Sunday, December 30, 2012

Salt Springs Here We Come

It's 30 degrees and windy here in New Jersey - time to pack up the trailer and begin our annual winter journey to where it's warm and sunny (hopefully).  Yesterday Bob and I took down the Christmas tree and decorations, and today the kids are helping us put the canoe on the truck.  We have to get some food and a few more articles of clothes in the trailer, and we're ready to roll. We're leaving January 3rd.

Salt Springs Recreational Area in Florida has become our winter home for January and February.  This will be our third year of camping there, and we are really looking forward to it.  The federal campground at Salt Springs is a real bargain at $16.00 a night for full hookups.  The campground is nestled in the beautiful woods of Ocala National Forest, which covers 383,000 acres, so there's plenty of hiking.  The Salt Spring Run is perfect for us to take the canoe with either the gas motor or our electric motor, and since the water stays at a constant 72 degrees, you can usually swim by February.  This year we're staying until the middle of March, and then we're moving on to Top Sail Hill Preserve State Park which is on the panhandle of Florida.  From there we go to Gulf State Park in Alabama for a month.  Bob wants to check out two historical sites - Vicksburg and Chattanooga - on the way home, so that should be interesting.  We'll finish out the trip in Virginia Beach so that we can attend my Grandson's graduation from Old Dominion University in May.

So it should be an good winter.  Right now all I can think about is getting away from this cold New Jersey weather and hoping that Florida has a warm winter this year.

Our campsite in 2012 - Salt Springs Recreational Area

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy's Devastation

It was horrible to see the devastation that Hurricane Sandy did to the entire Northeastern seashore and to New York.  My heart goes out to all of those who have lost their homes and who are still struggling with loss of power in their area.  I love the Jersey Shore and am sad to see the horrific damage that has been done.  My longtime favorite place, Long Beach Island, has been so wrecked that you wonder if it even makes sense to rebuild there.  I think that with the climate change and the rising sea level, that we may need to rethink the advisability of building on some of these extremely vulnerable barrier islands.

I saw a picture of Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, a place that Bob and I recently camped at in September of this year and that I have blogged about and written about on HubPages.

Here's Mirra and me standing by the naturalist shack along the bay in Assateague before Hurricane Sandy

Here's the shack after the hurricane:

I will never again be dismissive of hurricane warnings in this area when they tell people to get off of these islands, and I'm sure many East Coast residents feel the same way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park

We just spent six days on Assateauge Island, Maryland.  We spent three days in Assateague Island National Seashore, and three days in Assateauge State Park.  We dry camped in both parks, so finally got a good chance to run our new Champion generator.

The National Park was great with the exception of having LOTS of flies and mosquitoes.  The flies are particularly bad because the wild horses come right through your campsite, and leave lots of pony droppings.  We stayed in the bayside area, on C40, and the campsite was great - nice and roomy, with a good view of the bay.

Ponies right on our campsite!

Wild pony on the bay right across from our campsite

C40 on the bayside campground Assateague Island National Seashore

The bayside campground is great if you kayak or canoe.  They have rentals, and if you bring your own boat, there are lots of places to launch it from.

Campsite J2 in Assateague State Park

We stayed on Loop J in Assateague State Park, because this year it's the only loop in the campground that accepts pets.  Next year is a different story, and they are providing certain campsites for pets in the electric H Loop.  In fact, we will be staying there next year for two weeks in September.

Our campsite in J Loop was nice and spacious, and it was a short walk to the beach path.  It was great being so close to the beach. and we got plenty of walks in, as well as just sitting on the beach.  I actually got into the water one day.  The weather was great the first day, lots of wind and rain the second day, and the third day was sunny but cooler.

The beach off of J Loop Assateague State Park, Maryland

Our first time out with the generator was a little rocky.  The electric starter ran great for the first couple of times, then went totally dead.  Bob started it up by hand, but it kept cutting out and stopping for no reason at all.  He called up Champion, and they told him to fill the oil all the way up to the top, and that it was stalling because the generator "thought that the oil was low".  He did that, and it ran fine once he manually started it up.  As far as the electric starter, apparently the battery is no good and we need to replace it.  Once it started up, the generator did a great job, and we had no trouble running everything off of it, including the air conditioner.

We really enjoyed Assateague.  We usually went to Chincoteague Island, but Toms Cove where we always stayed was getting really expensive.  The nice thing about Assateague is that the National Park gives anyone with the Golden Age Passport a 50% discount, and the State park also gives a 50% discount on weekdays if you buy Maryland's Golden Age Passport (only $10.00).  It was much cheaper for us to camp here than it would have been at a private campground.  I liked the campsites better anyhow - you're not packed together like you are in many of the private parks.  All in all it we had a great time, and we were very pleased with our first dry camping experience.

Ponies in Assateauge State Park, Maryland

Sunset in Assateague Island National Seashore

Bob and Mirra down by the bay

Afterglow in the sky after an amazing sunset

Friday, August 31, 2012

Santa Rosa Lake State Park - New Mexico

Santa Rosa Lake State Park
Santa Rosa Lake State Park is a wonderful place to camp. It's not far off of Route 40, so if you're traveling across the country on 40, it's very convenient. We stayed there for three nights in May of 2010, and really enjoyed it. The campsites are large and well spaced. We stayed on the Rocky Point Electric Loop, which has 17 on-line reservable sites with water and electric for $14.00 a night. We stayed on A004, which had a nice brick and concrete shelter with a picnic table on it and a pretty view of the lake in the distance.

Here's a good video I found on YouTube showing all of the campsites:

During our three day stay, we enjoyed hiking in the park. There's a path right in the campground that goes down to the lake. Actually, it was fun just hanging out around the campsite. Mirra especially enjoyed the shelter.  We were there over Memorial Day, so she had her flag scarf on.

Santa Rosa Lake State Park is only 7 miles from the little town of Santa Rosa where the famous Blue Hole sinkhole is. The Blue Hole is 81 feet deep, and is crystal clear. There's a cave system that generates 3,000 gallons of water every minute and the water temperature is a consistant 61-64 degrees all year. This combination makes the Blue Hole is a very popular place for divers, although when we went there, there weren't any. There were plenty of kids jumping fearlessly into the water, though. I bravely ventured into the cold water, but came out after a few minutes. Brrrrr. Bob said there was no way he was going in, and that I was crazy (he's probably right about that!).

The town of Santa Rosa is right on Historic Route 66. We had dinner out at a the Silver Moon Cafe, which is on the famous route, and got a very good Mexican meal. We bought ourselves a Route 66 bumper sticker for our truck in the gift shop.

Silver Moon Cafe on Historic Route 66
 If you're looking for a good place to stop off of Route 40, or just looking for a great place to hang out for a few days, Santa Rosa Lake State Park is a great pick.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Touring California Wine Country

Sonoma wine vineyards
Bob and I both love wine (especially reds), so during our 2010 trip we made sure to stop in California wine country. We stayed in the San Francisco North/Petaluma KOA for a week because it was close to Sonoma, Napa, and San Francisco. We were somewhat disappointed with the KOA. Our campsite seemed a little cramped, and although the KOA has a large swimming pool and spa, it was so noisy and crowded that it detracted from our enjoyment of the facilities. We were there in June, and probably a better time would be in the spring or fall when there are less vacationers.

We weren't disappointed with the wine tour, though. On the first day, we started our self-guided tour with one of our favorite wineries – Clos Du Bois. We arrived there early – around 11:00, and we were the only ones there. The highlight of that tour was a tasting straight out of the barrel of an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that would be released in 2011. Our favorite from that tasting was an Old Vine Zinfandel -which we bought - as well as a few other choice selections. We followed that by going to another of our favorites – Rodney Strong. We got a great tour of their winery, and bought some bottles of our favorites from them – a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill Chardonnay, and a Pinot Noir.

Rodney Strong Winery
Clos Du Bois Winery
The most fun we had though was finding the small boutique wineries in the area. One of our favorites was Pedroncelli Winery. They offered some great bottles in their free tastings, and even let our dog come into their tasting room. What more could your ask? Another great find was Muscardini Cellars which also offered a free tasting. We joined their wine club because we were so enthusiastic about their wonderful Sangiovese.

One of the important things to remember when doing a wine tasting is the importance of spitting out the wine, no matter how tempting it may be to guzzle it all.  You would never make it through the day if you drank all that each winery gives you without getting a pretty good load on.  Choose to actually drink only the very best, and spit out the rest.

Pedroncelli Winery

We spent another day in Napa, and just the drive was a treat. This is beautiful country, with rolling hills and vineyards everywhere. Our stops there included BV, Robert Mondavi and Kendall Jackson. We were charged for all of the tastings here, and we thought that BV, although offering a great selection, charged too much at $15.00/tasting. All of these wineries are beautiful, however, and well worth visiting.

Vineyards at Robert Mondavi Winery

We made two non-wine related trips while we were in the area. The campground offered a tour of San Francisco, so we thought we'd take advantage of it rather than deal with the hassle of driving to the city. Our tour guide was great, and we had a wonderful full day of touring the city with stops at the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Gate Park, lunch on the waterfront, Chinatown, and even a trolley ride. Lots of fun!

Cable Car Ride in San Francisco
Japanese Gardens at Golden Gate Park
A Foggy Golden Gate Bridge

We also took a day to drive to Point Reyes National Seashore. It was a foggy, cool and windy day, which contributed to the wild feeling that this park has.

Pounding Surf at Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore

We left wine country with the trailer much heavier from the weight of the great bottles of wine that we purchased, but with out wallets much lighter. However, the whole experience left us wanting to return. The next time we'll be sure to stop in the Pasco Robles area – they have some great wines there.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park was a big reason that we decided to make our cross country trip in 2010. It was definitely one of the destinations on our bucket list. We decided to spend a full week so that we could get to tour the park adequately.

We stayed at the West Glacier KOA, which was only a couple of miles away from the park entrance. Although a little pricey ($72/night), we splurged, and I'm glad we did.  We really enjoyed their heated pool and hot tub after a long day of touring the park.

The park was everything we hoped for in the way of beauty, with spectacular views as we drove along the scenic Going To The Sun Highway. However, it was pretty crowded, since we were there during the peak season. We were there from August 1 – 8, and everywhere we drove was pretty crowded. Also, the Going To The Sun Road had construction going on, so that made things even slower.  I think if I had it to do over again, I'd choose a less busy time of year to visit.

Lake McDonald

Day after day my husband and I were hoping to spot a mountain goat. We failed to see any on our drives through the park, and would take a nightly drive down the highway to an outlook outside of the park where they were often viewed, but no luck. Finally on our last day we took one last drive on the Going To The Sun Road, right around Logan Pass.  We spotted a mother and baby mountain goat in the distance. Excitedly, I whipped out my video camera and got the best shots I could of them in the distance. We continued on, visited the lodge, and turned around. On the way back, there they were right on the side of the highway, posing for cars passing by. That just made my day!

We managed to stop at a few pullovers along the road, and get in some short hikes.  Below is a beautiful little pool that we saw only a few yards off of the highway.
Pool right off of Going To The Sun Road
I was somewhat disappointed by the glaciers – there are only 25 left, and they are former shells of what they once were. Sadly, it's predicted that there will be no more Glaciers left by 2030.   However, the park was absolutely amazing and I'm so glad we got to see it when we did.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

We visited Mount Rainier National Park in the middle of July of 2010. It was quite an adventure, because snow was still on the ground. However, the weather was sunny and pleasant during our 3 day stay, and we had a great time hiking and driving through the park.

We stayed at nearby Mounthaven Resort. This lovely little campground is only about a half mile from the park entrance, and was a comfortable and convenient place to stay.

Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park
 One of the highlights of the visit was a hike along the Nisqually Vista Trail which is a 1.2 mile trail loop that leads to a great view of the Nisqually Glacier.

Hiking through July snow

We made it!

We took one of our days to drive over to nearby Mount Saint Helens.  It was well worth the trip.  The devastation of the 1980 volcanic explosion is still amazing to see, even with the reforestation that's taking place.
Mount Saint Helens

Fallen trees from 1980 volcanic eruption - Mount Saint Helens
We treated ourselves to a good meal at a nearby restaurant - The Copper Creek.  I enjoyed salmon with some good Washington Pinot Noir.  The Copper Creek Restaurant  is known for its home made blackberry pie, so of course Bob and I had to try that out - it was delicious.

All in all, a great three days that left us with some wonderful memories!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Jersey State Parks Are No Bargain

Since we got our new generator, we were interested in camping in New Jersey State Parks.  We haven't camped there since we stopped tent camping (about 20 years ago).  I used to love camping in the pine barrens of New Jersey.  As a child my family camped at Parvin State Park, where I eventually lived for two years (after my mother and father were divorced, my mother married the park superintendent).  Later on I took my children to Parvin, and my husband and I camped at Atsion campground in Wharton State Forest and Bass River State Park.  Once Bob and I bought a trailer we stopped camping in New Jersey since all they offer are primitive sites.  Now that we can dry camp, we decided to drive down to check out Atsion and Bass River as potential camping sites.

We were quite disappointed by what we found.  The primitive campsites have hardly changed at all over 20 years, and both parks seem somewhat run down.  It doesn't look as if any improvements have been made at all.  The rates are overly high for these sites at  $20.00/night.  They are very dog-unfriendly, charging an additional $5.00 a night for dogs, and limiting you to particular sites if you have a dog.  At Atsion, the dog sites were the absolute worse, and none of them would accommode a 30 foot travel trailer.

New Jersey State Parks are not just dog-unfriendly, they are senior unfriendly.  They only offer a $2.00/night discount for N.J. seniors.  Comparing this to other states it is no bargain.  Assateague State Park offers a full 50% discount during weekdays for anyone holding a Golden Age Pass.  Florida State Parks offer a 50% discount for Florida seniors.  In fact, almost every other state park system that we've been to throughout the U.S. offers steeply discounted rates for senior residents.  You would certainly think that New Jersey, having one of the highest tax rates in the country,  would offer their senior residents more of a discount.

And guess what - nobody is camping in these parks.  Both were relatively empty, with only a few campers in each park.  Almost every other state park in the country offers  improved campsites, with many offering full hookups as well as primitive sites.  Yes, they are more expensive, but at least people will use them.  The way that New Jersey handles its state park system is only loosing them money.  I know that we probably won't camp in our own state, because it just isn't a good bargain.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Finally We Can Boondock!

Well, Bob and I finally decided to get a generator so that we could do some dry camping.  For years we have been debating whether or not to put out the money.  When we saw a good deal on a Champion 4000 generator at Camping World, we decided to go for it  They had the pull start model at the store, but Bob wanted an electric remote start model.  We ordered it, but it never came in, and it seemed that Camping World was out of that model.

I searched the Internet, and found that Amazon had a good deal - $425 + shipping, for a total of $499 (same deal as Camping World).  We ordered it through Amazon, and it was here it five days. 

Our new generator started up without a hitch.  When we ordered it, we were somewhat concerned about the noise level, but it really isn't that loud.  All in all, we're pretty pleased with our purchase.

So we are finally going to be able to go to many places that we previously avoided because they didn't offer electric.  Our first trip is going to be in September - Assateague National Park for three nights, and Assateague State Park for three nights.

I really want to try out boondocking now that we will be fully self sufficient.   I recently joined a pretty neat site - Boondockers Welcome.  The idea is that members will offer each other places to boondock - although you don't need to offer a boondocking spot to be a member.  What a great idea!  Bob and I are planning on going back down to Huntington Beach State Park, and will be needing a spot to stay overnight in October.  We may stay in a Walmart parking lot, but I think I'll check out the Boondockers Welcome site, and see if anyone has an available place to stay along the way.

I think this will open up a whole new world of possibilities for us.  I hate the thought of throwing away $40-$60 dollars for a one night stay in between destinations.  It seems pretty wasteful when all you do is pull in, eat something, watch some TV and go to bed.  Also, I love the idea of being able to stay in some of the great campsites that I've seen offered in the National Forests that cost nothing or practically nothing.

So we are off on our new adventure.  If any of you with more experience dry camping/boondocking have any suggestions/comments, I'd sure appreciate them.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most spectacular displays of geothermal activity in the world, and if you haven't been there yet, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Yellowstone has it all – beautiful mountains, a grand canyon, lakes, amazing wildlife, and of course the geysers and hot springs. Bob and I have been there twice – for a week in 2003, and again in 2010. There is so much to see and do that it would be impossible to ever get tired of this national treasure.

In 2003 we were lucky enough to be able to stay in the Fishing Bridge RV park, which is within the park. In 2010 they were renovating the Fishing Bridge campground, so we stayed in the Yellowstone KOA which is in West Yellowstone, Montana. Although expensive, the Yellowstone KOA was a great place to come home to after a long day of touring the park. We absolutely enjoyed the indoor swimming pool with the spa. Located only six miles outside of the West Yellowstone entrance, it was an easy drive to get into the park.

You need at least three days to see most of the major sights. The Grand Loop encompasses the Upper and Lower Loops. This takes you through most of the major areas of the park. If you only have a day to tour this park, the Lower Loop probably has the most to see, including

  • Old Faithful, of course!

    Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

  • Midway Geyser Basin and Lower Geyser Basin including Fountain Paint Pot.

  • The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

    Grand Canyon of Yellowstone - Yellowstone National Park
If you get a chance, make sure to take a swim in the Firehole River. We did that in 2003, and it is one of my favorite memories of the park.  Located on the Firehole Canyon Drive, past the scenic Firehole Falls, there's a swimming hole with a changing room. The water is comfortably warm since many of the geysers drain into the Firehole River.

Here's a three minute video encapsulating what we saw on our 2010 trip.

This last trip we took the time to tour the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. It was worth the visit just to see the wolves and bears up close. 
Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center, West Yellowstone
It was more interesting, however, to see the bears in the wild.  We were lucky enough to get a real good view of a mother Grizzly bear with two cubs climbing up Mount Washburn.

As far as seeing wildlife goes, I think Yellowstone is by far the best National Park.  Wherever you go you're bound to see bison, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope.  
Pronghorn antelope, Yellowstone National Park
Bison, Yellowstone National Park
If you're lucky you'll see bears, coyotes, moose, bighorn sheep, and wolves.  The park also has mountain lions and lynx.

We have yet to see the wolves in the wild, although we've traveled to Hayden Valley many times with a spotter scope. Guess we'll just have to go back for another visit!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Now that we are home, I don't have very much to blog about except getting our house and yard straightened out after being away for five months. Instead of going into those boring details, I've decided to remember some places that we have visited that I haven't yet written about. I'll begin with Yosemite National Park.

We visited Yosemite National Park on our 2010 trip, and what a wonderland it was. We arrived on June 19th. There had been plenty of rain in the spring, so the falls were absolutely amazing. Everywhere you looked there were falls pouring down from the surrounding mountains. That, mixed with the sunlight streaming through the trees, made the scenery almost surreal. It reminded me of the waterfall scenes from Lord of the Rings. Bob and I fell in love with the place, and it quickly became one of our favorite national parks.

We stayed at Yosemite Pines RV Resort, a campground about 22 miles from the Big Oak Flat park entrance. The park has a swimming pool, although we didn't get to use it. We were there for five nights, but didn't spend much time in the campground since we were busy seeing Yosemite. There are many campgrounds in the National Park, but we wanted the convenience of electric. Yosemite Pines RV Resort worked out just fine for us, and we enjoyed our stay there. Here are the highlights of the four days that we had to tour the park.

Day 1: We headed into the valley and did the loop. Bridalveil Falls was our first stop, and we got there early enough that hardly anyone was there. We moved on through the valley to Mirror Lake after stopping at the visitor center. Finally we took the path to the Lower Falls. So much breathtaking scenery in one day!
Bridalveil Falls - Yosemite National Park

Mirror Lake - Yosemite National Park

Upper and Lower Falls - Yosemite National Park

Day 2: We went to Glacier Point. You get spectacular views of Half Dome and waterfalls cascading into the valley everywhere. It was chilly up there – the elevation is 7274 feet. 

Half Dome - Yosemite National Park

View from Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park

View From Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park

Day 3: We toured the Hetch Hetchy Valley.  On our way we saw the cutest black bear cub (it was actually a blond) eating flowers on the roadside. We didn't see the mother, but I'm sure she was nearby!

Baby Brown Bear cub - Yosemite National Park
Damming up the Hetch Hetchy valley was a source of great controversy from 1901-1913 and was fought against violently by John Muir.  Today it contains 25% of San Francisco's water supply which is delivered through an aqueduct.

O'Shaughnessy Dam

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Hetch  Hetchy Reservoir

Day 4: We visited the Mariposa Grove to see the Giant Sequoias. The 1800 year old Giant Grizzly is located there - the oldest living sequoia in the park.

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

Grizzly Giant - Yosemite National Park

 On the way back we stopped at Tunnel View, one of the most scenic places in the park.

Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park

Here's a short video of our Yosemite Tour – only three minutes long, but covers the highlights of the park.  Enjoy!