Two Weeks in Georgia

On March 15, 2021 we moved form Florida to Georgia which became our 17th state to visit in an RV. We are following the spring weather north as well as the pollen. Boy can tall pine trees put off clouds of pollen when the wind blows! Our first of two stops was Wanee Lake Golf and RV Park in Ashburn Georgia. Never stayed on a golf course before. Unfortunately neither of us play golf but we do love the spring colors spread out over the wonderful landscape. The neighbor was catching bass out of the parks large pond (no fishing license required) but we never had the time to try our luck as we had other places to tour. Management is low key and fun to be around at this park. There was no problem walking the dog anywhere along the nine hole golf course.

View of the first tee about 35 yards behind our parking spot. Green fees with a cart seemed to me to be reasonable. The park is remodeling their common areas to include the bar. Pool was open but the water was cold and in need of cleaning.

We were close to Plains Georgia but decided not to make the day trip to town and see if President Jimmy Carter was handy for a visit. Along with just enjoying the weather outside the RV we made the trip to explore a couple Civil War areas. Number one on our list would be the most deadliest ground in the Civil War. The ground was not Gettysburg with its combined death total of 7,863 nor Spotsylvania with its 4,192 solders killed in battle. The deadly ground we walked had been home to 45,000 union soldiers of which more than 13,000 lost their lives within an area 1,620 feet long and 779 feet wide, or about 26.5 acres in total ground. This is the prisoner of war camp known as Andersonville.

Andersonville Georgia National Historic Site is also the home of the National POW Museum. The visitors center, designed to look like guard towers, was closed inside due to the virus thing but a ranger came out to greet us.

The most famous execution following the Civil War was the hanging of Confederate Major Henry Wirz, Commander at the prison in Andersonville (a.k.a Camp Sumter). Sentenced to death for inhuman treatment to include intentionally withholding food from the prisoners. Although reportedly 15% of confederate prisoners died in union camps while up to 20% of union solders passed away from various things such as disease, Andersonville was the worst of the worst during its 13 months of operation. You can do the math – that’s about 1,000 prisoners dieing every month.

I have two other stops to report regarding our time in Georgia but believe it worth most of this blog post in an attempt to describe the emotional experience at Andersonville. As a visual aid I will include current photos of the prison grounds against historic photos.

A walk behind the current POW Museum reveals the grounds of the old prison. Scattered in a small area are monuments buildt by individual states and associations memorializing soldiers from their states that died. This includes loyal union soldiers from the once confederate State of Tennessee. Of special note, please notice how the ground slopes down into a creek valley and then back up the other side.
Here is one monument that shows 104 union soldiers from my home state of Missouri are buried at Andersonville. More about one of those soldiers later in this post.
This is a view down and up the hill towards the monuments behind the museum building. I have drawn a red line around what was once the outline of the 15′ wood stockade walls. The white posts outline the wall. In clear view is a ditch or marshy area which consisted of creek water trickling though the camp from which prisoners were expected to drink, wash and defecate nearby. Also shown in the photo is a small building just below the recreated stockade wall. This building is the Providence Spring memorial.
Historic photo of prisoners living uphill from the creek that ran through the center of the camp.
One day a miracle occurred at the camp. Water shot up from the ground in the form of a fresh water spring. Before, prisoners were having to wait for rain in order to trap drinking water as the small creek that ran through the camp was contaminated. Years later surviving prisoners met at the spot of the spring.

Just inside the main walls of the camp was a no-mans area marked by a small wood fence known as the kill line. Confederate guards manned towers overlooking the prison from what they called a pigeon-roost. Some of those towers were manned by young boys who were given time off for every prisoner they shot who happened to hang a body part past the line.

In red ink is the kill line. Drift here and be instantly shot.
I make a habit of asking park rangers or museum guides what is the most unique thing to see. In this case the ranger said most miss the single white marker near the center of the camp. This is where the ‘raiders’ where hung. The raiders where a group of union soldiers that took advantage of new arrivals to the prison. Watch the movie Andersonville which I found to be accurate based on what I learned.

Early during the Civil War it was common to have a prisoner exchange after a battle. Later, the exchange policy ended to include all negotiations whereby Andersonville prisoners expected to be traded for confederate prisoners. Towards the end of the war union troops were in the area, to include Atlanta to the northeast. Andersonville was vacated but later prisoners were moved back in once the union army did not show up to take the camp. The prison had been constructed in February of 1864 and would have been empty after General Lee surrendered in May of 1865.

On the worst days over 100 prisoners died within the camp. If you follow a narrow road away from camp it leads to a cemetery. Fortunately a list of names for those that died was kept. Can you imagine what it would have been like to see those 100 plus dead removed from the camp each day. At first they buried them somewhat spread apart but later they were placed shoulder to shoulder in a trench. Here is what that looked like in the next historic photo.

Here are a few of the graves. I have marked 100 graves in my photo with a yellow dot to signify one days worth of burials.

As Karen and I walked among the dead there was no way of not recognizing that beneath every single step we took, buried shoulder to shoulder were the victims of this prison. I thought how dare anyone in this nation today think a state should secede from the union. These soldiers had names and a family.

Above is death #4169. I stopped and returned to the truck at grave 12,000 something, having just walked down a single row. All I knew about death #4169 was a name JNO. Nelson of Missouri. I put on my detectives hat, having decided to spend no more than two hours finding out about JNO. This is Private John Nelson of Company A, 29th Infantry Regiment of Missouri. He died from “diarrhea” on 7-28-64 in Andersonville. His company originally formed in or near St. Louis Missouri (maybe in Cape Girardeau MO August 9, or September 5 1862). By December 1863 his company would have been fighting under General Sherman’s army around Atlanta Georgia located 150 miles to the north of the prison. John was 19 years of age when he died. I have called my sister Deanna to see if she can help find more information as she has a Acensistry.com account. I’d like to know about John’s family.

Just a sample of the Andersonville graves that line both sides of the road. Located in another section of the area is a modern national grave yard.

Our next day trip was to the Jefferson Davis Historic Site which is run by the Georgia State Parks. The visitors center was open. Davis was the president of the Confederate States and fled Richmond later to be captured at this location. He was held for two years and released. The park grounds were in full spring bloom.

I asked the museum director what was the most unique artifact to which he pointed to a uniform jacket saying there were only 10 of them in existence. This is a small site with a walking trail and marker of where Jefferson was captured.

From Wanee Lake Golf and RV Park we moved 180 miles north to the area of West Point Georgia, located south of Lagrange. We camped for a week backed up to a Corp. of Engineer Lake at R. Shaefer Heard Campground. We booked a wonderful spot where we were able to get the kayak out and our dog Wyatt took his first lesson learning to ride without jumping overboard. A friend asked how we were able to find spots in Corp of Engineer parks as they had trouble finding any with empty spaces. We are willing to divert off our original route for miles if necessary, especially if the park is not close to any large metropolitan areas or within access off a nearby US highway. I suppose that often our route planning has a lot to do with driving between parks rather than just sticking to whatever highway is shortest between our ultimate destinations. Spring moves about 100 miles a week. So yet again we find ourselves experiencing the changing colors and climate.

Getting close to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains
R. Shaefer Heard COE Spot 113

We were in northwest Alabama during the start of the pandemic last year where we met a guy we called Slim. He was constructing a solar energy site at the time and Karen watched his dog during the day. What a small world this trip became. As we were approaching the Lagrange Georgia area Karen’s phone rang. We had not talked to Slim for a long, long time. He asked how we were doing and what part of the country we were in. Little did we know we were now 30 miles from his house. We enjoyed the day at Slim’s where he offered a full hookup RV spot on his property for the next time we are in the area.

Unfortunately the multi-million dollar US Infantry Museum outside Columbus Georgia was closed. It’s federally operated and yet again we found a federal site not open due to the virus thing. We also passed on a visit to the Tuskegee Airfield (home of WW2 Tuskegee Airmen) as the main museum was closed because of the virus. Yep, the airfield museum is run by the National Park Service.

We have made our way to a wonderful national forest in Alabama and will be moving to Tennessee on April 14. You can follow us on RVillage.com

P.S. – I have scheduled my Covid vaccine through Walgreens in Alabama. Nothing on theirs or state website says I can’t get it in Alabama if I live in Texas. Last week I could find no place close with the one shot version. Checking again this week I found a next day appointment.

St. Augustine Florida – Spring and Summer Plans

February 15, 2021 through March 15, 2021 – Our month in the Florida sun.

Who knew Florida would become one of the only states in the country to avoid the recent snow and ice storms experienced even in extreme southern Texas. We had decided to spend the month in Florida rather than southern Texas, figuring many snowbirds would not be traveling this year to the popular state which we found to be the case after talking with others at the four Florida locations we camped at beginning the first of February. I tried four months in advance to book Florida state park sites that would accommodate our 35′ fifth wheel with no luck. Thankfully we found great alternatives to include a one month stay at Stagecoach RV Park just outside St. Augustine and within a short distance to the beaches along the Atlantic coast. I had added the campground to a list of places to visit after reading about it in an Escapees Forum and the Wheelingit Blog in 2016. A fellow RV friend who we have never met, Dee, also wrote about their stay in the area on the Tumbleweed Blog. According to my spreadsheet they stayed at St. John’s RV Park. Guess keeping that spreadsheet during the years of planning for and dreaming of travel paid off yet again.

Our site at Stagecoach RV Park – St. Augustine Florida where spring plants started to bloom in February.

We enjoyed our time so much at the campground that we have booked a two month stay for next year in advance. Something we have never done before, not wanting to lock ourselves in to anything. All the campground required was a $100 deposit which is partially refundable if we change our minds. Park management said we got lucky in that many of the usual campers who spend the winter here did not show and hence did not have a chance to schedule spots for the next season. We booked the last spot available for next winters two month stay. Yes, we know northern Florida can get cold in December/January but cold is a relative thing. Also we discovered Florida sun is not like what we know from the Midwest.

We met wonderful people at Stagecoach, one couple in particular were Ray and Charlotte from the Traverse City Michigan area who will be camping near us again next year. We will be heading north this summer over the upper peninsula of Michigan and hope to swing by their town for a visit. Our dog Wyatt wore himself out playing with Ray and Charlotte’s puppy Dixie. I wonder if their dog has been sleeping more since we left the park on March 15? Wyatt was exhausted.

Dave Foster, a former co-worker from Kansas City, was touring the area at spring break. I had a wonderful dinner with he and his family overlooking the bay at St. Augustine. Bill and Sharon Weiler of Merritt Island Florida braved the Interstate 95 traffic during bike week in Daytona to drive up for the day. I consider all dear friends I hope to know for the remainder of my life.

I have not been keeping notes so will most likely forget many details of our time in St. Augustine. I certainly did not forget the spring rain. There was evidence of past heavy rains upon our arrival which I noted in the dried mud areas of our camping spot. That’s something to lookout for before deciding where to park the trailer wheels. We used our plastic leveling blocks for stepping stones.

Using plastic leveling blocks for stepping stones through the water. We have always left a trash can outside, other than in bear country, but seldom put anything with food odors in it. Now and then I’ll spray the inside with bleach water which seems to keep even the camp cats away.
Look what showed up near us for a couple days. The Long Long Trailer with modern air conditioning. I’ll bet these people are the talk of every park they visit.

Because of scheduling conflicts where I might have to be back in Kansas City for short visits in April and May, we decided this was not the best year to head up the coast north from St. Augustine for stops, particularly in mountain areas. I don’t like to fly so we will be setting up near Nashville Tennessee for at least one driving trip to Kansas City and, God forbid, maybe even having to fly out of Birmingham Alabama for another KC trip. Birmingham has an international airport compared to Montgomery Alabama’s smaller regional airport where I’d have to fly on a smaller jet. Our spring 2021 trip planning is starting to take shape with the destination being Michigan. For summer we are considering if it’s worth the distance to travel to Glacier National Park from north Michigan or cut straight over to Yellowstone National Park.

Our 2021 spring travel plans are starting to take shape. We book major destinations first and fill in the rest, somethings a week or two before traveling.

There are unique places to visit in St. Augustine which might not be part of the main events. I found a phone app where St. Johns County government provides information, to include directions, for the many beaches. We enjoyed North Shore with its shells and the whiter sands of Crescent Beach, south of St. Augustine. All the area beaches are dog friendly other than the state park.

I could not figure out a way to quickly summarize everything we did during the month in the nation’s oldest continuously occupied city, having been founded by the Spanish 50 years before the British arrived at Jamestown. There is something for everyone in St. Augustine and surrounding area, especially if you enjoy dinning experiences, colonial history, shopping or just hanging out on miles of wave soaked beaches.

Traffic was fairly busy even this time of year. Interstate 95 is a heavily traveled road. They shut it down in one direction three times in two weeks for crashes or vehicle fires. Fortunately Florida State Highway 16 runs from the campground area directly to the main roads in St. Augustine. It took only one trip into town to get the lay of the land which is something we have gotten much better at. For some reason, new places just don’t seem so foreign any longer. We even learn the backroads within a few days. I suppose GPS helps. Also, as we drive a dually truck available parking is something to be more aware of in a tourist town. St. Augustine is part of a chain of towns along the coast and we learned where the congested parts are as well as available public parking. If you want to visit the oldest parts of town, where the roads are narrow, the city provides a covered parking garage if you can’t find a spot along a street. Hint – there is a parking lot near the gym west of the parking garage entrance for larger vehicles to include Class C’s and smaller trailers. During a visit I parked the truck there and walked a few blocks. Many of the attractions in town also offer all day parking if you pay for a tour. The Fountain of Youth and Ripley’s Believe or Not are two places easy to get into with good parking.

We ended up doing tourist stuff on average twice a week. Our first activity had to be a tour of the town on the Red Train which has been in continues operation since the 50’s. Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe or Not loved the town and built his first museum here. They later bought the train which is a one hour tour and is dog friendly. You cannot get off the train and back on like you can with the local trolley for a day, but the train is half the cost and their guides are very knowledgably with local history. The Ripley’s museum, where we began the train tour has several outside attractions to include beautiful gardens and an ancient redwood tree hollowed out into a home.

We learned about the ancient history of the city as well as how its growth progressed. I was fascinated about how they have been finding old settler grave yards during building remodels and road construction. Apparently it was no big thing to bury people under buildings to include Catholic churches. The old city is a mixture of several groups of people to include of course Spanish and American Indians. Pirates and British came in an attempt to conquer the fort and burn the town. The large masonry fort along the shore line of the bay is well known. The Red Train Tour guide noted how it was constructed out of basically crushed shell and sand which was mined locally. It’s pulled from the ground as a soft material and dried for a year or more before being shaped into blogs for building. The British came down from South Carolina into Spanish held Florida and were never successful at defeating the fort at St. Augustine which is technically a sand castle:)

Henry Flagler (1830-1913) was a founder of Standard Oil and a huge developer of the Atlantic coast in Florida. Locals know the name well but I had never heard of him. Flagler fell in love with what the 1500’s town of St. Augustine had to offer and bought up land. The college bearing his name is beautiful. It was interesting to learn that one way he acquired land was to offer to build a congregation an expensive church. All they had to do was provide land and he handled the rest. The buildings of St. Augustine are true marvels. There are multiple locations known for being the oldest in the United States scattered in the area.

There is a place on the north side of town I’ll bet not many really know about. I found the place after viewing a local resident’s YouTube video. I feel incredibly fortunate to travel and experience other’s lives and learn from them. We all know about Black History Month. Traveling in the south really adds to a better view and even perhaps for the first time, a better understanding of the pain experienced by slaves in this country. Standing on that hillside overlooking the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Natchez Mississippi, where one of several concentration camps existed after the end of the Civil War, was emotional for me. Having read up and stayed in the area of General Grant’s campaign in the west and policy of handling freed slaves was important as well.

I have and continue to make a concentrated effort to better understand the plight of black slavery. Intellectually I know slavery was not a new concept when established in the British and Spanish colonies of America. And certainly was not a topic avoided during a Spanish history class in college. Karen and I walked just a tiny potion of the trail where once enslaved people escaped from the British colonies in South Carolina to free Spanish territory in the then capital city of St. Augustine Florida. Spain, as well as Britain for that matter, had a shortage of troops to defend their territory. They recruited American Indians and free blacks to populate their military ranks. In Spain anyone could be enslaved despite the color of their skin. A concept handed down through Roman times. But in Spain there were pathways to freedom.

Located about two miles north of St. Augustine was an old Indian village which became the first line of defense for Spain against the British empire beginning in South Carolina. Fort Mose (pronounced moh-say) was established in 1738 and again discovered during a 1986 archeological dig. The 24 acre site is now a state park with a visitors center. The photo above is a boardwalk out to a salt marsh which was once dry land. Off in the distance are two mounds of trees with one being the location of the first Fort Mose and the second being the fort when it was rebuilt after Britain burnt the first while attacking Spanish Florida trying to recover their escaped slaves. The Spanish King offered a place to live free among a community to include once black slaves in exchange for becoming a Catholic and serving in the militia. Karen and I got lucky when greeted by the current Historic Site Director at the visitors center and volunteers working outside. We also learned from the workcamper who had their RV parked nearby while working for Florida State Parks.

There was a lot to discover beyond the history of slavery such as what portions of Florida landmass had been uncovered during the ice age. The visitors center is unique in that positioned at various stations are circles on the floor in front of photos. When you stand in the circle a voice of a Fort Mose resident comes over the speaker describing who they are, why and how they came to Fort Mose. The location was the destination of the first under-ground railroad leading from the south and is the site of the first legally sanctioned free black community in what is now the United States. One will discover many other “first locations” within the city of St. Augustine as well.

Interesting map of Florida sea levels and predictions. As I view Google Earth I’ve been fascinated by the outline of topography below the water.
In this clump of trees was the second Fort Mose. You need rubber boots to get there now. Due to modifications of the waterways the area is now a marshland. Citizens of Fort Mose lived free, raising a family, crops and building homes in the area. During one British assault, residents fled to the stronger fort in St. Augustine just two miles to the south.

So what became of Fort Mose residents? We learned during early Florida travels about the area passing between Spanish, British and finally United States hands. Eventually the Spanish would leave Florida for Cuba, taking the occupants of Fort Mose with them. The historical society has been researching the descendants of Cuba linking families back to Fort Mose.

There are plenty of quick stops of interest in or near St. Augustine, especially if you take a month to live here. Never knew the World Pro Golf Hall of Fame was here. There is beach access and a nature trail with Florida vegetation growing from ancient sand dunes at Anastasia State Park where secluded campsites are found even for big rigs. Shopping, shopping, shopping if you wish is in town as well as outside town. Stagecoach RV Park was located directly across the highway from Camping World and a huge outlet mall. I told Karen I thought the Florida sun burned my eyes through my cheap sunglasses after the first beach. So I called my friend Dave Foster, an expert of many things, for recommendations. Karen and I both have new sunglasses which we ordered from Govx.com. She decided on Ray-Bans and I went with Maui Jim model Kanaio Coast both having thin glass lenses.

St. George Street is a big attraction within the old part of St. Augustine. I had ice cream then walked over to met friends for a meal. As a side note, I’ve been keeping track of which states might offer Covid vaccinations for out-of-state travelers. Might be June before we are stopped long enough for the two shot version. I’ll be looking for the one shot vaccine in the weeks ahead. Spring break started just as we were leaving St. Augustine.
Cool photo angle with the World Golf Hall of Fame blocking the sun for the shot. There is a wonderful and expensive paved walking trail around the huge outdoor mall that is dog friendly. We did not go inside to see the exhibits but did find several signatures I recognized imbedded on the walking path. Bill Murry has a restaurant located here called Caddy Shack with inside or outside dinning.
Anastasia State Park Nature Trail. We also walked down the area where the material was mined for construction of the fort at St. Augustine. The area was flooded by recent rain and the photos I was able to take really did not show much.
Sign at entrance to trail at Anastasia State Park.

And finally, the original location where the Spanish landed from which the city of St. Augustine would rise. Today it is known as the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and worth the price of admission. Around 2,400 B.C. Native Americans, known as the Timucua occupied the region and spread out through central Florida. In 1513 Ponce de Leon comes ashore from Spain. He named the area La Florida (new Florida) having sighted the land during the Spanish Festival of Flowers at Easter time. In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the city of St. Augustine at the Timucua village. In 1587 the first Catholic mission was built. In 1934 workers discover human bones while digging on the park property. The University of Florida and Smithsonian Institution excavated the bones of 90 Native American which are the earliest known remains of Christian burial of indigenous people in what is now the United States.

Why is this current day park named Fountain of Youth? Because the Spanish were used to treating their water supply with alcohol so they did not become ill from drinking it. A well was discovered at the site, and still remains there today where Natives were seen drinking and not getting sick. Other than the taste of sulfur, the water was fine when I, Karen and later Wyatt at the dog bowl drank from it. We bought a bottle to take to family in Michigan as well. If you visit the park don’t forget to step outside the main gate onto Magnolia Street which is arguably one of the most scenic tree lined streets in this country.

This is how to build a dug-out. The historian was fascinating. I asked about Spanish travels in Florida, especially while also move through Mexico and Texas. He remined me the Spanish get their urge to explore from ancient Phoenician culture.

We are currently parked in southwest Georgia on a golf course of all places. We will be in Kansas City on 5/3 and then Howell Michigan on 6/6/21.

Ocala Florida

We made our way to Ocala Florida for a three night stay at Wilderness RV Resort. The purpose of the visit was to tour Silver Springs State Park and the Ocala National Forrest.

I’m not sure I can recommend staying at Wilderness RV Resort until after you have read the reviews and understand the spots for short-term stays can be hard to pull into due to the narrowness of the roads. We managed to get into a blind-side back-in with the help of the park manager who was an expert at giving directions. The park amenities were exceptional but as usual we did not have time to use them. Other than the wonderful, partially shaded dog yard. Nice to be in 70 degree weather for sure.

Our spot at Wilderness RV Resort. Street was narrow for a back-in. I had to use the neighbors driveway and came 4″ from his fifth wheel. Making things more complicated was having to hit the narrow concrete pad without running the tires off it into the wet soil. No way a 40′ rig could get in here. There is an easier section of the park for long-term stays. Read the reviews.

I had no idea Ocala Florida was so popular for horse ranches as we noticed a few on the way in. Silver Springs State Park is right out of town and a great place to spend the day. The park was the home to 20 movies to include six Tarzans, Creature from the Black Lagoon, James Bond movie Moonraker and episodes of TV show Sea Hunt. During the early years, the site was more of an amusement park. Monkeys were brought in but no one knew the breed could swim and now they live wild in the area. Later the state bought the park and converted it into more of a nature area. The Silver Spring is huge and creates a running river where you can kayak, although we did not have time to do so.

In 1872 a boy discovered people wanted to tour the river and spring so he cut out the bottom of his boat and used glass so they could see the bottom. The glass boat tours survived and are still the most popular attraction. Near this area in 1834 Seminole Indians met to discuss being removed to Indian territory out west. They decided not to go without a fight being lead by Chief Osceola. There are many towns named after him around the country. At the time, some Americans were upset with the treatment of Seminoles and other tribes. An army general had asked to meet with Osceola in peace. It was a trick and Osceola was taken captive and moved to a fort in South Carolina where he died. Apparently this was big news back then when towns were forming and looking for a name. There is an Osceola Missouri which sparked by interest in the origin of the name.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour. Worth the price for sure.
This bad boy stayed away from the boat. The boat guide claims you can tell the overall length of the gator based upon the distance from the midpoint between its eyes to the nostrils. In this case he guessed nine inches so the gator would be 9′ in total length.
Red arrow points at one of several springs that feed the river. As seen through glass in boat.
The day we were at Silver Springs State Park the Sheriff’s Office dive team was training. I sent their Sgt. this photo taken from under the glass bottom boat.

We sure did enjoy the beautiful walk through nature as well as the gardens along the river. Bring your canoe or kayak. There is an easy put-in point with the river winding through the Florida forrest. We did not get a chance to see the wild monkey’s which were reported to be about two miles from the park at the time.

We have moved on to a monthly stay in St. Augustine Florida at the Stagecoach RV Park. For the first time ever, we have pre-scheduled a second stop at a campground. We will be back to St. Augustine in late December of 2021. More on that in the next blog post.

Final Results 2020 RV Living Expenses and Financial Decisions

I was finally able to complete an analysis of our 2020 RV living expenses after staying home during the rainy days. If you are building your budget there are a few words of caution and planning to pass along. If you are looking for a quick figure without reading the remainder of this post then we spent $48,754 before taxes last year which is $4,062 a month. After taxes the annual expense was about $45,502 or $3,791 a month. We no longer pay state income tax as we domiciled in Texas which has no state income tax. I treat planning for taxes as important as living expenses and income. We had extra income last year for various reasons which I put into retirement savings for tax purposes and a little in our extra travel budget for emergencies or special circumstances. Our budget however did not include placing any income in savings.

I apologize if I’m repeating anything from a prior post. If you have been following this blog for a while then you know our style of RV travel. For those that have not followed the blog I’ll summarize a few points below with our top six expense items.

Introduction

We were debt free before we started on the road and remain that way. We sold our home and most of our possessions using part of the proceeds to pay a portion of our new fifth wheel cost. We saved a sizable amount from our home sale in a taxable account. Fortunately, our home sold for more than I expected, thanks to Karen’s foresight in pricing it. We both agreed with the amount we have saved for our next “home” after RV travel. We budgeted $500 extra per month more than our actual income for our first year of travel and that money remains in an account having not been spent. We saved that extra travel money before I left fulltime employment as well as established an account to equip our RV and truck to include some upgrades. We still have money in that account as well despite replacing our truck the first year on the road. After more thought, I will get around to posting about replacing the truck along with my list of other “bad” stuff that might make you want to stop living in an RV.

Some will obviously spend more or less based on their own goals and available income or savings. I kept a part-time job doing bookwork and estimating for a construction company. The part-time job prevents us from having to use retirement savings to support our monthly expenses. The job does not take away from our RV travel experience as I work about 12 hours a week with control over when I work those hours. That said, I still consider us to be on a fixed income as the job is on a salary which is combined with my pension income and Karen’s social security which she took at age 62. I left fulltime employment at 56, feeling it was not worth staying longer for a better pension at 62 or 65. I had not kept a detailed budget in decades, always seeming to have enough income to support our standard of living. Going to a fixed income required I keep a budget which I’ll do again for 2021. If we don’t change our lifestyle after another year I’ll probably stop keeping a budget. I’ll bet a top concern for most when making a decision to leave a fulltime job or if they can afford to travel in an RV will be health insurance!

Perhaps just like you, we drafted our first budget based on projected income and then researched the average budget of several other RVers. Here is a link to my first research with references. Another good resource are Lee and Tracy Perkins at Camper Chronicles Blog. Or buy their e-book for $5 or paperback for honest and complete information about the lifestyle. I’m not paid a reward for referring them….

Top Budget Categories by Percentage of Budget

Groceries 25% of Expenses: We spent about $1,000 a month on groceries, having started out thinking we would only spend $600. Yes we are cooking at home more with the pandemic. We also have invited folks over for diner and enjoy hosting family cookouts. We also discovered the wonderful variations for shopping to include excellent, although sometimes expensive, stores in the 16 states we have traveled. This budget includes beer and wine! Almost forgot, this includes the dog’s food and treats.

Camping Fees 20% of Expenses: We started out thinking we would spend $787 a month or $25 a night when we actually spent $828 or $27 a night. We don’t travel on “vacation” away from the RV such as going to Europe. Our RV is 34’11” long and 13′ tall where we can still find spaces in state and Corp of Engineer parks where the camping rates are sometimes more reasonable. We don’t mind spending a week or a month in one spot for the discounts, especially if the place is a destination spot such as the Black Hills of South Dakota or where we are now in St. Augustine Florida. Our budget/income does not prevent us from traveling to places we want to visit. We don’t own any of the major discount RV club memberships such as Thousand Trails. Nor have we workcamped for a free spot, utilities or laundry. We do pay annual dues for: Escapees which handles our mail service, Passport America for 50% off campsites which we rarely use unless the parks are on our travel route, we still have a Good Sam’s membership which we first got for the half off RV shows. None of the discount RV travel services we have are usable for weekly or monthly stays which are already cheaper than the daily rates. I’m finding that generally using the military veteran discount or senior discount at parks easily could replace Good Sam’s or any other 10% off discount club. So far, we do not boondock or stay places for free while traveling such as Walmart parking lots. Sometimes we stay longer at camping spots that exceed our nightly budget but often find the fuel savings by not traveling offset at least a portion of the extra camping cost.

Taxes and Insurance is 11% of our Expenses: This category excludes health insurance and other medical costs. It does include about $271 a month in federal income tax and $216 a month for truck and RV insurance (fulltime RV living coverage) which includes roadside assistance. The category also includes truck and RV registration renewals which were $276 for the year in Polk County Texas.

Extras are 10% of Expenses: I don’t track every dollar we spend so this category includes whatever is unaccounted for. And if you travel with a spouse it’s a good idea to have money each of you can spend without having to report it for the budget results. We have a bank account with Bank of America which is linked to a Merrill account for investing. We are preferred members because of our balance and therefore they refund all ATM fees regardless of where we use the ATM. We also travel with a little cash for cases where the RV park requires it or we want some quick spending money.

Medical Insurance and Expenses were 7% of the Expenses: A portion of the year included both using a high deductible Obamacare policy. Eight months later Karen was elidable for Medicare which is $243 a month with supplemental plans. I still use Obamacare which costs me $24 a month. We have money set aside in a health savings account to cover the deductibles in case of a medical emergency. Neither of us have any on-going medical needs. We don’t have eye or dental insurance. The current 2021 budget amount is higher than last year at $388 a month total. Also, our plans are not eligible for health savings account deposits but we can still use what is in the existing account. This category includes doctor visit fees and prescriptions.

Fuel for the Truck is 6% of our Expenses: Yup, 2020 had some low fuel prices. I think we traveled as much as we wanted despite the pandemic. Our average monthly expense was $228 a month. The 2020 budget was $550 a month which I lowered to $414 a month in the 2021 budget. By the way, as of today we have traveled 8,516 miles in our RV. I keep track for scheduled maintenance. Our big powerful truck overall averages 14 to 15 miles per gallon. Ten when towing. This category includes diesel exhaust fluid (D.E.F.) which I’ll estimate to cost about two cents a mile depending on towing conditions and D.E.F. prices.

We do not own a second vehicle but I could see that in our future if we stay on the road long-term. Karen does not drive the truck which restricts her movement. This can be an issue and I’ll presume a reason others eventually purchased a second vehicle. Especially when parked for months in an area. Years ago, RV Dreams did a study on the cost for a second vehicle versus driving a big truck everywhere. They claim savings from not driving the truck everywhere offsets the operating costs of their Jeep. They also wrote getting a second vehicle was their number one or two best decision. Of course their travel style may be different from ours. Personally I would think it difficult to have someone follow you all over the country in the second vehicle, pay an extra fee to park it at a campsite or even having room in a normal RV camping spot for the second vehicle. All this may be a reason some tend to get the second vehicle after first spending years on the road. Others park it wherever they end up spending the most time and then drive it back and forth on shorter camping trips from home base. When the spouse does not drive big trucks might also be a reason to get a motorhome and tow something smaller behind it. We are thinking about renting a car at times for Karen.

And Equal at about 3% each of our Expenses: Eating out (average $139 a month), Entertainment (averaged $96 a month during the pandemic) and RV/Truck maintenance (averaged $139 a month). We have a heavy 2019 fifth wheel and 2019 diesel dually truck which have required no expensive repairs. Our budget includes all the lubricants and spare parts it takes to keep a rig maintained. Having a new puppy and the virus thing sometimes prevents us from eating out, although we are discovering outside dining. Fortunately what we like for entertainment happens to be less expensive. We will spend on tours in scenic places, shows and fun activities we may never get back to in our travels.

I’ll also mention our monthly expenses for phone and TV entertainment is 1.6% of our budget. We do not have satellite TV nor miss it. My job pays for my cell phone. We have a hotspot for cell data and the Winegard on top of the RV does a good job of picking up campground WIFI signals when available. We stream with Amazon Prime and have a larger DVD collection or take advantage of campground libraries. We spent weeks on the high plains of Kansas with no local television reception and a slim data connection. I’ll bet most spend more per month than we do in this category which is why I mention it.

2021 Planned Expenses

First and foremost, I don’t plan to ever let finances be an issue when we are on the road. There is just too much else that can go wrong without making things harder. Sometimes you just have to throw money at a problem to fix it which can including booking that expensive camping spot near a great place because you can’t find anything less expensive. I am also not the type to worry about saving ten cents a gallon on fuel by finding inconvenient places to refuel.

After a complete review of our expenses for 2020 I’m anticipating they will be higher in 2021 and not just because the pandemic is letting up. So right now I’m expecting to spend $49,716 for the year or $4,143 a month before taxes. As the year progresses we may be able to cut some costs. Knowing where we spend the most money is a good place to consider paying more attention.

What We Have Spent So Far Furnishing and Upgrading Our Home

As a side note, unrelated to monthly expenses, I thought I’d share what we have spent in the last two years upgrading and furnishing our RV. So far we have spent $6,048. I’ve got a spread sheet of what we spent the money on. If you want a copy email me at mseneker@hotmail.com. I also have another $7,700 listed in that spread sheet for dream upgrades such as improved suspension and tires, satellite dish (doubt we will get that), bikes and bike rack, disc brakes and more. Best guess is we will only spend another $600 unless we decide to stay on the road for a much longer period, for a grand total of $6,648.

I broke down upgrades and furnishings into priorities with one being stuff we needed to get started or were adding the first year and four being dream world items. As time went on during our early months of travel I moved a lot of priority one items to priority two, thinking we should wait and see.

Don’t buy anything you can avoid buying when you first get started! You will be tempted for sure.

Arriving in Florida

We arrived in Florida on February 2nd, making it the 16th state we have visited in our RV over the past 18 months or so. Karen and I count a state as having been visited if we spend at least one night in our RV within the state. Our anticipated six week stop in Florida began with a two night stay at Triple C Campground located near Chattahoochee Florida. Then we traveled just 127 miles to Mayo Florida where we spent a week with friends from Washington State along the Suwanee River. Since then we have moved another 121 miles to the Ocala Florida area which I’ll describe in a future post.

Goodbye to the less than warm winter temperatures of southern Alabama. Our first route in Florida would be east on I-10 from Gulf Shores Alabama, south on Florida 53 to US 27. All good roads with moderate traffic. Even around the State Capital in Tallahassee Florida the weekday speed limits were not reduced. Cedar Key was a day trip without the RV.

I recommend Triple C Campground as a great overnight stop or for a longer stay while traveling across I-10, about 30 minutes west of Tallahassee. We met a few snowbirds at the campground which is very easy to get to from the interstate yet there is minimal road noise within the wooded country setting. Locals say it can still get “cold” here in the winter.

Our spot at Triple C Campground located about one mile from I-10. Sites are a little close and we saw much longer rigs come and go. Swimming pool and okay WIFI. Cell towers across the street!

Our introduction to Florida history began at Lake Seminole which the Chattahoochee River flows into from the north. The lake drains into the Apalachicola River from the damn. One side of the Lake is in Georgia. Along the Florida bank of the the Apalachicola is the Chattahoochee City Park with its well done yet short walking tour. Our dog Wyatt had to settle with swimming in the Apalachicola as we cared not to make the drive up to the actual Chattahoochee. After the photos I may bore a few with a short history lesson which builds upon images of two monuments. The town of Chattahoochee looked a little economically depressed to me and we found no reason to stop for a walk downtown. Wish the dog had not been with us as I really wanted to try one of the local side street restaurants featuring homecooked meals.

Last of the seven Indian mounds built in the Fort Walton period (1450-1650). They were residential mounds, not burial or ceremonial mounds.
Apalachicola River down stream from the Lake Seminole Damn shown at the top of the photo. In the center is the old 1930’s bridge which was not demolished when replaced by a new bridge. At the nearby boat launch, local fishermen said they had not seen any gators in the area.

And Now the Short Unqualified History Lesson

Having lived in the Midwest most of my life, I find Florida history to be fascinating. What draws me to the area, other than winter warmth, is a chance to get to know the states colonial history and the interesting landscape. You are never more than 60 miles from an ocean in this third most populous state of the nation which has the most shoreline. Unexpectedly, we came upon a dozen monuments scattered near the Chattahoochee City Park tying the history to portions of the remaining British Empire in North America before and during the War of 1812. I knew Florida had been a Spanish territory, Florida being the Spanish word for full of flowers or flowery. My quest to further understand the history would have to include the Spanish portion which drove me deeper into the Indian peoples history in the area. Then going back even further between 28 to 34 million years, Don’t worry, I’m not about to try and get all the details in this post 🙂 Adding too many details could lead to making unwanted historical errors and having to read too many books for research.

As I drafted the portion of the blog post to cover Florida history around the time before and after the War of 1812, it became apparent I could not do it justice. I gave up on a comprehensive history and decided just to write about what I found immediately interesting, especially in light of our travels throughout the southern states. There just was too much going on in different parts of Florida. I can see reading a book on the War of 1812 as well as the periods during the Seminole Wars is in my future.

So, millions of years ago continents were floating around banging into one another or breaking apart. Florida was in the middle of a continent which broke apart with a landmass emerging as Florida in the shape of a its current peninsula. Glaciers held much of the earths water about 2.58 million years ago. The sea level dropped, causing the state to surface with a landmass about twice as large as it is today! As the glaciers began to melt Florida lost landmass, becoming warmer and holding more fresh water. About 14,000 years ago, with lower sea levels native people moved in finding and living around fresh water in the form of sinkholes and limestone basins. People lived in large villages and, among other places, atop earthwork mounds. Hmm, as we have now moved on in our travels to the Ocala Florida area, these spring feed rivers, originating from aquafers and sinkholes are making more sense.

Spain explored the area in about 1513, typically bringing infectious germs with them which killed off much of the native people. Some say the Portuguese were here earlier. Eventually English settlers came down to this part of Florida from the British colonies and there was a lot of fighting. At some point the French would capture Spanish settlements as well. Spain traded Florida territory to Great Britain for Cuba by 1763. Then North American British colonies declared independence in 1776 which was not popular in British portions of Florida where they were not as effected by the British B.S. such as taxes and policies. The Spanish were indirectly allied with France during the American Revolution. The war ended and Florida returned to Spanish control with typical arguments over boundaries to include northern Florida. I’m still finding it a bit confusing, but the state appears to have been divided into east and west. Oh well, more to study later… Skipping on to the period around the War of 1812, sometimes called the second American Revolution. Britain had kept forts in the United States as they were pissed off the United States had not made good on all their treaty promises such as paying loyal British people for seized property. The War of 1812 erupted in June and ended in 1815. During which time the United State’s White House was burned in retaliation for an American attack in the City of York, Ontario Canada in 1813 (neat side note).

Now, as we discovered in that small riverside park in Chattahoochee Florida, there were British solders and their Indian friends, which resulted in fighting between the Americans, British and Seminole Indians. Americans had continued to move into West Florida from up north. Skipping further ahead, President Madison claimed West Florida was part of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain sided with Great Britain during the War of 1812. Eventually, and sometime later, Major General Andrew Jackson was dispatched to the area of Chattahoochee to dispatch the British and Indian forces. Having also been earlier successful in New Orleans during the War of 1812. I made a mental note to study up on the Seminole Wars around the period of 1817-1818. After Jackson came in, Spain decided that Florida was a burden and gave up control to the United States with a treaty effective in 1821. In 1822 Florida became a United States territory with the merger of East Florida and West Florida and established a capital in Tallahassee which was conveniently located between the East Florida capital of St Augustine and West Florida capital of Pensacola. Hmm… that explains why Tallahassee is located way up north in the Florida panhandle. As settlement of the land by Americans increased, pressure to remove the Indians increased. There were more disagreements with Seminole chiefs and in 1835 the U.S Army arrived to enforce treaties which perhaps the Seminoles never agreed too and lead to the Second Seminole War. In 1845 Florida became the 27th state of the United States. Almost half the state’s population were enslaved African Americans working plantations between the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers. “In the 1850’s the federal government decided to convince the remaining Seminoles to emigrate”. Those are not my word’s, they are what I read. The Third Seminole War lasted three years and ended with them moving to Indian Territory with a small number remaining in the Everglades. I also understand other Florida tribes were effected by President Andrew Jacksons earlier 1830’s Indian Removal Act and trail of tears. And the history goes on with Florida joining the Confederacy during the Civil War. I’m out of breath and will stop there.

And Now Back to Our RV Travels

I’m starting to see a side benefit of our travels around the country is helping to tie all the history together in a way I found not possible to achieve just by reading books or internet surfing. Our next move was to Mayo Florida to spend time with friends we got to know in Gulf Shores, Mark and Patty. We met at the Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Resort. We discovered this is another snowbird hangout where people stay long-term to escape the northern winter. You will find many from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the east coast states in parks around here. We also found a lot of weekenders from the surrounding area. Karen and I both agreed we could spend a month here, especially to take advantage of river kayaking. Wyatt got a chance to quickly swim at the kayak takeout point located in the park. Quickly because he will not calm down when he sees water and I thought it looked like a good area for gators to be hanging out.

The park includes one of the several fresh water springs present in the area. In this part of the country their springs bubble up out of the ground at constant 70 degree temperatures rather from hillside caves like I know in Missouri at 55 degrees. Convict Springs is named after the prisoners that used to stop here for a rest. Unfortunately there was no swimming in the springs which are attached to the main river channel via a stream which had backed up and flooded the spring. The park had many other amenities to include a heated pool and open hot tub. And unique areas such as a five section dog park that must be two acres in total size. The owner raises homing pigeons and one can beat on which one returns first every Saturday. We did not eat at the onsite restaurant but enjoyed the bike trails on the expansive property. There are state parks in the area however even an attempt to plan four months ahead found no state parks having open spots for our size rig.

Convict Spring flooded where it attaches via a short stream to the main Suwannee River channel
On one occasion, this dude was flying around the campground and gave me a wave from his seat in the front of the plane.

We enjoyed our time with Mark and Patty the most. While the girls stayed at home, Mark and I made a 90 minute drive to where the Suwanee River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key Florida. The small island community was beautiful, especially in mid-70 weather and sunshine. We rented a golf cart, drove around and enjoying lunch overlooking the ocean. This is a home for local fisherman with access on the back side of the island were we found their boats. We also found the factory where they take the days catch and were able to purchase seafood that came in that morning. Turns out shrimps does taste different when its fresh! Can’t find that in Missouri.

Mark from Washington State – Friend, tour guide, lunch partner and gladly taught me how to buy and prepare fresh seafood
2004 photo of Cedar Keys Florida

Sorry to hear family in Missouri and Michigan are going through weeks of Canadian weather. If it helps, Karen tells me Missouri was colder than Michigan today. Don’t worry, we are wearing our sunscreen down here and dreadfully living with shorter periods of rain – darn it.

Leaving Gulf Shores Alabama for Florida – Plenty of RV Maintenance Completed

We are finishing a two month stay at Island Retreat RV Resort at Gulf Shores Alabama and heading towards central and north Florida for at least five weeks. We have enjoyed the stay but its time to move on. The weather has been okay at Gulf Shores but a little cold for a winter spot in December and January. Locals say this has been a colder winter than normal. We had hoped for consistent temperatures in the mid-sixties without luck. Karen and I briefly discussed next winters plans and wonder how the weather and wind would be near Brownville Texas at Port Isabel? Last year we stayed on the Texas gulf shore around Rockport and Aransas. It’s doubtful we will ever return to the Alabama Gulf Shores but it was certainly worth the first time visit. Judging by the winter vehicle traffic this certainly is a popular winter spot. It must be insane around here during spring break with all the hotels that line the shore. If I had to plan a visit to Gulf Shores Alabama again, I’d think February/March would be a good winter time to stop on the route.

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Winter Stop in Gulf Shores Alabama

It is 45 degrees outside and cloudy which is good weather for staying inside to catch up on our past five weeks on the road. We are currently stopped at Island Retreat RV Park in Gulf Shores Alabama, having arrived on 12/2/20 for a two month stay. Our plans include leaving here on 2/2/21 for Florida with a couple stops before arriving at Stagecoach RV Park in St. Augustine on 2/15/21. The only other stop we have booked so far is near Mayo Florida on 2/4/21 at Suwannee River Rendezvous. We are still researching a stop in Ocala. As usual, towards the end of the post I have added a couple RV topics to include a unique fifth wheel build.

Alabama has less than 40 miles of Gulf of Mexico shoreline. Lots of traffic in this area because of few major highways. Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are the main towns. All have easy access from Interstate 10 which can include a bypass around Foley. Winter temperatures should be days in the low 60’s and nights in the 40’s.
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Journey Through South Central Louisiana to Natchez Mississippi

The above might be a confusing map of our most recent trip. Having to navigate through south central Louisiana and Mississippi on the way to our ultimate destination at Gulf Shores Alabama was both challenging and rewarding.

We have driven on the preferred I-10 route in the past, from west of Houston to New Orleans. We opted for a change of scenery and chance for new discoveries by taking inland routes. There were but a few decent highways I could locate that would take us through the interior from the west to the east in this part of the country. Our trailer is 13′ tall at its tallest point, the front air conditioner, when hooked up to the truck for towing. The yellow X marked on the above map is a low bridge which caused us to reroute to the north. Thankfully both our RV GPS and RV Trip Wizard have user preference settings where you can input, among other things, the height of your rig. Both detected the low bridge over the Sabine River in Louisiana while I was planning the route. We also have a paper Rand McNalley Motor Carriers (trucker’s) Atlas that I’ll refer to at times for route ideas. The highway with the low bridge was actually shown as a truck route in the atlas. Even though semi trucks are at the maximum allowable height of 13’6″ when the bridge clearance in question was closer to 12′ tall. One feature I do like about the atlas is a section that lists all the low highway bridges by state. One can also get in a jam during the drive through Mobile Alabama because of a low tunnel clearance (which we avoided). More on that in my next blog post.

Alexandria Louisiana

The first leg of the trip was from Livingston Texas (just north of Houston) eastbound to Alexandria Louisiana. We truly enjoyed the peaceful drive through the wooded countryside. Portions of the drive was on Louisiana scenic byways to include the El Camino Real (King’s Highway) which connected the original colonies to old Mexico and the west .

Last year we spent time in southern Louisiana where a local suggested we take a trip further north where old settlements were located. At Alexandria we had a hard time finding a camping spot because of the damage in the south from multiple hurricanes. Campsites were full of insurance adjusters and workers. As we drove into Alexandria we discovered cotton plantations for the first time. Unfortunately the virus thing has somewhat restricted tours of these still active older plantations. It was interesting to see cotton in fields and bailed along the roadways. Alexandria was a quick stop. We ended up staying at River Cities RV Park just off Interstate 49. Scheduling a stop at this park can be totally without contact with management. Book and pay online, get a gate code, pull in and sleep. We were in site 17 closer to the front and nearer to the highway. Road noise was not an issue however.

Clipped photo from campground web page. River Cities RV Park has the most unique business model. These parks need to show up all over the country. Designed for ease of short stays with minimal amenities on a clean concrete spot. They actually had grass between the spots rather than weeds.

I say it’s about time an RV park is designed to the smallest detail for Rver’s for the intended purpose, if that be a wonderful stay in nature or finding a place to simply sleep for the night. Small details like marking a park map with directions which way to pull into the spot to connect to utilities. Wide roads that are not one-way. Central location for laundry and restroom. When you pull out to leave the next morning you find signage pointing towards the exit where someone actually considered the best way to go without hitting anything on a curve. I called the owner to complement their park design.

If you are interested in Civil War history then Alexandria has much to offer. We spent part of a day at pet friendly Fort Randolph. This area was part of the fascinating Red River Campaign in 1864 fought to control the waterways. The fort is an earthworks post rather than one built of wood or brick. Constructed to house guns to shot down at Union ships making their way along the river. There is a wonderful museum to tour and a walk out to the fort through the woods. Unfortunately hurricanes had damaged the area but strangely the damage was interesting to witness. Talk about a small world. I spent some time talking to the Ranger at the front desk who was a published historian and civil war reenactor. I mentioned Missouri lost a great historian and friend of my family by the first name of Jay to which the Ranger asked if that was Jay Jackson (click on his name). We thought back about Jay’s uniqueness to include being the go to man nationally for correct civil war era uniforms.

Painting found inside Fort Randolph museum with fort along the river.
Storm damaged boardwalk that extend above the forts earthworks. If would have been nice to stare down at the fort rather than walking through the dirt trenches.

Natchez Mississippi

Fortunately we can all tour historic Natchez Mississippi in its originally beauty. Unlike Alexandrea Louisiana, Natchez was not burnt to the ground during the Civil War, presumably as Union troops had occupied it through the end of the war. Natchez was our destination for the Thanksgiving holiday where we spent a week along the Mississippi River camped at River View RV Park (located across the bridge on the Louisiana side).

A few facts I can recall is that Natchez was named after the Indians that occupied the area. Founded in 1716, it is the oldest permanent settlement on the Mississippi River. At one time Natchez, on a per-capita basis, was home to the most millionaires in the country prior the Civil War. It is the starting point to the Natchez Trace trail that runs over 400 miles north to Nashville Tennessee. It was the first capital of the Mississippi territory before the capital was eventually moved to Jackson Mississippi. Surviving antebellum homes are plentiful. Natchez is a must stop for anyone traveling near the area. The town of 15,000 welcomes an estimated 700,000 visitors a year.

You know a city had money when they could line the ditches with brick… Or was it they had cheap labor in the form of slavery?

There is a lot to do in Natchez which I’ll not attempt to describe. For us, we wanted a spot to stay over the holiday where we knew there was plenty to do outside for a week. You all know Karen and I are not much for visiting big cities as we have been there – done that – in our younger days. Once the virus thing clears out, and the dog is old enough to stay at home for longer periods, we will be more likely to see the indoor sites.

Yet another wonderful cemetery to tour… “Established in 1822 on a 10 acres tract, the Natchez City Cemetery is notable for its variety of 19th century iron and marble work.” We also found the planted landscaping to be wonderful.

Here is an interesting one. A child’s grave where the mother had glass put over the coffin at the bottom of the stairs. Later, a concrete cover was added.
And this one where the deceased asked to be buried in his rocking chair, hence the pyramid design of the tomb.

The city cemetery was big, but perhaps not as large as another down the street about a quarter mile north. In this case the cemetery was not marked, there are no tombstones and no directions to be found online or elsewhere. After a bit of detective work, such as watching video of news reports and checking topographic images of the area, compared against description of the “concentration camp” I believe I located The Devils Punchbowl (click for video).

I had done quit a bit of reading regarding General Grant’s army in the area. In his own words, Washington DC had not established a plan for ex-slaves coming into Union army encampments. And apparently there was no plan to handle the mass of freed slaves that followed at the end of the war. I might also note that Mississippi did not come back into the Union until 1870, which is after the war ended in 1864. During this period of “reconstruction” the south was occupied by Union armies. You may not know the occupation was ended in 1877 after the “election” of President Hayes. The election became known as the Compromise of 1877. If you think this past election was controversial you may be shocked to read about Hayes’. Basically the democratic party conceded the election to the republicans if they promised to remove troops from the south. Hayes was awarded the election and the troops were removed.

Not all Union solders were happy to have been involved in a war where most thought they were fighting to free slaves. Many were fighting to preserve a Union or were drafted into the army. Thousands of freed slaves descended into Natchez where the town of 10,000 grew to over 100,000 nearly overnight. Union solders rounded up ex-slaves and placed them in concentration camps. One camp was located between cliffs along the Mississippi river where pirates and others had once hang out. Legend has it that 20,000 of these freed slaves died in the Punchbowl. The Union army gave survivors shovels and they buried their dead in place. You will not find the Devil’s Punchbowl on any list of top things to do in the area. I wanted to find it so I could stand at the edge of the cliffs and have a silent moment to think about the terrible loss of life during a terrible time in our country’s history.

This is the general area of the Devil’s Punchbowl. Drive north from the city cemetery on Cemetery Road to the first bluff on the left. I found a cross street with parking at Old Smith Road. Be careful if you walk over to the bluff where I found footprints on the short hill. It is a sheer drop off to the bottom.
Looking down into the Punchbowl all you see are tree tops.
This is private property so I only looked across from the cliff. You can see the Mississippi River faintly in the distance.

It’s important to point out the terrible parts of our country’s history. But I’ll move on from here to the RV park festivities for Thanksgiving. Management figured out how we could all get together safely. You signed up and brought a dish. Management provided the meat and drinks. All the food was kept on tables inside a large room while we ate as family groups spread out at tables outside. Management served the food while wearing gloves and masks and restricting access to the food line at the entrance door.

Views of boats heading down the Mississippi. The campground is right on the river where a very long paved walking can be used. Sorry I did not take many photos of the area to include the views of lights at night in town or on the bridge. If we are ever in the area again I could see staying for a month as there is much to do in town and nearby.

We are currently at Island Retreat RV Park in Gulf Shores. I’ll update you later regarding the remainder of the trip here through Hattiesburg MS and Mobile Alabama. We are in Gulf Shores for two months which will be or longest stay since hitting the road in August of 2019.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. – Mark

Back at Lake Livingston Texas and a Day Trip to Nearby Huntsville.

We tried another route south out of Missouri to Livingston Texas which is located about 70 miles north of Houston. Last year we traveled south out of Branson Missouri down US 65 Highway. This year we gave US 69 a try through Oklahoma. I’ve got another route in mind but could use some advice regarding the best highways if anyone is familiar with the route. US 69 was a terrible highway for the most part. Other than over a toll road called the Indian Nations TPKE of Oklahoma which was scenic and relatively smooth.

Route from Missouri through Oklahoma to Livingston Texas down US69/259/59. One of the reasons we take US Highways is to avoid chances of low bridges although I have a trucker’s atlas that lists them all for most highways, as does my trip planning software.

We will be leaving Livingston Texas on 11/19/20 for a 13 day journey to Gulf Shores Alabama with stops in Alexandrea LA, Natchez MS for Thanksgiving and Hattiesburg MS. We are considering a trip to Florida after February 2nd.

Along the earlier trip south from Missouri we stayed at Belle Starr Corp. of Engineer Park in Stigler Oklahoma to take advantage of our 50% off camping rate using the America the Beautiful Pass. Awesome park with extra large full hookup pull throughs. The weather was rainy and caused us to extend the stay for a night to avoid heavier winds/rain. We spent all our time inside because of the weather. Our fifth wheel/truck does great in wind but I don’t like packing up in cold storms.

Belle Starr COE Site W26. Some shade without having branches overhead hitting the rig. Easy in but there were side roads within the park to avoid which had low branches. $11 a night on full hookups in a pull through spot using our America the Beautiful Pass.
Neat morning view across the lake at Belle Starr COE as the water was way warmer than the air.

We paid a little extra and stayed for three nights along the trip at Barefoot Bay RV Marina and Resort located in Pittsburg Texas. Nice park along the side of a lake. Notable was the booking process was confusing. This was the first time we had to pay for the spot plus a $100 refundable security deposit. I had not been told to check out at the office before we left in order to get the security deposit refund. No worries, I called them after the fact and all was taken care off. No need to get upset when parks have rules that are unusual. That’s part of fulltime RVing. I’ve got a decent system for keeping notes using Google Calendar. It might appear to be a lot of work to keep detailed notes, as well as all the trip planning, but it’s not. You come up with a system and use it over and over and over until it becomes second nature. I also use Google Calendar to keep track of our future locations. Sure feels good to know we are booked into spots through February 2nd.

This is an image of my Google Calendar app through the month of November. If I click on a date I can bring up my notes which include everything important to me about a campsite/reservation.

Below are the photos from Barefoot Bay Marina and Resort as well as some RV tips. I’ve got family who want the travel photos for sure – check them out so you don’t miss anything that might be important:)

Site 17 – away from all the “seasonal” campers. I’ll not say what spot the guy was from but his nightly routine was that of a drug dealer. I avoided the urge to follow him one night to make sure 🙂 Although that would have been fun to do. This park is okay to stay at, I just have a hipper awareness and genetic disposition to detect potential creeps.
First RV campground dog park ever for us that was located along a lake view. Wyatt loved it now that he is old enough and has his shots to be around dog parks. Picking up after your dog is a must do rule. Some had not in this dog run. Parvo is transmitted by direct contact with infected animal feces and can survive for months on a surface. A side note would be along the drive on this trip we took a break at a Love’s Truck Stop that had a dog park. Never knew those were out there.
First time seeing an actual towable tiny house in a spot. It’s hard to see, but that white dog skeleton Halloween decoration got Wyatt as it had a motion sensor that caused it to bark.
Wyatt was confused with the Halloween dog decoration barked at him when he tripped the motion sensor.
Compared BBQ tastes with the excellent cook across the street. I bought two bottles of Joe’s BBQ sauce before we left Kansas City!
Park decorated their short nature trail with spooky Halloween decorations.
Yup, we have a full size ironing board that is stored for travel behind our love seats. RVing is not just all about the travel. Life goes on and there is no way Karen will wear wrinkled clothes or allow me to. Those apartment size ironing boards, which we tried, are junk. Often campsite laundry rooms have a board but Karen enjoys ironing back home while watching TV and having a place to hang laundry. PS – there is a towel over our rug at the front door. When it’s rainy we put the towel down. Just another simple tip that you might already be aware of. Our camper still smells new when we walk through the door after a day outside. Yup, even with the new dog who has done outstanding with house training, presumably because he is with us 24/7. We will soon start to work up to leaving him alone inside. We hang our jackets over the dining room chairs unless wet then they go in the shower. No need for a coat closet if that’s on your must-haves when looking at RV’s to purchase.
Among other decorations in our camper is this card which Karen keeps in the kitchen window. Says a lot about the lifestyle.

And finally we arrive in Livingston Texas, home of our domicile. Lake Livingston State Park is our favorite in the area. We have also stayed at the Escapees Headquarters park with reason in the past. Lots of full-timers at Escapees to bounce ideas off. This state park is wonderful even compared against others we have stayed at. $16 a night on full hookups, on a concrete pad, with paved roads. The workcampers in the area have asked more than once if we were interested in a job. Karen and I would be leaning more towards a camp host job in Missouri near family, especially as the Texas summer heat will kill a person. We have another year or more of travel before any decision along that line. Our projected monthly budget is over our income by about $250 to $500 a month but we saved up $$$ to make up the difference for a years travel before we took off. With the virus thing going on, we have not been traveling like we planned so have not been using savings.

Before I forget to mention. While in Livingston Texas we handled our routine stuff like me having a doctors visit and getting the tags renewed on the truck and RV. Doctor says my overall cholesterol level has dropped 50 points in a year. No meds for me for now. Just keep doing what I’m doing. I had no idea reduced stress and anxiety lowers cholesterol. I still eat whatever but can say retirement from the job is helping with the stress. Doctor also advised to take vitamin D3 to help my immune system and Zinc which is good in case you get the virus thing. I went to the store after the doctor visit to find them sold out of Zinc. Karen had a bottle and said people have been buying stores out.

Also replaced the front tires on the truck with a commercial grade tire after a factory tire threw a belt, which Ram truck Nexen tires are known for. You can get about 20-25,000 miles out of the stock Nexen front tires on a dually pulling a heavy trailer. Maybe 40,000 on the back tires which is what the stock tires are warranted to achieve on a heavy duty truck. I’ll change the rear tires next year. Found Larry at Cook Tire and Service Center in Livingston Texas to be a valuable resource. Larry says changing shocks on the front of the truck would allow for longer wear on the tires. I decided to spend a couple hundred extra on better tires, especially as commercial truck tires are way less likely to blow out due to sidewall strength.

Site 3 at Lake Livingston Texas State Park. Easy driver’s side back-in with no overhead obstructions off a wide roadway. We pushed the trailer to the back of concrete pad to allow more room to park the truck and added an extra length of sewer hose to reach the hookup. Our 34’11” trailer and truck prefer 55′ spots but 50′ will work if I park the truck sideways. With no trees near the pad at the rear of the site, we can extend the back of the trailer over the grass for several feet. Did you know you can measure lengths in Google Earth? Lots of room between spots in the woods. There are excellent trails to walk or ride to include a one mile boardwalk. This is a huge lake. Have not seen a gator yet, even when our dog Wyatt goes swimming each day.
Still learning new stuff to cook with cast iron. This time it was spaghetti sauce. This is one serious fire pit. Adjustable cooking surface and a concrete base. Hmm… wonder if having good fire pits is a sure sign of a better managed park? So many have crappy fire pits.

Took a trip to nearby Huntsville Texas to spend the day with Sam Houston. There is lots to do in this town which might warrant a three day stay in the area. We decided to tour locations with outdoor amenities to stay safe from the virus and give Wyatt a place to walk.

Sam Houston was the first President of the Texas Republic and General of it’s army. His statue is 77′ tall and within view of Interstate 45.
The visitors center near the Sam Houston statue has a walking trail, a place for a picnic, gift shop and small museum. Might have RV parking if you take up extra spots on slow days. Easy to get to off a minor highway.
We found Sam’s grave. Huntsville is easy to get around in. The graveyard was huge with places for Wyatt to run. We enjoyed the many markers placed around the park telling about the people of the area who are buried here.
Found a village in the center of town full of old buildings. This one is known at the Steamboat House where Sam died. There is a museum on site and everything was free to see.
Weird – maybe – this is the mock up of Sam Houston’s waiting place after death inside the Steamboat House as seen through the glass viewing area outside.
A garden still in full bloom in November. Got to love Texas weather which in these parts might average 20 degrees warmer than what we were used to in Kansas City.
Sam’s office as a lawyer.
The Sam Houston Memorial Park has buildings scattered around it. Located across the Street from the Sam Houston State College. The huge complex has no entrance fee!

I know these posts can be long but I rarely post more than two a month. I’ve got one more idea to pass along. You will or have figured out a lot of this as Rver’s. If not I hope these tips help.

It’s quick to take a photo of the computer screen with a cell phone when researching park maps. To be referred to upon arrival for directions. For those with smaller rigs you have an advantage when navigating roads. Here are a couple recent examples.

Computer photo on my phone for our spot at Lake Livingston. No need to worry about if a map was available at check-in. Many park entrances are not maned because of the virus thing.
Our spot in Belle Starr COE. Notice the arrow from the entrance.
Barefoot Bay RV and Marina in Pittsburg Texas. I called them to find out where to park upon arrival to check-in as I could not see it on Google Earth nor listed on their website. Marked my map, saved to phone, before taking off on the trip.
It’s a crude drawing I know. A map of sites to visit in Huntsville Texas for our day touring Sam Houston locations. Took only a few minutes to draw it. We drove to town one direction and left in another after stopping at sites in a logical order.

Thanks for reading.

Mark

“The great misfortune is that a notion obtains with those in power that the world, or the people, require more governing than is necessary. To govern well is a great science, but no country is ever improved by too much governing… men think when they are elevated to position, that it requires an effort to discharge their duties, and they leave common sense out of the question.” – Sam Houston.

Goodbye South Dakota – Hello Missouri

We left Custer South Dakota in late September and have made our way through Nebraska and Missouri to visit family in three separate locations. Soon we are starting our migration to southeast Texas although we have not decided upon a winter home. We have discussed spending time in the Alabama Gulf Shores area, depending on recent hurricane damage, and maybe moving to Florida from there. Our plan is to repeat last years travel patterns which is moving from spot to spot with perhaps a monthly stay at times.

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