Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hot Weather in Truth or Consequences, Then Up to Santa Fe National Forest!

My painting on the cover of the Artists Directory

After getting back from Florida, I hung out in Truth or Consequences, NM, for a few weeks.  

Some significant things happened during that time.  First, I had been keeping secret for a while that one of my paintings, "God as Explained by a Four-Year-Old," had been selected to appear on the cover of the Sierra County Arts Council's Artists Directory 2018.  This is a great honor that has already brought some attention to Sun Gallery and has made me think about painting more fantasy folk art portraiture.

 Sly came over for coffee first thing on Mother's Day!

Second, my daughter Sly came to live in TorC!  I am so happy about this development.  I wasn't sure if I would be, because what if she couldn't find work and housing right away?  But that was no problem.  Sly was working at Passion Pie Cafe and had a little studio apartment (beyond her means up in Seattle, but affordable here) within eight days of arriving.  Sly is also being extremely helpful to me in my gallery, doing some sign painting, challenging cleaning jobs that require getting on ladders, etc.  An additional part of this happy story is that Sly's girlfriend Charlie will also be moving to TorC very soon.

 Some of Sly's paintings from her first art show

I spent a few weeks staying at some of my favorite campgrounds around TorC and then moved behind the Gallery for a few days during my monthly Art Hop opening at Sun Gallery.  This month we featured some of Sly's paintings that she'd brought down from Seattle.  Her work is gloomy and cool, and two paintings sold. 

 Fairy garden in a boat...a fairy boat?

May was also Fairy Garden Month at Sun Gallery.  I made some gardens, sold some planters and figurines from my Fairy Garden Center, and had a Fairy Garden Tea Party on Mother's Day.  As a full-time RVer, I find it really fun to get my hands in the dirt once in a while, and fairy gardens (miniature gardens with houses and other features that  welcome any fairies who happen along) are a great way to satisfy my need to garden.  I think I will also get a little cactus for Brownie, now that we have consistently hot weather.

 Sonja enjoying a new RoadPro 12v fan

Speaking of which...this will be my first summer in New Mexico when I haven't had an RV park site to come back to where I can hook up to A/C whenever needed, which is pretty much every day from May through August.  The 100-degree temps kind of scared me for a while.  I was trying to picture how I would deal with it, because I'd really prefer to stay someplace prettier than the parking lot behind my art gallery.

However, one day I had a little scare, and it changed my feelings about this.  I was staying on the Rio Grande about six miles from downtown TorC and I got a stomach flu.  I'd planned to drive back into town and hook up to electricity at the gallery, because the afternoon temp was supposed to be near 100 degrees.  I called Steve and said I might need his help getting back into town before it got very hot and uncomfortable.  He and our friend Claudia came out immediately and saved my about-to-be-sizzling bacon!  Back in town behind the gallery, I could use the A/C while I rested and recuperated.  

Now my feeling about staying behind the gallery is--I am one lucky artist!  I can stay there and get lots of work done, any time of the day or night, and be safe from overheating the cat and myself.  Many of my artist-on-wheels friends would love to have my arrangement, and I am full of gratitude.

My campsite at the Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering in the Santa Fe NF

Speaking of traveling creatives...after Art Hop/Hot Springs Festival/Mothers Day weekend, I left for northern New Mexico to meet up with members of the Rubber Tramp Art Community.  We are an intentional community of nomadic artists that first met just four months ago at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite and have since formed this community.  If you are interested in participating, you can join our Rubber Tramp Art Community (RTAC) FaceBook page.  We are planning our next gathering in late July-early August in northern Arizona.

I left TorC a little over a week ago.  The first night, I only went so far as the Socorro Walmart, where I spent the night along with about a half-dozen other RVs and got provisions for the journey.  We'd planned to have potlucks and a couple of theme nights (baked potato night and chili night), so I had to think about what I could make for a group.  It's funny how when I was not all that much younger and had a family to feed, I could effortlessly make menus and shop for an entire week, but now I am challenged at the prospect of cooking for more than one or two people.   

 I was close to a little creek and bridge

The next morning, I continued up I-25 until it was time to veer northwest on Highway 550 north of Albuquerque.  Then I went east on Highway 96, where I stopped at the Coyote Ranger Station in the Santa Fe National Forest and got detailed maps that guided me up to the Resumidero Campground.  The drive up was about 10 miles of dirt roads, with many more dirt roads heading off from the one I needed to keep following.  It was a little tricky, but one of our members, Sarah Meg, really scoped it out and gave us good directions.  

 My campsite's picnic table made a great painting studio except when it was too windy

This 9000-foot altitude campground was definitely worth the drive.  It's several wide open meadows surrounded by forest.  Equestrian groups use it pretty heavily in the summer, but we saw only cows, cowboys, and a few other campers.  Mostly it was our group of 10 people who spread out and filled up about one-and-a-half of the meadows.  We were also near a spring, where we went to do some plein air painting under the able tutelage of Bob Ross-certified instructor Wendy, who was later named Camp Princess (a completely positive nickname!).  

We set up a place where we gathered for two or three activities a day.  We had a daily morning meeting where we worked some Artists Way and other spiritual exercises.  We sometimes had a class or activity in the afternoon.  Danielle taught us how hand sew our own travel journals or sketchbooks.  (She makes her own watercolor sketchbooks for about a third of the price of buying them!)  I repeated my Easy Mandala Drawing class from the RTR.  Some afternoons we just did our own thing.  And then there was dinner.  Oh, boy, was there ever dinner!  What a bunch of food artists we have in our group.  Healthy and delicious potluck meals every single time.    

I didn't take a lot of pictures of the people who were at this gathering because the whole thing felt very personal and private.  But it's really not--we'd love to include more nomadic artists who seek peaceful community.  

 View from my Abiquiu Lake campsite's picnic table

I started a couple of paintings while at camp and got loads of ideas for new ones.  Now that we have adjourned, I'm resting a bit at the Corps of Engineers Riana Campground on Abiquiu Lake.  I suffered a little every day from altitude sickness while I was up at Resumidero, and after less than 24 hours down here at 6400 feet or so, I'm feeling much better.  More energy, less headache, fatigue and blahness.  I'm going to stay here one more day, then explore some nearby Georgia O'Keeffe history sites, and then head up to drive some roads in southern Colorado that I have never taken.  

And now I have to go, because the RTAC camp decided to move down from the mountain and join me at the lake!  Right on!  The fun continues...

 They found me!  Sign up for Rubber Tramp Art Community, and you can find me, too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Our Quick Trip Home: 5 Free RV Overnights Along I-10, Florida to Texas

Brownie from across the storm water remediation pond at Phipps Park, Stuart, FL

When I wrote about three-and-a-half weeks ago, we were camping at Phipps Park Campground, a very nice county park in Stuart, Florida.  We were going to drive Brownie, my 20-ft 1984 Lazy Daze mini-motorhome, back to St. Lucie Automotive in nearby Fort Pierce for a transmission-related repair on Monday morning (March 26).  We had an embarrassing amount of blue smoke coming out of the exhaust pipes, but we thought it would be a quick fix (a transmission modulator) and then we would happily drive home via I-20, doing some sightseeing along the way.  

But no, it was not to be as we envisioned.  First off, when we drove in the dawn on Monday to the mechanic, with the blue smoke billowing behind us, we started to lose power.  Steve was driving, and he got us safely to an empty parking lot, where we could call our roadside assistance. Brownie was towed again!  A friend suggests she has a thing for tow trucks and lifts.   

 Brownie being towed in again

Next, when they got into the transmission oil pan, they found metal shavings from our transmission, indicating that Brownie needed a new rebuilt transmission.  They told us we could maybe drive home to New Mexico and get the work done with the mechanic I normally go to.  But maybe not. Well, I wasn't willing to take that risk.  I respected the mechanic we were working with already, so I decided to delay our return and stay to get the work done. 

The blue smoke problem ended up taking two days, not one, so we spent another night in a hotel.   

Things got worse.  Due to some aftermarket changes done to the exhaust system, the mechanics couldn't get to the part of the transmission that identified which of two possible kinds it was.  So, that meant they couldn't order the new rebuilt transmission until they actually tore apart the existing one to identify the right part.  This entailed a pretty substantial delay, due to having to order the part and then leave Brownie up on the rack until it arrived within an unknown number of days.

Since the blue smoke modulator repair was done, we were free to use Brownie again for a few days, so we went back to Phipps Park and really enjoyed several days of relaxation.  We could drive Brownie around a little, so we went into town and saw some local beaches and ran some errands.  Steve saw alligators at Phipps Park, which is adjacent to a storm water treatment area (what I thought was a lake, it's so beautiful).

Then we had to drop Brownie back off at the garage on Monday (April 2) for her time up in the air.  This time, we knew we'd be staying at least two nights and perhaps as many as four.  So we picked a little nicer hotel, a Holiday Inn Express which had a pretty decent breakfast and nice grounds.   

I have some advice for anyone that finds themselves in this sort of situation on the road.  If I had it to do over, I would have picked a hotel or motel that was closer to where there were interesting things to do.  We picked hotels based on where the garage was, and there was nothing around us except other hotels and some fast food places. Now I realize I could have gotten us a room down by the beach where we could have sat outside and looked at beautiful things and gone out for coffee and stuff.  I don't think it would've been any more expensive, because we ended up using Uber to get out of the hotel once in a while, and that can run $25-30 round-trip.  Also, a rental car would not have been all that expensive.  I didn't consider doing that because I wrongly assumed it would be expensive, and daily rental might have been about the same as one round-trip using Uber. 

 We saw dolphins on a manatee cruise in Ft. Pierce!

Well, live and learn.  I do that a lot.  The replacement transmission came in surprisingly fast and we were out of the hotel after a three-night stay on Thursday, April 5.  We picked up Brownie at about noon and made our way north first on the Florida Turnpike and then on the freeway.  Because of the repair delays and costs, we needed to skedaddle home on I-10, without taking the time to see any tourist sites.  Steve wanted to do the majority of the driving, because he's comfortable driving faster than I am.  We figured we could drive about 300 to 400 miles per day.   
So here are the five places we stayed for free along I-10:

Thursday, April 5...Walmart at Live Oak, Florida.  It is posted No Overnight Parking, but all of the Internet sites that address Walmart availability had reviews saying that parking here is no problem.  It was quiet and we had no problems staying here.

 Our campsite in the rest area at Moss Point, Mississippi

Friday, April 6...Mississippi Welcome Center, Moss Point, MS.  This is the Best...Rest...Area...Ever.  Seriously.  There are actual campsites with covered picnic tables, paved pads, and garbage cans, behind the truck parking area.  It is supposed to be a picnic area.  I doubt most people driving cars even realize it exists, though, because it's beyond where the big trucks park and a little tricky to get to, with only one little sign.  If you check in with security, you can stay there one night.

Saturday, April 7...Chambers County Rest Area, Hankamer, Texas (west of Beaumont).  Runner Up for Best Rest Area Ever.  There is a nice big parking area for trucks.  We parked at the far end of it, away from the trucks, and had easy access to the bathrooms.  The really awesome thing about this rest area is the beautiful boardwalk with picnic tables and information about wildlife.  It's like being in a park.  That said, use your bug spray, because I didn't, and I paid the price.

Sunday, April 8...Rest Area, I-10W, Kerrville, Texas (about an hour northwest of San Antonio).  This was not a huge modern rest area like the two previous nights' stays, but it was fine.  There was a free dump station and potable water!  I was glad to use them, because otherwise I would have had to do that immediately on our return to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. 

 Van Horn Rest Area sunrise on the day we got home to Truth or Consequences, NM

Monday, April 9...Rest Area I-10 W, just east of Van Horn, Texas.  Another older, smaller rest area, but it was fine for us in a small RV.  We saw another picnic area on the west side of Van Horn that might have been quieter, with fewer big trucks. 

All of these nights were free, which was a great help after the expenses of the huge repairs in Florida...water pump, radiator, and transmission being the major ones.  

Since getting back here to Truth or Consequences on the day we left Van Horn, I've been busy with work.  Almost immediately, it was time to open Sun Gallery for Second Saturday Art Hop weekend.  I stayed behind the gallery and worked four days, then escaped to nearby Damsite Campground for a couple of nights of relaxation after the work weekend. 

RV repair expenses are cutting into my plans, but now some awesome new things are happening instead.  One thing is that the Rubber Tramp Art Community, the intentional community for nomadic artists that grew out of this year's RTArt Camp, is planning a spring gathering May 15 through 21, probably in northern New Mexico.  I can't afford to do pottery in Santa Fe all summer as I had wanted, but I can go to my community's gathering and do some other travel while I'm up north.

 What, no cat pic?!  Here I am at the Damsite Campground in TorC



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Replacing Brownie's Innards, While Traveling Florida

Deer near my campsite at Clearwater Lake Campground,
Ocala National Forest

About a week-and-a-half ago, I found myself, with some unscheduled free nights and no campground reservations  during the tail end of "the season" in Florida.  It's a challenging time to find a campsite.  I checked for availability at Florida State Parks (I could snag a day here or there at the last minute, but I couldn't stay long) and at National Forest campgrounds.  Theoretically, there are no-reservation sites at Ocala, so I headed that way and spent a couple of peaceful nights (March 8 and 9) in a beautiful forest.  But the weekend was coming up, and my site was reserved.  To find another walk-up site, I'd have to cruise around the forest on Friday, and most of these sites get snapped up by people who can hang onto them for a while. 

I decided instead to return to Dixie County, where I'd stayed at Horseshoe Beach Campground the previous weekend.  This time I tried Shired Island, recommended by a fellow camper.  It was another awesome county park.  I commiserated with another full-timer that, when you don't have reservations, finding a county park or boat landing can be the best solution.  

Sunset at Shired Island Campground, a Dixie County Park

Shired Island, like Horseshoe Beach, is a campground that's right on the water, separated only by a little strip of nice beach.  There is also interesting tidal activity at Shired Island, but not the amazing bird-watching that I enjoyed at Horseshoe.  However, Shired Island is out in the boonies, rather than being urban, and I like that.  Not only is it in the country, it's right in the middle of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.  (This is the same Swanee River that Stephen Foster wrote of in "Old Folks at Home.")  This little parcel of county land is plunked here, and it's worth the $20 per night for non-locals.  I was camped without hookups, at the same price as if I had them, and that was fine.  There was plenty of sun for my solar and the water at these waterfront campgrounds is not potable, anyway.  

I stayed four nights (March 9-12), until it was time to go meet up with Steve, who was flying into Orlando the following Tuesday night.  

I spent a lot of this time dealing with health issues.  Before I left New Mexico in mid-February, I'd had a bad respiratory virus, and I was still coughing and blowing my nose as I zigged and zagged through Texas, heading for the Gulf.  I felt a lot better once I was in warmer temperatures and enjoying some consecutive days of beach camping, but this virus is a real hanger-onner.   

Then I got hit with some lower GI problem at Horseshoe Beach, and that took about a week to resolve.  It might have been due to using the water there at Horseshoe Beach.  I did not see the sign that said the water was not potable until I left.  I hadn't used the water very much--I usually use bottled water for drinking and cooking, and tap water just for dish washing and flushing, but I might have inadvertently drunk the water.  AND I'd put some of that water into my tank!  So, once I made that possible connection, I was better a few days later.  Coincidence?  I don't know.  Bad water is something I've heard of happening to other RVers, and why take a chance?  

Right when I was finally feeling better a week after the Horseshoe Bay gut problems, I had a food allergy hit me while staying at Shired Island.  It was severe.  I got hives on my hands and arms and a few other places, but mostly the arms.  I slathered the painful, itchy hives with Benedryl cream and took two Benedryl pills and went to bed.  If I'd been at home in Truth or Consequences, I think I would have gone to the ER, but I was a very long way from help.  It all turned out fine.  I woke up the next morning and am here to tell the tale.  I did have a lot of itching for days to follow, and I had a hard time eating.  The hives are just disappearing now, a week-and-a-half later.  

So, this has been the sickest I've ever been while traveling, and I have also had some personal things to grapple with.  Added to that are mechanical problems.  On my way to Ocala, I suddenly had power steering fluid leaking.  Argh!  I'd gotten a new power steering pump and lines in California in January, right before the RTR.  I cruised around to three mechanics before I found one who could help me (with frequent stops to pour in more PSF).  I needed another new power steering line.  Apparently the previous one, although new, was not exactly the right one.  Or so this mechanic said.  I may be jaded, but I am amazed by how often mechanics and other handy guys blame the last guy for doing it wrong or using the wrong product or part.  

 Sunset at Lake Whippoorwill KOA, Orlando

Anyhow, things got better once Steve arrived.  I got to the Lake Whippoorwill KOA in the Lake Nona area of Orlando in the afternoon and got the RV hooked up.  Steve flew in late at night and took a cab to the KOA.  We spent three nights there (March 13-15), mostly relaxing and enjoying getting to see each other again.  

 Got a haircut in the laundry room at the KOA by a nice lady who has been cutting people's hair there for 22 years!  I happened to show up on the right day.

We thought of going to Disney and either spending a day in one of the parks or just riding around the monorail and eating at a nice Disney resort.  But Gatorland sounded more like our speed:  an inexpensive, cheesy, funny tourist trap with thousands of rescued critters.  

 Steve arrived in time for Pi Day (3.14)

Unfortunately as we were about to leave for Gatorland on a Thursday morning, Brownie was making a whole lot of racket.  Her noise level under the hood had increased some when she got the new fan clutch back in California in January, and she was making more noise when cold, but that morning the racket was much worse!  We headed to a mechanic instead of Gatorland.  He gave it a look and said the problem was just the muffler or exhaust pipe, not anything that would make it unsafe to drive, and he recommended we go to Muffler Man.  So we made plans to do that the following morning and went on our merry way.

 Visitors see the front of Gatorland--there are thousands more acres of gator rescue land as part of the operation

 Steve with parrots at Gatorland

Gatorland was everything we'd hoped for...tour guides cracking stupid jokes, close encounters with critters we don't ordinarily see, junk food and gift shops.  

 Brownie at Muffler Man

Brownie got a new exhaust pipe and some welds at Muffler Man on that Friday morning, and we drove up to our next destination, North Beach Campground, a few miles north of St. Augustine.  

 Highway 1!

The drive was pretty exciting to me.  After all this way, I finally saw the Atlantic Ocean, plus we drove along US-1 on the opposite coast from the other US-1 that I've driven several times.

  The first Atlantic Ocean beach we got to

North Beach Campground Resort was a really wonderful place, and I could see why some people stay for the whole winter.  We stayed just three nights (March 16-18), which wasn't nearly long enough to enjoy the campground or the many fun things to do in the area.  At the campground itself, there are two beaches, the Atlantic and the Intercoastal Waterway, with restaurants at each.  Our back-in site was beautifully private, surrounded by trees and palmetto.  We ate outside on the deck at Aunt Kay's, the riverside cafe, where we first tried conch fritters.  We ate them everywhere we could after that.  

 Our site at North Beach Campground Resort

We anticipated rain, and we are sleeping in the dinette bed or, as I like to call it, the nest.  That is exactly where rain water has been leaking in through the rooftop air conditioner, ever since I bought Brownie last year.  I usually sleep up in the cabover bed, so previously the rain came in onto the dinette table, rather than a bed, and it wasn't hard to just put out some towels to catch the drips.  Now it became critical to get it fixed, because we sleep right under the air conditioner.  Steve did it!  After taking off the covers both on the roof and inside the RV, Steve determined that the screws keeping the A/C in place had gotten loose, and the rubber gasket that's supposed to keep water out of the house was not held tightly in place anymore.  I'm sure glad Steve could fix it, rather than having to call an RV technician at $125 or whatever per hour.  

 Steve on the Red Train

We used a trolley service, Red Train Tours, to get into St. Augustine by van on Saturday morning.  Then we took their 90-minute tour of the city, which was informative and full of more bad jokes.  

 Our pirate, in front of one of only three authentic Jolly Roger flags still in existence

After circling all of the historical attractions, we went to the Pirate and Treasure Museum, which was a lot of fun.  Our pirate guide told us lots of interesting history some more bad jokes.  Is it a blessing to be 62 and not remember any of them?  Arr, I don't know, matey.  

 Historical reenactors at Castillo de San Marcos...I laughed as I passed by, because the guy in the middle was complaining about traffic.

Castillo de San Marcos, a 1600s fort which was originally Spanish, but changed hands between several countries, including the Confederacy, was very interesting.  We ate abundantly at the Florida Crackers Cafe, which is on St. George Street, the main tourist trap retail section of St. Augustine.  (Aunt Kay's conch fritters win.)  I bought a bamboo saxophone on St. George, something I'd never heard of, but knew immediately that I needed.  We wrapped up our day too late to use the Red Train to get home, so we took a cab and got a personal guided tour of everything we saw on the way back to the campground, which was really nice.  

The next day, we'd intended to sit on the beach, but I was a picnic table potato and never left.  A fantastic campsite can do that sometimes.

 Relaxing at Loughman Lake Lodge

Our next destination was to camp somewhere near Titusville so Steve could go see space stuff at the Kennedy Space Center.  We didn't have any reservations, but I'd talked to somebody at Loughman Lake Lodge in Mims, and she said no reservations were needed.  No kidding!  We got there on a Monday and there was nobody camping there, the lodge/restaurant/bar was closed, and there was nobody to take our money.  There is, however, a family who caretakes the place, so they called the owner and we paid them $30 to spend the night, with hookups.  It was a very pleasant stay, but not a place we'd go back to, because there is a corduroy road to get in there.  Loughman Lake is probably a really hopping place on weekends when people come to take air boat rides.  

 Rockets behind the tour buses, from the RV parking lot at Kennedy Space Center

The next morning, we drove over to Merritt Island for Steve's NASA Kennedy Space Center tour.  We parked in the bus/RV lot for $15, and I spent the day lounging while Steve went inside.  He liked the tour very much and probably got his $50 worth, but I knew all that science would just make my eyes glaze over within five minutes.  I did a little painting and reading instead.  I finished a book called "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom, which was one of the best historical novels I'd read in a while, and I am ordering the sequel, "Glory Over Everything."  

Since we didn't want to go back to Loughman Lake and we didn't have reservations anywhere else, we headed a little ways south, during a big wind and some rain, to the Walmart in Melbourne.  This store has a huge lot and was a nice place to stay.

 Brownie takes another ride

The next day, we were headed to our next destination, Phipps Park Campground in Stuart.  I was driving and I pulled over to turn on the navigation on my phone, and Brownie started smoking and steaming from under the hood!  So bad that a passerby called 9-1-1, and we had several police cars and fire trucks there within about two minutes.  However, we had already determined where the steam was coming from--the water pump, it looked like--and there was no real danger.  I called my roadside assistance provider, Coach-Net, and Brownie was towed to a garage that they found for me, St. Lucie Automotive in Fort Pierce.  

So, Wednesday was shot, and Brownie needed a new radiator in addition to the water pump, with parts arriving on Thursday.  Steve and I spent the night at a La Quinta hotel a few miles away, while Sonja was in her kennel inside the RV.  (It's big enough to be a kitty condo, with food, bed and litter box.)  

We had time to kill on Thursday while the repairs were being done, so we didn't check out of the hotel until check-out time at 11:00, and then we walked over to a Shake and Steak for lunch.  We took a cab back to the garage and waited there a few more hours until the work was done.  

There was a suspicious amount of blue smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe when we left the garage, but they said it would stop doing that once an excess of fluids burned off.  But they were wrong.  The smoke got worse.  We stopped at another shop, 20 miles down the highway.  They did some more work. They blamed the last mechanic, can you imagine that?  I called the previous mechanic, and he blamed the new one.  So much blame to go around, while my RV smokes.  

We did make it to Phipps Park in Stuart, finally, on Thursday night.  Driving here was such an embarrassment, I wanted to put a paper bag over my head.  (Steve was driving, so I guess I coulda...woulda...shoulda...)  We got situated and made arrangements to stay here all weekend.  The mechanic in Fort Pierce that did the major repairs has ordered the part he thinks Brownie needs (a module or modulator, we are clueless, having become overwhelmed) and we will drive a smokin' Brownie 30 miles back north on Monday morning, hopefully under cover of darkness.  

These latest repairs throw so many plans into disarray.  I've spent a month's worth of income on repairs this year, and it's only March.  My plans to go to Santa Fe to do pottery this summer are deferred to next year, I think.  It's also unlikely that we will get to the Everglades.  We'll see what happens on Monday.  Probably when we get Brownie repaired to where she no longer smokes, we'll just start heading back home, via Sarasota, where we have reservations this coming week at Myakka River State Park that we hope we will be able to make.  

In this moment, I am sitting in a beautiful campsite for the weekend.  We haven't shopped recently, so I'm making some very creative meals and am glad my pantry includes good basics such as canned and dried beans, evaporated milk, chicken broth, tuna, etc.  We have plenty of solar to power our devices so we can watch movies and read books.  I spent yesterday planning our return trip.  There are musical instruments and art supplies.  Some quiet relaxation is a good thing.       

View from our campsite at Phipps Park Campground, Stuart, Florida

Friday, March 2, 2018

I Have Gone Around the Bend (of Florida, That Is)

My last sunrise at Biloxi

Last weekend, I blogged from Biloxi's back bay, where I stayed free for two nights at the Palace Casino, in a lot that was right on the water.  I was about to leave town, when my RVing friend Lelia mentioned on FaceBook that she was sorry she had missed me while I was in Biloxi.  Well, I was still there!  

Me and Lelia

So Lelia, her husband Rick, and I had a really great breakfast at IHOP.  I love finally meeting online friends in person!  Lelia and her husband, whom she calls The Ole Vet, stay at those great family camps on military bases.  It was fun to learn about their life today and about the exciting careers they both had.  

 My Camping World campsite backed up to the woods, and this squirrel and I watched each other

My next stop after Biloxi was Robertsdale, Alabama, where I stayed overnight free at Camping World.  This Camping World store even has free water and electric hookups and a free dump station!  Also, free coffee, cookies and popcorn inside.  

 Pamela and me

Even better, it turned out that my friend Pamela, whom I've known for probably 10 years or more online from playing a fun word game, lives only about 10 minutes away.  So we had a super breakfast and great conversation on Monday morning.  

 Kadi and me on the beach

I had hoped to see more of the Alabama coast, especially Gulf Shores, but by the time I ran a couple of quick errands after breakfast, I needed to start heading east because I was meeting up with another friend, Kadi.  I had snagged a one-night reservation at Fort Pickens Campground at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Kadi was available to come camping with me.  We had a great time catching up since we had last visited in person in the Southwest.  

 Very abbreviated information about Geronimo and the other 200 or so Apaches who were imprisoned at Fort Pickens

I stopped in to visit the museum at Fort Pickens after Kadi and I left the campground.  I knew I'd heard the name of the fort before, but it wasn't until I saw the museum displays that I realized where.  Fort Pickens is where the United States Army imprisoned Geronimo and about 200 other Apaches who had evaded being put on reservations.  It is really hard to imagine what life must have been like for these desert dwelling people, separated from family, eating what would have been very strange food to them, and living in the confines of a prison.  I don't imagine it was much consolation to them that they were at the beach.

 Andy never made any funny faces while eating oysters!  I kept waiting, but it didn't happen.

 Andy and me at the beach

From Fort Pickens, I headed up into Pensacola to pick up my nephew Andy from college.  We had a splendid afternoon.  We drove back down to the beach and ate lunch at Peg Leg Pete's, a very fun seafood restaurant.  The lunches were huge, but we managed to also tuck in an appetizer of a few oysters on the half shell and share a piece of Key lime pie for dessert.  

My lovely "campsite" at Panama Beach City

After I dropped Andy back at school, I headed east once more on the Coastal Highway (U.S. 98) and spent a restful free night staying at the Walmart in Panama Beach City.  There were Walmarts closer to Pensacola where I could've stayed, but those towns seemed very busy, so I waited until I got to a smaller, more relaxed town.  It was quiet overnight, and the next morning I got a lot of things done before leaving--paying bills, getting my check register up to date, etc.

 Sonja relaxing at Wright Lake

After visiting with friends and family along the Coast, I decided I'd take some quiet time to myself up in the Apalachicola National Forest.  I got reservations for Wright Lake Campground, near Sumatra, Florida.  After two weeks on the road, it was nice to stay in one place for a couple of nights.  And, in some ways, it was even nicer that I had no phone or Internet.  I finished one novel, completely read a second novel, played my flute, and worked on continuing to "debrownify" the interior of my RV, Brownie.

Painting and collaging Brownie's interior

When I left Wright Lake this morning, I really didn't know where I'd head next, so I just continued driving Highway 98 on a portion of the road that is called the Big Bend Scenic Highway.  This is a different Big Bend than the one I'm familiar with in Texas.  This is the Big Bend in the state of Florida, where the Panhandle and the rest of the state meet.   

 My Horseshoe Bay view

Personally, I think the Big Bend Scenic Highway would be far more scenic if it stuck to the Coast instead of going through forest.  But I was able to find the Coast again.  I took a right at Old Town, Florida, and ended up at Horseshoe Bay, where Dixie County has a nice tiny campground.  Arriving early today, a Friday afternoon, I was able to snag a site right on the water.  And I will stay the weekend.   

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Southwest Turista in Louisiana and Mississippi

I am continuing to avoid I-10 as I travel east to visit my sister in Sarasota, one of these days.  She points out that I am only nine hours away, and I tell her it might be more like nine days.  I am at the beach.  

If you read my previous post, you know I had a few difficulties getting through Texas.  I didn't mention then that it was also really cold, and that I was worried about a whiny sound that Brownie makes.  But enough whining.  The fact is, things have been better ever since I got to the Gulf Coast.  In one day, I was able to go from wearing long janes under jeans to wearing shorts.  The humid air (sometimes 98 percent!) made breathing easier, and my recovery from a virus leaped ahead.  I stopped coughing so much and I had a little more energy.  The humidity also makes my arthritis and peripheral neuropathy way worse, but I'm making sure I eat lots of chile or chili or whatever every day, and that helps.

So...after it turned out that the Bolivar Peninsula was uninviting, I drove east, some of it on I-10, to L'Auberge Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  I have fond memories of L'Auberge from my first trip there in 2011.  It was a bright spot in a sea of difficulties.  Things have changed at L'Auberge since then. The beautiful RV park and fun outdoor lazy river pool are gone, a new Golden Nugget Casino in their place.  I didn't mind, though.  I've learned so much since my first RV trip across the country.  Now I'm perfectly comfortable staying at a casino parking lot, with no power or water hookups.  I have solar and I drive a lot, so my house batteries stay charged, and I have a nice little 100W plug-in inverter that allows me to blog and watch movies.  

Anyhow, I was so glad to be in a nice warm spot, I stayed two nights.  I enjoyed good food and I spent enough in the casino to constitute my rent.  

Boudin King

I stayed on I-10 for a little ways after leaving Lake Charles.  On the recommendation of my friend Chantel, I stopped for lunch at Boudin King in Jennings, Louisiana.  Oh.  My.  God.  It is well worth taking a few minutes to drive through this town.  I ate a fabulous meal (1/2 lb spicy boudin and a bowl of red beans and rice, which also had some great sausage in it) and had enough left over for another smaller meal later on that day.  The people were very nice, too.  The owner gave me a couple of samples before I chose the spiciest variety. 

You can also go to the Gator Chateau in Jennings, where they will offer you the chance to hold a baby alligator.  I touched it, but I did not hold it.  Steve accuses me of doing anything for a photo op, but there are limits.  

Tabasco tour, museum, store and cafe

My next goal was to do some sightseeing off of I-10, in smaller towns.  I headed down US Highway 90 for New Iberia and spent a quiet night parked near the garden supplies at Walmart.   The next day, I drove a few miles to Avery Island, the home of McIlhenny Co., which has been making its Tabasco pepper sauce since shortly after the Civil War.  I never realized until I took the factory tour that Tabasco was invented in order to enliven poor Southern diets after the War, nor did I know that the sauce is made of only three very high-quality ingredients, two of which come from Avery Island--the tabasco peppers and local salt.  The vinegar was imported from France originally--I'm not sure if it still is.  Anyway, I had a great time there, and I highly recommend a stop if you are at all interested in good food and how it's made.  They still have their own cooperage, and there is a rich culture amongst the workers whose families have worked for the company for five generations.  The gift shop had samples of many sauces, jellies, and even peppery ice cream!  I also enjoyed a late lunch at the company cafe, where I tried all of the sauces again on top of a gloriously messy pulled pork sandwich served in a bowl so you don't miss anything.  

 Sunset over the artificial lake at Cypress Bayou Casino

My plan (oh, Lord, when will I ever learn?) was to drive on a few more hours after the factory tour, but it was very windy.  I stopped at just about the next town, Charenton, at a little casino called Cypress Bayou.  It was one of those casinos that does not operate 24 hours a day and doesn't have a lot of restaurants or anything else to do, so I just relaxed and watched a movie.  I've been renting Redbox movies along the road.  There is always somewhere to return them, if not on time, maybe by the second day.  Still lots cheaper than the movie theater.

 Laura Plantation--hurricanes, fire, nothing can take down this possibly haunted place

The next day, Thursday, Day 10 of this journey, I had in mind to go visit a real plantation.  I had seen the plantation homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when I was about 10 or so, but that's a long time ago, and they told a rather sanitized version of how things were for "the servants."  I figured I could hear something more historically accurate these days, so I headed to Edgard, where there were once 600 plantations along the banks of the Mississippi River, each one of them a separate community, or as we would call it today, a blood-sucking corporation built on the backs of poor African Americans.  Whitney Plantation is a recently opened museum devoted to telling history through the eyes of the slaves, and I really wanted to go there, but they were pretty booked up.  So I followed another of Chantel's excellent suggestions and went to the Laura Plantation just down the road.  Laura was the name of a third-generation plantation owner who wrote a memoir about her childhood there.   

Creole Nativity scene at the Laura Plantation

These plantations are not like the ones I saw in Virginia when I was a kid.  The Laura Plantation was small, with very little separation between the house and the slave cabins.  It was a little hard to follow the docent's story because she was more interested in her own performance than facts, but I did get a little sense of what life might have been like.  

Afterwards, I bought a big praline in the gift shop, and my sugar high got me all the way to Pass Christian, Mississippi, the home of the world's greatest Walmart.  Well, the best one I've seen, and I've been to China.  It's on the beach!  Well, right across the highway from the beach.  Don't walk through the field, it's copperhead season.  But you can walk down the Walmart driveway and across the road and you are right in the sugary white sand.  

 At Palace Casino, my door leads to the beach

I could have stayed there at that Walmart for days on end.  I was tempted, but I've been watching the weather reports, and it looked like rain was on its way.  I figured, if it rains, I'd rather be someplace like Biloxi where there is beach plus other things to do inside.  So, here I am.  I have once again found the best free campsite possible, in a parking lot next to the Palace Casino parking garage.  I have been here since yesterday afternoon, and mostly it is used by locals who come down here to gaze at the beach or fish or catch crawfish.  Everybody loves Sonja when they see her in the RV doorway--I can't let her out because I've seen feral cats here, and apparently she doesn't like the beach, anyway.  

 Sunrise this morning at the Palace Casino parking lot

Palace Casino not only unofficially offers this free place to camp...they also have the most highly-rated casino buffet in town, so I had lunch there yesterday and ate my fill of Coastal and Southern food.  Yes, shrimp boil, boiled shrimp (not the same thing, duh), Creole shrimp, fried shrimp--oh, do I sound like Bubba Gump yet?  It was all delicious, every bite.  On top of that, Palace is the only 100 percent non-smoking casino in Biloxi. 

 This little Biloxi back bay peninsula is just outside my door

So, what's next?  I don't know.  Ever since I got through Texas, I've been able to slow down and take this trip one decision at a time.  I am getting to the part of the country where it's pretty essential to have campground reservations, especially since it's "the season."  I have reservations for Monday night near Pensacola, where I hope to get to spend a little time with my nephew Andy and my friend Kadi.  I couldn't get reservations at a coastal state park in Alabama, so until then, I believe I might just stay put.  I have waves 15 feet from my door, and I noticed some really appealing pastries at the casino's cafe yesterday.  

Really, why go anywhere?