Posts Tagged With: Florida

Florida Fall Family Camping

It is a rainy morning in the motorhome, in fact there is thunder rattling around the Grand Lagoon and the pelting rain is getting pretty loud in here, so it is a good time to sit and compose the latest blog of our current adventure.  We have been camping at one of our favorite spots in Florida:  St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach.  There are several reasons why this visit has been special, the most important of which is that the campground is finally open again after all the damage and restoration from Hurricane Michael in 2018.  You may recall that we were here that October when we were suddenly evacuated and spent the better part of a week camping around the panhandle of Florida as one-by-one each state park closed due to the storm. (You can search the blog for some of those posts). 

Well the rebuild of the park is remarkable, with each campsite now having full hookups, level and well-defined with a pea gravel base and very well maintained. In fact they have specially built rakes they use to drag across the sites between each occupancy.  What is lacking, though, is the unique charm the campground used to have.  Nearly all the trees are gone, they don’t allow haphazard parking and boats on trailers in the campground and perhaps because of the sewer hookups, there are many more trailers and motorhomes than tents and pop-ups.  But for us it is an easy site to use. 

We booked this week last January with Judy and Craig because their Tennessee school had fall break and we wanted to camp together.  Then we alerted Jackie’s brother John, who was buying a truck camper, and Alex and Bethany, who are working to restore an adorable fiberglass Trillium mini-trailer and we soon had all four of us booked for the week.  Great plan – what could go wrong?

Well around December of last year both Craig and John ordered new Ford trucks from a dealer in Iowa.  Craig needed a bigger truck to pull their trailer out to Colorado and Utah this summer and John needed the Super Duty to mount his nearly-new slide-in truck camper.  Eight months, should be no problem.  Well the trucks weren’t ready for pickup until September, which meant Craig had to use his older truck for the summer trip and John drove his back to NC just a week before we were to camp.  And Alex still had more work to do on their unit.  Eventually everyone got set and packed, except Judy and Craig.  At the last minute he had to fly to Phoenix, Arizona to help his mother return home from rehab following an operation and Judy was not prepared to haul the trailer to Florida.  That’s ok, we have room in the motorhome, so she and daughter Rachel joined us for part of the week.  They set up a tent in their site next to us to hold most of their clothes and extras.  

So we each arrived in stages – John stopped at our house a few days prior and we drove to Lakepoint State Park in Alabama for a night.  We stopped in LaGrange to have lunch and a beer at Wild Leap Distilling – only to find out it was the finish line for a fundraising run.  Pretty busy so we just ate lunch in the motorhome, then on to Eufaula for the night.  We prefer to break up the 6-7 hour trip this way because, well, because we have the time to do it.  So far so good.  Next morning (Sunday) it was off to the beach for the week.  But the rest of Tennessee was also on fall break, so once at the campground and beach it felt more like spring break than the middle of October.  We zipped around on our new eBikes, which was really easy on the flat roads. But the best part is the beach and the water – absolutely clear, slightly cool water with gentle waves and wonderful white sand beaches.  

The beach has been renourished with sand pumped from the inlet, so it was filled with shell bits and was a very high dune hill, but with the repairs to the rock jetty and all the new sand, at least it looked more like the beach of the past.  But it did make for a hike to and from the water’s edge with our well-used Tommy Bahama cart loaded with chairs, umbrellas and beach beer.

That first weekend with just John, Jackie and I was pretty special.  We had delicious fish and ahi tuna tacos at the local Patches Pub and after dinner we sat out and were surprised by a beautiful fireworks display across the lagoon.  We learned it was the end of Pirate Weekend.  Better than the 4th!  And we were later treated to a gorgeous moonrise as a golden full moon slowly rose above the water and totally dominated the skyline.

So what else did we do all week once everyone arrived at camp?  First off we had to check out Alex and Bethany’s setup, then John gave his camper a once-over to be sure all was working.  Judy and Rachel set their tent and we walked around the “new” campground to try and remember how it was and where we might have camped before.  But the beach was calling, so we spent most afternoons in our beach chairs, sipping beach beer, splashing in the water, a bit of snorkeling, dolphin watching … basic beach fun.

Judy was anxious to find a pickleball court, which we did, and play a bit with us.  We have just recently started to learn the sport and have had a few practice games at our local community center.  Well the spot we found was pretty busy and we got swept up in the “put your paddle in the rack, you can play the next team up when there is an open court.”  Yikes, these folks are pretty serious.  Turns out we got an open court for all four of us and we spent an hour or more just between Rachel (tough competitor), Judy, Jackie and I.  Good exercise. 

Meal planning became important, too.  Each night someone hosted everyone at their site and cooked up a delicious meal.  Sausage, peppers and potatoes grilled up by John, steak night at Doug and Jackie’s, a seafood night grilled over a wood fire at Alex and Bethany’s – awesome eats.  That seafood night featured Mahi-Mahi, Ahi tuna, shrimp, scallops … doesn’t get any better.

And of course we wanted to eat at some of the beach bars and restaurants.  Let’s go out to Schooners then!  Barely a mile from the campsite and right on the beach, this favorite is cool because they shoot off a canon at sunset, plus serve good food.  By now I had lowered the canvas top of the Jeep and was ready for some true beach driving (ok, the doors stayed on).  And we had some rubber ducks ready for “ducking” other Jeeps.  If you aren’t familiar with this tradition, it’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.

So Alex and John jumped in the Jeep with me, the girls in Bethany’s Jeep and off to Schooners we went.  Parked cars, put in our names – an hour and a half wait!  Hmm, maybe Plan B?  We called to another spot over the bridge that had no waiting: Off the Hook.  So back in Jeeps, but ooops, the sky doesn’t look too good.  Off we go and down came the rain.  Darn, the wipers aren’t working!  Hey, John might have left his awning out, we need to check on that – girls you go get a table at Off the Hook and we will meet you there.  We put the roof up, but I didn’t have the window panels, so backseat rider got a bit wet.  Campsites were ok, so back to the restaurant before it got worse.

Just as we got to the outdoor bar the wind whipped up and things were blowing everywhere – umbrellas lifting up and out, napkins and plates flipping and blowing, people running for cover … time for Plan C.  Patches Pub was best choice, so over there we drove.  All of this is within maybe 2 miles of campsite, so we were kind of driving around in a circle.  Got a table outside under a roof, the rain and wind died down and we ordered up a great meal of Ahi tacos, fish sandwiches, pizza and beer.  Probably should have started here since it was reasonable, delicious and a fun vibe.

Back at camp we tried to prepare for overnight rain but early morning brought another blast of rain and thunder and things got … wet.  Probably the worst was Judy’s tent and contents.  Towels, blankets, and clothes were laid out to dry, I mopped out water from the back of the Jeep, and we all hoped it would dry as we headed up to the beach.  The day turned out to be a perfect one and we soon forgot all about the rain.  Mostly.  

Big waves were hitting the beach this day and we all got our fill of diving under, getting dunked and trying to swim up and over.  Hats got soaked and knocked off, sunglasses held tight, but it was really a lot of fun.  By the next day the waves had simmered to mild ripples, but the storm also changed up the water a bit, we now had pink meanie jellyfish (that eat moon jellies, but still have stinging tentacles) in the surf to avoid.  Alex declared we needed to institute a buddy system to watch for them while swimming.  We made it with no stings.

The night before Judy and Rachel were set to return home we tried for another beachside bar and drove to Pineapple Willy’s.  Not much of a wait for an outside table, and we were already enjoying the sunset while sipping on our frozen Daquiri’s.  Alex got clever and ordered two Miami Vices (strawberry mixed with pina colada) – I guess he got the hang of cruise drinking after all.  We had some gator bites and I had a delicious fried oyster Po’boy. Nice night beachside, plus no rain.  John hung on in the back seat of the Jeep as we turned up the volume and drove back along the beach road to camp, open air.  

Friday it was time for Judy to pack up and head out, so we took some time to dry out her tent first – kind of like waving a flag in the breeze.  A bald eagle that had been spotted all week circled above as if to say goodbye.  Soon they were off and the rest of us hit the beach again.

Sunday morning we were saying goodbye to John and Alex and Bethany as they packed up, pulled out and headed home.  We were staying another four days, so suddenly it seemed just a bit quieter.  All week the motorhome had become the dog house for Kodi, Toby and Allie daytime, so when we got back to the door there was only one barky voice left.  

What else?  We watched the many pelicans, egrets, herons and osprey that fly about and splash into the water, occasionally getting a fish.  Our electric bikes were awesome down here.  The flat roadways made it so easy to zip around camp and off to the beach.  We are still quite cautious with our trips – preferring not to leave them locked at racks beachside.  But they are a definite new fun addition to our adventures.  The Hollywood rack on the Jeep worked just fine and the bikes haven’t lost much of their battery power all week.  Lots of other eBikes around camp, too.  But the golf carts still dominate the traffic around the campground (mostly with kids driving them).

Well, by now the rain has stopped, it is still cloudy, but I need to walk Kodi, pour the water puddle off the Jeep roof and squeeze out the towels and bathing suits.  Maybe a trip down to Pier Park or the t-shirt shops (like we need another?) today while we wait for the weather to clear and beach time begins again. 

It did clear and we had another perfect day at the beach, still dodging a few jellyfish.  But the next day it got cold and windy and a planned bike trip was postponed in favor of lunch at Sharkey’s – you know, it is something of a tradition.  We had a wonderful lunch beachside: fish tacos and nachos with frozen daquiris.  Yum.  We noticed the growing crowd of motorcycles and learned Sharkey’s is one of the sponsors of Thunder Beach, which was just starting up.  Hmmm, we do have a history of being in places where motorcycle rallys happen.  Does an eBike count?

You probably know about the big cold snap hitting the southeast, and we were just learning that it might have been the end of our houseplants on the back deck at home.  For us at the beach, we hit the low 40’s on departure morning and were thankful we had packed at least one pair of long pants and long t-shirts each, just in case.  We rolled out early enough to get to Eufaula by noon and then to a new Georgia State Park: Chattahoochee Bend State Park outside Newnan.  Got there around 4:30 after getting gas (and remember, an hour difference across the border).  We have a great pull-through spot for the night and are maybe 2 hours from home.  The nice part is we aren’t driving through Atlanta at rush hour.  In the morning we can miss the interstates and make our way home on more local roads.

So our fall beach break has come to an end and we are slowly unpacking clothes, food, and such  Need to clean out the Jeep and motorhome from the sandy fun and attend to a few minor issues.  It was a great time in the sun, on the beach and with family.  John and Alex and Bethany got just a little more comfortable with their rigs.  Couldn’t ask for better.

I probably should have mentioned a summer camping adventure on our local lake with the grandsons.  We had a great lakeside spot, Alex and Bethany joined us for their first outing and it was great – until it wasn’t.  Every afternoon a wild thunderstorm whipped up and we had to pull in awnings, take down screen rooms, collect chairs and tables … it was really wild times.  But daytime the water was warm and perfect for floating, paddling or just splashing around.

Next up? No motorhome camping, but we have a cruise planned for late January on the brand new NCL Prima. It is a 70th birthday treat for us. Can’t wait for that Caribbean adventure.  

Categories: Outdoor Adventures | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

30A Ok

Next on our spring hit list this year is a 2 week stay on the panhandle of Florida at one of our favorite campgrounds:  Grayton Beach State Park along highway 30a.  Booked this one about a year ago and were excited to have our good friends Dan and Terri also book a week at a condo in Seagrove, just next door.  We are all quite familiar with the local breweries, eateries, bike paths and beaches, so this should be a great adventure.

The drive is about 7 hours but we thought we would break it up by heading out a day early and stopping halfway for the night.  One other trip south we stopped in Eufaula, AL at Lakepoint State Park, an easy stop.  But by the time we got past Columbus and were headed toward Eufaula and Dothan, it was still early in the day, so we searched out some options further south.  Jackie found Florida Caverns State Park near Mariana and pretty much just along our route.  We pulled up, asked about a spot for the night and were told, yes, they did have a site, but because we were 33’ we would have to use one of the equestrian sites.  Ok, no problem.  Actually, the three spots were level, full utilities and off by ourselves – with paddocks and stalls available if we wanted to hitch our horse there (um, no). But Kodi did pick up a lot of burrs, so he had to get brushed out a bit.

It was still early afternoon and as Jackie was reading through the park information sheet she said “hey, they have cave tours.  But not tomorrow.”  Well, guess that means we have to hustle over to the visitor’s center and get a tour.  Lucky for us the 4:00 tour was the last of the day and we made it with minutes to spare.  Down into the cave we went, 65 feet underground and still above the lower levels of the cave/aquifer complex.  It felt nice and cool on a hot and humid afternoon and we enjoyed ducking and dodging the stalagmites and stalactites.  We have been in several cave systems and while this wasn’t on the scale of some, it was certainly very scenic.  Outside there were blooming columbine, hydrangea and other wildflowers.  As we exited, we were reminded of just how hot and humid the weather had become.  Can’t wait to hit the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico!

It was a quick 2 hours, plus a stop for gas, and we were nearing Grayton Beach the next morning.  We didn’t rush out, but got here just after noon and the site was ready for us.  Full utilities and a nice roomy spot.  Connected up to water and electricity, put out the chairs, set up the screen house (bugs??), took down the canvas roof of the Jeep and off we went to the beach.  You are pretty close to the beach, but it is either a long walk, shorter bike ride or even shorter trip in the jeep.  Ah, the gorgeous blue-green, crystal clear water and sugar white sands were just what we remembered.  Soon we were splashing in and leaving all our worries behind.

We had a couple of days before Terri and Dan were to arrive, so that meant we could check out the local scene.  Grayton Beach is pretty quiet compared to Destin and Panama City Beach, but the Seaside and Watercolor neighborhoods are a destination all their own.  And it was indeed just as busy with cars, bikes and people as ever.  But we only drove through, on our way to check out two breweries:  Grayton Brewing and Idyll Hounds.  Made it to Idyll for a couple of sips and met a crowd of 5 other local teachers (it was the end of the school day) and we chatted for a bit.  Also met another couple who were great fun – we shared stories of our camping adventures, our beer adventures and some “curly girl” hair advice.  

Right next to Idyll Hounds was a new building with a sign “Distillery 98” – so naturally that meant we had to check it out.  Aha! a vodka distillery and bar for Dune Laker vodka.  Jackie forced herself to have an espresso martini and I had … well a refreshing drink with cucumber and something and something and vodka.  It was good, even if I can’t recall the ingredients.

A couple of really nice days at the beach, another beer selection with Bavarian pretzels at Beach Camp brewpub (used to be affiliated with Grayton Beer) here in Grayton and we are just loving it.  Oh, and a helpful camper told us that the night before they spotted a big fat snake under our Jeep, probably a cottonmouth.  Just thought we should know.  Gee, thanks.  Well, we kind of think that it was probably a brown or banded water snake so no worries.  Our site is just steps from the water of Western Lake.  Good to know.

The Jeep has been fun, with the top down and wide open – and I have been putting a cover over it each night to keep the birds off and stay dry from the morning dew.  But rain was predicted and we debated what to do (nothing was the decision).  Well, Kodi woke us up around 6 am with thunder in the distance.  I got out to check things – did see a cool sunrise – but I wasn’t yet awake enough to put the top up.  After thunder and light rain (and coffee) we waited for a break and went ahead and put the top on, side and back windows back in and made it water tight.  Good thing, as it wasn’t long before we had a pretty severe downpour.  

We waited it out and when it seemed to pass we drove east to Pier Park in Panama City to do some quick shopping and especially to have our favorite grouper sandwich at Sharkey’s.  Dang, just as good as ever!  But the gulf was angry.  The storm continued to whip up the waves, rain and thunder and really blow pretty hard.  Looks like time to head back to camp and check on things and Kodi.  Once there, all was well, nothing blew away, the awning was still fine, but Kodi was definitely glad we came back to rescue him!

While chilling in the motorhome and catching up on blog writing and photo editing we got a text from Dan and Terri to say they were an hour out and wanted to meet up at Grayton Beer.  Well, okay, that didn’t take much persuasion.  So, since it is still raining and definitely NOT a beach day, we met up, sampled some flights of beer, caught up on what we have been doing and planned out the week.  Well, Dan declared “there is no agenda” for the week, so yeah, I know it’s tough being retired.

So a recap of the week (which is a bit heavy on food and beer, I admit) includes:

A delicious grilled steak dinner at the campsite for four, complete with, um, three (?) bottles of red wine.

Mother’s Day dinner at Cafe 30A for some delicious seafood.  Ahi tuna for Jackie (and a proper beet salad – check the “Harmony” blog for the story), a spicy seafood pasta for Doug and a bit of a debate over dessert.  More on that later.

A trip back to Idyll Hounds for more beer sampling and the vodka distillery next door for some bloody marys, martinis and frozen cocktails.

A walkabout at Seaside with fish tacos for lunch.  A very cute gathering spot along highway 30A, but very congested with people, cars, bikes, trucks, strollers, golf carts and dog walkers all competing for space.

Beautiful sunny, cool and dry weather the entire week, with plenty of beach time reading and sipping “beach beer.”  The water was absolutely the most gorgeous color, crystal clear to your toes with the aptly named sugar sand beaches.  Unfortunately we have no underwater critter sightings to report, maybe one or two rays spotted moving past.

Dinner at the Red Bar – a famous watering hole in the cute bungalow community of Grayton Beach.  I  had a delicious crab cake and salad, Jackie had some chicken penne, I think Dan had gumbo and Terri had a large salad … it was all filling, but kinda pricey, too.  Definitely a busy spot and we had to take their free shuttle from the parking area.  But we did catch the sunset on the beach. 

More sunsets. It’s just something you do at the beach: watch the sunset from the water’s edge.  By then the sand is cool on your feet, the water feels warmer as it washes over your toes and the bright yellow sun turns orange as it slips below the horizon.  Definitely cool and we tried it a few nights.

E-bike rentals and a ride down to Blue Mountain Beach and back to Seaside.  Jackie has been researching e-bikes for a while and we had the chance to try some out.  A great guy ran a local service (rentelectricbikes.com) that delivered the bikes to our campsite, then picked them up the next morning.  At $50 per day each that was a deal.  We rented RadRover bikes that had rather fat tires and a step-through frame. They were pedal-assist but you could also just use the throttle alone and zip along just fine.  Wow, what a cool ride.  Terri and Dan rented beach cruiser bikes in Seagrove and met us at the campsite.  We all rode a couple of miles on the bike path along 30a to Blue Mountain Beach and then back to Seaside to leave Terri and Dan before we turned back to the campground.  Very cool experience.

A last night dinner at Hurricane Oyster Bar with the most monstrous oysters ever.  Dan ordered six grilled and I ordered six baked with crab and cheese, thinking they would be small appetizer size, but they were a meal in themselves (but I had also ordered a fried oyster po boy, so it was a major oyster feast that night).

Oh, and the key lime pie affair.

I mentioned Mother’s Day dinner at a wonderful restaurant – Cafe 30A – and how we debated our dessert choice.  Naturally, they had key lime pie and we were tempted to finish off the meal with some, but Terri said she had one back at their condo to share.  “Yeah, but how big?” Dan asked.  “Well, you know, about six inches, a Publix one,” Terri replied.  “That won’t be enough, we’ll only have a sliver each,” Dan countered.  So the discussion went, but it was silly really, since we were all stuffed anyway.  I shared how when we were in Key West years back they had key lime pie covered in chocolate on a stick that I really wanted to try.  But we managed to leave the Keys before I managed to snag one to try.  “Oooh, that sounds delicious,” was the general comment.  But back at the condo we had a very nice slice each of the key lime pie Terri bought and it was just fine.

The next day Terri texted us a picture of a sandwich board from a spot in Seaside that advertised “chocolate covered key lime pie” – Aha!  It did exist.  Well, of course that meant we had to arrange a trip back to get ourselves some of that, so the next afternoon we all arrived at Nigel’s Chocolate Covered Bananas to get our key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate.  “Oh, sorry, we are out for today.”  What??  “We should have some tomorrow.”  Grr.

That meant another trip the next day to see if indeed they would have more.  “Oh, yes I remember you from yesterday.  We have the pie today.”  Great, we will take four slices.  Out came the first monstrous slice, on a stick, that was gently dipped into the pool of dark chocolate. “What do you want on the outside?”  Oh, there’s more?  Well the choice for most was to cover it in crushed pecan shortbread cookies, but I opted for toasted coconut.  

Jackie said she didn’t want it on a stick, but they all were set in paper baskets anyway and we grabbed forks to help.  As we sat outside on benches and devoured our slices of heaven, all we could say was how lucky we were that we found a local source for this decadent treat.  In all the excitement I forgot to snap a picture of the pie, but imagine if you will a 3 inch thick slice of pie with a generous graham cracker crust, dipped in dark chocolate that already was crackly and then coated with cookie crumbs or toasted coconut.  Way too many calories.  And pretty much our afternoon meal.  That’s how it goes at the beach.

What’s next? 

Well, a good cleaning of the RV for one thing and a check on our maternity ward backyard to see how many new fawns have been born. Someone said we are headed out on another cruise and we plan to spend a week camping at our nearby Lake Allatoona with the grandsons. Never a dull moment. Stay tuned.

Categories: Outdoor Adventures | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding the Forgotten Coast

Life itself sure is an adventure, as I learned from this trip.  Jackie and I booked this Florida vacation to St. George Island on the Big Bend of the Florida Gulf coast about a year ago when we had little on the calendar.  Now it comes wedged in between two family weddings, a wonderful college graduation event and a celebration of life.  

The days before our departure were the usual frenzy to get everything ready.  We took the motorhome to have the cabin AC repaired, scrubbed the roof to a nice clean white finish, waited for the new steel bumper and tow bar to be installed on the Jeep (our new tow vehicle) and I was getting ready to bake two loaves of buttermilk sourdough for the trip.  I was also finally feeling better after a bout of stomach virus.  We got the Jeep back, practiced connecting and disconnecting and considered ourselves ready.  Beach stuff packed, an assortment of warm and cool clothes stuffed into the closets and drawers, liquor, food and ice stocked into the fridge… we were ready.

Then I got the call from Dad’s nursing home and we learned that he died that afternoon.  Wow.  Shock to the system, now what do we do?  Stay?  Go?  Delay?  Of course we spent time late into the night on the phone and computer, talking, crying, writing, thinking, remembering … not really sleeping much.  But we decided that Dad wouldn’t want us to change plans so in the morning we gathered ourselves and got set to leave town. I did post a tribute to dad before we left – if you haven’t already read “The Visit” you should.

The Jeep was an easy hook-up compared to the tow dolly and Rav-4.  We carefully went through our checklist and were confident we had it in “N” in the transfer case and “Park” in the auto transmission.  It was freewheeling.  

This is a new experience for us and I should fill you in just a bit.  On our last camping trip we chatted up a couple who had a Jeep Wrangler that they towed 4-down (rather than like we do with a tow dolly, where the front wheels are up on a tow platform).  They said it worked really well for them and were ready to sell that unit and buy a new Jeep pickup, but we didn’t come to a deal on the price.  It did get us thinking seriously about how much easier it would be to tow that way, especially if we were going to be going cross-country again in the fall.  So in short order we found ourselves the owners of a low mileage 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, complete with the learning curve that goes with it.  A new spot around the corner from us, Jeep Wave, was a great source of help.  We ordered a steel bumper, tow bar, wires and cables and … well, let’s just say we put the COVID stimulus money to good, local use.

So as we were double-checking the brake lights and turn signals Jackie noticed that the motorhome signaled left and the Jeep signaled right.  Oops.  Better stop at Jeep Wave and ask JD to have another look.  Yeah, let’s have a look at that wiring.  Ok, only 2 hours later and we were actually on the road.  Good thing we didn’t plan to drive all the way to the Florida Panhandle on one day, because it was 4:00pm before we pulled into our campsite in south Georgia in the Kolomoki Mounds State Park.

Actually, the trip was smooth and easy, with a little anxiety once we passed Columbus and we couldn’t find a gas station until the last minute (quarter tank is last minute to me).  You might chuckle if you have ever driven south of Columbus, Georgia and done this:  as you approach Fort Benning there is this very impressive overpass with tall statues and eagles and all sorts of stars … and a very quick exit to continue on past the base.  Except if you are entranced with the Brandenburg Gate look of everything and suddenly find yourself at the military checkpoint.  Oh well, they saw us coming, waved us around and just somehow knew that this Winnebago was not really heading onto the base.  Made our U-turn and got the heck outta there, sheepishly. 

Oh, and about the final approach to Kolomoki Mounds.  We were doing great on a nice 2-lane farm road in pretty countryside, with orange-red dirt, when the final turn had barricades and a sign that the road was out in 2 miles.  Hmm.  GPS says the entrance is 2.1 miles ahead.  We called the office this morning and they didn’t say anything about the road being out … think we should try?  Creeping along we finally saw the final barricades ahead and, yes, it was closed.  Before the entrance.  Sandy shoulders, no big parking lot in sight, umm, now what?  Well the owner of the wide, sandy, kind-of-a-turnaround front yard just happened to drive out and told us we were fine to turn around there, her husband parked his semi there at night.  Ok then.  Tight as heck U-Turn and we were on our way around to the OTHER entrance to the park.  Crazy, right?

The site at Kolomoki was a pull-through, since we were only there one night.  We needed to get a wifi connection to complete some online paperwork related to Dad and the only wifi was nearly a mile away at the visitor’s station, so we stopped there on the way out in the morning, getting another late start. 

The park was quite nice, campground along a small lake, but it was very muddy from recent rains and we really didn’t get out and around the mounds from a village that dated back almost 3,000 years.

The rest of the trip to Eastpoint, Florida along the Apalachicola Bay was smooth and soon we were driving behind the dunes on St. George Island State Park.  A beautiful island with a very small town (one t-shirt shop, two small grocery stores) and a fair amount of vacation homes up on pilings.  Much of the area was hit hard by recent hurricanes.  The campground was an easy setup, only 60 sites with water and electric, and soon we had the Jeep disconnected and the motorhome set and level.

So how did we spend our week?  Well we spent time at the beach of course, with some really nice days of warm water and bright sun. 

We rode bikes a bit, walked around with Kodi to chat with other campers and sat out when the mosquitos weren’t too bad.  Even around our propane firepit they were pretty fierce. But the nighthawks zipped around above us to gobble up a few and we listened to frogs and chuck will’s widows.

I just had to find a beachside bar and have a beer and raw oysters.  The Blue Parrot is the perfect spot on the sand, actually the ONLY beach bar, and the plate of ice-cold, sweet oysters tasted too perfect with a pint of Oyster City beer.  Cheers to you, Dad!  I know he would have joined me if he could.  Jackie had a basket of fried Grouper fingers that were tender and sweet.  My, my, it is so rough to be retired!

One of the days was supposed to be overcast, so we drove to Apalachiacola that day to play tourists and also get another plate of oysters.  The town was cute, but certainly adjusting to the loss of oystering on the bay.  It is officially closed for 5 years to allow the oyster beds to recover, so all the oysters you get in town are from elsewhere.  We did find Oyster City Brewery in town and stopped in for a sampling.  Also ate dockside at The Half Shell and had oysters and grouper.

Speaking of breweries, there is another one in Eastpoint just at the base of the bridge to the Island called Eastpoint Brewing.  Really good fruit and sour beers that were very mellow and frankly some of the best I have had.  Nice spot on the bay and some of the friendliest owners!

We made sure to take the windows off the Jeep and pull the top down for some fun driving along the beach road.  Sure was fun. 

 

Last night in camp we had a big thunderstorm (while we were eating more fish tacos at Paddy’s) and it was still raining when we hooked up the Jeep.  But the sun came out soon enough and our drive up along the bay to Tallahassee and on to Thomaston and Moultrie in south Georgia was really easy. 

Our destination for one night (to break up the drive back to Atlanta) was Reed Bingham State Park.  Very nice spot under a live oak with full hookups – really an easy stop. 

Kodi, Jackie and I walked a short trail called the “Gopher Tortoise Loop” before dinner, which was a nice sandy trail and darned if we didn’t spot several of their burrows, one with the tortoise in the doorway. It wasn’t our first time seeing them, but kinda cool anyway. Jackie was disappointed not to see any indigo snakes.

We noticed a lot of big Class A motorhomes in camp and lots of dogs.  Not little Yorkies and poodles, but dobermans and border collies.  Turns out they are setting up for an agility meet tomorrow — too bad, Kodi would fit right in (except we really never trained him for agility).

We are back home now, the motorhome is mostly unpacked and we are already plotting the next adventure.  This was a really nice Florida vacation and a good chance to reflect, remember and celebrate the life of my father, someone who was so big in recreation and who set our family off on many, many camping adventures.  

Thank you to everyone who has shared memories and sent their thoughts and prayers our way.  It has meant a lot … a lot.

Thanks for coming along on the journey.  What’s next?  Maybe another trip to the North Carolina mountains to finish up John’s cabin and camp for a few days with family … a big fall swing through the Southwest?  Who knows?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Florida ‘Destin’-ation

 

A month in Florida in late September, camping beside some of the best beaches – what could be better? It’s that retirement dream we all have while we are grinding through a tough week at work. Well, that’s what this trip is for us – or was planned to be. As you no doubt read in the earlier posts, Hurricane Sally had other ideas. But once we finished our panhandle “camp-around” to avoid the tropical storm and flooding we were back on track at Panama City Beach and now are actually set to leave Henderson Beach State Park in Destin after nearly two weeks in a wonderful campground.


Racoon River was a good stay for 4 days, since it was just a block from the beach. And yes, we did see a couple of raccoons trekking across the road one evening. The weather started to cool down into the 60’s and 70’s and it continued to be pretty breezy and overcast, but we rode bikes and tried to get the best of our beach time. Within biking distance was the Shrimp Basket, so we ordered a take-out meal of fried fish to enjoy back at camp. Breaking camp was easy and the short drive to Destin meant we were settling in at Henderson Beach early in the day. There are only 60 campsites here, so you have a lot of privacy. It can feel like you are in the middle of a scrub pine woodland – until you hear music and voices from the club level of the condos that are barely 200 yards away. Even though we enjoyed a Saturday evening wedding reception from afar (“I present Mr. and Mrs. …”), it was a wonderful, spot and a generously large pull-through.

  



The 10 days we spent here were different each day. Things started off overcast and breezy, somehow the remnants of the tropical storms Sally and Beta. We had double red flags keeping us out of the water a few days, so we drove to the public beaches of Miramar Beach one day.

 

 

 

On the not-so-great days we did some shopping and searched out WiFi service. We can’t pick up any over-the-air television stations, so it’s a good break from whatever is going on in the world. We drove to Destin Harbor and walked the shops.  Once the rough water and waves cleared, along with lots of debris in the water from the storms and flooding, we were back to awesomely clear, smooth water. Some quick hits on what we have been up to:

  • Lunch at Back Porch beach bar was amazing – huge fish tacos, filet of red snapper, smoked tuna dip and baked oysters with crab and cheese (actually went twice)

 

 

  • Steak dinner at camp, complete with long sleeves and sweater!

  • Beautiful sunsets

  

 

 

  • Lazy days at the beach with flat, clean, clear water to splash around in

  

 

 

  • Watching pelicans and osprey dive for fish
  • Evenings around the (propane) campfire

  • A couple of skates in the water (yeah, Doug stepped on one that fluttered out of the sand and we watched it swim along and then disappear back into the sand)
  • Only one sighting of dolphin this whole trip
  • Watching the shorebirds

  

 

 

  • A visit to Destin Brewery to have a flight of beer each (and get that fridge sticker!) Good brews!

  

  • Too many trips to the WalMart across the street for WiFi and incidentals – one for long sleeves and pants, since the temps got down into the 60’s. All Doug brought were shorts and tees – it’s Florida after all!

  

  • A video call with our grandsons from the beach
  • Long, long walks from the campsite to the beach via a lovely path and boardwalk. Doug finally hooked the beach cart to the bike for part of the mile long trek

  • Plenty of aircraft – both from all of the coastal air bases but also from the tourist helicopter rides across from our camp
  • Walking Destin Harbor and spotting a frigate bird high above (joined by an osprey, for comparison)

  • The latest way of advertising to the beach crowd – floating billboard

  • Doing a load of laundry at the bath house (it’s been a couple weeks, after all)
  • Finding out that there IS WiFi at camp at the bath house,  but on the last day


So as we dust off the sand, disconnect the water and electric, pull in the slides and pack up the bar once again we are off to one quick night at Falling Water SP (again) on our way to Anastasia SP on the Atlantic coast at St. Augustine. We will definitely put Henderson Beach SP back on our camping list for the future.

More to come, so stay tuned.  Sign up to be notified of the latest posts.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Florida Replay

So when we last left off on our fall Florida adventure we were camped out in High Springs, Florida blogging and beer sampling at the High Springs Brewery. You know one of our travel goals is to magically find the nearest brewery to sample new brews and catch up using their wifi. And somehow we manage to find those local gems, enabling us to help the local economy just a bit and upload our stories and pictures.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



We did manage to get a weekend stay at a campground just a block off the beach in Panama City Beach, so we packed up once again and hit the road to go back about 250 miles west to restart this Florida vacation. I have some pictures to share of the springs here at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, which actually started as a privately operated swimming hole until it was recently acquired by the state. So not everything in the campground was up to the usual standards (such as no breakers on the electric hookups).
 

Maybe the most white-knuckled part was the road in and out of the park. When we first drove in I was surprised that we were driving down a sand road, not a dirt road, but a two-rut sandy track. I carefully kept moving down the half-mile long drive following along behind Jackie and was sure glad we weren’t towing the car on the tow-dolly behind us. But it got better – naturally we had an overnight thunderstorm the first night with rivers of water running through camp. When we decided to try a trip to town for wifi (and cell service) we felt ready to tackle the sandy road after watching a FEDEX semi driving in. Heck, if he could do it … but dang, it was a wild ride out and through the big puddles. Our RAV-4 did its best impression of a 4WD Jeep as we splashed up and down and swam and skidded along the track. It was just as bad coming back in and I just kept wondering how in the heck we were going to get our rig outta there. Again, I shudder to think what we would have done if we were towing the car.



Maybe I am a bit jumpy about getting bogged down after the stuck-in-the-mud episode at John’s place this spring, but I surely did NOT want to add “sinking in quicksand” to this adventure. So the next morning I took several deep breaths, instructed Jackie to lead on (but to keep moving no matter what) and I would follow behind. I’m telling you, people pay to do these mud runs, probably not in 33 foot motorhomes, but they pay for an experience I would just as soon never repeat. As I navigated around most of the deepest puddles and tried to find solid, dry tracks to follow, side-slipping and bouncing along I finally spied the last big mudhole. This one would not stop me, so I hit the gas and figured there was no stopping me at this point! Made it through, but I think we owe the park a couple of bags of sand (they can come wash it off!)

Enough of the dramatics – we actually had a nice 5-hour drive across the Apalaciacola River basin and surrounding swamps and pine forests. One handy tool we have used this trip is a pair of 2-way radios we brought along. It made it easy to share navigation info and gas status between the two vehicles instead of relying on the cell phone.

 

We are now back in PCB in a decent campground that is very close to the action. First thing after getting set in camp (again!) was to get to the beach. Yes, the sand was just as white, but the water was definitely murkier brown, not the see-your-toes clear gulf we love. Well, what can you expect, the flood waters are still receding. We swam a bit, sat in the beach chairs a bit, then went back to shower, change and go out for dinner (before we got chased away again). We took our Fat Tuesday mugs with us for frozen daiquiri refills at Pineapple Willys and finally felt like we were starting the beach vacation. Along with a LOT of other people. And kids. Guess the fall breaks are starting already?? Ah well, we had our face masks and got a nice table way out on the pier at a big table all to ourselves. Fried oyster po-boy and mahi-mahi strips made it a perfect beach dinner. And those brain freeze daiquiris!

 

 



Back home it seems they got a good round of rain from Sally, too. Terri was nice enough to check on the house and yard – our rain gauge said 4” of rain but otherwise all was ok. Friends are good!

To round out our stay at PCB we really wanted to swim more, but we got a cold front that blew in, overnight showers hit, temperatures went to the 60’s, breeze kicked up from the northeast and the sun hasn’t been seen in days.  We hear that Tropical Storm Beta is sending some clouds our way, too.  So we spent a day cleaning up the motorhome and restocking some food and drink.  Of course had to drive to Pier Park and wander the shops, with masks, and basically not spend money but comment on all the other folks wandering around.

Also opted to unhook the bikes and ride along the beach road, looking for potential rental units for the future.  By Monday, our last day here in PCB, it was still overcast, but at least the water was getting back to clear.  Since our pass for St. Andrews was still valid we drove to the park to see what it was like.

  

 

     

 

The campground was still closed off and there was a lot of water in places you normally don’t see it,  Making our way to the beach revealed a big transformation.  The same spot next to the jetty where just a week ago we were sitting on beach chairs was now a new channel from the lagoon to the gulf.  A big new area of sand filled half of the children’s lagoon and there was lots of dune erosion.  Sad to see such damage.  Good thing they had moved out the heavy equipment we saw last week, but I am sure more will be back to rebuild these dunes and fix the breach.  

And with a bow to tradition, we went to Sharky’s for lunch, complete with grouper sandwiches and “Shark Attack” drinks on the beach.  Still one of our all-time favorites.

Tomorrow we pack up and head to Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.  A phone call confirmed that they are open, minus some of their beach.  Looks like we are in for more overcast and rainy weather, but we are ever optimistic that this warm and sunny Florida vacation will yet happen. A good omen was a bald eagle we saw circling overhead.

Stay tuned and thanks for following along.  I feel so good that there are friends and family out there who actually enjoy reading these musings. Happy Birthday wishes to Linda, btw.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Florida Foul Play

A month along the Florida coast, soaking up the sun, snorkeling in the clear salty water, chilling on the beach with a cold beer. It was going to be a relaxing time away from isolation at home. That is until Tropical Depression 19 (yes, the same no-good 19 that hangs with COVID), turned our triple play into one big foul play.


As the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico trying to become Hurricane Sally barely a day after we arrived in Florida, we were told that St. Andrews State Park was closing at 3 PM. That meant we had to scramble to find alternate arrangements. Jackie got on her phone and found that there was a spot at Falling Waters State Park, just an hour north of PCB in Chipley, Florida. We booked two nights, hoping to return to St. Andrews once things blew over. Since the campground at St. Andrews sits barely a foot or two above sea level, it was all but certain that the 3 foot or more storm surge, combined with heavy rain, was going to flood the entire campground. So, off we went to the north.

Kitesurfer as the big winds kicked up!

      

      

Longer hair can be a pain!

Even feathers get ruffled

    

Much of the park remains untouched since Hurricane Michael.

    

Look close to see the needle fish

Last one to leave …

Well, someone is happy

Looks like trouble

It wasn’t too bad breaking camp on Sunday, since we had pretty much pulled everything in the night before when a nasty thunderstorm blew through. That meant we had Saturday at the beach and some time early on Sunday. We had no problems getting to Falling Waters, and were chuckling a bit since we had a night booked here later in the month anyway. So we leveled up and hooked up, waiting for the rain to begin. This seems like a proper spot, since it is one of the highest points in Florida, although we were advised in the afternoon that we MIGHT be asked to evacuate if the storm moved east. Doubtful.

     

   

     

 



But before all that we took a short hike to the waterfall and sinkholes at the park. The tallest waterfall in Florida (75’) is certainly different, as it spills into a deep cylindrical sinkhole of limestone. Pretty cool. Upstream there was a small lake that was open for swimming. However, as you can see from the swimming area, there was a mixed message – swim, but please avoid the gators.

All in all it wasn’t a bad spot to ride out the storm. We had books, crochet and a few DVD’s on hand. But by lunchtime the second day (this is now Tuesday morning) we had the knock on the door to tell us the park was evacuating everyone. Back on the search for our next spot (one that would be northeast of the coast but not too far away) and we located a spot on the southern side of Lake Seminole at Three Rivers State Park. It was already raining pretty steady and we both got soaked as we first did a dump of grey and black water, then connected up to electric and water, leveled up and put out the slides. We were just along the shoreline of the lake, but the place had taken a pretty big hit from Michael two years ago and the trees were pretty sparse. Well, it was only for three nights and, fingers crossed, we might be able to get back to St. Andrews.

Lake Seminole in the distance

Fun Fact:  When the ground is saturated with water, fire ants love to float by, grab your ankle and, well, bite.  Good to know for the future.

On the road

Rained all night with three tornado warnings for PCB vicinity and alarms about flash flood alerts. As we were having early morning coffee (on Wednesday) I suggested we get dressed just in case and sure enough we got another knock on the door to say they were evacuating the park and we needed to head out. That meant another scramble on ReserveAmerica to find availability somewhere well east of us this time. We booked a spot at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park outside Gainesville, about 3 hours away. Drenching wind and rain this time as we pulled in the water and electric and hit the road. It was blinding rain driving on I-10 with the wipers on high and trucks throwing up spray and splash. We decided for this trip not to tow the car, which now meant Jackie was doing a lot more driving, but it sure made departure much quicker without having to hook up the tow dolly and ramp the car onto the trailer.

As we crossed back into Eastern Time Zone and into the park we could actually see the sun. Set camp and then put on bathing suits to hop in the clear spring water – a beautifuly clear sand bottom swimming hole that was …. Yikes cold! Maybe 72? Well, it took a little getting used to, but we were swimming at last, looking through snorkels at the underwater spring and nearby bluegill fish. Oops, a late afternoon rainstorm had to remind us that it wasn’t quite over yet, but cleared in time to grill a steak and dry out for a while.  We haven’t even been gone a week and we are in our fourth state park!  But overnight and the next day, Thursday, we had bands of rain and thunderstorms come through, even though the hurricane is now around home in Atlanta.  We did manage a quick dip back in the Spring, which certainly felt refreshing.  

So this is Thursday and we hope to go back to PCB and resume our trip back at St. Andrews State Park. However, a call to the park told us they won’t be open until Monday at least, and we only were to stay until Tuesday morning anyway.  Another call to Henderson Beach told us they weren’t sure they would open by Tuesday.  So off to find some wifi (the High Springs public library, on a picnic table outside).  Our best bet might be a private (more expensive) spot in Panama City Beach near Pier Park called Raccoon River.  Might work, but we are waiting on a call back for availability for the next 4 days.  If we can’t book that spot, we might just pack up and head home.

   

All is not lost, however, as we discovered the High Springs Brewery in town and are busy uploading pictures and editing this blog.  It’s a cute little town and seems to enjoy being the center of “springs” activity.  Oh, and we heard back from Raccoon River and we can stay there the next four nights!  So back to PCB for now and fingers crossed that Henderson Beach will open on Tuesday and we are back on track.

Thanks for following along on this crazy adventure.  More to come.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Florida Triple Play

Well, here it is September and the end of the traditional summer, but what about this year has been traditional? Our last big outing to Florida was in March and we pretty much left as the doors were closing, literally. The pandemic had just become bad enough that bars, breweries, restaurants and even campgrounds were declared closed and we left on the last day that Grayton Beach was open to camping. It was our last planned day anyway, but it did feel weird at the time.

Now we are two seasons later and bars and breweries in Florida are still closed, but the campgrounds are now open. We were lucky enough to get reservations at some of our favorite spots in Florida: St. Andrews SP in Panama City Beach and Anastasia SP in St. Augustine. In-between we are trying out Henderson Beach SP in Destin. The panhandle area on the Gulf is a wonderful spot and we are hoping to enjoy the sun, sand and water for a true vacation. The motorhome is packed up, bikes, paddleboards and snorkel gear all ready to use once we hit the campground. We will probably also rent a golf cart at St. Andrews to shuttle us around and up to the beach.

Since it has been the start of one bizarre school year, we are frankly thankful that we retired from teaching not so long ago and I have to hand it to all of our colleagues who are still teaching, trying to be creative and effective with online, hybrid and in-person classes. Best of luck, stay safe and healthy. Our t-shirts declare “Retired Teacher – every child left behind” along with worries and concerns.

So, on to our latest Florida adventure. What new things will we discover, what new experiences will we have, what awaits us? How can I find some unique photos to add to the blog? Well, one topic will be the condition of St. Andrews following the damage from Category 5 Hurricane Michael just two years ago. The park and campground got hit pretty hard and we wonder how things have changed.

Once we arrived and set camp we headed to the beach. A lot less sand was there and a lot more of the rock jet exposed. But the water was still as clear as before and the sand just as white. An evening storm was moving along inland, but so far looking good at the beach.

More to come.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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.