Friday, October 25, 2013

White Oak Creek Campground, near Eufaula, Ala.

White Oak Creek is an Army Corps of Engineers park located on Lake George just south of Eufaula, Ala. This is a park that is normally open only during spring, summer and a little during the fall season. It is scheduled to be closed during winter. We didn't know this little fact when we arrived for a visit.
White Oak Creek
We were surprised when we arrived because only one loop of this park was open. The park attendants had volunteered to stay for a while and keep the park operating after the scheduled seasonal closing passed a week or two earlier. Needless to say, we were very grateful that the park attendants volunteered to keep one loop of the park open.

Camping at White Oak Creek

There was an air of uncertainty while we were in the park. One of the conversation points among our fellow campers was speculating how long the volunteers were going to keep the park open.
Similar to many COE parks, the camping sites were spacious. We always appreciate having some space between Rosie, our Airstream trailer, and the next camper.
Lots of space at White Oak

Our spot was on the water and we enjoyed watching the ducks, geese and other birds playing along the shore. At times it sounded as if the ducks were all laughing at a joke told by one of their flock. We also saw schools of fish jump in the lake right after sunset.
Lots of ducks and other birds

The volunteers keeping the park open did a great job keeping it up. The park and restrooms were clean and well maintained. It was easy to see that they took pride in this park and wanted to share it with everyone.

White Oak Creek did reinforce our idea that most of the COE parks we have visited are great places to camp.

Camping at White Oak Creek
Some specifics about this park:
  • This park is close to shopping. If you need to get some supplies, there is a store about five miles outside the main gate.
  • I thought that we would see all of the TV stations from Columbus, GA. We ended up only seeing an occasional signal from a CBS station.
  • AT&T provided good 4G service over the park.
  • There wasn't a WiFi signal at this park.
  • The park has power and water at the camp sites. There was a dump station in the park. (We think there was another dump station, but it was probably in the closed section of the park.)
  • The power connections were interesting. The power box at our camp site offered only 30 amp service. There wasn't a 20 nor a 50 plug available.
The rumor mill among the campers kept speculating if the park would be open beyond the Monday after we were scheduled to leave the park. My first thought was that the volunteers keeping the park open were about to throw in the towel. It appears that our fellow campers were thinking about something we were not considering--the federal government's shutdown.

A rainbow after a fall shower
As hard as it is to believe, the federal government did shut down the following Monday and the park was scheduled to close along with every other federal park in America. White Oak Creek did not close because the city of Eufaula entered into an agreement with the Corps of Engineers to keep the park open. According to local news reports, White Oak was the only federal campground open during the shutdown.
Rosie on the road again
This qualifies as both good news and bad news. It is good that the local community decided to step up and keep this wonderful park open. The bad news is that all federal parks need to be open, not just one.

Watercolor painted by Becky at White Oak Creek
Before drifting intro a tirade about what is wrong in Washington, I'll conclude by saying White Oak Creek COE Campground is a solid campground and worth visiting.
Watercolor of hickory nuts by Becky

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gulf Shores State Park

The Gulf Shores area of Alabama is very familiar to our family. For many years, my employer sent me to an annual convention in that area and the family always went along to enjoy the beach. While we knew about the area and the convention hotel down the street, we had never visited Gulf Shores State Park. This trip was a first for both us and Rosie, our Airstream trailer.

Gulf Shores, as you would expect, is along the Gulf of Mexico. While the Gulf shoreline has received lots of negative coverage during the BP oil spill disaster, the lingering effects of that event are no longer visible to the casual viewer.
The Gulf Shores State Park Beach

To put things into perspective, we show up the weekend of Labor Day and the park is quickly filling up with campers. Our assigned site was in one of the secondary loops. By that, I mean that we were not in the prime spots on the water.

I wasn't sure what to expect here because the park frequently falls victim to the Gulf's hurricanes. It seems to me that every time the State of Alabama repairs the most recent hurricane damage, another storm comes along and tears up the park. 

On our visit, we found that the park has a swimming pool and it was open. The park has a larger than normal camp store and it was open. The park has several playgrounds for children and they were open. The park has tennis courts and this area was also open. Thus, we didn't see any storm damage in these areas.
The boardwalk to the beach

That's not to say that the park didn't have any storm damage. The visible damage had to be the lack of trees in the park. I don't think many trees survived the storms. That is a shame because this park can use all of the shade it can get.

As soon as we arrived, we started scouting out better sites on the water. We ended up with a list of several water-front sites where the campers were pulling out before the end of the weekend.

The next morning, we started patrolling the sites we picked as ones we wanted to occupy as soon as the current campers left and discovered that one camper was packing up. We quickly hitched up Rosie then went to the camp headquarters to officially move our site. This was when things started going sour.

One of the volunteers working at the park's office decided that she couldn't help us because she was too busy with some unidentifiable task. After patiently waiting longer than a reasonable amount of time, Becky asked if the "workers" in the office were all volunteers or if a state employee was on duty. It turns out that a state employee was on duty, heard my wife's question and quickly changed our site to one with a beautiful water view.
Rosie's new site along the water

It seems that we always learn something from every Rosie adventure. We quickly learned after moving to consider more factors than view when choosing sites.
The view from Rosie's back window

I mentioned the lack of trees earlier in this posting. No trees translates into no shade and that means Rosie was baking in the hot sun during the day. Rosie has a good air conditioner, but it was unable to keep up with the direct September sun shining on her aluminum skin.

The solution was multiple trips to the store to purchase car window shades. We ended up putting shades in all of Rosie's windows, which blocked the view we moved to enjoy. After talking to our neighbors, we noticed that return campers tended to stay across the street from the water because there was a little shade there and first time visitors to the park took the view over the shade. When we return to this park, we will join our fellow park veterans and choose shade.
Rosie in the direct sun

There is lots to do in this park and we enjoyed riding our bicycles there. One of the interesting events at the park while we were there was a triathlon. We watched the bike element of the triathlon weave through the park that weekend.
Watercolor painted by Becky at Gulf Shores

Watercolor painted by Becky at Gulf Shores

Here are some specifics about the park:
  • This park is huge. We think there are hundreds and hundreds of camping sites in this park.
  • Sites have water and electric connections.
  • Most sites have 20, 30 and 50 amp service.
  • There were multiple dump stations along the park's main road.
  • Bathhouses were adequate and clean. A camper warned us that the showers didn't have hot water. I discovered that the showers had plenty of hot water, but controls worked opposite of what you expected.
  • We were able to watch TV signals from CBS, NBC and several religious TV stations. When the wind was right, we could see Fox. We missed some of the digital channels we enjoy while camping.
  • Expect to find the Rockefeller family in the camp store squandering the family fortune. Keep in mind that there are other shopping opportunities just outside the park and you can afford to pay for the gas on what you save over camp store prices.
  • The park has a large swimming pool and many visitors took advantage of this recreation facility.
  • AT&T provided good 4G service throughout the park.
  • We think the park had WiFi, but it wasn't working while we were there.
While the park is on the Gulf, the campsites are not. If you want to see the Gulf, you need to drive a little to get there.

If you are heading to Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama during the summer, we recommend that you think about finding a campsite with shade. This will help make your time in the park significantly more comfortable.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

R. Shaefer Heard Campground, West Point Lake, Georgia

There are several Army Corp of Engineer parks around West Point Lake in Georgia and we decided that it was time for Rosie, our Airstream camper, to see if these parks measure up to what fellow campers said about them.
We had other reasons for wanting to try one of these parks. Becky wanted to invite her brother to join us for a couple of days and the West Point Lake parks were convenient for him to visit us.
R. Shaefer Heard COE Park
R. Shaefer Heard COE Park
We decided to stay at the R. Shaefer Heard Campground because of its location. It was close to I-85 and easy to find.
Similar to many other U.S. Army Corp of Engineer facililties in that region, the main feature of this park is a large lake. Many of the campsites in this park are on the water and offer great views.
Camping at R. Shaefer Heard
Camping at R. Shaefer Heard
What we didn't know heading into this park was the decent in the approach leading to many of the campsites. Our specific campsite had a grade that made unhitching and hitching a challenge. I will talk more about that later.
The park is well maintained and there is much appreciated space between sites. Some parks seem to cram sites right next to each other. It is always nice when there is room between your camper and the ones next to you.
The restrooms were clean and well-maintained and centrally located in the camping loops. Showers were not located in all of the restrooms and most people ended up having to drive to the showers.
It rained during the week we stayed in this park. It rained in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. I guess you can sum up the week by saying it rained. During the few breaks, we enjoyed going out in Becky's brother's boat.
Here are some specifics about this park:
  • This is a campsite that you have to pay attention to the maximum rig size for each site. Some of the sites in this park would struggle to accomodate Rosie, our 25 foot long trailer.
  • Sites have water and electrical connections. There is a dump station in the park. We had to haul our sewer tote to the dump site several times while staying in this park.
  • The electrical connections included 20, 30 and 50 amp service.
  • AT&T provided marginal 3G and 4G service. There were times during the day that we could not make cell phone calls from this park.
  • Television service was spotty. I thought we would have good service from the Columbus, Georigia market. Don't forget to pack a good supply of movies to watch while staying here because over-the-air TV is unreliable.
I mentioned earlier that our site had a steep grade to it. While it probably was easy for 5th-wheels to negotiate, it presented a challenge for Rosie when we first parked. This issue came back when it was time to leave.
The angle was such that we could not connect the weight distribution bars on our hitch. We had to couple the ball then pull Rosie up to the road and finish hitching up there. That was a first for us.
It seems that we always learn something on every camping trip and our lesson on this trip was to pay attention to the grade accessing the campsite. If it is too steep, we need to change sites.