2018 Road Trip – Day 2

We left the hotel well rested and continued our trek north. It wasn’t long before we arrived in Petoskey, Michigan.

Petoskey State Park

Petoskey is a very busy town and the state park is just outside of town, so it was pretty busy as well. Today was a Friday in July, which probably added to the number of people there. We spent a couple hours searching the beach for the infamous Petoskey Stones.

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A Petoskey stone is a rock and a fossil, often pebble-shaped, img_3016that is composed of a fossilized rugose coral, Hexagonaria percarinata. The stones were formed as a result of glaciatio
n, in which sheets of ice plucked stones from the bedrock, grinding off their rough edges and depositing them in the northwestern (and some in the northeastern) portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula.
” – Wikipedia

We learned while there that the Petoskey stones are more commonly found in the spring, just after the ice melts. We’ll have to make plans to head back during that time I guess, but we did find a few small ones, pictured above.

After leaving Petoskey, we stopped for some cherries to snack on, since we didn’t plan to have lunch until we crossed the Mackinac Bridge. We img_3032thought about stopping and seeing Mackinac Island, but figured since it was a Friday we would save it for after we finished our tour of the Upper Peninsula. It took us a while to make it across the bridge, due to wind and weekend traffic, but we did eventually get a quick roadside lunch before journeying on.

PALMS BOOK STATE PARK

It was a bit of a haul to make it all the way to our first state park in the upper peninsula. We usually like to stop more frequently to stretch our legs and walk a bit, but the sights at Palms Book State Park were worth a bit of leg cramping. This was one of the most unique things I’ve seen in Michigan. The crystal clear water allowed an amazing view of an underwater spring (Kitchi-Iti-Kipi) and all the nature surrounding it.

There is a glass bottom boat that takes you across the spring so you can get the best views of the crystal clear underwater world. If you’re headed here, plan about 1-1.5 hours, depending on the lines for the boat. We were fortunate to get right on, but there were lines waiting when we got back.

You can’t stay overnight in Palms Book State Park, so we continued on to Fayette Historic State Park for the evening. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at Fayette, all of their campsites were full. This img_3079is the price we pay for spontaneity. Fortunately, we were prepared to camp rustic (no electric, or even toilets nearby) and they let us camp in their auxiliary field for only $15. This field is usually used for larger groups. It didn’t have facilities, but it did have a fire ring and picnic table, so we had all we needed and we drove down to the bath house in the campground to use the toilets. It was actually quite nice because we had the whole field to ourselves. After setting up camp, we had a nice supper and settled in for a rainy night. We saved the historical village part of the park for tomorrow.

 

 

2018 Road Trip – Day 1

We had planned to leave the house before noon, but a combination of sleeping in and not packing ahead of time delayed our start by a few hours. Unfortunately it also made us a bit cranky for our first day… not a good way to start an extended camping trip. Our original plan for today was to drive north to Luddington State Park for a late lunch and then to head up to Petosky State Park to set up camp. Unfortunately, or plans were going to have to change due to our late start.

LUDDINGTON STATE PARK

We sis make it to Luddington State Park. This is one of the one that was high on my list. In my third year of architecture school, I did a project in which I used the beach house lodge at Luddington Sate Park for inspiration. I loved the detail work and the way the light played off the building as the sun moved around it. I’d never seen it in person though and photos can often be deceptive. I was very excited to see it in person and had hoped to spend a little time relaxing on the beach. The beach house was everything I’d expected and was designed to be quite useful. We didn’t have much time to spend, but since we both liked it, we decide to come back again for a weekend sometime.

After Luddington, we decided to call it a night and get a hotel. It was starting to get dark and we didn’t want to make ourselves any more frustrated than we already were by trying to make it further north and set up camp in the dark. We chose a hotel about an hours drive north, stopped on the way for dinner, and spent our first night “camping” in a nice, fluffy hotel bed.

Road tripping again: The dreaded planning process

We really enjoyed our road trip last year, especially all of the amazing new sites we got to see, so we’ve been chatting about taking another road trip this year. My fiancé likes to be exceptionally spontaneous and I’m more of a planner. To make this work, he gives me a budget and a general theme or location for the trip. I then go to town researching the areas we are considering and how that will fit with our goals and budget. We don’t usually pre=book anywhere to stay along the way, so we can play it by ear as we go. This enables us to stay longer in areas we like and not waste precious time in areas that aren’t holding our interest. It also comes with some challenges though, especially when things are booked and we have to drive further than expected to find lodging for the evening.

This road trip proves to be exciting and challenging at the same time. We plan to road trip for 10-13 days around the perimeter of the state of Michigan, visiting state parks along the great lakes. We have thrown in an added challenge in that we will be camping for most of the trip. This means that every time we want to move locations (almost daily), we will need to tear down camp and then make sure we arrive at our next location early enough in the day to have light to set up camp again. It also means planning our food ahead of time. Our diet since the juice fast has been drastically different than our previous camping adventures have been and I need to rethink our camping food choices to find something that works with our new diet. Our entire budget for the 10-13 days is only $1500-1750.

I began by trying to find out which state parks in Michigan might have something interesting to offer that we can’t see elsewhere. There are over 100 state parks in Michigan, so we obviously can’t visit them all. We live in Southwest Michigan, so we have already decided we won’t spend a lot of time on the western side of the state, since we can get to most of those parks as a day or weekend trip. The same is true of the southeastern corner of the state, below Detroit. So, we will focus the bulk of our time in the upper peninsula and the northeastern corner of the state. I have compiled a map of 36 state parks, plus other attractions, that we might be interested in visiting.

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Next step is budgeting. I’ve calculated basic driving distance between select points in the state and determined we will probably drive about 1500-2000 miles and our vehicle gets about 20 mpg; this means we will need about $300 for gas alone. Our basic admission to the state parks is free because of the license plate I mentioned, but we still have ot pay to stay overnight. Camping fees in the state parks vary from $17-35/night, so I’ve budgeted $30/night for 13 nights, totaling $360. Our menu is pretty simple also. I’ll make rice and quinoa ahead of time and bring canned beans for dinner. Since it’s summer, we will stop at farmers markets along the road and pick up fruits and veggies to supplement. For lunch we’ll have rice cakes and peanut butter with fruit on top. Since I’m a BeachBody coach, we’ll have Vanilla Vegan Shakeology for breakfast each day. The powder is easy to mix with water and keeps you full for a few hours. Our grocery budget for all of this (minus Shakeology, because I already have it) is $260. We also have 2 meat days each week. I don’t really like taking steak in the cooler, so I’ve budgeted $180 for us to eat in restaurants on our meat days. This leaves us $400-650 for miscellaneous spending like hotels (if it’s cold or rainy), extra restaurant nights, admission to other attractions, etc. I don’t count souvenirs in the budget; if we decide to buy them, they are extras.

BUDGET $1500-1750

  • $300 – fuel
  • $360 – camping fees
  • $260 – groceries
  • $180 – restaurants
  • $400-650 misc.

After all of my planning, I can see that our trip is actually doable and looks like it will be fun and full of new sights and adventures. When I told my fiancé it was a go, he decided we should leave in 4 days! I already have a camping packing list to work from (I’m a planner), so it won’t be too hard to get things ready in time. Fortunately for my fiancée, my obsessive planning allows him to be as free and spontaneous as he wants to be. This is why we work so well together.

2017 Road Trip – Day 5

Today is the big travel day home. We aren’t even stopping much along the way. We’ve decided to take a short detour east so we can go through Indiana and miss most of the horrible traffic that exists between Chicago and Michigan.

We began the day driving through massive downpours almost all the way through Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. We stopped at a Perkins somewhere in Arkansas because I’ve never been in the state and I can’t count it as having been there if we simply drive through and never set feet on the ground.  Now I can say I’ve been there, although we didn’t see much through the rain. We did count our blessings that the rain had held off for all of our earlier adventures though, because we had pretty darn good weather for most of our trip.

We headed north through Missouri then southern Illinois, where we found Casey, Illinois. I have always loved the idea of road trips because of those fun roadside attractions that you can spend 5-10 minutes at. These are often unplanned finds and, for us, Casey was one of those places. Casey is home to some of the World’s Largest Stuff… a lot of it actually. With 8-1/2 hours of driving this day, we didn’t opt to drive around Casey and see them all, but we did see the World’s Largest Wind Chimes, World’s Largest Rocking Chair and World’s Largest Mailbox. There were giant pencils, rulers, and other items scattered around town as well. It was a fun break and something that we had been missing the rest of the road trip.

We stopped for dinner in Terre Haute, Indiana. It wasn’t too far past Casey, but we were getting hungry at this point and wanted to see the city. Terre Haute is a nice size city and we found Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant and had very yummy supper.

We still had about 3 hours of driving left and arrived back in Michigan shortly after 10pm… not too shabby for a 600+ mile drive in a single day. Looking back, I think if we were to do it over, I would have stayed in Indianapolis for the night and stopped a few more times along the way. Spending almost the entire day in the car was a bit of a challenge. In the end, we came pretty close to our $1000 budget and Indianapolis would have pushed us too far over, so it was the right choice at the time and we made it just fine.

As I mentioned in Day 1, here are our final Road Trip stats:

  • Elapsed time: 5 days, 4 nights
  • States visited: 7 (Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana)
  • Major Cities visited: 2 (St. Louis, Memphis)
  • Miles driven: 1430
  • Steps taken: 34,438 (we did really well the first couple days, then fizzled out)
  • Attractions/Sites visited: over 20
  • Hard Rock Shot Glasses added to collection: 2 (St. Louis & Memphis)

I hope you enjoyed following along, but more importantly; I hope this brief road trip, planned on the fly, has inspired you to get out and start living your bucket list. I’ve added as many links to these 5 blog posts as I could, to give you more information if you want to see any of the places we did, so no more excuses.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to do it all. You just have to start… somewhere.

 

 

2017 Road Trip – Day 4

Hello Memphis! Well, we actually woke up and had breakfast in Mississippi before heading into Memphis for the day, but it’s a short drive into the city.

We started our day with a visit to the Lorraine Motel, the site where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. They have turned the old motel into an incredibly moving National Civil Rights Museum that takes you through the struggles African Americans have faced throughout the history of the USA, beginning with slavery and continuing beyond the grim day in which the beloved MLK Jr. was taken too soon. The tone of the museum focuses on the civil rights movement and culminates with the viewing of the rooms where MLK Jr. was shot and the spot on the balcony where he was killed.

The other side of the street contains the second half of the museum. Here you can learn about the crime and the events of the day and leading up to it. You can see the location the killer shot from, the weapon used, and view the balcony from the sniper’s location. The whole experience is moving and almost had us in tears quite a few times. This is not a museum you will want to move quickly through, so plan at least half a day and plan to be challenged, disturbed, and at many times disgusted with the lows to which humanity has sunk, not only centuries ago, but within the last 50 years.

The Blues Music Hall of Fame is directly across the street from the museum exit and, although we didn’t go in this time, provided a much needed uplifting of the spirit and reminded us that, although we learned a lot that morning, we were also in Memphis to enjoy ourselves and have a good time.

We headed out towards Beale Street to hear some live blues and eat a late lunch. Beale street is a very interesting place with the sounds of all different varieties of music coming from every direction and mixing into a wild, neon-lit cocktail of fun. The photos will never do it justice because it simply something that must be experienced and felt to truly understand it. It feels vibrant, creative and alive here, but also has a slightly sad and unpleasant undertone of dirty exploitation with a hint of alcoholism. We still thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was and planned to go back again after supper to catch the night-life.

My fiancée was thrilled to find another Hard Rock Café located at the head of Beale Street and we stopped in to grab another addition to the shot glass collection before heading over to the Peabody Hotel. If you visit Memphis you must plan to be in the Peabody Hotel either at 11am or at 5pm, and plan to arrive early because their will be crowds. You see, the Peabody Hotel roof is home to a flock of 5 ducks. A duck master leads the ducks down from the roof, by elevator and red carpet, to the hotel lobby fountain, where they happily swim all day until it time to reverse the process and head back to the roof for the night. This is all done with extreme pomp and circumstance and there is even musical accompaniment. The best viewing spot is on the balcony opposite the elevator and slightly to one side, so you can see most of the march. However, children are permitted to sit right up next to the red carpet and pet the ducks as they march past. My fiancée rolled his eyes at me quite a bit for even suggesting this, but was a good sport about it and managed to enjoy himself as well. It was a bit of silliness that helped balance out the seriousness of the morning.

Finally, we drove out to see Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. Neither of us are big Elvis fans, so we didn’t want to do the tour, but it was on the way back to the hotel, so we took a few minutes to see what all the hype was about. The wall full of signatures and messages was the most surprising to me… they seemed to go on forever. Of course, we added our names as well and now become part of the history of the place. If you ever visit, bring a Sharpie so you too can join us in this history.

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We arrived back at our hotel planning to nap, and head back to Memphis for supper and more Beale Street fun. Instead, we ended up having a nice prime rib supper at O’Charley’s in the Suburban sprawl near our hotel and getting to bed. Apparently we are getting too old to manage such full days and still have enough energy to enjoy the night-life too.  We had fun there earlier in the day anyway, so we didn’t feel we were missing much.

Tomorrow we head home…

2017 Road Trip – Day 3

We woke up today with another long day of driving ahead… destination Memphis, Tennessee. We scheduled several stops along the way again to break up the monotony and give us a chance to get out and stretch a bit.

Our fist stop after leaving St. Louis was Elephant Rocks State Park in Arcadia Valley, Missouri. Arcadia Valley is located in the Mark Twain National Forest and Ozarks area and has enough nature and hiking that a week trip here would be perfectly reasonable… we had about an hour. Elephant Rocks State Park was a bit out of our way, but well worth the additional drive time. An accessible, 1-mile long path winds among giant granite boulders, which can be climbed on… great fun for kids and adults alike. Part of the area has been quarried and stone-smiths would carve their names in the rock when they received their master certification, giving the appearance of heavy graffiti throughout the site. There is an additional 1/2-mile extension for those who are looking for an extended experience, but we had a bit of a late start and opted to get back to the car instead.

The drive through this part of Missouri is beautiful. It was a beautiful, sunny day and a perfect time to put the convertible top down and enjoy the amazing vistas. Our next destination, although we were enjoying the scenery and not in a hurry to arrive, was Burfordville, Missouri. There is a mill and restored covered bridge there and it was another beautiful place to get out and walk around a bit.

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It was a hop, skip and a jump (aka: a short distance) from the mill to Cape Girardeau, Missouri for supper. Before heading into town, we detoured across the cool bridge to Illinois and then right back again… ’cause bridges are fun and cool to look at! We were planning to arrive much earlier than we actually did, so we looked for somewhere to eat fairly quickly before continuing the 175 more miles of driving to Memphis.

After having a delicious and reasonable Cajun dinner at Broussard’s, we now hoped to arrive in Memphis around 9pm… significantly later than we hoped, but still in time to go check out Beale Street before hitting the hay. Unfortunately the universe had other plans for us. Just before leaving Missouri, we got stuck in stopped traffic in a single-lane construction zone. Traffic remained stopped for an hour, so we turned off the car. I had the joy of experiencing a construction port-a-potty for the first, and hopefully last, time during this extreme slow down. Once we were moving again, I was surprised to discover we were travelling through Arkansas (we’re playing this by ear remember, so I haven’t looked too closely at an overall map), and even more surprised when we drove through Memphis and into Southaven, Mississippi to find our hotel for the next 2 days. Turns out Southaven is only a 10-15 minute drive from Memphis and a convenient place to stay. We arrived at the hotel after 11pm, exhausted and thankful for somewhere to sleep, having forgotten all about our plans to see Beale street that evening. There’s always tomorrow….

 

 

2017 Road Trip – Day 2

On the second day of our road trip, we woke up in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch. It’s an iconic piece of architecture that defines not only the St. Louis skyline, but also the city itself. References to the Arch can be seen throughout the city and are almost impossible to escape. We saw photos, paintings and graphics of the arch in every nook and cranny of every restaurant, hotel, bathroom, and even in the casino carpet design. It is amazing to see such a seemingly simple piece of architecture being so thoroughly embraced by an entire community as a piece of their cultural identity. Hats off to architect, Eero Saarinen for creating such an iconic structure.

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It was only a 10-minute walk from our hotel to the base of the Arch. We purchased our tram tickets and waited in line to head to the top. Tickets to the top of Arch currently cost $13 per adult and can be purchased ahead of time online. We were doing this road trip on the fly and purchased them onsite. Fortunately it’s not the height of tourist season and it’s during the week, so we were able to get tickets on a tram right away, with no waiting necessary. If you head there on a weekend or in the summer, I’d suggest planning ahead and reserving tickets online. The journey to the top takes 4 minutes. It involves very tight quarters and some stairs, without accessible options… ADA requirements weren’t as strict when it was built in the 1960’s. There are windows at the top on both sides of the Arch, giving you a great view of the city of St. Louis, the Mississippi River, and southern Illinois. The whole journey to the top experience takes about 45 minutes, so plan accordingly.

After the Arch, we headed back to the hotel, hopped in the car and headed to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a tour. The basic tour (which we took) is free and includes about 18 ounces of free beer per person (over age 21) during and at the end of the tour.  The factory is amazing and the architecture geek in me was on high alert the whole time. The stables have Tiffany stained glass windows, the brewing rooms look like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory and the brickwork on the outside of the buildings is more detailed and beautiful than you would expect to find in a typical factory. The tour itself takes about 45 minutes, and is quite enjoyable even if you aren’t a beer enthusiast, but plan a little extra time to enjoy your free beverage in the Biergarten, where there is often live music to enhance your experience. We happened to conclude our tour in the Beirgarten just before 3pm. Every day at 3pm, they have a Bud Light toast to the beer-masters, so we received an additional free small Bud Light to participate in the toast.

Note: Little people can come with you on the tour, but won’t receive any adult beverages. They do check ID’s carefully, so make sure to bring yours even if you aren’t normally carded.

Our next stop was the Hard Rock Café. My fiancée has a collection of Hard Rock Café shot glasses that needs to be expanded and he doesn’t yet have St. Louis. The Hard Rock Café is located in the back of the old Union Station complex. There is a pond out back full of very entertaining koi fish. For a quarter, you can get a handful of fish food and watch the fish go nuts! We had just started feeing the fish when there was a train whistle over the loud speaker, followed by music and a light-fire-steam show from the fountain elements in the pond. It was quite entertaining and apparently happens every hour. The grand hall in Union Station was closed for renovations, but I imagine when it reopens this will be a key destination for families.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to look at the outside of the City Museum. This is a crazy place to visit, and one of THE top attractions if you are visiting St. Louis with kids. We could have done the City Museum instead of the Brewery tour, but every time I’ve been in St. Louis before, I’ve either been a kid of been with kids, so I wanted to do something different this trip. I have been before, it was late in the day, and the museum was already closed, so we didn’t go inside, but if you have more time than we did, I highly recommend it.

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After a nap (geez, I’m getting old), we had a late supper at Joey B’s in Laclede’s Landing. Joey B’s has an extensive shot menu (but again, I’m getting old) and surprisingly yummy food. Their kitchen is open late, so it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a late night meal. We headed back to the hotel under Spiderman’s watchful gaze, on a cloudy full moon night, to rest up for the next leg of our journey.

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Tomorrow we hit the road again… stay tuned…