Sunday, April 14, 2013

Watsadler – What RVing is All About

Sunrise at Watsadler on Lake Hartwell

Aaaah, now this is what it's all about! That was how we felt the three days we spent at Watsadler Campground on Lake Hartwell in northeastern Georgia. It wasn't all that much work to prep and load the camper, we have that down to a science. The only thing we forgot to bring was the soy sauce for one of Ilse's dishes. No problem there. 

We had stayed overnight at Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo, Georgia, the first night out, and traveled north to Watkinsville the entire second day on U.S. 441, enjoying the oddly empty highway through the massive strands of Georgia slash pines, wiped out in certain areas by the forest fires of two years ago. Replanting has been finished, but it will be years before it all comes back. 

We avoided the Interstate highways altogether, enjoying the vast expanse of mile after mile of empty asphalt. Once above Dublin, the road is mostly four lane, divided highway, up through the center of the state. We spent the Easter Vacation week with our daughter and her family near Watkinsville, just south of Athens, Georgia.

Flax Fields near Athens, Georgia

The weather at first week was rainy and chilly, but it decided to cooperate just before we headed to the campground, and Spring sprung right before our eyes! It only took a week! Marvelous time to be in Georgia, a marvelous time to be at Watsadler, a really great campsite.

We spent the second day at Hartwell site-seeing, driving up the South Carolina side of the lake to see another Corps of Engineer campgrounds at the Springfield Campground before heading over to Anderson, South Carolina for lunch. The Springfield campground is larger than Hartwell, but is a seasonal campground.

Lake Hartwell, Georgia

It opened on April 1st, the week before we got there. It appears to be as well laid out as Watsadler with only a few sites not directly on the lake, but it has a swimming beach which must be popular with the kids. 

Go to for more details on Corp of Engineer campgrounds at Lake Hartwell.

20 feet wide and 82 feet long, this house boat is en-route to Kentucky

We kicked back, read books, walked the dogs, walked the dam, and took hundreds of photos of the dogwoods and azaleas that were in full bloom in the Hartwell area. We used our new hotspot to check e-mails, again proving that we really don't need to do that very often, and to keep an eye on the weather which threatened to turn stormy late Thursday, the day we were to check out and head south. No problem, we planned to be on the road early enough to miss most of the bad weather.  For a video bicycle tour of Watsadler, click on

A Bicycle tour of Watdsadler Campground at Lake Hartwell, Georgia

Athens, Georgia.  That's not smoke, it's pollen!

We checked out reluctantly on Thursday morning and headed back toward Florida, having spent a great two weeks in Georgia. We made it even better by calling Monica, our daughter, and arranged to meet her and Claire, our granddaughter at a Publix supermarket parking lot in Watkinsville for lunch as we rolled back through once again, this time headed south.

We had a great lunch, then called ahead to Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park, the one in Florida near White Springs, to get the late arrival gate code in case we were delayed by the storm. No problem there, either, as the main entrance is manned until 8:00pm after April 1st. After a leisurely ride back down U.S. 441, we pulled in to the beautiful Florida park a little after 7:00pm, and within minutes were fixing dinner and once again checking e-mails.

Site 9 at Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park, nestled amid the giants!

NEXT - On the road again: Third time is a charm, at:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Watsadler RVisited

Actually, it's Watsadler revisited as this is the third time we have camped at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Campground on Georgia's Lake Hartwell.

We planned to meet our friends Arlene and Richard at the campground for a three-day reunion since we have shared side-by-side campsites here twice in the past, but illness forced Richard to cancel their reservation and kept him home under Arlene's special care. We will simply have to reschedule for Watsadler again next year.

Still all nice and shiny, we prepare to leave the Watkinsville grocery store.

We spent the previous week outside of Watkinsville, Georgia, parked next to our daughter's house. We had the opportunity to babysit our granddaughter, Claire, during her school break while Mom and Dad worked. A great time for us to get to know our granddaughter. We also got to share her fourth birthday. The only problem is there is no place to empty our gray and black water holding tanks as we sleep in the trailer while we are there. The only RV park in the area doesn't accept outside dumpers, even for a fee, so we usually just haul it, carefully, to the next campsite and dump when we get there.
By the end of the vacation week, the weather turns warmer, trees begin to show the first shades of light green, and pollen covers us like a blanket. We leave Watkinsville late Monday morning, but by the time we pull into Watsadler campground on Monday morning, my blue SUV is green. The yellow pollen sees to that. Funny thing is it rained all day Tuesday the week before and washed everything off, only to be inundate us once again as soon as the trees dry out. I even hosed off the Toyota before we left the house that morning. Hay fever season is in full swing here. Yellow pollen swirls up from the road behind each passing car as if to say “don't leave without us!”

It Pollened last night

The Watsadler campground, located on Highway US 29 just before you cross the state line into South Carolina, is one of the few campgrounds in the area that is open all year long. They close one loop on December 1st of each year as the demand simply isn't there to keep the whole campground open, but by Easter, the whole campground is back in service.

We take our time driving up from Watkinsville, Georgia, but it is still a short trip, less than fifty miles. Despite my dawdling and slow driving, we still arrive a little after 11:00am. I checked the reservations the week before on the possibility we might check in a day early and found our site was open until our first reserved day. Usually it isn't a problem to arrive early if the site is vacant. We have been allowed in early at many Corps campgrounds. If your site isn't cleared yet, you have to wait until the other camper checks out as happened to use last year at Raystown Lake. There, we simply drove to the visitor center parking lot and waited until check in time.

For the first time in the many, many times we have checked in at Corps of Engineer campgrounds, we meet Grumpy. Grumpy informs us she has our on-line reservation but the site is not yet vacant. Someone reserved our spot and hadn't yet checked out. [It turned out to be vacant - the site had not been used.] We are informed we can not be admitted. OK, fair enough, rules are rules. We decide to go back into town and wait at the Walmart parking lot. But I mention I was going to pull through the dump station and empty my holding tanks as I turned around.

“I'm sorry but I can't let you do that!” came the grumpy voice from inside the dark gate shack.

“Excuse me?” I said, looking around the almost empty camp ground.

“I'm sorry but I can't let you do that!” she repeated.

“Why not, there's no one here?” I asked incredulously.

“Someone might check out and you'd be in the way,” was her illogical answer.

Even the Corps of Engineers can't get it right every time, so we toodle back to town with full holding tanks.

The town of Hartwell is only a few miles west of the campground, so it is no big deal to wait in the parking lot at the nearby Wal*Mart. We use the time to shop, pick up groceries and even buy a mobile hot-spot. We buy the Virgin 3G/4G unit for $89 and a $20 access card. I know, I know, coverage is Sprint so we will have spotty coverage at best. But, it is exactly what we need to check e-mails and pay bills. We won't be watching Netflix, though. At least we won't have to lug everything to the nearest library just to see e-mail. 

I have to charge the battery in the new hotspot before we can activate it so we'll have to wait until we get settled in the campground. No, we don't have smart phones with built in hot-spots. We have two old, flip-open cellphones on a Dinosaur Verizon plan that only costs us a little over $70 a month. No reason to double that for a smart phone and a hotspot since we won't be on the road for more than a couple of months. Not yet, anyway.

When we finally check in at our appointed time, we have to deal with Grumpy yet once again, and yes, it is just as frustrating as the first encounter. Some people just know have to have a good time. But, we are in our slot within fifteen minutes, most of that time waiting silently while watching a closed window in the gate house, and completely setup within a half hour. It is going to be a great three days. 

The weather had been anything but good the entire preceding week, from cold and rainy to rainy and cold. Not much fun to camp, or RV for that matter. We packed our trusty electric blanket, despite heckling from our Viking friends, when we headed out from Port Charlotte, Florida, two weeks earlier. The blanket was used gratefully every night of our trip but the first two, so we didn't have to use our camper's gas heater. Not until we got up in the morning, that is. Fifty degrees inside the camper means turn on the heat.

This is the perfect time of year to see the dogwoods and azaleas in full bloom, the weather just has to cooperate with the schedule. The perfect schedule is to pick the week after the Easter week public school vacations when everyone has returned home from the first outing of the year. Nobody here but us. Seriously, the next twenty sites are vacant the entire time we are here. 
Ilse and I spend three days at Watsadler parked next to a reclusive stranger and his dog, and toast to Richard's health. It must have worked, latest news is he has recovered from his bronchial infection.

Richard, here's to next year! Clink!

NEXT: Another great visit at Lake Hartwell, at:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Northbound for Easter - Back to Fargo

I get this silly urge to sing Willy Nelson's "On The Road Again" every time we head out with our travel trailer in tow. Just part of the routine, I suppose, but it happens every time. I don't even give it any conscious thought. Ilse just starts laughing and I know I've stepped into the realm of RVing once again. This time we are headed up to Athens, Georgia, to see Monica and Troy, our daughter and her husband, and their daughter, Claire. We'll be there the week of Easter vacation so we get the grand duties of baby-sitting Claire during the school break.

End of Day One: Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia

We decided to leave late Good Friday morning and make it a two-day trip. It's easier that way, even though we did the 580 mile trip in one day the last several times we traveled. We have a favorite campground right at the half-way point of the trip, so we thought we would stay there Friday night and start again early Saturday morning. I checked the Internet and logged on to Reserve America at, the account I use for on-line State Park reservations, to check Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park at White Springs, Florida for openings. No openings, not a single one. The pretty, easy access Florida park was booked solid. Its location near the intersection of I-75 and I-10 makes it a great one-nighter for the flood of RVers headed north at the end of another winter season. A quick check of the other Stephen Foster State Park, the one near Fargo, Georgia, showed plenty of sites available.

Fargo is 65 miles northwest of the Florida park, and unless you're traveling on U.S. 441, it is rather inconvenient. Camping reservations made on-line for a single day over a weekend result in a two-day minimum charge, so we decided simply to drive up and check in at the park. They only charge for one night's stay if you show up and do it in person. We were taking a slight chance, however, as this is the peak season for the popular Okefenokee park. They do 80% of their business during March and April. Luckily, the camp ground was less than half full when we got there. They had both loops open this time, something we hadn't seen before.

We were lucky to get there. We were almost taken out when a tandem, 18 wheeler strayed into our lane just out side of Gainesville on I-75. I don't mean just up against the white line, I mean half way across our lane. Luckily, I had a break in the heavy, bumper to bumper traffic and swerved our trailer into the vacant outside left lane to avoid being torn up by the thoughtless behemoth. If I hadn't had the lane to serve into, we would have been hit hard at 65 miles an hour. We wouldn't have made it to Fargo.

The Slash Pine Forest surrounding the campground

I hate the Interstates when I'm towing the trailer and will gladly accept any reasonable alternative. U.S. 441 from Lake City, Florida, up through central southern Georgia is the perfect answer. The only problem is getting to Lake City from Port Charlotte. I just bite the bullet, take a couple of aspirin, and stay in the right-hand lane of I-75, except when I'm dodging morons who shoot down the entrance ramps and pull into heavy, fast moving traffic without once looking anywhere but straight ahead. Amazing there aren't more horrific crashes than there are. The Interstate portion is only four hours or so, but it is enough for one day.

Here a gator, there a gator, everywhere an alligator...

We pull through the main gate of the Okefenokee Refuge right at 4:00 in the afternoon, and notice two things different from our last visit: The horrific forest fire that closed the park for months two years ago changed the slash pine forest dramatically, and they have had more rain than expected. Water is high for the first time in years. There is a six foot alligator lying by the side of the road as we pull into the trading post/park office. The campground area was spared from the devastation of the fire, but a Ranger told us the once heavy tree canopy surrounding the lake is completely gone.

Gators were everywhere

The young lady working the computerized register system has all sorts of troubles and the registration process takes about twenty minutes. While we wait on computer responses that must eventually be corrected, a young man standing impatiently at the counter rather arrogantly asks if they have any alligators here. A woman behind the counter doesn't say anything, she simply looks out the window. I look out the window and I can see three of them lying on the bank by the boat ramp and two more swimming across the small lagoon. The tourist, with a New York Sweatshirt, doesn't catch the hint and assumes he is being ignored. He mumbles something under his breath and walks off, stumbling around the gift shop. All he had to do was look up.

Sunset in the land of the Trembling Earth

Again, the toilet/shower facilities are spotless, and except for the first swarming wave of new born mosquitoes, are a pleasure to use. The park uses the Georgia system of assigning a camping pads according to the length of your camper and allowing the individual camper to pick any empty pad with the appropriate color designator. We drive through both loops until we find an orange colored site that is convenient to back into, and twenty minutes later we have a glass of wine to celebrate a safe first day on the road. Later, we walk the dogs, staying close to the camper, no reason to look for trouble, and hook up to the community TV antenna. Oddly, it is warmer here than back in Florida.

So far so good, I'm still whistling Willy's song about being on the road again.. No Interstates tomorrow, I have even more reason to whistle.
NEXT: Watsadler on Lake Hartwell, revisited, at:

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