GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 5: WHITEFISH, MONTANA

Breakfast this morning was another grab-and-go affair.  Due to the labor shortages throughout the U.S. National Park system (and just about everywhere else), the hotel was unable to staff the restaurant for breakfast.  Instead, tasty hot and cold items were offered to-go at the coffee bar.  Our voucher included both, so we selected a delicious veggie quesadilla to eat hot and took the fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait with us for lunch.

The day started with a hike at Swift Creek Trailhead, just outside of the town of Whitefish.  The Whitefish Trail System consists of 15 trailheads and 47 miles of natural surface trails through forests, wildlife habitats, and lakes.  During our hike we learned about the different trees and plants, as explained here by Scott:

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Scott, our tour director

If you ever come across a plant, flower, or animal you can’t identify, check out an ap called “Seek,” created by iNaturalist, which is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.  One member of our group was using it and explained how it worked.  I am currently finding it very helpful in identifying the flowers and plants I photographed before I learned about the ap.  After opening Seek, I hold my phone’s camera up to my computer monitor and let the ap try to identify the photo on the screen.  It works!

“Pearly Everlasting,” as identified by using the “Seek” ap

Following our hike, we were treated to a taste of Wild Huckleberry liquor.  More about huckleberries on the next hike of the day…

Next, we headed to Whitefish Mountain Resort where we boarded chairlifts that took us to the top of “Big Mountain,” where the 2001 U.S. Alpine Skiing Championships were held.  At an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, the 360-degree views of Whitefish and Whitefish Lake were spectacular.

We had the option of riding in a gondola or chair. Much to my surprise, Bruce agreed to join me in the chair!

Bruce and I ventured off to hike a loop trail to see more of the mountain.  The low clouds were creating such dynamic views and weather—warm when the sun broke through, and cold when the clouds blocked the sun. 

Along the way, we came across huckleberry bushes, so my continuous pauses to snack on the tasty berries along the way allowed for the remainder of our group to catch up with us. 

Huckleberries are a cousin of the blueberry, but smaller and purple in color.  In the gift shops throughout Glacier National Park, Huckleberry everything is available for purchase.  From flavored chocolates to preserves, they have it all.  In addition to the Wild Huckleberry liquor, Scott treated us to huckleberry licorice, which was quite tasty.  Nothing, however, beats a fresh huckleberry picked from the bush!

The high-altitude hike back up to the chairlift was a bit steep, which momentarily took the wind out of Bruce and some of the others, but I surprisingly managed ok.  I was pleased that the previous weeks of post-swim, masked track walks in my community’s gym had built up my lungs for the thin air.

Chamaenerion-angustifolium

While riding the chairlift back down, we were treated to sweet view of a mother and baby deer cuddled up under a tree.  Wildlife!  I tried to get a picture, but the chairlift was moving too quickly, and I missed it.  Oh well, how about these two babies that were hanging out in our backyard (several years back), while their mom foraged for food, instead?

In the summer, Big Mountain is also a popular destination for trail riding, so I caught this guy in action on his bicycle.  Considering we were moving on the chairlift, and he was flying down the mountain, I’m surprised my little Panasonic Lumix was able to capture these shots as good as it did:

Tansies- “Golden Buttons”

The remainder of the day was open for an afternoon and evening at leisure, so we checked out the town of Whitefish and ended our day with an early dinner,  topped off with Sweet Peaks ice cream.  Selecting two new (and different) flavors, Bruce and I had enjoyed five in all during our Montana visit. Yummy!

Mural on the side of Sweet Peaks Ice Cream
Tile and glass mosaic on the side of a craft shop. There was one for each season. This was my favorite, “Summer.”

Before walking back to the hotel, we picked up a copy of Flathead Beacon to read about local life.  The free newspaper includes “Police Blotter,” a listing of calls received by the local police and sheriff departments.  Check out some of these entries: 

Friday 7/29

8:49 a.m.  The actions of a man jumping around and climbing on a wall was described as gorilla-like.

9:05 p.m. A woman called to tell law enforcement she was missing the calendar that usually hung on her wall.

Saturday 7/30

9:05 a.m.  A woman called to complain about the governor.

7:58 p.m.  While playing with his owner, a dog accidentally chewed on a watch and dialed 911.

8:54 p.m.  Two dogs kept chasing the local deer.

Sunday 7/31

11:03 p.m. A bull and 10-12 cows escaped their pasture and headed east.

Tuesday 8/2

12:22 a.m.  A grizzly bear knocked over a trash can and made off with a bag of garbage.

8:19 a.m.  A man was in the process of divorcing his wife but she kept sending him explicit photos.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if those were the “crime” reports in our local news?  I’ll trade it for shootings any day!

Next up: An Unplanned Surprise Visit to Moraine Lake

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 4: RIDING THE RED JAMMERS ALONG GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD

Gazing out our balcony window towards the mountains, I could see it was probably going to be another gloomy day. After I shot the photo above, clouds enveloped the mountain peaks, and rain threatened to ruin our Red Jammer ride on the iconic 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road.  At least that’s what we thought…

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Our group of 24 divided ourselves into two “jammers,” but when Scott hopped into ours, he noticed there was room for two more.  None of the other 14 in the other jammer wanted to budge, though, so we had a little extra elbow room, which was nice. 

Fortunately, the rain held off so Zack, our driver, could roll back the canvas roof top, allowing us to enjoy better views of the mountain peaks surrounding us.  We were riding in style!

In the early days, visitors experienced Glacier National Park on horses.  When gravel roads were built, bumpy horseback rides were replaced by equally bumpy automobile rides.  In 1914, White Motor Company touring buses began taking passengers through the park. 

Fast-forward to today, and what has become the “Red Jammers” are part of the largest, longest-running fleet of vehicles in the National Park Service.  From 1999 – 2002, Ford Motor Company refurbished the buses, each getting a new V8 bi-fuel engine and a new chassis atop its original wheel base.  They are now a safer, cleaner, environmentally friendly, and more comfortable ride to go with that classically stylish look.

The “Jammer” part of their name comes from the bus drivers who were affectionately known as gear jammers, because they had to jam the buses into gear so frequently.

Zack, our driver, did a great job of sharing what he had learned about the jammers and the sites we saw during our ride.  Whenever we were about to approach a beautiful vista or a roadside waterfall, he slowed down and announced, “Prairie Dog!” giving us permission to stand up and take pictures through the rolled-back roof.  Bruce and I looked at each other simultaneously and said, “Meerkat!” in memory of one of our favorite critters at the San Diego Zoo.

Our adventure took us from St. Mary Village west to Lake MacDonald, with a stop at Logan Pass, the highest elevation of the road at 6,646 ft.  Until we arrived at Logan Pass Visitor Center, it was, indeed, a gloomy ride.  The fog had lifted enough to catch some views, but it was a bit depressing.

As Bruce, Scott, and I hiked the trails behind the visitor center in search of spotting a big horn sheep (as Scott was sure we would see), I lamented to Scott that Bruce’s and my luck of having great weather during our previous travels had run out.  Not more than two minutes later, magic!  The clouds began to lift, we could see the glaciers, and my sullen mood brightened along with the beautiful blue sky.  (We never did see a mountain goat, but we did spot this squirrel—wildlife!):

The windy, hairpin-curved road down from Logan Pass to Lake MacDonald was spectacular, making Going-to-the-Sun Road a must-see highlight of Glacier National Park.  The road was the first to be recognized on the National Historic Registers as a Place, Landmark, and Civil Engineering Landmark.   It crosses the Continental Divide, which marks the border between the eastern and western portions of North America.  Rivers originating east of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while rivers with headwaters west of the divide flow to the Pacific.  The panoramic views of the mountains and glaciers along the road was breathtaking!

Our ride terminated at the Lake MacDonald Lodge, a beautiful location for our lunch break.  While others dined in the lodge’s restuarant or skipped lunch, we parked ourselves on a bench behind the lodge to enjoy the panoramic views of the lake and enjoy the remainder of our huge grab-and-go breakfast.  The setting was lovely, and it was a perfect end to a morning spent on one of the most beautiful roads I had ever traveled.

David, our bus driver, met us at the lodge and drove us the remainder of the way to the Grouse Mountain Lodge, in Whitefish, Montana; our home for the next two nights.  As soon as I walked into the lobby and saw the massive rock fireplace with the carved wood mantel, I immediately loved the place.  Besides, it had a pool—tiny, but large enough to prepare for some upcoming swim meets by doing a modified workout, and logging some yardage into my U.S. Masters Swimming Go the Distance fitness log.  At just 30 feet long, the biggest challenge was trying to remember my lap count!

Grouse Mountain Grill was where we savored our included group dinner to put an exclamation point on the day.  The veggie option on our limited menu was grilled cauliflower, bok choy, (and more), in a coconut-ginger curry sauce.  Salmon or chicken was an optional addition, so we extended our salmon streak and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

We got a kick out of the dinner served to a couple in our group.  It was Flinstone-sized full rack of ribs for each of them!  They happily enjoyed the remainder of that rack throughout the following day.

The dessert, however, was what those of us who ordered chocolate torte raved about throughout the remainder of our tour.  It was simply amazing.  What a fabulous end to a wonderful day!

Next up:  A Bird’s Eye View of Whitefish, Montana

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 3:  ST. MARY LAKE & MANY GLACIER

Except for this day during our cruise of St. Mary Lake, it was amazing how the sun came out during the best possible time during our sightseeing throughout our travels.  Mother Nature worked her magic the previous day when we were enjoying the views of Waterton Lake from the Prince of Wales Hotel.  As the afternoon progressed, the clouds enveloped the area when it no longer mattered.  The same thing happened as our tour through the Canadian Rockies progressed, and we were amazed at the timing of the weather changes—all in our favor!

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Located on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake is about ten miles long. Taking a narrated cruise was a wonderful way to see it and learn about the area.  It was breathtaking to be surrounded by the steep mountains that began forming 170 million years ago, and to be on one of the park’s more than 130 named lakes.  In all, the park encompasses more than 1 million acres!

I never saw Stanley Kubricks film, The Shining, but the opening scene was filmed at the lake.  Scott showed us the beginning of the movie, so we could see the lake from a different perspective.  Of course, the weather was perfect when they filmed the movie, but the low-hanging clouds did add drama to the gloom we experienced.

Halfway through the cruise, we docked for a short hike to see a beautiful waterfall:

White Twisted Stalk- The flower that blooms from this plant is white and hangs from kinked twisted stalks. Towards the end of the season, it produces a berry that starts out green, changes to orange, then bright red.

During the afternoon, we headed out to Many Glacier Hotel, located in the northeastern area of Glacier National Park.  Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914-15, the hotel is situated overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake.  The area is known as “Switzerland of North America,” and it was beautiful!  A hiking path circles the lake with great views of Many Glacier, the lake, and the hotel.  If you are lucky enough, you will also see a lot of wildlife.  Along with Linda, one of the other group members, we hiked ahead at a faster pace and just caught a glimpse of a female moose with her baby as they ran across our path and headed into the woods.  I tried to capture a photo, but all I got was a blurry shot of Mom and the butt of her baby.  It all happened so quick!  As it turned out, that was our only moose sighting of the trip; and, other than elk, we never saw any other large animals, such as bears or mountain goats.  It became a joke with our group as Scott’s confidence in seeing wildlife resulted in spotting nothing but small rodents.  That was where our luck ended…

A gloomy view during our walk near the Many Glacier Hotel
Scott capturing a reflection photo
Many Glacier Hotel

I thoroughly enjoyed all of our walks and hikes, though, and savored the fresh air and gorgeous (“gowajus”) sites.  (That was another joke with the group.  Linda, her friend, Wanda, and their husbands were from New Jersey; so, Scott playfully poked fun at their accent with his Kiwi/Australian/Canadian/British accent—a melting pot of some of the places he had lived since leaving New Zealand at the age of 19.)  We laughed a lot on this trip!

The evening was spent back at St. Mary Village where Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed using our dinner vouchers for a repeat of the night before, except for a change in Sweet Peaks ice cream flavors.  We even had the same nice waitress!

Next up:  Riding the Red Jammers along Going-to-the-Sun Road

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAYS 1 & 2:  FROM CALGARY TO MONTANA

Bruce and I headed back up north again, this time on a small group land tour of Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.  We had never done a 100% land-based tour, and it was our first time traveling with Odysseys Unlimited, a company that specializes in small group tours of 12-24 people.  Like everything else in travel this year, the tour was sold out, and 24 is the largest group size we would travel with in the future.  Fortunately, we had a good group, though. Everybody was punctual; and, amazingly, nobody even caught so much as a cold.  We returned home from our 11-day trip on September 1, and we are happily Covid-free.

Let’s get the trip review out of the way first, so I can move on to what I like sharing the most.  Would I travel with Odysseys Unlimited again?  Absolutely!  The tour was excellent, and our tour director, Scott Robertson, did a fabulous job.  Buyer beware, though:  The Covid-19 policy in place when you book (and pay for) the trip may not be the same by the time the trip actually occurs.  We booked with Odyssey expecting mandatory masking on the bus (as stated in their policy); however, Canada dropped that policy right before we arrived, so it was dropped for our tour. The majority of our group still masked; however, some did not.  As a result, us maskers tended to gravitate towards each other during group dinners whenever possible.

Having said that, I’m sure glad we booked a group tour and paid for it before the prices went up!  The prices of everything up there has skyrocketed, so we would have probably paid more for the trip had we done the exact same things on our own.  In addition, when car parking lots were full at the highlight spots, our bus/ “motor coach” was able to drive right on in to the separate bus parking area without a problem.

Otherwise, my only other recommendation would be to avoid flying with Air Canada if at all possible.  Ranked as one of the worst airlines in the world, they lived up (or down) to that reputation.  Our flight to Calgary was canceled, and we ended up arriving seven hours later than we were originally scheduled, missing our only day in Calgary.  The silver lining was being re-booked on Delta Airlines and through Minneapolis rather than Toronto.  Our experience flying home on Air Canada reminded me of uncomfortable past flights on old United Airlines planes with cramped seats, and that’s not saying much.

Now that I have the negativity out of the way, it’s all positive from here on out.

Since Bruce and I arrived at the Hyatt in Calgary too late to join the group for the welcome dinner, we didn’t meet everybody until the following day when we set off for Glacier National Park.  As it turned out, at 60, I was the youngest of the group by ten years; however, most of the group were active enough to handle the walks and hikes.

Before our lunch stop at Waterton Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which adjoins Montana’s Glacier National Park, we took in the views from the Prince of Wales Hotel.  The wood structure was built in 1927 and perched high above the lake.  Thankfully, it survived a fire in 2017, because it is a beautiful hotel with spectacular panorama views!

(For all pictures in my blogs, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Prince of Wales Hotel
Hotel lobby

Our group lunch was in town, followed by enough free time on our own to walk to Cameron Falls, see the town, and walk along the lakefront.  This was the first of many beautiful waterfalls and lakes we enjoyed during the trip, and my first opportunity to test out my hip after having a second surgery on it last spring (the first was in 2014).  SUCCESS!  Eleven days of hiking and a lot of walking with zero pain.  Thanks, Dr. Andrachuk!

Cameron Falls

After crossing the 49th parallel into Montana, we arrived at St. Mary Village, our base for two nights.  This is where we had the gloomiest weather; however, it rained while we were enjoying our dinner, and then stopped before we left the hotel’s restaurant and were greeted with this:

We saw both ends of the rainbow, but just missed seeing the middle, due to the cloud cover.  Scott happened to capture the rainbow in its entirety on his phone and was nice enough to share it with the group:

Beautiful flower baskets hung from every hotel and in every town we visited.

What an amazing first night in the Rockies!  That beautiful sight followed what proved to be a big surprise for dinner.  Our voucher covered a three-course limited-menu dinner at the hotel’s Snowgoose Grill, which was fabulous, even though it is rated only 3.5 of 5 on Trip Advisor.  I should have photographed the massive and delicious marinated strawberry, goat cheese, and candied pecan salad that was served on a bed of mixed greens.  It was as large as a main course salad I would order in a restaurant for lunch.  Bruce’s soup was tasty!  We both ordered salmon, which we ended up choosing for our main course every night, when dinner was included during the tour.  Fabulous!  When dessert arrived, I had to break out the camera for this giant-sized brownie and Bruce’s apple crumble with huckleberry sauce, both served with delicious Sweet Peaks Montana ice cream.  How we made room for it, I’ll never know…

Dinner also included any glass of wine or beer from the list, or a non-alcoholic drink.  Bruce’s local huckleberry lemonade was awesome!

We didn’t expect this, that’s for sure.  As (mostly) non-meat eaters in beef and buffalo country, we were prepared for 11 protein-craving days of “you’ll-have-nothing-and-like-it.”  Oh boy, were we wrong about that!

Our upstairs room at the lodge had rustic mountain décor too cute not to make me laugh.  The highlight, however, was the balcony looking out over the river flowing by.  We kept our sliding glass door open until we got cold, so we could enjoy the mesmerizing and thoroughly relaxing sound of the water.  Ahhh!

Shower tile
View from our room
True Magpie

Next up:  Glacier National Park: St. Mary Lake & Many Glacier

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #12: Captivating Chicago, Part 2

I shot a lot of photos in Chicago!  What you saw in my last post was just a fraction!  Chicago is such a photogenic city, and shooting digital (rather than film, like I did in the good ol’ days), allowed me to photograph freely and delete rejects later.  Yes, I deleted a lot of pictures in my editing; however, there were many more that I kept.  Culling them down for my blog was difficult, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process!

Editing my photos and writing my blog posts has allowed me to savor the memories of our vacation for longer than I would have otherwise.  Sure, I’m back in my home office in Georgia, but as I edited, wrote, and read my drafts to Bruce; my mind traveled through the cruise ports and Chicago all over again.  Here it is, nearly one-month post-travels, and I have spent the past four weeks “traveling.”

To conclude, I will leave you with views of the Chicago skyline from above, along, and on the Chicago River.  If you would like to see larger versions of these photos, click on them for a full-screen view.

Marina City, better known as the “Corn Cob” has parking on the lover levels and a marina on the river (see below).
Merchandise Mart has its own zip code!
That’s our architecture tour boat reflected in the building.
Yes, that is real gold!

Thank you for joining me on my journey through the Great Lakes and Chicago! I hope you enjoyed my posts.

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #11: CAPTIVATING CHICAGO, PART 1

“Be careful in Chicago; there is so much crime!”  “Don’t go out at night in Chicago, even in the tourist areas!”  These were the warnings I received from a couple of acquaintances who used to live in Chicago.  I had heard it all before.  Chicago’s crime was all over the news, and it had gotten much worse since I visited the city with my best friend, in 2012.  Those warnings, however, weren’t going to stop me and Bruce from seeing U.S.A.’s third largest city together, and this was the perfect opportunity—at the end of our cruise, before flying home. 

During our three days in downtown, we took the necessary common-sense precautions, walked all over downtown, and thoroughly enjoyed it!

For a good overview to begin our stay, we used our on-board credit and took a city tour that was offered through American Queen Voyages, the company we had cruised the Great Lakes with during the previous two weeks.  On our final day, we did an architecture river cruise to learn about the skyscrapers that lined the Chicago River.  Both tours were excellent!

What most impressed us about Chicago was how clean and beautiful the downtown city center was everywhere we walked.  The city is situated along Lake Michigan, and the city planners did a fabulous job lining the waterfront with attractive parks that offered great vantage points of the amazing skyline.

There is so much I could write about Chicago, but I will let my pictures tell the story instead. (To view them larger, click on the photos.)  Here, then is Part 1:

Navy Pier
View from the end of Navy Pier
Buckingham Fountain

Scenes from Millenium Park:

Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”
That’s us at the bottom, center, looking up at the sculpture

It was fun watching the faces change on Crown Fountain, and then “spit” water every ten minutes. The kids loved it! What a great way to cool off during the hot, humid summers.

Chicago hosts the Millenium Park Summer Music Series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for free!

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

We stayed on the 14th floor at the Warwick Allerton Hotel, on North Michigan Avenue. This (right) was our (zoomed in) view of Michigan Avenue from our room, including this gorgeous bird! Yes, it was real! I was able to photograph it by sticking my camera out the window that opened up just enough to fit my hand and camera through. Our room was on a corner, so it required a bit of maneuvering and guess work to angle my camera, hold it steady, and snap these shots!

The largest Starbucks in the world was located a block away. People actually line up around the corner to get in! We don’t drink coffee, and we aren’t Starbucks fans, but we thought it was worth a look inside when we happened to walk by when there was no line.

The planters along Michigan Avenue and neighboring streets were fabulous! They added such a beautiful element to soften the appearance of all the steel and concrete of the city.

Some of the buildings featured interesting artwork on their exteriors:

Although we thoroughly enjoyed our vegetarian deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s during our pre-cruise Chicago visit, we decided to try Giordano’s stuffed vegetarian deep dish pizza for comparison (see below). Lou Malnati’s crust wins the contest; however, Giordano’s wins for everything else! We loved their sauce and stuffed pizza! Want to make your mouth water? Click on the pizza photo to see it larger!

Now, for dessert. Kind Snacks is on their “Frozen Summer Tour,” and we were lucky enough to see them– twice! First, we saw the truck at the park at the foot of Navy Pier, and they were handing out free samples of their DELICIOUS frozen bars. They were eager to give you as many as you wanted, so we went back for seconds. 😀 The next day, they were on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River! They would have given us an entire box if we wanted! The sample lady was eager to empty their coolers and call it a day. We ended up tasting one each of three different flavors and made pigs of ourselves. Damn, those things are good!

A window display on Michigan Avenue, better known as the “Magnificent Mile.”

Next up: Cruising the Great Lakes #12: Captivating Chicago, Part 2

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #10: MEMORABLE MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN

Our last port of what turned out to be a fabulous cruise was Muskegon, Michigan, located on the state’s west coast.  The city’s population is only about 38,000; however, it is the most populous city along Michigan’s western shore.

What makes this city a popular vacation destination is its beautiful beaches, excellent fishing, sailing regattas, and scenic forests, along with interesting historic architecture, museums, theater, public art, and farmer’s market.  There is a lot to offer in this small city!

Historically, Muskegon was a fur trading post and had a thriving lumber industry.  At one point the city boasted more millionaires than any other town in America.

One of those millionaires was Charles H. Hackley, who came to Muskegon with only $7 to his name and died worth $12 million, in 1905.  His fortune was made in lumber, and when the industry declined, he administered the Chamber of Commerce program that rebuilt Muskegon into a center of industry.  The city ultimately became known for manufacturing all sorts of well-known name brand products.

Hackley was a great philanthropist, leaving behind gifts and endowments to the community totaling over $6 million, supporting parks, statuary, schools, churches, a hospital, and a beautiful public library.

Public Library with beautiful stained glass windows (below)

The philanthropist’s fortune also paid for a fabulous three-story wood frame Victorian house, which is now administered by the Muskegon County Museum.  Built in the late 1880s, it features 15 stained glass windows, hand-stenciled walls and ceilings, hand-carved woodwork, and seven tiled fireplaces.

Next door is Thomas Hume’s house, which is also part of the museum.  Hume was first Hackley’s bookkeeper, and then business partner, from 1881 until Hackley’s death.  After Hackley died, Hume was instrumental in transforming Muskegon into a major manufacturing center. 

Between the two homes, was “City Barn,” which was shared by the two families and reflects the features of each house.  All three structures were designed by David S. Hopkins.

Charles H. Hackley House (left), Thomas Hume House (right), and their shared “City Barn” (middle) with architectural elements from both houses (Click on photo to see full size.)

Our included hop-on-hop-off tour of Muskegon included tours of both homes.  Bruce and I have toured many historic and grand homes throughout our years of traveling, but I can definitely say this tour was one of our favorites.  Glass and wood are my two favorite mediums, and the Hackley house was loaded with both.  It took fifteen men two years to complete the hand-carved woodwork alone!

This bedroom was upstairs in the Hume House. The acoustics under the curved ceiling were amazing!
Hume House fireplace
Hume House kitchen

Although these two homes are the gems of Muskegon, the entire neighborhood was beautiful.  One street over, we toured the Scolnik House that was built during the 1930’s depression era, and the Fire Barn Museum.

Check out those 1936 grocery prices!
Fire Barn Museum

Muskegon Heritage Museum was our final museum visit for the day.  Inventions and products of over 80 local companies were represented, including one by a late friend of ours, Sherman Poppen, who died in 2019.  Sherm and Louise lived in our Sun City community, and we first met them in 2009 when Bruce and I moved in. 

In 1965, Sherm, known as the “Grandfather of Snowboarding,” invented the Snurfer, which later became known as the snowboard.  He was inducted into the U.S. Ski-Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019.

The small doll is the first Raggedy Ann doll

Two other Muskegon products:

Our visit to Muskegon was on a Saturday, so Muskegon Farmers Market was in full swing.  We walked through town to go have a look.  On the way, there was a downtown street music festival in the process of getting set up for the weekend, so we took in the sights and smells of food trucks preparing their cuisine for the expected crowds.

It turned out to be a gorgeous day, so when we returned to the ship after browsing the farmers market, I decided to head out with my camera one last time for a stroll through the park where Ocean Navigator was docked.  Watching the geese feed, a young bird venturing out on his own, and taking in views of the ship was such a relaxing and satisfying way to conclude our last full cruise day.  In the morning, we would be disembarking for a three-night stay in Chicago.

Bottoms up!
Goodbye, Muskegon!

Next up:  Captivating Chicago

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #9: SUPER STURGEON BAY, WISCONSIN

Sturgeon Bay wasn’t on Ocean Navigator’s itinerary, but we happily ended up there anyway.  Following our stop in Green Bay, we were supposed to have a full day cruising on the Great Lakes.  The captain had passed through Sturgeon Bay during the previous cruise, though, and he was intrigued.  A cruise ship had never stopped in this Door County, Wisconsin town, and the captain thought it would be an appealing place to spend a day.

In very short order, the captain notified the company we would be stopping in Sturgeon Bay, the authorities were notified; and, Diane, the shore excursion manager, put together an included hop-on-hop-off tour for the passengers. 

Bruce and I were excited to return to Sturgeon Bay, because we had enjoyed our visit there during our 2017 Wisconsin road trip.  We had stayed at the very memorable Holiday Music Motel, and the entire Door County experience was fantastic!

Arriving in Sturgeon Bay

As the ship arrived, Bruce and I watched from the deck.  Boaters honked their horns, and people watched from the just-completed park where we docked.  We were anxious to get an early start on our day, so we were the first ones off the ship as soon as we were cleared to disembark.  Wow, what a fun experience!  Locals came up and welcomed us; and, we were asked all about where we had been, where the ship was going next, and what it was like to cruise aboard the Ocean Navigator.  What a blast! 

This park was just completed.

In addition to being a friendly little city of less than 10,000, Sturgeon Bay, Door County, is a world-renowned shipbuilding hub where thousand-foot lakers (lake cargo ships) and small bass-fishing boats are built.  It also has a vibrant music and arts scene, nice shops, and a variety of good restaurants. 

We began our day by hopping on the bus for a ride out to Door Peninsula Winery.  Neither of us were interested in getting off at the winery; we just wanted to enjoy seeing Door County again.  It brought back great memories!

Door County Maritime Museum was where we hopped off—mainly so we could enjoy the views from the top deck.  Located in the Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower, we had seen several people at the top watching Ocean Navigator’s arrival, and I wanted to see our ship from that vantage point as well.  What an awesome view!  We even spotted the Holiday Music Motel. 

Door County Maritime Museum
Sturgeon Bay Bridge (Michigan Street Bridge) is on the left, and the new bridge is on the right.
Ocean Navigator is docked behind the new Oregon Street Bridge

On the way down from the viewing deck, we took the stairs rather than the elevator, so we could see the excellent exhibits located on several of the floors.  It’s a work in progress, but they are doing a fantastic job repurposing the lighthouse tower.

Rather than ride the bus back to the ship, we opted to walk over the Michigan Street Bridge, aka Sturgeon Bay Bridge that dates back to 1931 and was dedicated as a Door County Veterans Memorial.

Thanks to musician Pat MacDonald, owner of the Holiday Music Motel, and other locals passionate about the iconic steel bridge, they formed the Citizens for Our Bridge preservation group to save the old bridge.  (It was slated for demolition when it no longer met safety standards.)  MacDonald created and hosted the Steel Bridge Songfest, which took place—and continues annually— at the hotel, to raise money for the bridge’s restoration.  They were also able to get the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation, to save it from demolition.

The Holiday Music Motel is over the bridge and on the left with the red tiled roof and red awnings.

Meanwhile a larger four-lane sister bridge was built one block away, on Oregon Street, to meet federal safety standards and accommodate the heavy traffic loads caused by the bridge’s 3,000 openings annually.  In 2011, the newly restored Michigan Street Bridge reopened, and the two bridges operate as one system to relieve traffic congestion.

During our walk across the bridge, we were stopped so the bridge could open and allow boat traffic through.  It was a cool experience crossing that bridge and knowing that when a group of passionate people want something bad enough, they can make it happen.  And, it was fun remembering back to our stay at the Holiday Music Motel, that it was the hotel owners that were most instrumental in saving their iconic bridge.

The Holiday Music Motel sponsored this sculpture of a Sturgeon Bay tart cherry. It is one of several cherry sculptures up for auction in the Cherries Jubilee.
This was the most interesting “cherry” of them all!
What a great way to spruce up a gas station!
We watched a glass blowing demonstration at Popelka Trenchard Glass
This sign was in front of a home across the street from the glass studio. WELL SAID.
After heading back to the ship, Bruce enjoyed the sculpture fountain as I walked back up the Michigan Street Bridge to take more pictures.
Laura, this is for you!
Our cruise out of Sturgeon Bay was through a narrow canal. This is the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Light, built in 1899.
The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal North Pierhead Light was built in 1882 and is located at the U.S. Coast Guard Station on Lake Michigan. Goodbye, Sturgeon Bay!

Next up: Memorable Muskegon, Michigan

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #8: GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN—GO PACK GO!

Bruce and I have such fun memories of our previous visit to Green Bay, when we toured Lambeau Field, home of the “Cheeseheads.”  The Ocean Navigator was offering that as a premium tour; however, we opted to take the included narrated hop-on-hop-off for a new experience.  We did convince a few of people from our ship to take that tour, though, and they loved it!

Green Bay, a city of 107,000 residents, gets its name because of the greenish color of the water.  It is Wisconsin’s oldest settlement and was established as a fur-trading post. Paper production manufacturing was also established and it is now Green Bay’s largest employer. (Thankfully, by the early 1900’s, splinter-free toilet paper was invented.  Whewww!)  Ultimately, Green Bay also became a major shipping center. 

For sports trivia enthusiasts, here are some Green Bay sports facts:  It is the smallest city to host a National Football League (NFL) team, the Green Bay Packers, named for the meat packers where its founder, Curly Lambeau workedHe sold shares of stock to raise money for the team, and the Packers, a non-profit organization, are the only NFL team owned by its shareholders and fans today.   Go Pack Go!  

At a capacity of 82,000, Lambeau Field, the Packers stadium, is the 4th largest in the NFL.  It is located in the middle of a residential area, so the homeowners closest to the stadium have become quite entrepreneurial.  To raise money for their snowbird vacations (Green Bay gets 40 inches of snow a year.), they rent out their driveways and front lawn as parking spaces on gameday for $20-$40!

Our first tour stop was the fantastic National Railroad Museum.  Their collection of trains was amazing! The Lake Superior & Ishpeming #24, constructed in 1910, is the oldest locomotive in the museum’s collection:

Here are a few of the other trains:

Milwaukee, aka “Brew City,” has an interesting history of beer-hauling trains.  The earliest beer breweries in Milwaukee date back to the 1830s, with more than 300 operating across Wisconsin by the 1890s.  All of that beer needed to be distributed somehow, so the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad banded together to become The Milwaukee Road.  They brought in grain and other beer-making materials and hauled away the beer.  What a great business collaborative! 

Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, many of Milwaukee’s industrial and manufacturing businesses had moved their production to Mexico or China.  Today, less than a mile of the rail route remains.

MillerCoors, the one large brewer remaining in Milwaukee, still receives grain by the Milwaukee Road’s successor, Canadian Pacific Railway.

These are some of the U.S.A.’s other rail lines.  One surprised me, “The Phoebe Snow.”  I had only remembered the singer and had no idea there was a train of the same name.  As it turns out, the singer was born Phoebe Ann Laub and changed her name after seeing Phoebe Snow, a fictional advertising character for a railroad, on trains that passed through her hometown in New Jersey.

The museum had a beautiful Pullman train with an excellent display detailing the history of the Pullman Porters and their fight for civil rights.  Following the Civil War, George Pullman, owner of The Pullman Company, reinvented railroad travel with the introduction of his luxury Pullman Palace Car.  He hired thousands of attendants, nearly all of whom were African -Americans.  Porters served their mostly white patrons for years despite discrimination and difficult working conditions.

Philip Randolph established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to fight for their labor and civil rights.  The Pullman Company responded with threats, firings, and intimidation.  It took decades for the group to able to become a truly independent labor union, in 1937.

Meet Big Boy, Union Pacific’s #4017:

What a hungry beast!  It took 28 tons of coal to fuel the locomotive while pulling a 3,600-ton train between Ogden and Echo, Utah, a distance of 55 mountainous miles.  Yikes!

Big Boy also runs hot and stinky.  Its huge cab normally reached around 90 degrees Fahrenheit; however, in tunnels, the heat could build up to as much as 180 degrees!  Even in the Wyoming winters, engine crews would run with the roof vent and windows open.  The cab got very smoky as well, sometimes becoming so dark that the crews had to grope for the controls.  I wonder what the lung cancer rate was among Big Boy’s crews…

Next stop on the hop-on-hop-off tour was The Automobile Gallery.  They had a wonderful collection of cool cars, including this Delorean we were invited to hop into for a photo:

We wanted to see what the downtown area was like, since we missed it during our 2017 visit to Green Bay.  A nice surprise greeted us as we walked through the Broadway District: Murals, and lots of ‘em!  I love murals, and I photograph them wherever I go.  The district sponsors the Mural and Busker Festival with prizes going to the mural winners, so it has been a great way to beautify the Broadway District’s businesses and bring in tourists.

All that walking made us thirsty, so we stopped in for a beer at Titletown Brewing Co., one of Green Bay’s brew pubs.

The Nevill Public Museum was another tour stop, but it was so close to the ship that we saved it for the end of what turned out to be a very full and enjoyable day!

Next up:  Super Sturgeon Bay

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #7: SPLENDID SAULT STE. MARIE, MICHIGAN

The view of Sault Ste. Marie port from our cabin window
This massive red brick building houses a hydroelectric plant that supplies 20% of the city’s power. I shot this photo from the top deck of the Ocean Navigator before heading out.

Following our visit to Thunder Bay, Ontario, we returned to the American side of the Great Lakes, requiring a mandatory bus ride to the border for processing.  Police officers had a close watch over everybody exiting the ship to ensure we boarded the bus, because we had foreign crew working on our ship. 

I had anticipated long border-crossing lines and a wasted morning; however, when we arrived at the station, our bus load of cruise passengers were the only tourists to be processed.  There were several staffed windows with smiling faces to greet us, so we showed our passports and zipped right on through.  Based on my experience (and what I witnessed at other windows), they were the nicest and friendliest bunch of border patrol officers I had ever seen!

A border station poster. Love that mask!

Before we knew it, we were back at the ship and ready to embark on our included narrated hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Sault Ste. Marie, a small city of 13,000 people.  The name is French, so “Sault” is pronounced like “Sue.”  Just across the bridge over the St. Marys River is another city named Sault Ste. Marie, so it can get a little confusing.  The difference?  The other one is in Ontario, Canada, and it has a population of about 72,000 residents.

The bridge in the background connects the two Sault Ste Marie’s

The American Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan, and among the oldest cities in the United States.  It was first settled by Native Americans for the abundance of fish and fur found in and along the river that linked the Great Lakes of Huron and Superior.  Later, French fur traders settled in the area.

It is very easy to find this city if you are heading there on a road trip from where I live in Georgia.  No GPS is needed!  Just hop on I-75 (our closest freeway), and head north.  If you stay on I-75 until it ends, you will eventually arrive in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Just don’t plan on spending the winter there unless you love snow, because they get an average of 180 inches a year!  Stay healthy, too, because their small hospital is the only one within 200 miles, and they may not have the resources you need.

Besides the hospital, Sault Ste. Marie has another extremely important asset: The Soo Locks.  The locks enable shipping traffic in the Great Lakes to bypass the St. Marys River.  The locals claim it to be the busiest canal in the world in terms of tonnage passing through it. We checked out the viewing platform and stopped in at the Soo Locks Visitor Center  to see the excellent exhibits explaining how the locks work.

According to our tour guide, experts predicted that if the Soo Locks ever broke down, the U.S. would plunge into a recession within five days, due to the importance of the cargo (such as iron and grain) that is transported through the locks.  Those experts make a strong case for the role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers play in keeping our economy humming!

The small downtown was just across the street from the locks, so we had a look around:

Colorful crosswalks

Following our tour and walk around town, we returned to tour the Valley Camp, which in its previous life was a “Laker,” a cargo ship that worked the Great Lakes.  It now serves as a fabulous museum with exhibits located throughout the huge ship.

This view of the Valley Camp is from the deck railing of the Ocean Navigator. We were that close!

While touring the museum, we learned about the James R. Barker, a 1,000 foot-long Laker with a carrying capacity of 61,650 tons.  Back in 1976, it was the longest vessel on the Great Lakes.  You can see in the picture below how it compares in size to the Valley Camp, which I thought was massive!

Bruce and I concluded our self-guided tour by going up on deck to see the bridge, officer cabins, galley, and dining room, in addition to the cargo area.  Just as we arrived, we saw the James Barker cruise on by!

The James R. Barker
The view from the bridge of the Valley Camp

Our day ended beautifully with this colorful sunset.

Next up: Green Bay, Wisconsin—Go Pack Go!