Friday, November 30, 2012

11/30 November Summary

November has been a strange month for me, so I thought I would summarize it.
  • First, I drove 3,486 miles, which is way too many.  This was even though I spent several days visiting relatives and being parked. 
  • Second, I drove from north of San Antonio, TX, through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky to Michigan and Ohio, and then down to southeastern Georgia.  That means I went from summer to winter and back to summer, all in one month.  That is one huge circle!!
  • I started November out in 85 degree temperatures, went to lows of 27 in Michigan and Ohio, back to current temps today of 69.  Very weird and a big adjustment!
  • Also, I have been adjusting to seeing Christmas decorations in very warm places.  Other than the two weeks in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, my “great adventure” so far has felt like an endless summer.  (Do you remember the 60s movie where they traveled the world surfing?)
I should have taken much longer to make this journey, but I had hard dates on each end and some in the middle. 
  • I wanted to spend time with other women who drive and/or live in RVs like I do.  There was a get-together with 25 women attending in a Corp of Engineering campground north of San Antonio, so I could not leave until November 3.
  • I had several doctor and a dentist appointment in Michigan on November 15-16, and those would have been hard to reschedule. 
  • I had my first campground reservation in Florida, starting December 1.  Many state parks in Florida book up 11 months in advance, so I did not want to give that up. 
  • In between those things, I had warranty work scheduled at the Fleetwood Customer Service facility in Decatur, IN.  I also wanted to spent some time with my grandchildren in Ohio. 
I had been a lot more relaxed in September and October when I was spending almost a week in almost every place I visited.  I also drove fewer days in a row. In November, there were several times when I was really exhausted from too much driving, even though I usually drove only 200-240 miles each day.  Lesson learned is to slow down and spend more time in each place. 

Tomorrow, I arrive in Florida for the entire winter.  I have never spent so much time there, but I am looking forward to the state parks and the Everglades National Park where I will be staying.  I am also looking forward to the citrus fruit and the fresh fruits and vegetables I hope I can get there. 

11/30 Skidaway Island, GA

After two long days of driving, I decided to stay here just south of Savannah in southeastern Georgia. for a couple of nights. This is a very nice state park on one of the barrier islands.  Sites are in an area wooded with pine trees and live oaks hanging with moss.  Some were pretty tight, but I found a large, level site at one end.  All sites have electric, but water is off because of a break in the line.  I was warned when I made my reservation so I made sure to come with a full fresh water tank. 

The park is about 20% full, which is more than the last few places I have stayed.  Nice to be able to see neighbors.  Also, like most Georgia state parks, there is a gate with a password and the ranger patrols all night long, so very good security.

I spent some time working through a training program for the new software the college will be using in January.  Then I walked 3/4 miles to the nature center to take a guided walk, but turned out I was in the wrong place.  I hiked back about half a mile to the trail head.  I would have been late, but no one had showed up and the ranger had lost his car keys, so he and I walked down to the tower that overlooks the intercoastal waterway, shown in the second photo.

Long walk back to my campsite.  I figure I walked at least three miles overall, and it took over two hours. Whew!  And he finally did find his keys. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

11/28 High Falls State Park, GA

Haven't done much posting lately because not much has been happening, but here is a summary of the last week or so.
  • I left my son and his family on November 20 and spent three days driving to my aunt and uncle's house in northeastern Georgia.  Stayed at a regional park just north of Cincinnati that I highly recommend (Winton Hills), Norris Dam State Park in Tennessee, and finally a lousy KOA in Cleveland, TN.  (I really dislike the cramped KOAs, but there was nothing else nearby.)
  • Terrible driving through heavy traffic on the day before Thanksgiving, but a much better drive on Thanksgiving itself.  No turkey for me, however, as I needed to keep driving.
  • GPS took me on fairly good roads through the mountains, but the last one was a real challenge with curves and a couple of very long uphill climbs.  My vehicle will do it, but the engine roars, and I hate to push it.  Was very glad to find an area to pull over at the top before heading down.
I spent four days with my aunt and uncle.  I don't get to see them very often, so it was nice to catch up on family stories.  They have a beautiful home in the Smokey Mountains, with views of the Appalachian Trail over the valley on the far ridge.

Then, early Wednesday, November 28, I headed south.  I have to be in St. Augustine, Florida, by Saturday, so that gave me three days to drive about 430 miles.  I spent last night at High Falls State Park, but no photos.  I am now in a state park just south of Savannah, GA, and am planning to stay here two nights, leaving me time tomorrow to walk on some of the nature trails they have here.  Will post photos then.

Friday, November 23, 2012

11/18 Ohio

Spent a couple of days with my Ohio grandkids.  Tried to hide the motorhome in this gated community, but it still sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb:

Watched the kids while parents went out for dinner and a movie.  They like to dance to Sesame Street videos!

I stayed the next day in a local state park and got some work done, but then we went out to dinner.  Hats are always a big fashion item:

Kids love the motorhome, so hopefully we can go camping next spring when I come back for a few days.  Next stop is Georgia, where I will spend a couple of days visiting relatives, and then onto Florida for four months in various state parks. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

11-15 Michigan

I am a bit behind on posting.  I spent two days, nine hours on Monday and eight hours on Tuesday, sitting in my motorhome in the Fleetwood customer service facility in a very chilly and windy Decatur, IN, getting warranty work done.  It was a horrible drive from Kentucky on Sunday because of the cold and very strong side winds, but I made it without incident. 

The service facility has a large parking lot with electrical hookups where people having service wrok done can spend the night.  They also have a water refill station and a dump station, which means that since all of the units are pretty self-contained, you can stay an unlimited amount of time, assuming you can tolerate the lack of scenery and the boredom of long days in the service bay.

The good news is that when you checked in at 6:00 am each day, they had a dedicated service technician assigned to you.  As long as you wore closed-toe shoes and wore safety googles, you could go anywhere in the service area, including sitting in your vehicle all day, if you preferred that over the customer lounge.  Almost all of the vehicles being worked on were the very expensive big buses, i.e. the ones costing well over $250,000.  I got excellent service, and they fixed everything I had requested (without even a bit of a complaint) plus a lot of things I did not know were broken.  I did pay for the 14,000 miles oil change and factory-recommended checkup. 

Then early Wednesday, I headed to Dearborn and REALLY enjoyed lunch with my old Ford e-Learning colleagues:

Did some shopping at Fairlane after lunch and then headed down to my campsite in Sterling State Park for the next two nights.  It is REALLY hard to find a place to stay near the Detroit area this time of year as there are only a few places and nearly all of those were closed for the season.  There were only three occupied sites out of something like 250, so it was pretty empty, but very nice along Lake Erie.  Only negative was the bites from something I got on my ankles from a brief walk to take these photos!!  I would have thought all insects would be dead and gone this time of year.

Had two doctor appointments and a dentist appointment on Thursday and another doctor appointment on Friday, then after lunch in my motorhome with another friend, headed down to Ohio to see my son and his family.

Monday, November 12, 2012

11-10 Mammoth Cave,KY

I really had not planned it this way, but I have visited three caves in the last month: Kartchners Cavers near Tucson, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and now Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  I had originally planned to stop here, but it was on my way and I needed a place to rest for a couple of days, so it worked out well.  I had been here way back in 1967 and with the kids in the late 70s, I think.

I was able to get the camphost site, which meant that I had full hookups for two nights at the senior rate.  Almost every national and state park has two or three sites reserved for campers who spend a month or even the whole season at a campground.  They get a free site in a scenic area and sometimes a small wage for doing a few hours work each week.  Many of the national and state parks that rely on summer visitors are closed or slowing down operations so camphosts are on their way to warmer places or to visit family and friends. 

Anyway, I took only a two-hour trip of the cave, and spent the rest of my day today relaxing and trying to catch up on grading papers.  Here is the entrance to the cave and going down into it:

 These last ones show some of the inside of the cave and the tight spots.  It is not as pretty a cave as the other two I visited, but it is certainly huge and very historic.


 By the way, 6 month old babies do not like caves.  One couple brought their baby, and the poor thing cried almost all of the time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

11/9 Natchez Trace - Part II

This is such a pretty parkway!  I have shown you only a few of the photos I took and just a sample of the scenery.  There are many sites with historic markers along the way, and many places just to picnic.  Overall, I think it is at least as pretty as the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I wholeheartedly recommend it.  The nice part for me was seeing Fall advance as I went north, and the fact that there was so little traffic along the way.  That made driving very pleasant!  Here are a few more photos, including one of a spectacular bridge and an overlook off that bridge.

Here is a photo of Meriwether Lewis's burial site and monument.  He died a suspicious death from a gunshot wound, but no one was ever prosecuted.

And finally, the END of the parkway!

Friday, November 9, 2012

11/7-8 Natchez Trace - Part I

On Wednesday, I started driving the southern end of the Natchez Trace from Mile 20 where I had left off the day before, which was very close to Natchez State Park, where I had spent the night.  Wednesday, I made it to Jeff Busby Campground at Mile 193.1.  Unfortunately, it was getting late (4:15 pm) and almost dark, and I had trouble finding a place to park because leaves covered most of the asphalt pads, plus they were strangely arranged, with some sites on loops off of other loops. 

I was way too tired to drive on, so after circling twice, I pulled in on the outer look where there was a big Class A bus parked.  I asked if it was OK here, and he said it was fine.  I don't like encroaching on anyone's space, but it had its own picnic table and trash can so I figured it was legitimate. 

There are no hookups or power on any of these free parkway campgrounds, so I had planned ahead and made sure my fresh water tank was full.  I had been having problems with my water pump and had even called the factory for help, but a miracle happened and somehow when I opened the kitchen faucet, I got a dribble, then a small stream, and finally a full flow of water.  Whew!  Water to flush and even take a hot shower!!  Yea!

It was bitterly cold all night and I left in the morning without taking any photos of the campground, but I am sure it would have been nice had I gotten then early enough to enjoy it.  I was worried about battery power, but they seem to do amazingly well even with all the lights I had burning and needing to power the front and back furnaces all night!

The Trace was a major pathway in the 1700s and early pre-steamboat 1800s because after floating cargo down the Mississippi, people had to walk or ride back to Nashville to start again.  It was also at one point a post road developed by the federal government to move the mail.  In some places, the Trace has been worn deep into the earth from thousands of feet and wagons.  In the second photo here, you can see how a second roadway developed next to the first one, probably because the first one had become muddy or deeply rutted.

Here are a couple photos later along the Trace where the road is not worn so deeply.  There are historical markers all along the parkway pointing out old sections of the road and ruins of buildings that were there then:

Here are some photos of the Trace parkway itself.  Lots of picnic areas and hiking trails along here.  Notice how many leaves are still on the trees.  (By the next day at the end of the parkway, almost all the leaves had gone.)

And interesting cave that had once held a spring:

Finally, I made it to Mile 185.9 to the Meriwether Lewis Campground.  This time i made it by 3:00 pm so had time to find a good spot and get comfortable for the night without hurrying.  Pretty place and highly recommending as a stopping point.  Most of the people traveling at this time of year in RVs are older couples who are retired.  A lot are going from their summer locations to warmer places for the winter or home to visit family.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

11/6 Natchez, MS

I am here for a second night, resting from my two long days of driving.  I did drive to the Natchez Visitor Center where I knew there would be good parking, and walked the mile to the downtown area.  (Visitor center said it was four blocks, but I know it was a LOT longer.) 

I was a bit concerned to pass several groups of convicts in green and white striped outfits doing trash collecting and other tasks for the city.  They did have some supervision with them, including a couple of official cars continually circling, but I am just not used to seeing these work crews.  I took a couple of photos of the Mississippi and one of the town, but none of the convicts!

Then, I drove the lower few miles of the Natchez Trace and stopped at Emerald Mound.  The Trace is a 444 miles parkway that follows an old Indian trail used by the people who used to float cargo down the Mississippi. Before there were steamboats, they had to walk back to Nashville from Natchez.  Over the years, the many feet and hooves has worm the Trace as deep as 30'.  Will drive the rest of the Trace on Wednesday through Friday, which is something I have always wanted to do.

Emerald Mound is the second largest Native American mound in the U.S. covering the space of 8 football fields and including two mounds on top of mounds. It's hard to see how big it is from the photos, but there were millions of baskets of earth moved to build this structure!

This whole mown area is the top of the mound, with a smaller mound on top of it in the distance. The last photo shows another mound on top of the mound at the other end of the long mound.


11/5 Louisiana

I drove 275 miles today from Beaumont, TX, to Natchez, MS, through the state of Louisiana.  It was interesting to see the scenery change from Texas semi-desert scrub to bigger trees and an obviously wetter environment.  It looked a lot like southern Georgia or northern Florida, except for the cemeteries I passed that had large cement slabs over each one.  I saw some where the graves were clearly on top of the ground and others slightly buried, but all had those distinctive white slabs and markers we associate with St. Louis.

It was also interesting to see signs of the South--for Stuckey's and alligator farms.  I stopped and bought some pecans on the west side of the state right after I left Texas.  I also noticed that the humidity is a lot higher because I do not feel so dehydrated all of the time.

I did not have much time to stop and take pictures, but here is the bridge over the Mississippi from the Louisiana side. I parked right underneath it near the visitor center:

Nice, woodsy campground on a small lake this evening.  As you can see, I am clearly east of the Mississippe now.  No more desert and scrub.  And as I prefer, there are a few campers here, but not too many.  Nice and quiet, but safe, with paved roads and camping pads, so not too much dirt and dust tracking in.  Dust was one thing I disliked about the desert. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

11/4 Near Beaumont, TX (East Texas)

I did not get much sleep last night, but I got up early and left Potter's Creek to drive the 280 miles to Beaumont, Texas.  Found the Einstein's Bagel shop and bought my dozen bagels.  They were SO much better than the ones I had gotten at another brand shop a couple of weeks ago and threw out!  Ate two and froze the rest in my tiny freezer.   

There was an amazing amount of traffic on I 10 for a Sunday, even between San Antonio and Houston.  Houston was difficult because of the heavy traffic and a lot of lane changes and turns getting through Houston.  Had to really watch my GPS and lane markers. 

The country west of San Antonio was mostly scrub and desert, and flat.  North of San Antonio where I stayed for five days was hilly, with bigger trees and more grasslands.  More houses, too!  As I drove past Houston, I could feel the humidity get higher and noticed that the trees were bigger.  Lot of piney woods and swampy land that looked much like northern Florida.  One sign of being in the South and out of the desert were the signs for Stuckeys and alligator farms!

I stopped for gas about 25 miles west of Beaumont and almost got swayed into following a sign that said "Beach."  Turns out I am not too far north of Galveston.  Very, very tempting, but I just don't have time now, so I listened to my reasonable self and stayed on my planned route.  I have to be at the Fleetwood factory for warranty work in a few days.  There will be other years when I can spend more time along the Texas Gulf Coast and Lousiana.

I plan to make it to Natchez, Mississippi, by late  tomorrow afternoon and stay in the same place two nights to rest up before tackling the Natchez Trace.  (Also need to get some papers graded so I can pay for this travel.)  The Trace is an ancient Indian trail and a path used by people in the late 1700s and 1800s who used to float down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, but then had to get back upstream before they had steamboats.  All of those feet, human and animal, and their wagons cut the path as deep as 20 feet in some areas.  The modern road that follows the Trace is a two-lane highway that runs 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville with not a single stop light--much like the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I drove the Southern chunk of the Trace back in the late 90s when I was making marketing trips for General Physics and visiting GM plants in the south.  It was a teaser, so I am looking forward to spending three days driving the entire 444 miles.

Got two weeks of laundry in the park laundromat, so as soon as the dryers are available, I will get stuff dried and put away.  I really need at least two weeks worth of clothing for times when it is hard to find a laundromat.  (Not only do I have to find a decent laundromat, but I have to find one with a big enough parking lot for my big vehicle.  Hard to do sometimes.)

11/3 Potter's Creek COE Campground - Women RV Get-Together

Here are some more photos of our get-together.  We went for dinner at Cooper's Old Time Barbecue in New Braunfels, TX. No frills, but very good steak. You pick out your meat, grab a potato and they wrap it in butcher paper and put it on your tray. Women shown here (except one) all drive RVs--some smaller and some bigger than mine. Brought most of my steak and half my potato home for tomorrow.

If we all look like a bunch of old ladies, that's because we are.  But all but one lady drives her own rig.  A handful have small Class Bs, which are the van conversions, but all of those women still work so they do not full-time and don't need big vehicles.  Most of the rest drive either big Class As, Class Cs like mine, or 5th wheeled vehicles.  Several full-time like I am doing.  It is nice to be able to talk about places they have gone and get campground recommendations, as well as technical advice for adapting our vehicles to meet specific needs.  (Like, how do you hang something on a wall?)

So for all of my friends and colleagues who think I am brave for doing this, here are a bunch of women who are around my age and also drive really big vehicles!  Some of them even tow cars or pickups behind their motorhomes!  I am meeting up with another bunch of such women from this forum in Florida this winter for the same kind of get-together.  A couple of people from this Texas group will be there as well. 

Leaving early tomorrow morning for east Texas and then Natchez, MS, the next night.  Not looking forward to two long days of driving, but I DID find an Einstein's Bagel shop a few miles out of here on my way out, so I will pick up a dozen of my favorite cranberry bagels tomorrow.  Yum!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

11/1 Potter's Creek COE Campground - north of San Antonio

I have been here a couple of days as part of a group of women who own RVs, most of whom are single.  Maybe 40% full-time like me and the rest travel often.  A lot of them live in Texas, but there are others like me who go everywhere and have no permanent homes.  There are also a handful of husbands and one brother of a lady who also full-times.  All drive and park their own vehicles, which are a mixture of Class As, Class Cs, fifth-wheels, and trailers.  Most of the ones who full-time drive larger vehicles for obvious reasons. 

Today, there are 21 rigs and 25 women, plus the handful of men.  We have pretty much taken over this loop of this Corp of Engineering campground that is on a fairly good-sized lake. Anyway, here is what the campground looks like: 

The really strange thing around here are the white-tailed deer.  They are the tiniest deer I have ever seen.  Here is a buck and a couple of does.  They look normal sized, don't they?  I had been sneaking up on one doe, and a man drove by and told me to look behind me.  This group had been following me! 

Except take a look at these same deer next to a motorhome.  This cab is a regular Ford Econoline.  The does are no taller than about 36 inches, and the buck a couple of inches taller.  He was a lot shyer.  Do you think he knows the park is closed and hunting season starts December 1?

We have had potlucks for the last couple of nights, and here are the women:

The deer that hang around the campground are obviously used to being fed, so they are not exactly shy.  As we started eating, the deer came in for a look. 
It got dark soon, and the lady whose site we were eating at decided to turn on her outdoor lights.  Guess who was eyeing up our picnic table?  I have no idea what they thought we could feed them.  I was standing about 6-7 feet away for this shot.

And this one was staring right into my camera, about 2 feet away from the lens.