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Our Wanderings of the Winter of '10-'11

We left home on Sunday, 14 Nov, on the first leg of the trip down to northern NJ and Mahlon-Dickerson Reservation. It was a relevantly uneventful drive except for a little adventure on the NY Thruway just west of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Suddenly there were dozens of expensive sports cars (Vipers, Corvettes, Porsches, BMW’s, etc.) tearing past us at breakneck speeds, weaving in and out of the Sunday traffic. We learned later that it was a road rally race from Long Island to Monticello, and that shortly after they zoomed past us at up to 100 mph, New York State Troopers stopped about a hundred of them and issued 30 citations. Now if I had just juiced up the Lazy Daze a bit…

As soon as we crossed the Delaware Bridge we ducked off the dreaded I-95 and took US-301 and US-17 down the coast all the way to JAX. Stops along the way included the Navy FAMCAMP in Annapolis, The Navy’s Cheatham Annex in Williamsburg, the Elizabeth City Coast Guard Station, Cherry Point MCAS in NC, Huntington Beach State Park in SC, Buck Hall USFS north of Charleston, Parris Island USMC Training Depot in Beaufort, and finally after visiting friends in JAX, a few days at Mayport Naval Station.

 We arrived in Jacksonville at the home of some long-time friends from my Air National Guard days. Affixed to the street sign in front of their house was this notice welcoming us to Sleepy Acres Campground. sleepyacres02 

Our stay at Mayport was a sad one, for it was the wish of Liz’ Mom to have her ashes strewn in the Atlantic Ocean. We walked out on the jetty where Liz said farewell. From Mayport we ventured a little further southward to visit more friends: full-timer Susan who was at our old hosting haunt, Gamble Rogers SRA in Flagler Beach, and then down to Blue Springs SP to have our annual dinner at the Pier 16 Fish House with my first mentor in the Air Force. Mr. N. is now 90, and still as sharp as a tack. Sad to say, this was the last time we saw him, for he passed away in Jan of 2012.

That marked our southern-most point. We then headed for the Panhandle, stopping at Lake Griffin SP, Manatee Springs SP, Ochlockonee River SP, Tyndall AFB and finally our Christmas destination of the Army Rec Center in Destin. There we loafed for a month - almost a tad too long. Nice place, but small and cramped and no pleasant place to walk.

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We stopped in Apalachicola to enjoy our lunch down by the docks where the commercial fishermen tie up.

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It was a very calm, and rather foggy day, with scarcely a ripple on the water.

20 Jan 11: Today was Burgers and Bombs day - lunch at Wataburger, followed by a visit to the Eglin Air Force Base's Air Force Armaments Museum - the only museum of its type in the world. Here you can trace the development of aerial weapons, from the early days of flight up to today's modern missiles and bombs. On display outside are many aircraft dating from WWII up to the F-15 and SR-71. Click here for a more complete tour of the museum. af arm mus04
Finally we were off to explore new territory - the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island south of Pensacola. We weren't sure what to expect since this area was severely damaged by Huuricanes Ivan in 2004 and Dennis in 2005. However, we found that the National Park Service has done a fantastic job in rebuilding facilities destroyed by the storms. In fact, while we were there, they were just finishing up a major repaving of roads - the main road, the roads through the campgrounds and even each individual site. There are new walkways to the beach and new informational signs. The Fort Pickens Campground during the winter months operates on a first-come, first-served basis, and we found there were lots of available sites. We consider it a great find and will definitely plan to return - miles of beach and trails to walk and an historic fort to explore.

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What a grand place to spend the day - the beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

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Sunset over the beach at Fort Pickens, Gulf Islands National Seashore.

8 Feb 11: We kept extending our stay at Fort Pickens, up to two weeks, and hated to leave, but it was time to move on. We left there last Sunday, 6 Feb, and drove up across Mobile Bay to Chickasabogue Park, a county park just north of Mobile. Based on a forecast of rain for Monday, we decided to stay two nights.....of course, it didn't rain - blasted weather-guessers! Chickasabogue was an OK kinda place, but not sure we'd bother going back. A fair number of all-winter residents plus lots of noise from the nearby interstate. Oh well - it was fine for a night or two.

Tuesday we were back on the road, headed west through Mobile. Gas prices were down significantly from the previous week in Florida - $2.88 vs $3.19. Made a stop west of Mobile at 1000 to run the generator and catch the ever-ongoing saga of Alexandra of the Dr. Phil family. Yeah, I know - call us demented!

We arrived at Davis Bayou Campground in Ocean Springs MS about noon, and had no problem getting a site - there were several from which to choose. This is a first-come/first-served campground, which I thoroughly like. I wish there were more, for we hate being tied down to dates and places if we have to make reservations. Next month is always a challenge thanks to Spring Break. Anyway, Davis Bayou is a very pleasant place - lots of grass yet plenty of nice shade trees. We signed up for a one week, and will probably sign up for a second week.

 
12 Feb 11: We visited the Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is co-located with a memorial to the USS Mississippi and the submarine USS Tullibee. The Vietnam Memorial is very moving - it's a large granite roof-less "room" lined with photographs and names of MS service members who gave their lives. I sent on a bench in the middle looking at all those young faces who never had a chance to live out their lives and I couldn't help shedding some tears. winter1011-017
winter1011-022 The USS Tullibee was commissioned in February 1943 and was deployed to the Pacific theater. On her fourth patrol, in March 1944, she launched two torpedoes against a Japanese convoy. Two minutes later she was rocked by a violent explosion - apparently one of her torpedoes ran a circular course and struck the Tullibee, sinking her.
15 Feb 11: After a week at Davis Bayou, we left to go visit some Lazy Daze folks in Saucier, MS, about 45 miles from here. They had graciously invited us to spend the night in the country yard and treated us to a delicious dinner and friendly conversation. Liz and Carolyn hit it off - Carolyn is a master quilter and Liz used to quilt. Meanwhile George and I discussed all sorts of LD-related topics and swapped a few war stories from our Air Force days. The next morning, we returned to Davis Bayou for a second week - the maximum allowed. winter1011-025

18 Feb 11: We're really enjoying our stay at Davis Bayou CG, which is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. I have found that there is quite a bit of railroad activity through Ocean Springs, with the tracks about a mile from the campground. I've ridden my bike up several times to get some pictures. There's also a beautful old station, originally built in 1907 by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and now occupied by the Chamber of Commerce.

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19 Feb 11: Today was the big family-friendly Mardi Gras parade in Ocean Springs, so I rode my bike and watched about half it. After a while, though, it all began to look the same, so I headed back to the campground. Leading it off was the Air Force band from nearby Keesler AFB.

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Floats were filled with folks tossing beads and other goodies to the crowds along the parade route.

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And of course the Shriners were there with their little putt-putt cars.

21 Feb 11: Woke up this morning with a swollen foot - no idea why. Started taking some Doxycycline. Despite the foot, I rode my bike out on a few errands, including a stop at the Post Office for mail.....oops, it's Presidents Day. Dang. Say, I remember back when it was Washington's Birthday and was always on the 22nd?

23 Feb 11: Foot still swollen, but I couldn't nurse it today - we reached our 14-day stay limit at Davis Bayou, so it was time to move on. Today was one of those tough travel days - 13 miles westward to Keesler AFB in Biloxi. Arrived at the FAMCAMP about 1000 and were fortunate enough to get the only hard-stand site available. A nice site at the end of a row with no neighbor on the door side. The only down-side is that the base and this whole side of town are under a boil water alert. Wouldn't you know we arrived with only a third of a tank of fresh water.

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On the Way to Keesler we passed the Biloxi Lighthouse, built in 1848. Rather than cut down Katrina-damaged trees along US90, the city turned them over to artists, who created some wonderful works of art, such as these leaping dolphins.

26 Feb 11: In case anyone is wondering, my foot is on the mend; the swelling is down.

27 Feb 11: Took a little bike ride today in search of trains and to visit the Biloxi National Cemetery. I missed out on the trains, but had a very moving walk through the cemetery, with its perfectly-aligned rows of grave markers, commemorating those who so valiantly served their country....our country.... in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Keesler AFB has a dual mission: it's a major training facility for electronics and meteorology, and it's the home of the Hurricane Hunters, the Air Force Reserve unit that flies specally-equipped WC-130's into and through hurricanes and tropical storms to provide detailed information to assist in more accurate forecasts. Many years ago I was offered a job as an Air Reserve Technician Weather Officer, but we decided we really preferred to stay in New England. winter1011-056

10 Mar 11: Our stay at Keesler AFB came to a close today. We had planned to leave yesterday, but based on a forecast of severe weather, we decided to stay an extra night, rather than drive in heavy rain and thunderstorms. It turned out to be a good choice - it was a pretty nasty morning - lots of thunder, lightning, rain and strong winds, and even a tornado was reported within five miles of the base. The plan was to spend the night at the county fairgrounds in Hattiesburg, MS, but we got there about 10:30 in the morning and decided to press on to tomorrow's destination, Timberlake CG near Jackson, MS. We had called them a couple of days ago to check on availability of sites - we were told there a fair number, but by Friday evening they'd be gone. The upcoming week is school vacation week down here. Anyway, we were glad to arrive on Thursday - got a very nice site at the head of a row with a nice view of the lake.

13 Mar 11: We supposedly have now met 2/3's of the Mississippi Lazy Dazer's, and we have to say they are determined to demonstrate that good-ole Southern hospitality. A week or two ago we received an invitation from Louis and Louise Reno to come through Jackson so they could meet us. We called them upon our arrival a couple of days ago and they were soon knocking on our door to take us out to dinner. Delightful folks and what a wonderful evening we spent with them. This afternoon they called and said they would be by to pick us up to take us to a cook-out with some friends of theirs. Another great evening, theirvfriends Judy and Dred Porter welcomed us as if we were old friends and treated us to ribs, chicken and burgers.

winter1011-062 15 Mar 11: For the past couple of years there has been a lot of talk about the end of the world on Dec 21, 2012, based on the Mayan calendar and Nostradamus. Perhaps those predictions aren't correct - there were five identical RV's here the last day or two, all painted up with news of the end of world coming up on 21 May this year. So we have only two months left.

20 Mar 11: Our time is up at Timberlake CG - spring break is over for the kids so it's now safe to resume our travels. We really enjoyed our stay here, aided by the Reno's hospitality. Yesterday, thanks to Louis, I got to do a twenty-mile bike ride with a local bike group. In fact I did a fair amount of riding here - the campground is along a bike path that connects with other routes all over the area. I've done more riding since the first of the year than I did the past three years combined. I know - that's pretty pathetic. Resolution: I'm gonna do better this year.

Our destination today was Twitley Branch COE park up near Meridian, about an 80 mile drive. But...it wasn 't meant to be - we pulled up to the gate and it was closed. A sign announced the park was closed due to high water - reopening 21 Mar. Dang! A day too early. Ah well, scrutinizing WxToad's Monster Public CG List, I espied another COE facility just a few miles up the road, Gin Creek. So off we went. Gin Creek is basically a major boat launching area for fisherman, but it also has a small, seven-site primitive campground. No hookups or other amenities, but only $6 a night - $3 for us Golden Geezers. Three of the sites were available, so we could relax for the rest of the day.

21 Mar 11: Another 80-mile day on into Alabama to Jennings Ferry COE Park on the Black Warrior River neat Eutaw, AL. No problem getting a nice site overlooking Clear Creek, which joins the river here. Puddy-Tat is happy here - lots of squirrels and birds for entertainment, such as this red-headed woodpecker on a tree right outside the window. jefe16
winter1011-64 28 Mar 11: We continue to be overwhelmed by the hospitality of LD'ers down here in MS and AL. We enjoyed a most pleasant weekend with Don and Dorothy Malpas - great friends and great food! They also introduced us to Ed and Jeanne Gaffney, fellow LD'ers who live nearby. We've run into Don and Dorothy out on the road, most notably completely by chance at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree NP three years ago. After a wonderful visit, we departed Sunday morning and drove up to Corinth USFS campground near Double Springs, AL. Got a very nice site with a view of the lake, but it sure is cloudy and dreary. Guess we'll sit out this current spell of soggy weather before resuming the slow northeastward trek towards home.

31 Mar 11: We spent an extra day at Corinth USFS CG due to a forecast for a very soggy Wednesday (yesterday) and we don't like to drive in the rain. Hey - we have plenty of time, so what's the rush, right? Of course, the weather guessers were lying again (I've never met a weather man that I'd trust! <G>), and yesterday was a dry day, although rather dank and dreary. So this morning we were back on the road. Along the way we stopped for a few groceries and went to a Post Office where we expected to have some mail awaiting us. Unfortunately we got there about a half hour late - the PO closes at 1100 AM on Thursdays. What's with this Southern thing about everything shutting down one afternoon a week? Some places it's Wednesday, others it's Thursday - how does a poor wandering Yankee know when things are open?

The Post Office happened to be right beside the railroad tracks and it was lunchtime, always a good combination for a feeroquinologist. Partway through my sandwich, we heard the crossing gate bells, so I grabbed the camera and bolted from the LD....right into a huge mud puddle! But I did get the picture of the train.

It was only a few more miles to our destination, the Mallard Creek TVA campground. We arrived just in the nick of time; we got the next to last site available. And a very nice one, I might add, right beside the lake. Someone came along shortly behind us and claimed the last site, so we were feeling rather lucky, despite the closed PO and the mud puddle. All we need now is some sun and warmth.

5 Apr 11: We extended our stay at Mallard Creek an extra day due to a forecast of severe weather. We were glad we did, for it did get pretty nasty. I put up my anemometer and recorded gusts up to 40 mph. We were sitting right broadside to the wind and even with the levelers down, we were doing a bit of rocking and rolling. That afternoon the front finally came through accompanied by hefty showers and lots of thunder and lightning.

When we left Tuesday morning, we swung back by the Post Office in Hillsboro, where our mail was waiting. Interestingly, though, the Postmistress said it was the first piece of General Delivery mail she had ever seen! She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do with it, but said she would have held it for 30 days and then returned it. Continuing on up the road, we made a second mail stop for the day at Tullahoma, TN, where another bit of mail was waiting for us.

A few miles from Tullahoma was our destination for the day, Bartons Springs TVA campground. We were surprised to find the waterfront sites vacant, but when Mouse, the Park Manager, came around to collect our money we learned why. The water in the lake had been very high and those sites occasionally flooded. He cautioned us to keep an eye on the water level through the evening. The next morning, when we got up, the water was indeed high, although not a threat to the LD.

7 Apr 11: After a one-night stop at Barton Springs, we continued our northeastward trek to Long Branch COE campground on Center Hill Lake near Buffalo Valley, TN. A very nice park, although not on the shore of the lake like most COE parks; this is is situated just below the dam alongside the river. Virtually no one here when we arrived, so we our pick. The first site we chose was near the river, but when I went to plug in, I discovered a blackened electric box. I checked the voltage and it was about 130 volts. I talked to the other campers who said they had the same problem. We moved to another site and have had no problems. We decided to stay here on through the weekend to avoid having to worry about finding a site at our next destination.

8 Apr 11: Well, I hope you'll forgive a slight political rant, but it deals with something that may well impact our travel plans: the possible government shutdown tonight. Our next few overnight stops are planned for National Park Service and Forest Service campgrounds; with a shutdown we'll need to change our itinerary. All because the idiots that call themselves the leaders of this country have failed totally to live perform their duties. Democrats are absolutely to blame for this mess, thanks to their failure to pass a 2011 budget last year when they controlled both houses. They were chicken - afraid of voter backlash in the mid-term elections if they continued their big spending ways.

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Junior was sticking close to Momma.

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Liz got this picture as we passed an Amish buggy.

Funny story here: some friends have just had a new home built in the Shenendoah Valley, but haven't moved in yet. We stopped just to check it out. We were there about half an hour, wandering around the house and taking a few pictures - never saw a soul. Our friend later asked his neighbors if they had seen the RV - they said no; they were all at a Neighborhood Watch meeting! winter1011-72

21 Apr 11: Well, another winter's trek has come to a close. After our stay at Long Branch COE, we made generally one or two-night stops the rest of the way home. We found some new places for this part of the trip this year: Bandy Creek CG in the Big South Fork NRRA and Warrior's Path State Park, both in Tennessee, Wilderness CG in the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park (waaaay down in that little point of far southwestern Virginia and Stony Fork USFS Campground, also in VA. We planned to check out another new stop, the Brunswick MD City Campground, but when we arrived, it was totally underwater - the Potomac River had flooded the night before. So we went up the road to Thurmont and the Manor CG section of Cunningham Falls State Park. We used to stop here every year until the camping fee went over the $30 mark. But now MD parks honor the Golden Age card with an almost 50% discount, so the night's charge was only $17.50.

winter1011-78 We got home just in time to enjoy spring in New England.