Thursday, March 31, 2016

Millers Ferry Campground, Alabama

We arrived at Millers Ferry Campground on March 28. We had driven a little over 200 miles through southern Alabama. At times the drive was slow due to the traffic around Dothan, Alabama and countless small towns.

We came to one small town that had a truck route around it. We did not see any signs in advance of the turn off and were passed it by the time we noticed it. We decided to keep going through town. My experience is that there may be a low bridge, which may be the reason for the truck route. Sure enough, I spotted a 10 foot high bridge a bit in front of us. I have very good distance eyesight and was able to see it well before we were upon it. Our trailer is over 13 feet tall. I took the first turn I saw and Kim jumped into action on Google maps. We found a fairly simple way to wind through town and it all worked out. Travel is somewhat stressful for us because we do it as a team and we stay very focused while we are moving. That is why 200 miles is a long day for us.

We went through many other small towns with many historic buildings. We saw old courthouses that dated back to the beginning of the 1800's. We also saw a number of very cool antebellum houses. I did some research on the internet and found the history of some of the ones we had seen. It was a pretty interesting drive.

I talked a little about Millers Ferry Campground in my last entry. I started my first morning there with a short bike ride around the campground loops. The campground was almost full, but there were a few spaces left. Many sites had small courtesy docks. The campground sits on the banks of the Alabama River. The Alabama flows down into the Mobile Bay.

It was a beautiful day, so I inflated the Sea Eagle and went for a paddle. The bathhouses in the park have a washer and dryer. $1.00 to wash and $1.00 to dry. Kim wanted to take advantage of that, so I went for a solo paddle. Here is a shot of the 420X set up for a single paddler. It does great.

I paddled through the marshes and saw a large alligator. I did not get a picture of him. I just explored the area around the campground.

Great Egret
I was paddling over by an old marina and saw this very interesting houseboat/RV:

Our Next Rig?
After about 2 hours on the water, I went back to camp to relax. One other thing I wanted to do was shoot some baskets on the court in the campground. I have noticed that many of the larger campgrounds that we visit have basketball courts. I have spent many hours in my life on a basketball court. I played with my brothers or friends. Many times I just played by myself. I finally remembered to put my basketball in the trailer the last time we were at the ranch. I shot around for about an hour and built up a good sweat.

I really need to do more of that. I guess I over did it because we both took 2 hour naps in the late afternoon.

I woke up and fixed dinner. After eating, we decided to take an evening paddle. We both wanted to just keep it easy. That did not last long as Kim assigned us a target. We wanted to paddle to the bridge. It was much further than we thought. We decided to turn around after some long hard paddling. It was getting dark and I did not want to be on the water without lights in the dark.

Beautiful Evening with water like glass.
Nice Reflection
The bridge too far
Awesome Sunset
It was a great day with plenty of exercise. If I did that more often, I might be able to lose some weight.

On Wednesday, March 30, we decided to move along. We have been really enjoying the COE parks, so I chose another one just north of Meridian, Mississippi. It was just over 100 miles, so that looked like a good place to spend a few days. We made the drive and when we arrived the campground was CLOSED! It did not say that on their website. Oh NO, what do we do now??

Well, we rarely make reservations to keep our options open. One thing I always do is make sure I have a plan B. We found a place to stop and do some checking. It turns out that my plan B was a hidden gem. There is a small campground on the other end of the lake. It is only 7 miles away that has nice sites, but no electric. When we arrived at Gin Creek Campground, we were shocked. It looked great. There are only 9 sites, but site 4 was plenty big enough for us. The best part is $6 per night. We have not camped without electricity this entire trip, so we needed to test out our systems. Everything worked perfect and we decided to stay a second night. Another great part is we have the place all to ourselves. We love it!

All settled in back in the corner. All by ourselves. 
I am not sure what we will do from here. We may move back to the campground that was closed if it opens on April 1 as we were told. We want to do some exploring this weekend in Meridian. Come back to see what we do on our way to see the grand kids in Arkansas.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Time to Move On

On Monday, March 28, we decided to move west. We had spent 7 days at Hales Landing Park and we were ready to get back on the road. We enjoyed the peace and quiet of the park, but we could have done with a little less rain. The rain finally ended on Easter Sunday evening. Just before the sun went down it showed itself between the cloud deck and the horizon. It was a nice evening, so I decided to take a long walk and take a few last pictures. I really needed the exercise at that point. It made for an interesting sunset. After the sun went below the horizon it lit up the sky with some nice colors.

Last Sunset at Hales Landing

It was a perfectly calm evening. The water was so pretty and glassy.

While I was walking around, I took a few shots of site #6. It was occupied when we arrived. It is a very cool site with a private deck overlooking the water.

Site #6 at Hales Landing
We got up on Monday morning and we were quick to get ready to move out. I had to take a picture of the two geese that were hanging out on the grass behind our rig.

Foggy last morning at Hales Landing

We said our good byes the the camp host and headed out. We had a long for us travel day. The total distance was about 210 miles to south central Alabama. We selected another COE park called Millers Ferry Campground.

The campground was pretty full for this time of year. I selected a site on the water, across from the bathroom that also had a washer and dryer. Kim was ready to catch up on a little laundry. The only problem was that the playground was also right there. That should not be a big problem, the kids should be in school. WRONG! It is spring break and the campground was full of kids. It really was not a significant issue. The kids were well supervised and went to bed early.

Check out our site. This is site 9. As you can see in the picture, we had our own dock. We are planning to do a bunch of paddling in the two days we will be here.

Our Site #9 at Millers Ferry, Alabama
I will write all about our time at Millers Ferry in my next entry. I will also tell the story about where we went next. That one got a bit crazy, but that is a story for another day.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What RVers do on Rainy Days and Bad News

I am writing this on Easter Sunday, March 27 from Hales Landing Campground in southern Georgia. The prediction of rain for the past three days was accurate. With the exception of a few short periods, it has rained non-stop since Thursday night. It has been a time of deep reflection and sadness. Even though we are fine and when it rains we just enjoy the downtime, we got some dreadful news on Friday followed on Saturday by worse news. 

A man that we have known for many years became very sick this past week and then passed away on Friday night. This was a very special guy. As many of you know, I have been involved in the sport of off-road motorcycle racing for about 40 years. In the past 20 years I became friendly with a local family of racers. The patriarch of that family was Ken. Ken was known to most as simply "Pops". One of my sons, Scott, has had his ups and downs over the years. Ken somehow saw something special in Scott. He was the first one to give him a job. He drove a hay rake and learned many lessons about life from Ken. I have spent many hours talking to Ken and learning many lessons from him also. He helped me a great deal in learning how to be a father of a son that just did things a bit different. He had an amazing way of making you feel comfortable and everyone liked him. 

It saddens me greatly that I will never be able to have one of those conversations with Ken again. I hope that my son and his sons are not taking it too hard. I know how much they loved that man. 

It is not only my son and his own sons that held him dear. I know of a huge group of very tough men that have shed a tear over the past few days. Ken was a mentor to them all.  

When life is hard for me, I like to write about it. It helps. 

This is another thing that can be difficult when you live on the road. I would like to be there to let the family know how much I cared for Ken, but making that trip is not reasonable. We will surly make those dreadful trips when we have to, but returning is not always the right thing to do. A note now and a visit when we return next month is the right thing to do in my opinion. 

Life in an RV when it is raining? Nothing different. We each have our special place where we sit, read, watch TV or a movie and I even like to play Wii. We are lucky that our rig is very large and we have plenty of space to get comfortable. 

I have been paying attention to the lake to make sure it does not get too high. These roots of the cypress trees have been my gauge. The kind of look like Hoodoo's. The water has only risen about a foot. It looks like we have nothing to worry about. 

I have been watching NCAA basketball. My bracket is pretty much a bust, but my champion is still in it - Go Villanova. 

Kim has been rereading the Harry Potter Books. She is just about done again. I have no idea why. I finished the "Lewis and Clark Journals" this past week. It was very interesting to read the story of the voyage of the Corps of Discovery in their own words. I was able to tie in much of the journey with our travels last year. I am now reading a book called "The Longest Winter". It is an excellent book about a unit that fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War 2. A special thanks to my friend Mike for lending me those books. I will send them back soon. 

The forecast is for the rain to quit this evening. We will probably move on either tomorrow or Tuesday. We are looking at sites in central Alabama.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hales Landing Park

We arrived at Hales Landing Park on March 22. We were not sure how long we would stay. The park is all non-reserveable sites. We liked this park from the moment we drove in. It is small with only 26 sites and is very quiet. It sits right along the banks of the upper end of Lake Seminole.

This park is a COE park. It has been a while since I have talked about COE parks, but I will repeat what I have said. We LOVE COE parks. They are a great value and we have never been disappointed. We do not qualify for the senior pass yet, so we don't get he 50% off, but it is great that folks over 62 can get that discount. We are planning to stay at COE parks all the way back to Missouri.

You could say that this park is still part of the Flint river. The park is on a branch off of the main path of the river. It makes the water quiet, with plenty of lily pads and birds. It is really a pretty setting.

Our site #8
As soon as we pulled in we were greeted by the camp host. They have been great. They even offered us some firewood at no charge. We have met some other campers while we have been here. We have met more folks here than we met the entire time we were in Orlando. I guess people in Georgia are very friendly.

Here is the lake/river view from our site. 
The weather was perfect the first few days we have been here. We should have gone paddling or something, but we were just lazy and relaxed and read. I did go for a long walk up the road, but that was about it for activity. I saw one car the entire hour I was walking. I did have a nice conversation with this goose.

My friend the goose.
The forecast looked like rain for Thursday evening all the way through the weekend. We decided if we were going to get the boat out, we better get motivated. It was getting a little more windy than we like, but the trees were doing a pretty good job of keeping the water flat.

We got the boat ready and were able to launch it right in front of our site. We love that. We always start out by paddling into the wind or up river if there is a current. The problem was that the wind was stronger than the current, so we went down river. In a couple of the open areas it got a bit windy, but not too bad.

Nice Day on the water.
I think we have become stronger paddlers. We seem to be able to paddle longer and with more power to get through the windy spots. We saw a few birds including a couple of Great Egrets, a few ducks and a Red Shouldered Hawk.

Great Egret in flight
A couple of Coots
There is a hawk in the center of this picture. Can you see him?
After paddling downstream, we were concerned that the wind would die and we would have to fight the current getting back to camp. Thankfully that did not happen. We had light winds blow us all the way back. We just had to guide the kayak through the twists and turns of the river. We then paddled around a small island that required us to be in the main channel of the river for a short time. Kim had reservations, but I talked her into it. This was one time I was right. We made it just fine and completed the circumnavigation of the small island. We had an outstanding day on the water.

We cleaned the boat and left it in the sun to dry. I read a few chapters of my current book and then we cleaned and packed up the boat. I fixed the last of my deer steaks for dinner. They were sure good with Tim's Killer Meat Rub. While we were eating, the front hit. I finished and then put the grill away in the rain. The front looked bad on radar, but it seemed to reduce in strength over us and all was good. It quit raining and we had a quiet night. We were awoken this morning to some more hard rain. It looks like we will have rain most of the day and on into the Easter Weekend. To most, that would be bad, but we look at the bright side. We will have a very quiet campground. We have decided to stay here through the weekend. We are not far from a church in Bainbridge for Easter Sunday. They have a mass at 1PM, we should to be able to make that.

I may not write for a few days as I am caught up and we may just be hunkered down riding out that rain. We will check in again in a few days from Alabama. That is unless we need to build an ark. It is really raining right now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oleno State Park

We really liked Oleno State Park. We did end up staying there 6 days. We were waiting for good travel weather and it looked like March 22 would have no wind. So, we decided to stay another day. When I went to pay, the guy told me that they only had one site left for that night and it was our site. Wow, that was lucky. The strange part is that the park did not totally fill that evening.

I spent most of my time in the park hiking on the many trails. I think I logged over 25 miles in the 6 days. The trails are mostly flat compared to hiking in mountains, so that makes it much easier to log significant miles. I did find some interesting features in the park.

This is a limestone rock outcropping that is next to a sinkhole. I think this area was excavated at one time to get some limestone. Rocks are worth something in this area. They could come to Missouri and I would be happy to sell them as many as they want.

This is the "River Sink". This is where the river goes underground through the limestone. Divers have explored the caves and found miles of underwater caves and passages.

River Sink. Plenty of turtles riding the slow moving whirlpool. 
A better shot of the turtles
This is one of the oldest Florida State Parks. The land was given to the state and the CCC came in and built much of the original infrastructure.

The same CCC statue we have seen at many parks around the country.
Here are a few of the original buildings:

I am not sure if this is the original bridge built by the CCC. 

The area had a mill back in the 1850's. Parts of the original machinery have been preserved and put on display.

While Kim and I were looking over the swimming area, we noticed that a wedding was going on. I had to take a shot of the wedding party. The guy must ride a KTM, there would be no other good reason for those orange dresses.

Overall our time at Oleno was very good. We had many families in the campground enjoying their spring break. We love to see families out enjoying camping in the great outdoors.

On March 22, we headed to the northwest. We found a COE park that looked nice called Hales Landing near Bainbridge, Georgia. We had been in Florida since February 4th. I will tell you all about our cool little COE park in my next entry. I can certainly see some paddling in our future.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Time to Depart Orlando and Find Some Nature

On March 16, we finally left the Florida Camp Inn (FCI). FCI turned out to be exactly what we needed. We were only 20 miles from Universal. We were even closer to Disney. It is an older place, but it worked out well for us. There is a really good swimming pool. The place is mostly seniors, but it is not a senior only park. Even though it is right along a busy Hwy 27, it is fairly quiet because of the sound wall that has been erected in front of the park.

Hwy 27 has been under construction, which caused some congestion issues, but once that is all done, access to FCI will be easy. I enjoyed riding my bicycle while we were there. The type of riding I was doing was very different from what I normally do on trails. This was urban mountain biking. Mostly on pavement, but if I see a place to jump off a speed bump or a curb, I still have to go for it.

Kim has been talking about returning to Orlando at some point in the future. I would certainly consider staying at FCI again. This is not the kind of place that we normally stay. We like state parks, COE, NFS and other more nature oriented campsites. We also like good spacing with a good view of nature. FCI certainly does not have that. I was dreading spending a month in that environment, but it turned out fine and although I was ready to leave, it was not any more urgent than normal.

We have decided to head back to Missouri by way of Arkansas. We were thinking about going to the Carolinas, but we have been concerned that we did not have enough time to see all that we wanted to see and we were ready to get back to see our other grandkids. We also really love the spring at the ranch in Missouri.

So, I looked for a good place to get back to nature that was a little over a hundred miles north of Orlando. I found a good option in Oleno State Park near High Springs, Florida. Many of the SP's in Florida are full and it is hard to find a spot. I found two nights were available at Oleno and made a reservation. We seem to be doing that a lot on this trip. When we arrived, I asked if they could allow us to stay longer. They had room for us in a large site for 4 days. We have now extended it to 5 days and tomorrow, I will try to add a 6th. That is just like us when we are living the way we like.

It is a nice park with good spacing on all of the sites.

The Santa Fe River flows through the park and then goes underground and comes up in another part of a neighboring SP. They have hiking trails and plenty to see and do in the park. I spent Wednesday afternoon and Thursday checking the place out. It is a really cool place and it felt so good to get back in nature.

I spent a bunch of time walking on trails like this one.

Here is my first view of the swimming area at the river.  

When I wasn't hiking, I spent time getting everything together to get my taxes done. Shannon and Brian had brought our mail, which had some tax documents we needed. Thanks again Shannon. Kim spent some time taking care of helping Mark sell his car. His old car was still in our name, so we had to sign the title. They shipped it to a UPS store near us and she went there and then sent it back out. I was successful getting our taxes done. That is the first time I have done that from the road. I am glad to know I can do my taxes without going back to Missouri. I do use a CPA in Missouri.

It rained off and on most of Thursday and Friday. We got up on Saturday to more rain. I went for a hike. It was a bit wet, but not too bad. By the time I was done, the skies were clearing. We decided to get the boat on the water for a short paddle. Here are a few shots of our trip.

Beautiful Santa Fe River

Lots of very large water turtles
We had to take a selfie. It was a really fun paddle. 
There were lily pads in many areas of the river. We had fun cruising through. We did hear some large splashes, it could have been gators or maybe turtles.

Our moves will now be determined by a combination of the weather, how much we like where we are and when our tanks get full. Just like we prefer. Come back to see where we end up next.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Kennedy Space Center

Our time in Orlando was winding down and I had one more thing I wanted to do. The only problem is that I have been getting over a minor cold and still was not feeling 100%. My last possible day was Tuesday, March 15. I got up a little later than I planned due to some coughing fits waking me up. I had breakfast and decided to go ahead and make the trip. Kim decided to go along, but not visit the space center. I think she was looking forward to the day on the beach without me. I am not sure if the beach or being without me was the primary draw.

We made the hour and a half drive over to the space center. Kim dropped me there and then headed to Cocoa beach. She had a pleasant day and as it turned out, so did I.

The Visitor Center at Kennedy Space Center is a fairly big attraction. You enter through an amusement park type gate and pay your fee. The cost is $50 for adults. I did not notice that you get $4 off if you are 55+. Oh well, I donated $4 to the effort.

I have to start here by saying that my knowledge of the history of NASA and US space flight is above average. My father worked for McDonnell Douglas during the Apollo program and he educated us as things went along. That education has been the basis for my continued thirst for knowledge over the years. I won't spend much time in this entry retelling history. I will just identify some of the artifacts and connect a few of the dots.

After coming through the gates, you walk into an area they call the Rocket Garden. It is full of older rockets dating back to the first flights. There is a Gemini Rocket and even a Saturn 1B laying on it's side. The Saturn 1B was used in some of the Apollo missions to test some technology before they would use the Saturn 5 to go to the moon.

The Rocket Garden. The large engine in the foreground is an F-1. 5 of those were used on the first stage of the Saturn 5.
Titan II Gemini Rocket.
A Saturn 1B was launched 9 times during the Apollo program. 
There was a person giving a tour of the rocket garden. His knowledge was fairly good, but he really had to keep it pretty basic for all of the uninformed tourists. I quickly lost interest and went on my own. As a matter of fact, I did not talk to anyone all day. A banner day for all of mankind! I just enjoyed the sites and cringed every time I heard someone inform their party incorrectly. Yeah, I guess I am a rocket snob.

After the rocket garden, I went to get on the tour bus. They take you out to get an up close look at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The VAB is one of the largest buildings in the world by volume. The pictures do not capture the size of the building. The Flag painted on the side is the largest painted flag anywhere in the world. The building is 525 feet tall.

After seeing the VAB, we saw a crawler. I was surprised to learn that the crawler moves along a gravel path. They get special creek gravel from Tennessee. The reason they use this gravel is that it will not spark. Sparks would be a bad thing with a fully fueled rocket.

We then headed over to Launch Pad 39B. Launch pad 39A is going through a major refit, so 39B is open for tours. 39A was used for all of the Apollo launches. The towers are to protect the vehicle before launch from lightning strikes.

These slightly used blast doors were pretty cool to look at.

Then we headed to the Saturn Building. On the way we went by a small pond. Nice gator.

Before you get to see the star of the show, they bring you in a room where the original Launch control
has been preserved. They use original voice sound tracks to explain how things worked for Apollo 11. The technology, or really the lack of technology, is pretty amazing.

Launch Control for Apollo 11
Then we were let into the main room with the Saturn V. I was in awe! This is what I came to see. The pure size and power are just awesome.

The business end of the S-1C. 
The S-1C only burned for 165 seconds. It generated 7.6M lbf of thrust. Sorry, too much. This is the first real Saturn V I have ever seen. It was everything I expected.

I took pictures of each component. I remembered the Saturn V that my dad built on our kitchen table while the Apollo 11 mission was happening back in 1969. He would build each stage and tell us all about them. Thanks Dad!

Then the star of the show. The S-4B. The third stage. This is the part built by McDonnell Douglas. Dad even got to go to the Cape before Apollo 11, 12 and 14.

Third Stage - S-4B
One of the jobs of the third stage was to carry the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). They had the LEM that was scheduled to be used in Apollo 15, but was replaced by an updated model.

It looked like a toy, but they had to make the LEM very light
They had mock ups of the Command and Service modules, but the Capsule (Command Module) below is much more cool. It is the original from Apollo 14. Just slightly used and a bit crispy.

Apollo 14 Command Module
They had original space suits and a Lunar Rover. This one was an extra, but the rover was used on Apollo 15, 16 and 17. There were many other artifacts in this section. I really enjoyed checking all of this stuff out.

Bad picture of the Lunar Rover through the glass.
Next up was the bus ride back to the main area and then the Space Shuttle area. This is where they have Atlantis. Atlantis is set up in a very cool display with the bay doors open and the arms extended. Atlantis is the veteran of 33 missions. It is showing the wear, but it is amazing that they engineers were able to reuse it that many times.


There was one section that was difficult to walk though. This is the area that payed tribute the the lives lost in the shuttle program. They had parts from Challenger and the front window frames from Columbia that were recovered in East Texas.

The Hall of Heroes.
They also had an area outside that was there to commerate all of the lives lost during the American space program.

As I have written this entry, I have remembered many things about my day at KSC that I had forgotten. It really was a special day, even if my attitude was not up to par. I think I will end this entry with a picture of the coolest RV ever. An Airstream that is used to move astronauts to the pad. Recently it was scheduled to be replaced, but the astronauts decided to keep the old unit in service.

Sorry for the long entry, but KSC just needed that much. The next day we were scheduled to move on. Come back to see where we went from Orlando and how much we missed being on the road.