North to the Upper Peninsula

Follow the Sheppard’s as they travel full-time in their RV through America.

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I spent a good portion of time during our winter in Colorado planning the next leg of our journey, the East Coast! Our east coast trip was going to be a lot different than our west coast trip in many ways.  First, we were camping experts now.  Our rookie jitters were completely gone and we were super excited be on the move again.  Second, packing was easy.  We knew exactly what we needed and didn’t need and our rig was less than half the weight it was when we headed west.  Turns out you don’t need a cocktail dress or office supplies on a camping road trip. The third and probably biggest difference, is that the whole trip was mapped out.  Our campgrounds were booked and I had a nifty little spreadsheet that listed out where we would be resting our heads every night, what there was to do there, what amenities were available at the campground, excursions I thought we would enjoy, and how many miles it was to the next campground.  I loved the freedom of moving around at our own pace during our western leg of the trip, but we also spent a lot of our time deciding where to go next and what to do once we got there.  It was also harder to budget for the western leg not knowing how much we would actually spend on camping.  With the camping for the eastern leg already paid for I could budget for some really cool excursions and we could even dine out and sample the local flavors from time to time.  So after spending the 4th of July holiday in Illinois with our family and friends we packed up The Cramper, said goodbye, and headed north on July 9th.

We really wanted to check out the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, commonly referred to as the UP. July seemed like a good time to be north so we headed up to Bear Lake in north eastern Wisconsin for our first night stay on the way to the UP.  It was an uneventful 7 hour drive to Bear Lake and we arrived shortly before sunset, which turned out to be a bit of a bummer because we didn’t really get to take advantage of the beautiful, pristine lake.  The campground was heavily wooded with tall lush trees, and the sites were large and private.  Ours had a set of stairs that went right down to the lake.  Bug spray was absolutely necessary for the monster mosquitos. We sprayed it on and headed down to watch the sunset from our little cove.  The lake was so calm the water looked like glass and showed the reflection of the trees and the sky.  We tucked ourselves in for the night to the sound of rain on The Crampers rooftop, looking forward to arriving in the UP the next day.

From Bear Lake we drove to Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan on the shores of Lake Superior. I chose this campground for its proximity to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The campground itself was excellent, with big private sites and a short walk to a small beach right on the lake.  We spent our first day in the UP exploring the trails of Pictured Rocks and hiking to some of the many waterfalls in the area.  We hiked along a trail through a damp forest full of huge, green trees to Miners Fall.  A beautiful tea colored cascading waterfall.  The tea color comes from a wetland root found nearby.  We stopped at various points along the lakeshore to admire the colorful 200 foot sandstone cliffs on the shore of Lake Superior.  The combination of the clear, blue water of the lake against the many shaded colors of the sandstone cliff was pretty as a picture and made it easy to see how the area got its name.  We also hiked a path along the tea colored Munising Creek to Munising Creek Falls.  All this tea colored water was making me crave a sweet tea.  Instead we headed back to camp for dinner and a few cold ones to plan our adventure for the next day.

It started raining again overnight and the temperature was quite a bit cooler and damper then we had expected but it didn’t stop us from enjoying our second day in the UP. We really wanted to do a glass bottom boat tour and explore the shipwrecks that were laying on the rocky bottom of Lake Superior.  We booked a two hour tour through Glass Bottom Shipwreck tours for the afternoon, put on some warm clothes and our raincoats and headed out for the day.  The Shipwreck tour was awesome! The rainy weather kept a lot of people at bay and we had the whole top of the boat to ourselves as we rode the waves out to the shipwrecks.  We passed by Grand Island, caves, and colorful sandstone cliffs.  The boat paused so we could take pictures of a weathered old lighthouse, and then we reached the first shipwreck.  We went below deck and everyone gathered around the glass bottom viewing area to watch as we passed over the wreckage and listened to the tour guide.  Lake Superior is so clear it’s just like looking into an aquarium and we were easily able to view the wreckage.  The tour guides were funny and informative and we really enjoyed the whole experience. At the end of the boat ride the tour guide recommended trying a pasty for dinner.  Pasty shops are found everywhere in the UP and we decided we should really try out the local food.  A pasty is a puff pastry filled with different combinations of meat, potatoes, and veggies.  You can also get fruit filled.  For our first pasty experience we went to Muldoon’s Pasties and we were not disappointed.  We ordered a chicken pasty, a beef pasty, and a veggie pasty with a side of gravy to go and took them back to The Cramper.  It was the best comfort food and so filling and perfect for a cool rainy evening.  My only regret was that we didn’t an apple pasty for dessert.  All in all our first stop in the UP was a great success and our eastern leg of our trip was off to a perfect start.

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!