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Aug 7, 2022 – Up North

“Up North – the magical land of cabins, fishing, beer, flannel shirts, and no cell phone service”. Anonymous

Our towing route from Madison, WI to Brimley, MI. One week in Iron River, WI at Top O’ the Morn Campground, the next week in Christmas, MI at Pictured Rocks RV Park and the final week in Brimley, MI at Bay Mills RV Resort.

Hiking through a magical forest somewhere near Lake Superior, Vivian and I stopped to inspect a tree we could not identify. Just then, a couple walked past and stopped to look at the tree with us. It was from them we learned of the app “Seek” that uses the phone’s camera to identify plants and animals. From the one simple act of sharing a common interest in nature, Michigan’s north country became an immersive playground of trees, wildflowers and insects for us. And always nearby was Lake Superior and its irresistible colorful stones. While the expansive ocean-like water caught our attention, we took great interest in the small things that comprise the shoreline and its companion forest. Like a child with a new toy, I used my new phone app frequently as we hiked through forests trying to identify wildflowers or trees.

The bark on this tree caught our attention and demanded to be identified. Through ‘Seek’ we learned this is a striped maple tree, one of seven native species of maple in Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Days earlier as we pulled away from the Madison Campground in Wisconsin, it occurred to me that a month and a half would pass before a city with a population as great or greater than Madison’s would come into our view. We were heading in a northerly direction – up north where endless miles of dense pine forests take the place of open farmland. Populations of people greater than 30 are few between the northerneastern section of Wisconsin and the eastern portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) where we would spend the next three weeks.

Our first week up north was on Iron Lake at Top O’ the Morn Campground near the small town Iron River, WI.

Towing the fifth wheel from northern Wisconsin through the UP consists of long stretches of two-lane roads where cell phone service or accessible gas stations do not exist. It would be several weeks before the RV wheels met interstate highway pavement. Only three hundred miles north of Madison, this is a vastly different environment and a totally different vibe. If you are a hardy soul that wants to hide from something or someone, this is your country.

First stop – Iron River, Wisconsin. Never heard of it? Good! People here are quite content in their isolation and ownership of some of the wildest north country ever to be explored by ORVs. Southerners are not the only country people in the U.S. Those that live up north put country in “north country”. Northerners share a likeness with their southern counterparts; mostly pride in where their roots are from. But there is one big difference that stands out; while southerners offer charming and colorful dispositions, northerners are reticent – not unfriendly, but a tad hesitant to offer up any kind of enthusiastic display of emotion, be it just a friendly greeting to let you know they appreciate your business. It’s as if the locals had not yet thawed out from a long winter. But from what I can tell, most would give the shirt off their back to help a neighbor.

One evening, we enjoyed live music and a BBQ brought to us by the Top O’ the Morn campground hosts and residents. This has become a yearly event, a memorial to a recently passed neighbor who hosted the BBQ on his own dime for many years.

Just north of Iron River is the well visited Apostle Island National Lakeshore which is about as touristy as it gets in these parts of northern Wisconsin (check out a previous blog about that area). Lake Superior’s shoreline is a draw for many people, yet this is not a first choice location among more popular areas. What drew Vivian and I here was simply its isolated rivers, streams and lakes, the Great Lake shoreline and wooded areas. And there are waterfalls, lots of waterfalls. We explored a couple of them in state parks, one in Wisconsin, the other on the Minnesota side.

After a week spent near Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shoreline, we drove Highway 2 across the Wisconsin-Michigan border into the Upper Peninsula (dah U.P., eh). The U.P. comprises 29% of Michigan’s land and contains a declining population that is 3% of the state’s total. It contains 16 counties and 60% of its population lives in only four of them. No surprise, all four counties have a university or college. Given the sparse population throughout much of the U.P., staying near scenic and wild Pictured Rocks National Seashore jolted us into tourism reality.

If you live in the upper peninsula, you are a yooper.

Despite the tourist appeal, we avoided crowds using our strategy of getting on the trails super early. In fact, the only crowd I experienced was on the boat tour of Pictured Rocks (Vivian passed on this as she had already seen those rocks from a kayak some years ago). Enjoy the following two slideshows from Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore which is best described visually. The first are scenes taken from our hikes on land overlooking Lake Superior. The second slideshow includes images taken from the tour boat along the shoreline overlooking the pictured rocks.

Between us, Vivian and I have 87 years of living near Florida’s coastline. Although I am from northern Michigan, visiting the U.S. outside of Florida is done through the filter of having lived a long time in a subtropical climate with easy access to endless miles of coastline from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Naturally, we view the north country as complete opposite of where we come from – except for one thing, Wisconsin and the U.P. have a lot of shoreline; more than 1200 miles of Lake Superior shoreline. All of Michigan’s freshwater coastline is 3288 miles – a little more than half of that is along the U.P., bounded by three Great Lakes. While in the north country, we enjoyed three distinct Lake Superior shoreline areas – we saved Lakes Michigan and Huron for our lower peninsula travels.

All told, we spent three weeks near the shores of Lake Superior while parked at campgrounds in Iron River, WI, Christmas, MI and Brimley, MI. We hiked through many forests and wetlands, walked along miles of Lake Superior shoreline, climbed rocks around several waterfalls and simply enjoyed the sparsely populated up north. And we learned about up north trees and wildflowers. Enjoy these photos.

See you next time!

Jul 31, 2022 – Wisconsin Part 2: Places to See Before you Die

With our campground near Madison, it was a nice day’s drive to visit Monroe and New Glarus, both circled in red on the map.
Our home for five days, at the William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park Campground, 5 miles from downtown Madison.

To help us plan our travels to each state, Vivian and I consult a book titled “1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before you Die”. Guess what? Wisconsin contains 18 places! Not bad given Iowa, our previously visited state has only half that many places to see before you die. However, if you take your enthusiasm for visiting a state to an unequaled level of quirky attractions, 18 is quite conservative when compared to Atlas Obscura’s guide to Wisconsin which describes 146 “cool, hidden and unusual things” to do in Wisconsin. If you choose to go down a rabbit hole of hidden gems (or lumps of coal), you could spend a lot of time in Wisconsin.

Our campground was 90% powered by solar. These are some of the panels, also serving as a pavilion cover. In the afternoon, the place was teaming with cyclists, walkers, and rollerbladders stopping at the facilities for water and a break.

Given that there are 50 states to visit before we die, we whittled the list down to a reasonable number. Following the driftless area, we went on a quest to see Wisconsin’s Cheese Country and the Dane County Farmers’ Market, among other things. We left our paradise campground in the driftless area to stay at another county park, William G. Lunney Lake Farm, only four miles from downtown Madison. Despite being so close to a city with a population over a quarter million, the natural surroundings we enjoyed at Esofea awaited us at this park, and we can owe all that to Dane County’s large and greatly numbered public spaces where people can recreate outside year round.

Along the 5-mile drive from our campground to the state capital. You can see a portion of one of the four lakes that are near the city.

Each morning, I walked the bike and hike/ski trails, enjoyed the view of Lake Waubesa from the trail that includes a recently built boardwalk bridge, and was greeted by pairs of sandhill cranes, more white-tailed rabbits than I can count, and deer partially hidden in fog-veiled fields of colorful wildflowers (see the slideshow below). Temperatures fluctuated – one morning I was layered up, the next in a t-shirt and shorts. True to its urban location, our campground park is a busy place, serving those recreating on the Capital City State Trail with a pavilion rest area, water bottle fill station and restroom facilities. From our RV, we watched runners, cyclists, Nordic ski rollerbladers and paddlers on the lake, young and old alike coming and going – all of them painting an atmosphere of clean energy and outdoor recreation.

Most of Dane County is comprised of Madison, once referred to as “77 square miles surrounded by reality” by a Republican running for governor in 1978. Think what you will about Madison, but Vivian and I anticipated that Madison would be the perfect place to get our progressive urban fix while continuing to frolic through Wisconsin’s rural areas. Parked at a campground close to it, we anticipated at least a couple days in the downtown area, which is dominated by the University of Wisconsin campus as well as the state capitol complex.

Downtown Madison as seen from the capitol dome.

We’ve been having great luck lately parking our 21-ft truck in the city – Des Moines, Memphis, Montgomery, so I didn’t bother researching downtown parking in Madison. I would come to regret that. On the first day, we drove our 21-ft aluminum beast downtown to the Chazen Museum of Art which offered the following information on its website, “Located in the center of the UW campus, the Chazen is free and open to the public. Public parking lots are available nearby.” And within walking distance from the state capitol building, we were set for our first day in Madison. Being smitten with the thoughts of casual visits to a welcoming city, my disappointment rose to the top as Vivian and I drove up and down narrow one-way streets while detouring around road construction areas for 30 minutes passing one empty parking space after another with the following parking meter next to each:

Unless you are coming to downtown Madison to deliver something and then leave, you are very limited on where to park, especially if you are driving a large truck.

At last, we found a 2-hr parking spot, which was enough time to tour the state capitol building and make the 15 minute walk there and back. Oh well Madison, we really wanted to love you, but you did not want to love us. Enjoy the slideshow of this magnificent state capitol building, our third on this trip and well worth the parking frustration.

Meanwhile, we had rural areas to explore because there was cheese and beer to be had. Among the 18 places to see in Wisconsin before you die is Monroe, the cheese capital of the U.S. and where you’ll find the National Historic Cheesemaking Center that offers a history of the cheese country and can lead you to a cheese factory tour.

Everywhere you look, there are reminders that we are in the cheese capital state. This was the view from the Madison Campground where we stayed for 2 nights north of Madison.

That sounded perfect; a visit there and later to a brewery would fulfill our mission to see cheese and beer making all in one day. To get there, we again drove through idyllic farm country, river valley scenes running through a green patchwork of corn fields and cattle pastures interrupted by barns and silos. According to Google Maps, our search for the National Historic Cheesemaking Center brought us to a modest building known as Green County Visitor Center. Expecting to get a tour of a cheese factory, we were instead greeted by the visitor center volunteer who explained that cheese tours were terminated due to – you guessed it – covid. Instead of an extravagant tour of cheeses being created by licensed professional cheesemakers and receiving samples along the way, we were given a brochure or two and recommended a cheese store.

European immigrants came to Wisconsin and began dairy farming. As dairy farms increased in number, farmers began producing cheese to preserve excess milk.
Some cheese facts from the Alp and Dell cheese store.
In 1841, Anne Pickett established Wisconsin’s first commercial cheese factory, using milk from neighbors’ cows. A century later, Wisconsin was home to more than 1,500 cheese factories, which produced more than 500 million pounds of cheese per year
If you want to make cheese commercially in Wisconsin, you need to be a licensed cheesemaker. Lucky for you, Wisconsin offers a master cheesemaker program, which meets the rigorous standards of European cheesemakers.
Cheese curds are the freshest form of cheese. Still not a fan of them, but Vivian loves them!

After getting our fill of Wisconsin cheese, it was time for some afternoon beer tasting, brought to us by the New Glarus Brewery. Cold beer sounded delicious as the daytime temperatures had reached the upper-80s, shocking us after enjoying cool temperatures for the past couple weeks. New Glarus Brewery is named after the Swiss town near which it stands. On the sharply graded road leading to the brewery, you can see a field of hops, which lends itself to Wisconsin’s self-sustaining farm communities.

What’s that – another cow statue? This is in front of the New Glarus Brewery, a building designed like a Bavarian Village.

The New Glarus Brewery’s website describes itself as a “quaint little brewery”. Compared to Miller’s Milwaukee operation, it is small with 90 employees. But it is impressive and has a fine story attached to it. Founded in 1993 by Deborah Carey, New Glarus Brewery was a gift to her husband Daniel, an experienced master brewer.

New Glarus Brewery employs 90 people and provides them healthcare benefits. They allow self tours to all visitors.
Daniel Carey acquired these copper kettles from a German brewery before it was demolished.

Brewing began in an abandoned warehouse, and in 2006 ground was broke for a new $21 million facility on a hilltop near New Glarus. It has since become a popular tourist destination and a very popular Wisconsin beer including its most famous Spotted Cow.

I never realized how complicated beer making could be!
Beer making is both a science and an art.
“Some people paint, some sing, others write … I brew.”
—Daniel Carey
“Only in Wisconsin”.

Our last day in Madison was a Saturday when the famous Dane County Farmers’ Market is held each week in downtown Madison. Believing Madison to be unfriendly to visitors in large diesel-guzzling vehicles, we dreaded the thought of returning to its downtown where parking a truck for longer periods than it takes to deliver an Amazon package is discouraged at best. “If you want to go to the Farmer’s Market”, said our camp host, “you need to arrive at a specific parking lot near the capitol building no later than 6:30 am”. Most would gasp hearing such an unreasonable suggestion, but instead we smiled and nodded our heads in agreement because arriving insanely early to anything worth visiting is precedent on our trips. Consequently, we checked off another place to see in Wisconsin (see the slideshow below) before we die and brought home some beautiful produce. Thank you Wisconsin.

Interested in reading more about Wisconsin? Check out our previous blogs:

The driftless area

Door County

Milwaukee

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

July 24 – Wisconsin Part 1: Drifting Through Summer

In red circles are the small towns of Viroqua and Mineral Point, both within the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin.
A coveted campsite, shaded, full hookup, spacious, quiet and within a small campground surrounded by natural beauty. This was our home for 7 days.

It was laundry day, which is why we stood in the County Seat Laundry in Viroqua, WI talking with one of the owners. Within the time of a normal wash cycle, we learned quite a few things about the people living in this area of Wisconsin. Up until that conversation, Vivian and I were so enamored with Wisconsin’s driftless area that we began to consider it for the long term. A week earlier, we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin which gave us reprieve from the dreaded heatwave that followed us for six weeks from Florida to Iowa. Comfortably set up at the Esofea/Rentz Memorial County Park, we basked in the fresh and cool summer air coming through the open windows of the RV, well shaded near the banks of the North Fork Bad Axe River within a beautiful backcountry valley.

“Shut off that AC and open those windows!” I said. At last, we had cooler temperatures.
Only 10 full hookup spaces and a handful of others including primitive sites along the river.

It was a small campground and not a particularly easy one to drive to, given that most of the county roads in that area don’t make the Trucker’s route map and probably outnumber the ones that do 10 to 1. It is hilly country, a general characteristic of the driftless area. Rounding the curves up a steep grade, one must watch carefully for the slower horse and buggy. But we got there safely, set up easily, and within view of our campsite, I could watch Vivian stand in the Bad Axe River casting a line.

Not a lot of traffic on those country roads, but you do have to be watchful – and patient.
No photo of Vivian fishing but this is our camp neighbor, Pam an avid fly fisherwoman visiting the park for a few days with her husband Tim.

Here’s a few images from one morning in our campground, with the glowing fog over the trees. Imagine stepping out your front door to see all that.

This was a greatly anticipated week filled with the quietness of fly fishing and the friendly comradery with other fly fishermen and women. Each day began with coolish temperatures, early morning fog glowing above the scenic river and sounds of birds. Frequently we took casual drives on scenic country roads through bucolic farmlands looking for trout streams or photographic opportunities, made visits to charming small towns, and took an easygoing paddle down the Kickapoo River (enjoy the slideshow from our river paddle).

On private farm property, the Timber Coulee can be accessed at specific locations provided to fishermen, the result of an agreement between Wisconsin DNR and local farmers. Vivian and I scoured the area looking for these opportunities.

Among the appealing qualities of the driftless area are the small towns, some of which have embraced tourism. One of those is Viroqua which touts itself as ‘growing forward’. Surrounded by the highest density of organic farms in the country, Viroqua epitomizes the driftless area with its organic food co op and small businesses like the Driftless Café or the Driftless Angler.

From the weekly county newspaper, a sheriff’s report that would make most sheriff’s around the U.S. envious.

Given its gentle beauty, you would never have guessed that this was once a region of lead mines. And yet another charming town brought that into perspective. Mineral Point was on our list of places to visit for two reasons – Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts and Pendarvis Historic Site, both of which give the old mining town an appeal to artists.

A five and dime store in downtown Mineral Point, proof that they still exist!
We walked around Shake Rag Alley and downtown Mineral Point where we ate a pasty at the Red Rooster Cafe before our tour of Pendarvis Historic Site. The slideshow below is from Shake Rag Alley.
Family owned and run for the past 50 years, the Red Rooster Cafe and its homemade Cornish pasties could not be passed up. Pasties are meat pies made with crust to seal the meat & veggies so it could be handheld while eaten. These were the meals miners brought down with them into the mines.

Founded in 1827, Mineral Point became a major lead mining center after large quantities of shallow lead ore deposits were discovered in the area. Over time, the easily accessible lead diminished, which is about when miners from Cornwall, England immigrated to the area. The newly arrived miners came with refined techniques for extracting ore from very deep mines. Over the years however, lead mining declined and with the discovery of gold in California, many miners left Mineral Point. This continued until the 1920s and by then, the mining industry was pretty much done.

During our tour of Pendarvis, we got a genuine lesson on baking Cornish miner pasties from this young gentlemen, visiting with his family from Cornwall, England.

Enter Edgar Hellum and his partner and local resident Robert Neal. In 1935, the two men set out to preserve the history of the Cornish miners from which Neal descended, through the restoration and preservation of some of the settlers’ stone structures. These buildings now make up the Pendarvis Historic Site. For several decades (until November 1971), Hellum and Neal ran the Pendarvis House Restaurant and lived in the Trelawny building where they entertained guests and friends. Both men had studied art, and their love of art and architecture began to attract many other artists to Mineral Point.

Instead of tobacco farms and lead mines constituting the driftless environment, it is comprised largely of corn, soy and wheat, as well as consolidated dairy farms. Tourism is very much linked to the organic agriculture and indeed, ‘food tourism’ has business credibility in these parts. And if the food and art are not enough to attract you, the fishing and outdoor recreation will. All that during peak summer season, where artists, foodies and outdoor recreationalists come together in the driftless. 

Another scene from one of the trout streams that can be accessed on private property.

Put the tourism aside and what’s left are the farmers and small business owners that live here year round. Which brings me back to County Seat Laundry, founded in 2018 by Laura and Andy Patten. Upon opening, it did not take long for the new business owners to be put to the test. In the area, heavy rains in August 2019 unleashed flooding that destroyed bridges, roads, and buildings causing many to evacuate Viroqua and nearby communities. Flooding is not unusual in this area, but this was the mother of all floods. Laura described how they were able to stay open as many community residents wandered into the laundromat in shock and covered in mud, seeking shelter and clean clothes. They opened their washing machine doors to all residents with no other means to wash their bedding and clothing. Early the next year, Covid came and added an additional challenge of maintaining a new business.

A typical farm scene in Vernon County, Wisconsin. We got in the habit of looking for utility lines and poles feeding into a farm, those without were owned by Amish farmers.

But that was nothing compared to the winter of 2001 that brought the polar vortex to the driftless area. Laura told us of the temperatures 10 degrees below zero lasting for a couple weeks and at times getting as low as negative 60 for days on end. She motioned to one of her customers who lives in the area, “Isn’t that right, temperatures got as low as 60 below?” In a matter-of-fact way, her neighbor nodded and answered, “Oh yeah”, and went about her business of folding clothes as if that event was nothing more than a typical cold day. During the polar vortex, County Seat Laundry was able to stay open. It was warm and inviting, so many people struggling to stay warm at home took refuge there. Horrified, we listened to Laura’s story of a neighbor that watched a wild turkey in her back yard walking and then instantly froze in place.

In case you are wondering, the driftless area is unglaciated territory. Never covered by ice during the last ice age, the area lacks the characteristic glacial deposits known as drift.

Thoughts of living long term in the driftless area quickly dissolved in our heads. Vivian and I are hardy people, but how hardy do we want to be? The best part of RV traveling is this – it allows us to enjoy the driftless area with its moderate temperatures, easy going rural life, fields of wild flowers interrupted by trout streams, and lots of fresh organic produce. And then after awhile, we move on to the next idyllic location. RV life – the best of all worlds.

At our campground where fields of wildflowers lined the river, I spent time chasing down this clear-winged hummingbird moth, a first for me.
And there were bees, lots of bees.

July 13 – Iowa, What’s not to like?

The view from our campground on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Lock and Dam #14 was a short walking distance from the campground by way of road. Iowa shoreline is on the other side.

Sidenote: You wouldn’t know it from the title but there is a lot to see here in this blog. There are many photos, including several slideshows of art work and Iowa’s state capitol building. At the end of this blog, you’ll find several links to previous ones. Take your time here and enjoy Iowa through mine and Vivian’s eyes.

It isn’t easy cramming three vowels with no two alike into a four-letter word, but the state of Iowa managed to do it. Because it is common for names of places in the United States to be derived from Native American words, it is no surprise that Iowa comes from the indigenous people known as Ioway who once occupied the area that is now a state. ‘Ioway’ is a wonderful word, and as someone who recently got addicted to Wordle, I can’t help but think that it would be a good starter for the daily puzzle, although doubtful it would appear in the English dictionary which the New York Times relies on to create its daily puzzle.

This scene that might be viewed along I-80 in Iowa was painted in 1940 by Kansas-born John Steuart Curry. Titled ‘Threshing’, the painting was displayed at Davenport’s Figge Museum.
What’s not to like in Iowa? Well, there is one thing – the weather, or more specifically, tornadoes and the infamous derecho storms. Artist Ellen Wagner’s “F5 Tornado” panoramic depicts the instantaneous change in weather that best characterizes Iowa’s prairies and farmlands.

At any rate, why Iowa? We’ve been here before, twice in fact (check out the blog links at the end of this one). And for some reason, we keep coming back. I write this blog while in Wisconsin and think of those places in Iowa we have yet to visit and would like to one day. Take Iowa City for instance, known as the ‘City of Literature’ because of its prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop that has churned out many well-known writers such as Flannery O’Conner and Kurt Vonnegut. I am sure that city has many coffee shops where creativity can be stimulated. And then there is Cedar Rapids, home to American Gothic artist Grant Wood’s studio, which can be toured. Or how about Capt James T Kirk’s future birthplace in Riverside or the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville? And what’s up with the small town named ‘What Cheer’? Almost makes you want to go see it. By the way, we have yet to see any of the above-mentioned places.

Cattle is not the largest agriculture industry in Iowa, but you can definitely find all kinds of cow art in Iowa. This is inside the Turkey River Mall in Elkader. The four story building was once a hotel and is now an antique store where each vendor has his or her own room to sell vintage items.

To most, Iowa is a fly over state or at best, a drive through state. Miles of corn and soybean fields along I-80 fail to draw people in (although Iowa does boast the words largest truck stop near Walcott). But that is one of Iowa’s appealing qualities to us, it is totally unassuming and far from being braggadocious, like say Texas. And on this trip, we had the pleasure of getting acquainted with two of Iowa’s unassuming cities, Davenport and Des Moines.

The two paintings on display at the Figge Museum, John C. Wolfe’s “A View of the City of Davenport, Iowa” circa 1857, and Hermon More’s “Davenport Factory, circa 1928 best represent my view (minus the smokestacks) of Davenport, circa 2022.

We begin on the Mississippi River which by the way, runs along the entire eastern border of Iowa. Parked on the river at an Army Corp of Engineers campground on the Illinois side, we could see Davenport across the river. On this trip, Davenport would be the third of three Mississippi River cities we visit (see our previous blogs about St Louis and Memphis). If these three cities were sisters, Davenport would be the one that stays home to read a book on a Friday evening while her two sisters go out on the town. But that bookish sister has an interesting past and once you get to know her a little, you want to spend more time with her.

Here’s one shot from Davenport, on the Freight House Market Place building where the weekly Farmers Market takes place along the river.

Here’s a fun little story relating to Davenport. The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was built from Rock Island, Illinois to Davenport in 1856. This was a great boom for the area as transportation and commerce with Chicago improved greatly. With other nearby railroads, Davenport became a significant commercial railroad hub. Naturally, steamboat companies saw railroads as a threat and weeks before the Rock Island bridge was completed, the captain of Effie Afton, one of those steamboats, crashed on purpose into the bridge. That did not end well for the captain and his steamboat company. The lead defense lawyer for the railroad companies, Abraham Lincoln took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court where the right to bridge navigable streams was upheld. The bridge remained, following some repairs of course.

Later on, Davenport like so many other medium-sized towns, struggled through hard times, including the Great Depression and the farm crisis of the 1980s. And as with many other cities, Davenport came back to life with a resurgence in the 1990s and has been enjoying a steady increase in population and a cost of living lower than the national average. With lots of walk and bike paths, parks and of course the river, we saw the quality of life that the Davenport area offers to attract young and energetic types. That and the relative ease of getting around the urban areas placed Davenport on our short list of cities in which we could spend lots of time.

Seen while facing downtown from the riverside park, the modern Figge Museum stands out.

One Saturday morning, we enjoyed the Freight House Farmers Market on the water’s edge in downtown Davenport, a weekly summer event. After a couple samples of cheeses and baked goods, a little wine tasting and purchasing a few veggies and a dozen fresh farm eggs, we walked a short distance to the Figge Museum where we spent a couple hours in what was surprisingly one of the best art museums visited during our travels (and we have visited many). And just to show you, I have a couple slideshow exhibits from the museum.

Free in the month of July, what’s not to like about that!

The following slideshow exhibit is Iowa-worthy – it’s all about corn. Michael Meilahn (farmer and glass blower) and Nick Nebel (video and sound artist) collaborated to create ‘Corn Zone‘ in 2007, a mixed media installation of glass, polyester rope with sound and video projections. I never thought corn could be so visually stimulating.

And yet another Iowa-related theme was water, as presented by artist Anne Lindberg and poet Ginny Threefoot. Lindberg expanded her 2-dimensional linear drawings to 3 dimensions for an immersive “drawings in space” experience. This installation is titled “think like a river”, also a title of one of Threefoot’s poems. “…you have come to row the body through this floating world…”

After a few days near Davenport, we drove west on I-80 past the world’s largest truck stop to our next stay, another Army Corp of Engineer campground on Lake Saylorville near Des Moines. We had a few reasons to visit the area, friends of ours live there and insisted we stay at Prairie Flower, their favorite campground, a cousin I have not seen in several decades lives in nearby Ames with her husband surrounded by children and grandchildren, and last, we wanted to see Iowa’s State Capitol and the High Trestle Bridge.

Our friends Pete and Jerilyn show us a good time in Des Moines, at the Zombie Burger Place of course.
They also showed us around the area of Des Moines. Wait, what’s that in the grasses? Didn’t think we would, but we got our west-of-the-Mississippi Bison fix.
And we saw Elk. Did I mention that it was insanely hot the entire time we spent in Des Moines? These guys were cooling off in the water.
Due to Covid, we didn’t get to see my cousin, but we did meet her daughter Ellyn and owner of the recently opened Dog Eared Books in downtown Ames.
Downtown Des Moines.

As with Davenport, Des Moines offered lots of art and has a casual, low key vibe to it. Along with the High Trestle Bridge, the highlight was our tour of the majestic state capitol building, which is far from low key. Enjoy the slideshow of the capitol. I could not get enough of it!

We topped off our Iowa tour by spending two days at one of our favorite places, Elkader, in the heart of Iowa’s driftless area. We’ve stayed there before and were absolutely charmed by the small town. It was only fitting to come back again as it was on our way to Wisconsin. Until then, enjoy the photographs of what we like about Iowa.

Much of Elkader’s charm comes from its historic Keystone Bridge that crosses Turkey River, seen here under repair. Our campground is 1/2 mile from downtown and our best memories from our previous visit was walking there every day across the bridge (the only way by foot). Not this time!
To get to downtown Elkader, we had to drive out of the way 1 1/2 miles. The commute was worth it as we wanted to visit Deb’s Brewtopia again.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been to Iowa before. Check out these previous blogs to see more photos.

See the charming side of Iowa as we explore Elkader and the driftless area in this blog from 2019.

In this blog, we visit the western side of Iowa and explore the Loess Hills, from 2020.

And last, from this current trip of 2022, check out our blogs on Memphis and St Louis.

July 4, 2022 – Gateway to the United States

Hmmm, where was this along the interstate? Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana? Take your pick! This is southern Illinois, on our way to Springfield.

The Interstate system lived up to its name on I-55 and-57 as we passed through five states – Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois within 300 miles. Our destination was Coles Creek Campground located on Carlyle Lake, yet another Corp of Engineer Campground that would be home for two days (see slideshow below). This gave us one full day to ride the MetroLink into downtown St Louis where we would stand in awe of the Gateway Arch. After that, we drove north to Springfield, Illinois where we stayed for a few days in a campground a short distance from the capital city.

Our Metrolink ride began with this view (left) and ended with this one of East St Louis near the Mississippi River (right).

By 8 am, we arrived in St Louis to see the city’s recovery from the 4th of July festivities. Scattered about the streets and avenues of the central downtown area was much evidence from the night before when hundreds of people viewed the fireworks over the 630-ft tall Arch while consuming adult beverages and assorted food truck munchies. City workers were busily cleaning up the grounds and tearing down the bandstands as we walked from the 6th & Pine Metrolink station through Kiener Plaza to the Old Courthouse that stands stately yet eclipsed by very tall modern buildings. You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but this was National Park territory. Unfortunately, the courthouse was under renovation and all we could do was watch a Park Ranger enter the building.

The Old Courthouse dome reflects on a modern building in the background.

Let me talk about that Old Courthouse for a second as it is within the Gateway Arch National Park. The Old Courthouse has historical significance that cannot be overstated. It is where court decisions were made in Missouri that eventually led up to the dreadful and what many constitutional scholars refer to as “the worse decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court”.

In 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott, both born into slavery and among several hundred other enslaved people had the courage to come to the Old Courthouse and file a petition for their freedom. After a mistrial, a win and a loss, the couple filed a suit in Federal Court that was eventually considered by the Supreme Court in 1856. On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B Taney read the opinion that the suit for freedom should be dismissed for two reasons which can be summed up as follows:

At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, African Americans were not considered to be citizens, therefore, the Scotts had no right to sue in court, and secondly, the Missouri Compromise was invalid, thus no territory has the power to pass laws that limit slavery because, get this, the right of property of a slave was guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Old Courthouse as seen from inside the Gateway Arch Visitor Center.

How’s that for originalism? At the risk of going off on a political tangent, I’ll move away from the ‘originalist’ concept which has reached the American conscious as of late and instead talk about one of the most profound consequences of traveling through the United States, and that is how we have come to see that one place can be tightly connected to another despite the great distance that may separate them or obvious differences in appearance. With that, I’d like to describe the Dred Scott decision and how it is connected to our perceptions gained from our visit to the Gateway Arch and later, Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Museum in Springfield, Il.

The Gateway Arch as seen from inside the LaCledes’s Landing metrolink station.

Most people will visit the Gateway Arch to marvel at a magnificent feat of architectural design and engineering – and to take a thrill ride on the tram up one of the legs of the arch to its top. They’ll consider the exceptional precision of less than one inch required to connect the two legs at the top. They’ll ponder the “caternary curve” that is as wide on the ground as it is high. But I wonder how many give greater thought to the reason it was built in the first place. And not just as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson and to give a great bow to the city of St Louis, but for its meaning as it was envisioned by the designer, Eero Saarinen.

Downtown St Louis recovers from its 4th of July festivities.

The Gateway Arch is a tribute to the country’s Manifest Destiny, that which inspired westward expansion. Despite it being built a century or more beyond the peak of westward expansion, the Arch was built in St Louis out of recognition of the river city that was once the capital and gateway to the new territory back in the day, like back during the Dred Scott days. Enjoy the slideshow below of my photos of the Arch.

The Eades Bridge as seen from the Gateway Arch park. The Metrolink crosses the Mississippi River on the Eades Bridge. A combination of road and rail, the Eades Bridge is the oldest bridge crossing the Mississippi.

The United States as we know it today, including all the interstate highways that connect them would not exist without the vision of Thomas Jefferson. By his ambition and leadership, the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition that embarked from St Louis, a new world opened itself to hundreds of thousands of immigrants that populated it from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. But what can’t be ignored is the fact that much of the westward expansion that came out of the Louisiana Purchase and later from the acquisition of Mexican territory was, at the very least, burdened with political controversy. In a nutshell, the south wanted westward expansion of slavery, the north wanted free states. The fight between free and slave territories and for the creation of free vs slave states to join the union went from state-level conflicts to a full blown Civil War.

We also visited Union Station, only a few minutes from downtown St Louis by way of Metrolink.

Which brings us to Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, to be exact. Because it is Lincoln who led the Union through the Civil War and proclaimed emancipation so that African Americans could become Union soldiers and help win the war, the United States would not be 50 in number without the leadership and vision of Abraham Lincoln.

President and Mrs Lincoln greet visitors to the President’s library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

By signing the Homestead Act during the Civil War, Lincoln added support to federal resources used to ramp up westward expansion with the intention of gaining a Union foothold west of the Mississippi River. Expansion became very much part of the Civil War as Union volunteers fought to gain free states as well as remove slavery from the southern states. Given this, I suspect Jefferson and Lincoln would approve of Gateway Arch and the fact it is a National Park employed by a union of 50 states.

The museum takes you on a visual tour of Lincoln’s life from boyhood to President. As a boy, he read by firelight each night in the family’s cramped cabin.
Mary Todd and Abe Lincoln depicted as a young couple.
Lincoln, a brilliant politician spent much time in negotiations with Congress and his cabinet before and during the Civil War.
And then his life ended just like that.

Although it came at a great price to so many people, the fact that we can travel 3000 miles in our home from one coast to the other without showing a passport and visit dozens of national parks and monuments and 48 state capitals if we like while doing so, is simply an amazing thing. Red or blue, north or south, rich or poor- every state is sticker-worthy in our minds and we are fortunate to be able to travel through each of them.

One last thing, while visiting Springfield the capital of Illinois, we toured the State Capitol which was a highlight for us. See for yourself with this slideshow.

Jul 2, 2022 – Memphis in the Meantime

Aside from the displays of the American flag which didn’t seem out of the ordinary, this was one of the few reminders of the Fourth of July holiday in Mississippi.

After loitering in Florida for two weeks, we made our way to Mississippi with a short stopover in Alabama. As we pulled out of our green sanctuary that is the Gunter Hill Corp of Engineers campground outside of Montgomery, we braced ourselves for a long bumpy ride. The angry Interstate highway pavement through Alabama and Mississippi shakes our home on wheels with Richter Scale strength. Safely past the worst of it (through Birmingham), we headed northwest on I-22 toward Memphis where the road became more subdued but still mustered a frequent jab or punch just to let us know it could turn mean at any time.

At an Corp of Engineer campground in Mississippi, we enjoyed a well shaded and large campsite with full hookup and a modest view of the water through the trees. With a senior lifetime national park pass, the cost is $12 a night.

As always, when we cross the state line into Mississippi, we are reminded of its burden. It would be our home over the fourth of July holiday weekend, but there seemed to be sparse indication of celebration anywhere. Nestled within the lackadaisical rural area of northern Mississippi is another Corp of Engineer campground, Hernando Point on Lake Arkabutla that we became quite fond of. Two years ago, it was destroyed by an unexpected tornado in the month of February that “came outta nowhere” according to one RV’er we met there. After the cleanup, the campground received a major facelift as all sites were upgraded with full hookup.

Memphis’s Beale Street’s music reputation began in the 1860s when Black musicians came there to play their music. These traveling musicians were so poor they created instruments out of such things as jugs.

But enough of Mississippi, we came here for Memphis, a city full of stories. Before the brutality of the heat forced us to seek refuge indoors in downtown Memphis, we took a walking tour (without blue suede shoes). It became evident as our tour guide Shannon told one story after another that Memphis is a survivor. It survived the Civil War, an earthquake or two or three and a couple bouts with yellow fever. The ancient Pyramids of Giza that have been around for some time now come to mind – after all, Memphis is named after an ancient Egyptian capitol. Founded in 1819, Memphis is not nearly as old as the pyramids, but it has survived horrible things while growing into one of the largest cities in the antebellum south once having a world market for cotton and lumber.

A. Schwab is the oldest store on Beale Street, established in 1876. After the walking tour, we found refuge from the heat with an old fashioned ginger ale served at the store’s soda fountain
B.B. King got his start at WDIA, the first Black radio station. The young Bobby ‘Blues’ Bland walked into the station as the managers were meeting with their usual rounds of ‘medicinal tonic’ called Peptikon. Laughing at the young man with the guitar, they told him they would let him play on the radio if he came up with a jingle for Peptikon. He did and B.B. King was born.
In 1962 during the Civil Rights Movement, a statue of Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy) was erected in Memphis Park. With no other way to remove the offensive statue, the city sold the property for $1 to the non-profit organization Memphis Greenspace which promptly had it removed in 2017. Where it once stood now stands a tree, seen here.
As President of the Columbia Mutual Life Insurance Co, Lloyd Binford moved his company to Memphis and had this building erected in 1925, the tallest in Memphis. Binford soon became head of the newly formed Memphis Censor Board & proceeded to ban films by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Mae West and anyone else who demonstrated immoral, lewd and lascivious behavior. Oh, he also banned any film that contained a train robbery because of his own traumatic experience with the railroad.

Memphis is not a cosmopolitan city by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, it was difficult to avoid comparisons to Nashville, where we also took a walking tour a couple years ago. Both cities have reputations built on music. While Nashville, although a bit pretentious, has a “je ne sais quoi” that generates a celebratory atmosphere, Memphis in contrast sings the blues like it has truly suffered through it. And I think much of what Memphis is today can be attributed to an event that occurred on August 13, 1878.

The cost to erect this fountain in Court Square was covered by donors including Madam Vincent, a well respected ‘Madame”. Contrary to the implication of her title, Madam Vincent and her husband were owners of a reputable saloon unofficially called ‘Madame Vincent’s Crystal Palace”. Vincent was her husband’s first name. The couple had 12 children and were successful business owners and Italian immigrants that contributed well to Memphis from the 1860s on.

Back in 1878, the connection between mosquitoes and the spread of deadly viruses was largely unknown. By that time, yellow fever outbreaks were not unusual in the south. Quarantined steamboats along the Mississippi River were common when a man escaped one that was docked on the river near Memphis. Seems the man still had an appetite when he entered Kate Bionda’s restaurant for a meal. Several days later, on August 13th to be exact, Kate Bionda died of yellow fever, the first casualty of over 5000 Memphis residents to die of the fast spreading virus from Aug 13 until Oct 28 when the first frost appeared.

Memphis is the largest city on the Mississippi and in 1878, steamboats would have passed through here on a regular basis. In the middle is Mud Island, formed after a USS Monitor ship ran aground and sand and gravel accumulated around it. Mud Island River Park is a popular attraction in Memphis.

Within days of Bionda’s death, over 25,000 people fled Memphis. Those remaining were either too poor or infirmed to get out. Poor sanitation conditions caused the virus to spread quickly in the city that had a reputation of being sickly and filthy. The devastating epidemic received national attention (mainly because no one wanted the refugees in their cities) and various charitable groups came to Memphis to offer help. Residents that remained rallied and helped each other out. The famous Peabody Hotel stayed open to house doctors and nurses. Quarantined refugee camps were set up and Blacks were allowed to serve as policemen and firefighters. Everyone was in it together.

Anthony Sebastian Barboro survived yellow fever 1876. During the 1878 epidemic, Barboro being immune to the disease converted his grocery store into a field hospital.

The subsequent loss of over 30,000 people bankrupted the city and caused the state of Tennessee to revoke its city charter. But there is a silver lining somewhere in this tragedy. The next year as another threat of yellow fever bared down on Memphis, efforts to clean up the city accelerated with the help of a national sanitary reform. This led to an innovative and perhaps revolutionary waterworks system. Designed by the same man who designed the Central Park drainage system, Memphis’s upgraded sanitation system was cutting edge and became the model for several other cities to follow suit. Consequently, Memphis regained its city status and between 1900-1950 increased its population from 100,000 to 400,000.

Yes, we did see the famous Peabody Hotel ducks, but not until after the red carpet had been rolled up and carted away. So they were just ducks to us. The daily duck walk began in the 1930s when a duck hunter who used live ducks as decoys was staying in the hotel, got quite drunk and for kicks touted out his ducks in the lobby pond. He forgot about them until the next day. By then, the ducks became an attraction for the hotel guests. The hotel decided to keep it going. The ducks are trained by a duckmaster and rotated every 3 months, after which they go live their lives peacefully somewhere else.

Which brings me to the Memphis sanitation strike that took place in 1968, another event that put Memphis on the map. Most of the workers were Black, working for a segregated city run by a mayor with ties to the KKK and a penchant for maintaining Jim Crow. Non-unionized, the sanitation employees had little opportunity to improve working conditions, which became tragically clear with the lack of response from the city when two workers were crushed to death by a garbage compactor.

Their deaths led to a massive strike. It was a bad scene all around and eventually Martin Luther King Jr came to Memphis in support of the strike. Dr King was offered a room at the “whites only” Peabody Hotel. He refused it and instead stayed at the Black-owned Lorraine Motel. During the days of segregation, Blacks traveling the USA relied on “The Green Book” (the Negro Motorist Green Book) to find lodging and restaurants. Owned and operated by Walter and Loree Bailey, the Lorraine Motel was listed in the book. It would be King’s final stop.

On 450 Mulberry St, Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at 6:01 PM, April 4, 1968.
A wreath is displayed in front of Room 306. Loree Bailey, wife of the motel owner Walter Bailey died of a stroke three hours after MLK’s death.

It is from the corner of Mulberry and Butler where the Lorraine Motel stands that we received an unexpected lesson in our Civil Rights tour of the USA. Following King’s death, it was Walter Bailey’s wish to turn the Lorraine Motel into a memorial to Dr King. A few months prior to Bailey’s death in 1988, the motel closed and plans to build a civil rights museum on site began. Unfortunately, the tenants in the Lorraine Motel were evicted, the last of them being Jacqueline Smith who did not leave without a fight and 34 years later, she is still fighting. Her protest began with these words:

“You people are making a mistake. If I can’t live at The Lorraine, I’ll camp out on the sidewalk out front.”

After several years of camping out across the street, Smith was provided by the city a small house to live in. However, this has not stopped her protests. Every day without fail, she resides over a small booth of sorts on the corner of Mulberry and Butler (check it out on Google Maps), keeping vigil and ready to spread her message to anyone that will listen. While camped at Hernando Point, I learned about Jacqueline Smith from fellow RV’ers. Vivian and I wanted to meet her.

34 years and 163 days ago from this day, Jacqueline Smith was evicted from the Lorraine Motel and began her protest here on the corner of Mulberry and Butler. I could not get the nerve to ask her for a photo, but a few minutes before I took this photo, I was standing on the other side of the banner speaking to Ms Smith who sits at a table under the umbrella.

Adorned in a colorful scarf and dark sunglasses, the diminutive Jacqueline Smith held up a tattered copy of Dr King’s “A Testament of Hope” and implored us to “read his words, not those written by white people who glorify King’s death and negativity with a multi-million dollar purchase of the rooming house from where Dr King was shot“. She spoke to us of the ill effects of gentrification, interracial marriages and wealthy Black people spending their money on things other than to help other Black people. But mostly, it was about the lack of support for the homeless and disadvantaged, healthcare and help for the old and infirm. “Those are the issues that mattered most to Dr. King and they still matter today”, says Smith. And when I asked her if she had met King, she promptly rapped my knuckles with these words, “That question is not relevant to the conversation”.

Many people waiting to get into the Civil Rights Museum. Walter Bailey kept everything in the room as it was when Dr King was assassinated on the balcony.

We were taken aback by Ms. Smith’s words. Walking toward Central BBQ a block away from the Lorraine, Vivian and I pondered those words and while we agree with the message about support for the disadvantaged, there were other things we could not see eye to eye. According to Ms Smith, “They wanted King to marry a white woman”. I am not sure who ‘they’ is, but we couldn’t help think, what if Dr. King fell in love with a white woman? Who are we to dictate who he, or anyone for that matter can or cannot marry? At any rate, I must thank Jacqueline Smith for her tenacity of keeping the fires stoked and for inspiring the young Black man who sat talking with her and taking notes in his copy of King’s book. I thank her for adding a fresh perspective to our Civil Rights education and making our visit to Memphis more memorable than usual.

While people were lined up at the Civil Rights Museum, we got in this line. You can’t visit Memphis without trying the Memphis BBQ!

Lastly, before we left Memphis, we had to see the 322-ft tall “Memphis Pyramid”, or what our tour guide referred to as “The Redneck Disney”. The Pyramid was built to serve as an arena as Memphis tried to lure pro teams to its city. After losing money with the opening of the Fedex Forum, it was bought out by Bass Pro Shops in 2015. Enjoy the visual delights of a Bass Pro Shop on decorative steroids.

Jun 11, 2022 – Art and Nature Florida Style

Our travels began on June 11, five weeks past our original day of departure.
Our route through Florida included six campgrounds in 17 days. Campgrounds included COE Ortona South (B), Colt Creek State Park (C), Magnolia Park (D), Lake Louisa State Park (E), Silver Lake State Forest Campground (F) and Ho Hum RV Park (G).

According to our original plans, this day, June 11 would have ended week-5 of our 2022 travels and the final day at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado. Instead, we found ourselves on Chokoloskee Island preparing to hitch up on a steamy morning hungover from a hard rain. Drenched in sweat, I performed the regimen of disconnecting water, sewer and electric for the first time in seven months. Instead of the sparsely oxygenated dry air of the mountains, air heavy with water vapor filled my lungs. Just a tad nervous with being a bit travel rusty, I gave Vivian the AOK to back the truck into the exact spot where the open jaw of the hitch receives the king pin. And if we both did our jobs correctly, the powerful thick metal claws will lock the kingpin in place so that the 8000-lb truck may pull our 12,000-lb home.

A couple hours later, we began setting up at our first campground minutes before, and like clockwork a midafternoon storm over the interior of Florida engulfed us. Only 78 miles north of Chokoloskee, the Army Corp of Engineers Ortona South campground would serve as home for the next two nights. It felt like we had gone no further than the end of our block, but it was a decent start to a pared down travel itinerary.

Over the next couple weeks, we lingered – like the high price of diesel, like the heat and humidity. Lack of wifi and spotty cell signals kept the news of the world at arm’s length, which was fine because it seems lately the news is coming off like those dark clouds that form every afternoon and threaten us with storms. And more now than ever, current events feel like one gut punch after another.

Don’t abandon me yet because I am going to put all negativity aside and show you what it is that motivates us to travel. Not one moment goes by without Vivian and I feeling grateful to be doing what we are doing, more so now with the high cost of living. So with that, let me share with you the two things that bring us great joy on our travels – art and nature, Florida style.

Beginning with Colt Creek State Park and ending with Silver Lake Campground, 132 towing miles, 4 campgrounds and 11 days while experiencing day time temps above 90 degrees.

Following Ortona, we drove 159 miles north to Colt Creek State Park near Lakeland, one of our favorite campgrounds in Florida. With three nights, we dedicated one full day to simply staying within the park to do a little hiking in the early morning before the oppression of heat and humidity chased us back to our AC’ed home.

After a few nights near Apopka, we headed to another Florida State Park, Lake Louisa. Nestled between two small lakes, the campgrounds was quiet and moderately in use. Within a heavily populated area of Florida, this state park is a refuge among out-of-control development. A 3-mile road from the entrance gate to the campground winds through rolling wilderness of open pastures and pine forests. Similar to Colt Creek, the park’s land was once privately owned. Orange groves and a cattle ranch dominated the scenery back then.

Ten days since leaving Chokoloskee and less than 50 miles away from Lake Louisa State Park, we pulled into the Silver Lake Campground in the Withlacootchee State Forest. Since the beginning, the heat has been relentless and challenging to no end. It forced us into a rhythm of activity; that is to enjoy the beautiful wilderness areas we visited, hiking needed to begin by 7 am and finish well before lunch. Consequently, afternoons were spent mostly inside reading and writing. Having scored well shaded campsites, evenings invited us back outside to our ‘front patio’. And while at Silver Lake, diesel was conserved as the truck would not move until we hitched up again to head north 3 days later.

Between Lake Louisa State Park and Silver Lake Campground, we spent a few days in Apopka, at an Orange County Park by the name of Magnolia. Which meant we were going urban for awhile. But, we wanted to see Mt Dora, a charming little town known for its art festivals and antiques. Why is it called Mount Dora? At an elevation of 184′, it is Florida’s mountain town.

Although Mt Dora’s small town charm attracted us, what we really came to see was Bowie.

And last but not least, while staying at Colt Creek State Park, we spent the morning at the Florida Southern College campus taking a walking tour of its Frank Lloyd Wright designed campus.

When people think of Florida, what often comes to mind are sunshine, palm trees, beaches and Disney. But Florida is full of surprises and lots of art and nature. You just have to linger long enough to discover them.

I’ll leave you with this morning shot from our campsite on the Gulf of Mexico.

May 10, 2022 – The Unexpected is Reliable

Our travels that began in 2018 are about discovery and learning. And the thing we discovered quickly is you can count on the unexpected. We also learned that we can prepare for those unexpected events, but more importantly, we learned to keep all challenges in perspective. During our first year of RV travel, we met a woman at a campground whose husband had fallen seriously ill with a heart condition the previous year. He became sick on the road days after starting their full time RV lifestyle. They got as far as northern Florida and that is where we met her, at a campground close enough to where her husband could receive medical treatment. That was 2018.

Within the first five miles of our maiden voyage in 2018, the fifth wheel’s brakes had burned out and this piece of knowledge was unknown to us until the Grand Design rally in Indiana, 1600 miles later. Somehow, we got to Indiana safely thanks to a very powerful diesel engine truck. You can read all about that here.
That moment you realize you made the wrong turn. Of course we made the mistake of putting our trust in Google’s navigation, on our way to Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama in 2018. Read all about that here.

By the time Vivian broke her ankle in northern Arkansas, we had been traveling for three months during the summer of 2019, our second year on the road. A few weeks after her break, we were back in northern Florida and as Vivian was out of commission, I had laundry duty. Which brought me to a campground laundry room where I met a man whose wife was physically debilitated. They too were fulltime RV traveling and had to stop in their tracks due to her sudden illness. Their last stop was now their permanent home.

Fortunately, many of the circumstances following Vivian’s bimalleolar break made the temporary inconveniences less painful. You can read all about that here.
Traveling in a 5th wheel has its unique challenges and each one is accentuated when one of you is unable to walk. A broken ankle didn’t keep us from traveling in 2019, it just made it more interesting. You can read all about that experience here.
Following the ankle break incident in northern Arkansas, we were on the road heading back home for a period of several weeks. When we finally arrived at the final campground 250 miles north of Chokoloskee, we discovered this – a broken hanger bracket. Read about that here.

Three’s a charm. So there we were at the end of our 2019 travels with a broken ankle and a broken hanger bracket (in case you don’t know, hanger brackets hold up the RV’s suspension) – what more can we pile on that? While we did manage to get a new hanger bracket welded onto the RV at our campsite, the job performed seemed dubious. Meanwhile, we had a slideout issue that needed to be addressed in a big way. We drove gingerly back to Chokoloskee for the winter and awaited the next year for major repairs in Indiana.

During our 2019 travels, this started happening. The tears in the vinyl floor don’t look like much but they were a sign of worse things that needed to be addressed.

Vivian recovered fully from her accident, so we came into 2020 ready to rumble. Prior to that, we had barely crossed the Mississippi River, so our plans for our third year included lots of western states and the Continental Divide. But then, along came COVID and that changed our travel itinerary drastically. And we had a slideout and suspension repair scheduled, which caused us to begin our travels by heading up to Indiana as carefully as possible.

Our 2019 travels ended knowing that we had two major repairs to deal with at the beginning of our 2020 travels. Consequently, we spent several weeks (longer than expected) in Indiana getting slide out repairs and suspension repair/upgrade before heading out west. Read about that here.
Behold, the entire suspension laid out on the floor at Lippert Service, Inc. The result, an upgraded and improved suspension to take us out west.

The repairs went well and our travels to the Great Plains commenced. A nail in the truck tire at a KOA campground in Topeka, Kansas was the rudest interruption to our travel itinerary (other than “closed to covid” signs). Our travels through the Great Plains was to end in the south, beginning with Arkansas, but that all changed.

More than anything, Vivian wanted to return to Arkansas to pick up where she left off. But then, along came Hurricane Laura. Risk of tornadoes and flooding forced us to leave Arkansas early & go north on short notice. Consequently, our unexpected detour brought us to Illinois & Indiana. Read about that here.

2021 was to be an epic travel year out west and would be our longest stint on the road. So much more defines that trip beyond the amazing places we visited – some good, some bad. We lost loved ones that year. This resulted in Vivian’s sister unexpectedly traveling two months with us out west. It was her dream to see the national parks and the mountains, but it came with the loss of her husband. And we learned to live and travel as three. All women no less!

Our dry campsite at Goblin Valley State Park, Utah with Vivian’s sister enjoying the shade. On the second day at about 4 pm, we somehow got a phone signal and made a reservation in nearby Torrey for the night. We made the last minute decision to leave this campsite with high winds blowing piles of sand into the RV and 90+ temperatures making matters worse.
There was a foreboding sense of urgency while visiting Glacier National Park that caused us to shorten the time on our easterly travels to Michigan. We arrived in Michigan’s lower peninsula two weeks earlier than planned to be with my mom.
But not before this happened! Along side the road and about 30 miles before crossing the Mackinac Bridge.
It was not all good times while in Michigan, but we had this view every morning at the campground, which luckily, accommodated us for an additional two weeks. Read more about it here.

Our RV travels have taught us much, about the United States & the people that live and travel in it, RV maintenance and troubleshooting, the good side and bad side of planning ahead, and mostly about our resilience. But of all the things we have learned, the one that sticks out most is that the unexpected is quite reliable. And we have had our share of unexpected events and changes.

IMPROVISE: You never know what you are in for at a campsite. A little ingenuity, a trip to Lowe’s for some old fashioned rain gutters and voila’, gravity is good to go.
MITIGATE: Leak avoidance is the name of the game in RV living. We replaced several soft hoses with sturdier pex hoses, like these running to and from the water heater.
NO FEAR: Be careful where you go poking your nose. Folding back a part of the plastic sheet that covers the underbelly of the RV reveals things you may not want to see, including the black tank valve.
LEARN: We recently discovered a steady leak in the water pump due to worn check valve and diaphragm. We had to wait a few days to get a new pump. Meanwhile, we had two choices, shut of our water or plug the city water hose that connects to the pump. We chose the latter. Now we have a new pump and a second one for back up.

Back home in Chokoloskee last year and after getting everything cleaned from an accumulation of travel dust and setting up for a long winter season on the island, I begin eagerly to plan our 2022 trip as I always do. In the world of RV traveling, you must plan, especially now that everyone and their grandmother has purchased an RV. Acquiring reservations in sought after locations was necessary in my mind. So much so that by the end of February 2022, we were booked solid from May 8 to October 17.

I’ve learned that reserving a coveted campsite way in advance is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of thing some times. As you can see here, I reserved 2 nights within Custer State Park, not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, I had to cancel it and lose the price of one night stay.

Oh, I had a great trip planned, elegantly designed by western mountains and midwestern trout streams & great lakes and bookended with southern and Appalachian culture and wilderness. Three National Parks, three National Lake Shores, four Great lakes, and at least four State Capitals were on our list of things to experience. There were no COVID restrictions to look forward to, all doors were open. AND – we could add four state stickers to our map.

A large part of our 2022 travels had to be scrapped. That included Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming & South Dakota.

“Plans are only good intentions…”. And then suddenly, circumstances caused us to change our 2022 travel plans. The insane price of diesel weighed us down as we approached our May departure date, so we made the executive decision to cut our trip in half and delay our departure by seven weeks. That cost us $178 in reservation cancellation fees.

Anticipating our maiden voyage in 2018, the excitement was palpable as I filled the truck’s tank. Ahhh, the good old days.

It had been three years since we stayed on Chokoloskee Island beyond the month of May. Anticipating seven more weeks, our moods faltered, and the sweltering heat and humidity of south Florida contributed generously to that. Unacclimated and unaccustomed to seeing all our snowbird neighbors leave one by one, we find ourselves at this moment nearly alone on our paradise island, struggling to put our gears back in neutral.

As they say on Chokoloskee Island “It is what it is”.

But you know what? We may be giving something up, but we’re not giving up that much. We may not hike the Rocky Mountains, but we’ll hike the Appalachians. We may not rack up four new states on our sticker map, but we’ll add one. We may not see a bison this year, but we will cross the Mississippi. We’ll spend quality time along the shores of four Great Lakes, visit four State Capitals and more interesting cities to boot, we’ll paddle, photograph and fish some beautiful waters and we’ll visit two National Parks and three National Lake Shores while we’re at it.

Our revised 2022 itinerary, which includes another slide repair in Indiana. Overall, not to shabby!

There are large swaths of territory that will remain stickerless on our U.S. map this year. One way or the other, we’ll eventually get to the Pacific coast, visit many more National Parks, and work our way up to Maine. And we’ll travel Canada and as my mother would say “God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise”, north to Alaska. At least that’s the plan.

So with that, unexpected changes and events are reliable and very much a part of RV traveling. Vivian and I can deal with it and most importantly, we’ll count our blessings while we’re at it.

Stayed tuned as we take you on our next adventure that if all goes as planned will, among many things include visits to a couple river cities while heading north along the Mississippi, a Presidential Library, the driftless area of Wisconsin, the rugged north country along Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, the Appalachian Mountains and the New River Gorge, and more Florida State parks. And plenty of beautiful things to photograph and plenty of rivers, streams and lakes to fish and paddle on!

Meanwhile, we will enjoy our piece of heaven right here on Chokoloskee Island, despite the heat and humidity.

2021 Recap – RV Traveling Through New Mexico

For those RVers wishing to explore The Land of Enchantment, our itinerary may prove useful. This comes with a caveat and that is – there is so much more to New Mexico than what I have to offer here. Which is why we plan to come back and spend more time in the southwestern state that enchanted us from beginning to end.

This blog includes slideshows illustrating and describing places we visited. Please take the time to look at them and also check out many of the links provided. Additionally, I wrote four blogs during our stay in New Mexico, each one offering a historical perspective. You’ll find a link to each at the end of this blog, please check those out as well!

The entire route through New Mexico from Texas to Utah. B = Mt View RV Park in Van Horn, TX, C = Alamogordo KOA, D = Santa Fe KOA, E = Riana Campground (COE) near Abiquiu, F = Taos Valley RV Park in Taos, G = Albuquerque North KOA, H = Moore’s RV & Campground in Bloomington, I = Coral Sands RV Park in Bluff, UT.

Alamogordo KOA – 3 nights

On May 5 we entered New Mexico north of El Paso on Highway 54, 202 miles beginning at Mt View RV Park in Van Horn, Texas ending at Alamogordo’s KOA. For more rustic camping, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park (which came recommended) and Dog Canyon dispersed camping next to it, are about 17 miles south of Alamogordo. There is nothing to see in Alamogordo except the New Mexico Museum of Space History, but it’s location was convenient for White Sands National Park.

From the campground, the White Sands NP Visitor Center and entrance is 17 miles one way and right off highway 70. So easy and quick to get to, I came to White Sands three times to photograph during our short stay in Alamogordo. The satellite image shows the contrasting white sands desert with the adjacent desert prairie.

In addition to White Sands National Park, we recommend a visit to Three Rivers Petroglyph Site and Valley of Fire Recreation Area north of Alamogordo. The mountain towns of Cloudcroft and Ruidoso are also worth a visit.

A pleasant 152-mile loop (except for the heavy road construction in Ruidoso) drive with relatively sparse traffic. Both Three Rivers Petroglyph and Valley of Fires offer camping (BLM).

Santa Fe KOA – 4 nights

We left Alamogordo by way of Highway 54 to a small town called Vaughn. As we drove through it, I researched it to learn Vaughn was a railroad town complete with a Harvey House Hotel. Now, it is a known drug-smuggling route and patrolled by the county sheriff, New Mexico Rangers and State Police, Motor Transportation Police and Vaughn Police Dept. Probably much safer than it looked, Vaughn was a convenient diesel stop on our way to the Santa Fe KOA.

The highways on this 219-mile route to Santa Fe KOA were wide and well maintained. With a few stops along the way and decent cell phone signal, it never seemed too desolate. This route was at least 50 miles less than the alternatives which included I-25 through Albuquerque.

Four nights in Santa Fe gave us time to explore the area, including Pecos National Historic Park (highly recommended) hiking the Galisteo Basin Preserve, and walking downtown Santa Fe where we visited the Loretto Chapel and its ‘miraculous’ staircase and the New Mexico History Museum. Unfortunately, I did not acquire the necessary tickets in time for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which would have been the highlight of Santa Fe for us.

Red circle indicates the area of Galisteo Basin Preserve where we hiked. Pecos National Historical Park was only 18 miles east of the campground and Santa Fe only 14 miles away. The red X marks where we originally intended to camp, at Cochiti Lake (COE). Due to Covid, the Cochiti Pueblo, including Cochiti Lake was closed to the public.

Riana Campground – 4 nights

After Santa Fe, we drove 70 miles north to an Army Corp of Engineers campground called Riana, located on the Abiquiu Reservoir. This was the only campground in our New Mexico itinerary where we wanted to spend quality time. Unfortunately, the water levels were so low that Vivian had to forego her kayak fishing plans.

An easy going and relatively short route with plenty of stopover options.

Four nights at Riana gave us only three days to explore the area and explore we did. We wanted to see the following (distances are one-way from Riana):

Ghost Ranch – 8 miles. Purchasing a day pass for $10 allows you to hike the beautiful grounds where O’Keeffe painted many of her desert scenes and visit the museum. The entrance is conveniently located on Highway 84.

White Place (Plaza Blanca) – 10 miles. On private property, permission can be given to go in a hike this wonderous landscape where O’Keeffee created her ‘White Place’ paintings. The entrance is on the outskirts of Abiquiu.

Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Museum in Abiquiu (unfortunately closed at the time due to Covid).

Bandelier National Monument – 59 miles. You cannot miss this, cliff-dwellings and petroglyphs in the beautiful Frijoles Creek Canyon.

Manhattan Project National Historic Park in Los Alamos – 48 miles. We visited Los Alamos after spending the morning in Bandelier National Monument.

The blue X indicates the Ghost Ranch, the white X indicates Plaza Blanca. Both locations were within a 10-mile radius of Riana and the tiny town of Abiquiu where Georgia O’Keefe worked and lived.

Taos Valley RV Park – 3 nights

Another short distance of towing, 67 miles brought us to the Taos Valley RV Park. With only 3 nights and one and half days of non-stop rain, we had little time to walk downtown Taos (Taos Pueblo was closed due to Covid) and drive over to the Rio Grande River Gorge.

Nothing remarkable about this drive. But, my best memory of New Mexico roads is a positive one.
If you stay in Taos, you must see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, it is a work of wonder.

Moore’s RV Park and Campground – 7 nights

Our final stop in New Mexico before entering Utah was Moore’s RV Park and Campground in Bloomington. From Taos, we stopped over at the Albuquerque North/Bernalillo KOA for one night before heading north on Highway 550.

114 miles between Taos Valley RV Park and Albuquerque North/Bernalillo KOA. The KOA is located next to I-25, an easy on and off, but surprisingly quiet. And there is another very good reason to stay here, see picture below.
Only a few dozen yards from our RV site at Albuquerque North KOA was this inviting doorway to the Kaktus Brewing Company where a variety of beers and excellent pizza awaited us.
154 miles in total, about 150 of those on Highway 550. Wide lanes, wide shoulders, plenty of opportunities to pull off and take a break. We gassed up at the Apache Nugget Travel Center, about half way.

Bloomington would be our home for one week, but we spent very little time there as we had many places to visit and explore including the following (miles are one way from campground):

San Juan River near Navajo Lake State Park – 25 miles

Mesa Verde National Park – 80 miles

Aztec Ruins National Monument – 10 miles

Chaco Culture National Historical Park – 62 miles

The Lybrook Badlands and Black Place – 52 miles.

We hired Navajo Tours USA to take us into the Lybrook badlands one afternoon and glad we did. The badland areas, including the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area are accessible on public lands but a 4-wheel drive, navigational knowledge of the area and attention to weather (roads becoming impassable due to rain) are essential if you really want to get in there and see it. For a shorter version, the Bisti wilderness can be easily accessed from a parking area not far from Highway 371 and an easy hike in allows you to see the badlands up close.

Last but not least, check out my previous blogs for a little history and perspectives on New Mexico:

Fire and Sand, May 5, 2021

Gateway to the Southwest, May 8, 2021

O’Keeffe’s Faraway Place, May 12, 2021

Our Visit to North New Mexico was Ruined, May 20, 2021

Dec 17, 2021- The Best of the Best

Our route while towing the RV, a total of 8626 miles.

To summarize our 2021 travels – we pulled out of Chokoloskee on April 9 and returned on Nov 11 with an additional 17,319 miles, 8626 of which were towing miles. Traveling spanned over 216 nights, 48 locations, 16 states, and 8 new states meeting our sticker map criterion which is at least one night in the RV. We visited 10 national parks and stayed in 7 state parks (representing 4 states) and spent 41 nights in 8 Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds across 6 states. We boondocked a total of 4 nights (3 Harvest Hosts) and enjoyed full hook up 76% of the time.

As we near the end of another year, it is only fitting to reminisce on our travels. And because I am a blogger, I will share my reminiscing with you! But wait, don’t leave yet because what I will do is boil our travels down to some highlights, provide you information on specific regions (routes, campgrounds, places of interest), and perhaps add some useful tips, especially for those who are current or future RV travelers.

I begin my reminiscing with a top ten campground list from 2021. Chosen out of 45 campgrounds, these 10 stand out because of one simple criterion – we would be contentedly happy at this campground for an extended period because of its abundant natural space (land or water) that can be explored, irrespective of its amenities.

However, this list comes with a BIG DISCLAIMER – rating is not based on amenities such as wifi, phone signal, antennae TV or laundry; rather it is all about the aesthetics, the wilderness, the space, the wildlife. In fact, lack of all said amenities were absent at some of these campgrounds! So, I will admit, the great outdoors is the draw, lacking certain amenities, especially a phone signal is challenging beyond a 2-3 day stay.

Nevertheless, if you want to “get away” to a conveniently located campground where you can paddle or hike in a wilderness area while having the comforts of a campground that accommodates large RVs, check out these campgrounds.

Coming in at #10: a Northern Michigan Campground

Located in the middle of the “tip of the mitten”, Headwaters is halfway between Grayling and Gaylord and near I-75. Traverse City & Sleeping Bear Dunes are about an hour away as is the straits of Mackinac and Lake Huron. It is named Headwaters as Big Bradford Lake is the headwaters for the Ausable River.

Headwaters Camping and Cabins. Out of necessity, we stayed at this rustic campground on Big Bradford Lake in northern Michigan for 42 nights.

On most mornings, I would make the short walk with my coffee in hand to the lake where the sun rose over the misty water. Although our campsite was not directly on the water, many sites are.
The campground is relatively old (gravel sites) and the site we stayed on was recently converted to full hookup. I needed extra hose length for the water and an extension cord to reach the electric. Despite the challenges of maintaining a lakefront campground, the owners have done a great job. Being a seasonal location, maintaining laundry and wifi is not cost effective.
Adjacent to national forest, Big Bradford Lake is not really THAT big, but it is mostly undeveloped. While it is shallow along its shoreline, the bottom drops off quickly to depths of 100 feet toward the lake’s center.

So, we really got to know the place well. It is relatively secluded (but easy to get to) and among the quietest campgrounds we have stayed in. Viewing the sunrise over the lake, long walks in the surrounding forest, the ease of launching the kayak, and the wonderful onsite owners, all made the lack of wifi and laundry facility less painful. Read more about this northern Michigan location here.

#9: A Northern New Mexico Campground

Riana Campground. One of the 3 Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds making our top ten list, this one is located on Abiquiu Lake in northern New Mexico – about 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and 70 miles west of Taos.

You can see our RV on the right. Walking to the opposite side of the campground loop gave me a higher vantage point to view the lake.
Although the campsite did not have a concrete pad like so many Army Corp campgrounds do, Riana offers a paved driveway and our site was level and spacious. Sites are spread out well enough for privacy.

Despite unusually low water levels (which made kayak fishing next to impossible for Vivian), the ambience of a spacious campground overlooking a large body of water with mountains in the background just made my heart sing. Although not full hook up, it has, like most Army Corp campgrounds what RV’ers value highly – easy in and out, space, a view, and easy hook ups (water and electric in this case). I loved walking around the bluffs overlooking the lake, so enjoy this slideshow from those hikes.

And lastly, please check out my previous blog about our visit to the Abiquiu area, or what I like to call “Georgia O’Keeffe Country”.

#8: A Florida Panhandle Campground

St George Island is a barrier island in the Apalachicola Bay and about 80 miles south of Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital.

St George Island State Park. It comes as no surprise that 4 of the top ten campgrounds are state parks and there are two more given honorable mention at the end of our list.

At site #43 situated at the end of a passthrough road in the middle of the campground loop, we had plenty of pavement real estate to back in easily. This is premium because not all sites were so accommodating. This site was beautifully shaded and on the other side of the trees in our rear view are the sand dunes.
Lots of passerine birds pass through here in the spring, including this male cardinal that (along with a female) visited our site daily.

It is also no surprise that among our top ten campgrounds is one located on one of Florida’s spectacular Gulf of Mexico beaches. Vivian and I are not beach loungers, but the sand dunes were among my favorites to photograph, and Vivian loves to fish. Hiking trails, an easy walk to the beach, and lots of birds & other wildlife makes this one of Florida’s best.

Read about our visit to St George Island State Park here.

#7: A North Dakota State Park

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is in the town of Mandan, southwest of Bismarck, North Dakota.

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. We stayed here for two reasons; convenience and desire to visit Bismarck on our way through North Dakota.

A first for us, a double pull through, which was a back-in given that our camp neighbor got there first. Our campsite was large, but there were plenty of back-in sites easy to get into and offering more privacy and prettier views.

We could have stayed at the Bismarck KOA but when I discovered that this state park campground offers wonderfully large campsites along the Missouri River and has an interesting history, it was a shoe-in. Not only was having the Missouri River near our campsite a perk, but so were the miles of hiking trails that offer beautiful overlooks of the river, lots of deer, and a historical tour of a Mandan Village and Fort Abraham Lincoln where several replicas of buildings are scattered about as you can see in the slideshow below.

You can read about our visit that includes a tour of North Dakota’s state capitol here.

#6 A Northeast Texas State Park

Texas’s Caddo Lake State Park is close to the Louisiana border and about 30 miles from Shreveport.

Caddo Lake State Park. What brings Caddo Lake to this list are many things, among which are the following – our campsite, the relatively small and peaceful campground, miles of hiking trails and of course, Caddo Lake itself.

Woodpecker Hollow loop offers paved pullthroughs with full hookup and private campsite facing the forest. Hiking trailheads and Caddo Lake are all a short walk away.

If not for the fact that it rained constantly during our 5-night stay, we would have enjoyed more of this park and it likely would have ranked higher. Read here about our visit to the surrounding areas including the historical town of Jefferson. Above is a slideshow from the park, including the very hilly road coming in and out of the campground.

#5: A southern Alabama Campground

Foscue Creek Campground is about 100 miles west of Montgomery and 50 miles west of Selma.

Foscue Creek. Another Army Corp of Engineers, west of Montgomery, Alabama near the town of Demopolis.

Most campsites are waterside and with a few exceptions, full hookup. Consequently people come here and stay the maximum length, which is two weeks during a month.
The first of three campsites was the best one, scenic, adequately shaded and spacious.

Funny thing, we were originally reserved for five nights but ended up staying an additional 3 nights which required us to move twice. So, we had the pleasure of staying at three different sites, all of which offered a waterfront view. We enjoyed the water, the peacefulness, relatively easy access to water with a kayak and plenty of hiking trails to go around. Read here about our civil rights tour taken while we stayed at Foscue Creek and another Army Corp campground, Gunter Hill.

#4: A rural Indiana County Campground

Near the town of Cicero, White River Campground is north of Indianapolis and for us, a 28-mile drive to my sister’s house in Indianapolis.

White River Campground, Hamilton County. Other than being a county park with level concrete full hookup campsites that accommodate large rigs, there is nothing extraordinary about this campground. It is after all, in Indiana, located among corn and soybean fields.

Our campsite next to the White River. We stay at this campground each year so that we can visit family in nearby Indianapolis. Other than the extremely high sewer holes located at the far end of certain campsites, it is a wonderful park with decent amenities. There was a threat of flooding on the day we arrived, but water levels did not get high enough to force us out.
The walking bridge in the campground crosses the White River. On the other side is a large 26 acres of land with hiking/biking paths, one that leads to a small lake. All of it is part of a the Strawtown Koteewi Park.

To visit family in Indianapolis, we could stay at a campground located closer to the city, but instead we keep coming back to White River because we really enjoy it. Maybe it is because this rural campground is a welcome reprieve after spending a day in the city. With miles of hiking (biking) trails, an easy walk to a lake and the White River, we enjoy the wildlife and wildflowers that come with its open surroundings. I wrote about our first visit to White River back in 2018, check it out here.

#3: A Northern Wisconsin Campground

On Iron Lake and a short distance from Highway 2 is Top O’ the Morn Resort. Duluth, MN and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are each about 45 miles away from the campground.

Top O’ the Morn Resorts. If I have any regrets from our 2021 travels, it is that I did not take more photos of this Wisconsin campground we called home for a short 3 nights.

New owners have maintained the rustic appeal of Top O’ the Morn, including a heavily wooded section of the campground for seasonal campers that have built permanent structures on their sites. Our section for transients included well maintained pull throughs.

Located on Iron Lake, not far from the Apostle Islands, we serendipitously discovered Top O’ the Morn given that the coveted coastal campgrounds were either full or unaccommodating to our RV. So glad we found it because we fell in love with its quiet lake ambience. We didn’t have time to get out on the lake with the kayak, but we’ll be back.

#2: a central Florida State Park

About 20 miles north of Lakeland and 50 miles from Tampa, Colt Creek State Park is in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve area.

Colt Creek State Park. There is no doubt, Florida has some of the best state parks in the country. Although many of them are not accommodating to our RV, a handful are and the best of them is Florida’s newest state park, Colt Creek.

We stayed at Colt Creek two years ago and could not enjoy it like we did this time. Why couldn’t we enjoy it? Read all about that here, especially if you are interested in RV suspension disasters. Colt Creek is Florida’s newest, so new even the washer and dryer machines still work!
We considered our site, #30 to be the best, with maybe a couple others comparable to it. Each site pad is well groomed, very spacious, nicely shaded and with only about 25 RV sites and a handful of tent sites, this small campground is remote and quiet. Only the sounds of a barred owl can be heard at night.

There is no beach or spring-fed water filled with manatee, nor is the campground itself on the water. Instead, it is within central Florida’s wetland and pine flatland territory, home to much wildlife including otter, eagle, deer, alligator, and wading birds, all of which we saw while there for a short 2 nights. With lots of hiking trails, a couple lakes to kayak on and a paved road with little traffic for bicycling, you could enjoy this park for an extended time easily.

Drum roll #1: a western Georgia Campground

About 80 miles southwest of Atlanta, GA and 90 miles east of Montgomery, AL, Georgia’s R. Shaefer Heard Park is located near the GA-AL border on West Point Lake.

R Shaefer Heard Park. I didn’t think of this Georgia park as being #1 when we were camping there, but in retrospect, my thoughts kept going back to this place. What sticks in my mind is the water view from our campsite and the fact we could launch the kayak within feet away from the RV.

The view from from our campsite one evening.
The view of our campsite from the kayak.

Not only that, the lake is so picturesque with its cypress trees and near perfect waterscapes (no manmade intrusions).

Although there are no hiking trails, the well shaded campground is very large with several loops that it took me over an hour to walk its entirety up and down relatively steep inclines. It’s a wonderful campground to have a bicycle. We discovered that the loop we camped on, sites 1-10 (we were on #10) was the easiest for water access.

I have three more campgrounds to give honorable mention to. Here they are:

Goblin Valley State Park

An overlook view of Goblin Valley State Park’s small campground. If not for the 90+ degree temperatures and 20+ mph winds, we would have stayed a second night. But we loved this park nevertheless!
The best part of Goblin Valley was exploring the hoodoos.

Deer Creek State Park

Another Utah State Park, Deer Creek near Provo. Although it was near a heavily populated area and on a heavily used lake, it was still a beautiful and comfortable park to stay for a few nights.
The view of the Wasatch Mountains and the Provo River as seen from one of the hiking trails in the park.

Gunter Hill Park

Another Army Corp of Engineers campground is Gunter Hill Park, only 10 miles from Montgomery, AL. Concrete level pads, full hookups, and lots of space and privacy makes this campground all the more appealing.
Many of the sites had views like this one of the Alabama River. We stayed at Gunter Hill Park for a total of 14 days to spend quality time in Montgomery discovering the Legacy Museum among other things.