Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year! - 12/31/13


Tuesday – December 31, 2013
Homestead, Florida
Everglades National Park
Long Pine Key Campground

We celebrated New Year’s eve with our traditional lobster tail dinner, served with fresh asparagus spears and a medley of fresh green pepper, red pepper and tomatoes smothered in a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The lobster and asparagus were prepared on our versatile charcoal Cobb Grill. I added some wet hickory chips to the charcoal briquettes, which imparted a very tasty smokey flavor to these two delectable entrees. Refreshed from this scrumptious meal, we settled in with our fellow campers, here at Long Pine Key Campground, to welcome in 2014.

We had an unexpected visitor in the campground today. A fellow camper showed us a picture he took of a rattlesnake in an unoccupied campsite next to ours. It was out in the open for a few minutes until it disappeared into the dense vegetation and shrubs that separate each campsite. The camper described the snake as being about 6 to 8 inches in diameter and about 4 to 5 feet in length. Needless to say, we kept a watchful eye on our campsite for the remainder of the day.

Since Friday, December 27, it has been overcast during the day and clear at night. The temperature has been consistently in the low 80’s during the day and in the low to mid 60’s during the night. When we see the below zero temperatures in the Chicago area, it makes us thankful we are able to travel to a warmer climate to ride out the sometimes brutal winter months up north.

Everglades National Park limits campers to a 14-day stay during the winter months. We will complete our 14-day stay on Wednesday, January 1, 2014. We will depart here Thursday morning, January 2, for the Big Cypress National Preserve and spend 10 days there.

Happy New Year to all!

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in the Everglades - 12/25/13


Wednesday – December 25, 2013
Homestead, Florida
Everglades National Park
Long Pine Key Campground

Merry Christmas to all! This is our first Christmas spent in the Everglades National Park. It is a beautiful, partially sunny day with the temperature in the high 70’s and low humidity. Patches of puffy white clouds with shades of gray, float slowly through the blue sky above. A cold wave came through the area late yesterday afternoon providing a welcome relief from temperatures in the mid-80’s with higher humidity earlier in the week.

Last year we spent Christmas at The Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Our plan is to spend Christmas each year in a different southern location.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 5-mile walk around the campground this morning. The cool morning air provided a welcome relief from the warmer weather earlier in the week. Refreshed from our walk, we returned to our Casita Trailer for a heart-healthy, hearty breakfast of an egg omelet with sausage patties.

Several other campers are also spending Christmas here at the Long Pine Key Campground. One particular campsite is occupied by a slender, attractive, young woman with three beautiful young girls. The woman looks to be in her late twenties and her daughters probably range in age from 3 years to 8 years old. They are tent camping and their car has Alaska license plates. When we passed their campsite one morning, on one of our walks, the mother and each daughter were sitting on their individual backpacks eating breakfast. Sharon and I wondered what brought this mother and three small children here, so far from home.

Another camper, a retired couple living in Florida, have a small vintage style trailer that looks like it came right out of the 1970’s. It turns out it is a new trailer that they purchased in 2012. The brand of trailer is a White Water Retro manufactured by Riverside RV. It looks to be about 13 feet in length and equipped with a cooking stove, refrigerator and wash basin.

Of the 108 campsites here only about 15 are occupied.

Life is good here at the Long Pine Key campground on Christmas Day!

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Everglades NP - 12/20/13


Friday – December 20, 2013
Homestead, Florida
Everglades National Park
Long Pine Key Campground

We departed the Miccosukee Resorts & Gaming Casino near Miami, Florida at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 19, and arrived at the Long Pine Key Campground in the Everglades National Park at 9:10 a.m. This is one of our favorite campgrounds in all of Florida.

Long Pine Campground had just opened Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. after being closed since June for repaving of the campsites and the campground road. The campground Park Rangers, at the check-in kiosk, provided a hearty welcome and informed us we were the first campers to arrive at the campground since it reopened. We had first choice of any campsite out of the 108 campsites in this campground. We chose site #29 and settled in for our fourteen-day stay here.

The weather here in southern Florida is warm and sunny with the temperature in the mid-80’s during the day and dropping into the mid-60’s at night. We can definitely handle this, compared to the cooler weather we endured in northern Florida.

Ah… but all is not peaceful here. At 2:00 a.m. Friday morning we were awakened by a knocking noise. At first I thought the noise was coming from under our trailer. Then I realized it was someone chopping wood at another campsite near ours. From the voices we could tell there was more than one camper in their group. They started a campfire and carried on loud conversations until 3:30 a.m. They showed a total lack of respect for the other campers near their campsite that were sleeping at the time. I made a mental note to fire up our generator at 8:00 a.m. and went back to sleep!

This morning we discovered the campers were two young couples sharing a tent. They had two vehicles, each one with Florida license plates. We reported them to the Park Rangers whom had a chat with them regarding the campground rules of the quiet period from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. They also cautioned them to show respect to other campers sleeping when arriving late at night to a campground. The Park Rangers reported back to us of their conversation with the campers and reported seeing an empty vodka bottle on the ground in their campsite. The Park Rangers attributed that empty bottle to their noisy behavior. The campers offered their apology to the Park Rangers and stated they were leaving in a couple of hours. We were grateful to hear they were leaving. Fortunately, in our travels, this incident was one of those rare events.

Our time spent here will be filled with our daily 5-mile morning walks, reading and lots of sight seeing.

Camping Fee: $16.00 per day ($8.00 with Golden Age Pass)

Total miles traveled Thursday: 38

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Miccosukee Casino - 12/18/13

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Wednesday – December 18, 2013
Miccosukee Resorts & Gaming Casino
Miami, Florida

We bid adieu to the Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola National Forest near Lake City, Florida. This has been our home for the past six days. The weather here for the past two days has been sunny days with temperatures in the mid to high 60’s.

We said our good-byes to new as well as old friends: Ken and Helen of Vermont who travel in their motorhome and Roger and his wife from Ontario, Canada who travel in their trailer. We first met these folks here in March 2012. New friends, Brad and Jan are originally from New Hampshire but now call Rhode Island home. They have been campers for the past 14 years. They have a Ford, full size van camper, that serves as their homebase away from home. It has been outfitted with a solar panel they use to power their electrical requirements, including their Television and Direct TV satellite. They usually winter in southern California and Mexico, but decided to spend the winter in Florida this year, due to his wife having a health problem that requires her to be in Rhode Island on January 20, 2014.

We departed Lake City, Florida at 12:10 p.m., after washing our Casita Trailer at a car wash. We had washed our Ford E-150 Cargo Van at the same car wash on Tuesday. It felt good to get rid of the road grime we had accumulated on both vehicles from the nasty weather we had encountered in southern Illinois.

Our destination today is the Everglades National Park in southern Florida. It is a little over a 400-mile drive, so we plan to stop for the night somewhere along the way. Our route took us on I-75 south to the Florida Turnpike, which is the shortest route there.

The Florida Turnpike Plazas did not provide a suitable area to spend the night, in our opinion, so we chose to search for an alternative location on our smartphone. As we were approaching Miami, Sharon happened to remember a casino we had passed on our previous trips to the Everglades. We arrived at the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming Casino at 7:20 p.m. It is located at the intersection of FL-997 and US-41. They have a large parking area for RV’s with 24-hour roaming security. We settled in for a night of rest among several other RV’s.

Total miles traveled today: 408

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ocean Pond NFCG, FL - 12/14/13

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Saturday – December 14, 2013
Lake City, Florida
Oceola National Forest
Ocean Pond Campground

It was a beautiful sunny day here at the Ocean Pond campground on Friday. The temperature was in the mi-60’s. It was an excellent day for our daily 5-mile walk. We started out with a walk around the campground, then onto the entrance road to the campground that took us 1.5 miles to the main road (Florida State Road 250A) and then back to the campground.

Refreshed from or walk, I prepared a gourmet breakfast for the two of us, consisting of one egg on a sausage patty, topped with melted shredded cheese and smothered with grilled onion, celery, red & yellow peppers, garlic and chopped tomatoes and green chili’s. This homemade breakfast recipe has become one of our favorites that we now have two or three times a week. The chopped tomatoes and green chili mixture provides this dish with just enough heat to satisfy our desire for a spicy taste. I cook the eggs inside of three-inch diameter rings that are seated inside of the frying pan, so the eggs come out perfectly round every time. It also provides for a very nice presentation.

Saturday has brought in a warm front with the temperature forecast to reach 78 degrees. It has been overcast all day, with a few brief sprinkles lasting only a minute or so. We managed to get our 5-mile walk in this morning, despite the sprinkles of rain.

Ocean Pond is a very scenic and well-maintained campground. There are four restroom facilities with flush toilets. Two of the restroom facilities have hot showers and have a washer and dryer available for use by the campers for a $1.00 fee each.

Ocean Pond has a total of 67 campsites:

Campsites 1 through 19 have electric and water hookups. They are located on paved pads, within a circular open area, providing some degree of privacy between campsites. The daily fee for these sites is $18.00 ($12.00 for Golden Age Passholders).

Campsites 20 through 46 have only water hookups. They are located on paved pads, within a straight stretch of the campground road, providing an open campsite area surrounded by pine trees that offer a high degree of privacy between campsites. The daily fee for these sites is $12.00 ($6.00 for Golden Age Passholders).

Campsites 47 through 67 do not have any hookups. They are located on gravel pads, within a circular heavy wooded area, providing a high degree of privacy between campsites. The daily fee for these sites is $8.00 ($4.00 for Golden Age Passholders).

Adjacent to the campground is Ocean Pond Lake. It is a bowl shaped fresh-water lake stretching two miles wide and only 12 feet deep. This is a popular area for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. It looks like small fishing boats with trolling motors are allowed on the lake. There is a swimming beach located within the campground. Signs are posted warning that Alligators inhabit the lake.

Another enjoyable day spent at Ocean Pond.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lake City, FL - 12/12/13


Thursday – December 12, 2013
Lake City, Florida
Oceola National Forest
Ocean Pond Campground

We wrapped up our stay at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, Florida with a hearty breakfast at "The Egg And I" restaurant with my son and his wife. Today is Sharon’s birthday, so we had a mini-celebration at the restaurant.

It is a cool, windy, sunny day with the temperature in the low 60’s. A good day to travel to our next destination near Lake City, Florida. We departed St. Andrews State Park at 12:25 p.m. (Central Time). We decided to take route US-98 east out of Panama City Beach. This route would take us by the Tyndall Air Force Base, home of the awesome F-22 Raptor. We were hopeful to see if any were flying today. Upon our arrival there, we were fortunate to see five of them taking off, one after the other, within seconds of one another. This fighter aircraft is a sight to behold. The ear-piercing roar of their jet engines sends a shuddering sensation through one’s body. Within seconds of their takeoff, they disappeared from sight. It is a humbling and comforting experience to see the power of America’s air defense up close and personal. Thank you for your service, to all of our men and women serving in the military.

We continued traveling east on US-98 to Port St. Joe where we picked up FL-71. We traveled north on FL-71, then east on FL-20 to north on FL-12 to Interstate 10. We arrived at the Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola National Forest at 6:10 p.m. (Central Time). This campground is located about 17 miles east of Lake City on US-90, north of the town of Olustee. We had stayed in this campground in January and March of 2012. It was nice to be back again.

There are 13 campsites with electric and water hookups. They are all First-Come-First-Serve campsites. We lucked out on this visit, there were three campsites left. We selected site #11 (the same site we had in March 2012) and settled in for a well-deserved evening of rest. The temperature is forecast to be 36 degrees tonight. It will be nice to have the electric hookup so we can run our electric heater.

Camping Fee: $18.00 per day ($12.00 with Golden Age Pass)

Total miles traveled today: 272

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

St. Andrew SP, FL - 12/11/13

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Wednesday – December 11, 2013
Panama City Beach, Florida
St. Andrew State Park

It was a cold and windy day here yesterday. The temperature was in the low 60’s with an overcast sky, making for a bone-chilling day outside. We still managed to get our 5-mile walk in, despite the cooler weather.

We had dinner last night with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson at Pompano Joe’s Seafood restaurant on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach, Florida. This is a relatively new restaurant at this location. The food was just okay and the service was horrible. It took a very long time for the food to be served after we had placed our order. We could understand it if the restaurant was busy, but we were the only diners there at 5:30 p.m. This restaurant desperately needs help from "Restaurant Impossible" on the Food Network. Needless to say, we will not be back!

The weather today is much better. It is a bright sunny day, with the temperature in the mid-60’s and no wind. It was nice to get our 5-mile walk in this morning with the bright sun providing its warmth during our walk. Our walk takes us two times around the State Park Circle Road. The road circles a wet marsh area filled with a vast variety of plants, trees, birds, alligators and marine life. It is a scene straight out of a rain forest environment. Absolutely beautiful!

We are surprised to see the number of empty campsites here. There are 176 campsites available at this state park and only 37 are occupied. My son told me that it’s very slow here during the winter months. Their busy months are in March (spring break) and during the summer when they get an influx of visitors from the surrounding states, with a large portion coming from Alabama.

We went to the beach twice today. In the afternoon there was a self-propelled hang-glider flying quite high over the water of the Gulf of Mexico. We marveled at how the pilot would maneuver his aircraft through the sky, descending and making frequent sharp turns. At times, the pilot would shut the engine off and glide his aircraft in a long arc, using its canopy for control. After a minute or so, he would restart the engine, gain altitude and then repeat the cycle of turning the engine off and gliding. It was quite a show the pilot put on for the viewing audience on the beach.

In the evening we returned to the beach to watch the sunset at 4:47 p.m. What a show this sun in our solar system puts on for all life forms inhabiting this rotating sphere called Earth. As this massive sphere of nuclear energy recedes over the horizon, the fading light reflects off of the gently drifting clouds, putting on a brilliant display of pink and red shades of color.

We will depart here on Thursday to continue on our five-month snowbird journey through Florida.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Panama City Beach, FL - 12/09/13

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Monday – December 9, 2013
Panama City Beach, Florida
St. Andrew State Park

Sunday was overcast all day with a few rain showers in the morning, here at Gunter Hill COE Campground near Montgomery, Alabama. However, the temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. We felt quite fortunate to be here in this warmer weather compared to the 20 degree weather we would be enduring if we were back home in Chicago.

We departed Gunter Hill at 10:35 a.m. This is my birthday today, so we will celebrate it while in-route to Panama City Beach, Florida.

We arrived at St. Andrews State Park at 4:00 p.m. We did not have reservations, but a phone call two hours earlier in the day, confirmed they had plenty of campsites available. Upon check-in, I requested campsite #40. Fortunately, it was available for our two-night stay. We had checked out this campsite during our stay here in March 2013. It is one of the better campsites, providing a fair amount of privacy and a great view of the waterfront. This is a very scenic campground overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. However, as we have seen in our many visits to other Florida State Parks, the campsites are densely populated throughout the campground, offering very little privacy between campsites. We generally avoid these types of campgrounds, but we are meeting with family members who live in Panama City Beach, and this area provides a convenient meeting location.

We will meet my son, his wife and my 13 year-old grandson for dinner tomorrow night. It will be quite a celebration! We will be celebrating three birthdays in December: My son’s on the 1st, mine on the 9th, and Sharon’s on the 12th.

We no sooner got settled into our campsite when the rain started around 6:30 p.m. It is supposed to last until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. We just can’t catch a break with all of this rain that followed us through Tennessee and Alabama. We did hit some sunshine as we left Alabama and entered Florida, but then the rain clouds started rolling in. At least the temperature here is in the high 70’s.

St. Andrew SP Camping Fee: $31.22 per day including taxes.

Total miles traveled today: 211

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Montgomery, AL - 12/07/13

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Saturday – December 7, 2013
Montgomery, Alabama
Gunter Hill COE Campground

We spent a restful night at the Rickwood Cavern State Park in Warrior, Alabama. It rained throughout the night providing a soothing sound of cascading raindrops on the roof of our trailer. We departed the campground at 10:10 a.m. Our destination today is an Army Corp of Engineering (COE) campground near Montgomery, Alabama.

Well, it had to happen at some time or another. Our trusty GPS coordinates led us into a dead-end dirt road in Prattsville, Alabama. I had obtained the coordinates from Reserve America Online, prior to leaving home, and boy were they wrong. Now the fun part begins! We are on a narrow dirt road; the sides of the road are very muddy from all of the rain. I have to somehow turn around in this mess! Fortunately, there is a long entrance road to a home, quite a distance from the dirt road we are on. There is a fairly large circular area leading into the entrance road. Part of the circular area is quite muddy, which limits the space I have to turn around. After about 30 minutes of backing up and inching forward… SUCCESS! I finally get us turned around. This was one of the tightest spots we have gotten into in all of our travels. Somehow, we have been fortunate to always extricate ourselves from these mishaps.

With that Reserve America GPS fiasco behind us, I looked up the address to the campground on our smartphone, entered that address into our GPS and off we go! We arrived at the Gunter Hill Campground at 2:05 p.m., selected campsite 71 in the Catoma Loop of the campground and settled in to relax.

There are two campground loops in the Gunter Hill Campground: Antioch and Catoma. Antioch closes for the winter and reopens on March 1. Catoma is open all year. There are 146 total campsites, 71 in the Antioch Loop and 75 in the Catoma Loop. The Antioch Loop has gravel pads and the Catoma Loop has concrete pads. There are 57 sites with full hookups and 89 sites with electric and water hookups. Both loops have nicely appointed restroom facilities with flush toilets, hot showers and laundry facilities. There are two washers and dryers in each facility, $1.00 fee for each. There is a dump station in each campground loop.

Gunter Hill is a beautiful campground, with spacious campsites dispersed throughout an open wooded area. It is one of many COE campgrounds located throughout the Alabama River Lakes Region. This region is a fisherman’s paradise. Large populations of catfish, crappie and bass provide an adventure for anglers of all ages. This will definitely be one of our favorite places to stop on our future snowbird treks to Florida for the winter.

Gunter Hill Camping Fee: $22.00 per day (50% discount for Golden Age Passholders).

Total miles traveled today: 145

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Warrior, AL - 12/06/13

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Friday – December 6, 2013
Warrior, Alabama
Rickwood Caverns State Park

The freezing rain/sleet continued throughout the night at the Fort Massac State Park campground in Metropolis, Illinois. We awoke to find our Ford E-150 van and Casita Trailer completely covered in ice, at least one-half inch thick. I literally had to pry open the driver’s side door on the Ford, started the engine, turned the heater on full blast and selected the window defroster option. One hour later the ice buildup was starting to thaw. Having no ice scraper onboard, I took a wooden spatula from our kitchen to remove chunks of ice from the side windows. With that task accomplished, I turned my attention to the windshield. This proved to be more difficult because the windshield wipers and the rotating portion of the wiper arm were buried in about one inch of ice. If I could not get the wipers to function, we were not going anywhere. The freezing rain had now changed to sleet, with heavy snow forecast to begin later in the day. Time was of the essence. I diligently continued chipping ice from the wiper arms and blades with my trusty wooden spatula. Finally, after about 30 minutes… success! The wiper arms could now move freely. Now to remove the ice buildup from the windows. The window defroster had done its job! The ice came off in large chunks. With the windows cleared, the windshield wipers functioning properly, time to get outta here!

We departed the Fort Massac campground at 8:35 a.m. The exit from the campground to US-45 is about one-half mile, and now a slippery, sleet covered road. US-45 is a four-lane highway, but only one lane in each direction was suitable for driving. We very slowly and cautiously made our way north on US-45 to Interstate 24, about three miles north of the campground. Upon our entry to eastbound I-24, only one lane in each direction was really suitable for driving. Truckers were reporting on the CB radio that the eastbound traffic would leave the freezing rain/sleet mixture behind at the Tennessee State line and just have to deal with rain from that point on. They reported that westbound traffic was in for a rough ride, with the weather deteriorating by the minute. Many westbound truckers reported they were going to park their rigs at the next truckstop and ride out the storm.

Driving east on I-24 was a white-knuckle adventure. Truckers were complaining that they had not seen any snowplows out spreading salt on the Interstate. The speed limit is 70 mph. We cruised along at 35 mph for the first 50 miles and then cranked it up to 40 mph for the next 30 miles. Finally, about 20 miles west of the Tennessee state line, the freezing rain/sleet mixture turned into a heavy rain, the road surface was free of ice buildup in both lanes and we were able to cruise along at 50 mph.

Our travel plan for today was to reach Montgomery, Alabama and camp at the Gunter Hill COE campground. Our GPS showed our arrival there would be at 5:30 p.m. By that time it would be dark and we prefer not to arrive at a campground after dark. We stopped at the Visitor Center in Alabama on Interstate 65. Our first task was to clear off the one-onch thick ice from the hood of our Ford van. A good sized chuck had blown off earlier and hit our windshield. I did not want to take a chance on another chunk flying into our windshield and possibly cracking or breaking it. Our next task was to look for state park campgrounds north of Birmingham, Alabama. We found a brochure on Rickwood Cavern State Park, about 70 miles south of the Visitor Center on I-65 in Warrior, Alabama. Our GPS showed we would arrive at 3:35 p.m. Perfect! Off we go!

We arrived at Rickwood at 3:40 p.m., registered at the park office and selected campsite #6. This is a small campground with only 13 campsites. There are electric and water hookups at each site. An added bonus for us is we have cell phone and Internet service through our T-Mobile service provider.

The Rickwood Caverns is located within the State Park and is the first operational caving park in the entire Alabama State Park System. The underground "miracle mile" is composed of magnificent passages and beautifully lighted rooms accented with thousands of sparkling white limestone formations.

The caverns themselves were water-formed during the Mississippi period over 260 million years ago. The cave area itself was once an ocean bed. Bits of shell as well as fossils of marine life are clearly visible along the cavern ceiling and walls. And, blind cave fish inhibit crystal clear water in the cavern pools.

Guided cave tours are provided daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Guided tours are provided on weekends only from March through Memorial Day and September through October. Cave admission is $15.00 for adults and $6.00 for children, ages 5 through 11. Cave admission for adult campers is $10.00.

A return visit to this state park in March or April 2014 to explore the cave is now on our Bucket List!

Rickwood Camping Fee: $20.05 per day Mon-Thur / $23.05 Fri-Sun (15% discount for seniors)

Total miles traveled today: 311

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Metropolis, IL - 12/05/13

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Thursday – December 5, 2013
Metropolis, Illinois
Fort Massac State Park

It is time to head south for the winter. We departed the Chicago area at 9:40 a.m. and arrived at the Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis, Illinois at 5:35 p.m. We selected campsite #12 and settled in for a well-deserved good night’s rest.

Our trip was not without a few hiccups along the way. Just south of Effingham, Illinois we encountered the onset of a major winter storm entering southern Illinois. It started out as freezing rain, then turned into sleet mixed with snow. In no time at all Interstate 57 was building up with a heavy slush, making for slow travel at 45 mph for those of us drivers who were being cautious. Some drivers, who felt the need for speed on these slippery road conditions, soon found themselves sliding off of the road into the ditch. After 110 miles of nasty road conditions, we arrived in Marion, Illinois. The freezing, slushy, rain/snow mix had now turned into a light rain, allowing us to cruise along comfortably at 55 mph into Metropolis, Illinois.

While we were traveling through a section on I-57 with the freezing rain/snow mix, a semi-truck pulled along side of us and honked his horn and pointed to the rear of our trailer. He then hailed me on the CB and told me one of our bikes had come partially off of its mount on the bike rack. Perfect! I pull off on the sleet-covered shoulder of the road and get out to inspect my mishap. Sure enough, one of the bungee cords had snapped off that secured the front of the bike to the outside mount of the bike rack. I re-secured the bike, all the while enduring the 28 degree freezing temperature and a slushy spray kicked up from the passing traffic. As I am getting back into the van I murmured to Sharon something about "we should have left home on Wednesday!"

About 70 miles further down the road, another semi-truck pulls up along side of us, sounds his horn and points to the back of our trailer. This is just great! Another adventure to the back of the trailer in this nasty weather to once again be favored with the road spray from the passing traffic! This time the bungee cord securing the back portion of the same bike snapped off. Having re-secured the bike to the bike rack, as I am entering our van Sharon innocently asks: "why don’t you just put the bikes in the van?" This is not the time to be asking me that question. It’s a guy thing!

On our past trips we carried our bikes in the van. This took up quite a bit of space in the van, so in October 2013 we had a receiver hitch installed on our trailer and mounted a bike rack onto the hitch. This is our maiden voyage with the bike rack and it is obvious I need to reengineer the method I use to secure the bikes to the bike rack. A trip to Home Depot is definitely in order to secure the items I need.

Now back to the weather! Paducah, Kentucky and most of western Kentucky is forecast to have freezing rain throughout the night and tomorrow morning with snow beginning in the early afternoon. A radio station in Paducah has been making regular announcements on school closings throughout the area. Our pretty little white trailer looks like an igloo, all covered in ice. We will see what Interstate 24 looks like in the morning. Nashville, Tennesee is 135 miles from Paducah. The forecast there is for rain with a high of 40 degrees. We can handle that!

Our original plan was to spend December in southern Texas. However, the weather forecast showed temperatures much lower then we were willing to tolerate. We decided to check out a COE campground in Montgomery, Alabama while we make our way down to Panama City Beach, Florida.

Fort Massac Camping Fee: $15.00 per day

Total miles traveled today: 380

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chicago, IL - 10/22/13

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Tuesday – October 22, 2013
Chicago, Illinois

We spent a restful night at the Pilot Truck Stop in Hayti, Missouri and departed there at 6:40 a.m. We stopped for a hearty breakfast at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Marion, Illinois. Refreshed, we continued on our journey to Chicago. We arrived home at 4:10 p.m.

Our late summer adventure that began on August 19, 2013 encompassed a 7,499 mile journey that took us through 10 States over a period of two months. We had a wonderful time meeting new friends and exploring the scenic wonders of our National Parks in Colorado and Utah. The government shutdown on October 2, 2013 prevented us from visiting other National Parks in Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This unexpected event caused us to change our plans and provided us with the opportunity to attend the Annual Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Such is our life on the road, with no time restraints that require us to be at a certain place at a certain time, we have the freedom to change course as circumstances dictate.

Total miles traveled today: 455

Tomorrow we begin to plan our snowbird adventure for 2013.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Memphis BBQ Co, MS - 10/21/13

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Monday – October 21, 2013
The Memphis BBQ Co.
Horn Lake, Mississippi

We departed the Rocky Point COE Campground in Texarkana, Texas at 10:30 a.m. On our way home to Chicago, we made a stopover in the Memphis area to partake of their delicious BBQ.

We originally discovered The Memphis BBQ Co. on the Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives program on The Food Network cable channel. Our first visit to this restaurant was in April 2013. It is located 15 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. It is a large restaurant, conveniently located adjacent to a Strip Mall, with the mall parking lot suitable for RV parking.

We arrived at the Memphis BBQ Co. at 4:20 p.m. We ordered the fried green tomatoes as an appetizer and split a full-slab of baby back ribs for our main course. The main courses come with two sides and include a slice of corn bread. The baby back ribs were juicy and succulent. The fried green tomatoes, corn bread, rice and beans, corn-on-the-cob and coleslaw were delicious. Needless to say, we left the restaurant well fed and a bit overstuffed! Our server, Quentin, was the best! We had a different server during our visit here in March 2013, but we noticed Quentin at that time, and how attentive he was to his customers. We were fortunate to be seated at one of his tables this afternoon. He took very good care of us.

We departed the Memphis BBQ Co. at 5:40 p.m. Our plan was to spend the night at a Walmart in Sikeston, Missouri. A light rain started to fall a few miles north of Blytheville, Arkansas. It was getting dark out and we needed gas. We stopped at a Pilot Truck Stop in Hayti, Missouri at 7:35 p.m. We had refueled here in March 2013. It is a safe place to spend the night, so this will be our home for tonight.

Total miles traveled today: 411

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Little House Customs, TX - 10/19/13


Saturday – October 19, 2013
Little House Customs - Yantis, Texas
Rocky Point COE Campground - Texarkana, Texas

We departed the South Sulphur Campground at the Cooper Lake State Park in Sulphur Springs, Texas at 8:45 a.m. We arrived at Little House Customs in Yantis, Texas at 10:00 a.m.

Little House Customs (LHC) is well known to owners of Casita Travel Trailers. The owners, Larry and Debbie, provide a mail-order business of parts and accessories for our trailers. They also provide installation services for numerous upgrades on Casita and other fiberglass trailers, at their shop in Yantis and also at fiberglass trailer rally’s.

On this visit LHC will install an Orbital Receiver Hitch, an Orbital Spare Tire Carrier and a Max-Air Window Vent on our rear window. They will also install a "Hard Start Capacitor Kit" on our air conditioner. I had purchased the capacitor kit from them last year to have on hand as a spare. Now that we will be running the air conditioner with the Honda Generator EU2000I, this modification will put less of a load on the generator, as the compressor on the air conditioner cycles on and off.

All of the items were installed and we were on our way at 2:45 p.m. We arrived at the Rocky Point COE Campground in Texarkana, Texas at 4:45 p.m. This campground just reopened on Thursday, after the government shutdown was finally resolved on Wednesday. We selected one of our favorite campsites, #37, that overlooks the lake. We will spend two nights here. This has become one of our favorite campgrounds in Texas. We have stayed here before, in December 2012 and again in March 2013.

Camping Fee: $20.00 per night (50% discount for Golden Age Passport holders).

Total miles traveled today: 156

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cooper Lake SP, TX - 10/17/13


Thursday – October 17, 2013
Cooper Lake State Park
Sulphur Springs, Texas

We awoke to a sunny blue sky, warmer weather and the sound of thousands of birds chirping, here at the Walmart in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Around 6:30 a.m. there was absolute quiet, all of the birds, at one time, suddenly departed, to continue on their migration south. In their wake were left numerous bird droppings and feathers throughout the Walmart parking lot. Note to self… never, ever, park again in the fly zone of migrating birds!

We stopped at a self-carwash in Sulphur Springs to clean our Ford E-150 Van and Casita Trailer from the road grime we had accumulated over the past two and one-half months of travel, plus now the newly deposited bird residue.

After completing the cleanup task at the carwash, we arrived at the South Sulphur Campground at the Cooper Lake State Park in Sulphur Springs, Texas at 9:45 a.m. We set up our newly cleaned van and trailer in campsite #41. We had spent three nights here in March 2013, and will spend two nights here on this visit.

In the afternoon we took a 4.8-mile hike through the state park campgrounds. There are four campgrounds here: Bright Star, Deer Haven, Oak Grove and Buggy Whip. We are staying in Bright Star that has 46 campsites with 50-amp electric service and water hookups at each site. Dear Haven has 40 campsites with 30-amp electric service and water hookups at each site. Oak Grove is located in the Deer Haven loop and has 15 walk-in tent only campsites. Buggy Whip is an equestrian only campground with 15 campsites. Each campsite has electric and water hookups and a hitching rail structure for several horses.

While we were walking through Buggy Whip we spotted an armadillo scurrying about in the bushes, busily feeding on insects. It seemed to be oblivious to our presence, as it would scurry to a spot, dig at the earth with its front legs and devour whatever it was it dug up. This feeding pattern repeated itself until it was within six feet of us and noticed our presence. It swiftly turned around and hightailed it into the bushes. Within moments, it was back to its feeding frenzy. We encountered another Armadillo in Deer Haven and another one later in the afternoon in our campsite. This state park apparently has a habitat quite suitable for the armadillo.

Camping Fee: $16.00 per night plus $5.00 per person, per day, state park entry fee.

Total miles traveled today: 26

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Casita Factory, TX - 10/16/13


Wednesday – October 16, 2013
Rice, Texas

We departed the American RV Park in Corsicana, Texas at 12:45 p.m. under an overcast sky and chilly weather, with frequent rain showers forecast throughout the day. A cold front came through yesterday and the temperature will only hit 60 degrees F today. We stopped at the Walmart in Corsicana to get a few items before proceeding on to the Casita Trailer factory in Rice, Texas. We arrived at the factory at 2:10 p.m. and dropped our trailer off to have some fiberglass repaired on the back of the trailer. Our spare tire had worn a shallow groove into the fiberglass there and needed to be repaired. We have since remounted the spare tire to a carrier mounted on the bumper.

The Casita factory’s service hours start at 3:30 p.m. I presume this is because they must pull production workers from the assembly line to perform customer maintenance. They request customers’ requiring maintenance have their trailers at the factory by 2:30 p.m.

We picked our trailer up at 4:15 p.m. The Casita maintenance personnel did a wonderful job of repairing the fiberglass in such a short period of time. We are happy campers!

We arrived at the Walmart in Sulphur Springs, Texas at 6:35 p.m. This will be our home for tonight.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by thousands of birds in the Walmart parking lot. They literally cover portions of the parking lot and every tree is filled with them. I think they are Starlings and migrating south for the winter. Their incessant chirping continues unabated and is so loud one must raise their voice to be heard. We are hopeful they will quiet down when it gets dark.

Total miles traveled today: 114

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Corsicana, TX - 10/15/13

Tuesday – October 15, 2013
Corsicana, Texas

We departed the Walmart in Abilene, Texas at 9:10 a.m., under an overcast sky, with a forecast of heavy rain to inundate the northern region of Texas. As we proceeded east on I-20, we could see the dark rain clouds forming in the distance. In short order, we were driving into a fairly heavy rain. The semi-trucks passing us created an additional hazard with the significant water spray generated from their trailers.

Our route took us east on I-20 to south on US-287 to south on I-45 to the Casita Factory at exit 237 on I-45. We needed to reschedule an appointment with the factory to repair a section of the fiberglass on the rear of our trailer. We were originally scheduled to have the repair performed on 10/23/13. Fortunately, they were able to accommodate our request and scheduled the repair for 10/16/13. While we were at the factory, we checked out the design changes they have made to the new models. While there, we purchased some push-button latches, as spares, for our cabinet doors.

We arrived at the American RV Park in Corsicana, Texas at 2:45 p.m. This private campground is located about 11 miles south of the Casita factory. This will be our home base for one night.

Total miles traveled today: 230

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Abilene, TX - 10/14/13

Monday – October 14, 2013
Abilene, Texas

Time to leave the sand and the zillions of flies behind us, here at the Bottomless Lakes State Park, near Roswell, New Mexico. We departed the campground at 10:20 a.m. and headed east on US-380. This route will take us into the panhandle of Texas and eventually connect with Interstate 20.

We arrived in Abilene, Texas at 4:00 p.m. We had an early dinner at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant and then settled into a 24-hour Walmart, located next to the restaurant. This will be our home for the night along with a few other RV’s and semi-trucks.

The weather in Texas is warm and humid. It feels so good to be back in a humid environment. Our skin really dried out from the time we spent in the desert environments of Utah and New Mexico.

Total miles traveled today: 310

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

UFO Museum, NM - 10/12/13

Saturday – October 12, 2013
International UFO Museum
Roswell, New Mexico

Another beautiful, warm, sunny day here at the Bottomless Lakes State Park, near Roswell, New Mexico. Time to go exploring at the International UFO Museum in Roswell.

Roswell is most popularly known for having its name attached to what is now called the 1947 Roswell UFO incident, even though the crash site of the alleged UFO was some 75 miles from Roswell and closer to Corona. The investigation and debris recovery was handled by the local Roswell Army Air Field.

Roswell has benefited from interest in the alleged UFO incident of 1947. It was the report of an object that crashed in the general vicinity in June or July 1947, allegedly an extraterrestrial spacecraft and its alien occupants. Since the late 1970s the incident has been the subject of intense controversy and of conspiracy theories as to the true nature of the object that crashed. The United States Armed Forces maintains that what was recovered was debris from an experimental high-altitude helium weather and surveillance balloon belonging to a classified program named "Mogul" however, many UFO proponents maintain that an alien craft was found and its occupants were captured, and that the military then engaged in a cover-up. In recent times, the business community has deliberately sought out tourists interested in UFOs, science fiction, and aliens.

We spent about two hours at the UFO museum. The museum has an impressive collection of artifacts, photographs, documents and affidavits that support the claims by residents in July 1947, that an unknown craft, crash-landed near Roswell, with four occupants in it. Affidavits from eyewitnesses to this event at the time, civilian, former air force officers and enlisted personnel, seem to provide substantial credibility that a cover-up story was fabricated by the U.S. Government at the time and that it maintains to this date.

University professors, students and UFO aficionados continue to conduct research at the crash site, looking for any evidence that an unidentified object did indeed crash here in 1947.

Is anybody out there? Stay tuned!

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Mine That Bird, NM - 10/12/13

Saturday – October 12, 2013
Mine That Bird
Roswell, New Mexico

A few miles east of Roswell, on US-380 is the Double Eagle Ranch and Training Center. This ranch is home to the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 2009, "Mine That Bird." We decided to check it out and took the 1.5-mile drive on NM-254 (White Mill Road), that runs south of US-380, to the ranch. It is a large ranch with training facilities geared toward the training and medical treatment of racehorses.

During our travels through Florida and Kentucky we are accustomed to seeing the numerous racehorse farms in those states. So, we were fascinated to happen upon the Double Eagle Ranch in New Mexico.

Besides seeing numerous horses out in the fields, while passing another ranch we were rewarded with the sight of several Texas Longhorn steers grazing in a field. Their horns were massive and are reported to extend as much as 7 feet tip to tip on some breeds.

The area east of Roswell is known as the dairy capital of southeastern New Mexico. On another side road we traveled on, we passed what appeared to be several dairy farms. We were amazed at the high density of cattle that were crammed into, what appeared to us, to be relatively small holding areas. The pungent smell emanating from these farms is overwhelming and will clear up any sinus congestion quite quickly.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Roswell, NM - 10/11/13

Friday – October 11, 2013
Roswell, New Mexico

We spent a very restful evening at a 24-hour Walmart in Roswell, New Mexico. We departed the Walmart at 7:40 a.m. and arrived at the Bottomless Lakes State Park, 12 miles east of Roswell on US-380. We selected campsite #16 at the Lea Lake Recreation Area. This will be our home base for three days while we explore Roswell.

Bottomless Lakes are a chain of eight lakes that are actually sinkholes that range from 17 to 90 feet deep. They were formed when circulating water dissolved salt and gypsum deposits to form subterranean caverns. Eventually, the roofs of the caverns collapsed from their own weight. Sinkholes resulted and soon filled with water and formed the existing lakes.

Lea Lake Recreation Area contains a 15 surface acre lake with 32 campsites with utility hook-ups and 27 developed sites with no hook-ups. Sites 1 through 6 have sewer, electric and water. Sites 7 through 32 have electric and water only. There is a three-mile, paved road to the entrance of the campground. The road is a bit rough throughout the three miles. There is a gravel road within the campground, with gravel pads for RV’s. Facilities include restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers. There is one dump station within the campground. Free WiFi is available at each campsite. We also have Internet access through our T-Mobil service provider.

Camping Fee: $14.00 per day. ($4.00 per day with a New Mexico annual pass.)

Total miles traveled today: 22

Once we had our campsite set up, it was time to tend to a few chores. Sharon found the location for a Laundromat in Roswell on her smartphone. Time to do the laundry! We also need to get some flypaper. We have never seen so many flies. They are not the biting kind, but they are everywhere! The Walmart was sold out of flypaper. We did find some at the Home Depot. They were almost sold out too. A sales associate there told me the flypaper sells like crazy this time of year. I guess the fly problem must be a seasonal thing. We installed the flypaper in our trailer and we are now fly-free.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Las Cruces, NM - 10/10/13

Thursday – October 10, 2013
Nellie’s Café – Las Cruces, New Mexico
Walmart – Roswell, New Mexico

The winds really picked up last night, here at the Elephant Butte Lake State Park in Elephant Butte, New Mexico. Wind gusts approaching 50 mph are expected to prevail throughout the day and finally subside by 8:00 p.m., in the southern portion of New Mexico. Since the soil in this part of New Mexico is mostly sand, sandstorms are blowing everywhere, obliterating the view of mountains in the distance. New Mexico's department of transportation has issued a travel advisory for high profile vehicles. Extra caution will be required while traveling today.

We departed Elephant Butte State Park at 10:30 a.m. We were planning to spend two nights at the Leasburg Dam State Park, while we visited Las Cruces, New Mexico. The state park is located about 15 miles north of Las Cruces. Unfortunately, the state park campsites did not appeal to us, so we scrapped our plan to use this campground as a home base while we visited Las Cruces.

We decided to tow our trailer into Las Cruces, have lunch there, and then continue on to Roswell, New Mexico. While traveling south on I-25, a few miles north of Las Cruces, we noticed all of the northbound traffic was being diverted off of the Interstate to a checkpoint. The checkpoint is a permanent facility; similar to a truck weigh station. We later learned, this checkpoint is manned by Homeland Security personnel checking for illegal aliens and drug smuggling.

We arrived at Nellie’s Café in Las Cruces at 1:15 p.m. We discovered this restaurant using the Yelps application on our smartphone. It received a four-star rating from reviewers as an authentic Mexican restaurant, serving great food. This restaurant did not disappoint! It is a small, family-owned restaurant, serving great tasting Mexican food. Bring cash, because credit cards are not accepted at this establishment.

After satisfying our desire for an authentic Mexican meal, we continued on our journey. We traveled east on US-70 through the White Sands Missile Range in-route to Roswell. White sands is an appropriate description. The sand through this area is pure white. Several miles east of Las Cruces, we were diverted off of US-70 through a Homeland Security checkpoint. The security guard looked us over, asked us if we were U.S. citizens and then waved us on.

We arrived at a 24-hour Walmart in Roswell, New Mexico at 5:50 p.m. A sign painted on one of the window panels at Walmart read "Welcome to Roswell," with several alien characters painted on the window panel. We settled in for a relaxing night’s rest with our newfound "alien friends" and eight other RV’s.

Total miles traveled today: 275

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ghost Town, NM - 10/09/13

Wednesday – October 9, 2013
Ghost Town
Chloride, New Mexico

We awoke to a blustery, windy morning here at the Elephant Butte Lake State Park in Elephant Butte, New Mexico. This is our last day here and we will visit a ghost town in Chloride.

Chloride is located 42 miles northwest of our campground. The journey to the ghost town takes the visitor on NM-52, a two-lane paved, somewhat bumpy road. Steep hills and a winding road are encountered along the way, with several 25-mph curves and one 10-mph curve. The road crosses over several dry riverbeds that show the deep gorges that flash floods have exacted on the surrounding terrain over time. During the hot summer months, the water evaporates and strong winds create mini-sand dunes on the road where it crosses over the dry riverbed. The county then employs front-end loaders to clear the sand from the road.

Chloride was founded in 1880 after Englishman Henry Pye discovered silver ore nearby. Despite Indian attacks (Pye was killed by Apaches a few months after filing his claim), the town grew to 3,000 people. It had 9 saloons, 3 general stores, restaurants, butcher shops, candy store, lawyer, doctor, Chinese laundry, 2 hotels, livery stable, smelter, and sawmill. There were 12 producing mines and nearly 500 prospector holes in and around Chloride. The silver panic of 1893 wiped out the town, but many original structures still stand, along with the town’s two cemeteries. The old Pioneer Store is now a museum. The "Hanging Tree" on Wall Street is 200 or more years old. About 11 people now live in Chloride.

As ghost towns go, we were kind of disappointed with Chloride. We were expecting to see an abandoned town with the remains of structures from the 1880’s, and instead found a few refurbished buildings nestled among a small town with inhabitants. I guess we have been spoiled by the ghost town we had visited in Bannack, Montana in September 2012.

We continued our tour of the area with a visit to Monticello. This town was founded by ranchers and farmers in 1856. The town was built in a square to protect its residents from attack by the Apache Indians. Visitors can view the remains of the old adobe town walls in the town’s historic plaza.

We completed our 124-mile journey and returned to our campground to make preparations for our next adventure.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.