Off the Beaten Path: Fort Malden

IMG_20170714_160647This post originally appeared at Roadtreking

We recently planned a trip from our home in Michigan to Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, Canada so that we could take advantage of free admission as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Along the way, we took a side trip off the beaten path to an historic fort we spotted on Google Maps while planning our trip.

Fort Malden is located in Amherstburg, Ontario, about 35 minutes south of the Ambassador Bridge where you enter Canada from the U.S.  It was built in 1795 by Britain to protect against an invasion by those upstart Americans. Throughout its history, it is most known for its military use during the War of 1812 and also is the site of the longest occupation of any Canadian land by the United States. Over time, however, the main building that now serves as a museum has been everything from a private residence to a lumber mill to an insane asylum.

Visitors are able to see the wide array of Fort Malden’s history through the buildings that remain and the information provided in the museum. Local college and high school students get summer jobs serving as “soldiers” at the fort and help tell the history through period costumes and exhibitions of firing muskets and cannons.

The fort sits overlooking the Detroit River, so you can always take a stroll through the grounds to enjoy the view or sit and relax by the water to see if any boats happen to float by. Coming and going from the fort, you drive through the city of Amherstburg and the entrance is basically in a residential neighborhood now. I can only imagine what the soldiers from the 1800s would think of the area compared to what they saw!

Amherstburg is located along Highway 20 in the southwest corner of Ontario. It’s a pleasant drive and we think Fort Malden is a great stop to soak up some history and wander the well-manicured grounds. The staff was very friendly and welcomed questions, as they all seemed to enjoy talking about this historical treasure that is kind of tucked away. We recommend making it a stop if you’re going to be in the area.

Maybe some day soon we’ll run into you off the beaten path. Until then, happy travels everyone!


It’s been too long, but life happens

I haven’t been on here to post anything since April 2015. But I’m “out and about” online everywhere if you want to find me.

Eventually, I may get back to regularly blogging. My wife and I recently bought a Roadtrek Class B RV and we’ve talked about sharing our experiences as new RV owners.

In the meantime, though, you can find me on Twitter at @aribadler, which is where a lot of my online interaction occurs. I’m also on Medium, which may be where I post the RV adventures. I really like the simplicity of that system.

It’s been too long without doing anything formal in terms of blogging, but life happens and sometimes I’m too busy living to write about life.

I hope 2015 treated you well and you have a fantastic 2016.



Foiled again by a fantastic traveling companion

snidely whiplash


I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the past few days for work and then a couple of days of vacation. I found Google Glass to be a fantastic traveling companion. But then, on the drive home, I suddenly discovered my new unit that is less than a month old has already developed the fatal design flaw known as foil bubbling.

This is the second time I’ve had this happen, although my first unit lasted 6 months without any problems with the foil. Last time, it made Glass unusable immediately. This time, just the corner has bubbled, although I believe it will continue advancing its way to unusable quickly so I’m working with Google to get another replacement unit.

The “optics pod,” as Google refers to it, is the video screen you see everything with on Glass. The apparently ridiculously fragile foil covering one end prevents light from entering the end of the prism. Without it, you wouldn’t see anything. When it bubbles, you end up with magnified bubbles all over the video screen, which makes it progressively worthless. I still haven’t heard if Google has figured out to how address this fatal design flaw. I don’t envy them, because it can’t be easy to engineer a solid end to a single piece of glass cube. But c’mon, you’re Google!

Google Glass foilAs I mentioned, the foil seems to be Glass’ Achilles heel, so I am very protective of it. No liquids have come into contact with it. I’ve heard humidity is a problem, but that’s pretty hard to avoid in Michigan during the summer. Google cannot keep producing a product that only works in the environments of certain parts of the U.S. without self-destructing. I’ve also heard extreme temperature shifts may be a problem, but Glass experienced none of those the past few days.

Until this problem developed, Glass was a fantastic travel companion. Along with my Droid Maxx, it helped me put together a great photo album of our trip. It served as a wonderful navigational aid and it helped me keep track of appointments and locations via my calendar. It also worked very well as a way to chat with my kids and coworkers while we were on the road for many hours at a time and to share messages and photos with them while we were working or being tourists.

Despite all the media hype suggesting Google Glass is evil, the more I use Glass the more I see it becoming a natural extension of our mobile phones that helps us stay connected without dropping our eyes to a phone screen and becoming physically disconnected.

But until Google can address this flaw, I see a future where more people are saying they were foiled by a fantastic traveling companion or simply choose to leave that companion behind. And that would be a damn shame.





Vignettes on Google Glass is one of my favorite features.


You can help document everyday history

How many times have you wandered past a building on your way to and from work or while walking around on your lunch hour and just considered it another routine place along your route? If you’re like me, you would probably answer “every day.” Well, thanks to Wikipedia, I’ve discovered that in downtown Lansing, my routes include everyday history.

As part of its continuing quest to improve itself, Wikipedia is now encouraging people to upload photos of buildings that are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. I decided to check if there were any in Lansing that were missing photos to see if I could help out. What I found out was a lot of places in that city are on the registry, including a few I never considered.

Below, I’ve posted some of the photos I’ve submitted so far. Not only am I helping Wikipedia and the many people who rely on its databases, but I’m learning a lot about what until now has simply been passed by as a local building and not a moment in time.

If you’re interested in helping Wikipedia out, go to the Wiki Loves Monuments page and search for what piece of everyday history might be right around the corner from you.

Mutual Building, 208 N. Capitol Avenue

Masonic Temple, 217 S. Capitol Avenue

Lansing Woman’s Club, 118 W. Ottawa

First Baptist Church, 227 N. Capitol Avenue

Road Trip: Up, up and away

Back in October I had the amazing opportunity to attend the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. Making it an even more memorable trip was my first experience in a hot air balloon. Pilot Lucien Desbiens and his team from Montgolfieres from Quebec, Canada were wonderful hosts.

From my experience, I have three recommendations for you:

Night Glows help keep the fun going after dark

1: If you ever have a chance to attend the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque you really should. It is a weeklong festival centered on the sport of hot air ballooning and it provides you with some amazing opportunities. In recent years, there have been three-quarters of a million visitors and more than 600 pilots and balloons on a fairgrounds dedicated primarily to this annual celebration. You can find out more about the annual event here and you if you’re on Facebook you can tap in to photos and experiences from other visitors on the festival’s page.

2: You don’t have to travel all the way to New Mexico to enjoy a hot air balloon ride, so check in your area to find companies who are offering trips. The experience is hard to describe. You are floating in ways I’ve never experienced and, other than the noise of the burners firing occasionally, it really is quiet and peaceful. For those of afraid of heights, don’t worry. You can see some amazing views from hundreds of feet in the air and yet you are in a very stable platform that doesn’t bounce around or spin and shouldn’t be unsettling in any way.

3. If you are in Quebec or anywhere the Montgolfieres team is flying, try to connect with them for a ride. Desbiens and his team were friendly, helpful and patient, plus their skill at providing a top-notch, safe and enjoyable trip were obvious from start to finish. You can find out all about the team and what they’re up to at their website.

I took advantage of my trip to shoot some video of the fairgrounds and to interview Desbiens about why he flies. You can check out a five-minute movie I produced here:


(Night Glow photo courtesy of Montgolfieres. Other photos copyright Ari B. Adler.)

Road Trip: St. Louis!

The iconic Gateway Arch

Jessi, the kids and I recently traveled to St. Louis, Mo. to visit a friend and spend a four-day weekend playing tourists. Another friend on Facebook asked for some tips of things to do since she’ll be headed there in August and, after jotting some notes down for her, I decided some folks might find a blog post on the trip helpful. It seems that as summer trips occur across all our networks that we should start sharing adventures as more than just cool photos on Facebook or Flickr. We all have a few tips we can share so the next person taking that trip doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel — pun intended.  🙂

I’m sure there are comprehensive sites and books available, but that’s not my intention with this type of post. I’m just looking at practical, “here’s what we did and it worked” types of notes. If you take a trip and would like to contribute to this compilation, let me know that, too. I’m thinking of starting a separate page on this blog for this kind of thing and would entertain guest posts.

In the meantime, here are my travel tips for St. Louis:

From Lansing, Mich., it’s about a 500-mile trip, which meant about 8 hours of driving. You have to factor in a few stops for food, gas and bathroom breaks, so it took us 9 hours. I usually try to combine gas stops and bathroom breaks to increase our trip efficiency. We did it in a four-day weekend — leaving mid-morning on Friday and coming home late on Monday night. For us, the road trip is part of the experience, so we don’t mind that some of our time off was spent in the car.

Tip #1: From Lansing, we took the I-69 to I-70 route, which meant the only major city with the potential for major traffic was Indianapolis. When you punch up directions on Google Maps, the first route that pops up is to follow I-94 west out of Michigan and then south on I-55, but that takes route sends you into Chicago-area traffic, which means more potential for delays. The Indiana route along I-69 isn’t the most visually exciting, but it’s relatively free of traffic backups except for the summer scourge of road construction.

Tip #2: Visit the Gateway Arch. It’s the iconic symbol of St. Louis and for good reason. It dominates the city’s skyline and it offers a great view once you’re up there. If you want to beat long lines, you’ll want to arrive at the Arch ticket booth before 10 a.m. on most days. Also, there are two entrances to the Arch, with the North Entrance getting backed up faster because it’s the closest one to parking. Take the short hike to the South Entrance for faster access, plus you can get some great views and pictures while walking under the arch. Also, leave time before or after your tram ride to the top so you can visit the museum located inside the Arch’s base. It’s worth spending some time wandering around in there, especially if you’re interested in the Louis and Clark expedition era. I’d block off two or three hours for this excursion, that way you have time to just stare at the view from the top and grab some photos. You’ll find that you sometimes have to wait to get to the viewing window that has the angle you want for pictures.

Tip #3: Visit the Old Federal Courthouse a couple of blocks away from the Arch. Its historic claim to fame is that’s where the Dred Scott case was held, but besides that there is some great architecture to behold. It’s not a long visit so it’s easy to tack on to the end of your Arch tour.

A hungry hungry hippo at the St. Louis Zoo

Tip #4: Go wild at the St. Louis Zoo. Thanks to taxes paid by Missouri residents, it’s free for everyone, except for parking. If you’re battling a hot day like we were, you can take some breaks at indoor exhibits that are air-conditioned, like the reptile house. You can even spend time in a deep freeze if you go in to see the penguins and puffins. If you wear glasses though, be ready for them to fog up for a while when you exit that exhibit and hit the famous St. Louis humidity! Also, don’t miss the elephant and hippo exhibits in the River Walk area. The St. Louis Zoo has seven elephants in several different exhibits where you can actually get quite close. The hippos are visible on the other side of glass walls in their exhibit, and these “river horses” often come up to the glass while swimming along — it’s a great treat for the kids. You could easily spend most of a day at the zoo if you wanted to.

Tip #5: Take the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour. It’s interesting for almost any age group that’s on your trip. Sure, they teach you about how they make beer, but there’s also a lot of history in the buildings along the tour, they have the world-famous Clydesdales there for you to see, and watching modern packaging processes is a treat for some. If you’re 21 or older, you can have a free beer at the end of the tour; the brewery offers a good selection of different products for you to try. They also offer you pretzels to enjoy with your beer and there’s free pop for kids or adults who just don’t like beer. The tour takes about an hour, but you’ll want to block off two hours so you can spend some time at the history displays, the gift store and enjoying your refreshments. This is a popular place to visit, so, again, consider getting there early to avoid too long of a wait before your tour starts.

The fabulous Fox Theater

Tip #6: Visit the Fox Theater. Not everyone is into broadway musicals, but if you get a chance to see a show at the Fox Theater downtown it is a real treat. In addition to whatever great performance you might see there, this 1929-theater has had millions of dollars in restoration done and it shows. It’s incredible to see how much detail and craftsmanship used to go into structures like this.

No matter where you go and what you do, make sure you pack plenty of water to carry with you. The heat and humidity will drain you pretty quickly while you’re out and about. We carried a couple of Camelbak style water bottles with us and ended up refilling both of them about three-quarters of the way through the zoo visit.

On a side note, we stayed with friends rather than in a hotel, so we made a point of bringing along a gift for our hosts. We put together a goodie bag filled with yummy Michigan-made treats and it was a big hit.

So, those are my tips for a St. Louis road trip. Have you been? What did we miss that others should be sure to take advantage of? And where are you going this summer? Share your tips — I want to know what you liked and what you didn’t for the next time we’re planning a long weekend getaway!

(Pictures by Jessi Wortley Adler)