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!

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!

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!

The Electronic Tattletale

Prior to our purchase of Ruby the Big Red Truck, my research focused on things such as tow capacity, reliability, and longevity. While I know all of those things will serve us well, it’s the little previously unknown/unexpected features that I enjoy. I love the big, bulky interior door handles and the loud clicking of the turn indicator. However, far and away my favorite feature on the whole truck is the “lane assist” which beeps to let you know when you drift too far to one side or the other of your lane; we call this feature the electronic tattletale.

Image from Depositphotos.com

Kenn has always had a tendency to “wander” when he drives so he’s not as big a fan of the electronic tattletale as I am since he is the one she most often tattles on. Early on, he turned the lane assist off but I insisted that it stay on. (My truck, my rules.) Prior to Ruby and her electronic lane assist, that function belonged to me. A common complaint was that I missed a lot of the scenery in our travels because I was watching the road – even when I wasn’t the one driving.

During our trip to Amicalola Falls State Park, Kenn stumbled across another feature of the electronic tattletale. We were traveling along a curvy mountain road with Kenn behind the wheel and Ruby beeping on a regular basis. Suddenly, Kenn laughed. Apparently his “wandering” passed some threshold; he said a picture of a coffee cup popped up on the control panel with a note that it was time to take a break. Well played, Ruby! (Ruby’s dashboard/control panel are like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in comparison to our older Toyotas.) I have to say, I’m enjoying my new found freedom in the passenger’s seat. It’s nice to be able to relax and watch the world go by instead of always being focused on the road.

What are your favorite features on your vehicle? (Heated seats are a close second to the electronic tattletale for me.)

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!

Achievement Unlocked: Towing

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Ruby, our new-to-us Toyota Tundra. We took Ruby on her first camping expedition last weekend; I’ll post about that next week. Even though we have owned a travel trailer since 2014, I have never driven while towing. Even though I know this puts a heavy burden on my husband, just the idea of driving while towing has always freaked me out and sent my anxiety level through the roof.

When we purchased my husband’s Toyota Tacoma in 2015 I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to driving it; it felt so much bigger than my Highlander. So, of course, I expected driving the Tundra (which is huge) be be an even bigger adjustment. However, much to my surprise, I actually love driving Ruby. I was apparently born to drive a big honkin’ truck. Who knew? So, on our trip home I decided I’d give towing a try and… I did it! I know that may seem like nothing to many of you but since traffic/driving is one of the biggest triggers for my anxieties, for me it’s a Really Big Deal and I’m proud of myself. I didn’t drive for long, only about twenty miles on a two-lane road between two small towns but now that I have done it once, I know I can do it again and for a longer stretch.

There’s no stopping me now, y’all!

Vintage style camper trailer and camping scene