Thursday, November 25, 2010

Anastasia State Park

Anastasia State Park is directly on the Atlantic Ocean

We had been in St. Augustine, Florida, during the lighting of the City Christmas lights at the city park several years ago, and decided to travel over and see it once again. St. Augustine is one of our favorite cities and we thought this would a great opportunity to once again wander around the oldest city in the U.S. We found the nearby Anastasia State Park on line and made an optimistic, six-day reservation for late November, leaving the campground the day before Thanksgiving.  Friends of ours planned to met us there, but would only stay four days.

We arrived at the highly rated Anastasia State Park late on a Thursday evening just as dusk turned to night. The ranger at the entrance was still on duty even though the sun had long drifted below the dense canopy of Live Oaks and Red Cedars that make up the welcoming gateway to the park. We called ahead and said we would be arriving later than the scheduled gate-closing time of sundown. After properly identifying ourselves and confirming our reservation, we were given the four-digit code to the gate in case it was closed when we arrived. The gate should probably have been closed when we pulled off Florida highway A1A and made our way to the gate, but the friendly ranger was still there, waiting for stragglers like us. Not only were we running late, but so were the friends we were meeting at the campground. They asked us to also tell the ranger they might also be late. No problem, the ranger was patiently waiting as we pulled up in the fading sunlight.

“Are your friends close behind?” she asked. We didn't know, but Bill and Barb, the couple we were meeting for this camping trip, were actually only a few minutes behind us. They came in from Vero Beach on Florida's east coast, while we drove up from Port Charlotte, on the west side of the state. The timing worked out as we pulled in almost together. Sometimes things just fall in place.

We received our pink campground pass with our checkout date written on it and a map of the park. The ranger gave directions to our preselected site, mentioning that we would pass the three-lane dump station. Wow! Three dump stations lined up side by side, a modern-day RV three-holer! The smiling park ranger at the gate said there would often be a waiting line to dump out, even with the expanded facility. With 139 camp sites just hundreds of yards from the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean, this Florida State Park is one of the most visited campgrounds in the state. It is located less than three miles from downtown old St. Augustine, and just several hundred yards south of the famous St. Augustine lighthouse. After spending a week at this fabulous location I could see why this award winning park is so popular.

Wood Storks rest on the lagoon beach

As Bill and Barb picked up their paperwork at the gate, my wife and I, along with Taz and Daisy, our two dogs, drove into the campground looking for the Shark Eye camping loop and our reserved site 47. We hoped we would have enough light to at least back-in and hook up the water and electricity without using flashlights. There just wasn't enough available light! It all went well, though, taking us only 30 minutes to unhook, level the camper, and connect the electricity and water. I had never used a flashlight to setup the camper before, but the darkness proved to be no problem. Our first night landing, so to speak.

We wandered over to our friend's campsite shortly after getting set up. They were in site 50, just around the bend from us. They had set up in a little less time than it took us as they have a Class C camper and really only had to shut off the ignition to be officially “camped.” Actually they hooked up the water and electricity and lowered their landing gear, just as we had. Mundane tasks like setting up the outside sling chairs and putting out the carpets would wait until morning.

We ended up eating dinner separately, but then we took a ride together to the end of the park road where the gift shop is located. We took our Jimmy, of course, as the Class C was parked for the duration of the stay. Again, these are decisions a camper must make before committing to a specific type of RV, or Recreational Vehicle. While we like having a tow-behind that we set up and leave at the camp site, leaving us free to drive our tow vehicle whenever we want, others, such as Bill and Barb, like having a self-propelled, self contained Recreational Vehicle that is far easier to drive and setup than a trailer.

We parked in the brilliant moonlight next to the dormant gift shop and walked the path through the sand dunes to the Atlantic Ocean. Absolutely beautiful! The full moon was still two nights away, but the moonlight was brilliant in in the cloudless sky. The park is located just south of the St Augustine Lighthouse and offers a beautiful, unspoiled view to the north of the wide, sand beach. The mid-November evening temperatures were mild, in the high 60's as we walked to the waters edge. We headed back to the camper reminiscing about the many past beach experiences of our youth, and remarked how long it had been since we experienced a moon-lit walk along the relentlessly pounding surf.

The rental concession on the lagoon beach

It was 8:00 in the evening when I took our dogs out for their overdue potty break and realized how absolutely beautiful the night was! I asked my wife to join me in a moonlight stroll through the Live Oaks. The moon was one night shy of being full, and the sky was absolutely clear in the warm Atlantic salt air. Shadows were so sharp and crisp it appeared as if our colorful world had simple turned to black and white! We walked the half-mile or so to the edge of the campground without once turning on our flashlight. A warm and beautiful Florida night in November.

The next day we took our two Pungo 140 kayaks with us to the lagoon  for an easy, laid back paddle.  Hauling them to the launch point was no problem. Bill and Barb rented kayaks from the concession on the beach, having left their own kayaks at home, and we all paddled together.  We were soon all on the water, paddling easily, chatting and just taking in the sites. I took my old spinning rod for the first time and rigged up a Gulp plastic bait and waited for a chance to cast for whatever might be in the lagoon. I was curious to see if anything would strike my plastic bait.

We paddled down toward a marina, through a mooring field littered with sailboats of all shapes and sizes. Some were pristine, others were in dire need of tender loving care. The far side of the lagoon was deeper, and porpoises rolled along the far shore.

I cast one time into the lagoon with the porpoises and had a strike almost immediately. After a brief but ferocious battle, well, as ferocious as a ten inch Spotted Sea Trout can put up, I reeled in my first fish of the trip. The season on Spotted Sea Trout was closed, and he was no where near the 15 inch minimum size anyway, so it was in no danger of being dinner. It was still fun to catch, especially from a kayak. As I unhooked the spotted sea trout, my slack mono-filament fishing line began to tauten, as if my loose floating fishing line had snagged a tree limb or some other submerged obstacle. I released the beautiful, undersized trout, called “Specs” over on the west coast, and pulled in the taut line by hand that by now was headed in front of the kayak! My strange obstacle was quite alive! I still had the rod in my lap, and the Gulp-baited jig head in one hand as I finally got enough leverage to swing my “obstacle” back toward the boat. It was a needlefish that had ensnared itself by wrapping its needle-like bill around my fishing line! Two fish on one lure, or more correctly, one cast.

The city park during the Christmas lighting ceremony
My wife paddled over to help me open my tackle box which was solidly wedged behind my kayak seat. She had followed Bill and Barb into the shallow water and had to get out of her kayak and drag it through two inches of water over an oyster bar before she could come to my assistance. Ironically, I needed a pair of needle-nose pliers to untangle the needlefish. Trust me, you can't make this stuff up.  Unwrapping the ten inch needlefish was a task in itself, but finally freed, it swam off as if nothing had happened.

Time was about up on Bill and Barb's rental kayak, so we followed them back to the beach, and twenty minutes later were headed back to the campsite. A quick decision about a beer and a nap met everyone's approval, and we decided to leave for town and the City Lighting Ceremony about 4:15pm. We should have gone earlier.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse seen from the dunes at Anastasia State Park

The lighting ceremony drew crowds from all over the area. We parked in a church parking lot many blocks away from downtown and walked in with a crowd carrying chairs and coolers. We wandered around the crowded center of town, and decided to grab a quick dinner before dark. We settled on a great Cuban restaurant right in the heart of downtown, and after a great dinner, (we all had different entrees), we checked our watches. Dinner had typically run on Cuban time, and we had missed the lighting ceremony! No problem, we headed for the beautifully lit park and joined the festivities already in progress. Next year, we'll just eat earlier!

Next: Our first outing in the new trailer. A trip to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, FL,at:


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park, Florida

We decided to take more advantage of our camper while we took our time and searched for a slightly bigger unit. We looked at the calendar and decided to pick a Florida Sate Park that was within a half-day's drive at least once a month. It turns out there are many great state RV parks that make a weekend or three day trip easy to do, no matter where you are in Florida. We picked the Myakka River State Park, just east of Sarasota on State Road  72 for our next weekend trip.

While looking for a longer camper, we have decided there is one feature we really like: The walk-around bed. The bed is mounted in the center of the camper, lengthwise with space on either side to get in or out. After a person reaches a certain age, bathroom trips during the night are not uncommon. Having to crawl over your spouse is not always easy to do, especially if you are trying not to wake her, or him. I usually end up banging my wife in the back during the process which results in groans or grunts and a “sorry, honey!”

The problem of course, is that a camper can not be wider than eight feet. Laws are like that. So, the bed must either be small enough to allow plenty of leg room on either side of the bed, or the bed can be as wide as possible with minimum space between the bed and the camper wall. We are looking at one that has a queen size bed, with small cabinets on each side of the bed as well as cabinets overhead. The trade off is a slightly longer trailer than we really want, but it looks like 22 feet is what we will have to buy if we want that style bed. One other feature we think would be nice is the new ducted air conditioning featured on many newer units. The noise reduction of having the A/C unit further removed from the interior would be welcome. But, in the meantime, it's pack and pull time, ready to go again. This time less than 40 miles. The quick jaunt up to the Myakka River State Park would be quick and easy, and besides, the weather was cooling off. At least that's what the weather people on three different channels predicted. Turns out they were all wrong.

Our Campsite at Big Flats Campground, Myakka River State Park

Ilse had passed yet another kidney stone, although this time not while we were camping. She had a doctors appointment that ended up scheduled for the morning we were due to leave, but since we weren't going far and didn't have to leave until later in the day, it worked out great. She was home in time for lunch, and we finished loading the last few items, mostly for the refrigerator. The dogs were nervous as usual, but not as bad as during the first trips. We called the park to make sure the campsites weren't under water, and rolled out a little after 1:00pm. Calling the park before leaving home is mandatory during the rainy season as the park often floods and certain sections have to be closed. 

We took the kayaks again, and the bikes as well as it only takes a few minutes to load or unload them, and two or three good books. As we drove north on the short section of I-75, we noticed the temperature had crept up to 90, then 91, then 92 degrees in just the 40 minutes it took to get to the State Road turn off. So much for cooler weather. 

We turned into the park, one of the oldest State parks in the Florida park system, and pulled up to the modern, up-to-date Ranger station. The turn off is just nine miles from the Interstate. The female ranger opened the window and told us to park in the main lot, then walk back and take care of the details. All of the information was already in the computer system so it was a quick, painless registration.  As we drove through the overhanging live oaks draped with Spanish Moss, we noticed it was becoming cooler. The temperature under the trees was a nice 88 degrees by the time we pulled into the second camping loop called Big Flats.

The campsites struck us as almost abandoned. They were dirt sites, with a solitary palmetto palm tree log laid out as separators between each numbered campsite. There was water and 30 amp electric service, and the sites were level. Each site had a picnic table and a metal ringed fire pit. The dirt road seemed to have no border and the sites just appear to be haphazard in appearance. It had been underwater until recently, so I can understand why dead leaves and debris blanketed each site. The sites are roomy, though, and arranged in a loose figure eight so all are close to the permanent toilet and shower facility. 

Setting up was no problem, and we soon had sling chairs outside and were enjoying the scenery and the solitude.  Except for the not-so-distant hum of a generator.  Not a camper's generator, but a bigger, industrial type. I walked over to the nearby permanent facility which included showers and noticed a water plant just behind the campground. The noise was coming from the water plant. The generator ran 24 hours a day so I assume it powered the water pump that supplied water to the campground. Not really that bad, but it is a constant background noise that detracts from the otherwise tranquil setting. 

After dinner we took a long walk along the main paved road with our dogs. A small Whitetail buck walked up out of the forest and stood not 20 feet away, staring at us and the dogs. The dogs didn't bark, they just stared back. The deer eventually twitched his tail and casually crossed the road in front of us.  The mosquitoes were not as bad as at home! A quick, light spray with repellent and we were just fine. We also took a short drive to the boat basin we would paddle out of in the morning. We had to wait as a flock of wild turkeys casually strolled across the road in front of us, driving our Golden Retriever into a euphoric, almost comatose state. He probably thought he had died and gone to heaven.

We arrived at the boat ramp the next morning a little later than planned. The weather was nice with just a light overcast with the sun just beginning to peak through. Unloading was a snap and we were ready to paddle in less than 15 minutes. I took my trusty video camera for the first time as I had never taped one of our paddles before. I picked a good one to start with. We weren't ten minutes on the water when a pair of Roseate Spoonbills passed overhead. Beautiful pink birds that look like they were from an animated cartoon. I only caught them on tape as they passed away from me. I thought next time I'll just keep the camera in my lap to be ready. 

Ilse coasted up to a large gator, probably in the twelve foot range, laying placidly to the right of her kayak. As she slowly and quietly coasted toward the fearsome looking creature, it slowly began to swim to the other side of the weed-free part of the lake passage. My wife sat calmly with her paddle out of the water as the obvious owner of the lake rather pompously swam across her bow.  Kayaking in Florida is quite different than the mountain lakes of Georgia.  [The video is on YouTube at Myakka River State Park]

After watching at least a dozen or so of the big boys, and paddling for over an hour, it was time to head back. The cloud cover was gone and the sun was climbing higher in the sky.

Every once in a while something unique catches us off guard. We were swarmed with Love Bugs as we loaded the kayaks back on top the Jimmy. I mean really swarmed! They were everywhere! Thankfully they weren't mosquitoes, but they were almost as big a nuisance! They were all over the kayaks as we tried to lift the boats on top of the SUV. We finally got loaded and in the car, which by then was also filled with the little black, orange-headed, fornicators. We drove around the parking lot just to get them off the car, and finally opened the windows to blow out their romantic family members that seemed oblivious to the world. 

We ended up sitting outside the camper reading our books in the cool shade of the beautiful Live Oak trees. After another great dinner and a walk with the dogs, we turned in for the night.

Sunday morning broke cool and beautiful, a perfect day for a bike ride. We casually pedaled the mile or so to the forest canopy walkway, a 100 foot long suspended walkway some 25 feet above the ground. The walkway in itself is interesting, only four people at a time are allowed on the suspended part of the walkway that allows close observation of the Tillandsia and other air plants that live in the canopy of the Live Oaks. At the terminus end of the walkway is an observation tower that stands 74 feet in the air. The tower offers an unobstructed view of the park and the surrounding area. 

We were back at the camper by 11:00am and packed and ready to roll by 12:00pm. We only had one other camper at the dump station and we were home again by 1:30pm. A great weekend at a great Florida park.

Next: Anastasia State Park, Florida - One of our favorites - at:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park, Revisited...

The Carillon at Stephen C. Foster Cultural Center State Park, Florida

We once again dropped in at the Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park in White Springs, Florida, this time on our way home. We stopped there for the first time three weeks before on our way north to the Georgia mountains. 

Our original plan was to stop on the way back at the other Stephen Foster park, the one in Georgia, but since we hadn’t made reservations at either one, we decided to do the “drive-in” at the Florida campground.  

We had the kayaks strapped on top of our SUV, but it was just too hot, and we were just too close to the end of our very first ever, three week long vacation to take what would have been a short paddle at the Okefenokee park. 

This time, however, we decided to forego kayaking at the Georgia park and headed instead just a little further south, and just a little off US 441, on the west side, to stay at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park, not far over the Florida state line. Like the Georgia park, it too, is located on the Suwannee River.

We usually travel US 441 rather than I-75 through Georgia as the roads are mostly great and the traffic is a lot less hectic. We usually make better time to Athens, Georgia, via US 441 from north Florida than Interstate 75. The highway also takes us near one of our favorite campgrounds, the Stephen C. Foster State Park, near Fargo, Georgia. The park is right in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp. 

Time to head home. Besides, the Florida park is just a few miles from the unavoidable Interstate 75 to head to Southwest Florida. The Florida park has easy access, nice clean facilities, and wide, easy campsites that make it a real pleasure to visit.

After a quick, pleasant registration, we headed for our spot, the same one we had used three weeks earlier. Only scattered RVers around the park, we had the campground mostly to ourselves. As we fixed dinner, it began pouring rain, and again we were happy we had passed on kayaking. Something to do another day. 

We went through our pile of brochures and pamphlets and reflected on what was really a great three week venture. The little Jimmy SUV had done well, and we were happy with our Cikira 13FD. Costs were not exorbitant and we actually spent less on campgrounds than we had budgeted.

We had made several decisions that we will follow-up on before we head cross-country to San Diego next year for an Air Force reunion, including tow vehicle and even a slightly bigger trailer, and that will be a study in itself.

The trip home the next morning was uneventful, but again we jumped off of the Interstate near Bushnell, Florida, just to take US 301 through Dade City and Zephyrhills on a “recon” run. We were back on the Interstate though, soon after passing the Hillsborough River State Park. We were home in just over an hour.

Sneaking a quick look at the Internet soon after opening up the house, I came across an email I had to open. It was from a friend about the Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia we had decided not to paddle the day before. The Clinch County News had posted a special video about an alligator feeding frenzy in the access canal just beyond the boat ramp at the park. It's currently on YouTube at

Yes, we’ll go back to the Georgia park to go kayaking. We just won’t put in first thing in the morning. 

Next: Close to home - The Myakka River State Park in Florida:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Unicoi State Park, Georgia

The young couple who pulled into the adjacent slot to us in Unicoi State Park near Helen, Georgia, told us this was one of their very favorite parks. They were hikers and loved the access to the many trails. My wife and I saw the park a little differently, but then everyone has different expectations from their camping experience. As far as hiking trails go, Unicoi offers a wide variety, although we found walking on the highway across the dam as part of the lake trail disconcerting. 

Our initial dissatisfaction with the park came when we found there is no parking at the toilet facility, except for one disabled, sticker-only slot. Campers simply park in the roadway to use the laundry or shower rather than walk the hilly paths to the facility. There were no signs to mark the access trails to the toilet, you just have to know where the trails are ahead of time. Thankfully, they are ground-lighted at night. There was a washer in the laundry with an out-of-order sign that looked like it had been there for awhile.

Rain, Rain, go away!  Campsite at Unicoi State Park
We tried to find a launching point on the small  but pretty lake for our kayaks, and even though there is a beautiful, sandy beach for swimmers, there isn't a way to easily put in your own kayak. There is a staircase but it isn't easy to wrangle a kayak or canoe from the parking area to the water or back. You can rent paddle boats or canoes at the beach, but using your own self-propelled craft is apparently discouraged.

We were surprised by traffic zipping past on the highway one must walk on if you take the 2.4 mile Lakeside Trail. We started walking with our two dogs at the visitors center and walked the well-worn trail counter-clockwise all the way to the dam, where we discovered we had to share a highway with oncoming traffic. While the speed limit is 35 miles per hour, few drivers bothered to go anywhere near that slow. We felt like sitting ducks as they flew across the dam toward us. 

Additionally, there is no sign at the other side of the dam to show where the trail resumes! After a false walk down to a dock, we started across the parking area trying to stay on the forest side of the guardrail. That soon washed out and we once again crossed into the small area between the guardrail and a painted white line that supposedly keeps you safe from cars barreling down the curved hill. It was not the highlight of the park.

Anna Ruby Falls, near Unicoi State Park

The highlight for us is the nearby Anna Ruby Falls which is run by the non-profit Cradle of Forestry under lease from U.S. Forest Service. The pretty falls are formed by the unique confluence of Curtis Creek and York Creek which then form Smith Creek. As Federal property, Anna Ruby Falls have nothing to do with Unicoi State Park which is run by the State of Georgia. Golden Passports, or other senior passes for National Parks waive the $2.00 per person entry fee.

Next: Headed home- another stop at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park in Florida at:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Metamorphisis - Helen, Georgia

Mickey Dolenz, a member of the band The Monkees, commented during an interview years ago that having four actors actually evolve into four real musicians as they had, was as if Starsky and Hutch had become real policemen. As we drove into Helen, Georgia, this past week, I couldn't help but think the syndrome had perhaps once again repeated itself. Helen has actually become something it once only pretended to be.

Local merchants began a unique marketing campaign over 40 years ago to bring tourism to this small, rural northeastern Georgia town. Our first visits to Helen back then ended in disappointment as plywood facades and hand-written signs failed to evoke a flavor that was as foreign in the rural Georgia mountains as collard greens and fried okra would be in Munich. But persistence has paid off, and Helen has become Alpine Helen, a taste of Bavaria in the northern Georgia mountains. It is a now a bustling tourist destination that rivals any in Georgia.

The architecture of many buildings that are either new or remodeled, actually reflects Bavaria, and the city's project to beautify the entire downtown area with flowers and landscaping has transformed the city not just into an easy, week-end escape from Atlanta, but an actual destination for visitors from all over.

Entrepreneurs have turned the quietly flowing Chattahoochee River that runs through the center of town into a constant flow of happy, chattering tubers of all ages and sizes. They are turning Helen into a tubing destination that probably rivals climbing Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica for a “must do” for family vacationers. The tubes are pink, yellow, red and blue, and denote which company has launched that particular bus-load of adventurers into an hour-long, bumpy, often gently rock-scraping, ride downstream. The stream runs adjacent to several restaurants where water-side diners wave and encourage those who seem to have more fun splashing than tubing.

Although Bratwurst and Knockwurst seem to be everywhere, don't expect to find Rolladen or Saurbraten, or even potato dumplings on every menu. Many of the breads and rolls seem suspiciously familiar, not tasting much like bauernbrot or brötchen. But, it is a far cry from collard greens and fried okra, and is an atmosphere not found elsewhere in Georgia.

Several of the shops feature food, books, CD's, magazines and other items imported from Germany for a real flavor of Bavaria. The bustling atmosphere of the town is in stark contrast to many of the nearby towns that have struggled to adapt to changing times, or have failed to take advantage of their beautiful natural resources.

One of the many souvenir shops sold the cutesy, German buttons that I normally wouldn't be caught dead wearing, actually had one button I couldn't resist buying. I won't wear it often, but if you meet an RV’er with the button that says, ”Pray for me, my wife is German,” stop and say hello. There is a good chance you know who it is.

Next: Unicoi State Park, in Helen's back yard, at:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia

Miami must be like Paris: Nobody home in August. I don't know where the Parisians go, but the Miamians all seem to go to the Georgia mountains! We met most of them, well, many of them at any rate, at Amicalola Falls State Park in northern Georgia. The first RVers to join us at our nearly empty hill-top camp site were Sal and Yvonne, Miami expatriates who now reside near Tallahassee. They both graduated from my old high school, Southwest Miami, albeit many years later than I, but it was still a unique coincidence. One of the really neat aspects of camping is meeting interesting people. 

This was our first trip to the highly-touted Georgia State Park not far from Dawsonville. The access road to the lodge and the campgrounds located the top of the falls is famous for its steep, radiator-busting 25 percent grade. The lodge offers regular hotel rooms, convention facilities, and wireless Internet, as well as an excellent restaurant.

If you are a hermit, may I suggest tent camping on the wilderness trails where no one will find you, - the famed Applachian Trail begins not far from here - or the individual lodges where you can barricade the doors, even in broad daylight. Otherwise, be prepared for people who stop and talk to you about everything from your camper, your tow vehicle, or even just chat about your dogs.

The Amicalola falls themselves are renowned as the highest cascading waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. However, after looking at the small creek with its staggered, man-made impediments at the very top of the park, I was less than impressed. My wife and I had investigated the trickling flow of water leading to the falls overlook on the day we arrived, and wondered if this was all there was to the waterfall. The road to the lodge inconspicuously crosses over the small creek above the falls by way of an unseen culvert. As we walked down the steps on the west wall below the top of the falls overlook, we stopped often to look at the cascading water. We weren't able to get a good view because of the dense foliage. Still, as we descended further down the terraced walkway, we wondered if it was worth the trouble to go all the way to the bottom as we simply couldn't see anything but small, tumbling falls. 

It was well worth the effort. At the bottom of the 425 step staircase is a paved path that leads to a catwalk that crosses the creek. There you can look up the falls to see a beautiful natural cascade that is, in my case anyway, unexpected.

Our walk down the winding, multi-terraced staircase had been interrupted by the arrival of no less than eight responders to a young woman who was not physically able to complete the climb back to the top of the overlook. The first to scramble past us on the narrow staircase in hurried descent were two Georgia State Park rangers, followed soon by two more carrying assorted bags of emergency medical supplies. Two more teams of county emergency medical responders also hurried down the narrow staircase, carrying heavy bags of assorted equipment to the young woman who was by now sitting on one of the many rest benches found on the staircase. 

Seemingly recovered, at least partially, the woman was accompanied down the trail to a path far below where she was met by a waiting utility ATV-type vehicle that took her out of the waterfall area. I talked with one EMT responder as he packed away his gear. He said they respond at least once a month to such an emergency on the staircase, but so far, had not had a single cardiac event. 

They had to carry their gear back out the hard way, up the staircase to the top. Thankfully, they are in great shape.

After drinking two bottles of water, we climbed leisurely back to the top where we met Alberto, Antonio, Elizabeth and Maria in the upper parking lot. I simply stopped to talk to the owners of a Chevy van that caught my eye and found out they, too, were from Miami.

As we drove back to the hill-top campsite, we decided to take a detour. A white, nondescript sign mounted just past the rental lodges said, "High Shoals Baptist Church" was an invitation to go take a look.

The pavement stopped just beyond the cottages, but the narrow, winding single-lane gravel road continued for another mile and a half. At the end of the road is a small, beautiful church, at 2733 feet elevation, probably the highest point of the headwaters of the stream that makes up the falls, and a continuously flowing water fountain obviously powered by an artesian well. 

As we stood and took photos, two sweaty young women bicycled up and dismounted near by. My wife commented on their stamina and ability to bicycle the hilly terrain only to find out Mary and Emma were also from Miami! Emma is also a yoga instructor, as is my wife, just to make the world a little bit smaller.

So, Miami has come to vacation at the end of civilization, the paved part of it at any rate, at the very beginning of the Appalachian Trail. I have no idea where the Parisians go in August, but trust me, I know where to find the Miamians! The stricken girl on the cat walk may have been another. It wouldn't surprise me in the least.

Next: Helen, Georgia, or if the Monkees can pull it off...  At

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Woodring Campgound: The Learning Curve

Woodring Campground, Carter Lake, Georgia

A good friend asked us ”Are you travelers or campers? Realizing we enjoy the serenity and solitude of a quiet, isolated campsite rather than standing elbow-to-elbow in highly advertised, media-manufactured marketing environments looking at local jellies and handicrafts, we decided we are more campers than travelers.

Our first experience with trailer camping was a small, used 13 foot Cikira that we bought because we could tow it with our small SUV. The little camper was light enough to be towed by our 1999 GMC Jimmy and still roomy enough for our basic, albeit naive, camping needs. Only when seen from the side does the 13 FD Cikira look tiny. People call it “cute.” It is as wide as a standard camping trailer, and just as tall with ample headroom for just about anyone who isn't a professional basketball player. It had all the amenities we needed, from stove, microwave, heater, refrigerator, and a full shower and toilet, and a dining area that seated four that became a queen size bed when dropped flat. That was the part we finally outgrew: we wanted space for one to lie down and a place for the other to sit at the same time.

We happily towed our little rig for our first four trips with just the basic trailer hook-up; the two-inch ball and the required safety chains, but for our first sojourn into the Georgia mountains, I installed a 1000lb load equalizer bar system and an anti-sway bar. The trailer has electric brakes as well, a must-have item when towing even a trailer that weighs only 1800 pounds. I installed the extra hardware because we were also taking our two 14 foot Pungo kayaks, carried on top in a roof rack, as well as both of our bicycles on a carrier mounted on the receiver hitch and I didn't want our tow vehicle to look like the proverbial donkey-cart. The road manners were much better with the equalizer bars, and I'm sure the anti-sway bar saved me more than once when avoiding what seemed to be imminent collision from merging traffic on the Interstate entrance ramps. With a little practice, I soon mastered the proper sequence to load and unload bicycles, kayaks, and unhook the trailer in a minimum of time.

We decided during this first, long trip, our first really extended camping trip, that we need a bigger camper. The 13 foot long unit sufficed for weekend, or even week-long trips, but for extended stays, especially with our two family pets, more room was needed. We decided also that when we go to a bigger trailer, we'll also need a new tow vehicle to replace our six cylinder, 190 horsepower GMC Jimmy. We decided to make the jump from “entry level” RV'ers, to the mid-range, middle class of recreational vehicle owners.

We have started developing our list, picking items we have decided to be mandatory, or just desirable. There are also several no's in our list, such as any vehicle that has to be dedicated to simply towing the trailer, so the big diesel pickup trucks required to haul a fifth wheel camping trailer are off the list. Also off the list is any vehicle I have to break camp to use. Once I have everything set up, I don't want to pack away the awnings, chairs, water hoses, electrical and television cables, and crank up the landing gear (the levelers) just for a milk run to the nearest grocery store. So, since I can't afford a “life boat” to tow along behind a self-contained camper, I'll stick with a tow-along camper. Park it, set it up, and leave it alone is my goal. The regal, cruise-ship style Class “A”s are out, so are the intermediate Class “C”s and “B”s, the ones I might actually afford.

I am unimpressed with today's bloated, overly style-conscious SUV's that don't carry as much inside as my Dad's 1953 Ford station wagon. The older, small to mid-size SUV's were actually built on pickup truck chassis, but many of today's mid-size units are built on uni-body sedan style chassis and are not as suitable for towing as the older units.   It seems fewer of today's SUV's are rated as tow vehicles that will tow a 5000 pound trailer.  I find the aerodynamics of today's SUV's and pickup trucks absolutely preposterous.

Back in the late 70's, I drove a Dodge B-100 van with a 318 cubic inch V-8. I used it to tow my sailboat back and forth from Miami to the Florida Keys. It would be the perfect tow vehicle for me today! Plenty of interior room to store tool boxes and supplies that you simply don't need to carry in the trailer. Power to spare and yet the engine was small enough to be economical on the road. The search for my new tow vehicle is under way, but it might take a while. I wonder whatever happened to my old Dodge?

Next: On to near-by Amicalola at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Woodring Branch, Carters Lake, Georgia - Observations

Camped in the Georgia foothills next to a beautiful, serene lake that stretches for miles in either direction, we found ourselves still sitting in our little camping trailer with the air conditioning on at 7:00 pm in the evening. It was still 93 degrees outside, and the humidity was beyond even my level of endurance. I was raised in South Florida long before air-conditioning was installed in the public schools. No rank amateur am I when it comes to humidity. This vacation, however, was supposed to be a break from the heat and humidity at home. Nope, today it is ten degrees cooler in Florida than here!

Getting up here from Florida was an adventure in itself, watching the temperatures in Atlanta hit 103 degrees, and again few miles further north in nearby Marietta when a local bank thermometer pegged at 104 degrees! The heat had enveloped all of the South, including our picturesque campsite only 50 miles further north. So, instead of kayaking the many coves of Carters Lake or bicycling the hilly campsite after getting settled in, we sat and relaxed and and collected our many thoughts about our first long-distance towing adventure.

Our first observation is never trust the voice commands on the GPS! The programmers who set up the instructions for turning obviously make the assumption that every straight-through instruction means stay in the left lane. The “Bear Left!” command, meant to take you straight through a cloverleaf, will unfortunately often take you up a flyover that really starts to the left but eventually swings back to the right and causes you to exit the route the GPS is trying to tell you to stay on! Always have a map handy and know where you are going before barreling into a spaghetti-bowl interchange that will confuse the GPS so badly you may as well be driving on the moon.

Corp of Engineers Woodring Branch Campground, Carter Lake, Georgia

Secondly, the people who set up the Murphy Gas stations found at many Wal-Marts, must not drive cars. At least, not real ones. Besides the almost mandatory traffic jams because flow-design is non-existent, the last place you want to tow even a small, agile trailer is through the short, angular pump aprons at Murphy's. Even if you do get three cents a gallon off the posted price by using a Wal-Mart credit card, the aggravation of using Murphy gas simply isn't worth wondering if you are going to lose a corner of your precious, but fragile, RV.

Thirdly, have alternatives for everything! Alternative routes for travel as well as alternative activities for being confined to your camper when it is either blisteringly hot or pouring rain. Have alternative meals or food available, and pretend you can't communicate with anyone, because, often, you can't. If you don't have electric power, and you don't have a generator, make sure you have a way to recharge or replace a dead battery! 

Next; George Carlin and the Perseids - musings while at Woodring Campground at

Featured Post

The Waterfalls Trail

After several days of hiking and walking shorter trails to build up our stamina, we decided today was the day to descend the Waterfall T...