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!

Learning to Be Retired

I have now officially been retired for two years. Kenn retired a few months after I did so he has been retired for about a year and a half. I can honestly say that the decision to retire was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I told Kenn about my plans to retire he looked at me and said in all seriousness, “I don’t think you’re going to be very good at being retired.” Really? My response was “I am going to be awesome at being retired.” I am pleased to announce that I was correct. I have indeed been awesome at being retired.

I wore this “retiree” costume for my last Halloween in the office pre-retirement

Awesomeness aside, retirement does come with some adjustments. We were used to getting paid every two weeks. We now get paid once a month so that took some adjusting, but it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. Full-time retirement was a bit too much for Kenn so he got a part-time job with the local branch of the US Department of Agriculture. It’s pretty much the perfect retirement job. He works two or three days a week and gets to drive tractors and other heavy equipment. (Insert Tim Allen Home Improvement noises here.) The best thing about his job is that it’s flexible. If we want to hit the road for a few weeks with our travel trailer, we can.

This past weekend, I had an epiphany. Our normal method of travel has been to get in the car/truck and get where we need to go with little to no dawdling/side trips. When we were working this was a necessity; we needed to reach our destination to make the most of the time that we had. However, now that we’re retired, we still travel the same way. What’s up with that? We talk about side trips but don’t take them. Why not? We just haven’t changed that long ingrained mindset yet. Last weekend, we had a short visit with our grandson and then hit the road on Monday to take him back home to South Carolina. The trip followed our “normal” routine; the only stops were brief ones for snacks or restroom breaks. (Honestly, being able to help out with our grandson is one of the main reasons I wanted to retire. I was a happy Grammie to be able to make this trip and make things easier for our kids.) We stayed in SC overnight and returned home on Tuesday.

We got up Tuesday morning, checked out of the hotel, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed home. Instead of our usual stop at a convenience store or truck stop, Kenn pulled in at a small nursery and we spent a pleasant 30-45 minutes looking at plants and visiting with the cat and the elderly man relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch. When we got back in the truck (with several new plants) I was absolutely blown away at how relaxing that simple stop was. We made another stop in one of the small towns we always say we’re going to visit. None of the antique-y stores were open since they are only open on weekends but we did a little sightseeing and agreed to make a return visit sometime soon. Hats off to Kenn for breaking us out of our routine and helping us start what I hope will become our “new normal’. I’m looking forward to seeing what this new way of thinking about travel brings.

Until next time, happy trails!

Here We Go A Fossiling

Given a choice between the mountains and the beach I’ll choose the mountains every time. There’s just something about the mountains that makes my heart happy and fills my soul with peace. I love the scenery, the wildlife and, even during the hottest times of the year, the mountains usually bring at least a slight relief from the heat. (Summer in the South is frequently like living in a sauna.) However, the beach is Kenn’s happy place. He and his family spent a week at the beach every summer and the memories of those times still hold a special place in his heart. Over the years we’ve each learned to appreciate the other’s favorite.

I’ll admit, it took me a while to learn how to enjoy the beach. The two biggest hurdles for me were 1) I can’t swim and 2) I’m a redhead; I practically burst into flames in the sun. (We won’t get into my irrational fear of sharks.) For years, most of our trips to the beach consisted of me coating myself in sunscreen and sitting in the shade watching Kenn and our boys cavort in the surf while I silently counted the days and hours until we could leave. Eventually, I learned that even a non-swimmer can have fun wave-surfing on a boogie board. (Aside from one trip to the ER when a rogue wave slammed my foot into the ground. Fortunately, my toe wasn’t broken; I just had a lovely purple toe/foot for a few days.)

But, the thing that truly taught me to appreciate the beach are fossils. I love getting out and scouring the shoreline for shark’s teeth and other fossils. Over the years I’ve found hundreds of shark’s teeth and met another fossil hunter who helped me identity other items as fossilized sting ray barbs and puffer fish mouth plates. When the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil my boys will have to decide what to do with all of the baggies filled with my beach finds. (I hope they’ll do more than just toss them in the trash.) Fossil hunting in the Peace River in Florida is on my bucket list.

The fossil finds from our latest beach trip

Now I just need to figure out how to spend more than three days at the beach without being ready to lose my mind from boredom. (Not even fossil hunting has been enough to change that.)

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!

Google Maps vs. Waze

I am directionally challenged. Knowing which direction is which does not come naturally to me like it does to my husband, Kenn. I can work out directions if I know the time and can see the sun but that method isn’t particularly helpful in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. In spite of my directionally challangedness my primary function during our travels over the years has been that of navigator. (Many of our biggest traveling arguments have revolved around navigation. Translation: my hubby refusing to follow the directions given.) Map apps were a life changer for people like me.

Over the years, Google Maps has been our go-to map app. Prior to our road trip in 2019 Kenn decided that we should give Waze a try. It took me a bit to get the hang of Waze, but once I did, I really liked it. There are a wide variety of voices to chose from; my favorite was Kate with her proper British accent. (I thought Cookie Monster would be cute. I was wrong. Adding “om nom nom” after everything drove me nuts so the Cookie Monster voice was in use for less than a minute.) Waze has a game-like vibe that allows you to unlock achievements by collecting “candy” for various actions. Waze showing our speed in comparison to the current speed limit was helpful even though it wasn’t enough to keep us from getting a speeding ticket in the mail from Sioux City, Iowa a couple of weeks after we got home. (insert facepalm here) I also like the capability for users to mark and unmark things such as accidents, debris in the road, etc. in real-time. In my opinion, Waze also does a much better job with pronunciations; Google Maps garbles the simplest of names much less complicated ones. The biggest problem we had with Waze was that it relied on the availability of a cell signal instead of GPS. There are a lot of places in this big, beautiful country where there is no cell service; since we were traveling through a lot of those areas, we eventually had to revert back to Google Maps in order to have reliable information.

Image courtesy of http://www.depositphotos.com

One of the biggest problems with map apps in general becomes apparent when we are towing our travel trailer. When towing we avoid interstates and big cities as much as possible. However, map apps interpret “avoid highways” as “please take me down every crappy side road possible”. We’ve had Maps try to route us down roads that specifically forbid travel trailers, fire service roads, and a road leading under a railroad track with insufficient clearance for our travel trailer – this in spite of the fact that within sight distance, less than a block away, was a road that went over the railroad tracks. So far, we’ve been able to avoid these potential fiascoes. I’m waiting for the day we make the local news in some town because we’ve brought traffic to a complete halt due to following the directions of our map app. In my opinion, what we really need is either a separate app for those of us towing or a towing option in the current apps that is smart enough to allow us to avoid interstates and those roads that aren’t travel trailer friendly. App developers, are you listening?

Have you had any harrowing experiences due to map apps?

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post I have discovered an app called CoPilot RV that I will be testing out during our trips over the next few months. I’ll let you know what I think.