Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why we haven’t joined any membership campgrounds…

site C29

Our first few days here at the Thousand Trails Encore Park called St Clair RV Resort are reminiscent of our last stay at a Thousand Trails Encore Park. We are not members of the Thousand Trails system but have considered joining onpotholes several occasions. Why aren’t we members yet? Well there are a several reasons and some of them are reflected in this park as well.

The few Thousand Trails parks we have stayed at all seem to have a few things in common. Most of the parks we have visited are usually not strategically located to the places we really want to visit… in other words they seem to be out in the boonies! Now this is nice when we are wanting to get away from everything but often we like to explore not only our park but also the offerings in the immediate area.  Another downside is the two week limit because it interferes with our desire to have month long stays when we get to a preferred location.  Part of our reason for travel is our desire to immerse in certain areas testing them as possible future home sites. When we want to chill and get away from it all it is usually for only 3-5 days.

dead trees and stumps But what I really dislike most about the Thousand Trails parks we have stayed at is that they really just don’t seem to take care of them. The facilities and infrastructure are outdated and seemingly uncared for and this “resort” is no exception. St Clair RV Resort is a nice enough park and has a lot of potential. It is decently located about 1.5 hours north of Detroit and only a 10-15 minutes from the Blue Water Region of Port Huron, Marysville, and St Clair. However, the management has sadly let this park deteriorate…

For example, the dirt/gravel roads are full of potholes and the sites are mostly un-level and poorly maintained as tree branches prevent many rigs from using the sites.  Upon our arrival there was no staff at the gated entry but we followed ruts, stumps, fire ashesdirections for the walkie talkie connected to a staff member who rode up to the gate to register us.  In fact we have been in a line of at least ten cars waiting for someone to come open the gate. The staff member gave us a map saying we could choose any open 50 amp but there were only a few 50 amp sites in this park..  When we did choose one, the electrical box had a lock on it (as did the box in the site right next to us).  We called the park number and waited about 10 or 15 minutes for a staff member to unlock the box. Then after plugging in we discovered our 50 amp power pole had inferior power as only 108 volts comes through one leg of the power so we are using the cleaner 30 amp side.

The next day we used the washing machines here at the park and not only did we end up with stained brown clothes from apparent rust in the lines but we also overgrown and few level spotshad to wring out the clothes since none of the washers worked beyond the wash cycle and wouldn’t spin your wash. This park just shows many signs of neglect for a very long period of time…

We will be here a few more days before moving to Wayne County Fairgrounds.  Would we stay again at this park? Probably not, but it has more to do with the fact that we probably won’t visit this part of Michigan again than it has to do with the park itself since we chose it based upon its low weekly rate for this area. But certainly this stay has yet to convince us to join any membership park system.

female Oriole with youngmale Oriole with young

For many others out there, and some of whom we have met, membership parks are the perfect compliment to their full time lifestyle but it simply doesn’t work for us… yet. It may do so in the future when we aren’t as picky as to the locations we want to stay. Other than maybe reducing our overnight camping fees we just haven’t seen the value of joining a membership club system. So for now we will continue to wander around the USA and look for those little campground gems nearer the spots we want to stay…

Friday, June 28, 2013

What was that nasty crunching sound?

2013-06-26_11-06-24_92We left the KOA later than normal since we only had about a 100 mile drive . We plotted a route across the southern farmland of Ontario as we find this part of the Province rather scenic with its mixture of rolling hills and bright green recently planted farmlands dotted with dairy farms each with fun striped colors on their silos. Most were either green and white striped or red and white striped and we wondered if there was any significance to the colors or if it was just a bit of frivolity the farmers had when painting their barns and silos.

Last sight of CanadaWell it wasn’t long and the signs in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada started directing all cars and RVs to the left lane as we were about to enter the USA on the Blue Water Bridge. As we crossed the last bridge leaving Canada they fleeced us for one more $10.50 toll. Then as we got to the US customs they had all RV’s going into only two lanes with cars. I thought this was odd since it makes more sense for RV’s to go in with trucks due to their size. Then it was our turn so we started forward into our lane hoping the customs folks would not take any of our goods.

2013-06-26_10-56-14_736The lane I was in had a traffic cone just below the officer’s window and as I tried to maneuver in such a way as to not hit it I heard that nasty crunching sound that RV’ers never want to hear. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I had just lost my passenger side mirror… sigh…now I know how Vic and Pam felt and worse, knew what it was going to cost me after reading about their encounter. The custom’s guy was as rude as most of them always seem to be and simply said “Well aren't you going to get out and pick up the broken pieces of mirror?” “Pull forward and pick it up.” … and  Sharon jumped out to quickly retrieve the pieces.

2013-06-26_11-04-01_78A uniformed officer directed over to the lanes on the left since the terse fellow said he wanted the “State” to look over their building to see if we had damaged it. I assumed he figured they wanted to make a claim on our insurance but as I noticed and the”State” also found, there was no significant damage to their building. In fact the “State” lady was just the opposite of Mr. Custom’s guy as she was kind and understanding even sharing a few stories about how she hoped that one day she wanted to do what we were doing in eight years after she retires. She also told us that although the signage doesn't say so, lane ten is for wider RV's...I guess we know that for next time.....

After chatting awhile with the nice lady, she gave us the go ahead to drive on out. We couldn't believe inspection?  I can only assume they felt we had enough issues for one day and just let us through.  I used the passenger side camera in lieu of a mirror and merged on into traffic.  We talked about the accident and could not believe that neither one of us noticed the tight space but the lady explained that the outside is wide and that the inside narrowed after they added another inside wall for their equipment.  I was focused on the cone and Sharon on our passports so stuff just happens... at least we ate a homemade pizza that day…

2013-06-27_12-13-44_531Well there you have it.  It took a bit over two years before we incurred our first costly damage to the the RV. An estimate from the maker of the mirror said it will cost us about $600 shipped to where we are in Michigan. We will be here at a Thousand Trails Encore Park called St Clair RV Resort where we will stay till July 3rd. Then we will head southwest a bit over to the Wayne County Fairgrounds & RV Park near Bellville, Michigan where we will visit with one of Sharon’s cousins.Thankfully her cousin consented to our shipping the mirror to his house so I can hopefully install it by myself while at the fairgrounds… all in the life of a fulltimer…

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Last few days in Canada… Back to the USA…

Prospect Hill Campground site

St MarysWe left the KOA campground and took a route that would take us through the farm country in south central Ontario. The drive was very relaxing and took us through many neat little Ontario towns. I love the mixture of architectural styles that is found here in Ontario. You can see much of the European influence in many of the buildings.

The drive was about 120 miles and our destination for our last few days in Canada was Prospect Hill Campground near the town of St Marys. The web page said the park has large grassy sites available to accommodate everything from pop-up campers, to 40ft rigs. Well that may be true but there are some very tight Stratfordturns one of which required backing up to make a sharp U-turn. There are also many trees to contend with that will no doubt “touch” the RV if you are of our size. But once we found our spot we loved it… There is a lot of seasonal folks in the park but we found them to be very friendly. Our site is number 125 which has only 30 amp hydro (Canadian for electricity for those that don’t know) and water on our site. We also have a small fire pit and a picnic table. But the best part of this site is we are parked parallel to a nice little flowing creek. Perfect for a few days stay!!

Stratford Another great thing about this park is that it is one of the Canadian Passport America Parks and the total cost for each night comes to $22.05 which includes Canada’s hefty 13 percent tax. We used up the last of our Canadian dollars to pay our last nights rent leaving me with only three Canadian dimes. I also get to enjoy our neighbors bird feeders where the orioles and goldfinches have to battle the different colored morphs of fox squirrels. I have seen all black ones before but there are some here that are black bodied with a brown tail. Fun to watch them in the morning as they love to play with the chair cushion of a pink chair belonging to one of our neighbors. Great morning entertainment!

Stratford There are several interesting looking towns nearby that we visited during our two day stay. The first day we stopped at the closest town of St. Mary’s and really liked the look and feel of this quaint little town. A mixture of nice architecture and culture seemed to exist here. Further out is the town of Stratford which is larger than St Mary’s yet had the same look and feel but even more culture.. We stopped near the town center and took a leisurely stroll while admiring the buildings built in the late 1800’s along with all the beautiful greenery.

The next day we traveled over to the small town called Lucan which turned out to be not really worthy of the drive over to it. It was a small town with no real energy felt by us… Next up was the largest town nearby called London. There are about 1/3 of million people living in this city. We drove all around but never had a good feel for this one as well. No energy and a city that appeared to be struggling with its growth. Not a place we would likely want to visit again in the future. Oh well you can’t always win them all.

fox squirrels   fox squirrels

Earlier in the day I had an email from Susie and George of the blog Our Awesome Travels as they were within 40 miles of where we were and they invited us to come over to stay at the place they are.camping. Had we already not had reservations (which is why I hate making them) we would have changed plans and zipped over there to experience the camaraderie of the upcoming Canada Day Holiday. As uneventful as our drive was over to London and Lucan we thought we would have been much better off visiting George and Susie… Oh well, next time…

fox squirrelsfox squirrels

We are now off to Michigan where we will cross the border at Sarnia and hope that the customs folks don’t take all our food…

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Drive Around Southern Ontario…

Barrie Ontario

Toronto CondosSince neither of us has ever been to this part of Canada before we wanted to get out and about to explore what was to found here in case we ever return. One day we drove to the area north of our RV park and the next day we headed south to explore the city of Toronto.

But first a bit about the RV park here – Toronto North/Cookstown KOA. We are about 40 minutes north of Toronto and about the same distance south of what they call the Cottage Country which starts around the towns of Innisfil and Barrie. The terrain here is rolling hills that are mostly developed with little native woodlands left. There seems to be lots of dairy farms in this region. The park itself is nice but a bit pricey, after all it is a KOA. The only real negative is all the road are gravel/dirt so it is quite dusty here with all the traffic. This park is completely full because (lucky us) we got a site during the 2013 AAC Western Ontario Regional Championships for Dog Agility. This also explained why there were so many dogs in our park as well…

Dog Agility ContestantDog Agility Contestant

Only in Canada Eh?We had never heard of such an event so we walked over to find out what it was all about. People obviously spent a great deal of time training dogs of all breeds to be able to go through a labyrinth of obstacles such as jumps, hoops, tunnels and they even weave through a maze. While we enjoyed watching this event held just outside the entrance to our park we took note that for many this was indeed serious business because when one of the doggie contestants stopped during her trial and jumped right up on a judge's lap the judge was stoic with no reaction. It was obvious the owner was quite peeved.  It was then we noticed we were the only ones laughing so we thought it best for us to head on to one of our drives.

Wasaga Beach

Our drive north took us west on 89 out into the farmland through some neat little towns and one we really liked called New Tecumseth. It looked like a neat town and an area we could enjoy spending some time at. But we continued north on 18 where we encountered much hillier land that was more heavily wooded and it was quite beautiful through this area. Before we knew it we had reentered civilization and were nearing Wasaga Beach, a town on Lake Huron. This area is also home to Wasaga Beach Provincial Park which has a 14 kilometer sandy beach located on Georgian Bay and said to be the Longest Freshwater Beach in the World!!!

CN TowerAfter checking out the “well manicured” beach we also drove on to the town of Barrie which we stopped to walk along the shorefront of Lake Simcoe and the harbor of Barrie. This looked like a fun town and a place where we would enjoy ourselves for a short stay as the there seems to a lot to do with many quaint bars and inviting bistros to visit.

The next day we took a day trip over to our tour guides' house since Jeff and Martine offered to show us Toronto. Jeff drove us all over the city and we saw every sight imaginable in a city of nearly 3 million. Highlights? The CN Tower for sure, but the waterfront was gorgeous especially since there were many tall ships in commemorating the war of 1812 at the waterfront festival. It was there that Martine suggested we stop at a Poutine Vendor to have fresh cut french fries.  Poutine is fries with gravy and cheese, but we opted to share jumbo regular Poutine Vendor fries...yum!  Next we drove all around the city enjoying beautiful towering new and old buildings then into many of the cultural areas such as little Italy and Chinatown.  Meandering through neighborhoods we were treated to what it must be like to be a resident in one of the many unique districts within Toronto… ohhh and to add to the festive energy that day, the Blue Jays won the 11th game in a row while we were there.

CN TowerToronto CanadaShips in Toronto Harbor

The whirlwind tour gave us lots of ideas for where we want to visit a bit longer the next time we pass through this neck of the woods in Canada. We were very impressed by the cleanliness, the green countryside and the celebration of summer seen in the floral displays in the towns and yards everywhere we traveled.

Oh and the best part was that Jeff and Martine took us back to their lovely home north of the city and treated to some fine micro brewed Canadian beverages and a great homemade Italian dinner complete with wine and dessert… magnifico!!!

Today we head down the road and not sure where we will spend tonight… looking at a stay near Lucan Ontario if they have a spot…

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Border crossing and back into Canada…


As our mini-vacation came to an end we packed up and made our way back down to Tonawanda New York where we had left our RV. We heard that the border crossing back into the USA was always long and tedious but we must have timed it pretty well as there were only a few cars ahead of us in our line. The USA customs officer asked us several questions and then we asked him one about bringing back any live plants. We were concerned that when we bring our live herbs back into the USA after we cross over again in the RV that we might have them confiscated and he pretty much assured us that it was true… Sigh… The USA customs officer was also much less pleasant than the Canadian fellow and seemed to have more of a power chip on his shoulder though we passed through unscathed.

Niagara Falls Parkway 018We got back to Colton RV and paid the bill for the installation of our 135 watts solar system. The system looked nicely installed but we really didn’t care much for where they selected to mount the solar charge controller but we take partial blame since it didn’t occur to us to ask where they were planning to install it. After we paid we were also a little surprised that no one really came out to summarize what was done so we were left to do our own walk through.  We did find the users manual as well as the new panel inside and I climbed on top to peek at their handiwork. Our receipt also reflected that the technician replaced the DC fuse to our generator as we asked but upon testing, we discovered the generator still wouldn’t start. Apparently they didn’t test to see if the fuse was indeed the problem so I took off the panel where the fuses are located on the generator and pulled all three only to find one was blown. I walked back inside to get a fuse, replaced it and now the generator works just fine.

Niagara Falls Parkway 046We spent one more night at Colton RV and really appreciated not having to leave right away. We met some nice folks on either side of us who both traded in their 5th wheels and purchased new Tiffin Allegro Open Road motorhomes. Early the next morning we packed up the RV and started our journey back into Canada to stay at the Toronto North/Cookstown KOA near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This park is out of our budget as it will cost nearly 58 per night but we wanted to visit Toronto to be near our friends Jeff and Martine before heading on. This time I made sure the Canadian maps were working properly in our Garmin before heading across.

Niagara Falls Parkway 005Once we arrived at the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara we queued up in the far left lane right behind one other 5th wheel. A few minutes later a nice Canadian Border Agent lady asked me a few questions and asked for our passports. Then she and another fellow boarded the motorhome to look around asking us to remain outside.  They really didn’t stay too long before coming out and handing us our passports saying we were good to go. While waiting for the agents look over the motorhome we were able to enjoy the view of the Niagara Falls one last time.

Niagara Falls Parkway 024With a happy Garmin loaded with Canadian mapping we made our way toward Toronto. As we neared the city the traffic picked up noticeably and at times came to a complete stop. Once we headed north on the 400 we thought all was going to be great but the traffic was actually worse there. Our friends warned us about the traffic and since we are retired and patient we took it easy as we plodded along. Eventually we ventured off the highway and pulled into the Toronto North/Cookstown KOA. Happily there happened to be a promotion going on this weekend so the site fees were less than anticipated!

Pa and Buffalo NY 034After setting up we took a short drive over the Lake Simcoe and picked up some groceries at a No Frills grocery. We went down every row and enjoyed browsing the Canadian brands and offerings.  After touring the shoreline of Lake Simcoe we headed back to the park but stopped by the nearby Outlet Mall before going home. And lo and behold we actually bought something as Sharon found a pair of purple-liscious tennis shoes she just HAD have and for the super sale price of only twenty bucks… score Sharon!  We will stay here for a few days to tour Toronto with our very own fantastic tour guides Jeff and Martine…  really looking forward to this time with them…

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Niagara River Parkway…

Me Jeff and MartineTram over the whirlpoolThe Niagara Falls even as grand as they are aren’t the only worthy attraction in this part of Canada. There is also a very scenic drive along the Niagara River Parkway with lots of interesting spots to check out. This route runs  from the town of Fort Erie on Lake Erie in the south to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Lake Ontario at its northern reaches. Everything from the area called Table Rock in Niagara Falls northward is designated as an Ontario Scenic Highway however the Brock's Monument southern stretch is also very nice. The Parkway runs right along the Niagara River for 55 Kilometers (using Kilometers since we are in Canada eh...)

So what is there to see along the Niagara Parkway? Well we weren’t very sure either so we called in the professionals… Who were the professionals?? Well, none other than Jeff and Martine, a wonderful Canadian couple we met during our first winter in Bonita Springs Florida. We remembered that Martine was once a tour guide in Canada for the Niagara Falls area and she had urged that if we were ever in Niagara she and Jeff would love to show us around. We emailed them and sure enough they were glad to meet up with us and show us around Niagara Falls, lucky us!

Horse Chestnut Trees The plan was to take us to the places we might not otherwise see. Along the Niagara Parkway they showed us oodles of places to visit. There is the Whirlpool Rapids, the Botanical Garden, the Butterfly Conservatory, Brock's Monument at Queenston Heights and at the end of the northernmost part of the Parkway there is Fort George and the quaint little village of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

This is not a road in which to be in a hurry with all the turnouts for views of the Niagara River and the fact that it is only 40 km/h for a speed limit in many parts (about 25 mph).The total length of the parkway is 55 km (34 mi) and since the Niagara Parks Commission manages the whole parkway the attention to detail in the landscaping is impeccable. A really nice thing about this Parkway is that there are plenty of places to park for free (unlike anywhere in the town of Niagara Falls). There are even many spots along the Parkway with benches and picnic tables, for you to stop and enjoy lunch at some of the scenic lookouts. One really cool find for me was that there are lots of Horse Chestnut Trees growing along the parkway and what beautiful trees they are.

Niagara Floral Clock Some other interesting stops our guides treated us to were the Niagara Floral Clock which is one of the largest floral clocks (made entirely out of flowers) in the world with a diameter of about 40 ft.  There was also a brief stop at Brock's Monument, a column which commemorates the death of Sir Isaac Brock during the Battle of Queenston Heights and the parkland walkways around the monument offer up a nice walk and some fantastic views of Lake Ontario and neighboring Toronto in the distance. A stop was also made to see The Old Scow which is more interesting after hearing or reading the tale about how this ship became grounded and the harrowing rescue of the crew just short of going over the largest of the Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls.

Niagara GlenOur tour guides also took us past a place called Niagara Glen and told us about the great hiking there. This intrigued us so much that the next day I hiked down the trail that begins with an 80 step metal stairway located in the back of the picnic area that leads down into the Niagara River gorge. The trails spread out along the densely forested river basin that is strewn with gigantic slabs of rock. At the bottom I watched as the jet boats navigated the frothing rapids of the river. The trail is very rocky, a bit slick, and has some steep inclines and of course ends with the staircase back up out of the canyon (now you know why I know how many steps there were). A great hike and worth doing if  you like such things and best of all the parking and park entrance are FREE

Niagara-on-the-LakeThere are many other interesting stops one can make anywhere along this Parkway. You can visit Laura Secord Homestead or take a stroll or picnic at the Dufferin Islands Nature Area. History buffs will rejoice with all the War of 1812 forts and sites and historical plaques to read. At the end of our wonderful tour our fantastic tour guides took as to a really great Brazilian eatery, the Copacabana, where we gorged ourselves on all kind of grilled meat delights. Fantastic food but at a high price as everything in and around Niagara Falls is very expensive. Get a few miles away from the Falls and prices will become more normal for this part of Canada…

Welland Canal Lock 3   Welland Canal Lock 3

I shouldn’t fail to mention one of the neatest spots our tour guides took us to that was not along the Parkway but was over to the nearby Welland Canal. What is there? It is a canal that was engineered by man as a means of getting around the precipitous drop at Niagara Falls that no ship built could withstand. It was such a treat to watch how these locks work and how the engineers solved how to utilize gravity and water to do the work of lowering ships with such heavy cargo. It is quite tricky to navigate the big oceanic vessels through the locks and they are city of Torontorequired to give control to local Captains to pilot them through (Martine's dad was one such Captain).  The Locks are not to be missed as they are definitely a highlight for those like us who have never witnessed such a feat!

Now it is back into the states to pick up our solarized RV and then back into Canada for a visit to the city of Toronto…

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada…


Sharon at American Falls

Niagara Falls Day 1 001We left the Cinderella Motel and Campground later than planned since it was raining  that morning. When the rain let up right after lunch we hit the road to take the RV over to Colton RV in Tonawanda, New York to get a solar panel installed. We pulled into their courtesy site and packed up the car for our four day mini-vacation to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

As we arrived at the Rainbow Bridge which crosses over to Canada we had to Niagara Falls Day 1 003pay a toll and then we queued up in one of the many Canadian customs lines.  After presenting our passports and answering a few questions about what we were going to do in Canada, what we had in our car,  how long we were staying and whether or not we were bringing guns into the country we were given our passports back and waved into the country. We did claim the 18 pack of Labatt's Blue Beer and two bottles of wine with no worries from the customs folks.

Niagara Falls Day 1 008As we entered we turned off our cell phones ability to bounce off cell towers in the USA (*228 option 2 as per Verizon’s request) this would give us the ability to use our phones in our temporary USA plus Canada Verizon plan.  This plan however would only give us the ability to text (unlimited) but phone calls or data would be really pricey.  Our next step was to uncheck all data reception in our settings and we were ready for Canada.  As we looked at our Garmin after crossing into Canada it suddenly struck that I had never loaded the Canadian Maps into our GPS as the only thing that showed up in Canada on the GPS was a white background for Canada… Yikes! So we drove around Niagara Falls for a while until we stumbled onto to Stanley Street where we found the Ramada Inn where we were staying.

Niagara Falls Day 1 015

Once we got checked in and settled into our room we of course had a few of those Labatt’s we brought along.  Happily the hotel room had a mini fridge to store the others.  We then walked the four blocks down the hill to where we were treated to our first view of the American Falls. For those that have never been to Niagara Falls it is composed of three falls, the smallest one is Bridal Veil Fall, Niagara Falls Day 1 029the next largest one is the American Falls, and the largest one is called Horseshoe Falls. When we were looking at the American Falls we didn’t know we were also looking at Bridal Veil Falls as it is the falls slightly separated to the right side from the larger body of falls..

Wow these are some very impressive falls so we really couldn’t imagine seeing the larger Horseshoe Falls. The lighting is ever changing on the falls and as a result you find yourself taking 100’s of photos because every time we took a at Horseshoe Fallspicture we would look up to see another stunningly beautiful sight. After we got our fill of the beauty of the American Falls we ambled our way along the guard rail and rock wall toward the larger falls. As we approached Horseshoe Falls the roar of the water was getting louder but the thing we saw initially was a large cloud of mist that comes up from the crashing waters below the falls. Then we saw the sight that stopped us in our tracks… WOW!!!

Horseshoe Falls edgeNo doubt this is one of the seven natural wonder’s of the world… the misty cloud Niagara Falls Day 1 041lingered in the middle of the falls on this day and as the light changed we saw various fragments of rainbows in the mist. The power of the water going over the edge is impressive to say the least. We stayed and watched Horseshoe Falls into the evening when at 9pm the Falls were lit as they do every night with spotlights What an awesome scene we shared with an eclectic crowd from countries all over the world.  Feeling awed but tired, we then made our way back up the the steep hill and the four blocks back to the hotel.

A pretty fabulous start to our mini-vacation….