Posts Tagged With: RV

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.  

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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.

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Waterfalls of Little River Canyon, AL

For our first outing of spring 2022 we chose an area of northeastern Alabama that has been on our list for a few years: DeSoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve.  It was about a 2 hour drive from home, so that was a very easy choice to do a shakedown trip for the start of the year; we are only staying 3 nights.

 

We unwrapped the RV from its winter cover and in preparation we sanitized the water tank, checked tires and had to replace the valve extension again on one set of rear tires in order to get pressurized.  Aired out and packed up for a short trip, we had layers of clothes and hiking gear, ready for some hiking in either cool or warm weather.  Kodi was in his crate and ready to roll as we connected the Jeep (much easier than the tow dolly) and headed northwest.

The drive took us through Cartersville to Rome and across the hills heading to Ft. Payne, Alabama where we had a pretty steep, steady climb up to the top of Lookout Mountain.  It is part of the Cumberland Plateau, the southernmost extension of the Appalachian Plateau.  It was another slow climb, but soon we crossed the Little River and caught a glimpse of the falls.  A dozen miles further and we were in DeSoto State Park, disconnecting the Jeep and looking for our campsite.  Alabama does a nice job with their campgrounds and the site was level gravel, plenty long enough and faced the woods.  We went through the arrival routine to level, connect electric and water, run out the slides and set up chairs and tables.  

It was still early in the day so we went for a hike around the park with Kodi, leaving the campground and trekking to Azalea Cascade, across some boardwalk and then to Indian Falls.  Both were nice waterfalls on a creek that flowed into the Little River below us.  Might have been a mile and a half in the cool, sunny afternoon, but the trail is covered with roots and rocks that reach up to grab your toes if you aren’t careful.  So you look at the scenery when you stop, not while you walk.

We made our way along the twisty roller coaster roadway to the Canyon Mouth park at the bottom and stopped for lunch.  A narrow trail along the river led to a lovely stream splashing its way to the river’s edge.  It is about a week or two before most of the spring wildflowers will bloom, but we did see some of the early bloomers such as foam flower, bluets, violets, dwarf crested iris, mayapples poking up through the leaves, fern fiddleheads uncurling and a few others that I will have to research.

Back in camp we relaxed a bit before dinner, then enjoyed a deliciously grilled steak with a bottle of red wine and sat around the firepit (our easy propane one) until the stars came out and we got chilly.

On day three we were just finishing breakfast at the dinette when “whoosh” a big visitor flew down to the rotting stump next to us.  It was a bright red and black pileated woodpecker and he was having a nice breakfast of bugs.  Whack, whack into the stump went his beak.  Jackie handed me the camera for a quick shot or two and then he flew closer to a tree that was maybe 4 feet away.  Ok then, guess I will get the close-up.  How wild – even though we have seen the birds on our travels and at home, this one was way cool.

We were set to drive a bit north to see the DeSoto Falls on the West Fork of the Little River so back in the Jeep we went.  When we got to the main observation area for the falls and the picnic area it was closed off for dredging and maintenance, so we turned back about a mile to a trailhead for another spot to view the falls.  This was another trail of roots, bare and rubble rock, and a few places where you had to definitely watch the edge.  But the payoff was a gorgeous view of a waterfall framed by a wide circular canyon wall and a deep plunge pool below.  There were also several private residences and cabins along the upper falls that must have spectacular views all year.

 

After lunch at camp we trekked our final hike with Kodi to some falls further upstream from the Azalea Cascade in camp.  The trail crossed lots of muddy springs and wet seeps across the exposed bedrock and a couple of stream crossings, but Kodi did fine and we found the Laurel Falls spot, with a half-dozen youngsters and dogs splashing in the pools of water below.  Yikes, it had to be cold.  What fun, though.  

 

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New Videos of Western Trip

I finally managed to coax my GoPro Studio to stop crashing and I have some videos of our trip our west this fall (2021). Some pretty amazing sights, a few classic drives and “bucket list” adventures … and yes, some of the driving ones are a bit on the long side. But heck, you want to see the whole experience, right? Put them on your widescreen TV, grab a brew and sit back to enjoy (or chuckle) and maybe plan your OWN adventure!

Exploring Canyonlands Island in the Sky

It is hard to describe just how vast and beautiful the landscape of Canyonlands National Park is, even pictures don’t fully capture the breathtaking beauty. Our Western adventure in October 2021 took us to the Moab region of Utah to camp in an amazing campground: Dead Horse Point State Park. We explored the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands in this video, with a snippet of our drive down the Shafer Trail in our Jeep.

Exploring Dead Horse Point to Moab

Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah was an unforgettable experience for us. This stop on our October 2021 trip to Colorado and Utah was the highlight for sure, with 4-wheeling adventures on Long Canyon Road, Shafer Trail and Potash Road plus grand overlooks and hikes across the mesas and slickrock. This is but one of the videos of that adventure in Canyonlands and more.

Rafting the Colorado River in Moab (UT)

While camping at Dead Horse State Park in Canyonlands we booked a half-day rafting adventure on the Colorado River. It was a pretty amazing trip between the red sandstone cliffs as our guide navigated the muddy rapids and our raftmates had a wet and wild time.

Snow Day in Colorado (Crawford, CO)

Part of our big western trip in September and October, 2021 – we were camped in Crawford Lake State Park, Colorado and planned to visit the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But an afternoon sleet storm postponed that till the next day – which turned out to be our second snowy day of the trip. Absolutely gorgeous and made for a nice trip over to the Canyon later in the day. We were a bit worried about the 19 degree overnight temperature, but everything worked out fine.

Corona Arch / Bowtie Arch Trail Hike (Moab, Utah)

A fall 2021 hike to the Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch outside Moab, Utah. This 3 mile out-and-back hike was surprisingly tricky for a Sunday morning, traversing some dry washes, rocky climbs and slickrock outcroppings with cables and ladders. But the view and interaction with Corona Arch was worth the effort, though, and in some ways more spectacular than similar ones in Arches. Easy access from a parking lot along the Colorado River and a good addition to a drive along the Potash Road/Shafer Trail.

Shafer Trail / Potash Road (Canyonlands, Moab, Utah)

This was an amazing down-the-canyon drive even the video can’t fully capture. A trip from the Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park to the Colorado River outside Moab, Utah. The GoPro Hero9 is so good at image stabilization that it looks like a smooth ride – and it was anything but. No guard rails, either, so you had to hope you didn’t run into someone coming the other way!

Long Canyon Road (Canyonlands, Moab, Utah)

Another “bucket list” off-road drive not to be missed in Canyonlands outside Moab, Utah. Who wouldn’t want to experience “Pucker Pass” and this massive chunk of rock you drive under … very slowly. Watch for Jackie to jump out for a closer look (that I missed on editing). We love our new Jeep.

Bryce Canyon Hike (Utah)

An otherworldly landscape that we experienced on a beautiful, crisp fall day. The day was perfect and the scenery was breathtaking – literally, since we were huffing and puffing our way along the 3 mile hike that dropped down about 600 feet at the 8,000 ft. elevation — and then back up again along some challenging switchbacks. You don’t want to miss the Wall Street section of the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail. The next day we left the area in a snowstorm that dropped about 6 inches of snow, so our day turned out to be the best chance for hiking.

Great Sand Dunes Hike (Colorado)

While camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park we headed out to hike up to the summit of the dunes. Well, it was a pretty cold start to the day, about 35 degrees, and gradually became more windy. But we hiked our way about halfway to the top, we figure maybe a 450 foot elevation gain. Given that we were already at about 8,200 feet elevation, it was a surprisingly “breathless” hike – plus, we learned that sand dunes are not the easiest to climb. One unintentional glitch was with the lens shade I put on the GoPro. I was hoping to cut down on lens flare, but in the widescreen mode it caught it in the edges of the picture. Ah well, another learning experience. The hike was worth it though – seemed like something out of Star Wars – how the heck did C3PO do it?

More videos to come …

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OK Winnie, Take Us Home

Up early after a windy night, the temp down to 41 degrees, we quickly got dressed, drove to dump wastewater and hooked up the Jeep.  The dunes were highlighted by the sun but the backdrop was pretty ominous.  The wind was whipping the sand off the tops of the dunes, not a good day to be climbing.

Already the mountain peaks had disappeared as dark clouds drooped over them and tentacles of precipitation (looked like snow) reached downward.  Good thing we were headed south, ahead of the incoming cold front, as a wintry mix chased us to our next thrill – a 9,000 ft mountain peak that should finally be our last climb.

Before we started to climb, we unhooked the Jeep at the chain station (emergency brake fully engaged this time) and Jackie drove to the other side where we connected back again.  Not nearly as tough as we expected.

We now drove straight and flat across the grasslands to Lamar on a 2-lane road with no shoulders at all. Saw a few pronghorn, but little else.  We were pretty much alone, except then an 18-wheeler pulling half a house “wide load” came toward us.  Nowhere to go except the white line to the right and “whooosh” it zoomed past, probably with only inches to spare.  At 65+ mph.  Sigh… until the other half came barrelling down the road toward us.  A repeat of the “whooosh” as we white-knuckled it past, holding our breath as if that would help.

But we were soon in Lamar (home to a pretty large cattle feed lot), getting gas and making a quick stop at Walmart (yippee!) for some fresh food.  The campsite was nearby and what a cool spot.  At Sundance-High Plains RV Park we were given a “deluxe” spot along the grassland, facing the western sunset.  Wonderful.  Electric and water with a nice shower facility.  We are told that pronghorn might be in the grassland along with quail and roadrunners, who apparently eat the quail.  Only one night to show yourself, roadrunner!  Whoops, just as I am writing this a covey of quail ran across in front of the motorhome… let’s see if I can get a shot. Yep, but they are fast runners.

Since we also have great wifi here, I was able to upload two posts to the blog!  And saw a news report that the cold front we were out-running had dropped major snow in Monarch Pass – where we drove through just two days ago, Sunday.  An overnight Monday photo was posted, and as you can see, we would NOT have made it through that pass in that condition.  Yikes.

The overnight temps only got down to low 40’s, but we had some pretty strong gusty winds to start off the evening.  This area, due to their drought, has a red flag warning, which means a high risk of wildfires.  Since we got up early, we both had a chance to use the showers at Sundance High Plains before heading east toward Wichita, Kansas.  

The drive was straight and mostly flat, as you would expect, and very gusty and windy.  We were driving a nice 2-lane highway, which gave you a good look at local life.  The dry, scrub pastures and high plains of eastern Colorado gave way to irrigated fields of hay, alfalfa and sorghum.  It was harvest time for all of that and we saw loads of hay bales in the fields and on trucks, plus sorghum being cut, trucked and massed into huge piles.  Trucks of livestock, hay and grains would rush past (speed limit is 65) the motorhome and those with sorghum would splash a blast of grains on the windshield as they passed, quite a jolt.  You got a good sense of the scale of work involved in making the harvest of all these crops.

We also passed many feed yards of cattle and a couple of processing plants in towns like Garden City and the outskirts of Dodge City, which explained all of the livestock trailers.  We drove through micro-towns like Cimmaron and Ingalls, Ford and Mullinville.  So many have the remnants of 1950’s storefronts, motels and gas stations long abandoned.  One of the little towns had a crazy display of metal folk art that was spinning in the breeze.  Quite the installation, along with some commentary.

Always a Story

We kept driving east until Wichita, where Jackie called in a reservation inside the city limits at Air Capital RV Park.  This was a well-developed spot, all concrete drives with patches of lush green grass between the slips.  We asked for a back-in site and at the front office we disconnected the Jeep, ready to follow Melvin in his golf cart.  Except that the Jeep would not start again.  Tried the instant jump, no good – several times.  Took out the jumper cables and hooked to the generator to jump it, not working.  By this time we had Melvin looking on, another helpful resident who wanted to jump it from his semi, but it was all to no avail.  Battery was dead beyond reviving.

Well, what do you do?  Melvin said it was fine to leave the Jeep parked where it was, but we still needed a replacement battery.  Two blocks away there was an O’Reilly Auto Parts shop, we were told, so we drove the motorhome there, parked in the next door Dillon’s lot (one of the Kroger stores) and I went over to the auto parts store with a picture of the battery.  Hmm, well they had a battery that was recommended for the Rubicon but which was stronger and slightly longer than the one I had.  But it was at their other location.  Could they get it here today?  Yep, would be on the truck and here by 5:30 (it was like 3:30 now).  Ok, so you will call me when it comes in?  Yep.

Back to RV park, slipped into our spot but only plugged in electric.  I went over to unhook the battery, while Melvin looked on, got a call the new battery was ready, Melvin drive his golf cart with me and battery to RV so we could return it for the core refund.  Unhooked electric, drove over to O’Reilly’s and swapped batteries.  Back to park, dropped battery at Jeep, parked motorhome in site, hooked up electric, leveled and put out slides.  Then I went to Jeep to lift and insert the new, slightly longer, slightly heavier battery.  A passing dog-walker stopped to help me negotiate the battery into place, I clamped it all down and connected terminals and accidentally set off the car alarm.  Ok, it works.  Started up, drove to the slip and collapsed on the couch. Maybe we finally solved the battery problem.

Not for long, though, as we had plans to find breweries in Wichita.  Not hard, as we have driven through here before.  We went back to River City Brewing in Old Town and soon ordered up Mediterranean Pizza and something I loved before: BBQ Mac ‘n Cheese.  Yummy, creamy, smoky flavor that went great with a house Dunkel.  Jackie ordered a strawberry kolsch but promptly swapped beers for the Dunkel (which really was good).  We later walked a few blocks to Third Place Brewing and had one more beer each.  We sampled several they had and then Jackie had a gose she liked and I tried their Red Truck IPA.  Good conversation with the bartender (we were the ONLY folks in there) who was a theater major teaching special ed.  The stories, the stories … Oh to be retired – we love it!

Back in minutes to our motorhome in a Jeep that runs and we are set for the night.  Tomorrow we head to Springfield, Missouri to find an easy spot for the night.

Yes, we drove eastward toward Missouri on the continuation of the 2-lane road from the day before.  Early start, but since we are now on Central time, we lost an hour to start with.  Pretty much the same flat fields to start with, more hawk sightings on fence posts, electric wires and low flying – I think they were mostly rough-legged hawks.  The fields gradually turned to rolling tree covered hills as we traveled eastern Kansas toward Missouri.  It began to remind me of northern New Jersey with juniper, oaks and sumac. 

Our stop for the night was at Missouri RV Park in Mountain Grove, Missouri just east of Springfield.  Actually, for an older park just off the highway it was quite nice.  Heck, all we need is a level spot with electric and water, but this had grass and trees and room between sites.  Kodi enjoyed some “fetch” for a while and I had time to fix a bucket of soapy water and washed down the Jeep, plus cleaned the bugs off the motorhome windshield.  Losing some of the Utah and Colorado dust that is pretty persistent.  And Kodi is happy not to be picking up burrs or spikes on his feet.  Speaking of dogs and cats, both Kodi and Merlin have been wonderful on the trip.  Merlin soaks up the sun on the dashboard (parked) and while on the road, Kodi is great about getting in his crate on the couch and curling up. 

Get up, drive, stop, sleep, repeat.  This last run home is kind of like that.  Our next day goal is just east of Memphis.  The drive in Missouri took us through rolling fields and pastures with plenty of green trees and then across the Ozarks in Arkansas.  Some uphill climbs, but nothing like the Rockies.  Then the drive drops down to the Mississippi River valley and there are plenty of fields being harvested.  Mostly cotton, but also soybeans and some hay.  The drive was pretty easy and soon we were crossing the Mississippi and circling to the south of Memphis. We were soon in Mississippi heading toward with a couple of good prospects for camping.  We stretched the drive to reach beyond Tupelo to stay at Tombigbee State Park.  Not far off I-22, but the final 5 miles or so were a narrow, curving squiggle of a road to the park.  An absolutely delightful spot in the trees with plenty of room and full hookups, so no complaints at all.  Kodi got some fetch time in the playground, which helped get the kinks out from the drive.

This should be our last night in camp, as home is supposed to be four and a half hours away.  I know that by the time we reach Birmingham I will want to just press on until we are in the driveway.  Then comes the task of unpacking the laundry, the fridge, the bathroom — but it will be just fine, considering the trip we have had.  A couple of soapy washings of the Jeep and motorhome and maybe the blower to get the Utah red dust out of the Jeep.  

Last Night in Camp

So by the time you read this we will be stretching out at home, not banging into things, taking at least one or two nice long hot showers in something bigger than a phone booth and thinking back to the many hikes, 4WD trails, jaw-dropping scenery, small towns, breweries and just a few minor “learning opportunities” with overheating engines and battery life.

I really do enjoy posting the pictures and stories and hope you enjoy them as well.  So, until our next adventure . . . 

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Sand Dunes in Colorado?

You bet! And they are spectacular.

Funny how maps only show you so much – depending on how closely you look.  The trip from Crawford down to Great Sand Dunes NP looked as though our trickiest part was going to be the drive to Gunnison.  How wrong we were.  We did opt to take the route up and around to the west, going through Delta and Montrose down to Gunnison, reasoning that the easterly route we had traveled the day before was just too mountainous, curvy, icy … all of that, and the westerly route was not closed for construction on the weekend, and this was Sunday.

That was a smart move, since it was pretty much the same time and a much easier drive.  The narrow pass where the rock sides of the road were being blasted back to widen the passage was tricky but not a problem.  So as we drove alongside the beautiful, if low, Blue Mesa reservoir we were thinking we were finally out of the mountains and into smooth valley roads.  That was until we were to pass over the Rocky Mountains and the continental divide toward Poncha Springs.  We passed a tire chain spot and wondered about that, and then a sign announced the Monarch Pass Summit was 10 miles ahead.  Yep, 10 miles of unrelenting 6 – 8% uphill grade.  It was a slow go and as the engine temperature started to climb I pulled over to a nice paved pullout.  We decided to have lunch while the very hot engine cooled down.  Kinda thought it would be good to disconnect the Jeep if we were level enough, so back we went to pull the pins and disconnect.  The last pin gave us some trouble, but we cheered when we finally pulled it out. And, hey, the Jeep is rolling backward … I quickly grabbed the bumper and dug in, Jackie ran around to jump in and mash the brakes and pulled the emergency brake up one more good click (it HAD been on) and we saved the Jeep from rolling off the hillside.  Yeah, that woulda been fun.

So Jackie drove behind me as we slowly made our way up – this was an elevation change of 6,000 ft from where we started.  At the top we paused once again at almost 12,000 ft, surrounded by spruce and alpine hillsides.  Then down we went, shifting into low gear, heater blasting to peel off some of the heat load.  With our 2-way radios Jackie said she would just keep driving the rest of the way and we figured we were home free until the road started climbing again with “Poncha Summit 7 miles” sign staring at us and another 6% climb.  But without the Jeep attached the motorhome did not overheat and we made it back down the other side.  Then the road became the straightest, flattest, most boring road ever through the valley.  A couple of turns and we were at the park, headed for our campsite in Pinyon Flats campground.  Pinyon trees, yes, flat, no.  Tight spots, yes.  Backed in like an expert – yes.

What a view!  Across from our site was a mountain of tan sand dunes, hundreds of feet high.  Shadows played across the dunes and it just seemed so out of place.  The prevailing winds from the west long ago blew the sand from the ancient dry flat lake bottom across to the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains, where lighter winds from the east blew it back into dunes.  Awesome.

We were set for the night, this being a dry site we had plenty of water and were prepared for no electricity.  We earlier figured out how to power Jackie’s BiPap machine from the house batteries and we were using the propane heater.  If needed, we could fire up the generator to make coffee and charge the devices.

Overnight was not as cold, only got to 34 degrees, and by 9 or so we were out starting our hike to the dunes.  We were layered up, hats and gloves, had water and walking sticks and were going to do our best to climb that sand.  Yep.  Going up, trying to stay on the ridgeline, no real path to follow, soft sand making for slow going.  Many “catch your breath spots” as we are at about 8,500 ft and even tying your shoes gets you winded.  We set a goal of a dune crest that was more than halfway up and figured that would be enough.  I think the summit is about an 800 ft climb.  Since we didn’t have sandboards to slide down, we just slid/stepped our way back down the sandhill.  Loads of fun going down.  And at the bottom we emptied out about a cup of sand from our shoes and socks.  At least I did.

Check out a video of the hike here: Great Sand Dunes Hike

After lunch we hopped in the Jeep to drive back to Visitor’s Center and then to try a 4WD roadway that went up the mountain slope.  They caution you to use 4L and to drive quickly across the soft sand, and lucky for us no one else was on the track.  It was fun as you drove through tight turns banked up the sides and then across pretty deep sandy stretches.  We turned around at the aptly named “Point of No Return” and did it all again.  Had we been serious about going further we would have had to deflate the tires a bit, but with no compressor to refill them, not gonna happen.  On the way back we finally saw a couple of Mule Deer bucks on the roadside, and despite ALL the whitetail deer we see at home, it was still cool.

Tomorrow we start the journey back home and plans are a little fuzzy.  We called in a reservation at a campground in Lamar, Colorado for tomorrow night and are trying to figure whether to drop down to Oklahoma or keep heading east to Wichita, Kansas.  I think we want to eventually drop down to Memphis rather than across to St. Louis, but we shall see.

Thanks for sticking with our western adventure.  I know I can get a little wordy sometimes, but if you ever consider doing the sort of travel we do, you ought to know what to expect – great and not-so-great.

And I have to think that Mom and Dad are looking down on us and helping smooth the way for our adventures – they loved camping, travel and the outdoors so much I am sure they are with us on this adventure.

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Goin’ Local and Gettin’ Ready

Yep, it’s summer and we are staying local, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t busy.  This summer in particular is one where EVERYONE hit the road to go SOMEWHERE – but we are trying to avoid those crowds and just enjoy some time with the family.  So what did these two busy retirees do, exactly? 

A new 4-wheeling adventure?

Well, we took our grandsons to the Georgia Aquarium for some underwater adventures.  That was an amazing day and we just wowed the boys, sitting in front of the huge tank of fish, with the whale sharks and rays sailing past.  They loved the beluga and the sharks and couldn’t stop pointing out all the fish in the underwater tunnel as we were transported along the moving walkway. “More big fish, Pop pop, come on” was heard more than a few times.  Crazy moment in the main hall when someone called out to me to stop … turns out it was our former assistant principal Dr. Davis who is now President and CEO of the aquarium (and who also encouraged me to get certified to teach the engineering and technology classes).  Well, that led to a behind-the-scenes tour of the big tank and some private viewing moments.  What a nice surprise!

I was back to baking bread, with some camping coming up we needed burger and hotdog rolls and a Pullman loaf for PB&J sandwiches.  Had to keep feeding the sourdough, too.

We also camped along the shores of our local Lake Allatoona, something we thought would be a good opportunity for the grandsons to learn what the motorhome and camping are all about.  Even though we were in a cycle of daily pop-up thunderstorms, it was a very fun few days at the lake.  Our campsite was next to the swimming area, so when the boys, Karina and Jason joined us it was easy to walk back and forth.  The boys loved it and Wyatt took to the kayak like a pro.  Paddleboards and floats made it fun to splash, paddle and bob in the water, even when the rain came down.  Owen and Wyatt stayed the night with us, ate all our snacks plus a hearty pancake breakfast and we all splashed around in the lake the next day.

A few days later we drove to Chattanooga to visit with Alex and Bethany and most importantly to go off-road Jeeping with them and some friends.  It was important to Alex that we properly break in the Jeep with mud splashes and off-road bumps and bounces – and the long and winding Big Frog Road through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest certainly did that.  It was good to learn how to put it in 4-wheel drive, disconnect the sway bar and generally get the feel of off-roading, since we have our fall trip to the canyons of Utah coming up.  Kodi seems to enjoy the back seat of the Jeep, at least we heard no complaints.

We added a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium the next day and had fish tacos at Big River Grill (was that wrong?).

We also had the grandsons over for another night at home, since Karina was busy setting up her classroom for students this school year.  This time we pulled out the trusty inflatable pool and our “redneck trampoline” to entertain them (the old RV mattress is awaiting a bulk pickup).  We were also dog-sitting Allie, so there was much noise and movement around the house at feeding time.

And we are getting everything ready for another big adventure to the Southwest.  That meant getting 4 new tires for the motorhome, a check of the brakes, propane fill and new springs on one of the hydraulic leveling jacks (it still retracts very slowly).  Replaced a tiny spring in the screen door latch and pulled out and replaced the diverter in the shower faucet. I also replaced the very fogged up and yellowed headlight assemblies, replaced the amber clearance lights on the front with new LED ones and switched to LED bulbs on the red ones in the rear.  Even though we rarely drive at night, it just updates the motorhome and certainly improves the look up front.

A few extra accessories for the Jeep (storage nets, overnight cover, decent cooler and storage sleeve for the soft-sided windows), a GoPro mount attached to the front bumper and I think it is ready for off-roading.  And for Labor Day weekend I got to try it out in the Prentice Cooper WMA in Chattanooga. Alex invited us up to join Bethany’s parents on a trail ride just a few miles from their house and as you can see, it was a bit muddy, bumpy and dusty. We had lunch at an overlook of the Tennessee River with Chattanooga in the distance. Unfortunately the ride was cut short by a front driveshaft breakdown on Jim’s Jeep, which meant we had to go have a beer at Heaven & Ale in Chatt. Not so bad. And yes, I washed off the mud from Tennessee, both trips. 

I’ve got my various cameras ready for photos and ran through night-sky and sunset photo settings.  We’ve gone through our hiking boots, neoprene booties, trekking poles, backpacks and essentials to be sure we are ready.  Watched some great videos of hikes and drives in the areas we are heading (we particularly like “Adventures of A + K”) and feel like we know what to do in Canyonlands, Moab, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and … well, you will just have to wait for the pictures and stories. Our highlight Jeep drive will be the Shafer Trail from Dead Horse Point State Park to Moab. (I am trying a new app for hikes called AllTrails, which looks VERY helpful).

So, off we go in mid-September for another adventure.  Kodi and Merlin will be our back-seat critics, Jackie will navigate and of course we’ll have stories to share.  As our good friend Rich said “you always manage to find some cool brewery.”  What we won’t find much of is good internet, cell signal and WiFi, so it may be some slow postings on the blog.  But I will do my best to share our adventure. (Bit disappointed that Roadtrippers app is now very limited in their free version).

Part One of the Adventure – Atlanta to Canyonlands, mapped on Roadtrippers

Oh, and in case you were just a bit confounded by our 4-wheeling adventure through the sand, pictured as the white Jeep at the top of this post, maybe this will help put it in context for you (look closely):

Just having a little fun, there. Thanks for coming along on the journey as we explore Utah, northern New Mexico and the Gunnison River Valley with our Jeep (the big one) in tow!

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Off to Florida’s East Coast

The last part of our Florida journey begins as we head east out of Destin and Henderson Beach State Park to make a brief return to Falling Water State Park in Chipley.  We had planned this stopover as part of our initial itinerary so the trip to the Atlantic coast would be in two smaller runs.  Little did we know we would have been evacuated to the park as part of the Hurricane Sally “drive around.”  So although this was our second visit, at least it was dry and sunny.

 

     

     

Once making camp we hiked a rather long trail to the waterfall again, turns out that yes, there was still water there.  But it did look brighter in the sun and the rest of the 3 mile hike was filled with lots of wildflowers blooming.  Fall seems to be a lot of purple and yellow colors: asters, goldenrod, wild indigo, sunflowers and such.

The trip east to St. Augustine took 5 hours, surprisingly, but it was flat, straight roads with little traffic but rain for the last miles.  As we made our way around the historic district and across the Bridge of Lions we remembered the last time here when Jeff and Vic joined us for a few days and we met up with Phil and Jennifer, friends from home.  But it was in the 90’s then and right now it was 70’s and drizzly.

 

Not to worry, we got ourselves settled into the Anastasia State Park campsite with no problems, although all we put out was the awning for now.  Didn’t take long for the mosquitos to find us.  Funny, we have been watching DVD’s the past week or so, since over-the-air TV hasn’t been available, and one of our selections was the first three Jurassic Park movies.  This campsite could definitely make you think you were there on the island, with overhanging trees, palmetto leaves, Spanish moss and vines hanging from the branches.  Need to watch those puddles for vibrations …

   

It cleared off and we drove to the beach access.  As we did we got a nice teaser (also a reminder from last visit) as two spoonbills flew over the car.  Naturally I didn’t have the camera handy.  My previous visit here was an unsuccessful attempt to get a photo of the spoonbills.  Looks promising?  But the next day, as we were scanning the marsh from the beach boardwalk we only saw egrets and ibis.  Jackie asked an obvious birder (big camera, pair of binoculars) where we might see spoonbills and his reply was “well, they’re kind of all around.”  But he did add that peregrine falcons were migrating through and “there’s one now.”  Actually, we did see another falcon but no more spoonbills yet.

   

     

   

Since we had a cloudy day, chance of rain and the surf was pretty wild, we drove back to the St. Augustine historic district and walked around the oldest city in the US.  Very quaint and filled with history of the Spanish settlement – and plenty of shops for the tourists.  Lunch at the Prohibition Kitchen was a huge burger and beer cheese soup that hit the spot on a drizzly day.

So what else did we do?

One nice, breezy but sunny day at the beach with some wild surf

   

 

 

Another brewery discovery and two flights at Bog Brewing

 

Dinner on the rooftop of the Salt Life Food Shack (yes, THAT Salt Life) and lucked out with half-price sushi rolls and happy hour beer!

Dark night walks with Kodi around the camp, only to get bit by those darn skeeters

Add another brewery to the list: Old Coast Ales 

Beach time watching the shore birds.  This time we discovered that the ruddy turnstones (sandpipers, not a musical group) took quite an interest in us – standing around at our feet – looking for a handout?  Also marveled at how much the sand was covered in shells and bits.

Searched for the spoonbills every day, with no success

Did see gopher tortoises again

And then we packed up for the road and drove to Hilton Head Island.  This was an extra few days we added once we heard from Dad’s community that he needed a bit of help with some essentials.  It took us 5 hours, somehow a bit longer than expected, but where we were staying was a very nice private spot: Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort & Marina.  We’ve been here before and it really is nice – it’s the closest spot to park the motorhome and also see Dad.  So we have the weekend to take care of a few things, meet Dad under limited COVID conditions and visit with my brother Jeff , Vicki, nephew Adam and his fiancé Ashley.

We did manage to get all of our assistive items set for Dad, had lunch of fish, shrimp and calamari on the bay at Hudson’s (saw dolphin but had to run indoors from the patio mid-meal due to a downpour) and met up with Adam and Ashley to see their new home.  Oh, and Jeff got his hot tub powered up and bubbling, so we got some time to unwind.

We finally head out for home as this weekend wraps up.  Watching yet another hurricane (Delta) hit the Gulf coast we are thankful we aren’t still in the area.  This month in Florida has been a bit more rain, a bit more driving for Jackie than we had planned and a whole lot more of Florida than we expected but that’s why we call these things adventures.  Great fun in the sun, surfside eats and new breweries to explore – but it’s always nice to get back home, too.

Are we there yet?

Thanks for coming along on the journey.  What’s next?  Maybe a fall trip to the mountains, a “deep cleaning” of the car and motorhome for sure.  Who knows?

 

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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.

 

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Plotting the 2017 Adventures!

The rather mild Georgia winter is almost over as we make plans to de-winterize the motorhome and hit the road with some new adventures.  I figured it would be a good time to update everyone and share the excitement of a new season of outdoor fun.

The motorhome got a cover for the winter.

Repairs and Diagnostics (skip if you aren’t much into RV maintenance)

First task was to correct the problem of our motorhome’s gimpy back leg, so to speak.  The leveling jack for which I replaced the springs and foot would not extend and it was more than my feeble brain could figure out, so we uncovered the van, drove it to our local RV shop and within days they made the repair and had everything back to order.  It seems a solenoid needed replacement.  Yippee – back to “four on the floor” when needed.

The leveling jack that needed replacement springs and foot. The wood wedges were needed to expand the springs enough to install.

Back in the driveway I ran the generator a bit, connected the shore line for electricity to charge the house batteries and did a bumper-to-bumper diagnostic.  The dashboard 12v power outlet (formerly known as cigarette lighter) had not worked since I replaced the radio, so this was a needed repair.  Simple, right?  Not so fast, buddy.  The nice thing about the Winnebago dash is that it is hinged, so you can swing it up to have access to all the gauges and connections.  But you also have to have enough flexibility in your wired connections not to unplug things when you do that.  The short wire on the 12v socket needed to be a longer one, so I replaced a longer negative wire and connected to a grounding screw in the frame.

Power to the positive was harder, since I couldn’t find a handy splice or available connector in the wiring nearby. It must have been spliced into the old radio power supply.  The remedy for this was to run a new wire from the fuse box way over on the left side to the outlet way over on the right side.  Hmm… how to best do this?  Let me remind you that I taught 6 years of technology and engineering, one unit of which was electricity and electronics – but that really doesn’t mean I have all the right wires, connectors and electrical understanding to just bang this out without thinking.  A hammer, nails and lumber — that I can do. Automotive… not so much.

But after a few runs to several automotive supply stores I found a nifty add-a-fuse power splitter that let me connect to the radio’s slot on the fuse panel and we had success!  Radio works, power outlet works, and now we can conveniently charge the cell phones and such on the road.  Yes, we do have an inverter with AC outlet for just that sort of thing, but it is above the windshield and not within reach while driving.

Adventure Planning

So what’s next on our travel bucket list?  We want to do some more camping in the Georgia mountains and maybe nearby Alabama and Tennessee State Parks this spring.  We booked two weeks back at St. Andrews State Park, Florida in early summer, which is our time for snorkeling and paddleboarding.  But the big trip late summer and fall will be out West to visit Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.

Just a wee bit ago (yes, that’s Doug) there was “The Great Camping Adventure of 1969.”

We researched and planned out the trip to do a southern route to Grand Teton NP, then Yellowstone NP and on up to Glacier NP before the snow arrived.  Booked the date in Yellowstone and were all set to book Glacier when … my, my, what do you know?  A little ‘ol 5 minute solar eclipse was scheduled to pass along the Tetons on the very day we wanted to stay there. Booked up full — the whole county. Nothing available until weeks later. We were told by park rangers that they had been getting calls about it 5 years ago! End of days? Nah, not for us, but it did require an entire re-working of the trip.

So I reversed our path to a northern route to Glacier NP first, then looping back down to Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP.  We made the changes in reservations and filled in the gaps. On the trip out, we will camp in South Dakota in the Badlands NP and Custer State Park, checking out Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial and the Black Hills.  From there we stay in Bighorn National Forest, check out Devil’s Tower National Monument and then to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  Lots of hiking planned and probably a rafting trip down the Snake River, too.  I bought a new lens for my camera to better capture the wildlife and scenery and we are looking into buying a spotting scope for more close-up wildlife sightings (wolves maybe??).

“The Great Camping Adventure of 1969,” probably in the Needles section of the Black Hills.

Some of this is revisiting places my family camped in when we pulled off “The Great Camping Adventure of 1969.”  Yes, during the most historic summer of the century, while hippies were hitch-hiking to Woodstock; Watts and Newark were burning from riots; Charles Manson and cult were murdering Sharon Tate and men were first landing on the moon, my family of six was packed into a Plymouth station wagon, pulling a Cox pop-up camper, speeding across the US on a 6-week grand adventure! No TV, no Internet, no cellphones or social media, just a poke-your-sister-in-the-backseat kind of entertainment.

In Yellowstone we listened by car radio one night as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon.  Yep.  Missed that one live on TV.

New Traveler

Every good Shetland Sheepdog knows how to keep a close eye on the flock.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know about Kodi from the postings that Merlin (our cat) has been making on his Mews page.  Kodi is a few months old now and is somewhere between a toddler and a teenager, dog-wise.  He loves going for walks on a leash, fetching a ball, rope knot or any of his toys, and is just learning some agility.  He has made some new dog friends and visited lots of folks already.  But the best part is that he will soon be joining us in the motorhome on our camping adventures.  He has checked it out and it seems to work for him – although we haven’t rattled down the road with him in it yet.  Benji will always be our special Adventure Dog and travels with us in spirit, now Kodi is set to learn what it is like and joins Merlin in the motorhome as we head out into the world together.

Kodi trying out the agility tunnel.

So while we await the arrival of nasty yellow pollen and plan the final de-winterizing of the motorhome, we do what everyone else at this time of year does: we plan for the upcoming season of warm weather, sunshine, warm water and wild adventures.

We will report back from time to time, so follow along with us!

PS. Merlin says you should keep up with his Mews page, too.

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