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2021 Family National Park RV Trip Part 2

  • In the second half of our Family RV trip through the Midwest National Parks, we stopped to see family in Wisconsin.


    First day at the family lake house and Cousin Earl was here to greet us and help set up our parking. Bob could not get his RV down next to the Lake House, for it was just too big! So, he set up at the top of the hill under a good shade tree and Tom and Tanya set up next to the lake house down the hill.


    Catching up with Earl, for he retired in January of this year and bought a winter home in Arizona. He had stories of his winter home and all the activities they had in that community. He said that he does not travel in his RV to get there but drive his car straight down there. Perhaps, someday he will have the opportunity to travel in the RV along the way and see some of the sights like follow Route 66!


    Dinner the first night and we order from a local pizza place – it took 3 hours for our order! Understandably, they were short staffed and terribly busy, when they delivered you could see how extremely tired, frazzled you might say. Fortunately, our family does not emphasize and argue about delays or shortcomings, and we all were very tired, but joked around at the same time.


    First morning and Bob catches some fish from the dock, his dog Diesel keeps thinking he is throwing a stick and wants to jump into the lake and play fetch!



    The following has been written by Bunnie


    This is a house that was purchased when Mom was in high school, and the house has stayed in the family since. Mom’s dad gave it to his son with the stipulation that all family could use it whenever they wanted, and now Mom's brother gave it to his kids with the same stipulations. I’ve heard stories about the Lake House for years, as Bob and Tom (and their sibs) would come stay here with their Grampa in summers and loved running wild, swimming, fishing and doing kid stuff. It was great to finally see it in real life and meet Mom’s brother and his kids.


    Tom - We spent most of the week at the Lake House and had a good time reconnecting with our Wisconsin family. Although we do not really want to go yet, there are heavy rains coming and Bob is parked on the grassy hill, so to keep from getting stuck we go to a State Fairgrounds in Milwaukee.

    Had dinner that night with Cousin Ralph and his wife Jan, they had been very busy on home renovations and could not meet us at the lake house – so we came to them! Anyway, we had a great time catching up, Ralph had brought his Dad (Mom’s brother) along, so we were able to have even more time with him as well.


    The following has been written by Bunnie


    Today we drove from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to just across the border into Michigan. I’m not sure of the name of this town. Even though we didn’t stop at any attractions, there’s still so much interesting to see. We’re driving mostly on 2 or 4 lane highways, through the countryside. I was really struck in Milwaukee and on the road with the many different styles of architecture. The old brick buildings, some very ornate, some plain, and the wood, or stone or stucco houses often side by side. I also have noticed the billboards and signage as you near the larger cities – it really gives one a flavor of what expect by the types of things they advertise. I also love looking at the names of the roads and rivers or creeks we cross. Sometimes one can really get a sense of what the early settlers were experiencing as they named them. Or like I, make up stories about how they came up with these names. Was there really a big squirrel there? How big? Did someone’s horse actually go lame at Lame Horse Road? One funny thing we noted: all the creeks and rivers we crossed seemed really clear and clean, until we crossed the Republican River in Nebraska that was really murky and muddy and had lots of garbage in it.


    Speaking of early settlers, in Nebraska we visited two historic monuments on the Oregon Trail which were markers for the settlers. Chimney Rock, so named because it stuck up higher than all the others in a cylinder, and Scott’s Bluff, which is a rectangular rock formation. It was named after a scout for one of the exploratory teams who disappeared and never returned. The next team found what they believed to be his skeleton at the bottom of the bluff, so named it after him. The Oregon Trail is also known as (or overlapped with) the Chisholm Trail, The Pony Express Trail, and the Mormon Trail. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go hiking at any of these spots, but the visitors’ centers were all quite interesting. Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff were but a few days ride for the settlers (I think it was a 20 minute or half hour drive for us), but the next outcropping marker, Immigrant’s Rock, was several weeks away.


    Also in Nebraska, we went 30 miles on a horribly maintained road to the Agate Fossil Field National Monument. We got there 15 minutes before the visitor center closed, and it was extremely hot, so we didn’t get to go walking on any of the trails there either. We did see the great display at the visitor’s center, where they were able to recreate some of the prehistoric dinosaurs and animal skeletons, and show them fighting and the big boneyards. As the water holes started disappearing, some of the animals would die or dehydration or were simply too weak to fight off the predators. Other scavengers would come and eat what was left of the flesh, so only huge boneyards would remain. It’s amazing to me how the archeologists and paleontologists have been able to actually recreate or know what they actually looked like. Someone had put a mask on one of the smaller animals, a prehistoric dog or wolf like animal. It was amusing. When resources become scarce, living things can either adapt, leave, or die. It is believed that alligators at one time lived there and migrated south.


    Another monument we didn’t get to really explore was Devil’s Tower (in Wyoming). Another huge rock formation, towering up into the sky. Normally, one could watch many climbers trying to scale it, but it was closed to climbers for the month of June at the request of the local Indians, I’m not sure why they closed it this month, but it is a very spiritual place for them, and they asked the Park Department to close it to climbers.


    Tom - As Bunnie stated, we moved on from visiting our Wisconsin family to northern Wisconsin and a little of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Along the way stopped to see a friend of mine in Waupaca, WI. Mark and I worked at 2 hospitals together and really enjoyed each other’s company. I remember the great Friday night fish fry when I was here last and hoped we would be able to do this again. I had a good time catching up on what has happened with him and those 2 hospitals. He now has a 3rd hospital he is managing and doing really well. WAY TO GO MARK! We talked a lot about the great staff he has and how well they are doing too. Unfortunately, there was only time for lunch together with my brother’s family and my wife Tanya along and after lunch we move on. Driving along to the next destination I chat with my wife reminiscing about that work assignment. I feel so lucky to work in so many different places and meet so many people all over the country, and now during my off-work times I have the opportunity to stop and see these same people as friends.


    Speaking of friends, we camped at a casino in Munising, MI and the other camper here saw the Rialta and asked if I knew Georgia Strickland? YES! We had attended a Rialta Rally that she hosted in the Midwest! Wow, again it is so amazing to bump into people that we know or know of someone. What a small world we live in.


    We took the boat tour of the Pictured Rocks, and it is well worth the trip! Beautiful cliffs with great colors, caves with kayakers paddling through them or into them. It was very cold on the upper deck, but the lower deck had glass covering and was warm enough.




    Following the coast of Lake Michigan north to Keweenaw Peninsula we stopped for a picnic lunch on the roadside. Cool! It started to rain and Bob pulled out the awning and we continued our lunch. I saw a caterpillar on a milkweed and texted a photo to Cousin Carol, who loves butterflies, and she returned a picture of her latest caterpillar that had turned into a Monarch butterfly! She taught me that they only eat milkweed, so I look for them along the way. I am wondering if I can raise butterflies in an RV?


    Tanya’s office today is on top of a hill with a wood patio extending over the hill. The umbrella is to cut the glare on her laptop. The wine glass is mine, not hers :)



    Touring Calumet, MI mining museum, it has a great display including the mold shop where wooden pieces were made then sand mixture formed around it then wood removed and cast iron poured into the mold. They made machine parts for the mining industry. The primary industry was copper mining, known for nearly pure copper this location was very profitable at first. Union wages, western mine required far less labor cost, and eventually the mines were closed here. Nearly 2 miles down with water incursion increased the cost as well.


    Picture of an air driven skip loader


    Train with wood snowplow



    The town of Houghton, MI has interesting history. Built as a shipping port for copper mining, the buildings were in disrepair after mining ceased. A local fellow attended Michigan Tech to become an engineer, and after years of working in Detroit he wanted to raise his 7 children in his hometown. All his children attended Michigan Tech as well. He became the town engineer and was instrumental in revitalize the town drawing tourism while maintaining the small town appeal. It’s a very nice town to visit. Professional hockey was created here too!


    Touring Keweenaw Peninsula we saw a lot of trees that made me think that this could be a nice fall foliage trip. Along the mountain ridge especially was thick mature forest, along the shoreline you could see they were 2nd growth woods. Even so, with occasional glimpse of Lake Superior it would be a really nice drive.


    There are both sandy and rocky beaches along the waterfront. We stopped at one lighthouse and although the lighthouse itself was closed the maritime museum was open. Displays of actual salvage items from ships, pictures of shipwrecks and maps showing the locations of many shipwrecks. I did not think there were so many!


    One of the many benefits of traveling with family is mornings with my brother, chatting about things to do, places to see, planning each travel day one day at a time. This time with him is special to me. Today's discussion included how much hay to set up for his Llamas for the coming winter. We also talk about the merits of boondocking and what's for breakfast. Such is the retired life, big decisions :)


    We toured Apostle Islands National Park, took the boat tour and although the wind was up some creating 4’ waves it was still a pleasant ride. Most of the islands you go through are heavily wooded and there is not too much to see. The captain talked about some interesting thing to keep the journey interesting. Arriving at Devils Island where the picturesque caves are - it is well worth the journey. I committed myself to returning someday with my kayak and paddle in and through the caves.




    Returning to the dock we have lunch at the Pickled Herring restaurant, it was originally a bar then expanded to a restaurant. True to its name it did have an appetizer of pickled herring! Tanya of course loved it, for me it was ok (I’m not a fan of pickled things or vinegar). Jan tried the brussel sprouts (good) and Bunnie tried the fish liver (good). A very good lunch!


    Ashland, WI is a clean nice small town. We stayed 2 nights in their city park campground while visiting Apostle Islands National Park.  The town has some exceptional murals throughout the central part, a handbook we picked up at the city park had descriptions of each mural and an easy to follow map. Quite a nice collection showing history and relevant murals of this town. I highly recommend for anyone to visit.


    This morning’s discussion with brother Bob was the weather, there is a heat wave is coming. It is the 4th of July weekend, no campsite available anywhere. Do we push through or hunker down next to Lake Superior where it is cooler? I love these chats!


    Deciding to stick to the original route as planned, we continue on to Voyagers National Park. Not finding any campground openings we were truly fortunate to see a gas station with an RV lot and electric hookups across it. Although right alongside the highway, the traffic is very light and not a problem. This is 4th of July weekend and it seems like everyone is out camping. I had been looking for a few days now for campsites and apparently that is not soon enough.


    Voyagers National Park has several visitor’s centers and hiking trails offering great views of the many lakes. Hiking a 3-mile trail we were able to see a little wildlife too. Deer, squirrel, birds. Bunnie is working hard to get ready for Bob’s Llama pack trip next month. Me, I wish I had brought the kayaks along! We were very fortunate to find a campground with electricity. Being plugged in with AC during a heat wave is so nice! Tanya looked up info on the town of International Falls, MN and learned it had a legal dispute with a town in Colorado on who was the coldest city in US. After several years International Falls got the federal trademark as the “icebox of the nation”! Its highest temperature reaches 90 degrees only a couple of days a year and we are here for one of those days!




    We go to Rainey Park visitor’s center of the Voyagers National Park and there is a small botanical garden featuring local flora. There were a lot of milkweeds and we saw a Monarch butterfly as well as their former stage of caterpillar.


    Tanya saw a very pretty and sparkling stone at the visitor’s center, she was very excited to see a nature-made sparkly thing! It a pyrite, Bob says it’s called Fool’s Gold - how appropriate! :) Tanya bought one and we placed it on the dash as we drive so it has little sparkles.



    So ends our 2021 Family National Park RV trip. We part in Voyager National Park, International Falls, MN. This is the center of the US, 1,700 miles west for Bob's family and 1,500 miles east for us. Bob's family will also stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota on the way home. We will stay around the Great Lakes, where it is cooler during the hot summer months. We are planning to meet again in Albuquerque, NM for the Balloon Fest this October.