Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beeline to Florida

After our slow meandering through Missouri and Arkansas, it was time to kick into gear and make some serious progress towards getting to Florida.  I had my hopes on getting to see the Space Shuttle launch that was scheduled for November 1st, and to see it, I’d need to be in Titusville a few days ahead of time to get a camp spot.

So, the next morning, I made my way to the Interstate to get a move on.  It was slow-going through Memphis, but I made good time through Mississippi and Alabama after that and spent the night at the Flying J in Birmingham.

The next day, I made it through Georgia and down to northern Florida.  I found a great little RV park for the night, Oaks-N-Pine in Lake City.

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That night, I heard the first reports of NASA postponing the shuttle launch an extra day, so I decided to spend a night in St. Augustine as I’d never been there before.

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I snagged a spot at gorgeous Anastasia State Park, but could only get 1 night there as they are usually always sold out.  Still, 1 night was better than nothing.  While dogs were not allowed on the state park beach, a ranger told me that nearly all other spots on St. Augustine Beach allow dogs just south of the park, so Millie got both an evening and a morning swim in the Atlantic.  She had no problems sleeping that night!

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The next day, I learned that the shuttle launch had now been postponed again, but I decided to drive through Titusville anyway.   Stopping at some of the boondocking sites to check out the view, you could certainly see a small spec of something out in the distance that looked like the launch tower, but it was indeed pretty far away.  I decided I had better just move on to Naples since I’d already paid for a month’s rent there and might as well use it.

Driving from one coast to the other, I finally discovered what exists in central Florida between the coasts--- orange groves!  Lots and lots of them!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winding Along Arkansas Hwy 7

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I had read that Arkansas Highway 7 was one of the most scenic and twisty and rolling drives in the entire state, so of course, I just had to give it a drive with my twisty, rolling RV! 

Millie has never been thrilled about riding in the View—it’s sofa is too bouncy and suspension is too top-heavy and “tippy”.  Usually, she just sits on the sofa and suffers through the it, but after a short while on Highway 7’s “up and down and all around” curves, Millie headed back to sit on one of the non-spring dinette bench seats.  She then rode in that seat all the rest of the way to Florida  (guess she didn’t trust me after the Highway 7 drive!).

Our original target for the night had been to drive all the way down to Hot Springs, but after spending so much time at Alley Spring Mill, we weren’t going to make it that far.  So, I chose Petit Jean State Park just west of Little Rock.

Petit Jean sits atop a large hill (small mountain?) overlooking the Arkansas River valley.  We arrived just a bit too late for sunset, but it still was an impressive vista. 

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The campground was very nice—I had a nice view of the lake and most sites had full hookups and paved pads. I wish I could have spent more time here, but the campground was sold-out the next night, so I had to move on.

On our way to Hot Springs, we drove behind a logging truck that had an interesting sign:

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“If you object to logging, try using plastic toilet paper!”

Touche’

Hot Springs was an interesting town, but rather difficult to get around in with driving a 24’ RV, so I took a few shots of the historic hot spring spas out the window as I drove by, and then drove out to Lake Ouachita State Park just west of town.

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Lake Ouachita was another gem of a state park—with campsites set up above the lake overlooking a small boat harbor.  Millie enjoyed a nice swim before dinner, and I enjoyed the sunset.  Definitely another place to come back to one day.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Alley Spring Mill

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The Jack’s Fork and Current rivers are protected by the National Park Service because they are spring-fed, crystal clear waters.  Perhaps the most magnificent of all these springs is Alley Spring.  It’s vibrant blue spring is particularly stunning in autumn.  On this fine morning, I happened to have the entire Spring all to myself, so I pulled my big camera and tripod out to take savor the opportunity!

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I returned back to the RV to let Millie take a quick walk up to the stream before leaving.  She did something I’d never seen her do before—she immediately started drinking the water right out of the stream!  She instinctively knew that this spring-fed clear water was a savory treat for dogs as well!

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Taking the long way to Florida

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Since I had just made the long drive to Florida in March, I wasn’t eager to take the most direct route there again.  Fall had come and gone in Chicago already and I still felt as if I had not gotten enough time with pretty fall foliage.  I thought the Ozarks and north central Arkansas might have some good color around this time of year, so I programmed the GPS to southeast Missouri, and off Millie and I went for 6 weeks of snowbirding to Florida via the long way.

Weather was  very strange on my way down to Missouri.  I got a late start (like usual) and didn’t leave Chicago until nearly dinnertime.  The rain had held off while I was loading up the Winnebago, but as soon as we got onto the interstate, the clouds let loose with torrential rains and thunderstorms.  After 2 hours of driving thru non-stop rain, I pulled off to a rest stop to check the weather radar on my iPhone to see just how big a storm this was.   The radar image was hysterical—it was nothing more than a thin line of intense storms, but that lined up directly over the whole length of I-55 from Chicago to Springfield!  Perfect timing!

By the time we reached our familiar Litchfield, IL Wal-Mart parking lot, the storms had finally passed, and our overnight was quiet and comfortable.  (Quite a difference from the last time I overnighted in this lot back in the winter of 2007!)

The next morning, I awoke to near-dead batteries.  Who knew you actually had to refill lead acid batteries from time to time!  Mine were bone-dry, so I spent the morning trying to figure out if I should try to refill them, just buy new ones, or accelerate my plans to upgrade them to more heavy-duty 6 volt batteries.  I decided to try the simple/fast solution first—refilling them to see if they’d then recharge.  After putting nearly a gallon of distilled water into both batteries, and driving a full day to Missouri, they charged surprisingly well (certainly not the capacity they had before, but it was enough to last thru the night.

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We rolled into the Alley Spring Campground near Eminence, MO surprised to discover only 2 other campers in the whole place and no camp hosts or rangers anywhere to be found.  The entrance station had no after-hours pay envelopes or payment container, yet the campground still showed being open.  So, I went ahead and found a lovely spot right on the banks of the Jacks Fork river, and figured if someone wanted payment, they’d come and ask.  30 minutes later, a park service pickup with 2 rangers drove through my loop, but to my surprise, they never asked for payment or checked my rig.  So, I guess it was official…my stay here was free!

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As night fell, a number of large hawks flew over me and towards the almost-full moon.  After dinner, it was pitch black outside, and the winds were starting to kick up quite a bit.  I knew storms were on the way again, but didn’t know much more.  That’s when I discovered that the canyon I was in had no cellphone service and no TV.  My mind started wondering where exactly that Arkansas campground had been located where all those campers died this past spring due to flash flooding.  Crazy what your brain can do when it’s dark and windy outside, and you’re the only camper in your campground loop…with no means of communication to the outside world!   Dumb, dumb, dumb!!!

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With the light of dawn, I awoke to calm winds and a serene crystal clear Jacks Fork river.  I now felt much better about selecting this campground after all.   Later in the day, as we were driving listening to the news, I learned that a bizarre huge windstorm had crossed the entire Midwest the night before with some towns getting tornado-strength winds and a report of one RV dealer being devastated when the winds knocked over all their motorhomes and trailers on the lot.  In hindsight, snuggling into this little canyon, was not such a bad move after all.

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