Sunday, August 31, 2014

Patapsco State Park Maryland

In my last post I wrote we had only a 56 mile drive. You would think that would be an easy, worry-free day.  Well, it almost was. Until just before our Rand McNally navigator told us we had arrived at our destination and to turn right, I spotted this sign on the side of the road. 

Photographed later in the day

Yikes! The Alfa is 13'-3" tall. We pulled into the park entrance as directed, and saw this sign:

But there also was a sign that said: "Campground" with an arrow pointing right down a side road.  We pulled over and stopped in a not very good place.  What to do? I tried to call the park headquarters, only to get a message that it was closed for a furlough day. I tried calling the main park service number and got the same message.  Meanwhile, Craig was nervous about where we had stopped, and decided it was best to get the Jeep unhooked so we could turn around.  To our left there was a road marked as being to the Park Headquarters, and we hoped there might be a map posted, or at least a place where we could get the Alfa turned around.

No map or information. No Rangers. But we did run into another man, who was familiar with the park and told us how to get to the park entrance on the other side of the highway that would get us to the campground without having to go thru the 11' -1" tunnel. 

It was quite easy, and we were soon tucked into our new wooded home.

When we did check in at the entrance to the campground I told the Ranger there about our confusion on the other side.  She just laughed, and said a lot of people had the same experience! I did not say any more, but had printed directions from their web site about how to get there, and they did mention the other entrance without a word about the tunnel.  Our Rand McNally is programed to alert us to low clearances, but not once we are at our destination or already into a park.  This could have been a disaster!  

Later in the day, when leaving the park for a few errands, I got out of the Jeep and took this picture.  Lesson: Read all yellow signs! They are warnings and cautions. 

Early the next day I took a short walk around the campground and when I found a Ranger I asked him about "easy" hikes in the park. He told me about a 3-4 mile walk along the river that we might like.

The Old Main Line trail in the Daniels area of the park was just what I had hoped for. 

The path was level and well marked. We only crossed paths with a few others, and enjoyed a relaxing walk. The day was quite warm, and just a bit humid, but the well-shaded trail and overcast sky buffered the sun's effects.

There were several families enjoying a peaceful paddle on the river. The dad here reminder us of someone we know,  and we joked that we wondered if his wife knew that he not only had a large arm tattoo, but also another wife and child!  

We ended the day with a nice dinner at home and a campfire.

Happy Labor Day Weekend everyone, it looks like it is going to be a hot one. What are you going to do to keep cool?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gettysburg PA

Our drive to Gettysburg was a bit stressful because I tried to "wing it" and boondock for a night.  Looking at the mileage between Niagara Falls and Gettysburg, I knew it was farther than we wanted to drive in one day, and a just dinner and sleep stop about half way was desirable. In my reference books, I found a casino that listed free overnight parking, just on the border between New York and Pennsylvania. It looked perfect.  But when we got there, and I went in to check with security, I was told that they had just recently changed their policy, and overnight RV or truck parking was no longer allowed.

Lesson learned: If you want to stop at someplace that says check with security, call ahead and ask what their policy is. Information changes, and books get out of date.

I was directed to a gravel lot along the highway where truckers could park, but it didn't seem like somewhere we wanted to be. I have nothing against truckers, and if it had been late at night or an emergency, we would have gone there.

But it was mid-afternoon, and as we drove on toward Gettysburg I started to make some calls.  How wonderful cell phones are! We found a place to stay that was a bit further along, but doable.

The next day we continued on to Artillery Ridge campground in Gettysburg. Its subtitle is "the National Riding Stable" and it had a large facility for horses. The picture below was taken from the stable area when we were on our evening walk.

The horses were friendly and this one had a velvet soft nose.

Truth be told, I have never been very interested in battle history or battle grounds. How the troops were moved and who the generals were, is not high on my list of things to remember or appreciate. But the battleground at Gettysburg had a strangely sobering effect on me. The thought that 55,000 men were killed or wounded there was, at first, unbelievable. And then as we drove past many of the 1300-1400 monuments, many of which we read, it became a shocking reality.  

On our first day we went to the Visitors Center, watched the movie and listened to an overview presentation about the battle. The above picture is a small part of a panorama painting in the museum. We viewed it while listening to an audio presentation about the battle.

Next, we went to two ranger programs. The first was about the daily lives of the soldiers: who they were, why they joined up, what they ate, how they lived when not in battle, and what they wore. The ranger asked for a volunteer, and a boy, about 12,  raised his hand. The ranger then proceeded to describe and dress the boy in a Union issue uniform. He was a good sport, but said it was all quite hot and heavy.

The second program we heard was about the battlefield medical care. I knew how primitive things were, but the description of no sanitation, haphazard administration of anesthesia, and piles of amputated legs and arms being carted off in wheel barrows, was disconcerting to say the least.

Disease was also a big problem. For every man who died in battle, two died from communicable disease. 

The first night we camped there I had some very disturbing dreams.  Not quite nightmares, but unpleasantly reminiscent of what we had learned that day.

On our second day we decided it was too hot to hike, and opted for the self guided auto tour of the battleground. The route was well marked and the park provided map gave sufficient information about the highlighted stopping points to satisfy us. We drove, stopped, drove and stopped again to read or walk around many of the monuments.

This one was one of the simpler ones. It is in the shape of a bullet. 

This was one of the larger ones and listed the names of every one of the  35,000 men from Pennsylvania that were in the battle.

There were many monuments for both sides. Atop this one was a statue of General Robert E Lee.

On our third and last day there we decided to use the two free event tickets we were given when we checked in at the RV park. I did not have high expectations because they were smaller "commercial" venues, but was pleasantly surprised when they were not a complete waste of time.

The first was the "Diorama", a room size miniature layout of the battleground. It was in the back room of a gift shop. We were seated in bleachers, the lights went down, and an audio, spot light, and video screen program was presented.

After having learned about the battle at the visitor's center and museum, and after riding around the area and seeing the fields and fences first hand, this presentation brought it together in my mind.

The rocks and road in the top picture are where a group of Confederate soldiers made a stand. The lower, slightly out of focus image, is of a part of the diorama that depicted a nearby location.

The second free attraction was called the Lincoln Train Museum. Again, the front area was a large gift shop, but in the back room were a couple oft large model train layout, lots of train memorabilia, and a Lincoln collection. Part of the exhibit was a replica of the train car that transported Lincoln's body back to Illinois after his assassination.  We took seats inside, it was darkened, and the car moved to simulate a train ride while there was a program about Lincoln on the screen at the front. 

To my brother Gil, this picture is for you.

After a good night's sleep on our fourth night, we left Gettysburg and drove 56 miles to Patapsco State park in Maryland. 

I'll write about it in my next post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Niagara Falls US Side

Yes, it's another Niagara Falls post!

Although our Friday drive was only 20 miles, it took almost two hours! Much of that time was inching our way across the bridge and passing through Customs to get into the USA. No problems, except for the agent pointing out that my passport was not signed, and having me do so. 

Once we were settled in at our new RV park location we just relaxed and tended to some mundane tasks, like finding places to stay this week and through the Labor Day Weekend. For my non-RV friends, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July are big camping weekends and many parks are full. None of the usual discounts are applicable either. In the end, I found a spot at a park in Maryland for Labor Day, and filled the days before then with a reservation in Gettysburg PA.

When talking to people before coming to Niagara, I often heard that you could see the falls in one day. But we really like to savor natural wonders as best we can, so I booked two days on each side.  I also heard that the Canadian side was much better than the American side. I wanted to see for myself.

View from the top of the American Falls, with Horseshoe Falls and its plume in the background
I have decided that although you do have a much bigger view from Canada, it is not so much "better" as it is "different".

On the American side you get to see more of the river rapids.

Because the sky was quite overcast, and the water was rushing over and around the rocks, it did not seem as blue in color.

Later in the day, when the sun came out, it did. We walked across a foot bridge that went over the rapids.

Much of the movie we watched at the Historic Museum was shot  on the Canadian side of the Falls. But either because it was easier to go across the border in the 50's or because they were taking creative license with the location, the key scenes were shot at the Cave of the Winds, which is on the US side.

Bridal Veil Falls and the "Cave of the Winds" walkways, taken from the internet. It was shot by Mark J.
There is no longer a cave behind the Bridal Veil Falls due to erosion, but the steps and platforms are similar to those shown in the movie. Every year the wood structure is removed in fall and rebuilt in spring. If it were left in place, the ice would tear it out.

We were given yellow ponchos for this one. 

The water really roars over the rock talus below the American Falls. This was only a few feet from the platform I was on. After this shot I put my camera away to keep it from getting too wet.

This image was taken from the web
At the top of the steps is a platform they call Hurricane Deck. Imagine the worst rain you have ever been in and multiply that several times. By the end of the tour we were soaked to the knees. Good thing everyone was required to wear the provided sandals. 

Nikola Tesla had much to do with the early hydro-electric plants and alternating current. He was taking a walk in the park.  

I got into a bit of "save the wildlife" mode here when I found this Wooly Bear on the very wide paved path. I decided he would be safer (and hopefully happier) among the flowers. I hope he doesn't eat them. We loved to play with this type of caterpillar when we were kids. If we found two we would have a race.

So, our memorable four days at Niagara Falls have come to an end.

If you have never been there, do plan on more than one day to see it. There is a lot of walking, but there are other ways to get around, and the pathways are handicap accessible.

If you have been there, the water is still flowing.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's As Good As It Gets

Looking over at the rush of water tumbling over Niagara Falls with the sun shining and a soft breeze brushing against my cheek I thought to myself "I think this is the best time in our lives." We are free to go and do whatever we want. If we still had a house, and were doing all these things as vacation trips, we would be dragged down by knowing we had to go back and by thinking about the work that waited for us. If we were younger and had kids along, as the mom it would be up to me to keep things together. Keep everyone happy. But now, we are healthy. Or at least we are still able. Yes, it's as good as it gets.

Thursday at the Falls was long and fun. We did the tourist things. 
In the early afternoon, we parked the Jeep in the all-day lot at the base of the Skylon Tower because we had dinner reservations there.  I didn't want to have a long walk to the car afterwards. Instead, we walked down the hill to the Falls Park. 

First on our agenda was one of the Maid of the Mist boats. We given red plastic ponchos to wear. Small people and kids got green. I had to laugh because Craig got tangled up in his and I had to help him. So much for not having to do the "mom jobs". 

From the deck of the boat we got a different view of the American Falls. Since my camera is not waterproof, I kept it in a plastic bag for most of the tour and just enjoyed the rain-like mist in the air. We also came (what felt like) really close to the Horseshoe Falls.

I really expected the spray to be cold, but it was not. Wearing a big plastic bag was hot, so getting a wet face felt good.

After the boat trip we walked along the Falls for a couple of blocks to the next venue, "The Journey Behind the Falls".

Here we were given green ponchos, went down an elevator, through a tunnel and out onto an observation platform. Once again it was best to keep the camera under cover! We also walked thru a tunnel behind the falls and looked out through a couple of portals behind the falling sheet of water. It was quite impressive.

It was still quite early by the time we were finished.  Walking back toward the Tower, we decided to hike on over to the Niagara Falls Historical Museum.  I know, "hiking" is for natural trails, and "walking" is for city streets, but since I was getting a bit tired, it was a hike!

The Historic Museum was not big, but the exhibits were excellent.

We enjoyed watching the 1953 Marilyn Monroe movie "Niagara".

It was a bit corny, but fun to see the Falls as a honeymoon location of the past.

It was also great to be able to sit down and rest for an hour and a half.

In addition to an exhibit about the War of 1812, there was a collection of historic items. This clock is of the same type and vintage as one of the very few items I kept from our house. 

This one commemorated Niagara Falls, while ours has a glass front picturing the Statue of Liberty. My daughter is keeping it safe and wound on her mantel in San Diego.

Their special exhibit was about Niagara motels from the 50's. 

The pictures of them then and now were fun. As we walked back to the Skylon Tower we passed several that had been depicted in the exhibit. Some had been kept up, but at least one was being demolished.

The walk back did not seem as long as the walk there. I guess it was because it was more downhill and because it was getting a bit cooler, and the rest watching the movie restored my energy.

Our reservation was for 9:00 because we wanted to see the Falls lit up at night from the tower. I had a plan. That morning I had packed a cooler bag with an ice block, bottle opener, and wine glasses. My plan was to add a bottle of Chardonnay from the box in one of the Alfa's bays, before leaving for the day. I planned on sitting in the park and relaxing with a glass or two of wine before going up for dinner.

A good plan except for one thing.  When we got back to the Jeep, after changing into fresh clothes in the washrooms, I discovered a bottle-less cooler bag. We both laughed, ROTFL almost.

However, dinner in the Skylon includes a free ride to the observation deck. We went in and asked if we could go up to the observation deck before dinner. The answer was no. I guess they don't want people to make dinner reservations just to get the free ride and then fink out.  

We were all dressed up and no where to go! Until Craig asked if there was a bar. Yes, there was, and we were able to go up and wait there.

By the time we were seated it was getting dark and they had turned on the colored lights on the Falls. They may have been wonderful from ground level, but from the tower they were pretty lame. Simple white lights would have been better, IMO.

The night-time view of the city was beautiful, and we enjoyed an excellent meal. 

At the end of the evening we were quite happy to be able to go back to our home and back to our own bed instead of off to a motel or hotel.

One of the joys of RVing.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Five Days in Canada

Writing a blog post should not feel like doing overdue homework, but that's a bit like how I'm feeling right now. When we had driven just a few miles into Canada on Sunday, we got a message on the phone that since we did not have an international plan, any calls, either in or out, would be very costly, as would our data rate. We decided to turn the phone off. Since it is our "hot spot", this effectively also disconnected our internet. We were able to use the very slow WiFi at the offices of both of the campgrounds we were at over the five days, but it was not conducive to blogging.

On Friday we returned to the US, and once again have access, but I am way behind!

I had planned a nice post about the Ford Museum and Village, but now all I'm up to writing is that it was a very interesting, worth the price of admission, and a very long and exhausting day.

One of hundreds of interesting things in the Ford Museum.

Niagara Falls has been on my bucket list for many years. The best way to get from the Detroit area to Niagara Falls is to drive east through Ontario, Canada. Many of my RV blogging friends know that Al and Kelly, also known as  The Bayfield Bunch, live on the west coast of Lake Huron in Ontario.  After exchanging a few quick e-mails to see if they would be home and interested in a meet-up date, I found a Passport America park in their neck of the woods and booked a couple of days stay.

They invited us for lunch on Tuesday and we were delighted to have a nice long day visit. Lunch was yummy, seeing their new rig was fun, and gabbing for hours about life, RVing, and blogging was priceless. All too soon it was time to call it a day, and be on our way home to the Alfa to prepare for Wednesday's drive. 

We are both very glad that Kelly is feeling so much better this year, and hope we can cross paths down in Arizona sometime.

I am constantly learning things from our blogging friends. Because I have a "delicate" back, I had been having difficulty getting into the driver's seat of our new Jeep. I could manage the passenger side, but seemed to get tangled up in myself on the drivers side. Watching how Al got into the Jeep was an "A-ha" moment. When we got back to the park I tried it his way and can now slide in with more or less ease on both sides! Makes me like our Jeep even more.

On Wednesday we drove across Ontario, and were settled into our new campsite by mid-afternoon. Although there was an all-day shuttle bus service available to us, we decided to drive into town and take our chances with finding a place to park. We found one next to the information center, and the $15 for three hours was only $1 more than the bus would have cost. We didn't have much more than three hours left in the day at that point anyway.

Just across from our parking we were able to walk quite a way along a path overlooking the falls. These are a few of the many picture we took of this amazing place.

Below is the American Falls as seen from Canada.

There is quite a bit of talus (the rock debris from the eroding edge) at the foot of the falls. Removal of these rocks was studied and rejected at one time.

Further along is the Horseshoe Falls. This is an accurate image of the water's color. It is turquoise. The water spray goes far up into the air, and it feels like rain when you are standing along the overlooking rail. The red object is one of the Hornblower tour boats.

Although there were hundreds of people from all over the world enjoying the wonder of the falls, I did not feel crowded or annoyed.  At any given spot along the rail, if I wanted to take a picture or just get to the rail, I only needed to stop and wait a few moments for the person at the rail to move on. No one was pushy or in a hurry. There was time and room for all.

[From Craig] I'm fascinated by the color of the water just as it starts to go over the falls.  May be the first time that a color ever made me really happy.  It looked like a precious stone color.

I was surprised at how close to the edge of the falls the path rail was, and how clear the water appeared to be. We could almost see the rock on the bottom.  

This post doesn't have an ending because it is not finished. In my next post, I plan on writing about our boat tour,  our walk under the falls, and the view from the Skylon Tower at night. 

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ford Rouge Factory Tour

I'm sitting outside the park office, enjoying the morning and using their WiFi.  I am behind in my posts, but that's OK because time is flexible when you are full-timing. 

I'm starting this post with a few answers to a couple of comments:

Kim asked: What's the insect situation up there (Upper Michigan)? What about the humidity? 
We have been in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from mid July to mid August. The weather has been fantastic. Not too hot or humid. We have had a few rainy nights, and just two days where we preferred to stay in, but it has mostly been in the 70's to mid 80's. By bugs, I assume you mean mosquitos. We have seen very few. Of course we are not inclined to sit outside in the evenings. Every year is different, but I think we really got lucky!

That is until we got to Ontario! Daytime is not a problem. We took a lovely walk along Lake Huron on Monday, but as soon as late afternoon rolls around, the mosquitos seem to swarm over any warm body that is outdoors. We tried to take a walk on our first evening here, but were driven back in. We had not sprayed ourselves with OFF or any other repellents  We noticed that the people who where sitting outside had cans of it close at hand! 

Jodee asked: Which Dyson heater do you have? 
I bought the Dyson heater for an unheated room in the house. It looked so much nicer than the cheap old space heater I had used.  More like a piece of sculpture.  But it really did a great job of heating, and I loved its 8" diameter footprint. It stows nicely behind the passenger seat in the RV. We have only used it a few times, but it seems to work well at warming up the living area of the Alfa in the morning when it is a bit chilly.

 I bought the combination heater and fan model AM05. We have not used it as a fan yet, but we've heard that it can be great to supplement your AC in the rig when it is very hot.

Now on to what we have been doing!

We try to keep our ears open to suggestions of things to see and do. Several people told us that if we were in the Dearborn area, the Ford Museum, Village, and Rouge Factory tour was a must.

We enjoy factory tours and museums!

On Friday we went on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour in Dearborn Michigan. No photos were allowed on the tour, so I nabbed a few from the internet:

What a place! 

After seeing a couple of film presentations about the history of Ford and the plant, we went on a self-directed tour along the elevated walkway that allows you to look down on the line floor and watch as the trucks go through their final assembly. They turn out about 60 trucks an hour! They are not all black.

Since we had gotten a late start in the morning, we decided to return on Saturday for the Museum and Village.

One day for both of these was not enough for me!  I will try to get a post together about that in a few days! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

We're mostly without internet access in Canada.  Will post sometime soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Swedish Pancakes and a Fort

We do have some specific destinations in mind, but our day to day travel plans are often very loose.  Before making reservations I always ask Craig if there is any particular place he wants to go.

Our next major destination is Niagara Falls, but we have no set time to get there yet. But we decided we would go north across Upper Michigan, and south to the Detroit area. 

Craig had read that Swedish Pantry in Escanaba had the best Pancake Breakfast, and noted it was on our route. 

Because we wanted to be there for breakfast, I located a Casino RV park that was just shy of Escanaba for us to stop at.

The pancakes were pretty good, but the Swedish meatballs were even better.

After breakfast, our drive was not long, and we were over the Mackinac Bridge in no time. I hadn't been sure if we wanted to go over to Mackinac Island or not, so I reserved two nights at a park there. I had been over to the Island many years ago, and was a bit unsure of the weather for the next few days. When we arrived it was just starting to rain, and Craig hurried to get us set up and the Jeep unhooked. Just as he finished the sky really opened up, but we were snuggly tucked into our site. It was a bit chilly, and I used my little Dyson heater to warm up the Alfa a bit. 

Wednesday morning dawned with clear skies, but instead of going to the island, we went to see Fort Michilimackinacwhich is in Mackinaw City, not on the island.  Since I had been to the Island, I did not feel a draw to go back again.

The fort was built, abandoned, rebuilt, and finally abandoned and burned down over the course of history. 

The stockade and buildings that are there now are re-creations based on the archeological finds and records.  They have been built since the last time I was there.  It is a State Historical Site and Park.

For a modest admission we were able to roam the grounds. There were many areas that provided information and displays of artifacts from the site.

In addition to staged dioramas there were volunteers dressed in period costume doing the same tasks as their counterparts must have done. The pretty gal above was shaping bread to bake, while telling us about how much bread was consumed in the 19th century and how it was made.

These two fine fellows had just demonstrated cannon fire and musket shooting.

[From Craig] Homeowners, aren't you glad you don't have to take care of this roof?

We were able to walk along the top of the wall and look out the watch towers like sentries. On this side Lake Michigan was in sight.

From the tower on the land side we were able to see fenced in areas that might have been for keeping livestock in peaceful times.

As the day drew to a close the wind got stronger and dark clouds began to roll in. I was glad we were not on the lake. As we drove back to the Alfa I saw an eagle fly over the tree tops.  Cool!

Thursday promises to be a long day. We will be driving a little over 300 miles to Dearborn Michigan which is near Detroit. We have tickets for the Ford Rouge Factory Tour on Friday, and we want to visit the Ford Museum on Saturday. 

Being full time tourists is hard work, but I love it.