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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hunting Island, South Carolina Thanksgiving 2011

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Thanksgiving 2011

     The pattern is becoming all too familiar for my family.  Instead of enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Ohio with the extended family, my wanderlust coupled with a long weekend got the best of me.  Melizza and I wanted to head to the beach for one last Airstream trip to close the season.  I had wanted to do a Low Country trip in the Airstream for a while.  We love Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.  What's not to like about the food and the laid back, authentic southern culture?  I had read about Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina on a few Airstream blogs and it is also listed in the National Geographic Guide To The Best State Parks.  All reviews were extremely positive.  Hunting Island is located on the South Carolina coast near Beaufort and just north of Hilton Head Island.  Having grown up traveling to Hilton Head for many summers, this looked like a promising destination.

      I convinced the entire family to move our Thanksgiving south in 2011.  My sister and her husband drove in from Black Mountain, North Carolina.  My brother and his wife as well as my dad and his girlfriend came from Ohio.  My nephew Kevin flew down from college in Boston.  Now the pressure was on for me.  I made myself responsible for Thanksgiving.  Everyone stayed in Beaufort except for my sisters family and us.  We camped and they stayed at a local bed and breakfast.  Thankfully, the weekend was a success and everyone enjoyed some family bonding time together on the beach.

     Hunting Island is the anti-Hilton Head.  To me, it looked like Hilton Head would have looked before the developers transformed it into a golf and tennis destination.  Hunting Island has three miles of natural beaches that are familiar to those who have spent time in the Low Country.  The island is sleepy and lush with the familiar palms and oaks with spanish moss that coastal South Carolina is famous for.  The island is located close to wetlands and contains an abundance of shrimp, oysters and crabs.  We purchased seafood right off the boat at Gay's Seafood on the way in.  I enjoyed shucking oysters, catching crabs off the dock, and playing on and exploring the beach with the entire family.  The island has a lighthouse and some unique scenery along the beach.  There is a section of the beach which contains the remains of trees growing right out of the sand.  The campsites were large and private.  I would love to return during the warm months.

     We had planned for a Thanksgiving at a local restaurant.  However, the campground offered a free Thanksgiving lunch hosted by a local pastor.  Apparently, this is an annual event in which he fries over twenty turkeys.  We all attended this feast alongside the beach.  After this traditional meal, we opted to skip the restaurant and just enjoy some local seafood that evening.  I was relieved that everyone enjoyed the weekend on Hunting Island which proved that Thanksgiving is really more about being together with family than the meal itself.  Next time, we will reserve a little more time for a day trip to Savannah.  For this short trip, we didn't want to leave our little slice of paradise.

Pile On!

Three generations of girls on Hunting Island

Lucy with her cousin Ashley


My favorite sign

Dogs are allowed on the beach!!!

Me and the boys atop the lighthouse

Crabbing with kids on the pier

Ethan brings out the pie

Maggie and Pete chilling on the beach

Lucy heading to the beach

Ethan and cousin Max

Grandpa with all the grandchildren

Family Photo

Cousin bonding time

Sandcastle Reveal

Lucy and cousin Wyatt

Jack building sandcastles

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ludington State Park, Michigan

Ludington State Park, Michigan
September 29, 2011

      Ludington State Park in Michigan is arguably the best state park in the Lower Peninsula.  It has everything that all of the other parks we have visited offer but in a better setting.  The dunes are better.  The lighthouse is spectacular.  They also have salmon that come in from Lake Michigan in the early fall.  This park has it all and is a mere six hours from my home.  This is as good as it gets within six hours of southwestern Ohio.  My only problem with the place is the difficulty of securing a weekend reservation between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

     We drove up to Michigan on a stormy September night.  I worked that Thursday and Melizza picked me up at the office with the Airstream.  Our arrival in Pentwater, Michigan was sometime before midnight.  We picked Pentwater State Park for a quick overnight stay because the campground is basically a parking lot on the lake and situated fifteen minutes south of Ludington.  I thought that it would be easy to cruise in and park on a Thursday night.  We have done it in other places many times before.  Late night cruise-ins are normally a piece of cake.  Quite frankly, they are a necessity for me so that I can maximize my time away.  I just park and transfer the sleeping kids to the Airstream.  This night proved to be an extraordinary one.

     We arrived to howling winds and pouring rain that night in Pentwater.  You could hear the waves crashing against the shore.  The campground was largely empty and the front gate was unmanned.  I pulled in and quickly found our site.  After exiting my vehicle to inspect my pull through campsite,  I concluded that the electric hookup was on the wrong side.  I thought that I could fix this problem easily by simply pulling in from the opposite direction.  After all, the campground was practically deserted and I could just swing around the loop and pull in from the other direction.  That was when the problems began.

    After looping around the campsite to approach from the opposite direction, I decided to ignore the "Do Not Enter" sign.  (Important plot detail)  I made a tight turn and drove my Sequoia into the pull through driveway.  That is when I heard the scraping sound.  The thought of it still makes me cringe.  I immediately stopped and looked in my side mirror.  To my horror, I saw that I had wedged the Airstream against a "Do Not Enter" sign.  The irony of the situation did not escape me.  How could I be so stupid?

    Melizza and I got out and examined the damage.  At this point, the sign was wedged tightly against a side window on my Airstream.  The problem was that by moving the Airstream, I could either shatter the window or scrape the aluminum.  Moving a twenty eight foot Airstream in reverse is not fun when there is little margin for error.  If I shattered the window my long weekend trip would be ruined.  If I scraped the aluminum, it would result in a costly trip to Jackson Center, Ohio.  After a minor panic attack, I went over every option in my head.  I tried to pull the sign away from the window to no avail.  The metal sign was jammed against the window and would barely budge.  I tried to remove the metal sign from the wooden post by removing the bolts but could not get it off.  I contemplated chopping the wooden post down with my axe but thought the fine would exceed any damage we would do by backing it out.  I may have teared up slightly but don't quote me on that.  At least I didn't have an audience.  Finally, Melizza and I decided that she would back the Airstream out while I bent the sign back with all of my might.  Slowly but surely, Melizza backed us out of the disaster and we managed to escape with only minor scrapes on our window.  There will be no pictures of the damage. 

     These unfortunate incidents are sometimes the defining moments in our travels and in our lives.  By working together, we can always find a solution to the most difficult challenges.  If you travel enough, these things will happen.  I would have to dig deep to recall a more stressful travel moment but they do exist.  I remember that Melizza and I almost lost our minds in India after our flight to the Maldives was cancelled.  Spending to much time in India can do that to the most patient person.  Also, I remember two long overnights stranded at JFK with four kids while missing our first days in London.  However, in both of those cases, I wasn't damaging my own stuff and I didn't cause the problem!  After that incident, we were truly grateful for a fun weekend in Ludington with our friends Phil and Kim.

     The next morning, the weather cleared and we made our way up to Ludington State Park.  We were camped up against the dunes which created an instant playground for the kids.  The lighthouse was a nice mile hike from our campsite.  It was impossible to take a bad photograph with my Nikon or my iPhone.  The place is just picturesque and feels much more isolated than other parks along Lake Michigan that we visited.  This will be our Michigan gold standard from now on.  We already have plans to return next year.

     Here are a bunch of pictures of Ludington from our perfect long weekend.  Notice that there are no pictures of "The Incident at Pentwater."


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Michigan

August 12, 2011

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Michigan
Platte River Campground

     On August 17, 2011, the viewers of Good Morning America voted Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan as "The Most Beautiful Place In America." I really wish they would shut up about it. Thankfully, the Trout family arrived prior to the announcement. While there are many amazing places all over the United States, I understand why it received this designation. The shoreline here is certainly one of the most dramatic lakeside settings that I have witnessed anywhere.


     This place, as it turned out, was full of surprises. High expectations are in order when you have to reserve campsites over six months in advance to guarantee a spot. The alternative is arrive before dawn and line up outside the non-reservable campground for a chance to land a site the next day. This is one of those places that met my high expectations.

    Sleeping Bear is sophisticated area. It reminds me a bit of California north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The landscape is pastoral and full of farms, impossibly clear inland lakes, and the most dramatic lakeside dunes I have ever seen. Comparisons like Big Sur and Santorini, Greece come to mind in terms of the views. In other words, pictures do not convey the scale or beauty of the setting.

Big Sur, California
I can't really explain my awkward open handed grip around Melizza

Santorini when Jack was a baby!
      There are roughly 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline here. The dunes tower over 400 hundred feet above the shore in some areas. Sleeping Bear Dunes is close to the magnificent Leelanau Peninsula with its cherry orchards and vineyards all in a sophisticated country setting along the lake and Traverse Bay. Within the park, there are three big attractions. First, there is the Dune Climb requiring a long march up and down the dunes to Lake Michigan. This hike is not for the faint of heart or anyone inclined to quit. However, the journey and the views are rewarding. Second, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must because it gives you dune top access to the most spectacular vistas in the park. Finally, there is the Point Oneida area of the park featuring old farms showcasing farming techniques from the turn of the century. The kids really enjoyed that area.

Port Oneida Farmers Market

Laundry Day At The Farmstead

Jack (Notice the difference from the Santorini picture)

My nephew Kevin and I after the Dune Climb

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Four Hundred Feet Above Lake Michigan

Biggest Sandbox on the planet!

Melizza is beat after the Dune Climb

     This trip was special because the extended family was able to join us. My brother and Melizza's sister along with my niece and nephew stayed in nearby Traverse City and joined us for many of our activities. My mother-in-law joined us as well. While they are not fully committed to the "glamping" scene, everyone had a great time. If you do not own an Airstream, this would be a great place to rent a lakeside home. The lakes are gorgeous up here and the water resembles the Caribbean in many places.
     The Platte River campground is located at the southern end of the National Seashore. There are two charming towns along the route to the northern end.  Glen Arbor is a cute tourist town with nice restaurants and shops. Glen Haven is a small town within the park on the shore.  Both are worth a visit.        
     There are also two islands in Lake Michigan that are part of the park.  On our next trip I will definitely visit the Manitou islands which are accessible by ferry from the charming town of Leland, Michigan. My plan is to return in the autumn next year.

P.S. Don't tell anyone about this place.  Let's keep it our little secret.

Jack in Glen Haven

Maggie and I on our morning run

Ethan on the dunes

Ethan acting like a lunatic with his toy AK-47

Melizza and I posing after our triumphant arrival at Lake Michigan

Maggie loves Michigan

The girls

Pork Taco Night