Our fifth wheel and the truck

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Georgia - The Peach State

Welcome back to the ongoing (mis)adventures of this not-so-dynamic duo. I was reflecting on this amazing journey the other night when it occurred to me that we are very rapidly reaching the end. With only four months to go it seems surreal that we have been here for eight months. We have seen and done so much but there is still heaps to come. In fact we have decided that April next year we will be returning to drive to Alaska with some other members of the 'Class of 2010' and to spend some time in Canada.

Norm and I have spent the last week in Georgia - firstly at Stone Mountain State Park and then at Red Top Mountain State Park. And while they are only an hour apart in distance they are worlds apart when comparing amenities and facilities.

Stone Mountain is quite the playground and while many of the attractions were not yet open for the season there would be lots of things to do once the summer starts. Red Top Mountain is quiet, peaceful and just a gorgeous place to explore.

Norm and I arrived at Stone Mountain late on Sunday afternoon to find many of the sites taken up with very expensive motor homes. There would have to have been many, many millions of dollars worth of motor homes in the park. I might add that by Tuesday afternoon all but a few had departed and the park was quite deserted so it became quite peaceful.

Stone Mountain is a beautiful park set around a very large lake with golf courses, boating, fishing, restaurants, a village, walk trails etc, and it all surrounds a large stone mountain haha!

There are two ways to get to the top of the mountain - one is to hike and the other is to take the skytrain. We decided that the first day that we were there we would hike to the top. So.... with camera in hand, we set out to get to the top. Not a very long hike - only about 1.5 miles (2.4km) in length but it rises about 820 feet (250m) in that length. It took us about 80 minutes to climb - I needed a couple of rests and 45 minutes to get back down. The view from the top was magnificent and certainly worth the effort.

After the hike to the top we visited a covered bridge. The bridge was not an original feature of the park but had been relocated and was in excellent condition. It was while we were there that we got to chatting with a couple from Arkansas and I asked about a tree with really pretty flowers that I have been seeing a lot of since being in Georgia. Turns out it was the dogwood tree and is just so pretty and of course now that I know what it is I see it everywhere!

The next day we visited an area of the park that was the site of the velodrome and archery for the Atlanta Olympics. The buildings had been removed and for many years the site was neglected but recently efforts have been made to try to regenerate the local vegetation and encourage the birds to come back. It was a two mile hike and I guess we were either too late or too early because there weren't a lot of birds around. We did get to see some however.

From the bird walk we went to see the bas relief that Stone Mountain is known for. There is a huge carving into the side of the mountain that depicts three of the Confederate leaders during the Civil War. It is a huge carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee, all on horses. We walked around the pioneer type village where many of the shop owners were preparing for the big opening which will be happening on April 2nd. Of course we will have moved on by then. It would be really interesting to visit while it is open but there are still so many other areas that we haven't visited yet so we can't stay any longer than already planned.

Our next day we went to visit a carillion. The building looks like something out of 'The Lord of the Rings' movie. This particular carillion was part of the World Trade Fair in the 1960's but was donated to Stone Mountain by the Coca Cola Company. There are 732 bells in it and it is played on Saturdays and Sundays so because we were there on Thursday we didn't expect to hear anything however there must have been a tape playing through the speakers because we were able to sit by the lake and listen to it for quite a while. The sounds was just beautiful and just such a peaceful place.

After we left the carillion we visited an old granite quarry on the side of the mountain which was quite interesting. It was amazing seeing how they managed to remove 66000lb blocks of stone without the technology of today. Way back when the workers would put bits of wood between the blocks and then pour water into the holes. The wood would swell causing the rock to move. Now that is hard work!

From Stone Mountain we moved up the road to Red Top Mountain which was just gorgeous. A huge lake with lovely hikes around the lake and through the forest. We decided to take a 4.5 mile hike our first day and set off with lunch and drinks and had a lovely time communing with nature. (LOL) Seriously though, a really lovely way to spend the day. So peaceful and quiet with lots of birds.

One of the really nice things about Red Top Mountain was our friends, the Elams who arrived at another camp ground just down the road. It was really lovely to catch up with them over dinner.

Our plans for another hike the next day were put on hold due to some inclement weather that was making itself felt with drizzly rain and the threat of up to 2 inch hail stones and severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Late at night we did get a few thunderstorms and a little bit of hail but nothing as serious as Atlanta down the road. Most of the storm went either to the north or to the south of us. Lucky!!!!

Sunday dawned grey and overcast with fog everywhere as we packed up our rig and took to the road again. We are heading for south east South Carolina for a week or so. The weather stayed threatening all the way to SC and by the time we got to our camp the temperature hadn't climbed over 45F (about 8C) so we the jeans and windcheaters are back out and the doona will be put on the bed tonight. Norm wants to head back to Florida for the sun but there are too many other places that are calling out to us.

In checking out the photos to put with the blog I continue to be amazed at the beautiful scenery, flowers, animals and birds that I manage to photograph. And, as always, I have way too many lovely photos to put on here. I still haven't searched out some sort of online album but I promise (no laughing now!!) to have a look and see what I can do. Otherwise when we get home you will all have to visit and sit and watch thousands and thousands of photos on the tv or digital photo frame. I do promise to feed you though!

Our love and hugs to all our dear family and friends and we trust you are staying healthy, happy and safe. Take care of you and yours.

PS. Thank you for the comments that you have left - it is lovely to hear from you.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring has sprung here in the Peach State

And I have the evidence to prove it!

I know it is not three weeks since my last post but I just had to share the photos with you.

We arrived in Georgia and I couldn't believe my eyes. In Florida there was really no evidence of spring however I guess because Georgia is known as the Peach State and has lots of peach trees there are just the most beautiful trees loaded with blossoms everywhere. The powers that be have even planted them along the interstate at many of the exits, at rest areas and visitors centres. It is an absolute picture.

To further enhance the feel of spring there are wisterias (or as my dear dad used to call them - Histerias - because thats how he felt when he had to clean up all the blossom that fell) growing wild along the interstate and the dogwoods are blooming every where. I only found out they are dogwoods today - pretty flowers.

Enjoy the photos and look out for the next blog with details of our visit to Stone Mountain State Park.

Take care all and catch you soon. Stay healthy and happy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Multiple Choice Question!

Is Paula late with this blog because:

a) She is too busy rushing around all over this wonderful country;
b) She has had internet problems;
c) She has just got so laid back she can't keep up; or
d) All of the above.

Good answer! You are right whichever one you chose! It has been a bit of all of the above. One minute we are rushing around every day to see all the sights in one area then slacking off just to enjoy the sun and gorgeous weather and yes we have had some internet connection problems.

But anyway I am back again and raring to go - I think! Our last blog saw us just leaving Bushnell and making our way to Fort Myers, FL. Well we have stayed in FL since then and have only just left today (Friday, 18th March) on our way to Georgia. From Fort Myers we moved to Homestead and then to Vero Beach and finally to St. Augustine. So I guess the story begins with Fort Myers.

I have to say that since we left Alabama we have been so fortunate with the weather - it has been beautiful and although we did have some rain while in Vero Beach it was only at night and not enough to spoil our days.

It also needs to be said that this state, Florida, is a bloody dangerous place to be! Panthers on the streets, alligators everywhere, flocks of seagulls that bomb people with poop as they take off and car attacking vultures! Great care is needed while touring Florida.

Fort Myers was an interesting place on a number of fronts. The beaches were lovely although very crowded and parking was expensive. They seemed very tourist oriented which I suppose is to be expected given the number of snowbirds and young people on spring break at the moment.

Our first excursion in Ft Myers was to Six Mile Cypress Preserve which is not six miles at all but was, none the less, a lovely spot and so much wildlife. This was our first experience of seeing an alligator in the wild however since then we have become quite blase about them as we have encountered them at quite a few of our stops. One of the things that really fascinates me down here is the parasitic plants. Not the Spanish Moss which just hangs on the trees, but those that actually use the host plant as a source of nutrients. They have been really lovely and were very prolific in the preserve.

From the preserve we made our way to Ft Myers beach where we had lunch and sat on the sand for a couple of hours. I had forgotten how much I really enjoy the beach and the long walks that are possible.

Our next trip took us to Caloosahatchee Regional Park which was a lovely place for a stroll along the river and through the trees. We kept getting distracted by rustling in the undergrowth and eventually discovered little lizards.

It was really funny as we stood looking at a green one on the grass, I tried to get the camera out but he took off. Norm asked where it had gone and I laughed as it was on the back of one of his sox. He grabbed it but as he opened his hands it took off in a real hurry.

I have seen everything now! On the way from Ft Myers to Homestead we came across signs on the side of the road warning of PANTHER crossings! These were in the middle of dense residential areas! I wasn't aware that there is a very rare panther in Florida. They are very endangered and, in fact, I found out later that they believe there are only about 10 left in the Everglades National Park.

Homestead, FL was to be our home base for a few days to explore south Florida. We arrived at our rv park to discover that we were in little Quebec! All our neighbours were French Canadians who spend their winters in Florida.

Our first day saw us take a long drive down through the keys to Key West. What an amazing drive! Just getting the road and bridges through all the keys to finally arrive in Key West was a brilliant feat of engineering. One wealthy gentleman, Henry Flagler, actually built a private railroad all the way down to Key West. Once the railroad was no longer used it was then used as a road. It is no longer used as a new highway and bridges have been put through. In fact, one part of the old bridge was blown up in a chase scene in a movie - can't remember which one.

So Key West - what a fascinating place. A really interesting history, beautiful old buildings, lovely beaches, great shopping, bars and restaurants - what more does one need? Key West relies solely on the tourist trade for its economic stability and boy! is it full of tourists.

Two claims to fame - the southernmost point of the USA and the beginning of Highway 1
which goes all the way to Canada - not that you would want to drive it unless you had a great deal of time as it goes through all the cities with all the traffic lights between Key West and Canada.

And the chooks!! Many years ago the Cubans used to bring chooks to Key West for the cock fighting. Then cock fighting was made illegal so the chooks were released and now they just wander the streets and are protected by law. Heavy fines for anyone injuring a chook!! Unbelievable!!

We had a wonderful day and despite the long drive we really enjoyed our trip to Key West.

The next day we set out for one of our 'bucket list' trips. Both Norm and I were so looking forward to our trip to the Everglades National Park. What an amazing day! But what an introduction - have a look at the photo warning of car damage - this was one of the first things that we saw.

Alligators, ospreys, herons, ibis, beautiful scenery, a boat trip up through the everglades and a beautiful sunset to end an awesome day.

We humans have done so much damage to our environment through our actions and people are trying to repair the mistakes of the past. And I understand that the mistakes were often made without the knowledge that we have today and no knowledge of the consequences of the actions but boy have we made some monumental stuffups.

The Everglades is currently under enormous stress and while it is not diminishing currently it is not recovering. It is in a state of flux with no headway being made in its recovery. Actions are being taken to help but at the moment they are just maintaining the status quo. Drastic action is needed otherwise this incredible environment will be lost to us and our kids and our kids' kids!

Off the soap box.

Our last day in Homestead and we set off to take an airboat ride - another 'bucket list' item. And yep it was worth it! I just loved it and the 'river of grass' as the everglades are referred to was just an amazing environment. More alligators, birds, flowers and plants and just beautiful.

Our next destination was Vero Beach and once again we found ourselves in another French Canadian dominated park however the people were just lovely and so friendly. This is where we decided to kick back and have a bit of a slow time so we didn't do much at all.

I managed to finish a quilt top and get it sandwiched and some of the quilting done although it is a bit difficult on a small machine in an rv. You should see me - I look a bit like a contortionist trying to get the thing in the machine! It needs to be finished by 12th April when a friend of ours arrives from Australia for a holiday in the rv with us! Now that will be interesting.

We did visit an art and crafts exhibition and while there were some just gorgeous pieces I kept my hands firmly in my pockets and my wallet zipped up in my backpack! For those of you who have visited our home you will know how much we love to buy original artwork but this time we resisted the temptation. Which reminds me, can't wait to get home and hang the piece we bought while we were on our Alaska cruise.

While we were at Vero Beach one of the other residents recommended that we go to St Augustine. So off we went with rv in tow and found ourselves an absolute gem! St Augustine is the oldest, continuously occupied settlement in America. It was settled by the Spanish in 1565 and is gorgeous.

The day we arrived we took a drive down to Vilano Beach and I decided to take a walk - bad idea! The beach was so steep that I had sore shins and heels and because there was no sand I ended up with blisters on my big toes from the shells. The whole beach was made up of shells and shell fragments - not an easy walk.

The next day we went to visit Fort Matanzas on Anastasia Island. Matanzas is Spanish for massacre or slaughter and explains why the river and fort were so named. A Spaniard killed about 250 Frenchmen near this site. The fort was built to protect the back door of St Augustine and successfully prevented any pirates, British or other nation from attacking the town. From there we took another walk on the beach and while Anastasia Island is only just south of Vilano this was entirely different - whitish sand and easy flat beach. Reminded me a bit of home - almost!

The plan for the next day was to drive into St Augustine's old town and take a trolley tour of the area before visiting a few of the attractions and museums. We had a wonderful day with a visit to the old jail which does not look anything like a jail from the outside, the history museum, the oldest wooden schoolhouse (now why would you think I would want to see that?), the stone fort and so much more.

If anyone finds themselves in the north of Florida I can thoroughly recommend a visit to St Augustine. The history of this lovely town is really interesting and I have to tell you once again, Henry Flagler was instrumental in establishing St Augustine as a very expensive resort for the rich. He built two hotels and an entertainment complex, he gave money to build the jail, donated land for churches and other civic purposes. His hotel Ponce De Leon cost $65 per night in the late 1900's and you couldn't book for one or two nights - it had to be for the whole season! So only for the rich!!

We checked out 'The Fountain of Youth' but decided that if the water tasted that bad we would forgo the living forever bit. It tasted very strongly of sulphur and who knows what else.

While we were there we went to a firing of a cannon. There was a reenactment with a very nice looking young Spaniard cannonier and to say that the earth moved for me was an understatement. Apart from being really, really loud the cannon blast actually made the ground under my feet vibrate!

Our last day in St Augustine we went back into the old city and finished off our tour with a visit to the San Sebastian Winery, the Flagler Hotel (now a college) and the old city. We also went back to the beach for another long walk (me) and a lie on the beach with his kindle (Norm). One thing about the beaches is the hard sand! When lying on the beach on Anastasia Island it was almost like lying on a concrete slab it is so hard!

I am going to have problem with this blog! I have so many beautiful photos that I won't be able to fit them all in. I am going to have to find one of those internet sites that allows you to have photo albums that friends can access. Another job - boy this retirement is full of work!! But I love it anyway!

Our next stop is in Georgia as we wend our way north as the weather warms up.

Family and friends we hope this finds you all well and happy. We are rapidly getting to the end of this amazing adventure with only four months left before we have to head home but.... The fun hasn't finished yet so be sure to come back again soon. And I promise (fingers crossed of course) I will not wait another three weeks before I do my next blog. Hmmmm

Love and hugs to you all from both of us.