Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “photography”

Letting the Days go by

We made the quick jump from south of Boston to north of Boston with no problems and little traffic, landing in Salisbury Beach State Reservation. The campground was the opposite in every way from Wompatuck State Park. The sites were wide open, close together, and had electric and power. While it wasn’t as close together as a typical tourist area private RV Park, they were really close together for a state park. Looking back at our pictures, neither Mike nor I stopped to snap a few of the campground. Probably too excited to be back at the beach!sal61sal62

We did quite a bit of touring in the area, and not much hanging at the beach, though. There are so many wonderful towns to check out!

We went as far north as Cape Porpoise, a village just past Kennebunkport, a town we loved when we had visited about 15 years ago. It is still a beautiful town, though it is getting kind of crowded. On the way back, we drove Shore Road, where the Bush compound is located and stopped to admire the view.

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Pier 77/Chowder House restaurant entrances. Too bad it was 10AM, too early for chowder.

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Views along the Maine coast

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more views from Maine

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and yet another. Can you blame me? The coast is beautiful!

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St. Ann’s Episcopal Church – right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view.

Our favorite town to visit in that area of Massachusetts is Rockport. It is a beautiful little town right on the coast with some of the best lobster rolls outside Maine.

For me, this is the perfect New England coastal town to set down roots – too far from a city to commute but close enough to a city to visit, plenty of things to do and places to eat, and an unhurried attitude in the people who live there. If only it wasn’t so far North! Though the weather is somewhat tempered by the sea, the winters still get a little too cold.

We also passed through Gloucester, a town that used to be my favorite New England town. Over the years, it has gotten so big and so crowded, it is hard to even find one’s way around, let alone find a place to park. We did manage a spot down at the waterfront where we waited out some of the traffic before heading back to camp.

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We didn’t spend much time in Surfside, a beach town right next to Salisbury Beach. Our initial first impression was that it was a miniature version of Ocean City, MD and we just weren’t in the mood for crowds and boardwalk fries. We did run around Newburyport though most of our time there was checking out the boats. We were still debating the merits of different traveling styles and whether or not being live aboards was a viable option.

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We even managed a stop in Salem for a day. Unfortunately, we picked the one day a week the Peabody is closed. We did manage lunch and a beer at Beer Works. We weren’t thrilled with the fruit beers (a little perfumy) but the pale ale and the witch city red were good.

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One of the historic wharves of Salem.

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The Burying Point cemetery, right next to the Witches’ Memorial.

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The “Friendship of Salem” just before the haul out.

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Stickworks, art by Patrick Dougherty

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Because buried deep inside my brain somewhere is Beavis. Or Butthead.

Most of the time we were in Salem, our thoughts were on getting to the local ASPCA. We had finally decided we didn’t want to live without a dog or two in our lives any longer and we wanted to find a dog that needed a family. We struck out in Salem. There were only five dogs in their shelter, all pit bulls. The wonderful volunteer did tell us that they would be receiving a ‘shipment’ by the end of the week, but we would be gone by then. As we would find all over New England, there aren’t as many dogs needing families up here as there are down south so the shelters here rescue them and get them shipped north. We decided we would continue to look as we headed north anyway.

We had a great time in Salisbury Beach. The weather was perfect, fellow campers are friendly, and there is a lot to do in the area (maybe too much). Some day we may return and will definitely include this campground in our list of places to stay.

 

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Watching the ships roll in

Scenes at the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the railroad crossing for the Cape Cod Canal. Trains still use it though we were never able to catch one on it. The bridge goes up and down, spending most of its time up for boat traffic.

At the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. It is free to get in and great for kids (or adults who love sea life). It isn’t very big but they do have touch tanks and lots of information. Mike and I both grew up on Jacques Cousteau and followed the explorations of Alvin, so  visiting Woods Hole was a no-brainer. The small town ended up being one of our favorites though we didn’t get to spend much time there.

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Probably the prettiest lighthouse we visited was Nobska Point Light just outside of Falmouth. The location is sublime (even in the rain) and just what one would expect of a New England Light house.

Falmouth is also a boating town, with a fairly large marina (by Cape Cod standards) and tons of mooring balls. They have a very good, small farmer’s market and a great, walkable downtown core. During our stay, we tried Maison Villatte for desert (amazing chocolate and almond croissants and bread). We had lunch at La Cucina Sul Mare and really enjoyed their lunch specials and their incredibly reasonable prices; definitely a place I would go back to. The food was prepared well. We met a friend for burgers and beer at Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub. Both were good as was the conversation. While we couldn’t stay for the daily live music we were assured that it was the big draw for the standing room only crowd. If you go, get there early!

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We thought the red boat would make a perfect Great Loop Boat. Its a little larger than we want but the big windows and all that deck space would be a wonderful place to watch the world drift by.

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Dexter Grist Mill in Sandwich. They still grind corn here, and they sell it, too. In the pond, we watched fish mark and protect their territory, making small circles free of debris which they circled to keep other fish out.

On another rainy day we passed through Barnstable and stopped at the Coast Guard Museum for a visit. Our actual reason for being there was the Old Jail, built in 1690. Its history is pretty cool but we didn’t get to see any of it – no one was there. It sits on the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, so we wandered through that instead. The museum had displays starting from the beginning of the existence of the coast guards, right through modern times. What I found most fascinating was the light ships – boats that were constructed to be used as light houses where light houses couldn’t be built. Yes, I lead a sheltered life; I had never heard of them. There are none operating in the US (as commissioned light ships) at this time, but they can be found in places like New York, Virginia, Michigan, and Delaware. None currently on Cape Cod.

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See that little point sticking up on land way way over there (about center right in the image)? That is the Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable. Unless you have a boat, a resident sticker, or the ability to walk ten miles (round trip) in sand, that is as close as you can get to it. I had none of the above (okay, we could have walked the ten miles but had absolutely no desire to) and so we viewed it from the Barnstable Beach. Two things we noticed about parking on Cape Cod: the beach parking is expensive ($20/day, every day) and people go to parking lots and sit in their cars, especially parking lots with a view. All over Cape Cod, from the time we arrived to the time we left, there was not one parking lot we visited that did not have at least one car with a person in it just sitting. In some places, there were ten or more; some reading, some napping, some eating, some just staring. But there was always a person hanging out in their car. We go a lot of places. We have been all over the country and hung out in a lot of parking lots. But we have never seen anything like the parking lot vigils in Cape Cod.  Why? We will never know.

There was even a car parked at the Sargo Tower in Dennis. Okay, that is our jeep and it was us. The Scargo Tower was built specifically for the view. While we didn’t get the full view the day we were there, the view was pretty impressive. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Provincetown, which is where my camera was aimed for the bottom picture. We could see the Cape Cod Bay, but not any further.

We visited Chatham one day, a very pretty town at the elbow of Cape Cod. We caught the “Sharks in the Park” installation but missed out on the “Lifeboats in the Shops” scavenger hunt. I guess we don’t shop enough.  We managed to find (and get up close to) the Chatham Lighthouse and the beautiful beach attached.

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As you can see, the beach has some great sand bars off shore. From a map, it seems they stretch for miles. If we ever return, we will head here with our kayak. It looks like a great place to play Robinson Crusoe for a day.

We then headed up to Chatham Pier and Fish Market but it wasn’t open. We did get to see a few seals though, and a lot of work boats.

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If you want to buy a float, this is the place to do it. They also have wicked fudge. Eastham.

We also found another lighthouse, Nauset Light which had been moved a bit away from the coast. Fascinating fact about lighthouses – they each have their own light pattern. This enables boat/ship captains to verify their location at night or in fog when land masses can’t always be seen. This particular lighthouse is the one on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag.ma301

We also spent an entire day wandering around Provincetown. It is like Key West of the North with the same funky beach vibe and far out people.

 

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This picture was taken a few hours earlier than the one before it. The streets get crowded as the day progresses.

The Pilgrim Memorial can be seen from just about everywhere in the town.

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The remains of the Provincetown Theatre

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We ate lunch at the Lobster Pot. Good food but pricey, a tourist location.

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lots and lots of boats in P-town.

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We also spent some time wandering the coast of Provincetown – there is a lot of it!

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The bay is taking back the land, including the parking lot. Way off in the distance (near center) is another lighthouse (Race Point Lighthouse).

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The causeway will take you to Woods End Light Station on the Provincetown Spit. The lighthouse is that bump above the couple’s head.

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Our two weeks on Cape Cod went very, very fast. We only saw and did about half of what we planned to. We never made it to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. We didn’t spend a lot of time at Cape Cod National Seashore.  We didn’t eat a gazillion lobsters or gallons of chowder. Time got away from us. If we had been ‘vacationing’ for two weeks, we probably would have done all that and more but we would have been exhausted afterwards. We tried that last year in Alaska and burned out after about 10 weeks of non-stop go. So we took it easy in Cape Cod and still enjoyed every minute.

One thing Cape Cod did was solidify our desire for a boat. We spent hours looking at boats and debating the kind of boat we want. Like RVs, there isn’t a single boat that can do everything we want well. But there are a few that can do much of what we want well enough. Being raised around the Chesapeake Bay, we love gunkholing. Sailboats are very limited in their gunkholing ability (don’t tell a sailor that!) so we are looking at shallow draft trawlers. Our previous boat would float in 18 inches of water and we loved getting all the way into little creeks to hide away from the deep vee and sailboat crowds of the bay. With that settled, we debate on towable vs. non-towable and keep going back and forth, debating live aboard size vs. ability to drag the boat around the country visiting water from coast to coast. Depending on the day, we vote for one or the other. Some day we will figure it out. Or, the perfect boat will magically appear in front of us one day like a rainbow and it will be too good to resist.

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taken while driving.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Back when we decided we were heading to New England for the summer, at the top of our list was Cape Cod.  Neither of us had ever been there so we really wanted to plan ahead to make the most of our trip. After a couple of weeks of back and forth about campgrounds – how often to move, where to move to – we decided we would like to chill at one location for the entire two weeks, moving our Jeep from place to place rather than our bus. Our place of choice: Scusset Beach State Reservation in Sandwich, MA. The location for us was perfect – not in the middle of all the ‘to-do’ (read traffic) in Cape Cod but close enough to anything we might need or want to do. The campground itself was also perfect. While it only had 50A and water hook ups, it had nice open sites right next to the beach and the Cape Cod Canal.

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The campground from the beach parking lot. In the fog. The short bus is on the right.

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From our site, #98, we could see the end of the canal and the tall ships that passed by. We lucked out in that the Mayflower II, on its trip from repairs in Connecticut  back to Plymouth, passed right through the canal.

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We were also an easy walk to the beach, which was very popular. Even in the fog.

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There was a lot to do in the campground itself: walking, hiking, fishing, swimming, and what we did most, lazing around in the sun. While we did have some foggy days and a couple of rainy days, most were warm and sunny. There is a fishing pier on the canal, a breakwater that extends 1/2 a mile out into the bay, and access to the Canal Path, a seven mile end to end bike path.

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The light at the end of the breakwater, about 1/2 a mile from shore.

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Tug and barge passing the breakwater

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rock detail. there were some pretty cool rocks.

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Looking back to land from the end.

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Foggy day at the beach.

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We were there for two weeks so we had to visit the dump station on day seven. Word of warning: the dump station is only open until 3:30 PM every day. I have no idea why. Also, the setup is kind of strange; rather than a pipe straight down, it is off to the side. Mike says it smells really bad, worse than a normal dump station. I had to make sure our chairs didn’t blow away 😉 so I didn’t get the pleasure.

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The campground is just outside of Sandwich, which is on the other side of one of two car bridges that cross the Cape Code Canal. In Sandwich, there are two grocery stores (I highly recommend the Market Basket both for prices and fresh foods), quite a few restaurants (definitely stop in Cafe Chew), and the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center. On the campground side of the bridge is a McDonalds, a gas station and a tourist visitor center. Based on my experience, I will never attempt to cross over the Canal Bridge on a Sunday ever again. To get from the grocery store to the campground took almost an hour. It is 4.8 miles away. Most of that time was spent waiting in traffic for 1/2 a mile of the entire route, to get onto the bridge. Once on the bridge, the drive was all of five minutes. I have heard that crossing onto the Cape on Fridays is also time consuming.

All in all, we had a great time at Scussett Beach. We had family stop and visit for an afternoon and met up a couple of times with friends in the area to catch up and hang out. We also did a ton of sightseeing which I’ll post in the next entry.

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Sunset, our second to last night. Pretty amazing and bested all the other things we saw.

“You can’t always get what you want…*

While in Connecticut, we were not only able to fix our vacu-flush problem, we managed to secure a site for a few days at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park in Rhode Island. Someone  canceled a two day reservation in the water view area with full hook ups and then someone else canceled four more days in the same area! We were set for the week before memorial day, though we still didn’t have a site for Saturday and Sunday.

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Fisherman’s Memorial State Park is a very nicely kept park. The grounds are impeccably landscaped, the full hook ups are well placed, many (but not all) sites are very level, and the location is great – not too far from the beach, Narragansett and pretty much the entire state of Rhode Island (it is a very small state). We really enjoyed our six days here and didn’t want to leave.

When we weren’t being lazy, we wandered around Narragansett, a beautiful small coastal town with a bit of history. We also wandered around for the day in Newport, one of our favorite towns we have visited so far.  One of the highlights was The Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile wander along the coast past huge mansions and beautiful views. It just so happened to be a sunny seventy degree day so the walk/hike was one of our favorites so far.

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One of the many mansions along the Newport coast.

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Used to be a mansion, now being used by the college.

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The view at “the steps.”

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We also spent some time wandering around the pier and old town. All told, we probably walked seven miles or more just seeing the sites. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera on that day.

While at Fisherman’s, we hunted for a place to stay Saturday and Sunday nights, Memorial Weekend. The pickings were pretty slim. We also needed a place to stay Monday and Tuesday. Charlestown Breachway had a few spots available so we drove the fifteen miles to the campground to check it out. It is dry camping but right next to the beach, so we were hoping for the best. We figured out why there were sites available still, despite the location: it was a parking lot. Literally. There are 75 sites in the parking lot, all of them about 15′ wide and 40′ long. While we were desperate, we just weren’t desperate enough to squish in with 74 other RVs during the heat and the holiday, with generators running non-stop. My claustrophobia kicked in just looking at it.

So, we resigned ourselves to boondocking at a rest area or a Walmart. On Friday morning, luck smiled on us. Someone canceled their site at West Thompson Lake, a COE park about 60 miles away in Connecticut. It would be back tracking just a bit, but it was an electric and water site long enough for us to fit. So Saturday morning we packed up and headed that way.

The park itself is small, very wooded, and very quiet. It isn’t my favorite campground, but the parking situation was way better than the Breachway. We spent a quiet two days hiding out in the woods, dodging gypsy moth caterpillars. I did get the opportunity, during the down time, to make my first ever batch of hamburger buns using the breadmaker to knead the dough. I just used a basic recipe from Food.com and they turned out excellent. Way better than what I typically get at the grocery store.

I also had a craving for Naan bread, so I gave it a try. I substituted heavy cream for the lowfat milk, olive oil for the canola oil, and added a bit of garlic. It turned out amazing, way better than I expected (I gotta start getting pictures of bread!). I whipped up some tzatziki sauce, browned some chicken, and we had a great meal.

Sunday morning we were wondering if we should stay put for two more days or chance a Walmart. We were both a bit claustrophobic by then, as the woods seemed to grow closer with each passing hour. And then someone cancelled their days at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts. I don’t blame them – the weather report was for cold and rain and the sites were dry camping. But the site they canceled was on the beach! So we booked it and took off Monday morning for Massachusetts.

I completely fell in love with Horseneck Beach and could probably have spent the rest of the summer there. Our site was right on the beach and, in spite of the fog our first day, the place is beautiful.

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Our beach front camping site. Rated to hold a 40′, which it easily could.

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Sunset over the beach sites.

While we only spent two days here, it was as relaxing as an entire week. We drove around the area, the highlight being Westport Point, 17th and 18th century houses leading down to the docks. We enjoyed a good lunch at The Bayside Restaurant, and oogled the RVs parked on lots on the ocean. It was a great way to end the month of May.

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These beach roses smelled amazing and added to the atmosphere here. There were tons of them between the beach and the campsites.

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The singing rocks. The beach is rocks and pebbles. When the tide was going out, it was strong enough to pull smaller rocks towards the water. They would bounce and skip over each other, sounding like ‘singing.’ It kept us enthralled for a good hour a day.

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*…But if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”

Nothing would be finer than to be in Carolina…

Continuing our trek north, we headed into South Carolina. We managed to pass through Atlanta at about 11AM and hit no traffic. I don’t know if we are lucky or have great timing but, in our two passes through Atlanta this year, we passed through without problems. Yeah, some of the drivers are a little nuts, but we are so used to DC driving that Atlanta is a cake walk. So far.

In looking for a campground not too far off the highway but in a pretty area preferably near water, we found South Cove County Park. It is on a little peninsula in Lake Keowee just outside of Seneca, SC. Because it has sites right on the water, it won out over the many other parks in the area.

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The campground from the office

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Our campsite, #33

We did not reserve our campsite ahead of time but on weekends during the spring and summer, it might be advised. If reserving ahead of time, ignore the driveway lengths when making your decision. The sites on the water are pull-throughs but the entrance and exit are shared by the sites in front or behind yours. This can be a tight situation when the campground is busy but it was pretty empty while we were here.

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The site behind us. Our shadow is where the shared entrance/exit is.

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In front of us, from left to right, a hill site, the road, and a site further down the lake.

The campground was very quiet though there was the occasional power boat passing by.

We set up and ate lunch then relaxed and caught up on with things on social media (excellent Verizon signal here). About an hour later, we heard the familiar sound of Harley pipes. The bike came back around and stopped in the site in front of us. “We have neighbors – we need to move the jeep.” We had parked it in the empty campsite in front of us. Turns out, it was Bill and Mary Ann. They had seen Mike’s check in on Facebook and happened to be in the neighborhood. We first met Bill in Hunting Island last year through LEO Only and spent a couple of hours catching up.

They knew we liked off-roading and beautiful views so they suggested we head up to Jumping Off Rock where we would get a little bit of both. They were right – the place is beautiful, the road is fun but not challenging, and there are no crowds.

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One of the views at Jumping Off Rock.

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Most of the road is easily passable by passenger cars. But a high clearance vehicle will be needed in some parts, including at the beginning.

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A small waterfall along the way

We aren’t sure if our timing was impeccable or if we were lucky or if there was some sort of rules change but a gate was open that allowed us to get all the way down to the lake on a peninsula.

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If you have a tent, this would be a great place to camp.

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Rope swings at the end of the road.

Lake Jocassee is beautiful and we decided that it is definitely a future kayak trip. This end of the lake is fairly remote and the scenery outstanding. One could probably spend a week on the water and still not see everything.

On our way back to camp, we stopped by Bill and Mary Ann’s house. It is beautiful, set in  hills overlooking the lake – a dream place to retire to. They made one more suggestion: Paesano’s Italian Restaurant.  When someone from New York and/or New Jersey suggests Italian, I’m inclined to believe their recommendation. That suggestion was as good as the first (I love local knowledge!); the food and service were excellent and I’m still thinking about the tiramisu.

We returned to camp and Mike made friends with the local ducks while I got caught up on blog posts. By the end of our second night here, he had them practically eating out of his hands.

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A word of warning about camping here on the lake shore, and probably any other shore: overnight a storm blew in. We knew it was coming but our neighbor didn’t and lost his awning. The lake here is 26 miles long and the wind can build up to a gale over that distance if coming from the right direction.

Also on our last night here, we went outside to see if we could see the storm rolling in. It was chilly, so we closed our door. After a few minutes of star gazing, we tried to go back inside. And we were locked out. Even using our spare key, which happened to be in the jeep, wouldn’t get us in. Mike gave me a boost to the passenger window where I crawled inside to let him in (luckily, our windows aren’t always locked). After about five minutes of fiddling with the locks and banging the door, it finally released. And has worked perfectly ever since.

Reluctantly, we packed up and headed on. We stopped overnight at a rest area near Burlington, NC after making a pit stop at Walmart to pick up some needed supplies. The rest area has separate parking for RVs and we spent a fairly quiet night. Walmart may begin to rival Amazon for convenience in shopping. They now offer ‘pick up in store’ service with no added shipping charges. I ordered a collapsible ladder in South Carolina and was able to pick it up two days later in North Carolina. How is that for convenient? I didn’t need a shipping address or a few days to hang out in town to wait for it to arrive.

Our next spot was Holly Point Campground, part of the Falls Lake Recreation Area. The area is beautiful and not too far from Wake Forest, which has a lot to do. We didn’t make reservations early enough to get a lakefront site but we did manage to snag a beautiful, open wooded site with electric and water.

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loop 3, site 80

We later found out that loop 3 is known as ‘the retiree’ loop – it is very quiet and, according to the rangers, usually booked by retirees. It would seem to hold true during our stay as we were joined by four class Bs holding four retired couples meeting up for the weekend.

The sites here are huge and very well spread apart. Most are fairly level and extremely long, long enough for a 45′ class A and a toad and a couple of guests’ cars. While we had one of the most open sites in the campground, the majority of them are shaded with very tall trees, lending a very ‘woodland feel’ to the experience. We knew this weekend would have a cold spell so a sunny site would keep us warm.

We stopped here at the suggestion of Greg, another LEO Only friend who happens to be a Ranger here. We hung out and got to know Greg and Kimberly  and had a couple of great days trading camping horror stories, general life stories, and learning what it is like to be a Park Ranger. We are looking forward to our next pass through the area.

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Pine Mountain, GA

We looked around Macon and Augusta, Georgia, for the next place to land and quickly realized: 1) there aren’t many public RV parks in that area and 2) the Masters Golf Tournament was soon to begin and anything there was was booked. I started looking around around Helen and Dahlonega, in my favorite area of Georgia. It was kind of out of our way but the area is so beautiful it would be worth it. In my browsing I stumbled across F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain. The campground was booked solid for the weekend. I kept checking for two days (my OCD kicking in) and on Wednesday, someone cancelled. We immediately booked, starting Thursday, for the weekend. This cut our stay down in Albany to two days, but we got the highlights of the area, and managed to see what we wanted to see.

We got an early start (for us) to the campground and made it there just before 1PM. This is important in Georgia State Parks because, while you can reserve a site large enough for your RV, there is no guarantee you will have a site you like. The later you get there and the more crowded the park, the more likely you will end up with an unlevel, hard to get into site next to the dump station. Okay, it isn’t always that bad, but we have had some pretty awful sites in our time. We got extremely lucky. The sites around the lake were completely empty and we pulled into the first one – a pull through overlooking the lake.

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The view from site 101

The site was nice and large and open with a beautiful view of the 25 acre lake the campground surrounded. It could hold a 45′ RV easily though a bus that size might have to back out as the turns and trees deeper in the loop are a little tight for a 35′ short bus. By Thursday afternoon, the campground was nearly full. First thing Friday morning, any remaining sites were gone as people raced in (beginning at 8AM) to claim their favorite site or what they could get.

We explored the very tiny town of Pine Mountain, which took all of five minutes. We ended up eating at Aspen’s Mountain Grill, one of the few restaurants open at the time. We stuck with our standards, Steak Salad for Mike and burger for me, and both were good. The burger was supposed to have pimento cheese on it – a South Carolina staple – but I couldn’t taste it.

Friday it rained. and rained. and rained. We had more rain in the last week than we had even in Alaska, where it rained a lot. Maybe that is why someone canceled their reservations. Further north and east, a tornado touched down and took out a few houses. We felt safe where we were, in spite of the trees. They seemed to have been there a long time and had probably seen more adverse weather than we have.

We had wanted to go to Callaway Gardens on Friday, to avoid some of the weekend crowds, but put it off until Saturday. The gardens were one of the reasons we had stopped here: 6,000 acres of wild and cultivated rhododendrons, beautiful gardens, a butterfly center, lakes, ponds, walking and biking trails… If that isn’t enough, they also have zip lines, golf, cottages, a beach, boat rentals, and at Christmastime, a light show that might rival Disney. We packed a pretty full day in, wandering around the various areas.

Yeah, I love butterflies. And the Day Butterfly Center is the perfect place to practice shooting them and to get images of the ones I will rarely see in the wild. Because they move so fast and the Center is pretty shady, I had to use an ISO of 800 with the smallest aperture on the lens: 4.5. I probably would have had better luck with focus had I brought my 100 mm macro; at the same distance (about 6′) it has a deeper depth of field than the 75-300mm with which I was I was shooting. But, because the depth of field was so tight, I got better bokeh. There are always trade-offs…

Because of the previous days brutal downpour, some of the azaleas and rhododendrons looked a little worse for the wear and tear. But for the most part, the gardens were beautiful.

And there were also plenty of other flowers to photograph.

The walking paths and biking paths wandered all over the property – I think there are 30 miles of trails – more than enough to while away an entire day.

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We took a break for lunch at The Gardens Restaurant which had just opened for lunchtime for the spring season. The food and service was great and the location and ‘ambiance’ was excellent. We would eat here again if ever in the area.

All in all, we had a wonderful spring day in the gardens, got a lot of walking in, and some shooting practice to boot.

At about 10PM Saturday night, while relaxing on the couch, I saw it: EEK! a mouse. It came out from under the bathroom door, saw us sitting there, and did an abrupt U-turn. ACK! I like mice but I’m not fond of sharing my tiny little house with them. We looked in the bathroom – it must have squeezed behind the sink to escape. We moved the sink pedestal against the wall so tight that ants could barely crawl through. We started looking around the RV. It had gotten into  the toilet paper drawer, the pot drawer in the kitchen, and the trash cabinet under the sink. We actually had two traps left over from our experience in Cody, Wyoming: a live trap and a not-so-live trap. We put them out and went to bed.

Sunday morning our plan was to visit the Wild Animal Safari just up the road. Our plans changed, as we had our own wild animal to take care of. We ran up to LaGrange, the closest town with a Home Depot/Lowe’s to stock up on supplies. We got a few more mouse traps and some spray foam to seal up whatever gaps we could find.

There was only two ways for it to get in: up the water hose into the utility cabinet where, from there, it could follow electric and waterlines to anywhere; or up the front passenger leveling jack, where wires would allow it into the propane cabinet where it could follow electrical and propane lines into the space under the fridge and from there, into the bathroom. We spray foamed both areas extensively, where water and electrical lines entered the house and for good measure, spray foamed under the TP drawer so we wouldn’t lose any more TP. We didn’t know if we had blocked the mice in or out, but they would eventually need to eat. Then we spent the rest of the day cleaning, vacuuming, and sanitizing anything and everything in the bus.

Our conclusions on where it may have come in were proved correct when we found a mouse in the propane cabinet. We couldn’t get him out, but we set a live trap there, just in case. We also ended up catching one (in a not-so-live trap) in the water closet under the house. In the few days since, we have seen no sign of any mice and are hopeful that the one we caught is the only one that was here.

 

 

Albany, Ga

While waiting out the rain in Eastbank, I looked around for a place to stop next, somewhat north, that had a laundry and something of interest to do. My first go to is always US Campgrounds, a website with maps of every public campground in the US. It includes the smaller city and county parks that are typically very hard to find without knowing the area. And that is how I found The Parks at Chehaw. They have a zoo! It was 100 miles from Eastbank, in the general direction we were traveling, had laundry, and was within an hour of driving to Ashburn, GA.

The reception at the front desk wasn’t the greatest when we arrived and the short road into the campground could use quite a bit of work. If one overlooked the trash strewn about (some kids obviously had a fun easter) the campground was quite pleasant. The sites are not private but they are wonderfully shaded by tall pines and very level. The power and water pressure is good and we had a sewer hook up. While the laundry room only had one washer and dryer, they were both clean and worked well. The park was mostly empty so we had no problems doing four loads of laundry.

Our reason for a quick run to Ashburn, GA was to visit Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store. We had visited there a couple of years ago while staying in Wanee Lake Golf and RV Resort, a wonderful place to stop over on a trek north or south. Carroll’s Sausage is probably the best hot pan sausage we have ever tasted. So good in fact, that two years later we were willing to drive 45 miles each way to get some more. As luck would have it, on our way into Chehaw Park, we saw a Carroll’s Sausage store right near the entrance. No visit to Ashburn needed, and we stocked up on quite a few pounds of hot pan along with thick peppered bacon and some smoked jalapeno link.

Chehaw Zoo is a very small zoo, with about 85 different species. But, the enclosures are large and open and the different animals have space to move around, hide if they want to, get away from the crowds if they need to. The draw for me was the black rhinoceros, a critically endangered species that may not survive in the wild for much longer due to poaching. There are only about 5,000 left in the world.

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Chehaw Zoo works with many conservation groups, including the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Right now, there are only about 10,000 cheetahs in the world, and the Conservation Fund is working hard to fix that. The two at Chehaw Zoo seemed very happy, though I didn’t get a chance to see the Cheetah Run.

cp9Some of the other animals we spotted on our walk…

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I was fascinated by this bird’s head and how abruptly it erupted in feathers

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The bobcats had a very open enclosure, enabling them to climb about 30′ or more up into trees. This one was sleeping sitting up about 20′ over my head (the walkway is a raised platform).

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The meerkat enclosure was small, at least the visible part. This particular one was looking for any way to get out.

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A frog in a pond of the lemur enclosure. The lemur enclosure was huge – open air – and viewers were more enclosed then they were. Unfortunately, while we were there, they were all sleeping and looked like furry lumps.

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Colobus Monkey and baby. They were fun to watch.

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The zoo had the biggest alligators I have ever seen in a huge open swampy area where the people were confined to a raised walkway and they were not. That 800 lb. gator recently killed in Florida? I’ll bet there were at least three here that would rival that one.

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I love camels, as long as they aren’t close enough to spit on me. These were almost that close but seemed good natured. This is the first time I remember seeing two hump camels (bactrian).

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Chameleons are so cool. The skin texture, the colors, the way they move…

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There were also Kangaroos, emus, wolves, snakes, various birds, and a petting zoo. The walk around the grounds made for a very pleasant afternoon.

Chehaw Park also has a very large frisbee golf course, a lake one can fish in for free, lots of walking and biking trails, a huge kids playground, and a bmx race track. If we had had more time, we would have stayed a while longer.

 

Turning North – Eastbank

Spring is here! Of course, it took three days of rain to see it. We arrived around 2PM on Thursday and it started raining around 6PM. And it didn’t stop until Sunday evening. This blew our plans for kayaking and fishing but we had a lovely site with a beautiful view so we didn’t mind too much.

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The view towards the campground from our campsite, #3.

 

Eastbank is an Army Core of Engineers campground on the banks of Lake Seminole.  It has large, mostly level sites that will hold any kind of RV. The sites come with water and electric and there is a dump station within the grounds. The lake itself is listed as one of the best places to catch large mouth bass in the state of Georgia and it is pretty easy to launch a kayak from most sites. Some sites even had small motor powered boats tied up next to shore.

The campground is closest to Chattahoochee, Florida, a small town where one can get a few supplies but not much else. We did a bit of driving around the area to keep cabin fever at bay and have one suggestion: stay off the back roads during heavy rain. Most of the back roads were clay. Deep red clay that sticks to tires and turns them into slicks. While we didn’t get stuck we did a fair amount of sliding around – even four wheel drive doesn’t help much in soggy wet clay. Our GPS routed us on these roads and we were thankful we figured it out before driving on them in the short bus. We would have been stuck for days…

When the rain finally broke, the wildflowers came out. They were the tiniest flowers I had ever seen, each the size of a babies finger nail. There were thousands of them and I could have spent hours getting pictures. To get them, I used my 100mm macro, the only thing I have that can focus closely enough to have these tiny flowers fill the frame.

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Once the rains were gone, the sunsets were beautiful. But we only got to enjoy two as we needed to head north.

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the view from our campsite

We had to change our plans. We were supposed to go to Savannah to spend a few days visiting with friends and family, then on to Charleston for some good low country food. Due to a death in the family, we needed to reroute to be in Maryland by April 15 instead of May 5. It wasn’t too much of a strain – we only had one reservation booked until June. We looked at the routes between Eastbank and DC and the shortest was right through the foothills of Georgia and South Carolina. Since we hadn’t spent much time in the area at all, rerouted our path north.

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Myakka River

We didn’t plan on being in Myakka River for the week. Our original plan was to go to Peace River Thousand Trails or the Escapees Resort in Wauchula for a couple of down days. But someone else canceled their reservations in Myakka River State Park so we jumped on it. We had no expectations for the park and really didn’t know what was there. We just weren’t ready for an RV Park and the thought of exploring another of Florida’s wonderful state parks overwhelmed our desire to get some laundry done. Turns out, it was a great choice and we even got some laundry done.

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Myakka River State Park is huge. It has three campgrounds, a river run, a lake, and miles and miles of trails for bikes and feet. There is a boat tour, a tram tour, a restaurant, two stores, a tower – probably even more that we didn’t get a chance to discover. The three RV campgrounds have distinct flavors: the full hook-up, open aired, gravel sites of Palmetto Ridge; the W/E dirt sites near the dump station of Old Prairie; or the tighter, W/E dirt sites under the trees near the lake of Big Flats. We booked into Big Flats, not having a choice due to the fact that it was the only spot available. While the site itself was extremely small and we had no satellite and barely any cell phone, we grew to enjoy the site’s location.  There was wifi at the store not more than 200 yards away and, in the evening when the day trippers left, it was pretty easy to get things done. There were also washers and dryers at Palmetto Ridge and Old Prairie so we got our laundry done.

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The view from the tower

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the canopy bridge at the tower

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one of the nearly endless number of walk/bike paths

We spent a few days just wandering the trails of the park. They ranged from wide open paths large enough for a car to bushwhacking-necessary animal trails through ankle deep water.

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The hikes can be as easy or as difficult as you like. One of the motivators was the huge number of geocaches located here. It didn’t hurt that Leap Weekend was happening and we had access to all geocaches (not just beginner) listed in the app – probably over 150. While we only managed to find 30 or so, we had a great time doing it.

One thing we didn’t know, using the intro app, was how varied the caches were. While some were extremely large and easy to spot, others took time to locate. One was so well hidden we never did find it, even after twenty minutes of hunting. Just an FYI, the hunting was made easier as the best cell phone signal in the park was out on the trails on the north end – we had five bars on many occasions and were able to get hints when we desperately needed them.

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The trails offered a lot more than geocaching, though. There are some amazingly old and twisted trees, beautiful tropical plants typically only seen indoors (where I come from) and birds. Lots and lots of birds.

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One of my favorite trails, was marked with white blazes.

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While it wasn’t any more spectacular than the rest of the trails, I greatly welcomed following the blaze, at least for a little while.  Kind of made me homesick for the Appalachian mountains.

We never ended up putting our kayak in the water, though it looked like a great place to do so. The lake is huge and the run is open and fairly slow. We did however, eat at the restaurant and decided it was best left to times we were desperately hungry. We did, however, enjoy the ice cream and the wifi.

Myakka River was a great way to get away from the crowded coast of Florida, in spite of the huge number of day users the park attracts. There is a great variety of things to do or one can just sit back and watch the sun rise and set.

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Jonathan Dickson State Park

There were entirely too many things to do at Jonathan Dickson State Park. We tried to do it all during our six days there, but alas, we fell short. We hated to leave but, we had places we had to be…

First, the park itself. JDSP is huge. There are two campgrounds, lots and lots of walking trails, and a good river to kayak on, with both rental boats and a place to drop your own.

We stayed in the Pine Grove Campground, which has wide paved sites with full hook ups. Though it can get crowded in the center of the loops, we had an outside site (#8) where our patio overlooked what we called our ‘african savannah’ tree.  Yes, the campground is pretty bare – all the trees were knocked down in a hurricane a few years ago – but the rangers are out planting trees and shrubs with the hope they will grow. Some day it may again be a pine grove. The other campground, River Campground, is closed for remodeling. In the future, it will be our campground of choice – it still has some trees, the sites are pretty large and flat, and it is right near the river boat launch. You really can’t go wrong with either, though there is some road noise from the highway up at Pine Grove.

If you like hiking, there are probably 100 miles of official and unofficial trails here. While we only covered about 10 of them, we felt we got a pretty good overview of the park. JDSP was also our introduction to geocaching. Our motivation was pretty thin on a couple of the hotter days but, if you throw in a goal and a surprise, we can get moving pretty quick! We ended up with about 15 caches without trying too hard, and that was with the free “Intro” app. There are over 100 caches in the park, some really easy to find, others nearly impossible.

We also managed to blow up our kayak and drop it into the The Loxahatchee River. We had a few fun hours of kayaking but vowed to remember NOT to do it again on a weekend. The power boaters are mostly friendly and courteous, but every once in a while, you run into a ‘hotdog’ who isn’t.

A great place to visit while there is Blowing Rocks Preserve. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, Blowing Rocks protects about a mile of Florida coastline where limestone cliffs jut out of the sand. While they aren’t the cliffs of Oregon and California, they are a neat thing to see on the Florida coast. They get their name from the waves crashing into the cliffs at high tides. We got lucky and didn’t even have to make high tide – a storm was coming in and the wind had pushed the sea inland – the waves were huge much of the day.

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We also did a little bit of wandering around the area – there are some trails back through the sea grapes, across the road, and onto the inter-coastal side.

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A great place to visit in the area is the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a refuge and hospital for Florida wildlife with great walking trails between the animal enclosures. They have a ton of various bird species among the animals and, the reason we came by, Florida Panthers. Having never seen one in the wild, I was interested in the ones they had rescued and rehabilitated. We spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around.

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We ate out quite a bit while we were there, probably because we were suffering from a withdrawal of eating out while in Ocala. Our first stop was the Shipwreck Bar and Grille. To be honest, we only ate here because the place we wanted to go was packed with a waiting line out the door. I’m pretty sure we would have been better off waiting for a seat at the other place. The second place we tried was Hogsnappers, which was fairly well reviewed. Maybe we just went on the wrong day or ate the wrong things on the menu. The sushi was okaaaaayyyyy, and the fish tacos aren’t even worth mentioning. We made it to Dune Dog, a very highly rated ‘hot dog stand’ with a great beach vibe and some pretty good beer choices. Yes, I would eat there again. Try the nachos.

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We met up with Deas and Jennifer (Nealys on Wheels) through RVillage and joined them at Tequesta Brewing. The beer was good and the conversation better, and we got to meet John and Jen, ex-fulltimers who are soon to be fulltimers again. We continued the night with The Crafty Crust which had great service, great beer, and great pizza.

We didn’t have a lot of down time while at JDSP, but we did have a great time and fell in love with the area. While we wouldn’t live there, we will definitely visit again. There is just so much to do…

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