Like a Coiled Spring…

Our stay at Turkey Creek RV Park certainly did not go unpunished. One of the early nights we found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of “Tornado Central”. The town sirens were a-blarin’ and the thunder/lightning show was a-blastin’ and off we were, to the rock building shelter they had at the RV park. The Big Man upstairs was looking over us though, no touch down anywhere near us this time. But a meager 2 days later, here we were in the middle of a snowstorm, and we all know how much I love the cold weather…NOT!

During the week we got lots of family time with Jeanne’s sister, brother-in-law, and nephew (the Bevins clan; Denise, Don, and Cedric) and her niece’s family (the Pace clan; Savohna, Robert, Cooper, Brody, and Khloe). Robert kicked it off with a dinner of smoked bacon-wrapped meat loaf with smoked mac-n-cheese. Holy-moly was that tasty! Some people want to be buried at death. Some want to be cremated. I want to be smoked.

One day Robert, Savohna, Jeanne and I ventured over to Springfield. Robert pointed out a place called “Hurts Donut”, and, well, solely based on what I did for a living (hint: #bluelivesmatter) we just HAD to go and sample their fare. Outstanding donuts! We later hit the lunchwagon at Springfield Brewing Co. and had to sample their fare. The beer was OK, not outstanding. I got a kick out of an old photo hanging on the wall. It depicted the 1906 State Normal School Women’s Rifle Drill Team. Nice to see the students of yesteryear wore uniforms and came to school fully armed!

Back in Branson, Don and Denise took us over to see a new baseball venue that is “in-progress”. It is an old strip mall taken over by “Ballparks of America” and looks to be 5 baseball fields for youth baseball. The fields are game ready and in fact they were due to have a small tournament that very weekend. The infrastructure buildings (old store fronts) are still being retrofitted and will soon be team rooms, shops, and possibly bowling alley and ice skating rink, among other things. The fields were absolutely awesome! Wall-to-wall artificial turf, even the “dirt” was artificial.

Don and Denise live on the outskirts of town and they have a little bit of real estate behind their house (OK, thick trees and no neighbors as far as the eye can see). Don has enjoyed his hobby of shooting and reloading for quite some time. And he has quite the arsenal on hand. I got the opportunity to cap a few rounds through a couple of “mini-cannons” he owns; a S&W 460 Magnum and a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan 454 Casull-45 Colt. Rock and roll, hootchie koo!!! My nose is still numb from the repercussion! After stopping the nose bleed, I got to watch “Deadeye Cooper” display his prowess with his .22 pistol. Fun times.

With a break in the weather, Jeanne and I took Woodrow Wilson on a hike at the Lakeside Forest Wildlife Area above Lake Taneycomo in downtown Branson. It was a short hike, maybe a couple of miles tops, but the 300-some rock stair-steps was a ham-burner. Pity it was not during or immediately following a rain storm, there would have been a nice little waterfall along the route. But alas, it was dry. A couple of small grotto areas were drip drip dripping on us like a natural mister and there were a couple of caves off the trail. Unfortunately, as seems to be more common every day, good things cannot go unspoiled. Our homeless fellow humanoids see fit to take up residence in every nook and cranny, leaving piles of their earthly belongings, garbage, and drug paraphernalia to ruin it for normal nature enthusiasts. Sometimes you do not need the nighttime hours to “see stars”.

A week in Branson, family medical emergency stabilized for now, it was time to move on. But where to? We were still playing the weather, waiting “like a coiled spring” to head northward. The northeast is still digging out of the last late-season blizzard and temps here in the south are just starting to get away from freezing. So we decided to head back south to Little Rock just to visit Clinton’s Presidential Library. A couple of nights at the Downtown Riverside RV Park was the perfect place for the library visit. It is just across the Arkansas River from the library with a nice walking bridge to access it without having to drive anywhere. We hit here at the right time too, the library had a temporary display honoring The Beatles, so we got a “two-fer”.

Our next destination stop was the Tannehill Ironworks State Park in McCalla, Alabama. We broke the drive up in two and overnighted at the Tupelo Walmart again, then into the state park. We just happened to arrive for the opening weekend of the “Trade Show” they put on here inside the park every 3rd weekend from March through November. The “Trade Show” is actually a large flea market with a bit of farmer’s market thrown in the mix. It is interesting as a full time RVer to walk around a flea market, sometimes you see something that makes you think about owning a house again, but then reality strikes and you remember there is no way you would want to buy some of this stuff due to lack of storage space in your current living quarters.

This particular state park is a civil war historical landmark. The Tannehill Ironworks was the Confederacy’s second largest ironworks and the site of a major offensive by the Union. On site there are many log cabins from the civil war era that have been relocated here from their original locations and some are even available as cabin rentals. The original ironworks, left in ruins by the Union, has been restored and there are many hiking trails throughout the park. We took one such trail up to a slaves cemetery, where the gravesites are marked only by large rocks and several show the telltale depression in the dirt where the bodies are located.

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Home sweet home at Tannehill Ironworks

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Quaint little country store.

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Some of the history lessons to be learned on site.

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They have a number of Civil War-era cabins restored in the park, some actually for rent.

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The ironworks buildings.

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All that marks the graves at the slave cemetery are unmarked stones and every now and then the depression in the soil with a stone marker.

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I guess this is how to fly fish in Alabama. Fishing on Roupe’s Creek.

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I found some of my friends here too. Here is the telltale sign of fire ants. Nice, sleepy little village, heck, looks abandoned…

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But when some knucklehead disturbs the nest, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! (Yeah, I’m the knucklehead)

On site there is also the Alabama Iron and Steel Museum which has displays related to the early goings on of the ironworks, as well as some Civil War items and memorabilia.

Tannehill Ironworks State Park is an excellent family campground. For $30 per night for full hookups, they have plenty of activities available for the whole family, all outdoor related and nothing to do with video games or cell phones. (Internet service is extremely poor here in these hills). Besides the living history lessons, they have hiking, biking, a playground along the creek, and fishing. There is a Pioneer Farm where it looks like they do demonstrations of things like blacksmithing. Some of the restored cabins looked like they do crafts such as quilting. We stayed here for 4 days, kinda out in the sticks. The beauty of it was, a short 20 minute drive and we were loading up on supplies at Costco in the town of Hoover (suburb of Birmingham).

The spring is still tightly coiled, we’re not quite ready to pull the trigger and barrel our way north, not sure of our next destination yet, but moving day is tomorrow and to quote that famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) River Sub-Station Sgt. Dave Anderson, “Just do it!” OK, Dave, we’re gonna do it…

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Florida Visit Shortened

The Florida Keys behind us, it was back to the  mainland and points north for us. We did a short drive to an overnight stay at the Miccosukee Casino/Resort on the west end of Miami. This was another fairly nice Indian casino with a very large outback parking area and the price was exactly right – zilch. Just had to check in with security and let them know how many days we would be there. And Jeanne, of course, had to earn our keep at the slots. This particular casino offered no card games except for a poker room. The only drawback for us was during the night a black Escalade pulled in within 3-4’ of the back of our Jeep (still hooked up to the bus), headlights glaring into our bedroom window, with engine running, and remained like that for about 10 minutes. Initially I thought someone had just pulled over to play on their phone, but after 10 minutes of no change, I stuck my little Mustang into my shorts pocket and went out to investigate. I found the driver passed out behind her wheel, a young gal of the local tribe, and unresponsive to my pounding on her door/window. Just the kinda stuff I have been running from for the past 6 years of retirement! A quick phone call to security got their local tribal police to respond and clean up the mess. Onward and upward…

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Our home at Miccosukee Casino/Resort.

Still wandering around without reservations anywhere in particular, we found a 2 day slot at the Midway Campground in the middle of the Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve (a swamp surrounded by the Everglades). It was a very nice campground circled around a small pond right off Hwy. 41.

Our first day we took off on the bicycles, following Hwy. 41 which also followed a narrow creek-like piece of the swamp. We got to see a whole bunch of gators, babies to adults, scattered along the water.

Day 2 we decided to go to Shark Valley and take a tram tour through some of the Everglades. It was raining on us most of the tour but we got a narrated tour of the area, saw a couple of gators and native birds, and the tour guide was entertaining as well.

One problem that is not uncommon for us is we basically had no internet during this stay. That makes it rough on moving day, with no way to research for a next location. So we packed up and headed west aiming for the Naples area. Not long into the drive, internet came available, so Jeanne found a week’s stay for us at the Pine Island Resort in St. James City, FL. It is a typical snowbird park with lots of sites jam-packed on top of each other, and is a KOA/Encore/Thousand Trails combination park. Although not the most scenic of parks, Pine Island Resort does have plenty of activities for all ages such as pool/spa, playground, shuffleboard, horseshoes, basketball, tennis, pickleball, dog run, and a clubhouse for group gatherings.

Our first excursion was to check out Sanibel Island and the beach there. The big drawback to Pine Island is it takes a long drive to go ANYWHERE! Even the 2 closest civilized cities, Cape Coral and Ft. Myers, are a half hour away minimum. To make matters worse in the case of getting to Sanibel Island, the bridge over has a $6 toll, $2 to get back, and parking at the beach over there is $4 per hour. Ridiculous costs, considering the beach is a big nothing on my scale-of-wow.

The bicycles got more work in when we took off for St James City (the far end of Pine Island). We found no beach areas to lollygag at, but did find a couple of potential eating & drinking establishments that we would visit soon. One, the Ragged Ass Saloon, was the local biker bar. We went there with our newfound Canadian friends Paul and Dianne (neighbors at the RV park) and had a nice dinner and a beer or four. Jeanne and I not being the typical bar-hopper types, it has been quite a while since I was in a bar surrounded by a bunch of drunks, especially hard core drunk bikers, but, surprisingly, I got a kick out of it. Some people are so easily amused…The second place we scoped out was Woody’s where Jeanne took me out to lunch and we had a lovely date. Of course I had to take advantage of a photo op while at Woody’s. They had a satirical duplicate land marker in their parking lot area to that marker in Key West designated as the Southernmost Point in the continental U.S.A. Only Woody’s marker is designated the Drunkenmost Point in the continental U.S.A. Good times with my hot babe!

Jeanne wanted to make a road trip to the Sarasota area and Siesta Keys, so we did. She heard that Siesta Beach was one of the top beach locations in the country, so we tripped on up and promptly discovered two things. 1-It is a very large, very white sand, very beautiful beach. 2-Our usual lack of paying attention to things around us guarantees a bite in the butt. We arrived to find we were smack dab in the middle of their Spring Break. Kids EVERYWHERE! Wall to wall bodies. Parking lot full (at least they don’t charge for parking). Needless to say, we kept on going and I got zero pictures of beach.

During our stay here in Florida we encountered a family medical emergency for one of Jeanne’s kin in Branson, MO. So, our motto comes true again, “plans change every day and twice on Sundays…” We decided to make a warp drive detour up to Branson. We made it in 3 stops. First was the SKP park in Bushnell, FL. Not anything to write home about. Second stop was overnighter at a Cracker Barrel near Peachtree City, where we at least got to poke our heads in and say howdy to my cousin Dave, his wife Kim, and daughter Dana. We had not seen them for years. Stop #3 was an overnight at the Walmart RV Resort in Tupelo, MS. (No, I am being a smart donkey, there is no such thing as a “Walmart RV Resort”). Then we landed at the SKP park known as Turkey Creek RV Park outside of Branson, MO.

So there you have it, a full accounting of our shortened stay in the great state of Forida. And now we are back to our “no plan” mode, taking life as it comes. Still aiming for the northeast parts of our country. We’ll see…

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The Florida Keys

So we stumbled our way onto the Keys without making long-range reservations during their very busy “peak season” time. For any of you out there looking to visit the Keys, their busy season starts waning in March, so non-reservation RV visits will be a little more successful in finding space. We lucked into a 3-day span at a place called Jolly Roger RV Park in Marathon, about half way to Key West. And being the peak season, prices are exorbitantly high everywhere you look. We paid $94 per night for our stay, taxes included. Most of the private RV parks can lay claim to having waterfront sites, but they all seem to be cut from the same cloth and come with the same types of complaints. The sites are stacked up on top of each other; the interior roads are skinny and include very tight maneuvering space; the lovely aroma of raw sewage seems to hover over the Keys in areas of the RV parks; many have long term residents with rigs in all manner of repair and disrepair; and the prices are absolutely outrageous! It is a cryin’ shame that just due to location and popularity, RV parks can charge these high rates for less than average facilities. But, you can’t blame them, they are backed-up busy and people are willing to fork over the dough, even for sub-par parks. Now, one alternative is to try and get reservations at one of the state parks along the Keys. There are several, but some are not possible in bigger rigs. Of the parks we drove by, I would venture a guess that Bahia-Honda State Park is the crown jewel of the series. It had numerous waterfront sites and appeared to have a little more foliage between a lot of the sites, giving one a feeling of privacy even though these parks also have the sites packed in like sardines. And their $40 nightly rates are much more reasonable.

Our first day we took Woodrow Wilson with us to Key West, about an hour’s drive from Marathon. We hung out in the area of Old Town and let Woody take us for a walk down the very pedestrian-busy street. This area I would describe as a cross between San Francisco’s Castro district and the French Quarter in “Nawlins.” Lots of rainbow motif and posters advertising drag queen contests on the one hand and the VIP Gentleman’s Club (with one of the girls sitting on the front porch next to a chalk board advertising their different services provided) on the other hand. Some of this stuff I had to cover Woody’s eyes, I did not want him to get embarrassed… We got to see the marker for the southernmost point of the continental USA, the southernmost house, and the southernmost beach. The beach was laughable, see the picture below.

The next day we took the bicycles for a spin. They have some nice bike lanes scattered along the main highway and we found a couple of bicycle/kayak/rental/everything shops were down the road from us. We needed some parts and pieces for the bikes and decided to ride in their direction. We found Wheels 2 Go and the gal there was very helpful. What we could not find there, she told us the Overseas Outfitters was just down the road and would probably have the other things we needed. O.O. took very good care of us and we got everything bicycle related squared away. If anyone is in the area and needs bike work or parts, those two outfits are outstanding! Anyways, we rode our bikes to the 7-mile bridge, then to Sombrero Beach, and back to the park. Don’t laugh…my butt still hurts from that ride 2 days ago, it was 26.2 miles round trip done in about 5 hours total (go ahead, runners, laugh! Yes it was a marathon in Marathon. Yes, you could have clocked us with a calendar. Yes, I understand you real marathon runners can do it in the 2 hour range). It was a good ride, at least for us. Gotta love the views.

On our third day we decided to drive to Key Largo to check it out a little better than just driving through it to get here. Key Largo turned out to be nothing spectacular, but on the way back we hit the Go-Anna (aka: iguana) jackpot. Them little (some not so little) buggers seemed to have crawled out from everywhere. We stopped several times and got some photos of the mini-dragons and my one regret was on one stop for a particularly spectacular specimen with a flaming orange “sail” and various matching body parts, the little creep was actually too fast for me, he shot back into the brush like a dart. But I still got some good shots of others…

Our stay here gave us lots of opportunity to see critters other than the Go-Annas. Between watching an awesome sunset from the dock area and walking along the sea wall, we saw things such as a sting ray, nurse shark, barracuda, parrot fish, lobsters, crabs, and a few nasty-mean  looking eels.

All in all, we were not blown away at all by visiting the Keys. Other than getting to see the critters, the cost here is ridiculous for what it is about. There are basically no real beach areas anywhere, the “beaches” here are the size of postage stamps. The main attraction here is the consumption of alcohol, some folks enjoy happy hour all day. It is a GREAT place to come if you want to fish, dive, snorkel, kayak, jet-ski, take boat tours, or eat. Other than that, the area is junky, there are lots of “pigs” (not of the porcine variety but the 2-legged kind) roaming freely as evidenced by all the garbage strewn about. The constant sewer smell is overwhelming at times. And during peak season, the traffic is miserable! If we had our “druthers”, anywhere from Cocoa Beach south to Miami, or the Florida panhandle, would be more preferable to visit. One of our favorite areas, so far, is the area of Hollywood Beach. Another is the panhandle area around Pensacola and Destin.

That about covers it for now. Now we head up the Gulf side to all points north. Until next post…

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Livin’ the Life in South Florida

One thing I must say about Florida drivers in the southern part of the state…THEY SUCK! You need to have your head on a swivel, be able to overcome the constant “fight or flight” syndrome (that is the overwhelming desire to choke the living sh*t out of those around you), and be prepared to make ample use of your car horn. To date I have not seen this many texting drivers driving HUA in any other state. I am surprised I have not blown up my horn by overuse. The sheer traffic volume anywhere within shouting distance of I-95 is frustrating enough. OK, ‘nuff whining.

We found a couple of days at a Christian RV park, Sonrise Palms in Cocoa, to stay and check out the Kennedy Space Center and to play on the beach in Cocoa Beach. We took one of the tours at the Space Center (a bit pricey at $50 per person) and we did not even get the full tour. This is a working NASA facility and the tour normally includes the launch pads. However, they were in use the day we were there, obviously for something other than a launch, so we missed that part. The VAB was an interesting behemoth. That is the Vehicle Assembly Building where they put all the ships together. It is a single story building but you would not guess that from the following photos. We also got to see the only Saturn V rocket left, the space shuttle Atlantis, and numerous other displays of NASA “stuff” and equipment. Most of the site is a self guided tour and we took about 3 hours to complete it.

The next day we lollygagged on Cocoa Beach. Not being too far south into the state, Cocoa Beach was not quite as crowded as we thought. Weather was beautiful, sand was soft, water was “swimmable” (AKA: too cold for her, just right for me).

From there it was on to a 5 days stay at one of Broward County’s county parks, the Topeekeegee Yugnee (TY) park in Hollywood, FL. This was a very large, very nice park with a lake and campground. And it had a central location so we were able to venture out to the Miami area as well as to Ft. Lauderdale. The park itself had a good sized walk/bike path around the lake and Woody went crazy with all the squirrels. We even managed to espy a pair of wild iguanas hanging out at one of the shelter areas.

Our first day we drove on down to the Miami area and checked out the beach areas, Little Havana, and the Wynwood art district, including a touristy spot called Wynwood Walls. I have to say, coming from the north San Franciscso Bay area, having worked most of my career in a gay resort area, they got NOTHING on the sheer weirdness that is found in the Miami beach areas! If you want to hob-nob with the rich, famous, and “beautiful people”, then Miami is definitely the place for you. It was a Sunday evening we were there, amongst the hordes and masses. Parking is also a problem in south Florida, bring lots of cash and good walking shoes. The Wynwood art district and Wynwood Walls was unique. Folks painted all manner of scenery and designs on building walls, interspersed with graffiti here and there, reminiscent of the psychedelic age of San Francisco.

The next day we had mail duty. Living as full-time RVers, we have domiciled in Texas as members of the Escapees RV Club. The SKP park in Livingston, TX, is the HQ for SKPs which has the central mail service center, as well as a senior care center for infirmed RVers. The mail center is our official mailing address so when we decide we want our mail, we contact them and have them send whatever is there to an address of our choice, usually general delivery to the city we are currently in. In 4+ years I have come to the realization that our esteemed U.S. Postal Service is just as screwed up as the rest of our government. My go-to website is USPS.com as far as getting the locations for my general delivery. Unfortunately, the website is extremely inaccurate and on at least 5-6 occasions I have had my mail sent to a post office, listed on their website as offering general delivery services, only to find out they do not handle general delivery. Then, as it is now, I had/have to hunt down which exact post office my mail is hiding at. Not fun, time consuming, thank you Uncle Sam.

After a successful hunting trip (mail in hand), we took a drive down to the Hollywood Beach area. We walked a very nice boardwalk along the beach and decided to return tomorrow for some more beach lollygagging.

After doing the beach bum thing, we drove into Ft. Lauderdale to check that area out. We walked along the beach and storefront areas, then took a stroll along Las Olas Blvd. which had a sort of Little Italy ambience going on. We had a nice conversation with a woman working a cigar shop and found out Cuban cigars are still illegal to sell in the states. But you can visit Cuba and bring back Cuban cigars for personal use. However, get caught selling them and the penalty is your lungs will be removed from your body. (Not really. But it is illegal to sell in the states.)

That pretty much catches us up to now. Tomorrow we forge ahead further south, heading toward a stay in Marathon down in the Keys. Catch us later…

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Florida Via Good Ol’ Red Bay, Alabama!

With the kids all gone back to the state of Lunacy (AKA: California), we stayed just a bit longer in the Nashville area but moved over to Two Rivers RV Park which was just a few hundred yards down the road from the KOA. We had a chance to meet with our friend Dava who was one of the Rock Island State Park Rangers we had worked for when we camp hosted there about 3 (!) years ago. We had a nice breakfast visit, catching up on all things Tennessee and beyond. We also took the time to go visit the Hermitage. That would be the former home of one Andrew Jackson and now a historic park in the heart of downtown Nashville. It also contains Jackson’s burial site. This is why I like the south, you get non-stop history in any direction you look.

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It got a little cold for a few days here in Tennessee…

Our stay in Nashville was not without RV issues. The temps got pretty low (not topping 20 degrees some days), and even with proper prep work, we awoke one morning to a frozen solid water pump. That just started our problems. With water restored, our Precision Temp tankless water heater stopped producing hot water, only putting out luke warm water at best. I popped the cover on the water heater and noted the interior flame, when activated, was about a half inch high (supposed to be about 3”). Not being the sharpest marble in the drawer (AKA: mechanically inept), I referred to the Tiffin owners web site to research the problem. Several posters on this subject advised to call “Gary” at Precision Temp, so I did. He talked me through a diagnosis and came to the conclusion that my LP regulator needed replacing, that it was widely known that Tiffin had used a bunch of defective regulators in the past. Bada-bing, bada-boom we just happened to be next door to an RV repair facility. I got them to replace the regulator and test pressure. Still no hot water. The RV facility seemed to be at a loss for a resolution, and we were already on our way to Red Bay for some other minor fixes, so we toughed it out until we got to Red Bay. Another Griswold Family Moment arose during our travels south. We heard some slight banging around in the back of the bus, similar to the occasional chair tipping over or bag falling off the bed. Upon stopping for the day we found the bedroom wall mounted TV had popped off the wall and fallen partways on the bed, thankfully no damage (It is a pretty large screen TV). There is a bracket on the back of the TV and to hang the unit you lift the TV up and over the wall bracket, then hook the lip over the wall bracket. The bottom of the TV bracket has some holes for screws to anchor to the wall, but apparently nobody had done that. I guess we lucked out for the past 3 years, not having any TV-falling-off-the-wall issues. Note to all you RV owners…check your wall mounted TV’s.

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OUCH!!!!!!!!

This visit to Tiffin we were able to use the Express Bay (less than 3 hours of work needed). Their tech could not solve our hot water issue either, so we ended up replacing the whole dang water heater. But boy howdy we got hot water now!

You just can’t get out of Red Bay, Alabama fast enough. All fixed up, we raced southbound for the sunny state of Florida. One quick over-niter at the Walmart in Opelika, AL, then on to a couple of days at the Wanee Lake Golf & RV in Ashburn, GA. Not a particularly happening place (their high point for the year in Ashburn is the annual Fire Ant Festival), we motored into neighboring Valdosta, GA to look around. Another happening place…not!

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Home, at Wanee Lake Golf and RV, Ashburn, GA.

Next stop—St. Augustine, FL! We caught a few days at St. John’s RV Park and were able to explore St. Augustine Beach and Vilano Beach. Our NP pass got us into the Castillo de San Marcos Nat’l Monument, a historical fort at water’s edge. And finally, OUT OF THE COLD WEATHER! We actually took Woody on a short hike at the 12 Mile Swamp Conservation Area. For the life of me I don’t know who named this area, about 3 miles of hike never showed any sign of a “swamp”.

Daytona Beach came next. We were able to get a week at the KOA. This, despite we are in the heart of the busy snowbird season for the whole state. Anything a week or longer is next to impossible here, we are holding out for a few days here and there as we can get them.

Daytona Beach touts itself as the “world’s most famous beach.” Personally, there are beaches I feel are a little more famous—Waikiki, Malibu, West Palm, Saint-Tropez, Monaco, etc. And the beach area of Daytona is not real “deep”, just stretched out. But it was cool being able to drive along the sand and just park at the spot you want. The boardwalk here leaves a lot to be desired, nowhere near the quality of other boardwalks like at Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach. But definitely LOTS of motels…

Being on the road going on 5 years now we have been a wee bit lax in church attendance (OK, a whole lotta lax and no, the church roofs do not cave in when I walk into them!) Without being anchored down, we kinda gotta hit on a style of “salvation-to-go”. And wouldn’t you know it, Daytona Beach just happens to have the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church. We took the opportunity to attend on the Sunday we were here and it happened to be a communion service, so bread & wine (OK, grape juice. You didn’t really think they would pass out alcoholic beverages to drivers operating motor vehicles, did ya?) were passed out at the gate. It was a rather unique experience.

We wanted to see some manatees, so it was off to Blue Spring State Park. The manatees do a seasonal run on the St. John’s River to this Blue Spring area, the whole area designated a manatee refuge, November through March. Several hundred animals are usually present during the run and can easily be viewed by a nice boardwalk area running along the river. We were definitely not disappointed. Got to see lots of critters. And the Spring is a very interesting place. A small “crack” in the river bottom descends over 100’ down to an underwater cave, a popular spot for SCUBA diving. Also on site is the Thursby house, a restored historical site built in the late 1800’s during the steamboat era on the river.

Smyrna Dunes Park is a county park at Smyrna Beach. They have a 2 mile boardwalk path that winds over the protected sand dunes with views of the ocean and is big for naturalists, ecologists, and students to come and observe animals and vegetation in natural habitats. We strolled the boardwalk and got to see some turtles hanging out at the dunes.

We took a couple of days to lollygag on the beach. Florida really has goofy weather, one minute you can be baking in intense sunshine, then next covered in black clouds. But the sand was fine and the water starting to warm up. It sure has been nice in these 70’s temps. And what trip to Daytona Beach would be complete without at least a stop off at the raceway. We not being big time race fans, $50 for a tour at the track just did not appeal to us. So we settle for pix.

That’s it for now. Catch you on the next post…

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Another Holiday Here & Gone

EZ Daze RV Park in Southaven, MS was home for a couple of days while we checked in on Beale St., Memphis one more time. Jeanne wanted to see the Parade of Ducks at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. We went down to hang out around Beale St. and walked to the Peabody. It seems they have an interior fountain and twice a day they do a ceremonial “Parade of Ducks” where they walk ducks from an elevator down the red carpet to the fountain and the ducks take a swim. I don’t get the attraction, but if it floats your duck, then alright!

From the Peabody we strolled Beale St. and ate at the Rum Boogie Cafe. They have quite a collection of signed gee-tars by various artists who have played at the cafe. And the Gator Gumbo, oh my!

From here it was on to a return visit to the Grand Ole RV Park in Goodletsville just north of Nashville. As usual, we brought unnatural weather with us and had to endure about 4 days where the temperature did not hit 30 degrees. It froze the park pipes. I learned long ago to disconnect my hoses for these cold times but it got so cold my water pump even froze up as did what little water I had left in my coiled hose. I had a barrel of fun fussin’ with my water issues. We used the week stay here to prep for the kids arrival for Christmas.

After a week of trying to unfreeze water pipes, we relocated to the Nashville KOA where we reserved a site for the bus and a cabin for all the kids. I still dislike staying at KOA’s, they are all too pricey for what they are, but I have to admit they are family friendly and convenient. So we got set up, kids showed up, let the fun begin! Jeanne’s sister Denise, niece Savohna, and Savohna’s little ones Brody & Chloe also made the drive from Branson, MO for a very nice family get-together. We all spent a day walking the downtown Broadway area checking out all the honky-tonks, the Ryman Theater, and even corrupting our grandson Max, Brody & Chloe by outfitting them all with cowboy boots! Max even topped his getup off with a cowboy hat. Lunchtime was all about “hot chicken”. I was unaware of this “specialty” of the south, but apparently it is a must try “when in Rome…” thing. Our daughter-in-law Crissy heard of a place called “Hattie B’s” that served just such a specialty, so Hattie B’s it was. They serve 5 levels of varying temperature (that would be the Scoville scale, not Fahrenheit scale). Holy smokes, Batman, DON’T FORGET TO BRING THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER!!! Yes I hit on some of their “Shut the Cluck Up” burn notice top of the scale heat. I got to experience breaking out in a sweat while eating for the first time. The fire level thing was unique, but otherwise it was just more good ol’ southern fried chicken…

The wild bunch, getting ready to assault downtown Nashville.

The wild bunch, getting ready to assault downtown Nashville.

Downtown Broadway in the shadow of the AT&T building.

Downtown Broadway in the shadow of the AT&T building.

Checking out the Ryman Theater.

Checking out the Ryman Theater.

The Gladiator doing the whole cowboy conversion!

The Gladiator doing the whole cowboy conversion!

Yeah, it's a cowboy thing...

Yeah, it’s a cowboy thing…

Boots all around!

Boots all around!

Hattie B's hot chicken. It surely looks toasty!

Hattie B’s hot chicken. It surely looks toasty!

Hattie B's menu.

Hattie B’s menu.

Nighttime brought us all to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center where they got all decked out for the season. They also set up a small ice skating rink, downhill sledding, and snowball throwing for the wee ones.

The next day Denise and the kids had to return to Branson. We spent the next couple of days touring around Gallatin, Brentwood, Franklin, & Murfreesboro, as well as taking a tour at the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg. Tennessee surely has some pretty nice real estate in some of these areas. Christmas day we decided to go real touristy and took a tour of downtown and some stars’ homes in the area. Tommy, our tour guide, a true southerner, was hilarious as he narrated our way around town. “Bless his heart…” (oft used southern phrase, and not exactly representative of it’s literal meaning).

The whole family get-together went very well, other than Gus and Crissy were sick and baby Hailey came down with an ear infection which caused a side trip to the ER. But, alas, all good things must come to an end and it was with heavy hearts that everyone had to return to from whence they came (California). Gus, Jenn, and Max headed out first, Chad, Crissy, and Hailey able to stay one more night. And that night again found us ogling light displays, this time we went to the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Mansion. It was a very nice display.  Once Chad, Crissy, and Hailey left for their home, Jeanne and I decided to stick around Nashville for a couple of weeks into the new year, so we got to attend the Jack Daniels Music City Midnight New Year’s Eve celebration at the Capitol Mall. It was a bit drizzly standing out there with tens of thousands of our fellow revelers, but Styx and Keith Urban were worth it, both putting on an outstanding show.

For now, we’ll be here, hunkering down in the sporadic rain and the impending next few days of lows in the teens. We’re still working on which way we go from here, still a little early to head north. Happy New Year to all of you and yours!

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XMAS Fast Approaches

So we pull into Moab and get set up at our “home” for the stay at Portal RV Resort. For Moab to seemingly be the Jeeper’s center of the universe, it is a small podunk town. And if you need to look for parts and pieces to do any minor RV repair work, good luck. We found a livestock feed store (Farm & City Feed and RV Supply) that surprisingly carried some, if not limited, parts and pieces. But, me and Murphy, we are inseparable. They did carry the Shurflo water pump that I needed, but were out of stock at the moment. Fear not, for the nice folks were able to order one up within a couple of days. Well, once I got it, I put my mechanical incompetence to the test. I thought the swap out would be a piece of cake, all hand tightening of fittings, no tool other than a Phillips screwdriver to remove the base screws, and I am board certified in the correct use and care of said Phillips screwdrivers. I was all proud of myself as I neared the end of the repair…until I tried to attach the water pump strainer unit. Hand tighten, oh yeah, oh —— crap! 1 twist too many and “SNAP!” goes the plastic. So now I’m on the hunt for a simple piece of PVC elbow. Hit all 2 of the hardware stores and 1 plumbing supply place but failure strikes again. How I ended up at an auto parts store I have no clue but wouldn’t you know it, they had a stainless steel elbow for hydraulics that worked just beautiful! I kicked Murphy in the posterior region and reveled in my success. On to some fun.

I’ll tell you now, 5 days in Moab is not enough time to see and do. And if rain pops in on you, it shortens the time even more. We missed out on many miles of Jeep trails, as well as Canyonlands NP, so a return trip will be most necessary. But here now we made 2 day trips into Arches NP. Again, K9’s are not allowed on the trails, so Woody had to miss out. We took the wind-sucking hike uphill to Delicate Arch which is touted as the most photographed arch. The hike was not difficult as far as rock scrambling or challenging obstacles, but it was steady up hill and tended to make one suck wind much of the way (I just GOTTA lay off all them stouts and porters!).  It is a one and a half mile, one-way trail that ascends about 500 feet. But boy-oh-boy what a view! Now don’t yell at me because I am going to post some photos and more than likely I will get wrong names associated with some; after all, there are over 2,000 catalogued arches in this park. But we visited (hiked) several of the main attractions such as Tunnel Arch, Landscape Arch, Skyline Arch, Fiery Furnace, Balanced Rock, Double Arch, North & South Windows, Turret Arch, & Three Gossips. You could easily spend 3-4 days in this park, not only are there hike-to formations to see, but there are a couple of Jeep trails that take one to see other features and off the beaten path.

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Landscape Arch

One place we were able to include Woody in our exploits was the Dead Horse Point State Park. A hiking trail traverses along a very scenic canyon rim overlooking the Colorado River and parts of Canyonlands NP. And word has it the cliff scene from “Thelma & Louise” was filmed here. So Woody got his chance to take us out for about a three hour walkabout. The ranger we spoke to at the visitor center told us the trails were well marked. He should have said “well marked if you know how to follow cairns”. We did pretty well for the most part, only got off track a smidgeon toward the end of the loop.

With our time limited, Jeanne picked a Jeep trail to take, the Tusher Tunnel Trail. It is an easy trail, not a lot of challenges (OK, none at all). It ends at about a 100 yard natural tunnel through the mountain.

Time up, we headed for the great state of Texas, our state of domicile.  We overnighted at an overpriced Indian casino that ran the Route 66 RV Resort in Albuquerque, NM, then into Lubbock, TX for a few days. Stops at the Buddy Holly Center and Texas Tech University Museum were in order, while home basing at the Loop 289 RV Park.

Onward and upward, a couple of uneventful and, ergo UNexciting days in the city of Abilene. Next stop Waco, TX and the Waco Lake COE campground. Nice, scenic site on the lake. Jeanne wanted to go see Magnolia’s, a shop of trinkets and a bakery all owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines. Jeanne tells me they have a TV show about fixer-upper houses and I now see they are getting plenty of bad press about being anti-LGBT based on their faith. I will elide any further personal comments on that subject based on my 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and because I have not succumbed to that liberal Kool-Aid drinking lifestyle.

From Waco we wandered south to Pecan Park RV Park in San Marcos. This was a good base for sneaking into Austin to check things out. All other Texans we talk to speak of Austin in hushed tones and we have heard more than one liken it to the whacked out city of San Francisco. From what we saw, I agree. But we did get to visit LBJ’s Presidential Library. Everybody talks now of Obama’s massive government regulations but LBJ created his own share of regulations, and then some. The more of these Presidential libraries we see, the more I regret not having taken road trips with the kids when they were tadpoles and showing them some of this stuff.

In Austin we also took a short walk along a trail at Covert Park on Mt. Bonnell, along the Colorado River with a scenic vista overlooking some very nice homes I might be able to afford in another life.

Done with San Marcos, we sidled over to Bryan, TX to visit the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. One thing I had not known was George 43 had a sister, Robin, born in 1949 and passed in 1953 due to Leukemia. Sad. There was a lot of coverage on George 41’s military service and a nice section on Operation Desert Storm.

From Bryan it was on to Arlington, TX to take in George 43’s Presidential Library. We had missed it last time through a few years ago due to our great government’s inability to function (aka: the government shut-down over budget fight). Both LBJ’s and George 41’s libraries had some form of oval office display, but George 43 has an actual  sized replica office. Another little trivia fact I was not aware of is 43 was actually a managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball organization back in his business days. There is a nice personal collection of signed baseballs on display here at the library.

Well, moving day tomorrow. I found the Freightliner service center here in Dallas and will be attempting to get some recall work, service work, and maybe my goofy dashboard warning lights and sirens looked at before continuing toward Nashville and the Griswold, er, Watkins Family Christmas Vacation. Merry Christmas to all!

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