02-22-2014 to 02-26-2014 Days in Key West

Current temperature at Sigsbee NAS Campground 83F Humidity 74% Partly Cloudy

Key West_049At the moment, we are holed up in the MoHo with the generator on and the air conditioning running full blast.  Being in the dry camping area at the NAS Key West (what used to be called Sigsbee Field) the air conditioner is imperative, even with our lacy shade trees overhead.  At the moment Mo is trying to get our CO2 sensor to quit beeping.  We don’t have a special stack for the generator as suggested, however even if we did, all the other generators going at the moment in these tight quarters might set that sensor off anyway.

Key West_033Jeremy decided to add to the humid, quite warm ambience of the MoHo by adding something of his own.  Albeit in the cat box, still requiring a nice kitty bath to make it all ok again.  Very indignantly, he is trying to lick himself dry now.  Nice to be able to not worry about him catching a cold.  The last few times I have given him a bath in Mo’s collapsible bucket he seems to enjoy it, at least for the most part.  I think his favorite part is getting all swaddled up in the bath towel and cuddled until he is at least partially dry.  He doesn’t complain.

the Overseas HighwayThis is our second full day in the campground, having arrived in late afternoon on Saturday.  The campground office was closed, but after reading several accounts of the procedure, and an emergency call to John (our recent new friends at “Our Trip Around the Sun”, we had an idea where to go and how to proceed.

Within minutes of calling the phone number posted on the office door, a campground host showed up in his little cart and went over the process of signing up officially on Monday morning and led us to what was to be our site for the weekend.  We were tucked back in a circular area with several rigs around us, all running their Honda 2000i’s to ward off the heat.  I guess one of these generators will power a 30 amp rig, but it takes two to power up the big guys with 50 amps.  Only planning on dry camping for 5 nights, we were content to use the generator on board the MoHo.

Key West_065Camping here is an experience at what is most definitely an inside culture of folks who know how to do it, how it works, and those who don’t.  Lucky for us, most of the folks know how to do it, and we have communicated enough with blog friends who have camped here that we had a basic understanding of the rotation system and didn’t give our host too much trouble.  He wasn’t so lucky with some folks arriving just before we did, with a lady waving her arms and looking disgusted trying to wangle a better site on their first night here.  We did know better than that, and Walter, the host, told us that the rotation at the moment is about 4 weeks with more than 200 rigs signed up on the rotation list.

Trumbo Annex, at the Coast Guard facility down the road, is completely full with long time sites that have been filled since Christmas.  We were told there is no chance of getting into that part of the family camp.  Dry camp in this part of camp is mandatory rotation, but with only five nights here, that isn’t an issue for us.  Tired from our journey across the keys, and the traffic and surprising heat and humidity, we settled in with the air conditioner and the generator going full blast. 

Key West_058We had a bit of a hiccup with the generator, being set for high elevation, and no doubt a bit moist from all the humidity, it coughed a bit and died.  Unsure what the problem was and with darkness falling, Mo decided to wait until morning to check the oil and the altitude adjustment.  All was fine after that, but our first night here was a bit of an adjustment for us as well.  With normally balmy temperatures in Key West, we weren’t expecting mid 80’s and little breeze.  From what I have learned, it happens sometimes, but not usually this time of year. 

During our evening walk around the campground, we ran into the camp host and asked what exactly you had to do to draw one of those primo waterfront sites.  He said, “Well, I have one coming in tomorrow that is too big for the site, so you could move in there after ten AM”.  OK then!

Key West_055We went to sleep pretty tickled, got up early to go explore town and get our bearings in the car before our scheduled move.  Back at ten sharp, we checked the site as instructed, and with it empty, we made our move.  No sooner had we dropped the jacks and opened the slide that another camp host arrived to tell us, “Sorry to tell you this, but you have to move.  This site has come up in rotation and you can’t be here.”

Key West_064Instead of staying in our very hot, very fume filled site however, Buzz led me to a shady site that was a bit smaller and was right by the garbage cans.  Oh thank you for a small rig.  Garbage cans or not, this site is shaded with two lovely, lacy trees that are actually nasty invasive species that are overtaking the Keys.  At the moment, with the shade from those trees, we can sit outside in our site and enjoy the cooling breezes, and the MoHo doesn’t get all that hot during the day with just the Fantastic Fan running and the windows open. 

sigsbee 002There are several hundred RVs on site at this moment, and as I said 200 or so are waiting to rotate into a full hookup site.  Generators are allowed to run between 7am and 11pm, and there is a dump and water station.  We learned that if you try to dump during the dark there is a $15,000. fine.  Yup, you read that right.

With all the complexity, it might seem easier to just go to a regular RV park, but at the current rate of $147 per night at the local KOA, and no other parks around, we decided that paying $13.00 per night to camp here was worth it.  Thus far, after about half our five day stay, we have used about 1/4 tank of gasoline to run the generator.  Pretty inexpensive digs to stay in Key West.sigsbee 004

Next post:  Some of the more delightful aspects of staying and visiting in Key West and why we decided it was worth it.

02-13 to 02-18-2014 Five Days in Fort De Soto

Current Location: Fort De Soto Campground 67 degrees F and sunny

Fort Desoto.NEF-006The front door is wide open to the dappled sun coming through the trees here in our campground.  It feels very much like some kind of tropical jungle, with lots of palms and thick vegetation surrounding the campsites.  The temperatures are cool but the sun is absolutely brilliant. 

My muscles feel like jelly in that good way that happens when they are getting properly used.  Mo is reading and napping in the back of the rig while I process photos and try to condense our days into something readable.  Mark Johnson, over at the Box Canyon Blog, is lately one of my favorite writers.  Last night he wrote about how so many of us, RV bloggers specifically, talk about all the wonders of this lifestyle and none of the downside.  Problem is, I can’t at the moment find a downside.  I think it might be like labor…when it is over, you forget.  Especially when the sun is shining.

Fort Desoto-010Because of the mix-up in our original reservation, we had to move after our first night here, and tomorrow will have to move again to another campsite.  It isn’t a big problem, though, and we like the new spot we are moving to as much as the first one.  This site, 147, is huge and is one of the few pull through’s in this part of the park.  Even though it is also private, it is so big that it feels a bit like a road and we are just plopped down in the middle of it.  Still, the shade on this warmish sunny afternoon is lovely.

Fort De Soto is actually a Pinellas County Park, south of St Petersburg.  It consists of five offshore keys, or islands, lying to the city’s south-southwest: Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and the main island, Mullet Key. All are connected by either bridge or causeway to each other. The island group is accessible by a toll road from the mainland. Water everywhere!  Many of the campsites are waterfront, and half the park is dog friendly.  Campsites become available six months before your intended booking date, and when I attempted to book our sites, I had a bit of difficulty getting one, much less a waterfront site.  I keep forgetting about little things like holiday weekends. 

Fort Desoto-004It is a truly beautiful park, with gorgeous white sand beaches, calm bayous for kayaking, mangrove swamps and sea oats on sugar sand.  The campground is thick with palms and life oaks that hang over the roadways, with warning signs saying to watch for low hanging branches, yet I have seen many very large rigs parked in the private,  spacious campsites.  It is a bit spendy.  I keep forgetting what we paid for this park, maybe on purpose…maybe because it was prepaid six months ago.  With taxes and such, I think it was a bit over $40 per night, probably will qualify as our spendiest camp for the entire three months.

Fort Desoto-020It is worth every single penny.  As I said, water everywhere, even a large off leash dog beach and a huge doggie park with a cooling wash station for hot summer days or getting out the salt water after doggie swims. 

A paved bicycle trail runs the entire length of the key from end to end and past the campground with workout stations placed here and there and an occasional sign naming trees or plants in the area. 

The park is named for Fort De Soto, located at the point where Mullet Key intercepts the channel into Tampa Bay. It was first surveyed in 1849 and Union troops were stationed here during the Civil War to aid in the blockade of Tampa Bay.  It wasn’t until the Spanish-American war however, that the fort was built.  It operated as a strategic defense from 1898 to 1910 and was decommissioned after that time.There are a few cannon and some ramparts to view at the site of the fort, but the most interesting exhibit are one bunker with old photos of the history of the fort and old maps of the surrounding keys. 

on the bike trail at Fort DeSotoI don’t think many people come here to see the fort, however.  This place is all about the water, with a large boat launch area to the north, and countless spots where a kayak can launch.  On one of the blustery days when we explored North Beach, we saw kite surfers doing their thing on the wild water.  The winds were over 10 mph and watching those guys fly across the water was almost as impressive as watching them fall.  Neither of us could figure out how someone would go about learning this crazy sport.

Wildlife is everywhere, the small variety, especially raccoons.  They are so dang cute, and of course they raid the garbage cans and campsites.  Signs everywhere proclaim, don’t feed the wildlife!.  And the birds!  There are birds everywhere, especially shore and water birds.  Mo keeps saying…oh another egret?  How many photos of egrets and herons can you take? Egrets here seem a bit like robins in the north country in springtime.

into the slough north of North Beach on Mullet KeyWe have so enjoyed our time here.  With good weather most of the time and several days to enjoy it, we have biked the trail, walked the beaches, kayaked the bayous and taken Abby to the dog beach.  I do not remember when we did what at all, everything is running together.  I think that is how it is supposed to be when relaxing at a great camp, right?

All the spacious restrooms are an open design with round buildings and open drains around the inside edge.  Interesting and functional.  At each restroom there is a washer and dryer for a buck each outside on the breezeway.  There are also a great number of garbage cans, almost a pair for every few sites, and it seems they are emptied quite often. There is a boat launch, and a small camp store.  Getting back to town for any kind of shopping requires a bit of driving and two bridge tolls of less than a dollar each, so it is better to come here with all that is needed for your stay.

Pass a Grille-006What I do remember is early yesterday morning, rising before sunrise to get over to Pass a Grille Beach south of St Pete Beach for my little ceremony for Bel.  I had promised her I would take her to the beach, so after almost a year since her passing, I finally was able to keep that promise.  Bel was honored with a setting full moon over the gulf as the sun rose in the east over the bay. 

Pass a Grille is a tiny treasure, a peninsula less than a mile wide south along the gulf with a long lovely beach.  Unlike much of the Florida coastline, here the houses are less than two stories and are on the other side of the road from the beach walk and access to the beach is completely public.  Much of the town is on the National Historic Register. No dogs again, but that wasn’t a problem for us on this early morning since we left Abby back at the MoHo to keep Jeremy company.

Pass a Grille-010Afterward, Mo and I decided that a good breakfast was in order and driving north past the gorgeous Don Cesar Hotel toward St Pete Beach, we found a funky little place called the Toasted Monkey.  With friendly down home waitresses in shorts, mimosa’s on the breakfast menu, and several menu items with gravy, we had a great breakfast. One shared plate was plenty for the two of us. We even got a touch of TV.  I think there were at least a dozen in the restaurant and we could see 4 or so from our table.  Maybe it was a sports bar.  We did get to see the US hocky team playing Russia and were glad to hear that they won.

We then tried to find somewhere to buy our traditional Sees chocolates, with the official Sees website stating that a kiosk was available in St Petersburg.  Suddenly we were in Florida hell, the Florida that all the westerners cite when they say they would never come to Florida because it is too full of people and traffic.  It was nasty.  I kept thinking about how awful it would be to actually live here. 

Pass a Grille.NEF-003I found the Sees at Dillards, my favorite department store, but I wasn’t in the least bit of a mood for shopping and got out of there fast…in time to get back on a busy road and try to find our way across a busy town back to our idyllic little island campground.  Whew!

More excitement came on Saturday as we waited for the month’s mail to arrive USPS Express.  With a guaranteed Saturday delivery, we were a bit anxious when nothing had arrived at the campground by 4 pm.  Finally the desk help, and old southern boy, said, “Well, I don’t think anyone went to get the mail today.”   Seems as though the mail is delivered in a box on the other side of the bridge and the post office refuses to come out to the island.  (Sure wish they had told us that when they insisted we should have our mail sent directly to the campground!)

Pass a GrilleThe help decided they could make the 15 minute run to the Post Office to pick up mail after all, and after another half an hour I returned to the office to find that the expected packet of mail did NOT come with the Saturday delivery.  UhOh.  There is a lot of stuff in that packet, including a big refund check for our Michelin tires and all our income tax papers.  Sheesh.  With the holiday I was in a panic thinking we would have to figure out a way to wait around until Tuesday afternoon for the mail to be delivered.

Home to the rig to check the tracking number which said the packet was out for delivery on Saturday at 10 AM.  ???  I went back up to the office, where the old southern boy sheepishly held up our packet saying, “I guess someone delivered it this morning and it was on the desk.  No one thought to look on the desk”.  Ok Then.  All is well that ends well and we got our mail.  I am glad we only have to do this one more time on this trip and hopefully the mid March mail delivery will be without incident.

Mo on the beach at Fort DeSotoI used the crock pot again to make some carnitas beef and as it was cooking, instead of those wonderful smells wafting through the MoHo we kept thinking, “What IS that smell?!”  I had purchased a carnitas spicy sauce slow cooking packet at Whole Foods, one of my few luxury purchases. After several hours it was so bad that I had to put the crock pot outside and turn on the fan.  I can’t even give the meat to the animals because it is too spicy.  I have no idea what the weird flavor in that sauce was, but I hope I never encounter it again.

See, Mark Johnson?  All isn’t perfect in the RV world.

fort desoto imageryTomorrow the forecast is for even warmer temperatures, clear skies and no wind.  That calls for another kayak, another walk on the dog beach, another bike ride and hopefully something tasty for supper.  Tonight it will be tasty cheese quesadillas, with lots of jalapenos and no meat.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

yellow crowned night herons are not the least bit skittish

01-07 to 01-09-2014 From Emerald to Forgotten

Current:Manatee Springs State Park, Sunny with predicted high temp 70 F

St Joe SP_017The Emerald Coast of Northwestern Florida has many wonders.  The sand is probably the whitest I have seen anywhere and the emerald to turquoise colored waters rival anything I have seen in the Caribbean. It also has high rises, and traffic, and requires some skill to manage with a dog.  The cool (can you say cold?) temperatures were not a surprise.  Southern Florida is warm in winter.  I spent enough time in Ocala to know that winter frosty days are not unusual in Northern Florida.  And the “dry season” isn’t always that dry. 

St Joe SP_013Still, unless you want to barrel through the state on interstates, the Emerald Coast through Pensacola, Destin, and toward Panama City is the best way to get to another secret of Florida, The Forgotten Coast.  We decided to skip 30A and stayed a bit north to travel highway 98 toward Panama City.

A great resource for dog owners is a website called BringFido.com, with listings of dog friendly resources all around the country.  In a state famous for No Dog beaches, with that trusty little website I found a surprise.  With the exception of St Joe Peninsula State Park (our destination) most of the beaches in Gulf County are dog friendly!  Amazing!

St Joe SP_001The warm sunshine was glorious when we parked the rig at the Pier at Panama City Beach, in a huge empty parking lot next to Margueritaville. There is a small area west of the pier for a few hundred feet that is not only dog friendly, but no leash required.  Abby got a dose of playing in the water and we got another dose of pure white sand, this time accompanied by bright sun and balmy breezes.  Almost warm enough to take off the jackets!

St Joe SP_021Still in the morning hours when we arrived, the touristy town with beach shopping and bright colors was fairly quiet, traffic was minimal, and people were scattered.  Looking around, I could only imagine what this place might be like just a little bit later in the season.  Spring Break is approaching in another couple of weeks and I don’t think I would want to be here then.

site 42 in Gulf BreezeAfter our relaxed respite on the beach, we continued east along the coast toward Panama City, a town that seemed a bit worn for wear.  Best find for us was a rig friendly car wash, where we managed to get the salt and sand washed off the MoHo and the Tracker before heading for another salty, sandy beach camp.

Early afternoon arrival at St Joseph Peninsula State Park was perfect.  When making all the crazy reservations I worked on last summer, I decided to skip this park, but last week thought better of it and added two nights using ReserveAmerica.  Most of the Florida State Parks that I have reserved seem to use this system.  On arrival, we were glad to have a reservation since even in early afternoon the park was nearly full.

St Joe SP_025-001Ahhh….now this is why I wanted to come to Florida.  No high rises, no traffic, slow roads and quiet beaches, bays filled with birds and calm water.  Sunshine.  Sunrises and Sunsets on the beach. 

Our first afternoon and evening were simple, with walks on the boardwalk and through the campgrounds with Abby, and beach walks for me.  No dogs on the beaches here, but there are several trails around that do allow dogs on leashes.

St Joe SP_010.NEFSaturday morning we decided the weather was perfect for a bay kayak, and drove around to explore the peninsula a bit before deciding where to launch.  The campgrounds are about half way down the long, narrow curve of Cape San Blas, with the northern end of the cape protected as a wildlife preserve.  With a simple free pass obtained at the entry station, we were allowed to drive into the reserve.  Thinking that the road (showing up on google maps) went all the way to the end, we were surprised to discover that the road was gated, and it was a 6.5 mile walk to the northern tip of the reserve.

St Joe SP_064.NEFInstead, we parked at the beach access parking lot, and with cool temperatures, clouds, and shade, decided to let Abby wait in the car while we walked across the dunes to see the beach. At 12 years old, Abby seems to finally get the idea that we will return, and we didn’t see any evidence of frantic dog after our 45 minute walk.  Even a short walk on the beach with the two of us was nice, since sometimes in places like this we need to take turns.  I tend to be more the beach walker and Mo will walk Abby on the roads and trails around the campground.

Mid-afternoon, the sun was out in full force and we decided to launch from the Bay Picnic area.  What appeared to be a muddy launching beach turned out to be firm sand with no drop off and a few inches of water.  It was probably the easiest launch ever for us!

St Joe SP_098.NEFKayaking the bay was perfect, with glassy water much of the time, and now and then a slight breeze bringing up a few gorgeous ripples reflecting on the sandy bottom.  After a mile or so, we passed the rental cabins in the preserve, and the sand dunes and scrub forest were empty of anything but birds and an occasional hiker. (Judy, this photo is for you!   Abby rides in front of Mo and her life jacket is orange, so that is why you may not see her in the photos all the time, but she is there.)

who are you and why are you here?The water was never more than a few feet deep, and several times we saw huge conch shells.  At first, thinking it was a great find, I tried to pick the heavy shell up with my paddle.  Even with two of us trying to get to the shell, we couldn’t get it up.  A bit later, I found another one and managed to pick it up, only to discover a very disgruntled black critter inside.  We saw several more, and figured out that it wasn’t worth trying to get one because they were probably all inhabited.

little snowy egretCape San Blas curves back around St Joseph Bay to the north and east, with the tip of the cape very close to the mainland.  We wanted a simple kayak, not a marathon, so we spent about two hours on the water and traveled only halfway toward the end of the cape before turning back.

St Joe SP_054After supper, I decided to take another walk over the boardwalk to the beach to catch the sunset.  I think about half the campground population was out there, many of them with a drink in their hands and their beach chairs, ready to toast the sunset.  The previous night had been beautiful as well, but with some clouds and cool winds there hadn’t been nearly as many people.

The night skies were dark and brilliant with stars after the quarter moon went down.  There were cardinals and mockingbirds everywhere, egrets and herons in the pond behind our site, pelicans and stilts on the beach, and even a bald eagle just east of the campground.  This is the Florida I wanted, the Florida I imagined when I said to Mo, “Let’s spend a winter in Florida!”.  I think the sunny day kayaking on St Joseph Bay may have won her over.

There are many many photos in my google photo albums, and in the interest of bandwidth I have only put a few of them here.  If you have the time, check them out hereSt Joe SP_049


1-22-2014 Sam Houston Jones State Park, LA taking a slow day

Current Location: Belle Chasse NAS LA  Current Temperature: 32 and “ice pellets”

Sam Houston SP_035After our busy short week at the NAS near Corpus Christi, wonderful visits with friends, and trying to see as much as possible, Mo and I both were ready for a bit of down time. When planning this trip, I had the sense that might be the case and I wanted a park that could be a resting place about half way between Corpus Christi and New Orleans that wasn’t far off our route.

Sight unseen, and with no friends leaving campground reviews, Sam Houston Jones State Park turned out to be a perfect choice. The distance from Anahuac NWR wasn’t long, just a short leg on our journey east toward New Orleans.  We are getting close to the day when we will board a cruise ship heading for the Caribbean….hopefully the current cold snap won’t extend all the way south to Belize and Honduras!

Sam Houston SP_008We arrived early afternoon and with reservations arranged for a site with electric and water there was no concern about space.  Once there, however, we decided that the space on the end row, number 33 was much more to our liking than site 27 I had chosen online right in the middle.  There are sites big enough for large rigs in the central area of camping loop B that have full hookups with sewer, but we didn’t need sewer for just two nights.  There is also a dump station nearby.  There are two very large, “premium” sites that have long, level concrete pads close the the rest room building. 

Sam Houston SP_007Seems as though there is some kind of dutch oven cook-off coming up, but we didn’t know that, and the minute we arrived a very loud, very verbal, very intrusive gentleman in an electric scooter came over to tell us how to hook up, where to put the motorhome, how to put down the jacks and how to hook up the water.  He just kept talking.  Mo said to me, “I do NOT want to stay here”, so I went back to the office and arranged a move.

Within minutes, we again had our privacy and silence.  Whew!  The site was perfect for us, even though the water faucet sprayed all over the place.  Mo simply put a rag over it to contain the spray, and we unhooked it at night.  Needed to do that anyway since temperatures were dropping below freezing due to the Arctic Polar Chill Thingy coming south to Louisiana. 

Sam Houston SP_016I reserved two nights so that we could have a nice afternoon and then one entire full day doing absolutely nothing.  What a perfect place to do that.  The daytime temperatures weren’t too bad even with the cold nights.  I spent most of our day off writing and processing photos while Mo sat outside in the sunshine enjoying her book. 

Sam Houston SP_029In spite of our commitment to do nothing, we couldn’t resist going for a walk around the expansive park.  Although the sounds of Moss Bluff, the small town nearby, are evident, the park itself is beautifully quiet.  There is something quite haunting about Louisiana bayou country.  The water is everywhere, the cypress, even without their leaves, are fascinating with their little knees all around.  The thought that there are poisonous snakes in the underbrush and alligators hiding on the muddy banks of the waterways makes it a tiny bit threatening, but not too much.

The park is encircled by the meandering Calcasieu River. There is a boat launch to the river, and nearby there was a large swamp/pond that was completely dry, and with all the wetness in other parts of the park, we never quite figured that out.  No alligators here, that is for sure! Sam Houston SP_023

On our way back to our campsite, we took the leaf covered Orange Trail around the perimeter of the park for an easy  1.6 mile walk.  The trail winds through the forest  and emerges  at times for views of the huge Louisiana homes that line the banks of the river across from the park.  Late afternoon sunlight filtering through the dripping Spanish moss on the barren cypress trees was reflected in the water of the swamps.

Sam Houston SP_037One of the greatest things about the park, that would make us return, were the roads and paths that were perfect for biking.  Of course, on this, our do-nothing day, we didn’t even take the bikes off the rack. The campground bathrooms were pretty darn sweet as well, with plenty of room and privacy, and lots of hot water.  For some reason on this trip, I seem to be using campground showers more than in the past.  It just seems easier sometimes and letting that hot water run forever when I am tired is a huge luxury.Sam Houston SP_030

Jeremy loved this spot, and spent a lot of time exploring close to the campsite, enjoying scratching on various trees and balancing on the cement culvert barriers.  Abby could hang around off leash and was completely protected from view by the angle of the parked motorhome and car.  We had a nice solid picnic table, and wonder of wonders a campfire ring!  Even more wonder, we could actually have a fire.Sam Houston SP_044

I don’t think I mentioned that Mo found some really good firewood in the middle of nowhere when we were boondocked at Joshua Tree.  Yup, that was a month ago.  We have carried that firewood in the Tracker the entire time, dribbling dust and bark on all our stuff, but it was worth it when Mo started up our evening campfire and we ate dinner once again outside by the warm flames.

CaptureTwo nights and a day of nothing were just what we needed before continuing east.  Thursday morning dawned gray, with some predicted rain, but the hard freeze didn’t materialize and the coldest temperatures were in the low 30’s.  I think we left the Lake Charles area just in time because today there has been freezing rain and sleet and even snow right behind us.

Atchafalaya_014The trip to New Orleans was a simple one.  I had no desire to repeat the route along US 90, that goes through Avery Island and into New Orleans along a southern path.  In 2007 we followed that route, and I used the blog to remind us that it was long and bumpy and that we never wanted to repeat it.  Instead we traveled the also bumpy I-10, but at least the speeds were more acceptable.

Both Judy and daughter Deanna had mentioned the Atchafalaya Bridge that crosses the Atchafalaya Basin, and the Atchafalaya Visitor Center as something not to be missed.  They were so right!!  In fact, we were so aghast at the wonder of that bridge that we actually missed the quick turn into the visitor center and had to continue several miles before we could exit and turn around.  This gave us the chance to cross part of that engineering challenge three times!

Atchafalaya_023The Visitor Center was in a bit of turmoil, with new septic systems being installed and new kiosks.  When I walked in the big doors on the wide southern porch, my mouth dropped open in amazement.  I don’t think I ever heard the word “Atchafalaya” before, and knew absolutely nothing about the Atchafalaya Basin.

The Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest river swamp, containing almost one million acres of America’s most significant bottomland hardwoods, swamps, bayous, and backwater lakes.  This is the heart of Cajun Country, and I learned the difference between Cajun and Creole, and watched the movie in the round theater about the ecologically rich swamp that surrounded me. The place caught my heart deeply, and yes, I do want to return. 

Atchafalaya_022No matter what, if you are on I-10, crossing this amazing bridge, stop at the visitor center.  Surprisingly, the center had extensive information about the Atchafalaya Basin, but nothing on the construction of the bridge.  Searching the internet, I found that to build the bridge, they first had to build a canal that could open the swamp to transport of vehicles and materials.  The bridge is 18.2 miles long.  The view is of vast wet swamplands, breathtaking in their beauty and wildness.

Within a few more hours, we arrived easily at Naval Air Station at Belle Chasse, on the Westbank side of the Mississippi River just a few miles south of New Orleans.  I had read about this campground when Erin and Mui stayed here when it was brand new and it is a perfect location to stay while we take a vacation from our vacation.  The campground is clean and simple, with once again, huge private bathroom showers, a great laundry, and quick access to base amenities.  The very best part of this campground, however, is the “away” policy.

The collage below is of some of the vignettes at the Atchafalaya Visitor Center01-22-2014 slow day in Louisiana

When we leave for our cruise on Saturday, we have only to pull in the slide and disconnect the hookups.  We can then leave the rig parked here for the entire length of the cruise for just $1.00 per day.  Yup.  You read that right.  A buck a day to store the motorhome.  The fur kids will be staying at a nice doggie and kitty condo back in New Orleans while we take an animal break.  And yes, I am looking forward to that, sorry to say.  Every parent needs a break from the kids now and then.

We spent this very cold, rainy day organizing for our cruise and readying the MoHo for a break from us. I probably will be offline until we return the first week of February. 

Later:  We just dropped Abby and Jeremy off at the Canine Connection in Uptown New Orleans.  Seems like a great facility, and they were all so good at meeting the animals and helping us to feel safe about leaving them there.  I am really delighted with or choice for a boarding facility. 

With a suggestion from Elijah, Kenny’s assistant here at the park, I found and downloaded a Mardi Gras Parade app to the iPhone and it seems there is a parade today on the Westbank…right on our way to the hotel where we will overnight before boarding our ship tomorrow.  So, again, see you later.


Am I on a trip or am I just living life

Agave Gulch Military Family Camp Davis Monthan AFB Tucson AZ High today 67 F currently 48 degrees F and clear

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaI had a moment this morning, while walking to the laundry, that felt like I wasn’t traveling at all, that I was just living “life”.  I wasn’t on a big trip, I was just doing laundry.  How do you explain moments like that? Of course I am on a “trip”, and yet it feels a bit like full timers feel when they say traveling around the country in a motorhome isn’t a vacation, it is just life.

We landed at Davis-Monthan AFB Agave Gulch Campground yesterday afternoon, early enough that the campground office was still open, and early enough to get settled in before the “big” game between the Packers and the 49rs.  Having lived in the Bay Area for so long, Mo is a 49rs fan.  We weren’t able to get local tv with the antenna, but managed to get a pretty good description of the game on the radio as we settled in for a couple of days here in Tucson.  It was a good day all around, Mo’s team won.

saguaros are like icebergs, you just keep wanting to take photos of themIt was also a good day in that there were plenty of sites to choose from here at the FamCamp, and we got a nice one on the outside loop with no one next to us.  This is definitely a great place to stay in Tucson for just $20 bucks per night for full hookups, minus TV of course.  Hence a game on the radio.  Mo bought a satellite for the MoHo recently but it didn’t arrive before we left on this trip.  Oh wait…we aren’t on a trip….we are just living.  Well, we are living without much TV and I find that extremely relaxing.  It is good to get out of the news cycle now and then.  Of course, I do have the internet and the computer for the really important stuff. Like banking.  What in the world did we do when travelers didn’t have access to online banking? 

I had planned to do laundry here because I remembered the nice clean laundry facility with plenty of machines and only 1.00 to wash and 1.00 to dry.  It is a good place to get the rugs and blankets all spiffed up and fresh again and I took advantage of that yesterday afternoon. 

Today we woke to a free day with wide open possibilities.  Local friends in the Tucson area all seemed to be gallivanting off somewhere else, so there were no visits planned.  Instead we decided to explore a different part of Tucson than we saw when we passed through here in 2007 and again in 2011.

setting out on the Canyon Loop trail at Catalina SPMost of the time we have traveled from the air force base toward the south, with one visit to the downtown area.  This time we traveled north to visit the popular Catalina State Park, at the base of the beautiful Catalina Mountains just north and a bit east of town.  As we drove up Swan Road toward Oracle Road the shift in lifestyles and neighborhoods was dramatic.  The flatter areas were lower middle class homes, tight little neighborhoods with lots of cars parked around and small shops and groceries.  With just a little bit of elevation, the houses got bigger, and as we climbed the hills toward the mountains, the houses and shops increased in value with every foot uphill.

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaBefore long we were in nosebleed territory with Whole Foods anchoring some pretty fancy malls and some houses that looked as big as hotels.  Of course there were also hotels and spas behind huge gates, all with gorgeous views of the city below and the Catalina Mountains behind.  It was beautiful, and especially in January I could imagine living here.  In some other very wealthy life, I am sure.

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and she lived in Tucson when I first started reading her books. She and her husband and family picked up lock stock and barrel and relocated to her ancestral home in the Appalachian Mountains.  She said she wanted to live a more sustainable life, where there was water and soil and you could grow your own food.  Tucson is lovely in many ways, but would be pure hell without air conditioning.

Montrose Pools on the Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaStill, as we meandered into Catalina State Park, the Arizona sun worked its magic on us entirely.  The day was clear and nicely warm with a cooling breeze.  The skies were so blue they almost hurt.  Many bloggers have extolled the virtues of Catalina State Park, and it almost seemed like too much hoopla to me, so I was never that anxious to get there.  I was so wrong.

What a gorgeous place to be in January.  We checked out the campground loops and decided that yes, we could definitely spend a week or more here hiking these beautiful mountains.  Funny, because the last time we were in Tucson we thought we never needed to come back unless we were passing through as we did this time.  After our day in Catalina SP, I can see us coming back again for some January sunshine and blue skies.

happy dogThe main reason we decided to visit this park was to enjoy the dog friendly trails.  So often park trails are closed to dogs and it was great to find some areas that let us bring Abby along.  She especially loved the cool water in the creek that meandered though the canyon floor.  We did too, and took our time hiking three miles or so and stopping for photos and just sitting by the bubbling stream. What a perfect day!

We had planned a couple of other activities for the day, but by the time we left the park the afternoon traffic was getting thicker and we decided to skip the tour of the downtown art colony and instead go back home to our waiting supper.  I recently found a nice little crockpot and decided it was time to make a stew, so it had been cooking all day while we were gone.  Nice to come home to dinner all ready to go after a long day.

three favorite kitchen items for the MoHoJeremy wasn’t too happy for us to be gone that long, and did some old cat things that made me not so happy as well.  sigh.  I am glad he is with us….most of the time.  Sometimes not so much. I am doing more laundry tonight, catching up on photos and blogs while I wait for the last batch to finish. 

Tomorrow we will continue east toward Las Cruces.  An easy day of Interstate 10 driving and an early arrival at a Passport America park within walking distance to Old Mesilla and some Mexican food!