Sunday, November 14, 2021

Gunter Hill COE Campground - Montgomery, Alabama (October 2021)

We were tired and the time was getting too close to sunset. We were heading home after being on a Rosie adventure for a month. (Rosie is the name of our Airstream trailer.) The thought of unpacking and parking Rosie in the dark wasn’t appealing, so we decided to extend our trip another night.

Our go-to place when we want to camp near home is Gunter Hill Corp of Engineers (COE) Campground.We called the campground volunteer's office and space was available, but we were told we needed to call Reserve America to reserve a site. 

If you have never called Reserve America, your call is quickly answered by a computerized voice who asks a series of questions. The detailed instructions and examples spewed out by the computer tends to drag on the pseudo conversation. The starter questions included what campground you want to reserve, when your plan to arrive there, how long you will stay, what type of camper you have, it’s length, the number of people in your party and if you need utilities. Eventually, the computer responds by saying this call is being transferred to an agent to complete the reservation. 

The “real person” agent starts off asking the same questions you spent the last 15 minutes responding to with the computerized voice. It is as if the computer portion of the call is to test your patience and to see if you really, really, really, really want to make a reservation. 

Sadly, information sharing between the computer voicemail system and the agent wasn’t the only problem. The agent was convinced that the campground we wanted reservations in was either closed or full. After multiple attempts to tell the agent we called the volunteer at the park before getting ensnared in the Reserve America phone tree and we were told the park had plenty of open sites for the night, the agent said that he removed his computer filters and suddenly discovered that Gunter Hill existed and had open campsites. He could book us in for one night. Finally!

I think we will use the app next time and save ourselves from more than 30 minutes of annoying conversation with a computer that doesn’t share information or an agent who couldn’t find an opening in a park that was half full. 

One of a half-dozen deer seen in this park

We arrived a few minutes before 5 p.m. and noticed the volunteer looked through a stack of check-in cards to find our information. When asked about what appeared to be a large number of late check-ins, the camp host said those were for the Halloween campers who reserve early to make sure they get reservations and he expected them to show up over the weekend, put their decorations up and enjoy camping there over the holiday. 

We camped in Gunter Hill several years ago over Halloween and it was fun. Many of the sites were decorated and children in costumes were going site-to-site trick-or-treating. It appears that this year will be well attended as some sites were already decorated.

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were two main loops in the campground. The Antioch loop is older, has only electric and water connections and sites were paved with dirt. The Catoma loop had paved roads, concrete site pads and full hook-ups
  • Our site was a back in
  • Our site had shade
  • Most sites had ample space on both sides
  • Our site was paved with concrete and level
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • There was a dump station in this park 
  • The trash dumpsters were at the entrance of each campground loop. It was easy to walk there with your trash
  • There were several bathhouses in the campground. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not check on their conditions
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided 2 bars of 4G voice and data service over our campsites 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. More than 40 digital channels were seen including Antenna-TV, Buzzr, Circle, CW, Decades, Ion, Get, Grit, Justice, LAFF and ME-TV
  • Restaurants and shopping are a 10 minute drive from the campground 
  • This was a pet friendly park 
Unloading and cleaning Rosie after a trip is always tiring. We were glad we decided to spend another night in Rosie and unload in the morning. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Foley RV/Airstream of Mississippi - Gulfport, Mississippi (October 2021)

RV'ers know that some roads are simply bad for their  rigs. The bouncing on I-12 in Louisiana damaged the legs on our first Airstream trailer's table. Another road to avoid is I-59 heading north from Birmingham, Ala. Somehow the state has never been able to smooth out that road so that it doesn't toss around your camper as if it was in the epicenter of an earthquake.

We recently found ourselves pulling Rosie, our Airstream trailer, from Birmingham to Chattanooga. We tried to go slow enough to minimize any potential damage, but noticed the door didn't quite close as easily as before and the deadbolt lock was hard to engage. That meant it was time to visit Foley RV/Airstream of Mississippi for some warranty service on Rosie.

We knew from purchasing our original Rosie that your RV dealer was important. We bought our first trailer from an Airstream dealer that was excellent in keeping our original Rosie in tip-top shape. That dealership was sold to a big RV chain that dropped the Airstream line.

When we started talking about getting a new Airstream trailer, we found in the Blue Beret, the Airstream Owners Association's magazine, that Foley RV was a "Five-Rivet" dealer. This is the Airstream Corporation's highest recognition for dealers, their service departments and their customer service. 


Sign at Foley RV

By the way, there is an Airstream dealer much closer to our house. We called once about a minor Airstream recall item. It appeared the service manager knew less about the recall than us. We followed by calling Foley RV and their service manager not only knew about it, he was able to tell us how to avoid problems until the recall fix packages were distributed to the dealers. That again pointed to the difference between a Five-Rivet dealer and a no-rivet Airstream dealer. 


Adjusting the hitch

There are a few "camping" sites behind the service bays and we would normally park there for the night. Rosie was ready in the morning, so we decided to get on the road early. We have a good chance of making it home tonight for a short break before we go out for more Rosie adventures.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Keesler Air Force Base FamCamp (U.S. Military FamCamp) - Biloxi, Mississippi (October 2021)

Our plans changed as they sometimes do. We were supposed to be at Foley RV/Airstream of Mississippi for some warranty work on Rosie, our Airstream trailer’s name, immediately after camping at Topsail. Then we found a rare opening at Grayton Beach State Park. This was one of our favorite campgrounds and we immediately booked that site. We called Foley RV and they kindly rescheduled our service appointment the following week. 

The problem was that we had to leave a Florida State Park on Saturday morning and our service reservation at Foley RV was for the following Monday. We needed a place to camp for two days. 

Experienced RVers know that getting campground reservations along the Florida/Alabama/Mississippi Gulf Coast is never easy especially at the last minute. During our search, we noticed several U.S. Military “FamCamps” that were near Gulfport, Mississippi. It was worth calling to see if they had an opening. 

The sign, such as it was, pointing to the campground 



What is a FamCamp? These are campgrounds operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for people currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, retired from the military or were diagnosed by the Veterans Administration (VA) with a military service connected disability. In other words, you must have a U.S Military ID or a VA Health ID (VHIC) to get into a FamCamp. 

Campground office

This was our first time camping in a “FamCamp.” I hoped that we would not run into some old drill sergeants who forced everyone to fall out for PT (military slang for physical training or exercising) at 4 a.m. I remembered that PT always ended with a multi-mile run before breakfast. To calm that fear, no drill sergeants were spotted patrolling the campground and I somehow avoided being put on KP. 

Campground rules!



What we did find was an amazing mix of men and women who shared a common bond of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. There was a different feeling I haven’t felt outside FamCamps. Everyone had a story and it was interesting to listen to the Veterans talk about their service to the nation. 

A group of the campers in the common area



Our original plan was to camp in the Navy's Shields FamCamp, but we would be arriving after the base Pass and ID office closed, so we had to come up with an alternative. Keesler Air Force Base was a few miles down the road and we were able to schedule our check in time, so we switched our reservations from Navy to Air Force. 

Several people talked about the new Keesler AFB FamCamp currently under construction. It sounded as if the new FamCamp would be larger with more than double the number of sites and the individual sites would be much larger than the current campground. That sounded very promising to us. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were two loops in the campground
  • Our site was a back in
  • Most sites in our loop could be classified as "full sun" as trees were few and far apart. The other loop had some trees
  • Most sites had some space on both sides
  • Our site had a concrete pad and was level
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • The trash dumpsters were at the entrance of the campground. It was easy to walk there with your trash
  • There were two bathhouses in the campground. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not check on their conditions
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided 2 bars of 4G voice and data service over our campsites 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. Digital channels seen were Circle, Ion, Justice and ME-TV
  • There were restaurants and shopping nearby
  • This was a pet friendly park 
As mentioned earlier, this was our first time camping in a U.S. Military FamCamp. We enjoyed the experience and will camp in other FamCamps. 

Rosie, our Airstream's name, in the campground


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Grayton Beach State Park - Santa Rosa Beach, Florida (October 2021)

We had just about given up on going back to Grayton Beach State Park. It seemed that too many people had discovered it and it was just about impossible to find an opening there. We were surprised to find online a cancellation and quickly made our reservations. 

There are two loops in this campground. One appeared to be older than the other. Our site was in the older loop, which was upgraded a few years ago to full hookups. 

Both loops were next to a dune lake and some sites had a water view. Not ours. Our site backed into the woods and had a thick tree limb that was low enough to keep an eye on when parking Rosie, our Airstream trailer’s name. It is always a good idea to inspect your site before parking your RV to avoid hazards that could damage your camper. 

Rosie in Grayton Beach State Park avoiding the low tree limb

This is definitely a bicycle park, but not for the trails inside it. The best trails are through the beach communities surrounding the park. You could call them bike friendly communities. 

Along the bike path in Watercolor, Fla

One of the parks along the bike paths near Grayton Beach State Park

Speaking about the bike trails, we were surprised to see the number of people using them. I thought that we would not see too many people riding bikes around Grayton Beach during October. I was wrong!

Why were the bike paths, beaches and communities packed with people? We arrived at the peak of Fall Break. That helped explain the large number of families in the area. 

We started identifying what we called “bike rage” on the crowded paths. These were people riding too fast and too close to hikers and other bikers. As much as we enjoyed riding our bikes on the paths in the past, it wasn’t as much fun this time. 

A quick adjustment at the Bike Repair Station


The real star of this park was the beach. The Gulf was a short bike ride in the park from the campground. As with the surrounding communities, we were amazed at the number of day users coming into the park to use the beach facility. 

Becky and Suzy on a trail near our campsite

Rosie in the park

Our campsite


This has been one of our favorite campgrounds for many years. Sadly, this trip was memorable for all the wrong reasons. We will try to avoid camping during school breaks in the future. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were two loops in the campground
  • One loop appeared to us to be newer than the other
  • Our site was a back in
  • Our site had shade
  • Most sites had some space on both sides
  • Our site was paved with dirt and we needed to use leveling tools to correct a side-to-side lean in Rosie, our Airstream trailer. 
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • The trash dumpsters were at the entrance of the campground. It was easy to walk there with your trash
  • There was a bathhouse in the campground. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not check on its condition
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided 2 bars of 4G voice and data service over our campsites 
  • We were able to watch CBS, NBC and PBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. Digital channels seen were CW, Circle, Dabl, ION and ME-TV
  • There were restaurants and shopping nearby
  • This was a pet friendly park. The sandspurs were abundant making it difficult to walk dogs without having to stop and pull sandspurs from their paws and coats 

Selfie at the beach

Shadows as we rode our bikes

Sunrise 

The famous Grayton Beach trees



Sunset

Sunrise




Sunday, October 31, 2021

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park - Santa Rosa Beach, Florida (October 2021)

How can this be the first time we really camped in this park when we stayed here three times before? Let me try to explain that claim.

Our first camping experience in Topsail was a disaster. Something went wrong with the power stand and it melted the connector on our power cord and the plug on the stand. The park was full so we could not move to another site and the power stand had problems with no estimate as to when an electrician could fix it. We ended up moving to another Florida state park and buying a new power cord while on the way there.

The second and third times at Topsail were to attend Airstream rallies always held in January. It was cold and rainy both times; we stayed with our group and we didn’t explore the park.

That brings us to this trip. We had a spare power cord and there wasn't an Airstream rally taking place while we were there. The only potential problem was the weather. 

Sign at Topsail State Park


The weather was great as we arrived and setup our site. We were able to walk around and explore the campground that first evening. Then it started to rain. The rain turned into a thunderstorm later that night. It was still raining when we got up the next morning. It rained during lunch. It did stop raining for a few hours that afternoon. It was interesting to see everyone emerge from their campers to enjoy the park. 

We were surprised to see that some campground roads and sites were flooded with the water six to ten inches deep. Our site had standing water off the concrete pad, but it wasn’t flooded. Rosie, our Airstream trailer’s name, was dry and cozy. 

Streets and sites flooded


Standing water around Rosie


It started raining again after dinner. It rained all through the night and until mid morning the next day. We used the opportunity to wash clothes and to clean Rosie’s floor. We were able to slip in a bike ride before the start of the next rain cycle. 

According to a local TV station between ten and twelve inches of rain fell during the first four days camping in Topsail. In between storms, there were a few hours each day that allowed us to explore the park with our bikes. 

 
Multiple sites were flooded

Streets and sites underwater were the norm during our time in this park. The conversations while walking around the park during the interludes without rain usually focused on the other couple telling us how many years they have camped in Topsail and that they never saw any flooding in the park before. We believed them and decided the weather was unique during this visit. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were multiple loops in the campground. It seems that the interior loop is preferred by most, but this was were we saw the most flooded sites
  • While not at the level of a KOA, most sites were much closer together than what you expect in state parks 
  • Our site was a back-in 
  • Our site was paved with concrete and we needed to use leveling tools to correct a side-to-side lean in Rosie 
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • There were multiple trash dumpsters throughout the campground. It was easy to walk there with your trash
  • There was a bathhouse located near Rosie. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not check on its condition
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided 3 bars of 4G voice and data service over our campsites 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. Digital channels seen were Circle, Grit, H&I, LAFF and ME-TV
  • The campground provided basic TV cable at our site. We preferred watching live TV from Rosie’s antenna
  • The campground was near Destin, Fla. That meant there were restaurants and shopping nearby
  • This was a pet friendly park 
  • There were multiple signs warning about Florida Black Bears in the park. Our son was the first to notice that it was very unlikely that bears were near the park because campgrounds with bear problems have bear proof trash cans. This park didn’t have any bear proof items
This is a park that you need to bring your bikes to. There are a few hiking trails, but they were mostly under water during our visit. Bike trails were paved and led to an amazing beach and a rare dune lake. 

Selfie by rare dune lake


Dune Lake Campbell


Our son, daughter-in-law and grandson were able to join us over the weekend. It was great having them camp in Rosie and that made this trip very special. 

Our grandson visits

Our son's family inside Rosie

Having fun in the campground


Grandson reads a book



The bottom line is that this visit did change out minds about Topsail. I’m not ready to call it a “favorite,” but it has some beautiful beaches that are less crowded than other ones in the area. 

Looking for a snack along the shore


The dunes


The boardwalk


A warning flag for beach goers


Rosie in the campground


A few pointers about shuffleboard 


Suzy watching the trash truck



Thursday, October 28, 2021

Gulf State Park - Gulf Shores, Alabama (September 2021)

One of the things that stood out in our minds about camping here last time was the heat. We camped in Alabama’s Gulf State Park during September eight years ago and Rosie’s air conditioner could not keep up. (Rosie is our Airstream trailer's name.)  It was hot in the park and hotter inside Rosie during our previous visit to this campground. 

Sign heading into the park

Pointing the way to the campground

Things were different this time in that we were in our new Rosie with dual air conditioners. We were confident we could deal with hot temperatures and having a second AC unit helped beat the heat. 

Rosie in the campground



We didn’t escape all of the weather woes this time. We simply traded heat for rain. There were a few breaks in the rain storms the first couple of days that allowed us to walk around the park or to ride our bikes. The rains thinned out by the third day and that allowed us to explore the park. 

Bike path in the park

While riding our bikes on one of the boardwalk trails, several other hikers or bikers started telling us about “Lefty.” We pieced together that Lefty was an alligator with up to three baby gators. 

We found that some people on the trails were very willing to share their “best guess” directions to Lefty’s favorite water hole. Most of these well meaning directions conflicted. Finally, we noticed a groups of about a dozen bicycles parked along a bridge. Yes, that crowd found Lefty and guided us to her. We saw Lefty and several baby gators!

Baby gator with "Lefty" keeping an eye on him


There are multiple trail boardwalks through marsh areas and spanning fingers of the lakes and creeks. We came across a raccoon while crossing a trail bridge across part of the lake. We backed away to give him plenty of room to escape. It was interesting to watch the raccoon run to flee us and our bicycles. 

Unusual road sign!

Another sign in the park

While riding our bikes on a trail, we noticed an eight foot gator floating in a creek beside the path keeping up with us. We decided not to stop to take a picture because gators move much faster than most people imagine. 

Something significant happened while we camped in Gulf State Park. We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We marked the day by looking at our wedding photos and eating a seafood dinner.

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were multiple loops in the campground. 
  • Most sites could be classified as "full sun" probably the result of too many hurricanes hitting the area.  Only a few had shade.
  • Most sites had some space on both sides
  • Our site was a back-in
  • Our site was paved with asphalt and was level
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • The trash dumpsters for all 490+ campsites in this campground were at the entrance to the park. It was too far to walk and that meant a nightly trip in the truck to the dumpsters 
  • There were multiple bathhouses in the campground. Some were open while others were closed. There were several “porta-potties” in front of the closed bathhouses. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not check the conditions of the bathhouses nor the “porta-potties”
  • The park provided good WiFi service. We measured the download speed as 32 mbs
  • AT&T provided 3 bars of 4G voice and data service over our campsites 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. Digital channels seen were Circle, Comet, Court, Cozi, Grit, LAFF and ME-TV
  • There were restaurants and shopping near the campground 
  • The park has a great swimming pool, tennis courts and multiple playgrounds 
  • This was a pet friendly park 
Our impressions formed the first time we camped here were wrong. This is a great park to camp in and one you need to bring your bicycles to because the trails and boardwalks are great. 

Boardwalk to the beach

Selfie at the beach

Sunrise over Gulf State Park

One of the many boardwalks in this park

Selfie from the trail


Selfie on the beach

Selfie in the picnic area