Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tom Sawyer's RV Park - West Memphis, Arkansas (May 2018)


We were heading west to join a WBCCI (Wally Byam Caravan Club International) caravan and one of our goals for our second day of travel was to find a campground west of Memphis, Tennessee. We didn’t want to drag Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer through morning rush hour traffic there, so we planned to stop for the night after passing through Memphis.

Crossing the bridge into Arkansas

We used the AllStays app on our iPhones to find the Tom Sawyer's RV Park in West Memphis, Arkansas. The reviews were positive so we decided to take a chance on this park. 

Our confidence in our choice started to wane as we turned on the access road to the campground. We were hoping that our GPS wasn’t taking us down some poorly graded roads that we would have to back out if we hit a dead end. Even the sign announcing the campground appeared to need some maintenance.

The sign announcing Tom Sawyer's RV Park

Our tune changed once we were escorted to our campsite. Rosie ended up being parked about 25 feet from the Mississippi River. The views outside Rosie's windows were amazing. 

For example, we enjoyed watching the tugboats push barges loaded with coal toward New Orleans. We were also amazed at the number of fallen trees being carried down river by the swift current.

Tug boat headed down the Mississippi River

Tug pushing barges

What a jewel of a campground!

One of the most frequent comments from other campers in the park was about the incredible location along the Mississippi and the views. 

Needless to say, we were glad we continued down the access road and stayed in this park. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • The voltage was low during the afternoon when everyone’s air conditioners were running full blast
  • Our site had a water connection with 42 pounds of pressure 
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • We think the park had a dump station, but we didn’t find it (we didn’t look too hard since we had a sewer connection)
  • Our site had a concrete pad. We still needed to use our leveling tools to correct a slight lean 
  • The park provided free WiFi, but it was embarrassingly slow
  • AT&T provided two bars of 4G voice and data over our site
  • There were two bathhouses in the park. Since the park floods nearly every year from the Mississippi River and the bathhouses were underwater three months earlier, we can cut the park a little slack on the condition of the bathhouses. They were clean and maintained. It appeared that the walls were freshly painted black to hide the water line from the most recent flood, which was only three months before we arrived
  • The park had a laundry for guests to use 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS and NBC using Rosie’s TV antenna. We also received digital channels Antenna, Escape, Get, Grit, H&I and ME
  • This is a pet friendly park 
It cost a few extra dollars to get a site along the mighty Mississippi River. It was well worth it and this is a park we would stay in again when traveling through Memphis.

Tug on the Mississippi

Tug heading up the Mississippi

Hawk sitting along the bank of the Mississippi River

Rosie at sunset along the Mississippi River

Bathhouse



Saturday, June 2, 2018

Whiten Park COE Campground- Fulton, Mississippi (May 2018)

Our GPS decided we needed to take the scenic route off I-22 to Whiten Park COE Campground. In the 12 mile process, it made sure we saw all of the sights and stop lights in downtown Fulton, Mississippi. 

Our GPS wasn’t the only one coming up with this route. A big fifth wheel caught up with us at a red light. It appeared that this rig was also following its GPS off the Interstate, through town and into the park. 

Somehow, our GPS came up with a new route back to the Interstate when we left the park the next morning that avoided the town, the traffic lights and the traffic.

Sign at entrance to park

Our first impression was that Whiten Park may be one of the older Corps of Engineers (COE) campgrounds. It had many mature trees around the campsites. Also, the utility connection points were showing a little age. The same was true of the bathhouses in the park.

View of trees from Rosie's window

We were a “walk-up” and arrived without reservations. The camp host gave us a map marked with available sites in the park's three loops and asked us to let her know which one we chose for the night. We did a fast run through the loop nearest the water and ruled those sites out because they were too short and we would have to disconnect Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer from the truck. We planned to leave early the next morning and simply wanted to stay hitched up over night. 

We saw a deep site at the end of the middle loop and quickly backed in. We knew the site we picked wasn’t one of the prime spots that people try to reserve months in advance, but it was good enough for the night.

Rosie in Whiten Park COE Campground

Later, we walked through the third loop and realized that the available sites in that area were deep and had water views. I guess we settled too fast on a site in the middle loop. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection with 38 pounds of pressure 
  • The water had a high level of iron. I had to rinse out our water filter several times when I disconnected the next morning 
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection 
  • We saw one dump station in this park
  • Our site had a concrete pad 
  • We had to use leveling tools to fix a slight side-to-side lean 
  • There were three loops in the campground 
  • Each loop had a bathhouse 
  • The bathhouses were clean and well maintained by the staff
  • The park does not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided marginal 4G voice and data service over our campsite 
  • We were able to watch CBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. We also received digital channels ME and THiS 
  • This is a pet friendly park 
We were amazed at the number of small children in this park. It appeared to us that this is a campground that young families tend to stay in. It was nice to hear the “happy” sounds of young children playing in the park.

Trees in the park

Main road to the camping loops

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fort Pickens Campground - Pensacola, Florida (April 2018)

We were wanting to return to Fort Pickens for several years. In fact, we had reservations a couple years ago only to have them canceled because of a storm. This is because the access road to the campground travels through a very narrow strip of land bordered by the Gulf on one side and the Bay on the other. Storms are known to bury the road in beach sand or, in the worst case scenario, the road ends up underwater for a day or two.

The entrance to Fort Pickens

The road to the campground is on a narrow strip of land between the Gulf and the Bay

This means you always pay attention to the weather reports while camping in the campgrounds of Fort Pickens because storms may strand you for several days. So why is Fort Pickens on our “visit again “ list? The reasons start with great beaches and include fun bike trails. Another reason for liking Fort Pickens is that you have a ringside seat for the Navy’s Blue Angels practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesdays.

The "Blues" flying in formation

There are multiple camping loops in this park. Loop A is separate from the others and it’s sites are larger and some have shade. Loops B through E are all in one area that appears to be similar to a parking lot. We were told that the hurricanes have blown down the trees that used to line this area over the years. 

Another difference between Loop A and the others is that many of the sites outside Loop A were too short to allow both your trailer and tow vehicle to fit, so you end up parking the truck sideways in your site. That means you cannot hookup your rig the night before if you are planning an early exit the next morning.

Rosie parked in Fort Pickens Campground

As expected, the prime Loop A sites are difficult to reserve. That isn’t unique because it is usually hard to reserve a site in any loop at this campground. A possible contributor to this problem is the fact that Fort Pickens is a federal site and campers with the National Park’s Senior Pass card pay only 50 percent of the going rate. 

We enjoyed riding our bikes between the campground area and the fort. There is a small bridge along that path that always has a few turtles swimming in in the shade around the bridge. We enjoyed seeing the large “granddad” turtle there.

The bike/walking path between the camping loops and the fort

An unexpected bonus during our stay was that we were able to watch two practice sessions of the Blue Angels. We watched the Tuesday practice run from Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer. We watched the Wednesday performance from the fishing pier and found that to be a better observation area because you could see more of the acrobatics from there.

Watching the Blue Angels practice from the fishing pier area in Fort Pickens Campground

Here are some specifics about this campground:

  • Reserve America says there are five camping loops in this park. In practice, there is Loop A and then the rest combined onto one large field. 
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection that delivered 40 pounds of pressure 
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection 
  • There are two dump stations in the park. The first serves Loop A and the second is for the remaining loops. 
  • Our site had an asphalt pad. It was slightly off center 
  • Our pad was very narrow. We had to be very careful when exiting Rosie because it was too easy to step off the asphalt pad and potentially twist your ankle 
  • There are multiple bathhouses throughout the park. These seem to have annoyingly loud exhaust fans
  • A couple of hooks would be a welcomed addition to the bathhouse as these would give users somewhere to hold their items
  • We had only one bar of AT&T 4G service. For the most part, our iPhones were unusable 
  • We were able to watch Fox using Rosie’s TV antenna. ABC, CBS and NBC drifted in occasionally, but were unwatchable most of the time. 
We are glad we were able to stay in one of Fort Pickens' camping loops and plan to return.

Dunes area at Fort Pickens

Many osprey nest in this park
Selfie at the turtle bridge

A cannon protecting Fort Pickens

Inside the fort at Fort Pickens
Osprey landing on its nest

Rosie parked in Fort Pickens

Walking along the Pensacola Bay side of the park
Our campsite

Sunrise over the Fort Pickens campground


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Anchors Aweigh RV Resort - Foley, Alabama (April 2018)

Our participation in Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI) events up until now was limited to going on caravans and attending their International Rallies. The Alabama Unit people were good about inviting us to their meetings, so we decided that it was time to participate in one of their rallies.

We arrived at Anchors Aweigh RV Resort in Foley and and started setting up Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer. It was fun watching the dozen or so other Airstream units arrive.  

The park's large clubhouse was the focal point of the rally. Many meals, the unit's meetings and the nightly entertainment were all centered around the clubhouse.

Getting ready for a "Low Country Boil" in the Anchors Aweigh RV Park

Our favorite excursion sponsored by the rally was the Five Rivers Boat Tour. This started from the Five Rivers Delta Center near Spanish Fort, Alabama, and was very interesting.

The Five Rivers Center

View from the Five Rivers area

The tour boat in the Five Rivers area

A live owl who is unable to live in the wild being taken care of in the Five Rivers Center

Riding on the tour boat

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection with 38 pounds of pressure 
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • We think there was a dump station in the park, but we didn’t find it 
  • Our site had a level concrete pad
  • There were five or six individual restrooms with showers around the Clubhouse. They were well maintained and clean. We found all of these occupied several times during our stay in this park 
  • The park provided WiFi service with decent speeds
  • AT&T provided good 4G voice and data service over our campsite 
  • The park had a non-heated swimming pool. The water was too chilly for swimming 
  • There was a hot tub in the park
  • The park provided a cable TV connection with a good lineup of channels. We elected to skip the cable connection and watch the over-the-air signals in that area
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS and NBC using Rosie’s TV antenna. We also received digital channels Antenna, Charge, Get, Grit, Me and Stadium, a channel that aired rebroadcasts of college football and baseball games that were played anywhere from one to ten years ago
  • This is a pet friendly park 
The Alabama Unit Rally ended on Sunday morning and we decided to quickly hitch up to avoid the rain storm predicted for that day. We saw the news stories as we arrived at our next destination about the tornado that touched down in the Anchors Aweigh RV Resort less than three hours after we left that morning.

TV Coverage of the tornado that touched down and blew over five RVs in the Anchors Aweigh RV Park

We were amazed watching the TV news video because we recognized the motor home that had been parked next to us and saw that the five rigs blown over were parked close to our site. One member of our Airstream group was in the park during the tornado and said that his trailer swayed some during the storm but stayed upright and safe. We were thankful that our group escaped injuries and that we were in Florida when the tornado hit Foley. We were also thankful that the campers taken to the hospital after the tornado were quickly released. 

Things could have been much worse!


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Gunter Hill COE Campground - Alabama (April 2018)

The email we received said that some members of the Alabama WBCCI Unit were planning to stop over at Gunter Hill Corps of Engineers Campground while in route to the Unit's annual rally. We enjoyed our previous camping experiences in Gunter Hill, so we decided to meet our friends there in what they were calling a rolling rally. 

Similar to most Corps of Engineers campgrounds we have seen, Gunter Hill is a beautiful park with large camping sites in its two loops. We stayed in the Antioch loop during our first visit to this park. It appears to be the older loop with many trees throughout the site. It also has some excellent views of Catoma Creek, the large body of water that borders the campground. The drawback to this loop is that it only has water and electrical connections. That is probably why it doesn’t fill as quickly as the Catoma loop.

View of the creek

The Catoma loop adds sewer connections to the standard water and electric connections. There are fewer trees in the Catoma loop and that may be why the sites appear to be larger.

Rosie parked in Gunter Hill Campground

After setting up in our Catoma loop site, we noticed that the area around the water connection was starting to flood. A quick check of our hose connections confirmed that they were tight and that meant that the problem was coming from the park's spigot.

A quick call to the camp host suggested a possible cure. The water spigots in this park have weep holes to prevent them from freezing during the winter. If you fail to completely open the water valve, water can leak out of the weep hole. When I checked, the camp host was correct in that the water spigot wasn’t fully on and making that simple adjustment fixed the problem. 

About half-a-dozen Airstream trailers showed up for the night. We enjoyed meeting those members of the WBCCI's Alabama Unit. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection with 46 pounds of pressure 
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • There are two dump stations in this park, one for each loop
  • Sites in the Catoma loop have concrete pads
  • Sites in the Antioch loop are dirt 
  • Our site in the Catoma loop was level
  • There were two bathhouses in the Catoma loop. Both were modern, well maintained and clean
  • The park does not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided marginal 4G voice and data service over our campsite 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS and NBC using Rosie’s TV antenna. (Rosie is our 25 foot Airstream trailer.) We also received digital channels Antenna, Buzz, Escape, Get, Grit, H&I, ME, Movies and THiS 
  • This is a pet friendly park 
We noticed something this time that we didn’t have to deal with before while camping in Gunter Hill. We caught a whiff of a bad smell as we we setting up Rosie. We couldn’t decide if we were smelling sewage or if there was a dead animal in the woods near Rosie. Our camp host said we were in the section of the campground that when conditions were right the wind carried the smell from the paper mill across the creek. Conditions must have been right because we smelled the mill at our site and didn’t smell it about two sites away.

Another view of the creek

A walking trail in the park

We hope the wind will be coming from a different direction the next time we camp in this park. 

Rosie's site in Gunter Hill

Gunter Hill COE Campground


Sunday, April 8, 2018

T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park - Florida (March 2018)

Google maps said we should be able to travel from Hardridge Creek COE Campground to T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park near Port St. Joe in a little more than four hours. Google lied! It took more than six hours to reach Florida's Gulf coast. 

Google wasn’t alone in this optimistic travel time estimate. Our Garmin GPS and Ford's navigation system also thought Florida was much closer to us than it really was. 

All three systems (we refer to our Garmin GPS as Jill, our truck's system is called Jack and Google Maps is simply known as Google) could only agree that we should be forced to drag Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, down some tiny country roads running through Alabama's and Florida's farm country. For some unexplainable reason, the speed limits on too many stretches of these roads were 35 or 45 miles per hour and a frightening number of those speed limit signs had the annoying “Strickly Enforced” notices attached. Jack would point us to the left, Jill would say go right and Google said to keep going straight. It was as if we had too many cooks in the kitchen. 

Somehow we managed to make a wrong turn and ended up in Georgia. Jack, Jill and Google all agreed we were heading in the wrong direction, but true to course, none agreed how to get back on track. 

To be fair, Jack, Jill and Google tend to agree when we are rolling down the Interstates. It appeared to us that once our navigation devices figured out we were traveling country roads to our destination, they were competing to see which unit could come up with the slowest, I mean most scenic, route to Port St. Joe. 

After driving for what seemed forever, we found a place in the middle of nowhere with a Methodist church directly across the street from a Baptist church. There was a parking area in front of the Baptist church large enough to allow us to stop for a while and stretch. Both churches had signs saying that burials in their cemeteries must be preapproved and that you could not simply show up and start digging a gravesite. It appeared that random burials were a problem in that community. 

As expected, Jack, Jill and Google didn’t wisely use our break time to agree on the best route for the rest of our trip. We were becoming painfully aware that technology was not going to get us to the Florida Gulf Coast in a timely manner. 

As we meandered through the backroads of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, we started talking about family vacations when we were kids. The backroads were the main highways then because the first legs of the Interstate system were only in the planning stages. 

My memory of vacations was of the family in the Buick and Daddy following his TripTik from AAA. As I was the youngest child, I was permanently assigned the middle of the back seat with my feet resting on the driveshaft hump. My brother and sister had to fight our family dog in what often was a losing battle for the open window in our car that lacked air-conditioning. 

One of our family traditions was the turning of the TripTik page. Mom would always read the description printed on the new page telling us what to look forward to for the next 50 or so miles of our trip. 

Becky had different memories as her family had a Ford station wagon and her permanent seat wasn’t really a seat. She sat in the area behind the last seat. The advantage to traveling in the luggage area was that she could stretch out and nap while traveling. It was always a mystery to her as to how they ever arrived anywhere as she snoozed her way through family trips. 

After much longer than the initial time estimates, we turned on U.S. Highway 98 heading for Florida Highway 30A, the road hugging the Gulf coast and the gateway to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. It is amazing how our spirits lifted at the first sight of the Gulf. 

We finally see the Gulf


One of our traditional conversation points while driving through the Cape San Blas area is about how it appeared more built-up in a year's time. We were shocked at the amount of construction since we camped there last year. It appeared that the road to our secluded beach area was quickly becoming developed. 

Rosie as we turn off Florida 30-A and head to the state park near Port St. Joe, Fla.

Selfie taken as we turn on to Cape San Blas Road


Fortunately, Cape San Blas Road dead-ends at the state park and you are quickly removed from the growing clutter of “progress.” After checking in, we headed to our site in the Gulf Breeze loop.  

Sign at the entrance of the park


We have our list of favorite sites, but word must have leaked out because we couldn’t get any of our “A-List” sites. We found ourselves on the “marsh” side of the loop this time. 

Rosie in our Gulf Breeze campsite


We have camped in this park in a variety of weather conditions. There were several times during our tent days that all we talked about was how cold it was.There were also times when it was simply too hot for tent camping. The weather isn’t as big a factor for us now because it is always pleasant inside Rosie and that was a good thing because the wind was the weather story this year. We had a couple days of 25-30 mph winds and the temperature dipped into the 40s a few mornings. The winds kept us off the beaches and mostly inside Rosie for three days this time. 

The beach area was closed during the wind storm


Our timing normally places us in this park during the traditional Spring Break season. Of course, the college students tend to gather an hour west of this park in Panama City Beach. We usually see families from Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio in this park. The college-age Spring Breakers that stay here seem to fit in as they appear to enjoy the natural beauty of this area. In fact, several of our neighbors commented on how quiet the park was while it was full of campers. 

Here are some specifics about this park:
  • There are two camping loops (Gulf Breeze and Shady Pines) in the park. There are some tree-lined narrow passages in the Shady Pines loop and I don’t think I would try to navigate some of the sharp turns in that loop with a rig longer than 27 feet. 
  • There are advantages to both loops. Shady Pines has more of a feeling of camping in the woods. Gulf Breeze seems to accommodate larger rigs and is closer to the beach. We noticed while walking around the camping loops during the wind storm that we felt more of the wind in Gulf Breeze than in Shady Pines. 
  • Our site was dirt and it took many leveling tools to help with the port to starboard lean. I think our leveler tools sunk in the sand as the lean became more pronounced during the week. 
  • Our site had 30 and 20 amp electrical service. I don't think the park offers 50 amp service. 
  • In addition to electrical service, our site had a water connection. The water pressure on our connection was a healthy 44 pounds. 
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection and I don't think any sites in this park have sewer connections. 
  • There is a single dump station near the exit of the Gulf Breeze camping loop. You should plan on waiting for your turn at the dump station if several other people decide to leave about the same time as you. 
  • There is a dump station in the Shady Pines loop near the Eastern bathhouse. You cannot reach it with your RV, so you must lug your sewer tote across some soft Florida beach sand to reach it. While this is a challenge, it is easier to use when camping in the Shady Pines loop than dragging your tote to the Gulf Breeze loop. 
  • There are two bath houses in each camping loop and they are all well maintained by the park's staff. The Gulf Breeze loop bathhouse nearest the boardwalk appears to have been updated more recently than the others. That bathhouse was also heated, something we appreciated during the short cold snap while we camped there. 
  • The AT&T signal was slightly better this year. We had two bars of voice and 4G data service inside Rosie. We are not sure if this is the result of the buildup of Cape San Blas or if we parked Rosie in one of the “magic” spots that simply had better service. 
  • There are two WiFi access points in the park. The WiFi at the campstore seems to be a little faster than the WiFi point between the two camping loops. I think I had a dial-up modem 30 years ago that was faster. Expect the bandwidth speeds to plummet when someone else starts sharing the WiFi signal you are using. 
  • There is a campstore in the park with some last minute necessities. I think it may be cheaper to buy a cow from a local farmer than a carton of milk from the store. 
  • This is a pet friendly park. 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS most of time time using Rosie's antenna. We also consistently saw digital channels ME-TV and CW. Signals from GRIT, H&I and Escape drifted in and out during the day.
This is a park that we always want to bring our bikes and kayak to. Toss in some of the best beaches on the Gulf and spectacular sunsets and you are talking about some great reasons for spending Spring Break in this park. 

We saw nine Airstream trailers and motor homes in the campground while we were camping at the T. H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park this year. 

The bay side of the park

The "alligator" lake

Along one of the trails in the park


Becky and Suzy at the beach

Seen between the Shady Pines and Gulf Breeze camping loops
A pelican near the camp store 

Suzy on the boardwalk

Becky and her new friend in Port St. Joe, Florida




Lunch in Port St. Joe, Florida

Sunset over the Gulf

Sunset

Sunset

Rosie at the dump station as we leave the park