Review: Jack Hill State Park

Jack Hill State Park is located in Reidsville in southeast Georgia; it’s just far enough south that the red clay soil is changing over to a more sandy variety. We have family in nearby Statesboro and rather than make an overnight trip with a stay in a hotel so I could attend a baby shower, I talked Kenn into turning the trip into a long weekend so we’d have more time with family. Thus our stay at Jack Hill. (I didn’t exactly have to twist Kenn’s arm; he’s usually up for a trip, especially after our travels were so limited during 2020.)

When Kenn told me that he’d made reservations at Jack Hill, the name didn’t ring a bell with me. True, I don’t have the names of all of the Georgia state parks memorized but, until 2020, the park was known as Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park. According to the park website, the name was changed to honor “the late Georgia senator who did much for the community.”

I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at the park and I have to say… I absolutely loved it. Jack Hill is a small but beautiful state park. I haven’t been able to find any information on the age of the park but it felt fairly new. Older parks, no matter how well maintained, show their age in various ways. Sometimes it just the presence of buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 40s, or just the inevitable wear and tear that develops over time. Jack Hill has none of that. The park office, the cottages, the bath house (or comfort station if you prefer), even the individual campsites all had a new look and feel.

Site 16

Jack Hill has a 12 acre lake just a stone’s throw from the campground. If you like golf, there is also an 18 hole course. (Neither of us gives a whit about golf so we didn’t bother to check out the course.) In our efforts to find out the age of the park, we discovered that the 2020 Foot Golf Championship was held at Jack Hill State Park. 🤔 What? You’ve never heard of foot golf? Neither had we. It turns out that foot golf is a cross between soccer and golf in which players kick soccer balls into 21-inch cups. Who knew? I think I’ll stick to hiking and kayaking.

The lake at Jack Hill State Park

Jack Hill is an 30-minute drive from both Statesboro and Metter which made it easy to meet up with family. Not only is the park pretty but so is the area around it; our daily drives took us through a landscape dotted with farms, small towns, and old architecture – all of which I love. Every time we get together with the southern branch of our family, we all say we need to get together more often. Here’s hoping that from this point forward, we actually will – and Kenn and I won’t hesitate to stay at Jack Hill again.

Until next time, happy trails!

This is a Stickup

You can put your hands down, it’s not that kind of stickup. 😀 Maybe I should say this is a stick “on”. If you’ve spent any time at beaches, campgrounds, or trailheads you’ve encountered vehicles whose rear was covered in decals and bumper stickers espousing the things that are important to the vehicle owner(s) and commemorating the locations they’ve visited. Our Highlander, Bonnie, was well on her way to becoming one of those vehicles. (Now that Bonnie has a home with my daughter-in-law, she is sticker free. Bonnie, that is, not my daughter-in-law. Although, technically my daughter-in-law is also sticker free.)

Kenn is a minimalist when it comes his Tacoma, Paco. Paco has no stickers or bumper stickers. Now that I have Ruby the Big Red Truck, I seem to be the same. So far, Ruby has no decals or bumper stickers and I don’t see this changing any time soon. (She is sporting an N7 license plate on the front in support of Mass Effect, my favorite video game series.) However, the same can’t be said for our travel trailers. We have added stickers for many of the various campgrounds we’ve visited to each of them. One of biggest decisions is where to put the decals. On our Micro Lite the decals are going around the window on the slide. I still have several decals I need to apply. I guess I need to set up a reminder to get out and get it done some morning before the good old Georgia heat and humidity kicks in.

Yay! Captions are working again!

A few years ago I gave Kenn one of the US maps many RVers use to show the states they’ve traveled to. We never got around to putting it on our RPOD which I guess worked out for the best since we would have had to purchase another one for our Micro Lite. However, we need to put it in place before we head out on our road trip this Fall. Of course, that means we have to decide where we’re going to put it which is where we stumble.

Map available from Amazon.com

Do you have the state map? If so, where did you place it?

Tips for Travel Trailer Newbies

Kenn and I purchased our first travel trailer in 2014. We’ve learned a lot over the ensuing years – usually the hard way. The purpose of this post is to share what we’ve learned so you don’t make the same mistakes we did. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of other mistakes you can make, LOL.)

  • First and foremost, you need to make sure the vehicle you plan to use to tow your travel trailer is up to the job. Don’t just focus on the dry weight of your camper; you’ll need to take into consideration the weight of the items (food, clothes, etc.) that you will be carrying. If you plan on dry camping, you’ll need to take into consideration the added weight of water in your fresh water tank. (Note: Water is heavy, y’all.)
  • If your travel trailer’s power cord doesn’t have a built in surge suppressor, buy a stand alone! We learned this lesson the hard way with our first travel trailer. We got hit with a power surge on our first trip which meant our trailer spent the next several weeks at the local dealer for repairs. This was followed by several more weeks at the shop when it turned out the initial repairs were incomplete.
  • Make sure you have a jack that is rated for the weight of your travel trailer. We had no need for a jack until we had a blowout on our second travel trailer. This is when we learned that our new trailer didn’t have a jack. Rest assured, once we got back home and recuperated, Kenn made a trip to Harbor Freight and corrected this oversight.
  • Roadside assistance is a great idea. Both of the travel trailers we’ve purchased new have come with a year of roadside service. Unfortunately, it had expired by the time our blowout occurred. If roadside assistance hadn’t also been available as a part of our insurance I’m not sure what we would have done. (Even with the roadside assistance, sitting by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in the Georgia heat for four hours was no fun. I was pretty close to heat exhaustion by the time the tire was replaced and we were back on the road.)
  • Make sure the hitch is latched. This seems obvious, but we bounced our travel trailer off the hitch three times before we got into the habit of quadruple-checking. We were fortunate that none of the instances occurred on busy roads but it was still stressful. Now we both check multiple times before we pull out.
  • In addition to checking the hitch (again), make sure all of the storage hatches are closed and locked, the stairs are up, and the door(s) are closed and locked with the safety bar in place. Even though we call ourselves doing all of these things, there have been two or three times we’ve had a good Samaritan call our attention to a problem while we’ve been driving down the road. (Thank you good Samaritans!)
  • Invest in a box of disposable gloves. Emptying the gray and black water tanks is never going to be a fun process but at least gloves make it a little more sanitary.
  • Make a checklist. Since we had a tendency to forget the same things over and over, Kenn made a checklist for us. Not only does it include items for the travel trailer such as the things I’ve listed here, it includes common food items such as olive oil, salt, and pepper, and clothing items such as jackets and hiking boots with plenty of blanks for us to add items specific to each trip.
  • Cut yourself – and any traveling companions – some slack. No matter how much you plan and double-check, there’s always something that can happen. When it does, you’ll get through it. It might not be fun, and it might not be easy, but it will be okay. (I’m still working on this one. When I get stressed, I get snippy/snarky so this is totally a “do as I say, not as I do” moment, LOL.)
  • Most importantly, have fun. After all, isn’t that the whole reason behind having a travel trailer?

Do you have a travel trailer? What tips would you add to this list?

Review: Tallulah Gorge State Park

Tallulah Gorge State Park is located in Rabun County in extreme northeast Georgia. Tallulah Gorge is one of the parks that we have made many day trips to through the years but September 2020 was our first time camping there. We stayed in Site 36 which I dubbed “the worst site in the park.” This site itself was fine; it was a corner site with access from two directions. So, what made it so bad? The tiny clump of trees at the corner which meant that no matter which direction you chose, the travel trailer would have to be at a ninety degree angle to the tow vehicle in order to back into the site. We’ve had a travel trailer for several years now but backing into a site can still be a test of the strength of our marriage; this one stressed both of us. However, in spite of our stress levels – and the guy who decided he had to drive through our site while we were backing in (seriously, dude?) – the process went easier than we expected. The campground host came over after we got set up and told us that we had done a good job; I really appreciated that.

There are lots of things to do at Tallulah Gorge and they all involve hiking/walking. There is a suspension bridge, a rim trail with several scenic overlooks and the gorge floor. Gorge floor hikes require a free permit that must be picked up from the interpretive center on the day of your hike; permits are limited to 100 per day. Also, those planning to hike the gorge must wear proper footwear, meaning no Crocs or flip flops. I highly recommend the gorge hike if you get the opportunity.

We did the gorge hike with our boys when they were young. Close to the end of the hike we had to work our way across the river so we could climb out the other side. Our oldest son still insists that we almost let him “wash out to sea”. He was actually safely tucked away in a small pool. It was his younger brother who was headed over a small falls. We snagged him before he went over but life was exciting for a few minutes, LOL. Ah, memories! On another note, I wouldn’t trade being a “boy mom” for anything.

One thing to remember when visiting Tallulah Gorge or any outdoor location in Georgia is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Our visit was in September which is when the brutal temperatures of August are behind us and things begin to cool off. However, “cool” is a relative term. Temps in the 80s (Fahrenheit) with a humidity level of 60-80% is brutal for those of us who live here much less those who aren’t used to such high humidity.

Note: For some reason, WordPress decided not to let me caption my photos. (insert eye roll here) The first photo is, obviously, Tallulah Falls. The second one is from underneath the suspension bridge. Why? Just because I like geometry of the supports.

Until next time, happy trails!

A Change in Plan(ner)s

I didn’t get to travel much when I was young so Kenn and I wanted to make sure our boys had a chance to see a little more of the world. We couldn’t afford to take them on cruises or jet off to international locations but we could at least get them out of the house and introduce them to the sort of places that we love. (They would probably say we took them hiking far too many times, LOL.)

Time and money management were always important on our trips so I planned everything down to the nth degree. I researched the locations we were planning to visit, booked the hotel rooms/cabins, and planned out our activities for each day. Looking back, I may have occasionally over-planned, but it was a labor of love.

Keeping up with details, planning, and organizing are just a part of me and have served me well both at home and at work. However, I think the last four years of my day job sort of burned me out. I enjoyed what I did but it required an extreme amount of organization; my days were ruled by a schedule that was usually booked at least a week in advance. Now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying having flexible days without having to account for every minute of my time.

Somehow, without our even discussing it, Kenn came to my rescue because he is now the one doing most of the planning for our trips. We decide together where we are planning to go and when and he handles making the reservations. I’m still the money manager but I’m happy not having to deal with all of the details.

We cancelled our road trip plans last year due to the pandemic but this year we are fully vaccinated and ready to hit the road. We’ll be taking a trip up the east coast this fall. This will be our first time traveling long distances with our travel trailer so I’m sure we’ll be learning many lessons along the way which, of course, I’ll share here. 🙂 As proof of his new role as Chief Trip Organizer, we already have reservations at a campground in Maine. Go, Kenn!

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Fort Clinch State Park

Fort Clinch State Park is located at Fernandina Beach, Florida. (Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island, a barrier island off the eastern coast of Florida.) Fernandina Beach is a special place to Kenn; he and his family spent a week there every summer when he was growing up. I learned to love it as well when we took our sons a few times over the years. (Well, as much as I love any beach.) When we visited with our boys in tow we stayed in a hotel or rented a house. Once we became empty nesters and bought a travel trailer, we decided to visit Fort Clinch State Park; it became an instant favorite.

Fort Clinch has two campgrounds: riverside and beach-side. We prefer the riverside. The riverside sites are well shaded by old growth trees dripping with Spanish moss. While there are a few palm trees scattered around the beach-side sites, none of them are actually shaded. The bath houses at both campgrounds are clean and well-maintained and there are washers and dryers available for use.

Sunset at the riverside campground

Fort Clinch is perfect for both nature and history lovers. Nature is everywhere and the beach is an easy walk from the campground as is Fort Clinch, which dates back to the Civil War. If you are a fossil-hunter like me, the beaches around Fort Clinch are great for hunting shark’s teeth – especially if you happen to be there just after the channel has been dredged. (All of the teeth, etc. pictured in my recent post about fossiling were found at Fernandina Beach.)

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning a stay at Fort Clinch State Park. The first is that it is hard to get reservations at this park. Reservations open up eleven months in advance and are gone almost immediately. Our last trip to Fort Clinch took place in April 2021. It took Kenn a couple of weeks of stalking the reservation site in May 2020 to get our reservations. Second is that you need to be prepared to take your time when entering (and exiting) the park while towing. The entrance road is covered by a beautiful canopy of old growth live oaks; the bigger your rig, the more “exciting” your drive may be. However, if you take your time (and occasionally drive in the middle of the road) you’ll be fine.

Sign at the entrance to the park

We’ve talked about making a trip to Fort Clinch every year but the verdict is still out. We love the park but there are just so many places to see!

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls State Park is located in Spencer, Tennessee. Kenn and I visited the park in October, which, thanks to the changing leaves is a beautiful time of year to be in the mountains. Fall Creek Falls features 222 campsites in five different areas. (The areas are called, appropriately enough, A, B, C, D, and E.) Picking a campsite based on not-to-scale park maps and thumbnail site photos can be a crap shoot. Most of the time everything works out fine; this trip was one of the few times it did not.

Our reservation was for a site in Campground C. As the saying goes, first impressions are important. When we pulled into Campground C my first impression was “Nope, nope, nope. I want to go home.” That’s not the feeling you want to have at the end of an 8-9 hour drive. Nothing about Campground C appealed to me: there were few trees and the sites were on top of each other. Our site was at the end of a tiny strip of land wedged in between two roads. Getting our travel trailer backed in was more stressful than usual since we had several people standing around watching. (This is also where I learned that I’m not supposed to use “left” and “right” when giving Kenn directions on backing in; I’m supposed to use “driver’s side” and “passenger’s side”.) Most campsites have room for the tow vehicle somewhere near the camper; this one did not. Once we got the travel trailer wedged in, there was another site to one side and a picnic table on the other. We had to park the truck on the other side of the picnic table and pray that it didn’t get hit since it was perilously close to sticking out into the road. Keep in mind, at the time of this visit we were using both a smaller travel trailer (RPOD 180) and a smaller tow vehicle (Toyota Tacoma) than we are using now. Neither one of us was happy. After discussing what we were going to do, Kenn talked to one of the park rangers who gave us a list of sites that would be available the next day. We drove around and viewed all of the sites before choosing the one we thought would best suit us and reported back to the park ranger.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

We spent the next day exploring the park without ever wandering too far from the campgrounds since we had to keep driving back to see if the site we were moving to had been vacated. (Checkout time was at 1pm; the site was finally vacated somewhere between 2pm and 3pm.) The new site was a HUGE improvement over the first one and even had a sewage hookup. Once we got moved and set back up we continued our explorations and got to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Now that we had a great site, we were looking forward to the rest of our stay. Alas, it was not meant to be. Shortly before we settled in for the night I got blindsided by a stomach virus. It was a long, miserable night most of which I spent on the couch so my fever-induced tossing and turning wouldn’t bother Kenn. The next morning we decided just to pack it in and head home; I didn’t feel like doing anything and we were afraid that if we stayed, Kenn might come down with it about the time we were scheduled to leave. (Fortunately, he never did.)

All in all, Fall Creek Falls State Park is definitely worth a visit – as long as you avoid Campground C, LOL.

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Stephen C. Foster State Park

If you love the great outdoors and are looking to get away from it all, you can’t do much better than Stephen C. Foster State Park. Stephen C. Foster State Park is located in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia and is one of the primary entrances to the Okefenokee Swamp. In my last post I told you that Amicalola Falls State Park is my favorite Georgia state park; Stephen C. Foster state park holds the honor of being my second favorite. The two parks couldn’t be more different.

American alligator at the park entrance

The park is home to many forms of wildlife not the least of which is the American alligator. The park offers guided boat tours of the swamp in addition to kayak and canoe rentals. We took a sunset boat tour during our first stay at the park in 2016 and it was wonderful – except for the yellow flies. (I had thirty bites on one foot/ankle and forty on the other. When they started itching, a week later, I thought I was going to lose my mind.) Unlike many of the other parks we have visited during the pandemic, Stephen C. Foster is continuing to offer both guided boat tours and canoe/kayak rentals; COVID restrictions have reduced the number of people allowed on each of the guided boat tours and all tours were booked during our recent stay.

During our 2016 visit we rented individual kayaks for a two-hour self-guided float in the swamp. This trip, we rented a tandem kayak which worked out well; the arthritis/rotator cuff issues in my shoulders would have prevented me from being able to paddle long on my own. Once again we enjoyed a two-hour self-guided float of a different section of the swamp. We saw several small and medium-sized gators sunning themselves on the banks and heard what we think was a wild hog. I love both the peace and quiet of the swamp and the desolate beauty.

Kayaking with my sweetie

When planning a stay at Stephen C. Foster, you’ll need to go prepared. The park is roughly twenty miles from the nearest town of Fargo, Georgia. Fargo is a tiny town; I think there is one restaurant in the town. In addition to being prepared to fix your own meals rather than eat out, you’ll also need to be prepared to have little to no cell signal. (Our satellite dish couldn’t pick up a signal due to all of the trees.) Stephen C. Foster is also an international dark sky park making it perfect for those who enjoy night photography.

While we were in the area we took a drive to check out Suwannee River State Park in Florida. Suwannee River is a beautiful small park that we have added to our list of places to visit. In addition to finding a new park to visit, this trip also gave me an idea for the perfect gift to give my hubby. Stay tune for details!

Oh, I almost forgot! I drove for an hour on the trip home. I’m slowly becoming less intimidated by this whole driving while towing gig. (Don’t expect me to be driving while towing through bit town/cities anytime soon though. There is still a limit to my bravery.)

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Amicalola Falls State Park

Amicalola Falls State Park is located in the north Georgia mountains near Dawsonville; it is hands down my favorite Georgia state park. My family and I have gone to Amicalola many times over the years but our recent trip was only the second time we have camped. (For those not a fan of camping, the park also has a lodge and cabins.) Camping at Amicalola is not for the faint of heart; from the park entrance to the campground involves navigating a 25% grade. (Yes, you read that right.) As one of the park rangers once told us, this is where a lot of people discover that their tow vehicle isn’t up to the challenge.

The first time we camped at Amicalola we owned an RPOD 177 that we towed with our Toyota Highlander. The RPOD was near the top of the Highlander’s towing capacity but Bonnie (the Highlander) made it up the incline fine. It was the hairpin turn covered with loose gravel within the campground itself that really got my heart pumping. We made it (obviously) but we also drew a bit of an audience. (“Yeah, that gravel gives a lot of people trouble.”)

Our most recent trip was our first trip with Ruby as our tow vehicle. Ruby hauled our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS up the 25% incline like it was nothing. Even the ridiculously heavy fog wasn’t enough to stress us out with Ruby on the job. (Can you tell I like my big red truck? LOL.)

The view from the cab

The campground itself is relatively small with only 24 campsites and one bath house. However, it is laid out well and the road had been recently paved. There was also no gravel on the hairpin turn this time so it seems that someone finally devised a way to prevent that problem. Even though we arrived in rain and fog (not uncommon when we travel) it moved out overnight so we were able to get out and enjoy the rest of our trip. There are all sorts of things to see and do within the park itself, not the least of which is viewing the falls. Many of the activities and events have currently been curtailed due to COVID-19 so I recommend that you check the website (link at the beginning of this post) for the latest information before traveling.

Amicalola Falls

It wouldn’t be a trip to Amicalola without viewing the falls so we did hike the stairs partway down the falls. The stairs at the falls are labeled as “Strenuous” and they are not kidding but there is also an accessible parking lot and trail which allows for viewing without the hike. We ventured out a little further this time and traveled down forestry service roads to reach the trailhead for Long Creek Falls. While the forestry service road itself was in less than stellar shape in some areas the ride was worth it for the winter wonderland of ice-covered trees we discovered at the top of a ridge. (You can see my favorite photo here.) The hike from the trailhead to the falls was approximately one mile and wasn’t strenuous at all. The falls were small but definitely worth the walk.

Long Creek Falls

Right now, I’m a happy girl. I’ve been struggling a bit with the continued self-isolation due to COVID and this was a much needed trip. My soul is always the most at peace in the mountains and being at my favorite park made it even better. *happy sigh*

Now I have to finish packing for our next adventure! Until next time, happy trails!