Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Boon-Docking in Mobile, Alabama- Visiting Family (April 2021)

Our reservations at Fort Pickens Campground were canceled by the National Park Service because of flooding in the campground and on its access roads. We learned about this as we tried to enter the park. 

While we understand the need to keep campers safe, it left us without a place to park Rosie, our Airstream trailer. This problem was compounded by the fact that Fort Pickens has approximately 200 campsites and every site was reserved during our planned visit there. The campground closure meant all those RVs had to scurry to find somewhere else to stay. Every park we called was full.

Our son, daughter-in-law and grandson were about 60 miles away. A quick call resulted in an enthusiastic response. A few minutes later, our son called to say his neighbors were currently away. He texted them and they said it was OK for us to park Rosie in their driveway for the night. That was a perfect solution. 

It was wonderful to see our family members. Our four year-old grandson loved being inside Rosie. Needless to say, we loved being with them. 

It is always fun when our grandson is inside Rosie



We wanted to test boon-docking in Rosie before adventuring out to some national parks in the future and this gave us an opportunity to do so. Would Rosie’s solar panels keep the batteries charged?  Our results were encouraging. As a bonus, we discovered that the 1,000 watt inverter in Rosie had ample power to run our coffee maker.

Driveway camping in Mobile


We were able to make new reservations for the time we planned for this trip. We hoped our new park would  not be underwater when we arrived there. 

Our son and his family were up early the next morning to get to work and preschool on time. We got up in time to say goodbye and to hug our grandson again. 

Saying "see you later, gator" after a wonderful experience


This turned out be a fantastic answer to our Fort Pickens cancelled reservations problem. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Fort Pickens Campground - Pensacola, Florida (April 2021)

We always knew there was a chance our reservations at Fort Pickens Campground could be altered by the weather. The road leading into the campground areas is on a thin stretch of land between the Gulf and the Bay. You can easily see both bodies of water as you drive into the park. 

But we expected weather issues during hurricane season, not early Spring. More about the weather later. 

It had been years since we camped at Fort Pickens. It is hard to get reservations there. Very hard. 

After multiple attempts to find an opening, we were able to snag four days in what we consider to be one of our least favorite loops. Well, we rationalized, this will get us back to Fort Pickens. 

On the way there, our chorus of GPS units was routing different from our normal path to Pensacola. When our Ford Navigation system, Garmin GPS, Apple and Google Maps all agree to take us out of the way, you know something is up. We found that the bridge we normally take to cross over the bay to Pensacola Beach was damaged by Hurricane Sally and was closed. 

About a decade earlier, we crossed the toll bridge our GPS systems were taking us to. We learned then that it was very expensive, especially if you were pulling a camper with two axles. We were glad to see as we approached the toll booth that the state suspended the tolls while the other bridge was being repaired. 

We crossed the bridges and soon saw the white sands and surf of the Gulf. Needless to say, we were excited about returning to the coast. That was when we saw “THE” sign at the start of the entrance road to Fort Pickens. The sign that announced the park was closed because of flooding in the campground and the access roads were under water. 

There is a problem at Fort Pickens



We didn’t see the sign until we were past any point we could turn around. Besides, there were several RVs in front of us driving into the park. Maybe the park was closed to day visitors and open to campers, we hoped. The Ranger’s Station was ahead and we could find out about our site there. 

By the time we arrived at the Ranger Station, we watched all of the RVs ahead of us make a U-turn and exit the park. Our turn with the Ranger wasn’t different from the others. 

An exasperated ranger told us that the park closed three days earlier and that Recreation.gov, the website used to book reservations in federal and national campgrounds, was supposed to send us an email advising us that our reservation was cancelled and our fees were refunded. They didn’t and the long line of RVs heading into the park suggested we were not the only ones Recreation.gov forgot to notify. 

There was a parking lot just outside the park’s access road. We noticed it was full of RVs that appeared to be boon-docking there until the park reopened. We pulled off the road at another parking area and started calling state parks and private campgrounds trying to find somewhere to stay for the night. It was apparent that the 200 RVs that should have been in the Fort Pickens Campground were dispersed among every other desirable campground in that area. 

Rosie parked outside of Fort Pickens

Rosie parked on the side of the road

A find on the beach after a quick walk to the shore


It quickly became apparent that full campgrounds tend to ignore their phones on Sunday afternoons and that we needed to widen our search for a place to park Rosie, our Airstream trailer, for the night. 

What did we do?

Stay tuned to see if we were stuck with a lemon for the night or if we were able to turn our situation into lemonade. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

White Oak Creek COE Campground - Eufaula, Alabama (March 2021)

It’s funny how you get out of the habit of loading up your camper after parking for the winter. Unique to this year, the “COVID Safer at Home” time compounded our apprehension. We felt like “newbies” trying to remember the must-haves for o this camping trip. 

As we hitched-up Rosie, our Airstream trailer, for our new adventure, we were confident we had everything we needed packed away inside the trailer. We quickly discovered we left something at home and would have to drive back the next day to get the missing item. More about that later!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to camp in parks with large sites and we didn't want to be too far away from home in case we needed to quickly return there. Core of Engineer Parks were perfect because their fees are reasonable, they are usually along a lake or river and their individual sites are normally larger than what you find in a privately owned campground. 

There are about half-a-dozen COE campgrounds near our home, so we started looking for reservations for a one week stay. One-by-one, parks were eliminated because they were booked up. We were able to find a week available at White Oak Creek COE Campground. If that sounds familiar, it was where we camped only five months earlier.


Sign at White Oak Creek COE Campground



Only one camping loop was open when we camped there in October. All of the loops were open this time and the campground was close to being full. It appeared that we were not the only people wanting to get back to camping and the large sites found in most COE parks were appreciated by us.

This campground is along the shore of Lake George in Alabama. Lake George is somewhat confusing to the "locals" as they call it Lake Eufaula. We noticed that the water level in Lake Whatever was significantly higher this time. 

View from our site

Rosie in our site



We also noticed what appeared to be multiple family gatherings in the park. We were curious about a family gathering of about four trailers in our loop. They had a full-sized ping-pong table that was well used by the group. This was the first time I have seen a ping-pong table brought to a campground.

We knew from our previous camping trip to not expect too much TV service from Rosie's antenna. PBS was watchable about 50 percent of the time and a CBS station was watchable only about 20 percent of the time. Just as the last time we camped in this park, we brought a DVR loaded with TV shows and movies we wanted to watch. The problem was that I left the power cord home. 

A visitor to our site

Another visitor

Suzy looking out Rosie's window



My first reaction was to suffer the consequences of leaving the power cord home to remind me to always check for it in the future. That was before our "Informed Delivery" app told us an important document was being delivered to our home and it required quick action. That meant I was going to drive the 90 minutes home to deal with that mail. It also gave me an opportunity to get the power cord and a few other things we might need while camping.

It turned out to be a good thing I was able to pick up a few overlooked items because it rained several days and turned colder while we were in this park.  Back in our tent-camping days, a cold rain was a sure-fire camping ender. Our move to camping in a trailer meant we were able to enjoy the park while staying warm and dry inside.

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were four loops in the campground. 
  • Most of the sites in this campground were on the water. It appeared that sites not on the water had water views. 
  • Some loops have more shade trees than others.
  • Our site was paved with concrete and was level. It appeared to us that the sites in the other loops were also paved with concrete
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection 
  • There were two dump stations in this park. Both were a distance from the camp sites and you ended up having to drive there to dump your sewage tote
  • The trash dumpsters were at the dump stations. That meant it was too far to walk there with your trash
  • There were multiple bathhouses in the campground. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not check on the condition of the bathhouse near our camper.
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided decent 4G voice and data service over our campsite 
  • We were able to occasionally watch PBS and a CBS affiliate using Rosie’s TV antenna. The PBS station came in mostly mornings and evenings. Reception of the CBS station was random, but mostly unwatchable. We were glad we brought our DVR with episodes of TV shows and movies we wanted to watch
  • The campground was near Eufaula, Alabama. That meant there were restaurants and shopping nearby
  • This was a pet friendly park 
We did not see any problems with ants this time. We came prepared with ant powder, but noticed the campers around us were not in what we call "RV Ant Mode." Several camping neighbors said they had not noticed any bug problems in the campground.

Full "Ant Mode" with all utilities off the ground

This trip was during what we call pollen season in the South. We were thankful that the rain storms washed the pollen off Rosie and our truck.

Getting ready to launch the kayak



Suzy enjoying the kayak on the lake




Another relaxing trip using the kayak


Rosie in our site



We understood the elves baked cookies in this tree!


Rosie as seen from the lake

There are hills in this campground that add a challenge to your bike rides


An original watercolor painted by Becky of flowers
seen in this park on a rainy day. (This was painted from
photos of the flowers and they were not picked for this painting.)


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

White Oak Creek COE Campground - Eufaula, Alabama (October 2020)

Our first camping trip during the COVID-19 pandemic camping was a success and lit the fire for more adventures in Rosie, our Airstream trailer. Once home, we started talking about going out camping again.

The parameters for another trip were similar to our previous outing. We wanted to stay in a park close to home and we wanted a campground with large sites. We were able to get reservations at the White Oak Creek Army Corps of Engineers Campground.

Sign at White Oak Creek COE Campground


This is a campground located south of Eufaula, Alabama, along the shore of Lake George. It is also a campground we stayed in twice before.
There are four camping loops in this park and I imagine all are full during the summer. We were there during the late Fall and only three loops were open. It seemed camping during the pandemic was a popular idea as there were only a few unoccupied sites in the entire park. 

Rosie in White Oak Creek COE Campground
Rosie in White Oak Creek COE Campground

It appeared to us that fishing was very popular among the campers there during the week. The park's complexion seemed to change over the weekend as the jet skiing and water skiing crowd arrived. That crowd pulled out on Sunday afternoon leaving the campground to the quiet fishing boats.

Suzy looking at the lake
Suzy looking at the lake

We took our inflatable tandem kayak and enjoyed our excursions around the lake. On one of our trips, Becky did a FaceTime video session with our three year-old grandson. He was excited about going on a kayak trip with his grandparents and enjoyed the adventure as we paddled under the bridge at one end of the park.

Kayak ready for the lake
Kayak ready for the lake


Enjoying the lake
Enjoying the lake

Heading towards Rosie
Heading towards Rosie

On one of our kayak trips on the lake, we started noticing dozens and dozens of what appeared to be empty one liter soda bottles wrapped in orange foam bobbing on the water. As we paddled over toward one of these things to investigate, a fishing boat beelined toward us at high speed. The man on the boat started yelling at us about his catfish noodles. Well, that solved the mystery as to what those things were on the water. From that time on, we were carefully watched by the fisherman.

Catfish Noodles on the lake
Catfish Noodles on the lake


Selfie on the lake
Selfie on the lake


We also enjoyed riding our bicycles around this park. Once again, Becky took our grandson on a FaceTime bike ride around the park. Needless to say, he was excited to join his grandparents as he shared in a Rosie adventure using digital technology.

Riding bikes at White Oak COE Campground
Riding bikes at White Oak COE Campground

As silly as it sounds, we noticed a familiar Airstream in the campground. Did you think all Airstream trailers looked alike? Maybe, but we recognized the Wally Byam Airstream Club Big Red Numbers on the trailer. We were on the WBAC Springtime in Kentucky several years ago with those friends and were schedule to be with them on the Gone to Texas this year. Of course, COVID cancelled all WBAC caravans.

Our friends in White Oak Campground
Our friends in White Oak Campground



Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There were four loops in the campground. Most of the sites in this campground we’re on the water.
  • Our site was paved with concrete and was level. It appeared to us that the sites in the other loops were also paved with concrete
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection 
  • There were two dump stations in this park. Both were a distance from the camp sites and you ended up having to drive there to dump your sewage tote
  • The trash dumpsters were at the dump stations. That meant it was too far to walk there with your trash
  • There were multiple bathhouses in the campground. The volunteer at the gate suggested we use the bathroom in our trailer since the number of COVID-19 cases in Alabama were increasing during that time span
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided decent 4G voice and data service over our campsite 
  • We were able to watch only PBS using Rosie’s TV antenna. We were glad we brought our DVR with episodes of TV shows and movies we wanted to watch
  • The campground was near Eufaula, Alabama. That meant there were restaurants and shopping nearby
  • This was a pet friendly park 
We discovered a little too late that it was ant season at the campground. We immediately went into "full ant mode" by making sure our power and water lines didn't touch the ground and spraying ant pesticide around every point of Rosie touching the ground. We also had to spray Rosie's outer skin where we found ant trails. It had been years since we were camping in a location with ant problems and we ended up having to fight the critters both inside and outside our trailer.

As we were using the dump station before leaving the park, someone pulled a sewage tote up to the dump station next to the one we were using. We asked if he noticed the ant problem at his motorhome. He quickly snapped back that they had not seen any ants at their site. Becky and I chuckled as he left the dump station that he may not have seen any yet, but time will tell. It is almost too late once you start seeing them.

The ants are just a part of the camping experience and you have to be diligent in trying to keep them out. They did not lower our opinion of this great campground.

View of the bridge at night
View of the bridge at night


Rosie at night
Rosie at night

Selfie outside Rosie
Selfie outside Rosie


Day use area at White Oak COE Campground
Day use area at White Oak COE Campground

Sunrise at White Oak COE Campground
Sunrise at White Oak COE Campground


We didn't see an alligator
We didn't see an alligator


The geese were not happy to see us in our kayak
The geese were not happy to see us in our kayak


Heading back to Rosie
Heading back to Rosie




Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Gunter Hill COE Campground - Montgomery, Alabama (September 2020)

If you looked at our calendar in January 2020, you would have seen that we planned to go on two WBCCI Caravans that year with Rosie, our Airstream trailer.  (The WBCCI is the Airstream Owners club.) The first was a six week tour through New England and the Atlantic coastal provinces of Canada. The second was five weeks exploring Texas. These were two very popular and hard to get on caravans. We were looking forward to discovering the sights on those caravans. 

Well, that was the plan and if 2020 was a normal year, we would have already visited more than 20 campgrounds in nine states and three Canadian provinces. But nothing was normal during 2020. Between the global COVID-19 pandemic and a series of  “stay home” and “safer at home” mandates from our state and local governments, we parked Rosie, our Airstream trailer, for more than six months and stayed home. 

During that time, we continued talking to our Airstream friends via email and reading news reports about coping with the mandatory COVID restrictions. A growing number of trusted experts were saying that camping in campgrounds with large sites was considered safe as long as social distancing and masks were used. 

After discussing the pros and cons, we decided to venture out to a Corps of Engineers campground because most COE parks feature well-spaced, large sites. We also wanted to camp in a COE campground with full hook-ups and the closest park to our location meeting those requirements was Gunter Hill. 

Sign at Gunter Hill COE Campground
Sign at Gunter Hill COE Campground


Most campers in this park were “reasonable” about respecting social distancing concerns. The campers flaunting the protocols were easy to spot and avoid.  

Rosie in Gunter Hill
Rosie in our site at Gunter Hill COE Campground


It is amazing how quickly you forget the steps involved in packing and hooking up your trailer after parking it for six months. We packed things we learned over the years should be left home. We left some things at home we missed in the campground. It didn’t take long to get back in the groove of camping in Rosie and remember how to better prepare for our next trip. 

Next trip? We are anxious about going out again in Rosie. 

Riding bikes in Gunter Hill COE Campground
Riding bikes in Gunter Hill COE Campground


Looking out at the waterway feeding into the Alabama River
Looking out at the waterway feeding into the Alabama River

The weather was perfect for camping. The high temperature was in the low 80s only one day. The highs were in the low to mid 70s the rest of the time. Nightly lows were in the mid 50s to the high 40s. 

The campground was busier during the weekend when young families with children started to arrive. It was nice to hear the happy sounds of children playing in the campground. It was also nice that those youngsters observed social distancing norms when around other campers. 

We noticed three brand-new RVs in the campground. It was obvious that those families were making the normal first-time mistakes that all RVers seem to fall into. There were news reports about record RV sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our simple observations while at this campground seemed to suggest that there was a bumper crop of new RV owners being introduced to camping. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There are two loops in the campground. The Antioch loop is more rustic and has only water and electric hook-ups. The Catoma loop has larger sites, water, electric and sewer connections. We camped in the Catoma loop
  • Our site was paved with concrete and was level. Sites in the Antioch loop are grass or gravel and mostly unlevel
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service 
  • Our site had a water connection
  • Our site had a sewer connection 
  • There were two dump stations in this park, one for each loop
  • There were two bathhouses in the Catoma loop. The volunteer at the gate suggested we use the bathroom in our trailer since the number of COVID-19 cases in Alabama were increasing during that time span and the park's public restrooms were cleaned once a day Monday through Friday and not cleaned over the weekends
  • The park did not provide WiFi service 
  • AT&T provided marginal 4G voice and data service over our campsite 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS and NBC using Rosie’s TV antenna. We also received digital channels Antenna, Buzzr, Decades, Escape, Get, Grit, ME, THiS and multiple Spanish-speaking stations
  • This was a pet friendly park 
We brought our bikes to this park. We enjoyed our adventure in this quiet and beautiful campground. 

Paved roads in the Catoma Loop
Paved roads in the Catoma Loop


Becky and Suzy in the group pavilion
Becky and Suzy in the group pavilion

Selfie at Gunter Hill
Selfie at Gunter Hill


Bridge in the Catoma Loop
Bridge in the Catoma Loop

Walkway next to boat ramp
Walkway next to boat ramp


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Big Lagoon State Park - Pensacola, Florida (March 2020)

We knew what the Ranger was going to say before he reached Rosie, our Airstream trailer. The concerned look on his face gave it away. 

We were right. He told us the State of Florida was closing all state parks at noon on Friday and we needed make plans about where we would head next. 

Why was Florida closing all state park campgrounds? The simple answer is the Coronavirus, which is also the complex answer to any question during that time that dealt with human interactions. 

We were amazed and shocked at how fast the Coronavirus entered our conversations, sent everyone running to empty store shelves in a panic and left us afraid to be closer than a ten-foot pole to each other. (I think I finally understand that saying from my elementary school days.)

We were at Big Lagoon for our family version of Spring Break. 

Sign at the entrance to the park


Spring Break traditionally meant our family would be found camping in T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. For the second year in a row, that park remained closed to camping due to the damage suffered in 2018 from Hurricane Michael. In addition, the access road to the campground was breached leaving it an island. 

So, this was our second year of spending Spring Break at Big Lagoon State Park. That wasn’t to imply that Big Lagoon was a second tier park. It simply wasn’t the park our family historically went to for Spring Break. 

Big Lagoon is a park that we always want to bring our bicycles and kayak to. We brought both and used neither. Between my hurt ankle and the fear of the Coronavirus that gripped everyone, we mostly stayed inside Rosie and avoided other people when we took Suzy, our Yorkie, out for brief walks. We were thankful that there was a good distance and shrubbery between individual camp sites in this park.

Section of the boardwalk


Everyone else in the park was doing the same as we didn’t see children riding their bikes nor were people outside their trailers enjoying the park. It appeared to us that the campers on either side of Rosie were grandparents who were probably keeping their grandchildren while the public school systems were shutting down in most states. I guess the shutdown of Florida’s state parks instantly made things more difficult for those grandparents.

The swamp area where alligators are typically found


Suzy on the boardwalk

The alligator warning sign


Becky’s sister and her husband were camping in the Navy’s FamCamp while we were in Big Lagoon. We were able to visit them on Battleship Row and they visited us in Rosie. We would have seen them more but they had to head south to help with their grandchildren, who were suddenly in a homeschool situation.

Navy FamCamp area

Battleship Row in Pensacola Navy FamCamp

Becky and her sister in their RV


We hope our Spring Break trip next year will be completely uneventful and relaxing. 

Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • There are three camping loops in this park. 
  • Our site had a concrete pad. 
  • Our site had 30 and 20 amp electrical service. 
  • Our site had a water connection. 
  • Our site did not have a sewer connection. 
  • There was one dump station located at the entrance to the campground. 
  • There were three restrooms/showers in the camping areas. We noticed that the volunteers were spending more than an hour scrubbing and cleaning the restrooms every day.  
  • AT&T placed a strong 4G signal over our campsite for voice and data. 
  • Similar to many state parks, Big Lagoon does not provide WiFi. 
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS TV stations using Rosie's antenna. We also received digital signals from GET, GRIT, ME-TV MY-TV, Stadium and Comet. The signal strength would fluctuate during the day. We were glad we brought our over-the-air DVR from home loaded with episodes of shows we wanted to watch. 
Evening photo of Rosie in Big Lagoon

Becky and Suzy in Big Lagoon