No, Not That Atlanta, The Other Atlanta

We arrived at Atlanta State Park the Saturday before Easter Sunday. The park was alive with families enjoying the special weekend. The Easter Bunny had just presided over an Easter egg hunt and the excitement level was unparalleled. We saw the Easter Bunny zip by in the ranger’s golf cart. It was also quite warm, nay hot, and sunny.

The site we were assigned was very short. Short and uneven. In order to get the Airstream intothe site, we had to hang out in the campground road blocking traffic. This is precisely the kind of situation which Jim finds intolerable. He hates to be in the way or inconveniencing anyone. Of course, this meant we were trying to rush and that only prolonged the process. We needed to deploy the Andersons to level the trailer side to side. We got our signals crossed and had to rework the process. I thought Jim’s head might explode. He was quite literally a very unhappy camper. Finally, we were able to unhitch and get out of everyone’s way.

We were dead tired and hot and unhappy. To re-spark the magic, we got out all of Jim’s Airstream toys. We deployed the awnings and got out the palm tree. From the awnings we hung the strings of lights shaped like flamingos and flip flops. This was their maiden appearance as I had brought them back from my visit east. Of course, the flamingo from the Quilt Museum was on display. Smokey took a bow as did Jim’s replacement balloon from Ruidoso. We were the most festive and happening trailer in the park!

We sat in our chairs under the awning to enjoy the late afternoon and dusk. Jim sipped his beer. I drank my wine. A large red wasp began buzzing around us. Soon swarms of gnats were flying in our faces. We got out the citronella candles and remained steadfast. Just as darkness fell an enormous black beetle crashed into my head with his hard shell. My shriek rang out though the campground. I bounded inside the trailer. That was just one bug too many for me. I hate, hate, hate insects. I hate bugs. I really hate big red wasps and black, hard-shelled beetles that fly. I began to pine for west Texas and its bug-free environment in earnest.

Atlanta State Park has two campground loops. We were on the lake loop. The other loop was deeper into the woods. Rather than place the campsites right next to the lake as is most common, the sites were lined along both sides of the road leading through the campground to the picnic area. This picnic area was a peninsula which jutted out into the lake. The loop was ringed with tables. It was quite lovely. We pondered the democratic choice which had been made to leave the campsites in the woods and the public access picnic area on the prime spot.

 

The next morning we walked the picnic loop and admired Lake Wright Patman. It was a little rainy and the sky was cloudy, but all in all a pretty day. We spent some time cleaning the trailer. Living in a small space, there isn’t much to clean, but it does need fairly frequent attention. Cleaning is also a good way to exert control over one’s environment. It serves dual purposes.

Atlanta park was unusual in its lack of hiking trails. There was one trail which connected the two campgrounds, but it was uninspiring. We were still a little tick-shocked from Mission Tejas. Rather than explore the trail, we decided to see if the ranger had wood for a fire and head in to town.

The ranger actually gifted us with some firewood someone had left behind. We headed to WalMart for some firestarter sticks. When we got out of WalMart, Jim suggested we go to Sonic for burgers. It was already 3 pm and it seemed a little late for a heavy fast food meal. As Jim likes to say, I crushed his soul once again. We returned to the park. All was not harmony and happiness. We hunkered down for another evening dodging bugs.

The next day was humid and somewhat cloudy. At this point we were both ready to leave Atlanta. We were trying hard to be happy and content, but it wasn’t happening. It was time for some serious intervention. In the pantheon of tools to engender happiness on the road, doing laundry ranks at the top—even ahead of trailer cleaning. It was time to do the laundry. We were seriously intent on getting happy.

5217 342Jim had researched and there seemed to be just one laundromat in Atlanta. If it didn’t really exist (not an unusual occurrence) or was awful, we would have to go to Texarkana which was quite a ways away. We drove the twenty minutes back to town. With 34 years of happy matrimony under my belt, I suggested we try Sonic before the laundromat. This girl didn’t survive this long without knowing when to uncrush a soul. We don’t eat fast food very often at all. But Jim had this bee in his bonnet and it seemed the best course of action. It was okay. I don’t think I ever need to eat at Sonic again.

After Sonic, we found the Washateria. It wasn’t the cleanest place, but it had the necessary appliances. Jim and Dakota stayed in the truck and I headed in to get the job done. Doing laundry, even in a less than spotless environment, is good for the soul.

The next morning we were ready to hitch up and get underway. Our next door neighbor wandered by on his way from the bathhouse to his trailer. He was friendly and very interested in our hitch. We have a Pro Pride hitch which has tremendous stabilizing strength. It resists the gusts from wind and passing semi trucks and makes hauling a trailer much safer and easier. Lots of people haul with a simple ball hitch as did our neighbor.

Over time Jim and I have worked out a good process for hitching and un-hitching. By now we had done it many times. We barely need to speak as we work through each step. We each have our own self-assigned tasks. Despite this familiarity, having an audience threw us each into silent performance anxiety. As our neighbor peppered Jim with hitch questions, we performed each task, but without our usual level of concentration.

Once early on in our journey, we had had a near disaster in hitching. We could have totally crashed the Airstream and, even all these months later, we remained battle scarred. After that near disaster, I developed the oft-recommended hitching up checklist. Ever since we were religious in running through the checklist each time we hooked up no matter how confident we felt. Like a pilot preparing to take off down the runway, the checklist was our salvation.

The hitching in front of our kindly observer went well. Jim nailed putting the stinger in the hitch. He hooked his over center, I took the tool and hooked mine. My favorite job is to cross and hook the tow chains, hook the emergency brake release cable and seat the seven pin plug which makes the brake lights work on the trailer. All of that took place. Our satisfied guest wandered off pondering the joys of our Pro-pride Trailer hitch. Jim and I both breathed sighs of deep relief. We went through the hitching up checklist with the fervor of were newly ordained priests performing our first Eucharist.

A Rain as Big as Texas

Sunday brought an end to our stay in Village Creek. It was a bit grey and rainy as we hitched up and pulled out of the park.

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Deluge doesn’t even begin to describe the rain which assailed us on our drive south from Lumberton to the Brazos Bend State Park just south of Houston in Needville, Texas. The rain fell so heavily that we barely had visibility out the windscreen of our big blue truck. It fell in sheets and torrents. Thank heavens for Jim’s steady nerves and careful driving. He piloted our 48 foot craft skillfully through the darkened land and kept us from disaster. I shudder to think what would have happened if I were driving. At moments like this my strongest impulse is to shriek with horror and throw my hands in the air. Not exactly a prescription for safe driving.

Our progress was slowed by the weather and even more so by a terrible traffic accident on Interstate 10 in Houston. Traffic slowed to a complete standstill and we spent well over an hour inching our way forward. When we reached the accident, we saw some poor eighteen wheeler had hit the cement divider on the outer shoulder. The cab was completely separated from the trailer which still stood nose to the divider. The cab was crumpled like an aluminum can and had clearly burned as well. Cleaning this up in this weather was going to be a considerable challenge.

The rain followed us further south down Route 288 past Pearland and along Farm to Market 1462 to the park. We set up camp in the rain and were just able to sit out under the awning. Despite the fact that the ranger said the park was fully booked, we were almost completely alone. Was it the unrelenting rain? Just the fact that for people down here, this is winter? Who knows. It was a little strange coming on the heels of Palmetto Island. We felt lucky to have the park to ourselves, but where was everyone?

Our site was just lovely. We were nestled next to a large live oak who was our guardian. We were feet from the banks of the Brazos River and the park teemed with deer, all kinds of birds and big Texas armadillos. All were much in evidence during our stay.

Jim’s oldest brother, Jack, his wife, Phyllis and their friend, Dan, arrived in late afternoon. The rain was still falling but we could shelter under the awning and stay mostly dry and enjoy looking out at the verdant and sodden landscape. We spent several hours chatting and enjoyed brats and burgers for dinner. It was really great to see them. We don’t get to spend that much time with them and certainly had never had the chance to see them in their natural environment of Texas. Plans were made to head up to Pearland on Tuesday to see their home and get some necessary shopping done in the shopping centers there.

The sign welcoming visitors to Brazos Bend makes it clear who the primary tenants of the park are. The morning of our first full day in the park was devoted to laundry. The rain continued off and on, but it data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,LdScLvlLmt6Al7fEQzBywPOD4L0u_I0VQZvmQ-oN8D6UpJzZfW0_mwEsdYo34OZSwpskzwjW0hNr-15GtXjt-jifUch5bkkzWmS3h3hI_nbe1cIW25_eEiE4_LVD33vMs1Dkf936Udf4swas quite relaxing to sit near the laundry and read. By mid-afternoon we were restless. The rain cleared off and the long absent sun appeared. We walked a trail around 40 Acre Lake. There was a nice breeze and it was warm, but pleasant. We saw several gators enjoying the sun. But once we hit the woods at the end of the walk, the mosquitos were unrelenting.

Tuesday dawned dry and we headed to Pearland—named for the former pear orchards which abounded until man discovered big box retailers—and some shopping as well as a visit to Jack and Phyllis’ house. One major goal was to get Jim’s electronic equipment up to current standards. After several hours and success at the Verizon store, we headed to Jack and Phyllis’ house in a very attractive, older development. Dinner that night was completely delicious barbecue and then we headed back to Brazos Bend.

Wednesday was alternately wet and dry, but we got in a nice hike around the Old and New Horseshoe Lakes and Elm Lakes. The two horseshoe lakes were formed by a river’s switchbacks slowly being cut off from the primary river. Over time the lakes fill in completely with vegetation and it was easy to compare the relative ages of the two lakes just by looking at the disparate landscapes around them. Old Horseshoe was well on its way to becoming marshy land while New Horseshoe was still very much a body of water.

We added to our walk with a loop around Elm Lake. Elm Lake was alive with bird life and alligators. This was their turf and they lined the banks of the lake. I got so nervous about them chomping down on Dakota that each time we spotted one, I carried him past. Nothing spoils a trip faster than a beloved dog becoming gator lunch. Jim tried repeatedly to get a good shot of one of them with his phone, but it was nerve-wracking to try to get too close. Nothing spoils a trip faster than losing part of a spouse.

We were just at the end of our loop when we heard a loud, sudden crack like a tree falling. Just across an inlet in the lake, a big gator had clamped his jaws down on an unfortunate egret and we watched with sickened fascination as the bird disappeared into the great creature’s gullet.

The sky was dark and overcast as we headed south to our next destination. Moving from park to park is a little like falling in and out of love successively. There is a mixture of sadness to be leaving and an itchy desire to be moving on to the next adventure. Our next adventure would be Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.

Georgia On Our Minds

Yep, we saddled up and headed out of Aiken without ever seeing the charms of historic Aiken or the cottage named Joye (although Robert said you can’t see much from the road anyway). Our disappointment was greatly mitigated, however, by visions of toilet valves and having a fully working water system in the Airstream.

It took just about an hour to get repaired. Our planned trip to see Stone Mountain State Park and the Atlanta branch of the Frost clan was sadly abandoned. We’ll put that on the list for later as well. We headed south for a quick overnight at New Green Acres RV Park  (more on RV parks at a later time) and then on to Savannah and the Skidaway Island State Park.

Sometimes GPS is tremendous and sometimes GPS just doesn’t think about traffic patterns and how they might impact towing a 27 foot Airstream. In this case Francine (the GPS lady) guided us right through the middle of tourist-laden Savannah’s narrow and crowded streets, past the surprised faces of tourists from Des Moines and Muncie and right smack into a bunch of streets under construction. I know my hair was standing on end. Thank heavens Jim has steadier nerves. Next Francine wanted us to enter the Harry S. Truman Parkway where no ramp existed! All of the locals were driving past the now defunct ramp, executing a tight u-turn and entering the highway from the other direction. Airstreams don’t do tight u-turns. But fate protects fools and panic-stricken Airstreamers—right where others were making the tight u-term there was a water treatment plant with a drive through. Huge signs decorated both sides of the narrow driveway saying, “Wrong way! Do not enter!” but we recognized salvation even if it meant transgression. Meeting no irate oncoming traffic, we completed our about face and entered the parkway. A little shaken, but none the worse for wear.

Skidaway Island State Park is nestled just outside Savannah on the Skidaway Narrows and part of the intra-coastal waterway in Georgia. It is absolutely lovely. The campground is spacious and lined with live oaks and cascading Spanish moss.

Arriving at the park, campers operate on a first come basis to find a camping site. We ultimately found a lovely and level site canopied by trees and just across from the only other Airstream in the park. Setting up was a joy. We put out our awnings, our veranda mat and folding chairs.

Our Airstream neighbors across the road, Larry and Mary, were actually from just up the road. They had just got their darling  Airstream Bambi and Larry was as full of enthusiasm as he was of questions. Jim stood a little taller realizing that finally there was someone who knew even less than he did about what was going on. Larry and Mary loved to talk. Walking near their Bambi pretty much guaranteed a good 30-minute chat. But, hey, what have we got to do?

The park has lovely hiking trails which wind across marshland and give peeks to the waterway.

We hiked all the trails in the two plus days we were there. Along the trails are historic bunkers used by the Confederate soldiers to defend Savannah and its shipping from the Union forces.img_4903

One other thing we did do was take an afternoon walking tour of Savannah. With Dakota in tow, we needed a pet-friendly tour. Free Savannah Walking Tours was just what we needed. A no frills business started by two young native Savannans, we had a 90-minute guided tour of the key squares in the historic center of the city.

Savannah was as gorgeous as I thought it would be. We saw the house (above) from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and got a good sense of the historic squares and romantic buildings in the city. Walking is a great way to see things.

There was one draw back. Of course, Dakota is quite beautiful and everyone wants to pet him and he is very friendly. But let a small dog walk by and Dakota sounds like he would easily tear him to bits in seconds. He is all bark and no bite. The whole time he is barking and growling, his tail is wagging, but he does make quite a scene. Every time another dog walked by, and it was frequent, or a horse-drawn carriage clopped past, Dakota lost his mind. He doesn’t actually have that much mind to lose and by the end of the afternoon, Jim was a wreck. Dakota causes more marital stress than all three of our children ever have.

I would go back to Skidaway Island in a heartbeat. It was such a comfortable and lovely place to camp. We really enjoyed hiking the trails and the facilities were first-rate. We set up camp and could have stayed for a very long time. With a working kitchen including running water, we made a big meal of steak and all our favorites. Now this is what we signed up for! After three days we reluctantly headed south to our next destination: St. Augustine.