Monday, August 30, 2010

Did you ever wonder how old and how extensive our system of National Parks is?

Did you ever wonder how old and how extensive our system of National Parks is?

By David McClelland

Our National Parks began in 1872 with the opening of Yellowstone which covers portions of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and 2,219,790.71 acres. This Park has 4 mountain ranges and 60 mammal species. There are hot springs and geysers with Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring being the best known. The next two National Parks to open were Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890 in California. New National Parks must be approved by an act of the U.S. Congress. The newest National Park is Great Sand Dunes, established in 2004 in Colorado.

Isle Royal National Park near Houghton, is currently Michigan's National Park. We also have: Father Marquette National Memorial in St. Ignace, Keweenaw National Historical Park in Calumet, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising-Grand Marais, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire. Finally, we have North Country National Scenic Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota, through seven states, including Michgan. In Michigan, it runs for 875 miles from the SE corner of the state near Morenci, north to the Straits of Mackinac. In the UP, it runs east and west.

We have 58 National Parks operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. Can you name the other 54? I couldn't come close.

The other 54, in alphabetical order, with the state abbreviations are: Acadia-ME, American Samoa-AS, Arches-UT, Badlands-SD, Big Bend-TX, Biscayne-FL, Black Canyon of the Gunnison-CO, Bryce Canyon-UT, Canyonlands-UT, Capitol Reef-UT, Carlsbad Caverns-NM, Channel Islands, CA, Congaree-SC, Crater Lake, OR, Cuyahoga Valley-OH, Death Valley, CA/NV, Denali-AK, Dry Tortugas-FL, Everglades-FL, Gates of the Arctic-AK, Glacier-MT, Glacier Bay-AK, Grand Canyon-AZ, Grand Teton-WY, Great Basin-NV, Great Smoky Mountains-NC, Guadalupe Mountains-TX, Haleskala-HI, Hawaii Volcanos-HI, Hot Springs-AR, Joshua Tree-CA, Katmai-HI, Kenai Fjords-AK, Kings Canyon-CA, Kobuk Valley-AK, Lake Clark-AK, Lassen Volcanic-CA, Mammoth Cave-KY, Mesa Verde-CO, Mount Ranier-WA, North Cascades-WA, Olympic-WA, Petrified Forest-CA, Redwood-CA, Rocky Mountain-CO, Saguaro-AZ, Shenandoah-VA, Theodore Roosevelt-ND, Virgin Island-VI, Voyageurs-MN, Wind Cave-SD, Wrangell-AK, St. Elias-AK, and Zion-UT.

I don't know of anyone who has visited all 58 of our National Parks. Do you?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Did you ever wonder where the largest truck stop in the world is located?

Did you ever wonder where the largest truck stop in the world is located?

By David McClelland

It is called "Iowa 80" and is located along Interstate 80 off exit 284 in Wolcott, Iowa.
Walcott had a population of 1,528 in the 2000 census. Iowa 80 is set on a 220 acre plot of land and 75 acres are currently developed. The site receives 5,000 visitors daily and features a 67,000 sf Main Building, parking for 800 trucks and 15 fuel pumps. 450 employees staff the mega-plex. I-80 is the 3,000 mile Interstate that directly connects San Francisco and New York.

Bill Moon, a regional manager for Standard Oil, bought the land for Standard Oil and built the original truckstop in 1964. In 1965, he took direct control of the station and in 1984, he purchased the station from his employer. In 1992, the year of Moon's death, it became a Travelcenter of America franchise although it was and is still controlled by Moon's family.

Outside, the station features pump stations with a fuel nozzle on each side so they can fill both of the truck's tanks simultaneously. A seven-bay service center offers diagnostics, minor repairs and tire rotations. The Truck-O-Mat can wash trucks and their trailers using a combination of machine and hand washing. Even the engine is washed using a water spray that is 180 degrees F at 15 psi. The 15 minute wash typically costs about $50.

The Truckers Warehouse Store is two stories and 30,000 sf. It features 75,000 items for sale including 500 illuminated truck lights on one wall. They sell just about anything that a trucker would need on his long-haul routes. They also added a Trucking Museum in a separate building. More than 30 antique trucks are on display from Bill Moon's collection of over 100 old trucks.

They have a variety of food services including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Blimpie, Dairy Queen and Orange Julius. The Iowa 80 Kitchen offers a 50 foot-long salad bar and "home cooked" meals. They are said to sell 1 million cups of coffee and 90 tons of meat annually. They can serve 350 patrons at one time.

Truckers can relax in one of 24 private shower and toilet rooms. There are two game rooms and one Driver's Den Lounge complete with leather chairs and a fireplace. They also have a business center where everything a trucker would need in an office is available, including telephones, fax machines, log books and trip report forms. There is a 60-seat movie theater and a barber shop. Most unusual is the dentist's office which usually opens at 2 p.m. and is open for 6-7 hours to service the truckers. Across from the dentist's office is a chiropractic clinic run by a tracker turned chiropractor. He offers chiropractic adjustments and Department of Transportation physicals.

When one walks in the front door, there is a gift shop with every sort of knick-knack that you ever heard of and many that will be new to you. You will also see about a dozen antique autos scattered throughout the facility. All in all, it is worth the stop if you are traveling through Iowa at any time of the year. I have friends who live here, but are from Iowa and stop at Iowa 80 every year and say it is "quite the place" and recommend it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Did you ever wonder how Branson, Missouri became such a big tourist attraction?

Did you ever wonder how Branson, Missouri became such a big tourist attraction?

By David McClelland

We returned from our first visit to Branson and I was amazed by the town and its many attractions. Branson is in the Ozark Mountains and is a 14-hour drive from Oakland County. I recommend flying. The Branson airport is just 6 miles from Branson.

Branson today is known as the "live music capital of the world," and it has a rich history dating back to the early 1800's. Starting with a small store at a riverboat stop on the White River, the city now boasts over 40 theaters with over 60,000 live theater seats and more than 70 live theater shows, over 200 lodging facilities with over 23,000 rooms, 5,000 camp spaces, over 350 restaurants, 3 lakes, 9 golf courses, over 200 retail outlets, caves and numerous other attractions for year-round entertainment for all.

In 1882, Rueben Branson opened a general store. His store also became the Post Office, listed as the Branson, Missouri Post Office, obviously named after Rueben Branson. Settlers began to move to the Ozarks for the promise of free land and the area was homesteaded on 160 acres. In 1907, "Shepard of the Hills", a book by Howard Bell Wright, was published and became a nationwide best seller. It depicts a mostly fictional account of mountain folklore. Overnight, tourists from across the country began coming to Shepard of the Hills country and tourism was born.

Branson was incorporated on April 1, 1912 with 1200 residents and the idea of Branson as a resort began to take root. In 1959, the first live outdoor show, The Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree Show, opened. This show took its name from a civil war vigilante group, The Baldknobbers, which roamed the area making its own justice. In 1967, the Presley family opened the first live theater on the Route 76 "Strip" and, gradually, show- after-show relocated from other towns to Branson. Most located on the "Strip."

In the 1990's, news organizations began to "discover" Branson. In 1997, Time magazine wrote its Branson "discovery" story. This was followed shortly by stories in People magazine, The Los Angeles Times , The Wall Street Journal and by the Sixty Minutes television show. They all did major stories on Branson. Part of what they said was that Branson then had more live theater seats than Broadway in its 22 theaters and also had a host of impressive headliners. In 1992, Mel Tillis and Andy Williams each opened their own theaters there. In 1995, The Dixie Stampede and The Showboat Branson Belle, a river cruise boat, opened dinner theaters. In 1997, The Shepard of the Hills became the most performed outdoor drama with its 5,000th performance.

We ate dinner at Andy Williams Moon River Grill, which we found to be quite popular and a great place to dine. 21 of Andy's gold record albums are displayed above the bar.
We had a wonderful piano player who sang many of Andy's greatest hits while we enjoyed delicious meals and good service. We recommend dining there.

Every year holds new surprises for the residents and guests of Branson. If you are considering a visit to Branson, check out their web sites first to decide where to stay and what shows to see. My guess is that you will enjoy your time there as much as we did.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Did you ever wonder why every road construction project has to last all summer?

Did you ever wonder why every road construction project has to take all summer?

By David McClelland

It happens every summer. We are delayed again and again in our travel due to long, drawn-out highway construction jobs. We often see no work being done at all at some locations for days, even weeks, at a time. There must be a better way!

Talk about Road Rage! I'm surprised that we just stand by and suffer numerous delays every year without trying to improve on this situation. This year, major construction on Telegraph Road is causing motorists great inconvenience and businesses significant loss of income.

Costco said their gas sales are off 25% since construction began. Big Boy said their business is off at least as much. Carl's Golfland is having huge sales to try to cope.

Why shouldn't the contracting agencies require that contractors begin and end each job promptly without leaving it to go to their other jobs? We would have just as many locations with construction delays, but the delays would be for far shorter periods and not last all summer. The argument, I'm sure, it that the paving companies find it more cost-effective to continue to do business as they have always done it. Not good enough! We should demand that our Road Departments hear out pleas and figure out ways to cause us, the tax payers, far less inconvenience. If you agree and commute in Oakland County, let them hear from you at:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Did you ever wonder what equipment police officers carry on their utility belts?

Did you ever wonder what equipment police officers carry on their utility belts?
By David McClelland
I had the opportunity to ask that question of two Auburn Hills policemen at a local eatery recently and here is what they told me that they carry:

-       1 police pistol

-       2 spare ammunition magazines – each loaded with 20 bullets (a)

-       2 sets of handcuffs

-       1 police Taser (b)

-       1 can of Pepper Spray (c)

-       1 police flashlight

-       1 police radio

-       1 pouch containing rubber gloves (d)

-       1 audio microphone directed to the recording equipment in the police car 

The officers said that all of these items weigh a total of about 30 pounds.

(They also carry a utility knife in their pants pockets)

I checked with the Bloomfield Township Police Department and learned that their officers carry basically the same equipment, but they also carry a collapsible baton,which takes the place of the night stick they used to carry.They carry just one set of handcuffs and their flashlight is optional, but both the extra handcuffs and the flashlight are available in their automobile.

(a) With the extra magazines, each officer begins his shift with 30 rounds of ammunition.

(b) The police Taser, or stun gun, is an electro shock weapon. It is intended to temporarily disable, but not permanently injure, the target person. The primary purpose of a Taser is to create neuromuscular incapacitation which means that it interrupts the ability of the brain to control the muscles of the body. Once the electricity stops flowing, the person begins to regain control of his body. A person who has been shot with a Taser will go to great lengths to prevent being shot a second time.  A Taser used to excess can kill.

(c)  Pepper spray, when sprayed in the face, causes temporary blindness, pain, breathing problems and panic. When used to excess, it can kill. Pepper spray is considered a personal defensive weapon and is legal in all 50 states. It isn't sold to minors or to persons who have been convicted of a felony.

(d)  These gloves are worn to prevent the spread of disease.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Did you ever wonder what Whoopie Pies are?

Did you ever wonder what Whoopie Pies are?

By David McClelland

We were vacationing on Hilton Head Island this month, as has been our custom for nearly 20 years, and I stopped in a Sweet Carolina Cupcakes store and discovered that they also sell Whoopie Pies. I had never heard for them and asked about their origin. What I was told was later confirmed by my research.

Whoopie Pies are considered to be a New England phenomenon and a Pennsylvania Amish tradition. They are also Maine's best known and most loved comfort foods. Mainers will even claim to have been weaned on Whoopie Pies.

Just what is a Whoopie Pie, you ask? I learned that it is like a sandwich, but made with two soft cookies, or cake halves, and fluffy white filling. Traditionally, they are made with vegetable shortening, not butter. They are usually chocolate, but sometimes a pumpkin variety appears around Halloween.

The Whoopie Pie recipe has its origins with the Amish and in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, it is not unusual to see roadside farm stands offering these desserts. According to Amish legend, when their children would find this treat in their lunch bags, they would shout, "Whoopie!"

The maker of marshmallow fluff, the Durkee Mower Company, published a cookbook, called "The Yummy Book", in the 1930's that had an Amish Whoopie Pie recipe using marshmallow fluff as the filling. Legend has it the Durkee and Mower pooled their resources and bought the recipe for $500. Learn more by visiting the Marshmallow Fluff website.

How would YOU make Whoopei Pies? Follow the recipes below:

New England Whoopie Pie recipe: Whoopie Pie Filling recipe:
½ cup vegetable shortening 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1 ½ cups powdered (confec.) sugar
1 egg 2 cups Marshmallow Fluff
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

To make the pies, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets. In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, baking powder, baking soda flour and salt. In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture, beating until smooth. To make 18 cakes, drop batter by ¼ cup onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon, spread batter into 4 inch circles, leaving 2 inches between cakes.
Bake for 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on wire rack. Next, make the filling by beating the shortening, sugar and marshmallow fluff in a bowl. Stir in vanilla extract until blended. Finally, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down firmly to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies to make 9 pies. Let finished Whoopie Pies cool completely before wrapping. Enjoy!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Did you ever wonder how many Bibles the Gideons have distributed worldwide?

Did you ever wonder how many Bibles the Gideons have distributed worldwide?
By David McClelland
I can't think of a time that I didn't find a Gideon Bible in the bedside stand of a hotel room in which I was staying. They seem to be everywhere and I wondered just of extensively their Bibles have been distributed. You guessed it. I did the research.
From the Gideon's web site:, I learned that Gideons International was founded in 1899 in Boscobel, Wisconsin. Gideons is an evangelical Christian organization dedicated to distributing free Bibles in over 80 languages in 190 countries. Gideons International is now headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Their web site states that, as of 2010, they have placed and distributed 1.3 billion New King James Version Bibles and New Testaments to hotels, motels, hospitals, penal institutions, members of the armed forces, school students and to those in the public nursing field all over the world. The name, Gideons, was taken from the 6th and 7th chapters of the book of Judges in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Gideons International is an association of about 300,000 Christian business and professional men, who have banded together in more than 175 countries, for fellowship and service. The Gideons have a Reading Calendar that provides a pace to enable one to read through the bible in one year. Now, you know a little about the Gideons.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Did you ever wonder how many varieties of apples there are on our planet?

Did you ever wonder how many varieties of apples there are on our planet?

By David McClelland

I was aware of the following varieties of apples: Braeburn, Crabapple, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, and a few more.

I researched the subject and learned that there are more than 7,500 different varieties of apples in the world. I found that more than 2,500 varieties are grown in the United States and, of those, 100 varieties are grown commercially here. Apples are grown in all 50 statea, but commercially in only 36 states.

Varieties of which I was unaware are number in the thousands and include: Ambrosia, Black Amish, Cherry Pippin, Detroit Red, English Beauty, Golden Nugget and Holstein.

Most apples are picked by hand in the fall. Apples are fat, sodium and cholesterol free.
A medium size apple contains about 80 calories. One apple contains about 5 grams of fiber. It takes 2 pounds of apples to make a 9 inch pie and 36 apples to make one gallon of apple cider. The apple blossom is the state flower of Michigan. The science of growing apples is pomology. Apples trees take 4 – 5 years to produce fruit. Apples are members of the rose family. Of fruits, only oranges are more valuable commercially in the United States than apples. The Crabapple is the only apple native to North America.

The average size of a U.S. apple orchard is 50 acres. The largest apple crop in the U.S. was in 1998 and 277.3 million cartons, each weighing 42 pounds and valued at almost $2 billion. One peck of apples weighs 10.5 pounds. The world's largest apple producers are China, The United States, Turkey, Poland and Italy. The top apple producing states are Washington (58%), New York(11%), Michigan(8%), Pennsylvania(5%), California(4%) and Virginia(2% ). About 25% of the U.S. production, about 35.7 million bushels of fresh apples, are exported annually. The Red Delicious apple is the most widely grown in this country; i.e., about 62 million bushels per year. The apple is the state fruit of Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Other apple products include apple dumplings, apple jelly, applesauce, apple juice, apple butter, apple baby food and apple vinegar. National Apple Week began in 1904. It became National Apple Month in 1996 and now lasts for three months, September through November. Finally, The Guinness Book of Records states that the heaviest apple on record weighed 4 pounds, 1 ounce and was grown in Hirosaki City, Japan in 2005. It didn't identify the variety of apple. Remember, an apple a day, keeps the doctor away!!!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Did you ever wonder how many State Parks we have in Michigan?

Did you ever wonder how many State Parks we have in Michigan?

By David McClelland

Michigan's State Parks System was started in 1919 and now contains 98 State Parks (from Algonac State Park to Young State Park) and recreation areas covering 285,000 acres. There are 13,500 campsites in 142 campgrounds and 879 miles of trails.

21,200,000 people visited the parks in 2008. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is responsible for these state facilities. The DNRE also operates 746 boat launches on 57,000 acres on designated public water access sites. It also operates 16 "harbors of refuge" as well as providing support for the other 61 harbors in the system. The "harbors of refuge" are approximately 30 miles apart along the Great Lakes shoreline to provide shelter to boaters. Ten have a maritime museum or interpretive center in a nearby coastal community.

The State Forest system consists of 4 million acres of primarily working forests, but also contains 138 campgrounds, including 12 equestrian campgrounds. DNRE also oversees the trail systems in the state. This includes 880 miles of non-motorized trails, 1,145 miles of rail-trails, 3,193 miles of off-road vehicle (ORV) routes and 6,216 miles of snowmobile trails.

The Six (6) Michigan State Park facilities located in Oakland County are: Bald Mountain State Recreation Area, Dodge Brothers State Park, Highland State Recreation Area, Holly State Recreation Area, Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, and Proud Lake State Recreation Area.

Which of Michigan's State Parks is the most popular with Michiganders is the subject of some debate and is certainly a matter of opinion. Some say it is Ludington State Park, which is advertised as the Queen of State Parks, and some say it is Mackinac Island State Park where our governor maintains a residence. Whichever your favorite State Park, you are missing out if you don't visit at least one of our State Parks this year.
For more information and a complete list of our State Parks, visit:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Did you ever wonder how extensively Bronner's advertises its Christmas store?

Did you ever wonder how extensively Bronner's advertises its Christmas store?

By David McClelland

As we travel, I am always impressed at how far away from Frankenmuth, Michigan we pass large billboards advertising Bronner's. I wondered just how many of these billboards there are and how far reaching they advertise. I did the research and here is what I found.

It turns out that there are currently more than 60 Bronner's billboards and they are located in seven states. The one furthest from Frankenmuth is located on I-75 near Ocala, Florida, north of Disney World. Bronner's is the world's largest Christmas store.

Of course, billboards are just one form of advertising for this successful Michigan company. Bronner's distributes over three million retail catalogs annually. They do web site sales from They offer about 3,000 items for sale online. They advertise in over 80 different newspapers and publications. All of this advertising certainly appears to be paying off for Bronner's.

Bronner's has been in business since 1945 and they have been in their current location in Frankenmuth since 1977. They have expanded many times with their most recent addition coming in 2002. They are open 361 days a year and, during peak seasons, employ a staff of 650 members. Over two million guests visit Bronner's annually. Their Christmas merchandise offering is truly amazing. One example: They carry 150 different styles of nutcrackers. They ship about 200,000 packages per year, worldwide. With all of their lighted decorations, their electric bill runs more than $900 per day. If all of the Christmas light sets they sell annually were stretched out in a straight line, end-to-end, they would span about 530 miles. If you can't find the Christmas decorations to suit your needs at Bronner's, you just may not be able to satisfy them anywhere. Finally, if you haven't visited their store lately, you owe it to yourself to do so prior to or during this holiday season.