Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels

Alatoona

After we left Ft. Myers, FL, we wanted to get to Nashville in 2 days and needed to put some miles on the coach.  We got as far as Tampa on Wednesday evening and “dry-camped” (no hookups) in a nice Cracker Barrel parking lot just off the highway.  The parking is free and meals are always easy at Cracker Barrel.  After breakfast, we got back on Interstate 75 and continued north toward Georgia.  It was our first time to drive north through Atlanta with the RV and neither of us were looking forward to the traffic in the coach with the toad (car we tow) behind us.  No matter how I try, I always seem to get into a big city at rush hour and this was no exception.  There are a couple of constants in Atlanta:  tons of traffic and road construction.  They have so very many roads and highways there and they are always, always crowded!  

Typical Atlanta Traffic

Tail lights, police rushing to accidents, drivers cutting across all the lanes, and, of course, drivers who pull out in front of the RV.  I always leave a couple of car lengths between me and the car in front; it’s just safer.  But there are always people who feel like that open spot belongs to them and in they fly.  With the toad behind me, I do not like to have to lay on the brakes that hard and wish people would give me the space!  Even though there are so very many highways around Atlanta, every one of them is always crowded and between 4:00 and 7:00 every night, it is much worse.  They are building a new baseball stadium just north of Atlanta and, of course, are building new highway lanes to accommodate that traffic……road construction is a constant here!

51 minutes to drive 24 miles!!!!!
 I found a campground just north of Atlanta on Alatoona Lake and we pulled in around 6:30.  I took a water/electric only site to save $$ and we parked looking towards the water.  The road in was a windy little thing with a railroad crossing, but once in the campground, it was lovely.  The site was a good size, it was shady and cool near the water.  Tall pine trees shaded everything and campfire smoke began to fill the air.  Ahhhhhhhhh…….easy to relax.

Nice view of the lake
The next morning we headed out to drive to Chattanooga and then west toward Nashville.  Another reason we have avoided the Atlanta route is the mountains around Chattanooga. We have not really had the coach in big mountains yet and didn’t know what to expect. In this time line, though, this was the shortest and fastest way to Nashville from Tampa.  We learned that the RV has an engine brake (not a Jake brake) and used that to manage the drive down the mountains around Chattanooga.  It held the engine in check, did not require Barry to used the brakes, and kept us a nice slow speed down the other side.  Nashville here we come!

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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 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!

Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels

Outside Marianna, Florida

I  normally select and reserve all the campgrounds while we travel.   While we had been making plans during late March / early April, Barry found one online and thought it looked like a great choice….our criteria:  full hook-ups, concrete parking site, quiet, dark at night, good WiFi, clear view of the SW sky for the Dish…..

He found Alliance Hill RV Park just south of  I-10 but near Marianna, Florida.  He needed to travel north about an hour to Dothan, Alabama for a sales call; this seemed like a great site.  The beach is a little over an hour south of here.  The website looked good enough, there were good reviews; but you know that feeling that something is just a little bit off?  When I called to make our reservation, a friendly older gentleman answered and said he would be please to confirm our dates.  Yes, he said, just call me the day before, and what is your name?  There was no exchange of RV Club info, no address, no email, no deposit…..just see you soon.  Hmmmm…..

I called the next day, same man answered, “Yes, ma’am.  See you tomorrow.”  Who runs a business like that?  We pulled in a bit late in the afternoon on Wednesday, May 17.  We had driven 7 miles south of I-10 and turned on Alliance Road….the campground was about 2 miles east on opened to a security gate.  I called and Glenn said, “I’ll be right there.”  We saw him come out of the office inside the park and drive up to the gate, turn his car around, then come back to talk to us.  “How long did you say this RV is?” and turned to look around at the mostly empty sites.  “Hmm, maybe I’ll put you…..”  and he looked over at first one site, then another, and then a third before deciding on one.  He opened the gate and we drove through and followed him around a gravel loop road, across the grass (“It’s really hard.”), across one parking site and finally into our site.  Glenn advertises this park as a Luxury Campground, no tents, no old RV’s, full hookups, pool, clubhouse, dog park, WiFi.

 

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Not our RV here, but you get the idea…..

As mentioned above, this site had all the criteria to make this a great RV campground for us.  Except, there was zero shade and it was unusually hot for this time of year.  Humid and in the 90ºs everyday with a hot breeze lightly blowing.  And there were gnats during the day and mosquitoes at night…..lots of them.  Every time we went outside, whether to walk the dogs, enjoy the sunset, clean the bugs off the windshield, etc., those gnats were on us.  They landed in our eyes and nose and ears, on my fresh wounds from a stupid fall in Mobile, on the dogs, every where.   They came in the coach with us and we had to swat at them constantly.  And the dog park was at the bottom of the hill, un-mown, and a walk through tall grass while swatting at those pesky gnats……

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But there was a bit of heaven here…….due south was Panama City Beach.  On Friday afternoon, we drove south to find the Gulf.  We picked out one of the only true on-the-beach bars and sat there for several hours.  We had snacks and drinks, then dinner and lots of sweet tea and a piece of Key Lime pie while we watched the waves and surf and sun-bathers.  We talked and relaxed, we listened to everyone around us talk and tell their stories to each other.

We were in no hurry, and it was fine.