Since we had a few weeks left before settling down in Texas for the winter, we decided to make a trip to Gulf Shores, AL. In addition to spending time on the beach, this trip will allow us to add Louisiana and Mississippi to the list of states where we have camped.
We left San Antonio the morning of November 13th and drove 240 miles to Cut and Shoot, TX where we stayed a week at the Country Place RV Park. Although our route skirted Houston, we hit two stretches of bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-10. The drive ended up taking about 6 hours. We didn’t pull into our campground until 5 pm but still managed to get set up before sunset. Although most of the other campers appeared to be long-term residents, we got one of the short-term sites. It was a long pull-through site directly across from the game room and one of the three fishing ponds. The view was beautiful and the owners were very friendly.
Phil had scheduled a service appointment for 10 a.m. on November 14th at Camperland Trailer Sales in Conroe, TX. We needed to have our bearings re-packed (a critical annual maintenance), a minor water leak fixed and the annual Texas inspection performed. So, the following morning we had to hook up and drive 10 miles to the dealer. When we were doing the paperwork in the service department, the scheduler asked Phil if he was dropping our rig off or would be waiting. Since we had Jan’s car and had intended to kill the day exploring the Conroe area, Phil told him that we would be dropping it off. We then spent the next five hours shopping at Sam’s Club and TJ Maxx, having lunch at Pei Wei Asian Diner and strolling through The Woodlands Mall. Although we hadn’t gotten a call from Camperland, we decided to return to check on the status of our service work. Upon our return, we learned that no work had been done yet. The service scheduler told Phil that they were short-staffed and he had interpreted Phil’s comment that we were “dropping off” to mean that we wouldn’t be back for several days. We later learned that this was only the service scheduler’s second day on the job. We also learned that Andy, the guy who does the annual Texas inspections, was at training that day so it appeared that we would have to reschedule the entire service for later that week. Fortunately there was an older gentleman listening in on our conversation (we now suspect he was the owner) and he intervened. He suggested that they could do the inspection while we were there and have Andy enter it into the state’s system when he returned. The inspection only consists of checking the lights and turn signals so that only took a few minutes. In the meantime, the older gentleman arranged to have one of the mechanics look at the leak. Phil had already identified the source of the leak but getting to it was a major undertaking. The mechanic spent nearly an hour removing the Kantleak panel (a misnomer if ever there was one) and wrapping Teflon tape around the leaking connection. Although the normal service rate is $100 per hour, the gentleman informed us that there was no charge for the inspection or the leak repair.
The sun was setting by the time we left the dealer and it was dark when we pulled back into our site at the campground. Phil called the following morning to verify that Andy had entered the inspection in the Texas system and to see if we could arrange to have the bearings repacked that week. The service scheduler told Phil that Andy was still out but he would leave a message for Andy to call him.
When Phil hadn’t heard from Andy by Wednesday afternoon, he decided to schedule the work to be done when we were in Hattiesburg, MS in mid-December. However, we still needed confirmation that the state inspection had been done so we drove Jan’s car to Camperland on Friday afternoon and finally got to speak with Andy. It was a good thing because Andy didn’t know anything about the inspection. The service scheduler who had performed the inspection on Tuesday still had his notes but, unfortunately, he had failed to request some of the required information such as the VIN and the license plate number. Fortunately, Andy was agreeable with having Phil call him with missing info and then emailed Phil the document confirming the inspection had been recorded in the Texas system.
On Saturday, November 18th, we attended a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner in the campground meeting room. We took a blueberry pie, baked with the last of the blueberries we had picked in Washington, and an Ambrosia salad. There were about 50 people at the dinner and, although we never did learn why the Thanksgiving pot luck was held on a Saturday, there was plenty of food for all.
On Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the cooler fall weather and drove 45 minutes to the Sam Houston National Forest to hike. When we arrived at the Kelly Pond trailhead, we learned that the trail was closed due to storm damage from Hurricane Harvey. We were somewhat relieved since we had driven 1.5 miles down a dirt road to reach the trailhead and had passed many hunter campsites along the road. The prospect of hiking so close to hunters seemed unwise. Fortunately we found another trailhead farther from the hunters and spent the next 2.5 hours hiking in the forest. Our hike began on a portion of the 96-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail but then veered off onto the North Wilderness Trail. The trail didn’t really go anywhere special but it was good to be hiking again after doing so much of it in the summer. We have no idea how far we hiked but we turned around after 1 ¼ hours and hiked back the way we came.
On Monday, November 20th, it was time to get back on the road again. Since we only had to drive 100 miles and since checkout wasn’t until noon, we took our time getting ready to go. Our trip took us through Livingston, TX so we stopped to pick up our mail at the Escapees park where our mail forwarding service is based. We hadn’t been to Livingston since November 2015 even though it is our legal address. We then continued on for another hour to the Sandy Creek Corp of Engineers campground, 10 miles west of Jasper, TX. Phil had reserved a long pull-through site for three nights and we were pleased to discover that our site provided a beautiful view of the lake from our living room windows.
We took advantage of temperatures in the 60s over the next two days to get out and explore the campground. On Tuesday, we strolled along the road that followed the banks of B. A. Steinhagen Lake. On Wednesday, we got out the bicycles and rode through the entire campground.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd, we drove 158 miles to Duson, Louisiana where we spent two nights at Frog City RV Park. We arrived at 3:30 pm and were invited to a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner that began at 4 pm. We hurried to get set up and made it to dinner in time. Since we hadn’t known there would be a pot luck dinner, we only had a jar of pickles to contribute to the pot luck. It didn’t really matter as there was plenty of food for everyone.
On Friday, we drove outside Lafayette, LA to the Cypress Island Preserve and hiked the nature trail. It was a lovely walk along the bayou surrounding Lake Martin even though it was the wrong season for seeing much wildlife. Cypress Island Preserve provides wetland habitat for a large wading bird rookery that supports more than 20,000 pairs of birds during peak nesting season (April – May). The Preserve also supports many alligators, including some of the largest in Louisiana. Between March and October, alligators up to 10-15 feet can be seen along the western edge of Lake Martin.
On Saturday, November 25th, we drove 140 miles to Fontainebleau State Park, a few miles east of Mandeville, LA and on the northern coast of Lake Pontchartrain, and stayed there for six days. Our site was the only one that was both a pull-through and had a sewer hookup. The pull-through required some maneuvering to get to a level spot but we managed. The water and electric hookups were on the opposite side from where they should be but, fortunately, we were able to reach them by running our electric cord and water hose under our rig. We were surprised and pleased to find that we had a satellite signal despite being among a lot of trees. Our first night of camping in Louisiana represented the 30th state we’d camped in since we started full-timing 25 months earlier.
On Sunday, we got down our bicycles and rode to the fishing pier on Lake Pontchartrain and along the beach. We attempted to walk on the Alligator Marsh Boardwalk but most of it was closed. We also visited the ruins of an old sugar mill.
On Tuesday, we rode our bikes for several miles along the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile protected bike path, and took a break by the Lake Pontchartrain Yacht Club.
On Wednesday, we returned to the ruins of the Fontainebleau Plantation Sugar Mill, the summer home and plantation of Bernard de Marigny (1785 – 1868). Then we hiked the Bayou Cane Hiking Trail. We understood why most of the Alligator Marsh Boardwalk is closed when we discovered a couple of large sections of boardwalk washed up on the shore, presumably by one of the recent hurricanes. Although we didn’t come across any alligators on our hike, we did have an armadillo cross the trail in front of us.
Thursday, November 30th, was Jan’s birthday. We had heavy rains in the morning but the weather cleared up around 1 pm and we headed off to New Orleans. We took the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, a 24-mile long bridge that is the world’s longest continuous over-water highway bridge. It was a little scary driving 65 mph across the open water but it helped that the fog was so thick that we really couldn’t see the water. Upon arriving in New Orleans, we walked along the Riverwalk and watched the Natchez paddleboat depart from the dock and head up the Mississippi River. Next we strolled around the French Quarter and went to see the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the nation. When we got tired of walking, we sat outside at the Palace Café on Canal Street and watched the world go by. Our next stop was Pat O’Brien’s Bar where we enjoyed drinks in the piano bar. One of the piano players performed a song for Jan’s birthday. Our next stop was at Pat O’Brien’s Courtyard Restaurant where we had dinner and huge desserts. After dinner we strolled back through the French Quarter to our car. We drove back home across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and, as we were driving through the state park, spotted a couple of wild boars. Unfortunately the boars ran back into the forest before Jan could get her camera out.
On Friday, December 1st, we drove 180 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent 10 days at Gulf State Park. The campground is quite large by itself but is only a fraction of this huge state park. The campground is much more like a resort than any other state park we’ve been to.
On Saturday we rode our bikes around part of the park. We rode out to the Alligator Island Pier and spotted our first alligator in the wild.
On Sunday we drove to the Gulf State Park Beach Pavilion and caught the end of the Christmas performances by a large number of elementary school children. Then we walked down to the beach and strolled a long distance along the shore. We first spotted several dolphins off in the distance and then saw numerous small groups of rays swimming rapidly about ten feet from the shore line. Our next stop was at the Gulf State Park Pier. We walked to the end of the pier, watched the fishermen and spotted a pelican that allowed us to walk right up to it.
On Monday and Tuesday we rode our bikes around the park. There are a huge number of paved trails and boardwalks throughout the park restricted just for walking and bicycling. We frequently came to forks in the road and had to choose between trails to continue along. There were seemingly an unlimited number of possible combinations that could have kept us riding all day. We also strolled along the beach again.
After several days of beautiful weather with highs in the 70s, the weather on Wednesday turned much colder and rainy and stayed that way for most of our remaining stay. We spent Wednesday afternoon browsing in the shops at The Wharf in Orange Beach. On Friday we returned to The Wharf and went to the movies to see Wonder. After the movie we drove to Pensacola, FL and had a seafood dinner at Flora-Bama. Donald Trump was also in Pensacola while we were there but we didn’t run into him.
On Saturday afternoon we met up with Carol Ann and Shane Snider at Hope’s Cheesecake and had some wonderful cheesecake and conversation. The Sniders, who used to live in Jan’s hometown in TN, now live in Gulf Shores. That evening, we had dinner with Cathy and Phil Schirtzinger at The Steamers. We had gotten to know the Schirtzinger’s at Buckhorn Lake Resort the past two winters. We shared an order of Royal Red shrimp and crab legs. Royal Red shrimp are considered to be the crowned jewel of Alabama shrimp and are tastier than other varieties. Cathy and Phil, who had dined at The Steamers previously, assured us that one order was plenty for two people and they were right. We struggled to eat all that came with our one order but it was delicious.
On Monday, December 11th, we drove 169 miles to Paul B. Johnson State Park, near Hattiesburg, MS, where we stayed for two nights. The state park is large so we had to drive quite a distance to reach our campsite. We had a full hook-up site but it was a fairly narrow back-in. Our site provided a lovely view of a lake. There was an island in the lake, with a bridge to it from the mainland. The temperature dropped below freezing both nights, resulting in morning fog across the lake. We were joined by a group of ducks who successfully persuaded Jan to give them a handout. Our stay in Mississippi represented the 31st state where we’ve camped since beginning our RV adventure in October 2015. On Tuesday we drove into Hattiesburg and got the bearings on our fifth wheel serviced. This was the service that we had attempted unsuccessfully to have done in Conroe, TX. Unfortunately this required us to back into our site a second time upon our return from the dealer.
On Wednesday, December 13th, we packed up and drove 230 miles to Sterlington, LA, about 15 miles north of Monroe, where we spent two nights at Bayou Boeuf RV Park. The campground owner was very friendly and gave us our choice of sites. There were quite a few to choose from since the park was mostly empty. On Thursday we drove into Monroe. We stopped at Catfish Charlies for lunch and had a very filling and tasty meal of catfish strips. Later we drove to the AT&T store where we took advantage of a special offer to get new iPhones. We had both had our old iPhones for many years (Jan’s was a 5 and Phil’s was a 5C) and both phones were having issues. Jan upgraded to an 8 Plus and Phil upgraded to an 8. The special offer enabled us to buy one iPhone and get a second one for free. Unfortunately, the free phone required a new line so Jan has a new phone number and her old number had to be deactivated.
On Friday, December 15th, we drove 219 miles to Tyler, TX where we spent three nights at Tyler Oaks RV Resort. Although the drive was almost entirely on I-20, the road was extremely rough most of the way and we were very glad when the drive was over. We were also glad to find that the RV park was where we thought it was. Phil always checks the satellite picture for our destination coordinates on Google Earth before we begin our drive but, in this instance, the satellite picture showed nothing but an open field. Fortunately, Tyler Oaks RV Resort turned out to be a large, modern campground where the open field had once been.
On Saturday we drove into downtown Tyler and visited the 1859 Goodman-LeGrand House & Museum. In 1859, a Tyler attorney and bachelor named Samuel Gallatin Smith built a one-story four room house on the highest knoll of a nine acre tract. Dr. Samuel Goodman purchased the house in 1866 and sold it to his son, Dr. William Jeffries, a Confederate Major and general surgeon, in 1867. Dr. and Mrs. W. J. Goodman raised three children, Sallie, Will and Etta Goodman. The second story was added around 1880. In 1893, Sallie married James LeGrand and they both continued to live in the family home, which Sallie inherited upon her father’s death in 1921. The house was remodeled in 1926 when the two-story columns were added. Much of the community activity in the early days of Tyler centered around the Goodman home. Upon her death in 1939, Sallie bequeathed the nine acres and the mansion to the City of Tyler with the stipulation that the house be maintained as a museum for future generations to enjoy.
On Sunday evening we drove to downtown Tyler and cruised through the historic Azalea District and Brick Street Village to see the Christmas lights. In the early 1900s the City of Tyler installed 14 miles of brick roads because merchants were complaining that their wares were arriving covered with dust. The brick roads are still maintained by the city today at great expense. We saw lots of beautiful old homes in these neighborhoods, most of which were ornately decorated for Christmas. We stopped at the city square and saw the official Tyler Christmas tree.
We had torrential rain that night and, in the morning, discovered some water against the inside bathroom walls. The location was odd since we couldn’t find where it would have come from since there was no sign of a leak.
On Monday, December 18th, we drove 240 miles to Austin Lone Star RV Resort in Austin, TX where we stayed for three days. We were fortunate that we had no rain when we were hooking up in Tyler, nor when we arrived in Austin. However, the entire day was foggy and very dreary.
That night we had another rainstorm and, at 4 a.m., Phil discovered that the hallway floor by the bathroom was quite wet. This time we discovered some water dripping from the light fixture in the hallway. In the morning Phil climbed up on the roof and spread our tarp over the area above the light fixture. He removed the light fixture from the ceiling and a couple of cups of water poured out. We had more rain later in the morning but the tarp appeared to do the trick. Despite spending more time on the roof, Phil has not yet discovered the source of the leak but this is obviously something that has to be fixed.
On December 21st we drove 37 miles to Georgetown, TX where we parked our rig at the Cedar Breaks Corp of Engineers (COE) Park for eight nights (even though we only slept there for four nights). Although it was a short drive, the traffic through Austin was horrible and we were delayed by a bad accident on I-35. The Cedar Breaks COE Park is on the edge of Lake Georgetown and our site (#15) overlooked the lake. We had a back-in site but getting backed into our site wasn’t too difficult. The only real challenge was that there was a tree at the back of our asphalt pad that limited how far back we could park. Phil struggled greatly with the tree branches when he climbed up on the roof to spread out the tarp. The wind was so strong that he had to carry several boards, as well as a log and a large rock, up on the roof to help hold down the tarp. He also used a tie down on either side of the rig to keep the tarp from blowing away. The wind gusts kept the tarp flapping throughout the night but it managed to stay in place.
On December 22nd we prepared for our trip to New York City.