The drive from Torreya State Park to Alabama was again over 4 hours, but not too bad since it was mostly along I-10 with only the north end of Tallahassee to contend with. We arrived at Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, Alabama by early afternoon and immediately encountered the difference with any other RV park or state park we have stayed in. Rainbow Plantation is an Escapees Park, the RV club that we belong to that is mostly full timers in their RV and this park reflects that fact. While you don’t have to be a member of Escapees to rent a spot, you get it at a very reasonable rate if you are a member. You also get a hug from the staff that check you in. There are quite a few spots with full hookups for transient travelers such as ourselves, but even then many of the spots are leased full time. The campsite we were assigned is nothing special, even though everyone has their own live oak tree that during the fall drops acorns to bounce and roll across the roof of the RV. Even without a breath of wind it is common to suddenly hear a small bang as another acorn makes itself known. There went another one just now! Over half of the area in the park is occupied by “houses” of people that have “retired” from the road to live here full time. They still have their RVs that are now parked under cover as part of their house. Many of these homes have a large motorhome in the center of their house with a small living area to one side and garage on the other. We understand there is a large waiting list for these homes. It makes the park more of a community for retired, yet active, people from all over the country. Located centrally in the park is the community clubhouse that is the location of activities throughout the day. These include line dancing, exercise classes, sewing and knitting groups, card games, trivia games, and meals. We intend to take advantage of many of these activities to get to know some other full timers and learn about their experiences. Upon arrival we went immediately over to the clubhouse to sign up for Thanksgiving dinner. They had sign-up sheets for 20 tables of 10 people per table, and 18 tables were already filled with only three spots left on table 19. Not wanting to be at a table by ourselves, we added our name to table 19 by putting our names at the top 2 lines on the sheet where other names had been scratched out. On Tuesday, Kal did our laundry that had piled up for over a week and went to the store, while I cleaned the RV. That afternoon, we had a visit from one of the other members of our table that was concerned she had not heard from us? It turns out that by putting out name at the top of the list for the table meant we had volunteered to be in charge of the table. We knew that our $2 per person for the meal was going to buy the meat (turkey and ham) and we had assumed the rest was a pot luck meal. It turns out that each table has their own meal, which meant we needed to make sure we had not only enough food, but a variety of dishes for our table, along with any decorations we wanted, silverware, plates, and serving dishes for the meat and gravy. Well we certainly don’t have any Thanksgiving decorations since we got rid of everything before we moved into the RV. So here was our first opportunity to get to know some other RVs and we went around and knocked on the doors of everyone else at our table (this turned out to be only 2 other couples and a single woman). We had planned on making scalloped corn and decided to add homemade potato rolls. Other couples volunteered to add another dish and we were hopeful that Thanksgiving was going to be just fine. We even had a festive tablecloth to add to the festivities. On Wednesday, we spent a little time preparing for the dinner and went to Camping World to pick up cleaning supplies so I can give the outside of the RV a good scrub, it is beginning to show road grime especially in the back. We also got one of the propane tanks filled before the upcoming cold weather arrived. This was another example of the advantage of staying in an Escapees Park. Another camper across the road saw me trying to secure the propane tank to the bed of the truck and came over to give me a hand. He loaned me a short bungee cord that did a great job in securing the tank and was a lot simpler than the strap I was attempting to use. On Thursday, we took it easy in the morning and around noon Kal began preparing our contributions to the dinner. At 1:45 we packed it all up in some shopping bags and walked over to the clubhouse. Although we were there before the 2:00 start for the meal, we learned that everyone show up for any event at least 15 minutes early. Everyone else was already there and all the tables were full of food, including ours!! We had quite a selection from stuffing, vegetables, fruit salad, rolls, and red beans and rice. Along with all the turkey we wanted and sufficient gravy made by their cook, we had a great meal and good time meeting all our tablemates. On Friday we decided to do something different and spend the day at the Wind Creek Casino. Kal and I have our own system to limit our loses. First, we only take $40 apiece into the casino. Second, play only penny slots and final limit our bets to no more than $0.40. We try to find slot machines next to each other so we can enjoy each other’s successes. My strategy is to leave a given slot machine once I have either lost $5 or won a bonus of at least $5. This way, we usually get to play on the slot machines for 3-4 hours, have a nice lunch, and not lose more than $80. In most cases, one of us does well and either wins a little or loses less than $20. On this day, I lost all of my $40, but Kal only lost $15, so we enjoyed ourselves for most of the day for only $55. Saturday was another quiet day in the campsite. While Kal was watching some soccer on the TV, I went to check out the “card game” listed in their activity program. In a small room in the clubhouse there were 18 people busy playing a card game that was similar to canasta. It is called Hands, Knees, and Foot and is a variant of canasta. Without going into too much explanation it is a game that can be played with teams of any size, although two teams of three players works well. The main difference with canasta is that you start off with your Hand, but once certain criteria are met you get additional hands named the Knee and Foot. This leads to a lot of cards being in action very quickly and it is normal to have ten or more canastas per team before someone goes out to end the hand. After watching the first hand, one of the players was nice enough to give me his spot for the final two hands (the game typically lasts only three hands). It was fun, with much less stress then the cutthroat canasta between two people that I had grown up with. Saturday night, we had to go in search of a sports bar in order to watch the Iron Bowl, since we do not get ESPN over the airwaves since the park does not have cable. We ended up in Applebees where the waitresses were all in Alabama shirts and the bartender was wearing a checkered Bear Bryant hat. We also got strong looks from a couple of Alabama fans at the bar when I took off my jacket to display my Auburn sweatshirt. Luckily there were a couple of other Auburn fans in the bar area and we had a good time. Of course, Auburn lost the game, but they played a good one giving the Alabama fans moments of doubt. It was too bad we could not upset Alabama’s hopes for a national title match, since another Auburn loss didn’t make any difference at this point in the season. I look forward to their bowl game. I am not sure whether I hope the park we are in has cable or we have to find a sports bar, which is a great way to see the game. Unfortunately, on Sunday I have to pay for the late Saturday night game over a few beers, as I definitely felt under the weather (spelled “hangover”) and we did not do anything but stay in the campsite again. We did go over to the Club house Sunday evening and participated in a game of trivia with about 20 other campers. Our team worked well together and we came out tied for first! Our guess on the tie-breaking question was wrong, so the other team got the trophy (which they have to bring back next week for the new winner). On Monday, I was ready to see some more sights, so we took off for Fort Morgan which is an Alabama State Historic Site. Fort Morgan is one of the third system forts that was built following the War of 1812, its construction began in 1819. However, it was not finished until 1834 and never had its full complements of cannon. It purpose was to protect access into Mobile Bay along with Fort Gaines on Dauphen Island. When the Civil War begins, the fort was in caretaker status and seized by Alabama Militia in January of 1861. Throughout the war, Rear Admiral Farragut attempted to subdue the fort multiple times without success. Finally in 1864, Farragut was provided with the ironclads he needed which allowed him to bypass Fort Morgan and enter Mobile Bay where he defeated the CSS Tennessee and Selma and captured Fort Gaines. Fort Morgan is then besieged from both the sea and land. After nearly two weeks of bombardment, Major Page surrendered the fort to the Union leading to the Battles of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely just days before Lee’s surrender. The history of Fort Morgan does not end with the Civil War, at it was reactivated as part of the Endicott system of batteries all along the coast in the late 1800s. Battery Bowyer was the first battery completed east of the Fort Morgan built of reinforced concrete and using the disappearing cannon we have seen at other forts. In all there were five batteries constructed in and around Fort Morgan, with Battery Duportail and Battery Thompson within the original fort, thus much of the brick fort is now covered with the concrete structure of the batteries. It is still an impressive structure and well worth the visit. By Tuesday, I was feeling concerned that we still did not have any reservations for wintering in Florida. I had been waiting to find out if Jenny could get us reservations in Walt Disney World, but so far no luck and now it was getting critical. First, I had to plan out where we wanted to be over the next three months to see all the National Parks in Florida and position ourselves in Georgia by the end of March to make the push for Maine. Next, I had to decided on what private RV parks would work and that we could afford and then hope they had an opening on the dates we wanted. All of the cheap campgrounds, such as the state parks and federal campgrounds, were all filled until at least March, so it was going to get expensive. Our first major stop was to be in the St. Augustine area where we could continue our trek down the east coast that was interrupted by the holidays. Once I booked that I could backfill the trip there. It took the better part of the day, but I was successful, even though we will be over budget. On Wednesday, Kal got our weekly laundry done and I continued to work on booking our winter stay in Florida. My next goal was Homestead, Florida to set us up to visit the Florida Keys, as well as, Everglades National Park. I knew this was not going to be cheap, but the $62/night price tag (this was the cheapest I could find) is more than we wanted to spend. Therefore, we cut our stay to a single week instead of the two weeks I had hoped for and I started mapping out our stays up the west coast of Florida. I was able to find reasonable RV parks, especially a two week stay at another Escapees Park that will only cost $17/night. This should help to balance out the budget. By the first week in March we will be in Georgia and finding reasonable places to stay will be much easier. I had had enough of the headaches from figuring out our itinerary, so Thursday we took the day off and visited another fort. This time it was over to Pensacola to visit one of the forts that were built to protect Pensacola Bay, Fort Barrancas. Like the other third system forts, Fort Barrancas was a marvel of engineering using over 6 million bricks in its construction. Administered by the National Park Service as a unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Barrancas is one of four defensive forts constructed following the War of 1812 to protect the harbor, naval base, and city of Pensacola. Forts McRee and Pickens were positioned on either side of the entrance to the Bay on the Barrier Islands and any ship that got by the crossfire of these forts had to contend with Fort Barrancas shooting straight at them before they could turn east into the Bay. Along with the Advance Redoubt that was about a half mile north of Fort Barrancas along the north side of the peninsula to protect the Naval Yard from any land attacks, this made Pensacola one of the most secure harbors from any enemy invasion. However, at the start of the Civil War, the Union forces pulled out of Fort Barrancas and McRee to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. This set up a situation nearly identical to Fort Sumter with the Confederates holding the other forts. However, unlike Fort Sumter that was on an island within Charleston Harbor surrounded by enemy cannon, Fort Pickens was outside Pensacola Bay and accessible by Union ships for resupply and support. The attack came on October 9, 1861 when the Confederates landed 1000 men on Santa Rosa Island only to be repulsed, followed by an exchange of cannon fire from both Fort Barrancas and McRee in November and again in January. Little damage was done to Fort Barrancas although Fort McRee was essentially destroyed and the Naval Yard was severely damages. With the Union forces in control of Fort Pickens and their blockade, the Naval Yard in ruins, the Confederates abandoned Fort Barrancas in May of 1862. Fort Barrancas remained in Union hands for the remainder of the Civil War. The National Park Service did extensive reconstruction of the fort in the 1970s and today it is in amazing condition. Visitors can walk everywhere in the fort including the underground passages that connect the scarp and counterscarp and the fort with the water battery. The scarp and counterscarp are either sides of the dry moat along the two land sides of the fort that create a killing field for any land based attack on the fort. The water battery is also unique since it is actually the original fort built by the Spanish in 1781 and utilized as a lower location for cannons that could fire directly at the hull of the ships by skipping the shells over the water. The Advanced Redoubt was also a surprise. We expected an earthen structure like redoubts we were familiar with at other Civil War sites, however, this redoubt is actually a smaller version of Fort Barrancas made out of brick. The main difference is it was designed against land attacks only, so did not have the large cannon emplacements. Instead it had another feature that I had never seen before. Attackers would approach the fort from the west and once they scaled the slope up to the fort, defenders would dropped back along the walls dropping behind a set of two brick walls that would provide them cover while exposing the attackers. It was a neat addition, although they never got the chance to use it. The Confederates did attack the Redoubt once during the war in 1863, but the 200 soldiers were easily repulsed by the Black soldiers of the Union Army manning the Redoubt. We certainly did not expect to see this substantial brick fort only a half mile from Fort Barrancas. Friday was another beautiful day in the mid-70s along the Alabama Gulf Coast and we decided to enjoy the weather with a hike. We traveled south past Gulf Shores again to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge which is on the way to Fort Morgan. Along with a small Visitor Center, they have a couple of hiking trails in the maritime forest on the inland side of Little Lagoon. The Jeff Friend Trail is about a mile loop trail through the forest that is lined with gravel and boardwalks making it wheel chair accessible. I was surprised that the forest was very young without any large trees until I realized the Hurricane Ivan wiped out the forest in 2004. After lunch at the Visitor Center we took another hike on the Pine Beach Trail that has a nice trail guide with number posts identifying the native vegetation and a few interpretive signs. Along one stretch you can still see the debris line from Hurricane Ivan with deteriorating wreckage from destroyed homes. There is also a wooden tower overlooking Little Lagoon and Little Gator Lake which alternates between a brackish lake and a freshwater lake depending upon time since the last hurricane. It was interesting to learn about the changes in plant and animal species in and around the lake depending upon the saltwater/freshwater mix. We truly enjoy visiting our National Wildlife Refuges and tend to get a lot of nice photographs. When Kal posted some great pictures of the interior of Fort Barrancas on Facebook, it caught the attention of Ramona Dear, the professional photographer we met during our visit of Cumberland Island National Seashore. She lives in Pensacola and had offered to show us Gulf Island National Seashore when we were near Pensacola. She and Kal communicated through Facebook and we drove to Pensacola on Saturday to meet up with Ramona. She was very familiar with Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island that is part of the Gulf Island National Seashore. She has taken a lot of photographs of the Fort and knew a lot about interesting photographic subjects and angles. It was fun watching her and Kal discussing photographic techniques and looking for the “perfect” shot. Ramona did not take a camera with her, which meant the pressure was on Kal to demonstrate her “techniques”. It was common to hear them chuckling with each other and often Ramona could see what Kal was attempting to capture with her camera, even when it made no sense to me. I was concerned that we would get so wrapped up in taking photographs, that I would not have the chance to tour the fort and surrounding facilities, but this was not the case. I think we managed to see all that Fort Pickens had to offer. If you want to visit a National Park that includes at least one example of every era of coastal forts, then Fort Pickens is the place to visit. Fort Pickens itself, is the largest of the four forts built to protect Pensacola Bay and the Navy Yard following the War of 1812. Completed in 1834, Fort Pickens was state of the art in brick and mortar forts of the time. At the onset of the Civil War, the Union forces abandoned the other forts and occupied Fort Pickens creating a similar situation as Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. However, unlike Fort Sumter, the Union could supply and reinforce Fort Pickens, so it never fell to the Confederacy even though they exchanged cannon fire in October and November of 1861. Thus the harbor of Pensacola and Navy Yard were effectively blocked from Confederate use throughout the war. Following the Civil War, these brick and mortar forts were vulnerable to new rifled cannons and in 1898, the Endicott system of batteries were installed at all the east coast harbors. We have seen a number of these already, including Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter, and Fort Pickens is much the same. In the middle of the parade ground of Fort Pickens there is the massive concrete structure of Battery Pensacola completed in 1899 and had two 12-inch rifles on disappearing carriages. From 1898 through 1905 the coastal defenses of the Endicott system were expanded to include Batteries Trueman, Payne, Van Swearingen, Cullman, Sevier, Cooper and Worth. Some of these had the same 12-inch rifles, while others had 8 mortars or rapid fire rifles. There are also the remains of Battery Langdon that was completed in 1923 with two 12-inch guns protected within casements of 10 foot concrete walls and 17 foot concrete ceiling. Finally, in 1946 Battery #234 was completed with modern 6-inch shield guns. The remains of all of these forts and batteries can be visited, although most are now closed off to the public and can only be viewed from the outside. Of note are the mounted cannon at Battery #234 and disappearing rifle at Battery Cooper. These cannon are provided by the Smithsonian and are one of the few remaining cannon that had not been sold for scrap. The area is a trip back into history and fascinating to see the changes in design necessitated by improving warfare technology. On Sunday, Kal headed into town to do Christmas shopping and I stayed at the campsite to wash the outside of the RV for the first time. I am still not sure how to properly take care of the exterior of the RV, since it is fiberglass construction with a gel-coat. I used a soft brush and a biodegradable car wash and managed to get most all of the dirt and smashed bugs off of it. This process took over two hours. I am not sure if I should also be applying a wax, which would probably taken multiple days! A 35 foot long, 13 foot high “white elephant” is not going to be an easy cleaning job. At about 4:00 we had a visitor, Chris Golden, an old family friend of Jenny’s that we enjoy catching up with. Chris works for a software company in Pensacola and I must admit that I can no longer keep up with the technical computer jargon. I understood less than half of Chris’s explanation of his projects and their challenges, but it was fun catching up. He seemed to be impressed with our RV and excited about our new lifestyle, but more concerned with his social and professional life, which he should be. Monday was another day at the campground working on my blog and in the evening we met up with Chris Golden again for dinner at Maguires in Pensacola. We all had a fantastic meal. While a little pricey, the atmosphere and food (not to mention their own craft beer) it is worth the expense. However, I would recommend getting there early in the evening, as I understand you will often wait more than an hour for a table. We were there at 5:30 and it was just starting to get busy. After dinner, Chris showed us his house in Pensacola and showed off his entertainment system. We just had to stay and watch a movie on his huge TV and outstanding sound system. Although Chris claimed that Captain America did not show off his system as well as other movies, we were very impressed. Unfortunately our RV will never have such a system, although I would like to get a receiver to the sound from the TV and game system to use the surround sound system that is built into the RV. At this point, only the DVD player uses the surround sound. Tuesday was again a quiet day in the campground, although I did finally break out some of my new “toys” to maintain the RV and truck. We do have a 150 psi air compressor to inflate our tires, however, the inside dual tires on the truck had proved to be impossible to get to. Therefore I bought an attachment for the air compressor that should allow me to get to the tires. Thankfully, the truck tires were only down about 5 psi and I was able to get to all of the tires! Surprising the RV tires have continued to maintain their pressure of 120 psi. I had also bought a big torque wrench to check the lug nuts on the RV. We need to maintain them at 90 foot-pounds. While I don’t know what torque the lug nuts have since my torque wrench only goes up to 100 foot-pounds, they were obviously over the recommended 90 foot-pounds! Wednesday and it was time to get out of the campground for the day. Therefore, we took off to spend another day at the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore. We both had a better day than before. After 4 hours of playing the slots (with lunch at McDonald’s in the middle), Kal was down to a couple of dollars from her $40 she had started with and I was down just $10. Then the slot machine I was playing decided to mess up the ticket and I was subjected to waiting over 10 minutes for a technician to deal with it, another 10 minutes of waiting for her supervisor to sign off on the messed up ticket, and finally another 10 minutes of standing in line at the cashier to get my $10. By this point, Kal had gotten hot and was now up a couple of dollars. We pocketed her original $40 and she was suppose to play with just the few dollars left over. However, she had a $20 in her pocket (which was a mistake) and she lost that over the next 30 minutes. Thankfully, I won on three machines in a row and was up $26 for the day! So we cashed out and went home $6 ahead. This was an enjoyable day for us in the casinos. Thursday was time to clean the inside of the RV and Kal did laundry. I also worked a bit on this blog, but for the most part we just took it easy. Friday, I was ready to do something, but after going to the store, Kal was ready to sit in the RV for the afternoon. After working on the blog and waiting for the temperature to warm up, I took the truck in search of a disc golf course. I found a close Foley city park by the name Graham Creek Nature Preserve with an 18 hole disc golf course. What I found was a fairly new city park outside of town with hiking trails, fitness trails, a nice playground area, an archery range, and an 18 hole disc golf course. Being near the coast, the course is very flat with a scattered trees, although they did manage to place the pins either surrounded by trees or at least behind a couple of trees. I had a very enjoyable afternoon playing disc golf, although I had not played in a while so my accuracy was horrible. If you can throw a frisbee I recommend playing disc golf as a good way to get a bit of exercise and see some beautiful parks, such as Graham Creek Nature Preserve.
Saturday and Sunday were spent at Rainbow Plantation, just taking it easy, working on the blog, and getting ready to leave for Auburn. On Sunday evening we did join the others at the Clubhouse for another game of Trivia. Kal and I did well when we played before assisting our team to a tie for first place two weeks ago. Once again we did well tying again for first place, but Kal really outdid herself. She was certainly the leader of the team, knowing answers that even amazed me!! Now I wish we had taken more advantage of the activities they had and intend to do so the next time we have the opportunity.