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Monday, March 30, 2020

Lake Charles, LA - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 2

We made so many wonderful memories on our FL to NM And Back road trip.  If we have enough time and energy, after we have met our goal of visiting every national park on the US mainland, we might want to do this trip again.  There are a few things we would pass on next time and some places we would plan to stay longer than we did this time.  One of those places we wished we had more time to explore was Lake Charles, LA.   

If we ever visit Lake Charles again, we will probably do it the same way, with our RV and camping in one of Louisiana's state parks.  We found Sam Houston Jones State Park by searching for a state park closest to I10 which was highway we were traveling on.  We were sold when we found out it was only 8 miles off the highway.  This was our second campground stop and we were hoping it would be as nice as our first stop but the campground was small and even though there were only 38 sites, it felt pretty cramped.  But each site had a picnic table and fire pit and enough room to cook up some burgers for dinner and sausages for our second night.

Please read our full report on Sam Houston Jones State Park in our brand new Guide To State Park Campgrounds coming very soon!

We didn't have any plans made, before we left on this road trip, for Louisiana.  This was just going to be a place for us to stop for two nights on our way to San Antonio.  During our 5 1/2 drive from Pensacola to Lake Charles, was when I looked to see if there was anything to do.  We were pleasantly surprised and very excited when we found out about the Creole Nature Trail which was very near the campground.  

So after breakfast the next morning we set off to explore the trail.  First we stopped at the tourist bureau to see if we could get some more information about the Creole Nature Trail.  The very helpful person at the information desk gave us a map and pointed out a few of the must see trails.  We found out, as soon as we entered this building, that the Mardi Gras was in full force.  For some reason, I thought New Orleans was the only city in Louisiana that celebrated.  I was wrong.  We didn't have any time this trip to check out any of the Mardi Gras festivities in Lake Charles so if we ever do have a chance to get back to this area we will plan it for February so that we can join in the all the festivities we missed this time.

The second stop we made, before we hit the trail, was Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point.  This attraction was at the start of the trail so it was easy enough to stop in here.   The very friendly host and hostess at the information desk answered all our questions about Mardi Gras, boudin and king cake.  After all this great info, we took a look at the displays and learned more about the culture of Louisiana and about the wildlife we could find in this area.  We were happy we stopped in. 

We needed to make one more stop, for lunch, before we hit the trail.  We packed a lunch before we left the campground and we were glad we did.  We saw on our map of the trail, Intracoastal Park.  Here we found a picnic table and had a relaxing lunch while watching all the activity on the Intracoastal Waterway. 

During our picnic lunch we pulled out our map of the Creole Nature Trail and decided what trails we wanted to hike and what else we wanted to see and do.  After lunch we got back into the car and headed to the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.  With the bird identifying brochure, in hand, that we picked up at the Visitors Bureau, we hiked the Blue Goose Walking Trail.  We saw a couple of birds, but since we didn't have binoculars, we couldn't compare any of them to the brochure we had.  It was a nice, leisurely walk, though, down to the water and back.

We read that the best trail to spot alligators on was the 1 1/2 mile Wetland Walkway trail so that was where we headed next.  I wanted to see an alligator as much as I didn't want to see one I think.  I jumped at every sound I heard or movement I saw.  Halfway around the trail, we started to ask people, we passed, if they got a glimpse of one and no one did.  We were thinking that we would not see one until we noticed a couple looking intently at what we thought was a log but they were sure it was an alligator.

Our next stop on the trail was Holly Beach to get a close up view of the Gulf of Mexico.

After spending some time at the beach looking for shells, we decided it was time to get back to the campground so we headed off to find the Cameron Ferry that would take us a short distance over the Intracoastal Waterway.  We had front row seats on our ride to the other side of the trail.

We toured this side of the Creole Nature Trail without getting out of the car.  There wasn't as many trails on this side but enough that we would love to come back and explore this side one day.

Before we went back to the campground, we made a pit stop at a Market Basket supermarket where the nice people at Adventure Point told us we would find boudin.  Boudin (pronounced boodan) is made with cooked rice, pork, onions, green peppers and seasonings which is stuffed into sausage casings.  It is a staple food of Louisiana, especially around the Lake Charles area.  We wanted to try boudin balls which is boudin taken out of the casing, rolled into a ball shape then breaded and fried.  I was very excited to find that they also had king cake, which is a cake that's eaten throughout Mardi Gras season which lasts from Epiphany Eve to Fat Tuesday.

While I was researching things to do in Lake Charles, I found that there were three casinos that were only 20-25 minutes from our campground!  So after dinner and our delicious snack we went out to try our luck at the Isle of Capri Casino.  Me and Soko both came out winners!  I think it was because we walked in through these doors!!

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Monday, March 16, 2020

5 Safety Tips For Senior RV Campers

This is a paid post.  All opinions are my own.

We have been camping for more than 30 years and things have changed a lot for us since we first started camping.  First of all, we are camping in an RV now instead of a tent and, secondly, we are a lot older!   The RV makes it easier for us to continue camping and makes a huge difference in keeping us safer when we are camping.  No more walking around the campground in the middle of the night looking for the bathroom, a little more protection from wildlife looking for food and a door that locks.

Although, we can still enjoy camping, hiking and everything in-between, there are some things we have to be more cautious about and things we just don't take for granted anymore.  Below is a list of things we think about now that we didn't have to worry about when we were younger.

1)  Never go hiking without a walking stick.  We never had these sticks or poles in the past but about 3 years ago we hiked through the Great Smoky Mountains NP and I finally had to find a branch to walk with as we crossed streams on slippery rocks.  That Christmas, my sister bought us walking sticks.  Walking over certain terrains can be a challenge especially as we are getting older and losing some of our balance.

2)  Always be aware of your surroundings.   We have never felt unsafe in a campground.  We would let the kids wander away from the campsite as long as they let us know where they were going and they left in a group of 3-4 or more.   We always camped with 4-8 families and there was always lots of kids to pal around with.  We still feel safe but we are more cautious.
On our last road trip, we camped in one desolate campground.  There were only two host campsites that were occupied but they were parked way down the road.  One evening we went to take showers and there was a car, with someone inside, parked near the bathrooms and no one in the bathrooms that he might be waiting for.  We decided we would go back to the showers after the car left.  After an hour, it was still there.  We were concerned enough to not take a shower that night but not enough to alert anyone.  We just thought it might be better to be cautious.
At another campground, we had a ditch right in front of our campsite.  It made it difficult to get the RV into the site because of having to maneuver around it.  In the evening, we had to be very aware of the ditch because we couldn't see it well in the dark.

3)  Bring extra lighting.  As we get older, it gets harder to see, especially in the dark.  We do carry flashlights if we are walking around in the dark but sometimes the campgrounds are so dark that we can't see more than a couple of feet in front of us.  After we came back from our road trip where we had the ditch to worry about, I saw the need for better lighting around the trailer.  We have outside lights on our trailer but if we are approaching the RV from the opposite side of the lights, they don't help us much.
Now we have a set of Litom solar landscape lights.  I used them on a quick three day camping trip we just took with friends and they worked perfectly.  I had them out in the sun near my RV during the day and then placed them in front of the RV in the evening.  It was so easy to find our way back to the RV in the dark and it lit up the site enough that we were confident we would not trip on anything in our way.

4)  Make sure to give a trusted friend or family member a copy of your itinerary.  Cell phone service is very spotty in certain areas, or non-existent, so it is not something you can rely on to keep yourself safe.  Leave a detailed itinerary of your travels with someone and check in with them from time to time.  My kids like to follow us on Instagram or Facebook so we will post once a day on social media for them.  If we forget to post one day, they will contact us.

5)  Don't go hiking without water and your first-aid kit.   Pack up a small first-aid kit to throw into your backpack before you go out hiking.  It doesn't have to be a big survival kit that will be cumbersome and then unsafe for you to carry.  I bring a small kit that contains antiseptic wipes and ointment, band-aids of different sizes, ibuprofen and hand sanitizer to use before taking care of a wound.  There was a time when we could just wipe up a cut without worrying too much about it but as we get older our immune system is weakened and we have to be more careful of getting an infection.   And make sure to pack water.  Seniors are at more of a risk of dehydration as our bodies have less water than younger adults.

An RV road trip can be such a wonderful adventure.   We are still young and healthy enough to enjoy the great outdoors.  We just need to know our limitations.  We definitely do not hike on the strenuous trails and keep to the easy and the occasional moderate trails.

As long as we are aware of keeping ourselves a little safer than we did in the past, we will be able to go on these adventures for many years to come!

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Monday, March 2, 2020

RV Road Tripping From FL To NM And Back

We bought our trailer about a year and a half ago when we realized that if we wanted to fulfill one of our retirement goals of visiting every National Park on the US mainland, traveling with some type of RV was the easiest way to accomplish it.  We have years of camping experience, in a tent, so we are very comfortable with the amenities of a campground which are way different from the amenities of a hotel. We had never had the experience of traveling with a trailer before, though, so this was something we had to figure out before we made our first trip to visit the parks.  You can read all about what we learned on the travels we made, before we were confident enough to make this month-long trip, by clicking on the links I added to the end of this post.

We started planning this trip because I really wanted to visit Texas and especially San Antonio.  We found out that we could visit three National Parks if we traveled a few hours west of San Antonio and could visit one more park, Hot Springs National Park, in Arkansas on our way back.  We planned for being on the road, plus stopping for gas and the bathroom, from 6-8 hours each traveling day. Some stops would be made just because we couldn't get to a destination in one trip.  We wanted to camp at state parks because they are less expensive than private campgrounds and also have more to offer in the way of hiking trails and natural surroundings. After mapping out our route, finding state parks closest to the major highways and reserving campsites, we were ready to go!

We started out from our Central Florida home where we have our trailer stored in a secure space, in a fenced-in lot, we rent from our community.  We pay, for the year, what it would cost to keep it in public storage for a month. So we planned our camping trip, and all trips, to start here. And we did plan every one of the 9 stops of our trip, meaning we were obligated to show up at a certain place at a certain time on a certain day.  Many people, like the couple we met at our San Antonio stop, who were on a one to two year road trip, are traveling a lot more freely than we did and decide as they travel, where and when they would like to stop for awhile. If they can't make it to their destination in a day or if the campgrounds in the area are all booked up, they park themselves at Walmart, Pilot and Love's gas stations and many other places that allow overnight parking.  For our first extended road trip, we were more comfortable booking all our accommodations beforehand. We may get a little more relaxed in the future. Possibly for the cross-country trip we are hoping to do.

Stop 1
Pensacola, Florida

Blackwater River State Park
Milton, Florida
(Read more about this campground here.)

Originally we planned for our first stop to be Chipley, FL.  We were very excited to see that we would pass by Pensacola on our way from Chipley to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and we could, possibly, finally meet the adorable granddaughter of one of my best friends, Heidi.  After talking to Mallory, Amelia's mom, and finding out that they would definitely be able to meet us as we passed by, we decided that if we drove another 1 1/2 hours we could stay over in Milton, Florida which was only a few minutes from Mallory, Roy and Amelia.  This would give us more time to spend with all of them!

Some of the highlights of our vacation was being able to meet and catch up with people we don't get to see very often.  We have not seen Mallory and Roy since their wedding and never met Amelia, who's almost 5. But, thanks to Mallory and Facebook, we have watched her grow up and when we did finally meet her, we didn't feel like we were meeting her for the first time.  She is a pip, like her Ommie said she was, but she is the sweetest pip we ever met!

Stop 2
Lake Charles, Louisiana

Sam Houston Jones State Park
Lake Charles, Louisiana
(Read more about this campground here.)

This was a stop we needed to make because we couldn't get all the way to San Antonio from Pensacola in one day.  We camped only 2 nights (we thought about only doing 1 night but it would have made the trip too hectic) on these quick stopovers compared to 3 nights when we reached a destination we wanted to explore.  Well, after we found out how much there was to do in this area, we were sorry that we didn't have more time.

What we did get to do was the Creole Nature Trail, but we did a shortened version of what we would have done if we had more time.  There were lots of trails to walk along. We only had time to do two. One we chose was the Wetland Walkway Trail that had this warning sign posted at the start of it.  Needless to say, I jumped at every little sound I heard on this 1 1/2 mile trail.

(You can read more about Lake Charles, Louisiana in an upcoming post.)
(You can read more about Lake Charles, Louisiana here.)

Stop 3
San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio/Alamo KOA Holiday
San Antonio, Texas
(Read about this campground here,)

Texas had been on our bucket list for a long time before we finally got here.  Especially San Antonio because of the Alamo and River Walk we heard so much about.  

We booked this KOA because of the bus that stopped right outside the campground.  We thought it would be more convenient to take public transportation into the city rather than try to find parking.  It, also, gave Soko a break from driving for a couple of days and it did turn out to work out really well for us.

We booked as soon as sites became available to reserve and it was a good thing because the campground booked quickly, as all accommodations in this area did, because of the annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.  We hadn't planned to go to a rodeo but it sounded like this one was not to be missed so we bought tickets before we left for our road trip and we are so glad we did. We had a great time at our first rodeo!

(You can read more about San Antonio, Texas here.)

Stop 4
Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Village RVPark
Big Bend National Park, Texas
(Read more about this campground here.)

This is the first National Park that we get to check off our list of "parks to visit when we retire." I must say that we loved this park and it is now at the #1 spot on our list, knocking Grand Canyon National Park down to #2.

We hiked on five amazing trails and watched the sunset, along with many other campers, on the overlook of one of them.  Each trail had it's own unique terrain, were beautiful and absolutely breathtaking. We saw sights we have never seen before and the wildlife we saw for the first time in our lives, were an added treat.

If, after we see every National Park on the US mainland, we have the time and energy to do it again, this park will be on the top of our list.  Our thought as of today, anyway, because I know we haven't been to the top-rated parks yet. This opinion could change. We can't wait to see if it does!

Grapevine Hills Trail
(You can read more about Big Bend National Park, Texas here.)

Stop 5
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Brantley Lake State Park
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(Read more about this campground here.)

When we were planning our road trip we were excited that Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and the nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park, was a doable trip if we were going as far as San Antonio.  I was happy that Soko would be able to explore the caverns because I imagined that they would be very interesting.  I was not going to have anything to do with going into the caverns, however, because I have very bad claustrophobia. I couldn't imagine traveling miles under the ground by elevator without having a panic attack.  

The closer we got to the day we would making the trip to the caverns, the more I wanted to see them for myself.  I thought that maybe if we took the Natural Trail in I could turn around at any point and exit the caverns. That was the plan until we talked to the park ranger who told us that there would be a point in the Natural Trail that would get closed in and dark but our other option, the elevator ride, only took a little over a minute. He told us that the caverns, 750 feet under the ground, were lit and were big open spaces with high ceilings.  I might be able to do this I thought. I am so glad I did. I just convinced myself that I was at Disney World in an attraction Walt thought up and not underground. It really did look man-made so it was easy to keep myself calm this way!

(You can read more about Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico and Guadalupe Mountains National Park,Texas here.)

Stop 6
Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

Cedar Hill State Park
Cedar Hill, Texas
(Read more about this campground here.)

It was so fortunate for us to know people who live in this area.  Cristina, my sister's cute niece, who we have known all her life and Matt, her very friendly husband, were so helpful in giving us great ideas about what we could do, see and eat in Fort Worth.  We really appreciated getting suggestions from people who live or visited the places we were traveling to on this road trip.  Especially when it comes to places to eat.

We definitely knew we wanted to have authentic Texas barbeque while in Texas and the Lundy's were nice enough to join us at one of their favorite restaurants.  Heim Barbeque started out selling their delicious food from a truck and got so popular and busy that they had to open a restaurant, then eventually two restaurants.  

We met Cristina and Matt at the restaurant on Magnolia Street in Fort Worth.  The boys ordered the meats, sausage, brisket and pulled pork and me and Cristina ordered the brisket sandwich that came sliced or pulled and we chose pulled.  We had the Loaded Mac N' Cheese, Twice Baked Potato Salad and coleslaw as sides and shared Bacon Burnt Ends and Emma's Banana Pudding for dessert. I've been dreaming about having that banana pudding again ever since then!

(You can read more about Dallas/Fort Worth here.)

Stop 7
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Lake Catherine State Park
Hot Springs, Arkansas
(Read about this campground here.)

The picture I had in my head of Hot Springs National Park was not even close to what it actually looked like.  First of all, it was in the middle of the city, unlike any other National Park we had ever been too. And secondly, I thought we would see hot springs flowing all over the park but actually the park collects the water, 700,000 gallons a day, for use in the public drinking fountains and bathhouses.

This bathhouse, the Buckstaff, is the only one that has remained opened, since they started being built in 1877, when the others all closed down by 1985.  

(You can read more about Hot Springs, Arkansas here.)

Stop 8
Nashville, Tennessee 

Cedars of Lebanon State Park
Lebanon, Tennessee
(Read more about this campground here.)

The only real plans we had for our visit to Nashville was seeing the Grand Ole Opry and checking out Broadway, Nashville's honky-tonk strip.  So we asked local resident, and one of the nicest house guests we ever had stay in our home, what he thought we might want to see while we were in his neck of the woods.  Justin gave us a few suggestions and one was a favorite place of his dad's.

Marathon Village is made up of buildings once owned by Marathon Motor Works, and you can view old tools and machinery displayed in the halls.  Now they house work studios for a thriving creative community, spaces for events and is also filled with unique shops.

The shop we went to see was Antique Archaeology.  We love those guys from the show American Pickers and as we looked at their junk...I mean treasures, we could imagine how excited they were when they first saw this stuff in someone's shed or attic!  

(You can read more about Nashville, Tennessee here.)

Stop 9
Jackson, Georgia

High Falls State Park
Jackson, Georgia
(Read more about this campground in a post coming soon.)

Sadly we finally made it to our last stop, more than 3 1/2 weeks from when we started off.  We couldn't make it to Florida from Nashville in one trip so we found a park in between the two states.  We wound up here in Jackson, Georgia.  We thought it would be a good place to relax and didn't worry about trying to find something to do here but I did check because we wouldn't want to miss out on anything.  Good thing I did, because I found outlet shopping only 15 minutes away from the campground!

There is nothing like the feeling of freedom.  Jumping into the trailer and taking off for a month to explore America The Beautiful, made us feel truly carefree!  We are ready to pack our bags and do it again!!

You might like to read these posts before you hit the road!

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