Category Archives: Travel

You Might Be A Yooper If You Can Climb A Frozen Waterfall

A “yooper” lives in the Upper Peninsula  of Michigan – which is where we’ve been camping for the past couple of weeks. The UP is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground at any season. Since I’m not keen on freezing temperatures, I’m glad we got to experience it in the summer.

Lake Superior forms the northern boundary of the state, and is also the border to Canada. First of all, it’s more like the ocean. I’m talking HUGE! Secondly, when you’re that far north, you expect something akin to Alaska . . . not sand dunes and blue green waters typical of the tropics. It’s crazy! Crazy beautiful!

Part of the coastline is made up of the scenic Pictured Rocks – a line of gorgeous bluffs with waterfalls that plummet into the lake. During the warmer months, a group of boating outfitters will happily take you on a cruise so see the storied Pictured Rocks or even treat you to a glass-bottom boat ride over some shipwrecks. The water is that clear and pristine. But during the winter, this vacation paradise turns into a winter wonderland. People actually ice climb many of those towering waterfalls!

Inland from the coast, lies an abundance of small lakes which offer boating, swimming, fishing or just colorful sunsets. Oh, and mosquitoes. There are definitely some ravenous little critters flying around which means homemade repellents probably won’t cut it. Camping in the UP requires DEET . . . and perhaps a shotgun filled with buckshot. The mosquitoes are that big. You might take out a few biting black flies, too.

The insects were the only negative to this vast, pristine land that I could find. I suspect it takes a hearty individual to live in upper Michigan year round and the ones I encountered were some of the nicest folks you could hope to meet.

Will I ever be a yooper? Possibly . . . but only if seasonal visitors qualify for the title.

 

 

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Exploring Mark Twain’s Boyhood Haunts


I’m back! It’s been a while and I apologize. Now that family visits, medical issues and whatnot are out of the way, we are back on the road enjoying new adventures. So here goes . . .

Hannibal, Missouri . . . just the name evokes visions of lazy riverboats puffing down a wide river, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer atop a wooden raft, and the man who gave them

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Historic Hannibal

life – Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. I’m not exaggerating when I say I almost piddled myself in excitement when the day finally arrived to explore this quaint, historical town. After all, Hannibal’s rolling hills and riverfront access provided the inspiration for Mark Twain’s most famous works. It flavored his writing as it flavored his wit. And I was about to see all the places I’d read about in my youth! How cool is that?

Reality seldom matches expectations. The more we dream and visualize about what lies ahead, the more we risk disappointment. Hannibal is a perfect example. The town itself should be renamed “Mark Twain City” because everywhere you go is reference to the famous author and humorist . . . understandable. One might never venture to Hannibal were it not for Mark Twain’s legacy. And everything tagged with his name comes with a price.

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Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

Yes, Hannibal is a tourist trap. But if all I came to see were paid attractions, I’d miss out on the true ambiance of a historical town.

Driving into the outskirts from Highway 36, it was as if we entered a time warp. Hannibal is firmly rooted in the past and the period architecture reinforces that aura, beckoning with untold stories of days gone by. Had I never heard of Samuel Clemens, I would still be lured to this incredibly picturesque albeit decaying community. A great many of the clapboard houses and brick storefronts remain unrestored which supports the character of an aging 1800’s riverfront town.
I enjoyed a short walking tour along the river and railroad tracks, meandered along scenic Cardiff Drive to where it meets the lighthouse replica erected in Mark Twain’s honor, absorbed majestic views from Lover’s Leap, explored Mark Twain’s childhood home and the wooden fence still fresh with whitewash. What I wanted to do and didn’t was visit McDougal’s Cave, popularized in Twain’s 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The property is part of an adjoining campground and gift shop and is only viewable on special

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Mark Twain Sightseeing Riverboat

tours. Adult tickets ran about $20 and I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for what I felt should have been free. Perhaps if I’d visited the nearby winery and tasted a few glasses, I might not have been so put-off by the entrance fee. Bottom line is I’m a cheapskate.

I suppose the real reason I wanted to see the cave, aside from a trip down Tom Sawyer memory lane, is the wickedly strange events that took place there. During Twain’s childhood, the property where the cave is located was owned by a St. Louis surgeon, Dr. Joseph McDowell. The man was brilliant by all accounts, and genius sometimes borders on the edges of insanity. When Dr. McDowell’s fourteen-year-old daughter died of pneumonia, he decided to “petrify” her body. After constructing a copper tube lined with glass, he filled it with alcohol and placed the corpse inside, suspending it from the ceiling of the cave.

According to Twain, the local youth discovered the contraption and began to gather there, telling ghost stories to frighten each other in the flickering light of their torches. Even more macabre, the top of the cylinder could be unscrewed so the girl’s face was visible. After two

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View from Lover’s Leap

years, the adults in the community got wind of the girl’s unofficial interment. They complained, forcing the doctor to relocate his daughter’s body to the family mausoleum in St. Louis. However, some people believe the girl’s spirit is still there, following tourists as they navigate the dark cavern.

The cave is not the only place where hauntings occur in Hannibal. A year-round ghost tour features many allegedly active sites for adventurous souls. If we had planned a longer stay (and might have if the weather were not so damnably hot and humid), this cheapskate would have coughed up the bucks for the tour since I’m fascinated by the paranormal.  Perhaps another time.

Would I return to Hannibal for an encore visit? That’s hard to say. I love the ambiance and historical significance of the area. Unfortunately, this area of the Midwest doesn’t generate the same fascination as other places we’ve visited. We like less populated areas like mountains, remote coastlines, and high desert.

That being said, we’re enjoying our slow loop around the Great Lakes through Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. We may not venture this way again so if you know of any unusual, oddball or off-the-beaten track destinations, please let me know. I’m always up for an adventure!

What Lurks Beneath The Ground In Iraan, Texas?

Iraan (pronounced Ira Ann) is a small oil boom town in west Texas. Somehow this little wide spot in the road has garnered some good and bad attention over the years.

Let’s start with the “good”. The town was built on land owned by Ira and Ann Yates, thus the name “Iraan”. Unfortunately, most people call it Iran and that doesn’t sit well with the locals. An interesting bit of trivia: it’s the second largest town in the second largest county in the second largest state.

Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Iraan is Victor T. Hamlin, creator of the syndicated comic strip Alley Oop –  which at one time was as popular as Dick Tracy. Victor worked as a cartographer for an oil company but had a nice sideline as a cartoonist. It is said he came up with the idea for Alley Oop while watching the steam shovels and scrapers haul up truckloads of dinosaur bones during the excavation process for the oil wells.

To perpetuate the association with Hamlin, Iraan built a park dedicated to the mythical characters in Alley Oop, including “Dinny” the dinosaur. If you’re too young to remember Alley Oop, the park is still a fun stop for kids and adults. The adjacent museum offers more than just Alley Oop history. There are some interesting exhibits and artifacts which make it worth a visit.

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                          Is there an underground city beneath that hill?

Now for the “bad” – generated by a flood of strange allegations. An online media source claims Iraan is empty. Stranger Than Fiction News used Google Earth clips as proof that no one inhabits the town, citing an empty high school parking lot, an empty hospital parking lot and “street” images of the town which makes it look deserted.

I admit to viewing the YouTube video and humming the theme song from Twilight Zone. I might have discounted the entire story had I not also read about a mysterious underground city several miles beneath the surface outside of Iraan. Two bizarre claims in the same week aroused my curiosity. Since the town was only fourteen miles off my designated route to research another strange phenomenon, I decided to check it out.

When we drove into town, I immediately noticed gas stations, restaurants, markets, schools, a bank, post office, library and traffic. I suppose they might have bused actors to town and staged the activity for my arrival but they since they had no way of knowing I was coming, that seems unlikely.

After debunking Stranger Than Fiction’s claim, investigating the underground city proved more challenging.

The story has nebulous origins since it is hearsay from a second party. That being said, I listened to an interview with the person who repeated what was told to him.

Allegedly, a truck driver was hired to deliver an unknown cargo to a location outside of Iraan. He was met by two military jeeps and escorted through the hills to a secret “base” where he drove switchbacks into the ground for approximately three miles. The driver saw an entire city with thousands of residents. One building was seven stories tall. He was told to back his truck into a loading dock. Once the cargo was unloaded, he was escorted above ground.

The person telling the story marveled at the fact an underground city of that size could exist in the “desert”. Iraan is not in the desert. The geography is hilly with thick foliage, trees and grasses. It is dotted with oil rigs. That was a big red flag.

Perhaps the best rebuttal came from “Tory”, a life time resident. He laughed at the mention of an underground city and was quick to point out the locals would know of any military activity. Tory explained that the oil fields are shallow. Some flow naturally without assistance from a pump. In other words, the structure of the land would never support an underground city.

While the conspiracy theory is fun to ponder, I would rule out Iraan as the location for a subterranean military city/facility.

Even though Iraan is not a modern day ghost town, the site of nefarious going-ons, or inhabited by genetically modified aliens, it is still a nice town with a quirky park and some of the nicest people I’ve met anywhere.

And I’m not saying that just because I’m old enough to remember Alley Oop.

Whoa! Long time, no post . . .

I apologize from the bottom of my heart for not touching base sooner. What can I say? I’ve been having too much fun to post a blog? Partially true . . . but the flip side is my continued rant against Dell computers which in my humble opinion are a piece of caca . . .or shit . .. . whichever term you want to use. While the cyber Gods are favoring me, I’ll offer a visual sampling of my exploits over the past month which includes travels through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Stay tuned . . . I’m writing a great post on my investigation into Iraan, Texas . . . supposedly the strangest city in North America. Does it exist or is it a myth? I’ll post as soon as Dell decides my MiFi is worthy of connection.

FYI:  I post almost daily on my Facebook page and through Instagram. To keep up with a less detailed chronicle of my travels, follow me on FB or Instagram  . . . or both! Links are listed on my home page.

Until then, check out the cool places I’ve visited. Some will be featured in my upcoming book on North American Myth and Lore – TWISTED HIGHWAYS.

And as a final note: Don’t buy Dell, Don’t buy Dell, Don’t by Dell . . . .

 

The Domes, Casa Grande, AZ

When most people seek out something to do near Casa Grande, they usually head for the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Hohokam ruins is the first archaeological preservation project and worthy of a visit.The Domes, Casa Grande

However, there is another site nearby just as fascinating to those of us who enjoy “different”. The Domes are a cluster of pods intended to house a computer manufacturing facility during the early 80s but never came to fruition. There are still foundations in place marking the site of future construction. The empty buildings are clustered about an overgrown plot of land, some resembling a caterpillar and while others stand as a single unit.

There’s also a No Trespassing sign. Of course, there is. Any insurance company in their right mind would insist on such a notice because the buildings are crumbling and in disrepair. However, a sign out front offers the site to film crews for a daily rental fee.The Domes, Casa Grande2

There is broken glass everywhere, even along the road, but inside the pods is where the action takes place. And graffiti. Lots and lots of graffiti. A large pentagram is painted on the wall of one of the buildings which coincides with rumors black magic rituals and satanic worship has taken place there. And to be honest, I can almost believe it. It’s that creepy.Domes3

The first building resembles a flying saucer with an elongated roof. The sound inside the structure is not something I can describe accurately. It’s more than an echo. More than a reverberation. It’s almost as if the hollow sound of your footsteps occur BEFORE you take a step.

There are deep crevices in the floor which were probably meant to accommodate wiring and ductwork. Who knows what’s in them now? Bodies? I’d almost believe it. So would my Golden Retriever, Jake. He was trembling as soon as he entered the building. Visibly 20160226_142626shaking. Almost belly crawling toward one of the cuts in the concrete floor.

If I had never heard the stories about shadow people, mysterious footsteps in the dark, strange tapping noises or the bad vibes people feel when they enter the area, I would still have been uneasy. It’s that kind of place. Would I go back. Perhaps . . . but not at night.

A Delightful Diversion

Authors are a creative lot. Our imaginations are spurred by the simplest thing which often manifests into a novel or short story. We don’t just people watch. We study mannerisms, physical features, and voice inflections for character development. We are creatures of hot and cold. When we’re “on”, we  write non-stop, producing thousands of words while ingesting large amounts of caffeine and a single slice of toast. When we’re “off”, we play online games,  keep an active presence on social media, read the latest celebrity gossip, hike, paint, cook, play with the dog . . . basically anything to avoid working through a writer’s block.

And then there’s the family. A joyful cameraderie when we’re “off”. A bane when we’re “on”  which often results in frothing at the mouth. My children are grown but I still have a chatty husband. He’s the reason I write at night – well, part of the reason. I’m a night owl. He’s a morning person. I don’t like interruptions when I’m writing. He doesn’t like interruptions when he’s reading the news and drinking that first cup of coffee. So we enjoy our “quiet” time while the other sleeps which means we have lots of daytime hours to savor life.

And that’s exactly what we did on Sunday. We are currently camped near Why, Arizona which is a few miles north of the Organ Pipe National Monument. After loading up the dog, a picnic lunch and our binoculars, we headed to the twenty-one mile loop suitable for two-wheel drive automobiles. There are more roads for high clearance  or four-wheel drive vehicles but we chose the more developed route. Just because it was easier to navigate didn’t mean we were shorted on majestic landscape or breathtaking views as you can see from the photos below.

The best part? I was inspired by this delightful diversion and have been pounding the keyboard ever since. I’d pound it a lot more if my husband would shut up.