Thursday, February 25, 2016

Florida is HUGE! Trip report - last.

At least if you are in the south end and want to leave via the western end of the panhandle; it's REALLY a long way!  So anyway we finally decided to leave the country rv park outside Homestead, FL.  We had intended to drive up the east coast enjoying the beaches.  But, you know, it was cold and nasty so we (mostly me) didn't want to waste time on the beaches.  My wife is from California so beach time isn't very important to her.  And cold beach time just didn't do a thing for either of us.  Bottom line, let's get on I-95 and boot-scoot.

So we trucked up to Fort Pierce before we stopped.  Again there was a cafe attached to the park so we ate there rather than cook.  I can't honestly say I remember it but we both lived so I guess it worked!  We had some trouble figuring out our route from here and finally decided to head over to I-75 and move north.  Our next stop was Alacha, FL.  It is a small town just north of Gainesville with not a lot going on however we needed some time to just talk about the remainder of the trip.  For that it was perfect.

We decided to spend some time in New Orleans then basically head for home.  Complicated, huh.  So off we went the next morning crossing Florida ending up in Holt, Fl just northeast of Pensacola.  Holt had a nice little park called River's Edge RV Park.  It is mostly a fishing camp since it IS on the banks of the Yellow River.  And the entire park is sand so I was rather happy we have 4-wheel drive on the truck not that we needed it; it was just reassuring.  The park certainly isn't fancy but the woman running it was pleasant, it was quiet and level.  You can tell, we are tough to keep happy!  So the next morning we were off to New Orleans.

We stopped at a park called Pontchartrain Landing.  It is a combination of rv park and marina; I didn't actually notice the marina because it was across the way.  The park is in kind of an industrial area where at least one of the boatyards looks like it is totally dead.  In fact there seemed to be a couple half-finished 100+  foot yachts in one of the sheds. 

Doesn't that just look like two or three lawsuits just standing there?  The park has a cafe on site that we checked out.  The one employee totally ignored us so after a few minutes we left.  Chatting up your regulars may work some places but not with us.

The one tremendous advantage the park has is that they provide free bus service to the French Quarter.  When we traveled it was into town at 10:00 and back at either 16:00 or 20:00.  Of course you could go in at 15:45 as well if you wished.  We just wanted to spend the day so took the early bus.  It worked out really well!  I never realized that Mardi Gras isn't just a day in New Orleans; it starts in late January and continues until the actual day.  That managed to make the trip very interesting:  i.e. traffic was horrible!  It was SO GREAT not driving down there and not having to find a parking place!  We went down; enjoyed the day and went back to the rig.  Easy for us; horrible for the driver!  We enjoyed the food, the people watching and even did a little shopping.  We just said 'no' to the $11K antique diamond necklace.  The tourist city is lovely; just lovely.

I must admit that I hadn't expected to find people in costumes!  The various groups can't parade much in the French Quarter but they can meet!  The bemused tourists wander between them trying to figure out what's going on.  It's kind of strange.

There was also this balcony - you can enjoy the party from above!  By the hour!

It is also about time for people to start getting drunk.  We were happy to be leaving on the 16:00 bus because already things were getting odd.  And who doesn't love being around a bunch of drunks who are wearing costumes?  Hmmm, I'm thinking that's most of us!  At least those of us over about 25!

We stayed in New Orleans one more night mostly because we needed a break.  I did really exciting stuff like visiting the local Winn Dixie!  LOL  Two thoughts remain with me.  First, it is a very poor city with a lot of people just getting by.  Secondly, while many of the drunks in the Quarter were white, the city seems heavily black.  It's still the South and segregation may be gone but don't bet your last dollar on it.

We left town and drove down towards Homma, LA.  We wanted to check out that area.  We didn't really stop but enjoyed this agricultural area so near New Orleans.  We rejoined I-10 and ended the day at Frog City RV park in Duson, LA.  What can you say about a name like that?  Well, it was a nice enough park so we enjoyed our stay.

Hopped on I-10 again and headed west to Houston, TX then Junction, TX.  We were in travel mode and stopping was ok but we prefered not to unhook the rig!  The park was quiet but the cable tv didn't work even after one of the employees took it apart; the wifi was really slow; the site was level but had a hump in the middle where our tires were.  That left our door about 4 feet off the ground and we only have 2.5 feet of step!  That last one was a doozy!  However, Junction had a lovely bbq place called Lums within walking distance.  I've got to admit, it was excellent food!  They claim to have won many awards and I can see it.  Nice food!  It's a very plain place with gas station attached but the food is there! 

So the plan here was to stop in Van Horn, TX; then Lordsburg, NM, Phoenix, AZ and a final stop in Las Vegas.  Van Horn was kind of cool  - also physically cool.  It was 17F (-8C) in the a.m.  Grrr!

They were proud of the place.  Unfortunately the cable didn't work not did the wifi.  There was a cafe that we skipped in the evening but tried in the morning.  Glad we missed the evening shift!  The cook could only do one ticket at a time so there was a long wait.  The food wasn't quite what we ordered but we didn't have patience to send it back and the server was rude.  Who needs that?  I did like their trash cans!
So the next stop was at the Journey RV Park in Lordsburg, NM.  It is an ex-KOA and you can see why it's an 'ex'.  First there was the neighborhood - not good.  Then there was the small matter of the electricity.  We were given a list of how much power various things draw.  We blew the circuit breaker four times during our stay.  That would be ok if we were using lots of electricity but we hadn't blown a circuit breaker the entire trip.  When it must be the customer's fault - it's not.  I definitely cannot recommend the Journey RV Park in Lordsburg.  Sorry about that!

So we hit the road for Phoenix.  It was exciting driving through Phoenix in rush hour but we managed to find the Sunflower RV Resort in Surprise, AZ.  Sunflower is another park intended for long term visitors.  It had over 1,000 spaces!  We parked in one of their very-temporary spaces.  They have about 500 rules; I'd love to never be anywhere like that again.  But, it was on the north side of town so we got out of there easily in the morning. 

It was another long day but we ended up back at the Las Vegas RV Resort again.  Just like last time you get a nice level secure space in Sin City.  It is near Sam's Town so well off the strip but nice spaces and inexpensive. 
The park only allows certain vendors into the park but one is Red Rock RV Cleaners; we asked them to wash the rig.  They charge $2 a foot so it's not too expensive.  Doing the roof is $20 more.  They do a nice job and I'd recommend them.  The next day we managed the 60 miles back home.  And darned glad to see it!  Travel is great but so is home.

Have a good one!  There will be more news before long.  Take care.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Florida trip part 2

So I left off last time in Livingston, TX.  Driving across central Texas on these state and federal highways (as distinct from the Interstate) was really a lot of fun.  Traffic was not heavy and you get to go through towns along the way.  Also you get to see the farms and ranches which I, as an old country boy, enjoy.  One thing I notice especially in Texas is that most ranches will have an elaborate gate where one leaves the road and enters the property.  It doesn't matter if the house is 100 feet off the road or half a mile, there is a big gate usually with a bar over the top with the name of the property.  Funny, I don't notice it in any other state but Texas.

The other thing we really noticed was the number of goats!  I imagine everyone has this vision of Texas as being filled with cattle.  Well, not the part between Austin and the Louisanna border.  That's goat country!  But all good things come to an end, even the almost 900 miles (1,400 km) across Texas and we finally made it to Louisanna.  We wanted to spend a little more time in Louisanna this trip but were planning on doing it on the way home so while Eastbound we just kept 'the pedal to the metal'.  A contributing factor was that the weather was just crappy:  rainy and chilly.  We stopped for the night in Breaux Bridge, LA at the Cajun Palms RV park; with something over 300 sites.  The sites and interior roads are all concrete; they have swimming pools and all that jazz.  They also have a semi-captive restaurant next door - Crawfish Town USA.  We ate there and my wife had to try the childs portion of crawfish - a mere 2 pounds!  (Yeah, almost a kilo.)  She thought they were ok but a lot of work for little meat and she definitely was not up for sucking out the head as our server suggested.

The next day we managed to make it part of the way across Alabama.  It was a pretty quiet park and I don't even remember the name!  Then it was off to Florida.  We decided to drop down to highway 98 along the Gulf Coast so drove through Panama City and along the coast to Carrabelle, Fl where we stopped for the night.  Our park was across the road from the gulf but the weather was still not cooperating.  We went into town for dinner at a place recommended by the camp manager:  The Fisherman's Wife.  Well, that was a disaster.  They served my wife peel-and-eat shrimp that were just nasty.  Then the owner came around to tell us the shrimp were 'moulting' and that's the way they are.  Ha!  They were either overcooked; over frozen or something but they were lousy.  They did finally find some shrimp that were breaded - they were twice the size of the peel-and-eat and actually good.  Still, bad seafood in Florida?  Nah.
Who would want to stroll that beach?  Not me!  So we hit the road again.  We stopped for lunch in Perry, FL at a place called Goodman's BBQ.  The parking lot was full and we had to park the rv in a dirt field next door but the food was excellent!  We switched to US 19 and headed south in Perry.  It is not very heavily traveled because it roughly parallels I-75 however we did find two state patrol officers checking for speeders!  We never speed because I'd just feel too foolish getting pulled over towing this huge trailer but I'm sure those guys were out there for a reason.

We pulled in to our relative's house about 16:00 and spent the next few days visiting them and many of the local restaurants!  We also got to visit the Homosassa Wildlife State Park.  That was fun!    The place started as a commercial park and they had all kinds of animals.  Then it was taken over by the state and turned into a native Florida park where all the plants and animals had to be native to the state.  Well, for some reason they couldn't get rid of their hippo, Lucifer.  So the state legislature made him an honorary resident!
He's a big guy!  They also have gators, snakes, a Florida panther, black bears and LOTS of birds.

It was a good time as always but we had places to go!  We used to live in Palm Harbor, Fl which is a suburb in the Tampa-St. Pete area so that was our next stop.  We managed to hook up with the folks who were our next door neighbors and had a great evening with them.  But South Florida was still calling!

We made it to the Outdoor Resorts campground on Chokoloskee Island in the Everglades.  It is a condo park where the sites are owned by individuals and their rigs just sit there.  It was a nice enough place but the manager was far from friendly and the actual park was pretty tight for travelers.  There were many turns that were too tight for even moderate sized rigs.  For $80 a night it was not great but at least they had wifi!

This is what I would call the western side of the glades but the park service calls it the Gulf Coast.  And we had a great time checking out the park.  One of the things you can do is take a tour through some of the Ten Thousand Islands area.  We enjoyed our tour even though the dolphins were pretty shy.

There were plenty of birds around including this flock that just couldn't be close enough to the rest of the guys!

Honestly we really enjoyed just being out on the boat.  It's a rare treat for us desert dwellers.  We wore our jackets though! Florida maybe but a long way from being warm!  It was about now that we started seeing about visiting the Keys.  We were soon disabused of any idea of visiting Key West or anywhere near it!  RV parks were all full so our visions of Key West and the Dry Tortugas went away.  Instead we headed for other side of the Everglades.  We found a spot outside Homestead, Fl and headed for it.  On the way we thought we might check out Shark Valley, Miami entrance to the park.  Well, for starters it's nowhere near Miami!  Secondly it is TINY!  They have a very small parking area as well and when it gets crowded they have a plan:  you can't go into the parking area until someone else comes out!  Well, shit!  Now we are in the line of cars towing a 30+ foot trailer. No way can we turn around; we just had to wait until enough people came out then drive through the lot and get on our way.  They did have maybe two spots for RVs but that was it.  Not the way we wanted to spend our time!

So it was off to the country park.  This place is in the middle of an agricultural area west of Miami; tons of gardens, nurseries, etc.  It made for a long drive to anywhere but it was nice and quiet!  In fact we ended up spending four nights.  The eastern entrance to the Everglades park was pretty quiet but it was rainy the first time we went so that was pretty disappointing.  The second time it was nice, still wearing jackets, and we got to do a couple hikes.  Here we found a trail built up over the swamp.  Again there were tons of birds including this guy who liked to walk across the plants; he barely got his feet wet!
We also got to see this guy.
That was taken from about 6 feet away (2 M) and behind a fence.  There were some folks over to my left trying to get a nice toothy portrait of him.  What were they thinking?  He may have been in a national park but no one told him about not being a wild animal!  It is a wonder that there aren't more tourists attacked. 

Another day we decided to drive down into the Keys and just have lunch somewhere.  Traffic was pretty heavy and we started thinking we were lucky not to have gotten a space down there.  We went as far as Islamorada and found a place for lunch around Mile Marker 85.  Still a long way from Key West and MM 0!  The restaurant was called "Yahoo's" and we ate outside on the deck.  Yes, we had to wear our coats but at least we got a nice view!  Really though, wearing your coat in the Florida Keys.  There is just something so very wrong about that.
Gotta keep trying to get that boat fix! 

I'm thinking this has gone on long enough.  This is as far south as we got so next time we'll be on the way home with a few stops along the way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Yet another absence....

At least this time I've got half an excuse!  We've been traveling!  We took off on December 30 and spent the next six weeks on the road.  It was quite a road trip from here to the Florida Keys and back.  I'll spend a few posts covering some of the high points.  One of the LOW points, almost everywhere, was the promise of wifi and the failure to deliver.  There were a few rv parks where they delivered but the vast majority were just confused.  At one park that actually had working wifi we checked in and got the password 'SunnyFla1' - it didn't work.  So I went back to the office.  No, the lady was certain that was the password.  In fact they had it written on a bulletin board.  She took me to see it.  Sure enough 'sunnyflorida1' - hmmm.  I know the office staff may not be required to be computer literate but that's just incompetence.

Anyway, as I said we left on December 30 and headed to Congress, AZ and the Escapee park there North Ranch.  The park is nice enough but the primary reason for stopping here is to get the rig weighed.  RV'ers are always supposed to be careful about being under the design weight for their rig; I don't think many actually check.  Certainly we've been doing this for years without getting weighed.  Weighing is done (in our case) by doing the truck alone then the truck hitched to the trailer.  We were happy to find that we are actually under our design limits.  Both our vehicles and our tires are under their limits. 

Our next stop was Benson, AZ and the Butterfield RV Resort.  The extra added attraction of this particular park is that they have a small observatory on site and every night (weather permitting) a volunteer opens up the roof and shows people the stars through their 16 inch telescope.  We really enjoyed the show (about 2 hours of taking turns looking at the stars) but it was COLD!  I know it was January 1st but, it was cold for southern Arizona.  Of course you can't heat the building because it would foul up the air around the telescope. 

We did get to see snow in the mountains but the weather was rather dull and windy.  Wind in the face, of course, helping our fuel usage go the wrong way!
Every time we cross I-10 we are amazed by Texas Canyon, AZ.  There has to be a story about how this area got named Texas Canyon but I sure don't know it! 
The boulders just suddenly appear on both sides of the road and then they are gone in just a few miles.  It's hardly what one might call a canyon either but there it is.  It's cool.

We wandered East on I-10 until getting off and heading in the direction of Fredricksburg, TX.  Our plan was to visit Austin, TX for the first time.  We discovered that Austin has some of the worst traffic in the known universe!  We chose this RV park because it advertised itself as being the closest to downtown.  Well, traffic was so bad it was just a joke.  The reason for stopping in Austin was two-fold:  to see a little of the city and to visit the LBJ Presidential Library.  The city is young and vibrant.  It has a very nice 'feel'.  We got to visit the Texas state capital building; very interesting.  The building was full of tours but you could walk around on your own which is what we did.  You can see the houses of the state legislature; everywhere there are star images just like the star on the state flag.  There was, however, a metal detector to go through and an officer armed with an assault rifle just to keep you honest. 

Then we went to the Library on the UT grounds.  Wow!  It is a huge four story building; very grand.  The general public is allowed on two of the floors.  You learn about LBJ as a young politician and get a good overview of his years as President.  It brought back quite a view memories of the Vietnam conflict but also reviewed the tremendous amount of legislation that was passed that is very influential even today.

We found a state road out of town that worked really well.  Next we wanted to stop at the G.H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX.    It was really much different; less grand to start with.  You learn about Mr. Bush's early years including being a Navy pilot in WWII even though he was only 19!  Then they bring in the entire Bush family including rooms devoted to his wife, Barbara.  Interesting. 

Got back on the road and spent the night at another Escapee's park.  This was in Livingston, TX and is the home base for the organization.  It's not a particularly good park for visitors because it is full of homes and permenent residents.  Still, it's a good organization.  This was the first night, but not the last(!), that we needed to unhook the water for the night because of freezing weather.  NOT what we were expecting in the South. 

That's enough drivel for today.  I'll be back again in a day or two to inflict more pain.  Thanks for stopping by!