Camping With Canines: 15 Travel Tips From Shae and Pip

22 07 2018

Shae and Pip, Accomplished Camping Canines

Having just returned home from a 15 day camping trip covering almost 3500 miles with our humans, we feel justifiably qualified to offer the following advice for traveling with four-legged friends.

  1. Help us get used to traveling in a car by taking us on short trips first. Nothing can spoil a trip faster than dog vomit.
  2. Whining? Experiment with us in different parts of the car. Shae says that although Pip loves to settle down in the wayback, she likes to be closer to the action in the seat behind the driver. That way she can keep the driver’s ears clean.
  3. We don’t really mind long car rides. After all, we usually sleep a good part of the day anyway. But it’s nice to stretch our legs every couple of hours or so.  And it’s good for you humans, too! So stop, already!

6.25.18 Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (21)4. And how about a drink of water during those stretch breaks? The back seat and the wayback get a lot warmer than the front seats. Make it easy for yourself:  pack a jug of water and a bowl.

5. Hey, you humans pack snacks for the road. How about throwing us a doggy biscuit every now and then? It’s only fair.  But don’t feed us too much and certainly don’t give us those yummy human treats, no matter how much we beg (see #1 for details).

6. Would it be too much to ask that you put our dog beds or favorite toys in the car for us? That would make riding so much less stressful (again, refer to #1).


7. We should be your first priority when you pull into a campsite, picnic area, or scenic area. Put us on a long lead, feed us, and put a large bowl of water nearby. Please don’t ever leave us in a hot car!

8. After a long day in the car, we really appreciate going for a sniff around the campground. And before you head out in the morning, take us for a little stroll so we can tend to our bodily functions. Don’t forget to bring a bag to collect our messes!  (Really, we just don’t understand why humans are fascinated with our poop. But whatever.)

6.19.18 Clifty Falls, IN13


9. And speaking of messes, bring towels…more than you think you’d ever need. There are just so many smelly things to roll in, mud puddles to splash though, and opportunities to have messy fun! You’ll appreciate those towels when we climb up on your bed in the middle of the night!

6.20.18 Madison IN Ohio River

10. Why, yes, our doggy smell will pervade your car and camper. But you’ll get over it.

11. Don’t ever leave us at the campsite or in the car unattended. That’s just wrong.

6.26.18 dogs.png12. Make sure you pack our shot records, medicines, and medical history. We understand that sometimes you may have to put us in a kennel for a while so you can go off without us. Okay, no, we don’t understand.  But you might have to kennel us anyway.  So bring the paperwork.

13. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but think about chipping us before we go. On the off chance that we get separated, a microchip will help us get reunited. You would be so sad without us!

14. Not every place or everybody welcomes dogs. Hard to believe, right? So read up on the regulations before taking us places, and leave a wide berth around strangers. Parents sometimes freak out when we lick and jump all over their precious widdle pumpkins.  They just taste soooo good!

5.3.18 Taryn Shae15. Although we know better than to jump on your bed at home, there’s just something very comforting about snuggling up beside our humans in the camper. After all, someone’s got to protect you from all those nasty night creatures out there. And who doesn’t like to be awakened by sweet doggy kisses in the morning?

3.10.18 ColletonStatePark

With a little organization and aforethought, camping with us canines can be very rewarding.  We force our humans to be more active and get out in nature.  Even, or especially, when it’s hot and muggy and they are tired.  We make perfect conversation starters, allowing our humans to get to know other humans.  Curious human: What kind of dogs are those?  Response (choose one, depending on audience and mood): mixed breed, mutts, pit-bull mixes, pibble mixes, yard dogs, rescues, or Horse Creek Hound and Congaree Terrier (totally made-up breeds so as to inspire awe in those with pedigreed dogs with painted toenails).  But the best reason to take us along on your adventures is that we are loving and enthusiastic companions.  You’ll never get bored with us around!  Or lack for doggy kisses.

Camping With Canines: The Tail End

21 07 2018

After such a perfect day in Minocqua, we hated to leave.  So it didn’t take much arm-twisting to stop at the Farmers’ Market before we left for good, picking up some rhubarb scones, sugar snap peas, and ground cherry jelly.  Thus fortified, we started on the long downhill slope home.

Flashes of Illinois: fields of giant wind turbines slowly spinning; corn, dark green and lush, extending to the horizon.  We stopped at a rest area to stretch all 12 legs.  A lady trucker with a beagle-jack russell mix bent our ear for a good 20 minutes, hardly coming up for a breath as she told us how she had lived in Aiken for eight years, working in the horse industry.  Small world, made smaller by dogs!

We stopped for the night at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.  Although the state park was voted “the #1 attraction in the state of Illinois,” we were a little dismayed to see the row of porta-pottys in the campground.  At 6:00 pm, it was 92° and the air was as thick and still as the corn fields.  Regardless, after a day on the road we needed to walk so we headed for the trails that meandered along the Illinois River, granting panoramic views of the valley and the many canyons.

6.29.18 Ilinois River from Starved Rock

The Illinois River, as seen from Starved Rock. American white pelicans dotted the waters.

6.29.18 Wildcat Canyon (2)

Wildcat Canyon

I’d like to say that we enjoyed the hike, but we were so miserably hot, sticky, and thirsty that our only thoughts were of a cool shower followed by a restful night in our air-conditioned camper.

6.29.18 Wildcat Canyon (5)

Hot dogs

We drove to the only bathhouse in the entire campground where Brian stayed in the car with the dogs and the AC running while I went in for a shower.  There were only two shower stalls, so I was expecting a long line.  Surprisingly, there was a shower open, so I quickly disrobed and prepared to rinse the day’s sweat off my tired body.  I learned an important lesson that evening.  Always check the shower controls before committing. No water, no matter how I manipulated the handle. Ugghh.  I had to wait until the other stall was open, then scoot over for a shower that left me even more sticky and hot by the time I was done.  We ran our AC full blast that evening.  Not sure how the pioneers survived.  Or how we ever camped without AC.

The next morning we pulled out by 7:30, determined to get an early start before the heat sucked us down.  We decided to by-pass Atlanta, that City-Of-Never-Ending-Congestion, by heading for Knoxville instead of Nashville as previously planned.  On the map, Levi Jackson State Park in Kentucky looked like a good stopping point before hitting Knoxville, Ashville, and then home. We pulled in to find a campground that would put WalMart on a Saturday to shame.  RVs were jammed every which way, and each site contained the entire clan with grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dogs.  The narrow road was busy with kids zipping by on bikes and pre-teens tooling around on golf carts.  We were smack-dab in the middle of Appalachia on the weekend before the Fourth of July.

We didn’t even unhitch the camper.  A short walk on a trail, a quick dinner, and we were out of there by 7:10 the next morning.

Our last day on the road was deliciously uneventful and decidedly scenic, taking us through mountain passes and valleys that made us forget the long miles.   A delightful Welcome Center on the Tennessee-Kentucky border was complete with music notes on the sidewalks, log cabins, and a paved walking trail to the top of the mountain that afforded a gorgeous view.

7.1.18 view from TN rest area


The miles slipped away as we listened to our audio-books and finally pulled into our driveway.  The dogs jumped out of the car for the last time, tails wagging.  We were home.

The Stats

Trip length: 15 days  Car: 3450 miles (avg. 230/day)   Feet: 57.2 miles (avg. 3.8/day) Gas: $412 (12¢/mile)   Food: $219 ($14.60/day)   Lodging: $562 ($37.46/day) Miscellaneous: $198   Total cost: $1391                                                                Average cost of food and gas had we stayed home for two weeks: $300 Adjusted cost of trip: $1091 or about $73/day

Not too shabby, especially considering all the sights we saw and the adventures we experienced! Memories to last a lifetime.

Camping With Canines: The Legendary Land of Minocqua

20 07 2018

Ever since my niece Becky got married, I have been hearing tales of Minocqua, Wisconsin.  Her husband John spent his formative years there and at every chance has regaled us with stories of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor adventures in this small northern Wisconsin town.  So when we started planning our trip and saw that we would pass very close, we were intrigued. And when we found out that the Becky, John, and their boys would be vacationing in Minocqua at the same time that we were in the area, stopping at Minocqua was a no-brainer.

Minocqua will never have a water shortage.  Everywhere we turned, there was another lake.  And the streets were lined with businesses selling floating docks, boats, and fishing supplies.  My favorite had a sign out front saying, “You complained about the fish puns, so we’ll scale it back a little.”

We camped at Patricia Lake Campground just outside the town.  A whole section of this campground was devoted to folks who stayed all summer.  Wooden porches, landscaping, yard art…it was obvious that these summer residents had been coming back here for many years.  John wasn’t the only one with Minocqua Fever!  But the best part of the campground for us was the fenced-in doggy park where our dogs could run free, sniffing at their leisure and rough-housing with each other off-leash.

John recommended that we spend the evening downtown at Lake Minocqua, watching the Min-Aqua Bats perform their thrice-weekly summer ski show.  So after dinner we gathered up the dogs and headed into town.  Min-Aqua Bats: the perfect name for this amateur group of acrobats on water skis!  These teenagers did not disappoint, performing stunt after amazing stunt.  The boats pulled multiple girls at a time who performed synchronized movements, even forming pyramids as they passed by the viewing stands.

6.27.18 Minocqua Min-Aqua Bats (56)

A group of three guys skied barefoot, but then were overshadowed by one who skied on his backside.

6.27.18 Minocqua Min-Aqua Bats (48)6.27.18 Minocqua Min-Aqua Bats (81)

And then, a skier on a hydrofoil. A chair ski.  And ski jumping, three in a row, one skier pulling the next.  An hour passed with one more astounding trick after another.  Our dogs were the only ones not impressed.

6.27.18 Minocqua Min-Aqua Bats (60)

A hydrofoil ski

6.27.18 Minocqua Min-Aqua Bats (68)

This was the second of three jumpers in a row, each pulling the ones behind!

6.27.18 Minocqua Min-Aqua Bats (73)

The next day was fairly chill.  While waiting for Becky’s gang, we took the dogs for a hike on the Bearskin Trail that follows an old railway bed across Lake Minocqua.  The trail was ripe with enticing smells for our pups and delightful scenery for our human eyes.  A deer slogged through the marsh and a pair of bald eagles flew overhead, but alas, both passed too quickly for my camera.

6.28.18 Minocqua (3)

Later, I went swimming with Becky, John, and the boys at Lake Katherine.  Dogs weren’t allowed, so Brian stayed behind at the campsite, enjoying a quiet afternoon by the lake.  For dinner, we got pizza and then ate s’mores at the campsite.  A solitary loon called across the lake, ending a very relaxing day in Minocqua, Wisconsin.  I’d like s’more, please!

6.28.18 Minocqua Lake Patricia

Sunset on Patricia Lake

Camping with Canines: Super Yoopers by the Shores of Gitche Gumee

13 07 2018

By this time, we had fallen into a routine.  On travel days, we would get up, feed the dogs, take them for a short walk, and put them on a long lead while we broke camp.  In an hour or less, we would be on the road and eating breakfast as we went.  On this day, we followed this procedure to a tee, with the exception being that we left both leads tied to a tree at the campsite.  At least we remembered the dogs.

We had been advised that while in Michigan, we were to eat everything cherry: pies, tarts, cobblers, etc.  Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to do this, although we did pass through some cherry orchards just outside of Traverse City.  The trip to Grand Marais in the Upper Peninsula was uneventful.  Passing over the Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mac-in-awe) with Lake Michigan on one side and Lake Huron on the other was fun.  At five miles, the “Mighty Mac” is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere and connects the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with the Lower Peninsula.  Fun fact: residents of the U.P. are called Yoopers, and those in the Lower Peninsula are called Trolls…because they live under the Bridge!  Isn’t travel broadening?

6.24.18 Mackinaw Bridge, MI

Superior to the left of me, Huron to the right, here I am…

We arrived in Grand Marais, population 350, by early afternoon.  Because our rental house didn’t allow dogs and there were no kennels nearby, we set up camp at Woodland Park Campground.  With dual residences, we were able to enjoy the conveniences of a house while the dogs spent their evenings in the camper with Brian.  And just so we’re clear, I offered to sleep with the dogs, but Brian insisted.  Although the campground was wall-to-wall RVs, it was just blocks away from the house and we were able to snag a campsite overlooking Lake Superior that afforded views of gorgeous sunsets.

6.25.18 Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (15)

A Superior Sunset

Lake Superior lives up to its name.  The largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, 160 miles wide and 1300 feet deep, Superior holds enough water to cover the lower 48 states to a depth of five feet.  And it is cold.  Tristan, used to chilly California beach water, decided to go for a swim but only got up to his ankles before he changed his mind.  Frigid water temps, rapidly changing conditions, and warnings put out by the National Park Service made Deborah and I change our minds about going on a kayak tour!  We contented ourselves with scouring the beaches for interesting rocks.  And there were plenty; the beach by the campground was known as an agate beach, and although we wouldn’t know an agate if it bit us on the toe, we did find plenty of beautiful stones.  Just a few might have found a new home back in Aiken.

6.25.18 agate beach Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (12)

The next day we began our exploration of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Sable Falls was our warm-up hike: only 169 steps down the wooden stairs, then a couple thousand back up.  But the Falls were beautiful, and the smell of the fir trees brought you all the way to Christmas.

6.25.18 Pictured Rock Sable Falls (3)

From there we stopped at the Log Slide Overlook. Lumbermen in the late 1800s/early 1900s would cut trees during the winter months, sledding them along roads of ice created by water wagons to the edge of the dune before sending them down chutes some 300 feet into Lake Superior for transport to the mills.  Human ingenuity at its coldest!

6.25.18 Log Slide Pictured Rock (38)

Next up, a hike to the Au Sable Light Station.  As with many places in Pictured Rocks, dogs were not allowed on this trail, so our only entertainment on this three-mile round trip was a ‘tween named Tristan and a couple hundred biting flies. Views of three shipwrecks were promised by trail signs.  We saw none.  And we arrived at the light station only to find out that there were no tours that day.  Guess we should have done our homework.  This hike did give Brian, Deborah and the dogs a chance to nap in their cars as they waited for John, Tristan, and me to return.

After a picnic lunch at Kingston Lake, where we again battled biting flies, we headed for Munising Falls, the town on the western side of Pictured Rocks where we had tickets for a boat cruise.  Since the best way to see the cliffs at Pictured Rocks was from the water and this cruise had free kennels, this was a no-brainer.  However, the kennels turned out to be just a room lined with large dog crates.  Shoving our confused and anxious mutts into a crate and locking them in left lumps in our throats that didn’t disappear until we were able to free them three hours later and shower them with hugs and doggy biscuits.  I consoled myself with the knowledge that had we left them back at home, they would have been kenneled for much longer.

Still and all, the cruise was wonderful, in a gorgeous-scenery-at-the-cost-of-stressed-canines sort of way.  Called Pictured Rocks for the colorful cliffs streaked with mineral stains, the geology of this area defies my comprehension: layers of sandstone from late-Precambrian, Cambrian, and Ordovician periods hundreds of millions of years old.  I should have paid more attention in my college geology class.  Much easier to understand were the stains left by dripping water that contained iron, manganese, limonite, and copper. The artwork of Mother Nature is beyond compare!

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recognized the wonder of this place, writing in his poem, The Song of Hiawatha:

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Westward by the Big-Sea-Water,
Came unto the rocky headlands,
To the Pictured Rocks of sandstone,
Looking over lake and landscape.

Dinner was whitefish sandwiches served out of a food truck called the Fish Basket, followed by an after-dinner hike to the Miners’ Castle formation that we had seen from the water.  Add to that a winding hour-long drive back home and we were more than ready to go to bed.

After the frenetic activity of yesterday, our next-and-last day in Grand Marais was spent in relative sloth.  We went on a walking tour of the town, admiring the Pickle Barrel House, touring the old Post Office, and stopping at an artists’ co-op for handmade gifts to take home.  While there, I mentioned to the cashier that it looked like another beautiful day, to which she replied, “Yes, it’s supposed to get all the way up to 66° today!”  She also mentioned that she had a couple of bears in her backyard last night, which partially explains why dogs were not allowed on many of the trails.

6.26.18 Pickle House

Every town needs one of these!

One advantage to taking dogs on your travels is that they provide a starting point for conversations with locals.  As we crossed the street, a woman stopped us to admire our cute pups.  Of course, we think our dogs are special, but it always surprises us when others think so too.  They are, after all, just your run-of-the-mill mixed breed mutts.

6.25.18 Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (22)

At the Point in Grand Marais: one of the few times our run-of-the-mill pups were able to run free.

But this woman loved dogs and soon we were engaged in a conversation about life in this neck of the woods.  A life-long resident, she extolled the virtues of raising a family here, pointing out the K-12 school now serving 26 students.  (I’ll admit, the summers are indeed beautiful, but I’m not ready to give up our warm Southern winters.  As I mentioned more than once on our travels through the northern states, you don’t have to shovel heat.)

Having exhausted our knowledge of interesting places to see nearby, we asked for suggestions.  Our local dog-loving resident recommended Muskallonge State Park just east of Grand Marais, so that’s where we headed.  We soon found that the 20-mile drive was made much more interesting by the gravel-covered corduroy road that simultaneously provided us with a deep body massage while coating us in a fine white powder.  And while the State Park was nice enough, what was even better was the beach on Lake Superior just across the road.  We had the beach practically to ourselves, and the dogs were able to run off leash while I busied myself searching for more beautiful stones and building useless structures out of driftwood.

6.26.18 Grand Marais near Pictured Rock (24)6.26.18 Grand Marais near Pictured Rock (29)

And to make the afternoon even more perfect, on the way back we saw a heron-like bird with a red crown on its head stepping through a marsh—a sandhill crane!

6.26.18 sandhill crane near Pictured Rock (37)

So, thanks to a uber-friendly Yooper, we had another (dare I say it?) super-duper day by the shores of Gitche Gumee, by this shining Big-Sea-Water, this lake they call Superior.  Tomorrow would bring us to the legendary land of Minocqua, Wisconsin, but tonight we slept the deep sleep of relaxed and  contented sojourners.

Camping With Canines: Dunes and Dogs

11 07 2018

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was the first of our two major destinations on this trip.  I don’t feel sorry for Michigan residents living so far from the ocean.  According to World Book Encyclopedia (v.13, p.500 of the 2000 edition) Michigan has 3,288 miles of shoreline, “more than any other state except Alaska.” And by the end of the day, I felt like I had walked at least half of that (although my cell phone only registered a little over six miles).

Excavated by glaciers thousands of years ago, Lake Michigan forms the western border of Michigan.  Winds across the lake have deposited massive sand dunes, making this the world’s largest freshwater dune system. Nowhere is this more evident than at Sleeping Bear Dunes, where rolling dunes cover the landscape with one dune towering some 450 feet above the lake.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (13)And the name? Native Americans tell of a time of hunger when a bear and her two cubs tried to swim across the lake in search of food.  Close to shore but too exhausted to continue, each cub in turn sank into the water, becoming the North and South Manitou Islands.  The mother bear was able to wade onshore and climbed onto a high bluff.  She lay down looking out over the water where her cubs had died, heart-broken, where she resides today in the form of a slowly shifting sand dune.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (19)

The Sleeping Bear, seen on the top right, was a landmark used by Indians navigating these waters.

Time to explore!  We traveled with Deborah, John, Tristan, and dogs to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear.  Stops along this loop led to a number of vistas and hikes, but the most memorable for me was the Cottonwood Trail.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (9) Only 1.5 miles in length, it was listed as “strenuous,” and it lived up to this description.  Our dogs pulled us eagerly through the trail which wound through the dunes, up and around, and then to the top of the Dune Climb.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes dune climb

At the top of the Dune Climb

Looking down on the Dune Climb, we saw sand, sand, and more sand, with the bottom hidden by a small plateau of… sand.  Hundreds of people-shaped ants were crawling up the dunes and then racing back down.  With a wild gleam in our eyes, eleven-year-old Tristan and I took off down the dunes barefoot.  The thick sand cushioned our long strides as we barreled down the steep slope.  It was as close to flying as I have ever experienced!

Once at the bottom, we caught our breath and looked up.   The top of the dune was not visible; the sand disappeared into the sky.  When I asked Tristan if he was ready to go back up, he looked at me in confusion: “Aren’t they gonna come pick us up?”  We had ample opportunity on the long climb up to discuss the topic, “Cost and Consequences of Actions.”

Back in the car, we headed to Glenn Haven, a ghost town with an old fruit cannery-now-boat-museum, general store, and blacksmith shop.  Of most interest at this stop were, in order of preference, the restrooms, the picnic area, and the beach.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (20)

We only had energy for one more stop on this Scenic Drive: the Maritime Museum.  Dogs were not allowed on the grounds, so Brian hung out in the parking lot with them while I went through the museum.

6.23.18 Sleeping Bear Dunes (1)

Pip, with her Yoda ears and her tongue sticking out, lets her thoughts be known at being banned from the premises.

Starting at the turn of the 20th century, a life-saving station had been housed here.  The Manitou Passage, the channel between the Manitou Islands and the mainland, was a heavily-used shortcut for shipping between Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac but contained dangerous shoals.  Shipwrecks were frequent.  For eight months out of the year, seven surfmen drilled constantly to hone their rescue skills, saving thousands of lives in this time before radar, radios, and helicopters.  It’s hard to imagine the toil and danger these men put themselves through, all for less than $1 a day.

I thought about this as I licked my $4 ice cream cone back in Glenn Arbor.

Camping With Canines: Of Leaks and Lakes

6 07 2018

We headed out early from Clifty Falls on our way to Fruitport, Michigan, where my cousin Susan lives.  The sky was a lead blanket of clouds with a forecast of 100% chance of rain, but we hoped to outrun it.  No such luck.  We soon were engulfed in rain that ranged from light showers to torrential downpours for seven of our eight hours of travel.

There was one bright spot.  In North Vernon, Indiana, we stopped for a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s.  The place was buzzing with farmers, and they all seemed to know each other.  Conversation skittered across the room: “I see you got your crop in yesterday before the rain hit.” “Yup, got lucky.”

As I stood in line, a farmer came up behind me and tapped my shoulder.  “Do you know what kind of horse this is?” he asked, displaying a 25-cent coin showing a patriot riding a horse.  My mind raced through my short list of horse breeds.  Couldn’t be thoroughbred. Standardbred? No.  “Quarterhorse?” I guessed.

“Dang, you stole my joke!” he replied, as I slowly realized that it was a joke.  Guess I really needed that coffee!

The guy then pointed to the fellow behind him. “Hey, you know why this guy drove way over here to get a cup of coffee?  It’s 10 cents cheaper here!”  To which the farmer behind him said, “No, it’s 5 cents cheaper!”

Back on the Interstate, our world became white as visibility shrank with the rain.  To make matters worse, the road was paved in cement slabs, and the interaction between our car and the camper had us bucking down the highway.  Today was June 21, the summer solstice, and I can attest that it was indeed the longest day of the year!

By the time we reached my cousin’s house just outside of Muskegon, Michigan, the rain had finally stopped.  Susan wasn’t home from work yet, and never having been there, we hoped that this was indeed her house.  We set up the camper. Ugghhh. Our camper leaked.  Puddles of water were all over the inside and our pillows and cushions were soaking wet.  Susan graciously threw what she could in her dryer, and we had enough dry cushions that we were able to cobble together sleeping space.

Susan fed us a lovely pasta salad dinner and then took us to nearby Hoffmaster State Park on Lake Michigan to walk the dogs.  Shae and Pip were ecstatic to be off-leash, and enjoyed cavorting on the path through the woods with Susan’s dog.  The sun was almost setting by the time we reached the lake, and the dogs splashed and raced up and down the narrow beach.  Heading back, we took a wrong turn, such that we were treated to night sounds as we hiked though the darkening forest.  My phone clocked us at 4.9 miles.  Not bad for a travel day.  And to make our perfect evening even better, we stopped at the Whippi-Dip for ice cream cones!

After a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes and scrambled eggs, Susan took us for a quick tour of Muskegon. In the latter half of the 19th century lumber baron Charles Hackley made a fortune here and then donated a good portion of it to the town.  Hackley’s influence still infiltrates Muskegon with the intricate architecture of the Hackley and Hume (his partner) houses, the city park lined with statues of Union generals, and the library with a carved sandstone entry way, mosaic foyer, and stained glass windows depicting famous literary icons.

We left Muskegon around noon and traveled toward our next destination, Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  We pulled into our home-away-from-home later that afternoon, a quirky place named Empire Township Campground, with one flush toilet for the entire campground, numerous vault (pit) toilets, and showers where for 50 cents you could bathe for three minutes.

Deborah and John McMurtrie had driven up from Kalamazoo with their grandson Tristan the day before and met us at the campground to make plans for the next day.  After dinner, we headed with them to the small tourist village of Glen Arbor, where we strolled down to say hello to Lake Michigan and then through the town, stopping at a rock shop to admire Petoskey stones, the state stone of Michigan containing fossilized coral from the Devonian era.  From then on, we scoured the beaches for this sought-after stone, but to no avail.

6.22.18 Petoskey stones

We were tired by the time our heads hit the pillows.  I invited Pip to sleep on her mat at the end of my bed, but she was not satisfied, and throughout the night she kept inching her way up toward my head when I would push her back and the process would begin anew.  Shae, on the other hand, was content to sleep on her mat on the floor until around 6:00 when she would jump up on Brian’s bed and hunker down until we finally stirred about 30 minutes later.  Sleeping with dogs is a contradiction in terms.

Camping With Canines…and Cousins!

5 07 2018

One thing we quickly learned about traveling with canines: the driving time indicated by your GPS is never ever on target.  What should have been a four hour drive from Franklin, TN to Clifty Falls State Park in Indiana turned into about 7 ½ hours with our frequent dog-breaks.  Still and all, we arrived at the campground in plenty of time to set up the camper, walk the dogs, and go to dinner at Harry’s Stone Grill where my cousins’ reunion would commence.  Well, at least one of us got to go to dinner.  That’s the other thing about taking your dogs on vacation:  someone always has to stay with them.  Sure, we could have left them in the camper (leaving them tied up outside is frowned upon by campground hosts), but we didn’t trust the dogs to maintain the camper in the manner to which we are accustomed so that wasn’t really an option.  And since these were my cousins that Brian didn’t really know, guess who stayed behind?  I did bring him back a nice slice of cheesecake, though.

6.18.18 Clifty Falls, IN cousins reuniona

Missing Brian (with dogs) and Alice (photographer).  The “Freethinkers of Madison” sign behind us was for another group!

This was a relatively (ha, pun!) small reunion.  There were only ten of us: five cousins and their spouses.  My brother Dan and his wife Susan came, heading out early for a lengthy trip to the Northwest.  Then there were my cousins from my mother’s side whom I had not seen outside Facebook since our last reunion 12 years ago: Sara Lippett McInery and husband Bob, Alice Ragan Fowell and husband John, and the reunion organizer Beth Ragan Minski and husband Jack.  Three of the couples stayed in nearby hotels, but the McInerys and ourselves were at the campground, which made a comfortable meeting place.

Clifty Falls State Park, near Madison, Indiana just over the border from Kentucky, is a beautiful and interesting area. Millions of years ago, a glacier gouged out a gorge and the Clifty Creek continues to carve out the canyon and several waterfalls that spill over the limestone layers.  In the 1850s, John Brough began a railroad tunnel through this area but the project was abandoned when funding ran out.  Brough’s Folly became Brough’s Tunnel, a 600-foot tunnel easily accessed by one of the numerous foot trails through the gorge.  Residents of South Carolina will remember a similar story behind Stumphouse Tunnel in upstate S.C.  The cool air of Brough’s Tunnel was welcome relief to the summer heat and humidity as we hiked with our dogs. A sign outside the tunnel’s entrance urged explorers to follow the national decontamination protocol for the white nose syndrome that is decimating bat populations. Unfortunately, the sign did not explain what the protocol was.  Having visited Mammoth Cave last year, we were familiar with this issue, but I doubt many others were.  Sorry, bats!

6.19.18 Clifty Falls, INa

Brian and the dogs explore Brough’s Tunnel

The reunion continued with a low-key dinner at the campsite with everybody contributing: brats, corn on the cob, fresh salad, S.C. peaches, and of course s’mores.  Conversations around the campfire reinforced family ties as I reconnected with my Mainland cousins. Sara regaled us with stories of her travels around the world and told family stories gleaned from her genealogy work.  My cousin, whose given name is Mary Elizabeth, grew up as Betsy, and now goes by Beth, added her own stories to the mix in her quiet tone, while her sister Alice thrust wholesome snacks and goodies upon us and joined in the stories and laughter.


6.19.18 Mainland Cousins Reunion (16)

The Formal Photo: Brian with Pip and Shae, Alice, Susan, Beth, Sara, Beth, Dan, John, Bob, and Jack

The next day we continued our time together as we explored the small town of Madison, spread out along the Ohio River and looking like it was stuck in a 1950s time warp. We all met for lunch at a café; this time Brian and I tag-teamed sitting with the dogs across the street in the shade outside the courthouse. Afterwards, we meandered down to the river and watched tugboats pushing incredibly laden barges move up and down the wide channel.

6.20.18 Cousins reuniona

Downtown Madison, In.: And to think that we sniffed it on Mulberry St. …

I would have liked to have spent more time here, both with the cousins as well as seeing the sights of Madison, but we were headed onward and upward toward Michigan the next day, so it was off to sleep in the air-conditioned comfort of our camper.  I think it was this night that I took pity of poor Pip and invited her to sleep at the foot of my bed rather than on the floor where she was blasted with cold air.  I use the word “sleep” generously, as not much was done by me that night.  More on sleeping with dogs later…