Monthly Archives: October 2014

Rave: Hoffmaster State Park

We finished our 2014 camping season with a trip to Hoffmaster State Park on Lake Michigan between Grand Haven and Muskegon.

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We had beautiful weather for our fall camp. It was warm and sunny. We also enjoyed a serious element of solitude and privacy. We camped in one of the loops that offered electricity. Camping in late-September, early-October can be unpredictable in terms of temperatures. We figured if we had extreme lows, we would best have power for our other comforts. Actually, the overnight lows only dropped to the mid-fifties or so. While it was pretty brisk in the mornings, sleeping was very comfortable. Further, there were only two other campsites in use on our loop. A loop of about 40 campsites. And our “neighbors” were parked pretty far away. We chose to camp on a couple weekdays, which definitely allowed for choice spot availability, clean bathrooms, and some serious peace and quiet.

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Hoffmaster was a great choice for hiking. They offered three separate trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Since they all passed near the beach and dunes, there was a climb and descent on each trail. And some sand. And some woods. The park was divided by a creek, so there was opportunity for drop-fishing too. Dune climbing took some work and, more than once, my legs felt pretty rubbery. But, we were able to catch some beautiful sunsets over the Lake and Duck enjoyed some time on the beach.

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The sites were pretty rustic. Our campsite was in the midst of an oak stand. It was great because it provided the perfect balance of shade and warmth. However, fall does just that; “fall.” We were a couple weeks ahead of the leaves but, Oh. My. Acorns. We had to spend a lot of time under our awning because the falling acorns were bombing us. I swear, the squirrels were trying to chase us out by pelting us with acorns. Seriously. I got a welt from one that hit me in the back of the neck. Both the Den and our truck suffered from the noisy bombardment. We made Duck wear her winter hat so she would have some protection. Fortunately, it was her “Let It Go” hat…

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And, Queen Elsa serenaded the campground quite thoroughly.

We all enjoyed the trip and it was a great way to close out our camping season. It is important to note, however, that Hoffmaster is usually under alcohol restrictions during the high season. After Labor Day, the restrictions are lifted. Thus, it would not be an option for us during the peak times. Camping sans beer? Haha. That’s like camping without baked beans. Never. Now, to winterize the Den for next year. It’s bumming me out. Winter is coming…

Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon, MI- 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Here are some additional recent campground reviews:

**I would like to note that we try to support the State Park system (regardless of their intolerance toward a wee tippling) because: 1. It is generally less expensive. With a $14 annual Park Passport, you can enter the parks for free. And, depending on the amenities, campsites usually range from around $14 per night to about $28 per night. In the high season, you can usually save between $10 to $20 per night by avoiding the franchised or private campgrounds. 2. Also, it has been our experience, the campgrounds are often situated in a more secluded locale. Less traffic = more privacy, more wildlife, more serenity. 3. Pure Michigan, duh.**

Newaygo State Park, Newaygo, MI- 4 out of 5 stars.
Very rustic and woodsy. Nice, private sites. Clean pit pots (vault toilets) and hand pump wells. Disc golf course. Access to Hardy Dam Pond (which is pretty big water, surprisingly). Small sandy, gradual beach area. Personal note: When we went, we stayed in a tent over a Memorial weekend. It was freezing. Seriously. Coldest camp ever. Newaygo itself is, um, “quaint.” We took a backwoods route to the park and passed a neighborhood that could kindly be referred to as “Little Meth Town.” Ok. Probably not. But, there were paradoxically many trailers and many BMWs. Something fishy, methinks… We really enjoyed the wooded sites and the lack of amenities. There is something to be said for properly “roughing it.” No alcohol restrictions!

Van Buren State Park, South Haven, MI- 3 out of 5 stars.
Meh. A nice beach area on Lake Michigan that’s an easy walk from the campground. But, during our stay, there was some concern about nuclear run-off in the water. No biggie… NOT. The campsites were pretty open and pretty small, lacking in privacy. The bathroom facilities offered showers but needed updating. That said, South Haven is absolutely lovely and totally makes the stay worthwhile. No alcohol restrictions!

Allendale KOA, Allendale, MI- 3.5 out of 5 stars. See my previous review, here. No alcohol restrictions!

Hungry Horse, Dorr, MI- 3 out of 5 stars. Pool, laundry, game room, bouncy thing, playgrounds, nice camp store. Some meadow areas, some wooded areas. Electric and water. The decor was a wee outdated, but kitschy. They offered nightly movies in the Gazebo. Beer Bear really liked this campground, but I thought it was sort of a “concrete campground.” They did have a few nice trails around the property but I mostly felt that it was an outdoor motel more than anything. Definitely a family-friendly choice and very near Grand Rapids while remaining off-the-beaten-path. Not much to Dorr though. No alcohol restrictions!

Huh… “No alcohol restrictions!” features prominently as a characteristic of our choices. Weird. Chug-a-lug.

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Rave: Geocaching

Geocaching. Essentially, it can be summed up by this: We use multi-million dollar satellite technology to find Tupperware in the woods. And, it’s awesome.

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I had first looked into it last year during one of our camping trips, but we neglected it in favor of drinking and eating at the campsite. (Shocker). In any case, Duck was pretty young and mayhaps wouldn’t have enjoyed traipsing through the woods with us.

Fast forward to this summer: Duck and I were trying to make the most of our time outside. Lots of nature walks, lots of playgrounds, lots of parks. On a whim, I decided to download a geocaching app onto my smartphone to add an extra element onto our outdoor exploration. I told Ducky that we were going on a treasure hunt. We had a nearby cache to go check out. The beginner-friendly app made it really easy to locate. Having some idea of what to expect, I had brought along some cache trinkets to exchange at the site. Once I found the “treasure,” I let Duck choose one of the cache gifts and I signed the log book. We deposited our cache gift and replaced the stash as we had found it. Easy Peasy.

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Our first deposit. Yes, that’s a tiny plastic Chippendale. Best future cache find ever?

After our first find, we began checking the app for nearby caches more consistently. They are everywhere! It’s been a lot of fun trying to locate them, whatever they may be: ammo cases, peanut butter jars, mason jars, camo cans. Generally, since we are still amateurs, we try to find caches that are relatively large, relatively easy, and relatively easy terrain. We have not found any nano caches yet. These are usually hidden in “fake” screws, rocks, etc. and they are teeny-tiny! We tried one cache at a local park with a difficult terrain but both Beer Bear and I just ended up scraped and bruised, sore and tired, and dirty, dirty, dirty. Most likely, we will avoid difficult terrain for awhile. Another difficulty in searching is the avoidance of “muggles,” regular folk who can catch you exchanging at a stash. You don’t want the cache to be inadvertently discovered and, consequently, disabled, dismantled, or destroyed.

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While I know someone will enjoy our tiny, plastic Chippendale as a true cache treasure, there has never been a more fitting find than the duck for the Duck.

Thankfully, Beer Bear has a knack for finding the caches. Usually the app will reliably put us within 15-20 feet of the cache, but we have often had to use hints and the online entry-log for valuable info. For instance, we have often searched and searched the “big tree at the fork” or whatever, only to find that someone before us moved the cache to a better hide at the “little tree below the fork.” It’s useful to be flexible and take your time.

It’s been exciting learning more about the activity and getting involved with the community of fellow-cachers. Here, in West Michigan, there is quite a presence and we discover new caches regularly. We even found our first pathtag recently on a trail. A pathtag is a tradeable and trackable coin that geocachers can personalize to leave behind. Finding our first one was pretty exciting for me. Because I am a dork. Whatever.

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See? It’s my awesome pathtag. We are practically pros now.

Mostly, it’s been fun getting out and doing something different with Duck. She gets excited whenever we announce that we are going “treasure-hunting.” We always let her choose the “prize” from the stash. She even gets to keep them in her “collection,” a little door cubby in my car. Except for the pathtag. That is mine, obviously.

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Duck picks the prize. She’s super selective. Once, she overlooked a set of walkie-talkies for a marble… Um, whatever.

If you have the opportunity and the desire, try to find a geocache near you. You can download the free app to get started. We have enjoyed adding another activity to our life outdoors and we are planning to hide a few caches of our own. If you ever find a bearpack trinket, you know where it came from…. Go outside and play!

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Rant: ARTPRIZE

While I believe ArtPrize is a great event, it is far from perfect.

My complaint: the crowds. First, a ridiculous amount of visitors crowd into the city. This increases the traffic exponentially. Grand Rapids is relatively traffic-free. It’s not that waits don’t occur, they simply pale in comparison to regular rush-hour/construction/weather-related/seasonal jams elsewhere. If you have ever sat on I-696, I-96, or US-23 in metro-Detroit on a Friday afternoon in the summer when everyone has decided to leave work an hour early to beat the traffic; you know what I mean. If you have ever been on I-75, I-4, I-95 when the sudden influx of snowbirds have migrated south in their silver or gold Lincolns and Cadillacs and Buicks, complete with beaded seat covers and lack of turn-signals and proportionally deficient maximum speed-limits; you know what I mean. If you have ever been tailgated, cut-off, or passed with a baleful look and colorful language by a rear-wheel drive sportscar in a complete whiteout and zero-visibility, only to creep by the very same vehicle mere miles but unfortunate and irritating hours later as it is towed across the now-closed outer two lanes from the median ditch; you know what I mean. If you have permanently affixed an unkindly gesturing hand out your driver window as the well-coiffed in their import vehicles have ignored the “Left Lane Closed in 2 Miles… 1 Mile… 1000 Feet… 500 Feet” to favor a self-indulging zipper merge; well, you know what I mean. So, when I claim that Grand Rapids is relatively traffic-free, it’s a real, apparent blessing.

Therefore, with the mass influx of visitors during ArtPrize, the city undergoes a traffic transformation that can be extraordinarily frustrating on a typical commute. Simply finding parking can be an enormous challenge as “Lot Full” signs litter an otherwise easily-navigable city.

And the traffic frustrations are not limited to vehicular crowding. The foot traffic is outrageous. Waits in lines become regular. At the grocery store, pharmacy, post office, park, funeral home, wherever. It seems that whenever you have an errand to attend to, hundreds of other folks have decided to do so at the exact same time. The bus system is overloaded even with specially-provided extra routes. Restaurants are on a consistent wait. And with the time spent in check-out lines, you should be able to bone-up on every celebrity scandal and miraculous-appearance-of-Jesus-in-toast from the past ten years.

All of which are minor complaints respective to the claustrophobia imparted by the ArtPrize proper visitors. The venues can be so stifling, it’s absolutely anxiety-producing. Even the outdoor installations can be so surrounded that the horde is impassable. I mentioned the experience of feeling physically separated from my stroller, an altogether not unusual experience in an environment of such extreme population density.

But, I could really get past the presence of all the new people, if they weren’t “those” people. Ugh. Art can bring out all sorts of people, families, spectators. It is known, however, for attracting a certain set. Those folks with their air of superiority. Free-trade-coffee-carrying, hand-dyed-scarf-wearing, bobbed-gray-hair-rocking, haughty-gazed, supercilious “art folks.” The judges and jurors with their perplexing critical favorites. The tourists with their imperious make-believe grasp of bewildering artist statements. And, especially, the artists themselves; with their unrealistic and arrogant view of the significance of their work and the correspondingly-expected promise of the respect it should garner.

For example: yesterday, Duck and I explored several more venues including our traditional riverside route. Outside of the Gerald Ford Museum was a musical art installation. It was essentially a large-ring xylophone or glockenspiel, if you will. The observer was invited to take a hammer-mallet-thing and hit the metallic bars as they ran around the ring. In doing so, you would produce the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Of course, as Ducky witnessed several people perform the melodious route, she clamored for a turn. We got in line. We waited. She picked up a hammer-mallet-thing and approached the installation- instrument. And, the artist came over, took her hammer-mallet-thingy away, and advised me that it was not a device for toddlers. Inevitably, Duckers started throwing a fit. The artist told me he was making a sign to that effect, but it simply wasn’t meant for the younger-than-ten-crowd. Usually, I can respect the requests people make of me as the parent of a toddler. You want to enjoy your dinner at a restaurant? We try to keep her quiet and entertained. You want to watch that movie? We won’t bring her to the theater until we can reasonably expect her to behave. You want to hear the gospel? Churches have actually have a kid-friendly room, just for us. But, there is a point at which I am no longer expected to make your life conveniently free of my hip-high nuisance. You, sir, are an asshole. You created a large-scale, outdoor installation in a park. That installation is essentially a giant, interactive, musical instrument. That instrument plays a childhood-favorite, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Yes, I can totally see how it was not meant for toddlers. (I’m looking at you, Tom Kaufmann, dumbass creator of the Music Go-Round).

This is only one instance of a pervading pretentiousness that shadows the ArtPrize experience. While I tore my screaming child away, I’d wager that I received only a couple of sympathetic glances. The rest of the spectators assumed condescending shrugs of disapproval. Of my child’s behavior. Of my inability to control her in such an preeminent and ostentatious environment. The ArtPrize habitat breeds highfalutinry. Almost every piece includes “DO NOT TOUCH” signage, if not blatant barriers. Even the 3-D installations. Made of unique materials. Outside. So, what you’re saying is: the elements can wreak havoc on it and birds can crap on it, but my two-year old can’t touch it? Well, that’s dumb. Just dumb.

Art is a sensory experience. Oftentimes, the experience could be enhanced if you would just let us “see” your piece, in every sense. I understand that you fear damage, but let’s assume that the crowd you hope to attract is respectful and avoids making any mistakes. I’m not suggesting you subject your beautiful canvas to the whims of the masses. I’m simply suggesting that your large, outdoor, indestructible, metal dragon should be enjoyed, photographed and, well, fondled if your audience chooses to do so.

Your audience. Because that’s what is too often forgotten by the artsy-fartsy. ArtPrize is for everyone. It is designed as a social experience that includes the entire public. The appeal of the event is inherent in the idea that popular opinion matters and that art isn’t just served to us by the critical elite, to be digested as directed. ArtPrize is a great event… But the highfalutinry has got to go.

Lest I give you the impression that the event is nonetheless anything but enjoyable overall, a few more favorites from yesterday:

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Birch Grove by Judy A. Steiner can be seen at the Courtyard Marriott

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The Wind by Gil Bruvel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

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Further proof that ArtPrize is fun… For everyone.

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