Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Two for One ... A Long One!

I have fallen behind in my posting again, so this one will cover two of our stops: Charleston and Myrtle Beach South Carolina. Both very nice places!

We decided to go on another guided walking tour in Charleston. 

This time we choose a Civil War tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and I felt I learned many new things about the Civil War. 

As I have mentioned before, when on these tours I tend to give more attention to listening than to looking for good pictures, but here are a few that I took in the old town area of Charleston:

Some of the early residents felt they needed to protect their homes from possible slave uprisings. Of course, this wrought iron work was made with highly skilled slave labor. 

Some of the iron work is less intimidating. 

This wall detail caught my eye as we walked past it.

Part of the way our guide told the story of Charleston was by taking us from square to square in the old city. Each is a square block itself, and only a few blocks from the next. Each is graced by wonderful old live oaks, and commemorative statuary. Nowadays they are beautiful islands where tourists walk and locals bring their dogs or have their lunch breaks. Originally they were a place for community ovens and other such activities.

Almost all of the homes and buildings in Charleston were destroyed by bombardment during the Civil War, but have been beautifully restored. I'm sure their interiors are quite modern.

As in many old towns, horse drawn carriages are also used for tours. 

Our next stop up the coast was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We stayed at the state park which was very nice. 

On Sunday we went over to the pier and for a walk along the beach. This was within the State Park. Our campground was in the trees that you see inland from the sand.

We are coming to terms with the tradeoff between having a peaceful wooded site, where the satellite is blocked, vs. an open, treeless site where we can get satellite reception. I have become a bit of a political addict and Craig likes to watch sports. We have been lucky in that our Verizon phone is our hot spot and has been working quite well. We have an unlimited data plan, so in a pinch we have been able to stream the NBA playoffs and some of the CNN election coverage. We can also get local and network TV on the Alfa's original antenna if we want it.

While in Myrtle Beach we decided to spend some time visiting the Brookgreen Gardens.  It is the largest outdoor America sculpture garden and is on land that was once four rice plantations. Since the admission ticket was good for seven days, we took our time, and spread out our visit over two afternoons.

On the first day we took a guided garden tour. Although the flowers were very nice, they were secondary to the magnificent sculpture collection. All of the 1400 sculptures are figurative and by American artists. 

Gator Bender by Nathaniel Choate

This was one of  my favorites, I think I liked the back view best!  Nice buns.

Two of about twenty Dianas. I have lost track of the artists names.

Remember the movies based on the children's book "Night at the Museum"? In it the characters in the dioramas come alive. There was so much movement in the sculptures, I wondered for a moment what the place might be like in the dark. They all felt so alive, frozen in time.

After the garden tour we headed over to the Low Country dock where we got tickets for the boat ride. 

The boat captain spoke about the wildlife and birds of the area, and about the operation of the rice plantations using slave labor. At one time 80% of the population of the county were slaves. Rice cultivation in this area depended on their labor, and thus died out after the emancipation. Before the Civil War, rice was the main commodity sent down to Charleston for export.

On our second afternoon we went on a small bus tour of The Oaks, one of the four plantations that make up Brookgreen Gardens.

The acreage here is mostly reverting to it's pre-plantation state, and is a nature preserve. The plantation building sites are marked and are worked on by archeologists from time to time, but the buildings themselves are gone or not much more than foundation bricks here and there. The primary remaining feature is the well preserved, walled family cemetery.

Even though there were no structures to be seen, and the tour was a bumpy ride over dirt paths, our driver gave a good talk about the land, the Allston family that owned and operated the plantation through several generations, the tragedies and hardships they experienced, and the very hard lives of the slaves that built and worked the rice fields. 

It is one thing to read a history book, or novel, or see a movie about a time in the past, but visiting and walking in these places is an unbelievable experience. Our tours and walks these last few weeks, together with our visit to Gettysburg in 2013, have given me insight and understanding no book ever could. I have much to ponder.

On a lighter side, we finished the afternoon walking thru the small local wildlife zoo area. I liked the birds the best. All the mammals were sleeping.

There was an exhibit of large LEGO sculptures  on display in the zoo area.

This very large spider hung from a tree was one of the first we spotted.

The hummingbird also caught our imagination. 

We finished our day at Brookgreen with a walk through the butterfly house and then, on the advice of one of the volunteers of the garden, stopped and picked up some fresh fish to grill for dinner. 

So nice to be able to cook out after a beautiful day seeing beautiful things. 

RV life is good!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Savannah, Georgia

As a tourist, there are many ways of seeing the historic area of Savannah. You can take a trolley, a horse-drawn carriage, a bike-drawn rickshaw, or a slow ride. We chose to take a 90 minute guided walking tour. We choose the Free Savannah Walking tour for which you don't pay anything up front, but are expected to give a good tip at the end since the guides work for tips only. 

This seemed like a good deal, and it was. Our guide, Dan, did a very good job. Our group was about 20 people. You do have to reserve a place ahead, but that was easy online.

Without taking the tour we would not have discovered why the fountains were spouting red water. We asked a number of people, and nobody knew. Of course they were all other tourists!

Dan said he thought it was because one of the city colleges was having a "paint the city scarlet" weekend.  That sounded reasonable.

It was a very informative tour. We learned lots about the history and early development of the city. Savannah has many squares, each with its own centerpiece and significance. When the city was laid out, these squares provided a place for communal ovens, wells and other such things. They now provide shaded park places. 

I spent my time on the walking tour listening, rather than trying to find the best photo opportunities. You just have to go there to see each of the sites.

On Sunday we went to Wormsloe, a plantation near Savannah. The entrance drive is edged by over 400 massive live oak trees that were planted in the 1890s to celebrate the birth of Wymberley Wormsloe DeRenne by his father. They are the image of what I think of "Southern Plantations," beautiful.

Although we could not tour the house, since descendants of the original owners still live there, we enjoyed walking the grounds. Almost all of the land that had been cleared for agricultural use has reverted back to forest. 

There are some ruins of the first structure, and just beyond them, the path leads to the edge of the swampy edge of the river. We learned that this was a very important location because it was the only passage to Savannah that the invading Spanish from Florida might use.

Wormsloe Plantation has been used for the filming of many movies including "Roots."

Th weather was pleasantly cool, and our walk was probably less than a mile.

OK, fellow Americans, do you know what this is?

It is a wicket, used in the game of Cricket. Cricket was a popular game during the colonial period. That's all I know about the game.

On Monday we started out intending to go back to the historic district and exploring a few places in more depth, but after stopping at the park office, where I picked up a brochure for "Tybee Island Marine Science Center." It looked interesting, so we headed that way instead.

On the way we saw the signs for Fort Pulaski. Since Craig graduated from Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, it was a no brainer to make the turn and go to see it.
Craig with one of the big guns

We have been to a number of forts on our RV adventure, and I have to say this was the best one we have seen. It was very well preserved (or restored), and had many artifacts displayed in interesting "as they were" ways. 

And whats in here?
Each time we go thru a place like this, it adds to our understanding of our nation's past. For me, it's as if I can feel history. As we slowly wander across the country, places that were once just names on a map are becoming real to me. I learned about American History in school, now I'm seeing where it actually happened.

We did make it to Tybee Island, but the science center was a big disappointment. But when we walked out onto the pier area, we got a look at the beach. Lots of people were enjoying the sun and the very pleasant day. For us, it was our first look at the Atlantic Ocean north of Florida.

We finished our day by stopping at Wiley's BBQ and picking up some take-out ribs for dinner back at the Alfa.


Next stop Charleston, South Carolina

Friday, April 8, 2016

Crooked River Park and St. Marys Sub Museum

Crooked River State Park in Georgia looks much like many parks in the Florida/Georgia area. Beautiful!  Lots of tall pine trees, large RV sites, and good paved roads.

On Thursday we meandered over to the water front park area of old town St. Mary's. It is the Cumberland Island National Seashore. There is a very well groomed park with a nice fountain and trees.

There was also a charming old wood gazebo and a newer metal-roofed performance stage. 

The view from the stage framed the lawn nicely.

I often notice signage. This set made me think the "powers that be" would like to have had a much taller pole. They could have added no dogs off leash, no spitting, no smoking, and considering it is the South, no use of a public bathroom unless you have your birth certificate in your pocket.

Across from the park area is the Submarine Museum. It got mixed reviews on Trip advisor, but we usually find small one-subject museums interesting. 

The periscope was pretty neat. You  could clearly view 360° of the outside world.

Other than that, most of the museum was displays of items from submarines. Patches, flags, books, plates and ashtrays. Memorabilia. But the movie was pretty good.

I guess I expected there to be a submarine at the museum, or at least at the dock. But here wasn't.

Often, outside the main gate of a military facility there will be decommissioned fighter jets, positioned as if they are flying.

Well, outside the gate of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay near St Mary's, there is a decommissioned submarine that looks like it is coming up out of the lawn.

Which is kind of a fun sight to behold. 

As we hoped, our drive to Skidaway State Park outside of Savannah went smoothly. Due to the trees all around our site, as at Crooked River, we were not able to get satellite reception. But, we are getting an excellent Verizon signal, and to our amazement, the park has free cable at each site.  

Our plan for the next three days is to do "tourist things" in Savannah, starting with a walking tour tomorrow. 

Check back, I'll write about it in my next post.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Falling Waters State Park, Florida

What a wonderful small state park campground!

Our campsite at Falling Waters State Park, Florida
After our two weeks at Gulf State Park in Alabama, our next major destination is Savannah, Georgia. When we travel, our goal is to take our time and keep our driving distance under 300 miles in a day. Under 200 is even better.  So since the distance between Gulf Shores and Savannah is just over 500 miles, I knew we would want to stop twice. Knowing it is "snowbird" time, when lots of RVers are migrating back north, I felt I needed to make reservations. Using my State Park book I found two nice stopover places.

Our first  day's drive was 158 miles to Falling Waters, a Florida State park.  The next drive is a bit longer at 278 miles, but Crooked River, a Georgia State park looked interesting. The last leg of this drive is only 111 miles, so we will probably have a nice afternoon to get settled at Skidaway, also a Georgia State park near Savannah. I'll let you know when we get there.

Sure, we could stop at Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lots, but if a stopover place has something that looks like it might be interesting, we like to stay more than one night. Somehow I would rather be awakened in the morning by birds singing than by traffic and early-morning shoppers.  It's all about making the travel a relaxing and fun experience. There were plenty of times when we had limited time because of jobs, that we easily drove 500 miles or more in a day.  No more!  We are full-timers and one of our biggest luxuries is being able to take our time and see the country.

We stayed at Falling Waters for two nights. This gave us time to take a nice walk along the boardwalks to the park's namesake.

A waterfall. Sort of!  As waterfalls go it was not very large, but because of reconstruction of some of the boardwalk and lower viewing platform, we were not able to go down to see it closely. Maybe from below it looks larger. 

One of many sink holes
The interesting geological feature of the park is the many sink holes. The waterfall actually falls down into one of them. But I guess "Sink Hole Park" was not as appealing as "Falling Waters

We did swat a few mosquitoes when we were sitting outside and reading, so we sprayed ourselves with "Off" before our walk. 
Beautiful woods often have bugs.

Soldier Bug? 
I'm not sure what kind of bug this was, but there were several of them on the railings of the boardwalks. It was quite large. 

Does anyone know what it is?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Last Few Days At Gulf Shores

The skies were overcast and it rained on many of the days of our two weeks at Gulf Shores, Alabama. On those days we read, watched TV, colored, played Solitaire, and did some trip planning. Much the same as we would during rainy weather if we still lived in a house.

But, when it was not raining, we got out and had some fun.

There is a company that offers guided Segway rides thru the park. One day we watched the guide teach a group of people and decided to also give it a try.

The guide worked with each of us individually until he felt we could control our Segway. Then while he worked with each of the other six members of the group, we practiced zipping around a fairly large parking lot.

When everyone was comfortable, we followed him, like a line of ducklings, on an hour or so ride along the parks paved bike path. 

We stopped several times for brief rests.

At one stop the guide took pictures of us with our camera. Although I had my camera along, I found it impossible to take pictures while we were riding.  I felt I had to hold on with boh hands!

At another of our stops we saw this mother alligator. It seems she is usually in this area. She had four babies. We could see three of them, and they looked to be about two feet long.  Our guide said they were three years old.

Sunday was another nice day. It dawned bright and clear. The rain was finally over! 

Since we had already gone to the beach, the pier and the zoo, and Segwayed along the paved bike path, we decided to take a short hike on one of the sand trails through an area that had been burned a few years ago and was regrowing scrub and pine.

There were a few wood bridges over creeks that are wet year round. 

But parts of the trail were flooded, and I was very glad I had taken my hiking poles. They helped me keep my balance when trying to find footing in the squishy places.

We have been taking short walks when we can, and I am confident that with time my foot will get better enough for longer treks. For now I'm good for a mile or so, but don't want to push it too soon.  

Our site at the park was on a nice circle.  During our first week and a half we had seen other campers come and go, but the weather had kept our interaction down to a few waves and hellos.

Three days before we left, a new group of campers settled into our circle. Several of them knew each other and met here each year on their way north from Florida. Since the last two evenings were finally rain-free, we were able to have a communal campfire. 
We enjoyed this fellowship, as brief as it was, and learned some of the history of the park. It seems FEMA took over the park after Hurricane Katrina, and paved the roads and put in the sewer system. When it was no longer needed for disaster relief, the park was returned to the State in a much improved condition. 

For our new neighbors, it was the beginning of a month-long stay, for us it was the end of our two weeks there. We may never see any of them again, but for a couple of days they were our RV family.

And that is one of the special things about camping. Strangers are almost always welcome to pull up their chairs around a fire as the night closes in.

RV life is good.