Our Quick Tour of the South (November 10 – December 1, 2016)

As we reached mid-November we realized it was time to head south to avoid the onset of winter. We had originally expected to spend over a month in the South but, when Phil was offered another two-week consulting assignment in Malta beginning on December 2nd, we decided to park our rig in Nashville while he was gone. That gave us three weeks to do a quick tour of the southern states.

Our first stop was for four nights at Falls Lake State Recreational Area five miles from Durham, NC. Phil had booked the reservation online. There had been no pull-through sites available and no campsites with sewer hookups. Phil had relied on a campground map and a head-on picture of the site to make his selection. When we arrived we immediately became aware of the challenge we were facing in trying to back our rig into the site. The site had been listed as 100 feet deep but, in reality, it was only about 60 feet deep before a six-foot drop-off to a 40-foot picnic area. The online picture was somewhat deceptive in that, what had appeared to be a fairly wide campsite, was actually two campsites. The entry road to our site was one-way, opposite of the direction that would have made for an easier approach. Fortunately the campsite across the road from us was not yet occupied so Phil spent a great deal of time pulling into that site and then trying to figure out how to angle our rig backwards into our narrow slot without hitting any of the surrounding trees. After numerous attempts had gotten us fairly close, a neighbor came by and finished the job for us. The sun was setting as we completed our setup.

The following morning we were able to explore our surroundings. Our campsite is a short distance from the lake and, after our neighbors left, we had a straight shot of the lake from our living room windows. We walked down to the fishing pier and then hiked around the campground.

Fishing pier at Falls Lake SRA

Although the scenery was beautiful, there were a couple of downsides to staying in a state park. First, we were limited to a 30 amp electrical hookup. During our stay we discovered that our CheapHeat furnace will not run on 30 amps. With temperatures that dropped below freezing one night, that was bad news. We ended up running our heat pump but tripped the circuit breakers several times when we ran the stovetop or the coffee maker. Second, we had no sewer hookup so we really had to limit our water usage. There was a dump station down the road but, after the challenge we faced in getting parked the first time, we were not about to hook up and drive to it until we were leaving.

On November 12th we explored Durham. Our first stop was the campus of Duke University. We strolled through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which are adjacent to the campus. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are actually a collection of gardens, consisting of 55 acres and 5 miles of pathways through the gardens. Admission was free, which we really liked. The University campus was the most beautiful one we had seen.

Our next stop was the American Tobacco Historic District. It is the former headquarters of the American Tobacco Company and covers several city blocks. The former Lucky Strike manufacturing plant operated on these premises until the 1950s. In 2001, the neighborhood became part of a major urban renewal effort and now is a thriving entertainment and restaurant area, along with the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls’ baseball stadium. Rather than tearing down the old factory, they incorporated the old with the new in a very interesting style.

On November 13th we went for a hike of the area around our campsite. That evening we walked down to the fishing pier to look at the “super moon” but it was too cloudy for a good view.

On November 14th we hooked up in the pouring rain and headed for Myrtle Beach, SC. We stayed at the Myrtle Beach KOA just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. On November 15th we walked on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk and waded along the ocean shore.

On November 16th we visited the historic town of Conway, SC. Conway (previously named Kingston) was first settled in the 1730’s along the Waccamaw River. The town floundered and its population had dropped to 100 by 1801. The town began to flourish after the Civil War with the largest industry being “naval stores” such as lumber and turpentine. Much of the present-day downtown was built in the 1900’s after a destructive fire. There are many beautiful old homes that were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as well as many very old live oaks. We got a guide for a 40-stop walking tour of Conway’s Historic Trail and visited more than half of the stops. We also visited the Horry County Museum that was quite impressive and included a wide variety of collections from the area’s past.

That evening we drove about 45 minutes south of Myrtle Beach to Pawley’s Island. We had dinner at an old dive known as The PIT (Pawleys Island Tavern) where nearly every square inch of the walls and ceilings was covered with dollar bills. Jan added one to the collection.

On November 17th we drove about 200 miles from Myrtle Beach to Camp Lake Jasper in Hardeeville, SC. The drive was primarily over backcountry roads and we were exhausted when we finally arrived at our campsite. The campground was quite nice and our site was a long pull-through with a clear view for our satellite dish.

On November 18th we drove to Hilton Head Island, SC and walked barefoot along the shore at Coligny Beach. The day was fabulous, sunny with a temperature of 77 degrees. We ate lunch outdoors at a grill a short distance from the beach.

After lunch, we drove to Bluffton, SC and walked around the historic district. Bluffton was originally settled in the 1720s. In the 1850s a streamboat wharf was built and Bluffton became a stopover for travelers between Savannah, GA and Beaufort, SC. In 1863, the Union army burned down two-thirds of the town. Bluffton is currently the fastest growing municipality in SC. In addition to admiring some of the remaining antebellum houses and the large old trees, we visited the Bluffton Oyster Factory on the bank of the May River.

On November 19th we toured the historic district of Savannah, GA via the hop-on, hop-off trolley. It was truly amazing how many of the beautiful, old structures have been retained throughout this portion of the city. Savannah was built around 24 squares, 22 of which still exist.  We took many pictures but they were only a small slice of the beauty we saw throughout the tour.

On November 20th we drove out to Tybee Island, GA and toured the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. The Tybee Lighthouse was built in 1773. It was burned in 1861 by the Confederates rather than have it fall into the hands of the Union army. It was rebuilt after the Civil War. The bottom 60 feet are the original 1773 Lighthouse and the top 85 feet were reconstructed in 1867. We climbed the 178 step circular staircase to the top of the lighthouse. Then we toured the lighthouse keepers’ cottages. The cottages have been restored, making it one of the most intact Light Stations in the United States. Many of the furnishings have been supplied by the children of the last Head Keeper who grew up at the Light Station. We then visited the Tybee Island Museum, which is housed in Fort Steven’s Battery Garland, constructed between 1898 and 1899. The museum is very well done and includes exhibits dealing with Tybee Island’s early history, military history and cultural history. Finally, we walked out to the beach and sat in a swing and watched the waves crash up on the shore.

In order to be settled down for Thanksgiving Day, we drove the next three days. On November 21st we drove 210 miles to Lake Park, GA where we spent the night at Camping World of Valdosta. The campground was previously run as a KOA but was recently taken over by Camping World. We first had to register at the Camping World store and then had our choice of campsites. The campground was fairly large and there were few other campers there so we had our choice of pull-through sites. Although we seemed to be parked out in the open, we were unable to get a satellite signal and the cable TV hookup didn’t work. Fortunately, we were able to get several channels via the air antenna. This was not a campground where one would want to stay long-term but, at $22 for the night, it provided good value for an overnight stay.

On November 22nd we drove another 200 miles to Defuniak Springs, FL, a short distance west of Tallahassee. We stayed overnight at Juniper Lake RV Campground. It was a very small campground out in the boonies and the owner met us at the entrance and directed us to a long pull-through site just off the street. We sat at our picnic table and did the registration. The owner recommended Bogey’s for dinner. We took her advice and both enjoyed some good fish. Although our site was only about 10 feet from the street, we didn’t hear any traffic during the night. This was another campground we wouldn’t stay at long-term but, for $21 a night, it was a great value for one night.

On November 23rd we finished our trip west by driving 120 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent six nights at the Sugar Sands RV Resort. Sugar Sands is a fairly new campground and is very attractive. The sites are large but are all back-ins. With assistance from one of the camp hosts, Phil managed to get backed in after numerous attempts. We stopped in the large Rec Room and learned that there was a potluck dinner planned for Thanksgiving. Jan signed up to bring a coconut cream pie and macaroni & cheese.

The amount of food for the 1 pm Thanksgiving feast greatly exceeded the crowd and we had to try most of the offerings. We had a nice conversation with another couple who have been full-timing for about as long as we have. After the meal, we returned to our rig and were too full to do anything the rest of the day.

On November 25th we skipped the Black Friday shopping madness but did venture out to the Wharf, a small shopping and entertainment center on the edge of a marina with some beautiful yachts. That evening, Jan’s friend / former co-worker and her family, formerly from Camden, TN and now residents of Gulf Shores, came to visit us and we had a good time catching up.

Shane and Carol Ann Snider with Jan and Phil

On November 26th we drove to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and hiked a couple of trails. First, we hiked the Pine Beach Trail (4 miles round-trip) from the parking area to the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The trail is unique with a saltwater lagoon on one side and a fresh water lake on the other. We also hiked the Gator Lake Trail (2 miles round-trip) but fortunately did not encounter any gators. Both trails had long sections of loose sand that made for strenuous walking.

On November 27th we visited the Fort Morgan State Historic Site. Fort Morgan, built between 1819 and 1834 on the Gulf Coast at the entrance to Mobile Bay, was designed to protect Mobile, AL from attacks by foreign enemies. The fort was held by the Confederacy from 1861 until a major Civil War sea battle in 1864. After the Civil War, the U.S. Army operated the fort during the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. In 1947, the War Department deeded the fort to the State of Alabama for use as a historical park. Unlike most historical sites, the fort has been left largely intact and enables visitors to climb over and through the massive fortifications and artillery batteries.

Later, we visited The Hangout, a large dining and entertainment complex overlooking the beach in Gulf Shores. We both placed our written wishes in the Wishing Wall.

On November 29th, we began our trip to Nashville where we would park while Phil took on a two-week contract job in Malta. Our first leg was a 180-mile drive to the Montgomery South RV Park in Hope Hull, AL. The campground was rather basic but our site was a fairly level pull-through that was very convenient to the interstate. Shortly after we set up, Phil heard from one of our neighbors that a severe storm was headed our way. The local TV station confirmed that there were currently tornados in Mississippi and that the storm front was going to hit our area the following morning.

On November 30th, we woke up early and got on the road quickly in an attempt to put some miles behind us before the storms hit. We managed to get nearly two hours into our trip before a torrential downpour forced us to stop. Fortunately we were close to an exit when the storm hit and managed to pull into a gas station parking lot. We sat for nearly an hour until the worst of the rain passed. We then continued on our 240-mile drive and eventually the storm passed entirely. We spent the night at the Texas T Campground in Cornersville, TN. Once again, the campground was very basic but our site was an easy access pull-through and good enough for an overnight stay. Our options for restaurants was very limited but, since it was Jan’s birthday, Phil found one that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. It was The Tennessean which is basically a truck stop. Despite that, the food was very good and had very large portions. In fact, we were so full that we ordered pie slices to go for a later dessert.