Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lakenenland Junkyard Art

Exploring our vast country leads to neat experiences and unexpected surprises. One of our favorite things to do is just drive. Once we reach a destination area, Larry will start really exploring to see what he can find.

It was on one of those "drive-abouts" along M2  in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, between Marquette and Munising that we passed an unassuming, but interesting sign for a Sculptured Art Park. We were back and forth in that area hitting all the important spots on our itinerary and had passed it several times. One afternoon with some time to kill, we decided to take a look.

What a Surprise!

There is a history to Lakenenland. Tom Lakenen was a construction worker who liked to play around with scrap metal from his job sites to see what he could create. He had no training as an artist or a sculptor, but his natural eye and skill turned out some pretty amazing pieces which he put in his front yard.

Until the local authorities started complaining.

So he put it in his back yard. But they still complained.

He bought some property along the highway and created this park. You can read more about the story, here, and it is really interesting. The feud with the authorities continued for years.

Upon entering the park the first thing we noticed were a number of signs.... One large one said FREE

But there were these signs as well.

The park was Free of Charge to all--except the local authorities who had harassed him for 8 years. They were charged a fee of $5,000.00 per day! One got the impression, there were some hard feelings!

In spite of the signs, Tom is in reality a very giving and generous person, who just enjoys creating art and sharing it with anyone who wants to see it, as you can read in the link I referenced above.

We parked and walked the path, but it was clear that visitors were welcome to walk, drive the half mile route, or ride their bikes. We walked.

The path took us through a variety of sculptures from funny to serious. The shadows made the lighting difficult for our cameras to photograph, but here are a few of our favorites. All the sculptures were made from scrap metal.


Junkyard Band
This was one of my favorites. In front of the band were metal figures, dancing away to the beat only they could hear.

Woodland Sunflowers

 Just fun

Jumping through Fire


One Armed Bandit

Mirror Image--look closely. He is combing his hair.

And an important Memorial
A close-up of the towers reveals the inside.

This is part of a re-creation of the Shot Point Iron Mine that was important to the area. Tom Lakenen came from a line of iron workers, and his art included the mine, office, iron workers, miners and the rail cars that carried the ore.

Lakenenland is open to those who like to create, as well those who like to view art. Along with the sculptures there is a shed where people can build their own projects. Just off the parking lot is a picnic area with a playground for the little ones, a performance center, with a small stage, sound system and lighting, and a fire pit. The message is clear. Lakenenland welcomes visitors.

Group seating

A small but lovely performance stage
This is the fanciest outhouse I've ever been in; complete with a little table with hand sanitizer, air freshener and tissues.

We can't express how impressed we were with this beautiful, and extensive place... all for free.

If you are ever on M2 near Marquette, Michigan, in the winter, stop in. There's a good chance Tom will be there handing out hot chocolate -- free, of course.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Michigan Musings

Note: Edited 8/29/17--(because I was too tired the night I originally posted it to think of adding photos. oops!)


After spending two weeks exploring the state of Michigan I wanted to share some of our favorite observations. Some are trivia facts. Some are things perhaps I should have known, but didn't. And some are just things that caught our attention.

My Top 10.
Pasties: a Yooper Favorite.
10. What is the favorite regional food where you live? If you live in Michigan, it is Pasties, a meat and potato pie served hot or cold, with gravy or without. The one Larry tried was huge, hot, drenched in gravy and served on a plate, but I'm guessing some can be held in your hand. It is a staple in the U.P. Every roadside stand, food truck, diner and restaurant had big signs outside: PASTIES!!

9. A local commercial I heard one morning claimed that everyone in Michigan lives within 5 miles of water: lake, stream, or river. There is a lot of water in Michigan!
       But it made me wonder what is the average distance people live from a body of water? Since most communities are built near water, I would think that even in the desert, people live near a water source. So I Googled it. (God Bless the Google Creator--or maybe God is the Creator of Google too. It can do everything!) One survey/report says that 50% of the world's population live within 3 Km (1.8 miles) of water, but 10% live within 10 Km (6.2 miles). That is your Trivia Fact for the day!

8. Michigan is home to the Hiawatha National Forest, and the Land of Gitche Gumee, immortalized in the "Song of Hiawatha", by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow. He was a professor at Harvard and a poet who lived in New England, not Michigan. I probably should have known that Gitche Gumee was the Indian name for Lake Superior, but somehow I missed it way back in high school.  We saw many signs and motels named Gitche Gumee. I didn't miss it this time.

7. In 1975 an American Great Lakes freighter, The Edmund Fitzgerald, sank in a storm on Lake Superior, taking the entire crew with her. She is still the largest ship Superior has claimed. Gordon Lightfoot's song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, refers to 'the big lake they call Gitche Gumee'. I remember the song well, but I still never connected Gitche Gumee to Lake Superior!

6. SAND! It's not just for Ocean City, Florida, California and Hawaii. Lake Michigan has tremendous, beautiful sand dunes. Road signs warn of Sand on the Highway. We had to sweep the RV daily to keep up with the sand inside. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shoreline was beautiful, but we saw sand dunes in many shoreline areas.

5. Residents of the Upper Peninsula are called Yoopers. As a friend said, "Beats being called UPee,r's!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior
4. Michigan is bordered by 4 of the 5 Great Lakes! Superior, Michgan, Huron and Erie. The only one it doesn't touch is Lake Ontario. I missed that in my Geography classes. (Another Trivia Fact)

Parallel Parking a la Mackinac Island style
3. Most people know there are no cars on Mackinac Island. (pronounced Mackinaw). A few cars were brought onto the island in the early 1900's, but they scared the horses so a law was made banning cars. The law stands today, with the exception of a few emergency vehicles: an ambulance, a fire engine, and a police car.  The island has the shortest state highway, a perimeter road of 8.2 miles. There is only one campfire allowed on the island; at the Boy Scout camp and with the Fire Chief present. With one fire engine and few roads, fire is a real risk.

Traveling through the Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie
2. The Soo Locks, connecting Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes via the St. Mary's River, is free to all boat traffic. There are no tolls or fares collected. (Your third Trivia Fact.)

Lakenland Junkyard Art
1. After paying out for pretty much every thing we did, (Pictured Rocks, Soo Locks, Ship Museum, Lighthouses,--all excellent sights) we passed Lakenland Junkyard Art and decided to take a stop. We expected to go in, take a look, and move on. Which we did-- an hour and a half later. That place was great! Beautifully maintained. Artistic. And Free! In fact, it was so neat my next blog will tell you all about it.

Michigan was fun. We enjoyed the state, the beaches, the lakes, the sights. I wonder where we will head to next!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frog and Toad and Dead End Roads

Oops, We did it again.

The saying goes that in the north there are two seasons: Winter and Construction.

Well, we're deep into Construction Season. We've bumped our way over many roads that need an overhaul and wound our way through plenty of orange barrels.

Then, there is the morning local traffic report.

The TV was on as we were eating breakfast and packing up, catching glimpses of the weather and traffic reports, but not paying much attention. There was something about an accident, some road was closed.... Perhaps we should have listened more closely, but it was turning into one of those mornings.

We left later than hoped, stalled by phone calls and a malfunction in the Leveling System, which kept wanting to drop the jacks. It's really hard to move forward when the jacks that keep the camper level are on the ground. Finally, Toad was hooked, jacks were up and phone calls were ignored. We were on our way.

Ten miles after we got on I-70 traffic came to a standstill. I pulled out my phone to see what MapQuest could tell me. A black line outlining the highway was punctuated by a circle with a line through it. A section of the interstate was closed. Humph. Annoying. We were stuck in a long line that was finally funneled off onto a side road. A police officer stood at the end of the exit directing traffic; some to the left, some to the right. We wanted to go right. He took one look at us and pointed left. In hindsight, I suspect he was trying to tell us we were too big and we needed to stay on the main roads.

I grabbed the Road Atlas and started searching. OK, I told Larry. Stay on here and we can pick up US-40 and take it to Washington and get back on I-70.

Our GPS didn't like the plan. Turn left in 1/2 mile, she said. "Don't!" I said.

Larry was heading away from where he instinctively felt we should be going.

Finally, 'she' convinced him there was a better way. The road she wanted us to take did indeed go to I-70, further west from where we had exited. I didn't like it, but Larry really wanted to get back on I-70. We turned onto a ..... yes, of course.... a narrow road. A half mile in a sign warned us of lots of curves ahead. Well, we couldn't turn around. We kept going, and going, .....A car coming our way pulled over as far as it could and came to a full stop. I could imagine the driver inside sucking in his breath and leaning as far away from us as he could, as if that would make more room. We inched past.

And then we saw a Semi ahead of us! We took that to be a hopeful sign. If he could make it, we'd be ok. Hopefully. He was leaving a trail of leaves as he drove under low hanging branches, but he wasn't clearing the path completely. Tree branches whipped and snapped at us as we drove under trees not accustomed to big rigs. We kept going, and going.... Finally I-70 began to show up on my iPhone map. I was just starting to relax when we rounded a bend in the road.

There was the sign: Road Closed 1500 Feet Ahead.

?*&!@$%!!!(More Unprintable language)

Seriously, We had no where to go. We weren't facing steep cliffs, but we took up most of the road we were on. It was forward or backward.

We passed a house and crept around another curve to see two semi's stopped at the bottom of a hill at a cross road. The good news was the dreaded barrier blocking our way was on the other side of the intersection! The bad news was the turn was too tight for the semi's to make. We stopped. Thankfully, they were quite a ways ahead of us, but it was obvious they were trying to figure how to make the turn from one narrow road onto another. We had just passed a small house and I was ready to get out, disconnect Toad so we could back into their yard, and get out of there, but we watched the trucks to see what they figured out.

One driver was out talking to the other driver. Truck number two backed up a bit, so truck number one could back up. Finally, the first truck maneuvered his way around the turn, and semi number two was able to do the same thing.

It was our turn. We ventured forth, swung wide, and rumbled down the road; I-70 a few miles ahead. A few more turns, much bumping and banging over pockmarked highway, and a whole lot of construction barrels later we found ourselves back where we wanted to be. It was almost noon. We hadn't yet gone 50 miles. It was going to be a long day.

But I had a new mission. I'm not allowing him to take anymore unknown detours. From now on, it's interstate or Principal Highways as designated by our road atlas.

I've also realized taking the Grands on a trip in the RV wouldn't be a good idea...unless they are wearing earmuffs.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Frog and Toad Get Stuck

There is one fear that most RV drivers live in fear of--the dreaded dead end; that place where there is no way out except to turn around. RV's pulling a car (TOAD) can not back up. Period. RV's can make U-Turns but a 35' one takes 4 lanes to do so. Getting stuck on a narrow mountain road with a sheer drop-off on one side and a steep hillside on the other that ends in dirt road heading off into the woods is the things nightmares are made of.

So is the dreaded Gas Station.

Gas stations are full of pitfalls. Is there room to pull in without blocking off everything else? Can I get in and get out? Can I drive around the islands without Toad knocking a gas pump off it's base? And of course a busy one is a pain because at some point you ARE going to block someone from something.

One tool we have is our travel bible: The Next EXIT. This book lets us know what gas stations, motels, restaurants, and grocery stores are available at each exit, so it's a great tool for any traveler. But it's claim to fame for RV'ers is the amenities highlighted in RED, which means they are RV accessible.


Except for Exit 146 on I-79 in West Virginia. (RV'ers take note! Unless you are diesel, DO NOT GET GAS at the Pilot at EXIT 146 on I-79 in West Virginia! Also note, that is the only thing at Exit 146. Just keep driving.)

We knew we were in trouble when we pulled in and the sign said "ENTRANCE/EXIT" and the word CARS was visible, but RV was missing. However, we saw another lost soul and took heart. While Larry is navigating the lot, my job is to peruse it for the way out, the best pump with the most turning space, etc.

Me: "Look! There's an Airstream at that pump. Get in line behind him."

Larry: "How do we get out?"

Me: Hmm. Well, the parking lot goes back behind the building. That must connect to the truck lot and we can get out there. See, the Airstream is heading that way."

At this point I start to get out of the RV so that I can guide Larry into the pump. But as I do, I see the Airstream has stopped. And then he begins to back up.

Uh-oh! This is not looking good. Larry starts to pump gas and I go to investigate.

The Airstream occupants get out and are looking... well... it's that combination of confused, worried, anxious, annoyed...

(I will avoid dialogue here, because most of it is unprintable in polite company, and perhaps around sailors.)

We are stuck. We have found ourselves in The Nightmare. There is no way out, except the way we came in. Then it gets comical. The pumps are set up so that all traffic will exit right and make a right turn at the last pump to get back out. Good luck. WE are in the last pump. At this point, cars can still get out, but there ain't no way WE are getting out that way. To make matters even better, our 'RV Brake' monitor has just informed us that Toad's battery has just died, but that's a story for another time. Even if backing up was an option, once we disconnect Toad, we have to get a jump start to move Toad. Can it get any better?

There was really only one answer.

I ventured into the store and 'gently' informed the attendant in the store there were two campers stuck in his lot that weren't getting out until he blocked some pumps.

Which he did.

While one attendant blocked pumps and re-directed traffic, another, very helpful employee came out and directed Larry as he turned the RV, very narrowly missing a truck parked there. The driver of the truck came out as we were blocking him. He was not thrilled with the situation and had to wait until they could clear the pumps of cars and get us through. He made his thoughts known when he could finally escape. We heard the squealing tires all the way down the highway.

After several seemingly endless minutes we made our escape with much thanks, and apologies, although we couldn't have done much else. The Pilot station was also along that much dreaded narrow road with no place to turn around.

We waved goodbye to the helpful attendants and the Airstream guy who was still wondering when he was going to get out.

Larry was still hyperventilating and "F"ing everything in sight as we headed back north on I-79.

And then we opened our Travel Bible and crossed out Exit 146 on I-79 in West Virginia with big letters NO! written over it.

Some days, the adventure is just more than you hoped for.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Secret in the Bluebirds' Nest

An Empty Nest Reveals a Story

When we moved to the Georgia Mountains I was delighted to see not only a bluebird box in the back yard, but a pair of bluebirds making regular visits to it. Each year since, we have had a family of bluebirds in the box, but last summer something happened. At the end of the summer, when I went to clean out the box, I found 3 unhatched eggs.

Our summer had been extremely dry and some local naturalists thought perhaps the parents had abandoned the nest because they were having trouble finding enough food to support the babies.

This spring, I watched to see if the bluebirds would return. Instead, we had a pair of chickadees move in and begin building. So I decided to research chickadees. Aside from the fact that bluebirds and chickadees have similar nesting habitats, I discovered a fun fact. Chickadees will build a few nests and then settle in the one that seems safest. Huh!

One day there was a ruckus outside. The bluebirds had returned and wanted their home back. I watched the battle ensue wondering who would win.

A week later, the blue birds were busy making a nest! It was time to start tracking the bluebirds nesting progress. Bluebirds don't object to you checking their nest. In fact there's a whole list of things to watch for as the nesting process moves forward. You can read more about that, here.

When our daughters' and families visited, the nest was still active, with mama and papa busily bringing food back to the babies.

I knew the time was coming for them to fledge, but one day I could really hear the babies chirping inside the nest, and then I saw their little faces pop up in the entrance as they checked out the world outside. Time was near.

The big moment came on the day three young bluebirds fledged from the nest. It is so cool to see their first flight. The best part was that my daughter was here and her camera caught all three in first flight.

All this is a nice story, but there was a surprise waiting for me when I checked the vacated nest.

Two chickadee eggs were embedded in the bottom of the nest. Chickadees will lay eggs and then cover them with feathers when they aren't around. Apparently, these eggs were already laid, when the bluebirds demanded their house back. The chickadees abandoned the nest, leaving the eggs behind. The bluebirds built their nest right over the chickadee nest. The eggs must have migrated down through the bottom nest because they were visible when I opened the box.

The natural world is a fascinating place. Often it leaves me with more questions, than answers. Like today.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Trip to the Smokies

This past week we took a few days to visit Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and surrounding areas. It is one of those tourist meccas with lots to do for the kiddies, as long as you take along your wallet.

This is the beginning of their busy season, but as busy as it was, we were probably affected more by traffic than wait times anywhere we went. Restaurants abound. Pancake houses are everywhere, as well as an assortment of steak, seafood, barbecue, and places specializing in good ole' country cookin'. We ate well.

Titanic Museum in Sevierville, TN

One of the highlights of the trip was the Titanic Museum. I've been to one in Orlando, and this is just as well done. If you haven't visited one, give it a try. The artifacts that have been recovered are amazing. The museum in Seveirville currently has costumes from the movie, Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rose's Costumes in the movie. The beaded dress in the middle weighs 20 pounds!

We also took a drive through Gatlinburg and into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Gatlinburg is just as busy as ever, having survived the fires last fall. The main tourist area is fine. The fire reached the outer edges of the town and damage is still quite visible.
Tree Tops Resort on the outskirts of Gatlinburg is open but it lost a few buildings.

This is all that was left of several buildings and cabins

We didn't drive through the worst of the burn area but, even where we drove, there was evidence of fire damage.

Seeing the dead trees on the hillside above the town was a reminder of that terrifying night last fall for people in the community.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park we drove a 5.5 mile 1-way route called the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Apparently we weren't the only ones who thought this would be a nice drive. The pull-offs were packed, and in one area people were parked for half a mile on both sides of the 1-WAY (1 LANE!) road, making it almost impassable.

Once away from those areas though, the scenery was lovely.

After leaving the Motor Nature Trail, we headed to Dollywood for a late afternoon entry, that would also be good for entry the next day--a 1 1/2 day pass for the cost of 1 day. When we pulled in, the parking lots were packed. We were still smarting from the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the park so we turned around and high-tailed it to the safety of our camper.

We were at the gates bright and early the next day and spent the whole day there. Once again, the park was busy, but it is well designed and handled the crowds.

We never felt crowded and never had to wait to get into things we were interested in. We were even able to find a table to sit to eat lunch. (Confession: we weren't heading to the most popular wild roller coasters and thrill rides, which probably had the biggest crowds.)

It's good to be a kid in amusement parks. They keep finding ways to make them more fun.

The Lumberjack Band was a neat place for kids to play a variety of homespun instruments.

Dollywood has a playground area for kids to let off some steam in more ways than one. Water guns and a splash pad are a kid pleaser!

However, I nominate the Water Battle attraction as the most creative way to get kids in the action. Designed for adults and kids alike, boats follow a track through a pond, complete with sprinklers and fountains. However, the boats are equipped with water guns. The harder the kids turn the handle the farther the water shoots. If they hit a target, onlookers (in designated areas) can get blasted with water as well. No one gets off the boat dry.

Boats armed with water guns

People outside the ride could shoot water guns at those on the boats, too.
Larry took his turn aiming for the boats.

Heat Stroke prevented, and tempers cooled. But what do you do about those wet clothes?

You stand in a dryer, of course!

Innovation can be ingenious.

The last day we were there we went to The Island, a shopping district with a huge Ferris Wheel, and  other things for kids to do. I was impressed by the 3-story obstacle course for kids. It included zip lines, rope bridges, climbing nets, among other challenges. Participants wore a harness that attached to a line that guided them through the course. There was only one way to go. Onward and Upward. Each level contained new challenges.

Following the Guide Track

Hanging on the Zip-Line

Kids could go at their own speed. Some moved right along, while others had some hand wringing moments as they gathered the nerve to do the next thing. It took awhile for some, but I bet they felt pretty good about themselves the next day!

We had a lot fun in Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg is as good as ever. And the Smokies are green.