Tag Archives: wanderlust

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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Summer Summary, Part 1

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I. Am. Exhausted.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived just over a month ago from Spain. They flew into Chicago and rode the mega-bus into Grand Rapids. It was relatively cheap transportation and afforded the option for an initial arrival in Chicago, which tends to be a less-expensive option than Detroit in international flights. We spent a couple of “relaxed” days in Grand Rapids. The only notable event was a minor brewery exploration downtown as we introduced them to Founders’ Taproom and Hopcat Brewery: a pair of proper, Beer City institutions that shouldn’t be missed.

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Having a drink and a reunion at Founders’.

The weekend following their arrival, we headed to Dundee, home to the “other” Cabelas. We enjoyed a great groupon deal for a hotel-stay and passes to a waterpark. It was fun, but Duckers was pretty intimidated by the constant spraying and dump buckets. She did figure out the lazy river pretty quickly. (Fortunate; since I discovered that I hate water slides). We also wandered to downtown Dundee which was pretty cute and offered a fabulous Mexican meal. (Also, fortunate; good food and one-dollar margaritas? Yes, please).

We then trekked to my parents’ home, north of Ann Arbor. They live on a lake and it gets plenty of use throughout the summer months. This weekend, of course, centered on family and we visited and played with the bearpack. We paid a visit to my nonna, who lives in an home for the elderly in a memory-care unit. My nonna suffers from dementia. She is in pretty amazing physical health for her age, but it has been years since she recognized me as her granddaughter. This visit, in particular, stood out as another stage in her mental decline as she readily switched between English, Italian, and gibberish. Our previous visit to see her was in the spring and, while her faculties were not intact by any means, she seemed considerably better at the time. Even so, she always seems happy to see us and the duck is always a nice treat for the residents. She is no longer the Nonnie I grew up with, but she is my only surviving grandparent. She is one of Ducky’s only two great-grandparents. (Her great-grandfather is 97(!) and still living in the Phillipines). The legacy alone is important to me but I also cherish the simple moments of proximity. Some people seem to have a healing touch, even if they don’t (or can’t) know it.

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A view from the original den.

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Four generations of hands. Or bear paws. Whatever.

We also swung by the Plymouth Art Festival. It was a pretty great turnout of vendors and had far better prices than the neighboring Ann Arbor Art Festival. We scooped up another Tony from MrSogs: a stuffed monster and one of my favorites in Ducky’s immense toy menagerie. This Tony Rex joins perennial favorites, Tony Tony and Tony Mac. I also found some cool pottery and a lawn tchotchke. Add my unique finds to some good food and good company and it made for a pretty swell day.

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Tony Mac, Tony Rex, Tony Tony, and Penguin. Check out MrSogs on etsy.

Onto a couple of days back in GR and readying myself for our impending girls’ trip. I wanted to spend some special time with my little girly, so we spent some time at the library and the park and the mall… and, maybe, at the ice cream shoppe. We also discovered geocaching (which I will discuss more in a later post). It’s been a pretty great activity and has added a little more adventure to our walks and hikes.

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Special time before I abandoned her to her dad. (Bwahaha).

On Friday, I got on a plane (in itself, a minor miracle) with my mom and sisters. We had a FABULOUS weekend in NYC. I had never been before and I found the city simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. No celebrity sightings. No green space. Times Square was smaller than I imagined. Sooooo many people. Surprisingly little diversity in said-people. Of course, our stay was super short and limited us to Manhattan (with a brief jaunt to Staten Island and Brooklyn). We did the major sites. (My favorite was the Statue). We did some shopping. We corpsed. (It’s a thing). I hope to write a full post about the trip soon. Altogether, I had a wonderful time and a ridiculous amount of fun. Even though New York wasn’t my cup o’ tea, my company was fantastic! The bearpack definitely took a bite out of the Big Apple. Of course, I missed Beer Bear and my duck. A (thankfully) brief flight to Detroit and a quick (likely, illegally-so) drive to GR and I was home. If only temporarily…

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Gotham bears.

(Hey, I said it was exhausting. More soon. Stay tuned).

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