Transit to Amana IA for NHOG Rally

Well…after our trip down to Madison last Tuesday Connie had to buckle down and crunch out some work on Wednesday and Thursday. Fortunately for us the weather was lousy both of those days so we wouldn’t have done anything fun anyway. Late Thursday afternoon Neil got out and did all the outside storage stuff for our planned departure on Friday after we ran some errands…needed some DEF for BAT, some groceries, and some new rope lights for going under the house.

Friday morning we got up and finished packing, hitching and left…all of that was done in a light drizzle on and off rain and it was only in the 40s. Not a great morning but we’ve had worse. Our destination for the day was Amana IA about 210 miles away where we had a reservation at the Amana Colonies RV Park for our attendance at the New Horizons Owners Group (NHOG) rally. After an uneventful if slightly bumpy trip (have I mentioned the roads up in this part of the country are terrible!!) we arrived at the park and got backed in next to a couple of our NHOG friends. Stuart and Lynn Jeffries and their greyhounds are parked almost next door and we immediately spent awhile talking to them instead of setting up along with several others who we’ve met either at the factory or the previous rally along with Mike Williams who is the rally master this week.

Following all that we got setup on a nice long 50 Amp FHU site and finished our setup. Once that was done we sat down to rest awhile until Connie spotted more friends Bill and Linda Napier a couple rows over…so we were off and running socializing. Lo and behold…an hour or so later we looked around from our various inspection of each other’s rigs, discussions about various technical issues we were having, examination of cool stuff we all have…and noticed that Lynn and Ed Asher-Harrington had also arrived from Elkhart where they were getting some warranty stuff done at MorRYDE. So…more socializing and visiting in their rig with some wine until it was time to head out for dinner. We had purchased a pizza and planned to eat in…but that plan was overcome by the group herd mentality and off we went to P.H.A.T Daddie’s which is a local restaurant with a couple of locations. A group of 15 or so of us met there and had a great evening of dinner, brews/wines, and talk until leaving the restaurant about 2030. At that point we came home, flipped on the fireplace as it was in the 40s by that time (and the low overnight was 36…we gotta head south I’m tellin ya) and watched TV until bedtime.

Here’s a shot of our setup…this is a really quiet campground out in the middle of nowheresville but it’s supposed to have great rally facilities (we’ll see them Monday) and the Internet connectivity is great…which makes both of (but especially Connie) really happy as we’ve had lousy wifi for most of the last two months and had to keep running out to the library if we needed any serious bandwidth.

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Thought I would also toss in a couple of fun shots…two for Jen and Bryan who are eagerly awaiting Neil 3.0 and another funny one we found on the net poking fun at all the NSA surveillance controversy…which is way overblown in our opinion. Any idiot knows that once information leaves your control the whole Internet is basically not encrypted and hence whatever you put out there might not stay private. Sort of like the recent nude photo controversy where all those famous women took nekkid pictures of themselves with their phones, put them out there with an easy to guess password and are shocked, shocked I tell you that somebody had enough interest in seeing them to break their password and steal their pictures.

In other news…water is wet and the sun will come up in the east tomorrow.

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We’ve got nothing really planned for the weekend…but will probably keep getting together with friends. Monday Connie will likely work as she still has a bit more to go and we’ll be busy the rest of the week with rally activities. Once it’s over on Friday we will head back up to Rockford IL That’s about 200 miles mostly east from here…we’ll just stay there 2 nights so we can run back up to Madison for a Saint Saëns concert before heading off to Elkhart IL as week from Monday…we have an appointment to get our suspension and brakes inspected, lubed, aligned if necessary, and any parts that are wore out replaced. No real issues with it…but New Horizons has been known to be less than fully competent in installation of all the running gear components, it’s been a bit over two years on the road, and we’re passing near Elkhart anyway. So we will stop in and have Sergio (he’s the tech that Bill and Linda have been using for years and comes highly recommended by them as well as others) take a look-see and fix whatever needs fixing. From there we’ll head over near Cleveland to Cuyahoga National Park or 4 or 5 days…then we’ll start the trek southward and warmward for the winter. We’re starting to look forward to oysters and shrimp on the Gulf Coast on the way there.


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Day Trip to Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison WI

We got up this morning and after coffee and a breakfast of leftover Orange Cinnamon Rolls from yesterday (they came out of a refrigerator can but were still pretty good) we headed off to downtown Madison WI about 12 miles from here for our Fun Stuff© for the day; the 1100 Wisconsin Capital tour.

We were a few minutes early but right at 1100 our guide Dinah came out from the Visitor Desk and started our tour. We started on the ground floor then went up and toured 2 of the 3 branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial are all headquartered in the building…but alas the Governor’s Conference Room was occupied with some sort of state business so we didn’t get into see it) on the first floor (which would be the second floor in US building terminology but it was designed as a European building for some obscure reason.

Dinah told us that the dome was the largest in the country (including the US Capitol) by volume and gave us the measurements. Neil…being the trusting soul that he is came home and verified her numbers. It turns out that it is smaller than the US Capitol in both volume and height but only slightly. 790,000 cubic feet and 284.4 feet high vs the US Capitol’s 850,000 cubic feet and 288 feet high…but maybe it just depends on how you define volume and height so it’s possible that she’s correct. In any event…it’s almost certainly the largest state capitol building and it was pretty impressive.

The building was constructed between 1906 and 1917 at an original cost of $7.25 million…which is probably hundreds of millions in 2014 dollars…but the building simply (according to Dinah) could not be reproduced today as some of the rare stone that was used is no longer in the sizes needed no matter how much you were willing to pay. It has 43 different kinds of stone in it from 8 states and 6 countries.

Up at the top of the dome is a mural named the “Resources of Wisconsin”. It’s 34 feet in diameter and strangely enough does not include cheese as Wisconsin didn’t become a big dairy state until well after the building was completed. The mural has a woman named Wisconsin in the middle with other women around it holding out various products from Wisconsin The thing around the picture that looks like a frame is actually a balcony although we didn’t get up that high. Here’s a shot of the whole dome from the center of the floor and also a closeup of the “Resources of Wisconsin”.

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The building has 4 wings oriented in the four cardinal directions that were constructed in series so that the building was partially usable after just about 4 years or so and gradually expanded to it’s current size. Situated around the base of the dome are four mosaics…one each dedicated to the Judicial, Legislative and Executive branches of government and the fourth dedicated to Liberty. Each is over 110,000 pieces of hand cut glass.

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From there we moved upstairs and into a large room used for committee hearings then into the Supreme Court chambers. Here’s a shot of the latter…Neil wanted to ask why there were only 6 chairs since Dinah said the court has 7 members. The large uncomfortable chairs in the back are original equipment in the building and aren’t used in favor of the more comfortable desk chairs at the bench. Our guide Dinah is in the lower right corner.

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Moving on into the Senate chamber…we were allowed to go everywhere but up on the dais and sit in the Senator’s chairs. The Senate is run in an old and formal manner with no computers, voice vote and paper used for everything. From there we moved into the Assembly chamber…where we were not allowed to sit in the chairs and which was completely modern for the 99 members with computer terminals and an electronic voting system. Just like it’s national counterpart…most state legislatures follow a similar pattern of staid formality in the Senate and a more partisan and modern approach in the lower Assembly or House chamber.

Here’s a shot of the mural over in the Assembly chamber…you can see a stuffed Bald Eagle in the center…this particular bird has a history. Seems that a unit of the Wisconsin militia during the Civil War had a mascot eagle who was donated to the state after the war and lived for many years in the building. After it’s death…Old Abe as it was known…was stuffed and mounted in the Assembly chamber. Unfortunately…it was lost during the fire of 1904 that destroyed the previous Capitol building so it was replaced with another eagle who died of natural causes later. This particular mascot is also the genesis of the mascot of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Screaming Eagle Division.

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Dinah passed along another story about this mural as well. When it was finished after about 18 months of work by the artist…the architect decided that the painting should include the Wisconsin state animal…the badger. Unfortunately for the artist’s artistic feel…there wasn’t any way to add the badger without removing something else…so the decision was made to paint out a Civil War soldier and put the badger in his place. Looking to the right of center in the above shot you see the large light are with the woman in gold surrounded by other women then further to the right there’s a man holding an American flag. The Civil War soldier occupied the open are between those two. Now shift your attention to the closeup below of the area between those two figures and you’ll see where the badger was added in after the soldier was painted out. When completed the soldier was no longer visible…at least until the painting was restored between 1988 and 2002. After that restoration the outline of the soldier became visible again…if you look in the closeup below you can see the solder in left side profile just to the right of the red woman’s dress directly above the badger. His hat, ear and shoulder sloping down to the figure with holding the flag are clearly visible. This solder is known as the Ghost of the Assembly.

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From there we headed up to walk out on the outside balcony and take a look at Madison…the views from up there were pretty nice but Connie was feeling a little shaky with the open heights…she was holding onto Neil for support against her vertigo and he plumb forgot to get any photos. After that we went back into the inside of the dome and went…very, very, very briefly as Connie liked it even less than being outside…onto the inner balcony you can see just below the windows in the top photo. No photos from there either as there was a plexiglas shield to prevent things from being thrown/dropped and they would have ruined any pictures.

After a walk around the inside of the dome corridor looking at various exhibits from construction and renovation of the building we headed back down with the intention of getting lunch. On the way we ran across a demonstration on the rotunda floor…it was called a Solidarity Sing Along and was a bunch of union nuts ranting, raving, and singing songs against Governor Walker…who as you might recall was involved last year in a political fracas up here over limiting union benefits in an attempt to keep their pension fund solvent. It was a bunch of overweight, bearded guys in overalls and even more overweight women in all sorts of trailer trash clothes exercising their right to protest. Buncha wacko’s I tell ya.

On the way to lunch we were able to get a nice shot of the dome itself and also the 15 foot high gold gilded statue on top. Her name is Wisconsin…and when Neil zoomed in on her to take the photo he saw her obvious name…First Down Wisconsin. And by the way…that’s a badger on her helmet.

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We walked over to a local Irish Pub named Brocach and had a couple of pints of Murphy’s along with a fish sandwich for Connie and a pulled pork sandwich for Neil. Brocach means Badger Den in Gaelic and while it was supposed to be an authentic Irish Pub Neil was not sure about that…as there was no Bud Light on tap and absolutely every one of the pubs we were in over in the Emerald Isle had Bud Light on tap. We asked the bartender about it and he was amazed that we had seen it everywhere over there.

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It was a mighty tasty lunch.

Afterwards we walked over to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum but were disappointed on not getting in…their web site says they’re open 7 days a week but the poster in the Capitol said they were closed on Monday’s and sure enough, they were closed. We did see a young woman in combat boots, jean shorts, a black camisole with an orange bra and bright purple Peter Pan haircut…but didn’t get a picture. We headed back for the car, paid our $3.50 parking for 3+ hours and came home for a nap.


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Transit to Deforest WI, Kayaking and Hike in the Woods

Tuesday morning we took our time getting ready to depart since we only had 90 miles or so to go to our next destination in Deforest WI. We finally departed around 1100; we had figured we would have a slight bit of difficulty making the turn out of the campground onto the road since it had a fairly narrow entrance and ditches on both sides of Lake Drive. Neil got way over to the right side of the exit and we were turning left and actually had 2 or 3 feet to spare making the turn. We headed out to the highway and after our 90 mile trip we got to the Deforest WI KOA right outside of Madison WI around 1300 and got checked in and parked in site 14D. This is a pretty nice campground albeit a little more expensive than our usual…but that’s typical of our stops at KOA (Kampground of America) campgrounds. It is what it is we figured.

Site 14D is on the outer ring and we have some fairly nice views out our side windows over towards some grassy areas…there’s a bit of highway noise since we’re only a half mile or so away from it but the traffic dies down in mid evening and hasn’t been too bad.

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Wednesday we headed off to a local lake that was adjacent to a Nature Conservancy preserve for some kayaking. After getting our Sea Eagle inflated we launched and after a tough half mile or so paddle upwind across the lake we entered the conservancy boundary and spent a nice hour and a half wandering around some narrow passages through the marsh; frequently we were in channels less than 10 feet wide and while there was plenty of water to float the Sea Eagle the Duck Weed that was growing in the water was scraping across the bottom. We spotted some ducks, a batch of grebes and generally had a nice paddle through the marsh. After an hour or so of that we struggled back across the lake with the wind and then headed home.

Thursday was a work day for Connie and Neil took care of some important napping and computer stuff.

Friday Connie worked again in the morning then after lunch we headed of for a hike at the Cherokee Conservation Area Marsh on the River. This is an area jointly administered by the city of Madison, the state, and there’s federal involvement somehow I think as well. We had a nice couple of miles hiking through the grasslands and woods…it was a nice cool day with some breeze so the skeeters weren’t so bad. We didn’t see much wildlife…but then some hikes don’t have much and it was still a very nice walk in the woods.

So…what did we see? Some wildflowers, berries, bees, a grasshopper, a couple views of the marshland. Nothing really superb but again…it is what it is. We spotted (and heard) some Sandhill Cranes but they were too far away for a shot. The first shot is of these really weird seed pods we saw on some trees…they were about 6 inches long and we’ve never seen anything quite like them.

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After that we headed home and stopped by a pub near the RV park named Timbers. Met a nice bartender/owner named Ron who served us a couple of quite tasty brews. He also had a bottle of Booker’s 8 year old 127 proof bourbon that he offered us a sample of …we were pleasantly surprised how smooth it was given the high proof out of it. It’s a single barrel bottled bourbon…which means that rather than mixing a hundred barrels at a time to ensure consistent flavor it’s bottled directly from the barrel and the next barrel might (or might not) taste completely different. We’re going to have to remember this brand…as it was really, really good.

After our brew (Neil had Shocktop Apple Ale and Connie had Spotted Cow) we headed home and Neil cooked up some spaghetti with tomato/garlic/bacon sauce for dinner. After that it was showers and then TV until bed.


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Transit to Oshkosh WI and Day Trip to Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

I gotta tell ya…if you’re ever in Oshkosh WI and have a chance to eat at Dublin’s Irish Pub…don’t do it. More on that later though.

Thursday morning we got up early for our 300 mile transit down to Oshkosh. After coffee and breakfast we finished up packing, dumping, hitching and such and were on the road from the campground a bit before 0900. Neil headed on through Newberry down to the main road and filled up BAT with fuel. While he was doing that Connie stopped and got a couple of pints of fresh Michigan blueberries that we’re going to freeze and use for various things over the next couple of months. After that we hit the road and most of our trip was pretty nice…2 and sometimes 4 lane roads with not too much traffic. We did run into one section of US-41 in southern Michigan that was pretty rough but other than that had clear sailing most of the way down.

Once we got into Wisconsin…there was about 15 miles of construction as we passed through Green Bay. We also figured out that Wisconsin drivers are pretty rude…lots of them cutting us off, weaving back and forth through traffic and wildly exceeding the speed limit. Not much fun but we continued on and after our almost 300 mile day pulled into the Country Harbor Campground and got set up in site 5…a nice pull through 50 amp full hookup site. The sites are pretty close…but it’s right on Lake Winnebago and hence campground owners tend to pack them a little closer than we like. The view is nice though and it isn’t a bad place to park for a few days. Here’s a shot of our site…followed by Neil turning around and taking another shot looking toward the lake.



So…about that pub.

We were trying to figure out what to eat and Connie saw the Dublin’s Irish Pub…we weren’t really interested in anything heavy but figured that some beer and bar food would taste good. We got there and had a couple pints, Smoky Hemp Porter for Neil and I can’t remember what Connie had. Neither was particularly good but we had also ordered a Combo Platter of appetizers for dinner. Most of them were fried…and the onion rings, egg rolls, and mozzarella logs were all fried in the same fryer obviously, along with whatever else they were cooking. Very strange flavors indeed. On top of that…we’ve never had egg rolls with corned beef, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing inside of them. The final appetizer was some sort of potato skin which (again) had sauerkraut and thousand island dressing in it…then was topped with cheese and ranch dressing.

We ordered another pint of a beer we had quaffed before…Left Hand Milk Stout. This is normally a great beer, kind of milky tasting as it has some milk sugar in it (which does not ferment into alcohol) and a creamy texture like Guinness or any other stout. I don’t know what they were serving but it definitely wasn’t Left Hand Milk Stout. It tasted more like some sort of porter or dark ale…lousy indeed. Overall we gave this place the “worst bar of the year” award and moved along. 

Luckily we found a DQ and split a Blizzard on the way home…then we stayed up and hit the bed about 2200.

Our original plan for today was based on the all day rain forecast…imagine our surprise when we got up and the forecast had changed to mostly cloudy all day. We quickly changed our plan for Connie to work and Neil to do laundry in favor of a trip about 30 miles southwest to the Horicon Marsh NWR. As it turned out it was bright sunny, no clouds, and 90 degrees today.

Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the US…about 32,000 acres total. It’s 13 miles north to south and 3-5 miles wide and is adjacent to a state preservation area. Our plan was to take a 36 mile driving tour around the entire refuge and visit a bunch of overlooks, ponds, and wildlife areas.

Our first sighting was on the way south…this scraggly looking Red Shouldered Hawk up on a power line.

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We next spotted some Black Eyed Susans and a neat seed pod on some sort of weed…it’s about 3 inches long.

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Following that we spotted what Neil describes as a good snake (hey, it’s the only good kind of snake he says)…if you can’t tell from the picture this specimen is only about an eighth of an inch thick and is quite dead.

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Some turtles, a blue dragonfly to go along with the red one from the other day, and a grasshopper…then a group of female mallard ducks.

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Some Grebes and a White Pelican…really didn’t expect to see either of these this far north and inland.

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An Eastern Phoebe, a pair of Kildeer shorebirds and a White Heron.

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A nice pano shot overlooking a large area of the marsh with several ponds. Lots of ducks and herons in this shot but they’re way, way, way out there.


Another Kildeer we spotted in a field full of puddles.

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After this we passed through a really small town named Leroy WI. How do you know a town is really small as opposed to just small? Simple of course. After we passed through the single corner between road YY and road W that formed the crossroads at the town the shot below shows you the speed limit signs as the limit increased as we left town…the 3 signs you see in this shot are maybe 50 yards apart.

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It was so cool that Neil turned the car around and went back to get this shot.

With that the Fun Stuff© part of our day was done. We stopped by the Walmart and got groceries on the way home…then after a shower headed out for a Chinese restaurant Connie found…we’ve had a hankering for some Chinese food lately and it turned out Royal Kitchen was truly outstanding. We had a couple of Tsing Tao beers followed by steamed dumplings, spring rolls, and orange chicken with rice. All were truly outstanding and we even have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

We got home and changed for bed then watched a game on TV (Colorado vs Colorado State) until we got tired and went to bed.


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Day Trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior

I gotta tell you about this book Connie has been reading…it’s all about this area of the country and she has been using it to help figure out places to go and things to do up here in the Michigan Upper. It’s called Sketches of a Tour to the Lake, Of the Character and Customs of the Chippewa Indians, and of Incidents Connected with the Treaty of Fon du Lac. It was written by Thomas L. McKinney of the US Indian Department…who was charged with meeting all of the Indian tribes in the Michigan Territory and negotiating peace with them. His efforts resulted in the first treaty between the US government and the Indian Tribes which was signed at Fon du Lac in 1826. Neil’s forbear (some number of greats–Connie says it’s the Fourth Great Grand Uncle) uncle Thomas Connor was the translator for the exhibition.

The book details Mr. McKinney’s travels from Washington DC up to the Great Lakes area, their journeys through the lakes and the subsequent negotiation of the treaty. She’s gotten some good info for our travels and used it to figure out several Fun Stuff© days including today’s visit over to the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore.

So…did you know that there were cliffs 250 feet tall that resemble the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland on Lake Superior? Did you know there were sand dunes 500 feet high right on the shore of Lake Superior and that they were used for logging back in the old days. Neither did we…although Neil was vaguely aware of the sand dunes at least. Anyway…that area was our destination for today; it’s an area about 40 miles east to west and 20 miles north to south starting about 25 miles west of our current parking spot in Newberry.

We had coffee and breakfast and then headed out. Our first destination was Sable Falls at the far northeast corner of the National Lakeshore. We got there after about an hour and started out on our half mile or so hike down to the falls…there was a 184 step staircase that we had to negotiate down and then back up after our viewing of the falls. The falls were pretty nice an we got several good shots.

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Our second stop was at the Grand Sable Lake overlook…which overlooks over the lake from some dunes about 200 feet or so tall…well, it overlooks the lake after you climb the dune at least. Connie elected to stay in the car while Neil hiked up…steep and soft sand so it was hard climbing up. Here are a few shots from the top. Connie is in the car down on the road you can see in the first shot…it’s parked just out of sight behind the dune to the left/

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For this shot he turned around 180 degrees from those above and looked out over the dunes toward Lake Superior in the background. Pretty nice views from up there.

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After that we headed another 10 miles or so west to the Grand Sable Dunes area of the park…this area features dunes that are right on the edge of the lake and about 500 feet high…we hiked up to the edge of an area known as the Log Slide…this was used back in the late 1800s and early 1900s to slide logs down into the lake and thence to sawmills to be turned into lumber. The sign at the top of the Log Slide said that it would take you 5 minutes to hike down from the crest to the shoreline and probably over an hour to climb back up as it’s about a 45 degree angle and is very soft sand.  Here’s a shot from the top of the Log Slide…then we hiked a quarter mile or so to the left (southwest) and got a shot of the dunes from the side…the Log Slide is visible just above the tree branches in the second shot.

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From there we headed over to Hurricane River in hopes we could see the Au Sable Lighthouse…but alas it was not visible around the point and time constraints prevented us from taking the 2.5 mile round trip hike over to see it. We did get a couple of shots of where the Hurricane River empties into the lake…these two shots are 180 degrees opposite from each other without actually moving. We also spotted this chipmunk along the way; our only wildlife sighting for the day except for a hawk that we could not identify. Neil thinks it was a Swainson’s hawk based on the coloration from the admittedly poor photo we got but Peterson’s says the Swainson’s is a western plains species so we’ll just leave it as unidentified for now. Ospreys are common here but the coloration was wrong for that species.

From the camera location to the bridge looking south was about 20 yards and from the camera location to the lake shore was about 20 feet. Total drop from the bridge to the lake shore was 5 or 6 feet as the water run down a rock face into the lake. 

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Our next stop was the Chapel Falls which required about a 3 mile round trip hike to get to…but it was worth it even though we were ready to be back to the car by the time we returned to the parking lot. The first shot shows the lower portion which is about 60 feet tall, the second the upper portion which is maybe 10 or 15.

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From there we headed on to the Miner’s Castle area…where you can see the most famous individual feature of the Pictured Rocks…and after hiking another half mile or so round trip we also got the lower overlook which included a closeup of the Miner’s Castle itself as well as a shot of the Pictured Rocks escarpment…most of the best views of the Rocks are only visible via boat and we didn’t have the time to spare for a 3 hour boat ride in the middle of our long, long day.

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From there we headed off to our last destination for the day…Munising Falls and Sand Point to see if we could find the famous East Channel Lighthouse over on nearby Grand Island. As we headed up towards the falls we didn’t think it would be very good as the river it was on was more of a small stream…but it turned out to be an 80 feet or so tall fall with a large single drop and then a flow down a rock face towards the bottom. Much better than we thought it would be. We did find East Channel Lighthouse…but couldn’t figure out why it was supposed to be famous as it’s a relatively nondescript house with a steeple attached for the light.

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With that our day was done. We hopped back in the car and pressed Home James on the GPS and an hour later arrived at the Newberry Elks Lodge where we had a pitcher of Amber Bock and a couple plates of soft tacos since it aaas Taco Tuesday after all. After that it was home for showers and rest in the recliners until bedtime.


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Day Trip to Seney National Wildlife Refuge

Today we decided in late morning to head about 20 miles west to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge…they have a 7 mile loop drive through the marshes and ponds with lots of over looks. After looking at the skeeter situation we decided to pass on the 1.5 mile hike at the Visitor Center and concentrate on the drive instead.

This NWR was established in the 1930s and is designated as a wilderness area…which essentially means that there is no as in almost zero development in it. No hiking trails, no camping sites, just a few roads that mostly transit over the various dikes and spillways that were constructed in the 1930s when it was established to provide nesting and stopover places for migratory waterfowl. Today it’s a hotbed and prime location for seeing Trumpeter Swans (of which we saw a lot today) and also the Common Loon…both of which are on the threatened species list. We couldn’t quite understand how the Trumpeter was on the list as we probably saw 200 of them today…Loons on the other hand were relatively scarce and we didn’t see any until almost the end of our drive.

First up though…a shot from our hike at Tahquamenon Falls the other day…this is a first year Herring Gull. This particular gull is one of the large brown gulls and reaches adult size in it’s first season of about 20-24 inches long. It goes through a 4 year plumage variation…mostly in the color of the beak and how the eventual adult stripe is formed…it didn’t take us long looking at Peterson’s Field Guide to North American Birds to zero in on the identification. The Herring is one of only 2 large brown gulls and is the most common large brown gull sighted in the eastern part of the country although it also nests as far west as Montana. It’s particularly seen around large inland lakes and we just happen to be pretty close to 5 of them (the Great Lakes). This particular specimen was spotted in the picnic area near the Tahquamenon Brewery at the upper Tahquamenon Falls the other day…but Neil forgot to look it up and put it in the post the other day.

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So after visiting the Visitor Center at the Seney NWR we took a quick turn around their observation deck and almost immediately spotted this Eastern Phoebe on a tree adjacent to the deck. We also spotted some Blue Wing Teals off in the pond to the east of the visitor center. Finally Neil spotted a Golden Headed Boobie on the observation deck…she was looking up the Phoebe in Petersons at the time.

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With that we headed off on our 7 mile drive. After a quick discussion with the Visitor Center folks we took the Marsh Trail Drive…which actually has a lot more water and a lot more bird sightings than the Fishing Loop Trail. That might appear to be wrong…but we saw a lot of ponds and wildlife…and we figured the Visitor Center volunteers should know. We gave a little consideration to redoing the drive and taking the Fishing Loop…but about 3/4 of the drive was common and it’s one way so we decided against it as it was over an hour for us to drive around.

So…what did we see. Lots of Trumpeter Swans, some turtles on a log, a Red Tailed Dragonfly, some bees sipping from wildflowers, a little baby turtle on the road, a Sandhill Crane, some Monarch Butterflies…they summer up here and winter in either Mexico or South America so they have quite a flight ahead of them in a few weeks. We also spotted a Common Loon right towards the end of our drive and got some shots of it…it appeared to be a mature specimen and there is normally only one mated pair in any particular pond or lake.

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With that our day was done. We briefly discussed heading over to Painted Rocks on the Lake Superior coast…but decided it was too late in the day to try and do that trip justice so we’re leaving it for later in the week. We headed home and after resting a bit Neil made some Linguini with Bolognese sauce for dinner…think tomato sauce with some beef (courtesy of a Walmart Vidalia Onion Angus hamburger patty), a strip of bacon chopped fine, and a can of chopped green chiles…mighty yummy particularly topped with fresh Parmesana Reggiano and a glass of Merlot to go along with…we even got leftovers for another night for dinner although we’ll have to make some garlic bread to go with it as there aren’t quite two servings left.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is Mass and then we’re off to a Music Festival featuring Bluegrass/Folk music at the Logging Museum nearby. Monday and Wednesday are more Fun Stuff©, with work and Taco Night at the Local Elks Lodge on Tuesday (we had the Friday Nite Fish Fry there last night and it was really good) then we’re off to Oshkosh on Thursday.


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Transit to Newberry MI and Some Fun Stuff©

On Tuesday 19 Aug we got up and after coffee and breakfast finished hitching up (in the rain) and headed out on our 220 mile transit to Newberry MI. The drive was pretty much without incident or much traffic…we stopped for lunch at Hardees and arrived at Clementz’s North Country Campground here in Newberry and got settled into site 15. It’s a grass site with pretty open sides and full hookups…it actually is a lot nicer than we thought it would be based on the google satellite photos but that’s OK. It is nice and quiet and the folks running it are friendly…although the wifi sucks so we’re just using our air card and running down to the local library for Connie to work as even the air card doesn’t have much signal here. The Internet at the library is wicked fast so we headed out there yesterday for work and computer stuff and will head out again Friday as it’s supposed to rain again.

Thursday, however…was forecast to be partly cloudy and nice so we headed out for some Fun Stuff©…our first stop was at Whitefish Point at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. Turns out that Lake Superior narrows way down here at the eastern end and of the over 500 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes since navigation here started almost 200 of them have been on or near Whitefish Point.  You might think that Whitefish Bay (which is adjacent to Whitefish Point) sounds familiar…if not I’ll just offer you these lyrics to help refresh your memory.

“The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
Then later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
‘Twas the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
Sayin’ “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya”
At seven PM a main hatchway caved in
He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below, Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Yup…it’s that part of Lake Superior…the graveyard of many ships including the Edmund Fitzgerald. For maximum effect…you should listen to the song as you read the rest of this post so here’s a link to open in a new window or tab so you have some nice ambiance for the post Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Turns out that the most common cause of shipwrecks in this area is collision between loaded ships heading east and empty ones heading west to pick up more ore or grain. There’s lots of fog, lots of ships, and a narrow neck of Lake Superior. One ship back in the late 1890s was responsible for colliding with and sinking 4 (yes, 4) different vessels in a single month. The master of that vessel’s excuse was “We’re a Royal Mail ship…and everybody else should just get out of our way.” The second most common cause…and one which has taken at least 6 vessels as we observed in the museum at the Historical Society…is loss during bad weather. Of the six large ore carrying ships that sunk up to and including the Fitzgerald in 1975…all of these 6 just broke apart and sank according to the survivors (and radar returns in the Fitzerald’s case). The cause is thought to be some strange interaction of the wave period and bottom depth causing the bow and stern of the ships to be on wave crests with the trough of the wave underneath the middle of this ship. Loss of support in this situation in the center portion of the ship breaks it’s back and results in rapid sinking with very few survivors.

 Anyway…here are some snapshots we took in the museum.

The Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell which was recovered in 1995, 20 years after it sank.

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A lens from one of the many generations of lighthouse lights that mark the inlet to Whitefish Bay. This is a Fresnel lens type light…this specimen is 9 feet in diameter and is only a Second Order light, First Order lenses are even larger. This particular lens floated on a liquid mercury bearing and was turned by a weight and cable mechanism to provide it’s 7.5 second periodicity…the movement is very similar to that in a grandfather clock (except that the weight was wound up 44 feet in the 125 foot tall tower) and it had to be wound every 2 hours and 18 minutes so obviously the light keeper didn’t get much sleep at night.

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So, how does this Fresnel lens thing work? Glad you asked. You need a sharply curved lens in order to take the point source of the light…which is located at the center of the lens…and turn it into a straight beam that will be visible a long way…28 nautical miles for the lens above. The trouble with a lens that is the proper shape is that it’s almost hemispherical shaped…a full lens of 9 feet diameter would be a bowl shape about 4 feet in depth; and in addition the bowl shape would require a lot of glass which means a lot of weight. So…this Frenchman named strangely enough Fresnel…figured out a better way. What he did was take the large lens and cut it in some concentric circles then compress the circles into a single vertical plane; essentially the same thing that happens with an extendable pointer. Collapsing the rings…and there are about 23 or so in the lens picture above…into a single vertical plane makes the entire lens only about a foot thick. This means less glass, less weight, and much easier to mount and move the thing. That’s probably way more than you wanted to know…but hey, it’s my blog and I felt like putting it in.

This shot of an anchor that was recovered from one of the shipwrecks is displayed like just about every other anchor you’ve ever seen…with the flukes (the sharp iron pieces) parallel to the floor and the stock (the wooden piece at the top) vertical. Unfortunately…this very common display position is 100% wrong in that it’s not the way an anchor actually works. In actuality the weight of the chain (and there is always chain attached to the anchor itself even if most of the anchor line is hemp or manila instead of chain) pulls the wooden piece of the stock down to lay on the bottom. This turns the flukes vertical so that one of them will dig into the bottom and thus the anchor will actually anchor itself to the bottom and work…the standard display position would result in the anchor dragging and the ship ending up on the rocks instead.

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Here’s a shot of the lighthouse itself…this is the 125 foot tall tube that the weight went up and down in to power the mechanism that rotated the Fresnel lens above along with it’s light source.

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The last item we saw at the museum was this 12 foot 9 inch Lego model of the Edmund Fitzgerald…it’s got over 18,000 pieces in it. We figured out (well, Neil figured out, I had nothing to do with it) that at an average number of pieces per pound of 160-300 based on our Internet research that this model weighs between 60 and 115 pounds.

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From there we headed back home and after a quick stop for a sandwich at a convenience store we decided to stop by and see the Tahquamenon Falls. This is composed of the upper falls which drops about 40 feet or so and the lower falls which has 4 or 5 parallel drops of just a few feet right as the river gets pretty close to the lake. Connie missed this one originally on her Fun Stuff© planning but it was a nice afternoon so we decided to see them instead of leaving them for the weekend. Good thing we did as it was pretty crowded on a Thursday afternoon…we would hate to be here on the weekend. when it really got bad.

Here’s a shot of the largest portion of the lower falls before we walked around to see them from the top…the top section is about 6 feet and the two lower sections are just a couple feet each. Water depth below these is just a foot or so…which means that there were lots of idiot children whose even more idiot parents let them crawl out into dangerous situations.

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After a half mile or so walk on a nice paved path we got around to the top of the lower falls.

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We walked a half mile or so back to the car and drove to the upper falls…the alternative was a 4 mile hike up the edge of the river…which would have been OK but then there would have been another 4 mile hike back to the car so we took the easy way out. Once at the upper falls we had another walk of a half or three quarters of a mile out to first the top of the upper falls and then a slightly downstream gorge view of the upper falls. The top required negotiating a set of 94 stairs down partway into the gorge then back up…the gorge overlook required a set of 116 steps down and up. The upper falls are about 40 or so feet tall and much more impressive than the lower ones…but again were pretty crowded so we again congratulated ourselves on not coming on the weekend. Here’s the upper falls after our 94 step descent to the top and then a closeup of some pink flowers Connie liked with the water in the background.

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After hiking back up the 94 steps we headed a quarter mile or so downstream then down the 116 steps to the overlook in the gorge at river level for a more classic view of the upper falls. You can just see the viewing platform he took the above two shots from at the far right of this shot.

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With that our day was done…or so we thought. After trudging back up the 116 steps and the almost 3/4 of a mile back to the parking lot (for about 2.5 miles total with 350 feet or so of climbing) Connie was getting pretty wore out and was barely going to make it the car. Neil happened to look off to the left as we passed the restrooms and said “It’s a miracle…look, I see the Tahquamenon Brewery and Pub”…at which point we took an immediate left turn, did not pass Go, and proceeded directly to the bar where we had a pint each of their Black Bear Stout…which was really more of a black ale than a stout…but it was mighty tasty anyway. I gotta tell ya…finishing up the day with a cold brew before you even let the sweat dry off is a pretty sweet way to celebrate your hike.

After that it was home where Neil grilled some chicken that was marinated in Italian dressing…we had that along with some cranberry stuffing and veggies along with another beer and a glass of wine. After that it was showers and rest until bed. Tomorrow we’re off early to the library for Connie to work and Neil has some computer stuff and travel arrangement stuff to finish up…once he’s done with that we’ll have all of our parking arrangements completed until we get back to Seminole Campground in Fort Myers on Nov 1. Then we’re off to the Elks Lodge in Newberry tomorrow evening where they have a fried perch dinner…yum.


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