If God is Love …

 

If God is Love,

then Friends are God Hugs…

Thanks for all the Hugs

Sumter Oaks!

Sumter Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, Florida is one of the Escapees RV Club parks.  Dawny and I have spent at least part of the past three winters here, since it has a good monthly rate for Escapees members who migrate south for the winter.  Not only have we been blessed by the many park friends we have made over the years, we had a bonus visit from a dear friend from Virginia who now lives in Florida, visited with beloved friends who used to live in the park, and will visit another Florida friend on our way back north.

Unlike the state and county parks that we love to stay at in the easy-breezy seasons of spring, summer, and fall, Sumter Oaks is more typical of an RV park.  It is limited in size, with sites fairly close together.  Oh, but it has such a beautiful spirit and heart.

Even though the park is small, it is bordered on three sides by natural beauty.  Donkeys on one side.  Cows on the other.  Swampland in the back.  Every year park visitors enjoy the resident sandhill cranes, rooting for their babies when nesting time comes.  Wild turkey, owls, herons, kites, bluebirds, and many other winged creatures call Sumter Oaks home or migratory home-away-from-home.

Dawny loves walking the campground loop hunting for the workampers in their cookie-cart.  It totally makes her day when she nabs a cookie or two from friendly fingers.  And on days when she is feeling poorly, she has friends who give her love in place of cookies.

On the human side of things, the crafty ladies meet every weekday afternoon.  They bring their Swedish weaving, rug-weaving, delicate card-art, magnificent quilts, and whatever else someone wants to work on while listening to the murmur and thrum of the happenings of the park and all in it.  For my part, I have enjoyed working on the puzzle that is set up in a corner of the activity center while visiting with and listening to my fellow ladies.  See there, in the photo?  If we were cows, I’d be the one peeking in from outside the frame to the right.  I admire how these ladies (and their husbands) are faithfully and doggedly there for one another, whether helping through small problems or a major crisis.

Although that was pretty much the extent of my social activity this visit (beyond dog walks), Sumter Oaks had a terrific activities calendar this winter.  One of their workampers, Nancy, dedicated herself solely to park activities, and she worked wonders.  From music, movies, and campfire gatherings to wine-and-cheese-karaoke parties and special-event blowouts, she created a magical time, bringing people together in good fun and friendship.

Yes, this has been a wonderful place to roost during late winter/early spring.  As the season’s shifting patterns move us northward, we will carry the warmth and love of many friendships with us.  An added bonus is that I found a workamping job at a state park near where my best Sumter Oaks buddy spends her summers.  What luck!

I have said it before.  I will say it again.  I hope I never tire of saying it.  Dawny and I are grateful, and we are blessed.

Hidden Gems… and a Cautionary Note

One of my favorite resources when planning a journey from Point A to Point B is the website www.uscampgrounds.info.  You can access a fairly comprehensive set of public campgrounds (they do not include private campgrounds) from the national and state level to city and county parks.  They also cover TVA, BLM, COE, and military-only campgrounds.  One of the things I like best about it is that it is map-based, giving you clear, easy access to camping options along your route.

Once you zoom into an area on the map, a variety of colored symbols show you the location and types of parks in that area.  If the symbol is white, that is an indicator of a low nightly fee.  When you click on a park, basic info appears to tell you things like the nearest city or town, the park’s phone number, what kind of facilities/hookups are available, and links to weather and reviews.  Elevation is even included, which I have found useful when seeking a campground where summer nighttime temps have a chance to cool down or, in the winter, when I want to aim for lower elevations.

Here are three gems that I found by using the US Campgrounds website:

McLeod Park and Campground in Kiln, Mississippi is run by the local water authority.  I like it because it is extremely convenient to I-10.  It is also in a very pretty area, situated on the Jourdan River.  All of the sites are full-hookup for $24/night.  It is a fairly large campground, though, and only has one bathhouse, which could be a problem if it is crowded and you rely on park facilities.

The Dead Lakes Recreation Area near Wewahitchka, Florida is a county-run park and campground on the western side of the Apalachicola National Forest.  For just $14/night, they have electric and water hookups in a small, charming campground overlooking a pond that leads to the Dead Lakes.  There is a public boat ramp to the lake nearby.  They even have a couple of laundry machines on the premises.

Sopchoppy City Park (a.k.a. Myron B. Hodge Park) in Sopchoppy, Florida is a small city park located on the Ochlockonee River in the southeastern corner of the Apalachicola National Forest.  It is one of my favorites.  For $15/night, you can have an electric/water site overlooking the river.  Full hookup spots are available along the fence line by the road.  The only downside is the condition of the bathrooms and showers, which are pretty unclean, at least when I was there.  But if you are in a self-contained RV with all of your own facilities, that shouldn’t matter much.

I would like to offer one cautionary note.  It is always wise to read reviews of any park you might want to visit, but with these small, locally run parks it is even more important.  I have steered away from a few after reading reviews that mention lots of local traffic, especially kids at night.  Some of these parks do not have a camp host or any kind of staff member on the premises after business hours, which could leave you vulnerable in case of trouble.  In the above three cases, only McLeod Park did not have after-hours staff or camp host presence, but the park seemed nice enough, so that didn’t deter me.

Also, keep your options open and leave yourself enough time to find another campground in case you decide not to stay at a park you picked.  This trip, I bypassed a city park in Louisiana because of the extremely trashy condition of downtown and its pothole-ridden Main Street.  Another time, I left a park in rural Ohio after feeling very uncomfortable with its seedy atmosphere.

Bottom line, there are lots of really nice campgrounds out there and the US Campgrounds website is a great way to expand your search.

Happy, safe travels one and all!

(The photo at the top of this post was taken near the boat ramp into the Dead Lakes.  All I could think of at the time was an alligator bursting through the calm of the water to grab me or Dawny.  Did you see the recent news story about the Florida alligator that tried to drag a man–not a child, not a puppy, a man!–into his pond at a golf course?  The man got away by jabbing the gator vigorously and repeatedly in its eye with his golf club.  I have no golf club.  Just a wimpy limpy leash.  And my iphone/camera.  Should Dawny and I have some kind of terrifying mishap, future paranoids at the Dead Lakes boat ramp would not hear a faintly eerie tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock keeping time with their imagination’s stroll on the wild side.  No.  They would hear Siri’s calmly professional, dark and bubbly voice… “Sorry, I missed that….”)

Wild About Texas

Texas has done it again.  Dawny and I have been enchanted by another one of their State Parks.

As I have mentioned in previous posts about campgrounds and ratings, our basic requirements are simple but fairly specific.  Succinctly put:  wonderful dog walks, decent 30-amp sites, good Verizon signal, and a budget-friendly price.

Martin Dies, Jr. State Park sits on the swampy banks of the Steinhagen Reservoir in east Texas.  “Caution: Alligators…” is boldly stamped on a prominent sign at the park’s entrance.  Admittedly, this steered our dog walks towards the middle of the road during the first part of our three night stay.  We are happy to report that there was plenty of asphalt ribbon to keep us exercised and entertained.

The park has lots of foot trails for fearless folks looking to wander through nature’s swampy wilds.  After the first creepy-crawly free day, we ventured a bit more off the road so Dawny could sniffle around the pine needles and greenery, leaving her two scents in the perfect spot.

Some of the best waterfront sites are for tent campers.  As a former tent camper from several lifetimes ago, I respect and appreciate that these spaces are reserved for those least likely to block the view and enjoyment of others.  For their part, tent campers probably appreciate not being surrounded by monster RVs complete with bright porch lights drowning out the stars and TVs chattering nonsense well into the night.  I remember turning my nose up at those lumbering beasts back in the impertinent righteousness of my own youth.

For those of us no longer physically able to last a night in a tent, let alone get a wink of sleep in one, there are 30-amp electric/water RV sites in the Hen House Ridge section.  Some of the asphalt pull-through pads are a bit bumpy and short, though, which might be challenging for those with a big rig.  There are 50-amp electric/water back-in sites elsewhere in the park.

It is a beautiful park with a wild flavor to it.  Splendid shade is provided by towering trees all around.  Many of the RV sites border Gum Slough–a backwater creek–their picnic table and fire ring areas providing front-row seats to their own private alligator habitat.  Be careful, though.  Sitting by one of those fires on a moonless night could well invite nightmares of alligator eyes lurking, stalking… drip-swoosh, drip-swoosh… tick-tock…  Yikes!

Back to civilization!  Not only was I able to get a strong Verizon signal for my phone and internet hotspot, my over-the-air antenna picked up several major network channels.  I am ashamed to say–but I’ll get over it and say it anyways–it was the TV signal that sealed my third night.  I was only going to stay two nights, but having the crazed civilized world crash into the serenity of the past two TV-sparse months was too much to resist.  What can I say?  I lack discipline.

For anyone looking for a good, efficient source of RV campground reviews, visit the website www.rvparkreviews.com.  I finally signed up and will do my good-camper duty by posting reviews there as often as I can, although I may still share a more circuitous journey to the same conclusions here.