Monday, March 25, 2019

Crystal Springs Campground

Well, I tried to get finished with this blog before getting back to the ranch in Missouri, but it just didn't happen. We are now at the ranch and it always amazes us how fast we get back into the swing of "normal" life.

We left Chimin-A-Haut SP in Louisiana on February 25. We made the 180 mile drive north through Fordyce, Arkansas to Crystal Springs Campground. You may ask, "Why did he mention, Fordyce, Arkansas?". Well, Fordyce is the birthplace of the famous football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. We actually drove right by the house he was born in just south of town. He is one of my favorite coaches in the history of college football.

Crystal Springs Campground is a COE park on the shore of Lake Ouachita. We had never been to this lake before, but had heard that it is beautiful. Well, let me tell you, "they" were right. It is the 3rd cleanest lake in the US and it is absolutely beautiful. The water is crystal clear and it is surrounded by large hills and cliffs. It also has over 100 uninhabited islands that you can explore. The lake is over 40 miles long. Crystal Springs is in a large cove that is on the south side of the lake. This COE park was only $22 per night with W/E and they have many sites that are FC/FS. We like that. We had good Verizon Cell coverage, but no OTA TV. None, Zero, Nada!

Campsite #47 at Crystal Springs Campground. We loved it!
We had an almost empty campground and we think we had the best site. We were surrounded on three sides by water. The only noise we heard were the fisherman leaving the nearby boat ramp in the morning and returning in the evening. The lake was quiet and calm much of the time we were there.

We had a nice sunset the first night we were at Crystal Springs
The second day we were there we decided we were going to stay 10 nights. We wanted to get by some nasty weather that was coming our way. The winter "bomb" was going to bring our first below freezing temperatures to us this winter. We decided to take advantage of the last warm day and go for a paddle around our cove. We ended up paddling almost 5 miles and had an awesome time. We got some great views of a Bald Eagle. It just waited for us to finish taking pictures before flying off.

Just cruising along in the calm water
Best shot I could get with my phone of this majestic Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle taking flight
We really enjoyed our time cruising around the lake. We have used our boat a number of times on this trip and are so glad that we did. We love the water and it makes it so much better if we can get out on it.

Much of my time at Crystal Springs was spent hiking on the many trails that lead out of the campground. They all go up, but at least you finish your hike downhill.

We went to visit one of the marinas to see about bringing our sailboat down here and were told to go visit the "overlook". It was a 2 mile drive on a gravel road, but it was worth it. The views were amazing of this awesome lake.

Lake Ouachita, pronounced Wash i ta

We also wanted to add to our National Park list while we were very near Hot Springs NP. We have been at this park before, but we wanted to add it to the list of the parks we had been to since we started traveling in 2014. Hot Springs is not like many of the other National Parks we have been to and loved the natural beauty. It is more of a historical park. The area was used by first Native Americans and then early settlers as a place to soak in the hot water that were thought to have healing powers. The thought of the bath houses seems a bit strange to us, but we toured the house that is part of the NP visitor center and watched the movie. We then took a hike up the steep hillside, just like the activity that was prescribed by the many doctors that treated patients with hot baths and strenuous exercise.

Buckstaff is still operating as a bath house.

Veterans Care Center, high on a hill

Beautiful Stained Glass

Ornate decorations in the mens bath area. The womens bat area was not as ornate.

Kim by one of the original hot springs.
The cold front came as predicted and we had to disconnect water and hunker down. The lowest temperature we saw was 22 degrees. Not bad, for the coldest for the year. After the temperatures returned to normal, we hitched up and headed to the same place we started this trip 4 and a half months ago, Old Post Park in Russellville, AR. We had an awesome time in Russellville and I will write all about it in my last entry of this trip.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Roosevelt SP and Chemin-A-Haut SP

I am writing this from Russellville, Arkansas. Just as we started this trip by stopping here to see our son, DIL and two grandsons, this will be our last stop before we get back to the ranch in Missouri. We expect to make our final move early next week.

We left Foscue Creek Campground on February 14, Valentines Day. We drove about 120 miles mostly on I 20 to Roosevelt SP in Eastern Mississippi. This park is not far from I 20 and makes an easy stop as you are traveling along the major East/West corridor. The SP was originally built by the CCC back in the 1930's and surrounds a lake. It has many camping areas and a lodge. We had a nice site backed up to the lake. I fixed a nice shrimp pasta for Valentines Day dinner and Kim made another Key Lime Pie. The pie was delicious and the best part is I did not have to share it.

There is a nice trail and road system all the way around the lake. I walked it twice while we were there. It is just a bit over 3 miles around.

The view of the lake from the dam at Roosevelt SP 

There is also a very tight disc golf course in the park. I played it once and enjoyed it. I did have the misfortune of losing my driver disc in the water. It sunk to the bottom.

We noticed the early signs of spring while we were at Roosevelt SP. Kim loves to see the daffodils and forsythia when it blooms. We will hope to see this over and over as we follow Spring north.

We stayed 4 nights at Roosevelt SP and had a nice quiet stay. I know this is not real exciting, but we are on our normal pace as we move around the country.

We left Roosevelt SP on February 18 and headed west into Louisiana. After crossing the Mississippi at Vicksburg we headed out into the flat delta land on the Louisiana side. After a few more miles on I-20 we turned north to get to Chemin-A-Haut SP in far north Louisiana. We love Louisiana SP's for many reasons. We have stayed at over 20 Louisiana SP's and never been disappointed. Chemin-A-Haut means "high road". This park is built along a high bluff overlooking a bayou. Normally you would be able to paddle along the bayou, but heavy rains had brought flooding. The forecast was for heavy rains for much of the time we were at the park.

As soon as we arrived, Kim got to work doing laundry. One of the things we love about Louisiana SP's is that many of them have free laundries. This one had brand new machines and we were able to  get caught up. That free laundry made the $25 per night rate very affordable.

The park was almost empty for much of our stay and we had a site in the back of the park. 
The forecast for rain came true and we spent a couple of days hunkered down. When I did finally get to take some walks many of the roads in the park were closed due to flooding.

We loved how quiet Chemin-A-Haut SP was. We were a good distance to any road and the campground was empty much of the 7 nights we were there. The last night, we were the only camper in the park. We both did a bunch of reading and relaxing. It was a nice week.

From Louisiana it was a short drive north into Arkansas. I will write all about our last two stops on this trip in my next entry.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Foscue Creek Campground, Demopolis, Alabama

I am writing this from South Central Arkansas. We have been here on beautiful Lake Ouachita for 10 days. We have really enjoyed our time here. We did see temperatures dip to the low 20's F on Monday and Tuesday. Looking at the weather reports for further north, I am glad we stayed down this far south. We will move north tomorrow. We are excited to see our family up in the Russellville area. That is where we started this trip and that is where we will finish it before moving back to the ranch in about 10 days. I am trying to get caught up on this blog BEFORE I get back to the ranch. I seem to lose interest when we are back to normal life. For now, I get to write about one of my favorite stops on this entire trip.

We left Cotton Hill park on February 10 and quickly crossed into Alabama. We drove across the southern part of the state through Montgomery and then up the historic highway 80 through Selma. This is the famous route that was marched by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers. We drove on to Demopolis, Alabama. Foscue Creek campground is a COE park right on the Tombigbee River. I had looked at the sites on line and knew I wanted either site 49, 50, 51 or 52. These 4 sites are right along the river. I was able to reserve site #49 at $28 per night with FHU. Why is that so important? you may ask?

Site 49, Foscue Creek Campground

The view from site 49 of the Tombigbee River

The view to the left, downriver to the lock
Let's go back to one of the major reasons we did what we did on this trip. We have this crazy dream to buy a large sailboat and do some of our traveling each year in the boat. Last year, during hurricane season I became concerned what would happen if our boat was in harms way when one of those monsters was headed to the US coast. We would have to drop what we were doing and get to the boat to attempt to get it to a safe place. There is also an issue of  insurance. Most insurance will exclude damage caused by a named storm. The best course of action is to spend the 6 months of hurricane season in a safe place. Either north or south of the "hurricane zone". After doing a bunch of research, I have determined that I could motor a boat that could fit under a 52 foot bridge up the river system from Mobile, Alabama through the Tombigbee to the Tenn-Tom waterway on to the Tennessee river and down river to Kentucky Lake in far Eastern Kentucky. Kentucky lake is 120 miles long and a great place to leave the boat for the summer months to sail in relative safety. From there we would only be about 300 miles driving from the Springfield, Missouri area where we have most of our grandkids and other friends and family.

You might not be aware of the Tenn-Tom waterway. This is a large canal system that was finished in 1984. It is the largest construction project ever done by man. It was controversial when it was under construction, but has since proved it was a very good idea. It starts in Demopolis and goes north 234 miles. It has 10 locks and dams.

This route is part of the Great Loop if you are familiar with that.

Demopolis also has a large marina and boat yard. I went to visit this yard and talked to the owner. Their pricing is very good for many of the goods and services I may need. This would be an excellent place to get work done after a sailing season in the gulf or down further south.

While we were at Foscue Creek, I enjoyed the hiking trails and walking all over the area. I even went to the local COE office and gathered information about the river and waterway. I came away from this visit with all the information I needed to know this was a viable plan. We also enjoyed watching the barge traffic on the river. There was a lock just downstream from the park, so it was common to see two barges passing each other as one was leaving the lock heading upstream and a downstream barge was going into the lock.

The barges operated well into the night. They were an eery site as they quietly passed. First you would see large spotlights well before they arrived and then you would just see lights as they cruised through the water.

I loved to look out over the calm river. I would imagine myself at the helm of my boat cruising slowly through the glassy water.

I loved the reflection of the trees in the smooth water

The view upstream to the city of Demopolis, Alabama.
We had a big thunderstorm blow through while we were at Foscue Creek. The next day, there were lots of logs and other debris in the water. We enjoyed watching the egrets hitching a ride on the logs.

We even had a nice sunset after the big storm.

We had a great time at Foscue Creek Campground. The experience may not be the same for others that are not interested in the river and where you can go from here. The answer is: Anywhere!

In my next entry the journey west continues through Mississippi and then Louisiana.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Time to get out of Florida

I am writing this entry from the shores of Lake Ouachita in South Central Arkansas. We have spent most of this winter in temperatures above freezing. That changed last night. We awoke this morning to 22 degrees outside. We did follow our procedures and all is well and we have running water from our tank. Not much to do today, so I will continue to try to get caught up on the blog.

We left Jetty Park on February 5 and headed north with no reservations for the night. I thought I would try to stay at Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola WMA. This is a small campground that does not take reservations.

We drove up I-95 along the east coast of Florida through Daytona. We saw the famous race track and then took highway 100 to the Northwest. The congestion of the coast went away quickly and we found the beautiful pine forests of inland Florida. When we arrived at Ocean Pond, all sites were taken. I talked to the camp host and she told me that she had been working here for years and this year has been a very different year. The campground has been full most nights and many people are staying for the full time the are allowed. I had a plan B. I called the Stephen Foster State Park to see if they had anything available. I know that Florida State Parks take local control over sites for the day of arrival and often have a few sites for one night. That proved to work, and we were told to come on over. It was about 25 miles in the direction we were going, so it was fine. When we arrived, they had a perfect site for us. It was a 100 foot pull through and perfectly level. We did not even have to unhook.

I had just enough time before it got dark to take a walk around and see the park. This park is named in the memory of Stephen Foster, who was a composer who wrote the song, "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" among others. This park is situated right along the famous Suwanee River. They normally offer paddling along the river, but it was flooded and not safe.

This tower is in the center of the park and has bells that play Foster songs at set times during the day. 
The Stephen Foster Museum

It was a very nice park and very quiet. We slept well and then got on the road the next around 10:30. This was the first time on this trip that we had stayed only one night at a park. We prefer to slow down and enjoy each stop.

We decided to move on because we were ready to get north where the campgrounds are less crowded this time of year. I chose a COE park about 200 miles away called Cotton Hill Park on the Walter F. George Reservoir, which is on the Georgia/Alabama line. As I expected, the campground was mostly empty. We pulled in to a great site with a great view of the lake.

Site #29 at Cotton Hill in Georgia
 We had just driven over 400 miles in two days. I was tired of driving, so we decided to stay for 4 days and enjoy this beautiful setting. When I walked back up to the office to pay for the site I met the camp host that was from Michigan. They are new full timers and she had a few questions. We ended up having a very pleasant 30+ minute conversation all about this wonderful lifestyle. I am sorry, I don't remember her name, but if you read this, best of luck in your travels.

I took daily walks while we were in the park. There is lots of wildlife including deer and lots of birds.

A group of Coots
Blue Heron
We could see a marina on the other side of the cove we were in, and it had some sailboat masts. We decided to take a paddle out on the lake to see the sailboats and whatever else we could find to look at.

Lots of cypress trees along the shoreline
Marina with sailboat masts. We talked to a couple of guys working on their sailboat that told us they could sail from here to the Gulf of Mexico.
We had a fun 3 hour paddle until the wind picked up, but we timed it right and did not have to paddle into the wind much.

While were were at Cotton Hill, I witnessed something I cannot explain. There was a huge gathering of birds. Mostly Anhinga and White Pelicans. They swirled around and around for about a half hour and then just flew away.

Huge swarm of birds

We had a very relaxing 4 days at Cotton Hill. We got plenty of exercise and loved the park. After that break I was ready to move on. I was very excited about our next stop. I made reservations because I wanted a particular camp site. In my next entry, I will tell you why this place was so important to me. Stay warm!