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Monday, November 1, 2021

5 National Park Road Trip

Our dream for our retirement years was to be able to travel as much as possible as long as we were healthy and able to get around. At the top of our travel list was, and still is, all the national parks on the US mainland. We had only visited three parks before we retired. Counting the 5 parks we just visited, we have now visited 12 parks!

The way we mapped out our latest national park road trip was by looking at a map that our son Mike and DIL Chrissy gave us. We love this map and it really is a very handy tool that is helping us to achieve our goal. By looking at the map we could see that there were a handful of parks in the Eastern US that were fairly close to each other that we hadn't visited. And that is how our 5 National Park Road Trip evolved.

Our trip started in Florida where all our road trips start because our trailer is stored here. We prefer not to drive more than 6-7 hours between stops but on the first day of a road trip we may do a little more than that. So on the first day of our road trip we drove 8 1/2 hours to Stone Mountain Campground in Georgia.

Stop 1

Stone Mountain, Georgia

Stone Mountain Campground
(Read more about this campground here.)

We took a vacation in Atlanta a couple of years ago and spent a day at Stone Mountain Park. Soko noticed that they had a campground and thought that one day we would return and check it out. We remembered the campground as we were making plans for our 5 national park trip. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that the amusement park was only open on the weekends in September and we would be there during the week. But it worked out because it gave us a chance to see what else the park had to offer.

We got to the campground early enough to go on a hike before it got dark. We checked out the trails and noticed that if we did part of one trail then part of another we could get to the 100 year old suspension bridge and back. We got halfway to the bridge and realized it was not going to be a doable hike for us as we were starting to feel the effects of getting up early and traveling all day and also realized we would run out of daylight before we could finish. So we backtracked to the parking lot, got in our car and drove to the bridge which was a good idea because we found out that we could actually drive on this little bridge which was way more fun than just walking on it.

(Read more about our visit to Georgia coming soon.)

    Stop 2

Lucas, Kentucky

Barren River Lake State Resort Park Campground
(Read more about this campground in our campground guide coming soon!)

The second stop of our road trip brought us to Barren River Lake State Resort Park.  It was 45 minutes from Mammoth Cave National Park which is a little further away than we wanted to be but sometimes we will camp further from our destination if the campground will be worth it. But this park was a little disappointing.

We thought we would find a couple of nice trails to hike here but never found the entrance to any of them. We heard from a park ranger that they closed the trail by the beach so that was the reason we couldn't find that one and another trail we thought we might hike would take us an hour just to get to as there was no parking near the entrance of it so we passed on that one. We did find the beach and saw lots of deer and rabbits as we drove around the park, though, so we decided to be happy with that and we were!

If you ever decide to visit Mammoth Cave NP, call a couple of days in advance of your visit so that you don't get locked out of the tour you want to take. I wanted to do the Mammoth Passage tour which is described as being "ideal for those who do not like tight spaces" but it was fully booked so we ended up reserving the Gothic Avenue tour which, according to the description of it, seemed a little more claustrophobic than I really wanted. I spent the night and morning before the tour stressing out about going into the cave. 

We ended up really enjoying this tour and the excellent tour guide and I only had one small panic attack inside the cave. It happened when the tour guide blew out the candle he was holding and we were left in complete darkness for what I thought was an eternity. I learned that 30 seconds can feel very long in certain circumstances.

(Read more about Mammoth Cave NP and the surrounding area coming soon.)

Stop 3

St. Louis, Missouri

Draft Kings at Casino Queen RV Park 
(Read more about this campground coming soon.)

At stop 3 we visited the second national park on our list, Gateway Arch NP in Missouri. Draft Kings at Casino Queen RV Park was actually in Illinois so we had a chance, at this stop, to be in two states that we have never been in before. 

We had an amazing view from our campground, across the Mississippi River, of the St. Louis skyline and Arch . We especially enjoyed the evening view.

One of the highlights of our visit to St. Louis, besides the Gateway Arch, was spending time in Forest Park. This 1,300 acre park was one of the nicest parks we have ever been too. A must-see in this park is definitely the St. Louis Zoo but if you go, give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy the rest of the park.

(Read more about St. Louis in a blog post coming soon.

Stop 4

Anderson, Indiana

Mounds State Park Campground
(Read more about this campground in a post coming soon.)

This stop was what we call a stopover rather than a real stop. When we can't make it to our destination from our previous destination in a reasonable amount of time, we make an in-between stop which we call a stopover. We spend 1 to 2 days at stopovers compared to 3-4 days at destinations. This stopover was 2 days. 

We never have any expectations of finding something amazing to do at these stops and pretty much just use the stopover to visit a laundromat, go grocery shopping and to just relax. But more times than not we are disappointed that we don't have more time to spend in these cities and at these campgrounds. That was how we felt at this stop. 

What we didn't know about this area, before we got here, was that the Ball brothers manufactured their glass jars here. We had a great time learning all about them at their museum, Minnetrista. But what made this stop even more unexpectedly exciting for us was finding Harrah's Hoosier Park Racing & Casino tucked away in the middle of a cornfield just 10 minutes from Mounds State Park! 

(Read more about Minnetrista and other things we found in this area coming soon)\

Stop 5

Ravenna, Ohio

West Branch State Park Campground
(Read more about this campground coming here soon.)

This stop is where we would find the third park on our list, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We stayed at a campground conveniently located only 31 minutes away from Cuyahoga Valley. 

West Branch State Park Campground is a perfect place to consider staying if you have a couple of kids, or you are camping with a group. There was plenty of outdoor activities for families to enjoy together and even had it's own little beach.

We also picked West Branch SP to stay at for it's proximity to Kent State University. Soko regretted not checking out the campus when we were near here a few years ago. Unfortunately, the memorial for the Kent State shooting victims was closed due to the pandemic but fortunately we happened to be in the area on a Sunday and was able to attend Catholic mass on campus at the Newman Center Parish.

(Read about Cuyahoga Valley NP and the surrounding area in a post coming soon.)

Stop 6

Bentonville, Virginia

Shenandoah River State Park
(Read more about this campground coming soon.)

We are too old to even consider rustic camping so camping in most national parks is not an option for us but is always the first place we look when looking for a campground. Fortunately, many times we can find campgrounds with the amenities we need just outside the park.  And if the campground is located in a state park it will have some pretty nice trails of it's own to hike. 

Shenandoah River State Park Campground was only minutes away from Shenandoah National Park, park number four, and had everything we needed - water, electric and hot showers. It also had a nice trail that ran along side the Shenandoah River.

There was really nothing to do in Bentonville, Virginia besides the national and state park but between the two parks there were lots of hiking to keep us busy. The trails we picked to hike were all labeled "easy" but besides for the Fox Hollow Trail they were more than challenging enough to give us a good work out. 

The sound of the stream that paralleled the White Oak trail added to our enjoyment of this hike. We really should have taken our hiking shoes off and enjoyed splashing in the stream or better yet, had our bathing suits on. We will just have to go back one day to try it.

(Read more about Shenandoah national and state parks in a post coming soon.)

Stop 7

Columbia, South Carolina


Sesquicentennial State Park Campground
(Read more about this campground here coming soon)

The fifth and last park we visited on this road trip was Congaree National Park. It turned out to be a small park with only one very easy wooden deck trail. There was a short loop off of this trail for those who wanted a bit more challenging hike or a few more steps added to their walk. We stayed on the deck and referenced a brochure we obtained at the Visitor's Center as we went on the self guided tour. We learned about the environment, vegetation, history and other interesting things about this forest at each numbered marker.

We took advantage of Smithsonian Museum Day a couple of years ago and discovered Bok Tower. We have been annual pass holders ever since. This year my daughter, Lisa, knew that we would be in Columbia, SC on museum day and found a participating museum for us not far from our campground. Our free tickets to the Lexington County Museum got us a guided tour of most of the thirty historic structures that were located on the 6 1/2 acres here. The tour guide made our visit fun and educational as we explored and learned about these buildings and the history of Lexington County.

(Read more about Congaree N.P., Lexington County Museum and more in a blog post coming soon.)

Stop 8 

St. Augustine, Florida

Anastasia State Park Campground
(Read more about this campground coming soon.)

St. Augustine was a stopover and the last, but not least, stop of our vacation. We were glad to have a little relaxing beach time to end a fantastic road trip. We definitely took advantage of Anastasia State Park's pristine beach. It was a perfect way to end our 5 National Park Road Trip!

(Read more about St. Augustine in a blog post coming soon.)

We will fill you in on all of the other things to do at each stop of this trip in new blog posts coming in the near future. Please look for the links on our Facebook page!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Things To Do On Your Vegas Vacation Besides Gambling

I have been on vacation in Las Vegas so many times that I have lost count.  Why do I keep going back you ask? It is so much fun! Even for people who don't like slot machines and card games. I do like to play but don't really get to play as much as I think I will because there are so many other things to do and see.

I just got back from a trip with my daughter, Lisa. She gladly accepted the gift of a Vegas trip to celebrate her birthday. She also loves Las Vegas and she is not much of a gambler at all.

Even though both of us have been here many times, we always find new things to do and see and new places to eat.  This visit was no exception. 

What we saw and did:

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay

We always hope to find ocean life that we have never seen before when we are visiting an aquarium for the first time. Shark Reef Aquarium didn't disappoint in that way. We got a kick out of the fish with their mouths wide open. How were they not getting a mouth full of water? 

Besides for fish, there was a shark tank to walk through which gave us a view of the sharks from every angle. There was also the biggest Komodo dragon we have ever seen in our lives. Who knew they could get to that size. 

The aquarium was very convenient to get to because it is located in Mandalay Bay which is right on The Strip. It is definitely something to do with the kids if you brought them along. But the aquarium is very small and we were done in about 20 minutes so we were glad we had free tickets and didn't pay the $29.00 ($24.00 for kids aged 5-12) admission for the timed ticket we had. An anytime ticket costs $36.00 ($31.00).

Follow this link to our blog post, Free Things To Do In Las Vegas, to find out how you can get your free tickets.

The Neon Museum

This unique museum houses over 200 restored Vegas neon signs with the Green Shack being the oldest and dating back to the 1930's.

Green Shack was a restaurant located downtown that was famous for their fried chicken.

You can visit the museum during the day and do a self-guided tour or wait until evening when the signs are lit up and follow a tour guide through the glowing maze of neon. With the guided tour, you not only get to see the signs in all their glory but you also learn about the history of them and of Las Vegas itself.  

This sign acquired from the Moulin Rouge hotel was designed by Betty Willis, the same person who designed the iconic Welcome To Las Vegas sign.  The history of this hotel was so interesting. We learned of it being the first racially integrated casino. Sadly, it went bankrupt within 6 months but not before the biggest names like Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong and many other incredible and well-known greats performed here.

Look here to find admission prices.

Note: We mistakenly took public transportation to get to the museum. The bus left us off in a frightfully, desolate part of town except for a few people who looked under the weather, to put it mildly. I was ready to get back on the bus until Lisa pointed to the museum sign just a block away and begged me to just walk there quickly. Really consider taking a Lyft or Uber here if you are going at night. Needless to say, we took one back to our hotel!!

David Copperfield at MGM Grand  

David Copperfield's was one show Lisa was dying to see and luckily was at one of the few venues that would be open while we were in Vegas.

The show was fantastic and what we probably expected. I don't think any magician uses larger props than David Copperfield does. Did you happen to see his TV special when he made the Statue of Liberty disappear? 

I don't want to give anything away in case anyone reading wants to go in the future. I would suggest, though, when you are looking to buy tickets, that you look for the type of tables that are in Row G and a couple of others. They are rectangular tables that seat four and everyone faces the stage. Me and Lisa sat in Row H at a very tiny round table. We had the seats at the front of the table and we turned our seats to face the stage but we were cramped up against the short wall in front of us. The two people who sat with us at our table were disappointed with their seats also. 

We can't complain too much, though, because some of the magic was performed in the center of the floor, so right in front of us.

Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage

We got here around 4:15 just in time to view a training session. Dolphins are very smart and talented creatures and it's always a lot of fun to watch them performing. If we happened to arrive after the training session, we would have been disappointed because there wasn't much else to see.

The handful of lions, tigers and leopards in the Secret Garden were so hot that most of them were napping.

We were happy that this attraction was also free for us from the same place we got the Shark Reef Aquarium tickets.

Tournament of Kings at Excalibur

Going to a medieval times show has been on my bucket list for awhile so I was happy that we could work this show perfectly into our itinerary.  Since we had to have dinner somewhere before we had to go to the airport for our trip back to NC, we thought it would be a great idea to go to the Tournament of Kings and see one more show while we ate before we had to leave Vegas.

Tickets start at $61.00 which is not bad if you consider you are getting dinner but bring some plasticware if eating with your fingers is not something you like to do. We ate our Cornish hen, roasted potatoes, corn, roll and apple pastry with our fingers and it was delicious!

The show was interactive and so much fun. If you have a couple of kids with you and are looking for entertainment the whole family will enjoy, this is that place. There were sudden loud noises at times during the performance so I wouldn't recommend bringing toddlers. I'll never forget, when my son was about 4 years old, we did the pirate show at Disney . He was not happy and very upset with all the cannons going off. We could not get out of there quick enough!

Where and what we ate:

Gordon Ramsey burger at Planet Hollywood

We started off sharing an appetizer at Gordon Ramsay burger, Beer Batter Onion Rings that were  sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Both the chipole ketchup and cheddar ranch dip were so good but we dipped mostly into the cheddar ranch. 

Lisa had the Crispy Cherry Pepper Chicken which was a fried chicken patty topped with crispy chicken skin, avocado, lettuce, marinated tomatoes and cherry pepper spread. I had the Ultimate Cheeseburger that was topped with three cheeses, aged provolone, dubliner and boursin.

We shared a side of Truffle Parmesan fries that came with truffle aioli and their house ketchup to dip them in. We can't stop dreaming about having these again!

The food here was so rich and decadent but not dripping with butter or oil, but it was very filling. We decided that the next time we get back to Vegas we will definitely eat here again but share a sandwich. We ordered way too much this time and had to ask for a doggie bag.

                                Hash House A Go Go at Plaza Hotel & Casino Downtown

I have eaten here before but Lisa hadn't so since we wanted to play bingo at the Plaza, we thought it would be a great idea to eat brunch here. I really wanted one of us to get Andy's Famous Fried Chicken And Waffles so Lisa could see it (it's a massive stack of waffles that is a least a foot tall) but we were still stuffed from eating at Gordan Ramsey's the night before.

Instead we had their delicious hashes.  I had the veggie with mushroom, artichoke hearts, sundried tomato and spinach and Lisa had the chorizo, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and fresh tomato hash. They both came with crispy potatoes, 2 eggs made to order and fruit. A tortilla rounded out Lisa's dish and I had one of the best biscuits I've ever had with a fruity dip that was the best part of the meal. I ate all of that but had to leave half of the hash. We were still trying to digest all the food from the night before.

Downtown Container Park

I have been here before but I wanted to bring Lisa to show her this outdoor mall with it's interesting art pieces made out of recycled materials and the shops and restaurants made out of shipping containers.

But what I really wanted to do here was to take Lisa to eat some really delicious Mexican food at Pinches Tacos, one of the many eateries at the park. My favorite dish here, and what I ordered along with two other tacos, is the Gringo which is a shredded beef taco in a hard shell with all the toppings. Lisa had chicken taquitos which she shared with me. I think I have a second favorite now.


Vagabond at Excalibur

We had a reward coupon for BOGO Nashville Hot Chicken sandwiches, again from the same place we got the free entertainment. The chicken was cooked perfectly. The texture and crispiness of the coating and the moistness of the chicken was so amazing that I ate half of it even though it was way too hot for me. The chicken was topped with pickle slices and coleslaw which helped tone down the heat a bit but I finally had to trade a half of sandwich with Lisa for half of her fries. 

The $16.50 we spent after our BOGO coupon was a great deal for a great meal!

Excalibur's Brunch Buffet

Most of the Vegas buffets haven't opened since they closed because of COVID and none were open for dinner. Excalibur and MGM's were open for brunch and we had BOGO coupons for them. We actually had brunch all 5 days we were in Vegas so that we were able to skip lunch. It worked out fantastic for us.

Excalibur's buffet was very good. Lisa liked the choices she had at the omelet station and loved the chicken and apple sausage. I liked the Mexican section where I made a delicious masa egg breakfast burrito. But we both really loved the crepe station. I had a strawberry and whipped cream filled one the first day and apple filled the next. I was so surprised that I liked the apple one even more than the strawberry which is usually my choice when I have crepes.

If you have a choice of eating at Excalibur or MGM, we would highly recommend choosing Excalibur's.

Me and Lisa had a wonderful time in Las Vegas. We had so much fun on our first mother/daughter vacation. We can't wait to go back. After the spouses heard about the great time we had, I think our next trip will have to be a mother/daughter/father/son-in-law vacation!

Monday, April 12, 2021

10 Items You Should Have On Your RV Camping List

We have basically been working with the same camping list ever since our first camping trip, over 30 years ago.  And because we have our list, we have never forgotten to pack our camp chairs which we definitely need because we know we will want something comfortable to sit in while we enjoy our evening campfire.  We also haven't forgotten the matches or lighter we would need to get the fire started.  

In those days we were a family of five and camped in a tent,  Today we are a retired couple camping in an RV.  We still need most of the things on our original camping list but since we got our trailer and have started camping more than we ever did, we have found things that make outdoor life more convenient,comfortable and safer and have added them to our list.  We can't imagine not having them with us when we are camping and can't believe how we never missed them in the past.

This is our list of items we think you, also, should have with you on your next camping trip.

1.  Outdoor Cooking Station - Instead of putting our stove on the end of the picnic table, we now have a table that makes cooking so much easier.  The station is higher than a picnic table and there are side tables on either end of the section we put the stove on that we can use to put our cooking utensils, food and more on.  I love the holder on the end of one of the side tables that keeps our paper towels within reach and also keeps them from rolling off the picnic table where we used to keep them.  There's also a spot we use to put the tub we use for dirty dishes and room for everything else we want to keep handy for cooking and eating.  The station folds up to a slim 5 inches which makes it very portable and easy to store in our shed when we are not camping.

2.  Solar Walkway Lights - When we camped years ago, we made sure to bring a string of lights to hang outside of our tent so that we could see it, and the zippered door to get into it, when it got dark out.  We also made sure the kids all had their own flashlights and we had our flashlights and a lantern.  Camping with our trailer makes what we need for lighting a little different.  We no longer need the string of lights as we have lighting that runs across the top of one side of trailer.  We don't normally use our lantern because we spend the evenings inside the trailer but we do still need our flashlights for bathroom and shower trips after dark.  As we get older we are finding that it is getting harder for us to see in the dark so we have added solar walkway lights to our camping list.  They work great to show us exactly where our site is when we are walking back from the bathroom and we use them to light up bumps and ditches around the site that are hard to see in the dark.  We have two lights and that is working for us right now but will add more if we seem to need them.

3.  Portable Space Heater - We thought that if we camped in southern part of the US in the month of February we wouldn't have to worry about it being too cold especially in the trailer.  Well, we found out that it can get very cold in the middle of winter in some of the southern states.  There were days when it was so cold both day and night that we didn't give our little heater a break.  Thank goodness for the portable heater.  If we would have had to use our trailer heater I don't know how much propane we would have gone through.  P.S.  I love the safety feature that turns the heater off if it is accidentally knocked over.

4.  Charcoal Chimney Starter - Neither me or Soko knew anything about this handy item until we went camping recently with friends who had one.  If you, like us, have never seen one of these, the way they work is, you put paper, which you will light a match to, in the bottom section of the cylinder and put charcoals in the top section.  In about 10 minutes you have coals ready to go.  What we really love about the charcoal starter is that we have essentially replaced lighter fluid with paper.  Besides for saving on the cost of lighter fluid, it relieves the stress I have with carting lighter fluid around.  My son gave us some of his newspaper to use as a fire starter.  A friend suggested using the paper in our paper shredder which sounds like a great idea.  We'll try it next time.

5.  Trash Bag Holder - One of the happiest moments of our camping trips for me is when I see that our campsite has a lantern holder.  It lets me know that I have a place to hang our garbage and I don't have to search for a tree branch or take the time to try to figure out how fasten it to the end of the picnic table or somewhere else where it might stay until we are ready to throw it into the garbage bin.  How did I never know there was this amazing garbage holder!  It is a perfect holder for any size garbage bag and we like it for the small plastic grocery bags we like to use to hold our garbage.  It not only gives you a place to hang your garbage bag, it also holds the bag open which makes it very easy to dispose of your garbage. 

6. Yeti Rambler Mug - This was a gift from son Mike and DIL Chrissy.  We didn't know how much we needed this mug until we got it, but I guess the kids knew.  Not only does it hold a perfect amount of coffee, if you use the top it comes with like I do, Soko doesn't, it keeps the coffee hot until the last drop.  Another reason I love this mug is that we also use it to have a cold drink in and we use it to eat anything we would use a bowl for like soup, stew, chili, etc.  Because this one mug is so versatile we don't have to bring extra bowls and cups and can fill our small cabinets with other things we need.

7. Packing Cubes - We don't have any closets or drawers for our clothes in our small trailer so we have experimented with different ways of traveling with our clothes.  We started out by bringing our suitcases and leaving them in the car but the suitcases took up too much room and made it hard to get to anything else we needed to leave in the car.  On our next road trip, we put them in hamper bags in the car which took up less space and worked a little better but really wanted a way to have our clothes in the RV with us.  The only space we really have for them in the trailer is on the one long and one short shelf.  But our clothes had to be more secure than just piled up on these shelves as we found out after one quick turn and one bump in the road.  So we tried the packing cubes.  We got a set of four each which makes it easy to sort and find the apparel we are looking for and our bags are different colors from each other which helps too.  We think have finally solved our clothing dilemma.

8. Insulated Lunch Bag - We plan a lot of activities into our road trip itinerary.  Making lunch in the morning and bringing it out with us saves us the time and trouble of finding a place to eat not to mention the time it takes to be seated and served.  Of course, eating the local cuisine is sometimes one of the activities of the day, then that is a different story.  But most days are filled with places to see or trails to hike.  In that case, having a prepared lunch is ideal for us.  We are either eating it in the car as we travel from one sight to the next or enjoying our picnic lunch outdoors before a hike.  We found out, however, that sometimes plans change and we end up eating lunch very late or not at all so we would be drinking warm soda or throwing food away.  Now that we have our insulated lunch bag with us on our trips, the wasted food and warm drinks are a thing of the past.

9.  Yeti Cooler (cat not included) - Yes.  We have always brought a cooler on camping trips so this is not a totally new item.  What is new about this cooler is that it saves us time and money on getting and buying ice.  The Yeti cooler is really expensive, though, and we would not have it had it not been gifted to us by our kids.  But we may have looked into buying a comparative cooler, without the high-priced name, for the convenience it gives us of less trips to the ice machine.


10. Portable Radio - Actually, this radio is not new at all.  It is really, really old.  It has been packed in with our camping supplies since our early camping days.  We didn't bring it on our first trip with our RV because the trailer was equipped with a radio.  Well we found out quickly that the radio in the trailer didn't work at most of the campgrounds we stayed in.  Luckily we didn't toss this little radio out and we packed it on our next road trip.  It picked up stations when our trailer radio couldn't.  It also makes sense to bring a portable radio when you are camping on a site that doesn't have electricity.  Why waste the propane needed to supply electricity for your trailer radio when you don't have to.

I am sure most of you reading this, especially if you go camping in an RV, have some of these items already.  And you probably have some that we don't have yet.  Please leave your camping must-have in a comment below.  We would love to know more about what you have on your camping lists!