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.