Pop quiz – Can you name all of the Great Lakes?

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Great Lakes

If there were a game show with “Name all of the Great Lakes” as the deciding question to win, I would have lost a few months ago.  Before we came into this area for the first time, I only knew there are several of them – but I wasn’t exactly sure how many, let alone where they were all located.

One of the wonderful things about our current lifestyle is that we are able to actually experience places we’ve previously only learned snippets about via books, TV or the Internet.  In this case, we spent several weeks this summer (and a couple last summer) getting to know – and actually touch – all of the Great Lakes.  Now we have no excuse to NOT know them all well!

So, can YOU name all of the great lakes before reading on – no peeking!

And a couple of bonus questions:

Which Great Lake lies entirely within U.S. boundaries?

Which state is bounded by the most (and how many) of the Great Lakes ?


Map of the Great Lakes

I’m sure all of our friends who are/were teachers or historians got the answers, right?  Here are a few fun facts I gathered during our visit in the region:

  • The Great Lakes consist of five separate lakes, and together they form one interconnected body of fresh water.  Four of them are bounded by both the U.S. and Canada – Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Only Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States.
  • Think “HOMES” to enumerate the lakes:

H = Huron
O = Ontario
M = Michigan
E  = Erie
S  = Superior

  • The Great Lakes contain 20% of the earth’s fresh surface water system, about 6 quadrillion gallons of water.
  • Water from the lakes would cover the 48 contiguous states to a uniform depth of 9.5 feet.
  • The Great Lakes and the islands within them have more than 10,000 miles of coastline – equivalent to three trips between California and the East Coast.
  • There are about 25 million Americans who call the Great Lakes basin home, and about 8.5 million Canadians.

Here are a few tidbits I picked up about each lake, from the long list I read at the Soo Locks Visitor Center:

Lake Ontario –

  • Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes and ranks 17th largest in the world.
  • Its average depth is 283 ft, with the deepest point at 802 feet.
  • Surface area is 7,340 square miles, with 712 miles of shoreline.
  • Despite its smaller surface area, Lake Ontario holds almost four times as much water as Lake Erie.
Lake Ontario

A shot taken during our stop at Old Fort Niagara, NY

Lake Erie –

  • Lake Erie is the 4th largest Great Lake in surface area, and the smallest in depth.  It’s the 13th largest lake on the planet.
  • The water in Lake Erie replaces itself in only 2.6 years, which is notable considering the water in Lake Superior takes almost two centuries to replace itself!
  • Lake Erie is the shallowest on average – at 62 feet – with the deepest point at 210 feet.
  • It is the warmest of the Great Lakes.
Lake Erie

Viewed from our site at Lake Erie State Park, NY

Lake Michigan –

  • Lake Michigan is the 3rd largest of the Great Lakes and ranks 5th largest in the world.
  • The world’s largest freshwater dunes are along Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
  • As mentioned, it is the only Great Lake located entirely within in the United States.
Lake Michigan

A view from Cave Point, WI

Lake Huron –

  • Lake Huron is the 2nd largest of the Great Lakes, and ranks as the 4th largest lake in the world.
  • There are more than 30,000 islands within Lake Huron, including the world’s largest freshwater island – Manitoulin Island.
  • Including island shorelines, Lake Huron has the longest shoreline of all the Great Lakes, at 3,827 miles.
Lake Huron

Captured from Mackinac Island, MI

And the grandest of them all…Lake Superior

  • Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and ranks as the largest lake by surface area in the world.
  • Water from all of the other four Great Lakes would be needed to fill Lake Superior, plus three more refills from Lake Erie!
  • Contained within Lake Superior is a whopping 10% of the world’s fresh surface water.
  • 200 rivers empty into Lake Superior, but there’s only one outlet – through Saint Mary’s River.
  • The water in Lake Superior replaces itself only once every 190 years – think about that for a minute!
Lake Superior

Viewed from Whitefish Point, MI

Finally, the answer to the last bonus question – Michigan is bounded by four of the great lakes.  The only lake it doesn’t touch is Ontario.

Great lakes

They may be shark free, but they aren’t shipwreck-free!

Although naming the Great Lakes won’t make me a Slumdog Millionaire nor a lake expert, I can easily name them now – with a vivid picture of each in my mind.  I hope you passed the quiz and learned something new!


Next up:  Great times on the Door Peninsula!




Hangin’ out in “Da U.P.” – pt. 2

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Pictured Rocks

This is a continuation of my previous U.P. post, part 1.  Click here if you’d like to read it first.

Whitefish Point

We continued northward from Paradise (#3 on the map) to visit the graveyard of Lake Superior, Whitefish Point (#4).

Upper Peninsula Map

1) Newberry – our home base.  2) Tahquamenon Falls.  3) The town of Paradise.  4) Whitefish Point.  5) Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We had previously stopped at 6) Sault Ste Marie, and 7) Mackinac Island.

Steve was fascinated by the stories he read about the hundreds of ships sitting on the bottom of Lake Superior, many of them quite near Whitefish Point.  It turns out Whitefish Point is a relatively narrow and high-traffic area where many ships passed through in opposite directions.  A surprising number of wrecks occurred as ships simply crashed into each other due to navigation errors or bad weather.  Although small, the Shipwreck Museum contains many maritime artifacts and interesting displays that tell the stories of the ships and sailors who braved the waters of lake Superior – and of those who were lost there.

Whitefish Point Light

Whitefish Point Light

The loss of life on the Great Lakes was unbelievable – especially along this stretch of Lake Superior’s shoreline. One display mentioned that of the 6000 ships lost, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald remains the most famous and mysterious.  It is a featured exhibit in the museum. Every man on her crew perished, on Nov 10, 1975 and today the vessel remains twisted and broken at the bottom of the lake just 17 miles from Whitefish Point, at a depth of 535 ft.

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Edmund Fitzgerald Freighter replica

At the urging of the crew member’s families, the ship’s bell was raised from the depths to honor the 29 men lost.  It also serves as a reminder of the 30,000 men, women and children lost to shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.  That is a staggering number!

Edmund Fitzgerald Bell

Edmund Fitzgerald’s 200 lb bronze bell

We took a stroll along Lake Superior’s pristine shoreline after visiting the museum, and marveled at its clear water which reminded us of the aquamarine waters in Barbados.

Lake Superior

The beach looked like a graveyard of driftwoods

Whitefish Point, Lake Superior

Everyone seemed to be looking for unique stones or other goodies

Although Steve wasn’t sure if he would enjoy this museum, he had seen plaques at other places and the stories of the wrecks fascinated him – so he decided to give it a try.  He’s glad he did, and he recommends it to anyone coming into this area.

Pasty or Pastie – that is the question

Pasty or Pastie

As we quickly learned back in Mackinaw City, a Pastie (pronounced pass-tee) is a baked pastry consisting of a crust filled with diced potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions and ground beef (or other meat), and seasoned to perfection.  It is one of the staples of the Upper Peninsula, brought here by the copper and iron miners from Cornwall , England.  We could not resist giving them a try, and we enjoyed them so much that we ended up buying a half dozen more to keep in the freezer for future meals!


Yummy pastie

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

wpid29070-2014-08-13-MI-1510789-.jpgOn another day we drove to the attraction furthest from our home base, the first national lakeshore designated in 1966 – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (#5 on the map above). We learned that the best way to view the cliffs is by water, so we made reservations far in advance for the popular Sunset Cruise, which is authorized by the National Park Service.  Since the park is quite a drive from Newberry, we made use of our limited time there by arriving early and tackling one of the many hiking trails, before leaving on our 7:15pm boat cruise.

Sand Point, Norh Country Trail

We followed a short segment of the 42-mile North Country Trail, which follows the lakeshore.  It ran 3.7 miles from Visitor’s Point up to Sand Point.  The map made it look like the trail would take us on a scenic route at the top of the sand cliffs, but it actually ended up running more inland through forested areas with lots of vegetation, before ending at the lakeshore.

Sand Point, Lake Superior

First half of our hike ended up here at Sand Point

Since it wasn’t a loop and we prefer not to follow the same trail twice, we ended up walking along the road from the Park Headquarters back to the parking lot.  Fortunately there were no mosquitoes, but I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t hear any birds at all. It was just a moderate hike, and we enjoyed being the only people on the trail. We saw very few flowers during our 8+ mile trek, but I was able to capture these along the road back:

We arrived back in town just in time to pick up our tickets for the cruise, and we were informed there would be high swells and white caps during the trip.  We were offered a chance to cancel with a refund or reschedule, but as this was only our day here we opted to take some Dramamine and go for it.  We were unable to get a seat outside on top of the boat, so we went into the enclosed lower area.  That turned out to be a good move, as it got very chilly and windy later in the trip.  After the captain gave folks one last chance to cancel or reschedule their trip (nobody did), we were off.

Pictured Rocks Cruises

The lake was angry that day!

The cruise lasted about 2.5 hours and covered 15 miles of the colorful sandstone cliffs known as Pictured Rocks.  This is only a small section of the 42-mile long Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  These cliffs rose up to 200 feet above lake level and were sculpted by water and time.  Our tour guide and captain did the narration, as he pointed out what to look for on the cliffs, and informational tidbits about each one.

Painted Coves, Pictured Rocks

Painted Coves

Indian Head, Pictured Rocks

Indian Head – can you see it at the end on the left?

Battleship Rock, Pictured Rocks

Battleship Rocks – how many can you count?

The cliffs have been sculpted for over a million years, being battered by crushing ice and the lake’s water, which have carved the bedrock into cliffs.  The same forces continue today, constantly changing the shallow caves, arches and formations.

Lovers Leap, Pictured Rocks

This one is called Lovers Leap, but don’t try it – the water is only 2 feet deep there!

Pictured Rocks

Rainbow Caves

Chapel Rock, Pictured Rocks

Incredibly, those are roots stretching across what used to be an arch but eroded away over time.  The tree on top is still alive!

Pictured Rocks

What creates the colors?

The name Pictured Rocks comes from the streaks of various minerals staining the face of the sculpted cliffs.  Streaks on the cliffs occur when groundwater oozes out of cracks in the rock, each mineral (iron, manganese, limonite, copper and others) leaving its own unique color.

Pictured Rocks

I’ll just let the pictures show you how colorful and amazing the rocks are.

Indian Drum, Pictured Rocks

Doesn’t this look like a water color splashed on the wall?

Pictured Rocks

Gull Rockery, Pictured Rocks

This is where the gulls take their breaks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Can you make out the three shapes and forms on the wall?

Are they amazing or what?  This place of beauty makes me think there’s a busy artist painting the rocks, leaving a mesmerizing palette of nature’s colors, shapes, textures and forms.

If you are in the U.P. and able to pick only one natural attraction, this is the one not to be missed.  I just hope you have a little smoother ride than we did – several people spent their trip hanging over the back rail doing you-know-what!

With 84% of the U.P. covered by forest, we felt like we were in the wilderness most of the time – with the exception of the busy Tahquamenon Falls.  But we wrapped up our visit thinking that we got a good feel for the place, and very happy that we came!


Hangin’ out in “Da U.P.” – Newberry, Michigan pt. 1

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Upper Peninsula

As Don and Lisa headed southeast back to Ohio, we drove Betsy the farthest north we’ll be this year – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The state of Michigan is made up of two peninsulas, the upper and lower.  The northern, Upper Peninsula is commonly referred to as Upper Michigan or “Da U.P”.  It’s separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Strait of Mackinac, a five-mile channel where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, and connected by the Mackinac Bridge.

Michigans, Upper Peninsula

Want to drive across the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula?  Get your wallet out!

Mackinac Bridge

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge northbound puts you on the Upper Peninsula

Although we had already crossed into the Upper Peninsula while exploring Mackinac Island and Sault Ste Marie with our friends, this time we were heading deeper into the northwest U.P.  We selected Newberry, Michigan as our home base, as it was well-located at the south end of the “Great Waters” (aka Lake Superior) for our planned activities.  The Upper Peninsula consists of 29% of the land area of Michigan, but just 3% of its total population. Residents are frequently called Yoopers (derived from “U.P.-ers”), and they have a strong regional identity with living in almost one-third of the state’s land area.  Indeed, driving the wide-open roads and seeing few other cars reminded us of some of the highways in Alaska!

Along M28

There is a lot of natural beauty and several attractions to explore in the U.P., but we could do only so much during our one-week stay at the quiet Clementz’s Northcountry Campground (see Steve’s review here).  We ventured out to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, just 20 miles away, then made it to the Wild Blueberry Festival in the town of Paradise.  In my next post I’ll detail our explorations of Whitefish Point, with its museum featuring amazing stories of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

We visited Tahquamenon Falls twice, the first time driving with the hordes of tourists to admire the heavily-developed Upper and Lower falls.  On our second visit we hiked both directions on the 4-mile River Trail that connects the Upper and Lower Falls, plus another loop near the Lower Falls.  That visit ended at the Camp 33 Pub and Brewery, located within the state park – never seen that before!  Enjoying a micro-brewed beer after a 11.25 mile hike was a sweet reward, and their Falls Tannin brew was so good that we dug our growler out of the back of the car and had them fill it up!

Luckily, the mosquitos that this area is famous for seemed to have taken the day off during our hike between the falls.  The River Trail was rated moderately difficult, not for elevation gain but for the exposed roots and series of stairs that we had to traverse.  The fairly long hike was the best way to get away from the crowds, who mostly stayed near the viewing platforms.  And the best part was that the trail ends were at the Upper and Lower Falls, both nice destinations.

For those folks who wanted to hike only one way, there was a shuttle that would take them back to the other falls – but at $20 for two people we thought the price was pretty steep. So after a rest and snack at the Lower Falls, we added another 3 miles to our trek by hiking the loop there before heading back to the brewery and our car. Now that I think about it, ending our hike at a brewery doesn’t sound quite right.  Oh well, it was fun!

Tahquamenon River

Colorful Tahquamenon River

There were some flowers still blooming, but these purple leaves were plentiful.  I just don’t know what they’re called – anyone know?

Purple Leaves

There were several bunches of these purple leaves along the trail

Tahquamenon River

Tahquamenon River

Tahquamenon Falls is actually two separate falls located along the Tahquamenon River – the Upper and Lower falls.  According to Indian lore, the origin of the name Tahquamenon (it rhymes with Phenomenon) is attributed to the water’s amber color – the result of the leaching of tannic acid from cedar and hemlock swamps feeding the river.  After Niagara, it’s the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi.  The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is over 200′ wide and 48′ high, on a  sandstone precipice.  Over 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded spilling over this beautiful waterfall!

Upper Tahquamenon

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahaquamenon Falls

Another angle of Upper Tahaquamenon Falls

The Lower Tahquamenon Falls is located 4 miles downstream of the Upper Falls, and consists of several small waterfalls that cascade around an island.  On this warm day we observed a few folks wading in the water, or paddling small boats that can be rented there.


Lower Tahaquamenon

Lower Falls, Tahquamenon River

Paddling around near the Lower Falls

We could tell Tahquamenon Falls is a very popular destination, with the parking lots getting jam-packed fairly early in the day.  We never get tired of waterfalls, even after seeing so many – each has its own beauty and story to tell.

Wild Blueberry Festival

On another beautiful day we took a drive to the Wild Blueberry Festival in Paradise – yes, there is a town called Paradise in the U.P.!  Since I’m a sucker for wild blueberries, I dragged Steve along to check it out.  I was expecting bushels or baskets of wild blueberries to be displayed for sale.  Instead, the long line was for blueberry pies, muffins and a pancake bake – no actual blueberries were to be had.  I was a bit disappointed, as I was looking forward to baking some blueberry scones and maybe a blueberry pie 😦

Paradise, MI

Wild blueberry festivalAnyhow, I learned that wild blueberries are part of the local heritage here, and they’ve been celebrating blueberries since 1984.  Long before cultivated blueberries were around, Paradise’s wild berries were in great demand.  During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, up to 1500 laborers moved here to pick berries. The local blueberry industry peaked during  the Great Depression, but declined with the advent of WWII when labor was scarce.  Then the natural succession of vegetation and forest reduced the availability of blueberries.  Today, wild blueberries thrive and there is still commercial picking – but not like the old days.

After a taste of the delicious blueberry pie we checked out various local arts and crafts, but left Paradise blueberry-less.

Wild blueberry festival, Paradise

Look – I’m a blueberry…something!!!

Considering the festival was located on the shore of Lake Superior on a gorgeous day, I guess this stop wasn’t so bad after all!

Paradise Wild Blueberry Festival

A band playing with Lake Superior in the background

On a technical note, we’re in the process of copying our campground reviews from rvparkreviews back to our own site, for more timely access and better content control – although we like rvparkreviews and will probably keep posting there as well.  So far, we’ve updated our 2014 map so you can click on any of our stops and visually see where we stayed, in the hope that our reviews will be helpful to folks going into those areas.  We think the new format of our upcoming reviews will be more useful to RVer’s in our situation.  Steve started reviewing every campground where we stayed in March of 2013, and we plan to have that year’s map updated shortly.  Let us know if it’s helpful or if we can make it more useful!


 Next up:  Part 2 of hanging out with the Yoopers!




Fun with friends continues – Sault Ste Marie U.S. and Canada

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Algoma Art Display

After a great day of biking on Mackinac Island (remember, its pronounced “Mackinaw”), the four of us still had plenty of places we wanted to check out.  Don and Lisa, driving from Warren, Ohio to meet up with us, could only get away for a week – they have jobs, after all – bummer!  So we filled our days together from our home base at Mackinaw City, driving to the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie – the Michigan and Canadian sides of the international border.  On our last day together we explored Mackinaw City on our bikes.

Sault Ste Marie, MI

We had initially planned to watch large freighters move through the Soo Locks system from an observation platform next to the Soo Locks visitor center.  But then we found out about a two-hour narrated Soo Locks Boat Tour excursion that would actually take us through the locks – much better!

MacArthur Lock -Soo Locks

Our tour boat waiting for the water to fill the lock chamber.  How did I get this shot if we were on the tour?  I didn’t – we went to the visitor center later, and there was the same boat doing another tour!

The Soo Locks are a set of parallel locks located on St. Mary’s river which enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.  The locks were required to bypass the rapids of the river, where the water falls 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes.  The locks are powered by gravity itself – no pumps are used.  Water moves in and out of the lock chambers by simply opening and closing valves, and it takes only a few minutes to fill or empty them with 22 million gallons of water.

Soo Locks, Sault Ste Marie, MI

Soo Locks viewed from the International Bridge

Since we were traveling up-bound at the beginning of our tour, the chamber was filled and our boat rose twenty-one feet straight up to the level of Lake Superior.  The chamber is able to handle ships up to 800 feet long, so our little tour boat seemed like a toy in there! Once the chamber was filled, the gates opened and we cruised under the International Bridge and a railroad bridge.

MacArthur Lock, Soo Locks

Once the chamber filled to the level of Lake Superior, the gates opened and off we went!

As we crossed under the International Bridge, I noticed these two workers who seemed to be comfortable hanging out up there:

International Bridge

Workers on top of the International Bridge

The narrator pointed out several interesting buildings and other structures to us as we moved along.  One of them was the 1/4-mile long Saint Mary’s Falls Hydropower Plant, which has 72 turbines producing electric power from water flowing down its wooden plank-lined canal.  The building is listed as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  Check out the columnar supports that are shaped like lighthouses:

Saint Marys Falls Hydropower Plant

A quarter mile long building – Saint Mary’s Falls Hydropower Plant

After crossing into Canadian waters, we got a close-up look at one of Canada’s largest steel plants.  We returned to our dock after passing through the smaller historic and newly-restored Canadian lock, and cruising past the Saint Mary’s Rapids.  We learned that more than 11,000 cargo vessels pass through the locks during the 42-week long navigation season.  Vessels of all shapes and sizes go through the lock system – for free!

Sault Ste Marie Canal, Canada

Canadian lock at Sault Ste Marie in Ontario

Sault Ste Marie, Ontario

Going “downstream”, the chamber was emptied before the gates were opened

Although we had experienced “locking through” the Panama Canal during our Princess Cruise in 2012, this time it was much faster and close-up.  What took most of a day for the cruise ship to complete happened here in about 20 minutes.  But these locks were still a man-made marvel when they were built, and we really enjoyed the experience of passing through them.  Not to be missed if you’re in the area!

Sault Ste Marie, ON, Canada

We got a glimpse of the Canadian side of Sault Ste Marie from our tour boat, and since we all had our passports with us we decided to head over there and grab some lunch after the tour.  The International Highway Bridge connects the U.S. and Canadian cities, Sault Ste Marie and is a 2.8-mile long steel truss arch bridge with a suspended deck.  There are two separate spans, a double arch span on the U.S. side which crosses over the four U.S. Soo Locks, and a single arch span on the Canadian side that crosses the single Canadian Lock.

International Bridge

The International Highway Bridge connects the twin Sault Ste Marie cities in Michigan and Ontario

Saint Mary's Falls

Saint Mary’s Falls and the US Hydroelectric plant, viewed from the International Bridge

After an excellent lunch at Shogun, an all-you-can eat sushi place (Steve was going through “sushi withdrawal” and needed his fix), we swung by Ontario’s Sault Ste Marie waterfront and walked off some of the calories, while enjoying the flowers and art displays bordering the river.




Civic Center, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario

Flower garden reflected on the Civic Center windows

Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Canada

The foursome next to Saint Mary’s River, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario – eh?

Before heading back home to Mackinaw City, since Don was driving he demanded that we take a quick detour near Brimley, MI to the lakeshore.  He just had to touch Lake Superior before going home!  They met their goal on this trip of touching three of the Great Lakes –  Superior, Huron and Michigan – way to go, guys!

Lake Superior

Touching Lake Superior at Brimley, MI

 Mackinaw City

We were delighted when we learned that the KOA campground where we were staying had a bike path leading directly into town – how convenient!  On Don and Lisa’s last day with us, we pedaled off and entered the historic downtown area, which was bustling with tourists. After all, Mackinaw City is the jumping-off point to Mackinac Island, with three ferry services to choose from.

Mackinaw City

Shepler’s ferry dock

The five-mile long Mackinac Bridge links Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, and spans the connection of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac.  It is currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge – a beauty

Lake Huron

Lisa sprinkling Don with Lake Huron water during our ride

Perhaps if we had been dressed appropriately we would have checked out the  Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum.  The USCG cutter Mackinaw (WAGB-83) is a 290-foot vessel that was specifically designed for ice breaking duties on the Great Lakes.  It has been decommissioned and is open for tours.

US Coast Guard cutter

US Coast Guard ice breaker Mackinaw is open for tours.


Steve’s eyeing that Weinerlicious hotdog joint, we went over and got ourselves some of those dogs!

On the shore of Lake Michigan and Mackinaw City’s west side lies a rock that may not be as famous as Plymouth Rock, but it has been used as a navigational aid since before the Pilgrims landed.  McGulpin rock (or Chi-Sin – Big Rock) was used by Native Americans as a navigational aid to gauge the lake’s water levels.  It measures 33.0 ft. in horizontal circumference and 37 ft. in vertical circumference.  It’s 9 ft. tall and weighs 54 tons.  I wonder how the heck it got there?

Mcgulpin Rock, Mackinaw City

McGulpin rock, Chi- Sin or Big Rock

Big Rock, Lake Michigan

Don and Lisa sitting at Lake Michigan, accomplishing their goal of seeing all of the Great Lakes!

On our way back to the campground, I couldn’t help snapping a shot of this black beauty amongst the pink flowers.

MacGulpin Point,Mackinaw CityThe four of us had been running around every day – seeing the Henry Ford, biking at Mackinac island, driving to Sault Ste Marie, MI and crossed the international border.  We hadn’t had any time to cook, so on their last day I prepared a couple of filipino dishes – lumpia and pancit canton – as a sendoff dinner for our good friends.  We had lots of fun and made many memories in a short period of time.  That is until next time, somewhere out west!

Lowes RV Adventures



Next up:  Back to nature in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!






Biking around a charming (but stinky) little island – Mackinac Island, MI

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Mackinac Island

Our active and fun-filled days with Don and Lisa continued, as we moved Betsy up into northern Michigan.  Destination: Mackinaw City, just across from Mackinac Island.  This small island lies in the Strait of Mackinac, between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.  As we learned first-hand, it’s a favorite summer destination for thousands of folks, with a charming downtown area.  It had been recommended to us by fellow bloggers, followers and friends, so we were excited to check it out on a gorgeous summer day.

But just a quick digression, please.  I want to mention a fun stop we made at Frankenmuth, Michigan, that Don had suggested.  This quaint little German-themed town was definitely worth taking a little side trip for.  Although we only had time for lunch and a look around town due to the long drive ahead, it’s a place we would love to come back to for a weekend.


A yummy lunch was had by all at the Frankenmuth Brewery

We had a great lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery, and after driving around town a bit we stopped into the absolutely huge (world’s largest) Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.  There is no way to describe the sights and sounds of literally millions of Christmas decorations and other goodies this place carries – you have to be there to believe it.  It was busy – even in August – we can’t image what it would be like during the holidays.  But we did have to wonder how the employees can stand to listen to Christmas music all day, every day 😦


Inside Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the store alone covers 7-plus acres – incredible!

But now back to Mackinac Island.  Ever since we heard about this island months ago, we had been mispronouncing its name.  Originally the area had the Indian name “Michinnimakinong”, but when the French came in 1715 they changed it to “Michilimackinac”, pronouncing the end of the word as “aw.”  The Brits arrived in 1761 and decided to change the spelling to “Michilimackinaw.”  Eventually the name was shortened to Mackinaw, for obvious reasons. But the French kept their “ac” spelling and retained its French pronunciation.  Only Mackinaw City retained its “aw” spelling – hence, Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge and Straits of Mackinac.  Just remember if you come to this area that they are all pronounced with “aw” at the end, or you will be called a “fudgie” by the locals (whatever the heck that is).  Got it?  Good!

Round Island Lighthouse

Round Island Light

Mackinac Island harbor

The harbor at Mackinac Island

We thought biking here would be similar to biking on other islands that we’ve enjoyed, like Block Island in Rhode Island and San Juan Island in Washington.  Wrong!  Biking here is unique and charming for several reasons:

  • The entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Mackinac Island

  • It is accessible only by ferry, aircraft or snowmobile (across the ice during winter) – no bridges.

Arnold Ferry

  • Except for fire trucks, motor vehicles have been banned since 1898!

Main Street, Mackinac Island

Typical downtown scene, and this was before it got busy!

Mackinac Island

Reminds me of the Philippines!

  • 80% of this small island is preserved as a state park, Mackinac Island State Park, and it’s Michigan’s first state park (established in 1895).

Mackinac Island State Park

  • The only mode of transportation is by bicycle, or…

Bicycle Parking Lot

One of the bike parking lots at the Grand Hotel


    …horse-pulled carriage – as a taxi, freight wagon or garbage collector.

  • Finally, since this is a horse town with about 500 of them leaving behind their poops and urine, experiencing it takes you back in time to when horses ruled the road.  We began smelling it as the ferry approached the dock, and found it a bit overwhelming in the downtown area.

Bike Rentals at Mackinac IslandConsidering the natural beauty and touristy fun of biking, the four of us brought our own bikes along and first rode around the 8-mile perimeter of the island, following Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185).  It’s the only interstate in the U.S. that doesn’t allow personal motor vehicles.  Bikes can be rented by the hour, but it’s a bit pricey so we took our own and went at a leisurely pace.

We took the slower (and cheaper) Arnold ferry across, at the round-trip cost of $18 per person plus $8 per bike.

Down the road a ways along Lake Huron, we saw an example of Mackinac Island’s breccia rock formations. About 4,000 years ago, the lake waters slowly dissolved the softer material that extended into the center of the formation.  As the lake eroded the middle of the stack, it slowly crumbled into the water leaving the firm breccia limestone arch that is now called Arch Rock.

The island’s landscape is characterized by high limestone bluffs, beautiful vistas of sparkling water and vibrant forests with unique geological formations.

Mackinac Island

On the island’s east side, brecciated geology has produced a series of hills and bluffs

We were captivated by the island’s Victorian charm and relaxed atmosphere.  While most areas were quiet and beautiful, the downtown was bustling and packed with tourists filling the many restaurants and stores.

Some of the quaint (and not so quaint) structures we saw:

As we biked into Surry Hills, we noticed this red building and rode up to discover it was the newly-built Grand Hotel Stables.  It’s a working stable and home to 12 of the hotel’s horses.

Grand Hotel Stables

Biking up to the Grand Hotel Stables

Grand Hotel Stables

Horsies on duty!

Inside the stable building were 20 antique carriages from the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.  One wall displayed a copy of the 1896 resolution to ban motor vehicles on the island.

If you’re old enough to have seen the movie “Somewhere in Time“, then you might want to stop by the Majestic Grand Hotel.  The 1980 film starred Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, and was filmed on location right here.  However, be prepared to pay a $10 fee just to walk on the grounds and into the lobby.  We stopped here and were happy to view it from the outside.

Grand Hotel's Porch

At 660 feet, the Grand Hotel’s Front Porch is the world’s largest, and is easily visible from miles away on the ferry

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel viewed from the ferry

After riding several more miles on the island’s interior roads and trails, we parked our bikes downtown and window shopped, cooling ourselves down as the smell of fudge wafted through the air.  And did we buy some?  Of course!

We recommend biking the island – it’s small with just a few hills to tackle.  Although the odor from the horse “leavings” was pretty bad downtown, we enjoyed getting a good workout and had a great time eating and shopping after our ride.

The Lowes RV Adventure

Hanging with Don and Lisa, our best buds


 Next Up:  More Michigan fun with our friends!


The Henry Ford -Dearborn, MI

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Ford Model T

Dearborn, Michigan was not originally on our route of travel, as we had planned to stay closer to Lake Michigan while heading north.  But during a Skype call with our good friends Don and Lisa, they suggested meeting up in the Dearborn area to visit “The Henry Ford.”

Since this was the first we had heard of the place, we envisioned something like the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, which we visited last winter in Fort Myers, Florida.  But how wrong we turned out to be!  Although Henry Ford’s main estate is nearby, it’s only the beginning of what has been put together to celebrate the man’s life and legacy.  His empire was and is huge!

The Henry Ford

Entrance to the massive complex

The Henry Ford is a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  It consists of five distinct attractions; The Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, IMAX Theatre, Benson Ford Research Center and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.  It took us three visits to explore and take it all in, so we’re glad we had reserved our RV spot for a week.

Henry Ford Museum

I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition… Henry Ford

With that vision, Henry Ford established this museum in 1929 to honor the common genius of the American people.  The museum is NOT just about cars, although there are plenty of them here.  What fascinated us were the collections of authentic objects that brought to life the stories of ordinary people who changed the world.  As I mentioned, it’s a big place – 2 acres under one roof just for the museum – and it took many hours to see everything.  I can only hope to give you a feel for it.

DC-3 , Henry Ford Museum

The main entrance – a 1939 DC-3 in the background gives you an idea of how big this place is

Presidential Limousines, Henry Ford Museum

Several original presidential limousines

The Allegheny 1941 locomotive

At over 600 tons, this 1941 locomotive is one of the world’s largest and heaviest.  Amazing!


Steve checks out one of the many steam-powered generators on display


1939 Texaco tanker

1939 Texaco tanker

 Duesenberg Henry Ford Museum

My favorite – a 1931 Bugatti Royale, one of only 6 built

A special display showing from May to August was a celebration of the Women who Rock, a collection of must-see memorabilia from the most-recognized women in rock and roll history.

Henry Ford Museum

Viewing, reading and being amazed at the collection of antique machinery, pop culture items, automobiles, locomotives, aircraft, and other items took us a good part of a day.  This place has something for anyone who comes in!

Greenfield Village

Greenfield VillageOn our next visit, we checked out Greenfield Village, which is right next door to the museum.  In this area, Mr. Ford transplanted and preserved famous historic structures, arranging them in a “village-like” setting.

This place sort of reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia complete with docents in period outfits.  Since Greenfield Village is on 240 acres of land, we first hopped on the train pulled by an historic steam locomotive to ride around the perimeter and learn the layout of the huge property.

Steam Locomotive

Hop aboard the steam locomotive!

The village included the actual bicycle shop where the Wright brothers built their first airplane in Dayton, Ohio, Thomas Edison’s laboratory from Menlo Park, an Illinois courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law and the Dearborn farm where Ford himself was born and much more.  There was also a collection of several craft buildings and workshops.

Main Street, Greenfield Village

Main Street, Greenfield Village

One cool thing we did was rode on an authentic Ford Model T around the village while our driver pointed out the various historic districts and talked about the car we were riding in.




Cotswold Garden


Model Ts

Working Farm

A farmer threshing hay in a field

It was a long day of walking and touring through time with our friends, and what better way to end it than with a cold beverage at a local brewery!

Rivers Edge Brewery

Cheers to good friends and good times!


The Henry Ford Estate

Since our stay in Dearborn was all about Henry Ford, the four of us also swung by Fair Lane, Ford’s estate just up the road where he lived with his wife Clara from 1915 to 1950.  In 1957 Ford donated the estate and the farmlands to the University of Michigan for construction of the Dearborn campus.  In 1966 the estate received the prestigious designation as a National Historic Landmark from the National Register of Historic Places.  And in June 2013, ownership of the Estate transferred from the university to the Henry Ford Estate, Inc., a new 501c3 corporation that is currently performing an extensive restoration throughout the property.

Fair Lane, Henry Ford Estate

Back view of the home

Although the historic home and buildings on the estate were closed for the work, we were able to explore the extensive grounds with the map they provided.

Ford Rouge Factory Tour

Our experience at the Henry Ford wouldn’t be complete without doing one of Steve’s favorite things – taking yet another factory tour – this time at the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant.  But we got more than just a view of the plant’s final assembly line.

First we were herded into a theater to learn about the history of the Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford’s innovations, including the concept of “vertical integration” where everything is produced at the plant, including the steel for the vehicles.  After that we were led to another theater surrounded by seven huge screens for a virtual tour of the complete assembly process.  It was a nicely done production that featured the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

At the Legacy Galley, we saw the five vehicles that changed the Ford Motor Company and made automobile history: the 1929 Model A, the ’49 Coupe, the 1955 Thunderbird and a 1965 Mustang.  Completing the timeline was the Rouge’s latest creation from this plant, the new Ford F-150 Raptor pickup.

1929 Model A

1929 Model A

 the ’49 Coupe, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird

The ’49 Coupe and 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Finally, we began the self-guided walking tour of the assembly plant.  We were able to view the entire process from an elevated walkway, beginning where the painted F-150 shell entered the plant and ending at the trim line where final assembly took place.

Having been on several car assembly tours, we especially liked this one because we could take all the time we wanted to watch each process.  Along the walkway were several interactive kiosks and employees to answer our questions.

Dearborn Plant Complex

Ford Rouge Center

On the observation deck we got to see a panoramic view of the Ford Rouge Center complex, and check out what they are boasting about – the Living Roof atop the Dearborn Truck Plant’s Final Assembly building.  At 454,000 square feet, it is one of the largest living roofs in the world, effectively turning it into a 10.4-acre garden.

Living Roof, Dearborn Manufacturing Plant

Living Roof

Whew!  You can probably sense there is much to see and do here, and we covered a lot of ground.  It was a fun place to visit with our friends to learn about Henry Ford and the legacy he left not just in Dearborn, but throughout the world.  He would have turned 150 years old this summer, and would likely be very proud of what history has said about him.


Next up:  Biking around Mackinac Island