Thursday, September 20, 2018

Copper Falls State Park, Wisconsin

As we move westward, we alternate between staying in places for purely practical reasons (like the KOA today to take care of laundry, camper cleaning, and other misc. errands), and State or County park campgrounds that give us a small taste of the beauty of nature that a given region offers.

Copper Falls State Park on Tuesday was such a stay.  It happened to be a fairly short distance from Route 2 as we drove through northern Wisconsin, so we stopped, stayed, and walked some of the paths to the various falls.  This is another campground originally built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930’s, which reflect the amazing work done by the men participating in the program - buildings, pathways, bridges, and overlooks made of local materials, built to last, built to be used and enjoyed by generations to come.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

9/16/18.  This John Denver song is a perfect reflection of where we are in our lives right now: Today is the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives
Two days ago we closed the sale on our home of over 30 years in Richland, MI.
Yesterday we spent the day reorganizing our Airstream travel trailer and both vehicles in preparation for two weeks or so on the road across the US, and potentially several months of living in the Airstream in Anacortes WA as we begin the search for our new home, the landing place from which we plan to continue to travel and adventure as long as life and health permits.
Today was the first day on the road as we head to the west coast. Spent this first night at the Mackinac KOA, a stones throw from the bridge.

9/18/18.  Yesterday we followed Route 2 along the UP shoreline of Lake Michigan, getting a last look at the lake that has been such a huge part of our lives, and that of our sons. Bittersweet for sure. Last night we spent in the Marquette city campground, called Tourist Park, and feasted on both fresh (fried) lake trout and smoked whitefish - another “last time”, this time for 2 favorite foods during our years here in Michigan.
Today we head for Copper Falls State Park in WI. Our aim is to drive about 5 hours each day, following Route 2 across the country to Washington state.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Treasure Found: Brookgreen Gardens

We're catching up on blog posts that reflect this season's travels because we finally have a good internet signal.

Almost directly across the street from Huntington Beach State Park is Brookgreen Gardens, which is touted as "a unique melding of art, nature, and history."  It is all that and more!  Brookgreen Gardens accreditations makes clear how unique this place is: "Brookgreen Gardens is one of the few institutions in the United States to earn accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as well as being designated a National Historic Landmark and being listed on the National Register of Historic Places."

Those who know us may think that with John's knowledge of history and museums, and my interest in gardening and art, we set out for the Huntington Beach area specifically in search of this unique place, but in fact it was a serendipitous find - a once-in-a-lifetime find, to which we plan to return later in March to see it for a second time in its full early springtime blooming glory!

As it was, we visited this treasure in mid/late February when some of the earliest blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs were just emerging.  Brookgreen has a fascinating history which I will not repeat on the blog but will encourage anyone who is interested to find our more about the history and intent of this amazing creative endeavor to follow this link and/or Google the name to learn more.  My camera and I went crazy, and though I've tried to limit the photos I include here, its been difficult to pick from the plethora of photos I took.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

THIS is why we keep exploring new territory!

As I said in our last blog, returns to the campgrounds we have enjoyed in the past offer a strong sense of homecoming.  But where we are for the next two weeks is the perfect example of why we also enjoy exploring new campgrounds.

We are at Huntington Beach State Park, SC, for the next two weeks, and believe we've identified another campground that hits our "top 10" list. In past trips, two of our favorite campgrounds have been Fort Pickens State Park in FL  because of the beautiful white sand beach and historic buildings right in the park, and Goose Island State Park in Texas because of the lovely private campsites separated by live-oaks, and the opportunity to view a variety of shore birds, many of which are unusual to us Michiganders.  Huntington Beach State Park combines the best elements of both of these old favorites, as well as offering a number of other attractions to explore in the surrounding area.  These first few days, weather has been lovely, cool (40-60 degrees Farenheit) and mostly sunny, so we have just walked and walked and walked, with and without binoculars and cameras, soaking in just this campground.  In subsequent days we plan to explore other places in the vicinity that promise to offer new experiences and new sights.
HUGE campsites with visual privacy (we think we're in one of the best!)

This is the view out our back window when we are inside the camper.

Pine Forests
HUGE gnarled Live Oaks

Spanish moss dripping from trees
Boardwalks over the extensive protected dunes to the beach
THE BEACH!!!! Walkable for miles, dog-friendly.

And the shore-birds:
Great Egret

Great Blue Heron - Breathtaking and a great fisherman!

Pelican cruising the saltwater marsh

Lovely little Killdear

Cormorant, just checking out the scene

Snowy Egret

Showing off his flashy feet

Showing off his fancy plumage.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Home Again, While on the Road

We are spending a week at one of our favorite campgrounds in Florida - one that feels like home whenever we are here: Blackwater River State Park.  We first stayed here in February, 2016.  At the time it was a "default" campground because the campgrounds along the coastal beaches where we had hoped to stay were full.  During that stay, it became one of our favorite places, so we were thrilled to find that we could stay for a week now, without having made prior reservations. 

Based on what we've seen on the news, we had thought that the Florida Panhandle and areas inland from that were severely affected by the last round of hurricanes, so our initial plan for this winter was to head to campgrounds in South Carolina.  Since a "weather window" opened sooner than we had expected, we left Michigan a week earlier than planned and as luck would have it wound up here at Blackwater.  The link above from our first stay here in 2016 describes our first impressions of this park.  Our stay here this year just reinforces our earlier perceptions.

Because of the limited number of campground sites (30 compared to over a hundred at other state parks) it is a quiet place, conducive to reflection and relaxation. 
 Despite the signs warning of alligator presence, at this time of year and at these temperatures, not only the alligators but also the turtles and other water creatures are either hibernating or hiding - at least we have not spotted any.

We have made the 1-hour drive into Pensacola twice from here, so that we could feast on fresh seafood, prepared by us in our Airstream, served on paper plates rather than fine china - delicious - well worth the drive. 
"Royal Red" shrimp from Joe Patti's in Pensacola
Seared sesame Ahi tuna - served on a paper plate in our Airstream still tastes as elegant as if prepared at a restaurant

We have spent hours reading, hours walking on the well-maintained paths and boardwalks or over rough wooden bridges through the swampy areas; we have stopped numerous times to watch the reflections of the cypress and other water-loving trees in the low-lying swampy areas; we have been amazed yet again at the incredible white-sand beaches along this river, and have talked about how much our grandson Jack would enjoy playing in that beautiful, soft sand. We have relaxed in the evenings by a campfire, talking quietly or not at all, sipping wine, savoring the evening air.

Natural tree-root stairs on a walking path at Blackwater River SP

This is a park that appears to draw visitors of all ages, with one thing in common - appreciation of the natural beauty and quiet of this place - a place to which we hope to return, again and again, as somewhere that feeds our souls.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Albertosaurs, Tyrannosaurs, and Nodosaurs, Oh My!

Our visit to the Royal Tyrell Dinosaur Museum and Badlands in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada a few days ago was a lovely, amazing surprise to me.

Driving into Drumheller, one sees dinosaurs everywhere in the form of humorous plaster figures, some large, some smaller, cute and kind of kitschy, but they led me to believe that the museum itself might be more of the same.

WRONG! The Royal Tyrell Dinosaur Museum is a world reknown center of paleontological research, with astounding displays of life forms covering the 3.9 billion year history of life on earth.
On entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a life-like exhibit of Albertosaurus, the flesh eating dinosaur discovered in that area in 1884 by a man searching for coal seams.  It soon became apparent that this region of Alberta contained a rich and varied collection of fossilized life forms, which continue to be protected, are reported to the government and then carefully excavated and examined.
Model of Albertosaurus on entering the museum
The museum takes its visitors from that first display through an introduction to the geology of the area, displays that explain how fossils come to be, displays of fossils of various life forms - both plant and animal - and concludes this section with a side by side display demonstrating the way fossils are usually found, and how some extremely lucky finds are made.
The scattered way most fossils are found and have to be put together by paleontologists like a giant puzzle
The way fossils are found in rare and very fortunate circumstances
 The next section of the museum includes a viewing area where visitors can watch paleontologists working on cleaning fossils.  This latter area also displays examples of the tools used for this type of research, such as dental picks and drills, and exhibits about how fossils are prepared and protected for storage or display.  These displays end with "Black Beauty" Tyranosaurus Rex named that because mineral deposits pigmented the bones black. This display demonstrates the remarkable result of painstaking effort of many years, by many scientists who have built their lives around educating themselves and the rest of us about a past that otherwise would be lost.
The head on the floor in front is the REAL one, which was too heavy to mount for display, so a plaster cast substitute was added to the exhibited skeleton.
From there you enter a series of chronological galleries with beautifully done exhibits of the life forms of the various time periods, which are introduced with the following chart and reinforced throughout the exhibits. There are many interactive sections where children are encouraged to touch, feel, think and fully experience this remarkable museum and the people who do this kind of research and work.

Throughout the museum, the written explanations about the displays serve to not only inform, but to whet the appetite for additional information.

Part of a section representing early marine life

Throughout the museum, displays of fossil animals are shown against a backdrop of  artwork that depicts the imagined real scene at the time.
Docents walk around the museum and offer tours or additional information about displays.  We encountered such a docent who told us with great excitement about the exceptionally well-preserved nodosaur that had only gone on display days before our arrival.  The nodosaur had been found with many external protective plates intact, even sections of skin preserved, and remarkably had even preserved the stomach contents so those studying this sample could determine what it had eaten for its last meal! I was so enthralled by this one that I neglected to take photos - please follow the link in this paragraph to read more about this remarkable find.

A visit to the museum is not complete without taking the walking tour through the adjacent badlands to get a greater understanding of the geology of this particular area.  If you are in Alberta, a visit to the Royal Tyrell is an experience not to be missed!

Two Hoodoos; chimney-like rock formations (fun to read more about here)