Hurricane Sally ravaged the Gulf Shores, AL area in September, resulting in the delayed availability of our site at Gulf State Park until November 12. On Monday, November 9th, we finally headed to Alabama. We drove 159 miles to Cullman, AL and spent the night at Cullman Campground. Although the road leading to the campground was quite rough, the campground itself was quite nice.
That afternoon, we drove into Cullman and visited the Ave Maria Grotto on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine monastery of men in the State of Alabama. The Grotto consists of a landscaped hillside of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of Brother Joseph Zoetl, a monk of the Abbey for almost 70 years.
We began our visit by viewing a 15-minute video on the life of Brother Joseph. We then strolled through the Grotto. Brother Joseph was born in Bavaria in 1878 and came to the newly-founded St. Bernard Abbey in 1892. When not shoveling coal into the furnaces of the Abbey power house and spending four hours a day in prayer, Brother Joseph took time to construct miniature replicas of historic structures using stone, concrete, and unwanted donated materials (e.g., broken plates, costume jewelry, ceramic tile, beads, marbles, seashells, etc.). Of all the replicas constructed, he had only actually seen about six. All the others were constructed from photographs or from printed descriptions.
On Tuesday, we drove 255 miles to Atmore, AL where we spent two nights at the Wind Creek Casino RV Park. The RV park consists of 28 pull-though sites and was quite nice, especially given the already low rate that was discounted another 25%. The casino offered $10 food vouchers for each new Rewards member so we headed there for our free dinner. After eating at the Grill, we tried our luck on the slot machines, with mixed results. We returned to the casino on Wednesday, again with mixed results on the slots. However, considering the $20 in food, the two days netted us a loss of only $8; not bad for two days of entertainment.
That evening, we heard from Gulf State Park. Although they confirmed our site availability on Thursday, they informed us that the site wouldn’t be ready until 4 pm. This was a problem since we were only 82 miles away. On Thursday morning, we waited until the last minute and left the Wind Creek Casino RV Park at 11 am. Even with a couple of stops along the way, we arrived in Gulf Shores at 1:30 pm. We parked at Wal-Mart and killed time until 4. When we were finally able to check in, we discovered that most of the nearby sites were unoccupied. This made it easier for us to get into our back-in spot and provided us with great views of the lake.
Saturday was the 40th anniversary at Tacky Jack’s and they were offering food specials and prizes. We decided to head there for an early dinner but it turned out not to be as early as we had planned. There were plenty of others who had also decided to come for the celebration, We were told it would be an hour-long wait for a table. It was a beautiful day and we waited on the deck overlooking the bay. Unfortunately, the great weather kept people at their tables longer than expected and our predicted hour-long wait extended to two hours. We wouldn’t have stayed had we known the length of the actual wait but, after investing an hour, we decided to stick it out. To make matters worse, we didn’t even win a prize.
Over the next week, we dodged a health scare. Jan developed sinus congestion, a bad cough and a headache that lasted for days. She lost her voice several mornings. Phil had similar symptoms, but not as severe. Although the symptoms were consistent with the common cold, many of them were also consistent with COVID-19. We also learned that Jason’s housemate, who we had hosted for dinner our last night in TN, had caught the virus. Since we had family coming for Thanksgiving, we decided we should get tested for COVID. We found two CVS stores in Pensacola where we could get tested for free on Wednesday. Unfortunately, we couldn’t both get appointments at the same store. After Phil got tested at the first store, we drove four miles to the next store where Jan was tested. Phil got his results two days later and it was negative. Jan had to wait another two days but also got a negative result. We both continued to feel under the weather but were relieved to know it wasn’t COVID.
Phil had continued to experience discomfort in his left shoulder, seriously impacting his ability to sleep. The condition had started in September 2019 but had gotten more painful in recent months. He had seen an orthopedic surgeon when we were in Gulf Shores in November 2019 and scheduled another appointment with him a few days after our arrival this year. Unlike in 2019, the orthopedic surgeon now considered it likely that Phil had a rotator cuff tear and it would require surgery. On Thursday, November 19th, Phil had an MRI on the shoulder. The following Monday, Phil returned to see the doctor and was relieved to find out that there was no tear. The doctor prescribed several weeks of physical therapy while we are in Gulf Shores and then a regimen of at-home exercises after that. We are hopeful that that will help.
Although the campground was about 20% occupied when we arrived on November 12th, the occupancy continued to build over the following week. While the occupancy was still well below the same period in 2019, more than half of the sites appeared full as we approached Thanksgiving week.
On Thursday, October 15th, we left Mt. Airy, NC and drove 136 miles to Blountsville, TN, where we spent a night at Rocky Top Campground. This small 55+ campground had a nice, level pull-through site for us, although it did require us pulling through an unused back-in site to reach our site. Other than doing our laundry, we didn’t do anything the rest of our stay.
On Friday, we drove 100 miles to Sevierville, TN, where we spent three nights at Duvall in the Smokies campground. We had been advised a few weeks earlier that this Saturday was the campground’s 3-year anniversary and they would be having a big celebration. We discovered that many of our fellow campers had attended previous anniversaries and, as a result, book this weekend a year in advance. Saturday’s celebration began at 10:15 am when we all boarded a double-decker tour bus. The temperature was in the upper 40s when we departed, which made for a chilly experience for us on the upper level. After driving through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge for an hour, we stopped at a local park for lunch. After lunch, we headed down scenic Wears Valley Road toward Townsend. The Smokies are a very popular destination in October and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper for the next couple of hours. When it became apparent that the remaining 2.5 miles would take over 45 minutes to complete, and since there hadn’t been a restroom stop since we left the campground, it was decided that they would turn the bus around. This was not easily done since the road was only single-lane in each direction and there were no shoulders. The driver attempted to back the bus into a driveway by pulling into the oncoming lane. Unfortunately, as the driver was blocking both lanes of traffic, the transmission would not catch in reverse. When the driver was finally able get into reverse, the passengers on the upper deck could see that he was headed into a ditch. Finally, to the relief of our passengers and the other drivers on the road, he got us turned around. We then headed to an ice cream shop and we were all treated to anything on the menu. By this point, it was five hours after we had left the campground and a trip to the bathroom was everyone’s highest priority. Unfortunately, they only had single-occupant men’s and women’s bathrooms so the lines were quite long. After ice cream, we returned to the campground and arrived around 4 pm. That evening, we had a cookout, followed by a country band who performed for a couple of hours. It was a very long, but enjoyable, day and was very generous of the owners.
After relaxing on Sunday, we moved again on Monday. We drove 25 miles to Anchor Down in Dandridge, TN where we spent a week attending the fall DOG (DRV Owner’s Group) gathering. We had attended this gathering in 2019 but had only been able to stay a few days then. We attended a meet-and-greet dinner hosted by our dealer, RVs for Less. Jason arrived that evening and spent six days with us, working from our living room for the rest of the workweek. Anchor Down is a beautiful campground and our site (#132) gave us a great view of Douglas Lake from our living room.
On Tuesday, we drove to Pigeon Forge and did some shopping at the Eddie Bauer store at Tanger Outlet. On Wednesday, we washed the rig and our cars. On Thursday, we took the scenic backroads to Smokie Mountains National Park and drove the 6-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The fall leaves were in full color. We saw five black bears near the road. Although this was fortuitous, it was also frustrating, since the cars in front of us would just sit where they spotted a bear and there was no opportunity to get around them. Once the bears disappeared, the traffic moved along more steadily.
During our drive from Sevierville to Dandridge on Sunday, we had passed a sign for a business that sold honey. On Friday, we returned to this business to buy some honey. One of the owners encouraged us to walk around their entire site, which we learned included 34 storage sheds containing antiques, crafts and gifts. It appeared that, although the owners were primarily in the business of selling storage units, they had also a sizable business selling other “stuff.” We ended up buying some honey, jelly and a braided throw rug.
On Saturday, Jason was able to join us for some sightseeing. We drove to Gatlinburg and, after fighting the heavy traffic, we decided to drive through McDonalds for a quick breakfast. It didn’t quite work that way. We got into the drive-through line at 10:30 am and crept along. It took over 30 minutes just to reach the point where we could order and, by then, the menu board had already switched to their lunch menu. We did manage to order three sausage biscuits but, by the time we had paid, it had taken 45 minutes. Our next stop was at the Gatlinburg Skylift Park. After waiting in very long lines, we boarded one of the yellow ski lift cars for a ride to the top of Crockett Mountain. At the summit, we walked across the 680’ pedestrian suspension bridge, the longest in North America. Midway across the bridge, we walked over glass panels 140’ above the ground.
After the skybridge, we drove the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail again and saw another black bear. We stopped a couple of times for photo ops, including a stop for lunch at one of the old homesteads.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, Jason left for his drive back to Nashville. We spent the rest of the day getting ready for moving on. On Monday, October 26th, we drove 40 miles to Heiskell, TN where we spent the night at the Escapee’s Raccoon Valley RV Park.
We had reserved a site at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL for the months of November and December. However, Hurricane Sally hit Gulf Shores directly in mid-September and this resulted in the park’s closure. In addition to severe damage to trees in the park, many of the electrical pedestals had been submerged and needed to be repaired to ensure their safety. On October 21st, we learned that our reserved site would tentatively be open on November 1st. However, on October 26th, we learned that, due to the contractor’s inability to obtain the parts needed to make the required repairs, we would not be able to occupy our site until November 12th.
On Tuesday, we arrived at our dealer, RVs for Less, for a list of needed repairs. Although most of the items on our list were relatively minor, there were several that really needed to be addressed right away. The weather forecast called for two days of heavy rain, making it uncertain when the repairs could be completed. A few issues were addressed on Tuesday but rain on Wednesday resulted in no further progress. The weather improved somewhat on Thursday and Ken Rife, the General Manager, told us they should be able to finish the repairs that afternoon. Since we were required to be out of our rig while work was being done, we left for a road trip. We drove down Wears Valley Road, then took the scenic Foothills Parkway and continued on to Maryville. Jan had found an article listing the best communities in Tennessee for retirees and Maryville was one of them. We liked what we saw and will check it out further in the future.
Unfortunately, on Friday morning, we learned that we would need to wait for some parts that were scheduled to arrive later in the day. We decided to take a road trip to Farragut, TN, another recommended community for retirees. It was also very impressive, although the houses we saw with the greatest wow factor would never be affordable by us. When we returned to the dealer, we learned that the parts had arrived but had not yet been installed. We agreed to spend the weekend on the lot, with the expectation that the remaining work would be done on Monday morning.
On Saturday, we drove to Norris Dam State Park and hiked the 3-mile Observation Point loop trail. The trail led to an overlook with a view of the Norris Dam and the Clinch River. The dam’s construction in the mid-1930s was the first major project for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
On Sunday, we drove to Knoxville and hiked a 3.5-mile loop within the William Hastie Natural Area. The loop consisted of the View Park, Yellow Jacket and Sink Hole trails. The trails zig-zagged repeatedly and required frequent checks of the GPS to keep us on the desired route. The three trails are popular with mountain bikers and are all rated as “very difficult.” Although there were no viewpoints along the trails, there was a 20’-deep sink hole on the Sink Hole trail.
The final repairs were completed on Monday but, when the bill hadn’t been finalized by 3 pm, we got approval to spend another night on the lot. We finally got back on the road on Tuesday morning and drove 125 miles to Old Mill Camp at Cummins Falls in Cookeville, TN. Tuesday was election day and we were anxious to see the results that evening. Since we knew the campground was heavily wooded, we were unsure whether we would be able to get a satellite signal. After analysis of the online campground map and the Google Earth app, we reserved the site that appeared to be most open. When we arrived, we raised the satellite dish before unhitching to make sure we could get a clear signal. After circling around for quite a while, the dish finally locked in on the satellite and we knew we could proceed with getting set up. We stayed up until after midnight watching election results but, when it was obvious there would be no final decision that evening, we went to sleep.
Our campground was located across the street from Cummins Falls State Park. On Wednesday, we hiked a 2.5-mile loop from our campsite to Cummins Falls, with its 75-foot drop. Our return took us past some dilapidated structures from the John Cummins estate. John Cummins acquired the land in 1825 and built two water-driven mills on the property. The land stayed in the Cummins family for more than 180 years before being acquired by the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation.
On Thursday, November 5th, we drove 94 miles to Goodlettsville, TN, where we spent four nights at Grand Ole RV Resort. The campground had expanded since we were there in the spring. Due to uncertainty of the length of our stay at RVs for Less, we had waited to make reservations. This resulted in us being assigned to a pull-through site along the entrance road. Although not an ideal location, it served the purpose and wasn’t as noisy as we feared.
Jason joined us for dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, we drove to Camden and had a catfish lunch at Country & Western with Sheila Gaskin. On Sunday, Jason and his housemate, Steve Lilly, joined us for dinner and the warm weather enabled us to eat outside.
After leaving Moodus, CT on Thursday, October 8th, we drove 270 miles to Catawissa, PA where we spent three nights at J & D Campground. Although the drive was mostly on interstates, it was slower than expected due to many work zones and one major backup. The campground is located a short distance from Knoebels Amusement Resort, where they hold a large Covered Bridge and Arts Festival this weekend each year. The festival was cancelled this year due to COVID but the campground was still requiring a 3-night stay. Our site was one of only a few pull-throughs in a very large campground. After having stayed in nearly-empty campgrounds in MA and CT, it was quite a change to be back in a full campground.
We spent Friday doing routine chores, such as laundry, grocery shopping and getting Jan’s hair cut. We did stop to see two of the 28 covered bridges in Columbia and Montour counties. The first was the 185-foot-long Rupert Bridge, originally built in 1847 and restored in 2000-01. The second one was the 99-foot-long Wanich Bridge, constructed in 1884.
We spent Saturday with Ken and Cathy Bentz, two friends we met during our trip to Alaska in 2018. We met the Bentzes in Ashland, PA and toured the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine. This anthracite coal mine operated from 1911 until 1931. When the business closed, all the equipment was stored in the cave and the entrances were blasted closed. While they had hoped to resume mining someday, that never happened. In 1961, Ashville officials came up with the idea of re-opening the mine for tourists. They had a small budget so, other than re-timbering the shafts, the mine appears largely as it did in 1931.
Our tour began with a short ride on a narrow-gauge steam train. The train was used years ago to haul coal bins but now pulls passengers alongside Mahanoy Mountain. We got to see where coal was originally recovered using strip mining and a “wildcat mine” where out-of-work miners would illegally dig for coal during the Great Depression. Our guide explained that the State of Pennsylvania had decided to reclaim the strip mines by filling them with trash and, then, burning the trash. This led to a disastrous result in neighboring Centralia, PA when one of these landfill fires hit a vein of coal in 1962 and is still burning underground today. The government was forced to buy out and relocate almost all the landowners. Centralia’s population has dropped from 1,500 in 1962 to 6 diehards today.
The next part of the tour involved riding into the tunnel on mine cars that were rebuilt to carry passengers. Our guide, an experienced miner, led us down gangways to see veins of coal, manways and coal chutes. He explained the dangerous process for mining this coal, employing many children as young as 10-years-old, working 12-hour-days, six days a week.
After leaving Ashland, we drove to Pottsville, PA. We ate lunch at Wheel, a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant. Each diner gets to design their own grilled cheese sandwich, using over 85 ingredients. We each selected our own bread, cheese, protein, toppings, dipping sauce and side. They were delicious!
We then toured the Yuengling brewery. Yuengling was established in 1829 and is America’s oldest brewery. Our guide took us through the plant that has been operating since 1831, after the first plant was destroyed by fire. We walked through caves that had been hand-dug into the mountain by out-of-work coal miners and were used for beer fermentation before refrigeration. We could see remnants of the brick walls used by the government to seal off the brewery during Prohibition. Our tour guide explained the brewing process and she led us through the brew house, racking room, packaging room and Rathskeller. The tour ended with free tastings and, of course, the gift shop. We ended up buying a case of one of their new products, a Hershey’s Chocolate beer.
It was a fun day and we really enjoyed seeing Ken and Cathy again.
On Sunday, we drove 240 miles to New Market, VA where we spent the night at Endless Caverns Campground. Endless Caverns accepted Passport America so our site only cost $29 for the night. It started raining as we entered Virginia and continued to rain for the next 24 hours. The campground looked lovely but, due to the weather, we stayed in our rig the whole time.
On Monday, we drove 240 miles to Mount Airy, NC where we spent three nights at Mayberry Campground. This campground also offered the half-off Passport America discount for two of the nights, so our total cost for the three-night stay was only $78. Our pull-through site sat atop a hill so we had a great view of the campground below us, at least until an Allegro Bus pulled in behind us and cut off our view.
We spent Tuesday with Dave and Cheryl Albert, friends we met earlier this year at Tropical Trails RV Resort in Brownsville, TX. Dave and Cheryl live nearby in NC. They picked us up at our site and took us for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. We stopped for lunch at Mabry Mill. Despite being mid-week, this was a popular spot and we had an hour-long wait for a table. While we waited, we explored the mill. Mabry Mill was built in 1910 by Edwin Mabry, a jack-of-all-trades who had been a chairmaker, a miner, a coal company blacksmith, and a farmer. He and his wife operated the mill until 1936, grinding corn and sawing lumber for their neighbors. In 1945, the National Park Service restored and landscaped the mill. Today, it is one of the most photographed features on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
After a delicious lunch, we drove to Pilot Mountain State Park, 20 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, NC. Pilot Mountain, rising to a peak 2,421’ above sea level, is one of the most distinctive natural features in NC and has served as navigational landmark for centuries. We walked up to several overlooks where we could watch lots of raptors soaring above the peak and view the valley below us. We later spent time in the new Visitor’s Center where we viewed exhibits about the park and the surrounding area.
On the drive back to our campsite, Dave took us through downtown Mount Airy. This whetted our appetites for Wednesday’s further exploration of the town. After socializing awhile back at the campground, it was time to say goodbye to Dave and Cheryl. We really enjoyed seeing our friends again and appreciated having such good guides to show us around the beautiful area.
On Wednesday, we spent the entire day in Mount Airy. This small town, just six miles south of the VA border, was long known as a center for furniture and granite. However, it is best known as the hometown of Andy Griffith. Mount Airy was the inspiration for Mayberry, the fictional town in the Andy Griffith Show. There are lots of Andy Griffith and Mayberry attractions in the town. We visited quite a few of them but felt like we had just scratched the surface. After having a huge lunch at Little Richard’s BBQ, we strolled down Main Street and visited many of the shops. We stopped at replicas of the Mayberry courthouse and jail, Wally’s Service Station, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch, as well as quite a few other attractions that draw on the Mayberry theme. We walked by the Andy Griffith Museum and saw the TV Land sculpture of Andy and Opie.
On Monday, September 28th, we left Maine and drove 178 miles to Charlemont, MA, where we spent three nights at Country Aire Campground. This was our first RV stay in Massachusetts, making it the 45th state we’ve camped in. Being near the end of the campground’s season, there were very few campers around us. We had a beautiful view from our living room windows of the hillsides with their multi-colored fall foliage.
With rain in the forecast for the afternoon, we got going early on Tuesday and did a 4-mile loop hike in the High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary of nearby Shelburne. The hike mostly took us through a thick forest but, toward the end, we were rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view of the village 1,000 feet below us. There was even a large brick and stone fireplace near the overlook.
We next strolled around the small villages of Buckland and Shelburne Falls, visiting a number of local shops. Due to COVID, we had to view the Bridge of Flowers from a distance. This bridge, constructed in 1908 for trolleys, had become obsolete by 1927 when the trolley company went out of business. Tearing down the bridge would have been prohibitively expensive so it was left to decay. In 1929, a local couple proposed building a garden on the bridge and the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club answered the call, replacing weeds with plants and flower seeds. Volunteers have sustained the Bridge of Flowers to this day.
We then visited the glacial potholes in Shelburne Falls. As glaciers receded at the conclusion of the last “Glacial Age,” fifty separate “pools” were formed, ranging from 6 inches to 39 feet in diameter. The round holes were the result of the whirlpool effect of water and gyrating stones of varied sizes. The Shelburne Falls site is one of the largest collections of natural potholes in the world and the site of the largest pothole on record.
After leaving Shelburne Falls, we drove through the village of Charlemont and stopped at the Bissell Covered Bridge. The current bridge, built in 2004, is the third generation of the bridge first built in 1880.
On Thursday, October 1st, we drove 105 miles south to Moodus, CT where we spent a week at GrandView Camp Resort. We had a little excitement on this short drive. First, Phil was unable to get across to the proper lane as we passed through Hartford, CT and had to drive through downtown Hartford to get back to the right highway. Then, upon arrival at the campground, Phil second-guessed himself about pulling up a narrow driveway that turned out to be the actual entrance to the campground. After passing the driveway, he sat on the country road and called the campground office for guidance. Fortunately, the nearby golf club had a large roundabout that enabled him to get turned around easily.
The campground has an interesting history. In 1946, the Grand View Resort and Day Camp was built as a vacation place where nearby city-dwellers could get away to the fresh air and relaxing atmosphere of the country. The resort contained a hotel, playhouse, cottages and a swimming pool (ala the movie “Dirty Dancing.”) By 1975, air travel, cruising and RV camping became more affordable and such resorts in Moodus became a thing of the past. The location served as a Jewish heritage center and retreat for the next 20 years, then as a basketball camp for city kids for a short time. After that, the resort fell into disuse and was vandalized by trespassers. The current owners have lived across the street from the resort for 50 years and witnessed the good times and bad. Since buying the property, they are attempting to restore what they can, adding camp sites and modern facilities.
After a rainy Friday, we finally got out to explore the area on Saturday. Our first destination was Old Saybrook, CT, first settled in 1635. Our first stop was at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, known affectionately as “the Kate.” Katharine Hepburn had summered in the area as a child, returned throughout her career, and spent the last six years of her life here. The cultural center was created after her death in Old Saybrook’s disused old town hall. Although it contains a museum, it is now closed due to COVID.
We then drove to see the Lynde Point Lighthouse in Saybrook Point. The lighthouse is only truly accessible by boat but we were able to get close to it on foot, down a road next to a golf course and through a neighborhood of beautiful homes.
We then drove to New London, CT. We drove by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy but, to no surprise, it is closed to visitors currently. We next stopped at the Old Town Mill, which was originally built in 1650. Although having since been rebuilt, it operated continuously for 300 years. The neighborhood looked rough, with a homeless shelter across the street, so we made a quick visit.
We next drove to see the New London Harbor Light. Since this lighthouse is now privately-owned, we could only view it from the road.
Our next stop was at Fort Trumbull State Park. The museum is closed due to COVID but we were able to explore the grounds. The first fortifications at this site were built during the American Revolution. The current fort (the third on this site) was built between 1839 and 1852. The fort also served as the first home of the Coast Guard Academy, from 1915-1932. The Coast Guard’s training ship, the Barque Eagle, docks at Fort Trumbull 2-3 times a year and we were fortunately able to see it.
Our final stop in New London was the Whaling Wall, a large mural originally painted by environmental artist Wyland in 1993, with annual touch-up work begun in 2006. There were several other large murals on the downtown walls.
Jan attempts to collect stone coasters from each of the states we visit so we stopped at a store in Waterford to buy one for Connecticut. Unfortunately, the only ones mentioning Connecticut specifically mentioned Waterford. We had not yet visited any site in Waterford so we set out to rectify that situation. We decided to visit Waterford Beach Park, which has a ¼-mile stretch of sandy beach along the Long Island Sound. From the beach, we could see some sort of a kite festival further up the shoreline so we headed that direction. This required some rock scrambling but, once past the rocks, we came to another large park with signage that referenced Camp Harkness. We didn’t think much of that since we knew that Harkness Memorial State Park was in the area. However, when we reached fences that kept us from reaching the kites, we sensed that something was amiss. As we headed back to the Waterford Beach Park, we were approached by a security guard who asked if we were passholders. We learned that Camp Harkness is one of the few state parks in the country dedicated exclusively to individuals with disabilities and that we were trespassing. After our apologies, we returned the way we had come.
On Sunday, we hiked the 2.3-mile Machimoodus State Park Trail. The was mostly a very easy hike, although there was one short, steep ascent that took us up a hill overlooking the Salmon River.
We then visited Gillette Castle State Park. This was the former home of William Gillette, an American actor, playwright and stage director in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, most famous for his stage portrayals of Sherlock Holmes. Gillette built a castle, known as Seven Sisters, on a hilltop overlooking the Connecticut River. The castle included many features to accommodate Gillette’s many cats, as well as a 3-mile-long narrow-gauge railroad for riding around the property. Although the house and museum were closed due to COVID, they did have period actors portraying William Gillette, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and his wife. We learned that William Gillette was quite rich for his time, earning $1,000 a week at a time when the minimum wage was 14 cents per hour.
On Monday, we drove to the Day Pond State Park in Colchester, CT and hiked the 5-mile North Loop. The beginning of the hike was fairly straightforward and we were able to follow the trail markers. We did pass a gutted-out car on the trail and have no idea how it could have gotten there. The second half of the hike became more of an adventure. We were attempting to follow a route that had been recorded in Alltrails and it deviated greatly from the marked trail. Phil walked most of the way back with his phone in his hand, trying to follow the Alltrails map. Many of the paths had obviously not been heavily traveled and having lots of dead leaves on the ground made the paths even harder to follow. The trail had so many switchbacks that we could have gotten lost easily without internet access.
On Tuesday, we headed to Gay City State Park in East Hampton, CT for a hike. However, when we arrived at the park, we discovered that there was a parking fee for out-of-state vehicles. There was no gate attendant. The process involved paying the fee online and recording the confirmation number on a piece of paper that would be displayed on our dashboard. In addition to not wanting to pay $10, we discovered that we didn’t have anything to write with in our car so we left. Our fallback plan was to hike the 3-5-mile Chapman Pond Preserve loop in East Haddam, CT. This hike was mostly a walk through the forest, although we did walk along the banks of the Connecticut River awhile. Other than two men we saw leaving as we arrived, we never saw another soul on the trail.
On Wednesday, we drove to Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT and hiked the 3.3-mile White and Orange Blaze Loop through the woods. The loop only involved a 403’ elevation gain but that doesn’t really reflect the effort involved. The trail went up and down sharply a couple of times and included some challenging rock scrambles.
Our stay in Connecticut was the 46th state in which we’ve camped over the past five years. We now only lack four small states: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Hawaii.
On Friday, September 18th, we left our 2-month home in Trenton, ME and drove 180 miles south to Biddeford, ME, where we spent 10 nights at Homestead on the River Campground. This is the same campground where we began our 2020 stay in Maine, also where we spent 15 nights in 2019.
On Saturday, we hiked the 2.5-mile Clayton Park In-Town Loop in Biddeford. The trail we hiked, although very nice, was rated as moderate by Alltrails but was not nearly as challenging as the moderate trails we hiked near Acadia.
On Sunday, we drove to Kennebunkport and did some shopping at Dock Square. We then attempted to do the Goose Rocks Beach Walk. Unfortunately, the tide was in so we were unable to access the beach at the trailhead. In an attempt to get to the beach, we walked back along Kings Highway, through a neighborhood of expensive beachfront homes. After every few homes, there was a pathway leading to the beach but they were all labeled as Private Property. Finally, after about a mile, we reached a public access entrance to the beach. We spent some time on the beach before returning back down Kings Highway to our car.
On Monday morning, we got ready to drive to Portsmouth, NH. However, as we started to back the car out of our campsite, the rearview camera was not functioning. Then, as we began to drive, the navigation system froze up. We pulled into a parking lot and called our dealer in San Antonio. No service managers were available but they said they would have one call us; no one ever called. We then called the Mazda dealer in Portsmouth to see if we could get in that afternoon while we were in town. They agreed to fit us in at 3 pm. We returned to our trailer and Jan used Google to research our issue. She found that several people had had similar issues and many of them had come up with solutions. When we returned to our car to attempt some of the fixes, everything was working again. We may never know what caused the problem but we were glad the problems were resolved for now.
When we finally arrived in Portsmouth, our first mission was to find a place to eat. Our first choice, as well as others we considered, were closed due to COVID. After doing a loop around downtown, we settled on a Mexican restaurant, La Caretta. After lunch, we continued to stroll through downtown before heading to Prescott Park. On our return, we walked through the neighborhoods near the water where homes from the late-18th and early-19th centuries have been beautifully restored and now serve as either residences or museums.
On Tuesday, we drove to Freeport. We started at the flagship L.L. Bean store, then strolled along Main Street. We had hoped to get a snack at the Whoopie Pie store but it was closed on Tuesday. We finally decided to have a pizza at the Maine Beer Company, where COVID-related safety procedures were taken to a level we had not seen anywhere else.
On Wednesday, we returned to Kennebunkport and hiked a couple of miles out-and-back along Parsons Way. Although not truly a trail, Parsons Way is the sidewalk along Ocean Avenue that runs from Colony Beach to Walker Point, the summer home of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. Henry Parson donated this property in 1944 for the public’s enjoyment. The views of the ocean are spectacular and there are many benches along the way to allow visitors to relax and soak up the scenery.
On Thursday, we hiked 3 miles at Timber Point in Biddeford Pool. Timber Point, now part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, is a historic summer estate that was developed in the 1930s by architect Charles Ewing for his family. The southernmost tip of the property is Timber Island, which is only accessible by foot near low tide. We timed our arrival so we could cross over to the island, then enjoyed the waves as they crashed on the rocks as we walked the circumference of the island. Upon returning to the mainland, we visited the Ewing estate where the original buildings are still in place. On our drive home, we stopped at the Pool Street Market and picked up a lobster roll that we shared for lunch.
We spent Friday in Cape Elizabeth, ME, just south of Portland. Our first stop was at Two Lights State Park. The park’s name originated from the twin lighthouses, built in 1828, that are located nearby. Although neither lighthouse is visible from within the park, the park does have a wonderful 1.3-mile loop trail through the woods and along the rocky Atlantic Ocean coast. We climbed down the rocks and enjoyed sitting by the crashing waves. We also explored the remains of a U.S. Army battery that protected the harbor during World War I and II.
For lunch, we stopped at the Two Lights Lobster Shack Restaurant. This popular takeout shack sits on a rocky crest above the Atlantic coast and across a small inlet from one of the lighthouses, which is now a private residence. We ate at a picnic table near the cliffs. Phil had a clam boat and Jan had a shrimp boat.
After lunch, we headed to nearby Williams Park. A former fort of the U.S Army, Fort Williams operated from 1872 to 1964. Three artillery batteries were manned there during the two world wars. Portland Head Light is located within the park. This lighthouse, built in 1787 at the direction of George Washington, is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and the most photographed lighthouse in the United States. We hiked the loop trail around the park and climbed down the rocks to get a closer view of a hole in one of the cliffs.
On Saturday, September 26th, we headed to Portland intending to spend some time exploring the shops in Old Port. Finding a parking spot proved to be a major challenge as downtown was very busy. The one spot we finally found had a meter that only took quarters. Our pooled collection of quarters only bought us a little more than an hour of time so we had to rush through a number of stores. We then tried to find a parking spot that took a credit card but, after driving around a while, we gave up and drove to Freeport again. We visited the Whoopie Pie store that had been closed on Tuesday. Jan also purchased a lobster trap buoy she had seen on our previous visit to Freeport.
On Tuesday, July 14th, we drove 307 miles from Middle Grove, NY to Biddeford, ME where we spent two nights at Homestead by the River RV Park. The drive was almost entirely on interstate highways (mostly toll roads) and was largely uneventful, other than numerous work areas and service plazas in Massachusetts that were not big-rig friendly. When we arrived at the campground, we learned that they had had three inches of rain that morning and our reserved pull-through site was a swamp. So, rather than risk getting stuck in the muck, we were offered a back-in site. Phil was not excited about the prospect of doing a blind-side back-in around a tree so the owner arranged for an experienced semi driver to back our rig into the site.
On Wednesday, we picked up a lobster roll at Pool Street Market in Biddeford and drove to Biddeford Pool. After consuming our lobster roll, we hiked the 1.5-mile East Point Audubon Sanctuary Trail that took us along the rocky coast and provided us with a view of a lighthouse.
Phil on the rocky coast
Jan by the lighthouse
On Thursday, we drove 180 miles on the Maine Turnpike to Trenton, ME where we will spend 64 days at Timberland Acres RV Park. This is the same campground where we spent a month in 2019.
The weather on Friday was cool and overcast so we just drove the Park Loop through Acadia National Park, including a brief stop at the Jordan Pond House. We also drove through Bar Harbor, where we noted that several of the businesses we had frequented in 2019 had closed for 2020.
On Saturday, we stayed closer to home and hiked the 2.8-mile Trenton Community Trail. Although the trail didn’t include much scenery, it was a pleasant walk through the forest and included a short boardwalk over the bog. On Sunday, we sought to escape the heat by driving to Seal Cove, where we sat by the water and read our books.
Jan at the trailhead
Phil relaxing on the trail
A relaxing day at Seal Cove
On Monday, we returned to Acadia NP and hiked 6 miles on the Eagle Lake Carriage Road.
On Tuesday, we returned to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.5-mile full loop around the lake.
On Wednesday, July 22nd, we returned to Acadia NP and hiked the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff and back again, nearly 5 miles in total. We timed our stop at Thunder Hole to be exactly two hours before high tide. This is supposed to be the time when the waves at Thunder Hole are the loudest but it was somewhat disappointing.
Jan along Ocean Path
View up the coast
Rock climbers ascending the cliffs
Phil with Sand Beach in background
On Friday, we hiked the 2-mile loop at Lower Hadlock Pond. Then, on Saturday, we drove to Surry, ME and hiked another 2-mile loop at the Carter Nature Preserve. We arrived at the coastal part of the hike exactly at low tide and were able to walk along the rocks.
Jan on Carter Nature Preserve Loop
Phil along rocky coast
Jan walking on coast at Carter Nature Preserve
Phil at coast
Timberland Acres campground has special activities on the weekends during the summer. Our first weekend had a Hawaiian theme, with a luau that included a pig roast. Although we did check out the pig on the spit, the $15 per plate for dinner was a little too pricey for us. Our second weekend was Christmas in July and offered prizes for the most impressive Christmas decorations. Some people went all out and had some very elaborate displays. Jan got in the spirit of the season and decorated our picnic table with the few Christmas items we carry with us.
Beer-themed Christmas tree
Christmas in July decor
Lobster-themed Christmas tree
Our Christmas display
On Monday, July 27th, we did a 7.3-mile hike on the Witch Hole Pond Carriage Trail. Although the carriage trails make for rather smooth walking, this was the longest distance we had hiked this year. We spotted several large birds of prey sitting on branches along the trail but we were unable to identify them.
Jan at Witch Hole Pond
Birds of prey along trail
Phil relaxing on trail
On Tuesday, we hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Big Wood and Shore Trails. After walking through the forest, the Shore Trail brought us out to the coast. We found two Adirondack chairs conveniently placed above the shoreline of Western Bay. It was a warm, sunny day but the chairs were in the shade and there was a cool breeze coming off the water. We watched a couple of seals and some kayakers pass by. If we had brought books with us, we would likely have stayed there a long time.
Phil relaxing in the Adirondack chair
Jan with some driftwood
View from the shore
Kayakers in Western Bay
Phil had researched pickleball venues in the area and, on Tuesday, headed out to play. His first stop was at the Ellsworth Tennis Club where they have four indoor courts. However, he learned that Mainers apparently don’t play pickleball indoors when it is warm outdoors. The clerk at the tennis club recommended Phil try the outdoor courts at the YMCA. This worked out well and he found a nice group to play with several afternoons each week. Making matters even better, there is no charge to play at the YMCA, unlike the Tennis Club.
Wednesday’s hike was back in Acadia National Park. We did the 2.4-mile Great Head Trail that begins with a walk across Sand Beach and then continues in a loop around the cliffs overlooking Fisherman’s Bay and the beach.
Jan at summit of Great Head
Painter on shoreline
Phil relaxing along the shore
Phil on Great Head Trail
View of Sand Beach from trail
On Thursday, we hiked another Acadia NP carriage trail, the 6-mile Aunt Betty Loop. This trail included two long, steep ascents and two long, steep descents.
Aunt Betty Pond
Phil relaxing on Aunt Betty Loop
Friday’s hike was a combination of three trails near Southwest Harbor; the Flying Mountain, Valley Peak and St. Sauveur Peak trails. These three trails made two loops totaling over 4 miles, with an elevation rise of 931’. The Alltrails app mistakenly had these trails listed as ‘easy’ but they were definitely not easy. In addition to the usual tree roots and rocks on the trails, we had to scramble over lots of large boulders while we climbed up steep paths. The scenery was worth the effort, though. We rewarded ourselves by picking up a lobster roll on the way home.
Panorama of bay near Flying Mountain
Panorama near Valley Peak summit
Phil devouring lobster roll
Phil on Valley Peak trail
On Saturday evening, we went to Bar Harbor for dinner at Jalapeños. Downtown Bar Harbor was quite active and everyone was wearing masks. After dinner, we strolled around town and along the waterfront.
On Sunday, we hiked the 2.5-mile Branch Lake Public Forest Loop. Our initial challenge was in reaching the trailhead. The GPS coordinates stopped on a busy highway and didn’t show how to reach the trail. By using Google Earth, we could see some sort of road to the trailhead but we couldn’t understand why the GPS wouldn’t take us there. We finally found a sign for the forest. The parking area was a mile down a single-lane gravel road with deep ruts. It was slow-going but, fortunately, we had no oncoming traffic. Once we reached the forest, the hike was enjoyable and took us to the edge of beautiful Branch Lake. We snacked on whoopie pies we had purchased Saturday night; Jan had Classic Chocolate and Phil had Blueberry Lemon.
The unreachable resting spot on Branch Lake
Jan at Branch Lake
Jan encounters one of many blown down trees
Phil and his whoopie pie
Phil at Branch Lake
On Monday, August 3rd, we drove to meet Jason at the Bangor airport. On Tuesday, we began our re-introduction of Jason to the challenges of hiking in Acadia. We hiked the Champlain North Ridge Trail, an up-and-back trail to the summit of Champlain Mountain. Although it is only a little more than a mile to the summit, the route has an 833-foot elevation gain and mostly involves climbing on granite boulders. That evening, we went into Bar Harbor and had dinner at Route 66. We all had hot lobster rolls with melted butter. After dinner, we visited some shops in Bar Harbor and, since it was near low tide, we were able to hike across the sand to Bar Island.
Jason at the summit of Champlain Mountain
Jason overlooking Frenchman’s Bay
Jason at Route 66 restaurant
Jason and Jan crossing the rocks to Bar Island
Overnight, the effects of tropical storm Isaias reached Maine and we had heavy rain and strong winds. Because of the rain, we decided to avoid hikes that would require climbing up the rocks. Instead, we hiked a couple of out-and-back trails with very little elevation gains, the Jesup Trail and the Kane Trail. The Jesup Trail was quite easy, with much of it on a boardwalk. However, the Kane Trail mostly consisted on walking on boulders along the edge of The Tarn, a large pond. After our hike, we drove to the Schooner Head Overlook and hiked down to the rocks overlooking Frenchman’s Bay.
Jason and Phil having breakfast on the Kane Path
Phil and Jason on the Kane Path
View of The Tarn from Kane Path
Jason and Jan at Schooner Head
View of The Tarn from Kane Path
Panorama of Schooner Head
On Thursday, we returned to Jordan Pond. Jason and Phil hiked a strenuous 5-mile loop consisting of the Spring, Penobscot, Deer Brook and Jordan Pond trails. Jan opted for a easier hike by doing the full Jordan Pond Loop again. That afternoon, Phil took Jason to the YMCA for a couple of hours of pickleball.
View of Jordon Pond from Penobscot Mtn.
View from Penobscot Mtn. summit
Phil at Penobscot Mtn. summit
Turtle at Jordon Pond
Jason from Penobscot Mtn.
Friday’s adventure took us to the more remote part of Acadia National Park, the Schoodic Peninsula. After stops at Frazer Point and Schoodic Point to enjoy the views, we continued to Blueberry Hill. We hiked the Anvil Trail to the summit of Schoodic Head and ate our breakfast there. We then returned down the Alder Trail. A short distance further down the park loop road, we came to the trailhead for the East Trail. Phil and Jason hiked this strenuous 1.4-mile out-and-back trail that involved a lot of climbing up the rocks. Jan decided to stay behind and enjoy the views from the shoreline.
Jan and Phil at Schoodic Head overlook
Jason and Phil at Schoodic Point
Jason at Schoodic Point
Jason and Phil on Anvil Trail
Phil at Schoodic Point
View from Anvil Trail
On Saturday, August 8th, we drove to Sand Beach. We all hiked the Ocean Path together until we reached the Gorham Mountain trailhead. Jan continued down the Ocean Path to Otter Point, then returned to Sand Beach. Phil and Jason hiked the Gorham Mountain and Bowl trails, which brought them back to Sand Beach where they met up again with Jan. We sat on the beach for a while and cooled our feet in the bay.
View of coast from Ocean Path
View of Sand Beach from Gorham Trail
Jan and Jason at Sand Beach
Jason at Gorham Mtn. summit
Jan and Phil at Sand Beach
Jason on Gorham Mtn.
We took a day off from hiking on Sunday. Instead, we did a road trip down the coast of Maine and drove through many harbor towns. Phil had found an article on the Internet titled the “Top 10 Places to Retire in Maine” and we decided to visit two of these towns, Belfast and Rockland. We reached Belfast first and spent some time walking along the harbor, visiting the downtown shopping district and driving past a few houses listed for sale. Our next stop was Camden where we visited several shops. We then continued on to Rockland where we ate lunch at The Brass Compass, strolled down to the harbor where we could see a lighthouse and drove by a few houses for sale. On our return trip, we drove to see a house that we had seen listed on the window of a Rockland realtor. It had a Lincolnville address but was actually located over a mile down an unpaved road along Coleman Pond.
The Brass Compass in Rockland
Jason and Jan in Belfast harbor
Jason at Rockland harbor
View up Main St. in Rockland
Jason stayed with us for another week and worked remotely during the day. He was able to stay connected successfully using the hotspot on Jan’s phone. We resumed our morning hikes on Tuesday while Jason worked. We hiked the 3.5-mile Conners Nubble Trail. The beginning and end of this hike was along the Eagle Lake Carriage Road. Then we headed up a steep trail that took us to the Conners Nubble summit. We ate our breakfast while enjoying the views of Eagle Lake and the Bubbles range.
Phil and Jan at Connors Nubble summit
View of Eagle Lake from Connors Nubble
That evening Jan packed our dinner and we headed to Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunset. When we arrived, we discovered that there was no view of the western horizon from the summit. Instead, we drove down the access road to a pullout and carried our chairs and food through the bushes to a plateau where we could set up for the show. The only downside to this location was that it was extremely windy so we had to turn our backs to the wind while we ate. The sun set at 7:44 pm and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Phil and Jan watching the sunset
Jan and Phil on Cadillac Mtn.
Jason and Phil on Cadillac Mtn.
Jason watching the sunset
On Wednesday, we drove to Southwest Harbor and hiked two fairly short hikes. The first, Ship Harbor Trail, was a 1.5-mile figure-8 hike that took us out to the harbor. Since it was close to low tide, we were able to climb on the rocks and explore the many tide pools. We ate our breakfast on a big rock facing the ocean. Our second hike was the nearby Wonderland Trail, a 1-mile out-and-back trail to the rocky coast line. We spent a lot of time climbing on the rocks and examining the many cairns that had been built along the shore.
Jan having breakfast on the coast
View from Ship Harbor Trail
Phil at tidepool on Ship Harbor Trail
Cairns on Wonderland Trail
Jan posing with a cairn
We attempted to hike the Kebo Mountain Trail that evening after our dentist appointments and after Jason finished working. Unfortunately, we ran out of daylight and had to turn back after reaching the summit, rather than finishing the whole hike.
On Thursday, we drove to the town of Blue Hill and hiked the 2.5-mile Blue Hill Mountain Loop. The initial climb was rather steep but we were rewarded with beautiful views of the Blue Hill harbor. After our hike, we drove through the town.
View from Blue Hill Mountain Trail
Jan descending Blue Hill Mountain Trail
Phil on Blue Hill Mountain Trail
On Friday, August 14th, we drove to Northeast Harbor and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Day Mountain Trail. Although most of the hike was through the woods, there were some great overlooks of the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean from near the summit. That evening, we had dinner at the Chart Room before heading into Bar Harbor for some shopping. During Jason’s 2019 visit, we had driven by this restaurant and Jason had mistakenly read the sign as the Chat Room. This had been a running joke ever since then but this was the first time we had actually eaten there.
Jan on the Day Mountain Trail
Phil at the Day Mountain summit
Jan near the Day Mountain summit
On Saturday, we took Jason for his last hike in Acadia for 2020. We left early and were lucky to get the last spot at the Bubbles parking area. We did the 4-mile Jordan Pond Carry to Eagle Lake and Bubbles Trail Loop. This hike had a little bit of everything. The trail along Eagle Lake was extremely rocky and required a great deal of care in finding our footing. Then we climbed to the summit of Conners Nubble, repeating the trail we had done on Tuesday. The next leg was a climb to the summit of North Bubble, before descending and returning to the parking lot. We were glad to have started early since the parking lot was packed and tensions were high among the many people waiting for a parking spot.
Rocky Eagle Lake Trail
Jan near the summit of Conners Nubble
Phil at the North Bubbles summit
Jason at the Conners Nubble summit
That evening, we rented kayaks and spent 2.5 hours paddling on Long Lake during sunset. Jan and Phil shared a tandem kayak while Jason had a single. It was a beautiful night with a light wind.
Jason getting underway
Sunday marked the end of our first month at Timberland Acres RV Park. Fortunately, we have another 33 days here. We drove Jason to the Bangor airport for his flight home. The 13 days he was with us went by very quickly and were very enjoyable.
We left Kerrville, TX on Sunday, June 21st, and retraced the path we had taken when heading south in December. We drove 220 miles to Elm Mott, TX and spent one night at the I-35 RV Park. On Monday, we drove 264 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at our usual campground, Shady Pines RV Park. On Wednesday, we drove 235 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park.
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact our planning for our summer travels. We were already aware that Maine had implemented a requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in the state. However, this requirement was modified somewhat by allowing visitors to forego the quarantine if they can prove that they have gotten a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arriving in Maine. We hope to get tested while in New York, immediately before leaving for Maine.
Massachusetts also implemented a 14-day quarantine. We had planned to spend five nights in Massachusetts on our way to Maine but, for now, we have rescheduled this stop until our return trip in late September. We are hoping the quarantine requirements will have been lessened by then.
On June 24th, the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey implemented a requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in their states for travelers coming from any of seven states with a spike in COVID cases, including Texas and Arkansas. We had booked reservations for four nights in Byron, NY, beginning July 5th. Since this would have been only 10 days after leaving Arkansas, we would have had to quarantine the entire time so, instead, we rerouted through Pennsylvania for the four nights. We will then head to Autumn Moon Campground in Middle Grove, NY on July 9th since, by then, 14 days will have passed since we left Arkansas.
On Thursday, June 25th, we drove 271 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent a week at the Grand Ole RV Park. Our activities were limited due to COVID. Jason joined us the first morning for breakfast at Cracker Barrell. It was a different dining experience, due to the social distancing and sanitation requirements. Jason also came over for dinner several nights and we sat outside afterwards listening to live music. He picked up a pizza from Gino’s East one night on his way home from work. Jason’s roommate, Steve, joined us for spaghetti, salad and Butterfinger cake another night. We also were able to celebrate an early birthday with Lizzi at a Mexican restaurant near her house.
Rainbow over Grand Ole RV Resort
Steve, Jason, Phil and Jan enjoying live music
Jason with our dinner
Jason and Jan
Live music at Grand Ole RV Resort
On June 30, the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey doubled the number of states requiring quarantine, now 16. The new list included Tennessee so our five-day stay at Autumn Moon campground will be spent in quarantine. Had we known we would have to quarantine the entire stay, we would have just skipped New York and done our quarantine in Massachusetts instead. Unfortunately, it was now too late to cancel our New York reservation without a penalty.
On Thursday, July 2nd, we drove 275 miles to North Bend, OH (bordering Cincinnati) where we spent two nights at Indian Springs Campground. We had overnighted at this campground twice before but, because it was considered part of the July 4th weekend, we were required to stay for a two-night minimum. This turned out to be fortuitous since Jarrod and Jess flew in to Cincinnati that day to visit Jess’ family. They dropped by to visit on Friday morning and then we joined them for lunch at the home of Jess’ father and stepmother, Henry and Sandy Mollman. We enjoyed sitting outside and had a very filling meal, topped off with homemade ice cream.
On Saturday, July 4th, we drove 267 miles to Streetsboro, OH where we overnighted at the Streetsboro / SE Cleveland KOA. The campground was in full swing when we arrived and there was little evidence of social distancing going on. The pool was crowded and many large groups were gathered.
On Sunday, July 5th, we drove 270 miles to New Columbia, PA where we spent four nights at the Williamsport South / Nittany Mountain KOA. It is one of the upscale Holiday KOAs and we had a large pull-through site with no neighbors nearby. One of the popular activities was the twice-daily feeding time at the petting zoo. We joined the youngsters in the pen (masks were required) where we fed and played with the goats.
We had planned to hike in the area but torrential rain overnight forced us to scrap that idea. Instead, we attempted to hike the nature trail connected to the campground but had to turn around when we encountered No Trespassing signs.
On Monday, we drove to Lewisburg. Our first stop was at the Street of Shops. Located completely indoors in a restored historic woolen mill, this large building contains 375 shops selling a wide variety of merchandise (mostly antiques and collectibles). We spent about two hours strolling through room after room.
Later, we visited downtown Lewisburg and had lunch at a local pizzeria where Phil had a cheesesteak and Jan had an eggplant parm sub. Both were delicious. After lunch, we drove through the largely-empty campus of Bucknell University and visited Soldier’s Memorial Park.
Phil with his cheesesteak
Railroad bridge by Soldier’s Memorial Park
World War I memorial
On Tuesday, we drove to Williamsport, PA. Our first stop was at Original Field, the baseball field where the Little League World Series was held for the first 12 years. There wasn’t much to see at this complex, which is now used by the local softball league. We next drove along Millionaire’s Row, where lumber barons had built huge Victorian homes at the turn of the century. Williamsport once had more millionaires per-capital than anywhere else in the world, but this area was definitely showing its age. Our final stop was at the current home of the Little League World Series. With the World Series cancelled for 2020, we were free to roam around the two stadiums and visited the Casey at the Bat sculpture.
Jan at Casey at the Bat sculpture
Phil at Casey at the Bat sculpture
Lamade Stadium, the championship field
View of Lemade Stadium from home plate
Since Maine would allow us to avoid the 14-day quarantine if we could get a COVID test done within 72 hours of entering the state, we had been exploring options for testing while in New York. Most were limited to New York residents or required a doctor’s referral. On Tuesday, Phil was able to get us signed up for free COVID tests at RiteAid in Colonie, NY on Saturday, July 11th. The test results are normally available in 2-7 days but, due to the demand, it may take longer so we may still have to quarantine for some period in Maine.
On Wednesday, we returned to Lewisburg and visited the Farmers Market. This was one of the nicest and largest farmers market we have visited. They had a huge variety of local specialties, vegetables, fruits, baked goods and crafts. Many of the vendors were Amish. There was even a Schlegel Farms, Jan’s maiden name, so we had to buy from them. Since we knew it would take a long time to see everything, Phil left Jan at the farmers market and headed to Walmart to buy enough food to last us through the full quarantine periods. Jan also loaded herself down with fresh meats and vegetables, as well as a lemon meringue pie and fresh bagels.
On Thursday, we drove 300 miles to Middle Grove, NY (near Saratoga Springs) where we had made reservations for five nights at Autumn Moon Campground. The first 270 miles were on interstates but the travel was slower than hoped due to lots of road work zones. The final 30 miles were quite challenging as they involved many turns on small country roads. When we approached the final turn, Phil’s GPS chimed as he neared a couple of gravel roads. Since this is the indication that he is at the turning point, Phil pulled up the first gravel road and drove up to the road to what he hoped was the campground office. Jan’s GPS showed that the correct turn was 400 feet farther but she couldn’t call Phil before he made the turn. As it turned out, Phil had pulled into a farmer’s driveway. We spent most of the next hour trying to get the fifth wheel turned around. It would have been easier if not for a BMW that was parked next to the house. Jan knocked on the door of the house but no one answered. After multiple attempts, we got turned around and made our way to the campground.
The owners of the Autumn Moon Campground were quite friendly but the campground was less impressive than where we’d normally stay. Since we only had 30 amps available, we were limited to using one air conditioner. Even at that, the circuit breaker on the pedestal kept flipping every few minutes. Phil finally solved that problem by turning off the charger to our batteries. It was 82 degrees in our living room and it took a couple of hours before we got the temperature down to a pleasant 72 degrees.
The requirements for quarantine vary by state and, even for a given state, are quite fluid. Phil discovered, after we arrived in New York, that Pennsylvania had implemented a quarantine on July 1st for travelers from 15 states, including Tennessee. Oops!
On Saturday, we drove 30 miles to Colonie, NY to get our COVID tests. The process was somewhat different than in the YouTube we had watched. We pulled up to the drive-through window at the RiteAid and the pharmacist gave us our test kits. He explained the procedure, which consisted of inserting the test swab one inch into one nostril, rotating it twice, holding it in place for 15 seconds and then repeating in the other nostril. It wasn’t too unpleasant, although both of us had watery eyes and Phil sneezed twice. The test results were supposed to arrive via email in 2-7 days but we were pleasantly surprised when we both received negative test results on Monday afternoon. That will eliminate any need to quarantine when we arrive in Maine on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, April 14th, we made the 350-mile drive from Brownsville to Kerrville. Although the drive was uneventful, we had not driven much in the previous three months so it was quite tiring. We arrived at 4 pm and set up on our new site. We got the end pull-thorough site in the Executive section. In addition to a larger concrete patio, the end site provided us with a large grassy area next to us.
Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who were also staying at Buckhorn, dropped by to visit and, since we had not been able to see them for the last few weeks in Brownsville, it was good to catch up again. We learned that, in addition to the office being closed due to COVID, the pools, fitness center and social room were also closed.
On Wednesday morning, Phil rode his bike over to the pickleball courts but there was nobody playing. Later that morning, we drove the Willow City loop to see the wildflowers. We had driven the Willow City loop years ago but the flowers had not been in bloom then. This time, the bluebonnets were in full bloom and were quite beautiful.
As we passed through Fredericksburg, we couldn’t help but notice all the empty stores. However, Jan noticed that the door to our favorite shop, Russlin’ Rob’s Texas Gourmet, was open but the store was dark inside. Jan checked their website and learned that, although the food sampling stations were closed, the store was being manned for drop-in customers. She called and ordered some of our favorite sauces. When we returned, Phil knocked on the door and the store manager already had the sauces wrapped up for us.
Our activities over the next few weeks continued to be limited due to COVID-19. Phil managed to find enough pickleball players to fill one court most days. Jan walked the campground most mornings and we generally got out for a stroll each evening. Trips to the grocery stores and Walgreens involved wearing face masks.
On April 16th, we drove to Ingram and visited Stonehenge II. It is 90% as wide and 60% as tall as the original Stonehenge in England. Jan had hoped to get pictures of the sunset but it was too cloudy.
Fortunately, we were able to get together with Beth and Todd most afternoons for Happy Hour. We hosted a farewell brunch with the Ehlenfeldts on April 20th. Jan made cinnamon rolls and Beth brought seafood quiche. After saying our goodbyes the following morning, we drove to San Antonio to get the Mazda serviced at our dealer. We also stopped at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods to load up on groceries. Masks were worn at all stops.
Todd, Beth and Phil after brunch
Jan, Beth and Todd saying goodbye
Phil waiting at the Mazda dealer
We drove to Louise Mays Park in Kerrville on April 18 and 22 and enjoyed long strolls along the Guadalupe River.
Large bumblebee on a bluebell
Jan along the Guadalupe River
Wildflower along the river
Cairn along the trail
Phil among the big trees
On April 23, we drove to the Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden to see if Jan could get pictures of the sunset. She had better luck than she had at Stonehenge II.
Jesus sculpture at sunset
Cross at sunset
On April 24, we did a long scenic drive through nearby Mason County to see the wildflowers. We had directions for three different routes. The first route we took involved driving on a unpaved road that crosses several spots with the potential for high water. When we came to the first one, we turned back rather than trying to cross the river. Although the water wasn’t overly deep, the current was quite fast. The remainder of our drive was beautiful and, although there were quite a few low spots, none were underwater.
Wildflowers along the road
Field of wildflowers
Wildflowers behind the gate
Our laptop, which we had purchased in 2015, had been experiencing problems with the DC power port and finally died in late April. Jan contacted Dell support and they identified a refurbished replacement part. However, since we were uncomfortable with the thought of disassembling the laptop ourselves, we took it to a local PC repair shop. After examining our laptop, the owner decided it couldn’t be repaired. We decided to purchase a new laptop. However, since the old laptop was now deemed worthless and the replacement part was only $15, we decided to see if we could fix it. In our enthusiasm to see what was involved in dissecting a laptop, we removed a seemingly endless number of screws and Jan disconnected numerous cables and parts. Then, when the replacement cable arrived a week later, our challenge was in remembering how to put the pieces back together again. Fortunately, Jan’s prior life in PC support paid off and the reassembly went fairly easily and we got the old laptop running again. That bought us some time in getting files and applications transferred to the new laptop but we’re still glad we invested in the new laptop.
Mother’s Day, May 10th, was the most active day we’d had in a long time. We started with a trip to Luckenbach, TX. We sat outside and enjoyed some live music. Jan bought a new hat. Next, we visited Wildseed Farms and walked through the gardens. For dinner, we went to the West End Pizza Company in Fredericksburg. We dined on the shaded patio, where the tables were spread out for social distancing. This was our first restaurant meal, inside or takeout, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and it was quite enjoyable.
Enjoying music at Luckenbach
Phil at Wildseed Farms
Jan posing with the Rocket Larkspur
Jan’s new hat
Later, we went for our usual evening stroll. Near the end of our walk, we met a man walking his three dalmatians. He let up on the leashes so they could come over to sniff Phil. Since they were acting friendly, Phil bent down to pet the dogs. As Phil was petting the second dog, the third dog lunged at him and bit him hard on his forearm. When Phil pulled his arm back, the dog lunged again and bit him on the thigh, ripping a hole in Phil’s favorite shorts. Blood was running down Phil’s arm so we hurried home to treat it, without finding out if the dog had had its vaccinations. We just had to assume that they had. Phil reported the bites to the office the next day and we never saw the dogs again.
Bite on the forearm
Bite on the thigh
On May 12th, Phil visited his doctor to get x-rays of his pinky finger he had injured a week earlier while playing pickleball. The x-rays showed no sign of any broken bones. The doctor also examined the dog bites and prescribed some antibiotics. The governor of Texas had authorized the reopening of barber shops and hair salons a few days earlier and we were both overdue. We both went in for haircuts that afternoon. Phil had not had a haircut in over four months and the barber told him he had the start of a mullet. The difference was significant.
We decided to extend our stay in Kerrville for another month, until June 21st, to see what direction the COVID-19 infections go. After initially being told the campground was full over Memorial Day weekend, there was a cancellation that enabled us to stay in our same site. Phil spent the next two days reworking our travel schedule for the summer and hoping that it holds up.
On Saturday, May 23rd, we rented kayaks at Louise Mays Park and paddled up and down the Guadalupe River for two hours. We encountered lots of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and logs, as well as flocks of ducks floating down the river. Unfortunately, the lack of recent rain had left the river quite shallow as we got upstream and we had to turn around before we would have liked.
The return trip
Turtles catching some sun
Ducks on the river
Floating down the Guadalupe
The beginning of our journey
On Wednesday, May 27th, we drove to Austin for one of Jan’s doctor appointments. The appointment was in the morning so we got on the road early for the two-hour drive. After the appointment, we spent a relaxing afternoon in Austin. We enjoyed sitting in the shade and people-watching at Zilker Metropolitan Park, then made some shopping stops at TJ Maxx and Whole Foods. That evening, we had dinner and socialized with Caleb and Brittany Dickerson, Katie Schlegel and, Katie’s friend, Michael at the Dickerson’s new condo. The weather forecast had called for severe storms that evening but we missed most of it on the drive back to Kerrville. However, we decided to stop at Walgreens upon our arrival back in Kerrville and discovered that the streets were flooded and the power was out. As we drove back to the campground on I-10, we saw piles of hailstones along the interstate. We later learned that they had experienced quite a severe storm in our absence, with lots of trees down and hail damage. We were glad to have missed the excitement and were relieved to not see any damage to our vehicles.
Katie, Phil, Jan, Brittany & Caleb
Relaxing at Zilker Park
Open field at Zilker Park
Shopping in the age of COVID-19
Rainbow after the storm
Sunset on our drve home
Our remaining time at Buckhorn was rather quiet, largely due to daily high temperatures in the 90’s. Phil continued playing pickleball six mornings a week, but the starting time was moved up to 7:30 am to lessen the heat. We visited the pool several days and enjoyed the cool water. Mostly, we stayed indoors and took advantage of our air conditioners. Phil ordered DVDs of all eight seasons of ‘24’ and Jan ordered four seasons of ‘Outlander.’ These will provide us with plenty of entertainment throughout the summer, assuming we can resist the urge to binge watch.
Jan’s toes by the pool
Phil relaxing by the pool
We celebrated Phil’s 66th birthday on June 14th with an afternoon at Luckenbach, TX. Upon our arrival, we discovered that we were attending the Waylon Jennings Birthday Bash. There were about 30 musicians who, one after another, got on stage and performed non-stop Waylon Jennings songs. Each hour, they held a sing-along to the song ‘Luckenbach, Texas.” We stuck around for three hours of the four-hour event. Phil grilled steelhead trout for dinner and dessert consisted of Jan’s blueberry pie.
Waylon Jennings Birthday Bash
Musicians at Luckenbach
Phil with his birthday pie
Phil’s body had taken a beating during our time at Buckhorn, between dog bites and three falls on the pickleball courts resulting in bloody body parts. However, the main event came on Monday night, June 15th. Phil heard the rain starting and raced out the door to move our lawn chairs under cover. He slipped on the wet step cover and, while falling down on the steps, managed to slice open the bottom of his right foot. This excitement happened after the Urgent Care centers had closed for the evening so, as Jan raced off to WalMart for bandages, Phil kept pressure on the wound until the bleeding had slowed. Upon Jan’s return, she administered first aid to get Phil through the night. The following morning, we were off to the doctor’s office. Although the nurse was quite impressed with Jan’s bandaging efforts, the doctor decided to suture up the cut. It took nine sutures to close the wound. The most painful part of the procedure were the many shots needed to numb Phil’s foot, as he gained an appreciation for how many nerve endings one has in the bottom of one’s foot. Phil spent the next few days hobbling around the RV but quickly learned to get around while avoiding putting weight on the site of the cut.
Scrapes from the pickleball court
Nine sutures in Phil’s foot
One of Phil’s regrets was that the injury eliminated any chance for him to play pickleball over our final five days. On our final Friday afternoon at Buckhorn, Cindy Welch invited us over for a happy hour with several of Phil’s fellow pickleball players.
On Thursday, February 13th, we attended a happy hour on the patio outside the Amenity Center. A two-man band called Shake & Bake performed for two hours. We were surprised when Hill Dishman, the campground owner, joined the band to sing a couple of songs. Hill has a very good voice and did an outstanding imitation of Willie Nelson.
Hill singing with Shake & Bake
Sunset from our campsite
Dancing to the music
Friday was Valentine’s Day and we celebrated by heading over to South Padre Island. We first stopped at Tequila Sunset where we sat outside overlooking Laguna Bay and listened to live music. When it started to get too cool for sitting outside, we walked up the street to Louie’s Backyard. At Louie’s, we were able to sit inside and listen to live music. We also visited the nearby sand castle displays.
Jan and Phil outside Laguna Bob’s
Jan and Phil sitting on sand castle
Pelicans on docks
Sunsetfrom causeway bridge
Sea turtle sand castle
Yoda sand castle
Jason arrived on Saturday, February 15th, for a week-long visit. After picking him up at the airport in Harlingen, we went to Texas Roadhouse for a very filling dinner.
On Sunday we headed to the Los Fresnos Rodeo. Prior to the start of the rodeo we watched a performer demonstrate his skills with a lasso and bullwhip. We also watched the Banana Derby where dogs raced with small monkeys as riders. Our seats for the rodeo were very good and provided us with great views of the many events. The contestants were all professional rodeo cowboys and quite a few were former world champions.
Gate to rodeo grounds
Ececting bull rider
On Monday Phil and Jason played pickleball in the morning. They were able to play pickleball four mornings that week. Monday afternoon we headed to South Padre Island. Our first stop was Isla Blanca Park. We walked along the beach, visited the monument to lost sailors and strolled out on the jetty. It was a windy day and there were lots of kiteboarders in the bay. We later had dinner at Pier 19.
Phil and Jan at monument to lost sailors
Jason at monument
Phil on jetty
On Tuesday we returned to South Padre Island for an afternoon fishing boat excursion. Jason quickly caught two sheepshead (one of legal size) before succumbing to seasickness. Phil then caught a sheepshead. Unfortunately, someone else’s line had gotten tangled with Phil’s line. After he was able to remove the hook from the fish, he started to untangle the other line. Once he had untangled the two weights, the other person jerked their line and Phil’s hook became imbedded in his finger. Fortunately the fishing boat had a person on staff who was trained in first aid. The captain took the boat into smoother waters and the assistant snipped the barb off the hook before pulling the hook out of Phil’s finger. Jan did catch the most interesting-looking fish. It was some sort of flying fish but was too small to keep. One we returned to port, the captain filleted our sheepshead. We had them for dinner on Thursday and they were very delicious.
Hook in Phil’s finger
Our fishing boat
Captain cleaning our fish
On Wednesday we started the day at the Don-Wes Flea market. We then crossed the border to visit Nuevo Progresso. After eating lunch at the Red Snapper Restaurant, we headed to the beauty salon where we all had pedicures.
Thursday afternoon Jan and Jason headed to Mercedes and did some shopping at the outlet mall. The weather on Friday was quite cool so we decided to go see a movie. We picked up Beth and headed to the Sunrise Mall and watched “Call of the Wild.” After the movie, we met up with Todd.
On Saturday we awoke at 4 am to take Jason back to Harlingen for his 6:10 am flight. We returned home and went back to bed. By the time Phil woke up at 10 am, Jason was already back in Nashville. We participated in a Tropical Trails shuffleboard tournament that afternoon. Although Phil had a fairly low score, he ended up winning $2 for coming closest to the targeted score. The group then headed to Los Fresnos for dinner at Arnie’s. After dinner, we joined the group for a campfire back at Tropical Trails.
Dinner at Arnie’s
Gathered by the campfire
On Sunday afternoon we joined a group from Tropical Trails at Harley’s Beer Garden in Los Fresnos. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts also joined us. We sat outside and listened to music. A potluck dinner with BBQ was available but we chose not to stick around for it.
The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Harleys
The group from Tropical Trails
On Monday evening, February 24th, Phil finally got his crown installed on the implant he had done a year ago. Jan went to play Mexican train. On Tuesday evening we both played LCR.
Strong winds started blowing Tuesday evening, with gusts in excess of 40 mpg, and continued all day Wednesday. We got going early Wednesday morning and drove to Nuevo Progresso to get our teeth cleaned by one of the many dentists. The service seemed quite professional. Although the equipment was not state-of-the-art, everything appeared very sanitary. The cost of $25 per person for the cleaning was considerably less than the $85 the Brownsville dentist would have charged. In the afternoon we played cards at the Amenity Center.
Over the next few weeks we largely fell into a routine, with fewer notable activities. Phil played pickleball six mornings and Jan exercised, either on her bicycle or the treadmill in the fitness room. We played games (Mexican train dominoes, LRC or Golf) a couple of evenings each week.
On Thursday, February 27th, we had another shrimp boil at the Amenity Center, with musical entertainment again provided by Shake and Bake. Later that evening we had a bonfire for several couples who would be leaving in the next few days.
Hill performing with Shake & Bake
Hill and Donnelle preparing the meal
Listening to music before the meal
On Saturday morning Jan attended a class on making tamales while Phil played pickleball. That afternoon we participated in a shuffleboard tournament. Later we had dinner at Russo’s NY Pizzeria.
Jan & Phil at shuffleboard
On Tuesday, March 3rd, we joined the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Winter Haven RV Park for a game of Mexican Train that lasted several hours. We had to move several times to stay dry when the drizzles started but they never lasted very long. After the game Roxi served us tacos for dinner.
On Wednesday Phil visited a new orthopedic surgeon regarding his shoulder that has been hurting since September. He got a shot of cortisone and was sent home with a list of exercises designed to strengthen his shoulder muscles.
On Thursday the group from Tropical Trails headed to South Padre Island for Happy Hour. We sat outside overlooking the bay at Longboard Bar & Grill and enjoyed the musical entertainment. We then drove half a mile to The Meatball Café where we had dinner. Phil ordered eggplant parmigiana and Jan had cannelloni. Both were very good.
Relaxing at Longboard
The gang from Tropical Trails
On Friday we returned to South Padre Island. We started at Clayton’s and enjoyed an order of nachos. It was apparent that Clayton’s was starting to gear up for the Spring Break crowd. Gone was the old people music and, in its place, they had a deejay playing hip hop. We decided to move on to Longboard where we sat on the deck and enjoyed music that was more to our taste.
On Saturday, March 7th, we met the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts in Harlingen and attended the Jackson Street Market. This event occurs on the first Saturday of each month. There were vendors set up on both sides of the street for about six city blocks. We examined the wares at lots of booths but ended up only buying three pounds of red licorice. For lunch we headed to Carlito’s Wine House where we enjoyed the music and the food.
Strolling the Jackson St. Market
Relaxing at Carlito’s Wine House
On Sunday we met the Ehlenfeldts at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. It was a beautiful day so the zoo was quite popular. We drove around for about 15 minutes before finding a parking spot. We had planned to arrive in time for a 2:30 presentation on ocelots. However, when we arrived, we learned that the time had been changed to 2 pm. We were still able to see the end of the presentation and see the ocelot. After that, we strolled the entire loop around the zoo for a couple of hours. We managed to see all the exhibits except the reptiles and fish, which we skipped due to both tired feet and lack of interest. We then all headed to Cobblehead’s Bar & Grill where we dined outside and listened to music. Three members of the band were the same musicians we had listened to at Longboard on Friday.
Phil, Beth and Todd at the giraffe enclosure
Beth & Jan with zoo mascot
Jan with the flamingos
On Tuesday, March 10th, we had a farewell bonfire for Joanne and Dave who were leaving on Saturday. We toasted marshmallows and ate s’mores.
On Wednesday we participated in a bean bag tossing competition, followed by shuffleboard.
On Sunday, January 12th, we left Fredericksburg and drove 349 miles to Brownsville where we will spend three months at a new campground, Tropical Trails RV Resort. Jan had learned about this campground online and we booked our reservation last summer. Originally, we believed it was going to open in October 2019. However, over the following months, the opening date kept getting delayed. Each time, Jan would call Bonnie, the General Manager, to seek assurance that the park would be open by mid-January. It did finally open on January 1, 2020. When we arrived, we noted that there were only about 30 rigs parked in the 165-acre campground. We quickly discovered that the campground was clearly still a work in progress. We took one of the sites with some grass growing on the door side. In the days to come, Phil watered the grass most mornings. We hope to have an established lawn by the time we leave in April. Although it felt like we were camping in a construction site, the owner was wise enough not to park campers next to each other. As a result, we had plenty of privacy and were able to park our truck on an empty site nearby.
One of the advantages to being in a nearly-empty campground was that we were able to meet a lot of the other campers at the many organized activities. On Monday morning Phil joined about 10 other campers on the four new pickleball courts. He was one of the few who had played the game before and was disappointed that the group disbanded after playing only two games. On Monday night we joined a number of fellow campers to watch the NCAA football championship game and, for non-football fans, a game of Mexican train. While Phil watched football, Jan was quite successful playing Mexican train.
Phil wathing football
Jan playing games
Mexican train game
On Tuesday we went to our dentist appointment. After sitting in the lobby for an hour, we learned that they had been unable to confirm our dental insurance. So rather than wait any longer, we rescheduled for Wednesday. We then dropped by to visit the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts who are camping at the nearby Winter Haven campground. On Wednesday we met at the amenity center and learned to play shuffleboard. Although we had a large crowd, no one really knew the rules so we had to rely on the few who had watched YouTube videos beforehand. In the afternoon, we returned to the dentist. Although we were able to get x-rays and an examination, the cleanings were delayed until mid-February.
On Thursday we joined a group at the amenity center for a shrimp boil. In addition to shrimp, there was more than enough sausage, potatoes, corn and bread so no one walked away hungry.
On Friday we joined a caravan to Nuevo Progresso, Mexico. Since we had been there several times before, we explored on our own but we did join the group for lunch at Arturo’s. After lunch, we headed to our usual beauty salon and both got $10 pedicures. When we returned to the campground, we attended a presentation by a local travel agency that included a Mexican dance team and free margaritas.
On Saturday evening, Jan’s friend, Sheila Gaskin, arrived for a weeklong visit. We attempted to eat dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Harlingen but the line was too long. We left and headed to the Texas Roadhouse in Brownsville. Although we still had a 40-minute wait, the meal was very good.
On Sunday, January 19th, Jan and Sheila spent the afternoon at South Padre Island. Phil stayed at home to watch the Tennessee Titans lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. That evening, we met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at The Lucky Barrel to watch the Green Bay Packers play for the NFC championship. Unfortunately for our friends from Wisconsin, the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers.
Sheila by the beach at South Padre Island
Packer watching group
On Monday, after Phil played pickleball, we headed back to Nuevo Progresso. This was Sheila’s first visit to a Mexican border town.
Jan and Sheila on bridge over Rio Grande River
Sheila and Jan at border
Sheila at Red Snapper Restaurant
On Tuesday we attended the campground’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. We then headed to South Padre Island and visited the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue facility. Later we had an early dinner at Pier 19.
Jan in Sea Turtle aquarium
Tilly, one of the resident sea turtles
Sheila and Jan at SPI Visitor Center sand castles
Jan and Sheila at Pier 19
Jan and Sheila at SPI sign
Sea turtle with prosthetic devise
Sheila at sea turtle tank
Sheila at Pier 19 restaurant
The weather forecast for Wednesday had called for rain all day. Although the rain ended early, we opted to spend the day indoors so we headed to the Sunrise Mall. Phil went to see the movie ‘1917‘ while Jan and Sheila went shopping. We then went to Russo’s NY Pizzeria for dinner.
On Thursday we went to South Padre Island (SPI) and headed to Clayton’s for music and cheap wings and beer. Although the temperature in Brownsville reached 81 degrees, it only reached 68 degrees at SPI and was quite windy. We moved our seats four times to stay in the sun. Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt joined us for the last hour.
Part of the crowd at Clayton’s
Sheila, Jan and Beth at Clayton’s
On Friday, Jan and Sheila picked up Roxi and Beth and headed back to Nuevo Progresso for the day. Phil met up with Tom and Todd at C & C Wings.
Saturday morning we woke up at 4 am to take Sheila back to the Harlingen airport for her flight home. We got back home shortly before 6 am and had no trouble falling back asleep for several more hours.
On Sunday we went to the SPI Convention Center to do some shopping at the Marketplace. We met the Rykals, the Ehlenfeldts and some friends of the Ehlenfeldts (Ed and Teresa) there. After having explored all the booths at the Marketplace, we all headed to Louie’s Backyard for lunch. We then headed to LongBoard Bar & Grill where sat and enjoyed music by a husband and wife band.
Sunset from SPI
Band at LongBoard Bar & Grill
Phil played pickleball on Monday morning. In the afternoon we headed to Boca Chica Beach and spent an hour walking up and down the beach. We were able to see the expansion to the SpaceX facility that has happened since we were in Brownsville last winter.
Boca Chica beach
Jan with sunken boat
Phil on beach
Bird on beach
SpaceX launch facility
Phil spent most of Tuesday dealing with various medical and dental issues. We both played shuffleboard on Wednesday morning.
On Thursday, January 30th, the owners of Tropical Trails RV Park, Hill and Donelle Dishman, hosted a happy hour at their condo at the Boardwalk Yacht Club on South Padre Island. Their home was beautifully decorated and included a tiki bar in the lower level. After the happy hour, we all headed across the road to Gabriella’s Italian Restaurant. The food was very good and we had a good time getting to know some more of our neighbors.
The group from Tropical Trails
Hill and Donelle Dishman in their tiki bar
We participated in a shuffleboard tournament on Friday afternoon. We played four games but, unfortunately, did not come away with any of the prize money.
On Saturday we drove to Donna, TX and strolled through the Don-Wes Flea Market and made a few purchases. We then headed across the border to Nuevo Progresso for a late lunch.
Phil spent the following Monday and Tuesday prepping for his colonoscopy. The combination of prepping for the procedure and needing to be at the surgical center at 6:15 am Wednesday kept Phil up all Tuesday night watching five episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. The procedure went smoothly. As usual, the prep was worse than the actual exam. Upon returning home, we both slept a long time.
The high winds kept us from doing much over the next few days. On Thursday afternoon we drove to downtown Brownsville with the intention of having dinner at the Made in Mexico Festival. Unfortunately the neighborhood was quite seedy and didn’t appear to be where we’d want to be after dark. We wandered around the block but decided it wasn’t worth paying the $5 admission. Instead, we headed back to Russo’s Pizzeria for dinner.
On Friday afternoon we went over to Winter Haven RV Park and had dinner with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts.
Sunday was Leslie Verhaeghe’s birthday and her husband, Jim, had planned a surprise campfire for her. Unfortunately, the strong winds made a campfire a no-go so, instead, we all met in the Amenity Center and ate birthday cake and played games. We learned a couple of new games: Golf and Zonk. Golf is a 9-round card game and Zonk is a variation of Farkle, played with six dice.
The wind on Monday was so strong that Phil could barely manage to get our door open. We are really getting tired of the wind and are already thinking of spending next winter elsewhere. The one excitement for the day came when a herd of goats found their way into the campground. Jim Verhaeghe and his dog, Vader, responded quickly and shepherded them back to where they belonged.
On Tuesday, February 11th, we joined a group from Tropical Trails for a trip to the Heritage Museum in downtown Brownsville. We attended a lecture by a history professor from UTRGV. The lecture covered Mexican history from their independence from Spain in 1821 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The professor discussed the factors that kept Mexico from evolving as successfully as the US after obtaining their independence. We learned a lot about Santa Anna who served as president or military-backed dictator 11 times from 1833-1855. Apparently Santa Anna quickly grew bored of being president and would frequently relinquish power to his vice-president, only to change his mind shortly thereafter.