Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living

Sweet TN Tea

We spent Father’s Day weekend in Nashville with our youngest son and his girlfriend.  After the last time here, I looked only at Corps of Engineers’ campgrounds around the  big lakes and found a very nice spot at Cedar Creek Campground on Old Hickory Lake.

 

Although the road in was NARROW, with no shoulder and a couple of 90º turns, the campground is lovely.  There are lots of trees and the sites are mostly in circles with water and electric hookups, good satellite visibility but no WiFi.  Our site (#38) had a little peek at the lake from the front window, with a large fire pit and chat-gravel picnic area.  If we would return here, I would try to get the lakeside sites first, much larger and they all look right out on the lake.  There are nice shower-houses, a sand volleyball court, public beach and boat ramp here also.  Apparently the Cedar Creek Marina has a kick-ass  breakfast which we will try next time here!

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See the Lake behind that TN Vols camper?

We agreed to tour Greenbrier Distillery for Father’s Day and booked our tour for 2:30 pm.  We have toured other distilleries in this area and this one has a great history of money made and lost and found (greenbrierdistillery.com); however, they are very proud of their product.  We did not want to spend $80/bottle for good whiskey and had to leave it there after our tasting.  P.S. The tasting starts with white whiskey which is basically liquid fire and then progresses to the good stuff.  I don’t know why though, my taste buds were burned off after that first sample!

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The distillery is in a little industrial-turned-retail area and is next to a huge old brick building that was formerly home of the Marathon Motor Car factory.  It has been reconfigured into offices and shops, a wine house, deli, etc..  Although it was raining outside (well that’s no surprise), the entire place is under roof and you can pop into each spot easily.  The Antique Archeaology shop here is a pickers store and fun to visit.

After we left the area, we met some of Tyler’s friends, Adam & Amanda, for dinner at Five Points Pizza.  Delicious pie, NY style with great toppings!!  They serve Garlic Knots as an appetizer; big pizza dough rolls tied in knots brushed with basil and garlic butter and served with a side of their very fresh tomato sauce.  Great stop even with a 45 minute wait!  They also serve my personal favorite: sweet southern tea!  I have been drinking that since I got off the bottle as a baby and can’t imagine having to do without it!  By the way, adding sugar at the table to a glass of unsweet tea is not the same!

We left Nashville on Monday morning and headed north to Illinois to work for a week there.  I will bet the sun will shine on us as we move and work!

Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels, Weather

The West Coast (of FL)

As you may recall, I was having a fit about not having working windshield wipers in the RV and made an appointment at a Newmar dealer for service in Ft. Myers.  So let’s talk about that.  Every time we drive south on Int. 75 on the “West Coast” of Florida, we pass many signs for North Trail RV in Ft. Myers, a Newmar dealer and service center, one of the few such places in Florida.  The wipers have been a problem for many months and it seemed to me a dealer repair was in order.  I made an appointment about 10 days in advance and explained the needed repairs to the scheduler.  As I planned our trip from Ft. Lauderdale north, we built time in for this appointment, two days in a campground in Ft. Myers and a day for service.  I explained this to the scheduler when I spoke to her two days before the appointment and stressed that we did not have any time to wait for parts to be ordered; she suggested we priories our repairs.  Our priorities for repairs were as follows: 1) Wipers, 2) Front A/C, 3) Fresh Water pump, and 4) Awning bracket.

So we drove north and west from Markham Park along FL Hwy. 27 through the heart of the Everglades and along the edge of Lake Okeechobee.  I hoped to avoid the Turnpike and the tolls and the traffic and maybe see some sights along the way.  Sure enough, we could see the “River of Grass” that is the Everglades.  Birds of every type waded in the water or flew overhead.  Several alligators lay in the water alongside the highway; but more “gators” lay along the roadway……those parts of tires that come off big trucks.  Florida highways have more pieces of tires than any where else we have been.

We parked at Orange Harbor Mobile Home and RV Park on FL Hwy. 80.  A nice park with full hookups and good WiFi, but mostly row after row of mobile homes for SnowBirds.  The RV park was near the back of the community and we were the only people in the area; most of the other places were closed up for the summer.  The campground hosts came and lead us back to our site; we had a pull-through site that was all gravel with a concrete patio right on the end of the parking row.  This should have been the easiest parking ever; but it was a fiasco.  The hosts (a husband and wife in their 70’s) and Barry tried to direct me into the site by maneuvering around a palm tree on the passenger side.  They had parked their golf cart and our car on the end of the street on the driver’s side.  It was just too tight to get the coach to make that right hand turn and squeeze into the spot so we decided that I should back out, go around the block and return a street over and pull through another site and directly into our site.  As I tried to maneuver the coach around the golf cart and car, a street sign on the passenger side went unnoticed and I clipped it.  It left a scratch on the side of the coach, then caught on the back awning arm and the bracket on the arm broke apart.  The three of them were all standing on the driver’s side and could not warn me that it was there.  Add that to the list of repairs at the dealer…….

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See the wall cloud in front and the Virga behind?

Barry left after I got parked and headed north to Tampa for a sales call the next day and I settled down to clean the coach.  I got out the ladder (in the basement!) and washed the huge windshield and front of the coach.  Florida has love bugs that stick to everything as you drive and will leave a mark on the paint if not cleaned off soon.  I applied a thick coat of RainX to the windshield (again) and polished the nose of the coach also.  I washed the entire lower panel all the way around the coach and then cleaned the wheels and tires and the Newmar mud flap until the chrome shone.  All the while, it became more cloudy and thunder rolled in the distance.  I just had time to ride my bike over to the pool and back before it started to rain……again and continued for the next 24 hours with lots of distant lightning and rolling thunder.  The sun peeked out under the clouds the next evening for a pretty sunset.

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The next morning we got up early (6:45!!) and made our way to North Trail RV Service center.  Our appointment was a 9:00 am and we arrived by 8:30 but had to wait for our scheduler (Jonathan) to check us in after 9:00.  Hmmmm.  They had a nice waiting room with sofas and recliners and a big screen TV and free water and was dog-friendly.  We had a Cracker Barrel breakfast and returned to wait.         At 12:40 another customer approached the receptionist and inquired about his wait and she explained that all the service employees take an hour lunch at noon.  Hmmmmmm.        About 1:15 Jonathan came and went over the issues.  Wipers:  they do not carry the motor in stock and needed to order one, it could get there in 3 days.  WHAT???  We declined to wait — I had explained on all those previous phone calls that we needed that part to repair our wipers!!!  GRRRRR.    They could repair the water pump, it needed to be replaced, was in stock and could be completed this afternoon at a cost of $250….okay.  The dash A/C needed a tune-up and some parts and could also be completed this afternoon for about $900…..okay.  They had the broken awning bracket and could also repair it for about $100…..okay.  We settled back down to wait as a storm broke overhead and the rain began, again.        A little after 4:00, Jonathan came and was ready to check us out.  The total came to $1,566 and our first priority was not fixed…… GRRRRRR.  We paid and a porter brought the coach up to us.

As I got in, I noticed some bugs on the dash, lots of bugs on the dash, and also on the floor under the driver’s seat, lot of bugs, maybe ants?  I started whacking them with my hands as fast as I could.  The dogs got excited and started barking and barking at me.  After I killed about 50 ants, I wiped a handful into my hand and went back inside to the receptionist and asked for Jonathan.  He was already helping someone else and I would have to wait.  I handed the ants over to her and said, “He needs to come out to my coach IMMEDIATELY!!!”, and returned to the coach to kill more ants.  He did not come out soon and after 10 minutes I sent Barry in to bring him out which he did.  I had a dustpan full of ants and, of course, he could not imagine how that had happened.  I brushed all the ants into his hand as he offered to have a crew come vacuum the coach.  The slides were all in and vacuuming would have been wasted; I was not about to wait any longer and declined his apologetic offer.  I was fuming out my ears and wanted no more of this place.  My wipers were not fixed, I was out over $1,500, and now we had ants in the coach.     I drove off the lot and then noticed that the wipers were not in the down position but were stuck in the vertical position right in front of me on the windshield.  We continued to drive north and away, looking through the wipers like goalposts on the windshield.  Goodbye Florida!

Posted in Parks, RV Living, Travels

Ft. Lauderdale Fun

Our grandson is the primary reason we travel to Ft. Lauderdale; we love our son, daughter-in-love, and her parents, but He is the reason!  This trip centered around his 2nd birthday and all the fun for that time.  As a two year old, Ansel loves big machines, construction equipment, fire equipment, big trucks……..but specifically Trash Trucks!  For the last 6 months, he has loved everything to do with trash:  putting stuff in the can, emptying the can, taking the container to the street, and watching the trash man in his trash truck on the street.  His tears can often be abated with the words, “Will you put this ___ into the trash please?”  And so, it goes without saying that he would have a Trash Bash Birthday!  My daughter-in-love had trashy invitations, trash truck banners, trash can party favors, even a trash truck cake!

Trash Bash Party

The rain held off (for the most part, it is back to that 2 minute rain cycle again) and many of his pre-school and church friends came to the playground to celebrate with him.  As the saying goes, “You know it was a good day if you didn’t hit or bite anyone,” so this party was a success.

While we were in the area, I spent an hour (until it started raining, again) at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.  This is a tropical oasis right in the middle of Ft. Lauderdale at the beach.  Seriously, once you drive in here, the high rise condos and traffic are gone, and you are swallowed by the jungle.  They have a walking tunnel to cross FL A1A that takes you right out to the beach!  They also have a nice loop drive through the park, through mangroves, Banyan & Live Oak trees, beside bayous and the Intercoastal Waterway.  Again, I did not see any alligators or big stuff, but I did see lots of birds and a rangy looking raccoon.  

If I were an alligator, I would hang out here…….
Nice benches to watch boats on the Inter-coastal Waterway
Big Banyan Tree
 

Too soon, our wet trip to Ft. Lauderdale is over.  We already miss our grandson and can’t wait to return, rain or no rain!

Posted in Campgrounds, Parks, RV Living, Weather

Underwater 

In previous posts, I have told you about the rain that seems to follow us everywhere we go:  Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Mobile, and now, southern Florida.  If you follow the weather, most of Florida has been very dry for the last year or more and is classified as in some level of drought ( http://www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu ).  Fortunately, this does not include the Miami / South-Eastern Coast.  Unfortunately, we brought them rain.  

The rain just keeps on coming

About June 5, the rain started.  We are used to this southern Florida weather; sunny one minute, 2 minutes of rain, sun back out with humidity about 97%……repeat every afternoon….. this rain just seemed “normal”.  

When we returned from snorkeling, we moved to a different RV site, back in the back of Markham Park nearer the Gun Range, a site with shade.  We had a variety of Umbrella trees, Sea Grapes, Live Oak, and Palms growing around our site and had nice afternoon shade.  As the rain continued, these trees dropped lots of debris onto the roof, along with ants.  The sandy soil around the site became a watery mess.  The rain continued, constantly for several days; we ended up with over 12″ of rain in my old gauge in 6 days.


The water rose all around us in the park.  The park was closed to everyone, except campers.  We spoke to the park staff about moving to a site without trees and with pavement, but they were all “full” although no new campers moved in during the deluge. The roads to the campground were underwater, the canal behind the campgrounds and the lakes rose out of their banks.  I expected to see alligators at the RV site as the water rose.  Nearby shopping centers were closed as the water overflowed the drains and filled the parking lots.  Manufactured home communities became islands at each site.   It was a mess.  

Good weather for ducklings!

Finally after almost a week, the rain stopped, the clouds became lighter, and the humidity, well it is Southern Florida, so it became even more unbearable.  But the water did not subside for another week.  We continued to drive through water to get to the coach, wade through water to go to the store, and dry off the dogs every time they went out.  By the way, there is nothing like that wet dog smell to make an RV feel like home!  

Grilling needs two people: one to cook and one to hold the umbrella!
Posted in Campgrounds, Parks, Travels

Snorkeling in the Keys

I have been trying since we bought this RV in September to get a reservation at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park…..it is about the hardest site to reserve ever!  But I finally got a 2 night reservation for Barry’s birthday, and we planned our trip to Florida around it!  

The campground is small with only 39 campsites; but to get there you have to drive through the beautiful mangrove hardwoods and past the dive / snorkeling / kayaking / swimming lagoons!  Our site (#37) backed up to the mangroves and was completely shaded by noon…..an important feature in the Keys.  We had full hookups and used our WiFi HotSpot rather than the spotty campground WiFi, but our Dish found the satellite easily for TV watching.  There is no dog park here, but lots of bags and trash cans for their deposits.  Of course, Ratchet took me to the nearest waters edge and waded in to his belly as usual!  I was watchful for things that might be lurking in the water though!  The shower rooms are clean and nice and the campground is gated to prevent the public from wandering in!  Every type of campers were here:  big coaches, 5th wheels, campers, even tents.

Pennekamp Campground from our site

After we checked in, my friend, Cindy and I went snorkeling there.  I grew up terribly afraid of water and never, ever put my face under……until about 5 years ago when Cindy invited me to come down here with her to snorkel.  I knew my son and Cindy loved to snorkel and thought it was about time I got over that fear…..now, five years later, I will go out of my way to snorkel!  Cindy and I love to come here to John Pennekamp (the $$ is right, and we love the protected reefs here), love the 2.5 hour trips (4.5 is just too long!), and could float around Grecian Rocks every time!  We have been to both Grecian Rocks and Dry Rocks and the Christ of The Abyss area and took a private tour out to Molasses Reef once also; Grecian Rocks is our first choice.  If you have not been snorkeling before, it is amazing!  It takes about 45 minutes to get out to the reef and we pass over beds of sea grass before the water begins to turn a breath-taking color of light blue/green…..that is the sandy bottom before the reef.  The boat moors off the reef and far enough away that he can’t be washed over it to avoid any chance of damage.  The boat captain & dive master (necessary for every trip out) have lectured us before we left the dock, as we moved through the mangroves and again, just now before we left the boat about safety and not touching anything or standing up anywhere and, splash we were in the warm, salty water!  We saw sea urchins, barracuda, fish of every size and color (grouper, parrot fish, angel fish, I don’t even know what they all are) and so many varieties of coral!  Sorry, no cameras or phones on the trip!  

John Pennekamp Inlet with the snorkeling and tour boats at dock

Afterward, we joined Barry and had dinner at the famous Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo.  Lobster bites, Mahi was the fish of the day, sweet tea and the famous Key Lime Pie finished our wonderful day!  

The next day was Barry’s actual birthday, Cindy returned to Ft. Lauderdale, and Barry & I went out to kayak in the mangroves.  I am not the most coordinated person and fought with my paddle and kayak as much as possible….usually propelling myself into the low-hanging mangrove branches and then trying to figure out how to get out of them!  We floated deep in the mangroves trying to see wildlife, any wildlife, but for nothing!  No reptiles, amphibians, birds, well, maybe a few fish…..but I was hoping to see manatee!  Nope!  After a couple of hours, we went back to the RV to shower and rest and walk the dogs before dinner.

Barry’s choice for his birthday dinner was our favorite Key Largo place, The Buzzard’s Roost.  It sits away from the main road and touristy places, and shares the water with Garden Cove Marina.  They have 3 dining areas: A/C, covered screen porch, and an outdoor space near the water.  We sat in the porch (less flying insects here) and enjoyed the marina activity while we enjoyed our dinner.  The important thing here is the unbelievable coconut cake with warm pineapple rum sauce.  Every time we visit the Keys, we stop to eat this sweet treat, and never regret it!  During dessert, a fishing boat came in to unload his huge fish coolers, they were full of ballyhoo, a bait fish used by saltwater fishermen.  They were small, silvery-green fish with a long “beak” and the coolers filled with fish and ice were full!

Barry and his Coconut Cake

Our two nights passed too quickly, the skies clouded, rain threatened, and we headed to Ft. Lauderdale to celebrate our grandson’s 2nd birthday!

Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living

Markham County Park, and More

We split our southern Florida trip into 2 segments; Markham Park before and after John Pennekamp Coral Reef.  So, let’s touch a few topics in the before section here.  I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but our windshield wipers have not really operated well since we bought the coach last year and they finally just quit working earlier this year.  From what we have read, the wiper motors on our coach are known problems in the industry.  I am the person who attacks problems; my husband is the person who waits……therefore, we have not had working wipers since this Spring.  Every couple of days, I climb up on a ladder, clean the windshield, and apply a heavy layer of RainX over the entire surface.  When it rains, I drive slower and try to peer through the rain as it slides off the windshield or pull off the road and wait it out.  I love a good rain, but not while I am driving a large motor coach on an interstate.

Waiting out the storm in the Everglades

And, since we bought the coach, it has rained. A Lot.  It rained tons while we were parked in Longview Campground in Kansas City.  It followed us and poured enough to cause 500-year-level flooding in Eureka, MO and we had to leave the area early to escape the water.    A huge thunderstorm enveloped us as we drove across Florida and I needed to pull off and wait it out.  Visibility dropped, the RainX was gone, we had to wait for a break.  It was time to get those wipers repaired.  There is a Newmar RV Service Center in Ft. Myers, we will head there after Ft. Lauderdale.

Markham County Park and Target Range was a nice surprise.  It is a large park at the edge of the Everglades, but just off Int. 75 and on the western edge of Sunrise, FL.  They have mountain bike trails, hiking trails, butterfly garden, r/c air field, r/c boat lake, disc golf, boat launch, observatory, 3 dog parks, playgrounds, target range and campground.  And it is within 30-45 minutes from our grand baby, with good traffic.  There is a swimming pool here, but it was never open and looks like it might not open anytime soon.  On any day, someone is flying a r/c airplane, or mountain biking, or jogging/walking, or playing disc golf, or launching a small boat or personal watercraft — they can actually ride for miles out toward the Everglades.   On almost every day, someone is at the target range shooting at either the Skeet / Trap fields, Pistol / Rifle range or on the Sporting Clays course scattered throughout the woods.  Local police use the target range to hone their gun skills and the range is closed to the public those days.  (One day I rode my bike back to look at the range and found that it was crawling with policemen.  Although the gates were open, a large tactical vehicle parked near the gate sensed my presence, not weird at all, and a loud speaker began to blare, “THIS AREA IS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC.  LEAVE THIS AREA IMMEDIATELY.”  Of course, I left!  No matter who is shooting though, the campgrounds nearest the range can hear the booming guns.

There are 3 separate dog parks here:  Barkham Large Dog, Barkham Small Dog, and Puppy Barkham.  The Bermuda grass is trimmed very nicely, there are covered picnic tables to sit in the shade while Fido plays and a paved trail around the perimeters with lots of trees and benches and fountains for humans and dogs!  One of our dogs, Zeplyn, got the dog flu in December though and we no longer let them “play” in a public dog park.  (Side note: the dog flu is seriously terrible and can be life-threatening to your pet.  And the symptoms are just disgusting in an RV.). 

The campgrounds are large and spacious, some shaded, most not.  The majority of campsites are on circle drives with about 5 – 8 parking sites each.  There is also a pull-through campground for larger RVs with 7 sites but zero shade.  Each site has full hookups and no trees to block the satellite TV, however we could not get the WiFi to connect at all the entire time we were parked here.  Each of the campgrounds has one paved site that could be designated ADA compliant; but all the other sites are grass/sandy gravel parking.  The front campgrounds have easy access to restrooms / showers that were clean, but hot and humid; they also have recycling and trash containers outside the restrooms.  The back campgrounds have a bit of a walk to the restrooms.  Surprisingly, they did not cut the grass around the campgrounds before Memorial Day and it had a weedy feel.  


Overall impression?  Great park, great price ($30/night in summer), good hookups, nice and quiet…..just a little far from that grand baby!

Posted in Campgrounds, Parks, RV Living, Travels

Bay Bayou Relaxation

We love Bay Bayou RV Resort in Tampa!  It was one of the first RV places we stayed after we bought our RV last year and it made us love RV life.  It is an easy place to stay with large trees, concrete pads, full hookups, good WiFi, nice dog parks (one for small dogs and one for large ones), nice clubhouse with mail service, and a great pool.


Oh, and did I mention they have those ugly Muscovy ducks……who are also very cute little ducklings?  If you want to google Muscovy ducks to see the ugly adults, go ahead….I’ll wait for you to return……

Now that we have discussed that, let’s talk about lovely Tampa Bay.  Less than 1 mile from Bay Bayou RV Resort is the Upper Tampa Bay Regional County Park.  I rode my bike there one day, it was that close.  There are several picnic shelters and lots of space to spread out.  There are several trails that connect to boardwalks, raised trails to protect the fragile environment and keep you dry and out of the mangroves and coastal bay water.  


The boardwalks even have a couple of places with steps that lead down to the water.  I do not know why the steps are there though……I don’t think you would want to swim in this water due to the probable presence of alligators.  The trails also lead to inland pools with nice places to watch birds.


There is a very nice Nature Center in the park; they have tons of exhibits regarding the history of the area, both recent and geological, live exhibits of local fish, and some teaching centers for school trips. I spotted a giant tortoise on one of the side walking trails, but he vanished into the underbrush before I could get close enough to take a photo.  The best part of the park trails was all the little fiddler crabs all along the trails.  

Another great thing about the Tampa area near Bay Bayou RV Resort is Lobster Haven restaurant.  This little place is a market that sells fresh lobster…….great big lobsters……all waiting in big water-filled tanks to go home with someone.  There is a front seating area that looks just like a second thought for the market; just added to fill the space.  On the other side of the market is a regular little eating spot.  Decorated in New Orleans French Quarter style, there is a decent bar and several tables;most diners eat in here.  They have The Best Lobster Rolls in Florida. Period.  Don’t even ask me twice……it’s just that good.  I meant to take some photos here each time we visited (twice in 5 days), but every time the food arrived, we just started eating it all!  So sorry, you are just going to have to imagine how delicious those lobster rolls were!