Many of us have dreamt of selling our stuff and taking to the road in a home on wheels. My husband Ed and I spent 3 months in India in 2014 and came home to Northern, CA, sold our home of 23 years along with most of our belongings and lots of worldly possessions, and purchased a 2015 Serenity with upgrades. After watching Dean from Leisure Travel Vans, how could we resist his enthusiasm and great delivery? Not only had we never tried RVing or even been in an RV, but we were sold on Leisure Travel Vans and our research has proved pitch perfect. Our virgin trip to Point Reyes National Sea Shore was new in every way, we really didn’t know how to do anything but with the help of so many wonderful “RVers” we were humming with a full hookup in minutes. We believe Leisure Travel Vans is made for people like us, “RVing for Dummies”. We have only looked forward and the magic is an everyday gift. We named our luxury coach, Surya Serenity, after the Sun-deity of India. A reminder of the light of life, the magic of following your dreams and the presence (presents) of the moments on the road! We look forward to meeting you there.
Feels like coming home, just to say MA, although we’ve been Floridians for 25 years. I guess you never really leave home. Perhaps they don’t call her MA for anything. Looking forward to the Minuteman Park in Littleton, because it’s charming, woodsy, a lot like camp, and I love the names: Revolutionary Ridge, Flintlock Road, Redcoat Lane, Minuteman Road, Tricorn Avenue and Musket Path. It’s quiet, very clean, heavily wooded, and so courteous to its patrons.
As we drive along and see work areas, I notice that here in MA there is lots of equipment and very few workers; in other states, I noticed very little equipment and lots of workers. Perhaps it’s only that I think MA does so many things well. We had our first daytime rain, not much more than a drizzle, but it did clean the windshields since the window washer spritzer is not working. Our baby, our RV, is asking for more attention.
We pass Lenox and I am reminded of our trip to Tanglewood when I was 16 and my oldest sister Mimi was 22. She took me there for a weekend where we met two brothers, our ages, and had a wonderful time together. Driving through the Berkshire Mountains is glorious, so lovely and so uncongested. Traffic moves smoothly, even on these mountainous roads and once again I marvel at Allie’s consistently good driving. If someone is lallygagging along he does tend to get a bit vexed, but as soon as there is an opening, he’s off to the next lane and all is well again. “She’s history,” I say. or preferably, “He’s history.”
We pass the sign to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, but much as we love the Celtics, we’d rather be tucked into our campground and have lunch and a nap. We pass Worcester with a shoutout to Judy and Bernie, and a shoutout to all my relatives, my mother’s brothers, who landed here just off the boat from Russia in the early twenties (1920’s, that is). Had they been friendly to one another, rather than antagonistic, they could have owned Worcester. But then…
And speaking of technology, a sign reassures us that even if we have “No transponder? No problem. We’ll just bill you.”
We wonder what they’re talking about and find out when we exit—no ticket takers, no tickets, no people, no jobs, just a magic eye taking pictures of our license plate which they will magically convert into an address and send us a bill. Wow!
Hopkinton and the beginning of the famous Boston Marathon. We watched it every year from the front window of our apartment on Beacon Street, leaning over the sewing machines and cheering. My mother’s favorites were the stragglers who came limping by at the end. She’d open the window and shout encouragement and clap.
Another Arkansas treasure, Devil’s Den State Park is a 2,500-acre (1,000 ha) Arkansas State Park in Washington County, near West Fork, Arkansas in the United States. Devil’s Den State Park is located in the Lee Creek Valley in the Boston Mountains, which are the southwestern part of The Ozarks. A bit out of the way but well worth the side trip off the main roads.
Devil’s Den State Park now protects the largest sandstone crevice area in the United States. The park is in the Lee Creek Valley, which is blessed with numerous sandstone caves, bluffs, ravines, rock shelters, and crevices. These exceptional natural wonders also attached a less than desirable crowd as they also provided excellent hiding places for outlaws on the Butterfield Stage Line from 1858 until the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861. Even with the onset of the Civil War, the rocky area was used by bands of Confederate guerrillas to both hideout and also as staging areas for conducting raids on the Union Army’s supply lines and civilian targets. The roads of the Butterfield Stage Line were also used by regular troops during the Civil War. Confederate and Union forces used the roads during the Battle of Prairie Grove and for the raid on Van Buren. The former town of Anna is contained within the park. It was destroyed by a flood in 1893. All that remains of the town is a cemetery, a well, and some foundations. The remnants of Anna can be seen along the Butterfield Hiking Trail near Junction Camp.
Lee Creek Valley was identified during the Great Depression as a valued site for a state park. Construction on the park began in 1933. Devil’s Den State Park was built by young men working for the Civilian Conservation Corps which was established during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide work for unemployed men from throughout the United States. The young men of the CCC lived in military-style barracks and constructed many of the recreational facilities at the park, including pavilions, trails, and the dam and spillway on Lee Creek that now forms Lake Devil. The park underwent an extensive renovation in the 1970s when the CCC-built structures were refurbished. Devi’s Den State Park is open for year-round recreation, including hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails. Additional features include the 8-acre man-made lake, several picnic areas, a swimming pool, cabins, and camping sites ranging from modern to primitive.
Devil’s Den State Park is now recognized as one of the best preserved CCC projects in the United States. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 for its CCC-related Rustic architecture.
Devil’s Den State Park is in the Lee Creek Valley of the Boston Mountains which are part of The Ozarks. The area is a high and deeply dissected plateau stretching over northern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.The rocks of the region are essentially little disturbed, flat-lying sedimentary layers of the Palaeozoic age. The highest ridges and peaks are capped by Pennsylvanian sandstone and shale. The deeply eroded valleys are cut into Mississippian limestones and below that layer Ordovician dolomites. Fossils of coral and crinoids will also be found along the banks and within Lee Creek during your walking adventures if eyes are kept open. Rockhounds will enjoy wandering among the many cracks, crevices, slips, slides, and formations within short walking distances.
The caves, ravines, and crevices were partly formed by slippage in sandstone formations. The Devil’s Ice Box, once the most visited cave in the park, is named for the cool air that rushes out of the cave. Air enters the cave at a point higher on the mountainside and is cooled as it drops through the mountain and exiting at the mouth of the cave.
The park features 17 full-service cabins and 143 campsites. The cabins are along Lee Creek. All are ” rustic” with fully equipped kitchens plus heating and air-conditioning. The cabins, with stone fireplaces, are open year round. Devil’s Den State Park is home to 146 campsites of various nature. Many of the campsites have electric hookups and running water. Others are little more than a cleared and level patch of ground on which to set up a tent.
Devil’s Den State Park is home to approximately 64 miles (103 km) of trails that are open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There are 7 major trails that range from 0.25 (0.40km) to 15 miles (24 km) in length and with correspondingly variable challenge levels. While this Park is well regarded for its bat caves, unfortunately, they have all been closed to the public since April 16, 2010, due to the spread of a fungal infection called White Nose Syndrome. Hopefully, our little bat friends will soon see this situation resolved and we will be able to visit each other once again in this natural treasure of a State Park.
This is a story about a “highway” that is more like a paved horse trail. The road meanders between and through spectacular granite formations. Spruce and pine forests surround it. Colorful aspen and birch trees, in season, peek through the evergreen forest. This is about a 14-mile drive that will remain indelibly lodged in our travel memories.
But this is getting to a cherry sundae before a sumptuous meal. As an entree, we should start our journey at Custer State Park situated in the iconic Black Hills of South Dakota. The park, situated at the southwest corner of the state, is a 71,000-acre home to abundant wildlife such as buffalo, elk, white-tailed deer, not-so-wild donkeys (more on this later), prairie dogs and more. It is not uncommon, as we experienced, to be stuck in a traffic jam caused by a herd of buffalo crossing the road.
Black Hills country, heading towards Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop
We took the scenic Wildlife Loop Road, 18 miles of road in open grasslands where we sighted at least three herds of bison, two of which were of the close encounters type.
“Look! They are crossing the road!”
Just as Joanne was hitting the brakes, I took my camera out hoping to record the event and hopefully get a shot before they moved on. Well, I could have taken a thousand images before they finally gave us a breach large enough for our motorhome to safely proceed. By the third encounter further in the loop, we were seasoned veterans. The excitement of the first crossing having already dissipated. It remains, however, a spectacular sight.
The Custer State Park Wildlife Loop and its residents leisurely crossing the road
Once passed the loop’s visitor center (a recently renovated stone and wood beam structure worth the visit), we came to a stop at a place where wild donkeys roam freely. Sadly, these donkeys are more domesticated than your real wild variety, as guided tourist vans include this stop on their daily routes and feed the animals. We are not certain this is the best way to care for these so-called “wild” animals as they seem totally dependent on humans for their food.
Got anything to eat?
The loop road takes us to highway 87 where we turned north to start the journey on the Needles Hwy. This road, planned by the state’s Governor Peter Norbeck nearly 100 years ago, was completed in 1922. Not quite knowing what to expect, we started our journey from the south, heading northwest towards Sylvan Lake. There are warnings about the size of vehicles that can safely make it through the few tunnels along the road. Do not underestimate these warnings. as those tunnels are very narrow and of low clearance.
Granite “needles” peering through the fog and mist
This side trip was almost a non-starter because rain and fog had rolled in early that morning. But explorers we are, so we ignored the weather and threw caution to the wind and moved on bravely. Our traveling companions preceded us, slicing through the mist and fog to the point where we could barely see the distinctive Unity taillights ahead.
Twisting our way uphill
What strikes you at first as you proceed along the road is the feeling that you are in someone’s driveway. The narrow pavement is well maintained and there are no dividing lines. There is no shoulder to speak of on either side of the road, so meeting another large vehicle demands careful execution on both parts, notwithstanding the poor driving conditions. Then we arrived at our first major challenge of the day.
Iron Creek Tunnel
The Iron Creek Tunnel is 9’0 feet wide and 11’4″ feet tall. Our Unity’s width is 7′ 10,5″ and a height of 10′ 6″. Easy peasy.
A tight fit but easier than the next tunnel up the road
We stopped the vehicles and marveled at the workmanship involved in blasting a hole in such a massive granite wall. Either Governor Norbeck had foreseen that our Unity would fit nicely into the opening 100 years later, or LTV designers got it just right. Either way, we were thankful to be able to safely proceed through the tunnel and resume our journey towards what would become one of the most challenging driving feats we had ever encountered. The Needles Eye Tunnel.
Arriving at the Needles Eye Tunnel
The Needles highway was named after the granite structures that stand like needles. Although not of the same geological composition, they reminded us of the rock structures at Chiricahua National Monument.The needles took on an eerie ghost-like silhouette as we continued the climb along a winding track, craning our heads to peek at the needles through the fog and rain, slowing down to a crawl as the Sprinter’s gears downshifted and bravely powered its way uphill, en route for the next highlight of our trip.
Needles Eye Tunnel
The tunnel is 8’4″ wide and 11’4″ tall. Easy peasy? Hmmm, not so sure about that one… “This is barely larger and taller than our motorhome,” I said hesitantly.
“Who measured this tunnel?” someone asked. “I don’t know, I replied, but one thing I am certain of is that our side mirrors will need to be folded in”. Our traveling companions who (gamely) chose to go first, tucked in both side mirrors, turned on their headlights, and valiantly inched themselves into the tunnel. Sparks did not fly! We were impressed, albeit wavering a little bit as our turn was up.
Thanks to our friend Joanne Chenail-Trépanier for this video of the crossing.
Needles Eye Tunnel crossing in an LTV Unity IB - YouTube
We both managed to conquer the Needles Eye Tunnel unscathed. It is only after congratulatory high fives that one of us looked up and said: “Hey there’s the Needle’s Eye!”
Happy group posing at the Needles Eye (top right)
We wondered how many people cross the tunnel and continue on without seeing the whole reason why they are there in the first place.
The road at this point descends towards Sylvan Lake where we would eventually take Hwy 89 and 385 for a visit at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The fog lifted just in time for this shot then reappeared moments later
This would be our last stop along the highway because the next tunnel was too low for our motorhome. As we arrived, the lake was shrouded in a veil of fog. We could barely distinguish the shoreline or any of the beautiful features that contour the lake. Nevertheless, as we walked the path towards the water we met with two fishermen silently casting their lines into the fog. You could only just see their silhouette from a few feet away. But as luck happens to those who wait, the fog slowly started to rise, lifting its veil from the beautiful features around us. I approached one of the men as he was tending to his fishing rod and asked him if I could make a portrait of him as he cast away, resulting in a beautiful image in a dramatic setting. It was a perfect bookend for a dream-like journey.
This fisherman hadn’t caught anything yet but gladly posed for the portrait
Just west of Odessa, Texas, we discovered the amazing Monahans Sandhills State Park, a majestic 3,840 acres of wind-sculptured living sand dunes some which soar up to 70 feet high.
While this State Park is of a substantial size, it represents only a small part of a huge dune filet that extends westward from about 200 miles south of Monahans Sandhills and then north into New Mexico. Monahans Sandhills is set in one of the areas where the dunes are living which mean that they are still active and being constantly shaped by wind and rain.
Climbing up and over the sand hills is a unique opportunity to experience an extreme aspect of nature. The dunes consist of almost pure quartz grains that form dune types that include coppice, wind-shadow, Ankle, Barchan, and parabolic. No idea what these terms mean, but walking in the dunes is an incredible experience no matter what they are called.
Although the huge sand dunes would make you think you are in the middle of a desert, the Monahans Sandhills are surprisingly not a desert; they are a part of a semi-arid ecosystem with an average rainfall of about 12 inches (300 mm) and characterized by the presence of both groundwater and relatively nutrient-poor windblown sand. Despite the sterility of the landscape, various rodents are relatively common, and there are several packs of Sandhills coyotes that feed upon them.
Because this is a unique location, the local forms of recreation are equally unique at the Monahans Sandhills They include sand boarding, sand football, sand surfing, and sand tobogganing. Other active pursuits include hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, bird, and wildlife watching from the interpretive center windows, which overlook watering stations. For sand adventurers, sand toboggans and surfing disks can be rented at park headquarters. I don’t think long-term camping would work out too well for tender vehicle finishes but a short stay was certainly invigorating.
Monahans Sandhills State Park has 26 well-maintained campsites served with water and electricity and completely surrounded by sand dunes. There are also a day use area with covered picnic tables and grills on the edge of the tallest dunes, a visitors center, a group dining hall, a quarter mile interpretive trail, dump station, showers and bathroom facilities, and a small park store. The excellent Dunagan Visitor Center. features hands-on exhibits of the cultural and natural history of the Sandhills, including Dune Dynamics, Permian Basin Heritage, and Wildlife Habitat. Scenic windows offer spectacular viewing of birds and other wildlife as they come to food and water.
Monahans Sandhills State Park is a strange and exotic camping location that offers a camping experience that will not soon be forgotten.
The Southwest LTV Roadrunners RV Club met for its annual meeting and rally January 28–30, 2018, at Pechanga RV Resort located in Temecula, California. Before I lose you completely, let me give you a few details and statistics about our annual event.
The SW LTV Roadrunners RV Club covers a tristate region comprised of California, Nevada, and Arizona. We had an impressive attendance of 54 LTV rigs and 101 chapter members. Wow! Each state was represented, plus a few special folks from Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Alaska, and British Columbia.
Fifty-four rigs of various LTV designs rolled into their sites on January 28th. Kirk and I had never attended a rally of this size, and we watched in amazement as the Pechanga RV Resort filled up with LTV vehicles as far as the eye could see. Each new arrival brought old and new friends to the meeting. What an impressive sight! A fabulous potluck was arranged for Sunday night, giving everyone a chance to catch up and swap stories. Great food + great friends = an even greater time.
Monday afternoon we got down to business. Aileen and George Ormsby were honored for their service as Chapter Head for seven years with a beautiful orchid plant and a gift card. They were very instrumental in getting our chapter up and going. They will be missed. Many good stories were shared about past trips, and I know a few tears were shed in the telling of the tales. They are an awesome couple. Hats off to them and all their hard work.
Our new Chapter Head, Dennis Thorig, and his Executive Board were introduced and approved by the members. We approved our first-ever chapter bylaws and discussed how to build up our general fund account. Rally sites for 2018 were shared, which include Chula Vista, Pismo Beach, and our EPIC Alaska trip.
Once the formal meeting was completed, we had a few breakout sessions. Leonard (aka Biker Dude) hosted a Tech Q&A. Several pertinent LTV topics were covered, and good information was shared. I know this was very helpful to all of us.
Dennis met with the Alaska travelers, bringing us up to date on the trip preparations. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with 22 LTV vehicles making the trek. We will cover approximately 5,887 miles, have 34 stops along the way, and will spend 62 days on the road. What a great job Dennis and his Executive Board have done arranging for this trip! Mega kudos to all! I know we will share more information on this adventure once the trip starts, so stay tuned.
I don’t want you to think this rally was all business. We are a fun-loving group; just take a look at some of the rally’s activities! Leonard led a group of hardy bicyclers on a challenging ride through the Temecula countryside. Several members tried their luck at the Pechanga Casino, toured the Old Town area, or made day trips to other close-by venues. We topped off Monday with another delicious potluck and a special surprise! Who knew our treasurer/secretary, Alan Girdlestone, was a “Las Vegas” caliber performer? Alan entertained us with karaoke versions of our favorite tunes. But, wait, it got better as the night progressed. Deborah Milliron joined Alan for several awe-inspiring duets. What talent they both have. We were so lucky that they shared it with us. We even had a floor show when Sweet Caroline was sung. What a fun night.
Tuesday the members were treated to a facility tour and wine tasting at the Wiens Family Wine Cellars. What a beautiful setting. Of course, Kirk and I sampled the various wines and found a few new favorites to bring home. Thanks so much to Susie and George Wiens for setting this up for us. When we returned back Pechanga, everyone had been so generous with their potluck dishes we had enough for an impromptu “leftover” dinner. One more night of fun!
Several brave (or crazy) members got up in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday to watch the total lunar eclipse and the Red Moon. Temecula provided clear skies for a perfect viewing experience. What a way to wrap up the rally!
Sadly, we had to bring the rally to a close. Kirk and I left with great memories, more new friends than we can remember, and a promise to see everyone in Chula Vista.
Last time we met, we finished the first leg of a 1,500-plus-mile drive around the world’s largest lake, Superior. We drove our Leisure Unity from the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to just south of the border at Grand Portage, Minnesota. Now it’s Canada’s turn.
We’ll head to the lake’s less-populous side, the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway running from historic Thunder Bay, where 18th-century fur traders opened Western Canada and the U.S. to Europeans, to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, at Superior’s eastern terminus, site of the world’s busiest locks, and the bridge back to Michigan.
And we’ll discover some of what makes this side of the lake great, from a reconstructed voyageur fort and its importance as a water highway then and now, to its home for some of Canada’s most famous artists and of course, lakeside beauty.
A few tips: Once you cross the border, you won’t be wandering much off Highway 17.That’s the Trans-Canada, which bends and weaves east to west along Superior and around the glacier-exposed, rocky-topped hills, the basement of North America that have been dated to more than four billion years old. You’ll pass through some of the most remote lands on the continent near major cities. There are only a few major routes leading off it, especially going north. What you will find there ranges from history to scenic views, to fishing and kayaking opportunities, and great lakefront campsites that will bring you back for closer, longer, looks.
One of several lakes, overlooking near Grand Portage National Monument at the U.S.-Canada border south of Thunder Bay, Ont.
Grand Portage to Ontario
Just before the Ontario border, Minnesota’s Grand Portage National Monument is worth a visit. It was once the center of the 17th-century voyageur and Ojibwe fur trade, located on a strategic portage between rivers and lakes that allowed exploration and exploitation of much of the now-western U.S. and Canada. It was the center for furs exported via Lake Superior to the east and Europe, spearheaded by the North West Company and its more well-known but lesser rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company. Exhibits in the Great Hall visitor center detail its importance before it moved to our next stop, Old Fort William, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The trappers proved so efficient, they just about wiped out the continent’s beaver, which fortunately are doing just fine now.
After an easy border crossing with our cats Muka and Sadie, who remembered to bring their necessary vaccination papers, we headed to the Thunder Bay’s historic Old Fort William. Things quiet down at this reconstructed 1800s trading post after Labor Day. The re-enactors and First Nations Ojibwe who tell the fort’s story are gone for the season, but you can still go through the fort, and take part in activities like we did, a nighttime astronomy program, and stay at its few campsites with water, electric and showers in a trailer in an open space near the headquarters.
Kakabeka Falls, known as the Niagara of the North, near Old Fort William Provincial Park in Thunder Bay, Ont., also features a campground.
After we paid for our campsite, we drove west only a few miles to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park to see what’s nicknamed the Niagara of The North. The 130-foot falls and river are also part of the historic voyageurs route that Fort William was built to serve. The rock walls here contain fossils dating to 1.6 billion years ago. You’re on the western edge of the Canadian Shield, the geological core of North America. The park also has 160 nice wooded campsites near the falls in three units. Riverside sites do not have power.
We picked staying at Fort William, however, mainly for the astronomy event presented by park interpreters the night we arrived. They’d hoped for a repeat of the Northern Lights (which were visible the night prior) but unfortunately, they didn’t re-appear. There are other events throughout the year at the fort including living history exhibits prior to Labor Day, also celebrated in Canada.
We saw its clear outline again at the Highway 17 rest stop dedicated to Terry Fox, a cancer victim who was running across Canada to raise money for research, only to stop near here shortly before his death in 1981 after completing more than 3,300 miles.
…and soaring birds, both real and carved, on the precipice overlook
Slip off Highway 17 into Sleeping Giant to stay at one of 200 campsites on Marie Louise Lake, about half with electric. There are 49 miles of hiking trails, but we drove to two spots, one at the end of the park’s only paved road to Silver Islet, site of a former famous silver mine. The next day, we headed up the 5-1/2-mile (9K) gravel road that ends atop the giant itself at the Thunder Bay Lookout.
A duck skims the surface of Marie Louise Lake, with the Sleeping Giant in the distance…
Hiking one of the park’s miles (or kilometers) of the trail, leading to…
lake vistas like this
The last quarter-mile or so, you’re driving on bare rock, the base of North America, before getting to a wide section with a wooden fence on the right that only resembles a parking area.
Rock climbing the last quarter mile to Sleeping Giant Overlook…
is rewarded with a stunning overlook
A path leads onto a metal platform, where you’re rewarded with a spectacular, soaring perch beyond the sides of the giant with nothing but air beneath you, as the lake waves run ashore a hundred feet of so below your feet. It’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the park and definitely worth the slow trip.
If you’ve brought your mountain bike, there’s also a great seven-mile (12K) bike trail in the park around Marie Louise Lake’s west side, and other hiking trails where you’ll meet back-country campers heading into 40 trailside sites.
Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, Rossport
I visited Rossport, about two hours east of the giant, once before, and it charmed me. The entire town consists of less than a dozen B&Bs and other businesses on an island-protected harbor sometimes called the Peggy’s Cove of the North. Canada’s most famous artists, the Group of Seven, drew upon the area for many of their landscapes. If you’ve brought your kayaks, this is a great, protected area to explore the shoreline at this 18th century voyageur stop and former fishing village. Or, rent from Superior Outfitters and take a guided float, or see it aboard a fishing charter or an island tour boat here.
Serendipity Gardens restaurant, in Rossport a great spot for dinner only a few minutes from Rainbow Falls Provincial Park.
Lakefront campsite at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, near Rossport.
We treated ourselves to my birthday dinner at Serendipity Gardens on a hill looking over the harbor, a great spot for two reasons. It features both indoor and garden dining, and it was just down the road from our campsite at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. You’ve got a choice of two separate campgrounds there, and we chose the Rossport unit because it again is on Lake Superior. Electric is available at 23 of 36 sites. Before dinner, we arrived in time to grab a site across from the water and explored the park’s beach and rock outcroppings, and it’s falls too, a few miles east on Hwy. 17.
Rainbow Falls and Whitesand River.
Park information advises it is a strenuous walk down a wooden staircase along the falls, but it wasn’t hard for us and led to great views of the cataract, the river chasm and a bit of Whitesand Lake. We turned around at the bridge over the Whitesand River, a brook trout stream, instead of continuing to another Lake Superior overlook.
We could have extended our trip a few days to stay at Pukaskwa National Park, or 600-square-mile (1,550 sq. kilometer) Lake Superior Provincial Park, where you can walk along a rocky trail while hanging onto a cable next to the lake to view ancient pictographs at Agawa Rock that can be seen only when Superior is calm. But instead we just stopped for a look there and drove Highway 17 as it wends its way through the glacier-carved valleys and rock-topped hills to Pancake Bay Provincial Park, on picturesque Batchawana Bay.
We arrived in late afternoon, chose a non-electrified beach view site—there are multiple cost point sites here, depending on campsite location and services, including “preferred,” on the lake with electricity; expect to see this at more U.S. parks in the future—we headed across the camp road with our chairs and dipped our toes first into the warm sandy beach, then the lake, to enjoy the day’s last rays.
Our campsite at Pancake Bay…
Steps away from the beach…
…where Denise dips toes into Superior
From here, you can just make out the U.S. shoreline in Michigan. Peer across the lake from here, where about 17 or so miles into Superior, also lies the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in a November storm with all hands in 1975. There’s also a trail to a lake lookout here.
Soo to Soo
When we left the next day, we were only 60 or so miles from Sault Ste Marie, Ont., on the banks of the St. Mary’s River and Soo Locks, the world’s busiest lock system.
You can take a guided trip into the rapids from the Canadian side after what some term North America’s best and most publicly accessible Atlantic salmon fly fishing if the water levels allow. Or head across the International Bridge to historic Soo, Michigan, from where, among other things, sprang the inspiration for Longfellow’s epic poem, Song of Hiawatha. On this side of the river, take a boat tour through both Canadian and American locks, see ships entering and leaving up close from the U.S. side, or visit a retired Great Lakes freighter, and have a great dinner at spots like The Antlers in town. Just don’t judge it by its “up north bar” exterior. Try the dessert poutine, a different take on that French-Canadian national side dish.
Our trip’s beginning, and end, at the Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignace, Michigan.
From here, you can head west a bit to towns like Brimley, with its state park and casino campgrounds, or farther west. Or, turn south, like we did, on I-75. That’s one of the best parts of this tour. There are so many choices, you can do it again to see what you missed on your first visit. Ready to go back with us?
When You Go
Canadian provincial parks do not take reservations after Labor (spelled Labour in Canada) Day, so get to your chosen park earlier in the day, then sightsee. Most parks provide water taps to fill fresh water tanks, as most do not have on-site water. The Lake Superior Circle Tour Guide presents a good overview of trip highlights, but is not a complete, “turn here, go there” guidebook. Consult the Internet version for various points of interest as well. We found a day-by-day itinerary we prepared a good guide.
Canada prices are higher, but as of this writing, the U.S. funds exchange rate is still a favorable 25 percent. There was no problem finding non-biofuel diesel anywhere. Don’t forget your passport/proper ID, as well as any pet vaccine records as needed. See any other restrictions on U.S. and Canadian Customs websites.
Here we are in Saratoga Springs NY, having left Carlisle PA at 7:50 a.m. Not as good as yesterday, but not so bad either. We’d like to arrive early afternoon, so that’s why we wanted an early start.
“Beside the Appalachian Trail”, the sign read at the exit, which accounted for the young men with backpacks we saw on the road. I guess they came down for supplies, before finding their way back up through the woods. We were also fifteen miles from Gettysburg and we all know what happened there. Which brings me to Miss Bliss, my grammar school social studies teacher. She was rough and ready, but a grand teacher of American history, which is why I revere the Gettysburg address. If you weren’t a lover of America before Miss Bliss, you surely were under her tutelage.
We’re heading, as you know, for grandson Jerry’s college graduation.
Oops! Traffic jam starting in Harrisburg PA. Too bad I don’t knit. I’d have a sweater done by now. Turns into just a short delay, and give me time to reminisce about our time together in Philadelphia PA, the year we were married. I had already graduated while Allie was in the service, so after our wedding and honeymoon, we went to the University of Pennsylvania for him to finish his degree interrupted by WWII. We had an apartment, a postwar special, which was half of a bay window in an old building. We had a bathroom with a sink (the only one in the house), and a living room with a bed, a stove and a refrigerator. It wasn’t much, but we were young and happy to be enjoying each other far away from families.
The graduation at Skidmore was a powerful and beautiful day with gorgeous crisp New York weather, but just a bit on the chilly side for this Floridian. We had to arrive early because the crush for good seating for Oprah was on, but our son Bill and daughter-in-law Martha had arranged for tickets, so we sat in the last row in the middle of an outdoor theater with the sun at our backs for part of the four-hour ceremony.
Oprah was terrific. She had the audience in the palm of her lovely hands, easy to see and easy to hear on two huge TV screens in the auditorium. Her message: be true to the essence of you. Hear your passion. Accept your role in this world. Follow your instincts and your intentions. Don’t get caught up in the rules or regulations others would have you follow. Take a chance. Find out who you are and be you. Be the best you can be and give back. Success is sure to follow. She didn’t say, but I think she also meant that happiness in reaching the goals you set for yourself will also follow.
She also urged us to practice gratefulness. She does it in a diary, mentioning a few things each day she is grateful for. But no diary or journal needed, you can just stop a moment, make yourself peaceful, and think gratefully. She was inspirational for old and young and received a real ovation at the end. She also received an honorary Doctorate, looking thrilled in spite of all the many honors she has received in her lifetime.
Saratoga Springs is a lovely college town, filled with lots of stores and boutiques, cantinas and bars, and the younger set here (excluding the great-grandparents) went dancing after dinner last night. There it is, our last graduation, as our great-grandkids are just little ones. But we’ve loved them all, and would just like to tell you that at one point Oprah asked us all to close our eyes, breathe deeply, and mention just one thing we are grateful for. Without question, mine was “family”.
It’s over. Funny how the days are long when you’re waiting for an important event, and then when it finally arrives, the days fly by in an instant. It was wonderful, including dinner at a charming restaurant where Beth, our waitress, adopted the whole unruly clan including friends of Jerry’s and our family. Now we’re packed and Allie has already loaded the RV so that on our last trip down to the lobby it will be just us as we go with the family to enjoy a goodbye brunch.
We leave Saratoga with another wonderful family memory, only this time it’s not ours, but Hattie’s. The restaurant, Hattie’s Chicken Shack, is a tribute to its founder, Hattie, with its New Orleans vibe, great Southern food, and waitstaff and cooks, all of whom are related to Hattie. The table was soon filled with samples of Southern Fried chicken, shrimp and grits, bowls of cornbread, biscuits, and beignets, each more scrumptious than the other. People ordered their own meals and then everyone passed everything around, almost as if Hattie herself were there directing traffic. It was great fun and a wonderful goodbye to a weekend of love.
We are approaching our destination,Shokan, New York, and Sally Mae is not giving us enough information to decide which country lane to take to the “farm”, “compound”, “camp” which our friends have bought. Allie gets out to ask directions (a new habit adopted in his old age, since there was a time he’d just keep going and looking”, and we are directed properly. It’s a lovely 17-acre camp (my preferred word) with a wonderful old farmhouse, a soaring art studio for woodworking (Ben) and painting (Carol), and a marvelous, lofty, airy, sun-drenched yurt. What’s a yurt? I asked the question and found out it comes from the Mongolian culture, was originally made of fabrics and other flexible materials, and was carried from place to place by the nomads.
Wrap it up and take it away. This yurt is permanent, and it’s gorgeous. Carol had ideas for painting, fixing, and remodeling, things she is really good at, and this should be spectacular within a year. In the meantime, it’s marvelous as is.
We enjoyed an outdoor fire at the campfire with congratulations to David who built a beautiful tepee-style fire a la Camp Caribou and Bill; we were thrilled with the heat as we enjoyed some nibbles and drinks. Then for dinner, enhanced by greens freshly picked from the garden, and early bed. It’s cold in them thar hills, folks, and bed sounded like the best way to the warmth that I could think of.
I have to tell you about how city mice enjoy life as country mice. While we were cozying around the campfire, David was flying a drone, which was taking pictures of us, the grounds, and the outlying districts where there are Howard’s favorite activities, fishing, hiking, and biking. Once indoors, he protected the pix the drone had taken onto the large TV screen in the living room, while we called on Alexa, the technological lady in a tube on the counter, to play Frank Sinatra for Allie and to tell jokes for the four-year-old nephew. “Alexa, tell me a joke,” said Ollie, and Alexa obeyed. Ollie also entertained us with pictures from his cellphone, which he handled much better than I handle mine. Since we have an Ollie in our family, too, it was double the fun seeing this little one. It was a wonderful day in a wonderful place.
As we were leaving the mountains (the foothills thereof), I took stock of the places a person living in the woods could go for sustenance and discovered there was really nothing missing that anyone could want. I found lumber, a gym, a farm store, slate, auto repair, police, churches, a motel, a bakery a dinner, a library, a gas station, a laundromat, a theater playhouse, and should you be really hungry and nothing is open wild turkeys.
The last time I wrote you was from our maiden voyage in Toots (our 2017 Serenity). We had been working hard to launch our new yoga/wellness/functional movementwebsite and all was full of love and butterflies. Now I write you with different news. I write you with feelings of fear and some anxiety.
The reason for these two distinct feelings? We have made the move. We have moved out of our home in Victoria, BC and into Full-Time Van Life (FTVL).
Firstly, I will address the fear. Let’s get it straight, right?
The fear has nothing to do with Toots! I am more in love with our LTV than ever and know that moving in was the right choice. Kaitlin and I fit this life better than we could have hoped. We travel to film and teach FUNctional Yoga for our new website, and love to visit the ones we love all over North America. Sounds perfect right? Yes and no. Now that we have made the commitment, I see the societal norms we have been entrenched in being challenged. The reaction from friends and family range from “Yes! this is perfect for you guys!” all the way to “Whoa….really How is that going to work?” Do we try to hold onto the former, although the latter makes you think no?
The “How to make it work” statement brings on the fear. It brings on some doubt that maybe we can’t make it work. That maybe it was a mistake, or we aren’t hippy enough to fully embrace the lifestyle. I am working on nipping it in the bud before it can fully gain steam and turn into action. I have to remind myself (usually during a morning meditation) that we have chosen this, and we are giving it a try. I feel so grateful for that.
Using those thoughts immediately resets me back to being both giddy and excited. Which seems to be my default these days. We have the utmost freedom and have been actively working to build our lives out this way. This is not a mistake or a coincidence, I chose this life that I am living and that feels amazing. It’s really not scary at all. The fear is not mine.
Drone Notes From The Road - YouTube
Now to the anxiety. The A word. That lingering feeling where something is not quite right. Those things that are all wrong or mistakes that have been made. It sits differently than fear; it sits in my gut. Little nausea, mixed with a little bit of gas, is the best way I can describe it. When I get a chance to look at it, I see that the fear and anxiety are not separate. They are basically the same feeling, showing up in different ways and being sparked by slightly different worldly factors.
Anxiety seems to come from within, it seems to stem from my own thoughts (and essentially made up problems).
“Where do my shoes fit in the RV? Why are the cupboards so full? Am I doing this wrong? I’m probably doing this wrong. I am most likely going to fail at FTVL. I am most likely going to fail in my new career. My marriage is probably on the rocks. The government is falling apart, my investments are going to crumble and we are running out of water.”
The ball can keep going until all I want to do is sit in a ball on my Serenity’s corner coach bed and wait for it all to fall apart around me. Sounds silly, no? It’s not. The outcomes may not be real, but the feelings are. They are warranted and reassured by the news and the people around me. Again, I have to see it for what it is, take a quick stock of the gratefulness I have for the life I am building and see where I can stop wasting energy. The precious energy I have needs to be directed to myself and my new found life, not the ‘problems’ I have found. If I see the barriers, how will I ever be able to see the opportunities and openings and wonderful and amazing things around me?
I see this FTVL as a blessing. It’s winter in Canada and we are adapting. Albeit, we are on Vancouver Island, so our Canadian winter is not a true Canadian Winter. Our furnace runs, but not all that often and we won’t see much snow. “Canadian Winter Lite” I’ll call it. I know we have made a great choice, both in our LTV and FTVL. Our possessions fit wonderfully and we are ready for some locational freedom. We are driving it down Baja California this December & January on a bit of a tour. We teach a yoga retreat in Sayulita Mexico in January, so we have decided to drive our home there this year! How amazing of a sentence is that!? I plan to keep our Journal going and keep the Love Notes From the Road flowing as we settle into Toots and find our groove.
One thing that there is no room for in Toots is any feelings other than gratefulness, peace, love, excitement, amazement, and awe. This world is filled with beauty and we plan to soak it up as we tour! I wish you all the best and I would love to hear some note from the road! -Ben
Disclaimer: Boondocking, or the art of finding free places to park an RV without hookups, can be addictive. You have been warned!
When we bought our RV, we had dreams of being parked in the wilderness with no one around and waking to spectacular sunrises with no other sound but singing birds and the coffee brewing. After a couple of years and many months on the road, we realized this dream was possible. We got hooked on the boondocking lifestyle. Some may call it “Off the grid”, “Dry camping”, “Dispersed Camping” or “Wild Camping” but the idea is the same…it is about heading out there in the wild and having fun camping… for free.
There is something liberating about finding a place to park for the night or even for a few days for free, especially if you find a spot like this!
So the question is how do we find these places? Travelers like to share their stories and if we are lucky, some will disclose their secret locations with us only if we promise not to tell anyone! Who wants to return to their favorite location only to find it is full of fellow RVers? Maybe we won’t be that lucky so where can we get that precious information?
Where can we find free overnight parking?
To us, the real question is: Where can we park safely overnight for free? Safety is the number one issue for Joanne and I. Although we feel relatively safe in a Wal-Mart parking lot (convenient but this is the last resort choice) we would not feel comfortable parking on a city street or in a city park without feeling safe about it. We would be on the lookout for either a police or security presence or other RVs parked there as well. Otherwise, we would choose another location.
We use a few tools to help us with our quest.
Harvest Hosts has been a very useful resource for us. This is a membership-based service where you can stay overnight (for one night) at host locations such as wineries, farms, and museums. You must call ahead to make arrangements (and arrive during business hours) and it is normal etiquette to thank the host by making a purchase at their place of business. There are hundreds of hosts scattered in the US and Canada and you are likely to find one on your itinerary. We have made wonderful discoveries this way. Furthermore, we have always felt safe at every place we stayed.
Nice and quiet at a southern Arizona winery.
A little fun under the stars at the same winery location.
We love staying at Harvest Host wineries. This time we are in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Boondockerswelcome is another membership-based service, but this time you are staying on a fellow RVer’s property. In this case, a little more planning is required because you must contact the potential host through a secure messaging system, which sends an email to the potential host. We have found that it is best to contact hosts a few days or even a week ahead of time to get a response. Many hosts are travelers like us and may not have access to emails. This has been more difficult to manage because we are often the type to decide on a destination as we go. But once we got a positive response back, it has always been a memorable experience. We enjoy visiting cities and like to be parked near the action, and this has been an excellent option, assuming there were hosts in the area. You may consider leaving a small token gift to your host, especially if a full hookup was offered. Have a look at the “resources” tab on the website for other very useful links. The next tip happens to be on that resources page.
Frugal-RV-Travel is a sister site to the “boondockerswelcome” website. We have saved hundreds of dollars in camping costs by using their guides to boondocking locations. If you are traveling to Arizona, Southern Utah, Southern Texas, New Mexico, or California (2 guides), you will find (very) detailed directions to some spectacular locations such as this:
Free and low-cost campgrounds is a guidebook to free or under $12 campgrounds. Although we have had less success with this guide, we often use it as a reference and it has provided us with directions to nice free sites. We have found some of the information in our 2014 edition to be out of date. Some GPS coordinates took us down a long dirt road at a private residence, not at all what we expected, or in another case, the coordinates were for the middle of a lake! Also, some campsites were closed for business. Now we cross-reference the information from the guide with Allstays, an indispensable camping app for mobile devices. If you do not have this application, get it now.
The guide took us to this abandoned campground converted to a dispersed camping site and managed by the state of Arizona.
Bureau of Land Management also known as BLMs manage public land mostly in the western US states. There are some campgrounds managed by the BLM that are fee based ($10-$15 usually) but there are many dispersed camping sites that are free of cost. Those can be discovered by visiting a BLM office, the BLM website, and some visitor centers offer information. In addition, the “Allstays” app can display BLM sites, and other online sources too. In many cases you will need a permit to stay at a dispersed campsite, which is available at BLM offices. The permit is free, but you will need to list names of the people in your party, vehicle information, the area where you will be parking and the length of your stay.
Camping on public land near Natural Bridges National Monument.
Other places where to boondock
When in a bind, we sometimes have to resort to parking on asphalt, most often at a store or other business that usually allows for this practice. Make sure you ask for permission because some cities have bylaws that restrict overnight parking. By calling the non-emergency police line at the local town, you will know whether it is legal or not. You may even get some tips on where to park legally and safely for the night.
This time we’re at a New Mexico winery
Here are few of the spots popular with travelers (again – if in doubt, ask for permission):
Outdoor World (Bass Pro Shop)
Some local rest stops
Have you ever gone camping in the wild? This is what we love to do and it gets better if you also have friends with you. For us, it is the ultimate thing in camping not only because of the money we save, but because it fulfills the inner explorers in both of us.
Do you have other ways to discover boondocking sites? Let us know in the comments below.
Taking a stroll at an Ontario winery where we parked overnight
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.