Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Empire, MI

The small village of Empire is right on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We have taken advantage of our unscheduled visit by taking a short hike one day and a 23 mile bike ride the other.

The short hike was on the Empire Bluff Trail, just south of the village.  The trail is only a mile and a half round trip, but leads to a  great view of the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

As we approached the bluff, a great view emerged on our right

Lake Michigan Shoreline with Sleeping Bear Dunes visible to the north

The next day we took advantage of some great weather and rode the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail from Empire to Glen Arbor, a little over eleven miles to the north.

The paved trail meanders through woods and open fields

A bit over seven miles on the trail we came to the parking area for the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb.  The part of the trail we just rode recently opened in June.  Before that, the Dune Climb parking lot was the southern end of the trail.

The dune climb

About three miles north of the Dune Climb we came to the former logging and canning community of Glen Haven.

The main (and only) street of Glen Haven

During the second half of the 1800s Glen Haven was a busy place.  The picture below is a close up of a display board located along the lake front.  In it you can see a dock with a rail car on it and a large steamer arriving at the dock.  The train brought lumber from a few miles away to the dock, where it was loaded on to the steamers.

There are still a few pilings out in the lake (marked by the arrow below) that show just how far out into the lake the dock ran.

Turn around from the lake front and you are looking at a restored red building, the former home of the Glen Haven Canning Company.  When the lumber business began to fade in the 1920s, the mill owner diversified into growing and canning fruit grown, especially cherries.

The cannery went out of business and other ventures didn’t fair much better so the town slowly declined.  In the 1970s the National Park Service purchased the land and incorporated it into the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  Many of the buildings have been restored, like the old cannery building which houses a display of old boats.

About two miles further up the trail is the little touristy town of Glen Arbor.  This part of Michigan is known for growing cherries, so it is not surprising that one of the most frequently visited places in the village is the Cherry Republic.  There are three buildings in the small complex: a retail store (Great Hall of the Republic), a tasting building, and a small restaurant.

Outside the Great Hall of the Republic is a bit of a strange display, the rear end of a car attached to a wall.  Cherry Republic began in 1989 with a young guy selling t-shirts and Cherry Boomchunka cookies from the trunk of his car.  As a way to remember the company’s humble beginnings they chopped off that trunk and put it on display!

The Trunk

The cookie

Right next to the gift shop is the tasting building where you can sample wines and sodas made from, you guessed it, cherries.

The line was a bit too long in the tasting room so we walked around it to the other side where we found an interesting competitive sports facility, the Cherry Pit Spitting Arena.  Who knew!

The arena

The official rules are simple but very practical.

We stopped in the restaurant for lunch and both ordered the chicken salad sandwich with a glass of water.  Guess what was in the chicken salad? Cherries!  Guess what was in the bread? Cherries!  Guess what was floating in the water?  OK, this is getting old!  Good thing we love cherries ! ! !

And so ends our brief side trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes area.  Tomorrow we pull in the slides, raise the levelers, fire up the diesel and head about a hundred and fifty miles north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our plan is to stay overnight just across the Mackinac Bridge in the town of St. Ignace.

More on that later . . .


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Clayton, NY – The Thousand Islands

Clayton, NY

When we last blogged a few weeks ago, we had just ended a great month on Dave and Sue’s lot next to beautiful Conesus Lake just south of Rochester.  From there we drove about a hundred and fifty miles north to the village of Clayton, along the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River.  We go there every summer to visit Pam’s mother, Fran, and to do a few odd jobs around the house for her.  While there, we park the motorhome in an unused drive of a friend of Fran’s, John Eppolito.  It is just around the corner from Fran’s, so we spend most of our time at her house but are able to sleep in our own bed each night!

The Eppolito RV Park (no frills)

This year we wanted to be there to attend a high school graduation party for our niece Daniela, Pam’s sister’s daughter.

The party begins (Pam’s mom is seated in the center)

The proud graduate

It takes a confident man to sit in a pink chair

In between polishing a car, cleaning windows, and completing some general repairs, we managed to get in a couple of side trips.  The first was a hike around the west end of nearby Wellesley Island.   Access to the island is done by crossing the Thousand Island Bridge on I-81.

A little out of focus, but you get the idea (picture borrowed from the web)


The trail is in the Thousand Islands State Park and begins at the nature center.  While not exactly hiking the Rockies, it does have some pretty good ups and downs . . .

. . . and plenty of great views of the river.

The Clayton Tour Boat in “the Narrows”

On another beautiful day we did our annual international bike trip to Kingston, Ontario.  To get to Kingston we drove the Jeep about ten miles to the west along the river to the tiny village of Cape Vincent.  There we hopped a small private ferry for the short (15 minutes) ride to Wolfe Island ($2/person), owned by Canada.

Once we cleared Canadian customs it is an eight mile ride across the island through beautiful farm fields.

At the little village of Marysville we boarded a free ferry to the mainland.

The empty ferry

Five minutes later, the full ferry

After two weeks we feel the need to get back on the road again.  Since returning from our trip west last August we have spent the past year basically returning to places where we had previously stayed (Clayton, York, Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, etc.).  We’re now anxious to head west again to explore new territory.  So on Monday we were up early and headed out.  While we do want to head “west” the first leg of our journey was to the “east” as we headed to the Thousand Islands Bridge to cross into Canada.  The bridge helps get the old heart rate up for the trip as it is a bit narrow and steep!

Our “long term” goal is to go up into the Canadian Rockies and visit Jasper and Banff National Parks.  To get there we’ve decided to meander along US-2 through Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Montana.  US-2 begins just over the Mackinac Bridge on the Upper Peninsula.  So the shortest route from Clayton to Michigan is to take Highway 401 through Ontario.  On Monday we crossed into Ontario and drove about 370 miles to Wyoming, ON, where we stopped at a nice RV park just off the highway.  Early the next morning we drove about twenty miles more  before crossing back into the US at the Sarnia/Port Huron bridge.  Then it was north on I-75 to the Mackinac Bridge where we planned to stay at a casino in St. Ignace.

But wait!  Why should a couple living in a house on wheels follow a set plan?  As we drove north on I-75, Pam mentioned a great resort we visited during our first year of full-timing twenty miles west of Traverse City along Lake Michigan.  As we talked about what a nice park it was, the idea arose to see if they had a spot available.  Sure enough, a quick phone call and we had a reservation.  So a few miles more on the interstate, then we turned to the west and headed for Indigo Bluffs, near Empire, MI.


We booked the above site for three nights, then we’ll continue our journey to the Mackinac Bridge and the Upper Peninsula.  Or maybe not, depending on how we feel.  It’s a tough life, but somebody has to lead it!

Let’s close this post with a couple of shots of the sun setting over the Thousand Islands.

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The Ring of Fire

Geneseo, NY

When we arrived at Dave and Sue’s beautiful site along Conesus Lake way back on June 1st, we intended to stay for two or three days.  Dave described a neat activity along the lake they call the Ring of Fire that takes place “on the third.”  We said that was great as it was only two days away so we would be there to see it.  Dave said it was not held on June third, but on July third.  That’s a month away, we told him!  But when they invited us to stay longer and Mr. David’s Sewer Pump Installation Service arrived the next day to get the sewer working, we began to re-think our stay.  A full hook up site along a beautiful lake!  Great local guides to show us the area!  A golf course nearby!  A Starbucks in  the nearby college (SUNY Geneseo)!  Are you serious!  We’re in ! ! !

The month quickly passed and the third of July soon arrived.  Now it was time for the famous “Ring of Fire.”  That night tradition says that everyone around the shores of Conesus Lake builds a bonfire to be lit at dark.

Wow, they even sell shirts for this shindig!

Apparently  in past celebrations Dave took great pride himself in building one of the largest fires in the area.  Although maybe not up to those past standards, he said he would bring some wood down the morning of the 3rd for a small (for him) blaze.  Sure enough, he arrived bright and early (ok, we’re retired – early is around noon!).

Just a few pieces of kindling, right?

John helped Dave unload the wood, which they threw down the bank to the lawn next to the lake.  One large piece had a mind of its own and rolled across the lawn, over the break wall,  into the lake.  Of course, the log couldn’t drift back to shore, instead  it headed out toward deeper water.  Dave was afraid a boat might hit it, so he sent his trusted assistant in to the water to fetch the wayward log.

Got it!

While ignoring a short rain shower, the boys quickly assembled the fire structure, carefully following the MDBCI methodology (Mr. David’s Bonfire Construction Instructions).

The boss and his helper, Igor, survey the final structure

Proper supervision is the key to a successful project

This bonfire stuff is not Dave’s first rodeo.  He knows that if you wait until it is dark to light the fire,  it will not produce good hot coals for toasting marshmallows until you are ready to go home.  So a bit less than an hour before dark he set the pile ablaze.

Flames quickly rise up from the kindling in the middle of the pile.

Soon it is a rip roaring inferno!

At dusk the fireworks begin across the lake from us.

These people must have spent a few bucks on fireworks as they continued to shoot them off for hours!

The activity is called the “Ring of Fire” because at a designated time everyone lights flares along the shoreline on their property, creating a “ring” around the lake.  At the appointed hour (10 p.m.) John helped Dave light up the many flares Dave had set up earlier in the day.

The effect of the flares was spectacular!

While the flares put on their show, we settled in to the time honored tradition for enjoying a bonfire: S’mores!

We sat out until almost midnight enjoying the many firework displays up and down the lake.

The next evening Dave made another fire from the still hot coals and we enjoyed a final dinner by the lake.  Although it was the Fourth of July, things were much quieter than the previous night!

Benjamin Franklin once said “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”  Wow, we must really stink!  Its now time to end our great stay along the banks of Conesus Lake.  So Saturday morning  we fired up the motorhome and headed north about 150 miles to the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  Pam’s mother and sister live in the village of Clayton in the Thousand Islands.  Her sister’s daughter just graduated from high school and they are having a party Sunday afternoon to celebrate, so we need to be there.

Thanks so much to Dave and Sue (Buluga’s Great Adventure) for your great hospitality!  We will miss you and the dogs (Sasha and Lewis) but know we’ll see you soon somewhere in our travels (San Diego this winter ? ?).

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Geneseo, NY

Dave and Sue both grew up (many years ago) in the Buffalo, NY area and often visited the Niagara Falls area.  Recently they invited us to a day trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario,  a quaint little touristy village along the shore of Lake Ontario where the Niagara River empties into the lake.

From Geneseo, Dave took us on a scenic route that lead through the beautiful farm land of western New York just south of Lake Ontario.  After about two hours we entered Canada by crossing the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, one of three bridges that span the Niagara River as it flows 35 miles north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.  Once in Canada it is only a short drive north to Niagara-on-the-Lake.  We parked next to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course where we enjoyed lunch with a great view of the Niagara River emptying into Lake Ontario, with the US visible across the water.


Lunch with a view

This beautiful little nine hole course claims to be the oldest surviving golf course in North America, with play beginning in 1875.  Dave played it a few years after it opened and says it hasn’t changed much since then.  As we proceeded through the parking area John couldn’t help but admire the beautiful MGB pictured below.  He owned a similar vehicle (painted British Racing Green) when he first met Pam.  Two year after we were married, we traded the MGB for a baby boy!


Dreaming of younger days

A short walk from the golf course is the main area of the town.  This place is a paradise for those who love flowers.  Most of the houses in the residential areas have beautiful gardens and the main street of town is filled with well-manicured flower gardens.


Some people still stop to smell the roses!

The Shaw Cafe and Wine Bar, pictured below, is a good example of the colorful flowers along the main street.  The cafe takes its name from biggest event of the year in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Shaw Festival.


The Shaw Festival is a major Canadian theater festival,  sponsored by the Shaw Festival Theater Company, the second largest repertory theater company in North America.  Founded in 1962, its original mandate was to stimulate interest in George Bernard Shaw and his period, and to advance the development of theater arts in Canada.


The Prince of Wales Hotel

Just up the street from the Shaw Cafe is the famous Prince of Wales Hotel.  Built in 1864, the three story 110 room hotel went by several names (Long’s Hotel, Arcade Hotel, The Niagara House) and was renamed after famous guests, Duke of York (and Prince of Wales) and the Duchess of York, in 1901.  Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the hotel during her visit to the area in 1973.

After a walk through Niagara-on-the-Lake we drove south along the Niagara River, stopping at a viewing area to check out a view of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and the Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station.


Lewiston-Queenston Bridge

The Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station is a hydroelectric power station.  The plant diverts water from the Niagara River above Niagara Falls and returns the water into the lower portion of the river near Lake Ontario. It utilizes 13 generators at an installed capacity of 2,525 megawatts.  Canada has a similar power station that is almost directly across from the Moses Plant.


The Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station

We continued our drive along the river and soon entered the city of Niagara Falls, ON.  After parking the car we walked a short distance to the river where we were treated to a great view of the falls.


The Canadian Falls


Two Americans with the American Falls in the background


Dave and Sue check out the Canadian Falls

If you have ever visited Niagara Falls, chances are you took a ride on the Maid of the Mist.  With its iconic blue raincoats, the Maid of the Mist has enjoyed a monopoly on taking tourists right into the mist at the base of the falls for over a century from docks on both sides of the border.  But recently a company called Hornblower arrived on the river.  Hornblower already runs tours to Alcatraz and the Statue of Liberty. Two years ago it won a bid to run tours on the Canadian side of the falls.  Now Maid of the Mist only operates from the American side of the river.


Hornblower passengers in red, Maid of the Mist in blue

Both boats take you right up close to the base of the falls.  We took the Maid of the Mist trip many years ago and highly recommend it.



Walk south along the Canadian side and you can get a close up view just as the water drops over the falls.



Looking down over the Canadian Falls as a Maid of the Mist boat approaches (can you see the rainbow?)

Many thanks to Dave and Sue for this fun international trip.  We had a great time!

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Biking Along the Erie Canal

Geneseo, NY

The Erie Canal flows just south of Rochester as it makes its way “from Albany to Buffalo” (cue the old song).  There is a great biking/walking/running path the length of the canal along the old tow path.  On two recent days we drove north from Geneseo to one of the numerous parking areas along the canal to enjoy some bicycling.

Typical view of the Erie Canal

The majority of the trail in the Rochester area is nicely paved, but there are some areas that are gravel.

The first ride we took was toward the city of Rochester.  As we approached the city a detour on the path took us near the University of Rochester, so we took some time to ride around the campus.  The University  enrolls approximately 5,600 undergraduates and 4,600 graduate students.  With that many students we were surprised at the small size of the main athletic field pictured below.

It is a multi-use facility with seating only on one side.  But we think this school has the right philosophical mix of academics and athletics.  When we visit a college campus we always read its Wikipedia page and look at the list of notable graduates.  With most schools, the list is filled with athletes who went on to compete at the professional level.  But the list of notable graduates for UR does not include one single athlete.  But it does have a long list of successful science, medical, and engineering people including five Nobel Prize winners, eight Pulitzer Prize winners, and nearly one fourth of the scientists on the board advising NASA on the development of the replacement for the Hubble Telescope.  Not a bad list!

A few days later we returned to the same parking area and took a ride along the canal in the opposite direction, passing through the small towns of Pittsford and Fairport.  The canal was originally constructed in the early 19th century as a commercial transportation line from the Great Lakes to NYC.  Today it is mainly used by a wide variety of pleasure boats.  The boat pictured below is called a Lockmaster and can be rented for three, four, or seven days.

If you’re not up for a week on the canal piloting your own boat, a three hour cruise on a tour boat is available.  Below is the Colonial Belle on a canal cruise from nearby Fairport.

Not up for a cruise on a crowded boat?   Then the vessel pictured below might just be what you would like.

On the return ride through Pittsford we could hear music from a park bandstand on the other side of the canal.

As we entered the town we recognized the “Washington Post March” by John Philip Sousa.  Is this a classic American scene or what?  Riding a bicycle along a canal through a small town while listening to a Sousa march . . .

. . . and eating a little ice cream!

Our grandparents could have had the same experience a hundred years ago.  It doesn’t get any better than this ! ! !


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Hiking at Letchworth State Park

Geneseo, NY

About ten mile south of Geneseo is Letchworth State Park.  Since we are always looking for a good place to do some hiking wherever we go the park beckoned to us, so off we went on a sunny Friday afternoon for a little walk in the woods.

The park is named after William Pryor Letchworth (1823-1910), an industrialist from Buffalo who in 1906 bequeathed the 1,000-acre estate that forms the heart of the park to New York State.  The park is roughly 17 miles long, covering 14,350 acres of land along the Genesee River as it flows north into Lake Ontario.

Within the park, there are three large waterfalls on the Genesee River and as many as fifty waterfalls found on tributaries that flow into it.  The gorge formed by the river, with rock walls rising up to 550 feet in places and which narrows to 400 feet across above the middle of the three falls, prompted the area’s reputation as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

At the north end of the park is the Mount Morris Dam.  Completed in 1954, the Mt. Morris Dam is the largest flood control device of its kind (concrete gravity) east of the Mississippi River. It is 1,028 feet in length and rises 230 feet  from the riverbed.  When you first see the dam it looks a bit strange, as there is no water  behind it.  The dam is only used for flood control and proved its worth during the Hurricane Agnes in 1972, saving thousands of acres of farmland from flooding.

Mount Morris Dam

OK, who pulled the plug and let the water out?

We parked at the south end of the park at the trailhead for Trail 1, The Gorge Trail, which winds along the river with views of the three falls on the Genessee River.  The trail begins by going down a long, winding set of stairs.  We never like hiking “down” at the beginning of a hike as we then know what will happen on the return trip!

Toward the bottom of the stairs the path crossed one of many small waterfalls created by streams making their way to the river.

Looking back at Upper Falls you get a nice view of the Portage Railroad Bridge.

Upper Falls with the Portage Bridge above

In 1852 the Erie Railroad Company built a wooden trestle bridge over the river.  At the time, it was the longest and tallest wooden bridge in the world.  In 1875 the great wooden railroad bridge was destroyed in a tremendous fire. The bridge was a total loss, leaving only the concrete bridge abutments.

Immediately after the fire, officials of the Erie Railroad Company moved quickly to replace the wooden bridge with an iron and steel design.  Construction began June 8, 1875 and opened for traffic July 31, 1875. The bridge is 820 feet long and 240 feet high.  It is still in use today.

We hiked about a mile further downstream before coming upon the upper part of the Middle Falls.

Water cascading over Middle Falls

Middle Falls

One of the many small falls as creeks make their way to the river

Its been a while since we had “Lunch with a View”

Looking back north toward Middle and Upper Falls

A zoom of the picture above

At times the trail leveled out to a nice cool walk through the trees

Lower Falls

There is only one point where a trail crosses the Genesee River, over a beautiful stone bridge just below Lower Falls.  We hiked down to the bridge, where we turned around for the return hike.

Stone bridge over the Genesee River

Looking north from the bridge

The trail from the rim of the gorge down to the bridge involves going down 127 steps (at least that’s the number on a sign at the top).  Of course, what goes down must come back up!

As we neared Middle Falls on the return hike, the light was just right for some great rainbows in the mist.

As we neared the Upper Falls it was time to re-conquer the long set of steps that seemed so easy at the beginning of the hike!  Total steps for the day…1,082 round trip!  Only a former elementary teacher would think to count all the steps.

One last glimpse of a rainbow above Upper Falls

This was one of the nicest hikes we have found on the East Coast, with challenging elevation changes and great water views!  The sunshine, warm temperatures, and low humidity made for a great day.

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Living on Animal Farm

Geneseo, NY

We have spent a couple of late afternoons enjoying “happy hour” and dinner at Dave and Sue’s beautiful home outside Geneseo.  They have a great property with a beautiful house built in 1824, along with a couple of barns and fields.  It is a perfect place to enjoy viewing wild life and their two dogs roaming in a large fenced yard.

Lewis on the left, Sasha on the right

Sasha is feeling her age so only enjoys a stroll in the yard occasionally, but Lewis is a ball of energy.  Throw something into the yard and he will race out to retrieve it.  This activity will continue until you decide to stop.  There may be a point where Lewis quits, but we did not have the stamina to reach that point, if it does exist.

One afternoon we were seated on the porch watching a thunderstorm rumble through the area.  At one point, during a period of heavy rain, Sue spotted a deer standing in the nearby pasture.  We commented that it was odd that the deer would stand in the open field during a heavy rain with thunder, rather than seek the safety of the woods.

As we watched, John spotted what looked like the bushy tail of a squirrel near the deer.  Suddenly, something rose out of the grass and scampered toward the deer.

Wow, no wonder the deer had not bolted during the rain.  She was giving birth!  The little fawn at first staggered a bit, but soon gained steady footing and began to move quickly around the mother.  After a short time both headed for the gate and moved off into the nearby woods.  What a treat to watch this!

A couple of days later we were in the kitchen ready to sit down to a meal.  Pam looked out the window and commented that the fake turtle on the walk looked almost real.   Both Dave and Sue commented that they didn’t have a fake turtle in their yard!  At first Pam thought that they were just teasing (apparently living with John made her a bit wary of this type of prank) and didn’t believe them.  But when the turtle’s head moved from side to side she knew it wasn’t a fake.

A quick check in Google revealed the visitor to be a large adult snapping turtle (emphasis on the word large!).

The turtle sat on the walk for a few minutes then slowly (after all, it is a turtle) began crawling under the nearby fence.  Dave and Sue feared it was looking for a place to give birth (hey, it just happened with a deer, didn’t it!) so Dave decided to relocate the visitor in a nearby field with a pond near by.   Snapping turtles are not very pleasant, so with care Dave used a hoe to pull it out from under the fence and John scooped it up with a coal shovel.

The angry fellow was tenderly placed (OK, dumped, who can be tender with an angry snapping turtle?) into a trash can for the ride to her (his?) new home.

After a short but angry ride in the can, the visitor was deposited in a field where she quickly (for a turtle) moved into the weeds.

Wow, dogs and deer and turtles.  This place is like a zoo!

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