Corn-ucopia: Camping, Mazes and more

We went camping this weekend, just Saturday night.  Pretty much our last hurrah as its really getting too cold to camp without proper equipment like sleeping bags.

Our “plan” was to stick close to home and we picked Ionia State Park, ostensibly because we already have the yearly pass so we just have to pay the site fees. And Chris agreed to stay at a campsite with hot showers (I knew that this “luxury” item would grow on him eventually).  So, we got there about mid-afternoon after driving around the area a little bit and picking up groceries for dinner.  And they were completely booked.  Some Harvest Fest apparently. As it turns out, the yearly pass is on Chris’s windshield so it didn’t much matter where we went now.

Fortunately, we had the very handy Michigan Gazetteer with its listing of private campgrounds to help us out.  We found two within a reasonable distance of the Park and picked the one on a river.

The Double RR Ranch

Located just south of Smyrna (which is just south of Belding which is a little south of Greenville), the Double RR has a 9 hole golf course, driving range, horseback riding, canoe rentals and RV or tent camping and more.

When we arrived, the manager let us go back to the camping area and pick out our site. It wasn’t much of a sales pitch but they had a number of sites along the Flat River and it was pretty quiet back there.  Scattered throughout the park but mostly in a section away from the river are a number of permanent RV dwellers. They had decks and lawn decor and even satellite TV and some pretty junky looking yards in some cases. Many of the empty sites were littered with trash and we even found a pair of okay-looking boots in the firepit at one site.  We picked a flat site with dirt covering, a clean fire ring and a nice view of the river then went back up and paid the fees, got firewood, etc.

After returning to our site, we set up the tent but decided to go look for something to do before making dinner. While still in Ionia, we had seen a sign for a corn maze, something neither of us has done before.  On our way back through the very very small town of Smyrna, we saw a different sign, for “Carlson’s Crypt” which promised both a corn maze and a haunted trail. And it was only 3 miles down the road. SOLD!

We might not have done the Haunted Trail at all but I could tell Chris was excited and they had a deal for that night.  $10 for both and we could do the corn maze twice, once in daylight once after dark, if desired.  It was the first weekend for the Trail so they still had some kinks to work out.  When we arrived, it was still too early for the Haunted Trail so we did the corn maze first.  As it happens, a group arrived just before us. A group of 6-8th grade girls.  Oh joy.  We entered the maze right before them but within 50 feet, they blazed past us in a squealing herd of excitement.  We took our time, I shot some pictures and without really trying, we found our way out within about 20 minutes.

The cryptkeepers have a little store set up with snacks and drinks but as they only had Pepsi or RC Cola, we decided to go back in to Belding and pick up Coca-Cola products and kill some time until it was dark enough for the Haunted Trail.  When we got back, the gaggle of teen girls was getting ready to enter the trail.  Fortunately, there was a nice little bonfire going and we could wait until they finished their trip.

I’m not going to say much about the Haunted Trail. It wasn’t the worst experience of my life but um, I, er, am uh kind of afraid of the dark and not really a big fan of haunted “stuff.” Last weekend, Chris picked up the Fright List or whatever they call the paper with all the haunted houses, trails, etc in the area.  I kept my fingers crossed that we wouldn’t just find ourselves at one of these places some random night.  The Haunted Trail was do-able and I confessed my fears to Chris so I think I both earned props for doing it and got a pass on future events.  I did however constantly think I heard people outside our tent later on.

Okay, so we got back to the site and started our campfire. Which took forever; I don’t think we ate until after 10pm.  While Chris indulged his pyromania, I chopped up a sweet potato, half a red onion and a red bell pepper.  We bought a spice rub at Wal-Mart so I used that on 1/2 a package of boneless chicken thighs.  It was dark out and I was trying not to get too close to the lantern with all the bugs.  So I trimmed a little fat off the thighs but I didn’t look real close.  Chris heated up a cast-iron dutch oven with a bit of vegetable oil inside then I added the veggies and we let those cook a few minutes, just to get some carmelization going.   Then I added the chicken thighs, we put the lid on and let it cook.

Meanwhile, I quartered a couple of Campari tomatoes amd mixed them with some fresh basil, corn and olive oil in a ziploc bag- easy salad!

Considering we had no plan and it was late and very dark, the food turned out well. But the chicken thighs had a lot of fat on them and it kind of annoyed me. I didn’t get to buy my usual, well-trimmed brand.  We shopped at the Ionia Super Wal-Mart and only after found a local farm market a’ la Horrocks.

I brought better sleeping clothes this time but it was still really freaking cold by 3am.  We snuggled closer together but neither of us slept wonderfully.  Our plans to maybe hang around the campsite in the morning were changed when we realized that we’d used all the firewood the night before. It was pretty though.

I think we’d come back to this place. It was a little off-putting to see the permanent residents that were not keeping up their homes but the sites were big and the river view was nice.  Anyhow, we packed up our gear and went looking for breakfast.  Oh, except first we had to follow the airport signs.  This is Chris’s thing- driving around looking at airstrips and airports.  The airport sign I followed led us in to Greenville.  I’ve been to Greenville, back in high school we had a track meet there.  Before Saturday, if you’d asked me where Greenville was, I would have guessed north, up by Saginaw or Midland.  Hey, we slept on the bus back then.

So, airport observed, we went through downtown Greenville on our quest for breakfast food.  It appears that Greenville once had a bustling downtown but there are now lots of empty storefronts.  We noticed a family restaurant in one block then a place called Huckleberry’s in the next.  The sign out front of Huckleberry’s indicated they had a breakfast buffet so that is where we went.

Huckleberry’s is owned by a guy named Huckleberry who happens to be running for State Senator of the area we were in.  I wish Huck well on his political endeavors but if it doesn’t work out, he might want to pay a little closer attention to the restaurant.  Chris opted for the buffet and I decided to have French Toast. The Danish potatoes caught my eye but they use American cheese, not a favorite.  Besides, this was not just any French Toast- Caramel Pecan French Toast.  And a side of bacon.  The first bite of toast, I got a little worried. It was dry, very very dry, even with syrup.  But after that it got better.  I never did find Caramel though.  Chris’s initial experience with the buffet wasn’t much better: He found eggshell in the eggs.

The place proclaims itself smoke-free and has some Clean Air sticker on the front door. Excellent- except only 1/2 is smoke free and its just a partial wall that separates the two sides.  At 11 AM on a Sunday, no one was in the smoking side which definitely felt more bar-like so we couldn’t determine if the wall was really all that effective.

When we left, we both decided we probably wouldn’t go back.    And really, when would we be in Greenville again anyhow?  Upon returning home, I looked the town up.  I was curious to know the story behind this place as they were obviously in a real economic downturn. Like all of Michigan but this seemed more pronounced.  In 2006, Electrolux moved their refrigerator factory from Greenville to Mexico.

Greenville was also the home of the first Meijer store (they have sign for this) and during WWII, they built combat glider planes at the Gibson Refrigerator Plant (later, Electrolux and now for rent).  There is a museum there, the Fighting Falcon Museum, that chronicles the history of this famous aircraft.  Now we might have to go back.  The museum has almost finished restoraton of one of these engine-less planes. Even I think it would be cool to see a glider built large enough to carry a jeep!

After breakfast, we drove back to Lansing via back roads and finally saw some real color change.  No pictures though- I was the driver.

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