We started off the month of February in Brunswick, Georgia; drove south to Florida, spending a day in Jacksonville then a few days at Wakulla Springs State Park; headed west to Summerdale, Alabama; a short stay in Abita Springs, Louisiana; and finally west again to Livingston, Texas where we ended the month. Now to fill in the blanks…
What better way to kick off the month by having breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Lucille’s sister Yvette and husband Pat had spent that first weekend camping nearby – we joined them for breakfast before they hit the road to go back home.
Our Habitat for Humanity RV Care-A-Vanner crew increased by several couples – Byron and Mill from Connecticut; Jim and Marianne from Illinois; and finally Keith and Carol (oops – forgot where they were from.) We didn’t get to work with Keith and Carol – they came in just after our last workday, but we enjoyed working with Byron, Mill, Jim and Marianne. If anyone ever gets a chance to work with Mill – she is one heckuva worker. She and Lucille were kept hopping -- cutting OSB, hauling it to one side of the house or the other, then hoisting it up to the roof crew. Keep in mind that she is barely five feet tall but she was shoving those boards up like she was seven feet tall. Mill is a wonderful work buddy with a great sense of humor.
One beautiful Tuesday afternoon, we drove out to Jekyll Island and found eight geocaches, getting in about five miles of walking in the process. Geocaching is such a fun way to get in some exercise while going on a treasure hunt.
One special find was coming across the ruins of a pair of cannons, what remains of the Jekyll Island Battery on St. Andrew’s Beach, placed there for the Spanish-American War, sometime between 1898 and 1899. If ruins could talk! Imagine how many folks have walked that area, little realizing these ruins were mere yards from the beach but hidden among the trees there.
While parked at St. Andrew’s Beach, we saw a new exhibit on the last American slave ship, the Wanderer, that landed on Jekyll Island. Built in Long Island supposedly as a sleek sailing yacht, it was soon sold and retrofitted with tanks large enough to hold 15,000 gallons of water, enough water for two years at sea. The owners felt its speed would help it outrace any policing authorities curious about the ship’s contents. It sailed to the Congo, was converted into a slaver with crowded and inhumane accommodations for over 600 Africans. In 1858, the majority of those slaves who survived the crossing were put ashore at a plantation on Jekyll Island.
We made one final trip up to Richmond Hill to visit with Lucille’s folks, picking up sandwiches from Arby’s. It was an enjoyable visit -- we’ll see them again when we return to the area in November.
After almost a month helping out with Habitat, it was time to put away our hammers and work gloves and leave Brunswick. Jacksonville, Florida, was a short ride so we didn’t hurry leaving the fairgrounds. Along with the rest of the Care-A-Vanner gang, we enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Jekyll Island Hotel. We hit the road around 3 pm that Sunday, and were parked at a WalMart in Jacksonville just two hours later.
First thing that Monday morning, we drove over to North Florida Spring and Brake to have the wheel bearings repacked on the RV, a job that has to be done routinely. This was our fourth trip to North Florida Spring and Brake. We have been pleased with their service and their pricing so we try to schedule a trip there about every 18 months.
From there, we headed west to spend a few days with friends Art and Suzan, volunteers at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs Park. This is a day-use only park with RV sites set aside for the resident volunteers. Art and Suzan got permission from the manager for us to park alongside them in Volunteer Village. We got situated in a level part of their private campground but were too far away to tap into Art and Suzan’s power so our solar panels went to work for us while we were there.
A little history on this state park: Financier Edward Ball bought the property in 1934 and developed it as an attraction that focused on the preservation of wildlife and the surrounding habitat. The park is built around one of the world’s largest fresh water springs. The only watercraft allowed to be put in the waters within the park’s boundaries are those run by the park. Because the water was cloudy, the glass bottom boat tours weren’t running but the regular boat tours were. One of Art and Suzan’s perks is the boat tour for them and their guests, at no charge. Wotta deal! After we did a little hiking on some of the trails, we took one of the scheduled tours, led by guide Luke Smith. Luke himself is quite a character. His father and grandfather have been boat guides, as far back as working for Mr. Ball himself. Luke entertained us while he was educating us about the wildlife we were seeing. We saw lots of wading birds, turtles, some snakes, lots of alligators, including a mother with her babies on top and all around her. The grand finale was a bald eagle flying to a tree near the dock to which we returned. Luke, being Luke, tried to take credit for the bald eagle’s appearance.
We took another boat tour the following day, this time with Bob as a guide, equally as entertaining and educational. We even got in finding a geocache at Cherokee Sink, also part of the state park. The sink is a natural geologic formation called a sinkhole lake, formed by the slow erosion of limestone rock over thousands of years. Cherokee Sink was formed when the land above a rock cavity collapsed.
Wakulla Springs enchanted us so much that we picked up an application to work there early next year. We’ll know later this year if we’ve been accepted – if not then, sometime in the future.
After our short, but fun visit with Art and Suzan, we continued westwards, to the Escapees RV park in Summerdale, Alabama, where we stayed for the next five days. While in the area, we stocked up on supplies at Camping World, bought replacement hiking poles at a nearby Coleman Outdoor outlet, bought some small hand tools (still replacing stolen items), enjoyed the weekly ice cream social at the clubhouse, lunch at Lambert’s Café, home of the ‘throwed’ rolls (and brought home lots of leftovers – what huge portions they serve!)
Longtime friend Norlando came to visit on Valentine’s Day, bearing a huge decorated chocolate chip cookie. We kicked off our day together by having breakfast at the clubhouse, then drove to Oak Hollow Farm to check out the chili cook off. We got there a little too early but we helped support their fundraiser by buying some freshly baked goods to snack on, to tide us over till the cook off started. While we waited, we drove out to Bass Outdoor World – we didn’t buy anything but we sure did enjoy looking at the stuffed wildlife, the outdoorsy chandeliers, the beautiful wrought iron fireplace screen, and the neat stuff for sale there. Back to Oak Hollow Farm where we sampled enough chili to keep the antacid companies in business for a week. Some were good, some were okay, and some of the samples got tossed out right away.
Our next destination was a short stay at the Abita Springs RV Resort in Abita Springs, Louisiana. We belong to a membership campground association (RPI) that we haven’t fully utilized over the past several years. We’re going to try to stay at more RPI parks this year to see if the savings warrant continuing our membership. We no sooner got set up when Larry realized our Verizon Aircard had konked out – the external antenna port disappeared inside the Aircard and he couldn’t retrieve it. After talking to Verizon’s Customer Service, we were able to get a replacement card for $50. Luckily, the resort had free WIFI – we weren’t going to get the replacement card until we got to our next stop.
After recommendations from the local visitor center, we drove down Hwy 59 to Lake Pontchartrain and walked along the lake for about three miles round-trip. New Orleans is just across the lake but is not visible. It was the waters from this lake that caused so much flooding in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
After a quick and tasty lunch at the Rusty Pelican in Mandeville, we continued on to Madisonville where we visited the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum and Research Center. We saw models of four wooden boats (pirogue, Creole skiff, New Orleans Lugger, Biloxi Schooner) that were critical to the local way of life and evolving maritime economy in southeastern Louisiana and its bayous.
One of the exhibits is a full-sized replica of the first Civil War submarine, the Pioneer, secretly built in a New Orleans blacksmith shop and tested in Lake Pontchartrain. The sub, powered by two men pedaling and one pilot, was never used in war time.
The man financing the sub was H. L. Hunley, who would later use the knowledge gained on the Pioneer to build the CSS Hunley, used by the Confederate Navy during the Civil War and now on display in Charleston, South Carolina. The museum was very interesting and well worth the $5/person admission fee. (For more on the Hunley, scroll down about three-quarters of the way in our April 2006 travel update.)
Because both the traffic and weather were favorable, we made it to our next destination in a day – the Escapees home park in Livingston, Texas. During our week’s stay there, we enjoyed attending the weekly ice cream social; helped serve and enjoy a brats and sauerkraut lunch at the clubhouse one day; found both geocaches located at the park with one of them being the smallest we’ve ever found so far; met with one of our financial advisers who lives at the RV park; saw some familiar faces and made some new friends; did some routine and non-routine maintenance on our home-on-wheels (the hot water heater needed a couple of replacement parts), and of course, did the routine shopping, cleaning, laundry, and catching up on stuff.
The highlight of our stay there was getting a visit from Lucille’s cousin Ric, who flew down from his home in Marshall. Flew down, as in borrowing a friend’s two-seater plane and landing at Livingston’s municipal airport. Ric, whom we hadn’t seen in over twelve years, is an avid pilot in his free time. He owns a 1945 Warbird plane that he flies with the Commemorative Air Force for special events. He maintains the Cessna 150 he borrowed in exchange for flying it occasionally, a win-win for both him and the owner. It was so cool watching him land and especially cool catching up on all those years. He and Lucille’s youngest brother Ray often spent summers together when they were growing up. It was fun listening to stories he told about their adventures then.
One cool sunny day, we set out to find several geocaches in the Livingston area. Out of the eleven we had time for, we found nine of them. After finding the cache at Laurel hill Cemetery, we looked at several gravestones and their inscriptions. Most interesting were the graves of three members of the Smith family. Son Robert was found lying by the front gate of his family’s plantation home, riddled by bullets. Less than five months after the son died, his father, also named Robert, died. The inscription on the top of his stone reads “He never smiled again” and that he died “of grief and broken spirits.” The eeriest one is 17 year-old daughter Edith who died three years later – her inscription reads “died a victim to an experiment of surgery by Dr. Warren Stone Sr., of New Orleans…” They didn’t pull any punches with that inscription. Hmm….an experiment of surgery? Most of the caches we found were in Livingston State Park, still cleaning up downed trees from Hurricane Ike that blew through here last summer.
And so ends February. Coming up: meeting back up again with Karen and Galen in San Antonio; our NOMADS project in McCamey; El Paso; visiting friends in Tucson and family in Sun City, Arizona.