Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?

From Mesa Verde, it was back to Texas. I’d been wanting to have the flooring replaced in the motorhome (it’s ten-year-old carpet and linoleum), and I figured a big, prosperous city like Dallas would be a good place to find someone to do the work.


We made better time getting to Texas than we expected, but found that most campgrounds were full. Finally, we found a campground in a rural area between Dallas and Fort Worth. The price was a bargain: $16 a night. The park itself was pretty rough, with only the barest vestiges of pavement and markings remaining on the sites. But the hook-ups worked fine, and beggars can’t be choosers.
The second day we were there, the owner’s wife, one of these skeletal 80-year-olds who tries to look 35 by trowelling on the makeup, came and knocked on the door to tell us our front door rug was over the line to the neighbor’s lot. She pointed to a patch of dirt with crumbled asphalt, one crumb of which was, on close inspection, painted white. “We did you a favor by letting you take this site, it’s a monthly site. Didn’t Marvin tell you that?” (No, Marvin didn’t.) Anyway, she didn’t make us move, which was good, because this is what was on the left side of our motorhome which made us park closer to the right border:

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The entire park was plastered with warning signs, like this:

These:

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Or my personal favorite:

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Damn government!

Anyway, we moved out after a few nights to a more expensive but much nicer campground, and the Bluebird of Happiness greeted us.

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The bluebird of happiness!

I called, messaged, and e-mailed numerous flooring places and RV places to try and get estimates. I found a consistent theme: RV places didn’t want to do flooring, and flooring places didn’t want to work on RVs. I finally found an RV place that would give me an estimate, but it turned out they were just wasting my time. They do their business billing insurance companies to repair damaged RVs, and their estimate (delivered 5 days late) for 230 square feet of flooring was a jaw-dropping $17,502! I finally found a man who would do the work at a fair price through word-of-mouth, but his first available slot was in December!

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In the meantime, we put the motorhome in storage and stayed at an AirBnB in McKinney pending our flight to Ireland. Now, I am normally an adherent of Jimmy Buffett’s advice: “If you ever get a chance to go to Dallas, don’t.” But McKinney is  an adorable little hipster burb with a walkable downtown, live music, shops and restaurants. We enjoyed our week there, walking or riding our bikes into town almost daily, except for the AirBnB. It turned out to be, let’s say, not exactly as specified. The listing described it as a “roomy one-bedroom suite,” but it was actually an enclosed porch with a rickety daybed. By the time we left for the airport, our poor backs were pretty rickety as well!

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“Roomy, one-bedroom suite”

We were definitely ready for something completely different…

 

Bolivar and Galveston

Down around the Gulf Coast we went, heading for Texas! After a one-night stay at the Cajun Corner campground, where we shared a hot tub with an obnoxious drunken Canadian woman and her entourage, we headed down to Bolivar.

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Leaving Cajun Country.

The Bolivar peninsula is a barrier island, not much more than a line of sand dunes, not far from Houston. It’s basically a single strip of road with beach homes and small businesses on either side. Bolivar’s beaches are open for cars to drive on (with a permit, purchasable at the bait shop; the government has to get its cut somehow!). The crowd on the beach varies from fishermen to surfers to families out for a picnic, and ranged from ebony-skinned to pallid folks like me, with the language overheard as likely to be Spanish as English.

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The Bolivar peninsula also appears to be one of the towns with the highest concentration of RVs of anywhere I’ve ever been! The peninsula is vulnerable to hurricanes, so all the houses built in the last 40 or 50 years are up on stilts. The area underneath the homes makes a perfect RV parking pad, and many homes have sewer and electric hookups at ground level included in their construction. Quite a few landowners have skipped the house part of the equation entirely, and they just have a sundeck on stilts with hookups underneath. (One local told me that lots of people couldn’t afford to insure a house, but they can afford to lose an RV in a hurricane). Some of them are single hookups for just the owner’s 5th-wheel or motorhome, but quite a few of them also have slots available for rent.
We had already reserved a space at an actual RV park, Paula’s Vineyard, with which we were delighted. It was gated and quiet and had excellent laundry facilities. Laundry facilities are one of the make-or-break items when you are traveling by motorhome, and good ones make the inevitable laundry day so much more pleasant. It also was home to this little cutie, a calico-point Siamese who trotted right up and made herself at home! We miss World Traveler Kitty Tapioca since she left for the sunny window in the sky last Fall, but we are planning to do more international travel soon, so we are not ready to take on another cat. We had a hard time convincing Dirt (that’s what they’d named her at the campground) of that!

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Dirt wanted to be our kitty!

Bolivar is connected to Galveston by a ferry, and we took our toad (towed car) across on Saturday night to look around and enjoy the nightlife.

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Galveston at Night.

We had a great Mexican dinner at Salsa’s on the beach and then enjoyed a local singer-songwriter performing at a little club called The Old Quarter, complete with an impromptu belly-dance performance by an audience member. 2017-03-25 23.51.03When we got back “home” to our snail shell, guess who was waiting for us on top of the front tire?

 

I was a little apprehensive about the trip across on the ferry in the motorhome the next day. As I’ve mentioned before, when you choose the snail’s life of full-time RV living, you put everything you can’t live without into a box hurtling through space. Putting that box on a big floating platform in the middle of the water was a whole new level of trust in the benevolence of the Universe!

But we made it across just fine, and then it was inland, to experience Texas proper!

Mississipi Gulf Coast and the Casino

No USA motorhome tour would be complete without at least one stop at a casino. Everywhere you go nowadays, casinos seem to be an attraction. I guess I’m showing my age when I say that I remember when you had to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City to gamble legally; it used to be that huge amounts of money changed hands off the record, in the form of bets, and I guess the government and its coddled spawn, the corporations, decided that they needed to get a cut, so now big hotel complexes with golf courses, RV parks, and overpriced gift shops dot the landscape, nationwide.

 

Biloxi, Mississipi was one of the first areas to jump on the casino trend, and the Hollywood Casino Hotel and RV park is one of the most-highly reviewed online, so we made our way across the Mobile Bay area, skirted New Orleans, and checked into a campsite with a fabulous view of the bayou out our bedroom window!

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View of the Bayou out our bedroom window.

The property was huge and even the non-golf-course portions were criss-crossed with asphalt trails which their maintenance staff used to get around in golf carts, so I got some great bike riding in. I had been looking forward to using their advertised hot tub and enjoying their poolside bar and grill, but when we got there we found that while the pool was accessible, the hot tub was not, and the services were not yet open for the season, despite the lovely Gulf Coast March weather.

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On the other side of the causeway

A day trip across the causeway to the beach town of Pass Christian brought us to more of the Gulf Coast’s famous sugar sand beaches, with restaurants and chic shops right across the way. The New Orleans influence was undeniable, both in the menus, and in other details. Recycling is popular everywhere right now, but where else do you find Mardis-Gras-bead recycling stations in the grocery stores?

We popped our inflatable beach loungers open and let them catch the breeze and enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the sun.

Lying on the beach on inflatable loungers
Pass Christian Mississipi has the famous Gulf of Mexico white sand beaches

Oh, and we did visit the casino a couple of times. I was looking forward to the musical clinkety-chink of quarters dropping into the slots and spilling out into the cup when you won. But alas, that’s apparently not how it’s done anymore. The woman at the counter shook her head as she sold me a plastic card. “No, no more quarters,” she lamented. “They evacuated us for Katrina, and when we came back after Katrina they told us it was all plastic cards now.” I put $100 on the card and began: I played the slots for a while, but they were all electronic push-buttons; I missed the tactile satisfaction of pulling down the handle. I couldn’t ignore the niggling awareness of how much easier it is to rig the system when an electronic card tracks your winnings and the machines are all wired into a network. I got $18.75 ahead, and quit.

 

The hotel did offer a huge, decadently lavish buffet. Steve ate his weight in crab claws and I made a pig of myself at the dessert table. Then it was time to pull up stakes and move on!

RV Quick Tip: Jewelry Storage

One thing I enjoy about getting older: my jewelry collection has grown over the years and I have lots of “sparklies” to wear. When I came back from Latin America, one thing I looked forward to was being able to wear my ornaments without worrying that they made me look like a wealthy gringa, an inviting target for grab-and-run petty thefts.

What I didn’t count on was the difficulty of keeping jewelry in an RV. The full-time RV lifestyle requires rigid discipline regarding what you keep because space is at a premium (as is weight, but that’s a topic for a different post). Steve and I almost had an argument over an empty jelly jar a couple of days ago. (Me: “What are you keeping this for?” Him: “I might use it.” Me: “What are you going to use it for?” Him: “Well, nothing in particular…” Me: “It’s garbage.” And out it went.)

 

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The problem: necklaces tangle hopelessly!

So, we share a single, 40-inch wide closet and one large bureau-style drawer. I gave up my jewelry armoire with regret and packed my jewelry in hanging backs with sew-on rows of clear plastic zippered pouches, which work really well for rings, bracelets, and earrings. Necklaces, not so much. I tried putting the chains through drinking straws, but that didn’t really do much to stop the tangling.

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Velcro tabs to hold necklaces apart

At Michael’s craft store with my darling daughter, I discovered this: it’s a craft organizer, I suppose, but it’s PERFECT for storing my jewelry in the RV. It took me almost an hour to untangle the necklaces, but look how pretty and organized it looked when I was done!  I hope it works as well as it looks like it will. I’ll keep you lady RVers posted.

Necklaces held in place with velcro tabs
Think they’ll stay untangled?

If you’d like some more tips and advice about ways to make the most of the limited storage space in an RV, let me know using the feedback form below! Thanks!

Pine Island, South Florida, and Matlacha

After leaving Saint Petersburg, our next destination was the KOA campground on the South Florida destination of Pine Island. I have to confess, though, Pine Island was not our original intended destination. We both had blissful memories of visiting Sanibel and Captiva islands in our separate youths, some 30 years ago. The strip of sand in the gulf was long stretches of dunes with sea oats on one side, and long stretches of mangrove thickets on the other, until you reached the resort at the end of the island. When we decided to try the RVing Snowbird stunt of wintering in Florida, that location was the first thing that crossed our minds! So I opened the Allstays app on my phone and discovered there is one RV campground on Sanibel. I contacted them, and the perky lady who answered the phone informed me that they were accepting applications for RV campsights — for Winter, 2017-2018! The cost of a monthly site was also more than the mortgage payment used to be on my 4,000-square-foot pool home! So, I began to call around to nearby RV campgrounds.

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Pine Island is absolutely INFESTED with ospreys!

We’d been making hops from place to place for over six months. Our longest stay in one RV campground turned out to be about two weeks. We were getting a little tire of the routine of packing everything up, moving, and setting back up again. We were ready to squat someplace idyllic for a couple of months. Since we were going to be setting up in our motorhome for two months, we really wanted a place with full hook-ups, so State Parks were out. It turns out that South Florida really does pack out in the wintertime.

 

Florida's population went up from 160,000 in 1864 to 17 million!
Florida just keeps growing!

Florida is growing, seemingly unstoppably! The population went on steadily during the 28 years I lived in the Sunshine State, sometimes fast, sometimes a little slower, but it always went in just one direction: up! I lived in North Florida, where we got what some would call a real Winter (it even snows there every decade or so!), so I wasn’t completely aware of the Snowbird phenomenon, though I’d heard my ex’s Central-Florida relatives talk about it with frustration. We finally found a campsite on the next island inside the barrier line formed by Sanibel and Captiva, known as Pine Island, and on January 2nd we rolled into the KOA Pine Island, Saint James City, Florida.

We were a bit disappointed by where they put us: it was a HUGE campground and we were almost at the end, all the way at the farthest point from the entrance. We were even more disappointed by the fact that the bathhouse/laundry room they put us next to was decommissioned, and then we were aggravated when workers began hammering and sawing on the bathhouse to renovate it every morning at 7:00 am! Our neighbor across the street, call him Don from Indiana, had a very loud voice, a very loud boombox, and a love for 70s rock music.  RV life can be wonderful at times, but sometimes it’s close-quarters living. When you’re so near your neighbors, their level of courtesy can make or break the experience. But we undertook the full-time RVing adventure with a determination to make the best of what we encountered, so we adjusted as best we could!
We took a drive out to Sanibel/Captiva and found bumper-to-bumper traffic on that Tuesday afternoon, starting in downtown Cape Coral and continuing all the way across the causeway. The causeway has been made into a linear beach park, and we were excited as we saw glimpses of what our memories told us we were about to find stretching for miles out on the islands.
No such luck. The islands are a string of non-stop bumper-to-bumper gawking tourists. The beach is screened from sight by rows and rows of million-dollar homes and condos, and the local bait shop has been replaced by chic strip centers full of jewelry stores selling 14-karat-gold dolphin pendants and sarongs. We managed to make a left turn across traffic and eat an indifferent basket of fried fish and hush puppies at an absolutely forgettable tourist joint (price: $22), and we were on our way back. We did go back another day and pay the $6 to get onto the causeway, where we enjoyed a picnic and I watched Steve fish.

Fishing off the Sanibel Causeway
Fishing off the Sanibel Causeway

I am, by the way, an excellent fishing supervisor. We found out that the shore fishing was best at the pier of the public park in nearby Matlacha (pronounced mat-la-shay).

Feet up on a camping stool, Kindle in my lap, seeing the sun on the ocean
It’s very exacting work being a fishing supervisor!

Matlacha also has a couple of nice, casual restaurants and some truly remarkable art galleries. It’s a nice day trip all on its own.

We got the KOA to move us to a closer-in campsite where the wi-fi was better (campground wi-fi is never great, but I need connectivity for my copy editing work). Before we did that, though, I solved the problem of being so far out by putting my Amazon Prime membership to good use and ordering a beach cruiser bicycle!

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BIke in the box

I had sold my old mountain bike when my wrists went bad and I couldn’t put weight on them anymore, but this bicycle allows me to sit upright with just my fingers on the handlebars. I started taking nice long bike rides up and down Pine Island’s single main road from Saint James on one end to Bokeelia on the other end. To my delight, the plantar fasciitis which has been such a recurring annoyance the last few months, began to improve with the cycling (whereas stretching, splints, orthotics, laser, ultrasound, drugs, and injections had proved less effective).  The breezy sunshine of South Florida makes it a pleasure, too. I feel like a kid again!

 

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Saint Petersburg by RV

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Steve and Peri smiling with fireworks and boat masts in the background
Fireworks from the Marina

My daughter lives in Saint Petersburg, so after spending Christmas with my son in Tallahassee, we pulled the slides in on the RV and we were off to the Madeira Beach KOA. Heading down the street towards the campground, we were sure we’d taken a wrong turn and we’d have to unhitch the toad and turn around. To our surprise, when we got to the end of the rutted street with its chain link fences and corrugated metal buildings, there was a perfectly delightful little campground at the end. The RV sites were packed really tightly together, but I’m getting to be an old hand at this and we managed to unhook and then pull into our site on the first try!

We had been warned that RV camping in Florida in the winter is crowded and not cheap. This was New Years’ weekend and I am here to tell you, the rumors are true! If you are looking for inexpensive RVing in Florida, you will have to try somewhere further inland. There was not a free site in the whole campground and the sites were barely big enough for our rigs. But the power worked, the wi-fi worked passably, and the campground was not too noisy given the number of children and families. The pool area looked really pleasant too, but we spent most of our brief visit with my daughter (she had a birthday while we were there), so we didn’t swim.

Saint Pete has a New Years’ Eve celebration which they call First Night. If you are traveling the country by RV, this might confuse you because a lot of towns up north have a First Night festival the night of January 1st. But it’s all good!  The tickets for First Night included a nifty little souvenir pin with a flashing LED: very festive!

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African Dancers at First Night in Saint Petersburg

The whole downtown area of Saint Petersburg, including parks, museums, and churches, is taken up by the First Night celebration.

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The view from the parking garage in downtown Saint Petersburg

When traveling by RV, having a toad (towed vehicle) makes it easier to explore urban downtowns. Since there is no public transportation access to the neighborhood, we drove in, and parking was not convenient or fun, as is typical in US cities. The garage was not well-marked, there was a long line to get in, and we circled the multi-floor garage for what seemed like forever before we found a spot.2016-12-31-20-21-18

But once we exited our cars, we joined a festive throng of merrymakers. It was nice to get out of the car and to be able to walk around in the streets.

Couple dancing at First Night in Saint Petersburg
Dancin’ in the Streets

There were parades, dance shows, jazz concerts, and street activities. We got tired of walking around not long before midnight and we snuck onto the pier of a private marina where we watched the fireworks from the dock. All in all, it was a splendid start to 2017!

Groovin’ on the Gulf: NOLA to Port Saint Joe by RV

Yes, it’s been a long time since I posted to this blog. When we turned our big Thor Hurricane RV south towards the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, I promised a post about our visit to NOLA. However, I did say that if the whole country lost its shinola after the election, all bets were off. While we didn’t have a military coup or a violent revolution, we did have rioting in the streets, and some scary talk about not allowing the results to stand.

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Russia? WTF? RUSSIA???

Rather than going back to their regularly scheduled programming, people proceeded to get uglier and uglier, and the media spin got more and more absurd, in the weeks after the vote. I really tried to disengage from social media, but the irrationality and propaganda on both sides was such a freeway pileup that I could not force myself to look away. It left me feeling markedly misanthropic and burned out on trying to communicate for a while.

So, anyway, we drove the RV south to the Gulf of Mexico, and our landing spot in New Orleans was French Quarter RV Resort. I was absolutely thrilled to learn there was an RV campground literally just a few steps from the tourist district! The resort itself was very luxe (with a price to match, of course). We walked over to the great Mississipi and had ourselves some beignets and cafés au lait, then walked about and enjoyed the ubiquitous buskers. We shopped the French Market stalls and picked up gifts for Christmas and our families’ December-heavy birthday season. The crowds were as interesting as the attractions, with colorful attire on the locals and international tourists everywhere.

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Bourbon Street
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New Orleans Architecture
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New Orleans street musicians.
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Float parts ready for next year’s Mardi Gras
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Only in New Orleans is this a selling point!

I connected with my cousin Dean while we were there. He took us to a lovely little restaurant a little off the beaten tourist path, a live-music, wine and food venue known as Bacchanal, where we reminisced about our childhood days and speculated on the future. It was a short, three-day visit, and we wished we could stay longer. We stopped in Mobile to visit with Dean’s sister, my cousin Laura, and then it was on to points east, and less glamourous, but also less expensive, RV campgrounds on the Florida Gulf Coast.

We had some mechanical issues at an overnight in Crestview, Florida, which turned the stop into a three-day stay, and then it was on to our old stomping grounds, the Big Bend of Florida (or as it’s colloquially known, “the armpit”). We had reserved a stay at one of our old favorite campgrounds, Indian Pass, right out on the point near Saint Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. When we got there, we learned that the campground had changed hands and things were, let’s just say, somewhat less than optimal, especially for our planned six-week stay!

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Fortunately, the Allstays app (which I really can’t say enough good things about) pointed us towards the next-closest campground, Presnell’s, where we were installed in a full hook-up right on the beach. The first month we were there the campground was sparsely inhabited; the few long-termers like us had a great campfire a couple of times. We got re-acquainted with ibises, no-see-’ems, and sandspurs.

Another reason I’ve been a little sad and not feeling like posting: World Traveler Kitty Tapioca left this world behind. She was 18 years old, so it was not exactly a shock when she sickened, and then died within a few days. She had a good life and she was purring right up to the very end. She had waited till she was close to her birthplace, and she was buried in my son’s Tallahassee backyard. Some animals are more than just pets, and Tappie was one of them.

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World Traveler Kitty Tapioca has gone on her final journey…

The one thing that frustrated us is that we missed eleven days there because we were having problems resolving our mechanical issues completely. Thor motor coaches had failed to notify us or the prior owner regarding a recall and the Camping World kept delaying and putting us off. We spent a few days at a hotel by our storage locker, going through all our stuff, putting some stuff in we didn’t need, taking some stuff out that we’d missed, always thinking about weight and space in the motorhome. We did discover that we had WAY too many tools, and our separate toolboxes had WAY too many duplicates, so I’d estimate we lost 50-60 lbs. of tools alone by the time we were done!

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Ok, maybe we don’t need 15 hammers!

We then wound up spending five nights in the Camping World parking lot, between a freeway and a railroad track, each day expecting the next day to be our last one there. Finally, Camping World resolved our issues in a more than satisfactory way, and we settled back in by the seashore. (We are still waiting on Thor to reimburse us for earlier recall repairs or even to explain the mix-up.)

I also visited my favorite hairstylist and colorist for a groovy new ‘do. The waist-length hippie hair was getting a bit cumbersome with which to deal.

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Feeling light and breezy!

Both Steve and I have had sad Christmas memories and feel like the fuss and bother of the holidays is just overdone unless there are little kids around. Fortunately, an RV in Florida is the best place for a laid-back Christmas celebration! All our children are way too big to believe in Santa, and there are no grandchildren yet, so my 21-year-old son joined us for a roast leg of lamb and an afternoon of fishing, and that was our celebration. Bah, humbug!

Now we are on our way down to Madeira Beach, where we’ll celebrate New Years, and then settle in to Pine Island near Fort Myers. I hope all my readers had a great holiday and I wish you all a safe and happy New Year celebration!

Hot and Springy

Ladybugs Are Lucky

As you may recall, when we were leaving Tennessee we found ourselves beset by hornets!  We never found their nest (and not from lack of searching!), but they eventually stopped appearing. We speculated that they had built a nest in our AC unit just before we went up to Michigan where it was chilly, and then pupated until we got into the South and cranked up the AC.

Anyway, once we alighted in Hot Springs, Arkansas, we found a different type of insect companion swarming into our home-on-wheels: ladybugs!  They began to appear around the AC vents and wound up crawling on every possible surface of the rig, indoors and out!  Other campers in the wonderful campground we had set down in confirmed that they, too, were inundated with these cheerful little creatures. I didn’t mind at all, but Steve did take the time to usher them all outdoors a couple of times a day.

Hot Springs is a friendly little town, and J & J is a friendly little campground. JJ, the img_3739owner, and his somewhat reclusive wife have made a homey lounging area out of the sheltered patio of the common rooms, and it was cheerfully decorated with hay bales and pumpkins. More importantly, the people who were staying at the campground were friendly and sociable, as southerners tend to be. We all sat around and sipped our beverages of choice and told lies.

We were situated on a campsite right next to a babbling brook. The next day, I got caught up on blog posts about Cincinnati and Kentucky, and then we set out to explore what the area had to offer.

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The Baths

Hot Springs gets its name from springs of 147-degree water which stream out of the ground. This water is rich in calcium, magnesium, sulphate, and trace minerals. This spot has been famous for the healing waters since Indian times, and during the Guilded Age and the Roaring Twenties, it was a popular resort area. Prohibition brought moonshining to the area and Hot Springs was a favorite gangland hangout for the likes of Al Capone. Eventually, the US government decided to get into the act as well and make it into a National Park. Now, of the eight remaining bathhouses on “Bathhouse Row,” six have been made into restaurants, museums, or administrative offices. Two of them are still operated as baths: Quapaw (privately owned) and the National Park Service’s Buckstaff Baths.

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Quapaw is the privately owned bath. It has been completely redone and features a series of coed hot pools which are graduated in temperature from 95 degrees to 105. The room where the baths are found is tiled and full of natural light with plants here and there. There are wood chaises and a café at one end.  I didn’t avail myself of the spa services, but they also do offer a variety of beauty treatments and massages. The locker rooms and showers were comfortable and modern. Shampoos, soaps, and abundant towels were provided. I did kick myself for forgetting my waterproof sandals; they require foot coverings unless you’re actually in the water. I had to buy a pair of junky $3 flip-flops at the counter; the good news is that at least they don’t charge $15 for them, haha! The hot soaks were relaxing and serene.

One touching thing I saw was a very elderly woman, perhaps in her late 80s or early 90s, with hands and feet deformed by cruel arthritis. She was there with her daughter, a woman of perhaps 70. One could tell that they had visited the spa together before. They had a system for getting in and out all worked out, where the daughter remained one step below the mom. Daughter put one leg up, and mom sat on her thigh and swung her feet down, then daughter helped her stand. They repeated this process on each of the four steps into and out of each pool. The kindness and devotion of the daughter to her mother was sweet and inspiring.

Buckstaff Baths is the other operating bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. It is less modern and more of a historical curiosity than a pampering experience, but it’s worth going just the same. It is operated by the US National Park system, and it is geared less towards offering a soothing spa experience and more towards recreating the turn-of the-20th-century spa experience for the modern visitor. Gaining entry is accomplished at a lobby booth where, if you happen to be there during the few hours the entry booth is actually open, a uniformed Park Service ranger lets you pay, in a process which reminded me of nothing so much as buying stamps at the Post Office. You are then directed to a corner where you stand and wait for your attendant.

Ladies and gentlemen are segregated on separate floors. An old-fashioned cage elevator run by a female attendant takes you to the second floor. You are ushered into a small curtained booth with an old-fashioned steel locker and a metal-framed beveled mirror. High windows and tiled floors and walls recall times past. Once you are fully naked, you call the attendant, and she takes a sheet and holds it outstretched outside the curtain. You open the curtain and turn your back, and she wraps you deftly in the bedsheet like a Roman toga.

You are then escorted into the bath area. It is a literal bathtub, a giant clawfooted tub in marble-walled cubicle, with an ancient bubble motor mounted on the side. img_3757The high-diameter pipes and faucets fill it all the way up in a minute or two, and then you shed your sheet and settle in for a lovely, very hot soak (104 degrees F, just the way I like it!). I called my attendant, a very sweet lady named LaToya, to heat it up and add some more water after a few minutes when it had cooled off, and she came right in and got the steamy water right up to my chin. Ahhhh! Standard procedure is to soak for fifteen minutes, but I wound up staying in for more like 20, by request.

Then I got out and sat in the sitzbath. Not my favorite. I am short with short legs, and the sitzbaths are designed for someone closer to average height. I was ready to get out when the time came.img_3759 I was offered a session in the steam cabinet, which I used to love in Baños de Cuenca, but there was no cold-water application in between the hot ones, and I was just too overheated. I sat on the table and drank many cups of chilled mineral spring water (no, it didn’t taste bad), until I was ready for the “hot pack” treatment, which consisted just of merely lying back on hot towels on a massage table. Not a clay “hydrocollator” hot pack was in sight. Finally, one is escorted to the “needle shower.” img_3762The brass contraption which surrounds you might have been really something when it was first installed. Unfortunately, every homeowner with hard water knows what happens to shower jets over time, and the mineral concentration of the springs over the past 100 years made the “needle” shower into more of a “trickle” shower.  Next came a 20-minute massage, which was administered by a certified massage therapist in a separate room. She was reasonably competent but the massage was nothing special; I recommend skipping the massage portion and saving a few dollars.

The spa staff were very sweet and helpful. When I told them I was writing a travel blog, they permitted me back into the women’s area after closing time to take these pictures. Due to the toga wrapping and unwrapping that takes place, cameras are normally not allowed in the baths.

Overall, the experience was soothing and pleasant. I used to teach hydrotherapy to massage therapist students, using texts dating back to the 1930s, and it makes me a little sad that the newer electrical, ultrasound, and laser therapies have pushed some of the old-but-good techniques back into the cobwebbed recesses of memory.

A New Bed

One thing that I realized after all this soaking and rubbing was that I was very stiff and sore from the horrible RV mattress that came with the rig. It had the original mattress in it when I bought it, and the prior owner had purchased a fiberfill mattress pad, which did nothing. I immediately put on a 4″ thermal foam topper, but the bed was still so horrible we had to stuff pillows under us to sleep, and any time one of us turned over or got up to answer nature’s call, the motion shook the other one awake.

One thing that made the situation difficult is that the bed, while listed as a Queen mattress, is actually what’s called a Queen Short or RV Queen. Instead of being 80 inches long like a regular Queen-sized mattress, it’s 75 inches.  Most regular mattress retailers don’t carry this size of mattress, and if they do, it’s priced at a premium. Not being able to afford to shell out $1,500 for a mattress, we’d been putting up with the discomfort for almost six months. Then, I found this mattress on Amazon.com, with almost 400, 5-star reviews and a price tag around $200. We had decided we were at J & J’s for another week, we liked it and Hot Springs so much, so we ordered the mattress (shipped free with Amazon Prime).

The mattress arrived in an ottoman-sized box. We wrestled the old mattress out of the camper, regret-free. The whole platform and surrounding area got a good cleaning. Then we took the box into the bedroom. It was encased in a heavy-duty, woven-plastic, drawstring duffelbag which took quite a bit of effort to remove.

Then we followed the instructions and placed the pancake-flat inner plastic package zipper-side down, carefully cut the plastic, and watched it begin to puff up. The instructions say to wait 24 hours before sleeping on it, and several reviews from people who did NOT wait, and wound up with ruts in their sleeping spots, persuaded us to camp out on the floor of the motorhome, on top of the carpet and old mattress topper, overnight.

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The next night we slept on the new mattress and I realized how truly wretched it had been to sleep on the original RV mattress. I felt that it had been months since my body had really completely relaxed into deep sleep! Some advice to any would-be RVers out there: if you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an RV, spend a couple hundred more on a decent mattress! It will drastically improve your quality of life!

Kind of Feels Like Home

We spent a day hiking at a nearby state park, Lake Catherine. We picked a trail which was rated “moderate,” but was only two miles. The climbs up and down marble outcroppings were definitely challenging for two people as overweight as we are, with knee and foot problems, but we managed to complete the hike with a smile still on our faces. The beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people once again seemed a tonic for our hearts.

We were at a decision point now. We had tentatively planned to head for Brownsville and explore the area south of the border. Those who have followed me for a while now know that we expatriated to Ecuador, only to be forced to return by circumstances beyond our control. We are still thinking about emigrating from the USA. This election cycle really opened our eyes regarding the rottenness of our electoral system and the credulity of the voting public. So, Mexico is definitely on our short list. But we had lingered a little too long in the beautiful Upper Peninsula as Fall came late this year, and now it would be a big push for us to cross the length of Texas twice and make it back to Tallahassee in time to spend Thanksgiving with our kids.
Plus, we liked Hot Springs. We liked it a lot. And the weather had finally broken, so it was getting cool and pleasant at night by our little stream. So, we put Mexico on hold for this year and booked another week at J & J’s.  We plan to explore the area, maybe even look at a home or two. We’ll be heading for New Orleans and Mobile to visit my cousins, then make the long trek across the Panhandle of North Florida.

Assuming that the whole country doesn’t lose its shinola right after the election, of course. In that case, all bets are off!

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Next Post: Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Down Under, Down South: Mammoth Caves, Kentucky

Once we crossed over into Kentucky, the first restaurant where we stopped for lunch, the hostess greeted us with a big smile, “Y’all can just sit anywhere you like!” Something in me just relaxed. After living in the southern US for over 35 years, and with my mother hailing from Alabama, the south just feels like home.

We had crossed over into the South when we crossed over from Ohio into Kentucky. The Mason-Dixon line doesn’t extend that far west, but the feeling does.

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Crossing over into Kentucky

The accents do. The cuisine turns into turnip greens and cornbread instead of bratwurst and sauerkraut. We thought that, since campgrounds in Michigan and Ohio were becoming deserted preparatory to shutting down for the winter, that they would be pretty quiet in Kentucky too. Big mistake! We had settled into a habit of driving until we started to feel tired, then looking at our Allstays app (I highly recommend this app, and I have no connection with the company; I just find it to be really helpful locating campgrounds, low overpasses, RV repair facilities, and whatever else you might need when RVing). We pick out a campground with good reviews in the general area 50-100 miles ahead of us and call to book a site.

Well, that strategy didn’t work this time. Little did we know, apparently the entire state of Kentucky goes camping the second weekend in October! The Mammoth Cave National Park campgrounds were booked up. The next-closest and the third-closest also were booked up! We finally found a place, part of a national chain which I won’t mention here (because most of there campgrounds are really nice), which had an opening. We arrived and our first clue that something was amiss was the desk clerk who, I’m guessing, had some sort of mental condition which rendered her incapable of personal interaction. We finally pried it out of her which site we’d been booked into, but we found the campground filthy and the sites eroded, narrow, and unlevel. The place smelled like sewer backup and the acoustics of the little hollow it was in amplified the noise of I-65 so that it sounded like you were right in the median. We checked out immediately and requested (and got) a refund.

Eventually, we settled on a Kentucky State Park, Barren River State Park. It had no sewer hookup and no wi-fi or cell signal, and the campsite was not level unless you pulled your rig in exactly the right amount, but the site itself (a last-minute cancellation) was at the end of the camping loop and the sun rose in the morning in our dinette window through a gorgeous glade set up as circular theatre. The park’s bathhouse was indifferently clean. But the park had a restaurant which served good southern cookin’. And Barren River Lake, a TVA/ACE dam-created lake, had a lovely little beach where we watched several glorious sunsets. Steve said the fishing was pleasant, although he didn’t catch any keepers. And the campground was having a weekend Halloween event with pumpkin carving and games for children, so it was a fun and happy place!

I have a confession: I am slightly claustrophobic. It dates back to my sister rolling me up in a rug as a child and leaving me there for hours. So spelunking is not for me. No getting down on my belly and squirming and writhing through passages barely large enough to admit me. Nope, nope, nope!
But I LOVE caverns! A cave which I can walk into is magical. It takes me back to childhood tales of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, and the George McDonald children’s fantasy books, The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, which I devoured whole years before I ever heard of JRR Tolkien or Narnia. The karst landscape of Western Kentucky is riddled with amazing caverns, and the entrance to the system that became a National Park was originally billed in the 19th and early 20th century, by its owners, as “the mammoth cave!” When the National Park system confiscated the land and made it Federal property, dispossessing the hillbillies and descendants of freed slaves who lived there, the name stuck.

Entering the cave, it doesn’t look like much. All you see is this:

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The tiny entrance to the majestic caves

The first thing you should know about this cave system is that it is really, really big. REALLY big! Experts estimate that it may be a thousand miles long. To date, 405 miles of cave have been explored and mapped. Less than 15 miles of the cave system is open to the general public for tours. The biggest chambers are huge, dwarfing groups of people who walk in for the tour.

There is electricity in the cave, and there are lights positioned strategically to light up beautiful stone formations. 2016-10-16-15-54-13Stalactites, stalagmites, drips, flows, and domes look like ice formations. One of the National Park Service tours is called the “Frozen Niagara Tour.” The historical entrance tour includes some discussion of the history of the cave, starting with early indigenous people who lived in the caves from time to time, progressing to the mining of the cave for saltpeter for gunpowder during the war of 1812, and then to the 2016-10-18-11-25-23exploration of the cave by Stephen Bishop, a brilliant, enslaved explorer during the second half of the 19th century, to the inclusion of the cave system in the National Park system and building of roads and facilities by the Civilian Conservation Corps. But my favorite part of the two ranger-guided tours we took was the moment when they turn out the lights. For those few moments, one can actually experience total, complete darkness. You strain to see, you wait for your eyes to adapt, and they never do. This is the only place in the world you can experience this, and it is magical.

I would have liked to learn more about the ecosystem of the caves, from the blind fish to the cave crickets to the bats (currently fighting an epidemic of White Nose Syndrome, a virus imported from European caves).

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Cave Cricket

The third cave tour we went on was the underwater cave boat tour in the Lost River Cave system in Bowling Green. All these karst caves were formed by underwater rivers flowing through limestone over millions of years. In the Lost River Cave, the river is still flowing. The cave has been used as a hideout for outlaws, a fashionable music venue where Ella Fitzgerald once performed, and sadly, a dumping ground. The land was donated to Western Kentucky University, and they maintain the cave and offer educational courses and boat tours. You can even get married in the cave where Ella once belted out jazz!

The photos of the boat tour don’t do the cave justice. This video clip is just a few seconds, but it gives you a feeling of the vastness of the chamber above the beautiful underground lake.

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The marks of ancient streams of water running through limestone on the ceiling

 

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Heads down as we go under the low passage in the boat!

 

 

 

Next post: pilgrimage to the King

Cincinnati

Full-time RVing is really a pretty carefree lifestyle. By now, literally hundreds of people have told me, “I always dreamed of doing that!” To those people, I say: Go for it! It’s been an amazing experience so far. Yet, nothing in life is completely smooth and seamless, and life on the road is no exception. Case in point: We discovered a leak in our on-board water pump

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The offending water pump

just before leaving Grand Rapids, and we wound up staying an extra day or two for Steve to fix it (shout out to Paul in the parts department of Midway RV!), replacing the pump and installing a new connector. Then we were back on the road again!

After our bad experience in Sandusky (Victory Honda still hasn’t made things right with the bumper that was ripped off our car while on their lot for service, boo!), we decided to give Ohio another chance. I’d heard that Cincinnati, the Queen City, was a nice place, so we spent a couple of nights there. Cincinnati is in the southwestern corner of Ohio, and we easily detoured on our journey south to visit.

One must-see in Cincinnati is the famous Cincinnati Zoo. I knew I’d heard something about it recently, but I couldn’t recall what. When we got there, I remembered what it was I’d heard about in the news related to this zoo, and it was the sad story of the child who jumped the fence into the gorilla enclosure, necessitating the shooting of one of their gorillas, Harambe. Well, maybe it was the residual effect of the negativity of that event, but the zoo animals almost all seemed unusually depressed, even for zoo animals. We were there on a pleasant, cool October day, and since it was a weekday the zoo was not crowded with visitors. There were almost more employees/volunteers than visitors, but none of the zoo staff seemed to want to make eye contact, interact, or help visitors in any way, even confused-looking middle-aged types like us, standing in the pathway holding the zoo map upside down! “Demoralized” is probably the best word for the mood at that zoo. It’s a shame, really, because it is a nicely-laid-out zoo with lots and lots of different animal species from all over the world. If you’re heading that way with a smiling face and a positive attitude, may I suggest popping in with a handful of pixie dust? Those poor creatures could surely use it!

The bonobos were one of my favorites; these relatives of the chimpanzee are known for a matriarchal, non-violent, highly sexualized tribal structure and they are not common in zoos. This zoo had not one, but two types of rhinoceri, one of the best nocturnal animal exhibits I’ve ever seen, and my other favorite: a loft deck where you could stand to feed romaine lettuce to the giraffes. At $3 for two lettuce leaves, it was a bit overpriced, but fun nonetheless!

The price ($25 per person) for the zoo itself was kind of steep as well. We bought the package which included the unlimited riding on the train that circled the zoo grounds, thinking it was like a monorail and that it would be convenient to get around after we got tired of walking on our arthritic knees and feet. But it turned out to be just a kiddie ride that goes once around the zoo and stops at the same single station where you board. Not really worth the $7 extra, since admission without it is only $18. The package also includes unlimited carousel rides, but the carousel was closed. So were all but one of the food concession stands, and that one only had pizza and Italian fare which would have busted our recently-adopted dietary plan.

The whole zoo took us about 4 hours to cover, but we did miss a couple of animals because we got tired and hungry and decided to leave. More realistically, it might be a whole day. After that, it was off to another highly-touted “must see” tourist attraction in Cincinnati, the Findlay Market.

Approaching Findlay Market by car, one realizes that the Market itself is one of the urban renewal oases which bring business into blighted neighborhoods. You drive along rutted streets, viewing garbage and grafitti, and you make sure your doors are locked when you stop at traffic lights. You drive around the area several times looking for parking until you finally spot a small sign directing you to the Findlay Market parking lot, where you prepay by machine before you enter the market proper.

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At the Findlay Market

The market must have been an amazing public market when it was at its peak in the nineteenth century. It is housed in a really cool old-fashioned metal-roofed building and there are chairs and tables in the street nearby next to local chi-chi eateries serving locally-sourced wild-foraged mushroom-infused goat cheeses with iced soy kombucha and such. Most of these were closed when we arrived in the late afternoon on a weekday in October. We found a taco stand inside and had some quite good tacos which didn’t bust our calorie budget. A couple of stores in the market building which we were impressed by were Gibbs Cheese and Sausage, where we got a small piece of the local specialty sausage, Goetta (tasty!) to have for breakfast the next day, and Colonel de Gourmet’s Herbs and Spices, which had a greater selection of gourmet herbs and spices (along with a few medicinal herbs) than I have seen in any one place in a long time. Again, a lot of the shops were closing up by the time we arrived, and after we ate “lunch” it was almost 5:00 p.m. and even more places had closed up shop. It seems the outdoor venue really only goes full-bore on weekend days in the summer time; I can imagine it is really a fun place to be at that time.

We passed a bar with a great name…

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…And a hot air balloon in flight…

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…And then it was time to cross the bridge into Covington, Kentucky!

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Next post: It’s good to be back in the South!