Spring in the Carolinas (April 9 – 19, 2022)

On Saturday, we drove 311 miles to Pendleton, SC (near Greenville) where we stayed a week at the US Army Corp of Engineers’ Twin Lake Campground on Hartwell Lake.  In addition to the longer-than-usual distance, we were delayed by accidents and road construction along the route.  We were both exhausted when we arrived.  However, our long drive was rewarded with a very nice pull-through site alongside the lake.

The temperature got down to 35 degrees overnight but got up to a sunny 71 degrees on Sunday afternoon.  We went for a long walk around the campground.  As we walked, we could spot Clemson University’s Memorial Stadium across the lake. Jan bought a fishing license online and broke out the poles.  She tried fishing by our site, then moved on to the dock by the boat ramp.  She had no nibbles but was inspired to try again.

Tuesday, April 12th, was our 19th wedding anniversary and we spent the day visiting Greenville, SC.  Our first stop was in the historic West End.  Finding an open parking spot was quite a challenge.  After we managed to get backed into one, we discovered that it was only good for 30 minutes.  That gave us only enough time for a quick stroll through Falls Park on the Reedy, a beautiful city park on the Reedy River. 

Like many towns that developed in the 1800’s, Greenville relied on the river for industry and the river became polluted.  When Greenville’s industry collapsed in the 1950’s, the river was largely abandoned and became overgrown with vegetation and shaded by a four-lane vehicular bridge.  In the 1990s, plans to revitalize the forgotten waterfall began to take place.  The vehicular bridge was torn down in 2003 and replaced with the Liberty Bridge, a 355-foot pedestrian-only suspension bridge that is supported by cables only on one side, giving an unobstructed view of the upper falls.  We strolled across the Liberty Bridge and then walked through the park, enjoying the many gardens with flowers in full bloom.

After spending a couple of hours at the Mazda dealer for some routine maintenance and a quick trip through Sam’s Club, we had an early dinner at The 05 Express Kitchen.  This small restaurant in the Augusta Road neighborhood offers a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Jan had the vegan Brussel sprouts salad and really enjoyed the combination of flavors in the sauce.  Phil passed on the vegan options and, instead, enjoyed the gourmet Keepin It Fresh Smash Burger.

On Wednesday, we drove through the campus of Clemson University.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any open parking spots so we didn’t get to walk around.  We did find a local bait shop and bought some worms.  On Thursday, we headed out to our park’s fishing pier with the worms.  It was a nice day for sitting on the lake but, unfortunately, Jan still had no nibbles.

On Friday, we got on the road early and drove to Devils Ford State Park on Lake Jocassee.  One of Phil’s childhood classmates lives in SC and had recommended we visit this lake.  He claims that National Geographic included this lake in their list of “50 Places You Should Visit Before You Die” (one of only two in this hemisphere).  The lake is known for the clean and cold Appalachian mountain rivers that flow into it, keeping its waters cool and clear year-round.  Several waterfalls flow directly into the lake.  The lake was created in 1973 by the state in partnership with Duke Power.  Although most manmade structures were demolished before the lake was flooded, divers recently discovered the remains of a lodge that was left intact; now below 300 feet of water.  Mount Carmel Baptist Church Cemetery was a setting for a scene in the film Deliverance (1972), starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, produced before the lake was flooded.  That site is now covered by 130 feet of lake water.

Lake Jocassee’s reputation is based on the clear waters and the many waterfalls that line the lake.  The waterfalls are only accessible by boat or by strenuous and/or dangerous hikes.  Unfortunately, the tour boats did not operate on Friday and it was our last full day in SC.  We did hike the 1.5-mile Oconee Bell Loop Trail through a hardwood forest and along a babbling stream.

Another recommendation Phil had received was to visit Duke Energy’s educational facility, World of Energy, at the Oconee Nuclear Station.  Although it is usually open on Fridays, upon our arrival we discovered that it was closed for Good Friday.  However, they did have a long fishing pier and we spent over an hour there.  Once again, Jan was unable to get any nibbles but we enjoyed the sunny day on Lake Keowee.

On Saturday, April 16th, we drove 88 miles to Fletcher, NC where we would spend three nights at Rutledge Lake RV Park.  Fletcher is a short distance from Asheville.

Sunday was Easter and the weather was beautiful.  We had originally planned to take a walking tour of downtown Asheville but, because of tours being unavailable on Easter and with rain forecast for most of Monday, we decided to explore on our own.  With help from the Internet and an app called GPSmycity, we were able to put together a self-guided tour of ten sites in historic Asheville. 

Our first stop was the Asheville city hall, completed in 1928 and designed in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time.  The city hall is located on Pack Square Park, a large green space that is open to the public for relaxing, exercise and events.

We next walked to the Thomas Wolfe House.  Thomas Wolfe was an American novelist of the early 20th century.  He wrote four lengthy novels, as well as many shorter works.  His most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel, chronicled the childhood of a young boy who comes of age in a small mountain town in the south.  Although hailed as a commercial and literary success, the novel brought anger and resentment by many in Asheville.  Residents recognized not only locations, but friends and sometimes themselves as characters in the novel.  Today, Look Homeward, Angel is regarded as an American classic. 

The Thomas Wolfe House was built in 1883 in the Queen Anne architectural style and was operated as a boarding house, called “Old Kentucky Home.”  Wolfe’s mother bought the house in 1903 and continued to operate it as a boarding house, but eventually moved in with her son.

Our next stop was at the Lexington Glassworks, a glassware and glassblowing studio.  Although the studio was open, there was no glassblowing on Easter.

We then went to Woolworth Walk, a two-floor art gallery and crafts space, with stalls displaying the works of a large number of local artists.  The gallery is in a former Woolworths store.  The soda fountain from the original store still operates so visitors can recreate the experience of dining in a 1950s era Woolworths luncheonette.

We next walked past the Basilica of St. Lawrence, completed in 1905 in a Catalan architectural style.  Our final stop on our tour was the Grove Arcade.  Completed in 1929, it was created with the intent to serve as the base for a skyscraper but it was never completed.  It has served many purposes over the years and, at one time, was one of the world’s first indoor shopping malls.  Today, it has a combination of dining, retail and residential space.

We then returned to Pack Square Park and had lunch at Pack’s Tavern.  It was built in 1907 by a local lumber supply company and remains one of the oldest buildings in Asheville.  During Prohibition (1920-1933), a lucrative moonshine distribution business operated in the basement.  Using the lumber supply company as a front and a tunnel under the street, business boomed.

After lunch, we drove to West Asheville and toured the brewery at the New Belgium Brewing Company.  Husband, Jeff Lebesch (electrical engineer), and wife, Kim Jordan (social worker), were inspired to bring Belgian brewing tradition to their hometown of Fort Collins, CO after a bike trip through Belgium in 1988.  In 1991, they installed brewing equipment in their basement and began the business.  Kim became New Belgium’s jack-of-all-trades as the first bottler, sales rep, distributor, marketer, financial planner and long-time CEO.  In 1995, they expanded to a new production facility in Fort Collins.  In 2016, the Asheville brewery opened, bringing the New Belgium experience to the East Coast.  Fat Tire, first brewed in 1991 and still the big money-maker, was named for the many comments the founders got when they rode their mountain bikes with fat tires in Europe.  Employees are awarded a bicycle when they reach one year of employment.  Our tour took us through the brewery and we got to watch ale being brewed in the huge vats.  We were offered samples of Fat Tire and, if interested, several other brands.  To get to the lower floor of the brewery, we took a steep slide down through a spiral tube.  Although hesitant at first, we both made it.

After spending most of a rainy and cool Monday indoors, we headed out to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in nearby Mills River for an early dinner.  Although the company has operated in Chico, CA since the 1980s, construction of the brewery in Mills River, NC was completed in 2015.  The beautiful setting for this brewery is definitely not what you would expect for an industrial business.  This campus is down a long driveway and way back into the woods.  They didn’t offer tours on Mondays so we headed straight to the Taproom.  Before having dinner, we explored the backyard, which is set up for concerts and other events.  We then returned inside for dinner.  Jan ordered tempeh bahn mi and Phil ordered crispy oyster and pear salad.  When you have to use your smartphone to look up the ingredients, you know it will be something unusual but both dishes were very flavorful.

April in Savannah (April 2 – 9, 2022)

We got up early on Saturday, April 2nd, and prepared for our 277-mile drive to Savannah, GA, where we would spend a week at CreekFire RV Resort.  Since we had not moved in four months, we were somewhat concerned that we might forget some of our moving-day procedures but we did pretty well.  We did have a bit of an issue when we couldn’t get the hitch’s arm to close completely, although the jaws were properly secured around the kingpin.  To make matters worse, we couldn’t get the jaws to open back up so we could try again.  We tried raising and lowering the legs, as well as moving the truck back and forth slightly, and we eventually got the hitch arm into position so we could lock it in place. 

Once we got on the road, the drive was quite slow.  We faced many miles of stop-and-go traffic on the interstates, due to accidents, road construction, and tons of snowbirds returning north.  In addition, we dealt with rain much of the day, including some periods of torrential downpour.  So, despite preparing to leave Webster, FL at 9:30 am, we didn’t reach our new campground until 4:30 pm.  Fortunately, our new pull-through site was easy to access and the hitch disconnected without any further issue. 

The resort has many amenities, including four pools (swimming pool, kiddie pool, splash pool, and a lazy river), a game room, tennis/pickleball court, a lake with catch-and-release fishing, and a hiking trail around the lake.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the week calls for three days of inclement weather, including some severe storms.

On Sunday, we caught a shuttle bus at 9:30 am and were driven to the garage for the Old Town Trolley Tours in Savannah.  We then transferred to a trolley and took a 90-minute ride around the entire loop.  This took us past most of the 22 squares in the historic district.   The trolley driver provided an overwhelming amount of details about what we were passing.  After completing the full loop, we got off at the City Market stop and headed to Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar for a snack.  We went up to the rooftop bar and shared a dozen raw oysters.  We then strolled through City Market, before hopping back on the trolley.  We got off at Madison Square and strolled through many of the neighborhoods and visited several of the squares.  We spent a lot of time at Chippewa Square looking for the bench from the movie Forest Gump but later learned that it had been moved to a museum.  We then returned to City Market and decided to have lunch at the Café at City Market.  Phil’s pepperoni pizza was barely passable, but Jan’s got the real surprise.  When her summer salad was placed down in front of her, a roach popped up from under the lettuce and landed on its back.  When she sent the plate back, the waiter returned with a different(?) salad but, obviously, Jan refused it, having lost any appetite for another bunch of lettuce from the same kitchen.  After lunch, we hopped back on the trolley and rode to Forsyth Park.  Since we needed to be back at the trolley garage by 4 pm for our shuttle back to the campground, our tour around the park was a quick one. 

On Monday, two of our friends from our 2018 caravan to Alaska, John and Linda Baird, came to visit us.  Since the Alaska trip, they have purchased a condo on Hilton Head Island, SC, about an hour from Savannah.  We had a good time catching up and enjoyed lunch at the nearby Ruby Tuesday.

On Tuesday, we headed to Tybee Island.  Although we discovered that the lighthouse and museum were closed on Tuesday, we did spend over an hour walking along the beach.  We had last visited Tybee Island in November 2016.  At that time, debris from the cleanup following Hurricane Matthew was piled in huge mounds near the beach.  We were glad to see the same area now, without the mess.

Our next stop was at the Fort Pulaski National Monument.  Fort Pulaski was built in the second quarter of the 19th century to guard river approaches to Savannah.  The brick fortress was surrounded by a moat and access required crossing a drawbridge.  Early in 1861, the Georgia militia seized the fort and, when Georgia seceded a few days later, it was transferred to the Confederate army.  On April 10, 1862, the Union army fired on the fort from Tybee Island.  The Confederates’ artillery consisted of smoothbore guns, with a range of only one mile.  The Union had rifled artillery pieces, with a much longer range.  For the next 30 hours, the fort was bombarded and huge breaches were opened up in the 7.5-foot-thick walls.  When the shelling began to threaten the powder magazines in one corner of the fort, the Confederates surrendered, rather than be blown up by their own gunpowder.

Fort Pulaski was restored by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s and contains lots of artifacts and displays.  We enjoyed walking through the many rooms in the fort and learning about the events that occurred there.  

The weather forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday called for severe thunderstorms, large hail and possible tornados, but the timing of the storms kept changing.  At 5:30 pm on Tuesday, we got a tornado warning on our phones and considered taking shelter.  However, since our dinner was on the stove, we decided to take our chances.  We didn’t even get many strong winds, although we did have some periods of heavy rain during the night.  On Wednesday, the storms were supposed to start at 2 pm so we stayed at home.  When the storms hadn’t arrived by 5 pm, we decided to visit The Lake House at Creek Fire for an afternoon snack.  The timing of the supposed extreme weather continued to be pushed back and we ended up not getting anything.  Although we were grateful we had not had to deal with storms, we were frustrated that we had wasted time that we could have spent exploring the area.

On Thursday, Phil decided that if he was going to float on the lazy river, it was now or never.  After playing pickleball for months, he needed to work on evening out his farmer’s tan.

Later that afternoon, we returned to the Savannah historic district.  We had spotted a souvenir we wanted to buy on Sunday but had decided to buy it when we returned.  Unfortunately, when we returned, the store was not where we had remembered it, so we walked around many of the squares looking in vain for the store.  We ended up buying something similar at another store.  Then, it was time for our nighttime Ghosts and Gravestones tour.  Savannah is reputed to have the most paranormal activity of any city in the U. S.  The 80-minute trolley tour combined lots of ghost stories with humorous twists.  We made stops at two of the city’s most haunted venues.  First was a stop at the Andrew Low House.  Andrew Low was the husband of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, but two of his previous wives had died in this mansion.  There have long been reports of spirits that inhabit the mansion, tales of staff seeing apparitions dressed in old-fashioned clothes and furniture moving with no one occupying it. 

Our second stop was at the Perkins and Sons Chandlery.  After we had taken our seats in a warehouse filled with shipping supplies, the lights went out.  When the lights returned, we discovered that we had been joined by a ghost who proceeded to tell us stories from the haunted history of River Street.  The stories were campy, but fun.

On Friday, we drove to Jekyll Island and visited the historic district.  Over the next few hours, we learned a lot about the history of the Jekyll Island Club.  This club was founded in 1886 as a hunting and recreational club.  Its membership included many of the richest and most famous families, including the Morgans, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts.  The club had only 53 members initially and membership never rose much above 100.  The season lasted each year for the months of January through March.  The families gathered for dinner at the clubhouse.  At one point, the collected wealth of all the members at dinner represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth.  It was considered unacceptable for a woman to ever wear the same dress to dinner twice in the same season.  Membership in the club declined during the Great Depression.  World War II was the final blow to the club, as it become difficult to find staff, and 1942 was the final season for the club.  The property was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1947.

When we arrived at the museum in the historic district, we discovered that we had just missed the trolley tour so we signed up for the next one.  While we waited, we decided to do visit the Faith Chapel.  This small wooden church, completed in 1904, was built for interdenominational worship by the members of the Jekyll Island Club.  It contains two fabulous stained windows.  One was created and autographed by Louis C. Tiffany in memory of Frederick Bourne, President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.  This window was entitled “David Set Singers Before the Lord,” which the chapel’s docent suggested may have been a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to Mr. Bourne’s company.  The other window, designed by Tiffany apprentices and father-daughter team Maitland and Helen Armstrong, was entitled “Adoration of the Christ Child.” 

We returned for the 1:30 trolley tour.  This hour-long tour took us past many of the cottages of the rich and famous.  The driver provided lots of anecdotes about the owners of the various homes and the activities of the members while on the island.  We passed the wharf where the club members arrived in magnificent yachts. The tour took us through the cottage owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Rockefeller.  Although quite large and elaborately decorated, it was the smallest of the Rockefellers’ many homes. 

Winter in Florida – Month 4 (March 2022)

On Tuesday, March 1st, we left our RV behind and traveled to St. Augustine for two days.  Upon our arrival, we went to Aunt Kate’s Restaurant at the River and enjoyed the lovely weather while dining on the patio overlooking the Tolomato River.  After lunch, we checked out Castle Ottis, a majestic stone castle built in 1984 as an expression of artistic and spiritual devotion. 

After checking into our hotel, we headed out to explore the St. Augustine Historic Preservation District.  We first visited the Castillo de San Marcos.  This fort, built in 1672 to guard the harbor entrance to St. Augustine, is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.  Unfortunately, we arrived at closing time so we could only explore the outside.  We then strolled along St. George Street, a pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants, shops, attractions and lots of historic buildings.  We stopped for a drink and listened to live music at the Mill Top Tavern.

On Wednesday, we returned to the historic district.  We visited the Old Jail and Fountain of Youth but opted not to pay for admission.  We ate breakfast at Nero’s Waterfront Café and enjoyed our outside table.  We then went for a long walk that took us past numerous historic buildings and residences, including Florida’s oldest house and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the U.S. 

We walked through the Cathedral of St. Augustine and the campus of Flagler College.  The largest building on the Flagler College campus was formerly the very ornate Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1885 as the flagship of the Flagler hotel system.  We then did a tour and wine tasting at the San Sebastian Winery.  Our walk back to the parking garage took us through St. George Street again.

On Saturday, we spent the afternoon at the Petersons’ site.  In addition to Dave and Jo, we were joined by the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts, Laurie Tamas, and two friends of the Rykals, Ken and Val.  We had lots of delicious food. Jan brought strawberry shortcake, using some of the strawberries we had purchased at the Strawberry Festival.

On Thursday, March 10th, we rode with the Petersons to Eaton Beach in Weirsdale, FL.  It started to rain as we drove there and, by the time we arrived, it had become a thunderstorm with torrential rainfall.  Although this kept us from sitting outdoors, we were able to get a table on the patio with a view of Weir Lake.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time we were ready to leave.

On Saturday afternoon, we returned to Weirsdale and attended a Lee Greenwood concert at the Orange Blossom Opry.  This 500-seat venue was sold out for both our show and the evening show.  The house band, who were very talented, performed the first set.  Then, Lee Greenwood took the stage and performed many of his songs from his 40-year career.  We weren’t familiar with much of his earlier work but, as expected, we joined the entire audience on our feet when he ended the show with his mega-hit, “God Bless the USA.”

On Sunday, we got back from grocery shopping in time to catch the second set by Bill Forness, who performs a tribute to Johnny Cash.  The clubhouse was packed for the show, but we managed to find seats with the Petersons and their neighbors.

On Monday, while Jan got her hair cut in The Villages, Phil attended “Todd Bogue’s Ridiculous Comedy & Magic Show” in the clubhouse.  Todd Bogue is a very talented magician and amusing comedian.  He used many participants from the audience in his show, but Phil was fortunate to avoid being selected.

On Tuesday, Donna Ditges, a friend from Jan’s hometown, and her husband, John, arrived from their home in Orlando for three nights at Oak Alley RV Resort.  We spent several hours on Tuesday chatting with Donna and John.  Then, on Wednesday, they returned to play a couple of games of Farkle.

On Tuesday, March 22nd, Jan drove Roxi, Beth and Laurie to Mt. Dora, FL.  They spent several hours exploring the shops and having lunch.

We had ordered tickets to a Beatles Live concert at Whispering Oaks Winery for Thursday, March 24th.  Unfortunately, the concert was postponed due to heavy storms.  Since we weren’t going to be around for the rescheduled date, Jan negotiated for us to get three bottles of wine in exchange for the nonrefundable tickets.

On Saturday, Jan left for a four-night get-together with her cousin, Lori Davis.  She drove to the Jacksonville airport to meet Lori, then continued on to Hilton Head Island, SC.  On Sunday, Jan and Lori drove back to Savannah and met Lori’s daughter, Emily, who was spending a few days there with a friend.  After spending the day in Savannah, Jan and Lori returned to Hilton Head Island and Emily joined them for the night.  The three ladies spent Monday on the beach and, on Tuesday, Jan and Lori visited a local spa for massages and facials.  On Wednesday, Jan drove Lori to the Savannah – Hilton Head airport and then continued home to Oak Alley RV Resort.

The day after Jan left town, Phil discovered that our truck wouldn’t start.  On Monday, he called a towing and truck repair service located a mile from the campground.  It took several hours for the tow truck to arrive.  Fortunately, the operator was able to get the truck started using a battery pack.  That wasn’t too surprising, given that the two batteries were original equipment and, thus, seven years old.  Rather than have the operator load our one-ton RAM onto his flatbed, Phil mounted his bike on the back of the RAM and followed the tow truck back to the garage.  He then rode his bike back to the campground and arrived in time for the last 8 of 12 games of Bingo (unfortunately, no winners!).  The truck was ready on Tuesday morning so he rode his bike back to the garage to get it.

A big “End of Season” party was held on Thursday, March 31st.  The poolside party was scheduled from noon until 4 pm, although some partying continued well beyond 4 pm.  The campground owner splurged for free food and drinks (a beer truck and sodas).  Tim Haggis, who had performed earlier in the season, provided the musical entertainment.  There were raffles for quite a few items but, unfortunately, we didn’t win anything.  Phil participated in a short pickleball tournament, consisting of three games.  He was one of three winners, having won all three of his games.

Winter in Florida – Month 3 (February 2022)

With the start of February, we had reached the midpoint of our stay in Florida.  Phil had been working on our travel plans for the rest of 2022 and was finding that some of our desired campgrounds were already either full or nearly full, six months in advance.

On Tuesday, February 1st, Jan participated in a cornhole tournament.  Phil opted to remain as one of the spectators.

On Sunday, February 6th, we met Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt at Big Bass Grill for some live music.  Unfortunately, the band was cancelled, presumably due to cool and rainy weather, so we headed to Inverness to see Tom and Roxi Rykal’s new mobile home.  After spending the last 6+ years in less than 400 square feet, the Rykal’s new home looked quite spacious to us.  We all then headed to Coach’s Pub and Eatery in downtown Inverness for lunch and liquid refreshments.

On Monday, we drove to Mount Dora to get a tour of an upscale 55+ housing development, the Lakes of Mount Dora.  It was a very nice neighborhood, with many of the houses backed up to the lake.  Of course, the lakefront lots were substantially more expensive than the lots across the street.  We toured two of the model homes, which were massive compared to our current living space and much more modern than our tastes.  The amenities were very nice but, unfortunately, the weather was cool and wet so we weren’t able to assess how active the community would be on a normal day.  Due to supply chain issues, it would take over a year to have a new home constructed.  Bottom-line, we’re still not anywhere close to settling down so this was just an exploration of possibilities. 

After leaving the Lakes of Mount Dora, we drove to downtown Mount Dora and spent some time exploring the many small shops.  After making a few purchases, we had lunch at Las Palmas Cuban Restaurant.  We each ordered Garlic Cubans and blackberry/blood orange margaritas.  On the way home, we drove through Holiday RV Village in Leesburg.  We got home just in time for bingo in the clubhouse.  The crowd, estimated at 140, was about twice as large as the last time we played.  As a result, the pot for the two cover-all games was $175 and $60 for each of the other 10 games.  Most of the games had multiple winners so each of these pots needed to be split.  Jan won one game, along with three other people, so she ended up winning $15.

On Thursday, we attended a presentation by the owners of Indian Summer Honey Farm.  Their business, 40 years old, now operates with 4,000 hives that migrate each year between Wisconsin and Florida.  The business generates hundreds of barrels of unfiltered honey during the summer months in Wisconsin and raises thousands of queens for sale in Florida during the winter months.  It takes seven semis to move the hives between the two locations.  They also contract out many of the hives for pollination of almond groves in California each year.  Their presentation was very informative.

That evening, we attended karaoke in the clubhouse, hosted by the Rhythmic Rollers RV Club from Tennessee and Mississippi.  There was a large crowd for the event.  Quite a few good singers, and some not-so-good singers, got up to perform.  It was a fun evening.

On Friday afternoon, we had hot dogs and brats by the pool.  That evening, we gathered by the pool for a fireside chat.  Although we were some of the few attendees at 5:30, several other couples arrived later.  We had a nice time sharing stories with the other campers.

We spent Saturday afternoon at the Lake Pan RV Park for a potluck with the Ehlenfeldts, Rykals, Petersons, Laurie Tamas, and two friends the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met in Florida several years ago.

On Monday, February 14th, we attended a Valentine’s Day dinner in the clubhouse.  There was a huge turnout for the meal, which included mostaccioli and Italian sausage.  After dinner, we came back for bingo.  Although we had some close games, we didn’t win any this time.

On Thursday afternoon, we drove to Clermont, FL and met Judy Jones Scanlon and Steve Scanlon, two of Phil’s childhood classmates from New Jersey.  Phil has known Judy, formerly his neighbor, since fourth grade.  Steve joined Phil’s cross country team for the last two years of high school and was a close friend throughout their college years.  Phil had not seen Judy and Steve in about 24 years so we spent several hours getting caught up and discussing old times.  We strolled through historic downtown Clermont and had dinner at The Southern on 8th.

On Friday, Jan attended a Ladies’ Afternoon Tea at the clubhouse.  In addition to sipping tea and munching on finger sandwiches, the ladies played games.  Jan wore a fascinator in her hair, as did many of the other women.

On Saturday, we drove to Tavares, FL with the Petersons and met the Elhenfeldts, Rykals and Laurie Tamas.  We first ate lunch at the Kalua Hale Beach Bar.  Then, we boarded the Dora Queen, a luxurious 80-foot New Orleans-style paddlewheel boat for a two-hour cruise on Lake Dora.  We sat upstairs in the open-air section and enjoyed non-stop musical entertainment by Sal & Izy, a young musical duo we had first seen perform in December at a Lake Dora restaurant.  The weather was ideal and the scenery was beautiful.

On Monday evening, February 21, we played Bingo in the clubhouse.  There was a huge crowd.  Jan won one of the cover-all games. The man sitting next to her also won that game, so they split the $82 pot. 

On Wednesday, we visited historic downtown Clermont with the Petersons.  Our first stop was at Lilly’s on the Lake where we sat on the deck overlooking Lake Minneola.  We then walked a few blocks to the Clermont Brewing Company.  We enjoyed dinner and drinks at Happy Hour prices.

On Saturday, we drove to The Villages and enjoyed the Strawberry Festival at the Brownwood Paddock Square.  The event was very popular and it took us quite a while to find a parking spot.  After making a couple of loops around the many booths on the square, Phil ordered a strawberry shortcake and we stopped to watch the entertainment.  We then escaped the heat at World of Beer and enjoyed a giant German pretzel. On our way back to our car, we purchased half a flat of fresh strawberries.

On the drive home, we stopped at Sam’s Club.  There was a bloodmobile in the parking lot so we decided to donate blood.  Unfortunately, Phil’s blood pressure was too low so he wasn’t able to donate.  However, Jan made up for this by donating double red cells.  She was told that it is fairly rare for women to meet the three-part criteria for donating double red cells.  During a double red blood donation, a machine is used to withdraw whole blood.  Red cells are separated and retained, and the remainder of the blood is returned back to the donor.  This donation safely removes twice as many red cells than traditional whole blood.

On Sunday, February 27th, we drove to Rick’s on the River in Tampa.  We met Barbara and Bobbie Sanders, two friends from our 2018 trip to Alaska.  We were joined by two of their long-time friends, Gary and Tracy.  It was a beautiful day for dining outdoors. We all ordered coconut shrimp baskets.

Winter in Florida – Month 2 (Jan. 2022)

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in our usual fashion, sound asleep before midnight.  However, Phil was awakened at midnight by our partying neighbors.  We met Jo and Dave Peterson that afternoon for a poolside hot dog and brat cookout.

On Sunday, January 2nd, we went to the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell for the 41st annual reenactment of the battle that launched the Second Seminole War.  We rode with Jo and Dave Peterson, but Roxi Rykal and Laurie Tamas parked next to us.  After strolling through demonstrations of period arts and trades, we joined the crowd in the bleachers for the reenactment.  More than 100 soldier re-enactors and Seminoles from across the United States participated.  Before the battle, one of the Seminoles and one of the soldiers explained each piece of their authentic period costumes.  The battle was narrated throughout with the ghosts of Private Ransom Clark and Chief Jumper telling their own perspectives of the conflict.  The battle, which started on December 28, 1835, was the result of Seminole resistance to removal to a reservation in Oklahoma.  A column of 107 soldiers, led by Major Francis Dade, were marching to re-supply and reinforce troops at Fort King, now Ocala.  An estimated 300 Seminoles lay in wait for them, hidden in the palmetos.  A sudden volley from their rifles killed half the command.  Major Dade, on horseback, was the first to die.  A second attack killed most of the remaining soldiers.  Only three soldiers escaped to recount the attack.  Following the re-enactment, the soldiers and Seminoles lined up and fired their weapons to clear the chambers. 

On Tuesday, we played bingo at the clubhouse with about 50 other campers.  Unlike bingo at Flora-Bama, this was a very professional and fast-moving operation.  We played 12 games in one hour and 40 minutes.  Unfortunately, we didn’t win any of the games. 

On Saturday afternoon, we met Jo and Dave Peterson by the pool to listen to a musician perform for a couple of hours.  He was very talented and was definitely the best entertainer we’d had since arriving at Oak Alley.

On Sunday, Jan joined the other ladies for lunch at the Sunrise Asian restaurant in Wildwood, FL.  Phil and Dave Peterson met Jan and Jo Peterson at the Big Bass Bar & Grill afterward.  Despite Jan’s having called and gotten assurance that there would be live music, there was no music while we were there.

On Monday, January 10th, Jan made ham and potato soup using the ham bone from our Christmas dinner.  Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Roxi Rykal and Laurie Tamas joined us for dinner and brought an assortment of side dishes.

On Thursday, we took our bikes to the nearby General James A. Van Fleet State Trail and rode 13.2 miles.  The Van Fleet State Trail is one of Florida’s most rural trails, spanning 29.2 miles through Sumter, Lake and Polk counties.  This 8-foot-wide paved trail, originally a railroad corridor, runs through the Green Swamp, a system of cypress swamps, marshes, hardwood forests and flat pinewoods. The swamp is the habitat for lots of wildlife but, unfortunately, we didn’t see anything other than birds.

On Saturday, we rode with Dave and Jo Petersons to Crystal River, FL for the 35th annual Manatee Festival.  We met Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt and Laurie Tamas at the mall where we caught a shuttle bus to the festival.  The festival was quite popular and there were lines for everything.  Upon arrival, we wandered through block after block of vendor booths until we reached the main stage area.  We managed to find seats near the stage but had to wait nearly 1 ½ hours for the Tom Petty tribute band to perform.  Fortunately, the weather was very nice.

On Wednesday, January 19, we went with the Petersons to Lake Panasoftkee and did the Tom and Jerry’s Airboat Ride.  Our hour-long airboat ride took us through the Florida swamp and across the lake.  We spotted five alligators, numerous turtles and lots of waterfowl.  The highlight of the airboat ride was a section of the swamp where the trees were loaded with well over a hundred vultures.  When the ride was over, we took turns holding a four-foot-long alligator.

On Thursday, we went to the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa.  Jo and Dave Peterson rode with us.  We met Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Judy and Rob Crosson for lunch and, then again, before leaving.  We spent most of our time in the two large expo halls visiting the many vendor booths.  We did visit the DRV display and walked through a few models.  It really didn’t tempt us to buy one.  If anything, it made us more appreciative of the unit we already own.

On Friday, we rode with the Petersons to Lake Pan RV Park where the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas are staying.  We spent the afternoon playing Giant Jenga, then enjoyed a fish fry using the fish Tom and Todd had caught on Lake Panasoftkee.

The weather cooled down considerably over the last week of January.  We had two nights with low temperatures below freezing. Although this cold weather affected our plans somewhat, our weather was much better than the winter storms that ravaged much of the country.

Winter in Florida – Month 1 (Dec. 2021)

On Wednesday, December 1st, we left Gulf Shores, AL and drove 285 miles to Madison, FL.  We spent the night at Ragans Family Campground.  The campground was very nice but rather pricey for an overnight stop.  Unfortunately, the much less expensive Deerfield Inn & Campground, where we had overnighted in 2020, was full.

On Thursday, we drove the remaining 170 miles to Oak Alley RV Resort in Webster, FL.  This will be our home for four months.  Although we had assistance from the workcamper, the lack of marked site boundaries made it challenging for Phil to get backed into our site.  After numerous back and forth moves, we did get parked and were glad we won’t have to move again for a while.  We had visited the campground in March 2021 when we booked our reservation but were impressed by the improvements that have been made in the past eight months.

While Jan was watering her potted plant upon our arrival, fire ants that had taken up residence in the pot while we were in Gulf Shores swarmed over her hand.  She sustained numerous bites and, almost immediately, these swelled up noticeably and caused her a lot of pain.  Since her reaction to these bites (as well as her previous fire ant bites) was so extreme, it is clear that she is allergic to fire ant venom.  After a couple of days and nights of pain and itching, Jan called her TeleMedicine service and got a prescription for antibiotics and ointment.  It took a few more days of discomfort but, eventually, the swelling and itching subsided.

On Friday, we attended a cookout lunch in the clubhouse.  We arrived a few minutes late and were the end of the line.  We learned later that only about 80 people had signed up but about 120 people showed up.  As a result, we missed out on some of the food but still had plenty to eat.

Phil quickly got into a routine of playing pickleball each morning for a couple of hours.  There are a number of very good pickleball players here but, through the first week, less than half of the 12 courts were being utilized.  Hopefully, that will change as we get into the busier months.

On Monday, December 6th, we visited the Swap-O-Rama’s Webster Westside Flea Market.  This flea market, which has existed for 50 years, covers 35 acres in an 80-acre compound.  It is open on Mondays year-round and also on Sundays during the winter months.  We only spent an hour wandering around and, although we did make several purchases, were not overly impressed.

On Wednesday, we attended a pot luck dinner in the clubhouse.  Although the turnout of only about 30 people was considerably less than the cook out, it was enjoyable and the food was delicious.

On Thursday, the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas came to visit us at Oak Alley.  After showing them around our campground, we enjoyed sitting outside and having a happy hour.

On Tuesday, December 14th, Sheila Gaskins came to visit for five days.  Jan picked her up at the Orlando airport and they spent the next three nights at the Hilton in Lake Buena Vista.  They spent Wednesday at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

On Thursday, they visited Epcot.  That evening, they attended the Candlelight Processional, with a 50-piece orchestra and narrated by the actor, Andy Garcia.

Christmas Processional – O Holy Night
Christmas Processional – Hallelujah Chorus

On Saturday, we toured the Stetson Mansion in DeLand, FL.  This, Florida’s first luxury estate, was built in 1886 for famed hat maker, John B. Stetson.  It was the first home in Florida constructed with Edison electricity, steam heat, indoor plumbing and a call bell system.  The estate has recently been rescued and restored but it is still a private estate.  The mansion is lavishly decorated for Christmas each year.  The tour included all the rooms on the ground floor and the three bedrooms on the second floor (including the owner’s bedroom, bathroom and closet.) Due to COVID, the tours were self-guided this year and we were sent descriptions of the contents of each room via email.  Although photography was prohibited inside the mansion, we were permitted to take pictures of the outside and the grounds.

After leaving the Stetson Mansion, we visited historic downtown Mount Dora.  This town celebrates Christmas in a big way, with decorations that include three million lights.  We arrived around 5 pm and had to search to find one of the few available parking spots.  After wandering the streets a while, we attempted to get seated at The Frog and Monkey restaurant.  Our estimated 30-60 minute wait ended up being closer to two hours.  However, once we got in, the food was excellent and the band, a young couple named Sal & Izy, were very good.

On Sunday, December 19th, we took Sheila to the Orlando airport and returned in time to attend the campground’s 90-minute Christmas social event.  We met Jo and Dave Peterson there but, unfortunately, Jo got sick so the Petersons had to leave.  That left us alone to sing “two turtle doves” eleven times during the sing-along of The Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Our campground has an impressive woodshop that is available for use by the campers.  Jan had a project in mind so she spent quite a few hours over several days working on it under the tutelage of Randy, one of the other campers.  Unfortunately, due to waiting on a part for the laser, she’ll have to wait until the new year to complete it.

On Wednesday afternoon, we accompanied the Petersons to the Rocking Chair Bar & Grill, Webster’s dive bar.  The bartender was hard of hearing so we had somewhat of a challenge to place our order but, otherwise, had a pleasant visit.

On Friday, Christmas Eve, we picked up Jason at the Tampa airport for his weeklong stay.  We had planned to stop for dinner on the return trip but found that almost all the restaurants had closed for the evening.  We ended up getting our dinner at the Wendy’s drive-through.

On Christmas Day, we were joined by Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Laurie Tamas, and Jo and Dave Peterson for an afternoon of dining, visiting, corn hole and part of the Packers’ game. We had purchased a Honey Baked Ham and, along with all the side dishes and desserts everyone brought, we all had more than enough to eat. The weather, with a high of 75 degrees, was ideal for sitting outside and enjoying being in Florida.

We spent most of the following week close to the campground.  Jan and Jason ventured out to the Flea Market and the Richloam General Store, a historic store that has been in business since 1928.  On New Year’s Eve, we took Jason to Orlando for his flight back to Nashville.  We stopped for lunch at Mooyah.

A Month in Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 1, 2021)

On Monday, November 1st, we drove 226 miles from Livingston, LA to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent a month at Gulf State Park.  Our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Roxi and Tom Rykal, had arrived shortly before we did.  Todd and Tom helped guide Phil into our back-in site.  We spent the month in site #13, the same site as last year.  We had a beautiful view of the lake, although the wind off the lake sometimes made it too cool for sitting outside very long.  The Rykals were our next-door neighbors and the Ehlenfeldts were in our same circle, a stone’s throw away.

This was the fourth year in which we visited Gulf State Park for at least part of November.  It was also the second time we joined the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals for the full month of November.  As a result, we quickly fell into a routine that, although it didn’t include a lot of new experiences, was quite enjoyable.  Most mornings Jan went for long walks or bike rides, while Phil went to the Orange Beach Recreation Center to play pickleball for 2-3 hours.  Phil joined Jan for bike rides on the weekends when he didn’t have pickleball.  We saw lots of wildlife, including Lefty (a large gator whose nickname reflects his missing right foot), a baby bobcat and a snake. 

Most afternoons, we got together for a happy hour with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals.  Our social group expanded to include Rob and Judy Crosson, who the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met last winter in Arizona, and Scott and Gail Wahls, Rob and Judy’s neighbors in the campground.  Although most days we just sat around and chatted, we sometimes used these get-togethers to play games, such as cornhole, LCR and Chase the Ace.

We joined the Rykals one afternoon for a trip to Flora-Bama to play bingo.  However, Sam, the bingo caller, spent too much time telling the same jokes we’ve heard many years before and only got through three games in 2 ½ hours.  We won’t be returning any time soon.

One day, Jan drove all the ladies to Fairhope for a girls’ day out and spent the day shopping and dining.  Phil got together that afternoon with Tom and Todd for a visit to the Big Beach Brewing Company.

Jan joined Beth and the Rykals one day to observe the release of a loggerhead sea turtle at the local beach.  The turtle had been rescued at Gulf State Park in August and had undergone rehabilitation at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, MS.

Promptly at 8 a.m. on November 15th, Gulf State Park opened a link on their website to allow people to book reservations for the 2022-2023 winter months.  Phil clicked on the link exactly when it opened and submitted the completed form in 101 seconds.  Despite this, we were #261 in the queue and were unable to get either of our requested sites (#13 and #11) for next November and December.  However, we were able to reserve site #12, where the Rykals are staying this month but had decided to change sites for next year.  None of us know whether we will actually return next year but we have until August 1st to cancel our reservations.

At one of our happy hours, Phil mentioned that Jan makes great fried chicken and Tom said he loves fried chicken.  This led to plans to have Jan fry some chicken for Tom on November 16th.  As the story spread, the group for dinner grew to ten people.  Tom cut up two whole chickens and Beth provided some additional pieces.  Jan fried all that chicken using her cast iron skillet and two electric fry pans.  The other families provided assorted side dishes and desserts.  We had a delicious meal, sitting around tables set up in the Rykals’ driveway.      

On Thursday, November 18th, we rode with the Elhenfeldts to Fort Morgan, where we boarded the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island.  Rob and Judy drove separately and brought their dog, Lucy.  The ferry ride lasted about 35 minutes and took us past numerous oil rigs.  Upon our arrival, we attempted to drive to the west end beaches but we were turned back due to continuing clean-up from Hurricane Ike that hit in early September.  Instead, we drove to the public beach in the middle of the island.  After walking along the beach and watching Lucy chase her ball, we headed to the Islanders Restaurant for lunch.  The food was very good but the service was somewhat slow.  After lunch, we rushed back to the ferry and arrived just as they were getting ready to pull out.  We managed to get the last available slot on the ferry.  After reaching the mainland, we stopped at Tacky Jacks Two.

On Saturday, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport for his weeklong stay with us.  We celebrated his 39th birthday (the day before) that evening.

On Sunday, we hosted the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts, diehard Green Bay Packer fans, to watch the Vikings – Packers game on our outside TV.  The game was very close. Phil was the only one happy with the outcome, with the Vikings winning by three on the final play.

Thursday, November 25th, was Thanksgiving Day.  We picked up Jarrod and Jess at the Pensacola airport and returned to our campground for the holiday festivities.  At 1 pm, we gathered on the field inside our circle for some games of cornhole.  We then moved to the Ehlenfeldts’ site for dinner.  The five couples, plus Jason, Jarrod and Jess, gave us 13 for our Thanksgiving meal.  We had agreed ahead of time what each family would bring.  There was plenty of food and quite a variety.  After eating, Jason, Jarrod and Jess left to check in at the condo where they would be staying for three nights.  When they returned, they joined us and the rest of the group around the propane firepit at the Rykals’ site.

On Friday, the kids came back over and headed off to rent some bikes for two days.  They then took off for a nearly 14-mile bike ride with Jan.  Phil had to stay behind to wait for the DirecTV technician to come fix a recurring problem we’d had with our satellite TV reception for nearly a year.  We got a new receiver and wireless video bridge but it took the technician over 2 ½ hours to resolve his installation issues.  When the riders returned, the guys helped Phil finish installing tire guards in our bike tires to provide protection from punctures.  Unfortunately, one of the inner tubes on Jan’s bike sprung a leak, necessitating a trip to WalMart for a replacement.

That evening, we picked up the kids at their condo and headed to the Beach House for dinner.  After dinner, we returned to the condo and played a couple of games of Farkle.

On Saturday, the kids rode their bikes over for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes.  Then, Phil took the kids up to the tennis courts and taught Jarrod and Jess to play pickleball.  With both being athletic, they caught on quickly.  Jan joined us and we all went for a 12-mile bike ride.

We then headed to Doc’s Seafood and the kids treated Jan to an early birthday dinner.  We each ordered seafood platters and all but Jan shared a tray of oysters on the half shell. 

After dinner, we stopped at The Wharf for some pictures by the Christmas tree.  Despite being stuffed from our meal, we stopped and picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later.  We dropped by the condo to play Farkle but retired early due to our busy day.

We woke to our alarm clocks at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday.  We picked up Jason at 5:15 and drove him to the Pensacola airport.  We got back home at 7 am but had to leave again at 10:30 to drive Jarrod and Jess to the Pensacola airport.  We took it easy the rest of the day, although Tom, Roxi and Beth dropped by to watch some of the second half of the Packers game when Tom lost the TV signal at his rig.

On Monday, November 29th, we began packing up for our departure on Wednesday.  We gathered at the Beach House with the four other couples for one last happy hour, since three of the couples were leaving on Tuesday morning, and also to have another early birthday celebration for Jan.

Tuesday was Jan’s birthday so, after playing pickleball in the morning, Phil took Jan to Fairhope and Foley to do some shopping.  We then had Jan’s birthday dinner at Lambert’s Café, known for their “throwed rolls.”  We both ordered sandwiches, which came with sides, as well as “pass arounds.”  Throughout the meal, servers walked around the restaurant with these “pass arounds,” large pots of fried okra, fried potatoes, cabbage, and macaroni and tomatoes, and would give you as much as you wanted.  In addition, a server would walk around with a tray of huge rolls and would throw one to you if you wanted one.  The food was very good and, needless to say, we both overate.

14 Day Rush to Alabama (October 19 – November 1, 2021)

After remaining parked in Glendale, UT for an additional day due to extremely gusty winds, we headed off to Flagstaff, AZ on Tuesday, October 19th. This was our first of nine days of driving over the next 14 days, covering the 2,100 miles necessary to reach Gulf Shores, AL, where we will spend November.

 The entire 229-mile drive to Flagstaff was on US-89 and took us through mostly desolate, although scenic, country.  The winds had died down considerably but we did encounter an accident with a travel trailer laying on its side, possibly due to wind. 

When we arrived at the Flagstaff KOA Holiday, Phil went inside to register.  The clerk, who admitted she was new, gave him a map to site 88.  The drive to site 88 was somewhat harrowing.  The roads were very narrow and there were trees close to the road.  Getting up the road to site 88 required making a sharp left turn.  When Phil got part-way through the turn, he could see that site 88 was occupied.  He called the office and a different clerk told him we were supposed to be in site 166.  However, completing the turn by site 88 required Jan to hold a wooden sign out of the way and Phil had to back up partially to avoid low-hanging branches. When we finally made it back to the office, we were met by a workcamper in a golf cart who led us to site 166.  Although this drive was somewhat easier, it required pulling far out on the shoulders to make the turns.  Needless to say, we had already concluded that this one-night stay would be our only visit to the Flagstaff KOA.

On Wednesday, we drove 268 miles to Tucson, AZ where we spent two nights at the Tucson / KOA Lazydays Resort.  The drive, almost entirely on interstate highways, involved numerous long, steep descents as we went from Flagstaff (elevation 6,900’) to Tucson (elevation 2,400’).  The temperature when we left Flagstaff that morning was 34 degrees, compared to 85 degrees when we arrived in Tucson.

The difference between the Tucson KOA and the Flagstaff KOA was like night and day.  The roads throughout the Tucson campground were wide and the site was extremely accessible.  The Tucson campground had several unique types of sites available, including covered sites and K9 sites with fenced enclosures.

On Thursday, we explored Historic Fourth Avenue in Tucson.  This district, close to the campus of the University of Arizona, has seen better days.  In addition to numerous unique restaurants, there were retail shops that mostly appeared to cater to alternative lifestyles.  In midday, there were numerous homeless individuals outside these businesses.  We spotted at least six Lock Your Love sculptures on Fourth Avenue.  Sweethearts inscribe their names on a lock, place it on the sculpture, and deposit the key into the base of the sculpture as a symbol of eternal love.

After strolling the length of the district, we had lunch at Tumerico.  Jan had a Sonora Dog and Phil had Al Pastor Tacos.  We were surprised when we learned later that Tumerico serves fresh Latin vegan and vegetarian food.  We now don’t know what we were eating but it was very tasty.

On Friday, we drove 272 miles on I-10 to Las Cruces, NM where we spent two nights at Hacienda RV Resort.  The campground was very spacious and well maintained.  We had a huge pull-through site.  However, with no pool and few amenities, it wasn’t exactly a resort.

On Saturday, we visited Las Mesilla to do some shopping.  This village has a long history.  Thick-walled adobe buildings, which once protected residents against Apache attacks, now house art galleries, restaurants and gift shops. Mesilla’s most notorious resident, Billy the Kid, was sentenced to death at the country courthouse (now a gift shop) but he escaped before the sentence was carried out.  Jan had purchased some jewelry at one of the many silver studios when we visited Mesilla in 2016 and she was determined to find that shop again.  After visiting many of the silver shops, she finally found the right one, which had moved down the street.

On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Fort Stockton, TX.  This was the longest drive we had done in a long time and, combined with a late start and losing an hour due to crossing a time zone, had us arriving at the Fort Stockton RV Park at 6 pm.  Since we were leaving early the next morning, we left the fifth wheel hitched to the truck overnight.

We got a very early start on Monday morning.  Jan needed to get some lab work done in Kerrville for a doctor visit later in the week.  Since she needed to be fasting, she got up early and left Fort Stockton at 7 am for her four-hour drive.  Phil waited another hour, until sunrise, before beginning his 233-mile drive to Ingram, TX, where we spent four nights at Johnson Creek RV Resort & Park.

Over the next four days, we had doctor and vision appointments, along with several medical tests.  Phil got the annual inspections done on the truck and trailer.  We made a trip to Fredericksburg to load up on our favorite sauces.  Phil also managed to drop in at Buckhorn Lake Resort a couple of days for pickleball.  On Tuesday, we purchased a couple of Townie bikes at a Kerrville bicycle shop.  Phil hadn’t had a bike since he abandoned his broken one on Mackinac Island in June.  Jan’s old bike was badly rusted by the salt air during our stay in Brownsville, TX two years ago.  Since the Townies are aluminum, rust shouldn’t be a problem.

On Friday, we drove 200 miles to Weimar, TX where we spent the night at Whispering Oaks RV Park. This was the first of four straight days of driving.

On Saturday, we drove 160 miles to Beaumont, TX and spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park.  Our drive took us through the middle of Houston on I-10 at 12:30 pm.  We had made this drive in April on a Wednesday at 10:30 am and it had been very easy.  We made the mistake of assuming that it would also be an easy drive on a Saturday but we were wrong.  Traffic was very heavy and the challenge was compounded by lots of construction zones.  We were glad it was a short drive because the Houston experience left us exhausted.

Sunday’s drive was 219 miles and took us to Livingston, LA where we spent the night at Lakeside RV Park.  Nearly the entire drive was on interstate highways (I-10 and I-12) and, other than several construction zones, was rather boring.  After three straight days of driving, we were now only one more day of driving away from our month-long stay at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL.

St. George & Glendale, UT (October 11 – 19, 2021)

We had originally planned to spend the next four days at a campground in Bryce Canyon City, UT.  However, we checked the weather forecast while we were in Torrey and found that the nighttime lows for all four nights were in the low teens.  In addition, the forecast for one night called for up to three inches of snow.  We immediately began looking for warmer weather and decided to visit St. George, UT instead.  Unfortunately, St. George is right by Zion National Park and is quite popular.  Given the short notice, we were only able to find available campground space for two nights.  We were able to add the remaining two nights onto our next scheduled stop, in Glendale, UT.  The forecast for Glendale called for nighttime lows in the mid-20s, but that was better than mid-teens. 

On Monday, October 11, we left Torrey, UT and made the 250 drive to St. George.  The routing was rather frustrating because we had to drive north about 60 miles before turning south.  There were shorter routes available but, because of the mountains and winding roads, these were not selected for pulling our trailer by Phil’s GPS or our mapping apps. 

When we had been setting up in Torrey five days earlier, we heard a loud noise as we were extending the RV’s legs.  It sounded like metal breaking but we couldn’t identify the source.  Over the next few days, Phil kept examining the RV’s suspension but couldn’t find anything broken.  So, it was with some degree of trepidation that we pulled away from Torrey and began the drive.  Fortunately, we were able to make the drive without incident.  We still don’t know the source of the noise but, for now, we are breathing easier.

The front that was bringing the colder weather also brought strong winds.  As our drive progressed, the winds grew stronger and made driving more of a challenge.  We were glad to arrive at Desert Canyons RV Park in St. George before the winds grew even stronger. 

After a rainy night and strong winds that continued through the morning, we finally got out to explore St. George on Tuesday afternoon.  Our first stop was at the St. George Temple.  However, similar to the Salt Lake Temple, this temple was undergoing renovation.  Both renovations are primarily driven by the desire to make the temples earthquake-proof. 

We then visited Brigham Young’s winter home for the final seven years of his life (1870 – 1877).  We were given a tour of the house by a Mormon missionary and learned much about the man.  Brigham Young had led the emigration of Mormons to Utah in 1848 and served as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 29 years.  He also served as the first governor of the Utah Territory.  He led the founding of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.  Young directed the establishment of 350 settlements throughout the Southwest.  Young was a strong supporter of slavery, which he considered a “divine institution,” and of polygamy.  Although the variety of his marriages makes it difficult to know the exact number, recent studies have found 55 well-documented marriages.  All but about 19 of these “marriages” were simply “sealing” rituals, performed in an LDS temple with the purpose being to make possible family relationships throughout eternity.  He fathered 56 children with 16 of his wives.

We next drove around St. George’s historic downtown and had dinner at a restaurant in Ancestor Square.

On Wednesday morning, we prepared to make our 115-mile drive to Glendale, UT where we would spend the next five nights at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park.  Since checkout wasn’t until noon and the drive was relatively short, we took our time in getting ready to go.  However, at 11 am, we discovered that our rooftop satellite dish had not stowed.  The control panel was showing an “EL Motor Home Failure.”  We recalled that we’d had this issue some years ago and Jan had gotten a solution via Google, referred to as “EL re-calibration.”  The re-calibration involved multiple steps that were rather hard to follow.  After Phil made several unsuccessful attempts to follow the instructions, he did what he usually does when faced with technology problems; he turned it over to Jan.  After a couple more unsuccessful attempts, Jan figured out the mistake we were making and finally got the dish to stow.  We finished getting hooked up and were on the road shortly before noon. 

The drive to Glendale was mainly on a backroad highway with many sharp curves and steep ascents/descents.  We had stayed at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park five years ago and, although the sites are rather tight, the campground is conveniently located between Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

The overnight low dropped to 25 degrees so we waited until late morning on Thursday before heading to Zion National Park.  This proved to be somewhat of a bad decision.  Upon arriving at the Visitor Center at noon, the parking lot was full and we needed to find parking in the neighboring town of Springdale.  After driving three miles into Springdale, we managed to find an empty parking space.  Parking cost $15 for the day and we then had to walk .3 mile to catch a shuttle back to the Visitor Center. 

Upon arriving back at the Visitor Center, we switched to another shuttle bus that took us on the scenic drive through the national park.  We first rode the shuttle to the final stop and hiked a short distance on the riverside walk along the Virgin River.  We then took the shuttle to the Big Bend stop, where we were able to watch hikers high above us on the Angels Landing trail along the rim of the canyon.

Our next stop was at the Zion Lodge where we had lunch.  We considered doing a hike but, given the dropping temperature and rising winds, we decided against it.  Our final stop was the overview of the Court of the Patriarchs.  Named for three towering figures of the Old Testament, these sandstone cliffs include Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak.

The return to our campground was along the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway.  This highway, which we had taken in the morning, connects the Zion Canyon with the east park entrance.  After taking a steep climb along numerous switchbacks, we drove through the 1.1-mile Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  This tunnel was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common.  One-way traffic is offered during daytime hours so vehicles up to 13’ 1” tall can drive through the tunnel while straddling the middle lane.

Our original schedule had us leaving Glendale on Monday, October 18, and driving 223 miles to Flagstaff, AZ.  However, as we started watching the weather forecasts for Monday, they showed winds of 25-35 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph in Flagstaff, and similar in Glendale.  This would have made driving our high-profile RV very dangerous.  When the forecast remained unchanged on Saturday morning, we extended our stay in Glendale until Tuesday morning and cancelled our Monday night reservation in Flagstaff.  A subsequent wind advisory called for wind gusts on Monday afternoon up to 50 mph.

We spent Saturday at Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce Canyon was considerably less crowded that Zion had been earlier in the week, probably due to a noontime temperature of only 49 degrees and snow on the ground in many places. 

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the scenic drive.  Our first stop was at Natural Bridge where we enjoyed posing with the snow.

We then drove to Rainbow Point (elevation 9,115 feet) at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive and began working our way back.  We stopped at most of the overlooks before stopping for lunch at a very popular food truck.

We were unable to find an empty parking spot at Inspiration Point, so continued on to Paria View.  We then drove to Bryce Point and hiked the 1.5-mile rim trail back to Inspiration Point.  Although the scenery was spectacular, the melting snow made the dirt trail a very muddy, and slippery, mess.

After enjoying the view at Inspiration Point, we caught the shuttle to Sunset Point and Sunrise Point.  We then took the shuttle back to Bryce Point to retrieve our car.  On our exit from Bryce Canyon, we made our obligatory stop at the park sign. 

Torrey, UT (October 6 – 11, 2021)

On Wednesday, October 6th, we drove 209 miles to Torrey, UT where we had booked five nights at Wonderland RV Park.  Torrey is a small town in southeastern Utah that is three miles from Capitol Reef National Park.  It was drizzling as we prepared to depart Heber City and the rainfall became heavier as we got underway.  A few miles after we got on I-15 in Orem, the traffic came to a complete standstill due to a collision between two semis.  We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the next two miles.  Fortunately, the rain slacked off shortly after we got past the crash site.  Despite getting on the road by 9:30 am, we didn’t arrive at the campground until 3 pm.

On Thursday, we visited Capitol Reef National Park.  Having visited Zion and Bryce Canyon several years ago, Capitol Reef represents the fifth of our visits to the five national parks referred to as “Utah’s Mighty 5.”  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the 8-mile scenic drive.  Capitol Reef’s defining geologic feature is known as the waterpocket fold, essentially a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that extends nearly 100 miles.

We had hoped to drive the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead but it was closed to vehicular traffic, So, instead, we hiked about 1.5 miles along the road before turning back.

On our return trip on the scenic drive, we stopped at numerous pullouts and then turned up the 1.3-mile unpaved Grand Wash Road. 

Having developed quite an appetite, we stopped at the Gifford House for a couple of individual-sized pies.  The Gifford House was the heart of the small Mormon pioneer village of Fruita, settled in 1880.  The surrounding fruit orchards are a remnant of this community and, today, are the largest historic orchards in the National Parks system.

After spending a rainy Friday at home, we returned to Capitol Reef National Park on Saturday.  Our first stop took us on a couple of short hikes to the Goosenecks Overlook and the Sunset Point Trail.  The Goosenecks is where the Sulphur Creek carved out a canyon, its curving path resembling that of a gooseneck.  As the creek cut downward over time, it exposed different colored rock layers.

Our next stop was at the one-room schoolhouse for the children of the ten or so families of Fruita.  The schoolhouse was built in 1896 and continued in use through 1941.  The student’s desks were not attached to the floor so the building could also be used as a church meeting place, as well as for dances, meetings and other social events.

We then stopped to see the petroglyphs carved on the rock walls by Native Americans.

Our final activity for the day was a 2-mile moderately strenuous hike to the Hickman Bridge natural sandstone arch. 

On our return home, we stopped for a picture at the park sign.

Heber City, UT (Oct. 1 – 6, 2021)

On Friday, October 1st, we drove 229 miles to Heber City where we will spend five nights at Mountain Valley RV Resort.  We’ve stayed at lots of campgrounds with “resort” in their names but this one truly qualifies as a resort.  We have a huge pull-through site with a concrete pad that is double-wide and very long.  The resort has two clubhouses, three pools and six pickleball courts.

On Saturday, we drove to Salt Lake City for Jason to catch his flight back to Nashville.  His original itinerary had a 45-minute layover in Phoenix but the first flight was delayed.  By the time we reached Salt Lake City, the layover was down to 13 minutes.  Fortunately, Jason was able to get rebooked on a non-stop flight.  Although the new flight left an hour earlier, it would get him back to Nashville three hours earlier.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring downtown Salt Lake City.  We drove to Temple Square.  Unfortunately, the Salt Lake Temple has been closed since December 2019 for a 4-year renovation project.  The entire temple was surrounded by scaffolding.  We then walked up a steep hill to the State of Utah Capitol.  Upon returning to Temple Square, we had lunch at an office complex food court before dropping Jason off at the airport.

On Sunday, we visited Park City, UT and spent a couple of hours strolling along Main Street.  Phil had come to Park City to ski for four winters in the past but, since his last stay in 1985, things had really expanded.  There was still an over-abundance of art galleries and other shops catering to an upper-income clientele.  We checked out the listings at some of the real estate offices and found that most of the condos were listed for over a million dollars.  We stopped for a snack at the Wasatch Brewing Company and made some purchases at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company.

After leaving Main Street, we drove to the nearby Deer Valley Ski Resort.  The trees on the mountainsides were quite picturesque with their fall colors. 

When we had parked on Main Street, Phil was about to pay for parking at the meter but two people told him that parking was free on Sunday.  Phil attempted to pay it forward by advising another couple who were about to pay for parking.  When we got back to our campsite, we discovered a parking violation notice on our windshield.  Apparently, parking is not free on Sundays.  Fortunately, there was no fine for the first offence.

On Monday, we went to the Wasatch Mountain State Park and hiked the 3-mile Little Joe Loop and Lake Brimhall Trail.  Getting to the trailhead required driving six miles up a very steep and winding road with a speed limit of 15 mph.  The Wasatch Mountains were ablaze with fall colors and the aspens lining the road were bright yellow and orange.  The hike itself was very enjoyable.  The first part took us through an aspen forest.  As we got higher, there were an increasing number of pine trees and the fragrance was wonderful.

On Tuesday, we drove to the neighboring communities of Orem and Provo, UT to get an oil change for the Mazda and to visit numerous retail establishments.  As we drove to Provo, we passed through the campus of Brigham Young University and were very impressed with the surrounding neighborhoods.  Coincidently, the drive to and from Orem took us along the Provo Valley Scenic Highway.  This highway was very winding and took us along colorful hills on both sides of the roadway.

Moab, UT (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2021)

Our older son, Jason, joined us for the week.  His flight into Montrose, CO arrived shortly before 10 am on Friday, September 24th, which enabled us to pick him up and return to our rig in time to check-out by 11 am.  We then drove 198 miles to Moab, UT where we spent the week at OK RV Park.  As we reached downtown Moab, an apparent watermain break forced us to take a long detour through the back streets.  Although the detour was poorly marked, Phil kept following a semi and it led us to where we needed to go.

The months of May through October are the peak tourist season for the five Utah national parks.  The National Park Service advises visitors to either arrive before 8 am or after 3 pm, or risk being turned away for 3-5 hours.  Since we’re not early morning people, we chose to visit the parks later in the day.

Rather than fight the crowds at the national parks on a Saturday, we opted to spend the day at Dead Horse Point State Park.  This relatively small state park is on a plateau that is surrounded by vast canyons and leads to a sharp point.  According to legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa.  Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land onto the point.  The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by steep cliffs.  The cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and, for reasons unknown, left the other horses to die of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

After stopping at the Visitor Center, we drove on to Dead Horse Point Overlook.  We then hiked the 3-mile West Rim Trail back to the Visitor Center.  After eating lunch at the Visitor Center, Phil and Jason hiked 2-miles on the East Rim Trail back to Dead Horse Point Overlook to get our car.

After leaving the park, we drove back toward Moab and decided to look for the location where the final scene of the film “Thelma and Louise” had been filmed.  Google provided various directions but we took the one that appeared the most detailed.  We drove along a road that had steep cliffs on one side and the Colorado River on the other.  We came to an unpaved road and continued on despite the feeling that this was probably a bad idea.  As the road became more rugged, we kept going “just past the next curve” and “just over the next hill.”  Finally, we decided we really needed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle if we were going to go any farther and, very carefully, turned around.  On the return, we stopped to watch some rock climbers who were attempting to scale the steep cliffs.

On Sunday, we waited until 3 pm for the crowds to clear out before visiting Arches National Park.  We drove non-stop along the scenic drive to reach the parking area at Wolfe Ranch and were able find one of the few open spots.  We then hiked the 3-mile out-and-back trail to Delicate Arch, the iconic feature of Arches National Park.  This hike involved climbing 480 feet up a steep slickrock slope.  Just before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail followed a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards.  This hike was quite strenuous but we took it slowly.  The view at Delicate Arch was fabulous and made the effort worthwhile.  The arch is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide, but seems much larger.

After descending from Delicate Arch, we drove a mile farther up the road to a couple of other Delicate Arch overlooks.  These provided a view from the opposite site of the arch, across a canyon.

The sun was setting as we left the national park.  We stopped at Balanced Rock for some photos.

On Monday afternoon, we visited Canyonland National Park.  Canyonland consists of four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  We limited our visit to Island in the Sky, the district closest to Moab and the most visited district.  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove to Grand View Point and hiked a two-mile out-and-back trail along the rim of the canyon.

We next headed to Mesa Arch.  A half-mile loop trail took us to this natural stone arch that frames spectacular views of the La Sal Mountains, Buck Canyon, Washer Woman Arch and Monster Tower.

Our next stop was at Green River Overlook, with its views of high plateaus and the Green River.

Our final stop for the day was at Upheaval Dome.  We hiked a half-mile to the first overlook.  Upheaval Dome is a crater in which the rock layers are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression more than two miles wide. There is disagreement as to the cause but recent findings support the belief that it was caused by a violent meteorite impact.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from hiking.  Jan and Jason went exploring downtown Moab while Phil gave our rig a long-overdue bath.

On Wednesday, we attempted to visit Arches National Park at 1:30 pm but were greeted by a sign that said “Park Full – Return in 3-5 hours.”  Instead of returning home, we drove a few miles away and did the 3-mile hike to the Corona and Bowtie Arches.  The trail crosses wide expanses of slickrock pavement.  A couple of slickrock sections have metal safety cables to use as handrails as well a steel ladder bolted into the rock on one steep step.  We reached Bowtie Arch first.  This pothole arch formed when a pothole above, usually filled with water, eroded down into the cave below.  We then came to the massive Corona Arch, measuring 140 feet across and 105 feet high.

After finishing this hike, we returned to Arches National Park at 4:30 pm and had no trouble getting in.  We drove to the windows section of the park.  As we drove past the towering peaks, it was fun to imagine what the shapes resemble.  We spotted one rock that all three of us thought looked like a baby. We walked along a short path to Double Arch.  The larger of these twin arches has a span of 144 feet – the third largest in the park – and a height of 112 feet – the highest in the park. 

From the same parking lot, we then hiked to the North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.

Thursday was our final full day in Moab so we arose early and arrived at Arches National Park at 6:45 am.  Sunrise wasn’t until 7:13 am so we drove to the northernmost end of the scenic highway while the sun rose.  We then walked a short path to the Skyline Arch.  Along the path, we spotted seven deer grazing on the brush. Their greenish coats made them difficult to spot within the foliage.

We then drove to Sand Dune Arch and hiked .3-mile through deep sand to a secluded arch tucked among sandstone fins.

From the same parking area, we then hiked .6-mile to Broken Arch.  After scrambling up the rock face of Broken Arch, we continued on another .8-mile to Tapestry Arch, before hiking back the way we had come.

On next stop was at Balanced Rock.  We walked a .3-mile loop around the base of this fragile, picturesque rock formation.

Our final stop was at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint.  We hiked a portion of the Park Avenue Trail along the canyon floor, providing close up views of massive fins, balanced rocks and lofty monoliths.