Sweet Spot Alabama

Georgia has lifted many of the stay-at-home restrictions caused by the corona-virus, but we remain housebound most of the time, researching future adventures. Our deck and backyard serve as our outdoor escape, and what with all the critters, we could almost believe we are at the edge of some wildlife refuge.  (Is sleeping in the middle of the glass totems really the best spot?)

If you haven’t seen the videos of our backyard at night or the newborn fawn posing in front of the trail camera, you should take a moment to have a look now. 

Fawn’s First Days
What Happens at Night?
More of What Happens at Night



We were supposed to be on a big ship headed to Alaska this week, but as you know, all cruises out of Seattle, Canada and Alaska are cancelled. So we lamented our lost adventure to see Orca, humpback whales, eagles and more, but had our own sail-away party from the upper deck anyway. Gosh, you should grab a drink and join us for the celebration!

Alaska Sail Away

And since the motorhome sitting in the driveway was a strong reminder that we ought to be out camping somewhere, Jackie and her sister Judy got on the computer and searched out a spot that would be halfway between us (she is in Nashville) and a fun spot to meet up for a few days. The result was Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama, just 4 hours away and northwest of Birmingham. It is actually the Clear Creek Recreation Area in the William Bankhead National Forest. They reserved adjoining sites and we headed out for a mid-week get-together.

      

   

       

It was a great choice and the midweek arrival meant we had our half of the campground practically to ourselves. The weather was sunny and cool, the campsites wooded and nicely separated and the water in the clear lake was a perfect temperature. The only downside was that only one restroom/shower building was open and it was not in our loop. We were actually fine, but it did make it inconvenient for anyone who didn’t have onboard facilities.

     


We played it pretty low-key. We paddled around the lake with our kayak and paddleboards, bobbed in the water of the swimming area and rode bikes along a really nice bike path that followed the lake edge. If you want to get a sense of the lake and the bike path, watch this brief video, but be advised, the biking is a bit disorienting. 

Smith Lake Bike and Paddle video

   

Craig and I were delighted to learn that the nearest town of Jasper, maybe 20 miles off, had not one, but TWO breweries that were open. So of course we all had to trek into town and see what was on tap. Hands down the friendliest brewery was Twisted Barley, with most of the owner’s family helping out. We had flights of some really tasty beers – from IPAs to sours to pilsner and barrel-aged. Nice selection. We also ordered up some pizza and “pig wings” – little riblets that had a bit of a kick to them. Definitely worth a stop if you are in Jasper.

 

 

Maybe a block further down the street was the other brewery, Tallulah Brewing, with a really nice outdoor patio. We only stayed for a single beer, but it was a beautiful night out and the town was really quite cute, if a bit deserted.

 

As the weekend approached, more campers arrived and the boat traffic picked up, but we still had some nice paddles around in the lake. Soon it was time to pack up and head home, having spent a really nice couple of days in the woods.

  

It wasn’t without a few glitches, however, and this seems pretty typical when you are driving around in an older motorhome.

For some reason the electrical problem with the refrigerator (that I fixed back in the driveway) was back again. It meant that the fridge ran off of propane instead of electric, even when plugged in to shore power. The fix is to replace a 5 amp fuse on the control panel, which is difficult only because you can’t easily reach the screws that secure the cover on the back of the fridge. I replaced the fuse and all is well, so far, but I also replaced some screws with Velcro for easier removal of the panel cover the next time this happens (my knuckles thanked me).

The fridge fuse (on left) and control panel

And I have suspected a leak in the hydraulic system used to push the slides in and out and the leveling jacks down. I had to add a significant amount of fluid on our last trip and learned this trip that, yes indeed, we have a leak. While setting camp, we lowered the jacks to level up and began to move the slides out the sides until we lost pressure and things stopped. Since I was out of the transmission fluid used in the pump, a trip to town and the nearest NAPA dealer was in order. It was there that I also bought extra buss fuses to repair the fridge. Back in camp I added the extra fluid that allowed the slides to fully extend, but I was able to see the spot where we were leaking fluid while it was under pressure.

The area where the hydraulic fluid leaks

Of course I kept wondering if we would be able to fully retract the sides of the motorhome and get out of camp and back home. I discussed the problem with John, Craig and did some online research, but figured I had one shot at holding down the leak and getting back home to make repairs. And … that’s how it worked. I held pressure on the leak, Jackie flipped the switch to bring the slides in, fluid leaked but pressure on the spot kept it to a minimum and now I have to figure out how to make the repair. Not to worry, we won’t be headed out for at least 2 months.

 

So another adventure ends and a few more await us this fall.  Thanks for reading along and stay tuned to learn about our next trip to Florida (St. Andrews SP, Henderson Beach SP and Anastasia State Park) for nearly a month.

 

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Finding Our Groove This Spring

I don’t think I need to tell you that 2020 is one heck of an unusual year.  When we last shared our adventures with you it was mid March and we were in the midst of the country’s shutdown due to COVID-19.  We had just returned home from a week in Florida and two days in FDR State Park in Georgia.  

Plans changed for an upcoming family wedding (just immediate family with a fall celebration instead) and our big plans for an Alaska cruise with friends and family got cancelled.  Staying at home was the required and healthy thing to do, so the motorhome got a good cleaning, but but didn’t leave the driveway.  That also meant more crochet projects for Jackie, more glass sculptures for me and a new project of converting old VHS tapes to digital home movies.  Yeah, that’ll keep ya busy!

 

Plus, I had this new talent for homemade bread and pizza.  The problem with that was that everyone was baking at home and, well, you know the rest: flour and yeast shortages.  Fortunately, I was already deep into home baking mode, so I had the equipment and supplies on hand to keep rolling along.  And if you ever try sourdough baking, you know the stress of feeding and using excess sourdough.  It just keeps on growing!  So I have tried sourdough waffles, pancakes, biscuits, bagels, pizza dough, beer bread … with darn good success.  

     

      

   

In the Backyard

Our birdhouse was home to a Tufted titmouse family this year and I managed to catch one of the youngsters hop out of the box.  And we watched our usual herd of deer wander through the backyard, two does particularly heavy, and knew we were in for another birth or two.  Since they have been very protective in the past, involving incidents with our dogs, we kept a wary eye and finally saw the morning that a new youngster was born next door, wobbly legs and all.

 

Finally, some travel

It has been hard to book campsites, both for this year and next, given that so many are either closed due to coronavirus or still under repair, such as St. Andrews in Florida.  We tried to book Grayton Beach again for next spring with Judy and Craig (or any Florida campground), with no luck.  And we are pretty good at this, too.  So here we sit at home, like most of the country.

But, brother-in-law John is still working on his cabin in North Carolina (this is a no-hurry, one man, bucket list project) and was at the point of needing another helper, so we cautiously made plans to leave home and stay with him for a week.  Jackie thought it would be a good idea to try and book a night on the return trip in one of the Georgia State Parks, Moccasin Creek St. Park, so we made that reservation from the road.  Ok then, it felt good to be underway to somewhere.

Getting to Rutherfordton, more or less, in rural North Carolina was no problem and we set ourselves up in his backyard.  Nice grassy spot that let us connect water and electricity.  The weather was nice, so we ate outside and even tried out our new propane firepit (thanks to the idea from Judy and Craig).  We saw wild turkey in the farm fields and heard coyotes at night (and let me tell you, they were creepy yelps), but missed seeing the red fox that lives nearby.  John’s friend Elvie brought over some homemade pork egg rolls and sweet and sour sauce one night that made for a delicious treat.  Life was good and we were out of the house (and yes, we were wearing masks and washing hands as needed).

 

About that groove …

Over at the cabin, John explained what we were to get started on:  tongue and groove pine siding that he was using for his interior walls and the porch ceiling.  OK, no biggie, right?  Besides, John had already gotten some of it started.  We set up some boards for Jackie to stain – 12 and 16 footers for the porch, and John and I finished up the upper part of the stairway wall.  Not too bad, just way up on ladders and such.

 

But when it came to the overhead porch ceilings, it was a lot trickier.  Not all the boards wanted to slip into the grooves easily, so there was a bit of thumping, banging, cursing, and reaching – especially on the 16 footers.  Ping, ping, ping and we got some nails in.  Pushing, tapping, wedging and we got more boards in.  Ok, load up Jackie’s staining table again and stop for the day.  Next day, repeat.  Oh, and the jigsaw just kept seizing up at critical moments, so some creative means were used for some of the cuts needed for outlet boxes.  Maybe the sixth or seventh “jam” brought about a “@#$%&!” moment and the saw went flying out the door into the driveway.  Better order another one.

 

Rain was predicted and John wanted to pick up his hearth stone, a rather large slab of sandstone up in Marion before it got too bad, so we rode out to the quarry and they loaded up the stone.  Back at the cabin we hefted it out of the truck bed and inside to the hearth.  Not too shabby, but pretty darn heavy. 

From that day on (three days?) it rained pretty hard.  Didn’t slow our work on the “wonderful” tongue and groove, but there was some pretty good flooding going on.  We did our best to finish our project list, but didn’t quite get the porch ceiling done.

   

One last challenge

The night before we were to pull up and head out I had a nightmare that woke me up good.  I kept imagining our stabilizing jacks would sink into the ground and we wouldn’t be able to retract the slides (sides of the RV) because we were tilted.  I was also imagining that the soggy wet ground would make us slip on the grass and we would bog down in the mud instead of backing out of John’s yard.  So I jumped out of bed and pulled in the living room slide, waking up the dog, cat and Jackie, who all thought I was nuts.

As it happens, we were able to back out of our spot in the yard and onto John’s gravel driveway with no problem, BUT while making the K-turn to swing around … my nightmare came true.  Stuck in the mud.  Just barely got wood under the rear hydraulic jacks to lift us up and slip a board under one wheel, and John tried to pull with his pickup truck, but the board snapped and we sunk in deeper – no luck.  

 

We called a wrecker and Jack did a great job with a winch to pull us to safety (after nearly bogging down himself), and we then backed all the way out the driveway.  Not a fun way to start the day.  I was in no mood to spend the night at another campground, especially one with “creek” in the name, so we cancelled our reservation and just headed back home, leaving a trail of mud clods behind us.

And while we were gone?

Once back home we spilled out of the motorhome and unpacked.  Everything looked fine.  I pulled the memory card out of our backyard trail camera and was stunned to find a perfect video of our latest addition to the herd.  Our second fawn was caught on camera the day he/she was born and was caught looking adorable.  The youtube clip is precious and I am amazed that the youngster and mom hung out right in front of the camera.  Maybe they knew?  

Fawn’s First Day Video

So, even though we are pretty much staying home (although Georgia is trying to reopen), we have found some new adventures.  They might not be the cruises and family gatherings and celebrations we had planned – like everyone else – they still provide a sense of wonder – even the tongue and groove (I wonder why those boards won’t go together? thump, thump, curse).

The Adventure continues … (will we still be camping in Florida this fall?  Stay tuned)

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Last One to Leave, Turn the Lights Out

If you followed our previous post, Searching for Spring Sun, you know we just left Grayton Beach State Park in Florida after a wonderful, sun-filled week that was a perfect escape from the incessant rain.  No rain, all sun. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus and protective measures ramped up as we made our way south to camp along the Gulf coast. With no television, scant information on the radio and occasional news feeds on our phones, we were probably slow to learn about the fast-moving plans to limit social interactions. 

By the time we packed up on Friday to leave the campground as planned, the campground itself was closing, beaches were shutting down, bars, restaurants and shops were closing – it almost felt like the last time we had to leave Florida in a hurry ahead of hurricane Michael. We expected a caravan of cars, motorhomes and trailers headed away from the coast, but were surprised to have little traffic until we reached Dothan and Eufaula, Alabama.

Not much further along, near Pine Mountain, Georgia, we found our destination for the next two nights: FDR State Park.  The campground was completely full, although much of it is under renovation and maybe a third of sites are not available.  Our reservation was for a site along the shoreline of Lake Delano and was a perfect spot, even though there was construction and erosion control fence around us.  We set up, had dinner and sat out to enjoy a cool night by the lake. Just as we fell asleep, later, the sky opened up and we had major rain pelting down on the camper.  Gosh, such a nice welcome back to Georgia!

It also seems that pollen season has just started — our site was awash in the yellow stuff and the chairs and outdoor rug were pretty well soaked from the rain.  At least the sun came out to dry things out and we made sure to wipe and brush off as much pollen as we could. It probably means we have minutes before it hits us hard back home. 

Since we had the car disconnected for the back-in site we figured we ought to explore the park, find the Little White House and check out Warm Springs.  The museum at Roosevelt’s Little White House was actually a great history lesson. We had the place to ourselves, took time to watch a short film, look at the exhibits and wander the small house. 

I couldn’t help but see the parallels with current events: President Roosevelt had to deal with the nation’s great depression, joblessness and people in need and later, at a time when he and many others were suffering from polio, a national health epidemic.  It was in the mineral pool at Warm Springs that he was able to relax and relieve pain and was inspired to develop the area for others suffering from polio.  He founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for the rehabilitation and relaxation of children and adults suffering the effects of polio.

It was here in the study of the Little White House that he suffered a fatal stroke and collapsed while having his portrait painted.  Touring the home and viewing the unfinished painting I mentioned to a volunteer that it seemed so sad. She remarked that in fact it was a very happy place, since it was here that he was able to find so much peace and comfort.  It was in rural Georgia that he was inspired to develop policies such as the Rural Electrification Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Just down the road is the town of Warm Springs, which grew as a result of his numerous visits and the Institute he created.  It is from the railroad station in town that his casket began its journey back to Washington, DC and later to Hyde Park, NY.

The town has little happening today, not just because of the coronavirus closures, but sadly, there simply is nothing much there.  I guess “potential” would be said of the brick storefronts and the clapboard buildings but the only activity was around a motorcycle shop. Even the famous warm mineral pool was difficult to find, closed and no longer contains water from the spring. 

The welcome center/gift shop for the park is a classic CCC-built stone building that commands a great view of the valley below.  Heading back along the ridge of the park you can’t help but be impressed with that view – you think that Georgia’s only mountains are in the north.  Even though you are less than 2,000 feet elevation, you are high above the surrounding woodlands and farmland.  We noticed several trailheads for the 23-mile Pine Mountain Trail – and boy were the cars packed into the lots.  So much for self isolation.  

  

  

 

  

The overlook at Dowdell’s Knob was equally busy, but such a wonderful view. This is a spot where FDR often had picnics, noted by the remains of a stone grill he used, plus a bronze sculpture of the president.  It was also a big day for cyclists, as you can see.  

We did a little hiking and picture-taking before relaxing by the lake.  No rain overnight, so packing up and leaving camp was easy enough in the morning.  Rangers said they were expecting to hear soon that the park would close, but for now it was still pretty much full.  A couple of hours later we were parked in our driveway and hauling clothes and food out of the camper and back into the house.  At least the traffic was light, even for a Sunday morning.

And so ends our sunshine adventure amid the coronavirus outbreak.  We are hearing from friends and family that they are healthy, but plans have changed for an upcoming family wedding (postponed), a restaurant closing puts our son-in-law out of work, others are making the best of teaching from home and everyone, including us now, is sheltering in place.

And now it has started raining again!

The Adventure continues … (will we still be cruising in Alaska in June?  Stay tuned)

 

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Searching for Spring Sun

How about a little rain? How about a LOT? It has been quite a stretch of rainy, wet, cloudy weather so far this year in our part of Georgia and we need to find some warm sun! That means it is time to uncover the motorhome and make preparations to head south for a week or so.



Luckily, our winter months have had their share of fun adventures – we even had a day of snow. A new adventure in the kitchen, thanks to Alex, was to learn breadmaking in the Ken Forkish “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast” method of artisan baking. So many delicious loaves of bread have now been baked and shared – plus homemade pizza dough. And that called for a gathering of the BrewCrew to celebrate a leap-year birthday and make personal pizzas. Such fun. And of course the brewery visits continue.

   

 

Once the cover was pulled off the motorhome this month, John helped me change the engine and generator oil and filters. The roof was cleaned and waxed with UV cleaner/protector, tires were inflated, rotated and brakes checked. Hydraulic fluid was added to the slide/jack system, the water tanks sanitized, rinsed and filled and minor repairs made. Bikes got the once-over (and one new seat), chairs and small tables wiped down and we started to fill the pantry and fridge and pack up clothes. Yep, it was going to be an early start to the camping season.

Roof cleaning 2020

All-important roof cleaning

This outing is to Grayton Beach State Park in Florida to camp with our family from Nashville. It is their spring break, so Craig, Judy, Rachel and Colin will be camping in the park with us – well, near us. Hopefully no “oops, left that beef stew in the microwave the last time out” mishaps will occur. You may recall reading the post about our trip to Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola last year.

We decided to break up the trip to Florida by staying one night outside Eufaula, Alabama at Lakepoint State Park.  Then, on our way back from the panhandle, Jackie and I are going to spend a few days in FDR State Park in south Georgia, a visit that should be both hiking and history-filled. 

As we prepare to head out, we are learning more about the spread of the coronavirus and the active measures our local and state governments are taking to limit transmission of the virus.  All schools in the area are closed, all major sports and public events are cancelled – all of this you know.  Although we are well and are taking recommended precautions, we do feel just a bit odd at the start of this adventure. But  life in the motorhome will be rather contained anyway, so we press on.  Might affect our brewery visits, though.

So off we go to escape the cycle of rain and overcast skies and find the warm Florida sun.  The trip through Atlanta and south towards Columbus was smooth until Kodi let us know that there was a brewery nearby in LaGrange … well, actually we saw a billboard for the exit. 

 

We were in no hurry and it was lunchtime, so the brewmobile pulled into a really nice spot at Wild Leap Brewing. We had a beer each and some delicious smoked brisket from a food truck.  Kodi had a wonderful time meeting the patrons, being fed dog biscuits and generally just enjoying not being in the motorhome.

Lakepoint State Park

Not too much further along we were in Eufaula and pulled into our site at Lakepoint State Park for the night.  What a great spot along the lake! We had a pull-through spot and didn’t have to disconnect the car, so we were all set to leave quite easily the next morning.  This might be a regular stop on our future trips to the Florida panhandle.

 

Grayton Beach State Park

After a nice morning drive through some small Alabama towns and the Florida panhandle we arrived at Grayton Beach State Park.  Recent improvements to the park mean that the sites are certainly ample and all have electric, water and sewer. Our spot was an easy back-in and we soon were joined across the way with Judy, Craig, Rachel and Colin.  We arrived on Sunday and did a little biking around the campground and up to the beach to see how nice it was.

Monday morning was a sunny start to the week.  We spent time at the beach, working on our early sunburn and testing the chilly water.  The weather is great so far.

  

  

 

  

  

 

 

  

We all decided to ride bikes around the corner for dinner at the Grayton Beer Brewpub and had a delicious dinner.  A flight of beer each was accompanied by grouper sandwiches and pork nachos and then a ride back to the campground.

  

 

    

 

It was almost sunset, so Judy and I grabbed cameras and hustled to the beach to catch the spectacle, which was naturally not as bright as the night before (when we didn’t have cameras).

  

 

   

Enter COVID-19

Tuesday morning (St. Patrick’s Day) was another nice sunny start to the day.  We learned, however, that the coronavirus was going to have an effect on our trip.  Now this is not news to you, but we haven’t had access to TV and news, with only spotty information on our phones.  We know from our teaching friends and family that schools are cancelled for weeks. Slowly the news of cancellations trickles our way and we learn that our campground will close on Friday.  That’s not too bad, since we were heading out on Friday, but it does seem weird — like a hurricane evacuation.

  

I drove to a favorite brewery in the area, Idyll Hounds Brewing, before dinner and learned it was their last night serving from the taps.  Starting tomorrow all bars have been ordered closed and restaurants to operate at half capacity. Now I understand the need for social isolation and preventive measures to keep this virus from spreading quickly through the population, but it hit me weird that our camping would be so affected.  But by the time you read this on my post, things will certainly have changed again and of course you are all too familiar with the run on groceries, toilet paper, bottled water and the like. Strange times indeed, and we certainly are not as affected as so many others.

  

 

  

    

  

But back to our otherwise wonderful time in Florida.  We rode bikes around Western Lake today and into Watercolor and Seaside resorts.  Wow, that was like major spring break time. Loads of people, but nearly all under 30.  None of the “elderly” in sight. We have now realized that we fall into both the Senior Citizen and Elderly categories .. not yet at the “infirm” and frail designation.  Anyway, word is that the beaches will “close” on Saturday. How do you close a beach anyway?  

  

 

 

 

 

 

We keep hearing of playgrounds, parks and campgrounds closing, but the weather and water are perfect here.  We did indeed find the Florida sun — it is out, warm, no rain in sight and we even braved the water, which seems to have warmed from the 65 degrees or so.  Such a contrast from what we left at home (and we are wearing shorts! Bathing suits! T-shirts and bare feet!) The rest of the week will probably be beach time, biking, photography, crochet (both Judy and Jackie) and reading.  No paddleboards this time, since we figured it would be too cold and windy — heck, what do we know? And I need to find a bar or something that will be open for me to upload pics and this blog story. May have to wait a few days.

  

    

One last dinner out was delicious.  We all enjoyed our meal at Hurricane Oyster Bar, but I especially enjoyed the oysters on the half-shell.  These were monsters, nice and sweet. Yes! I got my seafood fill, and Jackie had some delicious smoked, spicy tuna, declaring it a wonderful meal out.

So I will close this story for now, with an update to follow that will finish the trip back home.  This trip was a success in our search for the sun in Florida, but it was weird in so many other ways around us.  Hoping all our friends and family stay safe and healthy.

The Adventure continues …

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Snorkeling the Western Caribbean

It’s mid-October in Atlanta and the temperature has finally dropped from 97 degrees to a more fall-like 65 degrees with 40’s overnight.  Jeans have replaced shorts, shoes replaced sandals and it is cold enough to use the firepit. Yet here I am at the pool bar, sipping a fruity frozen drink as a warm breeze blows ripples across the water.  What just happened? Maybe I better back up the story a bit …

You see, since our last great cruise on the Harmony of the Seas this summer, Jackie and I stated rather firmly that we would not be cruising again for a year or so, since we had plenty to do back home with grandson-sitting, beer festivals, maybe a fall camping weekend and such.  But it was just fine if Dad and the family wanted to head out to the Caribbean once again, we would wish them well. So plans were made for Dad, my brother Jeff and wife Vickie – even my sister Linda and husband Norman – to head out to the Western Caribbean on the Harmony of the Seas for a fall cruise.  Good stuff – wish you well.

But things got complicated when Norm’s family announced a trip to the Canadian Rockies and suddenly Linda was a single cruiser and gosh she needed a way to get to Port Canaveral via Atlanta (from California) and wouldn’t it be nice if Doug picked her up from the airport and drove her to the port and heck, he could even be her cabin mate.  Hey, Doug, whatcha think? Well it seems that, being retired, Jackie and I go where we are needed: so that meant cruising as a plus-one with my sister.

Turns out it was a great time.  We drove to Orlando and spent the night, checking out two breweries of course.  Hourglass Brewing had a lot on tap so of course we had two flights between us. Then a return visit to Rockpit Brewing meant another pint to try before returning to the hotel. 

 

Up early in the morning and off to the ship! We parked, checked in and were on the ship by 10:30 – just minutes before Jeff, Vic and Dad arrived. This trip Jeff arranged a scooter for Dad, so we had to practice getting him in and out of the room and around the ship.  Turns out it was the BEST move, as he was soon zipping along on his own.  

 

How about some highlights from the ports and sea days aboard ship you ask?  

Perfect Day at Coco Cay

The scooter made a world of difference for Dad, who was down the gangway and on his way across the dock to the Oasis Lagoon pool in no time.  We found lounge chairs by the huge pool and were soon sloshing around with drinks in hand. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, as you can see from the pictures.  

The only disappointment was the snorkeling reef.  Over the years we have been coming here, the area to snorkel has been corralled in closer to shore and the last hurricane seems to have damaged the reef enough that you really didn’t have much to see.

Cozumel Snorkeling

The three reef excursion Linda and I took certainly was a change from Coco Cay.  We walked around and through the maze of shops on shore to find a taxi to the departure marina to meet our guides. 

Turns out there were only four of us on the small boat, which was awesome. Snorkeling in Cozumel is usually a float over the reef with the water current moving you slowly along.  We saw triggerfish (Queen and black), angelfish (Queen and French), parrotfish, yellow snapper, blue tang, butterfly fish, scrawled filefish, trunkfish and a couple of black and white eels.  Check the video:  Cozumel Reef Snorkel

 

 

We had a photographer along who kept attracting the yellow and black Sergeant Majors in front of us to get photos – nice at first, but a bit annoying if you were looking at something else on the bottom.  Overall, it was amazingly clear and a great snorkel. A float vest I purchased worked out perfect, along with a rashguard shirt that substituted for sunscreen (they are serious about protecting their reefs – no sunscreen).  Fish identification was much easier thanks to some waterproof cards I bought from fishcards.com. Thanks to Michael Greenberg for all his help getting us these essential cards. We had a few cold Coronas on the way back to the marina while sharing what we saw. 

Roatan Snorkeling

 

Getting to the reef in Roatan from our dock in Coxen Hole was much more of an ordeal than in Cozumel, where the reef was in sight of the ship.  Jeff, Vic, Linda and I made our way ashore (where they are in mid-construction of a second big dock), wound through the maze of shops once again and found our excursion driver.  Into a van with four other divers and we were off to the northeast coast. It was an hour’s drive up and over the mountains along a busy 2-lane road that was surrounded by small houses (barely one-room shacks by our standards) and market stalls.  Despite all the happy house hunters I have seen on HGTV, I can’t say that I would have chosen to retire to the island. Not exactly prospering.

   

But once we reached our destination at Turquoise Bay Beach and Dive Resort it all changed.  The small marina had several dive boats and we were soon joined by 5 others with Subway Watersports to head to the reef and snorkel.  Next to us was a beachside resort that we would be able to enjoy after the snorkel. Not far off shore we were moored and ready to slip in the water in a sandy spot that was maybe 6 feet deep with a few sea stars.  There was a bit of wind chop as we were directed ahead to find an underwater oasis of coral, sponges and fish that were just amazingly beautiful.  

The “wall” was covered with sponges, fans and corals of all sorts.  The fish were much like what we saw at Cozumel, darting in and around the corals.  A lionfish was pointed out to us along with a yellow trumpetfish. Our guide took my gopro down to get a shot of the lionfish (which was stunning, although destructive to many native fish on the reefs).  Again, my vest was a big help, since we were probably snorkeling the reef for an hour. The sponges and corals (thanks to my ID cards) seemed to be sea whips, sea fans, tube sponges (blue and yellow), sea fingers, vase sponges, staghorn coral, brain coral, star coral … gosh so many colors and shapes.  Check the video:  Roatan, Honduras Snorkel

As I mentioned, we were able to hang out at the beach resort until our taxi arrived to take us back to the ship.  Totally gorgeous spot on the water – dreamy. But since we would be leaving port early and Roatan was 2 hours behind ship’s time, we were a bit anxious when it had not arrived. We were told we would be waiting for the divers in our party to return, but when they were overdue and in fact were choosing to continue their dive, the excursion owner opted to have one of his staff drive us back to port.  We made it with time to spare, but grumbled about the decision by our fellow passengers to have extended their dive at our expense.

Costa Maya Shopping

We were surprised to hear Dad say he wanted to go ashore in Costa Maya to buy a shirt, but once again the scooter made that possible.  He was down the gangway and speeding along the dock ahead of all of us, making a beeline for the cluster of shops on shore. He found his shirt while shopping, as did the rest of us, and soon we were all back aboard.  Costa Maya is pretty much the shopping arcade, a water park and some nearby excursions and nothing else for miles around. But the coastline is very pretty and our sail away was beautiful. 

Around the Ship and Sea Days 

Now this is a big ship and you have a few of your close friends with you – about 6,000 of them, with about 3,000 crew members.  So finding a lounge chair on sea days can be challenging. You have to first get your Irish coffee at the Park Cafe, find something good for breakfast (waffles with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup maybe?) then grab a mimosa or bloody mary and head for the towel check.  Maybe some sunscreen gets slathered on and you are all set – until Jeff says “hey let’s go do the waterslides!

   

So we climbed the stairway to the waterslides for the highest view aboard ship and zipped down.  The “toilet bowl” slide was a first time for Linda and she screamed the whole way down. I did the dark Abyss dry slide again; we bobbed in the pool and Jeff and I decided to brave the Flowrider kneeboard.  The board took a moment to get the hang of, what with all the water shooting at you, but soon we both got up on our knees and … well, we took a few falls and scooted around the fast-moving sheet of water. Totally fun and a real blast – I definitely got better as the week went on, but neither of us felt confident enough to do the stand-up wakeboards.  Check the video: How We Did Harmony of the Seas

 

Dinners were in the main dining room, except the night that three of us ate at Jamie’s Italian (oh my gosh was it a lot of delicious food!).  A plank of meats and cheeses, garlicky prawns, lasagna, pasta and lamb chops washed down with a delicious red wine and followed by a huge plank of desserts. We had a delightful serving staff at dinner, with special after-dinner shots to toast the day (thank you Mikayla).  Late nights involved pizza slices and Octoberfest beer and lunch involved the famous Royal Kummelweck roast beef sandwich in Central Park. We all lunched at the Sabor Taqueria one day and had a fabulous and filling meal – so much so that we skipped the dining room and just did nibbles for dinner.

And of course we had to spend time in the casino.  The odds were not in our favor on the craps table and as the week went on, fewer folks were playing it.  But Dad had pretty fair luck at the roulette wheel, so he spent more time there than we did. He also seemed to attract his share of women who became helpful friends.  One couple adopted him as their good luck charm and we ran into them several times around the ship. Actually, everyone he met was very accommodating and helpful as he navigated his scooter.

   

     

We were naturally concerned about Dad on the days that he remained on board and we went ashore for excursions.  When we returned from Cozumel he told us that he had found the spa and toured the gym and made an appointment for a haircut and shampoo.  Then when we returned from our Roatan excursion he shared how he drove around the buffet with a plate of food and a bowl of soup, driving one-handed.  And to think we were worried about him!

       

The shows were also well done – we all watched Columbus the musical, the Fine Line aqua show (twice) and Linda and I saw the ice show 1887 (very good).  Headliner show was the Company Men, which Dad declared all “yelling and screaming – I don’t recognize any of the music” but the rest of us thought their mash-ups from the past decades was well done.

       

But aboard this huge ship, you can just sit somewhere and relax, maybe in the Central Park gardens while a guitarist plays.  Or people-watch on the Promenade on formal night. Or ride the elevator with the piano player. Or watch the sunset from the Mast Bar on deck 16 or even better from the “King of the World” overlook.  Maybe create your own drink from the robots in the Bionic Bar or discover the quiet Wonderland Bar for a martini. Watch the street parade from the Schooner Bar with a coconut mojito. It is easy to forget you are cruising off the coast of Cuba or Honduras.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Canadian Rockies . . .

 

… Norm was enjoying a beer in a hot tub in the midst of a snowstorm – – while his replacement was lounging by the pool in the warm Caribbean sun.  Ahhh, Life is Good.

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The BIG Cruise

Some time after the holidays this year my brother told me that he and Dad were planning their next cruise in April and I enthusiastically wished them well. Jackie, John, Dad and I had done a Carnival cruise over Halloween to Nassau and I was just fine passing up any cruise for the next year. But things evolved and the cruise choice was no longer a 5-day out of Charleston but a 7-day out of Port Canaveral aboard the Oasis of the Seas, the first mega-ship by Royal Caribbean. Jackie and I still felt we were just fine sitting this one out and, again, we wished them well.

During a late January visit with Dad, he and my brother leaned on me to join them on the cruise — Dad pulling a bit of a guilt trip “I just want both my boys with me .. not sure how many cruises I have left in me” .. so I agreed to think it over, which meant of course we booked ourselves on the cruise shortly afterward. Heck, it should be fun on the Oasis class ship.

Then an accident happened while the ship was docked in Nassau for maintenance. A crane fell into the stern AquaTheater, the ship slipped and the (new word) azipods were damaged below. We kept our fingers crossed, but two weeks before sailing we learned the cruise was cancelled, refund was on the way, future cruise credit to be applied. Oh well.

But we would not be deterred. Since that meant that 3 cruises of 6,000 passengers each were now looking to re-book their cruise, Jeff and I jumped on the phone to contact our travel agents and find some options. The solution was the next ship scheduled to leave from Port Canaveral, the newer Harmony of the Seas, which was the same Oasis class of ship that hosted 6,000 guests and 2,000 crew. We booked the second week of June for an Eastern Caribbean cruise and hoped for the best.

So our most recent adventure just completed was an amazing cruise aboard a floating hotel/mall. Seriously, this ship had everything and really felt like you weren’t even on a ship most of the time. Not sure I can fully describe the wonderful time we had and all the available amenities the ship had to offer, but I will certainly try. I also have some videos that will take a bit longer to edit, but I promise to post them soon. I was having fogging issues with my 35mm camera aboard ship, what with the cold AC in the room and the warmer, tropical air out on deck, but the GoPro was good with the underwater shots and such.

Pre-Cruise Orlando
We drove to the Orlando airport area the day before, since it is about 7 hours (8 if you drive through rainstorms like we did) and stayed overnight. That meant we were less than an hour from the ship’s terminal and would have no problem arriving before Jeff, Vic and Dad (oh no, I am not competitive at all). So after checking in at the Best Western we searched for “breweries near me” and found several choices.

 

Since Rockpit Brewing also served barbecue, that was the choice for dinner, followed up by Dead Lizard brewing. I enjoyed Rockpit’s Yudu Yuzu, a sour Berliner Weiss, Jackie liked Nudge, Nudge golden ale and we both liked a mango beer that neither of us can remember the name of.

Slipping in the door of Dead Lizard we were immediately asked if we had a lighter – it seems they were having a birthday celebration going on and no one brought matches for the birthday candles. Sorry, we are just here for the beer (and the sticker), so we moved to the bar and ordered a flight. Pretty funky vibe to the place and we enjoyed a Hefeweizen Orange Ya Glad I Didn’t Say Banana and Key Lime Chameleon Cream-Sic-Ale. On the way out we got totally drenched in a downpour before heading back to our amply-air-conditioned room to chill for the night.

All Aboard!
Up and out and we were on our way through the Florida sunshine to the Cape and our ship. No traffic, no problems, parked close to the ship, breezed through check-in and we were in the boarding area by 10am. Within 20 minutes we were joined by the rest of our party and, gosh we were onboard in no time. Kudos to Royal Caribbean for a very smooth check-in and embarkation process. Now, where is that first drink??

We explored the ship, got lost and turned around more than once, found our way to the Solarium Bistro for lunch, found several bars, stood for the safety lesson, checked out our room and settled in for fun. As I have said before, the first day aboard ship is the most exciting and the sail-away is exhilarating. As you stand on the rail watching the shoreline pass by and disappear into the distance, all the stress of the trip and worries back home just slip away. It’s party time!

So what exactly did we do?
I’m not sure when we did just what onboard, mostly on the three sea days, but I can share the activities. And we had three ports of call, so hang on, it’s a busy schedule.

Perfect Day CocoCay
This was a totally different experience from our last visit to the private island. The investment of over $250 million to transform this island into a waterpark with a new dock (no tenders!) was fantastic. We didn’t pay the extra fee to ride the waterslides, zipline or splash in the wave pool, but we did enjoy the upgraded food service, bars, huge Oasis Lagoon pool with swim-up bar and the snorkeling off Chill Island beach. It is a clean, lush landscape that just opened officially and it is a game changer.

 

 

After snorkeling and lunch we were enjoying the pool while a film crew used drones to capture the crowd for an upcoming promotional video. Perfect Day got a little less perfect when thunderstorms moved close and everyone was whistled out of the water. The rain made it easier to find a lounge chair, but I am guessing that thunder-rumbling, rain-soaked footage won’t make the “perfect day” video. Darn, and I was looking pretty good in those fly-by shots!

St. Thomas
We cruised into the port at St. Thomas about noon, a beautiful approach to this island. We were keeping it pretty casual that day and decided not to fight our way to a beach or snorkeling location, since we had a nice excursion planned for the next day.

So it made for a good day of having fun around the ship without the crowds. We never really felt like there were 6,000 other people crowded around us anyway – except on the pool deck on sea day afternoons – which is to Royal Caribbean’s credit for having so many places to hang out.

St. Maarten
This was our first time to the French/Dutch island and we were lucky to be the only ship in port at Philipsburg. Another gorgeous green-mountain island with a broad curve of beach along the harbor.

We had booked a snorkel excursion on a small-boat tour, hoping to avoid the disappointing experience in Nassau where we were overloaded with 60+ folks on a kayak, paddleboard, snorkel, party boat. Jackie and I walked the half-mile along Great Bay to the boat dock to check in and were told that once the other party of 2 arrived we would be good to go. That meant that all four of us had the boat to ourselves for a fabulous private tour along the coast.

First stop was snorkeling in Little Bay, a cove below the pelicans of Fort Amsterdam with clear water and some reef fish. The bottom was mostly rock and not much in the way of fans and corals, but there were fish around and some sunken artifacts (canon, helicopter, small sub, grocery cart?).

Back onboard and we zipped along the coastline, noticing the remaining damage from previous hurricanes (two Cat 5 within 10 days). Captain passed around a bowl of french bread, cheese and apple slices and we washed it all down with a cold beer. Hey, snorkeling is hard work. We stopped in the path of approaching aircraft as a jet passed overhead to land at the airport. This is the famous Princess Julianna airport with an over-water approach where people get blown around during jet takeoffs. Just Google Maho Beach. Then we crossed to the French coastline and hopped out for a swim in a turquoise water cove, Baie Longue, surrounded by villas that rent for thousands a night (Belmond La Samanna). Ahh, and we got to enjoy the same beautiful waters that they did. Time to head back to the ship and across some choppy water that made for a bouncy ride on a beautiful afternoon.  Snorkel video is posted here.

The excursion was really a treat. Back at the dock we stepped out of the boat with our gear, except that I was so focused on my footing that I completely missed the overhead metal rail of the bimini and “klunk” I hit it hard with my head. Had I been watching earlier, I would have noticed Jeff do the same thing as he was getting out. Ah … what’s a little blood in the scalp?

Aboard Ship
When we weren’t lounging by the pool or slipping down the waterslides, we might have been walking down the indoor Promenade (just like a mall), sitting at an outdoor cafe in the garden areas of Central Park listening to Spanish guitar, having a drink at an Irish Pub with a folk guitarist, watching robots fix our drinks or trying our luck at the casino. Our rooms were upper level balconies that overlooked the Central Park “canyon” so it was also nice to sit with a drink and listen to the music or wake up with a cup of coffee out on the balcony and people watch.

 

 

 

The casino was a destination for Dad most evenings, as he loves to play roulette. Jeff and I sat with him and played a few times – actually we donated to the casino, but our game is the craps table. We had our ups and downs and some nights were just wild at the table with some good runs, but in my case I came away just less than even for the week. Actually that is great, considering how long we played all week and what fun we had. We met the friendliest casino dealers who would really help you understand how to improve your odds and by week’s end came to recognize you. What fun.

Food
We did our best to try every eatery on board and enjoyed them all. Of course everyone heads to the Windjammer buffet for breakfast and lunch but we ventured away from that most days. The Park Cafe had delicious roast beef sandwiches and salads for lunch on the terrace in Central Park and Sorrento’s had pizza almost all night. The Solarium Bistro (the adults-only area on the decks 14 – 16 at the bow) had slightly lighter fare and a great view. There were several up-charge specialty restaurants that we mostly skipped.

Dad, Jackie and I ate lunch at Jamie’s Italian (complimentary for balcony bookings) on a sea day and were totally stuffed. Appetizer was an antipasto plank of cold meats, cheeses, olives and veggies; main courses were pasta, burgers and salads. We each made a dessert choice, whereupon our waiter asked why not all of them?

So, as you can see in the picture, we were served another plank with Tiramisu, Lemon meringue cheesecake, brownie, Almond sponge cake, and a raspberry pavlova confection. Yikes.

Dinner was mostly in the main dining room (short ribs and rack of lamb were the best), but we also tried the Solarium Bistro on the upper deck for dinner as we sailed out of St. Thomas and then the Izumi Japanese hibachi grill on the last night. That was a hilarious show of food preparation that none of us had yet experienced. Chef tossed pieces of egg for us to catch in our mouths – ok, weird but fun – and a few of us (Doug and Dad) nailed it on the first try.

Lobster, scallops, chicken were all delicious, and the tenderloin beef was mouthwatering. And some strange ice cream-filled dough balls for dessert.

Jackie and I also had a complimentary dinner at Wonderland, themed with Alice in mind.

Definitely something different, with all sorts of special food effects – smoked buffalo chicken eggs, “liquid” olives and mushrooms, spicy tuna in frozen limes, baked halibut and branzino. Quite the presentation, capped by a dessert plate of fungi: mango sorbet with cake and meringue mushrooms in pop-rocks dirt and a crazy bit of wizardry: The World – a chocolate sphere that melts before your eyes as the waiter drizzles hot caramel sauce, revealing salted caramel ice cream and chocolate mousse. Wow.

 

Drink
I did get a chuckle on the first day when I pulled out a bar checklist for each of us – crazy Doug – but later in the week we were all caught checking which bars we might have missed! “Oh, did I get a drink on each floor the Rising Tide bar stopped at?” “What about the Bionic Bar?” “Darn, I missed a glass of wine at Vintages.”

The robot arms of Bionic Bar

If you purchase the Deluxe Drink Package, you will have more than 16 bars to choose from. Poolside, in the Central Park garden area, restaurants, Promenade (mall) area, Solarium (adults only), plus the island of CocoCay. Yeah. That’s right. You try it without a list! Plus specialty coffees with a shot to start your day, like Icy Bourbon Mint Coffee.

We definitely gave our beverage package a workout.

Fun
Yep, another checklist just to be sure I didn’t miss anything. Besides the snorkeling in St. Maarten and CocoCay, there were plenty of activities onboard.  Check the video that combines the fun from our two cruises on Harmony of the Seas:  How We Did Harmony of the Seas

 

 

Whirlpools, main pool, the 9 deck drop on the Ultimate Abyss dry slide, three waterslides, rock climbing wall (made it halfway), zipline over the boardwalk “canyon” … busy, busy. We didn’t ride the carousel, ice skate, or play mini-golf, nor did we try surfing the flo-riders, but it was fun to watch. We saw the Jules Verne styled ice show “1887”, “Grease”, “Columbus, the Musical”, “Fine Line” and “Big Daddy’s” aquashows and a rock tribute band, all of which were top-notch entertainment.

 

You might not have the pool to yourself

Riding the waterslides was crazy, since two of them were designed for you to race your opponent. Jeff and I swapped winning times, but maybe my worst showing was when halfway down the dark tube I realized the water was pretty much disappearing and I slowed to a stop. “Send water!” Soon a gush hit me from behind and I started to move along again, but it might have been a long squooch, squooch crawl to the end. And yes, Jackie did try the Ultimate Abyss, which also lost some steam at the finish and we both had to scoot ourselves out of the last 3 feet of slide. The launching pad was the best part, as you are perched on a glass floor high above the stern of the ship!

 

I guess this all sounds like one big commercial for Royal Caribbean, but it turned out to be a much easier cruise for Dad than we expected and I do have to give credit to the cruise line for a ship that was well designed. It never felt crowded, it was gorgeously appointed, there was plenty to do for all ages, the rooms were thoughtfully laid out, staff was abundant, friendly and attentive. Dad had his walker and our rooms were close to elevators, so it was easy enough for him to head to the casino or up to the buffet on days when we were ashore. Jeff and I figured out how to push him along backwards in the walker when we needed to cover some ground quickly, and he was a good sport to go along with it. These twice-a-year cruises are his big vacation getaways, and as his escorts we are happy to go along (but seriously, we need some time to recover!)

Once we got back home we were greeted by two of the five fawns born around our yard this year. I guess they thought we had left town for good this time and they had the run of the place. Kodi keeps a careful eye out now and the mommas don’t seem to be as fiercely protective, so it seems safe to use the backyard again.

Up Next?
Well, it isn’t really an adventure, but it does involve the motorhome. We head to the mountains of North Carolina to help John with some work on the cabin he is building. It is under roof now and I think we will be doing some staining and working on the deck railing. Once again we will pack the motorhome with supplies and the pets for a trip to the mountains.

If you haven’t checked out some of my latest glass creations, be sure to look over the Glass Totems page and then catch up with recent events on the Happenings page. Stay tuned for a brief blog with some of the crazy video from the cruise, once I get it edited.

Thanks for following along on the adventures. And to borrow a phrase from our cruise director, “bing bong.”

Doug

And I should thank Alex and Bethany for watching Kodi and Merlin.  It looks like Allie kept a wary eye on Merlin, though.

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Georgia Mountains Getaway

It’s spring, and Jackie and I wanted to get out in the motorhome to enjoy it before summer season hits, so we planned a week in the Georgia mountains. Since our Panama City Beach vacation has been cancelled we thought it would be good to explore more state parks near home. And a good choice it was. First stop was Talullah Gorge State Park in northeastern Georgia. It took us about 2 hours early on a Sunday morning to get here, but it seems like we are much farther from the metro area as we drive into the bright green mountains.

Wildflowers, Waterfalls and Wallenda

 

As we checked in at the campground we noticed a “Campground Full” sign posted, but we soon figured that must have been for the weekend, since the place nearly emptied out by Sunday evening. Nice level spot with lots of room and we made camp easily. This site has water and electric, which is just fine. The weekend before the trip the motorhome got a good scrubbing – thanks to Jackie and her brother John, who both worked on cleaning the van to a sparkling white.

 

Talullah Gorge and Falls are just below a Georgia Power operated dam and Sunday was to have an aesthetic release of water, a much larger volume of water than normal that would make the falls much more robust. We wanted to see that so we started out on the path that led to the first overlook, a rock outcrop high above the gorge. As I was standing at the rail, snapping some pictures of the falls, I heard gasps and commotion behind me only to look down and see Jackie falling forward into the iron rail and down on the rocks.

The overlook that caused problems

While looking at the falls, she missed the step off the wood platform and couldn’t recover her balance as she fell forward. Although she banged her head darn hard into the rail, it was hugely fortunate that it was there. So many folks helped check her out (a nurse who was hiking the trail, several other visitors, the park rangers who hustled down the path and the EMTs that we called to have Jackie looked at). Several ice packs, bottles of water, some time laying back on a bench and lots of TLC later she walked out to the parking lot with the EMTs as we all made sure she was just fine.

So that is how our week’s adventure started off – a bit of a scare. As Jackie said, “we have hiked all around the US on much more difficult terrain!” but it is a reminder to walk while watching the path and stopping to watch the scenery, not both.

 

 

 

After some ibuprofen and a good night’s rest Jackie felt up to trying the hike again. The hike to the bottom of the Gorge is mostly a series of stairways down to the lowest level. Before you reach the lowest platforms there is a very cool suspension bridge about 80’ above the river that has some great views. We noticed that the waterfalls were just beautiful with the normal flow of water, but later witnessed much larger volume as they did another aesthetic release.

 

The hillsides were loaded with mountain laurel in bloom and a few remaining rosebay rhododendron blossoms. Sweet shrub, speedwell and a few trillium were also in bloom. The cool air in the gorge felt good as we made our way up the many, many steps back to the top.

After lunch back at camp, we drove north a few miles to the town of Clayton. The old main street was filled with cute shops and eateries and one stop just called out to us: Farmhouse Donuts. We only bought 4 donuts, but they were so delicious and calorie-laden (it involved caramel, peanut butter cups, Bavarian cream, apple filling, whipped cream, chocolate sauce) that as dessert and again with breakfast, they more than did the trick to satisfy our sugar craving.

 

 

The next day we headed back to the Interpretive Center and took the North Rim trail up and along to Inspiration Point. It was at this spot that Karl Wallenda in 1970 made a crossing of the gorge on a cable, without nets or safety harness and performing two headstands along the way. The remains of the dismantled tower lay along the rim at that spot. To give you a sense of how high up you are, we were looking down on a dozen turkey vultures who were catching the updrafts and thermals. Quite something to watch them zooming around, banking and gliding on the air currents. Kodi came along with us on this hike, but he was happy when we turned back and headed for the car. One last wildlife sighting was a large king snake making his way along the meadows edge. Cool.

 

Dropping Kodi off at the motorhome, we drove off in search of another waterfall hike – somewhere near Lake Rabun heading toward the town of Tiger. As we serpentined our way along the shoreline of Lake Rabun we fell in love with the gorgeous homes and boathouses that lined the lake. Clearly out of our price range.

 

 

   

 

 

We found the parking spot at the trailhead for Angel and Panther Falls in a National Forest campground. A good choice for a future visit. The trail to the two falls was supposed to be a mile in, but it sure seemed farther than that as we climbed upward along the stream on a mostly narrow, root-filled trail. But it was worth it to see both of these refreshing and beautiful falls. Again, the stream was lined with loads of blooming mountain laurel and we spotted a few native azaleas just finishing their bloom. We clicked the GPS tracking on our new Fitbit Charge 3’s at the far end of the falls, only to find that it was indeed a mile each way. Sure seemed like more.

 

Well after that hike we needed some refueling. Drove a bit further to Clayton again and parked ourselves at the Universal Joint – a converted gas station with a wonderful outdoor patio. Jackie was in heaven when she saw they had her favorite on tap: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The zippy pimento cheese sandwich she had with it just made her whole day. I had a delicious Brisket Dip sandwich with Bell’s Oberon – a beer that I will definitely have again.

 

One final stop on the way back to camp was in Tiger at “Goats on the Roof” – a roadside attraction not to be missed if you have kids. A whole lot of goats were really grazing on the rooftops, with connecting bridges to all sorts of other rooftops. Ok, then.

Black Rock Mountain

Midweek it was time to pull up and head further north to Black Rock Mountain State Park. This trip was close enough to home that we didn’t trailer the car, Jackie just drove behind. Made it a bit easier on the motorhome, too. I realized that was a smart move as we wound our way up the Black Rock Parkway – a very twisty road with lots of blind curves. Fortunately no one else was coming down the mountain and I was able to negotiate the curves with gusto.

 

The campground is perched along the ridge of the mountain and our site is a nice pull-through 2-level spot. Not a lot of negotiating room around here though. There are some awesome sites further along the ridge with loads of hybrid rhododendrons in bloom, but I really wouldn’t want to have to drive to the far reaches in our motorhome.

 

Some of the trail hikes we did here are a bit short, but still a lot of elevation changes. Norma Campbell Cove trail was filled with trillium, native azalea, false solomon’s seal, true solomon’s seal and some columbine. Ada-hi Falls trail downward on stairs and slopes to the falls was lined with a new wildflower for me: white clintonia, with galax, saxifrage and moccasin-flower. The Black Rock Lake trail was fairly easy and flat around the lake past Greasy Falls and also wildflower-lined. We hope to try a portion of the Tennessee Rock Trail before we leave the park – since it is supposed to have a great view to the north to Tennessee and across to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

   

Our hiking here was in short bits, but the views from the several overlooks are spectacular. The green mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest spread out before you as you look toward the southern Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Wow.

We drove down the mountain to have lunch in Clayton, this time at the Rusty Bike Cafe. It was a very busy spot with locals and we ordered blackened chicken sandwiches that were quite filling. Needing to work off that lunch, we hiked around the Foxfire Heritage Center, a celebration of the mountain lifestyle made famous by the student-written magazines and books from the 60’s and 70’s. The relocated and restored cabins in this mountain hideaway tell a unique story that continues through classes and activities today. It was nice to visit a place and story that inspired much of my early outdoor education activities as a naturalist.

 

 

Since rain is expected for later in the week, we are heading to Franklin, NC to meet with Vickie’s sister Sharon and sample two breweries on our list: Lazy Hiker and Currahee Brewing. As it turned out, the day was just beautiful weather and we enjoyed both breweries.

 

Along the way in Otto we had to stop and wander through Culpepper’s Salvage to see if there was anything we could repurpose or use at home. An absolutely fascinating place to poke around if you need any old beams, windows, iron fence, knobs, lights … well, you get the idea. Picture-rich spot.

 

 

   

Sharon took us toward Highlands to stop at my brother’s favorite place in town: Wilderness Taxidermy. This workshop and museum of trophy animals, fish and mounts was loads of fun to look at and we enjoyed chatting with the taxidermist working on an elk mount.

 

  

Back at camp it was a quiet, starry night … until it wasn’t, early in the morning. The predicted thunderstorms and rain hit hard and we spent the morning having a second cup of coffee and plotting the final day on the mountain. Hikes were out of the question in the rain, so we are going to hang out at an indoor flea market in Clayton, then gather our things and prepare for the trip down the mountain and back home. We did manage one short walk along the road to an overlook between rainstorms and found a new friend warming himself on the roadway: a red salamander. Never have seen such a bright orange critter, and not too sure he was happy about the selfie.

It was a terrific getaway week in the Georgia Mountains. We enjoyed spring wildflowers, waterfalls, challenging hikes, green mountain vistas, some good beer with family and learned a little more about life in the Appalachian Mountains.

If you want to see what it’s like from the driver’s seat going down the road from Black Rock Mountain, watch the new video “Leaving Black Rock Mountain” – but hold on tight, it is a wild ride.

Upcoming adventures that await us are a retirement party on our deck for three of our teaching colleagues who are joining our ranks and another Caribbean cruise with Dad, Jeff and Vickie. This cruise was to have been on the Oasis of the Seas, but the fallen crane damage in port canceled that cruise, so we are now booked on Harmony of the Seas heading to the newly opened Perfect Day at Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Marten. Can’t wait. Stay tuned for more “Happenings,” pictures and stories.