One of the top places on my list that I wanted to visit along this trip was Mackinac Island in Michigan. I’d always seen beautiful pictures and heard great things about northern Michigan so I wanted to check it out for myself!

We enjoyed our stay at the KOA in Mackinaw City and took the ferry over to Mackinac Island for the day. Who knew that the two places were spelled differently but pronounced the same? Not I.

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Well, obviously the sun was behind us so we are shaded but you can see the gorgeous Mighty Mac bridge behind us as we bike around the island!

It was a gorgeous summer Saturday on the island, so it was packed with people everywhere. After eating lots of fudge, we rented bikes and headed off the 8 plus miles all the way around. Any time I can jump on my bike and ride amidst beautiful scenery I am in my happy place! The sun shining, a little quiet time and a little exercise equals a win-win!

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Back on the mainland, we had the chance to go to the Jack Pine Lumberjack Show! We were really excited to go as we have never seen competing lumberjacks in a live show before and we had not run across any other opportunities to do so along our travels yet. Always love an opportunity to learn something new combined with competition and laughter!

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Owner Dan McDonough is a nine-time world champion Logroller himself and has traveled around with the sport since he was 18 years old! Not only will he take your ticket as you enter and play DJ throughout the show, but he does a fantastic job of engaging the crowd with his witty humor as well. Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows is in it’s 7th season in this beautiful spot in Mackinaw and entertains anywhere from 50-250 guests nightly during it’s season of May through September.

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The hour(ish) long show is a Medieval Times type of a competition where the audience is divided up into two rival logging camps where you are assigned a lumberjack to cheer on. The two competing lumberjacks demonstrate turn of the century skills of chopping, sawing, axe throwing, pole climbing, logrolling and more! Tough stuff!

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Admission to the outdoor show is only $13 for adults (15 and over) and $9 for seniors and children, making this an affordable family night out in Mackinaw! Thanks Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows for having our family! Dan said there are a few other permanent show sites in Wisconsin, Gatlinburg, Alaska and Maine. Have you ever been to a Lumberjack show?

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Please excuse today’s blog entry as it’s not my normal post with pretty pictures and happy travel reviews but it’s today’s truth. This post would’ve remained in my personal journal before this trip. But, since you are along with me on this ride and have asked for the truth, here you go….

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Today I am feeling trapped by this RV. Suffocated by our cross country campground tour. My best friend Mary’s Mom died and I’m feeling overwhelmed not being there. In upstate New York, I am much closer in distance to their home in Maryland than normal, but yet I am hours away from an airport and honestly just can’t figure out how to get there before her Mom’s service, which is 24 hours from now.

Who cares about touring Lake Placid at a time like this? Who cares about any of it? My friend’s Mom passed away and I need to be there. I need to get there to hug her and cry with her and tell her it’s so not fair in person. She tells me that it’s ok and that she understands if I can’t make it. She’s giving me an “out” as she usually does, but something in me isn’t buying it.

Our family has missed numerous celebrations to do this trip. Celebrations we would’ve really liked to have been at. We’ve missed Bar Mitzvahs, Graduations, parties and weddings. All the fun celebrations that a normal summertime brings. I even turned down a keynote speaking opportunity for a blog conference that I really wanted to do. Just stay focused. We committed to this trip and everyone understands. But, today I just want to be back in my normal existence where I could’ve just jumped on a plane from Phoenix to Baltimore without thinking twice. Instead my head has been spinning trying to figure out how to get to Mary from here. So close yet so far. After researching my options for hours last night, I decided to sleep on it and knew that God would lead me in the morning.

When I woke up today, I decided that I wasn’t going to leave my family to drive to Lake Placid without me. I decided that it all felt too much to figure out so I called Mary in tears to tell her that I just couldn’t make it. I knew deep in my soul that I should be there and that I want to be there, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. I’m not in my element. I am in the middle of a campground, in an RV, in the pouring rain, in the middle of our epic trip. I just can’t make it. She’ll understand.

With tears streaming down my face, I made the phone call to tell her I wouldn’t be there. She picked up the phone without a hello and sobbing said, I am not ok Amy. I am just not ok. I keep telling everyone I’m ok, but I’m just not. Then, there was nothing but tears between us. God had spoken and I would find my way to her. My family would understand and would be capable to continue on a few hours and set up home in Lake Placid without me. They would have to.

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My dear family dropping me off at the Albany train station! On to Lake Placid they go without me.

Mary and I have been pals since we met in 4th grade. Her family moved to Maryland our junior year of high school and we vowed to remain the best of friends. We have lived on different coasts for 20 plus years now but have remained close despite the distance. We have seen each other through first crushes, first and second marriages, first babies and now a first death of a parent. I will be there. I will see you through this as well my friend.

I walked back into the RV and said to my husband. I have to go. Please help me make it happen and just book the closest train station to get me there. And he did. The stress of getting on an airplane just made the relaxation of my friend Amtrak more appealing for my travel today down to Baltimore. The price was the exact same for a one way ticket as the flight on Southwest and I could’ve been there in an hour and a half instead of 6 hours, but I needed this time to decompress. I also thought that dropping me off at the Albany train station would be easier with the big rig than an airport! Plus, I didn’t bring a suitcase or any travel sized toiletries along in the RV so it felt nice to just throw stuff in a bag without thinking about how many ounces it was or how sharp it may be. Another Amtrak plus.

Then I realized I didn’t even bring along an outfit for such an occasion. When I skimmed my closet, I came to a dress I picked up in an Omaha boutique. I had pictured wearing it out one night on a dinner date with my husband, most likely when we returned to Arizona. It’s the only piece of clothing I’ve bought along the journey so far. Who knew it’s what I would now be wearing to my best friend’s Mom’s funeral.

Today I took a detour from our family’s planned trip to tend to a friend. To say goodbye to a sweet, loving woman who’s house I grew up in and to help bring comfort to her daughter. I think my kids can learn from this just as they have been learning about our countries history and landmarks along the way. Close friendships and loving relationships are life’s most precious gifts. May we always remember to take the time to invest in those who have brought joy, love and happiness to our lives. I’m on my way friend.

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The hustle and bustle of a Friday night layover in Penn Station in NYC!

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One of my very favorite things about staying at all different KOA properties across the USA, is meeting their owners and seeing the unique twists they bring to their campgrounds. We were fortunate enough to be staying at the St. Louis West location when three generations of the Bell family were too. The Bell Family are the owners of three different KOA locations- their newest one in St. Louis, San Diego Metro and Grand Canyon/Williams in Arizona.

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Three generations of the Bell Family at the St. Louis West KOA location.

Ted and Carol Bell purchased the San Diego KOA back in 1968, putting this popular campground under their direction for over 45 years now. Ted, at 85, is still in the business and very passionate about all of the construction projects around the campgrounds. Carol used to do all of the books until taking a more hands off role.

Ted and Carol’s only son, Mike, is President of the family company. He and his wife, Rowena, are owner operators of the San Diego location. This park is under a huge redevelopment plan including the addition of an upscale cafe/restaurant, The Sandcastle Cafe, on the property for the very first time. We had the pleasure of spending some time with Mike And Rowena while they were in St. Louis visiting their oldest son and his family.

Third generation kids Josh, Clint and Molly are all involved with the campgrounds now. There was never an expectation from Mike and Rowena that their kids had to join the family business. Josh, Clint and Molly were always encouraged to pursue their own dreams and all went away to college. They also lived in various places, pursuing different job choices for many years. How neat that they have made their way back to the family business and all have various roles in the company at this time. Even their spouses all have unique roles!

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Our kids loved renting these fun bikes to cruise around the St. Louis West KOA!

Josh and his wife, Nannette, are hands on owners of the St. Louis West KOA and have done an amazing job with this property since taking it over just a year ago. Josh does anything and everything as I witnessed firsthand. From the first time he answered the phone when I called to make my reservation, I knew this was going to be a great place to stay.

Nannette is in charge of marketing for all of the family campgrounds and has done an awesome job with their store. You would be hard pressed to find a cuter KOA store than theirs! She has brought in popular gift lines such as Natural Life, Danica Studio swedish dishcloths and the infamous poopourri, as well as many other adorable lines. If you live in the St. Louis area, it’s worth it to just come shop here for any gifts you may need for an avid camper!

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Middle brother Clint manages and runs the San Diego park while his wife, Courtney is an avid foodie who’s been put in charge of food and beverage.

Daughter Molly Crawford runs the large activities program in San Diego, as well as merchandising. Her husband Ryan currently has a job outside of the family company but is an avid camper/outdoorsman so he brings a different set of eyes to the table. Molly, along with Mom Rowena, also owns a company creating competitive dance costumes for studios across the United States!

About the Bell family KOA year round properties:

SAN DIEGO METRO KOA

San Diego has a rich staff of employees, some who have been with them for the past 20-30 years. The campground offers a large summer activity schedule as well as monthly themed weekends like Chocolate weekend in January and a wellness weekend in March, that I’m really hoping to be at! In April, you can come learn all about your RV if you are a new owner or thinking about buying one, at their Shake Down for your RV weekend.

With the addition of their upcoming property restaurant, San Diego Metro KOA will be branding themselves a KOA Resort property, under the new brand positioning recently put into place by KOA corporate to help campers better understand the offerings of each park.

GRAND CANYON/WILLIAMS KOA

The Bell family purchased this location in 2007 after a fire had burnt all of the campground’s main facilities. They were able to build the park back up and it is now a KOA quintessential Journey branded park. It’s close proximity to the Grand Canyon makes it a popular stop and it offers food service at the Cowboy Cafe as well. It is unique in the fact that there is another KOA just 5 miles away!

ST. LOUIS WEST KOA

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St. Louis West has implemented some deluxe cabins and are now a KOA Holiday branded property. They are also working on a plan to have the best internet service they can provide guests.

According to Nannette, “Folks don’t know how to do downtime anymore. We thought people would want to come here and unplug but people don’t want to do that. We find they want even more wifi to stream their netflix and surf the web, so we want to provide that.”

St. Louis offers a summer activities schedule full of fun happenings for kids and their families. Our kids had to be back at the campground one night for Bingo and the next for the flashlight lollipop hunt.

Thanks Bell Family for a great time! We look forward to visiting with you on your properties closer to our Arizona home soon!

When you think of St. Louis, Missouri, you most certainly think of visiting the iconic Gateway Arch officially known as the Thomas Jefferson Westward Expansion Memorial. We began our day with a visit to the famous Arch and then found an even better gem for our family in the City Museum.

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Have you ever seen a museum like this? We were recommended to the City Museum by a teacher friend who lives in the St. Louis area. We followed her advice and the Museum invited our family to come spend our Saturday here!

Now mind you that any place featuring the word ‘museum’ in its title is questionable to our tweens. ‘Museum’ has a connotation of being boring and perhaps a little too educational in their eyes. We haven’t visited many museums along our route because we prefer to spend the majority of our time outdoors. But, this museum is unlike anything that exists anywhere else we have ever been. We were fascinated by this unique, urban spectacle. The City Museum is a definite highlight of our time in St. Louis!

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Let’s start with the fabulous rooftop.

It costs an extra $5 in addition to your $12 general admission ticket. The rooftop is open weather permitting and is tons of fun! There is a cool cafe up here too where you can get drinks and snacks, including beer.

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It’s best to wear comfortable clothes and definitely old athletic shoes. A couple of our kids sneakers got beat up here, so be sure to not wear anything you care a lot about. Pants are even smart to wear, even though the kids get hot running all around! We even saw what must’ve been City Museum veterans wearing knee pads.

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There is no map or brochure to navigate the building. A lot of it is ever-changing I guess. The 3rd Floor was where we spent a lot of time. It is home to a number of attractions including Skateless Park, which is a collection of skateboard ramps, minus the skateboards, with rope swings tied in front of the ramps and mats to land on. We would’ve liked to have seen the Everyday Circus that performs daily but the timing just didn’t work out for us.

Around the corner from the Circus, is Art City where guests can try different art techniques. Beatnik Bob’s is an interesting spot across from the Circus, featuring vintage video/pinball games, and a concessions stand with candy and ice cream. Everywhere you look there is something interesting to look at or climb on or through!

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It was honestly tough to get too many pictures here as the kids were off and running the entire time! I’m so happy that our four are old enough to fend for themselves because this is a place where young ones could easily get lost. There are so many places to climb and explore!

If you are lucky enough to snag a parking spot in the museum parking lot (which we did), it is only $5. There is plenty of parking in the surrounding areas too. There are lots of good food options here as well, so you don’t have to worry about going hungry. Our favorite was the BBQ cart outside of the ball pit area just outside of the entrance.

And what museum stays open on a Saturday summer night until midnight? This one! We were all worn out way before that, but next time I’m planning to shut the place down!

Have you been to the City Museum in St. Louis before?

Ever since we left Mount Rushmore, we have been cruising around the Midwest states. Our first state to venture through was Iowa. Unfortunately, we were on our way to Omaha, Nebraska so we didn’t have much time for this little state. So, what do you do when you only have a few hours to spend in an unknown state? Check the map and the internet and there you have it.

LeMars, Iowa- the Ice Cream Capital of the World! We took a picturesque country backroads drive on I-75 to get there and were pleasantly surprised at the cute little town of LeMars! The sad part about the drive was passing through Minnesota for a short amount of time and knowing that our old Woodbury home and friends were just a few hours north of us and we weren’t able to go see any of them!

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LeMars is the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream, so we visited their flagship store and we weren’t disappointed!

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We shopped a bit along the cute main street before heading into one of the coziest, inspiring coffee shops I’ve ever been in- Habitué! Everyone in this coffee shop was so friendly. I felt right at home. It made me wish I had more time to just sit and relax before we had to hit the road. Who knew that when I struck up a conversation with a cute lady sitting in a booth there, that she was the owner of Habitue, Cheryl Wells. Who also knew that her husband is part of the Wells Family that owns Blue Bunny as well! I loved the simple, small town feel and energy in LeMars and I would love to come back one day and enjoy a latte with Cheryl and her friends!

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You know you’re in Iowa when……

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You can buy fresh picked corn on the cheap out of a truck alongside the road!

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Outside the bathrooms at Blue Bunny are reminders that things aren’t always so calm in Iowa!

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Our National Parks annual pass is getting a workout on this trip! For a family who only had visited one National Park before this trip (the Grand Canyon), we certainly are making up for lost time now.

We purchased our America the Beautiful annual pass at our inaugural stop at Glen Canyon Dam, near Lake Powell. The $80 we spent for this is the best money we’ve spent on this trip for sure! The pass allows our family access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites. The pass covers entrance and standard fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle, including our big RV. Children age 15 and under are admitted free.

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We’ve already used our pass for entrance into Lake Powell, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Little Bighorn Battlefield, the Badlands and Mammoth Cave!

Another awesome program for families hitting the National Parks is their National Junior Ranger Program. This has been an awesome way for our kids to get involved by participating in the activity based program in each park.

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At the Park’s Visitor Center you pick up the Junior Ranger program workbook. Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5-13 and your age will determine how many activities you need to complete in order to earn your Park badge. I wondered if our kids would be too old for this program, but it has proved to be challenging and fun for them actually. It gives them something to look forward to with each park visit. All kids love a collection, so why not start one where they learn along the way and earn something free to take home at the end.

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Kids usually have to attend a park ranger event, take a hike and answer many questions on wildlife and aspects pertaining to each particular place. The great thing about my kids doing it at this age, is that they can do the book by themselves or at least work together, which is really nice!  I think these programs would be pretty tough to do with a 5-7 year old. At the end of each experience, the kids share their answers with a park ranger and are sworn in as Junior Rangers before receiving a badge or patch from that park. So far, they have ten under their belt!

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Getting sworn in by cool Ranger Marc Ankenbauer in West Glacier National Park. Check out his amazing endeavor on www.glacierexplorer.com!

It has been a fun way for the kids to learn things that they never would’ve known before. They now point out sagebrush bushes while hiking and know what the symbols on the National Park Service logo mean. Two months ago none of us could’ve told you that!

This gorgeous campground in the Black Hills of South Dakota optimizes summer fun! It is truly a kids dream come true to be able to camp at the Mt. Rushmore KOA/The Lodge at Palmer Gulch. This activity driven campground has a schedule of fun events throughout each day as well as innumerable mainstays in the Fun Zone to keep all kids busy and happy. This in turn means more downtime for parents to enjoy themselves as well.

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This was our kids first KOA jumping pillow experience! Now they are spoiled and search the KOA directory telling us where they want to stay next according to if they have a jumping pillow or not! 

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The free mini golf is always a big family favorite! Check out the water slide behind us too!

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A couple other areas for fun! Can you see why our kids were off and running every day?

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Due to the unavailability of internet broadband, there is really limited wifi in the park. It’s a real test to see how long you can go without even being able to receive a text on your phone, let alone check email or the internet. It honestly is a good thing unless you really need to get some work done. Otherwise it’s freeing! There are a few hotspots in the campground that you can go to, but I enjoyed heading to Grapes and Grinds for my wifi.

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The good thing is you can drive just past Mt. Rushmore into Keystone to Grapes and Grinds for perfect internet access in a really cute environment while sipping a coffee beverage by day or glass of wine at night.  As a guest at this KOA, you’re able to take advantage of the Holy Terror Mini Golf (behind the coffee shop) and the National Presidential Wax Museum free of charge. These three entities fall under the same ownership as the Mt. Rushmore KOA, making it a great deal for those of us who stay there!

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We were really surprised how much we enjoyed this museum! Each of us had our own personal audio device that we could listen at our own pace as we walked through. We all learned a lot and highly recommend stopping in to this unique museum!

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Now to the main reason we chose this campground for our Hill City, South Dakota stay. It’s proximity to Mount Rushmore can’t be beat! The campground is only a 6 mile drive along a beautiful route into America’s monument. Our family took advantage of going to Mount Rushmore as soon as it opened at 8 am one day and again at 8:30 pm on another for the nightly lighting ceremony. Both were awesome! Your $11 parking gets you in for the entire year and admission into the park is free.

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On our 3rd visit to the park, we had a lot of fun worshipping with a group of college girls that are involved in A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. They come for the summer to work at the monument and hold Sunday worship services for guests. Very cool!

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The Mount Rushmore KOA also employs a team of 12 Summershiners to lead all of the kids activities and programs for the summer. These Christian college students come from all over the nation to Palmer Gulch to live, work, play and share the love of Christ! I am enjoying learning about all of these different summer ministries!

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This KOA is really perfect for multigenerational family celebrations. We saw many families enjoying life together here. The campground sees about 3,000 guests come through the park on each sold out night between June 15-August 15. This means make your reservations early and realize that a lot of people will be joining you in the fun, if you choose to come here during the height of the summer. It is a big, busy park. More like a cruise ship on land than your typical campground!

Mike Bauman, Mt. Rushmore KOA’s General Manager since December, works extremely hard to see that everyone is having a good time in the park. We always saw him around in many different capacities and he consistently had a smile and friendly greeting. We even caught him driving the tractor late one night for our ghost tour around the park. Hats off to him and his hard working staff as they strive to help make special memories for all families who come to stay! Thanks for the fun!

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