Hurricane Michael

October, 2018 – Pensacola, FL to New Orleans We were scheduled to meet our best friends, Amy and Terry, at Fort Pickens Campground on the Gulf Island National Seashore the second week in October. They had a one week vacation and wanted to bring their new camper and their 4 dogs to the beach. We suggested the Pensacola Beach area because it was the most dog friendly of the locations we were considering.

The Fort Pickens Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is pretty amazing. It has a great campground, miles and miles of generally uncrowded beaches, and an old Fort to explore. We planned to stay Sunday through Thursday nights as the Friday and Saturday nights at the beginning and end of the week were booked many months in advance.

We had been closely watching a tropical disturbance for almost a week that appeared it might impact our plans. On the morning of our arrival it still looked like we might get by with only a rainy day or two in the middle of the week. Later that day and into the next morning it became more and more apparent that this storm was growing and was going to cut short our stay.

We made the most of what time we had. As soon as we got set up we headed for the beach. We had an awesome afternoon sitting in the sun and playing in the surf.

Monday morning Amy and I enjoyed a walk of several miles on the deserted beach while the boys explored the fort. The surf was starting to getting really big and just when we thought we were in the middle of nowhere we noticed surfers in the water and knew we were close to civilization.

We then loaded the dogs up and took them to the dog beach. Pensacola Beach has two dog beaches, one not far outside the national park gates. The surf was getting intense at this point and the blowing wind stung our legs. But the dogs loved their first dip in the ocean. This is what pure joy looks like on an old dog.

After we took the dogs home we decided to have lunch out. Peg Leg Pete’s is one of our favorite restaurants and a visit to this area would not be complete without a stop there. It was challenging to eat on their 2nd story deck as hard as the wind was blowing. You had to hold on to your napkin and food to keep them from blowing away. Even the bottles of beer would occasionally make a run for it! But it was totally worth it and we had yet another epic meal there.

After heading into town to run a few errands we arrived back at the park. We looked for signs of what the park’s plans for the storm were. There was no sign at the entrance gate and no one on duty. We stopped by the campground office and it simply had its closed sign up. We checked their website and it said nothing. We had already decided we were leaving first thing the next morning and that we were going to head west to New Orleans.

But when we got back to camp the campground was practically deserted. There were half a dozen campsites still occupied. We each went home and rested up a bit wondering if we were going to get a knock on the door telling us to leave.

Finally about 4 we took a walk. A fellow camper was out and we asked if someone had told all these people to leave. He said yes, about 2 o’clock they had come around and told everyone they had to be out by 7. We were a little miffed. They could have put a note on our door, or on the campground office, or even on the electronic sign they have at the entrance gate. Nothing!

We were processing this information when a park ranger drove through and we flagged him down. He confirmed we had no choice but to leave. I was certain we’d have a heck of a time finding another camp nearby but miraculously we got the last two sites at a park just off I-10 in Pensacola. It was only a 24 mile drive so we packed up and moved and were settled for the night by 6.

The park turned out to be pretty great. Five Flags Park had wide roads and sites, so backing in was no big deal, even though we were worn out and a bit frazzled. The owners (or possibly managers) were super nice and someone clearly had a sense of humor. There were lots of fun details, like laundry rooms made out of old streetcars.

Since we no longer had to get up early to move the next day, we sat up late playing dominoes. We kept seeing people going in and out of this gate which we decided was probably a portal to another dimension.

Amy and I had to know where they were going. So we walked through the portal and found ourselves in the parking lot of a BBQ joint. We remembered there was another portal in the park and decided we would return via it. But after walking to it we realized we needed a gate key to get back in. Oops! We walked back to our own gate and phoned the boys to come let us in.

The next morning we made the three hour drive to Louisiana. We stayed in Slidell, about 30 miles outside New Orleans at Pine Crest RV Park. The place was pretty wet when we arrived. Their lake was out of its banks and our friends had trouble finding a site that was dry enough for their pups to play outside.

Despite the campground lady saying there was nothing to do in Slidell (way to sell it!) we found the town very nice and enjoyed exploring it our first afternoon. They had a lot of retail options which we enjoyed for a short while. They had some interesting flea markets and a slew of antique stores in the historic district. We ended the afternoon at a bar downtown called The Brass Monkey working on our very rusty shuffleboard skills.

The next morning we hailed an Uber and set off for New Orleans. We started our day at the St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. The last time Jim and I visited we wandered through it on our own. Since then they have had too much vandalism and now you have to have an approved guide to visit.

This gentlemen offered his services and we forked over $20 bucks apiece, best money ever spent! Our guide was top notch and he was very informative and entertaining. We really enjoyed our tour and when it wrapped up about 11 AM we asked him for lunch recommendations and he gave us several all of which were in the first block of St Louis Street southeast of Bourbon.

We walked the third of a mile over and checked out our options. Then we had a bloody mary and decided lunch could wait so we wandered up and down Bourbon Street for a while. We’d hit a shop or two, then a bar for a round of drinks, then visit some more of their funky shops.

About 1 we decided we were satisfied with our explorations of Bourbon Street and we made a lunch choice. Antoine’s restaurant serves a casual lunch until 2 every day (at dinner there is a dress code). They have a $20 lunch special that includes several options for an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. They also serve 25 cent cocktails! The food was extraordinary. The cocktails were about the size of a double shot, they were pink, made with vodka, and they were yummy. The guys passed but I said “keep them coming.”

The building was historic and very cool. They have a ton of different dining rooms. The wait staff start in the main dining room and move up to the fancier ones over time. There was a waiter that had been there for almost 50 years!

We called it a day after that and caught an Uber back to Slidell. The Ubers were $40 each way including a $5 tip. Well worth it for a worry free day for 4 in New Orleans.

The next day we drove the truck in and paid around $12 to park downtown. We browsed the shops in the French Market and around Jackson Square.

We then had a nice lunch while listening to some great music at the Gazebo Cafe.

After that we went to the Garden District and strolled up and down the streets enjoying the many beautiful homes. While there we walked through the Lafayette Cemetery No 1 which didn’t require a guide.

The next day we parted ways with our friends and Jim and I headed for Florida again. We passed through areas hit hard by Michael. The damage we saw just from the interstate was devastating. There were miles and miles of shredded billboards, property damage, and forests just devastated.

We were ready to get to our home in Goodland and we made the trip in 4 days.

Cuteness Overload

July, 2017 – Kanab, UT While researching RV sites in the southwest corner of Utah I came across a very unique place that I just had to visit. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a no kill rescue facility. It turned out they only had two RV sites and both were booked weeks in advance but my interest was piqued and I was determined to spend some time at this special place.

Best Friends started this sanctuary in 1984 on more than 3,000 acres outside Kanab where they have created a home for over 1,600 animals. They shelter not just dogs and cats but horses, pigs, goats, birds, bunnies, and more. Their primary goal is to find forever homes for as many animals as possible.

Their ultimate goal is to make the USA a no-kill nation by 2025. That seems a bit unrealistic until you consider that our tour guide claimed that when Best Friends was first organized there were almost 20 million animals being euthanized in shelters each year. He said that number has been reduced tenfold to less than 2 million per year currently.

Their website is sorta vague and suggests you can stop by any day between 8 and 5 for a tour of their facility. I stopped at their visitor center in Kanab for info where I was informed it is best to schedule tours in advance. I was able to schedule a general tour of the facility for the next morning.

We arrived at their lovely welcome center on Monday morning. The tour was scheduled for 8:30.

At about that time we were ushered into a room and shown a 20 minute film. We then boarded an almost new van with our tour guide and about 10 other guests. We were driven all over the grounds explaining what almost every building was for. I did expect to get to interact with more animals but this general tour only had two stops.

The first was at Dog Town. The facility houses several hundred dogs and they are spread out over the grounds. There are buildings just for puppies, others just for old dogs, and facilities to meet the needs of every dog in between.

We stopped at a small hexagon shaped building that may have sheltered 20 dogs. The dogs each had indoor and outdoor space available to them.

We were ushered inside where the dogs were being provided positive reinforcement to not bark. The quiet dogs were given treats and we were instructed to ignore any dogs that were barking. Considering there were a dozen strangers in their midst I thought they were all very well behaved.

We were then taken outside where we got to interact with one dog. This fellow was a cutie and really enjoyed the undivided attention of all the guests.

You have to volunteer to be allowed to walk a dog but almost anyone can volunteer for as little as 3 hours, even children as young as 10. Since it was early and not extremely hot, there were many volunteers walking dogs in the area.

This facility does not just house dogs. They train them and treat any medical conditions they have and do their best to make them adoptable. It was inspiring.

We loaded back into the van and headed for cat world. They were almost at capacity with over 600 cats.

We passed a building devoted to cats with AIDS (FIV) and another for those with feline leukemia. I was not even aware of these conditions in cats. Apparently neither condition makes a cat unadoptable and neither are transmittable to any other animal or person except felines. They just have to be in a home where they are the only cat or with other cats with the same condition.

We finally stopped at a building called The Colonel’s Barracks. It was named for a cat that was court ordered to live out its life at the refuge because of a bad habit of killing chickens.

The cats could freely walk between an indoor room and an outdoor area of roughly the same size. There were lots of structures for them to climb and plenty of places to take a nap.

It’s hard to say how many cats were there because they were moving in and out of each area and curled up in nooks and crannies sleeping. Jim thought there were less than 10 cats in the area we visited while I thought there were more than 20. I guess we were too busy playing with them to count.

We were allowed to interact with the cats for quite a while until the guide apologized for having to drag us away.

They have focused tours of certain areas like Horse Haven, Pig Paradise, and the Parrot Garden. You need to schedule these separately and they do not take place every day of the week.

If you want to stay at the sanctuary they have cabins for rent in addition to the two RV sites. Be sure and schedule them well in advance. I believe the RV sites are full hookups and $50 per night. We drove by them on our way out.

Like much of the sanctuary you will have a stunning view from your site.

Another awesome option is their sleepover program. You can borrow a pet for a day or two and take them to your rental cabin, home, RV, or one of the many hotels in the area that participate in the program.

The sanctuary is located in Angel Canyon just a few miles outside the town of Kanab. The main road through it is a public road that anyone can drive on. The views throughout the drive are magnificent.

There is a mile and a half hike from the road to a hidden lake, apparently a pond in a cave. We meant to go back and do the hike and take more pictures but just ran out of time. Even if you don’t take any tours I’m sure the folks at the welcome center would be happy to tell you how to find the trailhead and point out other places you can visit on your own while in the canyon, like the pet cemetery.

They have a couple of very reasonably priced dining options if you happen to be there at lunchtime, one of which comes with an outstanding view of the canyon. If I had it to do over again, I would schedule a specialty tour and the general tour on the same day and enjoy lunch on the grounds in between.

If you are ever in the Kanab area I highly recommend a visit, or several, to this exceptional place. You can’t beat the outstanding scenery, friendly people, and cuddly creatures.

Dog Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL – December, 2016 Our youngest daughter, Heather, has moved to Florida. We are very excited to have her here and have been enjoying spending time with her and our grand-doggy Sasha.

Heather loves the beach and she adores her dog, so we couldn’t wait to take them to Dog Beach.  It’s a beach just for our four legged friends and the people who love them. It is located 10 miles from our campsite. It has a Fort Myers Beach address but it is just as close to Bonita Springs. It is on Lovers Key right between the two towns.

We have now visited twice and had an absolute ball both times. We met some very nice people and some downright adorable dogs. This old girl was used for breeding and gave birth to 54 puppies before her current owner adopted her.

Sasha has shown absolutely no love for the water up until now. Heather has taken her to beaches before and she enjoyed the sand but hated the waves.  She has shown an equal aversion to rivers and lakes.  But she has had very positive experiences at Dog Beach.

For one thing there are no waves. The beach is in an inlet so it is protected. It is also very shallow water, one to two feet depending on the tide. The dogs are so much fun to watch!

The pure joy they exude is infectious!

Dog Beach is all about making friends.

And getting to know them better.

When one throws a toy at Dog Beach it is understood that it may not be your dog that retrieves it.

A young fellow showed up with an old dog and a wake board and I was very curious if the dog would be riding it. They went all the way to the other end of the beach so I got out my camera to spy on them. I couldn’t believe when I actually got some pics of a dog riding the wake board.

It was only upon closer inspection of the pictures after I got home that I realized it wasn’t his dog on the wakeboard. His dog is the black one watching while a random dog hopped on his owner’s wakeboard! He rode it like a pro though! The young man rode it the rest of the time.

We will be making many more trips to Dog Beach. If you are a dog lover you should definitely check it out if you visit the area whether you have a dog along or not.