Michigan Adventure

Abigail is returning to Andrews University. School starts Monday. I’m taking the opportunity to travel to Michigan with her, help her move into the dorm, and visit with my brother.

Thursday, August 18

We have a 0600 flight, which means getting up very early. Of course, packing was not completed until late at night, so sleep was very slight. Not to worry, you can always sleep on the airplane! This early in the morning we were able to zip through security and were soon waiting in the departure area. I saw a woman using an iPad, which made me jealous, but not enough to shell out the bucks to get one of my own!

We landed right on time at 0940, and picked up our bags. My brother James was waiting at the cell phone parking lot and soon picked us up for the ride from Midway airport in Chicago to Berrien Springs, Michigan. It was an uneventful drive as we caught up on events.

James works for Adventist Frontier Missions (AFM), an organization that sponsors missionaries to unreached people groups. My visit coincided with their annual retreat, so in the afternoon we stopped off at the AFM training center where James had a commitment.

James has a large garden. Here Simon is holding an ear of sweet corn that has just been picked.

In the evening James and I attempted to play a computer game (Age of Empires) in multiplayer mode. That’s when I discovered his internet connection was not working. We also found that the software on Abigail’s laptop as not up to date. Looks like there will be some computer work for me to do during my visit. :)

James has a wonderful garden, which he showed off this evening. The sweet corn was ripe. It is the super-sweet variety, and was just wonderful eaten raw, seconds after being picked! James was afraid the raccoons would smell the corn and get it all in the night, so we picked all the sweet corn to use in a later meal.

Friday, August 19

Silver Beach is a nice park and beach area in St. Joseph. We spent an afternoon relaxing there.

I made pancakes for James, Pearl, and Simon this morning. The kids had made black raspberry jam from wild raspberries growing in the back yard, and this was delicious on the pancakes.

James took Simon to daycare on his way to work, while I took a look at the internet connection. The internet to the house was fine, but his wireless router had failed. James later picked up a new router which I installed for him.

The old train station at Silver Beach now houses a pizza restaurant. The food was yummy in a nice atmosphere. I haven't had Mizithra cheese in a long time!

Abigail met her roommate, Erica, at Lamson Hall. Together with Erica’s boyfriend, we moved Abigail’s stuff up to her dorm room on the third floor. There are no elevators in Lamson Hall!

AFM was hosting a picnic for the missionaries at their new training center. We joined them for a traditional picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, chips, and homemade ice cream. Most of the missionaries ere from southeast Asia (Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, etc.). They live in fairly primitive conditions a their diet can get monotonous, so they really enjoyed the picnic. I enjoyed visiting and discussing their work and adventures through the afternoon.

Saturday, August 20

Abigail, Simon, Pearl, and James on the shore of Lake Michigan, at Silver Beach.

Today we joined James at the AFM training center for worship services. The missionaries were in charge of the programming, and they must have absorbed the time values of the people they work with, as meetings started late, and lasted longer than planned. Everything was very interesting and inspirational as they related tales of adventure and of God’s leading in primitive areas of the world.

Sunday, August 21

The fountain at Silver Beach shoots up from multiple jets in a concrete plaza. At intervals water shoots into the air from the pedestals around the perimeter. It is as much a playground for the kids as a work of art.

This morning I helped James organize his office. Like most of us, he has accumulated lots of “stuff” that is not used on a daily basis. It was taking up valuable space and was not organized in such a way as to be able to find what is needed. We installed shelves on two walls that got stuff off the floor and able to be found. The office looks much better now.

In the afternoon, all of us went to St. Joseph, to Silver Beach on Lake Michigan. The Silver Beach Pizza was a wonderful place for lunch. Pearl and Simon took a dip in the lake. It was a beautiful afternoon for an outing.

Monday, August 22

Ready for a day on the Pine River.

Early Monday morning we dropped off the kids at day care, and headed north to the Pine River, near Cadillac.  When I lived in Michigan, James and I would canoe the Pine River annually, and we decided to repeat the trip this year.  I tried to talk James into taking kayaks, but he was afraid of doing the “Eskimo Flip” so we took a canoe instead.

With lots of curves, just enough faster water, and beautiful scenery, the Pine River was a wonderful place to spend a day.

Immediately upon pushing off into the river, we got hung up on a rock.  Nothing really exciting, except for the fear that if we made a wrong move we’d dunk into the river, which was very cold.  That rock did not want to let go, but we finally broke loose.  We congratulated ourselves on navigating several of the Class I rapids without mishap.  We caught up to three girls in kayaks and watched as one did not make a turn and was swept into the bank.  She made the classic mistake of grabbing an overhead branch and we watched as the river swept the kayak out from under her.  Splash!

mm-mm good! Grilled hot dogs for lunch.

We brought a bag of charcoal and some hot dogs, and grilled for lunch.  Very tasty!  Then James and I switched places in the canoe for the last part of the river.  Once again there was a learning curve as we floated backwards down the river toward the churning Class I rapids.  Back home with Richard I always sit in the rear and steer.  This was my position the first part of the trip, and I was surprised at the different skills required in the front of the canoe.  No worries – we quickly caught on and finished the float without incident.  Then it was another 3 hour drive back to Berrien Springs.

Tuesday, August 23

Hyde Park has some wonderful examples of Victorian architecture.

Abigail and I spent Tuesday in Chicago.  We chose to go to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Body Worlds exhibit.  This is an amazing exhibit, featuring bodies of real people (who had donated their bodies to science) preserved by the Plastination method. The Plastination process results in very realistic models of the body’s soft tissues.  It was very impressive.

Ron the Piper played a tune on the recorder for us.

The sun was shining in Berrien Springs Tuesday morning, but by the time we got to Chicago it was pouring.  Parking costs only $1 per hour, and the meters take credit cards.  However, the first parking meter I tried was locked up with a software fault.  By the time I figured this out and got a ticket out of another meter, we were thoroughly soaked.  Abigail and I spent most of the day at the museum, and when we came out the sun was again shining.  I consulted the Food Finder app which recommended Salonica and gave us a map.  We walked to Hyde Park, under the ‘L’ tracks, past some gorgeous Victorian architecture, and enjoyed a good meal.

At Salonica, we met Ron the Piper, a self-styled street minstrel.  Ron is a disabled Vietnam Vet that lives in the Hyde Park area, and he was full of information on every topic.  Ron had his instruments with him and insisted on playing the recorder for us.

Wednesday, August 24

Abigail dropped me of at the Hampton Inn in Crestwood on Tuesday evening and then returned to Berrien Springs because she had classes on Wednesday.  I had picked this hotel because Kayak.com said they had shuttle service to Midway airport.  Unfortunately, while the hotel has a van they do not provide shuttle service to Midway, about 10 miles away.  I was unable to get a resolution Tueday evening.

Abigail got lost on the way back to Berrien Springs.  That’s not hard to do in a large, strange city at night.  I brought up the maps app on my iPhone and was able to guide her onto a freeway.  From there she followed the signs back to her dorm.

Wednesday morning I tried another run at the front desk to arrange a shuttle to the airport.  The clerk was very nice and told me to come back at 10:00 when the shuttle driver arrived.  I occupied my time by eating at the free breakfast buffet, taking a walk, and shopping at Target for a phone charger (I had forgotten to pack one).

No luck on arranging a shuttle to Midway.  The hotel does not provide that service.  However, I have to give kudos to Greg Freeman, the hotel manager.  He had his staff contact Kayak to remove the erroneous shuttle information, and personally offered to take me to the airport.  The rest of the trip back to Albuquerque was unremarkable.

Tech Notes

Here are some notes on the tech tools I used on this adventure.

Kayak My Trips

I did all the trip planning online.  Airline tickets on Southwest.com, hotel on Kayak.com.  While on Kayak, I signed up for My Trips.  This is a free service that creates a trip itinerary.  Since I booked the hotel on Kayak, that was automatically included in the itinerary.  I forwarded the confirmation email from Southwest to Kayak and the airline reservations were automatically added to the itinerary.  The nice thing is that the original booking email is saved and can be pulled up at any time.  I manually added itinerary items for the canoe trip and a play (which we ended up not attending).

Kayak has an iPhone app that syncs to My Trips on the web.  I found it very convenient to have my entire itinerary available in one place.  The app will also initiate alerts to remind of items in the itinerary.

Food Finder

I used the Food Finder app to locate restaurants near the Museum of Science and Industry, and Yelp to get reviews on the selected restaurants.  Food finder worked well for what I wanted.  I liked the map feature that guided us as we walked several blocks to Salonica.  Food Finder has no reviews, so I used Yelp to fill in the gap.


Apple’s standard Maps app was indispensable on this trip.  The iPhone’s GPS function along with the Maps app guided me in many situations.

  • Helped me navigate around Berrien Springs, a town I was not familiar with.
  • Helped us locate the canoe livery for the Pine River float.  It sort of helped with navigating the Pine River, though cell service was sporadic.  It helped to know how much further to the parking spot where our car was located.
  • Directed us to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
  • Saved Abigail on her return from Chicago to Berrien Springs.  Abigail would read off street names and I would find them on Maps, and give her directions to get on the highway.  A point for AT&T over Verizon; in this case it was indispensable to be able to talk and surf at the same time.

Of course, the GPS function and constant map downloads runs the battery in the iPhone down quickly.  I wouldn’t recommend replacing a dedicated GPS receiver, but when you need help navigating now, the maps app is indispensable.

The Great Rio Grande Canoe Hike

The weather is turning warmer.  Nights are still cool, but daytime temps reach 70 many days.  The snow is melting in the mountains, which means there is more water in the Rio Grande than there will be later in the summer.  It was time for an adventure canoeing down the Rio Grande.  There are no pictures of this adventure, the reason will become apparent as you read on.

This adventure was full of perils and excitement.  I’ve organized this post by the ordeals we had to overcome on this odyssey.  Ulysses had nothing on us!


I invited my friend Gregory to come along on the short and easy float down the river.  Richard and I loaded up the canoe, met Gregory, and drove down to Tingley beach, south of Albuquerque, where we left Gregory’s pickup truck for the return trip.  I scouted to make sure there was a clear path to the river.  As we were leaving, we noted that Tingley Beach closes at sunset, which would give us about four hours for the float.

Back at the parking area off Alameda Boulevard, we put the canoe into the water and immediately grounded.  There was indeed more water in the river than on last year’s adventure in June, but we had three people in the canoe instead of two, so the boat had a deeper draft.  No amount of pushing or jiggling would free us, so I got out into about 4 inches of water and pulled the canoe to a deeper channel.

The water may have been 4 inches deep, but the river bottom near the shore was covered with a fine sand, into which my feet would sink with every step.  It was quicksand, and when I stopped after guiding the canoe to deeper water, I quickly sank up to my knees in sand.  Fortunately, because the sand was under water, it wasn’t too difficult to extricate myself, though it did take a lot of effort and care to ensure my sandals did not remain at the bottom of the river.


Last summer we had to portage around the diversion dam.  The water pumping facility has a channel (for use by the endangered silvery minnow) that could be used to go around the dam, but it was dry last June.  Today it had plenty of water in it.  We exited the channel below the dam, but there was another waterfall!  I got the canoe pointed straight downstream, but as we went over the lip, the canoe bottomed out.  It started to turn broadside to the current, and water began pouring over the gunwale.  I thought we might be going in, but then the boat broke free and we escaped with only a few inches of water in the bottom of the canoe.

River Monster!

As we floated close to the eastern bank, something made a huge splash.  We could see the wake as it streaked toward the center of the river.  Was it a catfish?  A carp?  A muskrat?  Let’s just call it a river monster!

Attacked by Wildlife!

There were geese and ducks all along the river, which is covered by sandbars and dotted with small islands.  The ducks would fly away as we approached, but the Canada Geese would set up a loud honking.  As we passed one of the tiny islands, a goose came running down into the water, wings spread, neck outstretched, and bill open!  Possibly there was a nest on that island, though we did not see it.

The three of us probably would have been able to beat off an attack by a large waterfowl, but we were glad he did not press the attack as we drifted further away from his home.  Later, we did see a goose sitting on her nest on an island just like this one.  Her mate must have been away as there was no attack.

Later on, we saw a single downy, yellow gosling swimming next to the western bank.  Poor fellow looked lost.

By the way, though these are Canada Geese, they are not Canadian.  Living in the southwest USA, they are obviously American Canada Geese!

Walking on Water!

Despite there being more water in the Rio Grande, there are still many areas where the canoe bottomed out and someone had to get out and pull it.  After many episodes of getting in and out, we finally got out and walked on the stretch just north of the I-40 bridge.  It felt like we walked further than we floated, though I’m sure that is an illusion.  Walking on water has its perils, though.  One moment you are ankle deep, and with the next step you’re up to your knees, or even waist.


All that walking on water leaves one tired.  It involves a lot of getting out of and into the canoe.  It’s easy enough to step out of the cane into ankle deep water, but the getting in part is done in deeper water.  One time Richard was attempting to get in, lost his balance, and over we went – capsized!

This was the nadir of the adventure.  We were trying to stay close to the left bank, since that is where the deepest channel is reputed to be located.  A slight miscalculation led to becoming entangled in a thorn tree.  That probably led to impatience, tiredness and lapse in judgement leading to the overturned canoe.  The worst part was that the dunking caused our phones to get wet.  Richard’s phone survived; my iPhone did not.  I was using my iPhone to take pictures of the adventure, which is why there are no pictures.


By this time we were worried that too much time had gone by.  We needed to be at Tingley Beach by sunset to avoid being locked into the parking lot.  We are scanning the horizon for the next bridge.  It must be just around the next bend … perhaps the bend after that!  Finally, there is the bridge.  We are parked about a half mile south of the Central Street bridge.  Almost there!

By the time we pass under the bridge the sun has disappeared below the western horizon.  It’s still dusk so we hope the gate will not be locked yet.  However, the docking area (just a clear patch in the woods) does not appear.  Finally I get out on the shore to scout the land as Richard and Gregory continue down the river.  The canoe floats easier with less weight in it.

I find a path and meet up with the others at the river’s edge.  Richard and I carry the canoe through the brush and up onto a levee.  That fiberglass canoe is heavy after a day of paddling!    Nothing looks familiar.  We are on an irrigation ditch bank road, not the expected bike path.  Gregory and I decide to head south to try to rescue the truck.  Richard elects to stay with the canoe.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I have a GPS unit with me.  Did it survive the dunking?  Garmin builds their outdoor units to take abuse, and it was indeed functional.  I study the map, trying to overcome cognitive dissonance.  The GPS indicates we are not even close to the parking lot.  What has happened?  Then understanding dawns .. we are a bridge too short!  The bridge we had eagerly looked for and found was the I-40 bridge, but the Central Street bridge is over a mile to the south.  I return to Richard and explain.  We don’t want to carry that heavy canoe a mile or more.  We also do not want to be on the river after dark.  Richard will stay with the canoe, with his working cell phone.  I will catch up to Gregory and we’ll try to find a way to drive back to pick up the canoe.

Police!  Security!

After a mile hike on the ditch bank road, Gregory and I reach Central Avenue.  By good fortune, a police car had just turned onto Tingley Drive, on the other side of Central, where the officer made a U-turn.  Gregory and I waved, whistled, yelled and jumped up and down to get his attention.  He came over and I explained our dilemma.  The officer was doubtful anyone could be reached at this hour, but he put in a call to his dispatcher anyway.

I have to put in a good word for all the people that helped us in the Albuquerque Police (APD), Recreation, and Open Space departments.  Everyone was uniformly courteous and eager to help.  Like your mother told you, the policman is your friend.  That was certainly true this night.

The APD dispatcher arranged for Albuquerque Municipal Security to meet us at the Tingley Beach parking lot and unlock the gate.  The APD officer gave us a ride there, where we met Security Sergeant Angela Graham.  Sergeant Graham had arranged to have someone from Open Space division to come with a key.  Gregory retrieved his truck, and then Sergeant Graham called another person to come with the key to the gate to the ditch bank road where Richard was waiting with the canoe.  Then we were on our way to rescue Richard.

One more piece of excitement remained.  We found the canoe, but Richard was not there!  The security people went up the road looking for him while Gregory and I loaded the canoe onto the truck.  By the time we finished, they were on the way back with Richard.  Richard had gotten cold during the wait, had called his mother, and was on his way to meet her.

The rest of the adventure was unremarkable.  Sergeant Angela Graham actually thanked us for making Security’s night not as boring as usual!  The parking lot back on Alameda Boulevard was not locked, so we had no trouble retrieving my Trailblazer.  Then is was back home for hot chocolate, hot showers, and rest.

Adventure Map


Rio Grande Canoe Float

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Canoeing Down the Rio Grande

We put the canoe into the Rio Grande at Alameda Boulevard. In the background is the old 2-lane bridge. It has been replaced by a newer 4-lane bridge and is now used as a pedestrian path.

Most of the year, the Rio Grande does not have a lot of water in it, but during the spring snow melt, the water is high enough for a pleasant canoe float.  One can check the flow in the river at the Corps of Engineers web site, but I did not check it for this trip.  A colleague at work told me that the flow was already dropping, and I wanted to do a float before it turned into a hike!

The city of Albuquerque put in a diversion dam to bring water to a pumping station on shore. Posted signs said to portage around the dam, so we did. The dam can be raised or lowered depending on conditions. Photo shows the dam from downstream.

I should have checked the weather forecast! Who would have thought there could be any trouble on a nice, sunny day with a cool breeze blowing? Yes, it was a stiff breeze blowing upstream, but we were floating down the river, and expected the current to take us where we were going regardless of the breeze. After all, this was not a lake where you could get swamped with good-sized waves. If I had looked up the forecast I would have seen that the Weather Service had put out a wind advisory for the afternoon.

The wind blew off Richard's hat, and while we were trying to retrieve it, the wind blew us into the bank and under a thorny tree.

The plan was to put in at Alameda Boulevard and float down to Tingley Beach just south of Central Avenue. From my friend Marshall I expected one area of sandbars where we may have to portage, but the water was expected to be high enough not to cause problems. “Stay close to the east bank”, Marshall advised. “That’s where the deeper channels are.”

I was busy taking pictures and laughing at Rich's predicament, and ended up losing my paddle! There it goes downstream. Fortunately we were able to retrieve it.

Richard and I were to float down the river, and Abigail would pick us up at the end.  I got onto Google Earth and used the satellite photos to find the pickup spot.  I copied down the Latitude and Longitude and keyed them into the GPS units.  Richard and I would have one in the canoe so we’d know where to get out, and Abigail would have a GPS unit in the car to find the pickup spot.

There was still enough water in the Rio Grande for a canoe float, but not as much as a week earlier. The Corps of Engineers was not letting as much water out of Cochiti Lake now that the peak snow melt was past.

We loaded up the canoe and went to the Alameda Open Space parking lot on the south side of Alameda Boulevard.  Of course this was the wrong place, as the North Diversion Channel was between the parking lot and the river.  It would have been a long ways to carry the canoe to the river.  No problem — there is an access point on the west side of the river and north of Alameda, at the trail head for the Corrales Bosque Trail.  Once there we met some folks just loading up their canoe.  They had put in at North Corrales Beach and were getting out of the river where we planned to get in.  “The wind is pretty strong”, they warned.

On one section of the river it was actually easier to get out and walk on the sandbar.

Rich and I carried the canoe down to the west bank of the river.  We crossed under the Alameda bridge, and tried to paddle across to the east bank.  That was not going to happen easily! With no obstructions along the river, the wind was blowing so strongly that we were afraid of being blown upstream!  Worse, if we did not keep the canoe pointed into the wind, we would lose control of where the canoe would go.  Crossing the river, with our beam to the wind, was a real challenge. Soon after reaching the east bank, we portaged around the diversion dam.

Jetty jacks were placed along the riverbank to trap debris floating down the river and keep it from eroding the river bank and flood control levee. With flood control dams now in place, the jacks are being removed in many places to return the river to a more natural condition.

We got about to the Paseo del Norte bridge when Abigail called.  The GPS was taking her over the mountain, and was that the right way to go?  I checked my GPS, and sure enough the destination waypoint was east of the Sandias.  I must have transposed a digit when copying the coordinates from Google Earth.  Rich is holding on to a tree branch steadying the canoe while I am scrolling the 2-inch screen on my GPS trying to locate the destination.  (We could not be floating down the river because it took two people to control the canoe in the wind.)  Finally, success.  I gave Abby the coordinates to key into her GPS and we were again on our way.

There are channels under the Montaño bridge that reduce the distance the canoe has to be carried up to the road. Note the graffiti on the support beam.

This wind was so strong that if we held our paddles up as sails we probably would be blown upstream.  So it actually required paddling to make slow progress downstream.  Every once in a while we would hit a sandbar and have to rock the boat off into deeper water.  “It would be faster to walk!”, Rich exclaimed at on particularly shallow stretch.  So we got out and pulled the canoe behind us.  I was busy taking pictures in ankle deep water, when I took one step and was in up to my waist.  Fortunately the camera did not get wet.

This road provides access to the bosque for firefighters. There is a locked gate preventing access to the bosque, but just enough room before the gate to pull off busy Montaño Boulevard and load the canoe.

Progress was much slower than expected, so I decided to cut the trip short and get out at Montaño.  I had not scouted this area and did not know where the access was, though Marshall had told me this is where he got out.  I called Abigail and told her to meet us at the Montaño bridge.  We selected the east side of the river to exit.  Fortunately there was a fire access road that provided enough space to pull off Montaño, which is a limited access thoroughfare.

I looked up the weather report after getting home.  Wind advisory was in effect.  Wind speed was 22 mph in Corrales, and I bet it was faster on the river.  I don’t think we were ever in danger, but the peaceful river float had turned into an adventure.

More pictures are available at
Rio Grande Float at EveryTrail

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