Naples

Naples, FL – October, 2016 Soon after getting settled at our winter RV park it was time to pack up and head a whole 10 miles south to hang out with our friends. This was the third time we had rented the same beach house in North Naples. Our friend’s relatives own the property and we are grateful to benefit from the family discount.

We all adore the house and love the location in the well know neighborhood of Naples Park. The house is three bedrooms and two and a half baths. It is spacious, beautifully furnished, and best of all has a heated pool.

We enjoyed just over a week’s visit with one couple. Another couple that has joined us on previous visits said they couldn’t come but at the last minute they changed their minds and flew down for the weekend. We all had fun as always and got caught up on everything we had missed in the 3 months since we left Missouri.

The nearest beach to the house is called Vanderbilt Beach. It is a near perfect beach with soft sand and waste deep water for a long way out. This beach is close to neighborhoods, condos, and hotels so it is generally bustling.

The big event every day is sunset. They are just beautiful here. Since our visit was before the time change we often ate before 5:30 then made a beeline for the beach to catch the show.

Only a mile farther from the house was the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. This beach gets a little narrow at high tide but it is a nice alternative to Vanderbilt and not quite as crowded. It’s always interesting to see what’s been washed up on the beach.

This state park is another good sunset spot.

There is a dead tree there that people have loaded with shells which looks pretty cool.

Jim and I don’t go to bars often but one notable exception is a dive near the Naples house that we simply must visit each time we are in town with our friends. Jim’s favorite T is from there and seems to sum up their outlook.

The bar is called the North Naples Country Club. The name is meant in jest as it is far from sophisticated. Just our kind of place!

The best part is it’s within walking distance of the rental house. It’s a fun, friendly place if you are ever in the vicinity. And the food ain’t bad either.

One of our favorite places to visit is in downtown Naples. The Naples Pier is an enjoyable, free place to kill an hour or two.

It is a free fishing pier so with or without a fishing license you can fish here to your heart’s content. If you hang around a little while you will likely encounter your fair share of interesting characters. You may overhear some colorful language and you will almost definitely note some distinct regional and foreign accents.

Many people, primarily older gentlemen, come here almost daily to fish and maybe share a fish story or two. Most of the fishermen are more than happy to offer advice on techniques, bait, and such. There are a few that are tightlipped and maybe a little grouchy, but very few.

The pier is also a great place to observe nature. You are almost guaranteed to see dolphins.

There are usually schools of bait fish around the pylons and if you are lucky you might see tarpon working them into a frenzy. I have also seen ray and jellyfish and we once saw a fisherman pull in a little blacktip shark!

Naples Beach stretches as far as you can see on either side of the pier.

And if you get bored with all that there’s shopping, restaurants, and more shopping within a few blocks. If we are there on a Saturday we enjoy a stroll through the farmers’ market. It’s a little high end for us with lots of food vendors (who spends $15 on lunch at a farmers’ market?) but colorful and entertaining just the same.

My girlfriends and I were lucky enough to run into this guy out shopping with his friends.

He even let us hold this one who was quite a ham.

Naples is quite large and I know it has a whole lot more to offer. Since it’s so close to our home for this winter, we are looking forward to discovering more of this great town.

Pictured Rocks and Mooching at a Casino

Menominee to Munising, MI – August, 2016 We made our way into Michigan’s upper peninsula and stopped at J.W. Wells State Park. We snagged a lakeside site so our kitchen window looked out over Lake Michigan. It was a lovely place to relax for a couple days.

The next day we hauled the kayaks 20 feet to our beach and set off. We were shocked by how clear the water was. You could see the rocky bottom well after the water was over our heads.

On the left of the pic are some of the lakeside sites just up from ours. The arrow points to where we paddled to, the mouth of Cedar River, two miles away. We took a break on the beach before paddling back.

Jim bought a one day fishing license online for a reasonable $10. He had a few nibbles but finally on the way back he landed this good size bass. It was at least 12 inches. I was close enough to get a picture of his catch before he released it.

Everyone kept saying the sunrises were not to be missed. Each day seemed to dawn overcast and I never was blown away.

The campground was extremely nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The cost for the electric site was a reasonable $20 a night but we did also pony up $31 for a state park annual pass rather than pay the $8 per day park use fee. We expect to visit enough Michigan State Parks to come out ahead.

We were looking forward to our next stop and I was especially looking forward to saving some money on camping fees. I had read that just outside the town of Munising where we were headed was a casino with free electricity. I was so in.

We arrived before noon and had our pick of the 8 sites. Even though the marked spaces weren’t much bigger than standard parking spaces we were able to hang off the edge of the parking lot and mostly fit even with our slides out. Later that day a tiny Airstream moved in to the right of us and they were the perfect sized neighbor.

The next morning we had lots of neighbors but most cleared out pretty early and the next evening it filled up again. Our intel was correct, the sites were free and there was no registration or restrictions of any kind on their use. Sure it was crowded but we were busy sightseeing all day and I was sure ecstatic to save the $28 per night I would have spent at the next cheapest alternative.

The main draw here was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 42 miles of scenic shoreline on Lake Superior. There were also many beautiful waterfalls both in the national park and around Munising. First we visited the waterfalls nearest town. Both were just short walks from their parking areas.

I didn’t even notice the stacked rocks in this photo of Wagner Falls until I got it on the computer.

Next up was Munising Falls.

We also visited Sand Point just outside of town. It was a lovely beach with a view of the adorable East Channel Lighthouse across South Bay on Grand Island.

Then we headed out to explore Pictured Rocks. The most scenic spot that is easily viewed from land is Miners Castle. It is also closest to town so it was very crowded.

There was also a nice view from there of a good stretch of the shoreline. The local outfitters rent kayaks from Miners Beach below and lead trips out to the castle and back.

Next stop was Miners Falls.

It is a long drive between points of interest in this park. It was a 35 mile drive to our next stop, a walk along Twelve Mile Beach. Another 9 miles brought us to the Log Slide overlook where we had this beautiful view of Au Sable Light Station.

I would have loved to hike to it. But it is a 3 mile hike one way from the nearest access point and we had a pretty full day already. We would have come back to do it the next day if it hadn’t been such a long drive.

Our last stop was at Sable Falls 7 miles further.

And a short walk beyond that is a beach covered in beautiful multicolored stones.

From there it was an hour drive back to our parking lot with the free air conditioning. We had every intention of staying a third day and night to kayak either at Sand Point or Miners Beach. Even though the next day was the warmest of our visit it also turned out to be the windiest whipping the water into a frenzy. So we scratched that plan and departed for another adventure.

Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Two Rivers & Manitowoc, WI – July, 2016 Our next destination on the shores of Lake Michigan was Manitowoc and its close neighbor, Two Rivers. Our first stop after setting up at the RV park was the Point Beach State Park. The entrance fee we had to pay along with our campsite fee at the state park we had just departed was good at all Wisconsin state parks for the rest of the day. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have visited Point Beach, but I’m glad we did.

The weather was blustery that day so we only walked along the beach briefly.

The Rawley Point Lighthouse is still very active so this is as close as you can get.

The lodge which now houses a store and nature center was built by the WPA, Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. As always the stonework was the highlight.

Next we took a walk downtown in Two Rivers marveling at the many beautiful buildings. We especially enjoy the number of stunning churches.

The next day was warm and sunny again and we were excited to get an early start. I was pleased to find that the Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc was free and that it opened at 7am. Zoos are a fun place to take a walk but I have been disappointed in our travels at how expensive most zoos are. So I was not about to pass up a free one.

We arrived about 8am and had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. We only saw one other human, a zookeeper feeding the goats. The zoo was small, as was expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The way they had everything fenced often made it impossible to get a good shot of some animals. The cougar exhibit had a glass viewing area inside a fake log for the kids. I climbed inside and Jim coaxed this beauty to walk in front of the glass a few times. She (I’m guessing) wouldn’t give me the time of day when I spoke to her but she responded to Jim and followed him back and forth.

I spent 5 minutes trying to get a decent picture of the bald eagle. Between the fencing and the bird that kept turning his back to me, I got nothing. But I walked away to try and spy a red tailed hawk in the next exhibit and the eagle started showing off for Jim, shaking out his wings and practically posing for him. He was able to lean forward and get a shot with his phone that didn’t include the fence.

Our next stop was the highlight of our weekend. The Wisconsin Maritime Museum was $15 and well worth the cost. One major focus of the museum was on the role of submarines in WW2. Manitowoc shipyards were refitted to build subs at the time and they are understandably proud of the way they came through for the war effort.

The submarine crews would come here to pick up their sub, finish their training, and sail down the Mississippi to the ocean. One sub, the USS Cobia, has returned to its place of birth and is on display. A guided tour is included with your admission to the museum.

Below is one of two hatches that the sailors used to enter the sub. They were also the only means of escape. Up to 5 men were expected to climb in there together.

It makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it. They then had to flood the compartment, open the outer hatch, and make their way up a buoy line to the surface with this crude rebreather.

They had to close the hatch behind them so the next group could go. According to our guide this was only attempted once in two hundred feet of water. Remarkably several men did survive the escape.

Understandably much of the tour focused on the 20 some torpedoes on board. I was more impressed with the number of switches, valves, gauges, and buttons. Every man on the ship knew how to operate every gizmo.

The tour was incredibly informative. There are way too many fascinating facts to share here. You can look up much of the info online by googling USS Cobia.

The rest of the museum was equally interesting. They have many great exhibits including a huge room full of beautiful full-sized boats.

We were slightly disappointed that there was not more information on local shipwrecks. There is a new exhibit opening August 12th that appears to cover this deficiency. But what the museum did offer was so much more than we expected.

We visited another free attraction the next day. The Rahr-West Art Museum is housed in this beautiful mansion. We were mostly interested in the architecture but they did have some nice collections that added to the experience.

We enjoyed our visit to this area immensely and felt that it was a real sight-seeing bargain including our campground. We stayed at Stop-n-Dock in Two Rivers. It was a nice small campground in a great location on the river. We got a full hookup site for $21 per night using our Passport America membership.

Lake Michigan

Belgium to Sheboygan, WI – July, 2016 We had been looking forward to heading north after my family’s reunion for the whole summer. The last two weeks of our stay in Missouri the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. I will never complain about the heat. I love heat! But the closer our departure got, the more we could be found checking the weather at our destination and happily anticipating a break from the high temperatures.

We didn’t have an exact destination in mind but we knew we wanted to get to Lake Michigan ASAP. We also wanted to avoid Chicago completely and didn’t care about stopping in Milwaukee. A brief look at the atlas led me to believe the town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin would be a good place to aim for. We could skirt Chicago, and Milwaukee as well if we chose, it was on the lakeshore, and it was fun to say. “Where are you headed next?” everyone wanted to know. “Sheboygan!!” I happily replied.

The reality was that Sheboygan only has one campground, a state park 7 miles south of town that was booked solid around our intended visit. So I set my sights on Harrington Beach State Park, 23 miles south near Belgium. We made the drive from Missouri in two days traveling 5 hours each day.

I hadn’t made a reservation but was lucky enough to get one of the last electric sites that was available for two days. We would have liked to stay longer but they were all reserved for Thursday. The cost of the site was steeper than I expected. The electric only site was $33 and the day use fee was $11 for a total of $44 per day. Ouch!

The whole park seemed to be just cut into the fields. The sites were plenty large but beyond your mowed site the grass, weeds, and wildflowers were head high. One advantage of this was that it gave you a lot of privacy in camp.

It was still plenty warm during most of our visit, mid 80’s with full sun in the afternoons. But at least you could take a walk in the middle of the day without having a heat stroke. We saw very few bugs while we were there and not a single mosquito. It was pleasant to be outdoors all hours of the day and we took full advantage of that.

We enjoyed walking along the shore of Lake Michigan. The state park’s shoreline, a mile from camp, was sand with some grassy patches. Jim took this panoramic one morning. It skews the shot a little but gives you some idea of how beautiful and vast the lake is.

The park has some lovely, paved paths. Our favorite was the Quarry Trail. An old lime quarry is now a lovely lake. The water is unbelievably clear. You can see the bones of the mine’s abandoned structures under the surface.

The next day we packed our lunch and headed the short distance to the town with the fun name.

We made our way to the visitor center downtown first. We were able to leave our truck there and see the town by foot. We walked along the riverfront boardwalk for quite a ways until we came to the lakeshore and found this.

The Lottie Cooper sank in 1894. But she was salvaged in 1992 and her remains were reconstructed in the town’s Deland Park.

Next we cooled off with a visit to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a lovely and free art museum. The exterior gardens are filled with sculptures by the late Carl Peterson.

Inside are tons of fascinating exhibits. One of several collections we enjoyed was that of T. L. Solien Madison. Probably didn’t hurt that the large painting in the rear has an RV as its centerpiece.

We thoroughly enjoyed a lengthy visit and emerged from the air conditioning refreshed and ready for more. We continued our walk downtown ogling the numerous fine old buildings.

Their farmers market was in full swing in Fountain Park. There was a lot of produce at reasonable prices and we managed to walk away with two full bags for $8. The polka music, which you could hear throughout the park and a block away, certainly added to the fun and festiveness.

After some more wandering we made our way back to the truck down historic 8th Street. Our visit to Sheboygan, although brief, had been fun as the name implied it would.

Charleston

Charleston, SC May, 2016 What a lovely city! We chose to visit for three days. I’m sure we could stay three months and not get bored.

We ventured out to North Charleston our first afternoon to search out a farmers market with live music. It turned out to be rather small but had everything we wanted and the performer was good. After checking out all the vendors and choosing some fresh vegetables, we still had plenty of time to spare so we set off to see what else the area had to offer.

We drove through their historic downtown, which looks like it is worth a stop on a future visit, and made our way to Riverfront Park. It’s a big, wonderful park with lots of beautiful art.

It also contains the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial. This is an excellent memorial that recounts the history of the Charleston Navy Yard that operated here from 1901 to 1996. They had several nice bronze statues. The one in the front is “The Lone Soldier”.

My father was stationed here aboard the USS Adams in the mid 1960’s and both my older brothers were born here. So I found it especially interesting.

The next morning we were raring to go visit downtown Charleston. I suspected parking downtown could be a nightmare in our monster truck, so the plan was to get there early on a weekday, scope it out, and hopefully snag some free on-street parking. The plan turned out to be a good one.

We were downtown about 8am. As suspected many streets were extremely tight. The parking garages we saw had clearances between 6 and 7 feet (our truck is exactly 7 foot tall and we wouldn’t chance a garage that didn’t have at least 7 ½ foot clearance). But we easily found street parking with a 2 hour limit at White Point Garden at that time of day.

This park was at the top of my must-see list. My family visited Charleston when I was a couple years old. Here’s me on my first visit to this park.

And me on our most recent visit.

I have a picture of myself, my brothers, and our cousins lined up on the larger cannon in the right of this photo. So even though I don’t remember that visit, the pictures are part of family lore, and it was a nice place to visit and get some perspective. We then set off to see as much of the downtown as we could in two hours.

We were blown away by all the beautiful homes.

And the amazing architectural details.

I loved peeking into the gardens.

But the churches were the most impressive.

The Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street was my favorite.

It is also a cemetery and the graves are crowded into every available space, even right up against the building all the way around it.

Waterfront Park with its iconic pineapple fountain was a must stop.

Then we walked back to the truck along the waterfront. We didn’t manage to make it back downtown during this visit as we had planned but I know we’ll be back here again and again over the years. We will likely take a cab or public transit downtown if we ever visit on a busy weekend. They also have lots of metered street parking that didn’t appear to take a credit card. So if we came armed with enough quarters we might find a spot to park eventually.

We chose to go to Folly Beach on Saturday. I felt like we got a late start, arriving on the island about 11 am. All the parking lots downtown were pretty close to full. I was expecting to pay for parking but shocked that one lot was actually charging $20. The town also has small lots beside many of their beach accesses that charge $10 but we didn’t fit in their spaces. There is a lot of free on street parking as well but the only spaces we found would have required quite a walk to get to an access. We finally made our way to the county park at the south end of the island and if we go again we’d head straight there. It was $10 to enter put had spacious parking and good beach access.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours sunning and people watching. Even on 85 degree days those cool ocean breezes make it impossible for me to enjoy a dip. I’ve only immersed myself one time this spring, and that was after a morning jog. After a walk on the beach we headed back to camp.

Thank goodness we hadn’t gotten there any later. The line of traffic to get on to the island was now literally 5 miles long. Though traffic was heavy when we got there, it was never at a standstill.

We loved the campground we chose for our visit. Lake Aire RV Park was an easy 15 mile drive all the way to the downtown waterfront, but it felt very remote. It was $28 per night for full hookups with our Passport America discount. It had a large pond with a few of these adorable looking ducks. This mommy had 10 ducklings.

Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Beach, SC – April, 2016 After our chilly weekend at Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago we were watching and waiting for some decent beach weather. Just as the weather was improving, we saw a 3 night opening at Edisto Beach State Park’s beach campground. When we stayed here last fall we had to stay in their Live Oak campground, a half mile up the highway from the beach. We really wanted to return but stay in one of the 75 beach side sites. Edisto Beach State Park is only 50 miles from our property so it was mucho convenient.

Our site, number 58, backed up to the marsh that fills up with water at high tide. The site was near the limit of what we are willing to pay for a campsite. It averaged $58 per night after all fees and had water and electric. But you cannot beat the convenience of walking past a couple rows of campers and over a dune and being on the beach. If one of you gets tired or bored they can just go back home without making the other one leave. If Jim wants to go fishing, there is nothing stopping him.

Last time we were on the east coast Jim saw a guy with a great beach cart that carried all his fishing gear and stuff. He has been looking for one with the right features and price ever since. He finally found exactly what he wanted for about a hundred dollars at Dick’s Sporting Goods near Brownsville, Texas. We have used it a couple times since, to carry our chairs and cooler to a nice riverside spot in Texas and to get our stuff to and from the camp’s laundry. But this was to be the cart’s true beach debut.

The big wheels were a must and worked great even in the loose sand. The cart folds down pretty well but those wheels still take up their fair share of the basement.

Totally worth it though when you can easily haul two chairs, fishing gear, and a cooler past the crowds on the beach and nab a secluded spot to spend the afternoon.

We spent our first full afternoon at the beach; sunning, fishing, generally being lazy. Here is a pic of one of the many beach accesses. We loved the dead tree and yellow flowers.

The next day we loaded up the kayaks and drove a couple miles to where the state park has a boat ramp on Big Bay Creek. From there you can paddle up the creek or out to the mouth of the South Edisto River and on into the ocean. The creek has more of a tide than a current. So our plan was to put in and float upstream with the tide, wait for the tide to turn, and float back with the tide.

It was a wide creek with grassy marsh on both sides. We floated up the creek and were passed by a group of dolphins.

There were at least four of them. We saw quite a bit of them for about a minute but they were fast so it was hard to get any picture at all especially since all I had was my iPhone.

After we floated past the state park’s property there were a dozen or so private docks crowded on one side of the creek, each with a long wooden sidewalk built between it and a big house back in the trees. Many of the docks had impressive boats. After them we had the creek to ourselves again.

We only went about a mile and a half and then tried to stay out of the current and wind that was pushing us upstream and wait for the tide to turn. There was such a strong wind coming up the creek that even when the tide turned and water started flowing toward the ocean the current wasn’t strong enough to counteract the wind. So we ended up having to paddle against it all the way back to the boat dock. We weren’t totally surprised by this outcome and were grateful we hadn’t gotten too far from the takeout. Next time we’d like to float toward the ocean just before low tide and hope the wind and the tide will carry us back to the dock with less effort.

Besides the dolphins we saw in the creek, we saw a lot more wildlife in general on this trip than we did during our last visit. We saw a huge turtle swimming in the ocean one day. The campground also has some very aggressive raccoons (the squirrels aren’t exactly shy either). This big fella had no problem walking into people’s camps in the middle of the day and rummaging through their things.

We were careful not to leave any trash out but Jim forgot to put his fishing gear away one day and they ate/stole/are wearing his plastic lure and they broke one of his poles, probably trying to get away after getting tangled up. Thankfully he was able to repair it.

When the tide went out the marsh behind our camp became a mud field. We were sitting there one afternoon and realized the whole thing was moving. There were a kazilion crabs about an inch wide, each waiving their little claw at us. How friendly!

The park’s learning center is located near the boat ramp. It’s definitely a must see if you visit. It’s much nicer than we expected. They have a beautiful building with a nice back porch full of rocking chairs.

They also have lots of live snakes, fish, and such in aquariums. Glad this fellow is no longer in that category.

The place has some beautiful murals and displays like this cool boat.

We had a wonderful three days in Edisto Beach and look forward to visiting again.

Myrtle Beach State Park

Myrtle Beach, SC – April, 2016 Myrtle Beach State Park is an island of calm smack dab in the middle of the Grand Strand, an almost uninterrupted stretch of developed beaches that run for 60 miles along the coast of South Carolina. The area attracts millions of visitors every year and has numerous attractions to keep families entertained. This was our first visit to the area so we had no idea what to expect.

We had wanted to get to a beach for a few weeks but couldn’t find any campgrounds that were available and affordable. Spring break was the primary reason. All the state parks were full and the private campgrounds were expensive and not honoring any discounts. I flat refuse to pay $70 for a campsite so we bided our time exploring inland.

With spring break over we looked again to the beach. We found a vacancy at Myrtle Beach State Park a few days out and made a reservation. After taxes and fees it cost around $37 per night for a site with electric and water. It was great to have a nice quiet place to escape to so close to all the things that make this area popular.

We arrived at the state park via a long winding drive full of blooming bushes.

The park has a couple miles of undeveloped beaches.

There are several piers in the area which always make great photo opportunities.

The campground is extremely nice and a short eighth mile walk to the beach. The only thing that broke the quiet was the occasional airplane from the airport next door. Some of them came very low over the beach. This was taken right on the state park border.

Beyond the park’s boundaries, the beaches are lined with one hotel after another.

I can understand why Myrtle Beach is such a popular destination, especially for families. It has practically every type of entertainment you can imagine. There are at least a dozen fantastically designed putt putt golf courses. There are amusement rides scattered all over the city. Ripley’s has 5 major attractions here. I’ve never heard of a Ripley’s Aquarium but we might have to check that out if we make it back here someday.

Broadway at the Beach was a fun place to get a nice walk. It is a large shopping area with lots of interesting stores like the Man Cave Store and Stupid Factory, not your typical mall stores. There are lots of dining and entertainment options as well. The shops, restaurants, and attractions are clustered around a small lake. Even though it was chilly while we were there they still had plenty of takers for the jet boat rides they offered on the lake. Here is one of the jet boats with the science museum in the background.

We were shocked by the number of seafood buffets in area. A little research revealed about a dozen buffets featuring seafood in Myrtle Beach alone. We love seafood and a good seafood buffet is hard to find so we decided to splurge. There were so many options, many with great reviews. Our first couple choices were not open until dinner and we wanted to go out to lunch.

We settled on Seafood World because it was one of the rare one’s that opened at noon and had lots of good reviews. The cost was about the same as other buffets in the area, around $30, but they advertised $5 off before 3pm. After tax and tip it was still over $60. We enjoyed it immensely. The selection was pretty good and most of the food they served was awesome.

All in all we enjoyed our visit to the Myrtle Beach area. We agreed that it’s not really our cup of tea. It’s a little too commercial for our tastes. The fact that the weather was not that great during our stay probably tainted our opinion of it somewhat. We will likely visit again someday but stay at Huntington Beach State Park a little south of Myrtle Beach but still on the Grand Strand. Then we can take a day trip into town if we need some excitement.

The Sunshine State

Destin to Jacksonville, Florida – March, 2016 We were excited to get to Florida and the beaches we love. Our first choice would have been to stay in Pensacola where we have visited many times. But it was spring break season and our campground of choice was booked solid. We were actually quite lucky to get a site for two nights at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin ($37 p/n full hookups).

What a beautiful place. We had never visited Destin before but we will be back. The beach was just stunning! It didn’t hurt that on the day of our arrival the water was as smooth as glass and you could see way out into it.

I couldn’t wait to take my camera out the next day and try to capture the beauty. But the next morning the wind whipped up and the remainder of our stay the surf was rough. It was still pretty but just not the same.

The beach was about a half mile walk from our campsite down a long, twisty boardwalk.

The park’s section of the beach was not very crowded but if you walked in either direction you would come to more developed sections of the beach and the spring break crowds. Some kids feeding the sea gulls made them much more cooperative photo subjects than usual.

There were lots of cute little lizards. This one was quite colorful.

When we first arrived I was a little put off by the number of large bees buzzing around. But they never bothered us and I finally became obsessed with getting a picture of one. They really do not make very good models. But out of about 50 shots I finally got one where the little bugger is more than just a blur. He didn’t pose in front a very attractive background though.

This furry little fellow was obviously very used to being fed. He was sitting on our steps the first day when we returned from the beach. Another time he was making himself at home in our chair.

Jim was sitting outside our last afternoon and I heard him intermittently talking to someone. I thought he was chatting up the neighbor and I guess he was. Mr. Squirrel kept coming closer and closer to him the more he talked and seemed happy to have his picture taken.

We would have loved to stay longer but there were no sites available so we decided instead to head to the Atlantic. That was too far to drive in one day so we stopped outside Tallahassee. We stayed at Ingram’s Marina and Campground on the banks of Lake Talquin.

As are most marina campgrounds we’ve visited, this one was a bit rustic and disorganized. But you get what you pay for and this was a steal at $13 for water and electric Passport America. Our site was level enough we didn’t have to unhook the truck, which was great as we planned to stay one night and get on the road early the next day.

We walked around the area and visited the lake in several spots. The guy that checked us in said if we went out on the lake we’d see plenty of alligators along the shoreline once we got away from the marina. I’m still very much on the fence about kayaking in gator infested waters but I will probably get over that the more time we spend in the south. I did enjoy spotting this cute little fellow near the boat docks.

He was no more than 2 feet long and he stayed there the whole afternoon.

Next up was Jacksonville. Someone I had met somewhere in our travels said the Jacksonville City Campground was one of their favorite places to stay so I made a reservation based on that with very little research. I later realized there are two city campgrounds and I believe she was referring to the other one.

We did enjoy our stay at Huguenot City Park ($22 p/n no hookups) so it worked out for the best. Here is our site which backed up to the St. John’s River.

It was cool to look up and see these huge ships glide past. That path brought us to a fairly deserted beach.

The beach was much wider than this at low tide and almost nonexistent at high tide. Across the river you can see the Mayport Naval Air Station. They flew helicopters over the park all day and as late as 10 pm one night. It was a little loud but the lady at check-in remarked that the number of flights had been unusually high that week.

It was about a mile from our campsite to the end of the peninsula and a beach on the Atlantic. You could drive out onto the beach and many day visitors came out with their families. It was a nice destination to walk to but didn’t have anything on our private section of beach a few feet from our door.

On one of our morning walks we could clearly hear reveille being played over the air station’s loudspeakers followed by the national anthem. At the same time we looked up and spotted a bald eagle of all things on a nearby platform. Of course, it was the one walk I didn’t take my camera on and he was a pretty good distance away.

That’s ok, this bird was begging to be famous.

Across the road from the campground was the entrance to the Kingsley Plantation. It was built in 1897 and is the oldest surviving plantation house in the state.

It was a very interesting place to walk around with tons of information, mostly on slavery. Here are the remains of the slave quarters.

Another interesting place in Jacksonville was Fort Caroline. It was a 20 mile drive from camp. It is a re-creation of a fort built by the French in the 1600’s.

They built it to one third the scale that they estimate the original was. There is lots of great history here about the colonization of Florida, the struggles of those colonists, and about the battles that took place here.

Both the Kingsley Plantation and Fort Caroline are part of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve which has a lot more to offer including tons of trails. The entire preserve is free to the public. We will definitely visit more of it when we pass this way again.

The Island of Cozumel

Cozumel, Mexico- February, 2016. For many years I could not fathom why some people return to the same vacation spot year after year. There were, and still are, so many places in the world I want to see I couldn’t understand why anyone would visit the same one more than once, let alone over and over. That was until I discovered Cozumel!

Cozumel is a perfect little island just east of Cancun on Mexico’s mainland. It has some of the best scuba diving in the world. The people are friendly and we feel very safe there. Best of all, and what keeps us coming back, is that it is so inexpensive. It is one of the cheapest destinations in the Caribbean period. But when compared to other locations that have outstanding diving its value is off the charts.

We made the plan more than a year ago to meet three other couples there in February 2016. We were able to shop for airfare way in advance and found a great fare on a direct flight from Houston. With the savings on airfare and a good rate on the room from Travelocity we were able to book 2 weeks for what we usually pay for just one week with airfare from Missouri. We set the money aside for this splurge from the sale of our home last summer.

This is our 7th trip to Cozumel. It’s fun to return to a place that’s somewhat familiar. We know what to expect from the hotel, where to get supplies, and how to get around town. But we’ve only scratched the surface of what this island has to offer. There is so much left to discover.

This was hands down one of the most enjoyable trips of our life. I would have thought that traveling with such a large group would have made it less likely we would make new friends. Instead it seemed to have the opposite effect. We became acquainted with tons of new people and felt like we were part of a small community.

While RVing people often just call us Missouri so we took to calling everyone whether single or a couple by their place of origin. We met Iowa and Wisconsin on the dive boats and Minnesota and Kentucky while playing pool volleyball each afternoon. There were newlyweds from a small town very near our hometown, so we called them Branson. Someone would walk by and one our friends would call out “Canada” or “Ohio” and someone they met in line at the bar or who knows where would join our tribe.

Each time we visit Cozumel we spend one day on what is called the wild side of the island. The water is rough on the east side so the opportunities to swim are limited to a few spots. But the surf is incredible and the beaches are stunning.

There is no electricity to this side of the island so there is very little development. Every few miles there is another beautiful location and its obligatory beach bar and often a little hut offering some gifts in the vicinity.

As usual this was one of the best days of the entire vacation. Some of our favorite places on the wild side are the blowholes near the Rasta Bar on the southeast corner of the island.


The twin natural coral bridges at El Mirador are not to be missed.


Then there is the great little protected cove where it is safe to swim and many locals bring their families.


The most popular bar on the wild side is Coconuts. It has fun birds to look at and sometimes pet. And a million profound signs like this one.


We generally rent a jeep to make the trip around the island and whether there are 2 or 4 of us it costs about $100 with fuel. We looked for alternatives for the 8 of us and finally decided to hire a large taxi for 6 hours to make the loop. We talked them into doing this for $25 per person. So including tip each couple paid $60 and no one had to drive.

Our favorite place to stay on the island is Hotel Cozumel. It is not a five star resort but it is clean, friendly, and very reasonably priced. Even though they have a couple hundred rooms it doesn’t feel large or crowded.

One of our favorite pastimes is watching for iguanas that gather on the wall out back of the hotel. This fellow was apparently tired of being relegated to the back yard and chose to wrap himself around a lamppost out front.


The hotel claims to have the largest pool on the island.


But our favorite spot in the resort is the small man made beach across the street. There is a pool carved from the coral where fish are free to come in and out and there is great snorkeling just off the wall.


We always choose the all-inclusive option with the room so our drinks are included and there is a buffet somewhere from 6:30 am to long after we ever stay awake (I think 11pm). The food is not fancy but always good and there is a large enough variety that we can always find something we like. Most years we eat dinner out one or two times.

One of our friends was celebrating a birthday so we decided to try a restaurant we had not visited before called Casa Mission. It turned out to be a great choice. They made a birthday cake and had the mariachi band sing happy birthday. The service wasn’t great but the food more than made up for it and they served amazing margaritas.

We went downtown a couple times with different friends to look around and shop for this or that. The square is a fun and colorful place to walk around if you can ignore the sometimes pushy salespeople. I don’t enjoy haggling but if you do this is your place.


The locals are some of the friendliest people we have ever met. They always seem so happy despite working so hard for the little they have. Many families rely on scooters for transportation here. It is not uncommon to see a family of three or four riding a scooter.


One time we saw a family of 5. Mom sat on a 2×6 with a child perched on each side and then held a baby in her lap while dad concentrated on keeping the whole ensemble on the road.

I am looking forward to telling you about the beautiful world underneath the waters of Cozumel in my next post.

.

Sunny And 75

It’s a holiday when we’re together, I wannna stay with you forever. Somewhere, somewhere sunny and 75…” Joe Nichols

Riviera to South Padre Island, TX – January/February 2016 We had two weeks of pretty perfect south Texas weather. All but a couple days were sunny and mid 70’s. Better yet the nights were mild and rarely got below 50.

We arrived at Seawind Campground on the banks of Baffin Bay exhausted from three long days of driving. We were greeted by a warm wind and flowering trees. Seawind is right next to the bay with only a public park separating it from the water. We had a good view of the bay from our site although we were separated from it by a tall chain link fence.

We were soon walking along the shore enjoying the balmy afternoon. When we awoke the next day to a 65 degree morning we couldn’t even wait for daylight to get moving and put in a couple miles.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise. The park has a long fishing pier and a little strip of beach that disappears when the tide is high.

After two nights and one full day of rest we were ready to move on to our original destination. Our plan was to stay just north of Brownsville for a few nights at Palmdale RV Resort while we explored the area and decided where we wanted to spend the time we had. We really enjoyed this park. It was friendly and had a great heated pool.

It was only 26 miles to South Padre Island so we considered staying there and driving to the island a few times. The reality was that the drive took forever with all the speed zones. We drove out first thing to check out the available campgrounds and knew we didn’t want to make that drive more than necessary.

We decided to move to the county’s Isla Blanca Park for the few days that promised the best weather. They have sites from $30-40. We were surprised to find a premium beachside site available and gratefully accepted it. It had full hookups and included cable.

Our only concern about this park was that several reviews mentioned an odor. We checked it out on our first visit only briefly and agreed there was a slight odor we could live with. After getting set up we took a stroll around the park and quickly found the smell we had read about.

On the bay side of the park is a fenced in area where I presume they treat the sewer. It reeked and we walked quickly away and avoided that side of the park the remainder of our stay. If we had gotten one of the sites on that side of the park we would have complained about the odor too. Actually we would have moved, to the mainland if necessary. It was nasty!

But on our side of the park the world was lovely. The ocean breezes smelled sweet, the sun shone, the beach was a short walk away, and it went on for miles. There was no end to the beachcombing that could be done here.

On the very southernmost point of the island, inside the park, is this beautiful memorial to all the seamen that have sailed out of this port and never returned.

Jim finally succumbed to the call of his rod and reel. There was a long jetty at the end of the beach that was said to have good fishing.

He set off to the end of the jetty the first morning. He returned a couple hours later having enjoyed his outing but with only one fish story to share.

He hadn’t gotten a single nibble and the other fishermen didn’t appear to be having any luck either. However at one point several of them started catching pufferfish. Since the spines of the puffer are poisonous he was entertained watching them try to get them off their lines and return them to the water without getting stuck.

Just north of town is an area where you can drive on the beach. We loaded up our chairs and a cooler and headed there in the afternoon. We pulled out onto the beach and soon staked out a great spot. It was a gorgeous 75 degree afternoon. The wind was a bit chilly but I planted our chairs beside the truck and it blocked most of it.

It was a fun beach with people driving by and a couple kite surfers floating by. This sand surfer had a very interesting homemade, wind powered contraption.

We had a great afternoon and managed to get a little sun.

The next day we put our kayaks in on the west side of the island in the Laguna Madre, a coastal lagoon. The weather was warm again without a cloud in the sky. We paddled up wind for a mile or so then let the wind blow us back past our put in. The water was surprisingly clear and despite paddling quite a ways from shore I don’t think it was ever over our heads. Jim saw a ray and a few fish jumped around us.

On Monday the weather was expected to be rainy and cold on the island but only 26 miles inland it reached over 80 degrees. We moved back to Palmdale first thing that morning before the rain came. It was a good deal at only $23 PN for full hookups with Passport America. The residents were entertaining and we had a fabulous afternoon visiting with them around the pool.

We explored the Brownsville area. Other than pretty decent shopping options I wasn’t terribly impressed. We drove out to the Brazos Island State Park which is the southernmost beach in Texas. It goes all the way to the Mexican border at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. It was a pretty and fairly deserted beach you can drive on. We chose to walk the beach as the tide was coming in and it was pretty narrow in places.

Since we eventually have to make our way north we decided to spend a few more days at Seawind, another great deal at $18 PN Passport America. It is only 8 miles off the highway and we really liked it there. We enjoyed more long walks along the shore. There were lots of birds.

None particularly special but entertaining none the less.

We had lots of colorful visitors to the fence outside our kitchen window. They would not come around when we were outside so I finally shot some through the glass.


We had a lovely two weeks in southern Texas. Almost every person we met exclaimed about the great weather they are having this year. Apparently the last couple years weren’t this pleasant. We are grateful to be living the way we are so we can just move when the weather doesn’t suit us.