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In honor of Veterans Day the entrance fees to Florida State Parks (except the Skyway Fishing Pier SP) will be free on November 11, 2015.

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Fulton Mansion State Historical Site is located in Rockport (Texas). At the time of our visit the mansion was closed for renovation, but we enjoyed a walk through the gardens and around the grounds. The visitor center located behind the mansion consists of a small museum, gift shop and film area regarding the history of the mansion. During the renovation, admission to the site is free. Parking is limited so only take a tow vehicle.

If you enjoy state parks and find yourself traveling in the Florida Panhandle, don’t forget to check out Big Lagoon State Park. The park consists of over 600 acres of land located near beautiful Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico. There are five miles of nature trails to enjoy the birds and other wildlife. And if hiking isn’t your thing, they have a wooden boardwalk and observation deck a short distance from a parking area. In addition to hiking and birding, the park is a great place for photography, bicycling, fishing or beach-combing.

Big Lagoon State Park also offers a boat ramp, canoe launch, picnic pavilions, amphitheater and campground. The campground will accommodate rigs up to 4o’; however, be wary if you have a Big Rig as some sites may require some effort to back-in.

Entrance to the park is $6 per vehicle (up to 8 people) and use of the boat launch is $12 (up to 8 people). The park is open every day from 8AM to sunset.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © BRIDGEPORT

Looking back…

Doing a little Spring cleaning (okay, someone is really optimist for Spring around here!) and came across a collection of glittery vials from the summer we panned for gold along the South Yuba River.

Bridgeport covered bridge across the South Yuba River, just outside Penn Valley (CA), is definitely a must see when visiting Gold Country. Gold panning (“pans and hands”) is allowed along this stretch of the river. A wonderful place for a relaxing day trip, the South Yuba River State Park offers visitors hiking trails, visitor’s center, picnic area and restrooms. A short walk from the main parking area you will find an old cemetery and barn exhibit (with old wagons).

While you are there, stop in to the visitor’s center and pick up a gold pan kit and try it yourself! The volunteers and park officials will be happy to provide you with information on the technique. You will be amazed to see that the water under the bridge is literally glittering with gold flakes! Of course, it’s not enough to buy a new RV, but you’ll find your day at the Yuba priceless. 🙂

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © SOUTH YUBA RIVER

Fort Morgan State Historic Park is just west of Gulf Shores (AL) and overlooks Mobile Bay. The fort was completed in 1834 and was occupied during several wars including the Civil War.

Although most folks might not be familiar with the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, they have probably heard Admiral Farragut’s famous quote, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” From Battery Thomas (near the fort) you can see where the U.S.S. Techumseh sank after it struck a torpedo (mine). A buoy marks its resting place.

This state park is definitely a must-see for history and military buffs. It offers views of the bay and Gulf of Mexico, in addition to a handful of natural gas rigs and Sand Island Lighthouse.

Admission to the park includes the fort, museum-gift shop, outside structures and beach. Current price is $7 for adults and $5 for seniors. There is adequate parking; however to view some of the other structures you need to drive down a gravel road. So it would be better to take your tow vehicle. There is a ferry that can take you from Dauphin Island to/from Fort Morgan; however, weather and tide can effect whether or not they will allow RVs to board.

For directions and visiting hours, visit: http://fortmorgan.org/ 

Gulf State Park is a series of parks located in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach (AL).  If the two miles of snowy white beaches along the Gulf of Mexico isn’t enough water for you, the park area also includes access to a 900 acre lake. From picnic areas to fishing piers and cottages to tennis courts, Gulf State Park is a great place to visit if you find yourself along the coast.

The park is located between Hwy. 180 and Hwy. 182, depending on which entrance/facility you are visiting. Entrances fees also vary per location. The beach access points in Orange Beach are free, yet the ones in Gulf Shores are currently $5 per vehicle.

For more information on Gulf State Park, please visit their website at: http://alapark.com/GulfState/

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Fort Toulouse Frontier Days

We had the opportunity to visit Fort Toulouse – Fort Jackson State Historic Site at the start of their annual five day Frontier Days event. The event is held every year in November.  In 1717, this region of Alabama was actually part of French Louisiana and a French fort was build along the junction of the two rivers. But there is more to it… let’s just say a lot of history from the Creek Indians, French, British and Americans… And it was definitely a great time to visit with period costumes and folks living “the life” for a few days!

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Coosa River

The park does have a campground although it was closed during the Frontier Days event. The sites were very picturesque – under trees covered in Spanish moss and some sites were along the beautiful Coosa River.

To see over forty photos of the 2012 Frontier Days, please visit: https://hscooper.wordpress.com/photos/alabama/fort-toulouse-fort-jackson-shs-slideshow/

Additional information can be found at their website: http://preserveala.org/forttoulousejackson.aspx?sm=g_h

 

 

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © DIGGING FOR DIAMONDS

Looking back…

In the spring of 2009, we visited Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. While we were there the entire state was under severe storm warnings, flood warnings and tornado watches. But if you’ve been diamond hunting before, you know the best time to find them on top of the furrows is after a good rain.

We were a sad, muddy mess, but had a great time regardless of the weather. There had been several good diamonds found during our stay. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any diamonds ourselves, but found some great pieces of mica, quartz, jasper and other “gems”.

If you find yourself traveling the state, you should plan a day trip to the park.  Who knows, you may hit “pay” dirt! 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

My absolute favorite stop in California is Bodie State Historical Park – it is a modern-day ghost town that has been left exactly the way it was. When the California State Park system took over Bodie, it left all the buildings as they stood.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Hwy 395 goes along the east-side of the Sierras. This route is definitely one of the most scenic drives you can experience in the mountains.  The drive to Bodie SHP is a rather long 18 miles off of the main road. There are warnings against taking recreational vehicles as there are limited parking spots and the road is very rough. The last three miles of the road is nothing but dirt and stone. This section of road is extremely rough. In fact, the heavy-duty toolbox in the bed of our pickup truck (which traveled tens of thousands of miles unfastened) moved from its spot almost 6 inches. So if you are traveling in a RV, you should park it at a local campground and make the trip in your tow vehicle.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

The above photo is actually one of my favorites. I was looking in the school house and the reflection from the window revealed the beautiful scenery behind me and offered a view from the school’s other window to see buildings on the other side of the street. It was one of those past, present, future moments for me. 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

This is one of the most unforgettable places I have ever been. There is so much history there, it consumes you. You can almost feel towns folk walking along the streets right beside you. It is a must-see for anyone visiting that region of California.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

This place is absolutely amazing and the history of “the bad men from Bodie” is fascinating. If you find yourself headed to the east-side of Yosemite National Park, take the hour drive northward to Bodie SHP. You won’t be disappointed!

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

More photos can be seen at: https://hscooper.wordpress.com/photos/california/bodie-state-historical-park/

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©
Smoky haze over the American River at Coloma (CA)

Looking back…

In 2008, we spent most of the summer  in California Gold Country. At that time there were fires burning throughout most of the region and the lack of rain coupled with a heat wave didn’t help the situation. I remember days where temps reached near 100°F and despite the heat, you still had to wear a mask because the smoky haze made it difficult to breathe.

But we didn’t let Mother Nature stop us from exploring beautiful California or go panning for gold. I took the photo above near the Marshall Gold Discovery SHP, just off Highway 49. Just across the bridge is a pull-off and a place to pan (“pans and hands” only) for gold. It was almost 100°F that day and it felt good to take off our shoes and step into the rocky river to pan.

So if you find yourself in that area, take a break from the curvy highway and try your hand at panning. And if seeking the shiny stuff isn’t your thing, there is a rafting outfitter nearby and you can take a cool trip down the American River.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©SRSP VILLAGE
One of several buildings at the Florida pioneer village inside SRSP.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©MASTODON
Mastodon remains were found below the Silver River.

If you find yourself near Ocala, Florida, you should make a visit to the Silver River State Park. The park is just a mile south of Silver Springs and has a variety to offer – from hiking trails leading to the river, camping and picnic areas, to the Silver River Museum and Florida pioneer village. Entrance fee for vehicles is $6 (max of 8 people) and museum admission is $2 (the museum is only open weekends and holidays).

For more information, please visit these websites:

Silver River State Park

Silver River Museum

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©SEMINOLE DOLLS
Saw palmetto dolls made by Seminoles are on display in the Silver River Museum at SRSP.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©SINK HOLE TRAIL
Be mindful of wildlife and gigantic mosquitoes when you walk the trails.

If you find yourself along scenic Highway 127 between Kentucky and Tennessee, you will want to be sure to stop at the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park in Pall Mall (TN).

The park is a tribute to York, who was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I.  Sites to see include the family farm, grist mill, burial site and other attractions, such as the post office and welcome center.

For additional information visit: http://tn.gov/environment/parks/SgtYork/

 

 

St. Marks NWR

In addition to Florida State Parks “fee-free” days, don’t forget that September 11, 2011, entrance fees will be waved for those presenting their library card or for those donating a family-friendly book.

September is literacy month and what a better way to celebrate it by taking the family to a Florida State Park! Pack a picnic and grab an identification guide (and binoculars) or another book your family can enjoy together.

Camp Helen SP

For more information visit: http://www.floridastateparks.org/thingstodo/deals.cfm

Camp Helen State Park is located in Bay County, Florida. The park is situated between Lake Powell and the Gulf of Mexico, making it a great place to picnic, bird-watch, swim, beachcomb or fish.

For more information on Florida State Parks, visit www.FloridaStateParks.org .

Bodie State Historic Park, CA

Bodie State Historic Park, CA

I recently read an article on places you “must” visit in the United States before you die and I was shaking my head in disbelief. The writer focused more on expensive lodging (and wine) and it read like an advertisement in a hospitality trade magazine.

I always wonder how much travelling the writers of these “must visit” articles have done and the reasons they pick various destinations. The usually do not explain their criteria for choosing these “must visit” sites.

Of course, that prompted me to think of places that I personally recommend folks visit! My criteria for these are based on the following: historic significance, photographic opportunities, expense and remoteness.

I think historic significance is very important. It makes your trip more than just a vacation; it makes it a learning experience. Opinions vary on the subject of what is beautiful, so I think a photographic opportunity is a good way to describe an area. It may not be breathtaking to someone, but they’ll find their camera memory card full when they leave! With the economy these days, most folks have found a tighter budget, especially dealing with travel and vacations. These destinations are either free or have a modest admission charge. They also have other sites or attractions nearby that are affordable to the average family. Remoteness is another criterion, as some of those “must visit” destinations are so far off the map that they are not practical for most families to visit. These destinations are accessible to anyone – no need to parachute in or trek 30 miles through the jungle to get to it! And most are great spots for RVers and families to spend some quality time.

Many state or national parks are either free or involve a small fee. If you plan to experience a few of America’s incredible parks, take advantage of purchasing an annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass ( http://www.nps.gov/ ) . If you are 62 or older, it only costs you $10!

Here are 49 destinations – one in each state that that I have visited (sorry Hawaii… haven’t got to you yet!) that I recommend seeing if you get the chance. A few states have numerous sites of interests (like lighthouses).

 1) U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville – AL (Great museum and exhibits; also home to the U.S. Space Camp. This is very educational for all ages.)

2) Gulf of Alaska, Seward – AK (Take a glacier cruise and experience glaciers, whales and the most beautiful scenery you can imagine! If you take the train from Anchorage, make sure you allow enough time to explore Seward before or after your cruise.)

3) Grand Canyon National Park – AZ (After touring the park, I took a helicopter tour – amazing!)

4) Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro – AR (Hunt for precious stones and diamonds at the only diamond site available to the public. Keep what you find!)

5) Bodie State Historic Park, Bridgeport – CA (A modern day “ghost town” kept exactly as it was when the state acquired it. Be prepared to spend the day to enjoy this amazing look at our past!)

6) Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez – CO (Anasazi ruins that you won’t forget! Dress for walking though.)

7) Lighthouses – CT (There are a handful of breathtaking lighthouses that shouldn’t be missed!)

8 ) Lighthouses – DE (The thing I like about this region of the U.S. is the lighthouses and there are some interesting ones in DE.)

9) Orlando / Kissimmee / St. Cloud – FL (There is so much to see and do in Florida, that I couldn’t narrow it down to that “one thing”. This region is great because it’s only 2 hours from the coast and pretty much anything you like to do is nearby! From theme parks to flea markets to nature walks and great food – it’s all here!)

10) High Falls State Park, Jackson – GA (Interesting history how this area became a “ghost town”. Now it’s a beautiful park with great places to hike and camp along the river.)

11) Ghost Towns – ID (Many people don’t realize that Idaho has a number of ghost and mining towns left to explore. A few of the state park sites offer gold panning as well.)

12) Super Museum, Metropolis – IL (Yep, Superman! Kids will love it and adults will remember the good old days. IL is actually a “super” state, with the Dick Tracy museum.)

13) Shipshewana – IN (From flea markets and shopping to experiencing the Amish culture, there is something for everyone here.)

14) Covered Bridges / John Wayne’s Birthplace, Winterset – IA (If you enjoyed the movie and book about Madison County, it is definitely a must see. Although a few driving tours are not good for RVs or big rigs. If you like trains, you may want to head over to Boone and hope on the B&SV!)

15) Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway – KS (From sandhill cranes to bald eagles, an amazing route!)

16) Mammoth Cave National Park – KY (A must see if you enjoy exploring caverns. They offer a variety of tours and have senior rates. If you aren’t a cave person, then the next spot to see in KY would be Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.)

17) North & South Toledo Bend – LA (This region has so much to see and do it would keep an active family very busy for several weeks. From historic sites to aquariums to outdoor activities!)

18) Lighthouses / Bridges / Waterfalls – ME (Too numerous to list, but if you haven’t visited a lighthouse, you haven’t experienced ME!)

19) Assateague Island National Seashore – MD (See the wild horses at Assateague Island, but remember they are wild and are not tame animals. Respectfully observe from a distance.)

20) Salem – MA (Rich in history and plenty to see and do!)

21) Mesick – MI (Go mushroom hunting! Although it is not recommend for big rigs to go into the parks. Find a campground to unhook your tow. There is nothing like getting up before the deer and tromping in the woods for morels!)

22) Voyageurs National Park, International Falls – MN (A water-based park that is great to canoe or kayak.)

23) Gulf Islands National Seashore – MS (Before another hurricane hits the Gulf coast – go see it!)

24) Meramec Caverns, Stanton – MO (Missouri is a great state for touring caves and families will love this one. It’s open year-round and we actually toured the caverns in the winter.)

25) Wild Horse Island State Park, Kalispell – MT (Don’t miss this park on your way to Glacier National Park!)

26) Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park – NE (Lots of birding opportunities in NE, but don’t forget about the past!)

27) Hoover Dam / Lake Mead / Las Vegas – NV (RVers will be stopped by Homeland Security to search your rig before crossing Hoover Dam and once at the dam, be prepared for congestion as you navigate the winding way down. Hoover Dam tours are rather expensive for families, but watch the movie VEGAS VACATION before you go so you know what you missed on the “dam tour”. 😉 )

28) Shaker Village, Canterbury – NH (Lots to do in NH, but this is a great stop that is often overlooked.)

29) Lighthouses – NJ (Plenty of really neat lighthouses in NJ, especially Cape May.)

30) International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell – NM (Roswell is really a neat tourist stop that has a little bit everything. Their museum and art center is also well worth a visit!)

31) Sleepy Hollow – NY (Where else can you visit Headless Horsemen Bridge, Sleepy Hollow cemetery and Sing Sing Prison Museum on the same day?)

32) Nantahala National Forest, Bryson City – NC (Catch the train along the Tuckasegee River and through Nantahala Gorge, then visit the outdoor center and go white water rafting. It’s a beautiful area and incredible drive.)

33) International Peace Gardens, Densieth – ND (Why not visit Canada while you’re there? Park also has building remains from the World Trade Center.)

34) National Museum of the USAF, Dayton – OH (Great museum and lots to do around the Dayton – Cincinnati region – from great food to flea markets and King’s Island.)

35) Museums, Tulsa – OK (A variety of great museums in Tulsa that appeal to all ages.)

36) Sea Lion Caves, Florence – OR (See Stellar sea lions year-round and get an amazing view of the OR coast and Heceta Head lighthouse – which is just “down the road”.)

37) Lancaster County – PA (Really worth visiting and especially experiencing a buggy ride!)

38) Heritage Walks – RI (They call their historic walking trails “heritage walks”. A lot of great historic buildings and sites to see – especially like Southeast lighthouse at Block Island.)

39) Myrtle Beach – SC (Great destination for families and RVers – plenty to do for all budgets! We usually state at Ocean Lakes Family CG – it’s like a city itself and right on the ocean.)

40) Badlands National Park – SD (If you can’t make it to the Grand Canyon and are already heading for Mount Rushmore, then you must stop at the Badlands. And while you are in SD, don’t forget to visit Wall Drug or Corn Palace!)

41) Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge / Sevierville – TN (This area is not only beautiful but great for all families. From scenery to outlet malls, to trolleys and fun centers, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – this region in the Smokey’s offers a little bit of everything.

42) The Alamo, San Antonio – TX (Many sites to see in Texas, but a visit isn’t complete until you visit the historic Alamo and experience San Antonio’s River Walk.)

43) Arches National Park, Moab – UT (We actually visited this park in the winter and it was incredible with the snow! If you don’t like crowds, winter is perfect for visiting this park. Just be prepared for the winter weather and pay attention to the local forecast.)

44) Connecticut River Byway – VT (Scenic byway that goes for hundreds of miles and has plenty of covered bridges to keep your camera busy!)

45) Blue Ridge Parkway / Shenandoah Valley, Waynesboro – VA (Start at Waynesboro, VA and head south along “America’s Favorite Drive” to enjoy the Parkway, Shen Valley and continue south to the Great Smoky National Park ending in North Carolina. And don’t forget to explore the historic towns along the way!)

46) Olympic National Park / Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles – WA (If you only visit one place in WA, this is the place. ONP has so much to offer – from the Hoh Rainforest to Mt. Olympus. You need at least a week in this area – more if you want to hike and explore everything the Olympic Peninsula has to offer. And don’t forget to catch a ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC for a day trip to Canada.)

47) Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park – WV (Great place to hike and explore the past!)

48) Botanical Gardens – WI (Surprisingly, WI has some great gardens. And most U.S. botanical gardens have reciprocal agreements for members. So if you belong to one botanical garden, see if you get in others free or for reduced cost.)

49) Yellowstone National Park – WY (Spend at least a few days to enjoy the area and take advantage of activities, such as fishing and hiking. We especially enjoyed a small bus tour which focused on the geological formations.)

Feel free to add your own “must sees” by commenting. And if you’ve been to Hawaii – don’t hold back! I want to know where to go when I finally get there! 😉

Hoh Rainforest - Olympic National Park, WA

Hoh Rainforest - Olympic National Park, WA

IN MY SITES: A Campground Mystery (Book #4)

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