Friday, August 3, 2012

Small Town America: Torrington, Wyoming

 When this profiling blog was first conceived, it was to focus in on one aspect of an American small town somewhere in this Great Country, such as the ones already done on a boardwalk or how a small town organizes a great festival.
However, this profile will be an exception. It will be more a perspective of Torrington, Wyoming, having knowledge and experience in Torrington, Connecticut.
This was the motivation to travel to the wonderful small city of Torrington, WY…the best motivation for the human spirit and for the American Vagabond’s curiosity.
Torrington WY was founded by Torrington, CT native, W.G. Curtiss, in the very early 1900s. That is the genesis for naming the second Torrington in the West. That is where much of the similarity will end.
Torrington, WY is a small town of approximately 5000 residents-about the same size in population as Harwinton, CT. However, because it is the county seat of Goshen County, WY, it has a commercial district rivaling the much larger Torrington, CT version. It does not, however, for good or bad, have any of the large box stores that are ubiquitous in much of America.
Yet, it must be mentioned that the fast food chains have succeeded in having their presence in the small town of Torrington, WY, just as we can get the Big Whopper and Big Mac in Torrington, CT.
In all of New England, much of the founding of one city or another is due to the rivers as a means of power for factories, and transportation from one point to another.
In the West, it was not only the rivers, but also the railroads that gave rise to many small and large cities. Two railroads meet in Torrington, WY, Union Pacific and the BNSF.
Unlike what we are most familiar with here in CT, the Union Pacific and BNSF move sugar, coal, and other bulk products through Torrington, WY. Also, aiding the “raison de etre” of Torrington, WY, is the intersection of two state highways, and as previously mentioned, being the county seat.
One digression is in order for the CT readers of this profile. Here in CT, we have a tradition for “home rule” manifested in a strong local government. Counties in CT exist in name only for the most part. In most of the country, to include Wyoming, counties are very strong in both their taxing authority and governmental powers. This is not to say the local government is not without their own authority and responsibilities, which I will mention later in this profile.
One of the issues we Vagabonds like to think about with each small town we visit are the economic engines that drive the local economies. All employment brings income to the workers, but it is the employment that brings income into the community that is the key to the economic vitality of any city or town.
I previously mentioned the larger than expected, given the population of Torrington, WY business community. This is not only because it is the county seat with all the trappings of county government such as the county courthouse, it is because of the local larger employers.
Torrington, WY is home to a private special education facility, St. Joseph’s Children’s’ Home, a beet sugar factory, the Eastern Wyoming (2 year) college, a state medium security prison, a soon to be plastic factory and a temporary influx of oil pipeline workers. As Torrington is very close (7 miles) to the panhandle of Nebraska, the surrounding community is heavily engaged in agriculture--both livestock and crops (corn, soybeans and beets).
We, the Vagabonds, feel the heavily weighting towards agriculture contributes to the very friendly demeanor of the small town. Farming, universally, makes nice people.
Kelly, the Director of the Visitors’ Center of the local Chamber of Commerce, was and is extraordinarily friendly — plus she is a relocated Bostonian. She understood James’s accent completely :). Besides making us feel very welcome, she was a valuable source of information about the community. One anecdote was she knew of the homeless man we met, temporary living in the park we stayed in that offered hook-ups for RVs. She mentioned he was the only homeless man in town. This man was well-spoken, knowledgeable, and helpful to our visit. Hopefully his misfortunes are temporary however; even he, in the mist of his own issues, exhibited the inherent friendliness we encountered all across the Mid-West and Western States.
While I mention people we met, it is incumbent upon us to mention the Mayor of Torrington, Wyoming, Mike Varney. He is a retired history professor with a most charming personality. Politically astute, well informed about the inner workings of his town, he was gracious enough to give us ample time in his office to not only complete our quest to learn about the town in the short time we had allocated, he made us feel this can not be the only visit for the Vagabonds to this fair city. It is rare for an elected politician to say they won their office via a “write-in” as Mayor Varney had done.
On a more serious note he did talk with us at length about the water issues and challenges the town faces. The abnormally hot summer is an inconvenience for Torrington, CT as well as the rest of the state. For those in Torrington, WY, and throughout the Mid-West, water and its related issues are becoming more and more of a critical concern. Fortunately for Torrington, WY, with Mike Varney’s leadership and vision, and the good fortune of the proximity of the North Platte River Valley, Torrington has a stable, reliable, and ample water supply for the time being.
 Across from the beet sugar factory is the town museum complete with a real Union Pacific Caboose right next door! The museum is located in the abandoned railroad station and is filled with historic artifacts and memorabilia of the history of Torrington, WY donated by the local citizens. The museum is open during the week and free. Inside the museum, the Vagabonds and other visitors are transformed immediately into the past. The ambiance of the museum is quit invigorating and in a short time, one can get the feel of a time long gone that is the history of strong, resolute, accomplished, and proud American West townspeople.
Another impressive structure is the Volunteer Fire Station and equally impressive fire training facility in the local Pioneer Park. The Vagabonds did not get a chance to talk to any of the volunteer firemen and firewomen but; judging from their facilities we are confident they are as professional, capable and dedicated as any volunteer fire department throughout America. A Vagabonds well-done to all!
Throughout Connecticut, one notices and unfortunately too many take for granted the greenery of the State’s abundant and prolific vegetation. Torrington, WY is not blessed similarly. Trees and luscious green lawns as well as the abundant deciduous tress of New England are not present, or are very few sparse indeed, in Torrington, Wyoming.
Yet the vistas and the nearby plains offer their own allure to resident and visitor alike.
The people of Torrington, WY are a resolute lot — proud and independent as the geography and nature demand.
Mayor Mike Varney, Torrington, WY

Main Street in Torrington, WY

A museum guide

Torrington's sugar beet factory

We always found a great place to hike on the road.

Torrington CT native W.G. Curtiss, founder of the town of Torrington, Wyoming.

James and Joan, enjoying some time on the dance floor - one of their favorite places.
Yet there is a friendliness and charm ever present that unites all Americans that says, “For all our differences, we are most alike in all that matters.”

Torrington, Wyoming, and home again to Connecticut

Torrington, WY was our furthest west planned destination. It just seemed like a fun idea to visit the town named for Torrington, CT. We met Mayor Mike Varney. and had a wonderful chat. He is affable, jovial and a skilled politician. We will be posting Torrington, Wyoming, on our website as a "special" town profile.
Torrington has a park with a campground, which made staying there even easier. The campground is named Pioneer Park, and has over 15 sites for campers and travelers. The North Platte River runs along the back of the campground, but it is not for swimming although some do cool off at the edge of the river.
The water is swift and full of driftwood that could injure a swimmer. The cost of staying overnight at the campground is $10, which includes electricity; and payment is on the honor system. Just stick your money in an old mail box!
When we left Torrington, we finally started heading east. The only other stop on our agenda was to visit with Joan’s cousin (actually first cousin-once removed) Ernie and his wife Micky in Highland, Indiana — if they were going to be home. They were, along with their oldest son, Tyler, who had recently graduated from high school. Their other two children were visiting grandparents, so we didn’t get to see them. We had a great time reminiscing, and catching up on family news.
In the morning, a storm was developing, so after a quick cup of coffee, and a few hugs, the Vagabonds left. The wind was howling, strewing paper and trash (it was garbage day and everyone on the street had already put out their cans) all over the lawns. There were a few limbs down, and we decided to ride out the storm at the nearby Cabelas, which was close by, but in the open — so no branches or trees would fall on us and we could point the View into the wind exactly as a ship handler does in a raging storm in the ocean. When the storm cleared, we headed east once more.
Traveling east along I-80 near Kearny, Nebraska, we encountered a ‘bridge’ across the highway. It had an Indian motif and since there were no exits, quite a curiosity. After a little internet research, we discovered that it was rolled across the highway in one piece in 1999 as a tourist attraction. The highway was diverted for eight hours to accomplish moving and stabilizing the bridge! Apparently they forgot that tourists would have to leave the highway to visit the various multi-media exhibits. As a result, visitors have to exit either before or after the bridge, and take a winding side road to get to it.
Another more attractive bridge was outside Keystone, South Dakota on the road to Mt. Rushmore. This is a stone archway and very pretty. This bridge, also man-made, is more natural looking being made of stone making a tunnel through the rock.
We cannot end this trip without a few observations.
First, Brutus, our Beta fish has traveled nicely and seems to enjoy the "waves" created by the bumps of the roads. It would be nice to take another pet, perhaps a cat or dog, but the Vagabonds decided that it would not be fair to the animal, especially with the heat we have experienced this summer.
The Vagabonds have seen all types of Recreational Vehicles on the road. Each is best for a particular type of travel: a 5th wheeler or toy hauler for carrying an ATV or dirt bike, and it has the advantage of detaching the truck and going to the store or an event, and not having to take the whole rig. 
A tent for backpacking or camping in one spot for a few days or a week. If you are traveling, tent camping can get tedious putting it up and taking it down every day, but it is a far cheaper way to travel. 
A ‘Class A’ is like taking your home with you. Most of the ones we saw also towed a small vehicle. Many people with ‘Class A’ RVs plan on staying in one place for several months. And, they get very low gas mileage! (Some of the newer ones even have a washing machine and dryer!)
A ‘Class C’ is a mini-apartment with an engine and wheels! It has all the amenities of the ‘Class A’ models, but is more compact.
Class B’ RVs are built on a van chassis, have less space, storage than a ‘Class C’, and no slide-out to make more room when stopped for the night.
If you plan to purchase an RV, be sure to investigate each type to get exactly what you need and want. There are RV shows that will give you a chance to look at every model. The show at the BIG E in March is a good one for looking at, and in, every class of RV. And, of course, do some research on the internet!
On our previous trips, the VW Eurovan was fine, but as we wanted more room to set up the computers, cook our meals, and have a shower, we decided to go to a larger vehicle and selected the Winnebago VIEW, which is a ‘Class C’ RV. We have plenty of storage and have saved money by not eating out or staying in motels a few times a week.
Our meals in the VIEW have ranged from pancakes and sausage for breakfast to roast beef, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob for dinner. Most of the time we had sandwiches for lunch. The refrigerator and freezer work great, and while the microwave/convection oven works, we have yet to master it completely.
We decided to end our trip a little early, since there were a multitude of events and things to take care of at home. Our cat, Tillie, was especially happy that we came home a little earlier than planned. For the first 24 hours, she meowed constantly, and stayed by Joan’s side.
One last comment is in order about this great country of ours. 
The American Vagabonds cannot lose sight of both the homogeneity and heterogeneity of both citizen and geography alike. English is the language of the land — yet the accents can be very different. What fun it is for people to hear our New England accent around the country, and often they guess that one of us comes from Boston (smile). 
Also, we here in CT are accustomed to not seeing very much of the sky above us due to the many hills and vegetation that surround us throughout Connecticut. In much of the Mid -West and West, there is a BIG SKY that holds a certain awe for the Vagabonds.
Travel America is not a slogan for the Vagabonds, it is a privilege.        
The American Vagabonds hope you have enjoyed traveling with us for a few weeks, as we try to encourage everyone to explore America. We expect to be back on the road sometime in November, so keep an eye out for.....
James and Joan, The American Vagabonds
And, don’t forget to visit our web site: or on blogspot-americanvagabonds.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Small Town America: Chassel, Michigan

By James and Joan, the American Vagabonds
Our last profile dealt with a vision and completion of a wonderful town project.
This edition is similar in vision and impressiveness, but of a completely different nature — a festival, and more specifically. a yearly Strawberry Festival.
Chassel, Michigan is a small town of 800 to 1000 inhabitants. It is not affluent, but it is solidly of the working class of people. While history is of the lumber industry, the economic engine that drives this small town is the employment of a University in the county’s capital of Houghton, about 13-15 miles north.
As a small town, it is impressive to the American Vagabonds what can be accomplished in bringing the community together, raising a substantial amount of money for a number of worthy projects in Chassel, and serving as a beacon of enjoyment for a weekend for people all around the state and beyond — including the two Vagabonds from a much larger small town in a much smaller state.
The residents’ claim, without objection, is that their Festival is the longest running in the State of Michigan. The 2012 edition was the 64th consecutive year for this event. It is replete with events and things to do, all impossible to accomplish without the support of the entire community.
The main sponsors are the Chassel Lions Club members, just like it is for many events in Harwinton. However, what separates Chassel and makes this event worthy of our interest to be profiled is the size and quality of the festival by such a very small community.
While it is impossible to list everything the Festival had to offer, it is paramount to mention the community dance at the local VFW on Friday night, which the Vagabonds attended. This was a dance with a healthy representation of the population having a rollicking great time — including us. We, the Vagabonds, found we were a bit overdressed but, after all, we are from New England.
The second event to mention was the Parade on Saturday. Although it was a very hot day, the population of Chassel swelled to 5 or even 10 times its size consisting of both spectators and marching participants.
The parade is open to anyone wanting to march as well as more formal units. It had the usual and customary units, but what we, the Vagabonds found most interesting was the true breadth and length of the parade.
As an example, though the schools are out for the summer, the parade consisted of the members of the high school marching band riding in a wagon and filling out their small numbers with alumni. Additionally, there was a middle school band with the band master tooting her trumpet right along with her charges in the parade.
In sum, this parade was most impressive, and could easily rival a parade in a much larger community.
One last free event to mention was the 45 minute boat rides into Lake Superior on the Research Vessel, “Agassiz.” Research is ongoing for the health of the Great Lakes and this trip was, like many other non-profits, to introduce what kinds of research the Michigan Technical University is undertaking.
There were the other non-profits and small vendors displaying their wares and showcasing their services. I know, based upon the two-day event all parties raised substantial monies and/or successfully educated the public.
For the Vagabonds, eating the signature Strawberry Shortcake was akin to tasting the sweet nectar indeed. Every Strawberry Shortcake we eat from now on will be held in comparison to the rich, smooth, sweet taste of the shortcake these Vagabonds had in a skating rink pavilion (built by the local Lions Club) at the Strawberry Festival in Chassel, Michigan.
Kudos to the people of Chassel, you did yourself proud!

Small Town America, Manisitque, Michigan, the “Boardwalk”

This is the first of a series of articles to profile some aspect of a small town in America principally under 10,000 in population. Topics covered for a small city or town will be diverse and broad. The emphasis will not be on individuals, but features that give the community some sense of uniqueness as perceived by the American Vagabonds.
As a preface, much of America’s largest cities are widely covered by the print and electronic media; yet, small towns and cities have interesting positive stories too and that is what the intent of American Vagabonds will attempt to convey in this series.
Our first town/city is Manistique, Michingan, located on the northern side of the great Lake Michigan. This is part of the unique region known as the Upper Peninsula in the great state of Michigan. This small village of approximately 3,000 inhabitants feels to us to be a much larger city because of its impresssive business district rivaling downtown Torrington, CT, a far larger populated city. Manistique, Michigan, in our opinion gives this impression primarily due to the tourist industry which this small city and the entire Upper Peninsula region is heavily dependent.
What the Vagabonds found most interesting to share in this premier edition of “Profiling...” is the nearly 2 mile long boardwalk in Manistique. It runs along the nothern shore of Lake Michigan from the city’s downtown, past the Marina then, past the picturesque East Breakwater Lighthouse and eastward for over a mile. As a side note, the lighthouse was built in 1919, stands at 35 feet, and was automated in 1969. Along the boardwalk, a walker can divert and walk the quarter mile jetty out to the lighthouse. The walk along the jetty is most enjoyable and scenic and worth the diversion.
The term boardwalk is a bit of a misnomer. There are, in fact, three separate and distinct surfaces-asphalt, cement and indeed boards. We speculate that what accounts for the asphalt and cement surface differences were more to funds available, and when the particular stretch of the boardwalk was built. As we were there over the 4th of July holiday, it was difficult to do a thorough research on this magnificent asset of this small Upper Peninsular Michigan city. However, we were able to discern that the project was completed in the early 90s and what captivated the Vagabonds’ interest was that this “boardwalk” project was spearheaded, not by government, but by local downtown business folks. It is certain that government was involved, such as helping to provide the “boot camp” labor in the construction of the boardwalk. This note was conveyed to us by a veteran and local citizen at the local VFW.
The entire boadwalk runs parallel to the main southern east-west artery in the UP, Rte 2. There are five free parking access points all with porta-potties and a number of structured restrooms. As a number of senior citizens both local and travelers walk this magnificent walkway, the Vagabonds recognize this most welcome contribution by the good townspeople of Manistique.
The entire boardwalk encompasses three zones of mother nature. There are the trees and shrubs, the swale zone (low flat areas beteen the beach and the trees and the strubs), and the beach flat zone. Each zone has its own vegetation providing food and shelter to a number of birds and insects including but not limited to the red-wing blackbird, the song sparrow, and the beautiful Monarch butterfly. It was indeed a sight to see Joan chasing a number of Monarchs frustrated with their, the Monachs, shyness to be photographed.
On the east side of the walk there is a parking lot with a shelter, and a well providing a welcome clean continuing stream of water. Anyone with a bucket or jug is welcome to take some water. There are also picnic tables at this rest area.
While I can see the potential economic benefit of the boardwalk to the downtown businesses, the more important benefit is to the townfolk and those who visit this wonderful small Michigan city. To walk this “boardwalk,” to gaze upon all of the wonderful vistas to be seen, and to hear all the wonderful sounds of mother nature to include a very great lake was a wonderful experience, and the Vagabonds think these are worth sharing.

American Vagabonds: More time in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

We left Marquette and continued our tour of the Upper Peninsula on the major East-West artery of Route 2. The small village of Christmas, north of Marquette, did not live up to its name. It was originally developed by a business man from Munising who opened a factory to produce Christmas gifts. The factory is gone and all that is left are a few delapidated motels, a new casino (not Mohegan or Foxwoods), and a huge Santa cut-out that was missing parts and needed to be painted.
Around lunchtime, we stopped at a roadside rest area. It was an attractive area, as are all the UP roadside rest areas with picnic tables, grills and trails. Michigan does a better job with rest areas than other states we have visited. At this rest stop, Tioga Creek, there was a trail marker that led to a water fall. We walked along the 1/10th mile trail single file most of the way, looking at the creek and the wild flowers along the banks. A mixture of Indian Paintbrush, Buttercups, Daisys, and Black-eyed Susans made for a pleasant and peaceful walk. We then went back to the VIEW to have lunch.
 A pick-up truck pulling a trailer with farming equipment on it was stopped across from us with a puddle of coolant under it. James checked to see if they needed help, but they had already called for assistance. This was a remote area, but a busy one. As we were about to leave, a woman came up to our RV looking worried, and I put the window down to see what she wanted.
She said she didn’t want us to leave because she was afraid that “those men” with the disabled pick-up truck were going to rob them! Her husband was in the restroom and she was uncomfortable by herself. We assured her that the men only wanted to fix their truck, and since the rest stop was busy with travelers, she didn’t have to worry. She thanked us, and anxiously went back to her car to wait for her husband.
We headed north after lunch and a rest, and as we were driving through the town of Chessel, there were crowds of people crossing the street, and we saw signs for a Strawberry Festival. And, across the street was a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) sign advertising a dance. We pulled into the parking lot of the VFW and went in to inquire. After talking to the Commander, we had permission to park in the parking lot over night. We parked and went to the festival. We were so impressed with it, that it is featured in the Vagabonds Profiling Small Town America this week. There were activities planned for two days, with food, crafts, music, and raffles.
A fast-moving thunderstorm drove everyone from the park. The wind picked up and vendors were having difficulty putting their booths down, and signs were flying around the grounds. We went back to the VIEW to get ready for the dance.
The next morning there was a long parade. I took several pictures of the entries in the parade, but my favorites are of some little girls who were standing near us. One tiny girl in a sun bonnet and jumper would wait for a group playing music, and her little feet (in matching flip-flops) would march along in time. The other picture is of two sisters, dressed identically with their hair in long braids down their backs, stood in awe as the Strawberry Queen and her Court rode by, waving to the crowd. Perhaps the little girls were dreaming of the time when they might be the Queen!
 After the parade, we went back to the park. We each had a huge strawberry shortcake ($4), and danced a few times to the music of a local band before we left to pack up. Invariably, when there is music to be heard, the Vagabonds feet seem to move on their own.
Driving through the back roads of the UP, we frequently saw white painted strips approximately 10’ wide across the roads. These are “cross walks” for snowmobiles. There are trails all through the UP, and where ever they cross a road, the white paint lets drivers know snowmobiles are allowed to cross there, and gives the snowmobilers a legal right to cross the roadway. In some places, ATVs also use the trails that crisscross through the forest.
That night we stayed in the city park of Bruce Crossing. They have a campground that accomodates a dozen RVs, and even have electric and water hook-ups. The payment is on the honor system. $10.00 for the night and the dump station is free. Showers are $3. If you don’t want to stay but just use the dump station, the charge is $5.00. We picked our site and settled in. There was only one other RV there--it looked like it was a perminent resident! Thirty days at a cost of $300 is inexpensive rent anyway. By night there were about 6 campers in the park. All were 5th wheelers except us. James suspects the other overnight campers were local to Michigan and we were the only interstate residents for the evening. The cool evening was most enjoyable and we felt the frogs ‘peeping’ in the swampy area adjecent to the park were personally serenading a welcome to the Vagabonds.
We were almost into Wisconsin before we passed into Cental Time. As usual, we will keep our watches on Eastern Daylight time — and our schedule. It is easier on our systems that way, and if we want to call home, we check our watch — not our cell phones (cell phones switch time automatically) for the time.
We stopped at a Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest roadside area for lunch. When James went out to get water from a hand pump, he was attacked by vicious mosquitoes. It reminded me of a road trip my family took when I was a little girl and my grandmother was traveling with us.
We stopped at a beautiful picnic area for lunch. No one else was there and we wondered why. We were barely out of the car when a horde of black mosquitoes attacked us. We ran back to the car — and so did the mosquitoes! As my father drove off down the road, we were slapping and squashing mosquitoes that had gotten into the car with us!
We stopped for the night at Day Lake Campground in the National Forest. The park had over 50 empty campsites, so we had our pick. After a swim, and BBQ pork chops for supper, we watched a movie and went to bed.
The American Vagabonds are off tomorrow, still heading West, toward Minneapolis. Joan’s great-nephew is performing with the Blue Knights Drum Core there, and we have tickets!

Friday, July 6, 2012

American Vagabonds: Traveling through the Upper Peninsula

Heading toward the Mackinac Bridge, or the “MAC” as it is called in Michigan, we stopped for fuel in the town of Charlevoix. The most amazing sight greeted us - and other travelers. The route going through the town, US 31, was lined on both sides with beautiful, bright petunias, the full length of the town. It was so pretty, and what a way to beautify the town!
In Cheboygan we stopped to do laundry and grocery shopping. It was breezy and cool in the town, which had a river canal running right through the middle of town with boats-- yachts and fishing boats--tied up to docks or trolling along. We wondered if that was how some people traveled through the town, stopping at a dock to do their shopping! Another interesting aspect to Cheboygan, are the street signs for snowmobiles! Right along with the traffic lights and signs for ordinary traffic, are signs that direct the snowmobiles where to drive, turn, etc. You just know they have lots of snow during the winter months!
We are always looking at other vehicles used for traveling. Last year we saw the bus a young man had, outfitted to travel across the country, and heated with wood.
In the Cheboygan Walmart parking lot, we parked next to a Range Rover with a raised top, privacy curtains, and metal boxes attached to the top. During the day, they put some of their belongings outside the vehicle to give them more room. I can only imagine how crowded it must have been inside.
A green box on the roof says, “Around the world to help Huntington’s Disease Association” and on the side, a map of the world and the words, “One Life Live It.”
We, the Vagabonds, can embrace this motto.
The Mackinaw Bridge, which leads to the Upper Peninsula, has the reputation of being tough to cross. They even have designated drivers for those who are afraid to drive across themselves. We have driven over much higher, longer, windier, prettier, and more interesting bridges in our travels. The “Mac” did not intimidate James, and we crossed easily. How did it get this reputation?
We found an attitude in the Upper Peninsula (UP) that was quite funny. The residents of the UP are called “Yoopers” and the residents of lower Michigan are called “Trolls” (as in living under the bridge!) These two regions of the state of Michigan are as contrasting as New London County is from Fairfield County in our own state.
Traveling into the Upper Peninsula, we entered the Hiawatha National Forest - our planned destination for the next several days. The forest covers a million acres in two sections. The land had been heavily logged in the early 1900s and fires burned over much of what was left.
In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt established the east section and it was named the Marquette National Forest. The western section was named the Hiawatha National Forest by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) replanted the forests, and established the campgrounds. The two sections were joined in 1962.
We stopped at the Ranger Headquarters to get information about the campgrounds. The Ranger was very helpful and told us which ones would have sites available for that night. Outside the building, there was a wildflower garden with milkweed. A dozen or so Monarch butterflies were flying all around, landing on the flowers, and then taking off again. I tried taking a picture of them, but they wouldn’t stay still long enough. But they were beautiful!
We found a site for the night at the Lake Michigan Campground, which has only 30 campsites stretched in a line along the lakeshore. By using our Senior Pass, it was only $9 for the night. The next morning, we followed Route 2 along the shore of Lake Michigan. The beaches along the roadside are all open to the public and we saw people enjoying the cool waves and sandy beaches everywhere.
We stopped in the town of Manistique, which claims to be the home of Paul Bunyan. It is a small tourist town, and we walked along a jetty to the East Breakwater Lighthouse. The Vagabonds were so taken by this walk it served as the stimulus for the first small town America profile. The town was celebrating “Pioneer Days,” and the Historical Society buildings were open. We stopped at some of the booths, and inspected the landmark brick water tower which was built in 1922, but is no longer used as a water source for the community.
We had a campsite reserved at Camp 7 Lake in the national forest for three nights, and continued on our way to find the campground. There are nineteen campgrounds in the Hiawatha National Forest. All are on lakes or rivers. From Manistique we drove 22 miles on Route 2, about 8.4 miles north off of RT 2 on Forest Highway 13, then 7.8 miles CR 442 (CR = County Road) to find the campground.
This was all through a heavily forested area with only a few homes. The campground itself is clean and well managed. The next day, we hiked the Van Winkle Trail to the pond of the same name, which is a refuge for wildlife, and caught sight of a family of swans, two adults and three babies, swimming among the lilypads. While the trail was well maintained, we saw no one else on the trail and the forest was quiet and peaceful. When we returned to the campsite, we changed into bathing suits and rode our tandem bike to the beach for a cooling swim. The sandy beaches stretch almost all around the entire lake, with plenty of places to swim or sunbathe. As we were leaving the beach, we were uninundated by ‘stable flies.’ They are much bigger than our local ‘horse flies’ and they have a big bite. I had blood running down my legs from the bites I got. For those who love Mother Nature as we the Vagabonds do, not all of her gifts are always a lot of fun.
Monday morning brought quiet to the campground. Most of the campers had left on Sunday afternoon, and new arrivals didn’t come in until later in the day. We enjoyed walking around the paths, and another swim in the lake.
While we were walking, we met a young boy, Noah, who was on his way to the lake to go fishing. Young Noah reminded us of “Opie” on the old Andy Griffin TV show. (The campground provides fishing poles to anyone who would like to go fishing and doesn’t have one. ) His family was camped a little way from us, and the children spent many hours riding bikes around the camp.
The next morning it was our turn to pack up and leave. We headed back to Manistique for some shopping, and a walk along the boardwalk. We discovered that they wouldn’t celebrate The Fourth of July until Saturday. These were very friendly towns, as we found everyone on the Upper Peninsula to be.
After searching for a town to celebrate July 4th, we decided to go north to Munising. It is located on Lake Superior, and they had a full day of activities planned with fireworks scheduled for 10:30 p.m. It seems to stay light longer the further north we go. The events were being held at Bay Shore Park, located right on Lake Superior and there were vendors and games set up in the park.
One interesting game they had for the youngsters was to shimmy out over the water on a greased pole. We watched as several determined boys made it to the end of the pole, and then jumped off into the water. It sure looked like a fun activity!

They have an excellent war memorial at the end of the park honoring all wars and services, and a bronze statue of a soldier.
We moved the Winnebago VIEW to the American Legion post to park for the night and watch the fireworks, which were to be fired over the lake. We were sitting out in our lawn chairs waiting for the show to begin when strong wind started blowing sand around us. One of the members of the Legion came out and told us the fireworks had been cancelled as a big storm was brewing.
We closed up the VIEW, and went to bed. No fireworks this night. UGH!
From the UP, James and Joan, the American Vagabonds.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and tastes of history

American Vagabonds: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and and a taste of history

It’s June 22, the start of our second week on the road. We stopped at a rest area on I-86 in Pennsylvania which was on part of the Seneca Indian Reservation. The building was built like an Indian lodge with mosaic designs to represent the “Three Sisters” which are corn, wheat, and squash, and another one to represent a campfire. Round seats were arranged in a circle around the mosaics. Stained glass windows and paintings completed the Indian motif.
The following day we drove along the shoreline of Lake Erie. We stopped at a VFW post in Painesville and were invited to their BBQ. The founder of the town, General Edward Paine who served in the Revolutionary War, was originally from Connecticut.
The VFW members told us about a park with water falls in the next town, Elyria, and we left in search of the “Cascade Park” and river walk. It was easy to find, but not so easy to traverse. There was a boardwalk with an overlook of the falls where we stopped to take some pictures and a trail along the river.
We started down the trail, which was in good shape, but it quickly deteriorated. At the beginning of the trail, a chain link fence ran along the side of the trail with a sharp drop to the river. Shortly, we saw the fence lying on the ground, the trail narrowed, and the side became difficult to navigate and was quite dangerous. We weren’t wearing our hiking boots, so we returned to the VIEW and went along our way. This is for us an example of a small town having a natural asset and not keeping it maintained. I am sure with the right leadership solutions could be found to make these trails safer and more accessible. Our next stop was the town of Amherst, Ohio, the “Sandstone Capital of the World.”
We were told that stone from the quarry was used in building the Kremlin, and in Bill Gates house. We went to the library to get more information, but were unable to find anything. Researching the local newspapers database was very difficult and cumbersome.
We continued along I-80 through acres of corn growing as far as the eye can see. It was windy, and triple tractor trailers passed by us, swaying across the lane lines. If you have never been passed by a speeding tractor trailer with three box trailers or tankers in a cross wind, you are missing “something.” The 70 mph speed limit is just too fast for us and gas mileage is sacrificed at these speeds.
Our next major stop was Bonner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Frankenmuth is a tourist destination with many little shops. It is a community founded by German-Lutheran missionaries in 1845 and looks like a Bavarian village. Just before getting into the town you get to Bonner’s. The outside decorations do not do justice to what you find inside. It is a very large store selling all kinds of Christmas decorations and gifts. There are decorations for animal lovers, for campers, hunters, many careers, and personalized ornaments. You can shop online at: but you can’t get the flavor of the store without being there. There is also a copy of a Bavarian chapel with “Silent Night” written out with all the languages of the world.
There are many attractions in Michigan, but since we had reservations for the coming weekend for a campsite in the Hiawatha National Forest (half price with our Senior Pass), we had time for only one more stop and chose the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Again using our Senior Pass, we were admitted to the sand dune climb area. The dunes are a huge hill of soft sand. It is quite a climb, difficult in the soft sand, and hot, and dry. The reward at the end of the climb, is Lake Michigan. Some people just sat in the sand, children played as if at the beach, and some struggled up the slope wearing sneakers, flip-flops, sandals, or barefoot. There are fee-free days in all National Parks, but this wasn’t one. At $10/car it is a lot to pay to play in the sand, so if you plan to go to any national park, check the internet for fee-free days. Of course, it was free with our Senior Pass.
After our sand-hike, we went on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (again $10/car but we used our pass). This was a narrow, one-way road with plenty of hills and curves. There were 12 points on the map to stop and check out. There are picnic areas, a board walk, and a stop to overlook the dunes and Lake Michigan. We stopped, and watched in awe as the lake appeared on the other side of a dune. A boardwalk led to an overlook that was built over a steep bank. The wind was strong, and the waves had whitecaps.
Off to the left we could see a steep bluff of sand that went down to the lake. There were signs to stay off the bluff, and that if you needed rescue, there would be a charge. We saw people who had ignored the warning and were now trying to climb up the slope, not making much progress. They had to crawl on all fours, and rest frequently. It always amazes us how people always seem to push the boundaries of sensibilities.
The American Vagabonds are not prudish, but we are not devoid of common sense. As we left, they were still crawling and slipping back. It is important to stay off the dunes, and protect this important natural feature.
We are still learning to appreciate the Winnebago VIEW, and all of the benefits of a larger RV. We have more storage, more room to move around in, and a real kitchen! We eat most of our meals in the VIEW, which is a big savings that more than offsets the cost of the diesel fuel we use.
Since James is getting 18 – 20+ miles per gallon, our mpg is similar to what we got with the Volkswagen Eurovan. Driving a diesal is a bit different from a gas engine vehicle. We do not have the acceleration nor the handling characteristics of a sedan or van. A lady asked us about driving this size vehicle. The Vagabonds reply to her as it is to anyone-know your limits, respect the speed limits and drive defensively. In over 30,000 plus miles all kinds of driving with all kinds of drivers, we have never had an issue whatsoever.
Until next week, so long from the American Vagabond