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2018 – Bear Cave Thousand Trails – Buchanan, MI

Bear Cave Thousand Trails is just north of South Bend, Indiana in the southwestern corner of Michigan. The campground is situated along the St. Joseph River and there are several sites along the river. Most of these sites are a bit smaller and all are 30 amp/water sites. Campers with smaller rigs will enjoy these sites. There are several FHU 50 amp sites but many of these are sold to seasonal residents. Still, there were vacant FHU sites while we were at the campground. Most of the available FHU sites are large sites on or around a field rather than in the wooded areas beside the river. Not only would we have not fit in the river or playground sites, we wouldn’t have been able to get a satellite TV signal so we were satisfied with our back in site along the perimeter of the field sites.

The road into the campground is a bit of a concern. It is gravel and just barely wide enough for two RV’s to meet. “Just barely” may even be a bit optimistic depending on how close to the edge the drivers are willing to get. This isn’t a huge deal because the road in is fairly short, but it is something people might want to know.

Our Verizon signal was barely there even using a cradle booster. We had internet but it was only fair at best and sometimes unusable. Compounding the problem is the fact that there is no WiFi anywhere in the campground – not at the Activity Center and not for pay. I think Jackie and I both went through a bit of Internet withdrawal – not necessarily a bad thing.

The campground has a big pool (too cold for us in early June – but well-used by the kids) and a big Activity Center.  The spa was out of service. These are a ways from the FHU section of the campground.

During our visit the cave itself was closed due to winter flooding. Work was being done on it and on the nice river walkway that was also damaged. The nicest feature of the campground, in my opinion, was a pretty waterfall that is right at the heart of the campground. In fact, there are some campsites that overlook the waterfall. I imagine that with the sound of the water that tenting in those sites must be great for sleeping!

Really, I think there’s a lot to like about this campground. It is a bit tired and in need of some corporate financial TLC but really, this is a pretty good Thousand Trails.

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2018 – Sightseeing Northwestern Indiana and Southwestern Michigan

Being close to South Bend, Indiana and having heard of Notre Dame University all my life we decided to drive down and tour of the campus. I was impressed with beautiful well kept grounds. The famous Gold Dome and statue Of The Virgin Mary on top is a well known landmark. We toured the bookstore and saw the many items ranging from text books to Fighting Irish themed clothings. We took a walking tour with a friendly young lady who is a sophomore at the University. She said they have about 16 female dorms and 17 male dorms. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a beautiful ornate place of worship with the stained glass windows first installed In 1893. Our final stop was The Hesburgh Library featuring Jesus depicted in a famous mural as the “Word of Life” facing Notre Dame Stadium. This giant mural is better known as “Touchdown Jesus”. There is much more to see on campus should you decide to visit.

Here’s another review of this area.
Here’s yet another review of this area.

We also enjoyed our day in St. Joseph, Michigan. This city is at the mouth the St. Joseph River on Lake Michigan. Many people were enjoying the Silver Beach County Park. This park offers wide beaches with playgrounds for kids of all ages. There were several volleyball nets. We saw lots of children playing in the water at the Whirlpool Compass Fountain. They were having a blast being sprayed with with water shooting up from the floor for them to run through and stand under and huge water cannons shooting across the park on timers. There is also a paved trail above the shoreline with benches to sit on and enjoy lake view.

From the river walkway we could see the two lighthouses called Range lights at the mouth of the St.Joseph River. They were built in 1907 when the pier was lengthened.

A major attraction of the Park is the Silver Beach Carousel open year around and along with unique handmade horses. It features a rocking peacock and sea serpent benches that are wheelchair accessible.

This is a great area to visit and I know there is much more to see. In fact, I’ll have another review of the area as we continue our visit in the vicinity at a different campground next week.

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2017 Project: Bigfoot Leveling System

20170614_150431.jpg We really like our Hitchhiker II LS 5th wheel. However, we’re missing a few extras that the newer rigs have. A couple of months ago we decided that for the foreseeable future we’d like to make a few upgrades and keep our current 5th wheel. The biggest upgrade for us was adding a power leveling system. We found that the Bigfoot Leveling System by Quadra was highly regarded by most everyone. This is a powerful hydraulic system. They make a fully automatic system – just push the button and it figures out what is level by itself. We opted to save nearly $900 and install a single pump, manual, four jack system. With this system you have a remote control and using the bubble levels already mounted on the camper you level the camper. The guys at the factory told me our 5th wheel was a bigger project than many and it took a day and a half to do the install. The good folks at Quadra were nothing but helpful and professional. They even let us sleep in the camper while it was parked overnight inside their facility. This is a new system for us, but we found ourselves on a rather un-level site our first night out with it. It took just a minute or so to bring the camper perfectly level. Jackie and I were both all smiles watching it work!

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Reflections on our 2015 Adventure

We enjoyed our 2015 Adventure very much! It took us to the northern Midwest with an emphasis on Wisconsin and Michigan and included some great stops along the way, both coming and going.

100_4806.JPG Our favorite campgrounds are Corps of Engineers. They almost always offer great campsites in pretty settings. Our America the Beautiful pass gives us half-price camping at these parks, making them not only great spots to camp but also provide a real savings too. Some of these campgrounds only offer water/electric hookups but others offer full hookup sites. You probably need to plan ahead and make reservations if you want to stay at these popular campgrounds on busy summer weekends.

Topping our list this year in order of our visits are these Corps of Engineers Campgrounds:

PHOTO_20150727_142048.jpg We also found some great city and county parks like Castle Rock, Friendship, WI (people kept asking us how we found this local, but out-of-the-way camping gem), Holtwood Campground, Oconto, WI, and Finn Road Campground at Essexville, MI. While these campgrounds don’t offer us the great America the Beautiful pass prices, they are still economical, great campgrounds that beat most private campgrounds we visit.

IMG_4220.JPG Our membership in Thousand Trails is our best choice when it comes to finances and we stay in them whenever we can. However, we don’t want to limit our travels to only Thousand Trails. Depending on the parts of the country we visit they are more or less a part of our plans. This year we were in areas where there aren’t as many Thousand Trails so we didn’t use our membership as much. Also, these campgrounds are generally not our favorite places to camp. Some are quite nice and others aren’t nice at all. We are glad we have our membership and plan to use it a lot in the future, although there are a few Thousand Trails we would likely skip all together.

P8129962.JPG I think the sightseeing highlight of the year for us was Pictured Rocks National Seashore at Munising, MI at Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The natural beauty is amazing. Running a close second was Mackinac Island, MI, just a couple of hours east of Pictured Rocks. This is a world class tourist destination that shouldn’t be missed.

I think Michigan in general, and the Upper Peninsula specifically was our most pleasant surprise of the Adventure. The area is interesting and beautiful. I don’t know what I expected, but the UP was a fun place to visit and I’ll happily return in years to come.

2015 - Cundiff Family on a rainy day at Silver Dollar City - Branson, MO.jpg One lesson learned in this Adventure is how much fun it is to rekindle old friendships. Since Jackie and I met while in college at Olivet Nazarene in Illinois, and thanks to Facebook reconnects, we were able to visit with people from those days. It was so good to get together in person. Also, we met up with RV friends, both old and new, as we traveled. We even enjoyed a weekend with Jackie’s brother and sister-in-law plus time with my sister. Our son and his family joined us for a fun, if wet, time in Branson, MO. While we love traveling, there’s something special about these friendship connections that does nothing but add to the joy of our journeys.

20150327_142949.jpg We have yet to have a full-scale mechanical breakdown while on the road but this year we came very close, not once, but twice. Both times Good Samaritans came to my rescue and repairs were made. I’m very thankful for help beyond the call of duty. Also, I was reminded this year of just how much I dislike threatening weather while in the 5th wheel. We had multiple instances of severe thunderstorms with rain, wind, lightening, and hail. I try to not overreact to these storms, but I spent too many nights watching weather radar and listening to the weather radio.

100_3734.JPG In 2015 we decided to try out volunteering at the San Jacinto Monument Texas State Historical park in the Houston, TX area. We spent the first months of the year there, helping out at both the Monument and on the Battleship Texas which is on the same property. In return for volunteering 25 hours a week we were given “free parking” there. We enjoyed the experience enough that we signed up for another stay in the new year. For us, this is a great win: it is interesting and fun, close to family and many friends, and a real money saver. We also enjoyed being part of the community of volunteers and staff. That’s not to say there are no negatives, but overall, it’s a positive experience.

As you can see we had a good 2015 Adventure and, yes, we’re already working on the 2016 Adventure. We plan to head for the Rocky Mountains – Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and then across to the Black Hills of South Dakota!

Campground Review: St Clair, MI Thousand Trails

100_4620.JPG We arrived at St. Clair, MI Thousand Trails the week prior to the Labor Day weekend, hoping to be in a suitable spot and settled in before the holiday rush began. Since it was supposed to be hot and humid I opted for a 50 amp site and also one more out in the open so I could get satellite TV during our planned two week stay. That limited us to one of two sections of the campground. There are several tight pull through sites in which individual rigs are pulled in facing alternating opposite directions. Then, there’s a “field” section that is wide open and reasonably roomy, but a little rough. We picked the field, found what looked to be a suitable spot and settled in. Our biggest problem there was that, once we began walking around our “front yard,” we realized that underneath the grass it was rather rutted. Some workers brought me a big piece of plywood to use as a walk way over one especially bad spot right at the front of the camper. We decided we would make do with that. Soon we had neighbors, nice folks filling in the remaining field sites. To our dismay, after a big rain we had a pond just outside our front door. Our plywood walkway became a sort of bridge getting us out to the road.

PHOTO_20150907_153959.jpg After the big weekend, and with more rain forecast, we spotted an empty site up near the Activity Center. Apparently, a seasonal renter had just vacated. We moved to that site for the remainder of our stay. The weather had cooled, so we were okay with 30 amps. This second site was fine, although with I94 about 300 yards away the sound of the traffic was pretty much non-stop.

There are other areas of the campground that might have worked better for us. Some of the 30 amp back in sites near the pull throughs could have worked – and they are farther from the Interstate. On future visits I might see what is available in that area.

100_4648.JPG However, good sites are hard to find at St Clair because so much of the campground has been sold to seasonal residents. Most often these sites have RVs on them, but no one is at home. We did met a few of these folks and aside from one person who saw it as her mission to protect the seasonal’s turf from outsiders, we were welcomed by nice people who are just taking advantage of the long term prices. Obviously, their gain is weekenders’ and travelers’ loss with the pool of available, nicer campsites shrunk down to puddle-size.

PHOTO_20150910_113922.jpg Our only other primary issue in the campground was the poor condition of the water which is very rusty. I went through two of our whole house water filters in about 9 days. One of these filters often lasts me two months.

Aside from these issues we found the campground staff to be good folks who want to make members’ stays enjoyable. The facilities are dated but clean. The pool is nice and slated to be updated during the off season. Roads are typical Thousand Trails roads with a nice, paved entry road and then, once you are in the campground not so good. The road back to our first campsite, in particular was very rough and even worse, one way without any warning of oncoming traffic. We met a motorhome as we came in and had we not gotten to the spot where we met, he would have had to disconnect his toad and backed up or I would have ended up backing a long ways down and up a hill.

100_4646.JPG The campground is near lots of shopping and eating places. We especially enjoyed driving to St. Clair and watching the big ships on the river, traveling between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Detroit is less than an hour away and Canada is just a short drive away. I had a cell signal that fluctuated between 3G and 4G. Campground WiFi is available and works if you are a very patient person.

I can’t give this Thousand Trails a great score. I’d come back because, as members, it’s a great deal financially for us. Still, some of the issues I’ve mentioned really need to be addressed.

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Sightseeing Review: The Henry Ford Museum – Port Huron, MI and area

IMG_4110.JPG Our primary sightseeing attraction during our stay near St. Clair, MI was a fun day at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. We spent five hours walking and looking and still didn’t see every exhibit. The museum focuses on the history of the automobile and its impact on history. There are race cars and famous Presidential limousines, classic cars and experimental models that never reached production. Other types of transportation such as stagecoaches, early horse carriages, trains, early gasoline delivery trucks, and airplanes are also on exhibit. They even have early RVs, hotel rooms, signs from food chains, an operating diner, and many other interesting artifacts from American History. We were tempted to return another day to see Greenfield Village (a living history village) or take the factory tour. We decided to save them for a future visit to the area. You can actually buy combined tickets, but honestly, just seeing the museum takes a full, exhausting day.

100_4644.JPG In addition to visiting the museum we enjoyed time in nearby in Port Huron where we visited the Great Lakes Maritime Center. It is an excellent place to watch large ships on the St. Clair River. The Blue Water River Walk there is a popular walking and bike path. I was very pleased to see another Little Free Library on the walking trail making books easily available to everyone. I also recommend the Blue Water trolley as a fun way to see the primary sites of Port Huron – with a fare of just ten cents you can’t go wrong! Just to the south of Port Huron is St. Clair which is another great place to walk a nice boardwalk and enjoy the river.

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Campground Review: Finn Road Campground – Essexville, MI

100_4556.JPG Finn Road Campground is a township operated campground near Essexville, MI (which is close to Bay City).  It’s a bit off the beaten track, around 11 miles east of I75 and then, once you are east of Essexville, it is a few miles down a county road.  On the map the campground appears to be on Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron, and it is very close to the bay.  However, there’s a large, dense wetlands area that makes the bay pretty much inaccessible except by boat via a canal cut through the wetlands.  There are, though, a couple of nice walking areas, one along the canal that stops short of the bay and another 2-3 mile trail through the wetlands, reaching all the way back to town.  The campground itself is situated between corn fields and the wetlands. 

100_4555.JPG This is a nicely done campground with paved roads and campsites.  All campsites are level full hookup, 50 amp sites with adequate grassy yards providing plenty of elbow room.  Our site was wide enough to give us a paved sitting area under the awning and deep enough that we could park the pickup in front of the 5th wheel. 

PHOTO_20150830_134339.jpg The water hookups are a bit strange.  Four sites share a four hookup water spigot.  In our case our water hookup was on the wrong side of the camper and fairly distant from it.  I pieced a few spare hoses together to reach it, so no worries.  However, I can imagine a person coming in and not having enough hose to reach.  It would probably be wise to have some extra hose along.

The campground has good WiFi and a heated bath house.  I had good Verizon 4G and was able to get a satellite signal with no problem.  A big Krogers and lots of other shopping is nearby.  There are several seasonal residents at Finn Road and I can see why they like it.  This campground gets a thumbs up from us.

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Sightseeing Review: Bay City and Frankenmuth, MI

100_4576.JPG We had fun visiting the touristy Bavarian town, Frankenmuth, MI, with its many shops and eating places. A highlight was our visit to the Zeilenger Wool Company. They process wool from sheep, goats, alpaca, and others for comforters, mattress pads, bed pillows, etc. They also have a commercial spinning operation, creating custom yarns. We were lucky to be there just as a tour started and we got to see where the cleaned wool was spun into yarn and placed on spools. After our visit at Zeilengers we enjoyed walking around the picturesque downtown, looking at the buildings and visiting several shops. Some of the candy and food shops have free samples – yum! There’s a “modern” covered bridge, and a pretty river where you can take a tour on a riverboat.

100_4603.JPG The other highlight for us was a tour the USS Edson, DD-946 in Bay City, MI at the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum. Since we volunteered at the Battleship Texas last winter (and plan to do it again this coming winter) we found a visit to this ship especially interesting. Upon admission we were given a walking tour flyer that explained the highlights of the ship. There are many well documented displays providing lots of information on the ship and the places it served. We saw where the enlisted sailors lived, ate, got medical care, and got haircuts. We saw where the officers spent their leisure time and saw their sleeping quarters. The engine area was a bit overwhelming for me, but Scott liked looking around. I especially liked the pilot house and combined information center which controlled all communications. This is an excellent tour for those interested in 1950’s-80’s Navel history. It does require walking up steps, including going up and down steep, narrow ladders. Still, I think it was well worth the effort.

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Campground Review: Tiki RV Park – St Ignace, MI

100_4542.JPG Tiki RV Park is in St Ignace, MI – a primary launching point for visits to Mackinac Island. The park is just minutes from the ferry docks and downtown St Ignace and near the northern end of Mackinaw Bridge. There are a variety of campsites, ranging from full hookup, 50 amp, pull-throughs down to tent sites nestled in the woods. Most of the sites are gravel, although there is a popular no-sewer, grassy area near the restrooms. Many, but not all, of the back in sites have grassy strips between the campsites but the pull-throughs are a generally a bit tighter. We were given an “end site” that resulted in our having a larger front yard. Our neighbor to the driver’s side, though, was faced in the opposite direction of us and was within just a few feet of us.

The interior roads are all good gravel and the sites are fairly level with the exception of a few that would be challenging. Lake Huron is easily visible from the road in front of the campground entrance but only a very few campsites would offer any sort of lake view at all.

There are some big trees in the campground but we were able to get satellite TV after moving the dish around some to find a “hole in the sky.” My 4G Verizon was pretty good and the campground WiFi was solid. The restrooms were kept reasonably clean and there are individual shower rooms as well as a laundry on site.

They honor Passport America, Escapees, and other discounts and I was allowed to combine them, giving me a nice discount for 6 of the 7 nights we stayed. Obviously, the discounts offered, plus the location results in lots of overnight visitors who are just passing through. I don’t think we would have done any better for the price at any campground in the area.

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Sightseeing Review: Mackinac Island, MI and vicinity

As we planned our 2015 Adventure we included a visit to historic Mackinac Island, MI as a highlight of our trip. It did not disappoint.

100_4487.JPG Our base of operations was the lovely town of Saint Ignace. There are many touristy shops and restaurants and a pretty boardwalk along Lake Huron. I especially liked Chief Wawatam City Park and the nearby light house. We relaxed, watching the ferry boats coming and going to the Island, less than six miles across the lake from us.

100_4492.JPG Mackinaw City also has many historic places and parks. The drive over the famous Mackinaw Bridge is a special event in and of itself! We saw a couple of light houses and strolled through a lakefront park as well as taking a walk through the woods, learning about the early inhabitants and settlers as we went.

100_4504.JPG The big event of our stay in the area was a day at Mackinac Island. We specifically picked a ferry departure time that included a side trip under the big bridge. It was amazing seeing this landmark from the vantage point of the water.

100_4530.JPG Once we arrived at Mackinac Island we took a horse drawn carriage tour of the island. Really, there are too many historic homes and buildings to see in one day. I especially enjoyed touring Fort Mackinac. Many of the buildings there are furnished with period items and sound effects give a feel for what it might have been like to have lived at the fort. We were entertained by the close order drill that included many of the audience. There was also a noisy and interesting rifle firing demonstration. After the Fort we walked over to the Grand Hotel. We were disappointed that they charge $10 admission to even walk into the foyer! Having already paid for the ferry, the carriage, and the fort – and still planning on buying a few souvenirs we decided to head to the main shopping areas rather than entering the famous hotel. As we walked, we were impressed by the beautiful flowers in the yards along the way. We bought a few things, but my favorite was some of the world famous island fudge! It will come as no surprise to my friends that I especially enjoyed visiting the public library which has some terrific outside seating overlooking the water – what a great place to relax and read a good book!

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