Monday, December 10, 2012

Fontainebleau State Park - Louisiana

Fontainebleau State Park is located near Mandeville, Louisiana. Lake Pontchartrain forms one of the boarders of this park and I imagine that the beach area along the lake is one of the park's most popular features during the summer. Since we visited the park during November, only a few brave souls were fishing in those chilly waters.

Main entrance to Fontainebleau State Park
The Lake Pontchartrain beach area
So, why would people want to camp in this park during the off-peak season? First, this park has wetlands, wooded areas, marshes and wildlife. We heard owls in the evenings and watched eagles fly overhead during the day. Fellow campers talked about the many deer in the park, but we always seemed to miss the deer sightings. In short, the lake is not the only draw for this park.

Looking towards the old camp area
The people in the park appear to mark time through hurricanes. Park staff prople showed us areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and, more recently, by Hurricane Isaac. We were looking forward to the boardwalk through one of the park's wetlands and marshes. Unfortunately, this feature along with the visitors center was destroyed by Hurricane Isaac.

Rosie in the newer camping area of this park
There are two camping sections to this park. The older section has many pull-thru sites. While this sounds attractive to some campers wanting to avoid the chore of backing into a site, the downside to this section is that the sites are close to each other. Very, very close! I wasn't sure that all campers in this area can open their awnings because their neighbors are right outside their doors. I don't think our 25 foot trailer and tow vehicle would fit in some of these tiny sites. I am sure there are some great reasons for camping in this area because it was packed. My family prefers the newer campground area.

The newer campground area is more traditional in design. It has larger sites and some can accommodate the big rigs. Having said that, you need to realize that the view from your site will probably be the campers around you. The sites are bigger, but closer together than in many of the other campgrounds we visit.

I mentioned that Fontainebleau State Park is close to Mandeville. Since we found ourselves in the heart of Cajun country, we decided to diligently search for the perfect gumbo and shrimp po-boy sandwich. Sadly, we failed to find the absolute best and our search continues.Some people would say that this is something to look forward to on our next visit to Louisiana.

 The park features:
  • 30 and 50 amp electrical service
  • Paved pads
  • Water and electrical hook-ups
  • One dump station
  • There are some good roads for riding your bicycles
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC from New Orleans in this park via antenna
  • There isn't wi-fi in the park, but AT&T's 3G and 4G service is adequate
  • The restrooms and showers in this park are modern, functional and clean.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gunter Hill COE Campground - Third Visit - Halloween

We left Gunter Hill COE Campground from our second visit wondering what happens at the park during Halloween weekend that makes people talk excitedly about it. By the time we parked our trailer at Fort Rosie, we decided to make reservations for Halloween weekend. We were surprised that both loops were nearly full. The Catoma loop, the one recently reopened after renovations, was full. There were about a dozen sites open in the older Antioch loop.

Surprisingly, site 101 was open so we booked it. This was the second time we were able to reserve this premium space and this would have been impossible in previous years because this site was typically reserved months in advance.

Since we figured that this was going to be a festive weekend, we decided to buy some decorations for Rosie, our Airstream trailer. We found some orange Christmas-type lights at Home Depot plus we bought some awning lights at Camping World. We knew that we would be able to fit in with families camping over Halloween at Gunter Hill Campground.

As we were checking in, the park attendant said that he just had a cancellation in the Catoma loop. He also said that there were only seven open sites in the entire park for the weekend. For the second time, we switched from site 101 to an unknown one in the new loop.

The park attendant described Catoma as the "festive" loop. We understood what he meant when we turned into the campground area. There were lots of Halloween decorations and lights everywhere in the park. Suddenly, we knew what the camper meant three weeks ago when he excitedly asked if we were planning to return for Halloween. It was apparent that this was going to be a fun weekend.

You have to keep in mind that Gunter Hill is, in my opinion, one of the top Corp of Engineers parks in our region. They have great sites, full hook-ups and the park is well maintained.

Rosie, our Airstream trailer, with Halloween lights
We have already talked about this park in previous posts. This posting is about being in the park during Halloween weekend.
Some of the festive lights at Gunter Hill's Halloween weekend

The Trick-or-Treat Parade at Gunter Hill COE Campground

Autumn colors at Gunter Hill Campground
Fall at Gunter Hill Campground
Annie getting very involved in a game of Sorry
We learned that a number of other parks have "holiday specials." The obvious dates are the 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and New Years. We found that Gunter Hill's Halloween celebration was great fun and well worth the trip.

This was also a time when the park was filled with families and small children. It also seemed that most people in the park knew each other. We were in the Catoma loop because of a cancellation. It appears that the family that cancelled was probably related to the campers all around us. Fortunately, the family was very nice and we enjoyed camping next to them.

We plan to return next year for Halloween at Gunter Hill Campground.

Gunter Hill COE Campground - Second Visit

Our second visit to Gunter Hill COE Campground was very different from the first. There are two loops at Gunter Hill and we stayed in the Antioch loop the first time. Actually, the Catoma loop wasn't an option since it was closed and being renovated.

Gunter Hill COE Campground - Catoma Loop
We enjoyed being in the Antioch loop during our last visit. It had some sites with great views of the creek. (It seems silly to call Catoma Creek a creek. It is wider than some rivers.) The loop was also alive with lots of campers, children playing and the smell of camp foods being cooked.

We learned on our second visit that the Catoma loop was open, the Antioch loop was about to be closed for renovation and that only three or four campers were in the Antioch loop. We thought we were very lucky to have site 101, a premium waterfront site, reserved in the Antioch loop, but we quickly decided to give up this site for an unknown one in the Catoma loop.

The bridge in the Catoma Loop
Armed with a new campground map, we started looking for our site. First impressions were very positive. Camp sites were very spacious and your neighbors were not right next to your trailer. Each site had a concrete pad, water, electric and sewage hook up. In short, it was easy to see why the campers moved over to the Catoma loop.

Another view of our camp site
The Catoma loop has wide sites and is well maintained. It doesn't have as many water view sites as the Antioch loop, but you substitute the feeling that you are in the woods and you end up with a reasonable trade.

The newly paved roads were great for riding our bicycles. They were also good for taking walks.

Sunset at Gunter Hill COE Campground
What about the Antioch loop? We rode our bikes over to look at this area. It was sad to see this mostly empty area, which was full of campers a few months earlier. We didn't notice the first time we stayed in Gunter Hill how close the sites were to each other. We didn't notice how cramped the sites were. We didn't notice how many ruts were in the road. We did notice this time how sad we felt about this good camping area as it was clearly reaching it final moments before being closed for renovations.

The bottom line is that the Catoma loop is one of the best Corp of Engineers parks near Montgomery. It is nice to be less than 15 minutes away from Alabama's capital city and to be in a relaxing country setting.

Annie enjoying Gunter Hill COE Campground
On our last day in the park, a fellow camper asked if we were planning to return on Halloween weekend. We asked what happens on Halloween. His response was that they really do Halloween right.

Not knowing how to do Halloween right, we decided that we needed to return to Gunter Hill COE Campground in three weeks for Halloween.

For the record, the campsites in Gunter Hill's COE Campground Catoma Loop has:
  • 30 and 50 amp electrical service
  • Concrete pads
  • Full hook-ups (water, electric sewage)
  • One dump station
  • There are some great roads for riding your bicycles
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in this park via antenna
  • Campers said that it was a challenge to capture either Dish or Direct satellite TV
  • There isn't wi-fi in the park, but AT&T's 3G and 4G service is adequate
  • The restrooms and showers in this park are modern, functional and clean.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

St. Andrews State Park - Florida

One of the things we have learned during our brief camping career is that there are some parks that you must reserve a site a long time in advance. As you can guess, these are the popular destinations in premium locations.

We first saw this phenomena when we reserved a space at the Florida State Park at Port St. Joe. The people at Reservations America said that many people book their campsites a year in advance. Not wanting to be left out of the top tier locations during holidays, we started making reservations months in advance.

With that background, we are ready to start talking about our visit to St. Andrews State Park, which is located near Panama City Beach, Florida.

A mere 72 hours before we were scheduled to arrive at St. Andrews State Park, Hurricane Isaac smashed into the gulf coast. While Louisiana and Mississippi felt the full fury of this storm, the Florida Gulf coast in the panhandle received lots of wind and rain from Isaac.

Rosie rode the storm out in Fort Rosie, what we call the warehouse we store her in when not out on an adventure. As soon as the storm moved ashore, we started calling the park to find out if it was still open. Our first call was about 72 hours before we planned to arrive and the park ranger said that there was a lot of standing water in our campground loop. The second call was 48 hours before we were to arrive and the park report remained that our site was flooded. At that point we started making alternative plans for our trip in Rosie.

Our last call was 24 hours before we were scheduled to arrive. This time the park attendant said that the water was receded and that our site should be OK by the time we arrived the next day.

Since we were not sure we were going to actually go camping, we hadn't been diligent in getting ready. Panic entered in as we quickly started getting our supplies ready for the trip. We were able to quickly throw together our camping list and we were able to hitch Rosie to our truck and we were off to visit a new park in Florida, St. Andrews State Park.

The sign at the entrance said that the campground was full, making us glad we had reservations. We stood in line waiting our turn to register, making us believe that the flood of water from Hurricane Isaac was being replaced by a flood of campers.

The rain storm at St. Andrews State Park
It was easy to see that our camping site was recently under water. It had that "mushy" feeling. What surprised us was the number of empty sites around us. It appeared that Hurricane Isaac scared some would-be campers away.

I stayed over the weekend then headed back home so that I could go to work during the week while Becky and Annie (our Yorkie dog) stayed in the park. After work on Friday, I would rejoin them for that weekend then we would pull Rosie home on Sunday.

Who would have thought that the reminents of Hurricane Isaac would start to regenerate into a tropical downpour? I started getting text messages on Tuesday about the pouring rain. By midday, Rosie was sitting in a swamp.

Looking out the back window of Rosie, our Airstream trailer
Becky and Annie were trapped inside Rosie because of the constant rain storms. The sun poked through the clouds on Thursday, giving Becky a chance to explore the park's beach area. The rain clouds stayed away most of Friday, but returned Friday night and Saturday morning. The storm woke both of us up and the all of the sites near us were again flooded.

When we arrived, we thought that our site was perfect. We now know that our site is in the lowest area of the park and easily floods. Maybe our loop should be renamed, "The Swamp."

About the park:

  • Many of the sites are on the water (inlet, not the Gulf). These are good choices because they are less wet when it rains.
  • Sites have 30 amp service and water.
  • Sites do not have sewage connections, but the park has several dump stations.
  • The park has a great area for swimming in the Gulf.
  • There are lots of places to ride your bikes in this park.
  • It is easy to watch ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in the park via antenna.
  • There isn't wi-fi in the park, but AT&T's 3G coverage is adequate.
  • The restrooms and showers in this park are modern, functional and clean.
  • There is a decent camp store in the park.
  • We saw several deer in the camping area and there were lots of raccoons near the beach.
One of the things we noticed was the surprising number of tents at this park. There was a healthy number of tent campers there during our stay. We hope, against all odds, that they were able to stay dry during the constant rains.

So, are we planning to go back to this park? Sure! This park has a first class beach and it was great between rain storms.

The beach at St. Andrews State Park

Alligator Trail at St. Andrews State Park

Looking at the inlet at St. Andrews State Park

The inlet area at St. Andrews State Park

The inlet side of St. Andrews State Park

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wind Creek State Park (Alabama) - Third Visit

What's that smell? I doubt there is a married man who hasn't heard his wife ask that question.

Normally, men view that as a hypothetical question because everyone knows the answer. But, the question was valid this time because I didn't know what or who was responsible for the smell inside Rosie, our Airstream trailer.

It didn't take long to figure out that the smell was coming from the bathroom. After talking to some seasoned campers, we found out that we violated one of the primary rules of travel trailers--never store the trailer with the black holding tank dry.

Who knew? I thought we were doing great by getting to the park dump station and draining both the gray and black tanks. It is clear now that we always want to keep a few gallons of clean water in both tanks at all times.

Wind Creek is a park that we enjoy returning to for a short weekend trip. We pulled Rosie over one weekend then I ended up going home on Sunday evening so that I could be at work during the next week. Becky and Annie (our Yorkie) stayed  and enjoyed the park while I was working.

After work on Friday, I drove back to Wind Creek State Park and rejoined Becky. We decided that we had to take some action to rid Rosie of "the smell."

Most of the camping sites next to the lake do not have sewage connections. There are some connections in the loops across from the lake sites with full connections. We decided that we needed to move Rosie to a site with full connections.

The park wasn't full and the rangers didn't mind us moving as long as we didn't ask for a refund. So, we quickly packed-up Rosie and moved sites.

That was the start of an evening where we kept filling the black tank then emptying it--again and again and again. Somehow, that strategy worked!

It seems that there is a lesson learned on every outing with Rosie. We learned on this trip how to take care of the black and gray tanks between camping trips. I guess I will have to look for a better excuse the next time Becky asks, What's that smell?" in Rosie. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wind Creek State Park - Alabama (Second Visit)

Technically, our recent stay at Wind Creek State Park was our second visit to the park in Rosie, our Airstream trailer. We had to remind ourselves of that fact because the first visit is mostly a blur in our minds. This is where we camped the first night after purchasing Rosie. We were too overwhelmed with trying to learn how to do things inside our trailer while on that maiden voyage and unable to enjoy Rosie or the park.

Things were different this time. We are now comfortable camping with Rosie and we discovered that Wind Creek is a great park with lots of things to do.

First, there are more than 600 campsites at this park. While not all of these are on the water, many are. Our campsite was probably 20 feet from the edge of the lake.

Rosie at our campsite at Wind Creek State Park

This made it easy to go for a quick swim behind Rosie. Of course, we had to occasionally share the lake with some other residents and their families.

Sharing the lake with another "family."

More young "families" on the lake.

 Another feature we enjoyed at the park was the many places we were able to ride our bicycles. We were able to follow the meandering roads going around the many "fingers" of this lake. There are some moderate hills at the park, so you will have a workout as you ride your bike around Wind Creek State Park.

Lots of places to ride your bicycles at this park

 When not riding our bikes, we enjoyed being at our campsite. It was very easy to relax while at our "lake house."
Rosie at Wind Creek State Park in Alabama

Camping at Alabama's Wind Creek State Park
While riding our bikes around the lake, Becky said she remembered camping here when our sons were small children. She also remembered that we climbed some form of a "tower" at the park with our boys. That started our search for the tower.

The "tower" turned out to be a silo and once we found it, the memories of our tent camping trip from more than 25 years ago came flooding back. The view from the top of this silo was great.

The silo overlooking Wind Creek's lake
 Another memory from our first camping trip was the main playground in the campground area. We remembered our sons playing on a "jungle gym" that, with a little imagination, could appear to be similar to a car. We couldn't resist and had to recreate a few "legendary" scenes on the play equipment.

Steve trying a "shortcut"

Becky shifting to ludicrous speed
While at the park, Steve had to do a few last-minute things for his work. The picture below shows him writing a press release about the new graduate program for Troy's Hall School of Journalism and Communication.

Steve working while inside Rosie

Some points about the park:
  • Most sites have 30 amp electrical service. I don't know if any sites offer 50 amp service.
  • Bath houses and restrooms were clean and modern.
  • This is a pet friendly campground.
  • Expect to pay around $26 per night for your campsite. (Weekend rates are higher.)
  • All sites have water and electric service. Some have sewage connection. Fewer on the water have sewage connections.
  • TV service is minimal. We could watch Alabama Public Television and occasionally the local Fox affiliate would pop in for a few minutes. I guess it is good that you don't go camping to watch TV.
  • There is WiFi service in the park. The speed of the service degrades as the number of people in the park increases.
  • There is a camp store in the park, which closes around 5 p.m.
  • There is an ice cream/pizza/hot dog stand in the park.
  • There are a couple of dump stations in the park. You may need to plan your park exit time if you intend to drop by one of the dump stations.
  • There appears to be only one trash dumpster in the park.
There were two memorable events that happened while camping at Wind Creek this time. First, we decided to conduct an experiment with Paco, our Hahn's Macaw parrot. We thought we would see if Paco was a good camper. We discovered that Paco isn't into camping and we ended up taking him home after one day at the park.

The second memorable event was that this was the first time we heard the severe weather sirens switch on while in a park. We gathered at the bath house along with a couple dozen other concerned campers until the storm passed over us.

The bottom line is that we had great time at Wind Creek State Park in Alabama and we plan to return to this park again.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

KOA - Oxford, AL and Dandy RV--Revisited

We had a plan. After camping at DeSoto State Park, we would drop by Dandy RV for a new set of tires for Rosie, our Airstream trailer.

We learned at the Airstream Rally at Georgia's Stone Mountain that you should not rely on tires older than five years. The tires on Rosie were six years-old and they were the specific brand that many people at the rally said we needed to avoid because of a tendency to fail early. We knew we needed to quickly replace our tires, so we scheduled an appointment at Dandy RV to take care of this issue.

Dandy doesn't really sell tires, but they will remove your current tires, take them to a local tire store in Oxford, Alabama, then bring the newly mounted tires back and install them on your trailer. While that sounds complicated, it isn't and it is something that frequently happens when customers bring their trailers back to Dandy.

We called to make a service reservation at Dandy. There were a couple of other things we wanted them to check on Rosie and the timing was perfect since we were going to be camping at Desoto that week.

We needed four tires and Dandy checked with their tire partner--they had exactly four tires of the make and size in stock. In order to reserve the tires, we needed to secure them with our credit card. No problem! We went ahead and purchased the tires two weeks before we would show up for our appointment.

That is the background, now--as Paul Harvey used to say--the rest of the story.

It took great effort, but we arrived at exactly 9:30 a.m., our appointment time. It appeared that things were going well until the service manager came out and said that there was a problem. The tire vendor used by Dandy--the one that secured our tires via our credit card--sold two of the tires. Wait a minute, that means they sold our tires!

Dandy told us that the tire store could have two new tires delivered the next morning. Suddenly, we needed to spend the night in Oxford, Ala.

There is a KOA campground next to Dandy. We elected to stay there for convenience, not because of the park itself.

My parents had a 16 foot Norris travel trailer back in the 1960s. I remember as my parents dragged that trailer all over America that KOA campgrounds were always very special as they had themes and lots of extras. Things may have changed during the past 40 to 50 years.

Granted, the KOA in Oxford is new and they may have grand plans for future additions. Currently, this KOA appears to be a former cow pasture with lots of trailer spots crammed in. And that pretty much sums up that park.

The park was $36 per night when we stayed there. Some in the park grumbled that the rate was more than $100 per night the week before because of the race at Talladega at that time.

So much for the park, now back to Dandy.

The next morning, we had Rosie back to Dandy's service bays. The tire store had the additional tires by early afternoon and we were on the road by 4 p.m.

Although this problem was not created by Dandy, they really tried to take care of us. They were able to negotiate a better deal for us from the tire store and they also took a hit on their service fees.

Yes, it was frustrating to find out that the tire store sold our tires, but Dandy worked hard to make everything right.

While we were at the Stone Mountain Airstream Rally, a camper there saw our Dandy RV tag and asked us if we thought Dandy was a good dealer. We told him that all of our experiences with Dandy were positive and that we felt Dandy really tried to take care of their customers. Having dealt with Dandy again, we continue to tell people that Dandy strives to do the right thing with their customers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Desoto State Park - Alabama

DeSoto State Park in Alabama is in the northeast corner of the state near Fort Payne. This is a park that is filled with memories for us as the last time we camped here, we were in a tent and our son, daughter-in-law and our three month old granddaughter joined us.

Entrance to DeSoto State Park

Before seeing the sign marking the boundary to the Alabama State Park, chances are that you will have to travel down I-59 to get there. Be warned that this is probably on the list of worst stretches of Interstate Highway in the nation. You, your tow vehicle and trailer will be bounced around a lot on this washboard highway, which needs to be repaved because I don't think it can be fixed one more time.

Our site at DeSoto State Park
 We found DeSoto State Park in Alabama to be well maintained and clean. The camping sites were improved since our last visit six years ago and were level and easy to back in and connect to the utilities.

Both the park ranger checking us in and the camp host pointed out that we were one week late in our arrival. There was an Airstream rally at DeSoto the previous week. While we would have loved to been at the Alumabama Rally, my work schedule is often difficult to work around. (It isn't good for a college professor to cut classes!)

Camping at DeSoto Park

There are plenty of places to ride your bikes at DeSoto State Park. There are also lots of hills! You need to know that half of your ride will be uphill and the rest will be coasting back to your campsite. Expect a vigorous workout every time you hop on your bikes while camping here.

Going for a bike ride in DeSoto State Park
 One of the odd "features" of this park is that most of the things you want to see are outside of the park. There are some interesting things to see inside the park, but wait until you see what is within ten miles of your campsite.

DeSoto Falls
About eight miles in one direction is DeSoto Falls. This is a nice set of cascading falls and is worth visiting. Make sure that you follow the trails to the lower falls because it is too easy to see the top falls and think you've seen everything there.

Also, take a look at the lake area above the falls. Chances are that you will see this as a very picturesque scene.

You run into Little River Canyon when traveling approximately 10 miles in the other direction. This is a federal national preserve.

Little River Canyon Falls
There are some amazing sights here. You start your tour around the canyon at the falls. Since our last visit, the National Park Service has built lots of fenced off walkways.

Mushroom Rock
As you drive around the canyon, you will see Mushroom Rock--you can't miss it because it is in the middle of the road.

This is another nostalgic area for us as we talked about being there with our family six years ago.

It is worth driving around the canyon to see the many sights there.

Following the orange blazes
There are many hiking trails in DeSoto State Park. Unfortunately, most are marked in a confusing manner and the map is, for the most part, useless. We followed the maps six years ago and got lost just as we did this time.

We were not alone as we met several other hikers and they were as lost as we were.

Some points about the park:
  • Many sites have both 30 and 50 amp electrical service
  • RV sites also have water and sewage hookups
  • The park provides basic cable TV service
  • WiFi (slow) is available at the camp store, not in the camping area
  • There is a decent camp general store in the park
  • The campground is pet-friendly
  • There are more than 20 pull-through sites at this park
AT&T provided spotty 3G service at the park. We usually needed to walk outside Rosie (our trailer) to use our iPhone.

While the park had full hook-ups, we made it a point to walk over to the restrooms and showers. While it was evident that these facilities have been there for a long time, they were clean and well maintained.

We didn't see a big problem with mosquitoes, but you had to be careful about ticks. We found a few on Annie, our family dog, and a couple on our clothing.

By the time taxes and other fees were added in, we paid approximately $36/night for our campsite.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened during our visit was the weather. A day-long soaking rain moved in on Saturday. We watched as the park filled up on Friday evening only to empty on Saturday afternoon because of the rain.

We were in a tent the last time we visited DeSoto and we would have been in the group exiting the park because of the weather. Instead, we continued to enjoy our stay from inside Rosie.

Would we go back to this park? Sure.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stone Mountain Park - Georgia

When you think of Stone Mountain, you think of the rock dome near Atlanta. People there like to refer to Stone Mountain as the largest exposed piece of granite in the world. While I cannot confirm nor deny this claim, I can tell you that the "rock" is impressive.

Stone Mountain in Georgia
Another impressive element of that park is how well it is maintained. The grounds are beautiful and well groomed. They should be because this was one of the most expensive parks we have camped in so far. How expensive? Camping here is a $50/night deal. In the world of camping, that is a very high fee.

So, is the rock and the grounds worth the premium fee? We will address that question later.

First, why did we decide to camp at Stone Mountain?
Lots of Airstreams!

This was our first Airstream rally. More than 40 Airstream owners were at this park for the weekend. Since we are rookies in the world of Airstream camping, this was a golden opportunity to pick up some tips and to answer our growing list of trailer questions.

Rosie at Stone Mountain's Campground

One of the first things we learned was the difference between the different clubs sponsoring Airstream rallies. There appear to be two major groups currently sponsoring rallies. The first is the Wally Byam club. This is the group that is behind the big orange numbers you see on some Airstream trailers. The second group is TAC or The Airstream Club.

There are many differences in how these clubs operate. The Byam club appears to be more structured and tends to offer rallies that are planned years in advance. The Byam club also has a dues structure and a national organization headquarters.

On the other hand, TAC seems to be a "no rules, no dues" kind of operation. It appears that anyone can create an on-the-fly TAC group and rally.

The interesting thing is that we met really great people from both camps. People who said that they were members of one or the other were great and helpful.

Rosie at the Rally

This was the first time we traveled with our bicycles. There are many great areas to ride your bikes at this park.

Some points about this park:
  • Many sites have both 30 and 50 amp electrical service
  • RV sites also have water and sewage hookups
  • The park provides basic cable TV service
  • WiFi (slow) is available in the park
  • There is a decent camp general store in the park
  • There is a LP gas refill station in the park
  • The campground is pet-friendly
  • Most sites allow up to 50' RVs.
 AT&T provided decent 3G service in the park. The park's WiFi service was OK as long as you restricted your online activities to reading email and looking at a few simple Web sites. It was painfully slow when trying to download an online newspaper to our iPads.

Since the individual camp sites had full connections, we didn't go inside the restrooms and showers. Judging by the other facilities at the park, I assume that the restrooms and showers are well maintained.

Becky inside Rosie

We learned lots at this rally from Don and Kate and Bill and Kathy, two couples from South Carolina. As camping newbies, we didn't realize the perils of trailer tires. Their point was that if your tires are more than five years old, you are riding at risk when continuing to use them.

Our tires were six years old and outward appearances were that they were solid. Some online research plus a discussion with our Airstream dealer confirmed that trailer tires should be viewed differently from other tires because of the heavy loads carried by them.

Another issue was the brand of tires on Rosie, our Airstream trailer. Our new Airstream friends (Don and Kate & Bill and Kathy) were quick to point out that the Goodyear Marathons on Rosie are not known for their reliability and have a reputation for blowouts under load. This was surprising because I have never had unusual problems with Goodyear tires on my cars over the years.

The tire concern was confirmed when the tire expert at our Airstream dealership strongly recommended that we move to another tire brand that has proven to be reliable and trouble-free. Our new tires were ordered and will be installed next week.

The next point we learned at our first Airstream rally was about hospitality. The lesson learned was to bring extra goodies to share with your neighbors.

Our new Airstream friends invited us over to their trailers for a fish taco lunch (absolutely excellent!) and for a refreshing glass of tea after a bike ride. We now know to pack some extra food and goodies so that we can be better fellow campers.

The third point learned was about trailer maintenance. We want to install a second Fantastic Fan in Rosie. Our Airstream dealer is willing to do this for us, but they need to check our current credit rating before starting this task because their fees for this installation is substantial. Our new Airstream friends told us that many of the major suppliers, including Fantastic Fans, show up at some of the large Wally Byam rallies and perform warranty work plus new installations there.

Speaking of big rallies, I mentioned earlier that there were more than 40 Airstream trailers at the TAC rally and it was amazing to us. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be at a park with 300+ Airstream trailers. We are looking forward to attending more rallies, both large and small.

The fourth point centers around cards. Having dabbled in amateur radio for many years, I am familiar with QSL cards. QSL cards are printed postcards that have your name, amateur radio call sign and other information on it. It seems that many Airstream people also have their own version of QSL cards. We need to print some cards to hand out to our fellow Airstreamers giving our names, email address and our Web page information. (This may refer back to the hospitality thing.)

One of the events at this rally was the Tour of Trailers. My thought on this tour was that everyone brought an Airstream so how different can they all be? How naive since they were all different.

Rosie's Kitchen

Out of the 40 Airstreams there, no two were alike. Several people came in their vintage trailers from the 1950s and 1960s. It was a lot of fun to see the different models and customizations added to the Airstreams at this rally.

Rosie has a queen size bed
On Saturday afternoon, we decided to play a quick game of badminton in the grassy area between the camping roads. While there, a church group arrived and started tossing around a football. One of the adult leaders noticed that we were wearing "Airstream" themed t-shirts and asked if there was some sort of an Airstream function going on that weekend. We told him that he was in the middle of an Airstream rally. Then he asked, "What is it about Airstreams?"

Being new to Airstreams, we are not the best choices to answer that question. Without a doubt, Airstream trailers are one of the most recognizable icons on the American highway. The design and quality of Airstreams are legendary.

My parents had a 16 foot Norris travel trailer while I was growing up under their roof. I have very positive and happy memories of my parents dragging that trailer from one end of America to the other. I bring this up to let you know that I have some history around campers.

The mystique around Airstream trailers is well deserved. They are well designed and constructed. They represent American quality. If you are asking, "What is it about Airstreams?" you haven't looked at one. Once you camp in an Airstream, you know why people get excited about their Airstream trailers.

While Stone Mountain's Campground is nice, it isn't the natural beauty we are finding at many state and federal parks. The best thing about our visit to this park was meeting new friends.

Would we camp there again? Maybe, but it will because of an Airstream rally being there drawing us back.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gunter Hill Campground - Alabama

Gunter Hill is an Army Corp of Engineers recreation park approximately 10 miles west of Montgomery, Ala.

According to the Web site, Gunter Hill Campground offers a peaceful scene of trees and nature on the backwaters of the Alabama River.

Rosie at Gunter Hill Campground

The campground is on Catoma Creek. When I think of "creek," I think of a small waterway. This creek is wider than many rivers.

Catoma Creek
 Some of the campsites have great views of the creek. Other sites are simply in the woods without views.

View of the creek from our site

 Many of the campers in this park seemed to be there for the fishing opportunities in the creek. There was limited hiking around the park because half was closed for renovations. I had the feeling that many of the campers were "regulars" and frequently stay in that park.

Camping at Gunter Hill
Some points about this park are:
  • Many sites have both 30 and 50 amp electrical service
  • Sites also have water hookups
  • There is one dump station
  • The campground is pet-friendly
  • Most sites allow up to 50' RVs. Some are rated as 80'
  • Expect to pay $20/night
Our view of the creek

Don't expect to use your cell phone here. Our iPhones (AT&T) were basically useless because of the marginal and spotty service. We didn't find a good WiFi hotspot near the campground we could use to load our iPads.

We had strong signals from ABC, CBS and NBC TV stations. There were a few independent TV stations also placing a good signal over this campground.

There was one bath house/shower faculty serving our loop of the campground. We assume the loop currently closed for renovations also has a restroom and shower facility. Camper speculation was that once the renovated loop reopens, the loop we camped in will be closed for renovations. I hope that is true because the restroom/shower facility in our loop is overdue for an update. Sure, it was clean and maintained, but it was easy to see it needed to be included in the next cycle of renovations.

One other point that needs to be brought up is to remind you to bring your mosquito repellant and lots of it. There was a bumper crop of these pests at the the park. We had to learn how to enter and exit Rosie (the name we call our camper) without letting too many of these little guys in.

We were at this campground with 50 or 60 cub scouts on a weekend camp out. The parents and scout masters were great because the kids were well-behaved and good campers. We had to admit that their camp food smelled great!