Relocate! Relocate!

Allayne came out of the office to pet sweet Dawny who, once I had opened the door, was doing her best to barge headlong into the place.  We had arrived at this small campground in eastern Louisiana (Lake Bruin State Park) earlier in the day and came by the office after settling into our campsite to tell Allayne, who had checked us in, what a pretty park it was.

“Yes, most of the people who work here have been around at least ten years. It’s such a beautiful place.”  The peaceful look on Allayne’s face told all there was to tell.

Dawny found her beautiful place by Allayne’s knee so she could scratch behind her ears while we chatted.

Whenever we walk by any building:  shed, restroom, office, cabin, outhouse… it doesn’t matter… if it has a door, Dawny wants to go inside.  If I give her enough leash, she approaches the door, sniffs, and waits, anticipation tugging each wag of her tail.  Dawny can’t read, so all she knows is that, if it has a door, there might be someone inside who will give her love and/or cookies. Preferably both.  This day she lucked out with the lovin’.

How nice a life my girl has had that closed doors hold such sweet promise.

I asked Allayne about the local wildlife, especially the creepy-crawly kind, which I am increasingly beware of the further south we travel.

“Oh, yes, we get some action here.  We had an alligator get into the swimming area–”

“There’s a swim beach here… with alligators in the lake?” I asked, my wide eyes betraying any semblance of the cool, seasoned, old-lady traveler that I may have constructed up to that point.

“Sure.  And snakes.  I was out here on my cell phone one day and right over there,” Allayne pointed to a small gully that ran under the sidewalk leading to the campground office, “I saw something slither out.  It was slithering and squirming… totally creepy.  It must have just shed its skin and stuff was stuck to it all over.  It looked awful!  I quickly called the ranger:  ‘Relocate! Relocate!'”

My politically incorrect and fearful mind silently screamed:  Oh my God!  Relocate?  What if it came back??  Did they relocate it far enough away???  Kill it!  Just kill it!!  At least blindfold it, pick it up by the tail, spin it around until it’s good and dizzy, then toss it somewhere over there by Arizona!!!

“Relocate!  Relocate!” Allayne interrupted my neurotic thoughts, recalling her call for help.  I recognized a kindred spirit looking out from her wide eyes as she continued the story.  Help arrived.  It was a water moccasin.  They relocated it.  All was well with the world and this was once again a peaceful place.

Leaving Allayne to get back to her job, Dawny and I continued our walk around the campground, including wooden docks and platforms that stretched from safe, solid ground through the dark, moss-draped shoreline into the blue of the lake.  Absolutely beautiful.  Albeit not free of alligators, snakes, or bears…  A fellow camper reminded me that the namesake of the lake was, indeed, “Bruin” for a reason.  Bears used to be quite plentiful in the area.  Sheesh, I thought I had at least left the threat of bears behind me in the Appalachians.  Apparently not.

Unlike my dear traveling companion, closed doors signify something very different to me.  They make me nervous, hiding the unknown.  Turns out it’s mostly just local life living out its local life.  The nice part is that the more familiar it becomes–by staying a while, taking time to chat, or through repeat visits–the less scary it becomes.

So, Dawny and I pick up our tails and continue with our own version of ‘Relocate,’ in this case joining the snowbird ranks migrating south for the winter.  Our current journey will cover about 2,000 miles from northern Virginia to east Texas, with a stop to visit friends near Dallas.  By the time we reach Dallas, we will have visited nine campgrounds, all of them new to us.  Our route is a new one, too.  I am proud to say that we survived the tangle that is Atlanta for the first time.

It is a good life.  Each door opens to another beautiful place, filled with lovely views, friendly faces, and kindred hearts.  We need only to open our own hearts, to recognize and relax, to give and receive.  Dawny, for all of her simple brilliance, has that part down pat.

* * * * * *

Short review of Lake Bruin State Park’s campground:  Five out of five stars.  Please keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone traveling in a 25 foot motor home with no tow vehicle and who does not need sewer hookups.  Although not very convenient to I-20 (the park is over 35 miles south of exit 171), it was well worth the trip.

Lake Bruin is an oxbow lake formed from an old loop of the Mississippi River that was cut off from the main river channel ages ago.  It used to be a fishery and was donated to the state park system in 1958.  Fish, turtles, and alligators were raised in basins that now cradle the park grounds and some of the camp sites.

The campground road and the sites are paved.  Most are pretty level and fairly spacious.  Each has 30-amp and water hookups and there is a decent dump station available.  There is a nice mix of sun and shade.  It is a good idea to scope out the sites before picking the one that best fits your needs.  I was able to get a good Verizon signal and several over-the-air TV stations.  The restrooms are modern and immaculate, and there is a laundry room on site.

Park staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, matching the charm of their surroundings with the best of southern hospitality.

Oh-Hi-Oh

Dawny (she says hello!) and I are on vacation.  We are taking the month of August off from our workamping duties to roll around the middle parts of our beautiful country.

We have greatly enjoyed our recent travels through Ohio, and this post is offered to give a short review of three Ohio state parks.  Everyone’s camping/RV park preferences vary widely.  Dawny and I love state parks the best.  There is usually plenty of space to take long walks.  Often lakes and/or rivers are involved, which enhances the beauty and the “my-oh-my!” factor by several satisfied sighs or so.

Many state parks, including the three discussed in this post, do not offer much beyond electric hookup, but that is fine by us.  We operate off of our tanks and fill up and dump when we arrive/leave.  The parks listed here range from $26 to $28 per night.  While that is on the high side for me, it is still better than parks in Pennsylvania and Virginia which are well into the $30’s for simple electric hookup.

Beyond the price, Dawny and I place great value on the beauty of our surroundings as we take our many walks (bingo Ohio!) and the overall upkeep and cleanliness of the premises (kudos to Ohio state park maintenance teams).  Oh, and I do require a good Verizon connection for my internet and at least a couple of TV channels to keep from going totally bonkers inside of the silence in my head (Dawny couldn’t care less).  All three parks met these basic requirements.

Here are the three Ohio State Parks that rate high on our list from this trip, starting with our favorite:

Harrison Lake State Park, Fayette, Ohio (link:  parks.ohiodnr.gov/harrisonlake):  I love it when the campground is on or within easy walking distance of the loveliness that gives a park its name.  The campground at Lake Harrison is perched uphill from the lake and, while most of the camping sites don’t enjoy a lake view, it is a comfortable stroll away.  For campers with children, playground equipment is scattered throughout the park and camping loops.  There is a swimming  beach, although one day I noted the “white” water from children’s splashing was tinted bright green/blue due to lake algae–swimmers beware!  They even have a dog beach (non-fenced), which Dawny enjoyed surveying from a respectful distance.  Poor dear hates water.  Perhaps wise, given the algae situation.

The campground was kept immaculately clean and the entire park was beautifully tended.  Considering my recent Lyme Disease struggle, I truly appreciate all those conscientious lawn-mowing souls.  It seemed that as soon as a camper vacated their site, staff/workampers were on the spot cleaning up.

On the most mundane yet critical of notes, whereas the two other parks in this post have vault toilets to supplement their single bath house/flush toilets, Harrison Lake’s North Campground has flush toilets located in the camping loops.  (Note:  This is not the case in the smaller South Campground, which still has vault toilets.)  I have to admit that long ago I left the rough camping years of my youth way far in the distant, barely remembered hinterlands eons and miles, ages and galaxies behind me.  I now prefer certain creature comforts.  A flush-toilet and a warm shower with lots of good water pressure so that I don’t have to worry about conserving the water from my on-board water tank are high on that list.  Thank you, Harrison Lake!

Mosquito Lake State Park, Cortland, Ohio (link:  parks.ohiodnr.gov/mosquitolake):  The feature that impressed me the most about this park was the dog park/beach.  And I don’t even have a dog that likes water or can enter a dog park if another dog is in it (she would try to eat him/her).  It was very refreshing after being in Pennsylvania, which tended to have entire areas totally off-limits to dogs, to be in a park that granted a big chunk of valuable lake-side real estate to it’s canine visitors, fenced it in, and then plotted out a bit of beach area (buoys and all) for those intrepid four-legged guests who enjoy a good splash.

The fine-print caveat to this apparent pet-friendliness is that Ohio state parks have a two-pet limit.  I have a good friend who travels with two dogs and two cats.  If you ask me, cats shouldn’t count against that limit as long as they are not outside being walked with their doggies in a fur-coated gaggle-gang.  Really now, how often is that going to happen?  Never!  Can you imagine the twisted leashes and bruised/scratched egos and legs and other body parts?  I asked at the office about that policy, and they said that if you call ahead and describe the members of your menagerie, an exception can be made.  (P.S.  I met a camp host at the park who had three cats.  Three.  Wicked.  Cats.  Just sayin’…  God, I love my dog.)

As for the two-legged guests, this is a really beautiful park.  Mature, tall trees provide shade to most of the camping sites.  Compared to the other two parks in this post, the sites were spacious and the roads very accomodating to bigger RV rigs.  The only downside would be that there is only one shower house/flush toilet location for over 230 sites.  Otherwise, people need to rely on their own household plumbing (take care of those tanks upon entering/exiting!) or the vault toilets located in the campground loops.

Findley State Park, Wellington, Ohio (link:  parks.ohiodnr.gov/findley):  Smack in the middle of north-central Ohio, Findley State Park is a very convenient stop-over on your trek from wherever to wheresoever, should it happen to be on your path.  Like many other Ohio state parks, there is only one shower house/flush toilet location, in this case serving over 250 camping sites.  A few vault toilets are located elsewhere in the camping loops.  Big rigs, beware.  Many of the sites are fairly short and some are quite sloped.  For my shorter rig (25 feet with no toad) it worked out fine and was a welcome stop between eastern and western Ohio.

That’s it for Ohio this trip.  Afterwards, Dawny and I visited Elkhart, Indiana and got our annual honey-do list done.  Thank you, Phoenix USA (link:  www.phoenixusarv.com) and Doug for putting up with all of our questions and for keeping our little house-on-wheels rolling smoothly along.

We are now meandering towards Missouri to join two dear friends for a camping get-together that serendipitously coincides with the upcoming full solar eclipse.  We will be somewhere around the 98th percentile-coverage point.  Cool, eh!?!?  I just think it’s cool Dawny and I will be basking in it together with these particular friends.  They are two of our favorite people.  And, while they like me plenty, they adore Dawny.  Which is as it should be.

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….”)