Monday, April 20, 2015

Assateague Island NS

Assateague Island is famous in OUR family as the place my 10 year old sister and her partner in crime planned to capture their own "pony" and raise it in our mid-city garage. Not that this was out of the question, mind you, but the question of pony poop removal (PPR) did slow realization of the goal...
PPR is not a problem for the National Park Service. They DON'T.... and that adds new dimensions (mostly vertical ones) to the camping experience.

We crossed over to the Island on a weekday afternoon and were rewarded with a close-up of Jester's band of painted mares at roadside. The Joy band idled in the Bayside meadow as we slipped into a nearly empty loop. Evidence of their frequent sorties was evident ... We Got Over It.

Soon we met Trudy who was to become our friend and our guide to all things Assateague. She was just completing six and a half months here and she painted brilliant word pictures of the winter on the island -- surf creeping onto snow covered shore and refreezing at the edges, every stalk of marsh grass coated in ice, horses supported by icy puddles as they crossed the campground, a fox with kits, flocks of mixed birds feeding ...

We had time for lots of stories as two inches of rain flooded the campground and created our little Lake Assateague.

The story of the wild horses is well told by the Visitor Center film which extolls their adaptability, but does not downplay the impact they have on the fragile ecology.
The DNA studies have debunked the wrecked Spanish Galleon story. but just about the same time wrecks were discovered offshore...?? The question may simply become WHY would ships returning to the mother country with the riches of the New World -- silver, spices, tobacco -- bring the horses along? Would there be a PPR problem?
With the returning sun came the "ponies" , at dawn wading through the meadow pools deepened by the rainfall and at Noon for a good scratch on anything handy.

Even cloudy evenings had their beauty

The history of Astateague is facinating and varied. The Virginia (Southern) half was preserved early as a National Wildlife Refuge. Maryland toyed with a succession of greedy ill-concieved development plans, but, in a succession of huge storms, the weather triumphed and the island restored itself. We learned a good bit of the land procurement history from a talk by Joseph Fehrer whose family played active roles. The pictures of early camping on the island --by plane, by Over Sand Vehicle and even a WWII ammphibious Duck -- were warmly received

Patty is troubled by the horses' apparent inability to read and adhere to posted NPS directives....

and the overly thorough clean-up of the beach.

There were very few seashells of any kind.

One day we circled South to visit Chincoeague National Wildlife Refuge where, alarmingly, lighthouses appear to be sited in the forest...

That's better.
What IS that outfit?

On the Virginia end of the island, horses are managed differently. The herd is owned by the Volunteer Fire Company, they breed freely on leased salt grass meadows and attempts are made to keep them out of the areas maintained for native wildlife. (Of course, there always appear to be a few escapees along the Wildlife Loop Drive to delight onlookers.)
We biked the Loop a couple times and explored the other bike routes. We saw eagle nests and a few wading birds but the wind limited the sightings. The short Bivalve spur trail took us to the edge of the bay where a curious stilt/shack was crumbling into the water 100 yards offshore. An eagle took off from its peak winging straight for us. He veered just in front of us, did a quick diving turn and snatched a fish just a few yards away. Thrilling!
That suggested dinner to us and we found our way to Bill's in Chincoteague for our own fish dinner in pleasant surroundings with warm hospitality.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Languishing Lakeside

An emotional few weeks...
...resolved now,
 and our acceptance of loss is deepening.
 Patty needs some down time. 
 The Airstream is ready.

Monday we breakfasted with our "McDonalds Friends" Dot and Odis who always encourage us to "go now while you can" and then ask When will you be back? In their traveling days they might launch a trip on an impulse while wolfing down a few pancakes and be Smokies bound in an hour. We met at a McDonalds long before we had time to wander, and now, full circle, they wave us off from Mickey D's with smiles and a sack of road food.
We avoid the Atlanta traffic with great aplomb and glide into Petersboro Corps of Engineers site just north of Augusta Georgia. What a peaceful place! Several lakeside loops of well-designed campsites, just retired folks here this week before Spring Break.


A nearby camper caught us soaking in the sunset
We idled about camp as long as we were able before packing the bikes to the Discovery Center on The Augusta National Historic Canal. We can heartily recommend the exhibits housed in one of the old Mill buildings. They tell the story of the canal built in 1845 to produce power for the huge brick textile mills along its path. BUT WE WERE HERE FOR THE BIKE TRAIL. A Discovery Center would seem to be the place to gather some maps and launch a ride, but here the parking is sparse and the signage less than obvious, and the staff at the center a little incredulous at our questions. Most folks ride down to here from the Savannah River Rapids.

We rode over city bridges, along RR right of way, around the Salvation Army complex, on sidewalks through sketchy neighborhoods where a prison work crew was cutting weeds. We watched a couple of bikers in Auburn colors carrying their bikes through an idling freight train (and quickly regretted congratulating our grand daughter on her choice of college.)

We finally struck a gorgeous paved path through green woods and along the Savannah River with views of lovely real estate. There were suspension bridges and a long wood planked "hill" where the trail abruptly ended. Seems the city fathers spent 1.7m on the path but didn't say Mother-may-I to the Corps of Engineers about crossing their little neck...
We backtracked, got further confused and spent the evening with the Google beginning to understand where we had been and what to do next time, which is...wait for it...Start at Savannah River Rapids and ride down wide and comfortable tow paths for blissful miles.

We visited the Rapids Visitor Center next day but the rain was discouraging.

We shopped for Rally food, removed the pollen blanket from the Airstream and got in a little hike before yet another lakeside sunset. Life is good.


Alumalina is our twice a year treat -- a South Carolina gathering of Airstreamers and other friends, good times, good food, great stories. There is no pomp, little ceremony and a near overload of warm hospitality. The weather on the coveted Lakeside real estate, however, was windy and chilly the first couple nights. 

Little fuzzy flamingo needed a wrap (and perhaps a little cocktail umbrella)

This popular event has become too large for the Lake Wateree State Park site. (57 rigs, approximately 125 people from 13 different states, 1,380 feet of Airstreams )The fall gathering will be held in a larger quarters with full hookups, a spacious indoor dining area with kitchen and spectacular views of Caesars Head and Table Rock Mountain.
Fortunately, the weather cleared, the sun shone brightly on Saturday afternoon. The Open Trailer cruise gave us all a chance to closely examine new trailers, Vintage and restored, tricked out and "in-progress", useful mods both large and small. It was a glorious time. A few stayed over (to avoid the dump lines) and enjoyed the AfterParty, variously referred to as Leftovers for Lingerers. In a few hours the Awesome Aluminum Goodness was replaced by Spring Break -- families, kids, dogs, bikes, and golf carts (what?)



Our friend Suzanne directed us here on our way toward DC. By "directed", we mean she provided the maps, marked the quiet back road route, called the Park to insure they were open and suggested a lovely site by a tranquil forest pond.

Very Thoreau-like she promised, and it is, complete with eagles soaring high overhead, a pair of Canada Geese nesting, our first Spring Peepers of the year and nary another camper in sight. It was only a quiet overnight stay, but it felt so good.

Lake Anna State Park Virginia

Another overnight stop, another splendid lakeside State Park, another lovely but windy sunset. The campground is flawless – modern rest rooms with huge individual shower rooms, brand-new laundry facilities(at one dollar per load!) and sites so level that Patty can't play with her new Anderson Levelers. The only complaint (and perhaps this was apocryphal) came from the owner of the silver fiberglass travel trailer. Our beautiful shiny Airstream was blinding the incoming campers and he is quoted as referring to his as the "matt finish airstream". Really, would a Camp Host make up such a story?

So, enough lakeside living; bring on the grandchildren.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Subarctic Florida–a Short Tour

We have been dawdling here in Montgomery for weeks, DE-winterizing, RE-loading according to our hyper organized checklist and generally waiting for a celestial sign to move us South.  That came with a predicted spate of 20 degree weather and news that our friend Maggie would join us at Fort Pickens CG on the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola.


The local utilities had NOT read the celestial signs and decided to do a little work precariously close to the ‘stream. That’s OK, it was overcast. cold and windy out there.  These guys are pros and quickly moved on.
We drove South into some sunshine but the North wind was whipping when we arrived to a warm welcome from the  park personnel. The wind was flattening the seas and blowing tops off the waves that emerged. 


For the very first time, we were able to book the choicest site in the Park –- A24, nestled deep under the spreading Live Oaks, the lowest limbs only an Airstream high.  Deep shade. As our favorite grandson would ask, Is that a GOOD Idea?


The trip down had not been without incident and rewards.  We parked behind the busy strip mall and feasted on the daily lunch special at Petracella’s. Always a treat. Then off to Joe Patti’s famous Seafood store where our Patty acquired a quantity of  fresh boiled shrimp. (She got them peeled and deveined ‘cause she’s a Yankee and don’t know no better.)  Al lingered in the parking lot intending to frame a shot of the giant shrimp sculpture poised over the Trailer.  That’s when he discovered the sliding bathroom door hanging by a thread Why NOW after three weeks in a medium sized city, with tools and stores and time on our hands..??? %#@X&#


We do have this file photo of Mr. Frank at the filet knife.

Maggie and Lily gave us time to get settled and then the visiting and eating commenced and went on hilariously until the full moon peeked out. 

The morning was cloudy but the wind was down and we walked the beach up to the Fort and back.  Without sun, the winter beach is forbidding …

 DSCF3799…UNLESS you bring your own sunshine, which I did. Pat’s enthusiasm for all things beachy ..look a Pelican… is contagious ... Opps, that Jellyfish had a hard night…but even she needed a little warm soup, fortified with strong anti-inflammatories.


Even Sea Stars are cold.

There are, however, SOME dedicated naturalists who have the gumption to get up for the sunrise and the talent to capture it for the rest of us.  Thanks to our new friend Rhonda for sharing these images and a nice chat under the only palm tree on the "point".

Sunrise at Fort Pickens, Gulf Islands National Seashore, courtesy Rhonda Steele

Sea Turtles nest along here in the summer and the park is VERY serious about protecting them.


Recovery period, some disquieting medical news from home and a breakfast invitation from Maggie. 

Next morning was cloudy, drizzly and cold but breakfast in Maggie’s Airstream Interstate Motorhome was warm, welcoming and delicious. We traded tales until nearly two, then ventured forth to Peg Leg Pete’s for lunch and still more stories.


Sun is out ...time to move along

…is another favorite spot and a place we always enjoy.
We have four days here but it is beginning to look like we should return home after this.
Every few years the undergrowth in the Shady Pines  Loop gets a “controlled burn” which gives it the look of a Napalm drop zone.  It recovers quickly, and, with the help of really hard-working Volunteers, looks great by summer. 


 Fluffy Flamingo surveying the burn…

We renewed our friendship with Jack and Mary (12 year veteran camp hosts from Michigan), met Bob and Becky from the June Bug Journeys blog , found our friends Kent and Kathy nearby and trolled past several other Airstreams in the park. The stories were wonderful. Wayne told about building their log cabin from cedar trees growing on their land , Jack and Mary about raising seven, and Charlie came by briefly and told us he honeymooned in a bitterly cold duck blind. That’s his story and I doubt it could be topped.
Of course, the beach bunny had me out on LONG walks on the beach searching for the elusive porpoise pod.  We did find a cluster? congress? gaggle? of Brown Pelicans numbering nearly 100.  That was quite a show and quite a pleasure being old enough to see them come back so vigorously from the brink.


“Bay Day” at the St Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve had exhibits, nature walks, good company and some seriously good shrimp boil with all the fixins. We joined an afternoon walk along water’s edge.  Picture two naturalists with a pile of nets, seines, and screens, an eclectic group of motivated learners including a couple energetic young boys who grabbed the waders and netted an impressive variety of specimens. We were joined by Jack Rudloe from the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea who pitched in and answered all of our lingering questions.  If you want a hands on experience with marine creatures, we recommend a visit to his Lab; bring the kids.

Much as we were enjoying the company, the beach and the near freezing nights, we felt we needed to return home and look after our friend who had developed a fondness for falling down in the kitchen. The rains and clouds returned and we tracked North through the featureless Dead Lakes listening to folks mocking Brian Williams and the Alabama Supreme Court…
”It’s all good”