Saturday, December 25, 2010

Back to St. George Island!

I don't always post trips to this campground since I go so often, but a few things were different about this trip.

It's winter here in north Florida, which means taking a big chance on the weather. I camped at St. George two weeks ago and there were only 4 other occupied campsites--strange to see it so empty! On this trip, the campground was more than half full. Surprising given the holiday (I was there from the 20th-23rd). There were a few families with kids but more without. I lucked out with the weather this time and one of my three days was wonderfully warm, in the 70's.

One of the new things on this trip was that I had found out on my last visit to this park that you can pay a fee and get the lock combination to the gate that blocks the road to the end of the island. I didn't bother with that on the last trip because it was cold and overcast every day and not great photography or walking-around weather. This time I decided to take a look.

It's a little over four miles from the gate to the end of the island. I was the only one on the road, and when I got to the end and the parking lot, I was the only one at the end of the island.

They only allow 20 people to drive down there at any one time, since that's all the parking lot will accommodate. Anyone can bike down there any time, just bypassing the gate.

There is a path that leads from the parking lot to the beach.

It was very quiet and desolate at the end, with a different feel than being the only person on the beach near the park. There were a lot of birds at the end, mostly white gulls. This very large darker gull flew by as I stood there.

I walked the beach to the end, which I had hoped would come to something resembling a picturesque point, but no such luck. It was more rounded, with a jagged shoreline. This is the view toward the end.

While I was there, three pelicans flew by and then headed away from me, watching the water for fish. I think that might be Dog Island in the background.

I stood there for a while just enjoying the total solitude. I'm sure at more popular camping times it gets busier at the end. This lone sandpiper was making its way down the shoreline.

And then I left. On the road back to the gate, I passed this great blue heron standing in the sand.

It decided to stretch, showing off one wing.

When I got back, I got my chair and Kindle from the campsite and took them to the beach near the campground to read a little and enjoy the nice weather. There was a guy fairly close by to my right with three fishing poles in the sand and a kayak. After a while I looked up from my reading to discover that he had launched his boat into the decidedly choppy surf and was struggling to paddle out.

The wind and waves pushed him in my direction; he turned around to paddle back to shore, arriving about five feet in front of me. I said "Gee, you could have just walked over..." He smiled and headed back to his fishing poles, dragging his kayak behind him...

At about 5:00 I took the camera along the path near my site to the bay side of the island, hoping to see an egret or heron. My timing was off for that, the tide was all the way in, leaving very little shoreline. A woman that I had met earlier at the campground was letting her dog have an off-leash run around. We chatted while the dog cavorted in the sand and surf. She was from New Jersey, in Week One of a four-month camping trip with her dog and cat. I suspect that at the end of the four months, some of the sand that Scruffy, the dog, was picking up in the beach that evening will still be in her camper. After a while a couple came down with their dog, which they let off-leash to play with Scruffy. They were from Ontario. We watched the dogs and talked. Time went by and the sun started to set. We talked some more and the sun got lower. I had only brought the large zoom lens with me, which is not appropriate for scenic photos, but I couldn't let this sunset go by without at least trying to get some of it.

And then the dogs were leashed again and we all headed back up the trail. I left the next morning so I didn't see them again.

There was another new element to this trip. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love my little Scamp camper. However, through a somewhat convoluted series of events, I now have a new camper. This one is a Coachmen Apex; it's 17', and therefore longer than the 13' Scamp. This was my second outing in it and I have to admit I am already spoiled by having a bathroom and refrigerator, as well as a few other conveniences. Here it is in the site:

Yes, I know, it's not nearly as cute as the Scamp. And the hitching process is far more complicated now to compensate for the increased weight of the thing over the Scamp (and now I am noticing a difference in gas mileage). One of the things I really like about it is the windows, which you don't see in the photo above since only the kitchen window is on that side. There is a very large back window, as well as one over the couch on the side (and another next to the bed, which is at the front of the camper).

A cool thing about these windows is that they are tinted. Unless there is a light on inside the camper or the windows are open, people outside the camper can't see into it, which is nice from a privacy standpoint.

And so that was this trip. I am not letting the new cold Florida winter weather keep me home this year and plan to camp as much as possible through spring--I just wait till the last minute to make the reservations, keeping an eye on the temperature forecasts. I'm hoping to get out again in early January.

Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, White Springs, FL

How's that for a catchy park name? Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

I had been to this park a year or two ago to paddle on the Suwannee River, but only as a daytrip, not as a camper. This is less than an hour from my home, and the campground gets rave reviews from campers, so I decided to try it. It deserves those reviews! Super place!

It's also a popular place to camp. I had to just guess at which of the few sites available would be good. I lucked out and guessed right. I was in site 5, which was just the type of site I like--it was deep and level with thick greenery on each side for privacy. Many of the sites are like this, while some have less greenery, and some are right out in the open with no greenery.

There is a lot to do and see at this park. I passed on the paddling this time, as I think their river access is very poor (it's a long way from where you unload your boat from your car to where you launch) and I am not that crazy about the Suwannee at this location anyway. I did, however, take the bike, for the riding is great here. There are three campground loops to pedal through, as well as getting on the park road to go to the various exhibits.

There is a bell tower with a carillon in it. This strikes the quarter-hour during the daytime, and four times a day it plays a few Stephen Foster tunes. It's loud, but not obtrusively so. This is the bell tower as seen from the road leading to it from the campground.

Those candy canes along the road have spirals of lights on them. During the month of December, the park is presenting a Festival of Lights. Their poster claims that there are 4 million lights strung throughout the park. In addition to the candy canes lining all the roads (but not in the campground), there are Christmas trees and assorted sleighs and so on with lights. I'm sure I will be back to this park in December, so I can see what this all looks like lit up.

There is a Stephen Foster Museum (free admission once you are in the park). It is in a rambling plantation-style house. This is the back of the museum.

I went in to look around. There are essentially two rooms. The one you come into has dioramas set into the walls that were created for Foster's songs. I took a few photos of them, with minimal success due to the glass and lighting...


The other room has several pianos, a mannequin dressed in period clothes, a desk and table, and a few other things, with varying amounts of information about them.

This is the painting that is on the wall:

On that desk in the corner of the room photo was the lyrics to Way Down Upon the Suwannee River in Foster's handwriting.

I rode from there to the bell tower and went in to look around. The spire reached into the sky.

There were some displays related to the carillon, another mannequin in period dress, and one or two more dioramas. This one was easier to photograph. These are quite large.

I had fun at my next stop, the craft cottages. These are little cottages, open at apparently different times of day and days of the week (they are staffed by volunteers), in which there are craft demonstrations (weaving, pottery-making, blacksmithing, rope-making for a few) and the products are sold.

At the head of this walkway is the main gift shop, which has an assortment of wares, including many of the crafts sold in the cottages. Of course, I made a few purchases there...

The next stop on my bike ride was the gazebo overlooking the river. I parked my bike at the top and took the walkway down to the gazebo.

From there I strolled down to the river. The water level was very, very low.

And then back to the campsite for some reading. This was a short trip that I squeezed in before Thanksgiving, so I only had the one full day there. Next time I will stay longer.

I highly recommend this park!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

St. George Island State Park (Again)

I have stopped posting most trips to this park since I go there so often and have described several of those trips already. But I took a few photos on this last visit that I wanted to add.

The park was nearly full this time but I was able to reserve site #17. I haven't been on this side of the campground since this time last year. The sites are generally smaller and less deep than on the other side, but a few of them are very nice. This is one of the nice ones.

I went down to the beach to watch the birds and look for dolphins in the water. The pelicans were very active. I took a series of photos of this one as it spotted something from high up and dove to get it:



This was the last in the series. Since I was looking through the viewfinder and focused only on the pelican that was diving, I did not notice the gull there, nor the other pelican already in the water until I got home and processed this.

Later on I walked on the beach. This beach does not have a lot of shells; mostly it's just sand. But there was this one small section that was loaded with little shells--all in one place. Here's how they looked with the foam of a wave washing over them.

I spent a lot of time on my bike; this is an ideal spot for riding since it's so flat. It's four miles from the campground to the park entrance, with the water on one side and huge white dunes on the other. Once out of the park, there is a bike trail that runs adjacent to the road on the water side. It's a great place to ride to look at the different house styles.

When I got back to the park after one long ride, I went back to the beach for a moment. I got to see the dolphins I had been waiting for--three of them were passing by, headed for the end of the island. The pelicans were still around. This diving one came out as a silhouette because of the sun's position.

I took a photo of my bike parked in the rack by the walkway to the beach before I rode back to the campground to fix dinner.

I am heading out to a new (to me) campground next week. There are several new ones on my list to try this season, but it's hard to not just keep coming back to St. George!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Pine Lake RV Park, Bishop, GA

This was the first stop on my fall camping trip! (Next two posts are also from this trip.) It was easy to find, and the woman at the desk was very friendly. I had a pull-through site, which was very convenient, since I did not unhitch the camper. I was only staying one night, so it made more sense to save time by just leaving it hooked up.

This campground was completely full. This was very puzzling since it's in a small town, but it's also very close to Athens, where there is a university. I also think there was some sort of hunting event going on in the area; perhaps that explained some of it. However, there was one odd thing I have never encountered before. First, the school bus pulled into the campground the afternoon I was there, and let off a few kids. Later, the woman in the RV next to me drove off and returned shortly with a little girl with a school-type back pack. So some of those campers must be permanent residents of the campground.

This is a really nice campground. It is very woodsy and natural. There are a lot of cute little touches here and there, like this mailbox on a tall post that was located next to my site:

There was a very large cleared dog-walking area.

There is also a pond (or could that be Pine Lake?) with a nice dock that juts out into it.

I spent some time before dinner sitting on a chair on that dock reading.

I wasn't here very long but I enjoyed it. It's quiet, there are no bright security lights shining into every site, and the bath house was clean and roomy.

And then I was back on the road to my destination...

Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, Hiawassee, GA

Wow! In a word (actually three): Best. Camping. Ever. I had found this campground back in September when I was camping nearby at Tallulah Gorge. I had made reservations last spring to stay at a campground near Hiawassee for my fall trip, but I had noted that over the summer, reviews for that campground (Enota Mountain Retreat; don't stay there) had been getting progressively more negative. I was concerned about my big fall trip, so, since I was so close at Tallulah, I drove out to Enota to check it out. And decided I did not want to spend 5 days there. What to do, when it was already September? I had seen the website for the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds campground on Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee back when I was looking for a place to camp and it wasn't too far, so I decided to check it out. And reserved my site while I was there (#84)!

When I got to my site, I was the only camper in this campground (they have two, this side closes November 1 and re-opens in April. The other side, not nearly as nice, in my opinion, is open year round). My site was surrounded by water on three sides, with the highway bridge and some lakeside houses to the left and just trees and water straight ahead and to the right. It was overcast when I got there--I took this picture a couple of days later when the rain had passed:

It rained hard that first night, which was actually very pleasant. The next morning I emerged from my camper and looked out at the lake. The sun was trying to peek through.

There was more drizzling on and off that day. In late afternoon it seemed to be moving on, so I went outside to read. A double rainbow showed up on the bridge side of my site. The top layer is hard to see in the image, but there are two.

The next day the sun came out and stayed for the rest of my time there. I went for a walk through the campground, which was still empty except for me.

Later on, an RV pulled into a site up the hill from me. Turned out to be Kathy and Conrad from St. Augustine. They were a lot of fun and we spent a fair amount of time chatting over the next few days. Eventually another RV set up down the road from them, and two more appeared at the other point that extends into the lake. I still had my point to myself, which was just wonderful (there were about 6 other sites on it that anyone could have taken).

I spent a lot of time reading by the lake. A line of yellow trees across the water lit up every day when the sun reached a certain angle in the sky, at about 4:30 or so.

I took a panoramic photo to try to show more of the view (it was spectacular). I tended to face this direction most of the time rather than looking at the highway and homes. In this image, the rest of the campground is to the right and up a slight rise. I took this standing next to the Scamp.

Kathy and Conrad had gone to Brasstown Bald (highest point in Georgia) and it sounded like something I'd like to see, so I drove over there the next day. When you reach the parking lot, you have a choice, if you wish to visit the observatory at the top of the bald, of either paying $3 to be driven to it, or hiking the very steep half-mile paved trail to it. I knew if I took the shuttle I would feel lazy, so I set off on the paved trail. It was .....steep. Very steep. My calf muscles are still yelling at me. (It was not a good day to be wearing Earth shoes, which drop your heels down, as does walking up a very steep incline.) It was similar to hiking up to Clingman's Dome in the Smokies, with the same phenomenon when it comes to fellow hikers. Those hiking up the trail are trudging (with the exception of young children) with a somewhat stricken, lost-all-hope look on their faces. In contrast, people coming down the trail are jaunty and ebullient, all "Hi!" and "How's it going?" and hail-fellow-well-met about the whole thing. I spent time, while resting on benches and rocks, chatting with two different couples who were also climbing. I made it to the top. I could pick out my yellow car in the parking lot below.

The views are very good from the observatory and I spent a lot of time walking around and taking photos.

And then it was time to walk back down. A shuttle was stopped and I jokingly offered the driver $1.50 to just take me one way (too late, the worst was already over). This is the path smart people took to the top:

The next day was my last so I spent it at the campground, except for a quick drive into town for ice and to put gas in the car. While I was sitting outside reading, I happened to glance up into the sky and saw this:

Cool! Hang gliders! There were seven of them and I watched them through binoculars for a long time while they swooped back and forth above the mountain ridges.

There was one resident great blue heron on the lake who I heard squawking now and then. One morning he was on the beach right outside my camper door. There were some ducks on the lake (mallards?) and I saw a few grebes swim by my site. And several times a day Canada geese flew back and forth. I love Canada geese. So of course when they landed and stood at the water's edge near my campsite, I had to take their picture!

I talked to one of the security guys there before I left. It seems that many campers settle into this campground for months at a time starting when they open in April. I suspect that this trip was one of those wonderful flukes that you can't reproduce. If anyone else had been camped on the point with me, it would have changed my experience, since I wouldn't have the perfect peace and privacy that I had this time. Other sites are not as close to the water, but they are much farther apart and the sites are staggered so no one is looking into their neighbor's windows. I'd like to return to this campground in the spring but I doubt I will reserve this site; there's no way I could be lucky enough to have the whole point to myself (and I could always move to it if nobody is there). Maybe next year right before they close I can try for it again. If you can get to this campground during their season, I highly recommend it!

Scenic Mountain RV Resort, Milledgeville, GA

Here's the deal. Next time I say I am staying at an RV "resort," somebody stop me. This may be the worst one. First, their website directions are wrong; they have you turning and driving into a decidedly bad area of the town. Luckily, the Scamp is so compact that I can pull into the smallest of parking lots to turn around. I stopped, locked my doors, and called them to find out where I was really supposed to turn. The female who answered sounded like a 6-year-old, and gave me directions as if I were a local and knew all the landmarks. When I finally arrived, I discovered that she had to be all of 15. Great. I was given a site in what was basically a grassy parking lot.

No picnic tables anywhere, and there was a very foul odor. I thought they might have a septic tank problem since it seemed to be emanating from that area of my site. However, it might be from some nearby paper mill. It was in the air the whole time I was there.

Although they make a point about their spacious sites on their web page, I was close enough to the RV next to me to hear their side of phone conversations, their own conversations, and their TV. If they hadn't had their blinds drawn, I could certainly have seen what they were having for dinner as well.

I can't possibly recommend this campground and will not be staying here again! But by this time in my trip I was eager to get home, so this was a pretty minor blip. I didn't bother unhooking the camper and was out of there the next morning and home by mid-afternoon.