Tag Archives: the den

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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Summer Summary, Part 2

So… After a (very) brief respite at home, Duck and I traveled back out to the east-side.

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Ducks. Duh.

The first day, we went to the Fowlerville Fair. It’s a pretty typical county fair with a carnival, midway, etc. It’s always a great choice for us because they have a giant 4-H area devoted to livestock. And, you may know, we can’t pass on “aminals.” It was pretty fun chasing Duckers through tents of horses, cows, pigs, rabbits, fowl, and more. We must have heard her croon “Old MacDonald” about a thousand times. She sure loves her “aminals.” We arrived to the Fair prior to the games and rides opening, but, fortunately, the face-painter was available.

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A face tattoo. I’m so proud. #miketyson

That weekend, we also celebrated Running Bear’s 30th birthday. She had a pretty fabulous party with a Pure Michigan theme. (Whoever threw that party must be pretty amazing). The venue (just some guy’s house) had a trampoline. Of course, Ducky could be found there at any given time throughout the party. She was a jumping machine… not that this led to a reasonable bedtime or anything. (I swear, she’s secretly mainlining caffeine when we aren’t looking or something). I really hope Running Bear had a great time and felt the celebration and love. Only kidding. I know she did. She told me. Over. And over. And over. Before she passed out on the stoop. Chug-a-lug, Running Bear. Chug-a-lug.

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Pure Michigan is all about consumerism.

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Da Bears. (Some of us, ahem, in our Pure Michigan-themed costumes. See if you can find Aretha Franklin, Madonna, and Ted Nugent. Anyone else was a spoilsport.

After a little more boating and fishing and lake time, we hauled back to GR with my ex-pat sister, Hermana Bear, and my brother-in-law, Bear Más Exotico. We packed up the camper and trekked to another nearby campground, Hungry Horse in Dorr, MI. It was a beautiful couple days for camping. The campground was pretty similar to the KOA I mentioned earlier, here. Pool, games, camp store, etc. It was more woodsy at Hungry Horse. Pros: felt more like traditional camping, allowed for more privacy, better scenery, better hiking. Cons: bugs, bugs, bugs. (I will update with a complete review of the campground soon).

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Those are designated camping jammies. They are pretty incredible.

A couple days camping and then a 5-hour drive to Harrisville on northern Lake Huron for our annual family reunion (and birthplace of the bear pack!) Again, we enjoyed great weather, great company, and great food as we played waterside over the weekend.

Return to Grand Rapids for a couple busy days of preparations: shopping, packing, etc. for the following weekend: our very first GAGME. Yes, we bears decided to begin our own traveling, family reunion. GAG being “Garbers’ Annual Gathering.” We will change the meaning to ME correspondingly with our destination. This trip, ME referred to a “Monumental Event” as we invaded Washington DC. It. Was. Awesome. I promise to write an entry dedicated to our experience. I loved DC. I loved our “gathering.” I had a great time and hope we will keep the new tradition alive next year with a new destination and a new ME.

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Note the fabulous matching t-shirts? Boom.

Oh, yeah, we drove. Ugh. So, after a 10-hour trip back to Michigan, we swung through Lansing to pick up Beer Bear’s sister. She flew into town to spend a week with us from her home in Florida. It was a pretty great week. She love Duckers and definitely took the lead with her, a nice reprieve from almost constant parenting. Beer Bear and I even went on a date downtown! (I hope to offer some personal dining and exploring reviews of our great downtown in a future post).

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Date night = rationalizing name for event where parents can drink sans judgement.

We also went to Boulder Ridge Animal Safari in Alto during Sunny Bear’s stay with us. It is, by far, the best thing I have done since we moved out to West Michigan. I will “RAVE” about it soon because it was fabulous. It is incredibly interactive and is a great environment to engage with exotic and domestic animals. Or, “aminals.” Whatever.

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What did you do today? Oh, that’s nice. Me? I pet a kangaroo.

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I just liked this photo. Time to get a DSLR! (Only kidding).

Finally, after Sunny Bear’s departure, Beer Bear, Duckers, and I hauled out to Grand Haven for a proper beach day. The weather was cool and cloudy, but that was to our advantage because the crowds were slim. We had a nice day in the sand and a nice lunch in town.

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Sand? Sand. Sand! SAND! SAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!!! (It’s everywhere).

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Now, we are home again. And, I am worn out. Completely. Of course, Ducky is just staring at me with a suggestive gleam: “What are we going to do next, mom?!?”

Die. Probably die.

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Happy Campering: The Interior

I have finished all of the major updates to our new camper. I posted about the exterior already, here. Custom paint job = amaze-balls. Since then, I have finished painting the brown areas (the step and the hitch). They are a burgundy/maroon color. To match my (new) car and our truck. Because those match. Yup. My husband and I are matchies. Blech. With the coordinating accent color, the den really fits in with the rest of our fleet. I would still like to add another smaller constellation to the back. I was thinking, Ursa Minor. Otherwise, I’m very satisfied.

The interior took some time. Particularly because I have absolutely no talent at sewing, crafting, reupholstering, etc. It’s amazing what you can do with a little pin-spiration and a hot glue gun. The major renovation to the interior was painting and recovering the existing pads. I also tore out the curtain rods and replaced them. I sewed new curtains. I recovered the accent panels. And, I crafted, crafted, crafted. Seriously. I have callouses on my fingers from needles, burns on my hands from hot glue, etc.

Unfortunately, I lost the pictures I had taken of the original interior. But, a couple remain…
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As you can see, the interior is finished with faux-wood laminate cabinetry. I actually really liked this aspect of the design and we have maintained it. I did not, however, like the existing wallpaper- a dated, floral design. The curtains were nice but didn’t speak to my aesthetic. They had to go too. I would have really liked the pattern on the padding if it were slightly more vintage-looking. As it was, it reminded me too much of a couch we had in the nineties. Finally, I wanted to create some permanent camper fixtures. Pictures, crafts, etc. but also things that would match my chief design and still vibe with the camping-den theme. I also had to employ my little camper here. She’s a much better crafter than me. And so, the results…

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I covered the pads with painter’s canvas from the hardware store. It was a cheap and effective way to reupholster them. I still plan on spraying the canvas with a waterproofing agent to prevent stains. I also sewed coordinating pillow covers and curtains. I love the look of a bunting and used some scrap fabric and ribbon to create a neat window trim. I had received a coupon for a free 16 x 20 photo print, so I used that to create the bear poster with some custom photo-editing. I had Duckers color some empty frames from IKEA for the wall. I modge-podged a map to foam board to keep a record of the campgrounds we visit. I even tried my hand at cross-stitching.

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Strictly speaking, the green “Eat, Sleep, Camp” sign and the patriotic doll in the picture above were gifts. I did not make them. But, they are part of the permanent decor. Also, the blue “Camper Sweet Camper” sign and the hearts were gifted with the camper from my aunt. Again, we are eternally grateful! I did paint the hearts to match my scheme. I will take pictures of the complete set-up on our next adventure. I couldn’t be happier with our progress so far. I am a very happy camper.

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Happy Campering and (Surprise) Rave: Allendale KOA

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Where have I been? Well, unlike many folks, summer is my busy season. While other parents relish in the relative calm that ensues post-school-sports-dance-etc., I have a toddler. In Michigan. A state coming off its worst winter in my lifetime. Thus, we are outside. All. The. Time.

Playground. Hiking. Beach. Splash pad. Backyard. Front yard. And repeat. It’s exhausting. I actually look forward to rainy days so I can laze on the couch guilt-free. My dad once told me that fresh air was a guaranteed method to wipe-out kids. Lies. My child feeds off the outdoors. Seriously. Her energy level is practically exponential lately: in that it feeds off itself. Literally, she seems to gain battery-power as a result of expending battery-power. She can run circles around me. It’s a very vicious cycle. So, we are outside. More space = more chase, but I’m dwelling on the memory of this past winter and the equally exhausting but still completely different fuel for frustration. Hey, I’ve lost ten pounds in the Duck-marathon, so there’s that.

We not only enjoy daily adventures outside, we are happy campers. Give me a tent, some firewood, some ‘mallows, a percolator, and excessive amounts of beer. We will have fun. I have always preferred a pretty primitive approach to camping: tent and inevitable argument whilst erecting said-tent. (“That’s not where that goes.” “I KNOW WHERE IT GOES!”) Pit-pots/ vault toilets. There’s nothing like the smell of disinfectant and the fear that a black widow spider is going to bite you on the keester. Hand-pumped well water. The coldest, freshest water ever. And, the resulting bicep-tricep muscle soreness. And, finding the elusive balance between pumping up-and-down and being able to release and hold the bucket under the spigot to catch the quickly-waning spray before having to resort to pumping again. Finally, a very flexible approach to bathing, hygiene, and washing of any kind. A quick whore’s bath in the lake or river? Yes, please. Ah, the joys of rustic camping.

Well, until now. Remember when I attested to the fact that I am not spoiled? I lied. My aunt (the bestest, most awesomest, wonderfullest, absolutely fabulousest person ever), gave us her camper. She and my uncle were looking to upgrade and upsize. They found a new camper but rather than selling or trading their old one, generously decided to share it with us, thinking that we might enjoy it; a value more than the monetary one they could reap from the sale. Because we are cool campers. And spoiled rotten. And incredibly grateful.

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Check out that awesome camper, yeah!!!

Turns out: I hate sleeping on the ground in a cold and damp tent with a toddler’s feet in my face. I would much rather be in a bed in an insulated camper with a toddler’s feet in my face. (Even at home, the feet-in-face is non-negotiable). I also like electricity. I am ashamed to admit this. I always “poo-poohed” people and their “luxuries” while camping. How is it camping??? But, it’s nice to have a fan. And lights. And a fridge. And a charger. And properly running water??? A toilet. And a sink. And clean dishes. And hand-washing. And even a hot shower. I draw the line at cable hook-ups and wi-fi, but you get the picture: Bring on the amenities!!

So, we are outside this summer. And, we are enjoying our wonderful gift from my aunt, Baby Grizzly Bear and my uncle, Larr-Bear. (They are some damn great bears). Part of our adventure has been putting our stamp on the new-to-us camper. It is an older model Sunline Travel Trailer. Fortunately, my aunt and uncle have maintained the crap out of it, so it’s in excellent shape. Not requiring any kind of investment in the trailer itself, freed up a bit of a budget to make some personal modifications then. Here are some After pictures of the exterior of the camper, appropriately dubbed: The Den… Get it???

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We spent a couple weeks on our updates before taking The Den on an inaugural camp for Fourth of July weekend. Beer Bear had to work during the day, so we just ended up camping at a KOA site about 20 minutes from Grand Rapids in Allendale. My previous opinion of KOA campgrounds was disagreeable: canned-sardine sites, no tree cover, no quiet, too many features. While some of that remains true, I am not so superior as to overlook the conveniences a campground like this can offer: an on-site camp store, electricity and water taps, a game room, putt-putt golf, showers, a pool, fishing, horseshoes, tetherball, a baseball diamond, ladderball, playgrounds, a dog run, hayrides, even a dunk tank. Many, many activities to busy a toddler. I remain loyal to rustic-camping (in a camper now, of course), but we did use some of the available amenities during our KOA stay. And, I would recommend the Allendale campground, just a short jaunt from downtown GR.

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I look forward to completing some more projects that I have in mind for the den. Ugh, my Pinterest page is inundated. (Once completed, I will update Before and After photos of the interior). We also have another couple nearby camps planned for this summer.

My sister from Spain is also due to arrive in Michigan for the summer soon. We have a waterpark weekend planned. I also have a girls’ trip to NYC planned in a couple weeks. We also have a family vacation planned for DC a little after that. We also have our annual reunion Up North. We also have daily excursions to the local parks, farms, beaches, markets, playgrounds, libraries, etc.

I’m so tired. No wonder bears hibernate through winter. Sheesh.

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