Monday, September 22, 2014

Skidaway Island State Park, Georgia

One of my hobbies is amateur radio and I like to check in to the Wally Byam Caravan RV Service Net a couple of mornings each week. This is a group of RV'ers with amateur radio licenses who meet on one of the Ham radio frequencies to share information about things of interest to campers.

I mentioned on the net one day that we were packing Rosie, our Airstream trailer, for a trip to Skidaway Island State Park in Georgia. One of the Hams responded that he lived near Savannah, where Skidaway is located, and that he had visited the park once.

That didn't sound like an endorsement to me since we have visited the parks close to our home multiple times, so I asked him about his impression of the park. His response was one word, "bugs." When asked what kind of bugs, he said that Skidaway is known for having red bugs and an abundance of flying pests.

Entrance to Skidaway Island State Park


That on-air conversation greatly lowered our expectations for Skidaway. We feared an army of bugs would invade our campsite the moment we arrived and we were not disappointed. I'll talk more about the bugs in a moment.

We arrived mid-afternoon, right after a quick rain storm. It was easy to see that some areas of the park are lower than others and that it would take longer for some sites to dry out after a hard rain.

This was a fortunate observation because it rained often while at Skidaway. We found a site that was "high ground" when compared to others in the park.

Trying to find the higher ground while camping in Georgia's low country


The camp hosts were incredibly helpful in recommending potential sites to us. They even carted us over to look at some sites in their golf cart. Similar to other Georgia State Parks, you don't reserve a specific site when you make reservations at Skidaway. You end up roaming the park when you arrive looking for the best of the remaining sites.

Speaking of golf carts, it seems that a high percentage of the campers in this park had them. We frequently saw people "cruising" the park in their golf carts. We had the impression that most of the people in the park were locals and that they frequently camp together there.

All of the campsites are pull-thru in Skidaway. Most people would think of this as an advantage, but our primary view in Rosie is out the back window and a pull-thru means we are staring at our neighbor's rig, not the woods. We found a site that worked for us by changing Rosie's angle and we could now see the woods.

While setting up Rosie and disconnecting from the truck, the heat, humidity and dew point were all in the "oppressive" range. It was the middle of September when we arrived at the park. I would not want to be there in the heat of July and August.

The park is on an island and about a block away from housing subdivisions and shopping areas. That means you are not exactly in the wilderness at Skidaway. Needless to say, we didn't see too much wildlife in the park.

Skidaway is surprisingly small. In addition to the camping area, there are a couple of hiking trails and a day-use area. It didn't take too long for us to ride our bikes around the entire park on the first day,

I mentioned earlier that we were on alert for red bugs and mosquitoes. We tried to dress to discourage the red bugs, but the mosquitoes were everywhere. We found that full squadrons of mosquitoes lived in the bath houses and would attack anyone venturing into that space. You need to plan how you will combat the bugs while at Skidaway Island State Park.

The town of Savannah has to be one of the major draws to this park. The Savannah city limits are just over a couple of bridges and it appeared that most people spent their days exploring that city. And Savannah is certainly worth visiting and exploring. You will want to spend a day in the historic district.

Some specifics about Skidaway Island State Park:

  • Most of the campsites have both 30 and 20 amp service. A few sites also have 50 amp connections.
  • AT&T provided moderate 4G and 3G service over the campground.
  • Wi-Fi can be found in the campground's office. You will want to quickly complete your online tasks because lots of mosquitoes will be waiting for you there.
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC TV stations from our antenna. We also saw ME-TV, CW, THiS and Antenna-TV digital channels.
  • The restrooms have some age on them and appear to have lived a hard life. The campground volunteers seem to work at keeping them clean, but there was an abundance of dead bugs in there. We wondered if the dead bugs were an accumulation since the last cleaning or if there was a dead bug collection taking place in the bath houses.
  • The park has water and electrical connections, but not sewer hook-ups. We could find only one dump station at the park. That means you may have to carefully schedule your exit time to avoid waiting at the dump station.
  • There is a Kroger grocery store near the park. If you need a gallon of milk, it is less than five miles down the road.

One of the more interesting things that happened at Skidaway was the arrival of new neighbors next to Rosie's camp site. As we were driving up, we thought a vintage Airstream was across the street, but the angles on the front and rear of the trailer were wrong. It turns out that a Spartan Royal Mansion from the 1940s had moved in.

Spartan Royal Mansion

I had never seen nor heard of the Spartan Royal Mansion, but this was a trailer made after World War II by J. Paul Getty's aviation company to help offset the loss of building aircraft for the war. This trailer was more than 65 years old and it was amazing. The owners had carefully restored it.

Spartan Royal Mansion


I looked up some information about the Spartan Royal Mansion and a source found on Google said that these trailers were selling for $4,000 in the 1940s. The median value of homes sold during that time was $8,000, meaning that buyers were affluent and looking for a mobile "mansion."

Another view of the Spartan Royal Mansion
Rosie across the street from the Spartan Royal Mansion

The bottom line on Skidaway Island State Park is that it is a nice little park and deserved a visit. I don't think it will be added to our "A-List" and I doubt that we will return for a second visit.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of our camping neighbors from an early trip in Rosie, our Airstream trailer, shared with us their favorite campgrounds. Vogel was at the top of their list and our research suggested that Vogel is one of the top rated state parks in Georgia. That was good enough to get us to add Vogel to our agenda.
Vogel State Park
Reservations at Vogel are similar to having a hunting license. You don't reserve a specific site, you simply reserve one of the remaining open sites in the park. That means you end up having to hunt for your camp site once you arrive. It was entertaining during the week to watch some trailers pass through our loop multiple times while they searched for the best site available.
We did our homework prior to showing up at Vogel. We downloaded the park map to see the campsites that looked better to us then we went online to the web site to look at photos of the actual sites. I think the sites we identified as our top choices were accurate because those were the occupied as we roamed the park looking for the perfect spot. While the photos on the Web were helpful, we discovered that it was easy to misjudge some of the sites. You need to carefully scout your potential sites once you arrive at the park.
We picked a site that backed up to a mountain stream featuring the sound of water cascading over rocks. Perfect! This site wasn't on our "A-list" from our research, but it turned out be one of the best in the park.
Mountain stream behind Rosie

As we were setting up Rosie, the weather radio was alerting us to severe storms in the area. Thunderstorms, hail and 60 mph winds were in the forecast. Our camping neighbors were "locals" and calmly said that the bad stuff was in another county. We ended up getting our fair share of rain that night, but nothing severe.
Bad weather is one of the primary reasons we have Rosie. We would reserve a tent campsite on the beach for a week before we had Rosie and a bad storm would drive us out. We noticed that as the tent campers were tearing down in a hurry, the people in the trailers were simply rolling in their awnings. That observation started us down the road that led us to finding Rosie.
We must have gotten the weather out of the way our first night because the park was our comfortable mountain oasis the rest of our time there. Part of the pleasant temperatures came from the trees providing a canopy in our park loop. We found that it was easy to sleep in because the shade helped make feel as though it was always early morning. Temperatures fell into the upper 50s a couple of nights and the highs creeped into the low 80s a couple of days. The weather ended up being great during out visit to Vogel.
Rosie's camping site at Vogel

The lake at Vogel State Park
Our trips to the camp store were always surprising because it was in the sun and much hotter than our camping loop. We really learned to appreciate our site on the day we elected to visit Helen, Ga., about 10 miles from Vogel State Park. That was when we discovered how hot Georgia can be during August. We welcomed our return to the cooler temperatures in Vogel's camping area.
Camp Store at Vogel

There are hiking trails both inside and outside the park. The Applachian Trail is less than three miles away and it is worth driving over to Neel's Gap to hike on this famous trail. The "AT," as it is called by hikers, passes through the Mountain Crossings outfitter store at Walasi-Yi. Look upward while there to see the many hiking boots hung in the trees and the rafters of the store. According to workers in the store, the boots must have a minimum of 500 miles on them before they are eligible to be left in the trees or the store by AT hikers.
The Appalachian Trail is about 3 miles south of Vogel
Hiker boots in the trees at Neel's Gap on the AT

Other attractions both in and near this park are the numerous waterfalls that you can hike to. One of the camp hosts told us about a pretty waterfall about three miles from the park. The Forestry Service roads leading to the waterfall were more than we bargained for in that we met a car leaving the falls as we were driving in. The narrow road and steep dropoff left no room for error as we creeped past each other. (We had to pull in the outside mirrors on our truck to clear the car!)
A relative advised us to bring our bikes to Vogel. One of the lessons we learned on this trip is to leave the bikes home when heading to the mountains. It was a lot of fun riding the bikes down hill from our site to the camp store area. The return trip was all up hill and convinced us to leave the bikes parked the remainder of our stay at Vogel.
In the wildlife department, deer sightings in our loop were common. Our neighbors told us that a mama bear and her two cubs came up out of the creek behind Rosie and walked through our campsite. We missed that! We think we saw a bat flying around near the camp store one evening and the lake has a duck that seems willing to make friends with dogs.
Here are some specifics about Vogel State Park:
  • This park must be in some rare RF (radio frequency) vortex. We noticed that none of the campers had their TV antennas extended. After checking multiple directions at different times of the day, we could not find any TV signals. Don't expect to watch TV while at Vogel.
  • RF Vortex II - Strangely, we had a hard time picking up over-the-air AM and FM radio signals in this park.
  • RF Vortex III - AT&T cell coverage didn't exist in the camping loops of this park. We didn't see 4G, 3G nor Edge signals there. Our cell phones were disconnected from the universe. Our neighbors said they were on T-Mobile, which also had no service in the park.
  • RF Vortex IV - It was a struggle to pull in a mediocre signal from XM satelite radio.
  • RF Vortex V - Our neighbors with satellite TV antennas said they had difficult times picking up the satellite through the trees.
  • There is Wi-Fi at the campstore. That is also the spot where there is enough cellular service at allow a phone call.
  • As far as we could tell, there are three primary loops in this campground. Two are for RVs and one is exclusively for tent campers. There are a couple of camping "spurs" with four or five sites in each.
  • The RV loops have water plus 30 and 20 amp electrical service.
  • There are two dump stations at the entrance to the RV loops.
  • There are multiple gray water dumping sites scattered throughout the camping loops.
  • There are bath houses scattered throughout the park. If your campsite is at the end of a loop, you will have a heathy hike to the restroom. The bath houses are well-maintained by the camp volunteers.
  • There is a campstore at Vogel with the necessities you normally run out of while camping. Beyond that, you are 20 minutes from a store. (There is a well-stocked Ingels grocery in Blairsville.)
The bottom line is that we enjoyed our stay at Vogel and plan on coming again.

Original watercolor painting of our Vogel campsite by Becky

One of the picnic areas at Vogel.
Visitor's Center at Vogel
Miniature Golf at Vogel