Our Boomerang Trip – Part I

I can’t believe it’s September already.  It seems like just yesterday when I was in the planning stages for our Midwestern excursion.  And here we are, it’s the middle of September and I’m back in Colorado where we started six weeks ago.  It was pretty much an out and back trip….  Kind of like mimicking a boomerang one might say.

Let’s do a quick recap of the first part of our trip…..  We pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park (Denver) at the end of July and after a quick overnight in a Cabela’s parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, (forgot to add this stop on the above map – oops) we arrived at Starved Rock State Park.  We took in a couple of days exploring this interesting Illinois State Park before driving up to the Paul Wolff Endangered CranesCampground.  I loved the location of this county park.  It was an easy 20 minute drive to my dad’s place which allowed us to visit with him often, and if we had wanted to take the train into Chicago, the train station was only 5 minutes away.

From our Elgin location, we moved over to Rockton, Illinois, where we stayed at Al’s sister’s place for a wonderful ten-day visit.  After Rockton, our next destination was Baraboo, Wisconsin.  I was thrilled with the hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park, but the highlight of this stop was my visit to the International Crane Foundation.

Green Bay PackersAfter communing with cranes it was time to commune with friends in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where I was challenged to wear a Packers Jersey.

After my momentary lapse, we moved over to Algoma, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan.  This is where I discovered Door County and its magnetic personality.  Quite frankly, I fell in love with the area and could’ve stayed a month.  I can imagine the fall colors around here to be stunning and worth sticking around for.

Algoma, WI

Camped in Algoma, WI. The marina on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Loved camping on this peninsula with water on 3 sides. Sunrise Cove Marina and Campground was basically a gravel lot with electric hook-up and thus merely ok, but the location was great; waterfront & walking distance to town.

As much as we considered hanging around Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a little leaf peeping, we decided to turn the RV around and head back west to assist our daughter with a project.

Foggy morning

Early morning fog as we drive through Wisconsin

So with Plan B in mind…. It was time to say good-bye to the Midwest and mosey in a westerly direction.  The morning of August 27th started off foggy as we began our journey west.  We put in an eight-hour travel day (360 miles – 574 km) that first day, crossing the entire state of Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.

Wisconsin

We enjoyed driving some back country roads but sure hoped this bridge was high enough. No height was specified and an RV crew cut was NOT part of our plans. Fortunately, we did see a tall truck pass under first.

We stopped frequently and even enjoyed a road side picnic near Necedah, Wisconsin.Ship Rock Wisconsin

By dinner time that first day, we checked into a campsite at Myre-Big Island State Park, near Albert Lea, Minnesota.  This is a heavily wooded state park and even though they market the White Fox Campground loop as the prairie loop, it is in no way situated in a prairie.

Albert Lea Minnesota

Myre-Big Island State Park. We’re camped in site 55 White Fox CG loop.

Albert Lea Lake

After an eight-hour day in the truck, it felt good to stretch the legs and check out the trails

Albert Lea Lake

Albert Lea Lake – it was disappointing that there were no trails with access to the water’s edge.

We originally intended to relax and spend two nights at this state park, but it was raining when we set up.  It continued to rain all night and was expected to not let up for another day.  So we hit the road early the next morning, wearing rain gear as we broke camp, and drove through the rest of Minnesota in a consistent and steady stream of rain.Minnesota

A few miles into South Dakota, the rain stopped.  We encountered sunny skies with a hint of haze caused by the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  Just in time for a late lunch, we set up camp in the Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Cabela's

We’re parked in the distance at the Cabela’s in Mitchell, South Dakota

Cabela’s had a HUGE area for RV’s.  The semi-trucks seemed to be parked off in another lot and there was even a separate area for equestrians complete with horse corrals.  This turned out to be a great place to overnight, complete with pond.

Cabela's

The smoke from the wildfires gave the sky an interesting hue at sunrise.

Cabela's

Although overnighting at a Cabela’s is free – we always manage to find something to buy.

Next stop; South Dakota’s Badlands and Black HillsBadlands
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Death’s Door

Every now and then hubby and I come across a place that’s so picturesque, it calms the body and clears the mind.  Perhaps for some, it even stirs the soul.  A place that’s home to quaint villages and distinct agriculture.  A place that could easily become an addiction and for many it has.  Door County, Wisconsin has a way of luring folks in causing them to return time and again.Door County, Wisconsin

The land may be one addiction but the water is another.   Most of Door County’s shoreline is surrounded by shallow, rocky ledges.  Delightful islands both large and small add to the splendid scenery.Door County, Wisconsin

Whether it’s sailing, power boating, or paddling; boating of any kind is a beloved sport around here.

Algoma, Wisconsin

home for the week was in a marina in the town of Algoma surrounded by water – RV center rear

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, lighthouses assisted sailors in navigating the lake and bay waters of the Door Peninsula and surrounding islands.  Many of the lighthouses are still operational to this day and are open to the public.  There are eleven historic Door County Lighthouses.  I was able to visit the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse which I found charming and interesting.  My mother was a huge fan of lighthouses, and I always think of her when photographing one of these delightful landmarks.

Lake Michigan Lighthouses

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse built in 1868 located in Peninsula State Park, Door County, Wisconsin

So where did the name “Door” County come from?Door County

In a dangerous and unpredictable confluence of currents is Death’s Door.  Historians have long blamed these waters for more shipwrecks than any other body of fresh water in the world.  It’s here, where the waters of Green Bay meet the waters of Lake Michigan with sudden, unpredictable squalls, erratic wave patterns, and shallow shoals resulting in many a fine ship being dragged to a watery grave.Door County, Wisconsin

The Door Peninsula got its name from the dangerous straits that pass between the tip of the peninsula and Washington Island.  213 identified wrecked vessels in the waters of Door County have been listed.   The Door County Maritime Museum in the town of Sturgeon Bay, is a must see for any nautical buff.scenic sights in WisconsinDoor County, WI

Door County agriculture

Sharing the road

Since our RV was parked in the little town of Algoma, south of Sturgeon Bay, we were able to not only explore Door County’s scenic towns and shoreline, we ventured inland Door County Cherriesnavigating some off the beaten path roads.

It was here we discovered the agricultural side of Door County.  We passed vineyards, cheery orchards, berry orchards, and apple orchards.  During our end of August visit, cherry and berry seasons were pretty much over, but apple season was just around the corner.  There’s something so appealing about a crisp juicy apple that I personally picked from a

apples

In another month, these beauties will be ripe for the picking

tree, or enjoying a cup of fresh milled cider directly from the orchard’s store that captivates my attention.  The thought evokes cool days and stunning fall colors. The inland peninsula is dotted with farm stands, wineries, and small shops selling local goods; homemade pies, jams, fudge, and local honey, just to name a few.

The fall colors of Door County easily rival those found in the northeast, and although our original plans were to stay in this part of the country to enjoy the fall festivities, we ended up changing directions.  More on that to come.Door County Orchards

Door County fishing

The fishing gang

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine people that call Wisconsin home.  No matter where we went, we felt welcomed and valued as a visitor.

And then there’s Al’s buddies… the guys had a great time fishing out on Lake Michigan and although the fish stories were plenty, the guys did all agree they had hoped for a little more action (as in more fish).

Door County

And while the guys were out fishing, I was off connecting with a fellow blogger.  When I made mention in one of my blog posts several months ago that I’d be visiting Wisconsin, I received an email from Kathlin of The Badger and the Whooping Crane inviting me out to lunch should I be near her neck of the woods.

Well, she didn’t have to twist my arm.  Thanks Kathlin.  It was a joy and a pleasure spending the day with you.  Next time, I’ll definitely hang around a little longer for those great fall colors.Barns of Door County

Our time in the Midwest has come to an end and although we had a fabulous time, we’re ready to have the wheels on the RV rolling again.Maritime Museum

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir

Door County 330

Door County Tales:: Shipwrecks, Cherries and Goats on the Roof (American Chronicles)
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A Momentary Lapse

We truly enjoyed our visit to Devil’s Lake, but had commitments necessitating we pull up jacks and start rolling north toward Marshfield, Wisconsin.

Baraboo Wisconsin

Baraboo, WI Farmer’s Market

Between the hiking, the crane foundation, and the Baraboo farmer’s market, we had a wonderful stay at Devil’s Lake State Park and wouldn’t mind returning some day.

It is however Wisconsin’s busiest state park and even though I booked our reservation five months in advance, I was still unable to secure a site over a weekend.  During the week, there did appear to be plenty of open sites available for drop-ins.  (We stayed here during the middle of August)

friendship

driveway camping at a friend’s home

Al’s best friend from college and best man in our wedding was eager for our arrival.  We fit comfortably in Roger’s driveway and set up house within minutes.  Even though we only stayed in Marshfield the weekend, we managed to get in plenty of catching up.  That Sunday was preseason football and the Green Bay Packers were playing.  This is serious Packer Land and Cheese Land.

cheese head

Oh no, this Bronco’s fan has been turned into a ‘cheese head’

Roger planned a tailgate party at his house which included a bunch of people we hadn’t seen in years.  Even though the Packers lost, it was a super fun day.  We loved visiting with everyone and the weekend flew by.  I may have worn Packer green that day and been turned into a cheese head, but I assure you, it was a momentary lapse and I’m back to wearing the orange and blue of the Denver Bronco’s.

Lambeau FieldBut there was more impending fun with the guys to be had …. for hubby;  a fishing trip on Lake Michigan.

The day after the football game, we packed up the RV and headed to Algoma, Wisconsin.  But first, a stop at Cabela’s to empty the holding tanks was necessary and a cruise by Lambeau Field (home of the Packers) was in order, for posterity.  After all, we were Green Bay Packer fans for a day.

PepeLePewPulling into the Green Bay Cabela’s was easy.  Quite a few Cabela stores offer a dump station free of charge. Not this one. (for all you non-RVer’s, this talk is about the not so fun and stinky part of RVing. Our holding tanks contain our waste water, including potty waste and when we’re not staying in an RV Park with full hook-ups we need to find a place to clean out our tanks before they fill up).

There was a $5.00 charge to access the dump station or free if we bought something.  Hmm!  We stepped inside the store and quickly purchased some chocolate walnut fudge.  We took our receipt to the customer service counter and were given a number that would unlock the dump cover.  Let’s see – they gave us fudge and we gave them shit …. literally!  Sounds like we got the better end of the deal 🙂Wisconsin

With clean tanks and plenty of fresh water on board, we continued the drive from Green Bay to the little town of Algoma, Wisconsin.  The rest of the fishing gang wouldn’t be showing up until late the next day allowing Al and I to have a day to explore Door County.

Door County

Door County, Wisconsin

Door County is a popular tourist destination especially for residents of Wisconsin and Illinois, boasting 300 miles of scenic shoreline, 5 state parks, and 19 charming communities.

With our RV comfortably parked in Algoma, we set off on a scenic drive that had us skirting up County Road B, along the waters of Green Bay.  It didn’t take long for Al and I to realize why this is such a popular place for vacation homes.  Homes of varying architectural styles are nestled in the woods along the shores of Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.  Most homes enjoy their own private dock for easy watercraft access.  As we approached the quaint town of Egg Harbor, we were greeted by plenty of old fashion charm.  This would be merely the first of several such communities we explored that day.

Door County, Wisconsin

quaint shops offering locally grown and handcrafted products.

We saw plenty of unique shops, eateries, brew pubs, wineries, art gallery’s, and marina’s, but what stuck out to me the most were the beautiful gardens.Door CountyEach business seemed to take the extra effort in the gardening arena, adding more character and ambiance to an already lovely place.

Door County

How could I resist stopping here? That sidewalk going through all those flowers was irresistible.

Considering this is Wisconsin, I shouldn’t have been surprised with all the lush and beautiful vegetation.  The rich, black soil makes it easy to grow just about anything.  All those flowers did continually captivate my attention to the point hubby asked jokingly, “How many more Black Eyed Susan’s do you have to look at?”

And then there’s the orchards…. apples, cherries, and berries oh my!   Up next.

Green Bay

An overcast day along the shores of Green Bay

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The Accidental Craniac

endangered cranesThe past two winters, we’ve spent the month of January in Rockport, Texas.  The impetus of the original trip (2 years ago) was initiated by one of Al’s buddies which focused on Sportsman activities…. you know; manly men, doing manly things.

I didn’t mind, considering the majority of the time we’re traveling to places I want to go.

I figured it would be the perfect opportunity for a little alone time and for me to focus on a project stewing in my head.  The RV Park was chosen by the buddy and my initial opinion on the place was less than favorable, but the beauty of living in a home on wheels is everything’s temporary.

whooping cranes

Endangered Whooping Cranes

So while the guys were off doing their manly stuff, I started exploring the area.  The RV Park was located in a rural residential area just down the road from Goose Island State Park.  Several times a day, I’d either ride my bike or walk around the neighborhood.  This is when I discovered a large white bird.endangered whooping crane

The loud whooping call of the bird was hard to ignore and I became quite intrigued.  I snapped some photos and the following day I ventured out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  I was off to an early start and may even have been one of the first few visitors to the refuge that morning.

endangered whooping crane

Whooping Crane aka whooper

In the distance I noticed those big white birds again… click, click, click.  Love that burst mode on the camera.  A couple of hours later the refuge was a little busier. I was asked for the second time that morning if I’d seen any “whoopers”.  Not knowing what they were talking about, I said, “No.”

Before leaving the refuge, I stopped in at the visitor center.  The volunteers were a delight.  All fellow RVer’s workamping at the refuge.  They were quick and enthusiastic to share information.  Again the word whooper was mentioned.   I finally asked,  “I’m sorry, but what’s a whooper?”  Ten minutes later, I’m more intrigued with these unique birds than ever before, and educated on the blight of the endangered whooping crane.  Come to find out, folks from around the country come to this area of Texas to see the last remaining WILD whooping cranes and here I was stumbling upon them without effort.

Siberian Crane

Siberian Crane – Russia and China. Most endangered breed.

I spent the rest of the month observing the wild whooping cranes along with some sandhill cranes.  Oh, there were lots of other bird discoveries I enjoyed as well during that trip, but by passion lied with the cranes.

red-crowned crane

Red-crowned crane – Asia

I’ve never considered myself a birder, but there’s just something I’m drawn to when it comes to cranes.  During one of my photography outings in Texas, I befriended a few fellow photographers and that’s when I first heard the word Craniac used.  Craniac = fictitious name used to describe anyone with a passion for cranes.   Seems I may have accidentally become a Craniac myself.

You can imagine my exuberance when I heard there was an International Crane Foundation.   Once again my good friend, Mona Liza, was able to enlighten me, having already visited.  Hubby and I were formulating a summer family visit to the Midwest and thus a visit to the International Crane Foundation could easily fit into our plans.  It became a MUST on MY itinerary.

International Crane Foundationa

Blue Crane – South Africa

ICF

International Crane Foundation

So here I am.  I arrived at the International Crane Foundation located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, shortly after 9:00 in the morning with plans to attend the 10:00 guided tour.   Until it was time for the tour, I strolled around grounds.  I’ll admit, I was initially disappointed and saddened to see most of the cranes behind fences.

Brolga Crane

Brolga Crane – Australia

I later learned, the fencing is more about keeping predators OUT, plus it’s all about the greater good of the survival of all cranesICF.

Our tour guide, Cully, was a wealth of information on the birds and the facility.  He was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer any and all questions.

After my almost 2 hour guided tour with Cully, I was enlightened and educated beyond my expectations.  There’s even cooperative efforts with the North Koreans to protect habitat for cranes.

Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane

African cranes

Wattled Crane – Africa

International Crane Foundation

Brolga Crane – Australia

It’s amazing what this foundation is doing around the world.  Not only is the effort to save cranes having a positive impact on their overall repopulation, the efforts are also improving the lives of people.  It’s a win win for all involved.

The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, is the only place in the world where all fifteen crane species can be seen.

The respect and care for the birds is obvious.  Breeding couples and new chicks are kept away from the public eye and any human contact is kept to a minimum in an effort to keep these cranes as wild as possible.

Black Crowned Crane

Black Crowned Crane – Africa

International Crane Foundation

Demoiselle Crane – Eurasia

I will say, photographing these beauties was a bit of a challenge.  As I mentioned before, most are behind fences requiring me to find a strategic spot to zoom in between.endangered cranes

Overall, I had a fantastic visit and would return in a heartbeat.  I ended up spending three hours there in the morning, had lunch back at the campground, and returned for another 2 hours of crane communing in the late afternoon.

Siberian Crane

Siberian Crane

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

My crane obsession has been temporarily satisfied…. emphasis on the word temporary.  For anyone even slightly interested in ecosystems, conservation, or birds I would encourage you to visit the International Crane Foundation.  You can visit their website here…. saving more than cranes.Black Crowned Crane

Siberian Crane“The International Crane Foundation works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend.”

International Crane Foundation

All photos were taken by me at the International Crane Foundation.  I love photographing cranes from different angles, zoomed in, and zoomed out.  I can watch these unique creatures for hours and quite often do when given the opportunity.  This weeks WordPress Photo Challenge is; from every angle.  I hope I’ve captured the essence of the photo challenge.   Does this look like a happy camper?

whooper

Craniac takes selfie with whoopers

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Devils Doorway

It didn’t take long before Illinois was in the rearview mirror and we were skirting around Madison, Wisconsin, heading north.  After three weeks in Illinois, we were ready to hit the road and explore a new to us State Park.

Devil's Lake State Park

The entrance to Devil’s Lake State Park and camper check-in

As we approached the entrance to Devil’s Lake State Park, we were quickly reminded about how lush and dense the vegetation grows here in the Midwest.  The trees created such a unique canopy that it blocked out any direct sunlight requiring the truck headlights be turned on.

Wisconsin State Parks

We’re in site #51 – the Quartzsite Loop

We proceeded slowly through the entrance following the signs directing us toward the camper check-in, ever hopeful that no tree branches would scrape our roof.  I was confident we wouldn’t have any problems with vegetation once we arrived at our campsite that I had reserved, heeding the wonderful advice and recommendation from Wisconsin State Parksour good friends, MonaLiza and Steve.

They camped here last year and found the majority of campsites to be unacceptable for their big rig.  They provided us with lots of helpful tidbits making our reservation decisions much easier.  Thanks guys!

I’m not a fan of trees near my RV, so I was thrilled to find all the trees at a safe distance.  Our site was also easy for us to level up.  The majority of sites are sloped in some form, making leveling a challenge.  There’s a handful of paved sites in the Quartzsite Campground and the rest are a gravel/grass combo like our site.

Devil's Lake

This is the road to the other campground loops.

On our first full day at the State Park, we set off on a hike in search of Balanced Rock and Devil’s Doorway.  I don’t know about you, but I thought the entrance to the park might have been Devil’s Doorway.  But alas, this unique rock formation is named Devil’s Doorway.

Devil's Doorway

Rock formation named Devil’s Doorway

To get to this scenic site required a little climbing on our part….. step climbing that is. Devil's Doorway We had about a 500 foot ascend in front of us.  Fortunately, we had a series of granite rock steps to aid us in the climb.  When the trail info listed this hike as difficult, I kind of dismissed any concerns.  After all this was Wisconsin, and I’m used to hiking in Colorado.  Thus, I thought difficult here would probably be more like moderate in the mountains.

Devil's Doorway

It’s all uphill

hikingI must admit, the trail did rival some Rocky Mountain trails, but what made this hike somewhat easier was the extra oxygen found here in the Midwest.

When we’re in Colorado, it’s not uncommon for us to hike at elevations exceeding 9,000 feet and the air starts to get a little thin requiring me to stop and catch my breath from time to time.hiking in Wisconsin

hiking in Wisconsin

The trail starts out flat meandering through a dense forest,

Hubby and I were impressed with ourselves.  Other than the occasional photo-op stop, no breathing stops were needed.  We did take it slow though, not wanting to lose our balance on the granite stone.

Our day started out sunny, but windy.  By the time we made it up to Balanced Rock, the winds had let up somewhat but storm clouds were brewing.

Balanced Rock

Al and I standing in front of Balanced Rock high above Devil’s Lake – Baraboo, Wisconsin

happy camper

Look who found a bench at the top of the bluff

We thought once we made it to Balanced Rock that the trail would level off…. wrong.  There were more steps to climb.  “We’re almost there, honey. Not much further and we’ll be at the top”, I said in a very encouraging and sweet tone.  Hubby responded with a disbelieving chuckle, “Yeah, that’s what you said 20 minutes ago”.

Alas, we made it to the top of the bluff and the trail flattened out.  Hubby even found a bench for us to sit while we hydrated.

With Balanced Rock checked off, I had one more quest that required a short detour off the main trail.  Ladies first!

Devil's Doorway

Hmm, I need to hike DOWN there? Going down to Devil’s Doorway.

What’s in a name?  The original Native American name for Devil’s Lake could have been translated as Spirit Lake, Holy Lake, Mystery Lake, or Sacred Lake.  But the Winnebago name “Ta-wa-cun-chuk-dah” was translated into Devil’s Lake by locals and legends were manufactured to boost tourism to the area.Devil's Doorway

The view was worth the climb via the precarious rock steps.  With photo-op quest number two accomplished, we worked our way back to the main trail and were met with a gentle sprinkle of soft raindrops followed by a steady flow.  My camera was safely stowed in a Ziploc bag and tucked under my raincoat.hiking in WisconsinAl and I quickened our pace on the flat trail.  The rain stopped just in time for us to descend.  However, the wet granite from the rain was now somewhat slippery.  So we continued with extra caution on each rock step and made it to the trailhead without any harrowing tale to share on the blog.  Just the way hubby likes it!hiking in Wisconsin

This was a wonderful 2 hour hike and probably our favorite Midwestern experience thus far.  Next up, feathers…. and lots of them!

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