Mackinac Island

After a lovely stay in Munising Michigan we made a short two hour drive east across the UP to St. Ignace Michigan. Our purpose for stopping here was to visit the historical Mackinac Island which was a must see stop for me on the trip. Mackinac Island is the fudge capitol of the nation and the only forms of transportation are bicycle and horse drawn carriage.  A person would have to be crazy not to have this place on their bucket list!

For our visit to Mackinac I choose the Carp River Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest. The campground was a short fifteen minute drive into the quaint town of St. Ignace to catch the ferry over to Mackinac.  While the town was bustling with tourists enjoying their summer vacations, the campground was a serene oasis nestled on the shores of the tea colored Carp River.  Our site was large and private, surrounded by tall trees and had stairs leading down to the river.  We spent our first evening sitting on the banks with a cold beer watching the river flow swiftly by and wondering if the tree next to us was going to fall in the river. It actually did the next day making a huge booming sound across the forest.

We got up early the next morning eager to ride the ferry to Mackinac Island. There are several ferry lines that will take visitors across and they are all pretty comparable.  We chose to ride the Star Line Hydro Jet Ferry.  The cost was $24 a person for round trip and an additional $10 to take our bikes with us.  Riding bikes around the island is one of the main attractions and we opted to bring our bikes instead of rent them over there.  The rental prices were surprisingly reasonable but our butts like our own seats so we toted them across.  The ferry crew was super helpful and friendly and made it a breeze to check in our bikes and enjoy the crossing.

As the ferry approached the island it looked like something out of a movie. Big beautiful houses sat regally along the shore line with colorful kites and banners waving in the wind. We grabbed our bikes and headed up the ramp onto Main Street and our senses were immediately assaulted by the sights, sounds, and smells of Mackinac Island.  The smell was the first thing to get my attention.  I would call it barnyard fudge.  There was a strong rather unpleasant smell of horse feces and urine coming from the many horse drawn carriages. That smell was overlapped with the warm delicious sent of fudge making.  To say the least it was quite confusing to the senses.  It made me hungry yet repulsed at the same time.  In addition to the smells, Mackinac is a visually stimulating with colorful bicycles parked at every inch of curb, big beautiful horses, lovely carriages, and brides and grooms in their finery.  It’s a very popular place for weddings and we saw our fair share of bridal parties that day.

We jumped on our bikes and set off delighted to explore. We biked through town passing gift shops, restaurants, and of course the 15 fudge shops that make Mackinac the fudge capitol. We came across a huge expanse of grass right on the shore of Lake Huron were people were lounging on blankets or giant white wooden chairs.  It was the ideal place to stop and eat our packed lunch.  Everyone around was so happy to be there and the whole scene felt like something out of a movie.  We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while people played Frisbee and flew kites.

After lunch we decided to bike the perimeter of the island. There is a bike path that follows all the way around the island.  It is 8 miles of flat easy biking along the azure blue waters of Lake Huron.  I didn’t know water of this color existed besides in the ocean.  In fact, I felt like we were on the coast of some Caribbean Island as we cruised around on our bikes and watched big boats making waves in the distance.  As we made our way around the island we stopped here and there to hike up to different lookout points and really appreciate the views.  There is something about riding a bike without the hustle and bustle of car traffic in a beautiful place that makes everyone feel free and happy.  I’ve never seen so many people with huge smiles on their faces at once as I did biking around Mackinac.

After we biked the whole outside of the island we stopped back on Main Street and parked our bikes. We wandered around the shops and sampled some heavenly fudge.  Probably the best I’ve ever tasted!  Then we hopped back on our bikes and explored the streets of town, admiring the historical old homes.  We came across the stately Victorian Grand Hotel and were awestruck by its enormous porch that won it the title of largest porch in the world.  The hotel really was grand! We watched as guests dressed up for dinner came down to wait for horse drawn carriages to pick them up for their evening out and we marveled at the beautiful flowers growing around perfectly manicured grounds.

We made a final pass on our bikes right through the center of the island to see the historical cemeteries and the small airstrip where several small private planes parked. We also passed by Fort Mackinac in time to hear a boom from a cannon.  We were disappointed we had missed the last tour of the day of the fort but it was time to catch our ferry anyway.

As the ferry headed away from the island I was sad to leave it behind. While I was glad I got to see it I felt like my day there wasn’t quite enough.  I want to go back and spend a weekend, explore the fort, and take a carriage ride.  For now it will do though. It was time to head back to The Cramper and get ready for our next stop on our summer adventure.  Until next time Mackinac Island!

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Rocky Mountain High

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Hey everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It’s been a really long time since I posted about our travels! After touring the east coast this summer with the Cramper we have settled back down in Fraser, Colorado for our second winter. Why do we keep returning to Grand County Colorado you ask? The simple answer is the beauty, the fun, and the laid back mountain vibe. The area averages 245 sunny days a year which is good for the soul and for playing outdoors. We have big, snowy peaked mountains, lush forests, babbling brooks, clear rivers, and deep lakes full of colorful trout.  In the winter we get oodles of snow that coat the trees and freeze over the lakes, turning the outdoors into a majestic winter wonderland of sparkling ice and fluffy white snow. In the spring Mud Season descends as the snow melts and the ice thaws causing the rivers to rage and rise.  Summer brings colorful mountain wildflowers and long sunny days.  Fall is full of fiery aspen trees set against mountain backdrops.  I could go on and on about how beautiful it is here but I’ll let our photos do the talking.

Instead, I will talk about how FUN it is here! No matter what season it is, there is tons to do in Grand County Colorado.  Out our front door we have access to the Fraser River Trail which starts at one end of town and runs alongside the Fraser River over to the little tourist town of Winter Park, then it winds through Idlewild Campground, and over to Winter Park Ski Resort.  The trail meanders past lakes with swimming beavers, geese, ducks, and through a forest of delicious smelling Lodge Pole Pine Trees.  If you are lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) you may run into a moose or a deer.  It’s a great place to walk, run, or ride bikes during the warmer months and is used for crossed country skiing, fat biking, and snowy walks in the winter months.  A short drive or good bike ride away is the Fraser Experimental Forest.  It is the perfect spot to mountain bike with trails for riders of any skill level. It’s also a beautiful place for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and just meandering through the woods.  We’ve done some really great challenging hikes in the area, like to the top of Byers Peak, the mountain we can see from the front window of our cute little condo.

About 40 minutes away at the Town of Grand Lake is the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you like to view wildlife, hike, or just enjoy a scenic view Rocky Mountain NP is a must see. You will truly feel like you are on top of the world here! We spent an hour there this fall just listening to the elk bugle during the rut.  Grand Lake, the Arapahoe National Forest, and Granby Lake are also nearby with superb fishing, hiking, and camping.  I don’t plan on trying ice fishing myself anytime soon, but there are always people out on the lakes in the winter. There’s also snowmobiling and sleigh rides in the winter, hot air balloon rides, and heart pumping white water rafting nearby in the summer.

I haven’t even touched on Winter Park Ski Resort! With 24 lifts, 168 trails, and over 3000 acres of space it’s an amazing winter playground.  The resort is divided into seven different territories, each one giving the rider a different unique experience. We spent most of our ski time last winter on Mary Jane Mountain trying out the moguls, and escaping the crowds in the laid back area of Vasquez Ridge.  The views are amazing going up the lifts and equally amazing coming down the slopes. In the summer it is a mecca for Mountain bikers.  Riders and their bikes take the lifts to the top and then bomb down the mountain for an adrenaline rush. For those that don’t like to ski or bike there is a tubing hill in the winter, an alpine slide in the summer, lots of shops, restaurants, and a spa or two.  No matter what season it is the town makes it really easy to get around and take advantage of happy hour with free buses running all day. Between the town trails, our bikes, and the bus our truck is getting a well deserved break from carting us and the Cramper all over the country.

If you are thinking about your next vacation, come give Grand County and the Fraser Valley a try, it’s a great place to get outside and feed your soul. Come visit and we’ll show you how to play like a local!

Western Wrap Up

We’ve been out of the Cramper and in our little condo in Fraser, Colorado for several months now, so I better wrap up our Western Road Trip!  Instead of my usual long-winded blog posts on our adventures, I’m going to do this the way we did this final part of the trip-quickly.  We moved so fast through the rest of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas that most mornings I wasn’t totally sure what state we were in, and I definitely didn’t know what time zone we were in! So here we go!

Arizona- We camped for free at the Crystal Forest Gift Shop outside the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park.  We hiked through fields of Petrified Wood, saw some really cool hieroglyphics from ancient civilizations, and continued on to the Painted Desert National Park.  The parks are pretty much connected so you can’t see one without the other.  We hiked through huge dunes of multiple colors and enjoyed the serenity of this not very visited park.

New Mexico- An exploration of the stars above and the caverns below.  We camped for five dollars at beautiful Datil Well Campground just outside of Pie Town.  Yes we did see several places there to get pie but we were on a mission to see the Very Large Array Astronomical Radio Observatory.  Made up of 27 gigantic radio antennas spread out over 22 miles the VLA captures radio waves from space that are then transformed into images.  Very cool! Next stop was camping at Bottomless Lakes State Park just outside Roswell, because you can’t go to Mexico without stopping in Roswell to learn about the aliens!  Skeptical? Check out the museum, it just might make you a believer!  From Roswell we cruised south to camp for free in a field of cows about 15 minutes from Carlsbad Cavern National Park.  Probably one of the coolest places we went!  We hiked into the mouth of the cave and 2 miles down into the cavern to see some of nature’s best art work.  Lighted by soft white lights and smelling like a damp basement, the caverns are a must see if your in the area.  If we would have been there a few weeks before we could have seen thousands of bats fly out of the caverns at sunset. Unfortunately they had already migrated for the year. Maybe next time!

Texas- We were crunched for time so we made one stop in Texas and spent two nights at Lake Arrowhead State Park.  It was really nice campground and had lots of prairie dogs running around barking and looking cute.  The best part was it smelled like fresh-cut grass, and the Midwest, and home! We saw our first rattlesnake while we were cruising around on bikes, probably why they kept the grass so short.  We enjoyed good hot showers and gorgeous sunsets over the lake.

Oklahoma- We drove through on an expensive road called an interstate (we generally avoided these on our trip) and paid their tolls on the way from Texas to Arkansas.  It looked lovely though.

Arkansas- We spent two nights in Arkansas at Lake Dardanelle State Park.  It was a popular spot with the locals and I could see why.  It was right on the water with a nice park next to it and really close to restaurants.  We arrived at dark after a long drive day.  We spent our day getting a new tube for a bike tire and enjoying some local BBQ.  While we ate pulled pork, peach cobbler, and twice baked potato salad (amazing!) people were dropping off turkeys to have them smoked for Thanksgiving.  After lunch we fixed the bike and took a ride around the park.   A short but sweet stay.

Carbondale, IL- Last stop before home to see our friends and family! As graduates of Southern Illinois University we were super stoked to stop at a place so familiar.  We camped in Giant City State Park, went hiking, and cheered on our Salukis at a basketball game.  And of course we went to Quattro’s’ for their famous deep pan pizza!  No trip to Carbondale is complete without it.  I could go on forever about the fun stuff to do and what I love about Southern Illinois, but I said this would be a short post, and you will probably hear more on this place from us in the future.

Home- After 4 months and 12,000 miles we pulled back into Pekin, Illinois for the holidays.  No matter where our travels take us, Pekin will always be home to us.  Home is where your Mom’s are.

Beautiful Sedona

Oh Sedona! Wonderful, beautiful, mysterious Sedona!  I am so excited to finally write this post.  We visited Sedona the first week of November and it ranks up there in my top 5 favorite places we’ve traveled.  It’s not easy getting into my top 5 just because of how many spectacular places we’ve been on our travels but Sedona has it all.  Beautiful scenery, a great town, hiking, mountain biking, wonderful people, fantastic weather, and delicious food make for an all round great place to visit.

We spent four nights boondocking just outside of Sedona on Angel Valley Road.  We found our site on Campendium.com (as usual).  Angel Valley was a little different from many of our other boondocking spots, mostly because it was just a road that people camped on the side of, often very closely together.  Generally boondockers like to spread out and get privacy, but for a free camping spot just outside Sedona, it was worth it to be friendly with the neighbors.  The view from our campsite was amazing and I was delighted to be awoken by the sound of Hot Air Balloons outside in the morning.  One of the magical pieces of camping is you never really know what is going to be outside your door when you wake up!

Sedona is home to lots of funky shops and art galleries.  We spent a lovely afternoon strolling through used book shops, gift shops, and tea shops.  With the local art scene being huge there is tons of homemade candles, glass art, soaps, and sculptures to take in.  Sedona is also known for it’s magnetic vortexes making it a mecca for people seeking healing energies and a popular place for yoga and other practices that are good for the body and soul. While we were mountain biking we kept passing through areas with a lot of people hanging out on the rocks doing yoga, we later discovered it was a major vortex area. While we didn’t feel anything particular ourselves, I have to say the overall feel of the area is good energy.

For the outdoor enthusiast there is oodles of things to do!  We spent a memorable day mountain biking the Bell Rock Pathway trail system in the Coconino National Forest.  Some trail systems have a small users fee and this was one of those but we were happy to find out our America the Beautiful National Park Pass worked here as well.  We geared up and hit the trails.  I can’t say enough about the beautiful scenery here.  The towering red rocks against the bright blue sky, and the many colored cacti made for a gorgeous scenic ride.  Of course just when I started to feel comfortable mountain biking, let’s add huge cacti to the trails.  And I mean HUGE!  Big, pointy, bush like monsters of cacti that I would hate to wreck into.  The trails we rode were marked beginner but I think Sedona has a different idea of what beginning mountain biking looks like.  Tons of rock scrambles, and other technical riding obstacles abounded on the trails.  I spent more time off my bike then on it.  It was still an awesome ride and I would do it again.

Red Rocks State Park was a really short drive from our campsite and we spent a day hiking the many trails there.  A different experience from Bell Rock, there were meadows, trees, and a creek nestled among the red rocks.  At one point we came across a huge oak tree and I almost teared up at the site of the massive tree and big leafy branches.  We had been in the desert so long I had forgotten how much I missed trees! Red Rocks offers amazing views of Cathedral Rock,  Three Sisters, and many other rock formations.  After hiking we were starving and decided to try out some local cuisine.  We grabbed supreme tamales at Tamazila Café and wow were they good!  Probably one of the best things I have ate on the entire trip.  Tamazila has a very small menu, tamales and chili rellenos only, but it’s a classic example of when you make one thing really well, you don’t have to make anything else.  Our tamales were fresh made and piled high with black beans, spinach, guacamole, sour cream and a homemade green salsa.  So good it’s making me hungry writing about it.

If your thinking about your next vacation spot, especially a winter getaway, throw Sedona into the conversation. You won’t be disappointed!