Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grove Park Inn

"F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the hotel for two years to write while his wife Zelda was in an insane asylum in Asheville. The rooms in which he stayed, 441 and 443, are available for guests. One is furnished exactly as it was during his stay in the 1930s. Rooms in which famous people stayed are marked by plaques on the door saying who stayed there and when.” 

They both simultaneously went “Oomph!”; The Jamaican maid blindly pushing a fully loaded linen supply cart and my wife, Ilse, who was standing about four or five feet from the wall of photographs, engrossed on taking the perfect photograph, when the maid pushed the cart into her.

The linen cart hit Ilse squarely in the back as she faced the wall taking photos. The maid thought she simply had to push harder to overcome the unexpected obstacle, and so she gave the cart another good shove, hitting Ilse again just as my wife turned around to see what had just run into her.

The maid looked around the edge of the cart after the second impact to see Ilse staring back at her in amazement and immediately panicked. 

Ilse began to laugh, but the maid’s fear overwhelmed her. The thought of hitting a guest with a laundry cart, not once, but twice, terrified the young woman. I’m sure visions of legal actions and probable termination flooded over her. Ilse, still laughing, walked over and put her arms around the maids’ shoulders. The maid’s relief could be felt all the way over to where I stood talking with Delores, the immaculately period dressed operator of the unique, 103 year old elevator, who had graciously taken time to give us a tour of the historic old section of the iconic Asheville landmark.

The original section of the Grove park Inn.

Delores had just told us the poignant story of the “Pink Lady,” the ghost of a young lady who fell to her death in the covered atrium from the upper floor. She was found dressed in pink, and, according to legend, her ghost has visited unsuspecting guests ever since the 1920’s. Apparently she likes to playfully flip unsuspecting ladies hair.

The balcony from which the "Pink Lady" fell..

The lobby where she was found.

Trying to find our way out of the massive labyrinth and back to the car was an adventure in itself. We ended up in the wrong wing, but the right wing, just in the wrong place. Yes, it was that confusing. Ilse and I had walked from the lower parking garage specifically to enter the world famous Grove Park Spa through the long, impressive grotto. The modern, 40,000 square feet subterranean spa cost a whopping $44 million, and, placed in the top 15 spas worldwide in 2008. It was worth seeing even if we didn’t partake of any of its services.

I asked Ilse if anyone had flipped her hair while we were wandering around the hotel.

“Why?” she answered, “Want to ask her if she knows where the parking lot is?”

I don’t think she would have found it either.


Reflections - Questions from friends who are considering buying an RV - at

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Old Federal Campground

We had a teasing first view of Old Federal Campground in April when we saw RVs camped on a peninsula jutting into Lake Lanier while were were visiting the adjacent Lake Lanier sailing club. 

When we returned home, I made reservations for the US Army Corps of Engineer’s Old Federal Campground for the last two weeks in September. As with most Federal or State campgrounds, there is a fourteen day limit for stays. Old Federal is one of their most popular campgrounds and few sites go unreserved, even during weekdays. Getting one of the few sites at the end of the first peninsula means reserve early.

Using the map available on, I picked the spot I saw from the sailing club, site 69. The site is completely surrounded by water, but there is no shade. From noon until sunset, the site is in full sun, but we didn't mind at all; the lake breeze was great.

We had to make several trips to nearby Oakwood, conveniently located just a few miles away, to replace the flat tire that delayed our departure from Bolding Mill Campground on the other side of the lake. We used the needed trips to look around the neighborhood. The Old Federal campground is not far from Gainesville, Georgia, and just a few miles from the renowned sports car track, Road Atlanta

We decided to stay close to home, or more correctly, close to the trailer, and kick back at one of the most spectacular locations we’ve camped at. Cellphone reception is great and a good reason to turn on the WiFi hotspot.

The wide, spacious campground is located lakeside just outside Flowery Branch, Georgia, at the end of Old Federal road. It is a seasonal park, closed from late October until spring. The dates fluctuate, so check the website for the exact schedule. In typical Corps of Engineer tradition, the sites are clean and the facilities are well maintained. Most of the campsites on the three peninsula campground face the water, one way or another.

We will be back to Lake Lanier and Old Federal next year.

Reminiscing - Our first stop of the summer in Asheville - Old Grove Inn


Taz barked earlier than normal on Sunday morning, our last day at Bolding Mill. He always barks just once to let us know it’s time for his morning bathroom break, usually just about daybreak. He used to lick me on the arm or on my face to wake me up, but those days are over. 

Ilse dressed and took him out but was only gone a few minutes when she stuck her head back inside the camper and said, “Honey, it’s sprinkling.” I looked out the camper door at the dark, ominous horizon to horizon cloud that spread across the lake that said, “Surprise!”

How does the Christmas Carol go? “I jumped out of bed and threw open the shutters...” We had done nothing to prepare for departure as we had a late 3:00 pm checkout and only a 25 mile ride to our next campground, Old Federal, located on the other side of lake Sidney Lanier. We couldn’t check in at our new campground before 4 in the afternoon, so why not take it easy and enjoy the morning. There was no rain forecast, so we saw no reason to pack the camper early. Well, so much for leaving everything until the last minute. I couldn’t help but think of the three little pigs and why I built my house of straw.

I had to race to beat the approaching rain storm. I almost got away with it, folding up the screen room, rolling up all the carpets, and packing all the outside gear away, but I made a mistake by assuming a lull in the sprinkling would give me more time and I foolishly took a break. 


The rain came down in earnest as I finally cranked up the dripping wet awning. By then it was raining hard enough to wear one of my 99 cent disposable raincoats. I keep a supply of the little plastic rain coats tucked in various places around the camper just for emergencies like this.

We finally abandoned everything and retired to the camper to watch it rain hard for the next two hours. Ilse always packs away everything the inside of the trailer, but now all I did was get in her way.

A lull in the downpour allowed me to hitch the trailer, but by then I was standing in two inches of water to hook up the safety chains and the load levelers. For the coup de grace, the rain started again as I raised the trailer levelers so we could roll and the trailer promptly sagged down on a flat tire. 

So, after a few choice expletives, I jacked the trailer back up and pulled the flat tire off. I removed the spare tire from its rack on the back of the camper and mounted the spare. The rain did not let up, of course.

Another mistake was I hadn’t tested the tire pressure in the spare tire before starting this trip, and while the spare worked, it was under-inflated with only 25 pounds of pressure. Luckily, we have a four-wheel trailer, two wheels in tandem on each side, so the underinflated tire wasn't a serious problem for our planned, short trip to the next campground. 

My always trusty, battery-powered tire inflater died last year, and I replaced it optimistically with one of those 12vdc units you plug into the cigarette lighter. You know, the ones with the real short cords that won’t reach all the way from your car to your trailer. I assumed it was battery powered as well, so much for not reading the label. It will be replaced as soon as we find a store.

The soggy trip to Old Federal Campground was uneventful but certainly not boring.

The rain continued all day and we sloshed along the twenty five mile trip wondering how I missed the rain forecast. I always pack up ahead of time if bad weather is expected, but we got caught off guard badly this time.

So much for goofing off first and working later.

NEXT - Pleasant surprise at Old Federal -

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bolding Mill Campground

Lake Sidney Lanier, Georgia

Bolding Mill Campground was plugged into our summer camping itinerary as a filler, a one week slot that allowed us to wrap up our camping summer on October 2nd in Old Federal Campground on the south side of Lake Lanier. One of six campgrounds run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Lake Lanier – seven if you count Toto Creek which has no RV sites – Bolding Mill campground is just nine miles from Gainesville on the north side of the lake. I found it while searching the Internet and thought it looked like a great place to spend the week between Vogel and our final stop of the season at Old Federal. It turned out to be one of the prettiest, best kept campgrounds we’ve ever lowered our stabilizers.

An easy, down hill tow – if downhill from Blood Mountain is easy – the campground is in the foothills of the Georgia mountains, just south of the pretty town of Dahlonega, and just outside the expanding urban limits of Greater Atlanta known as Gainesville. This time the GPS was correct with its odd cross-country shortcuts and we were at the campground two hours before check-in time.

We stopped at the modern, spacious gate house, and found it was unattended. A sign on the window states if you have reservations, simply proceed to your site. Corps of Engineer parks have later check out and check in times than most state parks, but if your reserved site has already been vacated, they usually let you check in and set up without any problem. Our problem this time was our site was still occupied by a large, fifth wheel camper with piles of chairs and paraphernalia strewn around, but no sign of life. We were early, it was an hour before the mandatory check out time of 3:00 pm, so we towed the trailer into nearby Gainesville to get a late lunch and just kill time by site-seeing.

Gainesville is on the edge of two worlds: The mountains are less than an hour to the north, and downtown Atlanta is less than an hour to the south. Well, except Monday through Friday when the commute appears to be close to two hours, even with four lane I-285 running into I-85 south to Hotlanta. Yes, they call lovingly call it Hotlanta, which this week is not a misnomer. With a major college and medical center, plus the nearness of Lake Lanier which attracts summer fun seekers from all over Georgia, Gainesville is an interesting small city.

Nothing had changed when we returned over an hour later. Perhaps aliens had abducted the campers as there was no sign of life other than piles of artifacts left behind. I walked to the Campground host and asked if there was a problem I needed to know about. The hosts quickly sent a volunteer to the site to see if the current occupants had overslept or whatever, and by four o’clock, we were parked in the site at the very end of the middle loop. The gracious hosts explained that the entire campground is run by volunteers, there are no contractors involved.

The volunteers do a beautiful job as the wide, spacious campground is immaculate. So are the bath houses and public facilities. Plus, it is one of the few campgrounds this far north open 365 days a year, but we were told by the hosts that there will be a two-month shutdown some time in the near future to rebuild the septic system. If you’re planning on heading to Bolding Mill Campground, please check the on-line schedule at first.

We are great fans of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds. Spotlessly clean and usually staffed with friendly, helpful hosts or volunteers, we haven’t had a bad one yet. True, we like some better than others, and we once had a grumpy greeter – only one out of many is amazing in itself – but they usually put most state campgrounds to shame, and they do it with competitive prices. Do not expect to find visitor centers or gift stores, USACOE campgrounds are designed and kept up for the people who use them. There are always more local license plates at a Corps of Engineer park than cross-country wanderers. You don’t have to be an Army veteran to use the facilities; they are open to everybody and the people who live close to the facilities make the most of them! If you have one of the Golden Age/Access passport or America the Beautiful Senior/Access passes, camping fees are half price.

Alcoholic beverages, by the way, are strictly prohibited. At least in public, so really happy campers wandering around on Saturday night are not an issue. What you do inside you camper is your business, although several years ago in a Corps Campground in Philpott Lake, Virginia, we were greeted by a warning sign that told us they reserved the right to inspect containers.

Bolding Mill campground has 87 well spaced RV sites and 10 tent-only sites spread across three major loops or peninsulas, plus a fishing pier that one time actually overlooked the water. As with the three TVA lakes further north, the Corps of Engineer’s Lake Sydney Lanier, is in dire need of water, and lots of it. The safety line at the swimming beach lies on the sand at the bottom of the retaining post that has 9 feet marked at the top. That is going to take a lot of rain to fill a 39,000 acre lake with 692 miles of shoreline.

The campground is spacious and well laid out, with a washer and dryer in one of the bath houses. The facilities were kept spotless the entire week we were there.

 We look forward to our week which has a finale on Friday night with a Harvest Moon. Our camp site faces the lake to the east, and weather permitting, it should be quite a sight.

Next: PLAN AHEAd - Our last day at Bolding Mill

Monday, September 19, 2016

Return to Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park is a nice, easy ride from nearby Morganton Point, the US Forestry Campground where we spent the last week. Blairsville has a new intersection to ease turning onto southbound US 129 headed toward Georgia’s flagship state park. It’s a nice eleven or so miles further until you make the right-hand turn into the park itself.

Luckily, the uphill side is two lanes wide at that point, so there is plenty of room to make the turn if no one is waiting at the stop sign trying to get out. Pulling back out of the park across the two lanes of traffic that appears at times to be rocket propelled is a different story. Famous Neels Gap is at the crest of Blood Mountain, you may have caught a glimpse of it the recent movie, A Walk in the Woods. It’s where many first-time Appalachian Trail hikers quit after the first day.

The low stone wall entrance is confining enough, and if two big camping rigs meet further down the two lane twisty sections of the access road, traffic stops while the two gingerly try to get past each other. That doesn’t deter little sedans from speeding blindly in to or out of the park, however. The narrow, curvy access road is in dire need of speed bumps. Once you are in the park, or shire, as Ilse calls it, it is a whole different world.

But things are not as they were. Or, more correctly, some things are exactly as they were. Recent repairs have been made to many of the tent and pop-up camping areas known as the red loop, but not to the main RV area. The camp site roads are still circa 1950, and the now decrepit toilet/shower facilities are from the same era. We saw mowers and edgers and clean-up crews constantly around the cabin area – there are 36 cabins available – the entire two weeks we were there. They’ve even added a second putt-putt golf course. Little attention seems to be paid to the camping area, however. 

With constant reservations pouring in for the RV camp sites, Georgia State Park Service seems to have little motivation to spend money for a product that sells itself. It is still one of the most relaxing settings we’ve camped at. We spent the next two weeks at Vogel, including the no-vacancy, three-day Labor Day Weekend. The park’s location is just 35 or so miles south of Murphy, North Carolina, and just a few miles from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest mountain.

We discovered nearby Alexander’s, a unique department store out in the country, while trying to find where my devious GPS had taken us while searching for a landmark. I did a GPS map update before we started this trip, but this was the third time we were literally taken out to pasture by the GPS’s directions. I always keep maps for backup, such as when I have no cell phone coverage, but here a state road map simply isn’t detailed enough. There is no substitute like local knowledge: find someone local and have them Google your destination. In the digital world I’d stick a smiley face emoji here
The sales girls at Alexander’s went out of their way to sign into the Internet and look up our destination. They headed us in the right direction, but we first spent thirty minutes wandering around the two floors of clothing, furniture and outdoor sports gear. Curiosity overwhelmed me at the checkout counter as I stood behind an Asian woman who was buying two sets of snake gaiters. What, I asked, are snake gaiters? 

Edible? Don't ask me, but it is a mushroom

“Oh,” she answered, “We wear these while we hunt for mushrooms. They are like chaps for your lower legs. Mushrooms are coming into season now, and when we hike the Appalachian Trail, we go off the side trails looking for mushrooms and we like to be protected from snakes.” She pulled out her smart phone and started scrolling through a massive photo index of mushrooms. All of the text on her screens were written in Chinese.

“Here,” she said, pointing to a detailed photo of a mushroom “This is what I found this week. It is called ‘Chicken of the Woods’ and very delicious.”

You just never know who you will meet when your GPS takes you to never-never land.

We bid adieu to Kawliga, the wooden indian who stands guard to the outdoor sports section, and Elvis, who serenades shoppers looking for furniture, and headed to Blairsville for the best Cuban meal I’ve had in years. Dan’s Cuban grill in Blairsville is run by expats from Miami, and the Palomillo steak, smothered in long, skinny French fries and grilled onions, brought back memories from years ago.

For the southern traditionalist, there is “Jim’s Smokin’ Q,” whose motto, “You can smell our butts for miles!” is a definite eye catcher. It’s only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and we lucked out when our neighbors, Hill and Maryanne from Cocoa Beach, asked us to join them for lunch. It’s right on the road from the park to Blairsville. Best barbeque I’ve had in a long, long time.

We were visited at our campsite by our daughter and granddaughter who drove up from Athens for a wonderful afternoon, and by the very couple who started us on this RV experience, Richard and Arlene. Richard and Arlene camped in an adjacent site for three days, giving us the chance to catch up on our families, ruin our diets, and solve the world’s political problems.

It was anticlimactic after everyone left, and we spent the last several days doing the laundry and just catching up on social media. There is spotty cellphone coverage at the campground, although there is free Wi-Fi everywhere near the cabins or the visitor center, We drove down to the visitor center daily the last few days just to catch up on e-mail and social media, which we found we didn’t miss as much as we did in Asheville where we had no in-park coverage of either cellphone or Wi-Fi.

We found the road noise from the nearby mountain highway to be an occasional distraction during the day, but weekends had us wondering if we had camped next to Road Atlanta by mistake. While we thoroughly enjoyed our two week stay this year, we looked forward to our next campground.

Next: Bolding Mill – Another first, at:

Friday, September 16, 2016


Morganton Point Campground – Continued

A young, attractive blonde sat alone on a small, lake-side rock holding a hardcover book, watching the marvelous sunset unfold in front of us. A digital SLR camera was slung over her shoulder. Every once in a while she would put the book down and take a snapshot of the dramatic sunset, then pick up the book and continue reading in the fading evening light. With the chronic drought of the southeastern United States, the waterline has receded far from the edge of the campground and she was in the middle of a forty foot, barren beach. As darkness finally fell, she retired to a small canvas tent in the primitive camp site area of Morganton Point Campground.

What are the odds of two German girls being the only people here

We met her again the next morning while walking Taz, our golden retriever, and found out she is German, on vacation, and disappointed the rental office for stand-up paddleboards was closed except for weekends. With five weeks vacation, she had flown into Nashville from Los Angeles, rented a car, and was touring the Great Smoky Mountains. She was sleeping in a small, canvas tent with no power or lights. I have no idea what her impression of the campground was, but she was full of enthusiasm for future adventures in Asheville and Pigeon Forge.

The tent campsites – A through F – have the best views of the lake in my opinion, and the young German girl, who looked like she stepped out of a fashion magazine ad, was camped at F, right on the point. While she had the most scenic view, we could not see the lake from site 24, but it was just a short walk to the lake. I would not have picked any campsite beyond us although the next two sites could reach a small cove. They were downhill to back into, though, making unhooking from the trailer hitch a real chore. The sites beyond 31 are first come-first served and have no services. They are located on the one-lane road to nowhere we explored when we first arrived.

"Bunk Beds" in the tent camping area

Morganton Point has 37 sites if you count the last six on the single-lane road. Several other sites, 11 and 14, have no water, while site 16 has water, electricity and even a sewer hookup. The paradox is the central toilet and shower facilities: they are among the best we have ever encountered in campground, even exceeding the few private campgrounds we’ve stayed at! Spacious, spotlessly clean, and with plenty of room! Five stars for the new bathhouse and the redesigned loop for the dump station. Now, guys and girls from the Forestry Service, take a look at the gravel pads that are a stinker to back into, and the deteriorating state of some of the pavement in the park.

We walked the short path to the beach every morning just to get some exercise, but we didn’t find any other trails in the area. For serious hikers or even just dedicated walkers, we recommend Lake Powhatan in Asheville, North Carolina, where outdoor activities are paramount to the area. The path at Morganton Point is simply a shortcut to the beach. It’s a pretty good beach, but it would help if the water were high enough to actually reach the safety rope.

We spent our first Monday just catching up and relaxing, not planning on going anywhere. But, not having cellphone coverage or Internet proved our undoing and we ended up at the Blue Ridge Walmart, sharing the Subway special of the day just to alleviate our craving for connectivity to the outside world. Not that it means much, though. Facebook has proved to be a self-induced narcotic that is easily dispensed with. E-mails have proven to be 99% nonsense, and most of the remaining 1% are not worth reading.

Tuesday was a stay at home day to relax, but Wednesday was one of those days when curiosity had its reward. Well, to me, anyway. Ilse was a good sport and tagged along dutifully as I went searching for a meeting I saw mentioned in a local newspaper article.

Wednesdays, and only on Wednesdays, from around 10:00 am until whoever has the keys gets hungry and leaves for lunch, the Tri-State Model Railroaders have a work day on their 22 foot wide by 37 foot long HO model train layout at nearby Mineral Bluff. The layout is in the oldest building in Fannin County, Georgia, appropriately enough, the original Mineral Bluff’s Louisville and Nashville railroad depot. We were graciously given an in-depth tour of the detailed layout by Thomas Roskelly, a former U.S. Army Special Forces member turned model train enthusiast. The layout models the L&N railroad that serviced the area, and the detail on the layout is just astonishing. They have an official open house for the general public every 3rd Saturday.

There is a short video posted at

We then toodled - ie: drove slowly enjoying the countryside - up the road from there to the nearby McCaysville, GA/Coppertown, TN, the current terminus of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad, the railroad the HO Layout is modeled after. We returned to Blue Ridge on an alternate route, stopping by the entrepreneurial, renowned Mercier Orchards. This facility rivals many tourist attractions in Florida – well, except for Disney and its peers, perhaps, - for consumer consumption of country images and home-spun illusion. Tourists from Atlanta and points south dominated the parking areas. This place is a Cracker Barrel on steroids, without the restaurant.

One thing that we thought was odd, they’re are far fewer Florida license plates than the last time we were here. We noticed the same phenomena in Asheville. We saw very few Florida license plates the two weeks we spent there, while years ago they were everywhere. Where are they? Did they all go to Hiawassee or Murphy? Just an observation before we headed back to our tranquil little corner of Lake Blue Ridge.

Our German friend had checked out by the time we returned to the campground, headed for the Smoky Mountain National Park. I seriously doubt she was looking for a model railroad layout.

Next: Back to Vogel – Is it what we remembered? at:

More information on the Tri-State Model Railroaders may be found at

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Morganton Point Campground

Morganton Point Campground

US Forest Service

Located on the westernmost of the three Tennessee Valley Authority Lakes in Northern Georgia, Lake Blue Ridge, the Morganton Point campground was our first stop headed south from Lake Powhatan in Asheville. Run by the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, the relatively unknown campground was different from what we expected in more ways than one.

I made the reservations three months prior to our trip, and using the online descriptions, picked a site that appeared to be close to the shower facilities and easy to back our twenty foot travel trailer into. Unfortunately, none of the waterfront sites were available for the whole week we were to be there so I went with what I thought was the best alternative. [Lakefront site 5 is the one we would pick now that we’ve seen the campground.] There are caution notes on several of the sites because of drop or rise of the camp sites from the access road, but the note and the photo of site 24 looked OK.

We originally wanted to head for Blairsville, Georgia, about thirty miles east, and stay at the nearby Vogel State Park, one of our favorites. Blairsville is in the center of the three TVA lakes, just south of Lake Nottely and about twenty five miles west of the famous Lake Chatuge which boasts the Florida refugee center of Hiawassee. Vogel has its own little, unassuming Lake Trahlyta, but it isn’t one of the major boating and water sports lakes in area unless you want to rent a paddle boat or a kayak. It does have a neat foot path around it, about a mile in length, that we walked every day with our dog.

Scheduling wasn’t on our side, however, as the fourteen day stay limit would have us leaving Vogel before the Labor Day Weekend, so we bumped our arrival at Vogel back by a week by adding a week beforehand at Morganton Point. We’ve spent time in the area around nearby Blue Ridge before and looked forward to a week exploring the area. We’ve ridden the Blue Ridge Train along the beautiful Toccoa river from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, but never seen the lake that feeds the river, Lake Blue Ridge. It would be great to actually camp by the lake.

The trip down from Asheville, only one hundred thirty miles away, was an easy, mainly downhill tow. Even the mildly twisty section through the pretty Nantahala gorge wasn’t difficult, even in a driving rain storm. Too bad we didn’t get to check out the recreation areas, but since the kayak and raft paddlers in the adjacent, fast-flowing river were in full wet-weather gear, we weren’t inclined to stop and take a closer look.

As with many Federal parks and campgrounds, you begin to question your GPS as you tow through narrow streets that appear to be in mainly residential neighborhoods blindly following instructions, when, viola, there’s the main gate. Same thing at a strange intersection on highway 60 known as the town of Morganton, which appears to have moved and not told anybody. The last right turn to the campground is a real indicator of narrow confines as the corner of the roof on the right hand building hangs in disrepair from being hit by turning vehicles. I assume most were either class “A” RV motor coaches or big fifth wheel trailers, but even my small twenty footer came awfully close to the splintered, dangling overhanging roof. Or the remains of it, anyway.

The entrance to the campground is another half-mile or so – after a left turn off of Lake Drive – and is another surprise; there is no gatehouse, just a stop sign and an afterthought speed-bump in the middle of the road. The residence of the Camp Host is on the right. Shades of when Ilse and I blew through a border crossing in Belgium back in our younger days. Was I supposed to stop there? At least this time I didn’t have to back up and beg forgiveness.

We chatted with Warren, the host, and got our paper work in order. Then he asked me if I’d like to change sites. That’s an ominous warning if I’ve ever heard one. We looked at site 24, it proved to be an uphill, back-in site that required an almost 45 degree turn at the top. A challenge to say the least. We decided to drive through the campground to see what else was available and promptly found ourselves squeezing past oncoming traffic on an access road that turns into a one-lane, bidirectional piece of poorly maintained asphalt without any warning. Luckily, it had a turnaround loop at the end allowing us to head back to our original site. We decided we liked the privacy and the nearness of the facilities of the original site and after two, tire spinning test tries, we took a running start – in reverse – and backed up the loose gravel incline, putting the trailer on the flat pad within feet of the water and electrical hookup monuments. We looked like we knew what we’re doing.

In less than an hour, we were unhooked and level, walking around the edge of the very pretty lake. As with all lakes in the southeast, water levels are dangerously low. I don’t know how many million or even billion gallons of water it will take to bring the reservoirs back to normal levels, or if it is even possible, but it is a sad sight to see. I can only imagine what these lakes will look like in ten or twenty years. Waterfront property will be a misnomer.

That, however, didn’t stop us from witnessing the most incredible sunset we have seen in years. We walked back to the camper, awed by the sunset, and looking forward to a week exploring the area.

Next: Contradictions – Morganton Point Campground

Next: Morganton Point Campground - Contradictions, at:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tough Little Buggers

I have new respect for an insect I had previously assumed was simply an intolerable evil in the world of camping, the bane of afternoon picnicking. An insect which set me running to the house in absolute agony just several years ago while I was mowing the yard. Three of them stung me on the forearm simultaneously and I felt like I had run into an electric fence. The pain shot across my shoulder down to my finger tips.

Our golden retriever, Taz, was stung on the paw last month by one and as a result, will not come out of the camper if he sees or hears one of the flying insects. No coaxing or coercion works, he won’t budge. Taz is terrified by them. He is now afraid of even common house flies.

This is an insect so tough it refuses to die even while stuck to an old fashioned fly-paper strip. One that communicates to its fellow nourishment seekers; “Don’t land here, it’s a trap!” Then spends hours trying to help its hapless compadres that put a single leg astray to become ensnared by the insidious adhesive of the insidious fly ribbons. More than just a general nuisance or pest, but an uninvited winged-warrior, with a sting so painful bee stings seem mild in comparison. A winged adversary to be exterminated at every opportunity; the wasp known as the yellow-jacket.

Not the end of a yellowjacket to worry about...
By Opo Terser - Face of a Southern Yellowjacket Queen (Vespula squamosa),
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Our beautiful RV camp site at the marvelous U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground at Bolding Mill on Lake Sydney Lanier was perfect in every way but one; we couldn’t sit outside and drink anything – alcoholic beverages are prohibited – without attracting the little yellow and black banded yellow-jackets. In the past we simply lit several citronella candles around the campsite and the wasps and the flies stayed outside our little secure no-fly-zone, but not this time. I had seven of the heavily scented candles going at once without any deterring effect what-so-ever on the little wasps. They even got inside our portable screen room, which is the worst thing that can happen when Taz is with us. A terror stricken dog trying to get away from a yellow-jacket in an enclosed space is not man’s best friend.

I thought I found the solution when I bought a box of ten Fly Ribbons made by Raid. The ribbons have no insecticide or aroma, but the incredible adhesive on the spiraling tape requires using rubber gloves when hanging them. Remember seeing the spirally hanging strips at Grandpa’s farm? I do, and I was thrilled to find the fly-paper – that’s what they used to call them – in a local hardware store in Bishop, Georgia, several years ago. Recent attempts to buy more have been unsuccessful. Even Walmart no longer carries them. Even though the five remaining tapes in my box were priceless, I really don’t like to use them unless there is no alternative. I believe the sticky mousetraps are basically inhumane, and the fly-strips are not much higher in the realm of painless pest repulsion or protection, but this was one of those times they were sorely needed.

Before I go on, let me tell you I believe in karma. So, using the reverse logic that confuses many, I feel the little buggers deserve to die on a fly-strip. They really deserve it! Karma, remember? I didn’t do anything to be traumatized by the yellow-jackets, neither did my dog. The yellow-jackets inflicted incredible pain and suffering to us without any consideration for our place in the universe. So, if they want to hang around on a fly-strip, struggling for their freedom while I watch in glee, so be it.

After carefully pulling one of the sticky tapes out of its small cylindrical cardboard holder, I eyed the campsite for a logical place to hang it. No problem, the yellow-jackets were buzzing through the chemical armor of the citronella candles with impunity so anywhere should work just fine. But it didn’t. I hung one on the edge of our awning, but they made a wide path around it and continued dominating our airspace. They didn’t go anywhere near my old-fashioned fly trap.

I decided to enforce our no-fly-zone with deception since blatant physical barriers proved ineffective. I soaked a napkin with a splash of forbidden red wine and stuck it to the tape. Bingo! Within minutes I had five of them stuck to the tape. I was thrilled I might have found a solution to our problem, but after watching them for twenty minutes, I realized just how tough these guys are. Lo and behold, the tough little insects began to work themselves free, even assisting one another in their struggle. In the several hours I monitored the fly strip, eleven yellow jackets landed and became stuck to the strip, but after two hours, there were none still on the strip! Not one! They had all worked themselves free. Exhausted, most fell to the ground below the strip. I actually saw one fly off, but I have no idea how. I watched two of the insects work to free one of their stuck compatriots while becoming entangled on the strip themselves. The three eventually fell free from the trap as the others had. The numerous house flies and black flies simply succumbed to the adhesive, but not the tenacious yellow-jackets!

I quickly put the ones on the ground out of their misery, and out of circulation, but I must admit I’m impressed. So, you ask, did the strip work? No, not really, not without the liquid inducement, but what we’ve settled on works just fine for our purpose. We picked up a pack of Repel insect sticks and light two or three at a time to keep the little Georgia Tech mascots at bay. I will burn a pack of the sticks at a time if I have to, anything to keep the tough little buggers out of the front yard of our little lake house on wheels.

Peace and tranquility again reign in our little part of the shire. Even Taz lays quietly, but warily, at my feet. We’ve even tested the new chemical candles with the most attractive bait we’ve yet found to the yellow-jackets: Cabernet Sauvignon. Unofficially, of course, and only in the name of scientific research. We wouldn’t want to be considered pests by the Camp Hosts, they have enough pests as it is.

Next: Another First - Morganton Point Campground, Blue Ridge, Georgia, at:

Monday, March 28, 2016


“The third time is a charm,” or so an old saying goes. We were about to find out as we signed up for a four-night stay at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, about thirty miles north-west of Okeechobee, Florida. We made reservations in mid-February for the upcoming Easter weekend in late March. This would be our third stay at this unique campground, and for the second time, we ended up here because every other campsite in the State of Florida park system was already reserved. And once again, we grabbed the last remaining available camp-site. Not that we don't like the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve – we have a strange love affair with this remote place – we just wanted to try someplace we haven't camped before.

Our twenty-foot KZ Sportsmen had been parked for the last five weeks, ready to go somewhere, anywhere, ever since its massive, two-month long rebuild to replace the “spongy” floor. After spending most of January and February working on the trailer, it was time to test our repair work and see if we succeeded in restoring not only the trailer, but our desire to tow it cross country and actually live in it. The upcoming three day Easter weekend was perfect for us to find out.

We decided to minimize packing and preparation and keep it as simple as possible, but we wanted to take a real break from the household chores as well. So, a four-day camping trip was planned, we just didn't take too much with us. We didn't get to pick the destination, that fell to the scheduling gods who once again dictated a one hundred and fifteen mile trip to a spot most people would avoid based on first impressions. We took the last available spot, located in the equestrian loop, and hoped we could move if there was a cancellation on the main loop. The equestrian loop is located in a hammock of stately live-oaks, but the restroom is a simple chemical toilet, as opposed to the spotless shower facilities on the main loop.

Rain was forecast for the entire weekend. How good could it get? A site we didn't really like at a park we didn't really want to stay at, and foul weather forecast for the duration of the trip. At least we would find out if I fixed all the leaks.

Two and a half hours after we pulled out on the highway headed east, we were happier than children who find the golden Easter egg. We enjoyed an easy, dry, uneventful trip into the very middle of flat, cattle-country Florida, where we met Kathleen, the really sweet volunteer manning the reservations desk. She switched us to a really great site on the main loop that had just been made available due to a cancellation. It turned out to be the best site in the campground, and, no, I won't tell you which one. Things were looking up.

To be honest, we really like Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. It is flat as a board, and is the only area I know of in Florida that has nesting Caracaras. In our previous stays we've watched mother alligators with hatchlings right up against the access road, wild turkeys photo-bombing my wife's innocent snapshots, and a cotton-mouth water moccasin known as Maury that did a daily constitutional across the main camping loop access road just a few yards from the camp-host tent. We've seen many deer here, and an occasional raccoon. I even have a photo I took of a confused, defensive crawfish that wandered through our campsite. What could this trip possibly uncover? It only took twenty minutes to find out.

I admit we did something this time we have never done before: we broke a camp-ground rule, a first for us. What happened wasn't the result of that spontaneous decision, it just made our apprehensive decision all the more special. Breaking the rules turned into a real heart-stopper.

It was the very first time we've ever let Taz, our Golden Retriever off leash as we walked the barren one and a half mile dirt road that serves as the main park road. With no traffic to be seen from horizon to horizon – here, that's not a metaphor – we felt safe allowing him his first ever taste of freedom on a camping trip. 

Ten minutes into the walk, a huge, wild boar strutted unconsciously out of the palmetto underbrush and stopped at the edge of the dirt road about thirty feet in front of Taz. The hog appeared to be considering whether or not to step onto the road when it finally realized we were there and looked up at us. Taz and the hog stared at each other while Ilse quickly hurried to snap on Taz's leash. By the time she looked up, the hog was gone. No trace what-so ever of any pig, just our confused Golden Retriever sniffing the air wondering what had just happened.

The following morning we were informed by a park volunteer that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently conducted a hog removal program in the preserve, shooting the unwanted pigs from helicopters. Visions of Sarah Palin hanging out of a helicopter wildly shooting at wildlife made me root for the hog. Go, hog! We won't tell the state we saw you. In all fairness, the hogs are incredibly destructive and something has to be done to control their dominating expansion across public lands. A sow can have a litter of fifteen piglets, and three months later, they can also breed, compounding the problem their natural predators have all but been exterminated. Still, my heart was with the hog.

We wanted to stay at the highly recommended Lake Kissimmee State Park just outside of Lake Wales, but getting a camping slot at the popular state park is difficult. We met Sam and Sandy while walking through the our campground, and they confided they made reservations at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in error. They thought, as many campers do, that they were making reservations at Lake Kissimmee State Park. They were surprised when their GPS brought them out to the middle of nowhere. The Lake Kissimmee campground is 35 miles away, as the Caracara flies, but ninety miles if you decide to drive. Sam and Sandy decided they liked the campground at the Preserve and were very happy to be here, but they just piqued our interest even more.

After walking Taz, we locked the trailer and headed toward Yeehaw Junction on the road to Lake Wales, the shortest route proclaimed by our trusty GPS. Yeehaw Junction is just a few miles from the Fort Drum rest stop on the Florida Turnpike.

The drive on Florida Highway 60 from Yeehaw Junction to Lake Wales is enough to cure a normal person of any urge to do it twice.

While we really appreciated the really great attendant at the main gate at Lake Kissimmee State Park who gave us a 30 minute guest pass and all the camp documentation allowing us to tour the park, we decided we were camped at the better park and headed back. We chose to drive back down US 27 to Sebring, coming back to the park on US 98 from the west side, instead of returning the ten-mile shorter way on highway suicide 60 and US 441.

We made the circuitous 192 mile trip around the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve in a little over five hours and were looking forward to our traditional spaghetti dinner and a glass of wine. We were laughing and talking about how lucky we had been with this trip and commenting on how well Taz had behaved as we headed up the dusty, main park dirt road.

About a mile after passing the main gate, we drove past a large, black bird with a white neck that looked like it had on a bad, black wig, sitting on a post just off the roadway. I slammed on the brakes, then changed my mind and drove to the first place to turn around. We drove back slowly, not expecting the bird to still be there. But still sitting on a power transformer post waiting for us was a Crested Caracara.

 It didn't fly off and Taz didn't bark as we rolled to a stop directly alongside its perch. It simply watched us as we turned on our cameras began snapping away.

It actually acted as if it were posing for us. It turned this way, then that way, and several times stared directly at us. I took enough photographs of the usually reclusive raptor to fill a scrapbook be­fore I made the mistake of whistling and of course, Taz barked. But not before I finally had enough photos of the national Mexican eagle to keep me busy the rest of the evening.

Yep, the third time is a charm. And we still have three days to go.

Next: Tough Little Buggers! At:

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