Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “wildlife”

Have you ever seen the rain…

It wasn’t the shadowy, buried in trees, sites that I didn’t like. It wasn’t the lack of water or adequate power (20 Amp only). It wasn’t even the location. But I still came away with a bad taste in my mouth about Wompatuck State Park. Plenty of people love it; the reviews are great. We had no problems with the lack of water as we arrived with full tanks and had a spigot right next to our site. The 20 Amp power didn’t bother us as we shunted off all our 12V needs to the batteries (by turning off the converter) and ran those off solar. And the trees were kind of nice during the day when it was in the 80s. There was something else.

On arrival put out our awning as it was cloudy and we heard drizzling through the copious trees. We thought nothing about it and, after lunch, we went up to the park headquarters to scope out some hiking trails. We were prepared to ignore the warnings about a new (?) tick disease (Anaplasmosis) that people were worried about as people tend to get worried about the most unlikely things. Crossing the parking lot (the large very empty parking lot) the sound of drizzling grew louder. I looked up – no definite clouds in the sky, just a slight haze from the heat. The drizzling sound grew louder. I looked up again, towards the tree in front of me. I looked at the leaves to see if rain drops were hitting them because they weren’t hitting me. Hmmm, there aren’t many leaves. And the sound grew louder. And then I was right under the tree, looking up, and a caterpillar fell on my shoulder. And it hit me. I looked up. I looked closer. ARGH! I ran out from under the tree as quickly as I could. The sound. The missing leaves.  I looked down, trying to avoid them with each step but it was impossible.  I raced to the jeep.

“You know that drizzling sound?”

“Yeah.”

“Its not rain.”

“Huh. Okay. what is it?”

“Caterpillars. Thousands and thousands of caterpillars.”

“No shit.”

“No shit.”

Actually, there was plenty of s$%t. When we got back to the campsite, the sound was even louder – instead of one lone large tree we had about 50 on our site, hanging over the picnic table, fire pit, rv, awning, car…everything. The picnic table was covered with tiny black specs – caterpillar poop. Since the fire pit was directly under trees, there was no way we were going to cook on it. We sat on our chairs under the awning listening to the ‘rain.’ After a few minutes, I looked over at Mike. He had a caterpillar on his shoulder and two on his leg. I sighed as I wiped two off my chair. It was going to be a long week.

Wompatuck Park, in spite of the caterpillars, is a pretty nice park, especially considering the fact that it is about 15 minutes outside Boston. It is close to the Hingham Ferry, which will take people right to the historic port area of Boston. There are plenty of bike trails and hiking trails all over the park. The sites are mostly large and private and while we were there, quiet. They have bathrooms with hot water showers that were well kept. I think, at any other time of year, we would really like this campground.

We decided to make the best of it. Besides, we had tickets to the Orioles/Red Sox game and we weren’t going to miss it.

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We got lucky and a ‘friend of a friend’ not only snagged us a primo parking space for the jeep, they took us on a tour of the Green Monster.

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The Green Monster

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The view from the Green Monster.

Fenway is a beautiful ball park. It seems much smaller and more intimate for games that Camden Yards but there is a ton of stuff to do and places to eat. We probably walked about ten miles just circling Fenway to see everything.

We had excellent seats right behind home plate. For us, being from Birdland, the prices were extremely steep. I completely understand why Boston fans come down to Camden Yards to see games.

The Orioles won! We had a great time at Fenway Park and could now cross another ballpark off our list.

We really had the urge to get out of the campground during the day so we headed down to Plymouth. We saw ‘the rock’ and the Mayflower II in its home.

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Plymouth Rock. Much greater in the mind than in reality.

We also did a lot of driving around, checking out the different towns, docks, and marinas. We fell in love with Scituate, MA.  It has an incredible small town feel with a marina that is probably bigger than the town. Being only 25 miles from Boston, it would be a great town to live in (for us).

Like Narragansett, RI, Scituate will be added to our list of “towns we would love to live in if we ever move where it snows.”

We were in Wompatuck over the weekend and unfortunately, the ferry from Hingham, a commuter ferry, runs only Monday through Friday. So our plan was to head in to Boston on Monday to see the historic sites, then leave on Tuesday. Monday morning I woke up and couldn’t take it any more. The “drizzling” had entered my brain so deeply nothing would drown it out. I was on the verge of having panic attacks because the trees were closing in. So, we pulled out at about 9AM. Luckily, there was a space available for the night at our next stop, Salisbury Beach State Park.

 

 

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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.

 

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…

Ocala and Orlando

After leaving the beautiful beaches of Gamble Rogers State Park, we headed into Central Florida: Ocala National Forest. We had snagged a few days at Juniper Springs Campground in a site that offered a couple of hours of noon day sun, almost enough to keep us from running the generator. Juniper Springs is a dry camping spot though they do have water available around the campground and a dump station near the exit. Two sites in the campground will hold a rig over 35′ while a dozen will hold up to 35′. The rest are for smaller rigs and tent campers. Our site, #02, was very spacious, gave us satellite access, and about four hours of decent sun on a cloudless day.

The area itself is beautiful, offering lots of shaded hikes and a swimming hole for those hot, humid Florida days. We didn’t have any of those during our stay but the temperatures were perfect for our reason for being there: kayaking Jupiter Run.

We didn’t know what to expect on the river. From various notes across web pages, the water level would be high, forcing us to worrying about low trees and branches, or it would be very low, which meant we would bottom out and potentially have to port our kayak over the sand. As it turned out, we saw quite a bit of both. For a seven mile run, there are quite a bit of obstacles! Being lake and bay kayakers, this was a completely new experience for us. We are really glad we tried it; though it didn’t live up to expectations it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. We saw a few alligators (cool) and lots of smoke from a forest fire (not so cool) but overall, it was a great trip. And to be honest, the only let down (in expectations) was the fact that we didn’t see any sapphire blue pools to swim in. Granted, there was one back at the campground, but it isn’t the same when there are 50 people there with you.

Important to note about Juniper Run: it isn’t easy to get to the drop in point and they don’t allow inflatable kayaks. The drop in point is a good 1/4 mile walk from the parking lot. This wouldn’t be bad at all if you didn’t have your kayak with you. A very large awkward kayak or canoe. Luckily, you can use a wheelbarrow to get down to the drop point but bear in mind you need to run it back up to the start before you hit the river. This adds 3/4 mile of walking to your trip which some people might need to take into consideration before going.  And not allowing inflatable kayaks is a good thing. The Run is very remote and, if your kayak pops on one of the many downed trees or snags, you are in for a very long walk to anywhere.

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low branches

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smoke from fires!

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shallows

All in all, Juniper Springs was a great experience. It gave us some confidence in handling Florida’s Rivers. They move so slow! But, there is always something great to look at.

While we were in Juniper Springs, we ran into Jim and Laura, who were winding up their work camping time in the forest. They also have a 33C Bounder and we traded stories and updates over beers when the weather cooperated. Jim was on his way to get new lithium batteries installed so we were interested in following up with them over time to see how the batteries worked.

Between rainy days, we did quite a bit of walking – there is a short hike around the campground along a trail and a section of the Florida Trail passes through the recreation area. We also did a little bit of off-roading (Florida style) and found a couple of lakes, one of which we are sure we can get the short bus to if we are ever in the area again.

We did manage to get out to eat once, at Bubbaque‘s in Silver Spring. It was the closest restaurant we found and it is serviceable – it fed us -and well priced.  We wouldn’t go out of our way to eat there but would choose it again in a pinch if we happened to be passing through.

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From Ocala we made a short jump down to Orlando to Thousand Trails Clermont RV Park.

It was a purpose visit, as we really needed to do laundry. It didn’t hurt that the campground was free for the four nights we were there (our Thousand Trails Zone Pass). The Park is good enough for us considering the price but we really hate the site selection process: get there around 11AM and drive around and around and around until you manage to find an empty spot. Considering there are about 1000 sites, it can take a while. We headed over to the 30A sites about as far away from the clubhouse we could find and managed to get a decent site overlooking a cow field. Each day we had two visitors.

 

We also wanted to visit with our friend Marie, who lives not too far away. We had a great time meeting up with her for a walk and lunch and with she and her husband for dinner. Walking around Eola Lake was our first time every in downtown Orlando. It is a pleasant walk around a well cared for lake and the Pizza at Anthony’s Pizza is very good.

We thought about going to Disneyland or Epcot or one of the other parks, but we never got sufficiently motivated to actually get there. It is much easier to motivate me to hike, kayak, or the like, but I barely budge when being enticed with loud, crowded, hot, traffic-y places. Oh, well. there is always next year.

 

 

 

Hitting the Beach in South Carolina

We decided to leave Washington, DC on December 26. The cold was moving in and we were a little tired of the close quarters provided by Cherry Hill RV Park. The price was getting to us too, as three weeks there cost us as much as two months anywhere else.

We stopped in Wakefield, VA, down in the southeast corner, to visit a little more with family and to offload more stuff we didn’t think we would need (goodbye winter coats!). We also picked up about 25 lbs of venison, enough to keep our tiny freezer full for a few months.

At the last minute, we managed to find a site in Huntington Beach State Park for two days and Myrtle Beach State Park for three. This would tide us over until our reservations at Hunting Island State Park, probably one of our favorite parks in the Country.

This was our second stay in Huntington Beach State Park, our second favorite of the four South Carolina Beach Campgrounds. We arrived in the dark but, because the sites there are fairly open and well spaced, we had no problem backing in. While the campground isn’t directly on the beach (a short walk takes you there), there is quite a lot to do there: watching birds in the marsh, hiking the hammocks to the jetty, or visiting Atalaya, the fascinating ruins located in the park. There is enough to do there that one could easily spend a week and never have to get into their car. We did make a break for it one night though – we hit up the happy hour at Wahoo’s for half price beer and sushi on their great outdoor deck overlooking the marsh. While the sushi was only okay, the sunset made the trip worth it.

Myrtle Beach State Park is only 15 miles north of Huntington Beach, which is a problem when checkout is 11AM at one park and check in is 1PM at the other. So we stopped by Larry’s Auto Clinic for a much needed oil change. The owner is a really nice guy and they work clean and fast.

This was our first visit to Myrtle Beach State Park. We booked the last available site in which our rig could fit. While we were grateful for the space, we probably wouldn’t go out of our way to book in the park again. The campsites are tight with trees in awkward places and require work to get into. It ends up as our least favorite of South Carolina’s beach campgrounds (we visited Edisto last year and rank it third). There really isn’t much privacy and a lot of noise but the wifi is campground-wide and screaming fast, even with the park mostly booked. While there, we did manage to meet up with friends at Gordon Biersch for good beer and excellent blackened mahi mahi and burgers. We also hit up Toffino’s Italian Deli for excellent cannoli. Don’t let the exterior fool you – inside is pure New York deli with the accents to match.

We then packed up and headed down to Hunting Island State Park right outside of Beaufort, SC. We fell in love with the area on our last two trips through so the park is becoming a yearly spot for us to stop and relax. Because we booked quite a few months in advance, we got one of the best sites in the park.

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Yes, there are about half a dozen sites right on the beach. In fact, it is so close to the beach that, if there is an extremely high tide, you might get a little wet. The highest we saw the tide was +7.5′ which was just between the furthest tree on the left and the little tiny palm in the above picture – about 30′ from our front bumper. We had to back down the one way road a bit to get into our site facing forward but it was definitely worth it – we had a beautiful view in our panoramic windows and we didn’t have to risk being stuck in the soft sand like the person in the site before us (he got pulled out with a tractor).

If I could make one suggestion to anyone, it would be to visit this park! And do it soon – the beach is eroding into the ocean. A site we stayed in last year wouldn’t fit us this year – a dune had to be built in the space we used to back in. The dune holds back the sea during really high tides. Down the beach, one can find the remains of part of the forest that once stood between the beach and the marsh. But, those trees are a veritable playground for wanderers, and a nice place to set up a hammock for a relaxing day on the beach. When the park was first built, many years ago, beach houses were lined up down the coast; the last one finally succumbed to the sea. They are using groins to hold on to as much beach as they can but each storm takes away a little more of the island. For images of each site, check Campsite Photos. Keep in mind though, the images are a couple of years old. The beachfront sites might be configured a little differently than the images show.

There is plenty of hiking and beach combing to be done here. Walk to the left of the campground and you end up in tidal flats at low tide, where the river meets the sea. Walk to the right and you end up in the jungle. A short path through the woods takes you to the lighthouse. Other areas of the island hold a tidal marsh, a pier, and an area to kayak, though we didn’t take advantage this trip – it got too cold.

For food, we checked out two spots: The Red Rooster and Emily’s Restaurant. The Red Rooster is a locals place, with wonderfully fresh salads and sandwiches. It was packed at lunchtime, on a Monday even. This is the type of place we would eat once per week and never grow tired of. Emily’s Restaurant was empty when we got there and stayed empty while we were there; not sure if that was due to the time (5-6PM) or the town. The food was good – excellent taste and presentation – it just didn’t wow us. We went there to sample the shrimp and grits. The sauce was more cajun than low country and could have used a bit more time cooking down – it was closer to soup than sauce. The tapas, a simple bacon wrapped scallop, was undercooked also.  But, again, the food was good, just not up to expectations.

All in all, we had an extremely relaxing week on the beach, unwinding from the weeks of go-go-go we had done. We are ready to start a new year.

 

 

 

 

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

manatees

Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

sunset

Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

mission

Mission in San Antonio Texas

Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

jeep

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

jeep

Lost in Arizona

jeep road

The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

border stop

The US border in Organ Pipe.

creek

Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

Yosemite

Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

jeep

In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

marina docks

Newport Marina Sunset

ocean

The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

squirrel

We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Seward

The drive to Seward, Alaska, like the drives all over the state, is sublime. An incredible view follows an amazing view and, if one stopped for each jaw dropping scene, one would never get to Seward.

Seward Highway

The beautiful Seward Highway

There is one spot on the road where construction seems to be on going, but we didn’t have to wait too long.

traffic

The man had a parrot in his car. The bird must not have been happy with the traffic – he let it out to jump around.

When we pulled into town, we went right to the south end of Waterfront Park. There is one section of dry camping with not only a beautiful view, but a limited number of campsites (10) ensuring slightly smaller crowds than the huge main campground. We scored a site right on the water in the Iditarod Section – close to downtown and the Sealife Center.

Seward View

The view from my chair

There are a ton of free things to do in Seward like watching the birds:

seagulls

Seagulls chasing fish.

watching the otters:

otters

Otters doing what otters do.

Otters

Otters

driving around to Lowell Point and hiking to Cain’s Head:

road

The road to Lowell Point

Seward

Seward viewed from the road to Lowell Point

driving around Nash Road to view Seward from the other side:

Seward view

Seward across Resurrection Bay from the end of Nash Road

and checking out the old boats or the state max security prison.

ship

Large wooden dry docked ship

boat

Another large wooden boat in dry dock. Maybe someday she will sail again

Or going to Exit Glacier:

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

Or one can just wander up and down the waterfront, the small boat harbor, or downtown and enjoy a beautiful day. We did them all. Seward is a beautiful town, small and compact so it can easily be ‘done’ in a day. But a lot of the fun of Seward is in the not free stuff. We took a tour of the Sea Life Center (paid for with Exxon Valdez Money) and liked it – make sure to visit the bird room. And we took a dinner cruise to Fox Island through Kenai Fjord Tours – if we ever come back without an RV, Fox Island will be our first stop.

While we didn’t do a longer tour into Kenai Fjords National Park (we won’t leave our dog for more than five hours), we can highly recommend doing the nine hour Northwestern Fjord Tour through Kenai Fjord Tours. We did that tour several years ago and, while I don’t know if they still use the smaller (20 pax) boat, I do know that it is worth every penny. Between the glaciers and the wildlife, I was so exhausted by the end that I slept for the return trip into the harbor.

There is also fishing for salmon and halibut and we thought seriously about taking one – I love halibut. But, we have a freezer that will hold maybe ten lbs. of stuff. And it isn’t empty. If you have room to store the potential forty or more lbs. of fish, going fishing can be a great deal. For us, it would make the halibut cost about $50/lb. While the experience would be wonderful, there are many other excursions and trips we would prefer to blow our budget on.

Most of our time in Seward was spent just relaxing and watching the tide go in and out from our waterfront campsite. We got to see eagles, sea otters, sea lions, and even a whale without moving from our chairs. And while it took forever, the sunsets were worth the wait.

Sunset

Sunset from our chairs

We never woke up in time for the sunrises.

For those interested, there are plenty of over-nighting places in and around Seward. We found them on Nash Road (which also has a city campground) and on Exit Glacier Road. In both places, the views were spectacular.

View

View at pull off on Exit Glacier Road.

We completely fell in love with Seward. It is the perfect size town with plenty to do and everything one could need for every day living (we spent over an hour in the hardware store, which had everything imaginable and more). And, of all the towns we visited so far, Seward has the best boating experiences possible. It would take months just to explore the Kenai Fjords National Park by boat. We will definitely return to Seward, hopefully next time with a boat.

Portage Valley

I’m still having computer problems – I learn of a new one every day. Unfortunately, in all the fixes, I lost two days worth of pictures. You will just have to trust me when I say that the drive down Turnagain Arm is breath-taking. And the Williwaw Campground is beautiful.

We made our way down Turnagain Arm slowly enough that we were able to watch the tide receding. The difference between high tide and low tide is pretty significant. The day was perfect – warm, sunny, not too windy and so it was definitely a day to dawdle.

We stayed at the Williwaw campground in Portage Valley where for $18 a night you get a dry camping site with a view: mountains, a glacier, some water falls, and if you are lucky, a moose or a bear.

moose

Mamma Moose and two kids. It was pouring rain so shot through the windshield. Forgive me.

There are tons of things to do in Portage Valley. We went to Girdwood and wandered around, ate in one of the restaurants. We checked out Portage Glacier and the Whittier Tunnel. We went to Hope to search for a future camping spot.  But, a lot of outdoor activities were canceled on our third day as the sky opened up and rain came down. The winds, gusting up to over 50 MPH, were so bad we had to turtle (close our slide) to spare our toppers. We even ran the generator. The temperatures were in the 30s. All in all, a pretty miserable day. But, we were surrounded by mountains and waterfalls (when we could see them) so we didn’t mind too much.

In the future, if we are going to stay in the Portage Valley, we will definitely check the weather first. The Valley is known as a wind tunnel, with winds twice as severe as what is seen in Girdwood, 15 miles away. It also rains frequently there, with a climate more like Whittier’s than Sewards. There are a couple of good boondocking sites on the Portage Glacier Highway;  we will try to return to on our way back through. I still haven’t had a chance to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Hanging out in Valdez

(all images can be enlarged by clicking on them)

We are pretty sure the road to Valdez is a beautiful drive. When we first approached the mountains, we were awed by the view.

Road to Valdez

On the Road to Valdez

But clouds were moving in.

Clouds drop heading in to Valdez

Clouds drop heading in to Valdez

By the time we hit Thompson Pass, this was our view.

Thompson Pass

The view in Thompson Pass.

I’m pretty sure those are drop offs on the side, but I can’t really tell. We creeped down the road at about 30 MPH. We didn’t know where the road went and our only guide was the GPS which at least showed where the twists and turns were.

We missed Worthington Glacier. We missed Blueberry Lake Campground (where we intended to stay) so we continued down into Valdez. The further down we went, the more we could see until, finally, in Keystone Canyon, we could see the sides of the road and the beautiful cliffs of the canyon.

waterfall

Horsetail Falls in Keystone Canyon

We had no idea where we were going so stopped at the first RV Park we got to when we came into town. It happened to be Bayside RV Park where, for $44 per night, one gets full hook-ups, cable, wifi, and an in town location from where one can walk to restaurants, bars, and the small boat harbor. What we didn’t know about the place was that every evening around 5PM, the owner feeds the local eagles.

If you have ever wanted to see or photograph eagles up close, this is the place to be. We got to see three nights of eagles feasting and honestly, it is a once in a lifetime experience to have them that close in those numbers. The owner stands in the parking lot, waving fish, while the eagles start to gather. Once a few have come in, he starts throwing fish, one at a time. The eagles come and swoop down, grabbing the fish and carrying it off. At any moment, there can be four or five eagles flying over your head, some coming as close as five feet flying at about 20 MPH. The sound is, at first, disconcerting as it is sudden and loud. A note of caution: do not walk small dogs during the feeding! The eagles see small things moving and…well…do what eagles do.

golden eagle

Golden Eagle grabbing his fish at the eagle feeding.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle Flying

Bald Eagle

Eagle flying away with his ‘catch’

Bald Eagle

This Bald Eagle was a show off, staying on the ground for a while and posing for pictures. After watching them for a while, one could pick out distinct birds based on their flight patterns and personality.

Bald Eagle

Escaping with his catch.

Bald Eagle

Eagle zooming overhead. The sound of their wings was more alarming than their presence.

bald eagle

Bald Eagle coming in for a landing.

kittiwake

A kittiwake wanting fish

An Eagle sharing his 'catch' with a blackbird. Probably my favorite image of the series.

An Eagle sharing his ‘catch’ with a blackbird. Probably my favorite image of the series.

In my head, I keep referring to Valdez as Haines (yes, I talk in my head a lot – it’s safer that way). The towns are somewhat similar: water/fishing centered towns in beautiful locations. But Valdez is somewhat busier, a little grittier, and a little less tourist oriented, which is just fine with us. The downfall of Valdez is the rain. And there is a lot of it – about 10 inches a month with an average of 25 feet of snow in the winter. That’s a lot of water. And while I love looking at snow in the far off mountains, I hate living in it. And so Valdez is off our list of places to potentially one day live.

That isn’t to say Valdez isn’t a great place to visit. There is quite a bit to do here and, when the weather cooperates, there are boat and plane excursions to visit some amazing places. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t do either; one day it was the fog, the next it was the winds (gale force winds out on the sound) and everyday it was the rain.

Valdez

Harbor and town of Valdez

Valdez Small Boat Harbor

Small Boat Harbor in Valdez. On the right, behind the boats, is the hill the town is getting rid of to enlarge the harbor.

Outlet

outlet from the small boat harbor into the main harbor. Those are the mountains we rarely saw.

While here, we ate out three times. The Fat Mermaid serves pizza which looked pretty good, and fish sandwiches. I’ll be perfectly honest here – the fish at McDonald’s is better. Do not order the fish! It was small, over-priced, and extremely over cooked. I could swear my Salmon was freeze dried and then reconstituted. But the Alaskan Amber was good. Yada, yada, yada. We also had burgers at Old Town Burgers. The burgers were really good and rumor has it their fish and chips are way better than what you find at Fat Mermaid. And the prices are better, too. The Stir Fry special was okay at Off the Hook Grill. It was more Peruvian than Chinese except for the abundant use of soy sauce. Extremely abundant use. The stir fry was served over angel hair pasta so it is kind of like Chinese meets Peruvian meets Italian. Kinda. Again, it was okay, we were really hungry; but we would probably never do it again.

Valdez also has a Safeway grocery store (good and varied selection) two gas stations ($3.85G today), a post office, a museum, hardware store – pretty much anything you might need. What it is wonderfully devoid of is Walmarts, chain stores, and fast food restaurants. One thing to be aware of over this summer is the town is expanding the harbor. Right now, there is a huge mountain of dirt in their way, probably the dirt dug out to make the current harbor. Every day, four or five large trucks move dirt from the soon to be harbor to the construction dump site on Glacier Haul Dump Road. They each make one trip back and forth every half hour or so beginning at 6AM and stopping around 7PM. So there is ‘city’ noise throughout the town. If you don’t like noise, stay closer to Keystone Canyon or out at Allison Point. The public campground at Allison Point isn’t the greatest but it will be much quieter. From what we hear, Allison Point gets crowded when the Salmon run but right now, no one is there.

Up Glacier Haul Dump Road or Airport Road (which is paved) is Glacier View Park. Unfortunately, the glacier is no longer viewable from the park as it has retreated too far. But, it is a very pretty location, a good place to kayak and a potential boondock site. There were half a dozen campers there on various roads/trails between the lake and the river and a couple in the parking lot which is very large. The only problem might be the potential for blasting – there is an open gravel mine right across the small lake. But, the people there didn’t seem to mind and, while we were there, we heard no blasting.

Valdez Lake

Valdez Lake. the yellow spot on the left is a backhoe being used for mining. Behind the hill is the glacier.

Valdez Lake

Valdez Lake

In the same area is Glacier View Campground, a military campground that is now open to the public. They have electric sites and dry camping sites. The dry camping sites are set up much like a state park in that there is space and privacy between sites. It is in a very pretty location and even has a picnic area in front of a waterfall. The roads are a little rough around the campground but the prices are better than staying in town, though the amenities are less.

An interesting place to visit (and potentially boondock) is Old Valdez, the town site destroyed by the 1964 earthquake and resulting tsunamis. It is an eerie place, especially in the fog, but quiet and beautiful in the same way cemeteries can be. (Actual video of the quake) We visited the Old Valdez Museum (about the earthquake and aftermath) and the New Valdez Museum. Both were really interesting, giving an idea of what Valdez was like through its history. Especially interesting were the panels on the Wrangell Mountain Sky Boys, the first pilots of the Alaskan Outback.

Old Valdez

The old dock location in Old Valdez where the Chena was parked during the earthquake.

Old Valdez

What is left of Old Valdez

Jeep Willys

An original Jeep Willys at the Old Valdez Museum

We spent three full days and four nights in Valdez. It was cold, rainy, and foggy the entire time. It wasn’t until late in the second day that we finally saw that Valdez is indeed surrounded by snowcapped mountains but that view quickly disappeared as another cloud rolled in. But strangely enough, I actually wound up liking Valdez. It isn’t for everyone but, if it weren’t for all the snow, I could see myself settling comfortably here.

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