We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan visiting idyllic towns, exploring the sights, sampling regional delicacies, and absorbing the area’s beauty. There’s much more to see and do there than we could fit in.
For our Lake Superior stop, we camped in the little town of Christmas near Munising. These are our three favorite activities from that jumping-off point:
Viewing waterfalls never gets old. Something about the way water gushes over a cliff is awe-inspiring. Within a 30-mile radius of Christmas, Michigan, you can hit about 15 different waterfalls — and they’re all a short distance (maybe ¼ mile at the most) from the parking area. We hiked to Wagner Falls and Munising Falls to take in their beauty.
One of the UP’s most popular waterfalls is Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise, Michigan, a 1.5-hour drive from Christmas. We made the trek to see the wonders many people compare to Niagara Falls. The Tahquamenon Falls State Park comprises two areas: the upper falls and the lower falls.
We started at the lower falls, a series of five cascades rushing around an island. Tannins from cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees have made the water an amber color.
From there, we drove 3 miles to the upper falls and hiked a paved trail to a few different viewing areas, including right up to the brink, where we could feel the spray. The upper falls drop 50 feet and stretch 200 feet across, dumping 50,000 gallons of water per second into the Tahquamenon River.
The UP is known for a food staple called pasties (pronounced with a short “a” like nasties). These delectable meat and vegetable-stuffed handheld pies played a major role in the UP’s mining industry in the 1800s. Finnish miners took pasties down in the mine with them for a hearty midday meal that would sustain them through the long workday.
We had to try the signature dish. We found one location that sold gluten-free pasties, but it was farther than we wanted to travel. Instead, we bought some frozen pasties closer to our campsite to take home and enjoy for breakfast.
The original and most popular pasty includes meat, potatoes, onions, carrots, and rutabaga. We got one of those and a breakfast pasty filled with eggs, sausage, potatoes, onions, and cheese. Both were good and tasty, and quite filling. We clearly understood why and how these sustained the mining industry for so many years, and why their legacy lives on.
3. Pictured Rocks
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is another popular destination in the UP. Spanning 42 miles, the area offers streams, beaches, campsites, and hiking trails. Anyone who’s been there will tell you the best way to see Pictured Rocks is from the water, where you can explore the beauty of 15 miles of limestone cliffs. To do that, you can take a Pictured Rocks boat tour, rent a kayak, or rent a pontoon boat.
We took option 3 and hit the water on a cold but sunny May day with a temperature of 49 degrees (forecasted to rise to 52). We planned ahead and wore layers of clothing and packed warm food to help us through. The cold wind in our faces didn’t make the trip super enjoyable, but we made the best of the experience anyway.
A water tour of Pictured Rocks provides views of the East Channel Lighthouse on Grand Island, Miners Castle, Mosquito Beach, Chapel Rock, and Spray Falls — yes, more waterfalls.
We actually anchored at the falls and enjoyed some warm soup before venturing on. From there, we headed to 8-mile-wide Grand Island. Its 21-mile perimeter includes a couple of beaches you can boat right up to. We took advantage of that and docked at Trout Bay for lunch.
The Seaberg Pontoon Rentals company had told us to pull the boat up on shore if we stopped at a beach. We did that and walked around the area in search of a charcoal grill. As we surveyed the beach, our boat started to turn so that it was no longer perpendicular to the shore. We thought we might be able to back it up and pull it into shore again.
Bob took off his shoes and socks to wade in the frigid water (less than 40 degrees) so he could push the boat out while I started the engine. It didn’t work at first. The boat became parallel to the shore. Not a good situation. Bob was able to maneuver it to get it perpendicular again, and we finally got the engine started. Bob hopped on, we backed up the boat, and then navigated and beached it closer to the grill. And this time, we put the anchor in the sand to keep from having to chase the boat again.
We enjoyed a warm lunch and basking in the sun before boarding the boat again for one last stop to see a shipwreck. A wooden schooner called the Bermuda sank completely intact in 1870 and is resting with her top deck only 12 feet below water. We were able to zig-zag across her length, imagining what it must have been like when she sank.
After that, we returned our boat and reunited with Gulliver, who spent the day on a pier watching activities in the water. Our hearts swelled with gratitude at the beauty we got to behold together celebrating a unique experience.
You might also enjoy 4 Cool Things to Do Along Lake Huron in Michigan’s UP.
We never thought we’d get stuck … especially in a state campground. But, after trying to maneuver into our Traverse City, Michigan, campsite from a very narrow road, we decided to attempt a different approach.
Bob pulled into the empty site across from us and tried to back Tagalong in from there. As he did, Gulliver’s dually tires dug into the soil until they were spinning but not moving the truck. We excavated some of the soft sand, put wood planks in front of the tires, and tried again. They still didn’t grab.
Desperate, we replaced the planks with firewood we had brought with us from our previous stop to build a platform in front of the tires. Still no traction. We were so stuck that we needed help to get out.
Campers tend to be friendly, helpful people, and the campers in Traverse City didn’t disappoint. Bob found a guy with a Ford truck who was more than willing to try to pull our Dodge Ram and trailer out of the sand. We only needed a tow strap.
Another camper on a bicycle stopped — mostly because we were blocking the road, but also because he wanted to watch. He said he had a tow strap and zipped off to get it. After he returned, the guys hooked the strap between the front of Gulliver and the back of the first guy’s truck. That did the trick and pulled our truck up out of the soft sand. Whew!
We attempted once again to back into our campsite. And, once again, we got stuck in the same soft sand. By now, a third good Samaritan, Ernie, had joined the party and offered to pull us out with his GMC 4x4, wanting to show up the Ford — and eager to keep the cyclist from going to get his Toyota.
The GMC, like the Ford, succeeded. But we still couldn’t get into our site without our tires digging into the sand.
A New Tactic
Ernie recommended we unhitch the trailer and reposition the truck to where it would be out of the sand before reconnecting. That would mean we’d have to connect to the trailer from a side angle rather than directly in front of it, something we’d never attempted. But Ernie, who had a fifth wheel about the same size as ours, had done it before. What did we have to lose?
We unhitched, leaving our trailer sticking out in the road, and Bob moved Gulliver. To prevent another tailgate mishap with the trailer in tow, we removed the tailgate. Reconnecting the truck to the trailer at an angle worked and enabled Bob to pull Tagalong forward — away from the super soft sand — and get enough running room to back into our campsite. What a relief!
I would have been happy just to leave the trailer right there and set up camp. But, to prevent getting stuck again when leaving, we realized we needed to finagle Tagalong for an easy getaway. So, Bob moved the truck forward and backward time after time after time to get our very long trailer situated just right to give us the best chance at success.
More than two hours after arriving at the campground, we finally parked in our campsite and unhitched from the truck for the week.
4 Lessons Learned
After our frustrations died down and we were able to evaluate the situation, we realized four valuable takeaways:
1. Always carry a tow strap.
When we purchased Gulliver, we purposely got him without four-wheel drive, thinking it unnecessary and not wanting to spend the gas mileage for a nice-to-have. We didn’t regret that decision until this day. Similarly, we didn’t think we had any use for a tow strap.
We’ve since ordered a heavy-duty tow strap and will pick it up at our next location. If we ever find ourselves in a similar situation to this one — and we hope we never do — we’ll be better prepared.
2. Check the soil before parking.
We had no idea the ground we were attempting to drive on would completely give way, but we could tell by looking it was soft. Next time, we’ll get out and assess the terrain closely before attempting to pull our 17,000-pound trailer onto it.
3. Think outside the box.
Sometimes, to find the best solution to a problem, you have to look at the situation from a different angle. Taking the advice and experience of our friendly camping neighbor, Ernie, we learned to look at our fifth wheel kingpin and hitch at a different angle — and realized we don’t always have to square the truck to the trailer to connect it. After all, the kingpin is round.
4. Don’t be afraid to look like a fool.
No one wants to be the campground entertainment, those campers everyone stops what they’re doing to watch. But that’s what we were that day. One couple even got their lawn chairs out to enjoy the festivities.
We looked like newbies rather than full-time RVers who’ve been on the road for more than a year. Our pride got in the way, resulting in embarrassment. And that only added to our frustration throughout the parking ordeal.
We all have hard days we can learn from. Perhaps our experience will help someone else in the future.
After a successful and adventurous stop at Lake Huron in St. Ignace, Michigan, it was time to move on. Before entering the Upper Peninsula, we had determined that we wanted to spend some time on each of the three Great Lakes surrounding it. One down, two to go.
Our next stop: Lake Michigan. When we booked a campground in Gladstone (near Escanaba), we knew we’d be near the water. What we didn’t know was how wonderful the scenery would be. From the satellite view on Google Maps, it looked like we’d be able to see the water from an angle because of a campsite in front of ours.
We arrived on a Saturday. The rig blocking our view left on Sunday. A couple of other neighbors came and went during our time there, but we didn’t mind. For their short-term stays, they deserved the wonderful view we got to enjoy for the whole week.
When your home overlooks an expansive lake, you can’t help but be thankful. Every day there, we woke up in awe of the beauty outside our windows and door. The blue body of water stretched as far east and west as we could see, providing a welcome respite to a busy work week.
A Tale of 2 Gullivers
Our journey to Gladstone took us through the little town of Gulliver, Michigan, population between 600 and 700, depending on the source. Of course, we had to stop, for Gulliver’s sake.
Gulliver enjoyed a nice rest at Gulliver’s Crossroads — a fuel station with a roomy parking lot and raved-about food made to order — while Bob finished a Project Management Professional (PMP) call. He facilitates a study group to help up and coming PMPs pass the Project Management Institute exam and was recognized as the April Volunteer of the Month.
We couldn’t leave the small town without purchasing sweatshirts in honor of our hard-working truck.
After fueling both Gulliver and us, we traveled along Lake Michigan about an hour to reach our campsite right on the lake. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the week. We enjoyed walking along the lake every day — except for the midge flies.
We had planned our visit to the UP early to avoid mosquitoes and black flies, and we succeeded. But we didn’t know about midge flies. They’re little black flies about the size of mosquitoes that don’t bite, thankfully. But they do swarm, and they do get in your nose and mouth. They like humans for our carbon dioxide, and they can be found near water. Surrounded by water, the UP is host to many such flies.
On our drive to Gladstone, we hit a swarm of the pests, and the rush of them hitting our windshield sounded like rain. Needless to say, dead bodies collected on Gulliver and Tagalong, making quite a mess and necessitating a trip to a car wash to give Gulliver a much-needed scrub-down. Bob scrubbed them off Tagalong as well.
Another thing that can be found near water is lighthouses. They’re all over the place in the UP — so much so that they’re easy to take for granted. You can get up close and personal to a lighthouse in almost every town along any of the three lakes.
Interestingly enough, the only working lighthouse on northern Lake Michigan, Seul Choix Pointe, is in the town of Gulliver. We didn’t see that one (it doesn’t open until Memorial Day), but we did visit one in St. Ignace, rode our bikes to one in Gladstone, and walked to one near Lake Superior.
Christmas in May
After a rather uneventful but much appreciated stay on Lake Michigan, we reluctantly packed up to move on to Lake Superior. Wow! The biggest of the Great Lakes, this one is truly massive and actually contains 10% of the earth’s fresh water, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
We journeyed to the little town of Christmas, Michigan (near Munising), population around 400, where a 35-foot Santa Claus greeted us. The town got its start in the 1930s, thanks to a man opening a factory to make holiday gifts. Although the factory no longer exists, the theme of Christmas lingers, with roads named St. Nicholas Street, Santa Lane, Mrs Claus Lane, Mistletoe Lane, Jingle Bell Lane, Holly Drive, and Sleigh Way, among others.
Each of the three Great Lakes in Michigan’s UP is freckled with small towns offering lots of things to do and loads of sights to see. We’ve been gratefully basking in the beauty of our surroundings and exploring as much as we can.
Having been born in southwestern Michigan and being left out of a trip to the Upper Peninsula (UP) with my older sister and cousins when I was 11, I’ve always wanted to go. Bob got to visit the UP during his 1987 tour with the Continental Singers and Orchestra. More than 30 years later, my wish finally came true.
Surrounded by Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan, the UP boasts beauty, forests, unique sights and experiences, pasties, and much more. There are three ways to get to the UP: through northern Wisconsin, by boat, or by driving from the lower peninsula of Michigan over the 5-mile “Mighty Mac” Mackinac Bridge, the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world.
We took option three and spent a week on the Lake Huron side of the UP in the vacation town of St. Ignace. These are four cool things to do from that base location:
1. Mackinac Island
Pronounced “Mackinaw,” this island is visible from St. Ignace and is only a 20-minute ferry ride away. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island, so the main modes of transportation there are horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and feet. We intended to rent bikes and ride the 8.2-mile loop around the island. Instead, we found ourselves enamored at Fort Mackinac and spent most of our day there.
Fort Mackinac dates back to the American Revolution and has a storied past that includes British and American military control. You can tour 14 buildings and be taken back to the 1880s. But that’s not the coolest part. The fort offers daily demonstrations, including cannon firing and rifle firing, complete with workers dressed in period costume.
The fort also features the Tea Room Restaurant, which isn’t a room at all but a patio that presents the most spectacular views on the island. We basked in the sun there over lunch while gazing at beautiful blue Lake Huron and watching goings on below us.
When we finally left the fort, we walked to Arch Rock and climbed 207 steps to see the natural limestone arch that stands 146 feet above the water.
No trip to Mackinac Island would be complete without partaking of the island’s famous fudge. Many shops pedal the sweet treat, and all offer a variety of flavors. We scored a chocolate-peanut butter combination and an Irish cream delight and were not disappointed.
2. Castle Rock
We certainly got our steps in while in St. Ignace. Known as “Pontiac’s Lookout” by the Ojibwa Tribe, Castle Rock, located right off I-75, is another limestone stack that rises 195 feet (171 steps). It only costs $1 per person and is well worth the amazing views overlooking Lake Huron and Mackinac Island. You have to pass through a little gift shop to get from the parking lot to the overlook, but doing so also warrants a photo op with Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox.
3. Soo Locks
A 45-minute drive north of St. Ignace will bring you to Sault Ste Marie and the Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron so freighter ships can get their goods in and out of more ports. The locks date all the way back to the mid-1800s, and a free visitor center offers period photos to prove it.
You can linger in the visitors center and take in the history of the locks, learn about the Great Lakes and the passageways between them, and interact with a number of displays. Right outside the visitor center stands a viewing platform where you can witness ships passing through the locks. We watched a Canadian Coast Guard ship enter the lock from the Lake Huron side and wait for the water to rise in the lock before moving out toward Lake Superior.
Although we’ve been through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, we found this experience fascinating as it gave us a different perspective.
4. The Antlers Restaurant
We researched other things to do in the Sault Ste Marie area and happened upon the most unique restaurant we’ve ever frequented. Antlers, as its name implies, showcases lots and lots of antlers throughout, including chandeliers made of them.
In addition, a sprawling collection of taxidermied critters are on display, staring down at visitors while they eat. The building was built in the 1800s and still features unlevel floors in areas. Story has it that the taxidermied specimens were accrued in bartering.
We saw a two-headed calf that actually lived six days, a wolverine, moose, an armadillo, lions, an anaconda, a hammerhead shark, a fur-bearing trout, and much more.
Lake Huron only provides a small taste of life in the UP, which spans 240 miles wide and 490 miles long. Yoopers, as residents of the UP are called, consider it God’s country and paradise, and we can certainly see why.
RV travel days bring exhilaration at the adventure ahead, but they can be bittersweet when we have to say goodbye to loved ones we enjoyed spending time with.
Typically, we start prepping for a travel day the night before by packing nonessentials, such as family photos and kitchen items we won’t need the next morning. I like to clean the trailer before a move as well so that we arrive at a new spot with a fresh start.
On the morning of a travel day, I make sandwiches and pack snacks and water for our journey. This accomplishes two things: It prevents us from eating unsatisfying truck stop food, and it ensures I have something gluten-free to eat. Then, we get busy securing everything for transit. Bob handles the electronics and outside preparations while I oversee the interior.
Safeguarding Items for Travel
Once I get everything put away from out in the open, I follow a checklist to ensure I don’t forget anything. It includes securing doors, ensuring windows are closed and shades are up throughout the trailer, installing spring bars to keep items in the pantry and refrigerator from shifting, and things like that. The final steps are retracting the four slideouts, stowing our stairs, and locking the trailer door.
After that, I help Bob finish any outside preparations. He’s in charge of taking down the kingpin stabilizer, disconnecting the electric, water, and sewer if we had full hookups, stowing all our hoses, and packing the electric bikes in the back of the truck cab.
Hooking Up the Truck to the Trailer
Then, we work together to go through our checklist to hook up the truck to the trailer. This involves a number of steps that need to be done in a precise order to prevent a potential disaster down the road. The steps include raising the back and middle trailer stabilizers, adjusting the trailer height to align with the hitch in the bed of the truck, backing up and coupling the truck to the trailer, removing tire chocks, and doing our all-important walkaround.
When those tasks are done, we’re ready to go. If we didn’t have sewer hookups at the stop we’re leaving, we head to a dump station to empty our holding tanks before moving on to the next destination. That’s another involved process that needs to be done in a certain order to prevent a messy situation.
Hitting the Road
We usually have a fuel stop picked out that we navigate to as we burn through our 32-gallon tank of diesel pretty fast, getting only about 8 miles per gallon fuel efficiency while towing. We have to stop every two to three hours. But that works out well, because we usually need to stretch our legs and find a restroom after that much time has passed.
One of us drives, and the other navigates. If we’re not on an interstate that has definite clearance for semi-trucks, we usually navigate on both of our phones using two different apps. Google Maps provides lane guidance and the fastest route. Co-Pilot directs us on roads that have enough clearance for our 13-foot, 3-inch height.
At our fuel stop, we gas up where the trucks do because of our height and length. Plus, we can get diesel exhaust fluid (DEF, which our truck requires) at the pump that way, and we have a truck fuel discount card. Sometimes, we get coffee at our stop, but we usually opt for the food we brought with us in the truck.
With our bladders empty and our fuel tank topped, we hit the road again to complete the journey to our destination.
Parking the Rig
Upon arrival, we assess our parking spot and determine the best way to get our rig situated in it. We’ve gotten faster at this the longer we’ve been on the road. We park the rig, sometimes having to add levelers under the tires on one side or the other to make the trailer level side to side.
The trailer itself is rigged with an automatic leveler to get it level front to back. Its leveler also handles side to side, but if one side starts off lower than the other, the rig sometimes raises the tires completely off the ground, which is not a good idea.
With the coach in the position we want it, we run through another checklist to unhook it from Gulliver.
When that’s all done, we can finally start setting everything up for the week or however long we plan to stay in that spot. Bob again handles the electric and water outside, and sewer if we have full hookups. I busy myself inside opening the slides, putting our normal things out where they go, setting up my office for the week, hanging pictures on the walls, and removing the spring bars from the pantry and refrigerator.
Once Bob’s done outside, he sets up the internet, TV, and his computer. If we’re in a cold place, he also sets up our portable propane heater.
It takes us about 1.5 hours to get ready to travel and about an hour to set up at our new destination. After that, we’re home and can relax in celebration of a job well done — or go exploring. After all, adventure awaits.
When leaving on an RV journey, it’s vital to know the condition of your rig. If anything’s in need of repair before you depart, it will more than likely be in need of greater repair if not addressed before hitting the road. This is a lesson we learned early on, and it has certainly helped us keep tabs on our rig and fix issues before they ballooned.
The TV antenna on our roof is an excellent example. Unfortunately, when we left Louisiana in haste to stay ahead of unpleasant weather, we failed to notice our leaning antenna. We did observe that the antenna direction controller inside the trailer didn’t stop like it should have, but we didn’t look further into it. From outside, we could see that the antenna faced the proper direction, so we considered it good to go.
Looking back at pictures from right before we left, however, the issue was apparent. And it likely wouldn’t have been the big problem it became the following morning had we addressed it right then.
Thankfully, we spotted it before we completely lost the antenna off our roof. If that had happened, it would have left a gaping hole for rain to get into and cause all kinds of damage.
Electric Cord Cover
We don’t only walk around the trailer before setting out on a trip, but we also check things every time we stop at a gas station or rest area, just as truckers do. At one fuel stop, we discovered our electric cord cover had completely blown off our rig somewhere between upper-state New York and Massachusetts. We ensured the security of our electric cord, which was all we could do, and continued on our way. We ordered a replacement cover delivered to our next destination.
Our walkarounds have also led to the discovery of protruding and missing screws on the skirting around the trailer. Sometimes, retightening is enough to keep the screws in place. Other times, that fix is a short-term solution that has to be reinforced with tape. When tape fails, we have to completely replace screws with nuts and bolts to keep the screws from drilling their way out.
Why do screws protrude? Every time we drive the trailer anywhere, it experiences an earthquake that shakes and rattles everything in and attached to it. The vibrations of tires hitting the road — especially bumpy roads — is enough to slowly push screws out of their tightened positions.
Brake Cable Connector
Another walkaround saved us from losing our emergency brake cable on the trailer. One end of the cable is secured to the underside of the trailer overhanging the truck. The other end attaches around the fifth-wheel hitch in the bed of the truck so that if the trailer becomes disconnected, the trailer brakes will be applied.
Once again, protruding screws allowed excess movement of the brake cable connector attachment on the trailer. We spotted the issue and were able to fix it with larger screws.
Tonneau Cover Clips
When not towing, we cover the bed of our truck with a Tonneau cover. When we are towing, the cover folds four times to expose the hitch in the truck bed. The cover came with straps to secure it open, but they were made with subpar quality. In other words, they really didn’t hold the cover in place to keep it from flipping closed.
We replaced the original straps with some Velcro straps that wrapped around U brackets, but the new straps gave out during travel. When stopped at a Cabela’s parking lot for an overnight stay, we headed into the store on a mission to find a replacement for the Velcro straps.
We rigged a solution with straps that attach to a locking carabiner clip, and we added some pyramid-shape hardware to the truck cover to secure the clips in place. We haven’t had any trouble since.
As you can imagine, a walkround won’t reveal troublesome noises on a rig. Having bought new shoes for Tagalong in Tennessee, we were fortunate to be backing up the trailer in a Walmart parking lot before heading north to our next destination. I say fortunate because if we hadn’t been backing up, I wouldn’t have been outside the truck to help Bob and heard an awful grinding noise on our rig, indicating something clearly wasn’t right.
Bob thought maybe the brakes were at fault. We switched places so he could hear the noise. Megan helped us pinpoint its side of origin, and we quickly homed in on the problem: Part of our trailer skirting was rubbing against the new front, driver-side tire.
“Did Discount Tire do something wrong when installing the new tires?” we wondered. Perhaps the tech had jacked up the rig in the wrong place. Whatever the cause, we clearly had an issue that needed addressing before our 600-mile journey.
Upon closer examination, we learned some screws were missing to attach the skirting to the trailer frame. We always travel with lots of tools, so Bob quickly remedied the situation, securing the piece to the frame and away from the tire so we could get on our way.
We thanked God for watching out for us. If we hadn’t been trying to back up in a parking lot, we wouldn’t have discovered the issue until much more damage had been done to our new tires.
Pre-travel walkarounds have saved us from many incidents that could have inflicted serious damage to our rig, our truck, and even ourselves. The importance of that practice cannot be understated.
En route from northeastern Louisiana to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to visit our daughter, Megan, a loud, fast beeping like the dreaded kitchen smoke alarm sounded in the truck. I glanced at our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and saw 25 flashing with the words “low pressure,” indicating only 25 psi in the driver-side rear trailer tire. Then the number 17 appeared with the words “fast leakage.”
I told Bob we needed to pull over. He carefully got us to the shoulder of Interstate 20, and we both got out to assess the situation and our options. Bob heard the sound of rushing air as he approached the tire but didn’t see any damage to the tire itself. It seemed the stem might be at fault.
We checked Google Maps and saw a truck stop about a mile away. We didn’t want to risk attempting to change the driver-side tire on the freeway. Plus, we were parked on a slant, which meant jacking up the driver side would be precarious. So, we nursed the trailer to the truck stop and were able to change the tire there.
We had purchased a 3-pound air compressor before leaving the Mesa, Arizona, area. That made it easy to inflate the spare tire to the proper pressure.
About an hour and a half after the low-pressure alarm, we were back on the road, thankful for our TPMS. Had it not alerted us, we wouldn’t have known about the tire until we made our next stop. And by then, it could have shredded and caused serious damage to our trailer. That’s why a TPMS is one of our must-have RV gadgets.
Something Doesn’t Look Right
The tire incident was our second delay of the day. The first happened east of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when we prepared to leave the rest area where we had spent the night. I double-checked the TV antenna from the bedroom, something I’ve been doing since a roof incident last year, and it kept spinning. It should have reached a stop point.
I went outside to examine the antenna externally and noticed it appeared to be leaning outward. As I stepped farther back, the issue became apparent: The antenna had pulled up from our roof, probably the result of hitting low-hanging branches somewhere along our journey — yet again.
Bob gathered some tools, and we ascended the trailer ladder to repair the problem. (It’s a good thing I had cleaned the ladder after our Polly encounter in Texas.) We peeled off the previous layer of self-leveling caulk and removed the screws from the antenna unit. Then, Bob put a layer of caulk under the unit to seal it back down. I had to go inside the trailer and move the knob that controls the antenna’s direction to get it to align properly.
With the antenna unit back in place, Bob put in new screws to hold it tighter and resealed the top with a good wide layer of anti-leveling caulk. Then we had to kill some time to let it dry before relinquishing it to the wind.
This event confirmed the importance of doing a walkaround before leaving for anywhere. It also reminded us that it’s never a good idea to rush. Like the last roof mishap, this one occurred when we were trying to stay ahead of a rainstorm. Deja vu.
The French Influence
Prior to these two incidents, we enjoyed a visit to Paris — Texas, that is — complete with a stop at Texas’s Eiffel Tower. We also spent a week in a beautiful state park in northeastern Louisiana right along Bayou Macon, which, as it turns out, is an attractive black bear habitat. In fact, we encountered some signs that made us stand up and take notice. But we didn’t see any bears — or alligators, which are also known to be in the area.
While in the vicinity, we ventured into the town of Delhi to visit Louisiana’s oldest drugstore, which dates back to 1873 and still features a soda fountain. No trip there would be complete without a milkshake. The joint also serves po-boys, burgers, and other Southern specialties.
Gulliver Gets His ID
We successfully made it to Megan and Sydney’s, where our mail and Amazon packages awaited. Opening them was like Christmas morning. Our best gift? Gulliver got new license plates that make him official.
You’ve no doubt heard the saying that “everything’s bigger in Texas.” We certainly found the state campgrounds to be bigger and more expansive and found the night skies bigger and the stars brighter. We also saw a 20-foot-wide British bowler hat statue, and brother Tom and his wife Molly saw a 30-foot eyeball.
Besides big things, the Lone Star State is known for the yellow rose, BBQ, longhorns, the Alamo, and live music — and armadillos.
Inspired by Molly, who makes a point to explore each area she and Tom stay in before moving on, we determined to have a Texas experience that didn’t center on an attacking bird. Since we camped equidistant from Fort Worth and Dallas for two weeks, we wandered into both cities.
In Search of the Yellow Rose
We visited the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, where beautiful tulips in every color proudly stood on display for passersby, and Japanese maples stood sentry over walkways. Other flowers abounded as well, signifying spring had indeed arrived.
After surveying the 66 acres of perennials, we spread a blanket and reclined on a grassy amphitheater overlooking a lake to enjoy a brass band concert. We watched sailboats drift this way and that, carried by the wind. Although we didn’t see the famous yellow rose, we left satisfied and grateful that we had gotten out and explored on a beautiful spring day.
An Old Western Adventure
Eager for an authentic Texas experience — especially after getting cowboy boots for my birthday, which we celebrated in the state by eating BBQ — we ventured to Fort Worth. Our mission: to witness the daily longhorn cattle drive up close and personal, a unique sight to behold. The cattle moved slowly, their heads swaying with the weight of their horns, some of which stretched more than 8 feet from side to side.
After the cattle drive, we followed our ears to a live music venue playing country tunes.
Before completing our Fort Worth excursion, we traveled downtown to the Fort Worth Water Gardens, where we marveled at the architecture before us. The design that went into the three water features was nothing short of amazing. Tom, Bob, and I carefully walked down the rail-less steps to the active pool while the water rushing between steps played tricks on our eyes. After recovering at the bottom, we worked our way back up and out — an easier feat than the descent.
Having participated in Texas BBQ, flowers, longhorns, and live music, we only had one thing left to complete our Texas experience, as we were too far away to “remember the Alamo.”
So, we went on a nightly armadillo hunt in our campground, anxious to get a glimpse of the creature we kept hearing rustling leaves and bushes and racing for safety when we shined our flashlights in its direction. This continued evening after evening while we sat around a fire at Tom and Molly’s campsite. And the creature continually evaded us.
After relocating to another Texas state park northeast of Dallas, we heard a familiar rustling in the bushes one evening while sitting at a picnic table. We had seen white-tailed deer in the area, so we thought that might be the source of the noise. But, as the scurrying continued, we weren’t convinced.
We got closer to the noise and spotted what we had been looking for: An armadillo crouched, hoping we’d keep our distance. We chased it a little, never intending to catch it, and then lost sight of it.
Those creatures are fast. They can actually run up to 30 mph — 5 mph faster than our electric bikes can go.
We returned to what we had been doing before the disruption. After 10 minutes or so, we heard some more rustling. So we got up again, and the armadillo ran across the street, letting us get evidence of our sighting and making our Texas experience complete.
Ah, spring. Warmer weather, budding trees and flowers, and chirping birds greet us every morning. It’s peaceful and serene with new life abounding all around us. Well, almost.
One bird greets us with a tap, tap, tap on our windows at 7 every morning. We found the gesture cute the first couple of days. But it quickly became annoying. We thought we had left the eerie experiences behind in New Mexico, along with the dirt, dust, and wind — but maybe not.
A day after settling into our new, green location near Dallas, Texas, a female cardinal perched on a branch on a mountain cedar tree directly behind our rig. We marveled at how close we could get to her, as she couldn’t see us behind our dark-tinted privacy glass. The male cardinal fluttered off, but Polly (as we named her) lingered, posing for pictures and alighting on our built-in trailer ladder that leads to the roof.
Then, she started flying at and pecking at our back window. Silly bird. Maybe she was saying, “Hi! May I come in? I want to be your friend.” Or maybe it was more like, “Hey! You’re crowding my turf.” Maybe she was upset that Mr. Cardinal left her.
Whatever the cause, this pecking behavior continued daily. You would think the bird’s beak would hurt, that she’d wise up, and that she would have given up after a day or two, but no.
We tried to outsmart Polly by hanging a couple of shiny kitchen utensils to encourage her not to stay. She thought they were cool. Polly likes shiny things.
We tried putting paper up in our back window to break up the reflection she must see. That didn’t deter her either.
She’s like the feisty, aggressive female cardinal in New York that bit the same Audubon scientist eight years in a row when he and his team performed their annual capture and banding. She doesn’t give up.
I’ve stared at the tree Polly usually launches from, peering to find her nest — but to no avail. She must feel threatened. It’s springtime in Texas. Mr. Cardinal has only returned rarely and briefly, from what we’ve seen. Maybe Polly’s upset at him and taking it out on us. Maybe she’s simply going after the bird she sees in the reflection of our windows.
Whatever the reason, Polly has morphed into Birdbrain in our view, and we’ll be happy when she no longer considers us a threat. That may not be until we move on to our next destination.
Desperate for relief from the daily tapping noise, we visited the local Dollar Tree store and purchased three pinwheels. We secured two to our back ladder and put the third in a tree on the south side of our rig. How did she respond? She perched on our ladder just beneath the two pinwheels.
Battle of the Wills
I lowered the highest pinwheel to kind of block the step Polly normally sits on, and that succeeded in keeping her away from our back window.
So, you can imagine how flabbergasted I felt the next morning when I heard her tapping on our window again shortly after 7. Just as I had hoped, our back-ladder boobytraps kept her away from the back window. But I kept hearing her tapping.
Polly decided to alight right next to the pinwheel in the tree on the south side of our trailer. Remember how I said she likes shiny things? She used that branch as her launching point to fly at the window behind our TV. And then she kept trying to land atop another window, hanging onto the ¼-inch glass for dear life — thankfully without causing any damage.
We may have finally found what she’s so angry about. It appears she had begun a nest right near our concrete pad. No one had occupied this campsite for a long time as the campground had been closed for restoration after flooding.
Whether that was truly her nest or not, Polly has a vendetta against us. Somehow we’ll have to coexist until we’re ready to leave this place for our next destination — because we’re not leaving on her account, and she’s clearly not leaving on ours.
Aliens, boonies, and winds … oh my! The Carlsbad, New Mexico, area is known for Carlsbad Caverns, its close proximity to the Guadalupe Mountains and Roswell, and the wind.
We thought we had experienced the most extreme weather we’d face in our travels when we survived a major windstorm in the area. But, the following weekend, the forecast called for gales of 30 to 55 mph with gusts up to 75 mph.
Battening Down the Hatches
Our rig wasn’t built to be lived in with the slideouts closed. In fact, when the four slides are in, we can only get to two rooms: the bedroom and the bathroom (the most important rooms on a long journey). Because of the severe weekend weather, we closed all the slides to give Tagalong the best chance to handle the storm unaffected.
Saturday, we ventured into town, a nice reprieve after a busy work week and a welcome break from the wind. Upon return to the trailer, we hunkered down in the bedroom for the evening.
The winds continued to roar the next morning, and our tummies grumbled. Eventually, we had to get into our kitchen to get some food. But that required opening our dining room slide. Bob figured out an app on his phone would allow him to close the dining room slide with us in it — even though we’d be cut off from the bathroom. But the winds were too great to keep the slide open.
We locked ourselves in the kitchen and living area, fed our bellies, and rode out the storm, enjoying the adventure as if we were kids in a self-made fort. It gave us a good taste of what Tagalong normally experiences when we travel down the highways: lots of rattling and shaking.
By Monday morning, the winds finally subsided, and we emerged whole — as did Gulliver and Tagalong.
When boondocking, you have to be self-reliant, and that includes filling your rig with freshwater and emptying the black (toilet) water. Bob’s brother, Tom, let us borrow his macerator and portable black tank for the latter process, which turned out to be a two-person job. Tom ran the macerator attached to Tagalong, and Bob monitored the waste level in a portable black tank situated in Gulliver’s bed.
A loud vibrating sound emanated inside and outside the trailer for about five minutes while the macerator chopped our sewage into tiny particles and propelled it through a hose into the carrying tank. The transfer successful, Bob drove to the nearest established campground and paid a fee to dump the contents of the portable tank into the dump station there.
The fee also covered the purchase of freshwater. Bob filled a couple of portable bladders with a total of 37 gallons of water to refill our depleted resource. Once he returned, Bob hooked up a pump to Tagalong’s water inlet and force-fed the water into the tank, a process that took about 20 minutes — but meant we could continue to shower and wash dishes.
Third Time’s a Charm
We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to visit Carlsbad Caverns while in the area. Unfortunately for us, many other people had that same idea, as we quickly discovered. After two failed attempts to arrive at the national park early enough to be counted among the day’s 1,000 permitted cavern visitors, we got smart.
We rose early, dressed in layers, packed chairs and blankets, and headed to the park — about an hour and a half before its scheduled opening. A long line of visitors greeted us, and we settled in for the wait with hopes that we had arrived early enough to get in this time.
After about an hour, a park worker made her way down the line, taking a count of how many tickets people intended to purchase. Fifteen minutes or so later, two rangers greeted each visitor and handed out time slot markers to go down and see the caverns. We made the cut!
When our scheduled time came, we took an elevator 750 feet below ground for a self-guided tour. The elevator doors opened to an expansive, dark cavern. Our eyes adjusted, and we followed the 1.25-mile trail around the Big Room, in awe of the beautiful formations surrounding us.
We felt like we had walked into the belly of an alien’s nest. Either we spent too much time in southern New Mexico, or we’ve seen too many science-fiction movies. Regardless, we plan to visit Carlsbad Caverns again when we have more time to spend there.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.