Leaving on a jet plane…

Some of you who have been following our travels may have noticed we ‘ve been putting on the miles since we left Arizona and headed east in late January.  One of the reasons is that I’ll be visiting family in the Philippines for a month and for various reasons we had planned my departure from Charlotte, NC.  In fact, by the time this is published I’ll be soaring high over the Pacific Ocean.

While I’m bonding with family, Steve will be attending a Freightliner chassis class in Gaffney, South Carolina.  He also has a long “Betsy list” of maintenance items to take care of, with the slide/leak issue at the very top.  By the time I get back Betsy should be in tip-top shape and Steve will have upgraded his knowledge of our complicated land yacht.

Even though The Lowes Adventures is taking some time out from traveling, we have a few unpublished (and hopefully interesting) stories lined up.  Steve will be publishing them periodically while I’m gone, so you won’t miss me too much 🙂

Betsy and Steve will be hanging out at Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina until I return.  Then, onward to the great northeastern states!

Kings Mountain State Park
Betsy will be at Kings Mountain State Park for a whole month, that’s our longest stop ever!

 

 



 

Experiencing the deep south – Montgomery, AL

Alabama State Capitol
Alabama State Capitol

With our beach days over for now, we headed back to the hills and north to Montgomery, Alabama.  As any history buff can verify, Montgomery has had two pivotal moments in American history – the birth of the Confederacy and the Civil Rights Movement.  There is no better place for me as an immigrant to delve into it than in the city which was the center of it all.  The city has done a great job of preserving, restoring and marking historical areas that allow us visitors to walk and follow the Civil Heritage Trail.  I will share a few highlights of the many historic sites – hopefully you won’t fall asleep halfway through.

Montgomery is where a fascinating period in American history began, when in Feb 1861 six of the seven seceded states formed a new nation to be called the Confederate States of America.  This is where they established a provisional government, selecting Montgomery as the provisional capital and electing their first and only president, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.

First White House of the Confederacy
First White House of the Confederacy

Because of its significance in American history, the state capitol is a designated National Landmark.  In Feb 1861, it served as the first capitol of the Confederacy with Jefferson Davis being sworn in on the front steps as its President. Much later, on March 25, 1965 this spot is where the Civil Rights March ended.  The march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., demanded voting rights for African Americans.  President Johnson passed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965 five months later.

Just around the corner from the capitol is the First White House of the Confederacy, where the President and his wife lived during the first months of the confederacy until the confederate capital moved to Richmond, VA in May 1861.

Montgomery Bus BoycottWe stood at the bus stop where, in 1955, Rosa Parks sparked the Bus Boycott – signaling the start of the Civil Rights Movement and making Montgomery the epicenter of a groundbreaking societal shift in this country.

An ornate  fountain built in 1885 on top of an existing artesian basin can be seen at the center of town.  It is named Court Square Fountain.
Court Square Fountain

On another day we drove about 20 miles from our campground to the Daniel Pratt Historic Disctrict in the city of Prattville.  We checked out Autauga Creek and the manufacturing complex around which this New Engand style village was developed by Daniel Pratt.  He chose this town to build his gin mill, saw mill and grist mill on the banks of Autauga Creek in the early 1830’s.

Autauga Creek
Autauga Creek and the Pratt manufacturing complex
Olympian Center, Jasmin Hills and Gardens
Olympian Center

Before the rain hit us again, I visited the Jasmine Hill Gardens, nicknamed “Alabama’s little corner of Greece”.  It is a 20-acre garden that features mythical gods and Olympian heroes.  The facade of the Olympian Center, which is the entrance to the garden, is an adaptation of the Temple of Hera the oldest sacred building in Olympia, Greece

The gardens feature reproductions of famous Greek works of art and Olympian heroes and inside was the world’s only full-size replica of the Temple of Hera ruins at Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games.

Temple of Hera Ruins
Replica of Temple of Hera Ruins

Jasmine Hill Gardens

The rain did come, and we had a leak leak similar to the one at Patagonia, AZ.  This time Steve figured out that the rain had created a pool of water on top of the slide cover and seeped through it.  So, we know the cause of the problem and that it only happens under certain conditions.  Now all we have to do is figure out what to do about it. wpid11985-2013-04-05-AL-1380012.jpg

We stayed at our first US Army Corp of Engineers (COE) campground, and it became one of our favorites.  We stayed on the Catoma Loop at Gunter Hill Campground, the newer of the the two loops.  The park is wooded and right on a lake.  Most of the sites are super long and there is generous space between sites.  The downside is that there are no hiking trails, but we made do by walking/biking to the other Antioch Loop, which is about 4 miles roundtrip.  I particularly liked it here, as our feathered friends were abundant in the area.  The park is about 20 miles south of Montgomery.  Click here for Steve’s review.

Steve loves to cook, and when the weather turned gorgeous he did his thing:

And with spring come the blooms!

 



 

 

Even more things to do at Perdido Key, FL

We were surprised to learn how many things there are to do here at this barrier island, Perdido Key, FL.  More than 60% of it’s 16 miles is set aside as protected land and off limits to development, making it one of the last remaining unblemished stretches of wilderness in the Florida panhandle.  This means opportunities for outdoor fun are plentiful.  Aside from boasting some of the purest, whitest sand anywhere in Florida, they also lay claim to some of the best trails and parks around.  Naturally, we were excited to do some exploring.  The Key is truly off the beaten path, for there were no crowds at any of the places we checked out – even though spring break was still in full force!

Perdido Key
Perdido Key, with the marker indicating location of Perdido Cove RV Resort

Although the first few days were very chilly and breezy, I braved the weather to visit the Big Lagoon State Park, a five minute drive from where we stayed.  It’s located along the Intercoastal Waterway and offers narrow beaches, shallow bays, open woodlands and lots of recreation activities.  There are only two trails to follow, one being the 3.5 mile long Sand Pine Trail which is mostly sand-based with some grasses.  The other is the Estuary Trail, 2 miles long and also sand based with boardwalk portions.  This park is also a gateway site to the Great Florida Birding Trail 🙂  If you like birds, click here to see my Florida bird shot collection.

Big Lagoon State Park
Boardwalk to the pavilion on the Estuary Trail

I climbed the 3-story observation tower located along the east beach and was wowed by views of the park, Gulf Islands National Seashore and Perdido Key.

Big Lagoon State Park
Panoramic view of Perdido Key from the observation tower
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore

After several days we finally awoke to warm and sunny skies, yeah!  So, off for another nature trek, this time to Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park , also a five minute drive from our park.  This preserve offers three hiking trails with wildlife viewing.  Wish we had seen some!  But the trails were beautiful and we didn’t see another human until almost the end of our walks.

The Tarklin Bayou Trail is 1.3 miles (round trip) on an elevated boardwalk that meanders through prairie, cypress and titi forests and ends at an observation area that provides a scenic view of the bayou.  It’s a nice place to stop for a private lunch!

The 7 mile Perdido Trail winds through pine and mixed hardwood.  It crosses seepage streams and some muddy areas, but we managed to cross them without getting muddied up.  On this trail beautiful butterflies were encircling us and I managed to get one good shot.

Lastly, the Wet Prairie Trail is 2.5 miles long and as the name suggests it winds through a wet prairie ecosystem.  It was the most difficult to walk, with a fairly long section of bumpy, moist soil that could use some improvement.

Perdido Key is also one of the six Principal Islands that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  It makes this place very attractive as an active destination.  Our last few days here were spent, where else, on the beach!  Rosamond Johnson Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is considered among the whitest, most beautiful sand beaches in America.  Whether that’s true or not, we thoroughly enjoyed our days at the beach.  The $8 admission fee at Gulf Islands National Seashore was good for 7 days, and we made use of it.  If you go here, be sure to buy the pass as soon as you arrive so you can, too.

Bottle Nose Dolphins
~Bottle Nose Dolphins cruising along the water
Boiled Peanuts
Cajun spiced boiled peanuts

wpid11641-2013-03-29-FL-1370587.jpgFlorida and fresh fish are synonymous, of course.  The sight of a huge array of seafood at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market – not your average seafood market – prompted us to buy a lot more than we should have.   Thanks Erin, we were so delighted with your suggestion to go there.  To end that trip, we stopped at one of the roadside vendors to buy boiled peanuts.  We got both the regular and cajun spiced, and couldn’t wait to get home to gobble them up with a nice cold beer.  Yum!

I also spent a day with my cousin Annie and her husband JD, who graciously gave me a tour around ValParaiso, Eglin AFB, and Destin, including a delicious lunch at a Filipino Restaurant. I had a great time, thanks so much.

Cousin Annie and I
Good times with my cousin, Annie (left)

We were forewarned about some of the pricey RV parks in Florida, so the cost to stay at Perdido Cove RV Resort and Marina was not a surprise.  We liked the park because of its proximity to the things we wanted to do, and we also enjoyed the diverse sights and sounds that we experienced.  Small and large boats/yachts, barges and canoes, dolphins cruised by, and the Pelicans gave it just the right feel.  But it was also under an approach to the naval base, with LOUD jets coming in often.   Click here to read Steve’s park review, if you’re interested.

Perdido Cove RV Resort
Perdido Cove RV Resort

What a busy week we had, it was our last time at the beach for several months.

Finally, a sunset taken from Big Lagoon.

Big Lagoon

 



 

Southern Sojourn – Gulf Shores, AL

Mobile Bay FerryWe did something a bit different upon leaving Dauphin Island for our next destination, Gulf Shores, AL.  You see, the ferry is taking only cars and motorcycles right now; no RV’s.  So, Steve had to drive Betsy 85 miles along the Alabama Scenic Byway (not a bad gig) while I simply hopped a ferry ride across Mobile Bay to Gulf Shores – 29 miles total for me!  The Mobile Bay Ferry connects Fort Gaines at Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan on the Gulf Shores side.  Luckily, there was no threat of torpedoes during my crossing, or I guess Steve would have had the last laugh after all!  It was a fun ferry ride as I got a closer look at some oil rigs along the way and watched seagulls trying to catch a free ferry ride.wpid11134-2013-03-19-AL-1360645.jpg

Once settled in at the RV park, we hopped into our dinghy to check out the area.  Gulf Shores is a popular resort destination, hence more frenetic compared to the quite slow-paced life at Dauphin Island.  And add to that, it’s spring break!  The beach and nearby restaurants at Gulf Shores were busy with spring breakers.  Fortunately, most of our desire for long walks on sugar-white beaches and sunny days had been satisfied while we were on the Island.

Not only were the beaches packed, the RV parks were also booked with snowbirders from northern States.  We wanted to stay at either Gulf Shores State Park or Meares State Park (both with over 100 sites), but snowbirders apparently booked their monthly sojourn months in advance, keeping them full until April.  We managed to snag the last spot at Island Retreat RV Resort (love it when they call their park a “resort”) for a few days.  Here, many of the guests were from Michigan, while the rest were from Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky.  There are no RV parks on the beach here, but the Gulf Shores State Park is very close.

For several months now, we have been using the site RV Park Reviews as a resource for our upcoming trip stops.  Steve is now contributing reviews to the site for each park we use.  Although we realize these reviews won’t be helpful to everyone because “different strokes for different folks” and the fact that conditions at parks can change fairly often, we will create a link to our reviews in case you want to take a look.  For now, click here to read Steve’s recent park reviews.

Although the 32 miles of white sandy beaches is the main attraction at Gulf Shores, there are a lot of other things to do here.  For historians, Fort Morgan Historic Site and Museum is at the tip of the western peninsula, where I disembarked from the ferry.  Alabama is a birding paradise – on the coast alone there are six Alabama Coastal birding trails.  When in this area, fresh seafood is king when it comes to restaurants.  With the help of one local dude we found one to satiate our taste buds.  At Tacky Jacks, the atmosphere is casual and the food to die for is the Cajun Shrimp Pasta.  Jason was so right, it was simply the best shrimp pasta we had tried so far.

Mifi set up
New WiFi setup, and it works!

Since we were now near civilization, we took care of some business. With the big “T” day approaching, we gathered all tax docs and did a conference call with our tax preparer, did some banking changes and most importantly we trashed errr… I mean cancelled our Verizon MiFi contract.

Nina’s thorough post about their wifi set up and a personal tour of the setup used by Hans and Lisa at Metamorphosis Road finally pushed us to abandon our appalling Verizon MiFi device and move to Millenicom’s device.  It also uses Verizon service, but the old device never worked correctly and after replacing it multiple times we gave up.  Steve’s blood pressure is almost back to normal now!  Using a micro-to-mini cable to charge the MiFi from the Wilson cradle as Hans suggested also helped clean up the wiring, so everything looks nice mounted to our power panel.  Thanks for the help, all!

Fort Morgan Road Trail
Fort Morgan Road Trail

With all of our business completed it was time to relax and act like retired people!  Our RV park was along a nice paved bike trail, so we took an 11-mile ride along Fort Morgan Road Trail.

Hiking and viewing the birds along the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge was a good way to get away from the crowds.  We walked 10 miles along the interconnected Pine Beach Trail, the Jeff Friend Trail, Gator Lake Trail and the Centennial Trail (all part of the Fort Morgan Loop .)

Here are some of the resident birds.

Osprey
Osprey gathering twigs to build a nest

The south is known for its  hospitality and I felt it here, for I was addressed as “ma’am” at the store, restaurants and most other places.  That’s much nicer than what Steve usually calls me!  I’m beginning to like this place.