May 24, 2005

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island has a reputation. We had been hearing about it since we bought our camper. We got flyers in the mail, people in campgrounds were quick to say “oh you’re going to Georgia…you MUST go to Jekyll”, and so on. So off we went and low and behold next thing I know we are paying $27/ night to park in a no-see-um infested campground less than 5’ from the camper next to me.

Florida was financially a bit rough and as if to really punctuate this for us, our last fill up ran $2.69 a gallon- quick math…33 gallons…$88 a tank!!!!!!!!! But Georgia is a much more diesel friendly state, a mere 20 miles from the aforementioned fill up we were surrounded by signs for diesel at less than $2 a gallon. Not since February 2004 have we seen such prices. We were elated. This is what my life has come to- I celebrate gas prices, how far I have fallen and how fast…

I digress. Back to Georgia. Once parked in our spot we decided to tour the island by bicycle. This is where the Jekyll everyone gushes about starts to come into view for me. Our first stop is the fishing pier from which you can see the surrounding islands, lighthouse and the mainland, as well as teams of fishermen and looky-loos. From there we dumb lucked our way onto Driftwood Beach. It was a surreal tangle of downed and bleached trees, sand and surf.

The fishing pier.

There are about 18 miles of bike trails and that night we rode eight. We passed by the historic district, some old ruins and expansive beaches. At night back at camp we locked ourselves in our muggy camper, unable to so much as open the windows since no-see-ums seem to pass through our screens with the greatest of ease.

In the morning we loaded up packs and hit the bike trail once more. We rode all 18 miles of trail. We toured the Island Museum and played croquet on the lawn in front of the Jekyll Club Hotel. (I won). We walked the southern beaches and marveled at the dozens of sand dollars we saw. What we did not do is go swimming. The chocolate brown water was not inviting, so instead we drank smoothies and sought shade to cool off. One more night in the entombed camper and our time on the Island was over.

The hotel, see the croquet court in front?

It is a beautiful place. A perfect family island where you could send your kids off on their bikes knowing they’d be safe and well entertained. The island has an interesting history and the museum or an island tour are worth the time. Also Jekyll is home to one of the coolest bookstores I have ever seen. It is in the old infirmery, which was a residence before that. Cookbooks are in the kitchen, kids books in the nursery and so on. Today we crossed the bridge and are staying in Passport America campground for $12. Tomorrow we venture on to Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina.

May 20, 2005

Recounting Florida

Sunday was a four-state day. It was not supposed to be, we had planned for a nice afternoon drive over to Gulf State Park in Alabama. Many campers had recommended this park and we decided that we could fork over the $25/ night fee, because it came so highly recommended. I am sure it is a nice enough park but on Sunday almost all of it was closed. All but about 20 campsites were blocked off, as was the lake and beach access. Seems they were re-stocking the lake and maybe recovering from some hurricane damage. This constituted our biggest wrong turn yet, we went more than 60 miles out of our way only to turn right back around for where we’d come from. The next few hours we hugged the coast into Florida. All of the Gulf Islands parks were closed more or less along this portion of the panhandle coast, due to the lasting effects of Hurricane Ivan. So we trudged onward hoping to find a beach front park that was open.

We saw plenty of evidence of the destruction that Ivan caused. It seemed as though at least half of the houses we drove past in Pensacola proper were covered in tarps waiting their turn for a new roof. Boats were hundreds of feet away from the water and piles of debris we still all over. Although it does seem that the beach and tourist areas were first in line for repairs and those parts are almost back to their pre-Ivan grandeur. The hurricane must have been pretty specific in what it hit, because not 20 miles out of Pensacola there were no more tarps, or abandoned ship wrecks, just pristine white beach and beautiful oceanfront homes.

We ended up at Grayton Beach State Recreation Area, just outside of Seaside. The beaches here are truly some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The sand is pure white and extremely fine. Seaside is obviously a retirement/ vacation community, with lots of money. All of the buildings are brightly painted in Caribbean colors and most have widow’s walks or mock lighthouse towers on top. The town beach is speckled with rental chairs, umbrellas, kayaks and the like.

Grayton beach in contrast had just families enjoying the beach with floaties and sand castle making apparatus. We spent yesterday roasting ourselves on the park’s beach and trying to get the low-down on Florida surfing. It was a fine day and much needed since Sunday we were driving from 9:30am to 6:30pm. We invented Surf Frisbee, where the thrower times their toss so that the catcher must dive into a crashing wave in order to save the Frisbee from being washed out to sea. We stayed two nights at the very nice campground and now we are headed across Florida to Jacksonville, in hopes of finding some surf before turning north.

Tuesday and Wednesday.

We ended up at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine. Did you know that St. Augustine is the nations oldest city? It was “discovered” by Ponce de Leon in 1565 (Gene check my dates ;) and is home to the fabled Fountain of Youth. Anyway we went their not searching for eternal youth but for surfing. We camped in the park, (as a side note may I inform you that camping in Florida is not cheap), cost $26.07 a night. The campground is a good ¾ of a mile from the surf break so we got a bit of a workout carrying our boards and needed beach items. Moms with three kids carry less to the beach than we do. This was our first taste of East Coast surfing and it was fun but very different. The breaks here so far are very hectic by comparison. The paddle out is through constantly crashing waves and the breaks are inconsistent so the idea of paddling out past the breakers and paddling in to catch a wave doesn’t work. Just when you think you are out far enough a wave barrels onto your head. So instead you are constantly paddling trying to stay ahead or behind of the whitewash.


In an attempt to save some money we went north to Hanna City Park in Jacksonville. We are purposely stalled out here for a few days because it is the cheapest camping we have found yet, $16/night and also has surfing. Hanna is on the north end of the city and abuts the naval base. The beach here is pretty and relatively empty for being in a big city. Also what it lacks in consistent surf it makes up for, in my opinion, with the millions of shells that wash up on the shore daily. I can’t think of a better shell gathering beach that we have come across. The campground is big, there are something like 300 spaces, but very lush and forested so it doesn’t feel so jam packed. There are even mountain biking trails here, around 14 miles of them.

Hanna Beach and the city of Jacksonville.
This afternoon we left the beach when it got windy and a little overcast, opting for biking instead. We made it about two miles before the skies opened up on us. We hadn’t anticipated rain and this storm hit fast so we had not really closed up the camper. For a minute we thought about seeking shelter but opted instead for a mad dash back to the campground. The resulting ride and deluge was so much fun that I honestly laughed the whole way. We rode through foot deep puddles, through quicksand and some too close lightening, racing each other all the way. I was soaked to the bone and having the time of my life. I love rain, especially warm rain.

I know everyone in their right mind goes indoors when a torrential rainstorm hits, but I love nothing more than standing out in it, head up, mouth open, taking it all in. When I was a kid we lived in an apartment in Cincinnati, which has some great storms. My room was in the back on the top floor, the roof slanted so that all of the rain hit and ran back towards my room. When it rained the echoes off the metal roof were music to my ears. To this day I sleep so well when it rains, and I could lie in bed and listen to it for hours if I wasn’t tired. The roof of the camper makes a similar noise and I adore it just as much. For now though the rain has stopped and only the frogs and crickets drown out the other campers.

This beach was in Mississipi, I did not know that the Magnolia state had beaches like this.

May 15, 2005

Ticfaw, Swamp Tours and 'Nawlins

Gator Day

Today is Friday the 13th. Unlucky? I think not. Today we saw gators and turtles and even a cottonmouth. The day began at Ticfaw Park, which is just such an amazing state park. Dan and I rode our bikes all around and walked along all of the boardwalks they have set up. The park is a science teacher’s dream come true. The interpretive trails, as well as the nature center, are chock full of swamp land facts and history. While the park seemed to be teaming with school groups, most were regimented to guided tours and so we had the trails to ourselves as long as we beat the school busses. On our return trip a park maintenance man stopped in his souped up golf cart and asked if we’d noticed the gator we’d just passed (see picture above), we hadn’t. After he pointed that one out, all of 50’ from us, he told us about a pond right behind where we were camped that had “no less then five of ‘em” in it. So of course the pond was our next stop.


See the turtles on the log?

Ticfaw's water park.

The placards in the park talked about the region’s history and about how the land went from being stripped of all trees to being fertile land for farming the best strawberries around. Well as we were leaving the park we passed a “U Pick-em” strawberry farm, so we did. For $5 we got more berries than we could possibly eat, we have since been pawning them off any poor soul who happens by our campsite.

Tonight we are camped in our first ever KOA. This is for two reasons. One because it is really to close to the swamp tour I am getting ready to tell you about. And two because today is the second ever “Come Camp with Us Day”, where most KOA’s offer a free night of camping.


I was in Nawlin’s for a wedding about a year and a half ago. I had one day to sightsee and got talked out of what I really wanted to do, a swamp tour. I mean when you’re in Louisiana you must eat mudbugs, drink a hurricane and go swampin’. So this time I put my foot down (read as: begged Dan to forget our budget for a day and let me go) and off we went. From our free spot we drove about 10 miles to Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours, there Captain Ben took us (and 22 other touristas) on a two-hour honest-to-God swamp ture (I know tour is spelled t-o-u-r but ture is how it is said around these parts). The ture was complete with gators, nutrias (second largest rodent in the world) and many shanty swamp homes that make our trailer digs look mighty fine.

Cyprus Tree with Spanish Moss.

A six foot gator.


That is New Orleans to you folks. Today we took the free KOA shuttle into the Big Easy, this helped us to justify the $30 price tag on our no-frills camp site. Once in town we started the epic hiking tour that would last us eight hours. We strolled all along the River Trail, throughout the Garden District and mainly through the French Quarter. We ate our way through the town, gator, beignets and po’ boys, none were spared.

In the background, in green, you can make out what Dan's eating.

We stopped and listened to street performers and enjoyed the numerous artists who peddle their wares along the square. We spent about an hour listening to a fantastic Creole band and savoring the buy one get two free ways of Bourbon Street. Finally at 7pm we poured ourselves back into the van and returned to our home for an early night.

The lead singer/ accordian player of the Creole band we listened to.

We loved this guy, a quintessential bluesman, ripping it up on his harmonica.

The bluesman's boots.

A crane in the Audubon Park.

The street performers were great fun to watch.

More sights from The Garden District.

May 14, 2005

Vicksburg and The Natchez Trace

Part of what has us so excited about this part of the trip is the chance to walk through history. Wednesday we toured Vicksburg National Military Park, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This is site of a famous battle during the Civil War. Lincoln ordered General Ulysses S. Grant to gain control of the Mississippi in order for the Union army to win the war. Vicksburg was the most important of the Confederate strongholds left along the river, and beginning on May 12th 1863 the Union army held the city under Siege until finally, due to constant attack and lack of food and water, the Confederates surrendered on July 4th, 1863. Local legend is that to this day Vicksburg does not celebrate the 4th of July.

The park is filled with monuments erected by each state that had soldiers at the battle. Most notably, Illinois has a giant memorial dome located on the Union side. The battlefield is riddled with signposts marking where the forces drew their lines, sometimes the Union and Confederate lines were less than 20’ from each other. Imagine sitting in a trench for almost two months, 20’ from your sworn enemy, in the heat of a Mississippi summer, wow.

See the sign post along the trees? That was the enemy's post as seen from this cannon site.

Illinois monument's dome.

Our first glimpse of The Mighty Mississippi.

From the Military Park we got onto Natchez Trace Highway, just outside of Jackson, Mississippi. The Trace, or trail, was used by men who floated the Mississippi River in wooden boats laden with goods to be sold in New Orleans. Once they had sold all of their wares, including the wood that was once their boat, they would walk this trail back to Tennessee or Kentucky or wherever home was. In the early 1800’s the trace was enjoying its heyday, inns, locally known as stands sprouted up all along the route, and thousands marched along the trace.

Last night we camped along the highway at the Rocky Springs Site Campground. To our surprise and delight this campground is free. The CG had nice paved sites and bathrooms. A short hike from our rig was a part of the original Trace which we hiked up to the old Rocky Springs town site. All that remains is a falling down church and a few old safes; it is so overgrown that you will need a very vivid imagination to believe that a town of over 2600 people ever existed there.

Part of the Trace.

We followed the remainder of the highway down to Baton Rouge today, stopping to visit Mount Locust, the last remaining Stand (Inn) along the trail. We toured the house and the grounds. It was once a bustling plantation, home to 13 in the family and 50 slaves. On the grounds are both the family cemetery and the slave cemetery, the difference between the two was striking.

The family cemetery is well manicured, has an ornate wrought iron fence surrounding it, and contains traditional headstones and monuments.

In the entire slave cemetery there is but one very small, unmarked headstone, no fence and no discernable upkeep.

Tonight we made our way to Tickfaw state park between Baton Rouge and northern New Orleans. This park is fantastic. Camping is $12/night, which includes water and electricity. There is a new bath house built up high on stilts since we are surrounded by swamp, and even laundry which we are in great need of. The park has tons of activities ranging from, hiking/ biking, a nature center, a water park (this consists of a series of water guns and little slides), to a really great canoe tour that we will have to miss since the shuttle only runs on the weekends.