February, 2017 – Demopolis, Alabama

On Monday we traveled further north along the Tombigbee Waterway to the next lock and dam, a trip of just over an hour.  After enjoying watching the barges the previous week we were wondering if we would see some of the same barges again.  While the Forkland Campground, just outside of Demopolis, is on the north shore of Demopolis Lake above the dam, it is situated on a side creek instead of the main waterway.  However, we did have a very nice pull-through site with a good view of the creek.  We enjoyed watching the many birds on the creek, including herons, owls, and hawks during the week, as well as, the fishermen in their boats.  Once again, our site was very spacious with our own private access to the creek and the bathrooms were just a short distance away.  We really prefer these types of campgrounds, even if you give up TV reception and sometimes phone/internet access.  Surprisingly the phone reception was poor, even though we were only a couple of miles outside of Demopolis, but the TV reception was better than the previous week. This meant we got a good signal for both CBS and PBS, but nothing else.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day and the volunteers working at the campground invited us to join them for a picnic lunch of brats with all the fixings.  After spending a leisurely morning at our site we grabbed our chairs and drinks and walked over to their small pavilion for lunch.  We had a good time meeting all the volunteers and got a lot of suggestions for sites to see in Michigan this summer from former residents and other full-timers from that area.  After finishing lunch we were entertained by a Cooper’s hawk that was hunting about 10 feet from the pavilion.  He would dive from a branch about 10 feet off the ground, grabbing a meal that we guessed were lizards, and ascending back into the trees to eat.  He did it multiple times and we watched and took pictures for at least a half hour.

Since this was going to be our closest location to Birmingham this spring, we spent Wednesday traveling to Birmingham to see Kal’s parents.  We had a nice visit with her parents both before and after lunch, for which I was able to talk Kal into spending at a Mexican restaurant in the area.  Kal’s mother was in a very good mood and it was the most enjoyable visit we have had over the past couple of years.  I am glad to say we had the pleasure of seeing both of them laugh and enjoy our visit.  We also stopped by to say hi to Shannon and the girls on our way out of town, where we also picked up our mail.  I got a new Disney hat from Jenny and the all important tax documents.

catnaps

Once again there was not much to see in the area, especially since we had spent a week last spring at another COE campground even closer to Demopolis.  On Friday, we did venture out of the campground and walk over to their short, 0.7 mile, Nature Trail loop.  It is a nice, very easy trail, winding through the woods and along the creek.  They have erected a number of interpretive signs about local wildlife, especially the different bird species in the area.  Other than this short hike, there was not a lot to do during the week.  I did spend time on the blog, although I was not able to upload the pictures due to the slow internet connection.  So the post from last week would be delayed until our next stop where I can hope we will have a better connection.

February, 2017 – Coffeeville, Alabama

From I-65 north of Mobile, we began our slow trip up the extreme western edge of Alabma traveling primarily on two-lane US highways and county roads.  Our plans are to stay at a series of Corps of Engineer campground along the Tombigbee River as we make our way north.  Not only do we prefer these rural campgrounds, but by using our Senior Pass we get the sites at half price, meaning it costs between $80 and $100 a week.  This is just about as cheap as staying at Rainbow Plantation with their monthly rate.  Our first destination was Service Campgrounds, near the Coffeeville Lock and Dam.  Of the 30 campsites in the campgroud, only about 8 were occupied and 3 of those by the camphosts.  Suffice it to say we got a very nice pull-thu campsite with our front door opening out to our own view of the river.  What we did not realize that the river at this point is the main channel for the barges that travel north and south on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee River system.  For the entire week we say between 6 and 8 barges a day, some traveling north and others south.  We even saw two barges traveling south and another passing them heading north at the same time.  The most impressive was when the barges came through in the evening with their huge searchlights stabbing a good quarter mile down the river.  The light may have gone further, but this was about the entire distance between the curves in the river to the north and south.  They also had strong lights they used to watch the banks of the river which was especially important as they approached the curves.  It was fun to watch them at night, except for the time during our last night in the campgrounds when a barge was traveling south at 2:30 in the morning shining their very bright lights right into our bedroom, waking both of us up.  This was certainly a unique experience to wake up in the middle of the night with a bright light in your face and a rumbling coming from outside!!

The drawback of camping in these remote areas was evident when we tuned in the TV and could only get PBS and CBS once in a while and even then not very well  We did have a good phone and therefore internet connection, but watching TV was a problem all week.  We had gotten spoiled with the great reception at Summerdale for the past two months and Kal was going to miss the new episode of NCIS which upset her more than a little bit.  However, we do have a wide selection of movies and other DVDs to choose from for some evening entertainment and both of us were still in the middle of Fallout 3 – New Vegas on the Playstation to give us something else to do.  We did spend part of Tuesday with out normal routine of laundry and cleaning of the RV, but for the most part it was a week of taking it easy in the campgrounds watching the barges going by.

Unfortunately, there was also not a lot of options for hiking in the area either.  On Thursday, we drove about 10 miles to the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge with the hope of finding a hiking trail.  This refuge was established in 1964 overlaying the COE land surrounding the Coffeeville Dam.  With over 2,000 acres of wetlands the primary focus of the reserve is to provide wintering habitat for wood ducks and other waterfowl.  Unfortunately, this also meant that nearly all of the reserve was closed to the public from January to March, which also meant we were not allowed to walk on the single road that provides land based access to the refuge.  They supposedly have a short hiking trail to an observation tower, but again we were not allowed access.  So this ended up being a total waste of time and we ended up driving on over to Waynesboro, Mississippi to the closest Walmart, about 40 minutes away from the campground.

wetlands1

On Saturday, we decided to try our luck again and drove a short distance to Bladon Springs State Park.  However, we found out that this is one of the state parks closed by the state and only recently re-opened as a county park.  It was open, however, except for the a small area for the spring and a nice recreation/picnic area there did not appear to be anything else to do at the park.  The park is large enough to have hiking trails, but without any information about the park, such as a trails map, we could not figure out where they were.  There were not any signs for a hiking trail that we could find.  So once again the day was a bust and we returned to the campgrounds.

The only excitement, if you can call it that, during the week was waking up Friday morning to a cold RV.  The propane had run out overnight and although the temperature was well above freezing, it was still uncomfortable with only the electric fireplace in the RV.  Somehow we had managed to use both bottles of propane, which is not supposed to happen as we use one at a time, getting the empty bottle filled immediately.  At some point in the past month, Kal must have switched the tanks and either failed to tell me or I forgot.  In any case, it was my job to load up both of the propane bottles on the truck and head out to find some propane.  One of the camp hosts told me there was an ACE Hardware store in Gilberttown, about 19 miles away.  Once I got to Gilberttown, I could not find the ACE Hardware.  In the first place, it was not an ACE but an A-Plus Feed and Seed store and the sign out front made it look like a pharmacy, especially since it was less than a block from their small medical center.  After driving around the very small town and missing it multiple times I used the GPS to go to a Gas Appliance store in Butler, another 15 miles to the north.  It turns out this appliance store did not fill propane bottles, but told me where to get them filled at an A-plus feed and seed in Butler.  While they were filling the tank I talked to them about my experience in Gilberttown and it turns out the same person owns both stores and he told me right where it was in Gilberttown.  By this point it was after 1:00 in the afternoon, so I stopped in a nice Mexican restaurant in town and had lunch before heading back with the propane.  So much for our exciting week in rural Alabama!  Did I mention how exciting it was to watch the SLOW moving barges on the river during the week?

February, 2017 – Mobile, Alabama

On the first of February it was time to start the VERY slow trip north with a short trip of just over an hour to the north of Mobile, Alabama.  Since the first fell on a Wednesday, this was going to be a short stop getting us back on the Monday-Sunday schedule that we prefer.  Our stop was right along side I-65 at the appropriately named RV park I-65 RV Campground.  This is a very old RV park that is really needing some basic maintenance of the sites and roads.  It is a mix of seasonal campers that were not in residence and short time workers, with just a few spots open for transient visitors.  Nearly all of the people staying in the park were young men working for an electrical company based on the number of trucks we saw.  We were nearly the only transient guests except for a couple of overnighters during the week.  Thankfully, the sites for transient guests were the pull-through sites and we had good full hookups and excellent TV reception.  Actually it was not a bad place to stay, but not one I would want to return to.

There really was not a lot to do in the area, however, we did travel up the interstate on Thursday for one more afternoon at the Wind Creek Casino, especially since it was less than a half-hour away.  We managed to just about break even, which meant for the past two months we came very close to breaking even with our weekly visits.  Altogether not a bad way to spend some time.

On Saturday, I talked Kal into checking out a state historical site on the Tombigbee River, Fort Mims.  I wanted to visit the Indian mounds on an island in the river, however, it was only accessible by boat, so was out of the question.  The trip to Fort Mims was about a half hour from the RV park and we planned on spending the early afternoon exploring the site.  Fort Mims is a very early fort, dating back to the summer of 1813.  At that time most of Alabama and west Georgia were the lands of the Creek Nation.  English settlers were continually encroaching on these lands, breaking treaty after treaty.  The Creek Nation divided into two factions.  The Upper Towns, known as the Red Sticks, favored driving out the settlers by force, while the Lower Towns favored adopting the English culture and intermarriage.  Thus began a Civil War between the two factions beginning with the Battle of Burnt Corn in July of 1813.  Being concerned for their lives the settlers began building fortifications around their homes, one of the largest surrounding the homes and outbuildings of Samuel Mims, a prominent plantation owner on the east side of Tensaw Lake.  The log palisade was poorly designed and the militia guarding the fort were ill trained and supplied.  Learning this, the Red Sticks decided to attack the fort in retaliation to their defeat at Burnt Corn.  On August 29, 1813 over 800 Creek Indians surrounded the fort and at the sound of the bell for the mid-day meal boldly attacked the fort catching the defenders by surprise.  They quickly stormed the fort killing nearly everyone, including women and children.  By the end of the day over 500 were killed or captured and only around 30 escaped the massacre.  Thus began the Creek Indian War during the time of the War of 1812, which meant there was a lack of response from the Federal government.  Andrew Jackson led a force of Mississippi militia and Cherokee allies against the Red Sticks culminating with the Battle of Horseshoe Bend the following March.  Now we have seen both the beginning and the end of the Creek War which lasted less than 9 months but catapulted Andrew Jackson to the Presidency.  The downside to our visit was that there really is not much to see at the site.  Even if the Indians had not burned down the stockade and houses, there would not be anything left after this length of time.  They have reconstructed part of the stockade wall and a period representation of a blockhouse, but they missed the original locations by quite a bit based on archeological evidence.  There very small museum was also closed.  There were sufficient interpretive signs to give the history of the fort and battle, but even then it took less than an hour to explore the entire site.  Instead of eating lunch at the site, we decided to just head back to the campsite for the afternoon.

January, 2017 – Summersdale, Alabama

With the beginning of our third year of seeing America we are finally traveling pretty much north and south from Alabama.  The past two years have been traveling northeast, first along the east coast up into Maine and then further inland.  This past year we visited a few more sites in Virginia, saw western Pennsylvania and New York, and a little of Ohio and most of West Virginia.  Unlike the first year where we added Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, we only added two new states this past year.  Our plans for this year will do a little better as we intend to visit Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.  Our tally of the National Parks was also much less as we added only 13 National Park locations and 3 National Wildlife Refuges.  Of course, the National Park Sites are much more concentrated along the east coast and they will be more scattered as we continue west.  In addition we checked out 20 state parks and 10 private parks and museums.  We visited a number of amazing natural areas ranging from cascades in the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, and hikes in many state parks and along the old canal systems in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Historic sites included battlefields and forts dating from the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War.  Other historic sites included Presidential homes, the history of the Women’s Movement, and more recent disasters at Johnstown and Flight 83.  For me, the most notable were Niagara Falls, the Alleghany Portage Railroad, and Watkins Glen, in that order.  We may not have seen as many locations or traveled as far this past year, but it was still a memorable experience and I look forward to the coming year.

Before we got started on our journey to Lake Superior this year, we spent an additional month at Rainbow Plantation near Foley, Alabama.  Even though we were at the same RV Park, the new year started off with us having to move to a different site on New Years Day.  The move was only a few hundred feet, but we still had to button up the RV as if we were going a hundred miles.  The only notable occurrence was the weather which started our raining with the prospect of more all day.  So we pushed ourselves to be ready to move by 10 in the morning in between showers.  We got moved without it raining and as it turned out it did not rain again all day, so we did not have to be in such a hurry!!  I suppose the most exciting thing that happened all month was the weather.  We had a couple of nights with the temperature in the 20s overnight, which is VERY cold for the Gulf coast.  There was even a chance for snow or ice which stayed north of I-10, but still we were within 30 miles of some bad winter weather.  Following this cold snap, we had a week and a half with temperatures up to the low 80s, which was great except the following cold front brought severe thunderstorms and isolated tornadoes to our area.  There was a tornado warning in Mobile one evening, followed by another warning the next morning outside of Pensacola.  Even Foley had reports of 1-1.5 inch hail.  Thankfully, this severe weather managed to miss our location and other then heading to the clubhouse during the evening storms, we faired well.

We also spent the month playing trivia every Sunday evening and managed to win the trophy almost every week.  Of course, since Kal and I were on separate teams most of the time and there was only two teams, this is not saying much.  In any case, their miniature “RV” trophy (which is actually a toy motorhome) spent most of the month in our RV.  We also went to the Wind Creek Casino every week and managed to lose most of the money we had won in December.  I also went and played disc golf a couple of times and did fairly well, although I did spend one day hitting every tree in my path.  A few times I got so upset with hitting the only tree in the way less than 50 feet ahead of the teebox that I retrieved the disc and tried again.  Three times I managed to hit the same tree again and twice a hit another tree further down the fairway.  Suffice it to say that I was not having a lot of fun that day, but since the purpose was really to take in the beautiful weather on a sunny afternoon, it was all worthwhile.  We also finally got our “new” bikes fixed up at a local bike shop and rode them a few times around the RV park.  It is still to be seen if we are going to do a lot of riding, although there are some great bike paths along the rivers in the mid-west.

We did get out a couple of times to see some local sites in the area.  On one Saturday we met up with our friend Chris from Pensacola and took the ferry from Fort Morgan across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island.

Since the ferry left at 8:30 in the morning we arrived at Dauphin Island just as The Estaurium was opening.  We had heard about this from Doug and Lynn Hileman who knew the aquarium very well and it was good advice.  The Estaurium is an amazing place with multiple small aquariums highlighting each of the ecosystems surrounding Mobile Bay from the freshwater rivers to the salt water Gulf.  There is a lot of information about each of the ecosystems as well as displays of the multitude of water animals and plants.  A fascinating place, especially with Chris along who would use his I-phone to look up additional information when we had questions.  Even though the entire museum is not very large we spent over 3 hours wandering around.  We even had the chance to watch them feed the sting rays that are kept in a pool where you can reach in and touch them as they swam past.  It was especially nice at feeding time as they would race around the edge of the pool giving multiple opportunities to touch them briefly.

After a great lunch at a local seafood cafe, we explored the remains of Fort Gaines on the east end of the island.  Fort Gaines is the sister Civil War fort to Fort Morgan on the other side of Mobile Bay that protected the entrance to the bay.  It was in 1864 during the Civil War battle known as the Battle of Mobile Bay that Admiral Farragut of the Federal Navy was suppose to have said the words “Damn the torpedoes.  Full speed ahead!”  Of course, during the Civil War, torpedoes were the name of water mines that in this case we laid out in the bay.  One of the federal ships was sunk by a torpedo at the beginning of the battle when they mistakenly veered into the minefield.  Rather than retreating, the Admiral ordered the other monitors and ships to maintain the attack on the Confederate fleet in the bay.  The cannons at Fort Gaines were not used effectively since a land force was at that time attacking them from the west.  After the defeat of the Confederate fleet, Fort Gaines was surrendered as well and has survived with little damage.  Following the Civil War it was upgraded with two emplacements of the the “disappearing guns” in anticipation of the Spanish-American War, but never saw action.  This upgrade involved two concrete bunkers installed within the walls of the fort, which gives this brick-and-mortar fort a strange look.  Kal, Chris and I had an enjoyable afternoon exploring the fort which is in amazing condition.  Unfortunately, the fort may not survive much longer since the Gulf is in the process of reclaiming this barrier island, which is the nature of barrier islands.  One more major hurricane could spell the end to the fort.

On another Saturday, we met up with our friend, Ramona, the professional photographer we met on the ferry out to Cumberland Island National Seashore over two years ago.  Kal has kept in contact with her since then through Facebook and we really enjoy her company.  She met us at Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park near Pensacola for a hike in the woods.  There are two trails in the Preserve, which is the largest remaining longleaf pine/pitcher plant bogs in the state.  The first is a half mile trail to the bayou that is wheel chair accessible, which meant it was a concrete sidewalk and raised wooden boardwalk over the wetter areas as you approach the bayou.  We don’t often have the luxury of hiking along a concrete pathway as it meanders through the woods with nothing but trees and water on both sides.  If you haven’t experienced such a thing, it is certainly strange!  The other trail is a sandy woods road to some beaches on Pensacola Bay.  However, this trail is over 3 miles to the beaches, so we went until it got too wet about a mile down the trail.  In total, we walked nearly 4 miles that morning, before we grabbed our trucks and went to a local cafe that Ramona recommended.  We had a good lunch and then proceeded to talk for the next few hours before returning to our campground.  I think we talked about just about everything we could come up with and had a great time doing it.  We could certainly use some more friends like Ramona on our travels.

Finally, Kal and I checked out another location that was suppose to have some good boardwalks only 15 minutes from the campgrounds.  It is amazing that after staying in this campground for months over the past 3 years, we had never heard about Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which was so close.  It took seeing the site on a map at Fort Gaines that we learned about it.  It turns out they have a small Visitor Center where we had a good time talking with the volunteer working there.  We he found out I had retired from Auburn, he asked it I knew Dr. Harry Larson, who I had known at Auburn before he retired.  After retiring from Auburn he did a lot of volunteering at Weeks Bay identifying the many tree species and even setting up an arboretum for them.  We had a good time talking about Harry before we took in the many short hikes they had available.  From the Visitor Center there is a short half mile boardwalk that goes through a tupelo swamp to the bay with a nice overlook of the bay.  There is also another short boardwalk through a pitcher plant bog to the Fish River that empties into the bay a short distance from the Visitor Center.  After these two short hikes we ate lunch at the picnic area and then walked a confusing series of trails in their upland oak/pine forest off the Fish River.  All total we did about 2 miles of hiking which was a nice way to spend a beautiful day in Alabama.