Monday, August 25, 2014

Spartan Wedding

For the past while I've been mostly casino camping which isn't too interesting but last weekend I attended my nephew Matt's wedding and that WAS really interesting, at least if you're a Michigan State University alum like me (and the bride and groom).

Alumni Memorial Chapel at MSU where the wedding ceremony was held.
I obtained my four year degree in five arduous years back in the mid-70's at Michigan State and the campus has only gotten more beautiful every year since, or maybe I was too young to appreciate it back then.

The Red Cedar River flows behind the Chapel.
There were really cool stained-glass windows within the Chapel that depicted student life and activities around the campus.

This was the first time I had ever been in the Chapel -- really pretty!
After the wedding ceremony the really swanky reception was held in a room adjacent to gigantic Spartan Stadium.

The view from the reception area -- how much  more Spartan can it be?
One of the best parts of the weekend was my daughter Nickelle flying up to East Lansing and camping in the Tank with me and, of course, seeing all her cousins and aunts and uncles.

Nickelle and Spartan!
The reception was awesome and the food was really exceptional.  They spared no expense and even had me meet an old friend.

Sparty and me!
It was a great Spartan wedding and reception and seeing all my family again including my daughter was a real treat!  I know I'll never attend a more MSU-themed wedding in my lifetime.

Go Green!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Campground Review: Hungerford Recreation Area Big Rapids Township, MI

The only National Forests in the lower peninsula, the Huron-Manistee National Forests spread out over a million acres of Michigan.  In the late 1800's logging was at it's peak in Michigan  and these forests were quickly cleared.  In 1909 Huron National Forest was created to rehabilitate and protect the forest and Manistee National Forest was created in 1938.  In 1945 the two forests were combined into the Huron-Manistee National Forest and working with the Michigan DNR the National Forest Service has changed the lands back into healthy forest again.  A website I frequently use to find camping opportunities, identified a campground at Hungerford Lake which is located within the Huron-Manistee NF and seemed small but promising.  I drove the Tank there in early August to check Hungerford Lake out.

Hungerford Lake--seemed like a nice little lake with very warm water. said there were 5 campsites along a road leading to the boat ramp by the lake but unfortunately the sites were very small and designed for tent campers, the Tank would have only fit into one of the sites and that site was occupied -- by a tent camper!  So I set up camp at this nearby trail-head.

Nice site, even some sun for the solar panels!
Somehow the rangers from the National Forest Service didn't feel that I should camp at a trail-head and relayed that opinion to me telling me I had to move (in a nice manner).  They gave me the option of going to an equestrian campground or to disperse camp at one of several sites along the main road into the National Forest.  The equestrian campground was $15 a night for no hookups and smelled like....well the stuff that comes out of the back ends of horses so dispersed camping it was!

The road into the NF that passes several dispersed camping sites.
What is dispersed camping?  Here's the National Forest Service definition:

"Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets."

No toilets at the very nice site I selected but dispersed camping is free in National Forests that allow it.

I needed one with some sun for the Tank's solar panels--this one worked!
Hungerford Recreation Area itself is very nice.  Here's a data sheet on the equestrian campground where you probably wouldn't camp unless you owned a horse:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                 Yes
Water Access:                         Less than a mile away
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                         Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes
Showers:                                 No
Dump station:                         No
WiFi:                                      No
Level sites:                             Yes
Laundry:                                 No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    Yes
Verizon reception:                  3G, 1 bar if you use a booster
Millenicom reception:             1 bar with a booster
Cost:                                     $15 / night

 I used a cell signal booster during my stay at Huron-Manistee NF and it really made a difference!  I'll do a separate post on it later, you might want to get one.

Hungerford Recreation Area has 40 miles of horse paths and 11 miles of mountain bike trails that wind through the super tall trees of the National Forest.  Horses are not allowed on the mountain bike trails so you don't encounter any "surprises" left by a horse while you are biking.  Also there is the aforementioned Hungerford Lake for water sporting although I'm not sure the lake is big enough to water ski on unless you just drove in a big circle.  The main attraction to camping here was the giant trees!  They are so dense that much of the camping areas and trails are perpetually in the shade.  I was extremely fortunate to snag a site that got several hours of sun but that site was by far the exception.

For horse owner/enthusiasts the equestrian campground in the Recreation Area is a no-brainer.  I don't know of another National Forest with as many miles of horse trails and a dedicated campground.  Mountain bikers who can snag one of the non-equestrian  campsites will find Hungerford Recreation Area a fun bike.  I enjoyed my dispersed camping experience here and you sure can't beat the price!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Michigan Miscellaneous

I left the fishing derby at Republic, MI and traveled northeast to the Kewadin Casino in Christmas, MI where I had stayed last year and where the Tribe provides RV'rs with free electric hookups in the casino parking lot.  I got there in time to snag the last of about 10 hookups, and then went into the casino to try my luck.

Not much to write home about "casino camping"...but it's free!
I pretty much broke even at that casino, certainly not my usual result but every so often I get up and leave when I'm still ahead.  The weather along the shore of Lake Superior was just ideal and I spent 3 nights there before proceeding east along US 2 where I took the following "miscellaneous" shots that have something or other to do with the Upper Penninsula.

Mmmm....pasties!  A meal in itself, try one if you ever pass through the UP.
US 2 basically follows the northern coast of Lake Michigan until it gets you to the Mackinaw Bridge.  It's kind of like the Pacific Coast Highway in California except you're in Michigan.

Beautiful Lake Michigan from a US 2 scenic turnoff.
The island is part of the Beaver Island Archipelago, not sure which one.
Eventually if you drive far enough along US 2 you get to take in this awesome view:

Big Mac and the way to the Lower Peninsula!
 Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fishing Derby!

(I apologize for the seeming break in posts but my laptop was/is in the process of going to computer heaven and any readers who have experienced the same may be able to empathize, or not.)  I proceeded across Minnesota and stopped in Wisconsin for an overnight along HWY 8 at the Hawkins, WI Lions Club Park which I wasn't too impressed by and so won't review.  The next day I continued along HWY 8 into Michigan's Upper Peninsula then north on Michigan HWY 95 to the small township of Republic, Michigan.  Republic has a campground on the west edge of the town that allows free camping AND provides 15 amp electrical hookups.  I figured I'd be one of the two or three campers for the mid-July weekend.....wrong again!

Just in time for the 24th Annual Republic Fishing Derby!
Every mid-July for 24 years the town sponsors a fishing derby with prizes for the largest catches like $1000 for the biggest Walleye and $500 for the biggest perch.  Needless to say prizes of this magnitude brought out the anglers (this year estimated to be over 400) and their families, along with their RVs.

No chance of getting lonely with close-by neighbors! 
 The focal point of the Derby was an outdoor covered picnic area that doubled as both the prize award area and the food vending --great brats!

Prizes and food made the structure in the background the Derby focal point.

Republic has bodies of water on the north, west and southwest sides and the water was pretty thick with fisher-folk.

School Lake, to the southwest of Republic.
The Derby had fireworks Saturday night and a band called the "Slamtones" that people were street dancing to-- a beer tent might have given an assist to the latter activity.

I had an excellent time at the Republic Fishing Derby and all the carryings on.  The town itself was pretty hard hit back in the nineties when a nearby mineral mine shut down.  With the recent skyrocketing copper prices there was constant reference among the Derby-ites to a new copper mine a company called Eagle was planning on opening, which will provide a huge economic boost to Republic's economy.  Check they town's website for the timing of next year's 25th Republic Fishing Derby, it's a bonus to the free camping the town offers!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Campground Review: Hendrum Community Park Hendrum, MN

Go about 25 miles north off I-94 along Minnesota HWY 75 and you come to the small town of Hendrum, Minnesota which is almost on the border with North Dakota.  About a half mile east of Hendrum is the Hendrum Community Park where the town allows RV camping in a small area of the park that hosts 5 RV sites and also some room for tent camping.

No Verizon signal meant no phone GPS so this was a little hard to find!
I didn't encounter very many free campsites in my travel through Minnesota, Hendrum Community Park was the exception and not only was it free to camp there the city provides free electric hookups!
Here's the Hendrum Community Park Data sheet:

Hookups:                                 15, 30 and 50 amp and water
Fire ring:                                  no
Water Access:                         yes
Fresh Water:                            yes
Trash Service:                          yes
Toilets:                                    yes - flush
Showers:                                 no
Dump station:                          no
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                  no
Store:                                      no
Pool:                                       yes
Shade:                                    yes - abundant
Verizon reception:                   3G, ½ bar
Millenicom reception:              intermittent
Cost:                                      Free, no posted limit on duration

A nice little park with well-maintained facilities.
The park has a couple outdoor group picnic buildings, a cinder block bathroom which was clean and had flush toilets - always an upgrade from the more common vault toilets I encounter, and overall was fairly well maintained with the exception that two of the five electric hookup stations were out of service during my two day stay there (I snagged the last working one!).

The Tank sipping the free electricity from the park's hookup.
There are so many tall shade trees in the park, particularly in the RV camp area, that it was a good thing I DID have electric hookups as the shade would have made operation of the Tank's solar setup really inefficient.

Looking at a nice ball diamond through the shade trees.
I enjoyed my two day stay at Hendrum's park.  As I mentioned there are far fewer free camping spots in Minnesota than in most of the other states I've passed through, not really sure why, but that makes places like Henrdum Community Park that much more destination worthy.  I recommend it to campers with RVs not much longer than 30 feet -- I think getting a 40 foot long Class A into the very tight campsites would be a major trial.  I would definitely camp here again!

Thanks for reading!