Sunday, February 28, 2016

Grayton Beach

St. George Lighthouse

Thursday, 25 February
We dump the tanks and say goodbye to St. George. Next stop is Grayton Beach State Park. The distance is only about 120 miles, so it is an easy day, with stops for lunch, fuel, and some groceries. We get to Grayton about 3:30.
I had made a reservation on Monday at Camping World in Panama City to have the rig winterized for the trip back to Virginia. Our reservation had us leaving the state park on Sunday. So when we checked in I inquired about extending our stay one more night. As luck would have it, the site was still available for another night, so I paid the difference (you have to pay for your campsite when you reserve it, eleven months in advance) and we were set. The site we have is tricky to get in to, with little maneuvering room. However, it is on the inside of the loop, and since the bathrooms are in the middle of the loop, we had a path through the tree from our site to the nearby bathroom. In this state park, the bathrooms also include a washer and dryer --- a dollar cheaper than the commercial Laundromat we used at St. George.
The sites are all cut into heavy woods, Maritime scrub oaks that have a lot of twists. They sort of look like Dr. Seuss trees.

We are now on Central time. I made chili for supper and we turned in early.
We drove down to the beach; in this park it is too far to walk. The beach here is very long and wide. The sand is the same white color as at St. George. Today there was almost no one on the beach, and only one passing pelican. We walked a ways and Jean picked up some very small shells, but there were only broken sand dollars. Except for some sand on the boardwalk, the beach is very firm. I read somewhere that this fine, white sand is quartz, washed down from the Blue Ridge. If so, it has come a long way.

The dunes behind the beach look like large, frozen versions of the waves and surf coming in to the beach.


After a snack and a short nap, we decided to drive in to Destin to beat the weekend crowds. I wanted to get some sand to top off my bottle at home. It was the first I collected and I only got about half a bottle. Perhaps the weekend had already started because we shortly ran into lots of traffic. When we got down to Destin’s beach road there was less traffic but wall-to-wall condos and hotels. Why Mike Wendland thought Destin was so great eludes us.
We found some beach parking and I got my sand (much like St. George and Grayton). We stopped just before we got back to the park and had a good dinner.
Backing in to the site is tricky any time, but more so after dark. I backed into the power pedestal and knocked a piece off the cover. Now I have another dent in my collection on the back of the Roadtrek. Sigh.

Another sunny day. We drove to the beach and sat on a bench for a while. Still quite cool and windy. There were more birds today, and we saw a pelican flying low over the water get tangled in a fishing line. After some struggle, he freed himself while the fisherman was trying to bring him in to help.
When we had enough beach we drove to a Publix for some lunch (nothing to brag about) and a few groceries. After that we checked out a Mexican store, which turned out to sell mostly groceries. However, there were some wild baseball caps.

We stopped at some shops on the way back to the park, but nothing appealed to Jean. Back at the site (which we backed in to neatly --- as opposed to last night) I hooked up the water because we were low. That was frustrating to say the least. Hose connections don’t go together easily when you are in a stressed position. I finally managed to add a little water to the tank, keeping in mind that we will be winterizing on Monday.
Spent the day quietly. Took a short walk around the campground, then Jean napped while I wrote up this blog. Tomorrow we go in to Panama City to get winterized. I can de-winterize easily in a campground on the way down, but winterizing requires dumping the water tanks which I can’t do in a site. Then we may do a little shopping and head for home. If we keep somewhat to the east we may be able to miss the worst of the next round of approaching storms. Here’s hoping.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On to St. George Island

After visiting Sandy and family, we headed north. Since we bombed out getting reservations in the Keys last March (we were a week late), we decided to check out the Gulf coast along the Panhandle this year. This is supposedly a less-visited area, but very nice. We managed to get reservations at two state parks, St. George Island, and Grayton Beach, near Destin.
Accordingly, Saturday morning we hit the Turnpike. The first night we had reservations at Bee’s, a campground north of Clermont that I had stayed in several years before. Surprisingly, the woman at the desk recognized me when I walked in. We were in a full-service site, so the first thing I did was dump the tanks.
Next day, Sunday, was a longer drive to St. George. North of the Orlando area, the country is less flat and more open. First we passed through cow country (where cowboys first appeared), and then through horse country. In horse country we had a scare. There were two horse trailers lined up in the left turn lane, and as we passed them a car ran the stop sign and shot across the road right in front of us at high speed.
We stopped for a late lunch at Carabelle Beach (we wanted to get back to the Gulf before stopping). I noted with interest that the trash cans at the beach are bear-proof. Not what you normally expect at the beach. Of course, we were not far from Tate’s Hell State Forest. We made St. George Island in reasonable time, and got settled in across from the bathrooms (which I had arranged last March) only to find that they were closed for repairs.
Later in the day, Jean came down with something that had her coughing hard and drained of energy. She spent a rough night Sunday; but Monday was a pleasant day, so we strolled down to the beach. St. George Island is a long, narrow barrier island. We were interested in it because one of my favorite authors, Robb White, had spent much time there before it was developed. We had just recently read his memories of it and wanted to see it for ourselves.

Monday we took a stroll down to the beach, spotting Great Blue Herons along the way (and at the beach).

The tide was out, revealing a wide stretch of sand of various hues and textures(wide because it is a spring tide). The area below the high tide line  was shaped by the waves into an interesting topography of ridges, channels, and ripples.

Jean found several good shells, but was frustrated in her search for an unbroken Sand Dollar. Afterward we took naps and another short walk. In general a quiet, restful day.
Next day, Tuesday, we drove to the closest beach access and carried our chairs down to the beach. Not many people there; it was windy and cool. We saw very little bird life: a pelican diving briefly, a couple of laughing gulls, a ring-bill, and briefly, a lone sandpiper and a willet. We sat for half an hour or so, watching the tide come in and wash over the raised sand in front of us. The day became more cloudy, so we headed back to the van. Fog came in behind us as we left.
We went back to the mainland in search of the Laundromat indicated on the campground map. After three tries, we found it, hidden behind a car wash. While washing our clothes, another couple came in and clued us in on the vagaries of the machines. We had a lively conversation until they left.
Next we drove further along to Apalachicola. This is a nice-looking small fishing town. We had lunch and took a short drive down to the waterfront. There we spotted and old Thunderbird and Corvette, each towing a matching tear-drop trailer.

Finally got some basics at the Piggly Wiggly and back to base. Since lunch was late and large, we just had a few snacks for supper. Jean was warm so she had a window open by the sofa. While I was reading to her, a woman came up and told her that we were under a tornado watch until 3:00am. They had opened the construction fence around the bathroom, which we were to use as a shelter if needed.
Shortly later I stepped out and the sky was clear, but with some fast-moving clouds, There were three people at the bathroom, standing around and chatting. I lowered the sofa but didn’t make up the bed and we laid down fully dressed. The sky clouded over and the people left the bathroom. There were short thunderstorms with lots of lightning and heavy rain. At 3:00 I intended to make up the bed and turn in, but the weather radio said the watch was until 4:00, so we just covered with some blankets and slept fitfully. Jean sat in the chair several times because of coughing fits that were bad when she laid down.
Today, Wednesday, it is colder, cloudy, and windy, but the threat has moved on. We plan on mostly hunkering down and relaxing. We may walk down to the beach to see what has happened, and will probably take a nap or two. A pickup came in last night towing an Airstream trailer, and carrying two absolutely gorgeous strip-built kayaks. They make mine look positively shabby.

Tomorrow we are off to Grayton Beach and hopefully better weather.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A week in Palm City

A Week in Palm City
Rain during the early morning, some heavy. About 6:00 there was lots of thunder. The power to the motorhome went off. The lights in the house were on, so it wasn’t a general power outage. Apparently the GFIS I was plugged in to tripped. I switched the fridge to propane and went back to bed (no CPAP). I assume that the rain cover I made for the connection in the shore cord had leaked. I will have to make a new one.
In the afternoon we drove Sandy’s van and did some shopping. Thursday is Hannah’s birthday (Jean’s granddaughter) and Friday is Anna’s (Jean’s daughter-in-law). But first we went to Walmart and got a new water filter for the motorhome, and a welcome mat to replace the one we left behind at a campground. After lunch and shopping at a big mall, we went across the street to a Barnes and Noble and picked up some more books to read, since we had finished the ones we brought.
A quiet day. Sandy had the day off, and spent most of it buying a car to replace one that had gotten crunched. He dropped us off in a shopping center so Jean could continue looking for birthday presents.
Interesting birds everywhere in Florida, even on cars

 We had lunch at a Greek deli. The sandwiches kept us fed for two days. That evening, we had a delicious (and very thick) soup that Jean had set up in a crock pot to spend the afternoon cooking. Back in the van for the evening, it was quite cool, but the little electric heater got it comfortable quickly.
Jean and I walked down to the river and back; sunny and a little warmer. 

The view under the bridge
Then we went to Beal’s for the last of the birthday shopping. Just in time, for today starts the big birthday festival. We took the family to a Mexican restaurant for Hannah’s birthday. She got the full treatment, with singing waiters and a big Mariachi sombrero. As well as the usual birthday dirge, the waiters sang the traditional Mexican birthday song, “Las MaƱanitas.” They were probably surprised when some of us sang along.
Today was the big event of the week. Everybody had the day off, and we went to Lion Country Safari. This is basically a drive-through zoo. It is nice because the animals have a lot of room to roam around. There were several kinds of animals in each area (but not animals that eat each other).

Some of them walk right up to the car.

In addition, there was a large walk-through area with individual animals on display, as well as amusements, restaurants, and gift shops.

It is a large area, and was well attended. One of the attractions was a tower where you could buy romaine lettuce to feed to the giraffes.
Hannah feeding a giraffe

Another attraction was a maze. We didn’t try it, the walk-through area was enough of a maze in itself, with apparently randomly scattered attractions connected by winding sidewalks. A family could easily spend a day there.
Back at the house I took a nap. Then it was off to Bonefish Mac’s for Anna’s birthday dinner. Hannah got her payback by alerting the staff, so Anna got serenaded, and a delicious piece of key lime pie, which we all enjoyed.
That was a bang-up ending to our week in Palm City. Tomorrow we head for the Florida panhandle.

Monday, February 15, 2016

First weekend in Florida

Saturday, 13 February

Jean and family head off to the beach, while I stay and get some chores done. First I wrote the blog, catching up with our trip down (posted). Then I spent some time working on the screen that covers the sliding door (our main entry). I hope this works out better. If so, on hot days (next summer) we can have the rear double doors open and the sliding door, and everything will be covered with screens.
Then I walked to the nearby Publix for some shopping. I found myself alongside a Sandhill Crane going the same way. I took some pictures with the phone, and then watched as it casually wandered out into traffic. It took a stately stroll across two busy streets, then continued on down the bicycle lane, squawking loudly. I don’t know what it had to complain about, everyone was giving it plenty of room.

Sunday, 14 February
Today we all took a trip to Peanut Island. This is a spoil Island south of West Palm. The outer edge of the island is a nice park, complete with tent sites. The center of the island is an active spoil dump (and they are currently pumping dredge fill there). We walked most of the way around the island, about a mile or so. Looking offshore, among the anchored boats, there were a number of what I called “party platforms.” These are basic pontoon boats equipped with a thatched roof. 

There were also a couple of shanty boats, including one that was set up as a floating hot dog and hamburger stand.

On the other side of the island from where we got off the ferry, we walked out on a boardwalk that crossed an inlet. There we saw a large manatee grazing on the mangrove. This is the best sighting we have had yet.

Back on the mainland, we went to Duffy’s Sports Bar for a Valentine’s dinner. To our surprise, they had Wienerschnitzel and spaetzle, so we had some. Never can tell what you will find in Florida.
It was after dark when we got back. I hooked up electricity; especially after discovering I had accidently switched the fridge to battery and ran the new batteries down way too far. We will have to wait and see if I damaged them. Keep tuned.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Florida 2016

Friday, February 12
We arrived at Sandy’s house in Florida today. We left home one week ago. Our first stop was Jamestown Settlement for Gene to work on the ships. He worked on ropes, which is his favorite job. After work he went down to the pier to look at the ships and found the yards all cock-billed (set at a sharp angle).

This is often done as a sign of mourning, but in that case they would be cock-billed in different directions. It turns out that they were set that way when the weather was forecast to be rain followed by cold. The idea was to make sure the yards drained to keep them from getting sheathed in ice. That evening, Angel and Terry, old friends from Reel Virginia visited for a while and then went out for dinner.
Next day (Sunday) was Jean’s birthday. We had a late breakfast in Williamsburg, then headed down to Hampton to find an art gallery that had one of Angel’s paintings.

We drove around Hampton and found a campground but didn’t like it. Took Jean out to Olive Garden for her birthday. Then finally settled in at the Newport News Park campground.
The next day (Monday) we visited with an old friend in Norfolk. She used to own a great beach cottage in the Outer Banks. Now she lives in a nice retirement home. She has a one-bedroom apartment with a terrace overlooking a large, grassy patio in the middle of the building. It has a pool and a gazebo. Pleasant, and shielded from the noise and bustle of Granby Street.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we rolled down US17, heading for Florida. This highway runs closer to the coast than I-95 and is much more pleasant. The land is low and flat. There are many rivers, some of which were over their banks due to recent rain. There is much swampy land, perhaps a little more due to the rains. This route has very few cities, you can drive for hours and not see a McDonalds. We didn’t get onto I-95 until well into Georgia.
Wednesday night we made it across the Florida line to a campground we have stayed at before. Gene de-winterized the rig, so we had hot and cold running water again. We still had about two days worth of Florida before we reached our destination. The first day we went through Jacksonville, then headed toward the coast to run down A1A. This is Florida’s coast road, but you only don’t see much actual coast except in the northern end (which is where we were). There the road often runs near the beach (no condos in the way of the view) and the towns are small. The biggest town we ran through was Daytona Beach. We expected the usual beach town mess, but were pleasantly surprised. The road is wide, with colored bricks at the intersections. There are stoplights at every corner, but they are synchronized, so we only had to stop once.
We stopped once to walk the beach at Crescent Beach. This is a wide, flat beach with very little gradient. It looks like there is almost no beach at high tide. Jean found several shells to collect, as well as a starfish. While looking at the starfish, a young couple stopped by and the woman said that it was still alive, so she tossed it out into the water.

Middle of the day, middle of the week, and cold, we had the beach almost to ourselves. We walked about a mile or so, and then continued our trip.
We spent Thursday night in a funky campground in Melbourne, less than 100 miles from our destination. At this point we were on Highway 1 and decided to stay on it, rather than go inland to I-95 (not our favorite road at any time). South of Melbourne and for much of the way it was in many ways similar to A1A. There are long stretches close to the water (Indian River) and the towns are, for the most part, small. A most pleasant drive. However, south of Fort Pierce, the traffic gets increasingly heavier. I guess that’s the price you pay for the relaxing and interesting drive before.
Arrived at Sandy’s house just after noon and got set up. We are going to try dry camping (no hookups) to see if we can make it work. The only question will be the nighttime temperatures. If we have to run the furnace very much it pulls down the battery too far. That happened in Jamestown, to the point where we had to replace the house batteries (mucho dinero).
We will be in Palm City for about a week, so will continue the story periodically and also tell you how the dry camping experiment worked.