A Visit to the Big City

A Visit to the Big City

I love my time in nature. It’s my happy place, my church, my way to recharge and reflect, but there’s still a city gal lurking in me that requires a little hustle and bustle every now and then. Okay, maybe not too much hustle and bustle, it’s more about the shopping that’s at the real core of my city longings.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs near one of the largest shopping malls in the United States, and as a newlywed, Al and I lived near the second-largest mall in the state of Illinois. I’m used to having lots of stores at my disposal and that includes grocery stores.

Obviously, with online shopping, the need to have shopping facilities in close proximity isn’t as much of a priority in my life as it once was, but it’s still nice to have choices especially when I’m on the hunt for something specific and can’t or don’t want to wait for delivery. Truth be told, I’m a hands-on kind of shopper.

Visiting Duluth, Minnesota

Wisconsin humor, driving distancesSpending the summer in the Northwoods of Wisconsin with the nearest town being a thirty-minute drive away (not too far), and boasting a population of less than 3,000, does not bode well for a city gal and her shopping desires.

So, two to three times a month, I hop in the truck and head for the nearest city located ‘a little ways’ away, and in less than two hours, I’m crossing a bridge taking me from Wisconsin into Minnesota and the city of Duluth.

With a population of less than 100,000, there was a time when I’d consider Duluth merely a town, but all things are relative, and these days, she’s the closest thing to a big city for my shopping excursions. Duluth does offer all the big box stores which allow me the ability to stock up on supplies and shop for those specialty items that I just can’t find in the small town of Hayward, WI.

Shopping aside, Duluth has some of the prettiest parks offering an abundance of lush vegetation and lots of trails to walk/hike.

Enger Park

One of the parks that I always make the time to visit is Enger Park. This park is a gem and one of my favorites. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and include a small Japanese Garden, a large climbable tower type of structure honoring land donator, Bert Enger, and at the opposite end of the park is an overlook showcasing an amazing bird’s eye view of Canal Park and the historic Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.

(To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image.)

Rose Garden – Leif Erikson Park

Next on my list of must-see parks is the gorgeous Rose Garden. The Duluth Rose Garden is an extension of the Leif Erikson Park and offers a stunning arrangement of more than 3,000 rose bushes and other flowering plants. The park sits high above the lakeshore offering a beautiful view of Lake Superior.

Beyond the rose garden are trails/walkways leading further into the park and connecting to the Waterfront Trail near the shores of Lake Superior. According to some locals I spoke with, the best time to visit the Rose Garden is in July when the roses are blooming in abundance.

Leif Erickson Park and the Rose Garden

Canal Park

No visit to Duluth would be complete without a visit to Canal Park. Canal Park is the entertainment hub of Duluth. The old warehouse district has been converted into an attraction offering an array of restaurants, shops, cafes, and hotels. The building conversions began in the 1980s in an attempt to promote tourism. In my opinion, they’ve done a great job, and if crowds are any indication, I’d say the project is a huge success.

Along with the usual tourist type of shops, there’s one store in particular that I like to visit; the Duluth Pack store. A Duluth Pack is a specialized type of backpack made of heavy canvas and leather. The packs are a traditional portage pack which are nearly square in order to fit easily in the bottom of a canoe.

We still have our son’s Duluth Pack safely tucked away in our storage unit. For me, it’s always a nostalgic walk through the store which conjures up fond memories.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Minnesota
Al and our four-year-old son, Logan, head out into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota for an overnight. Logan carried his own Duluth Pack filled with camping essentials – cheerios, marshmallows, and juice boxes. Summer of 1991.

Some of Canal Park’s attractions include a 4.2-mile long lake walk, a lighthouse pier, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, the Great Lakes Aquarium, a floating ship museum, and the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth’s landmark. Watching vessels from around the world enter/exit Duluth’s port is interesting to watch. You don’t realize how huge these ships/barges are until you stand near one.

canal park, Duluth, Minnesota, Aerial Lift Bridge
A ship going under the Aerial Lift Bridge. To the left of the bridge is Canal Park. Cross over the bridge to the right and you enter Minnesota Point.

I loved watching the Aerial Lift Bridge rise and then a 750-foot ship glide through the canal. Be warned … those horns are loud!

Minnesota Point

Minnesota Point is the largest freshwater sandbar in the USA. The narrow Park Point extends 7 miles out from Canal Park and offers miles of public beach for everyone’s enjoyment.

Minnesota Point, Park Point, Largest freshwater sandbar, Duluth

More parks and waterfalls

I never seem to have enough time when I visit Duluth. I’m usually visiting just for the day and running errands which limits my explorations. When I have overnighted, I was able to explore more, but not enough. I’m still left with a list of parks I’d like to see, especially one’s with waterfalls. And let me tell you, there is no shortage of waterfalls in this neck of the woods.

On my Duluth list yet to visit are Lester Park, Congdon Park, and a tour of the Glensheen Mansion and her beautiful grounds. Did you know, you can even arrange to have lunch delivered to your picnic spot on the grounds of Glensheen? How cool is that! Visit their website for more details.

Hmm, perhaps I can squeeze in one or two more excursions to Duluth before we leave for the season.

Where to stay when visiting Duluth

There’s no shortage of lodging around Duluth. Peak season usually runs from mid-June to mid-August, and thus, prices can vary … a lot.

Last September, my daughter and I enjoyed a last-minute overnight at the Inn on Lake Superior located in the heart of Canal Park. We loved the location. From the hotel, we were able to walk to the Aerial Lift Bridge, stroll the local shops, dine at a couple of different restaurants, photograph the lighthouses, and stroll along the lakeshore.

Provided we chose not to stay in Canal Park, I think next time she and I would look into an Airbnb on Park Point. Or maybe we’d stay at the Two Harbors Lighthouse for a unique experience.

The lodging choices are endless, and there really is a little something for everyone.

RV Parks – We’ve enjoyed camping at the Burlington Bay Campground located in the town of Two Harbors. It’s an easy thirty-minute drive east of Duluth, but for those wanting to stay as close as possible to Canal Park, consider staying at the Lakehead Boat Basin. Unfortunately, it’s parking lot style RVing. The sites are close together and depending on where cars are parked, it could be a challenge to maneuver. But it’s all about location at this place.

Lakehead Boat Basin – RV Parking

Indian Point Campground is another popular Duluth option for RVers. Personally, we have not seen this RV Park but know folks who have stayed here and liked it. It’s located on the west end of Duluth near the zoo and the St. Louis Bay.

Duluth DrivingTip

Navigation – Most cities have some form of a congested traffic area with interchanges. In Las Vegas, it’s called the Spaghetti Bowl. In Phoenix, it’s called the Stack and the Mini-Stack, and here in Duluth, it’s called the Can of Worms, and it really is a can of worms.

Can of Worms – Duluth interchange

This Duluth interchange, I-35 and Highway 53, is one of the busiest in the region. It can be congested and confusing to navigate and more so with an RV. This series of bridges and ramps are sometimes single lane with little room to merge or change lanes. I highly recommend using the aid of a GPS during your first time or two driving through this area. Construction to try and fix this mess begins soon making it even more fun for us to navigate with RVs. Yippee! (she says with sarcasm)

Enger Park, Duluth, MN, walking trail through the woods

I’ve become quite smitten with this scenic city nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. Pristine forest, rocky cliffs, waterfalls, and nice shopping make Duluth an ideal place for any getaway. This little big city continues to pull me back time and again nudging me to explore more … with camera in hand, of course!

Celebrations & Catching the Big One

Celebrations & Catching the Big One

Some weeks are more eventful than others, and this past week was one for the books. First, three out of the four of us celebrated a birthday. So of course, there had to be festivities.

And what’s a birthday celebration without plenty of tasty food and fine spirits to toast to another year?

Fine food and drinks

I’m not sure where the time has gone, but all four of us fall into that “senior” category and considered to be in the last quarter of our lives. Eek! That sounds eerie, doesn’t it? So when ya put it into that light, we might as well live it up and throw any thought of diet or restrictions out the window. Right? Bring it on!

Inspiration

Despite all the negative happenings centered around 2020, Al and I have been enjoying a fantastic summer staying on family property, and having a ‘real’ house at our disposal.

mist on a lake with lily pads in the foregroundA real kitchen, a real shower, and a big-screen TV with cable have been huge bonuses.

I’ve been able to watch the Food Network to my heart’s desire which has led to lots of experiments in the kitchen … in both the RV and the sister’s house.

Some recipes have turned out better than others, but there hasn’t been any out and out fails.

There’s something about watching one of my favorite personalities cook (or bake) that inspires me to get in my own kitchen. Believe me, I need all the motivation I can get!

Oh, and I’ve been banned from watching HGTV after trying to talk my husband into doing a complete remodel on the RV … back to that inspiration thing. 🥴 Little does he know, there’s still Pinterest and Instagram that keep those remodeling ideas alive in my head. Shh, that’ll be our secret!

With new-found cooking inspiration, for Steve’s big day (Al’s sister’s husband), I made filet mignon cooked to perfection in a cast-iron skillet, a Ceasar salad made with homemade dressing, and a side of my version of focaccia bread. Dessert consisted of my favorite chocolate cupcakes drizzled with chocolate liqueur and whip cream. Yum!

While I made a fantastic meal and dessert for my brother-in-law’s birthday, we went out to brunch to celebrate my own birthday. Over the river creek and through the woods, we arrived at the Garmisch Inn located along the shores of Lake Namekagon. Good food, great view, wonderful company … a gal can’t ask for much more!

The fun didn’t end with brunch. The weather was perfect for a boat ride. So when we returned home, we hopped on the pontoon boat for a spin around the lakes and a little fresh air and sunshine. Later in the day, I made my favorite Sloppy Joe’s and Margarita’s, followed by more Margarita’s around a campfire.  #LifeisGood

The third birthday occurred at the end of the week. The festivities continued as we celebrated Al’s sister’s birthday. We started off the day with a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, cinnamon toast, and Bloody Mary’s followed by a boat ride. For an early dinner, I made Chicken Marsala, Buttered Egg Noodles, Ceasar Salad (by request), and herb topped dinner rolls. Al popped the cork on some sparkling Prosecco as we toasted to another year and another great summer spent hanging out together.

The day was topped off around a toasty campfire while indulging in my homemade apple crisp and spiked hot cocoa. We are definitely into fall weather. So the hot chocolate was the perfect way to end a great day.

Catching the Big One

Birthday cheers … eating, drinking, boating, and campfires weren’t the only events of the week. Although Al and Steve get out on Teal Lake fishing regularly and do routinely catch fish, they recently enjoyed a very special and rare fishing outing.

My husband had a once in a lifetime experience earlier in the week during an evening of fishing. He caught his biggest fish ever; a 42 inch, 24 pound, Musky. Al is still beaming. According to fishing guide Steve, aka brother-in-law, this Musky was trophy size (especially for this small Hayward lake) and many an angler spends a lifetime trying to catch such a Musky. For the serious and tournament anglers, they choose to try their Musky luck on Wisconsin’s third-largest lake located a mere fifteen minutes away from the family property; Lake Chippewa Flowage.

Al catches a trophy size Musky

And this was Al’s first-time Musky fishing. Beginners luck! Al usually focuses on fishing for Bass, Walleye, or Crappie… the good eating fish. He has never been one to trophy fish.

Happy Birthday to me and congratulations to Al.

So what does one do when they catch such a fish as a Musky? You snap lots of photos, take measurements, and do so quickly. Then you gently lower this freshwater shark back into the water and massage/revive the fish.

Once he starts fighting and you know he’s fine, you let him loose. “Be safe Mr. Musky and go make more Musky’s”.

These days, you never ever keep the fish. First, Musky doesn’t taste good, and second, for those wanting the wall hanger, you provide a taxidermist with the measurements and photos and a plastic replica is made.

If an angler did show up at a taxidermist with the real fish, the angler would be thoroughly chastised for his selfish stupidity. “Not cool, dude. It’s catch and release“. BTW – there won’t be any wall hanger in this RV, and that’s okay. Al is quite content with his Musky photo screen saver.

The summer is wrapping up!

With the cool air blowing in and the leaves beginning to change color, it’s time for Al and me to think about our migration south. But not so fast! I have my camera batteries charged and waiting at the ready for fall colors. I have a few day trips planned to capture that beautiful autumn foliage … fingers crossed! 🤞

For my birthday, I received more cooking inspiration. These are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support❤.

Valerie’s Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime – Comfort Classics
Porcelain Tea Pot – Loose Leaf Teapot

Is There a Right Way or Wrong Way?

Is There a Right Way or Wrong Way?

Due to the current circumstances surrounding 2020, travel of any kind can be challenging and that holds true even for those of us with RVs. Restrictions abound! But let’s take the pandemic out of the travel equation and pretend like life is normal.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to RV? How much travel is too little or too much? Is the RV lifestyle about constantly moving to new locations, about seeing all the National Parks, about visiting as many states as possible, or is it about living an alternative lifestyle, or is it a way to see extended family more frequently? Whether we travel part-time or full-time, it’s a personal journey … gosh, life is a personal journey!

Blog comments that make you think!

I originally started this blog to journal about our RV adventure and keep family and friends up to date. A surprising by-product of this little travelogue has been YOU, my reader. I never could’ve imagined the friendships I’ve developed via my simple writings and blog comment interaction. I’m humbled and grateful, but before I get all mushy, let’s jump into the meat of this post.

Several weeks ago, I received a comment that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Fortunately, it has led me down the path of memory lane …

Hi, new reader to your blog and future part-time RVer’s! I am a bit surprised that you have not done that much moving around the USA? Maybe I am missing these posts, but don’t you want to see the west (Washington) and east coast? I realize now is not a good time, but you have been at this for a few years.

The rules of RVing … spoiler alert, there are no rules!

There are so many variables to consider when it comes to traveling; a major factor being finances (yeah, travel costs money), followed by interests and goals, and working around obligations like work or family or both. And just like there are all kinds of different RVs, from inexpensive small pop-up trailers to large expensive motorhomes and everything in between, there are also all kinds of ways in which to RV travel.

camping, boondocking at Lake Powell

It’s not uncommon for RV newbies to get out and explore as much as possible that first year. FOMO is real (fear of missing out). They’ll log ridiculous amounts of mileage and exhaust themselves in the process. Some are smarter and will take it slow. And then there are those that prioritize connections with fellow RVers over destinations. Hence, meetups, convergences, and rallies. I know, we personally have rearranged travel plans so we could connect with blog readers and/or family and friends.

There are no rules for embarking on the RV lifestyle adventure. Whether one travels back and forth between the same two states repeatedly or decides to visit all 50 states, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps there are those that have some preconceived notions about RVing, but that’s merely an opinion. We all need to do what we feel is best for us, and what’s right for us may not be right for others.

Given a choice between visiting a stunning and exciting new location or spending time with loved ones, we’ll pick time with loved ones; whether that be family or friends.

Perhaps when we were younger, we would have chosen the exciting destination. Okay, I know we would’ve gone for the travel destination. 😏 Age has a way of changing one’s priorities; changing our interests and desires.

So yes, we have been at this RVing thing for a while, but we’ve been at life for a while as evidenced by the abundance of grey hair that Al and I are sporting. This means we had a life long before we bought the RV and long before I started writing this blog.

We’re no longer young. (I know, what a surprise 🤣) We’ve lived … we’ve lived an exciting life … we’ve traveled, traveled extensively … we’ve survived tragedies … we’ve persevered … we cooperate, compromise, and prioritize and that means, we don’t always get what we want, but the older we get, the more our interests shift.

No justification needed.

A few years ago, one of my regular commenters practically apologized on a regular basis for not traveling in the RV beyond the southeast corner of the United States. Instead of doing the extensive travel that they thought they would do once they moved into the RV fulltime, they found themselves returning to a town along the east coast routinely to visit with their grandsons. Why did she feel a need to justify their travels or lack of distance traveled?

Another blogger/commenter I met made a remark that resonated with me. She and her husband had just spent the previous three months traveling the west and west coast visiting some of America’s most stunning places. When we got together, they’d already been in Colorado for a week and had reservations to spend another two weeks near a different mountain range that they hadn’t yet explored, but they seemed to have lost interest and all they really wanted to do was return ‘home’ to the Gulf Coast.

She said, “I know this may sound bad, but once you’ve visited several beautiful National Parks with jaw-dropping scenery, seeing another mountain range becomes just that, another set of mountains. Of course, still beautiful but less impactful and less interesting“.

They ended up canceling the rest of their Colorado trip and returned to the Gulf Coast. It appears that the law of diminishing return applies to a lot of things including travel … I get it.

Thank you, blog readers and commenters.

I appreciate every single comment left here on my blog and do my best to respond to each and every one. Although I may find some comments perplexing, that doesn’t mean I don’t value them.

As a matter of fact, they can be thought-provoking like the one noted earlier in the post… “haven’t done that much moving around.” Hmm … haven’t done much moving around? I thank that commenter for her thought-provoking words as it has led to some amazing happy hour conversations recently … reminiscing … lots of travel tales and laughs shared. I know the commenter was referring to travel in our RV, but Al and I didn’t purchase the RV with any specific destination goals in mind. After all, we already had a lot of travel experiences behind us.

Did you know Al and I, separately, each lived abroad? Me in Germany and Al in Turkey, Japan, and the Philippines. He and I together and separately have visited Hawaii a dozen times. Al has resided in Alaska, California, Texas, and Florida. Together, we’ve lived in Illinois, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona.

There was a time when Florida and St. Thomas were the two warm-weather winter destinations that we visited frequently. We loved snorkeling in the Caribbean so much so that we even traveled with our own snorkeling gear in tow.

campfire
Tales around a campfire!

Here are just a few travel memories discussed recently around the campfire …

  • Regular visits to Clearwater Beach, Florida, and staying on a 40-foot single-hull sailboat owned by friends.
  • Disney World lots of times. Disneyland once.
  • A Jeep excursion on Aruba. Almost got stuck in the sand.
  • Watching the kids ski in the Colorado mountains. We one time lost our 13-year-old daughter for almost 2 hours at Crested Butte when she got off the chairlift and went down the wrong slope. Another time, our kids, beginner skiers, accidentally found themselves on a mogul run at Copper Mountain. We have lots of mountain stories that always bring on tears of laughter when we reminisce.
  • My mom and I took a train from Brussels, Belgium to Munich, Germany. The sights along the Rhine River were spectacular. Another special moment was visiting the Kölner Dom. I realize now, the time spent with my mom is more precious to me than the actual sights I saw during any of our trips together.
  • After a business trip to Calgary, Canada, Al and I reentered the United States near Waterton Lakes and visited Glacier National Park. Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass was stunning. We spent the night in the back of our SUV in a resort parking lot because there were no vacancies anywhere … hotel or campsite. Guess we’ve been sleeping in parking lots long before we heard the term “boondocking or stealth camping”. Al and I still laugh about our little adventure and our success at avoiding security.
  • We honeymooned in Ontario, Canada. We could’ve flown anywhere in the world for mere pennies, but chose to rent a remote cabin in the woods along the shore of a lake. We love nature and wildlife and all things outdoors and it was the perfect honeymoon for us!
a woman photographing a pink roseate spoonbill
I’m a lucky gal – I’ve enjoyed some amazing experiences!

inspiration, happiness, quote, Dalai Lama quote, Pinterest PinHmm, haven’t done that much moving around?

I have so many amazing travel adventures that this list could get very very long. I’m so fortunate to have traveled extensively throughout my life, not only in the RV but also during my airline days; travel tales that I’ve never shared on this blog.

Snippets of life … I used to hop on a plane first thing in the morning in Chicago and fly to Boston for the day to pick up fresh lobster or fly to New York City for a day of shopping.

I’ve been to Philidelphia and embraced history by visiting the Liberty Bell and other historical sites. I’ve seen the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom in Washington D.C.

I’ve gotten drunk while strolling the French Quarter in New Orleans and I’ve visited Minneapolis in the dead of winter with a minus 50 degree below F wind chill factor.

Who would’ve thought I would taste some of the yummiest pizza in Lincoln, Nebraska? Or finally find that matching cookware tea kettle in a shop in Topeka, Kansas, after scouring stores throughout Chicagoland and NYC to no avail?

Aside from Al going on a fishing excursion on the Columbia River, the Pacific Northwest remains an area of the United States that we have yet to explore. Is it still on my list of places I’d like to visit? Of course, it is, but I’m left with weighing out travel priorities. Do I spend time with family having our own little adventures or do I travel to new territory?

For now, my priorities lie with spending time with loved ones and revisiting familiar places that feel like home. These past two summers have been spent with family on private property located near a place I used to vacation as a child. It has felt like coming home. I feel a sense of calm and contentment that I haven’t felt in years.

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” —George Santayana

So although I haven’t lost my interest in traveling to new destinations, for now, the shuttle between summers in Wisconsin and winters in Arizona is exactly what we need, what we want. Which goes to show, there’s no right or wrong way to RV travel. It’s whatever makes you happy!

What about you? Are you a homebody or is travel an integral part of your life? Is it about the number of places visited or about the kind of memories created?

Sad, But Happy!

Sad, But Happy!

I can’t believe it’s mid-August already. Has your summer flown by as quickly as mine has? I’m feeling a little sad because I can already feel the changing of seasons is near. Here in northern Wisconsin, there’s a crispness in the air letting us know Fall is just around the corner.

I’m not sure I’m quite ready for summer to end and fall to begin … no, I know I’m not ready.

a lone duck swimming on a lake slightly covered in fog

Changing my mindset!

So, as sad as it may be to bid farewell to summer, I have my happy memories; some very fond summer memories. Oh sure, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room … Covid-19 that nasty Coronavirus pandemic thingy that has plagued much of 2020 thus far. That has not been fun and was partly the cause of my summer starting out with me feeling very stressed, overwhelmed, and sad.

I think I was too caught up in the news and world happenings, that quite frankly, I have no control over which is a difficult situation for a control freak for someone who likes to be in control.

Somewhere along the line, I’d had enough … enough negativity … enough bad news. It was time for me to work on my mindset and not be influenced by all the noise. After all, I was sitting in a beautiful, secluded location surrounded by nature and people I love. It was time for me to control me. Ah, an epiphany!

Enlightened by canoeing!

It was a quiet and calm morning in early July when Al and I launched the canoe. Five minutes later, we were paddling through a patch of lily pads. It was so quiet and calm that other than the occasional call of a loon or croak of a frog, the only sounds we heard were the trickling of water dripping from our paddles and the movement of the canoe gliding through the floating flat leaves. It was a magical moment, a picturesque moment, but alas, I consciously left my camera behind. I wanted to live in the moment with no distractions.

As we continued canoeing, Al and I paddled in silence taking in our surroundings. Soon we exited the lily pads and rounded an island. We spotted a bald eagle sitting on a tree limb high above us. Moments later, we spotted another bald eagle on a much lower limb and smaller in stature. (Where’s my camera when I need it? 🥴) We determined that this must be a nesting pair of bald eagles as evidenced by the loud squawking sound heard nearby from a hungry eaglet. “Feed me, feed me!”

We sat in the canoe with our paddles idly resting across our legs while floating and being awed by our surroundings. My mind was quiet. I felt more at peace and relaxed than I had felt in months. I was happy! Perhaps, I would’ve been even happier had I brought my camera along to capture the exquisite morning. No, I was definitely happy despite being without a camera or even my iPhone. I was in my element and savoring every moment, sight, and sound.

A great summer!

So, even though my summer didn’t start out the best, it has turned into a very relaxing and enjoyable time filled with plenty of fond memories. Come early October, I’ll be sad to leave our little slice of perfection on family property in northern Wisconsin behind, but I’ll be happy to hit the road bound for Arizona in search of new adventures.

This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.” ― Susan Polis Schutz

I leave you with a few more images showcasing my summer sights. To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image.

How was your summer? Are you happy or sad to see it come to an end?


Unspoiled Beauty – Apostle Islands

Unspoiled Beauty – Apostle Islands

After a very stormy night, we awoke to an eerily calm, fog-covered morning. Lake Superior’s water was as smooth as glass; a rare treat to behold. Even though the campground is located on Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, creating some protection from the open waters of this Great Lake, a mere few hours earlier, she was showing her true personality with large whitecaps, waves crashing over the shoreline, and ominous clouds swirling overhead. Lake Superior is a force that demands respect.

As we sat in the comfort of the RV enjoying the view while sipping our morning coffee, Al and I discussed the plan for the day. There was still a heavy layer of cloud cover blocking any sight of the sun rising. Thus, when I suggested we take a scenic cruise of the Apostle Islands, Al thought I wasn’t thinking clearly and proceeded to fill my coffee cup in hopes more caffeine would improve my logic.

I was serious though and thought the day would be perfect for a three-hour Apostle Island cruise on Lake Superior, not that I didn’t have my doubts considering how the visibility was currently poor and the overall feel was very gloomy.

Kreher Campground
Our view of Chequamegon Bay from the RV. Lakefront site at Kreher Campground in Ashland, Wisconsin

Visiting the Apostle Islands had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved looking at maps and am intrigued about places the more I study a map. That little passion of mine has lead us to explore some beautiful locations and this part of northern Wisconsin fits that bill.

As many times as we’ve driven along Lake Superior’s Northshore, her south shore eluded us until the summer of 2019. And believe me, she did not disappoint … Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands

Visiting the Apostle Islands

The picturesque little town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, is the gateway to this national lakeshore. The Apostle Islands consists of 22 coastal islands in Lake Superior that feature lighthouses, sea caves, hiking trails, camping, sailing, and amazing kayaking. It’s said that the area offers some of the best kayaking in the world allowing kayakers to weave in and out of dramatic archways of sea caves.

Tent camping is allowed on several of the islands, but you’ll need to hire a water taxi if you don’t have your own watercraft. There is a vehicle ferry available for visitors interested in touring or camping on Madeline Island. Voted as one of the coolest small towns in the U.S., this Apostle Island is not technically part of the national lakeshore but worthy of a mention. (Personally, I feel the ferry is a tad pricey. Vehicle price is based on length with an additional per person charge.)

During the winter when the waters along the lakeshore freeze over, hikers are able to hike to these ice caves that are adorned with windswept icicles. Although northern Wisconsin winters are no longer something I feel a need to experience, I might change my mind in order to photograph these ice caves. It looks like a really stunning sight and adventure.

(In reality, I’ll stick to viewing pretty images of that winter wonderland from the comfort of my desert located RV. I don’t think I could handle the thirty plus below wind chill conditions anymore 🥶 I’m definitely out of practice.)

Our Tour boat!

Cruising the Apostle Islands

Visiting the town of Bayfield is enjoyable, but in order to really see the beauty of the National Lakeshore, you’ll need to get out on the water. Apostle Islands Cruises offers a nice variety of tours to choose from. We loved our cruise and would definitely recommend.

During our visit in the summer of 2019, we chose to take the Sea Caves and Lighthouse Tour. I was really looking forward to taking another one of their cruises this summer, specifically the Lighthouse Tour, but the cruise company ended up canceling that specific tour during the 2020 season in order to accommodate Covid-19 safety guidelines, and thus, tours and schedules were rearranged.

Things to be aware of when cruising on Lake Superior …

  • Temperature – don’t dress for land, dress for the ‘sea’. Temps can be as much as 20 degrees colder once your away from land and the weather can change drastically in mere minutes. Thus, bring a sweatshirt and/or raincoat regardless of what the weather is like on land.
  • Open Water – the lake can get rough. Even though this is a lake, view it as a sea.
  • Wind – we enjoyed sitting on the top deck, but it’s windy as all heck and the wind is always cold. All that wind makes for great sailing though.
  • Camera and info – it’s beautiful so plan on taking lots of photos, and the captain shares fascinating information on the islands and happenings.
Raspberry Island Lighthouse on Lake Superior, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Raspberry Island Lighthouse – Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Lighthouses

The lighthouse on Raspberry Island has long been known as the Showplace of the Apostle Islands. At scheduled times, the Park Service provides a narrated historical dramatization to tourists. In addition to the lighthouse, boaters often anchor about a mile away along Raspberry Island’s shoreline at one of the more scenic sand spits in the Apostle Islands, and hikers who arrive by boat can follow the trail between the lighthouse and the sandspit to explore.

Sand Island Lighthouse
A kayaker’s delight!

Perfect Day

We couldn’t have picked a better day for our tour. Since the morning’s weather was gloomy, misty, and less than optimal for a three-hour scenic cruise, our boat was barely half full that afternoon. Glancing at the sky while boarding the boat, there visually appeared to be more weather rolling in, but according to my weather app radar, it was looking good. The captain concurred that we should have a lovely day for a boat ride.

And what a lovely August afternoon it was! Aside from Captain Mike’s informative narration, he interjected his excitement regarding the rare optimal lake conditions as well as personal lake life tales and experiences. He hails from a generational seafaring family and his passion and love for Lake Superior and the Bayfield Pennisula was obvious.

He and his crew appeared to be enjoying their time out on the lake every bit as much as the passengers considering we were all experiencing a rare treata very calm Lake Superior.

According to Captain Mike, the lake is rarely that calm … happens maybe ten or twelve times a year… a year … and we were fortunate to have experienced it. The afternoon weather was gorgeous combined with the calmness of the lake made for a magical day. I don’t think we could repeat those conditions even if we tried. Luck was definitely on our side that day. A bucket list memory for the books! ⛵😎❤

Where to stay!

The charming town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, offers a unique variety of accommodations; small hotels, historical Bed and Breakfasts, and vacation rentals. The nearby towns of Washburn and Ashland offer additional lodging options.

RVing – There’s a variety of places to camp throughout the Bayfield Peninsula. We stayed in Ashland at the Kreher Campground which is a first-come-first-serve campground and is big rig friendly. Our second choice would have been at the town campground in Herbster purely for the sunsets. The Herbster Campground is also a great spot to stay if your goal is kayaking the sea caves which are accessed via Meyers Beach in Cornucopia. FYI – kayaking tours start in Cornucopia.

We also checked out the county campground in Washburn, and although workable, we thought the sites were pretty close together and the abundance of trees with low branches could be problematic. This CG is better suited for travel trailers, Class C’s, and tents, although we did see a couple of 5th wheels.

The Legendary Waters Casino in Red Cliff is an option for larger RVs, but expect close neighbors and unlevel sites, but the beautiful views might make up for the cons. The national forest campgrounds that we drove through we’d consider best suited for tents, vans, or popup trailers.

Obviously, we weren’t able to explore all the camping facilities in the area. So, for additional RVing options and more detailed information, please check with your favorite app. Our favorite apps are Allstays and Campendium. Happy trails!

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

Bayfield, Wisconsin

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We have the Fix!

We have the Fix!

I’m deep in thought as I slowly move the paint roller across the wall. I do some of my best thinking while painting. As I tackle this little remodel project, I listen to music from Tom Petty and am put in a reflective mood.

Along with the wheels in my head turning, my body is being physically challenged. Doing anything in an RV tests one’s contortionist skills and I’m certainly testing mine in this 3 foot 4 inch by 2 foot water closet (toilet room). As I bend over the toilet (with the lid down, of course) to paint behind and around the toilet, I brush up against a freshly painted wall with my bare shoulder. Ah, time for a quick break!

I step over to the medicine cabinet mirror to wipe the paint off my shoulder and notice the round faded scar on my upper right arm … a scar from a smallpox vaccination that I received as a child. Hmm, smallpox? Another nasty virus!

A reflective mood!

A change in travel plans

A virus, a pandemic, a health concern, makes one think and reaccess priorities. Back in January while sitting in Arizona, I was thick in the research phase of our summer excursions. I had all these grandiose RV travel ideas that would begin from our summer home base in northern Wisconsin. These out and back trips would take us into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Minnesota’s Northshore. I love Lake Superior and never get enough time exploring her shoreline. So, I couldn’t wait for summer to roll around and dive back into this beautiful part of the country with camera in hand.

By the time May rolled around, it became obvious that this new Covid-19 virus wasn’t just a normal flu bug, and therefore, it definitely wouldn’t be travel as usual. We had already pushed back our Phoenix departure date a couple of times and eventually started rerouting our journey and timeline to Wisconsin with consideration for restrictions due to the pandemic.

It was time for us to simplify our RV travel plans for the summer. A problem with the RV grey tank while en route to Wisconsin made simplifying those plans easy as well as necessary. Long story short, we fixed our RV ourselves and avoided the need for hunting down an RV repair facility that could get us into the shop in a timely manner … a real problem these days, plus we saved ourselves some serious moola in the process.

Under the belly of the RV – “I think I can fix this.”

The new RV travel plan

Our plan for the summer is not to travel, but to stay put on lakefront private property. Oh darn! Guess that means we’ll need to paddle the canoe more or give the pontoon boat a frequent workout. I believe Al and I are of an age where we don’t feel the necessity to be on the go exploring all the time, and we actually relish the quiet solitude found here in northern Wisconsin.

We’ve lived a blessed life filled with extensive travel and careers we loved. If we don’t make it back to the UP or Northshore this summer, we’re okay with that, and hopefully next summer, things will be back to travel as usual.

Ah, but we haven’t totally hibernated. We’ve taken little jaunts up to Duluth for shopping and hiking, but mostly shopping (Home Depot). Since we’re hanging with family this summer and not moving around, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to freshen up the RV with a little remodeling … hence the painting of the bathroom. I originally wanted to do a major remodel which would include replacing the flooring but nixed that idea once the Midwest summer heat and humidity set-in in full force. I think it might be wise doing most of the projects when we’re back in arid Phoenix. Too much humidity could play havoc on those projects.

Problem Solving

In addition to the RV projects, I managed to repair some damage to the pontoon boat bimini. I brought my sewing machine with me to Wisconsin thinking I might crank out some new face masks, which I still might do, but the machine came in quite handy to accomplish repairing a few rips and replacing zippers on the pontoon canvas bimini. Once repaired, it was lake time. Thank goodness for my sewing skills … thanks mom.

Although all the repairs and projects have kept us pretty busy, we’ve still managed to get in plenty of fun-time with Al’s sister and her husband. After all, it’s their property that we’re camped on for the summer.

So what do four baby boomers do when they hang out together in the hinterland? Of course, there’s the boating and splashing in the lake like twelve-year-olds. Then there’s the eating and drinking accompanied by problem-solving conversations and more drinking. Have I told you how my culinary and bartending skills have improved significantly with all the practice I’m getting lately?

When the weather is bad, we’ll watch a movie or sit on the screened-in deck and watch the storm clouds pass … more drinking and world problem-solving ensue. Along with light-hearted jovial tales, we’ll discuss more serious topics which brings me full circle to the beginning of this post about that smallpox vaccine scar on my arm.

Sitting on the deck watching the storm!

While the four of us discuss current affairs, we can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. History seems to be repeating itself in little ways. We come up with a list of events from our past that impacted our lives.

  • In the ’60s/’70s, the U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War. Today, it’s the Middle East and soldiers are thanked for their service. Back then, those serving in the military were spat on, had raw eggs thrown at them, and were verbally assaulted. Hanoi Jane and folks that protested the war or dodged the draft were forgiven, but Vietnam Vets have never forgotten.
  • Viruses; I personally had the chickenpox, mumps, and German measles (rubella). In the sixties, polio still existed in the U.S., although rare. I remember a young classmate who wore braces on her legs from having had polio. In the ’80s, we were introduced to HIV and Aids. This was a scary time as there were no meds or treatments for this perplexing virus. The diagnosis was a death sentence and many of us lost at least one friend due to Aids.
  • In the late ’70s, my high school was evacuated a couple of times due to racial riots. In 1991/92, riots broke out over the treatment of Rodney King.
  • During my high school years, the war on drugs was in full force. Random school locker searches by teams of law enforcement officers accompanied by drug-sniffing German Shepards took place monthly. And here we are in 2020 and the war on drugs continues.
  • In the ’70s and ’80s, the airline industry was in turmoil and furloughs were a part of their business model. I predict the airline industry is in for another rough patch and history is on the verge of repeating itself, unfortunately.

How much has really changed over the past sixty years? People are people and you can’t legislate morality or respect. During our happy hour conversations, we share our opinions and potential solutions for the problem … whatever the flavor problem of the evening might be… one of us can usually come up with a fix cause we’re a group of edumacated mature individuals.😆

Now implementing our fix may not be perceived in a favorable light, but hey, it’s only a thought and we’re usually under the influence of spirits while coming up with these ideas.

Since the four of us grew up just west of Chicago, one evening we came up with a solution for the soaring crime and violence in the city … all the southside Grandma’s need to embrace their inner Paul Kersey character and take their communities back from the gangs. Can we get the Hill Street Blues to go along with that plan? Okay, kidding … or am I? Did I mention, we may have watched a couple of Charles Bronson movies during last week’s tornado warning?

Okay maybe some of our solutions are questionable, but perhaps someone like Sigurd Olson was onto something with his profound and thought-provoking words.

Joys come from simple and natural things; mist over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water. Even rain and wind and stormy clouds bring joy. We humans need wilderness. It is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium … only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard – Sigurd F. Olson, Listening Point

So now ya know what life is like around my neck of the woods. How’s life treating you?

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Photography for Beginners

The Do’s and Don’ts of Photography for Beginners

Photography offers us the chance to be an artist and to witness the world through a lens – creating art through imagery, all while witnessing something unfold right before our eyes. This is why photography is such a worthwhile pursuit that you should seriously consider taking up. However, newbie photographers (me included) may find themselves frustrated at the beginning, as there are some growing pains to endure before getting that perfect shot. Fortunately, I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to help you get better relatively quickly:

Do use what you already have

As a beginner, any camera you currently have for photography will suffice, whether that’s your phone or a point and shoot camera, and then you can work up to a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. For now, use what you already have to get a good understanding of the different camera settings and practice composing pictures until you can buy that upgraded camera. Fortunately, there are plenty of good, entry-level cameras listed by Tech Radar that you can begin with. The Nikon D3500 and the Canon EOS 90D are a good start, as both are packed with features and are reasonably priced, but there are certainly others to consider.

Don’t go crazy buying equipment

Some beginners make the mistake of going for the most expensive camera, mistakenly believing that the pricier, the better. While others, stock up on pricey equipment, thinking that all that gear will make them a great photographer. Don’t make the same mistakes. It’s important to remember, it’s not the gear that makes a great photographer. Rather than focus on stockpiling equipment (some of which you might not even need), devote your energy and budget to learning about photography by attending seminars, taking courses, reading books, and learning from others.

Do accessorize

While you don’t need to buy everything professionals have in their kit, accessorizing is still important to make the process much easier. Luckily, there are plenty of accessories to begin with, depending on your needs. In fact, the range of photography equipment on Adorama such as tripods, battery packs, and lighting equipment is a testament to just how much equipment is out there to help make the job easier. Whether you’re looking for your camera to last longer by purchasing additional battery packs, or looking to get a steady shot using a tripod, there’s bound to be an accessory to assist you. For beginners, you should start with a lens cleaning kit, a couple of new lenses, spare batteries, a bag to keep your gear organized, and a basic tripod.

Don’t settle for Auto

Photo Pro Magazine state that it can be hard to steer clear of the automatic settings, as it makes capturing photos easy and convenient. However, you should break that habit if you want to become a better photographer as there is a lot to explore beyond the typical settings. At the end of the day, the more you explore your camera’s settings, the better you’ll be at photography and shooting in different scenarios. Not to mention, you may have already invested in a DSLR/Mirrorless, so make the most out of it by testing out new things.

Do Practice

You get better by taking photos of different subjects in diverse scenarios using a multitude of settings. As you practice, keep in mind some guidelines, like the rule of thirds, where you divide a frame into a 3×3 grid and place your subject on any of the four intersections. It’s a purposeful misdirection, as it goes against the eyes’ natural inclination to look directly at something. Nevertheless, it creates a dynamic balance and compels the viewer to look at the entirety of the image. Now, as you practice, it’s important to keep those creative juices flowing, and my ’10 Tips for Finding Inspiration’ post will hopefully help inspire you.

Even walking around with your camera on you at all times will help you to flex those creative muscles.

Don’t check too much

Photography pro, Caio Guatelli, notes in ’17 Essential Photography Tips for Beginners’ that checking your resulting shot is counterintuitive for two reasons. First, the camera’s screen doesn’t always show the tonal details and will cause you to adjust your settings immediately even when it’s unnecessary. Second, said habit can result in you missing a better moment, as your eyes are needlessly glued to your camera’s LCD.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for those new to photography?

Happy Shooting!

Why We Love Phoenix

Why We Love Phoenix

I love the diversity of our RV lifestyle. We’re able to live in a major city one day and move out into nature the next. And when we come across a city such as Phoenix that offers both environments in relatively close proximity, I say this is an RVers dream … jackpot!

“May you live in interesting times.”

BUT … Life is anything but normal these days and I’d be remiss if I jumped right into the content of this post without mentioning a couple of things.

March is usually the busiest and best month to visit Phoenix, Arizona. Wildflowers are in abundance adding vibrant color to our desert landscape, not to mention the beautiful blue skies and near-perfect temperatures that are enjoyed by all. But not his year! Not only has the weather been schizophrenic leaving us wondering what has happened to our wonderful March weather, but the coronavirus has turned the tourism and stock markets into a volatile frenzy.

bee on purple lupine wildflower

Walmart empty isle, no toilet paper at Walmart
Walmart – Where’s the toilet paper?

The Phoenix valley’s robust tourism industry has been severely impacted by potential visitors canceling reservations left and right. Resorts that are normally booked solid and charging premium rates are now half empty and offering discounts. Baseball spring training has also been canceled and all the stores are out of toilet paper. Out of toilet paper! Really?

Ah, but let’s all revel in the fact that this too shall pass and life will return to normal eventually … soon, I hope. For now, I’ll immerse myself in summer trip planning and images of wildflowers. The wildflowers are a given, but our summer travels could be in question if current conditions were to continue.

I’m sure we can all agree that there’s currently too much uncertainty right now that might affect our travels. However, I’m optimistic and think in another month things will turn around, and therefore, our summer travels will continue as planned.

So, let’s get back to talking fun stuff!

An RV friendly city in Arizona

There are so many things to see and do in a big city; museums, restaurants, stores, sporting events, other events, and the list goes on, but the solitude and beauty of nature are always a strong pull for me. What if we can enjoy both?

It’s a rare treat to find an RV friendly city, and when we do, we like to plan a lengthy stay allowing us plenty of time to immerse ourselves in everything big city life has to offer. Since our children live in Phoenix, Arizona and Phoenix is RV friendly, this city has become our winter home.

Golden yellow poppies with a bee flying

The Phoenix valley is not only super popular with RVers but equally popular with all kinds of other visitors; snowbirds, vacationers, convention traffic, seminars, etc. Peak tourist season is January, February, and March … March is the busiest due to Spring Break, excellent weather, and baseball spring training (Cactus League).

The lodging options throughout the Phoenix valley are abundant and diverse. For those of us with RVs, we can find everything from scenic campgrounds to full-on RV Resorts complete with resort-style pools, pickleball courts, and golf courses. For non-RVers, there’s everything from inexpensive hotels, to vacation rentals, to mega-resorts, and everything in between.

An RV camped at Lost Dutchman State Park with the Superstition mountains in the background
Al and I camped at Lost Dutchman State Park located on the far east side of the Phoenix valley in the town of Apache Junction.

If you plan on visiting the Phoenix area and are looking for an RV spot for less than a 2-week stay, I would highly recommend Lost Dutchman State Park. It’s one of our favorite campgrounds. We love the views, hiking trails, and location. Lost Dutchman State Park offers a feeling of being in the backcountry, and yet, shopping and restaurants in nearby Apache Junction are less than a 15-minute drive away … the best of both worlds.

Coming in second to Lost Dutchman State Park would be one of the campgrounds in the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation system. Our personal preference is either Cave Creek Regional Park or Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Our friends prefer McDowell Mountain or Usery Mountain. McDowell Mountain Regional Park is well known for its biking trails while Lake Pleasant is known for its water recreation. There’s definitely a little something for everyone around here.

And of course, there are plenty of private RV parks throughout the valley. So many, that I couldn’t possibly list them all. Most are 55+ communities but there are a few that aren’t age-restricted.

I can't adult today

Valley Talk … The term “Phoenix valley” refers to the actual city of Phoenix as well as her dozen-plus surrounding suburbs. It makes communication easier. You might hear folks comment, “That’s in the east valley (meaning Scottsdale, Mesa, etc.) or that’s in the west valley (meaning Glendale, Goodyear, etc.). Then there’s the north valley near the town of Anthem where I am currently parked. Most people in the U.S. know where Phoenix, Arizona is located, but not everyone has heard of Mesa, Glendale, or Anthem. Therefore, by using the term ‘Phoenix valley’, people have an easy grasp of where in Arizona one is talking about.

Things we like to do in the Phoenix valley …

There’s a never-ending schedule of art shows, craft shows, sporting events, or other events to attend throughout the year in the Phoenix valley. I always discover some unique event worth checking out. Although hiking and photography top my list of favorite activities, there are so many other great recreational and educational opportunities to explore. Yes, RVing in a major city definitely has its pluses.

Scottsdale farmers market
The Farmers Market in Old Town Scottsdale is a great way to start a Saturday morning. I’ll admit, it usually feels a little strange attending a Farmers Market in the middle of winter, but keep in mind, you won’t find a Farmers Market around here during the summer months when temps sore into the 100 degree plus Fahrenheit range. It takes most northerners a little time to wrap their heads around a Farmers Market in the middle of winter, me included.

Corporate conventions and various educational seminars are held throughout the year in Phoenix or Scottsdale. I always keep an eye out for these special events for us to attend. One of our favorites is attending educational TD Ameritrade seminars. We’ve even had the pleasure of meeting Joe ‘JJ’ Kinahan. If you’re a trader or CNBC watcher, then shaking hands with a “celebrity” like JJ might be a real treat like it was for me. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet some of the various traders/instructors from the Think or Swim trading platform. They are always a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.

Desert Botanical Garden butterfly display
My daughter taking a selfie with a Monarch butterfly at the Desert Botanical Garden
Chili and Chocolate Fest
We enjoyed a cooking demonstration while attending the Chili and Chocolate Festival at the Botanical Garden.
western history
Lots of western history just begging to be explored.

Family and friends Spending time with family is our favorite pastime while visiting Phoenix

Let’s get social

Because Phoenix is such a popular travel destination for RVers and non-RVers alike, we never know who we might bump into. It’s always a pleasure connecting with my social media friends in person. Every winter, we enjoy numerous get-togethers with blog readers, blog writers, or folks from other social media platforms. Over the years, we’ve developed some amazing friendships via social media. Phoenix is the perfect city to physically connect with like-minded people.

Golden yellow poppies with a bee flying

Nature around Phoenix

Although I enjoy most aspects of big city living, I have a need to be close to nature and wildlife. Fortunately, with plenty of parks and open space located throughout Maricopa County, I’m still able to get my nature fix while living in a big city.

There’s some amazing scenery in this part of Arizona. Just outside of the city, in the east valley is one of my favorite scenic drives. Driving the Apache Trail makes for a perfect day trip, but before embarking on this drive, do your homework. The stretch of road between the town of Tortilla Flat and Lake Roosevelt is a gravel road and can be pretty rough in spots. A high clearance vehicle is usually recommended. Always check with the local ranger station for up to date conditions regarding Route 88/Apache Trail.

Have you ever visited Phoenix, Arizona? What’s your favorite city to visit?
And please stay healthy and safe out there!

Golden brittle-bush in the foreground Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale AZ in the background

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How to Take Great Photos with any Camera

How to Take Great Photos with any Camera

Photography has surged in popularity in the past decade with the emergence of social media and smartphones. Even though we’re all taking more photographs, many of us assume we’re limited in our talents due to our equipment. I’m here to say it’s not about the equipment, and you can create great, even amazing, photographs with any camera.

three sandhill cranes in a fieldI’ve had an interest in photography as long as I can remember, but my true passion didn’t emerge until we hit the road full-time in our RV several years ago.

After wearing out a couple of point and shoot cameras, I upgraded to a Bridge camera. I still suffer from camera envy and may one day switch to a Mirrorless Camera, but for now, my Lumix(s) fits my needs … certainly not professional-grade cameras by any means.

We’ve slowed down our travels somewhat and now spend our winters settled in an RV Park in Phoenix, Arizona. I enjoy this RV community and the friendships that have developed.

Although I don’t engage in many activities at the RV Park, I do co-host a photography group … a group of like-minded RVers who share a passion for photography. Not only have I learned a few things, but I’ve also been able to teach and share a few tidbits of my own photography knowledge.

I still consider myself a novice photographer, or rather more of a photo snapper and try to improve my skills with every click of the camera.

Being involved in the RV Park Photo Group has served as a great learning experience for everyone involved. Our group consists of every level of shooter along with every level of camera. Yes, we are indeed a diverse group of photo enthusiasts.

close up of a young deer

Here are a few tips that our RV Park Photo Group discussed on how to create more professional-looking images with any camera.

15 Beginner Tips – How to take better looking photographs

1. Learn your camera inside and out. This might mean diving into that owner’s manual and actually reading it. If you don’t have a manual, no worries, a Google search will come to the rescue. And don’t forget YouTube tutorials. It really is necessary to know how all the settings work and what they mean.  Even if you won’t use all the features, it’s important that you’re comfortable navigating the camera’s menu and settings with ease, especially in the field.

Always half-press the camera’s shutter button before taking the shot. On an iPhone, simply tap the screen for your desired focal-point (a little yellow box appears around the item when you do). Once you know where your camera is focused, you can decide if this is where you want the focal point to be in the image, and if not, start over.

One of the best things I did when I first bought my iPhone 8+ last year was to attend some free seminars at the local Apple store. Needless to say, there were a few ah-ha moments by many of the attendees … me included.

a shadow of a cross reflected on a church

2. Shoot regularly. The best way to improve your photography and get comfortable with your camera is to shoot often. Considering digital photography is free, there’s no reason not to spend hours behind your camera clicking away. Learn to love the delete button but always delete in your computer (unless you’ve taken a complete dud, like your lap or something 😆).  You’ll be surprised by how an image might appear on your LED screen versus your computer screen. Sometimes it looks better in the camera and sometimes an image looks better on the computer. So give the photo a chance and review it on your computer screen before deleting it.

Experiment with different subjects, different camera settings, and different light. Over time you’ll develop a style and voice that will be authentic to you.

bee on a pink flower
Taken handheld with a bridge camera – Panasonic Lumix FZ200

3. Stabilize your camera to achieve sharp photos. Obviously, the best way to stabilize a camera is by using a tripod, but that’s not always convenient, especially if you’re lazy like me and leave the tripod at home. So, the next best thing to do is to use a wall, fence post, or another stable surface to minimize camera shake. Learn to hold your camera correctly and pay attention to your breathing when pressing the shutter. And be sure to have stabilization turned on when handholding and turned off when using a tripod.

4. Use the Camera’s “scene” modes. Cameras and phones are smarter than ever before. Therefore, take advantage of the camera’s preset scene modes. The various modes optimize your camera’s settings and do the thinking for us. Depending on your camera various modes may include; landscape, food, action, portrait, night, and more. I love using these settings, but I always shoot the same image in P (program) mode or A (aperture priority). Remember, taking digital images is free. So shoot away and shoot the same subject using different settings.

On my iPhone 8+, I use the portrait mode to capture food or flowers and create great Bokeh (blurred background).

pinkish red roses in bloom
Taken with iPhone 8+ on Portrait mode

5. See the light. Before clicking that shutter, observe and assess the light. The first step to creating better photographs is understanding light. Think about how the light interacts with the scene and subject. Is the light highlighting an area or casting unique shadows? Light plays a vital role in the mood and interest of a photograph and is the most important element in creating a great photograph.

birds in a dead tree with a setting sun and orange sky
Photography is all about the light … and a little luck!

Composition guidelines for newbies

6. Rule of Thirds. This is one of the most common tips when it comes to improving your photographs. It’s an easy technique and will aid in making an image more interesting. Think about cutting the frame into thirds by using both horizontal and vertical lines. Then place your point of interest over the cross-sections of the grid.

I have the gridlines always turned “on” on both my camera and my iPhone. By doing so, it aids in composing my image and keeping my camera level. Actually, when I attended a seminar at the Apple Store, the first thing they recommended was to turn on the gridlines on the phone.

a hiker and wildflowers at Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, AZ
The trail serves as a leading line while the wildflowers create an interesting foreground. The rule of thirds definitely applies in this image and the single hiker is an odd number of subjects creating balance.

7. Leading Lines. This is probably my favorite form of composition. I’m always looking for leading lines to photograph. This type of composition draws the eye into the image.

8. Interesting foreground. Adding an interesting foreground object will give depth to a photograph, especially in landscape photography.

9. Patterns are a repetition of objects, shapes, or colors. Patterns are everywhere if we once train our eyes to notice them.

texture in photographs
Look for patterns in nature.

10. Negative space. When shooting people, animals, or birds, always leave a little extra room in the image toward the direction the subject is looking. This creates interest and mystery. The viewer may wonder what the subject is looking at.

11. Rule of odds. While composing an image, try to include an odd number of elements in the frame. This is a common practice in interior design. With an odd number of subjects, the image becomes more balanced.

12. Include a frame. A natural frame around the main subject will add depth to the image by drawing the viewer’s attention into the photo. Think about a window or tree framing a subject.

a tunnel frames the winding road
The tunnel serves as a frame around the winding road.

13. Move your feet. Learn to shoot from different angles and varying heights. Moving your body closer to or further away from your subject can often create a more dramatic shot. Walk around looking for a unique perspective. Don’t rely on a zoom lens … move your feet and body and explore the subject’s surroundings.

flowers in front of an official building in Denver
Photograph your subject from a different angle.

Final thoughts for beginner photographers

14. Get good at processing. Every image needs some amount of processing, some images more than others. Embrace the process, learn the software, be creative and comfortable with whatever program you use. I’m a huge fan of Photoshop Lightroom while others prefer Photoshop Elements (similar to Photoshop, but geared toward beginners). These days, there are a number of photographic editing platforms to choose from. Some are free and some subscription-based. Find something that works for you and get good at it.

15. Slow down and don’t rush the process. Take the time to think about what is going on in your viewfinder before pressing the shutter. Think about the composition and what you’re trying to capture. Understand the creative process and make intentional decisions. Learn to tell a story with your photos. See the light, the lines, the moments, the little things, BUT be willing to put the camera down awhile and truly experience your surroundings and then photograph whatever makes you happy.

Happy Clicking!

Gambels Quail
Taken with a point and shoot camera

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Northshore – Revisiting our Past

Northshore – Revisiting our Past

Our shopping excursions and explorations to Duluth, Minnesota served as the impetus for us to take a vacation from our vacation. Although our campsite this summer on private property along a pristine lake in northern Wisconsin is beyond nice, Lake Superiors Northshore was calling. Al and I had not returned to this part of the country since the early 1990s and the pull to return was strong.

After a little research, I made a reservation at the Burlington Bay Campground in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota. The easy thirty-minute drive northeast of Duluth made this the perfect location for our Northshore explorations. Since our reservation was made on rather short notice, I was only able to book three nights. We’ll take it! Oh, how we would’ve loved staying longer. Next time!

Burlington Bay Campground, Two Harbors, MN.

Once settled into our campsite, it was time to explore. Two Harbors, Minnesota is nestled along the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior. It’s a small quaint lakeside town rich in history and conveniently located to a bunch of scenic sites. It’s also home to a couple of historic sites that are found right in town.

Historic sites in Two Harbors

First lit in 1892, the historic Two Harbors Light Station is the oldest operating lighthouse in Minnesota. She consists of a two-story, square, redbrick dwelling, and a twelve-foot-square light tower attached between the gables. She no longer has her original lens (unfortunately), but still boasts an interesting twenty-four-inch aerobeacon. These days the lighthouse is in private hands, but she’s beautifully maintained & definitely worth a visit.

And you can even spend the night at the lighthouse. The Keepers Quarters is now a B&B.

(To enlarge photos in a gallery, simply click on any image)

For train enthusiasts, the Depot Museum is just down the road from the lighthouse and is housed in a historic brick building built in 1907. Today the building serves as a museum but was formerly headquarters for the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad which played a prominent role in the development of the iron ore industry throughout the region.

Towering strange man-made structures

Although my goal was to visit the lighthouse, once I had the truck parked, my attention was drawn across Agate Bay to some strange looking structures. The structures are docks that are made out of steel. They’re 1,300 feet long and seven stories tall.

Ore Docks with tug boat in Two Harbors Minnesota

The immense size of the docks allows ships to pull alongside some 112 chutes where the iron ore is then deposited into the hulls of the boats. These days, about 12 million tons of taconite are shipped out yearly headed south to the lower Great Lakes where it is then unloaded, heated up in blast furnaces, and eventually converted into steel.

The first dock was built in 1883 and by 1938 there were six fully operating docks. The docks were a major source of iron ore during World War II. By the mid-1950’s the docks were shipping out about 50 million tons annually, but this all came to an end in the 1960’s when iron ore was mined out. Area miners then began mining taconite as their primary source of metal. The development of taconite lead to the reopening of three docks in Two Harbors, and two of them are still in operation today.

An Ore ship pulling into docks in Two Harbors Minnesota Agate Bay
An empty ship pulling into the docks near sunset.

Visitors can view the docks anywhere along the shores of Agate Bay and get an up-close look at some of the massive ships that enter/exit the harbor. And I thought our combination of truck and RV was long. How’d ya like to park this big guy? These ships are seriously huge!

If you’d like to see these ships in action, shipping schedules can be found online at harbor lookout.

Yesterday and today

The real reason for our visit to Two Harbors, Minnesota was to allow Al and me the opportunity to travel a route that we used to drive every summer during our first few years of dating and marriage. Al and I worked in the airline industry at the time and could’ve flown anywhere in the world for free or for mere pennies, but for our yearly vacations, we wanted nothing to do with flying, hotels, or dining out. After all, that’s what our careers were all about.

Al carrying our canoe in 1990 near Gunflint Lake, MN. We had to portage around rapids.
Me, today, happy to be back visiting Lake Superior’s Northshore.

So, as an escape from our work lifestyle, we packed up our camping gear, strapped a canoe down on the roof of our vehicle, and drove north … more than 650 miles north of Chicago. The first couple of years, we ventured into western Ontario, Canada, but then we discovered the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota’s Arrowhead. And from then on, the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota became our summer vacation spot. Most times we camped while other times we splurged and rented a cabin.

So, our first full day camped in Two Harbors, we quickly set off retracing our driving route from years past. We found it amazing and rather exciting that very little had changed over the past umpteen years. There was a part of us that felt like we were just here yesterday and another part that felt like it was a lifetime ago … just another chapter in a life well-lived.

If we didn’t do anything else on our little excursion but visit two key stops, I’d be happy. My must-sees were the Split Rock Lighthouse and the town of Grand Marais.

As you drive along Highway 61, glancing to the south is Lake Superior; the largest of the five Great Lakes and the largest freshwater lake in the world. It’s also one of the chilliest lakes. A rocky cliff shoreline serves as a reminder that these waters can be dangerous, which is why there are so many lighthouses on Lake Superior.

The Split Rock Lighthouse is situated on Lake Superior’s Northshore and is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the nation. I’ve always been intrigued by this lighthouse and images of it remind me of my mother. She loved lighthouse and Split Rock was one of her favorites. I was extremely excited when I discovered Lake Havasu built a beautiful replica. Now granted, it’s a fraction of the size of the real lighthouse, but wonderful nonetheless.

Split Rock Lighthouse as seen from a scenic pull-out along Hwy 61

The Split Rock Lighthouse and State Park features a visitor center with a museum store, a lakeshore picnic area, a tent-only campground, a trail center, and hiking trails. Photographing this lighthouse has been a long-time dream of mine, but unfortunately, weather and timing conditions weren’t the best for anything better than a few snapshots. I was fine with that. The views were stunning!

A view of the shoreline from the lighthouse

Waterfalls and more waterfalls

While Lake Superior lies on the south side of the highway, dense forest and hills lie on the north side. Considering the north shore can receive well over 90 inches of snow during an average winter, all that snowmelt has to go somewhere creating some spectacular waterfalls. The waterfalls alone make visiting Minnesota’s north shore worthwhile.

Falls at Cross River – In the spring the center rock is covered in rushing water. This is a light flow.

The forecast for our day excursion consisted of cloudy skies with a 40% chance of rain which should’ve been perfect for photographing waterfalls … or so I hoped. Well, they couldn’t have been more wrong! The day turned into a beautiful day with totally clear blue skies and warmer than expected … not the conditions I was looking for to photograph waterfalls (much to Al’s delight). So, we changed our focus for the day and only stopped at the Falls at Cross River (around mile marker 78). These falls can be seen from the highway, thus requiring very little walking.

The day turned rather warm, humid, and buggy which did not put us in the mood for any hiking. Therefore, Gooseberry Falls State Park and Tettegouche State Park will remain on my must-see list for a future visit. Gosh, that list seems to be getting longer, not shorter! How does that happen?😏

If you love waterfalls and hiking, then the drive from Duluth, Minnesota to Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada is definitely an adventure to consider. The towns of Portage and Thunder Bay have some rather impressive waterfalls that should not be missed. This is already on my list for our potential itinerary for next summer. An unexpected kitchen remodel kind of curtailed our travels this summer (a forthcoming post is in the works).

It appears, most of the state park campgrounds along Hwy 61, do not offer hookups and are not big RV friendly. This is a tenters paradise and also perfect for cyclists biking the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. But for RV hookups along Lake Superior, we’ll just need to venture a little further down the road …

Grand Marais, Minnesota

The artsy little town of Grand Marais (pronounced – Grand Ma-ray) boasts a population of fewer than 1,500 people. It serves as the gateway to the Gunflint Trail leading visitors into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. When Al and I would vacation on Gunflint Lake, we would have to return to Grand Marais once or twice during our vacation to shop and replenish provisions.

Since our resort was an hours drive north of Grand Marais, we always made a day of it by strolling shops and going out to lunch. On this day, we happened to bring a picnic lunch and enjoyed eating it on a bench overlooking the harbor. After lunch, I took the interesting stroll out to the lighthouse and then we hit a few shops.

The town is small and after walking around for maybe an hour, we’d seen just about everything and it was time to retrace our steps back to Two Harbors but not before checking out the local RV Park. The town of Grand Marais manages an RV park that is big rig friendly with hookups and sits along the shores of Lake Superior. It’s nothing special and the sites are rather close together, but you can’t beat the location or views.

The RV Park can be seen along the shore. Not a bad location.

Burlington Bay Campground

We found this campground in Two Harbors to be the perfect place for us to use as a base for our Northshore explorations. We could even walk into town from the campground if we wanted to. There’s easy access to the kayaking beach and wooded trail along the lakeshore. It’s also an easy bike ride to the lighthouse, Ore Docks, and town restaurants.

There are four sections in the campground. We chose a site in the David Dill Addition which is the newest section and the only area in the campground that isn’t wooded – it’s in a meadow without trees. Yeah, we don’t like trees, or rather our RV isn’t a fan of tree branches. We loved our unobstructed view of Lake Superior and would definitely stay here again, but there was a downside regarding our sewer connection.

The sites are tiered in the David Dill Addition offering nice lake views from all the sites and even two sewer connections allowing RVers to optimize those views. There’s one connection at the rear of the site for those needing to back in like trailers and 5th wheels and another connection closer to the front of the site for motorhomes that choose to pull straight in to enjoy the view out of the front windshield.

Those of us in the first row (sites 1B-12B) had trouble connecting to the rear sewer due to the height of the pipe. Al and I were in site 2 and fortunately, the folks in site 3 were also in a 5th wheel backed in allowing us to hook up to the intended motorhome sewer for site 3. Trust me, I was originally not a happy camper when the rear sewer pipe was sticking out of the ground so far that it was impossible for gravity to work with the sewer hose. The gal in the office said it was out of their control (appears they get a lot of complaints). The county health department determined the height. What’s interesting is the other tiers had properly cut sewer pipes. 🤔

Even with the sewer issue and unlevel sites, we would return and definitely relished not having to worry about roof damage from trees … been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt! But if you like trees, consider staying in one of the other loops.

Worth mentioning; we enjoyed picking up some sweets at Louise’s Place. Located in downtown Two Harbors not far from the Depot Museum and Paul Van Hoven Park. Louise’s is much like a local coffee shop offering breakfast and lunch along with homemade breads and sweets. We had to control ourselves from revisiting the next day.

If you love nature and beautiful landscapes, then you’ll enjoy visiting Lake Superior’s Northshore. With eight State Parks, a variety of National and State Forests, community parks, wayside rests, public beaches, and four-season trails, you’re bound to find something to make any visit worthwhile. We loved returning to an area that will always hold a special place in our hearts!

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