they want to keep in close contact as to the current situation.

The next day, after a couple of Dr’s appt. Dave was feeling much better.  Amazing the changes that can be made within 24 hours.  All are relieved and breathing easier.

I’m staying at a city park called Trail Way in the town of Montague.  Only one mile from my sisters house.  A 25 mile bike path winds around the campground for easy access to exercise and views of a boat marina.  Nice to be this close in case I’m needed for any reason.

Ok, so I went to a local restaurant called The Favor CafĂ©.  They are known for a good breakfast, but since I was there for lunch, I decided to try a BLT salad.  Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato.  Pretty simple and almost impossible to mess up.  The lettuce was crisp, the bacon was perfect but instead of vine ripened Michigan tomatoes, it came with chunks of canned tomatoes.  Can you believe?  Skinned soggy tomato chunks. Oh and then the waitress proudly placed a basket of their famous “bread crust ends”.  Pieces of crust from their  home made bread that were then deep fried in grease.  Double Yuck!  She assured me I would love them….. I didn’t.  Sure wish I could have tried their home made fresh bread… wonder who gets served that?

Visiting with family.  Kim has arrived with her two daughters, Megan and Cammy.  Husband Aaron will arrive in a few days.  Kim has learned to be quite the professional cook and along with Dave they are making me a wonderful Cajun Pasta dinner for my Birthday.  Did I time this visit well or what.  After dinner the girls invite me up to their bedroom/artist retreat where they want to draw me.  Megan draws me while Cammy draws a picture of her mother.  The youngest gets tired and cranky.  Mom deftly brings her back around and teaches her how to communicate without raising her voice.  A smooth and seamless lesson that the Super Nanny would be proud of.

Conversation continues around the outdoor patio, around the kitchen butcher-block table and a hundred pictures are taken as it seems the whole family has a camera ready for that perfect shot.

COMPUTER TIP:  I had a perfluxed moment the other day when I hit the Shut down mode of my laptop.  It started to log off and as I closed the lid, I noticed it was attempting to load new software on the computer.  You know that’s a no no to turn off the computer before it’s finished loading software, but I’d already closed the lid.  Now I couldn’t get the computer to re-boot and start again.  What to do.  I ran into my sisters house and told Kim (my niece) my perfluxumed situation.  She’s a computer guru.   Kim said, “remove the battery”.  It closes all activity running in the background on the computer and when you re-insert the battery it can usually start up again normally.  It Worked!  Yippee, Kim is soooo smart.  And if I had not be in such a state, I might have remembered this tip from my many computer classes.

A trip to the beach, Duck Lake and Lake Michigan.  Building sand castles, hiking to the top of the dunes, swimming, splashing and laughing.  What better way to spend a sunny day in western Michigan.

An evening outdoor concert put on by a local band at the White Lake Band shell here in Montague.  My sister Dorothy, her daughter Kim and the two girls enjoyed the band as the sun finally faded behind a bank of trees.  The band leader could have picked up the temp on most of the selections, but when it’s free one doesn’t voice their opinion too loudly.  The fat lady sang two songs operatic style, well ok she wasn’t really fat but she did sing the last song and we left….

Drove around the farming communities in the area.  Many fruit tree orchards, asparagus farms and lush green countryside.  Small scattered towns and hidden cottages along the shores of Lake Michigan.

And the last couple of days before heading into Northern Michigan brought another bought of  Illness for Dave.  Ambulances came (no siren please).  Hospital emergency room, oxygen tubes in place, sedation to ease the recovery period.  Drives back and forth to the hospital.  Days later and Dave is back with us.   A bit grumpy… who wouldn’t be after the all he’s gone through.  Tension, relief and a learning curve of what to do, not to do and plans for the next time.  

Finally time to move north and into the U.P.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

2010-22 Indiana

Southern Indiana

Campsite:  Whitewater Memorial State Park.  $16-$26 depending on the day as they charge differently for weekdays, weekends, holidays etc.  Beautiful grassy and treed sites, but campsites are fairly close and busy on weekends.  22 over-the-air  HD TV stations.

Campsite:  Elkhart County 4H Fairground.  $19 for Water and Elect.  Beautifully maintained Fairgrounds and the least expensive place to stay in the area.  30 over-the-air HD TV stations.  Just minutes from downtown Goshen IN.

I arrived at a state park in southern Indiana on Saturday, usually not the greatest time to get to a state park.  But as luck would have it, and luck was on my side today, the camp registrar, gave me one of the few paved, pull thru sites.  I felt like I’d won the lottery.  It’s like having a deluxe campsite.  An estate site next to common gravel sites.  A large paved parking area and patio with a big picnic table.  Giant shade trees provide a canopy for the grassy campsites against the scorching sun. No tracking in mud and dirt into the camper… this is what campers dream of.

Being in a state park over a weekend, I see all the family activities, kids and whole families riding their bikes, campfires blazing even in the heat of the day. Trying to use up all that wood they’ve brought on their journey and then on Sunday, one by one they pack up and head on out and go back home.  Having no home to go to, except for the one I travel with, I get to enjoy the ebb and flow of these weekends and the quieter days that follow, as the “ weekender's” vacate the campground leaving behind empty grassy campsites, awaiting the next weekend.

Or, I’ll head on out and tour the area like today where I ended up in the hamlet of Metamora Indiana and the Whitewater canal.  It’s one of the few places that one can take a ride on a passenger barge drawn by two horses.  And it’s the only place in the world that has a covered aqueduct.  Now how cool is that.  The small town that developed next to the canal is now pretty much a tourist town filled with quant shops in historic buildings.  The State Historical Society runs and maintains this small section of the canal as well as a grist mill.  Now here’s an interesting fact.  After the very brief rise of barge canals that were replaced by the steam engine trains, the canals had a second life by placing mills along the canals.  Over 100 on the Whitewater canal alone utilizing water power to run all those mills.  The State of Indiana went bankrupt over building the canal and a second constitution was later written that stated that Indiana could never again purchase anything on credit.  To this day, Indiana continues to have a conservative government paying cash for everything and has never been in debt since.  Something Washington and many states could learn from.  I learn something new every day.

Indiana has the most covered bridges in the Nation, if I have my facts straight.  I drove around Rush County in the SE corner of the state where many covered bridges are still in service.  I drove through two of them. Many of them built by A.M. Kennedy and Sons.  Kennedy was quite a salesman.  He would go to a town that was putting out a bid for a covered bridge and unlike the other bridge makers who would bring a set of plans on paper, Kennedy would bring a model of one of his bridges.  He would then have his full grown son stand on top of the model bridge and hop up and down on it to show how strong it was.  He usually got the job.

The weather has turned a beautiful 72-78 daytime and evenings are expected to be in the high 50’s.  Low humidity too.  Just perfect.

In the town of Liberty, I went into the library and one of the staff told me about some of the history of the area, including the fact that inspiration for the Little Orphan Anne who was really Mary Alice "Allie" Smith originally lived in the area.  I also stopped by the Post Office and to take a picture of the restored WPA painting.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could put all those people getting Unemployment benefits to do public works projects like the ones way back when the WPA and CCC programs were created.  I think a lot of people would feel better about getting the extended unemployment benefits if they could do some work in return.  Just a rambling thought as I travel the back roads.

Northern Indiana

And today, Wednesday, it was another moving day as I traveled up the eastern side of Indiana along hwy 27.  A two lane country road as straight as an arrow.  I enjoyed the miles  and miles of rich farm land, stitched together by water towers peaking over the tops of the trees every 10 to 20 miles indicating a small town or crossroads community.  The corn fields are lush with green stocks waving in a gentle breeze.  Farms, silos and farmhouses every couple of miles.  Early on I saw the most beautiful brown fox with his pointy ears and big fluffy tail run across the road, continually looking left, right and back behind him.  Just a gorgeous creature.

I’m Staying at a the Elkhart 4H County Park.  They have 4 or five plots of mostly grassy campsites.  Only one other camper in my section next to the race track where I get to watch the horses training.

This is Amish country.  Where ever I drive, there are black horse drawn buggies on the roads.  Unlike Canada, where they have gravel skirting along the paved roads so the Amish can ride on the side of the roads.  Here the Amish must drive their buggies on the pavement.  Even the local Wal-Mart has a covered stall for their horses.  Or one can see the women and some men riding bikes to and from their neighbors in the area.  Women wearing their simple long blue dresses and white dolly type hats.  The men and boys with their home made pants, shirts and suspenders and straw hats.

This is home to many of the Rv manufacturers and I’ll be taking tours of a couple of them.  And no I’m not buying one.  But always fun to see how they are built.  One of the places I’ve toured already was the Carriage 5th wheel plant.  They can build and assemble 5 per day. Well built units, but very heavy.  None are built unless a dealer has ordered them and it appears they are back to full production.  A Good sign since so many camper manufacturers have gone out of business.

 I even went to an Amish furniture builder, Carlyle Lehman, who does custom work just for Rv’s.  His business is called Focal Wood Products LLC.  Carlyle, with his full beard (no mustache), clear bright face with the most intense brown eyes that look right through you.   I had a chance to see his workshop, a second home on the property that they are using just as a showroom and the grounds.  Beautifully landscaped with 20 foot high shrubs, flower gardens throughout and lush grass lawns.  His wife takes care of the house’s and yard work.  Carlyle worked as a quality control manager at one of the Rv manufacturers before teaching himself his carpentry skills.  Oh and he had all the electric power tools and machinery along with a/c etc.  Wonder if he still rides in a horse and buggy?  Probably.

In Elkhart, I visited a few Rv surplus places and could have gone crazy buying more stuff for the camper, but limited myself to a new extendable brush for washing the camper and a side table that folds down to as little as 6 inches wide and opens up to create a small table that can be raised up to any height for eating or for ones laptop.  And of course I made it to the RV/MH Hall of Fame.  An impressive new building only about 3 years old and has a wonderful display of old campers from the late 20’s on up to today.  Less than half the campers are available as the rest are still in storage in California.  Still worth the visit as I felt like I was going to the Mecca for Rv’ers.  I particularly liked the home made custom units and one made for May West.

I’ll be heading to Lower and Upper Michigan to visit with family (Ann and Dorothy) and friends in July and will probably only post a short report during that time.  I’m also planning on heading into Canada around Thunder Bay to visit with my good friends Elaine and Gary and may even get to visit friends in Minnesota but they tell me the state bird (the mosquito) is voracious this year so I’m not sure about that visit yet.