Aug 12, 2019 – At Death’s Door

The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to return soup at a deli.”

Balancing the tripod and camera on my shoulder, I carefully climbed along Lake Michigan’s steep and rugged shoreline searching for a rock ledge flat and wide enough to set up for a sunrise over the great lake. A continual onslaught of powerful waves violently crashed against the vertical expanse of rock several feet below me. Frequently, the water impact resulted in a tall fountain of spray that kept the rock surface wet where I knelt behind the tripod. As soon as I set up to shoot, kinetic energy released from a rogue wave brought a torrential splash over the ledge. My reflexes worked well to move the camera back fast enough to avoid drenching the electronics. This was the lake I wanted to photograph more than anything and it was not making it easy.

Tripod legs extended well below the comforts of my ledge.
Another day at the beach in Door County.

The day before, we drove over 300 miles from the northwest corner of Illinois to Baileys Grove Campground in Baileys Harbor, Door County. Door County comprises the upper region of Green Bay Peninsula that is surrounded by Green Bay on the west side and Lake Michigan on the east side. One year prior, we stayed in Michigan where I photographed from its eastern shoreline. This time on the Wisconsin side, if I could throw a rock far enough across the lake, it would have landed in almost the same spot where I photographed a year ago from a sandy beach.

These trees survive brutal conditions along Lake Michigan’s rocky ledges. Horizontal roots for strength, perhaps?

Much of Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline within the state of Michigan is characterized by miles of gentle sand dunes that are created by the prevailing westerly winds. In stark contrast, Wisconsin’s western shoreline is characterized by tall rocky bluffs and rugged cliffs. It is the western portion of the Niagara Escarpment which is most prominent in Green Bay Peninsula. The escarpment rises from the shores of Lake Michigan and drops sharply into Green Bay. On a ledge, the peninsula benefits from the constant air movement from the surrounding waters which helps maintain moderate temperatures in the summer. Indeed, during our week-long stay in August, we enjoyed temperatures that never fell out of the 60 to 75 degree range. The warmer air also provides a longer growing season, perfect for the vineyards and vegetable farms, which we also enjoyed.

A wedding photographer prepares for work in Ephraim overlooking the harbor on Green Bay.

The challenging Lake Michigan shoreline cannot be described without mentioning how Door County got its name. Directly above the top of Door County lays Washington Island. Separating the island from the peninsula is a mere 7 miles of important navigational passage that connects Lake Michigan to Green Bay. Appropriately referred to as “Death’s Door”, it is littered with shipwrecks. In 1881, the dangers of this formidable, yet important shipping route led to the construction of a by-pass canal that cuts through the peninsula about 40 miles south of the point.

Ephraim Moravian Church, on the National Registry of Historic Places continues to hold service.

Door County has a rich Native American and European/French Canadian settlers’ history, but what caught our attention (thanks to the Ephraim Historical Foundation) was the charming bayside community of Ephraim. A few weeks earlier, we were introduced to the intriguing history of Moravian immigrants that settled in Winston-Salem, NC. While the southern community originated from Germany, Ephraim was founded in 1853 by a group of Norwegian Moravians led by the Reverend Andreas Iverson. On the shores of Green Bay, Ephraim soon became a busy shipping point as well as a tourist attraction. By the end of the 1800s, Ephraim’s main source of income was through tourism as hotels and businesses as well as the sale of summer homes attracted summer vacationers.

The Goodletson cabin stands along side the Prairie Schoolhouse.
The Goodletson’s kitchen.
Common sense taught at the Pioneer Schoolhouse.
Photobombing Kjesten and Thomas Goodletson with rabbit ears.

The Ephraim Historical Foundation has a wonderful walking tour of museums that can be visited within a day. It includes The Iverson House (the oldest framed house in Door County) and the Goodletson cabin which has an interesting history. The Goodletson home was built on Eagle (Now Horseshoe) Island in 1855 but in 1860, the family decided to move to Ephraim. Life was much more difficult back then compared to now, and consequently, people must have put a fair amount of time and energy into figuring out how to make life easier and affordable. Which got me asking the question, if you were living on an island and wanted to move to the mainland several miles away, which would be the most viable solution – wait until winter and drag the cabin across the ice or sail over to the mainland during summer and build a new cabin? Be it for the cost or the work involved in cabin building, the Goodletson family figured out that dragging their home across ice was the best solution. After setting it up in Ephraim, it remained in place for over a hundred years. Now, the original cabin can be visited on Moravia Street, next to the Pioneer Schoolhouse Museum.

The Ephraim Moravian Church welcomes everyone with open arms, according to Rev. Dawn E. Volpe, whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our visit inside the church.

When visiting a new place, some things must be experienced and quite often that experience involves food. Vivian and I tend to reserve our measly restaurant budget for exceptional places that represent a location’s unique culture. This time, it was the infamous Fish Boil which is much more than a meal – it is a show. Locals warned us to plan ahead and make our reservations several days in advance, so we reserved a spot at the White Gull Inn five days prior.

Yes, but you better have reservations!
Patiently awaiting the fish to boil.
The fish boil finale. To really appreciate this, you have to see the video.

We can thank the Scandinavian immigrants for fish boil. Back in the day, it was an economical way to feed large groups of fishermen and lumberjack. Today, the fish boil is more than just a meal, it’s a spectacle. You are asked to arrive 30 minutes prior to being served so that you can experience the show of cooking the meal. It goes something like this. You and about 30 others stand around a large black kettle hanging over a fire behind the restaurant waiting for the water to boil. As soon as the water begins to boil, the fish boiler lowers wire baskets filled with potatoes into the water. Shortly after that, small cuts of whitefish are added. The only seasoning is salt and for every 3 gallons of water, there is a pound of salt in the boiling water. After about 10 minutes, the oils boil to the top. At that moment, the short-lived spectacle begins as the fish boiler pours kerosene onto the fire. With huge flames engulfing the kettle, water quickly boils over leaving behind the salted and cooked potatoes and fish. The fish chunks remain firm and believe it or not, they are tasty. It’s an all-you-can-eat meal topped with homemade cherry pie. Classic Door County cuisine.

Ready for cherry pie!

Aside from the fish boil, small town charm, farmers markets and history museums, Door County has a variety of wilderness areas to explore – coastal wetlands, forests, meadows and rock ridges. Consequently, we filled our time with hiking and kayaking. Although the temperatures were ideal for outdoor activities, unusual northeasterly winds made the original idea of kayaking along the cliffs of Lake Michigan less appealing. Instead, we opted to take our inflatable kayak up to the Mink River, protected waters off Rowley Bay. A calm and casual day of paddling through a marshy area made us feel like we were back in Florida. Only a few hours earlier, I was standing on a precarious rock ledge trying to protect myself from the cold wet spray of great lake water. Tomorrow, we would hike through maple and birch forests in search of wild turkeys and a lone white pine. Door County packs it all in during the summer months.

Vivian getting our inflatable ready for a paddle on Mink River.
Are we in Florida? Marshes intermingle with rocky coastlines in Door County.

As with the driftless area of Iowa, we did not want to leave Door County. As time goes on, we look back on the places we have visited and a few of them, like Door County have left deep impressions on us. I will always remember Door County for the peacefulness we experienced through its charming coastal towns, small farms, lack of noise (no trains!), lack of traffic (driving miles on a back road without seeing another vehicle), and near perfect weather conditions. In our short time, Door County was on its best behavior.

A cave found along a rocky trail in Peninsula State Park.

On the final morning of our visit, I walked back to the Cave Point parking lot after two hours of negotiating water spray and rocky ledges to photograph Door County’s “most iconic natural landscape” one last time. For the past week, it was only during my photo shoots at Cave Point that I felt the discomforts of cold wetness that reminded me of the harsh winters that come soon after the fair-weather tourists leave. I wondered if we would ever see this place in the winter. On second thought, I prefer my current impression of Door County to last a very long time.

Lake Michigan was calm that morning.

RV Traveling Issues and Tips

Specific to Wisconsin, prepare to pay for a yearly state park pass. We made reservations at Harrington Beach State Park near Milwaukee and paid for it online. Upon arrival, we learned that out-of-state visitors must pay a daily park fee of $11 ($44 for our 4-day camping stay). So, we opted to buy the yearly pass with the intention of staying at another state park. The take-home message here is, research each state and budget accordingly, and not only for camping at state parks but for day visits as well.

We enjoyed hiking on the many trails in Peninsula State Park located on Green Bay Peninsula.

August 9, 2019 – Driftless in Iowa

The view from Mississippi Palisades State Park on the Illinois side. As you look over the expanse of river, the trains sounds interrupt the silence frequently, a continuous reminder that the Mississippi River is a dutiful servant to commerce.

We drove north on Illinois’ scenic state road 84 along the eastern edge of the upper Mississippi River where we arrived at our home base for four days, Mississippi Palisades State Park. It was our introduction to the driftless area. When I think of the Mississippi River, I have visions of low country deltas. The area here is nothing like that with its rock cliffs standing 1000 feet above the river. When I did learn about the driftless area, it became clear that the upper Mississippi River is a completely different one from its southern counterpart.

Mississippi Palisades State Park is the largest one I have ever been in. Sites were spread out far and wide, for both RVs and tents. Our remote site was a short walk to a trailhead but a very long walk to a trash can or bathrooms.
Another view of the Mississippi River, this time from the Iowan side from a lookout point in Pikes Peak State Park. Minutes earlier, everything you see here was totally shrouded in fog (photo below), with the sun barely peeking through.
On the lookout point that overlooks the Mississippi River. From Pikes Peak State Park.

The driftless area is a geologically unique territory represented by Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota and if not for Vivian’s fly fishing research, we would never have known it exists. How the driftless came to be has to do with the absence of glaciers. Glaciers are known to flatten things and when they retreat, they leave behind drift (clay, gravel, silt). Because this area escaped the leveling effects of glaciers during the last ice age, its landscape is characterized by ridges, deep river valleys, spring-fed waterfalls, caves and cold-water trout streams. Without drift. This unassumingly beautiful area is like a combination of Florida and New England. It is similar to Florida because of its karst geology comprised of soluble rock (i.e., limestone) and for its underground drainage system of sinkholes and caves. But the large cliffs, ravines and forested areas are more akin to New England. There are very few lakes in these parts, but the upper Mississippi River passes right through it. And it is fly fishing’s best kept secret.

Downtown Galena, where much of its historic district can be seen.
Operating since 1937.
The Galena History Museum is well worth the time (about an hour). Here, you’ll learn much about Ulysses S Grant (and will see a pair of his military boots on display) who lived in Galena for several years. You’ll also see this card describing Susan B Anthony’s two visits to Galena. Have times changed?

Even better, the driftless contains one of the top ten charming small towns in America, according to TripAdvisor. What’s not to love when you put charm and small town together? Consequently, we spent a day walking the downtown streets of historic Galena. The town is named for the main ore in lead which formed the basis of the region’s early mining economy. Although native Americans had been mining this area for over a thousand years, European settlers turned it into the first major mineral rush in America. By 1828, Galena was the largest city in Illinois. By the beginning of the 21st century, lead demand had declined dramatically, and Galena became a rural farming community. Later, Galena was listed on the National Register of Historic Places with 85% of its structures within the historic district.

A sweeping view of the driftless landscape, seen from Horseshoe Mound Preserve, just before you drive into Galena.

We left the eastern banks of the Mississippi to go north, but a couple weeks later came back down to the driftless, this time to a small town in northeast Iowa. If Galena is the flamboyant city-wannabe country girl, Elkader is Galena’s hardworking but quirky never-leave-the-farm sister.

Our Elkader home, at Deer Run RV Resort. What a view!
We passed this grain mill every day when we walked to downtown Elkader.

Elkader is unassuming in all its qualities (except for the gigantic grain mill that hovers over the downtown area) and full of delightful surprises. I so enjoyed walking the empty streets of the tiny town one early Saturday morning as the sun rose above the hills overlooking main street. While walking down the main street sidewalks, the smell of baking bread from Pedretti’s bakery, the one-room city hall building, the movie theatre, the lack of traffic and other reminders of smalltown life made me want to live there. Our home on wheels was parked less than one mile away, so in reality we were living there.

Saturday morning on main street in Elkader.
The historic Keystone Bridge that crosses Turkey River. “The longest, double arch, stone bridge west of the Mississippi”, constructed in 1889.
Hard at work in Pedretti’s bakery on main street.
Elkader was named after Abd el-Kader, an Algerian hero who led his people in a resistance to French colonialism. Schera’s, an authentic Algerian restaurant is owned by a native Iowan of French-Algerian descent. The restaurant has been featured on NPR and the BBC.
What more is needed than one room for Elkader’s city hall, adjacent to the Opera House.
Main street in the evening after leaving Deb’s Brewtopia.
8 pm and its 69 degrees. The daily temperatures were pleasant and evenings were perfectly coolish.

During our 10 days at the Deer Run RV Resort on the outskirts of town, we experienced Elkader’s wonderfulness; pumping then paying at the gas station, buying fresh eggs, vegetables and homemade pastries from local women, tasting various brews at Deb’s Brewtopia where Deb grows her own hops in the backyard, crossing the historic Keystone bridge many times, perusing the 3-story Turkey River Mall antique store, and enjoying a pleasant dinner at Elkader’s only gay-owned Algerian restaurant, Schera’s. All this while a river runs through it.

Why we came, to fish and photograph.

We took in the town of Elkader as often as we could, but only in between our driftless area explorations, which was why we were there in the first place. Vivian researched the numerous trout streams and had her heart set on practicing her new flyfishing skills in as many of them as possible. I tagged along looking to photograph the uniqueness of the driftless area. When we explain to people that we spent time in Iowa (and not just to drive through it!) while enjoying every minute of it, they were perplexed. We tell them, the driftless area of Iowa is very different from the rest of the state. And it has some impressive places to see, such as Pikes Peak State Park where the bluffs reach their maximum height of over 1000 feet or the unique Effigy Mounds. Rolling farmland goes on for miles, interrupted by country roads with minimal traffic and farms with barns and silos. The tariffs were in full force when we were there, so we talked about that with the campground owner, Doris. The locals, mostly farmers seem to take it all in stride; the recent floods, the current drought, lack of sales to China, and so on. What else can you do?

This particular area is referred to as Bloody Run, not sure why and not sure I want to know. It turned out to be the most picturesque of all the streams we visited.
Water levels were very low.
Rocky ledges run along much of the creeks we visited.

Almost every day, we got out before first light and drove to a remote trout stream where Vivian could fish. Water levels were extremely low, which seemed strange given the severe flooding four months earlier. The waterfall at Pikes Peak was nothing more than a trickle. But I photographed water whenever I could. The enchanting farmland kept calling me and I really wanted to capture it under the right conditions.

What a fantastic morning on the lookout point.

On the last morning of our stay, I sat inside the RV drinking coffee with darkness outside. I rolled the window shade up and peered out. Through the darkness, I could see heavy fog. Opportunity finally arrived. I quickly gathered up the camera and equipment, got dressed and drove off into the dark abyss to a lookout point I had discovered earlier. Conveniently, it was only 2 miles away, so that by the time I arrived the sun had yet to peer over the horizon.

I could not get enough of this scene.

What a glorious site that unfolded before me. For miles, I could see green undulating hills veiled in long folds of fog waving across the land like flowing scarves. The sky awakened in color as the sun appeared and the illuminated fog kept a fluidity that created an ever-changing view. Facing the sun, I worked the scene only to get more excited when I turned around and saw an equally beautiful front lit view. For well over an hour, I ran back and forth between my designated spots and captured the morning as it brightened the sweeping farmland. I got what I came for and not a day too soon.

I dreamed of capturing a scene like this one, finally it came true.

We left Iowa on Labor Day to head south with anticipation for what was to come. As is always the case when RV traveling, some places try to pull us back as we leave them for the next adventure that pulls us forward even stronger. But that is the beauty of RV life, we can come back.

Steps leading up to one of the caves we discovered hiking around the driftless. As I got closer to the opening, the air temperature dropped by at least 15-degree.
Bridal Veil Falls at Pike Peak State Park was only a trickle in late August. But it was a beautiful trail leading to it.

RV Traveling Issues and Tips

We pull a fifth wheel, therefore we drive a big diesel truck which requires maintenance now and then. If you are traveling extensively, you must plan for some maintenance. In our case, the F350 Ford needs an oil change every 5000 miles or so, filters need replacing, tires need rotating, etc. We keep a record of these things and can anticipate when and where we will need to visit a Ford dealer. Fortunately, Ford dealers are just about everywhere. The point it, when planning your trip, account for the maintenance schedule and be sure you have access to service wherever you plan to be. Not only that, consider that you will probably have to devote at least a half day to get these things done.

Jul 18, 2019 – Post-Industrial Tourists

Our 183-mile route from Gettysburg to Keystone State Park.
Our 109-mile route from Keystone State Park to Mill Creek Army Corp campground on Berlin Lake, Ohio.

Following Gettysburg, we headed west into the heart of America’s rust belt. And of all the places we could see, we wanted to visit Pittsburgh and Cleveland. As we planned our trip, we told many people this fact and their curt response, “Why?” along with their looks of dismay are still burned into my conscious. Visiting Cleveland was excusable – but Pittsburgh? As we drove west on I-76, certainly there must have been more to see than these two cities made from steel and oil.

Once a retreat for the Kauffman family of Pittsburgh, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwaters was the perfect diversion from the city.

I suppose I could focus on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater where we spent a morning after a short drive from our campground. I could talk about the history we learned about Wright’s most famous and arguably his most beautiful piece of work within an exquisite wilderness area. I could also talk about Ohio’s only National Park, Cuyahoga Valley that is adjacent to Cleveland. We spent a morning exploring its grand waterfalls and walking through lovely marshes. I could talk about the peaceful lakeside campsites that we enjoyed coming home to each afternoon. Instead, let me take you on a post-industrial tour.

Three Rivers Park in Pittsburgh from which you have a full view of the great rivers.

Pittsburgh is a river city having been built at the confluence of not two, but three rivers – Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. Consequently, it became an industrial city following the American Revolution. And it was the starting point of the Lewis and Clark expedition which was one of the draws for us. Later, it became a major steel producing city, accounting for almost half of the national steel output in the early 1900s. Production sky rocketed during WWII and as a result, Pittsburgh suffered the highest levels of air pollution after almost 100 years of industry, described once as “hell with the lid off”.

Across the Allegheny is the Andy Warhol Bridge. Not far down is the Rachel Carson Bridge. On the other side is the Andy Warhol Museum and the PNC Park stadium. You could easily spend a couple days in Pittsburgh and never get bored.

Finally, Pittsburgh initiated a “Renaissance” to help clean up its air and rivers. By the 1980s, the steel and electronic industries crumbled with massive layoffs from mill and plant closures. Later, the economic base, like in so many other post-industrial cities shifted toward healthcare, technology and tourism. The success of the revitalized city and the remnants of industrial days long past were both quite evident as we walked the many downtown streets, including the bustling Market Square. We enjoy visiting cities that include art and culture as part of their draw and Pittsburgh drew us in. As with Winston-Salem that had the Hanes family, Pittsburgh has Heinz, as in ketchup. It also has Andy Warhol and Mr. Rogers. Where else can you see a bridge dedicated to America’s quirky artist near a baseball stadium, a history museum with a display dedicated to pre-school children’s favorite neighbor and a beautiful outdoor park at the point where three major rivers join.

Well worth the time to visit the History Center that is chock full of exhibits.
What more do you need in Pittsburgh?
The Heinz History Center has a wonderful tribute to Pittsburgh’s favorite son, Mr Rogers.
The 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing was celebrated with a film on the day we visited the Heinz Center.

Up next, Ohio (try to contain the excitement). I had a good reason to spend a few nights in Ohio and I have very fond memories to blame for that. One of my favorite ways to spend money as a teenager and young adult in the 70s was buying record albums. And I enjoyed looking at the album covers just as much as I enjoyed listening to the music, for which I spent thousands of hours from the time I bought my first record to the very last (mind boggling to think how productive I might have been otherwise!).

Feelings of nostalgia convinced me to visit Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and drag Vivian along with me (and now I am going to drag you along too!). She doesn’t share the same warm and fuzzy feelings I have for rock and roll, but the museum has enough for everyone, and I was certain she would enjoy parts of it. She did like being inside Johnny Cash’s old tour bus and I believe it is the only thing she remembers from our visit, probably because it had more to do with RVing than rock & rolling.

This was a bonus, a Woodstock exhibit featuring some photos by famed Woodstock photographer, Jim Marshall.
Jim Marshall’s photographs of Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, two iconic women among a sea of male-dominated music.
I want one of these dolls! I loved Patti Smith back in the day, and really liked Gilda Radner’s impression of her on SNL!
Right next to my Yes albums was Neil Young’s Harvest album.
Had to see the glove.
Johnny and June-Carter Cash’s home on the road.

My entire impression of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can be summed up as follows – it was like the experience of listening to a new album for the first time. Lots of anticipation, really digging the first and second songs and then the excitement dwindles with each subsequent song. Yep, expectations kind of went to the wayside as I worked my way through the crowded dark hallways, one exhibit after another.

The best for last, my all-time favorite artist and musician, David Bowie.

But I am glad I went. My eclectic taste in music was represented well at the Hall of Fame. It reminded me of a couple things, like how I loved looking through albums at a record store. It also reminded me of spending time perusing my 6-ft long album collection. Even better was when someone else went through my records as rock and roll was always a great conversation starter. I would eagerly wait to see which albums they pulled out and ask me if we could listen to one. Within the RR Hall of Fame, it was interesting to see some displays crowded with several people, while other displays got passed over quickly by most. But it was a nostalgic feast and besides, where else are you going to see a fan of Black Sabbath standing next to a fan of Madonna for all the same reasons.

A home with a view at Keystone State Park, our respite from the city.

Visiting cities have been a happy part of our RV travels, even if their sordid pasts include a burning polluted river. As I write this, COVID has already affected the entire world. In our little world, it caused us to make changes to our 2020 travels, including avoiding cities. As I reminiscence about Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I am so glad that we spent a little time in each as we wonder when we will visit another American city in the future.

RV Issues and Travel Tips.

Tip 1: Cost of going to the city and nearby attractions does not have to be expensive. We visited both cities for under $100 (not including cost of diesel). In Pittsburgh we visited the Heinz History Center, Fort Pitt Museum, and Market Square area. We spent a total of $23, $7 for parking, $16 for Fort Pitt. We got into Heinz for free because a nice couple standing in line with us had coupons to share. In Cleveland, we spent $72; $10 for RR Hall of Fame parking, $52 for RR Hall of Fame and $10 for parking at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Tip 2: Owning a big truck (and we don’t have a dually!) gives city parking a whole new meaning. But don’t let that keep you from visiting a city. With a little research, you can find relatively inexpensive parking lots with enough room to park. The key is to do the research, make a phone call or two, view the Google satellite image of the area, be flexible with your time and find the best route in. We chose to drive into Pittsburgh on a Saturday morning, which meant less traffic, cheaper parking and more parking spaces available. All that despite a Pirates home game later in the day. By then, we were leaving anyway. Which brings up another tip; check the schedule for hometown sporting events. Away games are a bonus, unless of course you are going there to see a game.