Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Best wishes for health and happiness in the New Year!  Healing and comfort also!

The heat and humidity is still abounds as we said “Goodbye” to all our new friends and moved out of Salt Springs and headed for Ross Prairie Campground just south of Ocala in preparation for spending Christmas with D&S.  As usual, my sister has decorated the inside of their home with brightly colored trees, poinsettias, red ribbons and anything sparkly and gold!  Out front, surrounded by more poinsettias, was my favorite large white 3-piece Nativity Scene that has greeted us for the last 7 years of our spending the holiday with them!  On the front door was a beautiful, welcoming wreath and the walkway was lined with the large red bells that played Christmas music when you walked by!  Christmas Day was enjoyed by visiting with D’s son, daughter and son in law and caught up with the events of the last year!   After our scrumptious dinner we came home with leftovers to enjoy! 

Our time in Ocala was shorter this year but we did find the time to go re-explore Dunnellon, the Rainbow River and Rainbow Springs State Park. Of course, we walked the sprawling Paddock Mall, Dicks Sporting Goods and even Hobby Lobby!!

The path leading from Ocala was much more uneventful this year than last - with it’s multi stopping to cool off the overheated wheel bearings!  The “train” cruised on with only a short delay for breakfast at Cracker Barrel where we thoroughly enjoyed one of our Christmas Gift Cards! 
Marina lights and reflections

Trimble Park, just outside of Mt Dora, is one of our favorites.  And Mt Dora celebrates Christmas to the fullest!   We delayed our first trip to town till after the gorgeous coral sunset had faded and the homes along the roadway had turned on their sparkling decorations of lights.  SPFB’s for my blathering about the millions of bright lights that adorn the large marina that we pass by each time we go to downtown!  This year they even outdid themselves with all the boathouses covered in bright blue lights that reflected over the ripples on the water of the small cove.  From our vantage point you could see the palm trees, standing tall and wound around with even more bright lights.  HA!  Maybe we should have worn our sunglasses! As we drove by the decorated fence, there was a big red boat parked, with a big red Santa occupying the Captains seat.  Several reindeer were in the back seat!  A nativity completed the collection of holiday scenes.
We managed to find a parking spot on the crowded streets and strolled the busy shopping area of downtown.  The tall Christmas tree that used to be hid in a large empty plaza has been moved to the middle of a blocked off street so you don’t have to go far to be amazed by this brightly lit spectacle.  The lights still dance and change with the music!   Across the street is a 1920’s bungalow that has been transformed into a gift shop.  It’s covered with lights and decorated in a gingerbread theme!  Down the hill is the public marina so you can see and hear the tree from the waterfront!  The shops that line the narrow streets are outlined with more lights and all the small trees that dot the sidewalks are draped with even more white lights!  We really should have worn our sunglasses!

So, we’re parked in Trimble Park now for 2 weeks to enjoy the scenery and make more new friends.  Stay tuned, dear ones and we’ll share our adventure with you!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ocala National Forest

"Back in the forest again!”  Sounds like a Gene Autry song.

 Most things are the same - kayaking with the manatees, swimming and snorkeling in the beautiful spring with the always moving school of silver-sided mullet, riding our bikes and walking up to the office to borrow wifi.  The campground area is still dotted with long needled pine and live oak draped w/long strands of web like Spanish moss.  There are still bears in the neighborhood but we haven’t seen any no matter what sandy forest road we explore.  The park is getting fuller with a plethora of motorhomes, oversized vans, 5th wheels and trailers - with the usual population swelling on the weekends and empty spots opening up once more on Sunday afternoon.  The closer we get to Christmas - more of the rigs are beginning to stay.  Folks from Ontario, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Connecticut!  Even Montana and South Dakota!  What’s changed is that the local grocery store is closed so there are no more tasty hot chicken livers for us to get our fill of!

In our wanderings we’ve headed north to Palatka for H to shoot skeet at the Palatka Skeet Club.  On our first venture, H shot with a trio of new shooters, one of which was a BRAND new shooter.  H stepped in to coach her on her unsure stance and awkward handling of the gun. By the time both rounds were over, she was doing much better and even hit some of the bright orange disks as they flew across in front of her!  On the next Wednesday, he joined in with a fun foursome of seniors whose group name was –“Blind, Deaf, Infirmed Skeet Club”.  Their official uniforms were black tees w/HOT pink printing!  They must have felt that H qualified for those 3 requirements, because they made him an honorary member!  To make it really official we were also invited to join several of them for lunch at our new favorite restaurant- Corky Bell’s. 

On our 1st trip to Corky Bell’s, we enjoyed our deviled crab & shrimp lunch out on the large terraced deck so we could take in the expanse of the St Johns River.  A bonus thrill was when an eagle flew over and landed on the dock next door!  We also noticed a new addition to the deck area - a large PVC pipe that extended from above the railing to down under the water level far below.  We learned that when bass tournaments were held there, the live captured fish were released back into the water via that long tube.

One day of exploration led us to an RV Show that was listed as being huge and free – and was at the Daytona International Speedway.  Obviously we don’t need a new RV but it was at the SPEEDWAY and neither of us has ever been to the speedway!  There were a lot of rigs at the show but they were all from one dealership and the show was in the parking lot and not inside the racetrack as we had hoped.  Those grandstands are HUGH! 
As long as we were in Daytona we made our way to the beach to walk the boardwalk and shop a few tee shirt shops!  No driving on the beach this time tho – the entrance gates were staffed and fees were being collected.

On yet another day out on the road we ended up in Sanford – SE of the forest.  As usual we checked out the marina area and even got in some Christmas window shopping at the brightly decorated, busy, sprawling mall.  On the way home we finally stopped to see the landing area for the Juniper Springs Canoe and Kayak Run.  We had been invited to kayak the run with a group of neighbors in the park but the trip was going to be 6 hours of narrow, very shallow congested paddling.  They were going to transport us and our kayaks along with theirs and then we all would paddle back down to the landing where the truck would be parked.   However, 6 hours is a very long time for us to be captive in the kayaks so H graciously declined their friendly offer.  The landing was very well staged and had an appropriately placed slot to slide a kayak into for easy disembarking.  Also included in the landscape was a well placed sign warning about the presence of alligators!!

Our two weeks of warm sunny weather has been interrupted by a night full of rain pounding on the curved roof of the trailer followed by 2 days of cool weather and another night of cold temps.  This “cold front” has now passed and we will again see sunny days and temps in the high 70’s and low to mid 80’s.   The weatherman is forecasting 80 degrees by the first day of winter and 85 degrees by Christmas day!  Really rough, eh?

Christmas is fast approaching.  It’s time to move to Ocala. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Southward Bound

SNOW?!!?    A week before Thanksgiving and we got 4 inches of the stuff!  Sparkling white, beautiful snow!  Would it still be around for the grand start of our Winter 2015 Venture??  Would it cause a delay?  NO – Thankfully, or sadly, the gorgeous glittering wonderland in our back yard was back to drab green and dull brown by Thanksgiving Day.  Thanksgiving, as usual was held at Dave and Staci’s home and our family Christmas was on the Sunday following.  Last year, Jean and her family and Dave and his family met us at the perfect facility – Nazareth Hall in Grand Rapids Ohio (See Previous Florida Blog!) but this year we met at LaRoe’s Restaurant in historic downtown Grand Rapids.  Not a very extensive buffet but it was still good to get this part of our families together before we left for the winter again!

This year’s route south was the same as last but without all the wheel bearing problems.  Going thru Columbus Ohio, H smelled something hot and for a moment got nervous but as it turned out – it was hot brakes from a semi truck and not our wheels.  The rain that we started out with when we left Michigan was still with us when we parked for our first night out at Paintsville Lake State Park in Kentucky.  Bud and Carol parked in the spot we had last year and we parked right across the little campground loop road.  The memory of all the ups and downs of US 23 must have faded from our minds, but we prevailed and crossed Tennessee, Virginia and entered the bad roads of North Carolina, thru Asheville and down to Strausberg where we parked in the mud at Cunningham’s RV Park for the next night. 

In Virginia, H made an executive decision and turned off the highway to stop and see Natural Tunnel State Park.  After a short winding narrow road we reached the dome of the small state park and got out for a well-deserved chance to stretch our cramped legs.   While H and I had been to this amazing little park a long time ago, B&C had not and seemed amazed at the view from the top of the gorge – looking down into the gargantuan mouth of the train tunnel below.  On our last visit, H and I rode the ski lift down into the valley to stroll into that mammoth opening in the mountainside.  Before we climbed back into our vehicles, C and I climbed aboard a festive looking bright green steam train engine that had been in the park since 1996 and pretended to wave to imaginary well-wishers.          

In Savannah Georgia, we parked for 2 nights in Skidaway Island State Park.  It was easy to park our collective wagon train since all the campsites were large half circle pull thru’s.  We had all been to this historic town before so we just enjoyed refreshing our memories and strolled in and out most of the intimate little shops that are still nestled below the shops on the main road level.  Then, poor Bud had to follow H’s directions as he tried to steer around the small green parks that were hidden among the city’s quaint antique homes.

From Savannah to Jacksonville Florida, our route detoured out onto A1A and Amelia Island to stroll the busy holiday decorated streets of Fernandina.  As in Savannah, it was cold and windy near the waterfront but as we walked and shopped further inland we were able to get a bit warmer.  Of course, I had on my eclectic collection of patches jacket and several folks stopped to ask or comment about it.  One shopkeeper lady was so impressed with my jacket that she even handed me a circular white patch with the Fernandina Lighthouse on it with instructions that I should affix it to a hat since there was no more room on my jacket!

Finally arriving in Jacksonville we fought our way thru all the cross-town traffic to park for 2 nights in Abbey Hanna Park & Campground.  The following day’s choice of exploration was lunch at Singletons Seafood in Mayport before heading farther down A1A to St Augustine.  H felt the cheapest place to park was the parking lot for the Castillo de San Marcos Fort since at 5pm the parking there would be free AND it was close to Old Town.  Out on the lawn of the fort were 3 sets of costumed soldiers – Old Spanish, English Red Coats and Old Floridian.  As we shivered in the cold wind, they proceeded to demonstrate how they loaded and then shoot several rounds with their temperamental muskets.  As long as we were there at the fort, and had our Eagle Passports, we chose to tour the big stone structure once more.  In and out of the small cave-like rooms we went, and then up the wide steps to the 4 diamond shaped bastions with the wide protected walkways still lined with large black cannons.  We did our own walking tour of old town, took a hot chocolate break, toured the interesting museum of dug out canoes in the restored Government House.  The nice ladies there even let us sit for a while, out of the wind, in their little courtyard.  We tried our best to wait till dusk for the lighting of the trees in the park at the end of old town but the cold got the best of us and we voted to head for home.  In the warmth of the car, we enjoyed the Christmas lights on A1A instead!

In the morning, it was time to go our separate ways – B&C followed I 95 south to reach their winter parking spot in Lake Placid and we took US 17 down thru Palatka to our 2 week home in Salt Springs

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Niagara Falls

The trailer is still in the driveway and is half packed for Florida.  However – the truck is in the body shop and the insurance company has issued a rental car that happened to have UNLIMITED miles AND gets 40 miles to the gallon.   You know H cannot resist putting miles on a vehicle that gets that kind of mileage – especially when it’s not his!

Niagara Falls, here we come.  It had been a long time since we’ve visited and on our last few trips, the falls were covered with sparking ice and snow! This time the sun was shining and temps in the 50’s.  The traffic was not too bad until we reached Buffalo NY where we missed our turn and ended up winding around thru downtown.  We caught back up with Rt 190 that zoomed along the eastern edge of Lake Erie and headed north once more to Niagara.  Lodging was secured at Motel 8 and we quickly made our way to downtown Niagara Falls to refresh our memory and tried to determine what had changed.  The indoor mall with the greenhouse attached was gone and the state parks that line the American side are in the process of being upgraded.  Parking was free the last time but even in the state parks the fee was $8 and up!   By the time we drove out onto Goat Island and wound thru the construction areas to find the falls overlooks, the sun was setting and the twinkling lights across the river in Canada were sparkling against the dark buildings and ever darkening sky.  The colored beams of light began to shine on the misting waters as they plunged over both the American and the Canadian side of the falls.
Lockport NY

Tuesday’s weather was threatening rain so we had our coffee and breakfast and headed out to explore.   In one of the books we had picked up was an article about Lockport and the remnants of the Erie Canal and the restored historic locks that were right in the middle of town.   Cobblestone buildings still surround the deep canal and are well preserved.   On to our next point of interest before the rain got any heavier!  We headed back northwest to where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario.  There we found Fort Niagara and the 3 flags she flies – one for each of the countries that claimed ownership at one time – England, France and America. The rain was coming a bit heavier now.  We missed the turn lane for the bridge to Canada, and instead, ended up enjoying a scenic ride south along the tall cliffs of the Niagara River with stops at the Devils Hole and the overlook for the huge power dams that line both sides of the river.  On south we found the Whirlpool and it’s swirling waters and finally got the correct lane for the Rainbow Bridge and Canada.  Our passports were ready!  The gentleman at the customs booth gave us directions to reach Niagara on the Lake and once again found ourselves on another scenic (albeit wet) road that skirted the western edge of the swift river below.  Back up on the coast of Lake Ontario, Niagara on the Lake is still the pretty little town that we remembered – just way wetter!  We did manage locate the Canadian Fort George that matched the fort on the American side.
Niagara on the Lake Ca.
 Time was running out and we wanted to be able to see the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side so we set the GPS to get us back down to Niagara Falls.  By then it was raining so hard that at times you could not even see the falls.  Traffic was getting hectic and the roads were dark and swallowing up all lights – except the headlights that were aimed at us!  One more slow drive along the park that border the falls and I was delegated to quickly jump out and snap whatever pictures that I could get, in spite of the “No Stopping” signs that were painted in the curb lane.   Enough! – time to head back over the bridge and find our home for one more night.
Wednesday we reversed our route and headed back south thru Buffalo, making all the right turns this time and easily found I 90 West.  We exited it again at the Pennsylvania border to enjoy a slower pace of traffic and enjoy the small towns and the views of Lake Erie.  Back on again at the Ohio border, but we detoured once more to follow Rt 6 thru downtown Cleveland and then on to Sandusky Ohio.  We endured rain on and off thru New York and Pennsylvania but the sun was shining when we reached Rt 2 that led to Toledo and home.

The very next day the winds picked up and hit gusts of up to 50 mph.  Now that that has passed, it’s time to get serious about finishing up the mowing and cleaning up leaves and getting everything secure for winter.  Time to finish packing the trailer!  I better not forget the sewing machine!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Color Tour Part 2

View from welcome center

Another cool cloudy day arrived but we were not afraid – we had places to go – things to see! We drove up and around Tioga once more, past the manicured green lawns that covered the dams that divided the two reservoirs.  Our first stop was the Pennsylvania Welcome Center on Rt 15.  The sprawling brick building sat high on the hill that overlooked the small town, the massive dam, the two end to end bodies of dark water, the high banked sides of the weir that kept the acidic water of Tioga lake from entering the waters of Hammond Lake and the campground nestled on the velvety green and gold banks in the distance. 
Wellsboro Pa.

Back in the truck we drove down and thru Mansfield and turned right and headed west to find Wellsboro.  When you walk the quaint streets of downtown Wellsboro, the feeling that you have stepped back in time slowly covers you.  On the main thoroughfare, gas lamps in the boulevard flicker just like they did 200 years ago.  Surrounding their black wrought iron bases were tall corn stalks with bright orange pumpkins at their feet which set the mood for the Mid October day.  On the sides of the wide street were well cared for and preserved buildings – like the 1939 Sterling Diner car that sits on the corner of Main and East Ave. – or the 1921 Arcadia Theatre, - or the Deane Center for the Performing Arts, - or the Dunham Department store.  The town is also known for it’s Dickens Christmas but we can’t stay here that long!
Grand Canyon of Pa.
Wellsboro is also called the starting point for the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.  Our last visit was in the summer and was from the seat of a motorcycle.  As we drove the winding narrow blacktopped road this time, neither of us remembered any of it!  As we descended from the truck and approached the deep, wide gorge – we realized why.  We had been on the opposite side of the canyon!  Whether it was because it was now fall and the colors were so very vibrant, we both agreed that this east rim at the Leonard Harrison State Park was the best side to enjoy the view of the valley and Pine River far below!  I couldn’t stop taking “one more” picture from each new step and each new angle of view!  Ohhhs and Ahhhs also abounded!
Morning fog lifting

Then came the foreboding weather forecast that hinted of the winter “S” word!   Rather than be involved in inclement weather that far from home – we chose to pack up and head towards the west and closer to Michigan.   One mile led to another and we crossed the Ohio-Pennsylvania line.  Our first attempt to stop for the day ended up with us being turned away from a full campground.  On a THURSDAY?   In October??  Yes – because it was an OFFICIAL Halloween weekend!  Needless to say it was well after dark and in a drizzling rain when we finally backed the train into an empty site in Findley State Park just east of Norwalk Ohio.  Holding the flashlight high and shining it down onto my white baseball hat, gave H a good target to aim for when he was backing up in the pitch-black darkness!

Findley State Park occupies 838 acres of thick woods, complete with hiking trails and a small lake and is just 2 miles south of yet another quaint historic town – Wellington.   On our way home, the road choice was the Norwalk bypass or business route 23 thru the heart of this small town that we had been passed a million times but had never been “thru” it.  Thankfully the truck wheels were kept straight and we even managed to find a parking spot long enough for us to park on the main street in bustling downtown.  Historic downtown Norwalk is home to Berry’s Restaurant which was established in 1946 and is still owned by the same family.  The present restaurant is part of the original St Charles Hotel that was built in 1867.  One of the dining rooms was once a confectionery store, one was a cigar store and the 3rd was a Singer Sewing machine store.   Good service and great food!    The closer we came to Toledo, the darker the clouds became. Luck was with us and we skirted around the heavy bank of dark clouds as we crossed the Veterans Memorial Skyway Bridge and made the last few miles to Michigan without getting wet.

The trailer is still in the driveway and is patiently waiting for a final tune-up before getting repacked to head south in just another month.  See you then.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall color tour

I feel like I should apologize for not letting everyone know that we did take our annual July/August up and around the beautiful state of Michigan.  Things got rather hectic when we arrived back home and then after so many weeks it was just not gonna happen.  But now autumn has arrived and we’re out hunting for fall color and falls with water!  H rolled his final decision dice and Pennsylvania won!

Getting out of Toledo on a Sunday morning was easy since all the road construction was halted for their day of rest!  Rt 20 took us to Norwalk Ohio and then on to the interstate, past Akron and Youngstown.  Picturesque northwestern Pennsylvania with her small quaint towns, vibrantly colored hills and sprawling farms kept us Oohing and Ahhing at every turn.   All that rural-ness meant no gas stations and the next decent sized town was 20 some miles away when H chose to take a 10-mile side trip to visit the Kinzua Sky Walk at the SE edge of the Allegheny National Forest

The engineering masterpiece – the Kinzua Viaduct once soared 301 feet high and 2,053 feet across was once the highest and longest railroad bridge in the world.  This bridge had spanned the gorge for over a century but was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003.  Eleven of the 20 support towers were ripped, twisted and thrown to the valley floor along with all the lush green trees that lined the valley.  The Kinzua Sky Walk was built on the remaining 6 original steel towers and was opened to the public in September of 2011.  Out at the end of the reinvented pedestrian overlook is a glass floor, which shows dizzying views of the valley below. The walk out to that section of thick glass was dizzying enough for me so I did NOT venture to step on to it!  I stood near it to take a quick picture and then grabbed hold of the sturdy railing that surrounded the entire walkway!  Two other – closer to land - overlooks offered even more amazing views of the walkway and the opposite hillside still strewn with the collapsed rusty supports.  In another year the visitor center will be completed and open and filled with more history and amazing facts about the bridge and sky walk.

On to Smethport for gas and breakfast - with just a pint or two of gas yet in the tank!   Once all of our “tanks” were full we drove thru the “Mansion” district and tried to imagine living in one during their heyday.   The road beckoned and we pushed on to the Tioga-Hammond Lakes Area and the Ives Run Campground that nestled in the valleys by the two end to end reservoirs.  What a gorgeous campsite we were issued!  We sat high on a knoll that overlooked the sloping hills, the dark peaceful water below and the tall earthen dams that were built on the opposite side.  Once settled we explored by foot the sprawling campground with all of its spacious green sites, ample boat docks and launches. We even drove the “two track” path that led up thru the glowing golden trees.

Day three arrived with dark clouds, rain and wind but who cared – we were off to explore the neighboring state of New York via the nearest town of Corning and then to revisit Watkins Glen!  By the time we arrived at WG the sun was out and the hillsides were again looking like overstuffed richly colored velvet quilts!
As we approached the long, dark, narrow, damp, deep crack in the mountain that is known by the name of Watkins Glen Gorge, memories of our biking days rushed back to us.  Along with other visitors, we wound our way up along the wet walkways that hung to the sides of the crevice, past ribbons of water and crashing waterfalls.  From near the top, the widening edges of erosion from all the centuries of water that had rushed past showed how the water had washed away the sides of that once solid rock. Amazing and awesome!

The village of Watkins Glen sits at the very southern tip of Seneca Lake.  The 30-mile long, 3-mile wide lake is next to the longest lake in the collection of lakes in NY referred to as the Finger Lakes.  The WG harbor is home to a vast amount of pleasure boats – both sail and motor!  We found the public pier and the tour boat – the Strollar IV that was built in 1934, just backing out of port!  At the end of the pier was the schooner True Love!   Out past the pier were the growing dark ominous clouds of the next storm so we climbed back in the truck and headed south. We headed south 5 miles to the small town of Montour Falls to see if the She-que-ga Falls had changed much over the years.   Nope – it was still right there at the edge of the “historic” downtown, prominently displayed at the back of the little park just like she had been all those years ago when the motorcycle was our main vacation vehicle.  We laughed because the very first time we tried to find it, we had ridden ALL around the town and could not see it!   We must have driven right by it but never looked at the back of the park!  We finally drove Main Street TOWARDS the mountain – and low and behold – there it was! 

Today we revisit the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania and the quaint town of Wellsboro, which still lights up her nights with gas lamps!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

South Central Indiana Part 1

 Michiganders are Wolverines and Ohio folk are Buckeyes.  We ALL know what a buckeye is and what a wolverine looks like but what about a Hoosier?   In 1833 it was said that Indiana folks would answer a knock at their cabin with “Who’s Yere?”.  Someone else said there was a contractor named Hoosier and his laborers were referred to as Hoosier’s men.  Then there is the rumor that the pugnacious habits of some early settlers who were enthusiastic fighters would gouge, scratch and bite off noses and ears.  It was so common an occurrence that a settler coming into a tavern the morning after a fight might touch it with the toe of his boot and ask “Whose ear?”  Whatever its origin, the nickname “Hoosier” has had a lasting appeal for Indiana folks!  For more than 100 years it has continued to mean friendliness, neighborliness, an idyllic contentment with the Indiana landscape and life.  We were going there to go find out!
Brown Co. State Park

Sunday, June 14 we set our course for south central Indiana and the Brown County State Park, with a brief stop on the way for ice cream at the historic old canal town of Metamora.  Brown County as a whole is almost as magnificent as the Smoky Mountains of Appalachia with her hills, valleys, ridges and gorges, babbling brooks and waterfalls, deer, turkey and even fox that peek out at dawn and dusk!  The park is Indiana’s largest state park at 15,000 acres of dense forest, winding roads, 500 campsites and the Abe Martin Lodge.
Nashville, In.
Nashville, In.
 While based at the park we returned to walk the quaint streets of Nashville and saunter in and out of all the eclectic shops!  Out exploring the backroads down off of St Rt 446, we stumbled upon the Hoosier National Forest campground at the Hardin Ridge Recreation Area and drove thru with the approval of the folks at the gatehouse.  We picked out our 1st choice for a campsite and said we would return the next morning!  Instead of returning to the state park on the highway that we now knew – we dared venture off the well-paved and well-marked road to trek down a “shortcut” to enter the state park from the other side.  Sometimes the “road” was just a bit wider than a 2-track path.  Sometimes it went east, sometimes north, several times west and even curved a lot to the south!  It seemed like the mileage, via the GPS, kept growing instead of decreasing!  But we finally made it back to the park and we each released a big sigh.

South Central Indiana Part 2

Monroe Reservoir
Tuesday morning we moved over to Hardin Ridge and H deftly backed it into our selected site.  Harding Ridge is built high on a RIDGE and every campground loop winds along one of her thin knarly fingers.  Each site is filled in to allow some semblance of being level!  The tent sites are leveled just down and off a parking pad. Each has a view of the forest and gorge just below it.  Many marinas and campgrounds, including Hardin Ridge, cling to the edge of Indiana’s largest lake – Monroe Reservoir, which, like Cumberland Lake in Tennessee, is formed by damming up a river and letting the accruing water fill in the valleys - forming nooks and crannies for fish and birds and boaters to hide.  We did manage to locate the dam after a few attempts of meandering around and around and up and down the narrow forest roads, thru small agricultural areas with their flooded fields (thanks to all the rain the area was enduring).

Wednesday we headed further south, thru Bedford and located the French Lick Resort in West Baden Springs.  The West Baden Springs Hotel was built in 1855 but burned down in just 2 hours in 1901.  A year later it was rebuilt with a 200 foot diameter central atrium encircled with 4 floors of opulent rooms and suites, some having balconies that overlook all the splendor.  Down the road was the almost as opulent French Lick Resort, built in 1845 with a front porch second only to the porch on The Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island!  Each of these magnificent resorts has had a troubled past but are now owned by the same company and share the same name, a connecting trolley line.

Bloomington is west of Nashville and is the home of the bustling Indiana University.  NW of there is the Cataract Falls State Park.  Straddling the swollen Cataract River is also the 1938 restored red covered bridge.  The only thing that kept the angry rushing waters within its boundaries was the large sandstone boulders and slabs.   On our way back to Bloomington we used the state park pass we had purchased earlier to now enter and explore the McCormick Creek State Park – also with a VERY raging water fall that had, over the ages, dug it’s way down thru the rocks to form a deep gorge.   The stately old lodge with tall white pillars provided a tasty buffet in their dark wood paneled dining hall.  We were seated out on a long narrow enclosed porch with very large windows from end to end.  Each over sized window had a bird feeder hanging in the middle of it and the selection of flitting, brightly colored finches, woodpeckers and cardinals kept us entertained while we enjoyed our delicious meal!

Tropical Storm “Bill” had roared thru the campground all night Friday and Sunday looked like more of the same was on the way so we chose to pack up and head back north, towards home.  First, we needed to make one more stop at the Monroe Dam.   We had been wondering how much water it would take to affect the amount of water that was being released.  The picture here is one that we took earlier in the week.  By Saturday afternoon, the water level had risen to the darkened line that is half way up the stone
embankment.  The tile was half way to the top with gushing brown water and the retaining wall at the bottom of it was no where to be seen.

 An overnight stay in Grand Lake St Mary’s State Park in St Mary’s, Ohio proved to be just as soggy.  If the fields in southern Indiana were bad – western Ohio was even worse.  Several small RV communities that sit on the edge of the Maumee River had been evacuated.  Their tiny “homes on wheels” had been moved to higher ground just in time!

Maybe we should let the earth dry out for about month and then return to wandering the back roads once more.  In the meantime – I’ll go weed the garden!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Salt and Shark Free

Lake Michigan beach
The garden is rototilled and the peas have already sprouted!  Our enclosed front porch looks more like a greenhouse with all the tomato seedlings and the Red Wartything Pumpkins that are now starting to vine!   In the gardens that surround the house and dot the side yard, tulips, hyacinths and daffodils are blooming in all their beautiful colors. The Spicebush has perfumed the entire yard with its soft yellow fragrant blossoms. The Gnomes are back in their places in the “Village” under the tall Blue Spruce behind our home!

It’s been a full month since we’ve returned from Florida and H is restless!  It’s time to get on the road again!   This trip will do double duty, as the “tan train” will be dropped off in Goshen Indiana at the factory for all the repairs to be covered under its warranty.

Holland Michigan in May means Tulip Time Festival!  This delightful town
dresses in authentic Dutch costumes and is decorated with masses of bright colors each spring when the tulips bloom!  The boulevards and parks are ablaze with reds, yellows, pinks, oranges and purples!  From Sunday to Saturday there are parades, displays, gardens and shows each day!  And it ALWAYS rains sometime during the week – usually during a parade!  This year was no exception. 

During our stay, we visited Grand Haven, the picturesque town to the north where the dancing fountains entertain tourists each night during the summer.
To the south we found the Felt Mansion in Saugatuck.  The Chicago businessman, Dorr Felt invented the comptometer - the first machine to do complex calculations.  In 1919 he bought 750 acres and then built the home for his wife Agnes.  Since their deaths, the home and gardens have been occupied by a Catholic school and even a Police Training Center.  It has now been restored to its original splendor and is open for tours.  

The Felt Mansion

In Holland we strolled the grounds of Centennial Park that was temporarily taken over by a hundred white canopies of crafters selling their varied art items.  After the tents were finally gone, all the tulips were clearly visible once again.  We stopped at the “Window on the River” Park that we found on our way to Windmill Island - the 1700’s De Swan Windmill from the Netherlands.   Like the commercial tulip farms north of town, this park was row upon row of numbered and named tulips, all blooming in their vibrant glorious colors.

In Holland we parked in the Holland State Park, right on the river that leads to “Big Red” the Holland light house that sits on the end of a lengthy pier which juts out into the wide blue expanse of Lake Michigan.  The camp hosts were neat folks who also spend their winters in Florida near Lake Okeechobee! Go figure!  It would be fun to meet up with them again!

When we packed up and moved farther south, our destination was the Warren Dunes State Park, just south of picturesque St Joseph.  St Joe is a sweet little town nestled on top of the cliff overlooking the lake. Down on the shoreline we visited the piers and parks and up on the top of the hill we strolled thru the quaint old stores that lined the one-way streets.

 While each of these great state parks is listed as being right on Lake Michigan, they are each separated from the lake by mammoth mountains called Sand “Dunes”!  There was no way these two old folks were even going to think about climbing any of them!!   On our first day, the weather was wet and cool.  The vast ocean of crystal blue water called Lake Michigan was shrouded in a dense fog sent over the lake from Chicago and Wisconsin!  The next day tho, the weather had cleared and the lake was once again spectacular!   Florida beaches are beautiful but there is just something about the pure majesty of the Lake Michigan shoreline and beaches!! 

Our stay in Warren Dunes was made brighter by meeting 2 really cool couples from the Seattle Washington area!   David & Julieanne, Dennis and Cheryl were on their way to Nova Scotia - on their first ever-camping trip!  WOW!  What fun and what memories – both for them and for us!   H had invited them over for coffee/tea and we passed on some travel tips and places they “must see” on their way!

But our short fast trip was going to end in Goshen where H spoke with the techs at the RV Repair facility for Forest River Trailers and we unhooked and left our “tan train” behind.   We added one more stop to our trip home when H found a restored old factory complex in Goshen that has been restored to a trendy shopping center called “The Old Bag Factory”.  Our lunch was enjoyed in the Trolley Station!    We finished up our journey by heading east thru the always pretty Amish Country in NE Indiana and then home again to Michigan.

Now it’s back to work – the lawn needs mowing and the chickweed is growing!  The tomatoes and pumpkins had better get moved to the garden!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Heading Home

Our Winter Journey for 2014-2015 is now complete.  We left in the cold chill of December and have returned in the cold chill of  . . ..   March?!
When we left Florida, the trees were all leafed out in their beautiful spring greens and the flowering bushes were in high gear – when we arrived in our corner of Ohio and Michigan, the spattering of snow was trying to make things look drearier than they already were!   The world was dull – no leaves, no wildflowers dotting the roadsides and NO colors other than GRAY.  No more shorts and sandals it was now long pants and winter coats.  OH NO!

Knowing we had reached the end of the road on Santa Rosa Island in the western corner of Florida, we had no choice but to head north thru Pensacola and follow the trail to Montgomery Alabama for our first night on our long road home.  H had found the Gunter Hill Campground, which is a US Army Corps of Engineers project, located on a wide section of the Alabama River.  Further upstream the river had been dammed up which formed the wide areas of lakes and the nooks and coves when the river fills in the valleys around the higher jagged hills.   The campground was covered in brown and tans – no longer the tiny live oak leaves but the way bigger oaks and maples like you would find in the north.  The 2 camping loops faced each other across one long narrow notch of brown water.  At the end of the other, newer loop was a wooden Overlook Deck that gave a good view of the waterway that stretched out before it.
Gunter Hill campground

Up early and on the road, with the sun shining brightly, we approached Birmingham.   Between the growing volume of massive semi trucks zooming by us and the condition of the roadbed getting worse and worse, we still managed to enjoy the neat looking skyline as we cautiously worked our way thru the town.  The middle lane was bad – and the outside lane was horrid!  But we made it and H’s white knuckles slowly started to turn pink once more. 
Birmingham, Al

Henry Horton St Pk Tenn.
Then came Tennessee.  I 65 was still a bad road with uneven asphalt patches, cracks and traffic but also came the Henry Horton State Park, just south of Nashville and between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill.   Set in the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, the 1140-acre park is located on the former estate of Henry H Horton, 36th governor of Tennessee and sits on the banks of the historic Duck River.  The park has golf, an inn, hiking trails, a pool and  - - - a trap and skeet range!  Too bad it was closed.   The campground itself is going thru a renovation period.  The wiggly winding road is blacktopped but still narrow.  The parking pads are also blacktopped and long enough but in those hills – NOT anywhere near level!  While the immediate 3 feet next to the parking pad had been filled in and supported – the area around each site is definitely on a down hill run!   At the bottom of the hill behind our site was a very old, very rickety barn that housed 2 very sad looking horses. This picturesque old structure was surrounded by a moat of muck left behind from all the winter snow and sleet that the region had endured in the last several months.   While the main color in the park was still brown – tiny shoots of Trilliums were struggling to push thru the rocks, soggy leaves and dirt. 
Henry Horton St Pk Tenn.

On thru Nashville – more construction, more lane changes and MORE semi traffic!   The skyline was impressive also but there was way too much else going on to snap a picture!  Then came Kentucky – and more of the same!  Hopefully, Indiana would be an improvement – not so!   We bounced and jounced along till we could not take the battering the truck and trailer were taking and we left I 65 way south of Indianapolis.

What a relief to calm down and enjoy the rural countryside that we were traveling thru as we still headed north and east.  Indiana State Parks are open and ready for spring campers.  Hardy Lake State Recreation Area is Indiana’s smallest state operated reservoir but it has the state’s largest state owned dam.  The campground has 149 blacktopped parking pads, winterized facilities and several hiking trails.  To stretch our legs, we carefully traversed the very damp trail that led down to the waters edge and the steep boat ramp that entered it.   As we carefully made our way down the steep wet embankment to the floating dock, there was a truck pulling a boat up the same ramp.  The boat was spewing water from the two round holes in the stern.  On our way back up the now very wet ramp, H engaged the 2 men in a conversation about their dilemma.  One stream of water was the empting of the live well.  And the other - - - YEP!  – They had forgotten to put in the drain plug!  Laughingly, they admitted they realized their problem only after they were leaving the launching cove! 

Staying on two lane roads till we reached Ohio’s newly finished 4 lane I 24 we enjoyed the smooth roads and slower pace of travel.   As we approached I 475/23 the sky turned gray again and dusted the world with fine soft blowing snow.   Yeah, Welcome Home.   It is still winter in Michigan!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gulf Shores National Seashore

Gulf Shores National Seashore is the 2 protective barrier islands that protect the eastern edge of Mississippi and the western panhandle of Florida.     It was foggy as we left Topsail Hill and slowly crawled thru the growing throng of cars starting to fill the streets in Destin and groups of teens already heading to the beach.  In Navarre we turned south and drove out onto Santa Rosa Island and Navarre Beach.  Between the small beach towns were the open areas of foggy white dunes and struggling clumps of sea oats.  Wind blown sand edged out onto the roadway as we entered the vast emptiness of the National Seashore.  Six miles inside the boundary sign we finally reached the campground check-in building.   Once settled, H lost no time in wanting to get out and explore – after all – we’ve never been here before!   With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Pensacola Bay on the other, this long narrow band of sand at the end of the island encompasses the restored Fort Pickens and its adjoining buildings and (of course!) fishing pier.  Fort Pickens was built between 1829 and 1834 and used until 1947. Interesting facts about the fort include: it took over 21.5 million bricks and was built by slave labor brought in from New Orleans.  Union soldiers manned Fort Pickens and the Confederate soldiers held Pensacola on the mainland during the Civil War.  In 1884, Geronimo was held prisoner there.  The one corner of the fort was destroyed when a fire began in the warehouse area reached a black powder magazine that contained 8,000 lbs of powder. The explosion showered debris 1.5 miles away! 
From the fishing pier you could easily see the opposing shoreline and see the large gray hulk that was some kind of Naval vessel, and to the left a tall black stack that could be a lighthouse.  In that dark shoreline silhouette we knew there was the Naval base, the National Naval Aviation Museum, another fort and the town of Pensacola!  According to H’s GPS, the Naval Air Museum was 1.9 miles from the campground.  By road it was 25 miles!  On the way, we passed thru “historic” downtown Pensacola and paused in the waterfront park to wonder at the large red ocean vessel that was tied securely to the dock.  It was the Boa Deep C – an ocean construction ship registered to Norway!

 Four of the famous Navy Blue Angel jets still hang high in one huge glassed in atrium in the museum and the collection of over 150 airplanes and exhibits still shine and look new. A whole new Hangar of planes has been added since we visited last!  We were extended an invitation to experience being on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier - complete with the wind, the smell of jet full and the roar of  helicopters and jets landing and screeching to a halt with the aid of one small hook and one REALLY big rubber band!  All from the comfort of a theater seat!  
Near the Museum we found the 1859 Pensacola Lighthouse with its tall black stack atop the white base and the well-preserved keeper’s house nestled by its side. After touring the vast collection of airplanes in the Naval Museum we were both too pooped to even think of climbing up in that lighthouse!  

Just a short way down the road was the next on our list of places to explore. The 2nd of the 4 forts in the area – Fort Barrancas, was built between 1839 and 1844.     From this fort you could the white sand that outlined the edges of the tip of Santa Rosa, the dark bulk of Fort Pickens, the white houses that are home to the out buildings and museum and the trees that sheltered the cozy loop of campers in the campground-behind the ever present, protecting dune!

Since we’ve literally come to the end of the road – the realization that we have no choice but to head north towards home has set in.  Across the wide spance of the 2 bridges to the mainland, we maneuvered thru Pensacola to Ft Rt 29 and then Rt 31.  From then on it was Interstate 65 in the northbound lane.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Florida Panhandle


I feel like we’re going backwards!  And I keep saying: “ the last time we were here” or “See Previous Florida Blog”! We’ve come down thru Alabama to the panhandle before and worked our way around and then over to Ocala.  We’re doing it all in reverse – Chiefland and the “springs” state parks and now up and around the “big bend”, thru the deep woods that feels just like Michigan.  Past the signs for Wakulla Springs State Park where we met Dick and Sharon the year we went to Texas!  Past the road to Tallahassee where we toured the capitol building!   We even stopped in Apalachicola to stretch our legs and revisit the quaint 1880 shops, fishing docks and parks. 

Cape St. Joseph State Park
 And now Mexico Beach!  This small beachfront town has added a few more tall 2 and 3-story, pastel houses that stand at attention on their stilted supports behind the dunes that line the white sandy beaches.  There are a few more shops and seafood eateries and there were more folks on the beach by the fishing pier that still stretches out into the blue green gulf.  Rustic Sands RV Resort looked a little different – there were no cute inflatable Santa Claus in a bathtub or his sleigh and reindeer or any other Christmas decorations this time!  Remember - We were here on our way down in December before.   On our day out exploring we wandered back along Fl Rt 98 and then out onto Cape San Blas to the St Joseph Peninsula State Park.  It was a long thin strip of land with a quiet cove and small harbor with a boat launch and small store.  Across the bay you could see the mainland and Mexico Beach.  I “earned” my state park patch when we walked the beaches, and explored the back roads of the park but the campground roads were way to small to navigate comfortably if we had been pulling a trailer, so we won’t return.

It’s Spring Break in Florida.  Finding a campsite anywhere along ANY coast in this state is now hard to come by.  We were hoping for either St Andrews State Park at Panama Beach or Henderson State Park near Destin but both gorgeous parks were full.  Topsail Hill Preserve used to be a RV Resort but the state took it over several years ago and H got us 2 nights at the last moment!  Just what we needed – 2 nights!  Well groomed, yet woodsy, each campsite had full hookups plus cable, a white globe yard light, cement pad and a patio. The main park areas included several small fishing lakes, a swimming pool, Camp store, gazebo with wifi and Azaleas!   A half-mile winding, narrow blacktop roadway led to the dunes that always border the beautiful Gulf.  Only bikes or those who chose to walk or the campground shuttle were allowed on this road.    The first time we ventured down this way, it kept getting colder and colder and foggier and foggier, the closer we got to the dunes.  Sea fog had rolled in!  It gave an eerie white glare to the entire sandy scene – or was it really snow?  Later that day the sun had burned thru it and the sky was now a bright deep blue reflecting off of the pale blue green sparkling water.  The last remnants of any fog were just a puff in the distance.  The gentle waves and rippled sandy bottom made a dancing kaleidoscope on the water.   Splashing thru some deeper areas we reached a shallow ledge and played like small children on holiday instead of two old retirees with bad backs and bad knees!

Destin was 12 miles to the west.  8 years ago this was a small seaside town with a quaint little harbor area that had the neatest lighted boat parades at Christmastime!  They still have the parades, however the harbor has turned into an entire
Destin Fl.

shopping mall - complete with entertainment, a light house, bars and restaurants.  There are now 2 tall towers for zip lining from one end to the other and lights are strung everywhere.  The boat docks are still gaily lit and the condos across the waterway shine in the setting sun.  And then there’s the traffic!

We’ve only got 2 more days on this gorgeous “Emerald Coast” before we must head north.  We are going to go to the very end of the road before we must go tho!  It is a long way from Topsail to Ft Pickens campground in the National Seashore at the end of Santa Rosa Island.  It might take all morning to get there!