Crossing Massachusetts into Maine

Leaving the next morning we drove on into Massachusetts towards Littleton which is due north of Boston.  We definitely wanted to stay away from Boston with our big rig.  We pulled into the Boston Minuteman Campground about 4:30 PM.  Now this has potential for a great place but it is really tight and hilly.  If this is the best in the area, they need to check out some of the past parks we visited.  Thank goodness we were put in a pull through spot right in front of two of their log cabins.  It had rained about 2 inches before we got there so were puddles everywhere in the road.  Rained again over night but we could still get out.  Had to drive slow to keep from clipping anyone as the roads were narrow.  After we made it out we got back on I-495 to proceed through New Hampshire and into Maine on I-95.  We always like this drive as it has some great bridges.  The Piscataqua River Bridge is a cantilevered through arch bridge that connects Portsmouth, New Hampshire with Kittery, Maine. Carrying six lanes of Interstate 95, the bridge is the third modern span and first fixed crossing of the Piscataqua between Portsmouth and Kittery.  The two older spans, the Memorial Bridge and the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, are both lift bridges, built to accommodate ship traffic along the Piscataqua.  The high arch design of the Piscataqua River Bridge eliminates the need for a movable roadway.  Pretty impressive drive and lots to see on either side up or down river!  After crossing into Maine the trip up I-95 is a walk in the park.  Not a lot of traffic compared to other interstates we have travelled.

Driving across New York

As we left Findley Lake area we realized we needed DEF fluid for the truck again.  We only buy this from a Ford dealer so we had a short excursion on those narrow winding roads in and about Pennsylvannia and New York to get to Corey, NY.  Once back on track we hit I-90 again and headed east towards Verona, NY passing just to the south of Buffalo and Syracuse, NY.  We were traveling through the Finger Lakes district.  There are 11 lakes near here which were formed during the Pleistocene Ice Age.  Gradually the ice melted and the glaciers receded, leaving shale valleys of water, which are now called the Finger Lakes.  Indian legend says the lakes were formed when the Great Spirit laid his hands on the land to bless it.  His fingers left imprints that filled with water, hence the name “Finger Lakes.” Very pretty area as is most of upstate New York.  We had picked our stop for two nights at the Villages of Turning Stone Casino near Verona, NY.  Now this puts a whole new dimension on RV resorts and the price shows it at $45 per night with our Good Sam discount.  We checked in and were assigned to a great pull through section with 70 ft long paved areas.  Got all set up for our stay and had a good dinner.  The next morning was Sunday so we decided to take the free shuttle over to the casino for their breakfast buffet.  That place is huge!  And fancy!  The AAA Four-Diamond award-winning Lodge at Turning Stone Resort Casino was selected by Condé Nast Johansens as its “Most Excellent Golf Resort” for the USA and Canada for 2010 and as the “Most Excellent Resort” in the USA and Canada for 2007. The 2900 sq ft Presidential Suite in the Lodge runs about $2500 a night. The shuttle driver said they put about 500K miles on their vans each year and never leave the resort and they have several.  They say it rivals many in Vegas and has a really pretty golf course with green fees of $250 each.  We walked around and saw many different areas for all sorts of gambling.  This entire resort which includes a big hotel is an enterprise of the Oneida Indians and we decided they must receive a lot of revenue from this area. And the landscaping is well done for northern NY areas.  The next day we drove into the town of Oneida to get the Leader checked at the hospital and see if he was well yet. (Nope, needed 3rd round of meds).  There are signs all over town saying “This is an enterprise of the Oneida Nation”, the filling stations and the grocery stores included.  We were able to do some laundry while camped and catch up on our naps for the next leg of the journey.

Best state park we’ve seen and then heading east

Maumee Bay State Park is what a real campground/park should look like.  All the other states should take a lesson.  We had spot #63 and enough room here for at least 3 other units by other standards.  Level, paved parking spot over 50 ft long, with grass, picnic table, trees, a pond out back and within walking distance of the beach on Lake Erie!  Sad to have to leave this one.

We drove on across Ohio while continuing to marvel at the fields of corn.  All the while we were driving on the Ohio turnpike just south of the Lake Erie shoreline.  Another great lake!  We continued to see large fields of corn.  Then we worked our way just around Cleveland heading towrds Erie, PA.  Amazing how fast you can cross a state when you are traveling 65 MPH on a turnpike.  Bad thing is there are no nice roadside parks and the only stops are at the service plazas which are jammed with travelers.  As we got closer to Erie the landscape began to change and more rolling hills and small farms. Then we noticed vineyards on both side of the road. I checked and discovered we were driving through the Lake Erie Wine Country, formerly the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail, located on the south shore of beautiful Lake Erie in Pennsylvania and New York. There are wineries, villages and beaches that are nestled among green rolling hills in the midst of 30,000 contiguous acres of luscious, fragrant grape vineyards. The majority of those 30,000 acres are native grapes of the Labrusca variety. In the past 50 years, however, abundant and diverse varieties of wine grapes have been planted in the region with fantastic results. Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and hybrids like Vidal and Vignoles are whites that generally do well in the region, as do the following red varietals: Blaufrankisch (Lemberger), Dornfelder, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and hybrids Noiret and Chambourcin. These grapes thrive here, producing exquisite fruit for exquisite wines. We actually saw about 40 miles of vineyards on both sides the highway.

We drove on 20 more miles to our destination for the night, Findley Lakes, NY which is just over the border. What a quaint, small resort town we discovered.  We drove on a narrow 2 lane road winding past a variety of houses with some Victorians built on the banks of Findley Lake which is a small lake only 3 miles long.  We drove slowly into the Paradise Bay Park off of Hwy 426 and Shadyside.  The owner there is the nicest man, very helpful and showed us to our overnight site.  It had rained there and this place is on a hill and in the woods but our spot was level.  Lots of seasonal people here but was still very quiet. We hooked up the power and water then drove back about 10 miles on small roads to get more diesel.  On our way back we stopped at Z’s on the Lake for an early dinner of New York style pizza on the deck while overlooking Findley Lake and Main Street in town.  Then back to our abode for a good night’s sleep.

The Village of Findley Lake was settled by war of 1812 veteran Alexander Findley who in 1815 built a dam to power his mill and thus created the lake from two ponds. The settlement that grew up around the mills prospered and by the 1890’s you could just about buy anything you needed in Findley Lake. The Lakeside Assembly on the southwest shore entertained and inspired during the summers between 1895 and 1915 with programs that rivalled Chautauqua Assembly, at the Chautauqua Institution . The Assembly was reached by two steamboats, the Silver Spray and the Daisy.


Heading south on I-75 through Michigan

After we crossed the bridge we headed south to Grayling on I-75.  Our destination was Hartwick Pines State Park.  What a great place with paved sites and large grassy area but once again spoiled by a few oafs.  Seems as if we got placed between two big expensive Zephyr motorhomes that were towing big expensive cargo trailers.  Inside each trailer they carried about four to six Harleys that they were out riding until about 10 PM.  Then they came home – roar roar and parked for the night, then at 6 AM they were up and – roar roar gone again.  Sorry this good place was messed over but we were up and rolling ourselves to get out of Michigan.  Another real surprise was all the rest areas north of Flint about every 25-30 miles. They were so clean and nice and well laid out.

Can you believe this is a rest area on I-75?

One of them was actually landscaped by a Master Gardener.  This is part of the garden area of the one near Bay City, MI.

We stopped near Flint at a Cracker Barrel for our favorite stew and cornbread lunch and lo and behold here was the featured dessert – Blue Bell ice cream on Marionberry cobbler!  Who would have expected Blue Bell this far north?  After lunch we caught up on email and some computer work in their parking lot then resumed our journey.  We drove on I-75 staying west of Detroit and Ann Arbor and south into Toledo, OH area where we headed to the Maumee Bay State Park for the night.

In and around the Upper Michigan Peninsula

After we left Ashland we drove on Hwy 2 across Wisconsin catching partial views of the Lake. Hard to tell if we were here or in east Texas with all the trees!  Hwy 2 is a slow route due to the small towns and changing speed limits but still the best track for our trip.  We entered Michigan and the landscape changed a little with more deciduous trees mixed with the conifers.  Our destination was Rapid River, MI to stay in the Whispering Valley RV Park.  It was more highly touted than deserved but did have full hookups for the night and a laundry so we could catch up on that task.  The busy highway wraps around it and railroad is just south.  Who said Whispering?  The next morning we set out to enjoy the coast of Lake Michigan and the areas of Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Apparently this area was a vacation spot for many but some parts have seen better days, and lots of small places for sale.  We were impressed with how pretty the beaches and scenic turnouts were all along the highway.  Water was warm enough to wade in and many people were swimming in the surf. Our destination for the day was to drive across the Mackinac Bridge.  This is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere and was in the planning stages for about 20 years before it was built in the 1950s.  Only cost us $8.00 to drag the big rig across and naturally they were working on part of it so we had to creep at 20 MPH.  Looked like it was getting a new green paint job!  This bridge connects the UP with lower Michigan and saves driving many miles through Canada.

Big Manitou Falls at Pattison State Park

Back to Superior and our campground.  The next morning we took a walk over the see Big Manitou Falls which is 165 ft high and is the same height as Niagara Falls only skinnier and is the 3th largest waterfall east of the Rockies.  It is hard to see all of this 1500 acre park in one morning!   Then we made a quick run into Walmart to pick up a few things then went back and hooked up to leave.  Our destination for this night was Ashland and Mellen, WI.  We located a neat campground called Wildwood Haven about 24 miles down Hwy 13 which sits on the edge of Long Lake.  With luck we were able to get 4 nights in one spot.  Good thing as the Leader was feeling poorly and needed a break.  Once settled in we did go back into Ashland on Friday and visited the walk-in clinic at Memorial Medical Center where the nurse practitioner confirmed a second round of prescription was needed.  Then we filled it at Walmart, ate lunch and headed back to camp.  Ashland is the largest business center between Duluth and the Michigan border.  They have several historic hotels here, shopping and restaurants and is a clean city of about 8500 people. The weather here is delightful and makes the Leader’s recovery easier.  About 55° at 7AM then up to 75 or 80 by 4PM.  Not bad!  We are in a remote campground surrounded by woods and there are loons on the lake. Reminds you of the movie “On Golden Pond”.  Would be a fantastic camp if they had sewer connections but not, so we will have to dump before we head out. Took advantage of the break to do some cooking and get meals prepared for the next week as we plan to push eastward and get into Maine by the middle of August and we have miles to roll. Ashland sits right on the southern edge of Lake Superior and is a clean town.  Several neat things we did see were the murals that are on the sides of many buildings.

This mural covers the entire side of this building!

There are many here that were painted by local artists and depict different parts of the history of Ashland.  Check out this link to see the ones we missed with our photos.

A quick trip into Duluth

We headed through Duluth, MN to Pattison State Park just south of Superior, WI which is like an eastern suburb of Duluth.  The park is lovely and once again our timing was off as they only had a spot for us for one night as all the spots are reserved for the up-coming weekend.  So we set up camp and drove back into Duluth to do some sightseeing.  Duluth is a big city that sits on the southwest corner of Lake Superior.  The drive up London Drive along Lake Superior was really spectacular as there are some large estates that sit on the edge of the Lake and across the street are other quite imposing homes.  One of them is Glensheen, the historic Congdon estate.  Glensheen was built for the family of Chester and Clara Congdon between 1905 and 1908.  Both Chester and Clara were born to ministers and met at Syracuse University in New York, graduating in 1875.  They waited six years after graduation to get married, until Chester felt he was financially secure enough to support a family.  By 1892 the family had moved to Duluth.  As an attorney and investor involved with Iron Range land speculation, Chester saw his financial outlook change dramatically when he was 50 years old.  It was around this time that Chester also became active in politics, serving as a legislator and as a Minnesota representative to the Republican National Convention in 1916.  This red sandstone home has 39 rooms with 27,000 sq ft and is on the National Historic Register.  They have tours but we were too late that day to take one.

Then we drove into downtown Duluth.  One of the most imposing buildings is the Historic Central High School was built in 1892 of locally-mined Sandstone at a cost of $460,000. It features a 230 foot clock tower with chimes patterned after Big Ben in London; the clock faces are each 10½ feet in diameter, overlooking the Duluth harbor.  Architectural details such as gargoyles are the work of George Tharna.  In 1972 the school board ceased using the building for classroom instruction, possibly because the hungry boilers would burn up to 8 tons of coal per winter day.  The Central Preservation Committee and other interested citizens saved the building and created an 1890s classroom museum within the structure.  Duluth is a clean, old city with beautiful hanging baskets everywhere and many very fine hotels on the waterfront.  We drove uphill each block as the city sits on the side of the lake.  Several really interesting long bridges cross into Wisconsin from here.

Lots of old money here from the days when grain came here by wagon and then on the railroad where it was stored and loaded onto barges.  Still some large grain elevators exist near the port.  Remember Duluth is the home of General Mills and probably your favorite cereals.

How about Minnesota with Sophia Patrillo?

We drove toward our destination of Detroit Lakes, MN and talked about the fact that there really is a Saint Olaf in Minnesota but was out of the way for us to visit and knew we would not find Rose Nyland there anyway.  But all of a sudden in the words of Sophia Patrillo from the Golden Girls “Picture this – the year is 2012 and everywhere you see peaceful valleys and fields of yellow grain or green corn.  Suddenly on the road ahead of us we noticed several large RVs slowing to turn off the narrow two lane road.”  In the clearing to the right and left we see 100s of RVs of every size and description pulling in to park on some farm turned parking lot.  We proceeded about a mile to our destination after a few wrong turns.  Once there we found out what the crowd was about.  Seems as if we had stumbled into one of the biggest music festivals since Woodstock!  This is the 30th anniversary for WE Fest.  Every year since 1983 some of the best known Country Music stars and bands come to this part of the world for a 3 day festival.  There are few hotels of any size in this area so about 100-150 thousand people all come here to camp, drink, ???, and listen to music.  Three day tickets start at $165 and single day are $99.  This year Alabama was to be there as the headliner since they were there the first year and on subsequent 10 year anniversaries.  Check out this link to see what this is about.  I would never have imagined this many people coming this far north into farm country to listen to this much music.  Needless to say we were lucky it was Tuesday and we could get a spot for the night at Country Campground.  This place has a lot going for it – big sites, grassy areas, big playgrounds for kids, lots of room to let the girls run.  But a few drawbacks include the turkey farm just south of them – Phew!  And there are few trees so the sun can get pretty warm even this far north.  We spent our night and hit the road early to “get outta Dodge” before the rest of the masses showed up.  Driving along Hwy 2 east for miles were signs saying “stock up here for WE Fest”.  Lots of drinking to be done!

Leaving North Dakota

We left after breakfast at Eggert’s Landing and drove through Fargo, ND into Minnesota.  Again we saw the huge fields of wheat, corn and soybeans.  Occasionally we saw a field of blue flowered flax.  Now you ask what flax is used for.  Flax was one of the most important crops to early American farmers and to the economy of our emerging nation. Grown in almost every state east of the Mississippi River, and some beyond, flax was literally the fiber and preservative that helped sustain our people. Before the spread of the mechanical cotton gin in the early 1800s, most Americans had a choice of two clothing fibers – wool or linen. Even after the advent of inexpensive cotton, linen fiber from the stems of flax would remain an important source of fiber for clothes and other products.  In addition to being a fiber source, flax was also an important oilseed in America until the mid-1900s. Linseed oil, squeezed out of flax seed, can still be found in most hardware stores and is used as a preservative finish on wood. Despite the valuable characteristics of both linseed oil and linen fiber, flax began to fade from American farms after the development of the petroleum industry, especially following World War II. Many farms moved away from a rotation of flax and small grains (wheat, oats and sometimes barley or rye), to a rotation of corn followed by soybeans.

Fortunately, U.S. flax is not a lost crop, though the production area is much more limited. Flax is now grown almost exclusively in North Dakota and Minnesota.  Part of the reason flax has remained competitive in North Dakota and Minnesota, is that these states need fast maturing, cool season crops. Flax, like spring oats or spring wheat, is planted as soon as the soils begin to warm (typically April), and can be harvested in August, well before the early frosts that can hit the northern U.S.

The renewed interest in flax has been partially based on increased demand for linen clothing, but more so because of certain healthful properties of the seed oil. Flax oil is high in omega-3 fatty acid, which is believed to be helpful in lowering cholesterol when included in the diet. This same fatty acid is found in fish, one reason that seafood is advocated for those with cholesterol problems. The high omega content of flax is playing an increased role in foods. Flax seed is being fed to chickens, with the eggs from those chickens sometimes being marketed as high omega eggs.  So now you know that probably what you are eating is flax!

By the way, we hurried out of Fargo as it was a crazy place to be with lots of traffic and people driving like maniacs.  We actually ate a sandwich at Subway in Walmart because we could park our rig in the parking lot and watched the Walmartians go by.  Should have had our camera!  And we wanted to get to our next stop in Minnesota before too late!.

Driving with Norman the Garmin

Monday morning the Leader had recovered sufficiently to hit the road again.  So we set out from Dickinson, ND on I-94 heading east.  Our trip took us past so many fields of corn and soybeans that I cannot imagine anyone not having plenty of ethanol or soy sauce for the next year!  Honestly there is no way to describe the distances these fields cover.  Apparently there has been enough moisture this year for them all to do well.  There was a freaky cold snap in late May that had a lot of hail but apparently it did not damage the crops.   We rode along enjoying the Sirius radio and chatting!  We had plotted our course to stay in a COE campground near Valley City on Lake Ashtabula.  Lake Ashtabula is located 12 miles northwest of Valley City, ND, and is situated in one of the most scenic river valleys in the region.  Now here is where it gets interesting!  Norman, the Garmin, was in charge and he has already proved unreliable on at least one other occasion.  We named him Norman after Billy Crystal’s calf in the movie City Slickers.  About 5 PM he routed us off road and we began to drive on gravel roads through corn fields and past soybeans.  We could not see out as the corn is so tall so we trusted him.  When we ended up in a farmers turn row we decided it “was not right.” (Like Willie Nelson’s song about Brokeback Mountain!)  So we waved some workers down who were coming our way in a pickup towing farm equipment.  They set us on the right path and about 6 PM we arrived at Eggert’s Landing.  Now this story has a happy ending, as we settled into spot #28 which was back-in and had the whole campground area to ourselves.  Wonderful wooded spot with huge trees and lots of shrubbery to separate us from the absentee neighbors.  All 36 spots are reserved for the weekends so we are glad we missed that.  And the best part is it only cost $11.  COE spots are usually nice but only electric hookups.  It was a good night and we enjoyed the peace and quiet.  Next morning we had a good outdoor breakfast.  Definitely a place to return to but only Monday through Thursday and if we do, it will be straight up Hwy 21 from Valley City, not following Norman’s route!