Lighthouse Keepers

Arriving at Forty Mile Point Lighthouse near Rogers City, Michigan was exciting especially since we had never volunteered at a lighthouse before. Of course our duties would be a lot different and easier than those listed above! As guest keepers our job was to inform the public about the history of the lighthouse and other structures on the property as well as work in the gift shop.

We pulled into one of four RV sites, our home for the next six weeks. A fire pit and plenty of wood was available for guest keepers. Lake Huron was right behind us!

Lake Huron, the connecting link to the four Great Lakes was known in the late 1880’s as “The Graveyard of Ships”. Many of its dangerous areas had lighthouses by which mariners could navigate. But an 18 mile section along the west shoreline of the lake from Presque Isle peninsula to the Cheybogan River was in darkness so boats were running blind. Therefore the Federal Lighthouse Board approved plans to build a lighthouse at Forty Mile Point. By 1896, the lighthouse was ready. The lighthouse sits forty miles southeast of Mackinaw Point, hence the name.

The lighthouse established 1896

The crown jewel of the park is the 4th Order Fresnel lens, that can be reached by climbing 53 steps to the top of the tower. It is the only 4th Order Lens still commissioned by the Coast Guard, still beaming a now automated light 3 seconds on/off about 16 miles across the lake.

The keeper’s house attached to the lighthouse tower is a two story duplex. One apartment was for the keeper, the other for the assistant keeper. The apartments are identical; six rooms and a full basement. Each apartment has a door leading to the lighthouse tower. Currently one apartment is occupied by a groundskeeper, the other is a museum and can be toured by visitors.

The first and oldest building on site is the bunkhouse, which was the living quarters of the builders of the lighthouse. It was later used as a barn and is now the gift shop.

Two outhouses and a fog signal building were also built in 1896. Originally the fog signals were steam powered whistles. These were replaced in the 1930’s with air horns. In 2005, replica horns were installed that are sounded by a recording.

The pilot house of the Calcite was added to the grounds in the 1990’s. The Calcite built in 1912 was one of the first self-unloading freighters to sail the Great Lakes. It was scrapped in 1961 but the pilot house was saved and restored by volunteers. It is a great hands on venue for kids as they get to ring bells and sound whistles.

The wreck of the Joseph S. Fay sits about 600ft offshore. The Fay was a wooden bulk freighter built in 1871 that ran aground in a storm in 1905 and sank. There was one fatality. A buoy marks the wreck in Lake Huron but a large portion of the starboard side is located on the beach just up the shore from the lighthouse. Visitors can kayak to the wreck or swim and snorkel or scuba dive to explore it.

We share our volunteer duties with other couples and solo volunteers. We man the gift shop, pilot house, keeper’s house and lighthouse lantern room. The buildings are open from 10am- 4pm. At the end of the day the volunteers gather around the campfire or attend the Friday night concert in Rogers City. We enjoy the camaraderie.

When we weren’t working we took it easy. Walking along the beach, kayaking, reading or looking for rocks and watching the freighters passing by.

Our time as guest keepers was a wonderful experience. We learned a lot about Michigan, the Great Lakes, lighthouses of Michigan and the history of freighters on the Great Lakes. Plus we met great people who are new friends. We will definitely be back in the future!

Drone photo by Jim W.

Robert and Bailey visit Michigan

We were fortunate that Robert and Bailey were able to take time off from their busy lives to visit us for a week while we were parked in Empire, Michigan. This area of North West Michigan along the coast of Lake Michigan is beautiful.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located in this area. During the Ice Age, continental glaciers moved from the North repeatedly burying the area under ice. Those massive glaciers enlarged river valleys and carved out the wide, deep basins of the Great Lakes. They also created “Perched Dunes” which are dunes formed by glacial sands deposited on plateaus high above the shore. The Sleeping Bear Dunes are an easily accessible, beautiful example of this type of dune. Bailey and Robert enjoyed the dune climb area. Every time one dune is scaled you hope Lake Michigan is on the other side…but no, another sand dune appears! After climbing several dunes, Sherry and Matt gave up. But Bailey and Robert made the 3.5 mile round trip to the lake and back.

Besides the dune climb, within the park is the historic village of Glen Haven. There is an old fruit canning building that now houses boats and equipment, a blacksmith shop and a maritime museum highlighting a life saving station.

The Pierce Stocking scenic drive located in the park has nice lake overlooks and a steep dune area where you can walk (or run) down to Lake Michigan. The climb back up is strenuous; some folks have to be rescued to the tune of $3000! Bailey and Robert successfully made the trip down and back up with Bailey leading the way up.

The small coastal towns were charming and the lighthouses unique. With the abundance of cherries grown here, one can always find a cherry flavored food item or wine. And since grapes grow well here too, there are wineries up and down the coast.

The Michigan lakeshore is a great place for rock hunting. Round, flat smooth stones are great for rock painting. But Michiganders tell us that prized stones to find are Petosky stones and Leland blues. Petoskey stones are unique rocks that sport a tightly-packed hexagonal pattern all over their surface. This pattern is the fossilized pattern of the prehistoric rugose corals. Leland Blue is a by-product of the iron smelting industry active during the 1800s in the town of Leland, Michigan. These pieces of blue-tinted slag glass waste are impurities formed after iron ore was heated. Hard to believe that these “useless” pieces dumped in Lake Michigan are now prized stones sought after by rock hounds!

All four of us enjoyed rock hunting at several beaches along Lake Michigan. We found some colorful and interesting stones to take home.

An interesting occurrence happened when we were rock hunting at Point Betsie Lighthouse Beach. We struck up a conversation with a Michigan woman, Sharon, who was rock hunting for the day with her daughter. As we talked more about ourselves we astonishingly learned that Sharon is a longtime friend of Diane who we had just visited at Pettibone lake (see previous blog post)!! Guess our meeting was meant to be. We plan to meet up again before we leave Michigan!

With Sharon…coincidence or fate?

We took Bailey, an accomplished knitter to an alpaca farm where she purchased some wool. We had a chance to feed the gentle alpacas and we saw alpaca moms with their cute babies called “cria”.

There was plenty of time to sit, relax and catch up. Robert and Bailey even found time to use the rollerblades they brought!

The week with Robert and Bailey flew by and it was sad to see them go. Time spent with family is to be treasured, especially when your kids become adults and forge their own lives. Unfortunately Madison was not able to visit us this time, but hopefully in the future. We end this blog post with a view of the sunset.

Michigan Friends

Stan and Diane

One benefit of traveling around the U.S. and volunteering is the people you meet. We met Diane in 2017 while volunteering at LBJ National Historical Park in Stonewall, Texas.

2017 volunteer group on LBJ ranch runway. Diane is second from left!

Since Diane has now settled in her home state of Michigan and we would be traveling in her area, we planned a meet up. It has been five years since we saw her; she is now happily partnered with Stan, someone she has known for many years. She invited us to stay at their cottage on Lake Pettibone.

Parked in front of the cottage

Being with Diane and Stan was like being with old friends that you haven’t seen in a while but when you do you just pick up where you left off when you last saw them. And Stan is one of those people that you meet for the first time and instantly feel comfortable with. He invited us for a ride in his mule for a tour of the property and to see his functional works of art—painted deer stands!

One day we went in search of fresh asparagus now in season in Michigan. A field worker was kind enough to give us asparagus just harvested that morning. And we were able to see the way it is harvested from the field. We stopped at a roadside self-service stand selling rhubarb and asparagus. Interesting that the stand accepts PayPal.

Friends Steve and Alice came by for dinner. We first met Alice when she visited Diane in Texas at LBJ National Park.

Great conversation and delicious asparagus

We took a ride on the lake in the paddle boat. It was nice to see and hear the loons. We saw a muskrat but were unable to get a photo.

It was fun watching the Baltimore Orioles, Grossbeak and Red Bellied woodpecker eat oranges and grape jelly on the porch.

We had a great time with good people! We look forward to the next visit.

Tulip Time!

While our RV was getting some repair work done in LaGrange, Indiana we took three days to head north to the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan. Tulip Time celebrates tulips, Dutch heritage, and the Holland, Michigan community. The area was settled in 1847 by Dutch leader, Dr. Albertus Van Raalte who emigrated with a group of people to escape dire economic conditions and religious persecution in the Netherlands.

In 1928 the city planted tulip bulbs imported from the Netherlands and planted them along street curbs and in parks, a tradition that continues to this day. The first Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan occurred in 1930 and is now very popular.

There are many areas around town to see tulips. The Tulip Immersion experience had signs with information about the origin of the tulip. Did you know that in 1000 AD, Turkey was the first country to plant and cultivate tulips? The Dutch did not start cultivating tulips until 1593 and only the wealthy could afford them. Today the Netherlands produces 3 billion tulip bulbs a year with the U.S. being the top importer!

At Windmill Garden Island you can see DeZwaan, an authentic, 250-year-old working Dutch windmill (that you can climb inside) that is the centerpiece of the attraction’s 36 acres of gardens. It is the only Dutch windmill in the US that grinds locally grown wheat into flour.

Different varieties of tulips can be seen at Veldheer Tulip Farm. If you see a tulip variety that you like you can order bulbs to plant in the fall. Too bad we live in an RV! There is also a wooden shoe factory and Delft China factory.

Of course there was a parade and Dutch dancing. It was near 90 degrees so we felt sorry for those wearing the Dutch costumes and band uniforms. But as a local said, “Don’t worry, we Michiganders are tough”!

As festivals go, this one had everything: beauty, culture, music, history. And even a lighthouse near town on the shore of Lake Michigan!

After enjoying the festival we made our way back to Indiana to pick up our home. Thanks to Cross RV all the repairs were done!

Nonagenarian News

Sherry’s Mom turned 90 years old on April 28! We were lucky to be able to spend the month of April with her in Shreveport, Louisiana. To celebrate her birthday we took her and her friend Kyoko out to dinner.

Of course being 90 and living on your own presents challenges even if your mind is clear. Mom tires easily and doesn’t have the strength she once had. We were able to talk her into getting her almost bare roof replaced. Since her house is small, it only took four hours.

Sherry’s brother Glenn who lives in Houston came for a visit. We had not seen him since the start of the pandemic.

Besides helping Sherry’s Mom weed her yard, plant a few tomato plants and take her shopping, we were able to take a few day trips on our own. We made a visit to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, TX and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX.

Having aging parents that want to continue to live independently is challenging. The conversations we have with Sherry’s Mom about moving to a safe and care-free retirement village or moving in with family result in anger and frustration. She wants any decision to move to be on her terms. So we hope to honor her wishes as long as it is safe to do so and continue to make frequent trips to Shreveport.

Flora, Fauna and Friends in Florida

Our winter in Florida comes to an end. We enjoyed our five months, accomplished much, visited with friends and saw many places.

Flora

Fauna

Friends

As the Florida weather becomes warmer, we pack up the RV and move West. Our next stop is a visit with Sherry’s Mom in Louisiana.

Bok Tower Gardens

Our friends Jim and Brenda suggested that we visit Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. It is a National Historic Landmark created in 1923 by Edward Bok, an author and editor of The Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok who had a winter retreat in Lake Wales purchased land on nearby Iron Mountain to transform into a sweeping landscape of lush gardens featuring a majestic Singing Tower housing a 60-bell carillon. He commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr, famous for landscaping of the White House and many of the memorials in Washington, D.C. to design the gardens. The results are a beautiful, peaceful sanctuary for both humans and wildlife.

Bok commissioned a Philadelphian architect, Milton Medary to design the carillon tower. He in turn selected a skilled sculptor, metal worker and tile maker to create an art deco and neo-Gothic tower built with a steel frame structure encased in beautiful coquina stone from St. Augustine, Florida, and pink and gray marble from Tate, Georgia. The Tower features sculpted finials, balconies, an arched entranceway, and elaborately carved screens, friezes, tiles, metalwork and sundial.

We were fortunate to visit the garden on a day that featured several carillon concerts. Here is one performance.

A very enjoyable day!

Frank Lloyd Wright in Florida

During our travels we have visited several homes and buildings built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Our favorite is Taliesin the home, school and studio Wright built near Spring Green, Wisconsin where he grew up. If you are ever in that area, Taliesin is worth a visit.

When we learned that the largest collection of buildings on one site created by Wright existed at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, we had to visit!

The 90 minute guided tour first took us to the Usonian faculty house. Usonian is an architectural style created by Wright to provide a simple, stylish small house of moderate cost designed especially for the American middle class.

Located in the heart of the campus, the Pfeiffer Chapel – with its iconic, 65-foot-tall bell tower – would be the nation’s first college chapel with an architecturally modern design, its interior defined by massive vaulted skylights framing the natural heavens above.

The Danforth Chapel, a smaller meditation chapel was built later.

Other buildings designed by Wright are the administration building, library, science building, the circular Water Dome and industrial arts building. Because Florida has a rainy season, he designed a system of covered walkways connecting his buildings known as The Esplanade that winds one and a half miles through campus.

Wright designed a building system using tapestry blocks made of concrete mixing in native sands and crushed shells. The concrete blocks had colored pieces of glass embedded that sparkled like jewels in the sunlight.

Geometric thematic elements echo throughout the campus such as cutouts in the roof of the esplanades that resemble butterfly wings and columns that resemble abstract citrus trees stamped in poured concrete.

Matt’s Florida Fishing Trip

When friends asked Matt if he wanted to go on a fishing charter, of course he said “Yes!”. So six men got up at 5am and met the boat and captain at Sarasota Bay. They were out for about six hours.

The boat early morning

They took off toward the rising sun in calm waters going about 12-15 miles out.

Since it is not Grouper season they caught mostly perch, grunts and sea bass. Every now and then a weird fish was hooked.

Overall it was a good day for fishing. Until next time….

Historic Estates and Museums in Florida

For many generations the wealthy made Florida their seasonal home so the state has many historic mansions that are open to the public. We were able to visit a few.

In Sarasota the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art is a 66 acre complex that includes the State Art Museum of Florida, Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan mansion, and Bayfront Gardens.

John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated the circus rightly called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” His success with the circus and entrepreneurial skills helped to make him, in the Roaring Twenties, one of the richest men in America. In 1911, John and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. In 1912, they began spending winters in what was then still a small town. They became active in the community and purchased more and more real estate. In 1922 they built a Venetian style mansion on Sarasota Bay that has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms. It was named Ca’ d’ Zan which means “House of John” in the Venetian dialect. You can only tour the first floor.

Because John and Mabel Ringling loved to buy fine art as they travelled the world, they built a significant collection. After their mansion was completed, John built a 21 gallery museum to house the treasure trove of paintings and art objects, highlighted by his collection of Old Masters, including Velazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens.

By the time of his death in 1936, John Ringling had lost most of his fortune during the depression. Once one of the world’s wealthiest men, it is said he died with only $311 in the bank. He willed his Sarasota mansion, the museum, and his entire art collection to the state of Florida. In 1948, the Museum’s first Director used Ringling memorabilia to open the first Circus Museum. It showcases equipment, posters, historic films from the circus and there is a huge miniature model of the circus.

The museum complex fell into disrepair until 2000 when the state passed governance of the museum to the University of Florida. The state and the university raised funds to repair and restore all the buildings to how they look today. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit!

In Fort Myers we visited the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The sign gives a short history of how both men came to build homes in Florida.

Both estates sit along the Caloosahatchee River surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees and tall palms. You cannot enter either home but can look through doorways into the rooms of the first floor. The photos below are of Edison’s home.

Ford’s home, The Mangoes, is next door. It is a Craftsman bungalow and inside has a more rustic look.

In addition to the estates there is the Edison Ford Museum that focuses on the lives of these two men and their innovations that improved society.

You can also visit Edison’s Botanic Research laboratory where Edison worked to find an American source for rubber.

A very unique structure in Ona, Florida which is in the middle of nowhere is Solomon’s Castle. Howard Solomon, an artist from New York bought 40 acres in Florida and built this home by hand in the 70’s. The castle is covered in a shiny skin of repurposed aluminum printing plates, pressed to look like chiseled stone. The structure features multiple towers and turrets, a dungeon, a drawbridge, a lighthouse and a wide moat, where Solomon built a 65-foot-long replica of a Spanish galleon. The ship’s interior houses the Boat in the Moat, a restaurant. We have never heard of Howard Solomon but apparently he is world renowned for his art and sculptures made of recycled materials of all kinds. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the castle where much of his work is displayed.