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Looking back…

In the Spring of 2014 we found ourselves making the pilgrimage to George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon (Virginia). It is hard to describe how you feel viewing Washington’s deathbed, approaching his tomb in silence or seeing his ghastly false teeth! And then after touring their home, you sit on the porch overlooking the Potomac River realizing that you have traveled back to America’s early history. It was an awe-inspiring experience – one we certainly won’t forget.

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Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Lately, I have been busy uploading more photos to TMN and came across this photo taken at the one campground that really surprised us.

We were southbound on I-77 and decided to call it a night in Fancy Gap (VA). Daylight was fading and when we pulled into the campground we immediately thought this was not the place for a Big Rig. All I can remember from the entrance is trees – lots and lots of trees – and no RVs in sight. The friendly gal at check-in assured us they were Big Rig friendly and we found ourselves being escorted around a curve to a row of pull-thru sites in the woods. The sites in the row were tiered to conform to the mountain, yet they were spacious, level and private. We were actually camping in the woods without the hassles that comes from having a Big Rig! Considering all the ill-designed and obstacle-cluttered campgrounds we have visited over the years, this was a genuine surprise.

Now as we are prepping the rig for the next long haul, I wonder what summer adventures we will get ourselves into. After all, you never know what surprise is waiting for you just around the corner. 😉

Over the years we’ve had our own unexplained ghostly adventures… like our time spent at Bodie State Historic Park (CA). Bodie is a modern-day ghost town. When the California State Park system took over Bodie, it left all the buildings as they stood. This is one of the most unforgettable places we have ever been. There is so much history there it consumes you. You can almost feel towns folk walking along the street beside you. Peering through windows you feel invisible eyes staring back. It is a must-see for anyone visiting the Eastern Sierras.

Another place to note is Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (MO). This was the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. The park is a five-mile driving tour and you are literally driving back through time. In fact, at one point I think I really did! I had gotten out of the truck at one stop to take a photo of two cannons in a field and when I walked past the first cannon I was overcome with chills. I assumed it was from stepping out of the air-conditioning into the ninety-plus degree heat. But after I took a photo of the farthest cannon, I walked back to the first and I got chills and goosebumps again. I stepped toward the cannon to take a photo and swear I heard someone shout “NO” in my ear. Boy, did I hustle myself back to the safety of the Silverado!

Although we have visited Pensacola Lighthouse (FL) several times, we returned to visit last year to see the lighthouse decorated for Christmas. Even though the lighthouse is haunted, I didn’t see the Ghost of Christmas Past – but I did feel a section of cool air as I entered the Keeper’s room. The last time I visited there had a similar experience in that area. And on the previous visit I had also felt someone watching me in the basement. So even after telling myself I wasn’t going in the basement this last visit, I did. However, they had a clothed dummy sitting at the desk at the base of the stairs and it startled me so much I jumped backwards onto the steps again!

Then there was the time we planned a trip to see Appomattox Court House National Historic Park (VA). Those a little dusty with their history may recall the name but not the significance of the location. This was the surrender grounds, where Generals Lee and Grant put an end to the Civil War. The building where this historic moment occurred, the McLean House, still stands. After touring the house we went outside to one of the other buildings. No sooner had we stepped through the doorway when we found ourselves quickly stepping back outside. Hard to explain why we all got goosebumps, but it just felt very wrong in there. We resumed our tour of the park and enjoyed the other buildings without problem. At least for a little while…I have a tendency to lag behind as I read every plaque and take a number of photos. We were visiting the new jail and the other two were already heading outside while I was alone upstairs. I was snapping a few photos of the window when I felt a chill. Looking down I saw I had goosebumps again. I shrugged it off until I heard a cough come from the cell. Then I headed down the stairs as quickly as I could!

But the eeriest thing happened just a few weeks ago while touring the USS Alabama (AL). The battleship is about seven hundred feet long from stem to stern and if you take the self-guided tours it will take about two hours. Parts of the ship were rather warm and stuffy and I quickly found myself finishing the tour alone. Although there were other people touring the ship, I managed to always stay a room or two apart. I was getting a little dehydrated and just poked my head in a few rooms to quickly finish that section of the tour. As I looked in one room, an officer’s quarters I believe, I noted the typewriter on the desk and was about to head to the next room when I heard the sound of an old typewriter. It was just two keystrokes. My first thought was that another room nearby had some sort of voiced display and a visitor had activated it. So I quickly continued with the tour. But after I finished that section of the tour, I saw there was nothing like that. Where did that distinctive sound come from?

Sometimes when you visit historic sites you get more awareness of history than you paid admission for… 😉

Looking back…

In the Fall of 2009 we found ourselves in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Virginia). There are several recreational areas tucked away in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. One hidden gem is Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area.

We were exploring the back-roads and looking for some autumn foliage when we discovered this scenic lake. The weather was cool and there was very little Fall color in the area. The park was weeks away from closing for the season and had only a few day visitors during our stay. We opted to take a brief hike and found that the park was abundant with wildlife.

Places like this gets lost on us at times and it makes one wonder how many hidden gems have been passed by…

 

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Mount Vernon Estate

Mount Vernon is located about twenty minutes south of Washington, DC. The property is situated along the Potomac River and if a tour of the Estate and 50-acre plantation isn’t enough to keep you busy, there is also a working pioneer farm, Washington’s tomb, a cruise along the Potomac, theater, museum, education center and gift shops on the property; in addition, Washington’s working gristmill and distillery are just three miles down the road.

Even if you are not a history buff, the awe of walking Washington’s grounds will transport you back to early America! Admission includes a tour of the Estate. However, general tours are based on entrance time and will be time-stamped on your ticket. So be prepared to wait two or more hours until you can view the Estate. Yet you won’t be bored waiting. Mount Vernon is a full-day experience!

Inside the Estate (general tour) you will see the first two floors, including the guest room where Lafayette stayed, the very bed Washington died in and… the key to the Bastille! If you pay extra, you can go see additional areas of the Estate. And don’t forget to take a moment to sit in the chairs on the back porch to enjoy the view of the Potomac.

Admission to Mount Vernon also includes entrance to George Washington’s Grist Mill and Distillery, which is just down the road. The grist mill tour surprised us as they actually started the wheel! It was noisy, but fascinating to see the stones in action. The trail from the grist mill leads to the distillery which actually produces Washington’s “recipe” a couple times each year.

One day admission at Mount Vernon is $18 for adults and $17 for seniors. Other options include audio tours, special Estate tours and a 45-minute cruise along the Potomac. Souvenir guide books are also available for $12. Parking is free. Although Mount Vernon advertises RV parking, it is a bit limited and not exactly Big Rig friendly. The grist mill and distillery have limited parking. You would be better off taking your tow vehicle.

Do not delay! You must add a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon to your Bucket List!

 

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © I-95 North

For some reason… everyone wants to got northbound this time of year! Although they shouldn’t be in a hurry. I think we didn’t get past 5 mph in a few sections of it. 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Giant Fiddle (MO)

If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you’ve probably seen over-sized statues, a themed or odd-shaped building, bizarre monuments or just plain wacky stuff! These roadside attractions are a great way to add to your trip and travel memories. So next time you see something, slow down, turn around and take a look. You never know what roadside wonder you may discover.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © King Kong (VA)

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © S.S. Ripley (FL)

 

NOTE: A site worth visiting for roadside attractions: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Rose O’Neill home and statue

So you planned to take that dream trip across the country to a national park or visit that must-see museum only to find out it’s closed… What’s a family to do about vacation plans now?

There are many wonderful hidden treasures across the USA and if you take a closer look, a few are probably right in your own backyard!

The first thing to do is visit an area’s local tourist or visitor center website. Often they will list attractions, recreation and events and have links to other websites that contain more details. Don’t forget to look for small museums, historical sites and botanical gardens! And there are still places that offer free admission, but appreciate donations. Your support of these smaller attractions and non-profit organizations helps keep them open. You may find yourself enjoying the less popular attractions as they are not as crowded and their volunteers are eager to share information about the site with visitors.

So before you begin to panic about your upcoming travel plans, browse the web! Like TV shows? Find out about your favorite and visit places from the show, like the Walton’s Mountain Museum (Shuyler, VA). Enjoy history and art? Check out Rose O’Neill’s home “Bonniebrook” (Walnut Shade, MO). Love sci-fi? Drop by the International UFO Museum & Research Center (Roswell, NM). The possibilities are endless!

If you had planned to stay in a park lodge or campground, don’t fret! Most private campgrounds offer cabins with basic bunks and beds to deluxe cabins completely furnished.  Ask if they have discounts, as most campgrounds will offer a free night if you stay longer than a week. Although private campgrounds are a bit higher priced than national and state parks, consider ones with additional amenities like playground, scheduled activities/events, ice cream socials, free breakfast, Cable TV and WiFi to get the most for your money.

This is a beautiful country and there are plenty of ways to experience and explore the USA outside of it’s national parks and museums.

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Walton's Mountain Museum

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Walton’s Mountain Museum

  

Photo by H.S. Cooper © GNS - Fort Pickens

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Gulf National Seashore – Fort Pickens

Looking ahead… there are a few more fee-free days at U.S. National Parks. Don’t forget to mark your calendar for at least one of these dates. During these times, entrance fees to the parks will be waived. In addition, some other special offers may apply.

August 25, 2013
(National Park Service Birthday)

September 28, 2013
(Public Lands Day)

November 9-11, 2013
(Veterans Day weekend)

For more information and trip planning links, visit the National Park Service’s website: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm

NOTE: And don’t forget to support some of your local and non-profit attractions this year!

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Eek!

Digging out the Halloween decorations, I have to chuckle… a few are from Washington, some Virginia, some Florida, some Texas and, quite honestly, some I can’t recall what state they came from!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Especially since there are bowls of chocolate everywhere you go and it gives me an excuse to watch Harry Potter movies all month! But for those who have never camped in October, you might be surprised how popular of holiday it is in campgrounds.

Many campgrounds have Halloween activities from carving pumpkins to haunted hayrides. Some have designated site trick-or-treating for the children and most parks encourage families to decorate their campsites. A few places we have been have even held decorating contests.

One year we were in Virginia and the campground celebrated Halloween every weekend in October. Folks were encouraged to decorate. Normally we keep our outside items at a minimum, but that year we decided to go “all-out” and we based our theme on a children’s Halloween party. We decorated our picnic table with costumed “children” having a Halloween party. The table included plates, cups, candy (emptied and resealed wrappers, of course!), plastic toys (spiders, bats, pumpkins) and orange Halloween lights. And the table was even webbed-over by a few rather ambitious spiders adding to the design. The “children” were dressed up, such as a skeleton, scarecrow and, of course, Frankenstein. Our little creations were easy to make – we created their bodies out of recycled water bottles, two-liter soda bottles and one-gallon tea containers. All their costumes were purchased from the local thrift store for less than ten dollars. When the party was over – the “children” went into recycle bin and their clothes get washed and donated back to the local thrift store.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Little Frankie

One year we spent Halloween in Washington and that year it was a little too wet to put out decorations. Although that was an unforgettable Halloween for us – we hiked to Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park. It was 31 degrees! Oh, and did I mention that we were camped beside a cemetery and the week before they had an attempted grave robbery? No? Well, I’ll have to save that for another time! 😉

Another year we were on the road, exploring scenic Highway 391 in the Eastern Sierras. That was another October of extreme temperature changes for us. We went from 19 degrees (our hose froze) outside Bridgeport (we were visiting Bodie SHP) to over 100 degrees at Death Valley NP. Traveling from the “cool” ghost town to the hellish landscape of Death Valley was certainly an experience!

And then there was there year that we were in Florida and the monkeys…oh goodness, I could go on-and-on! I wonder what memories we’ll make this year? Although I do know it will involve at least one bag of KitKat’s! 😉

Since I first posted “Campground Living: Better than Reality TV” , I have received a number of requests for other reality TV-worthy “episodes” we’ve experienced at campgrounds. And yes, like Hollywood… I can offer a sequel!

We were in a campground in Texas where Tenters camped along the river and RVers had full hook-up sites above. Imagine our surprise when we heard all sorts of commotion coming from below.  Further down in the tent area a Camper’s tent and all his gear had been thrown in the river. You could see some of it still floating (part of the tent, sleeping bags and coolers) as the river current was moving it too quickly to sink. He was running and shouting along the river, apparently hoping someone could save his gear. It turned out to be quite an ordeal, as the sheriff was called and began searching the campground for the culprits.

That reminds me of the RV resort we were staying at in Florida. A seasonal RVer with a fifth-wheel got his tow vehicle repossessed right before he was going to head northward. We moved on shortly after so I don’t know how that issue was resolved.

While staying at a campground in Virginia, we were surprised to see a travel trailer back in beside us with a mobile kennel of-sorts. Their pickup truck was filled with wire, dog cages (two with dogs) and a huge dog house. They unhooked the trailer and began erecting a fence with the dog house in the center. The caged dogs were placed inside, as well as the dogs already in the trailer and the one they had riding inside the pickup truck. They told us their dogs just loved going on vacation and being outdoors. That really surprised me considering they spent the weekend barking at everything they saw and heard outside! (I like dogs, but most campgrounds do have rules about leaving them outside for long periods, especially unattended or for constant barking.)

Several years ago I was riding my bike around at a campground in South Florida. After passing the pull-thru area I realized there were two tents set up beside a fifth-wheel. It is unusual to see tents in pull-thru sites but I didn’t think anymore of it until I made my next lap around and saw the little fences set up at the side of each tent. Inside the little fences were pot-bellied pigs. Again, I didn’t think much of it… okay, at first I was a little surprised… but pets like to travel too. 🙂 But the next day when I rode by and saw them dressed up… well, that had me wondering… did they pay the daily pet charge or extra person rate? 😉

I have to say that one of the most bizarre things we’ve seen happened at a family campground in Virginia. We didn’t know the folks who set up camp a few sites down from us were on a hunting trip. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up our dining room shades only to see a dead deer hanging from the tree on their campsite. Fortunately, that week’s free campground movie wasn’t “Bambi”.

Yes - that is exactly what you think it is! 😦

Honestly though, I’d miss seeing these things (well, not necessarily a freshly killed deer hanging from a tree) if we weren’t full-timing. Forget the TV, we just pull-up our window shade and see who or what pulls in beside us ~ now that’s entertainment! 😉

PLEASE NOTE: I originally posted this without the photo, but after receiving a few emails doubting a campground would allow that… well, I decided to go ahead and post the photo. I do apologize if it bothers you.

May Day 2009

 

 

 

 

 

You might recall our May Day blow-out (https://hscooper.wordpress.com/articles/may-day-blow-outs/) last year. On the open road and in need of RV tires is not a situation I’d wish upon anyone.

After we got settled in Virginia last summer, we decided to have all our RV tires replaced. In June we made a trip to the Camping World store in Roanoke. At the time we found a helpful staff member who went over the price, labor costs and taxes with us, as well as tire availability and appointment scheduling.

We told him we would rather wait until November when we were going to be putting serious mileage on again. He said it would be no problem for us to call ahead and we would be in-and-out in no time.

A week before we were planning on leaving Virginia, we decided to return to Camping World in Roanoke and schedule our tire appointment, as well as make a few purchases.

What a difference time makes!

What a WORLD of difference customer service makes!

Now the helpful staff were gone… no one would wait on us or several other customers.

Finally, after some grumbling, staff emerged.

When it was our turn, we learned that the company no longer made those tires. We questioned this so the staff member waved another employee over. Number 2 said he wasn’t even sure those tires were even made at all – ever!

Huh?

 We pulled out our CW quote sheet printed out in June showing they indeed had the tires at that time and that we were told this was pretty common for Camping World. So after getting the attention of yet another employee, we learned that apparently their Camping World rarely had sets of tires (that matched) in stock.

What?!

Number 3 said he could go look and see what they had in stock and took off.

A fourth employee arrived and suggested we order them from a RV dealer somewhere.

Okay…

So we took our money and headed out the door in search of a Goodyear dealer. We found a dealer, pulled in the parking lot, and told them what we needed and they said, “No problem”.

They said they could put them on for us when we left, however we weren’t crazy about the idea of driving our rig into downtown traffic at the start of our journey. It was decided that we would take the tires with us and they loaded them into our truck.

When we returned the campground we asked around and found a local garage that would be open early hours the morning we left. We went down and made an appointment and they said it would be no problem putting on our new tires.

That morning we didn’t even have to pull into the garage – the gentlemen did it right from the parking lot in a matter of minutes!

Our initial quote for tires at Camping World was over $1200, plus we had an additional $300 of items we were going to purchase during our trip. Camping World – the “Walmart of RVers” – lost our business that day.

If we need anything now, our first thoughts go to supporting small, local businesses. They know their stock and they know how to treat their customers. There is a World of difference in customer service at a small business.

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

 The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

 

 Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;

 Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

 Strong and content, I travel the open road…

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”

 

 
A few photos of our last 1,500 mile journey from Virginia to Texas.  Road photos are a great  reminder that it is about the journey and not the destination. (Although bit of a rough one if you drive 1-10!) 😉

Well, it seems like only yesterday we pulled the rig into our winter home site… oh yes, it was only yesterday! 🙂

After a very very busy summer and a rather exciting haul to Texas, I find myself falling behind in everything from silly forwards clogging the inbox to posting here. I apologize to those who emailed me with “Where are you?” and “Did you give up RVing?” emails. It’s just been a rather busy year. Quite frankly, I’m surprised we are already headed for December and 2010!

So I promise to post more in the weeks ahead. After all, you need to know about our crazy search for RV tires, our disappointment in Camping World (the one in Roanoke), tropical storm Ida and all the latest campground news!

I also will try to get caught up on campground reviews and posting photos. And for those who wanted more “inside” information on workamping – I’ll be sure to post more pieces regarding the lifestyle.

Meanwhile, I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving holiday! 🙂

Blue Ridge Parkway 008

Blue Ridge Parkway 012

Blue Ridge Parkway 014

Blue Ridge Parkway 033

Blue Ridge Parkway 030

Blue Ridge Parkway 038 A drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway during the “peak” of Leaf Season revealed a faded landscade.  Not many stunning colors. 

If you drive it, remember Virginia overuses the term “scenic overlook”. Most of the time it is just a parking lot overlooking a wooded area. So try to look ahead before you bend your rig in there. And there were several RVs on the road… surprisingly, all headed South! 😉

Halloween Spider

The area we are currently staying is big on Halloween! The campground is booked every weekend and has numerous Halloween activities from carving pumpkins to haunted hayrides. The children can trick-or-treat and families can enter weekly campsite-decorating contests.

Of course, when you are a full-time RVer, your storage space is limited. Fortunately, when it comes to being creative, we have plenty of space! 😉

Initially we discussed doing scarecrow “people” around our campfire… lounging in the chairs, roasting fake marshmallows over a fake fire… But after some brainstorming, we decided to base our theme on a children’s Halloween party. We decided to keep it simple, festive and child-friendly.

Halloween Decorations

We decorated our picnic table with costumed “children” having a Halloween party. The table includes plates, cups, candy (emptied and resealed wrappers, of course!), plastic toys (spiders, bats, pumpkins) and orange Halloween lights. The table has been webbed-over by a few busy spiders.

Halloween DecorationsThe “children” include a skeleton, scarecrow, pumpkinhead, lady bug and, of course, Frankenstein. Our little creations were easy to make – we created their bodies out of recycled water bottles, two-liter soda bottles and one-gallon tea containers. All their costumes were purchased from the local thrift store for less than ten dollars. No item was over $1!

When the party is over – the children go in the recycle bin and their clothes get washed and donated back to the local thrift store.

No party is complete without a buffet table and decorations! So we decorate the tree above the Halloween party and a table behind it. Spider webbing, ghosts and an inflatable spider were quick, inexpensive decorations to draw attention to our main display.

Halloween Decorations

Halloween treeThe “boo-ffet” table was decorated with a Halloween tree. If you just want one decoration or a centerpiece for a Halloween party – a Halloween tree is easy to do. We purchased a trick-or-treat bucket (a pumpkin) at a Dollar Tree store. We filled the bucket with rocks and then arranged dead tree branches in it.  We decorated the tree with ghosts, spiders, bugs, skulls and Halloween-colored ribbons. After our tree was finished, we webbed it. For a creepy effect, we used a hot glue gun around our “ornaments” and left the glue drip around the tree and webbing. We then added our other table decorations (garland, white lights – from Christmas!) and webbing.

So even if your space is limited, use your imagination to take part in the Halloween fun at your local campground! 😉

Cave Mt Lake

 

VA leaves on bridge

Although we are currently along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, we are still surrounded by a mass of green trees. A recent drive showed some Fall color, but not much. Locals say it will peak soon and hopefully another trip down the Parkway will reveal a more dramatic display. AND, maybe, just maybe next time the sun will be shining! 😉

Meanwhile, we continue to pack for our next adventure… stay tuned for details!

Cave Mt Lake

spider web

I just bought Halloween cards (and a bag of candy, which is almost gone!) and have been in the mood for Fall to officially begin. Since we are currently along the Blue Ridge Parkway it will be a treat to see the leaves change color.

spider webs on the fifth-wheel

Imagine my surprise when I woke up the other morning to find not only the campground covered in a fog, but also a blanket of cobwebs. Most of which had weaved their magic around our ladder and under the slides.

Mother Nature didn’t let them hang around for long – as the fog lifted, a gentle breeze rustled the leaves and the webs. Although I have a feeling they’ll be back again before we move on. 🙂

  spider web

 Despite the poor economic conditions and many uncertain of the times ahead, the outdoor hospitality business (RV parks, resorts and campgrounds) are staying filled this summer.

Many folks have re-discovered the fun in camping, while others are exploring their “own backyard” – just travelling a few hours away from home.

With limited vacation time or funds, many Campers have figured how to make the most of both. Many are either taking one day off a week and taking their scheduled days off  – such as the weekend – to make a nice 3-4 day camping trip each month or every two weeks. This not only breaks up the summer, but stretches out the vacation time all summer.

Multiple stays at the same campground doesn’t have to be boring. Take advantage of local sites and attractions and make a series of day-trips. Driving an hour or so from your campground can be like a mini-vacation in itself!

The Blue Ridge Parkway makes for a wonderful day-trip!

The Blue Ridge Parkway makes for a wonderful day-trip!

If you stay at the same campground or RV resort, you may find yourself eligible for a “repeat” or “multiple stay” discount. Some campgrounds offer 10% or more off on their regular Campers. And many campgrounds offer discounts for extended stays that could save you hundreds of dollars!

If you have family and friends that enjoy camping, see if the campground offers group discounts and family camping areas. If they have family or group areas (for multiple families), you may find it cheaper to divide the cost among the families than to each rent a campsite individually.

If you have children, finding family campgrounds or RV parks that offer activities will benefit both you and your children. Parks such as Jellystone offer many free activities – from wagon rides and movies to crafts and dances. Low-cost activities such as bingo, mini-golf, water slides and ceramics are available at most family-friendly parks.

Make the most of your summer vacation, despite limited time and funds. Go camping… again and again! 🙂

King Kong in VA

Never know what you'll see on a day-trip!

Flag at Appomattox

Flag at Appomattox

We are spending the summer in Virginia and recently visited Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. It was a beautiful summer day until a line of clouds veiled the sun and it began to rain.

As tourists scrambled for cover or made way for their vehicles, we dug out our folding umbrellas and continued our tour of what the locals refer to as “the surrender grounds”.

It was muddy and slippery, yet we reminded ourselves that conditions weren’t always “ideal” for those who died and fought for the freedoms that make America great.

So no matter what the weather, please have a safe Fourth of July and remember those who have fought and continue to fight for our freedoms.

Appomattox

Appomattox

Appomattox 

VW Rally VA 2009

 

VW Rally VA 2009Okay, you see one on the highway and you can’t take your eyes off it… but image a campground-resort filled with VWs! Rather interesting to see, especially those with larger families. Luckily the invention of EZ-Up tents makes VW bus living a little more livable on the outside. 🙂

After getting off to a rainy start to the weekend, the skies have cleared and temperature is in the high 80s. Folks are enjoying the river, the swim lake, the pool and the water slide and spray area. Everyone is donned in tie-dye clothing (or bikinis!) and just enjoying the weather and activities.

VW Rally VA 2009

In fact, the outdoors is calling me now… so what am I doing online? 😉 Time for me to soak up some sun and enjoy this beautiful spring day in Virginia.

VW Rally VA 2009

Waltons Mountain Museum
Waltons Mountain Museum

Children are getting out of school, summer is around the corner and money is tight. What’s a family to do about vacation?

There are many wonderful places with small or no admission fees all over the country. In fact, if you probably take a look, a few are in your own backyard!

The first thing to do is visit an area’s local tourist or visitor center website. Often they will list attractions, recreation and events and have links to other websites that contain more details.
Vikingsholm Castle

Vikingsholm Castle

 

Don’t forget to look for small museums, historical sites and botanical gardens!  Often these places have discounted admissions on families or larger parties, free days or reciprical agreements with other attractions (offering discount rates or free admission). And there are still places that offer free admission, but appreciate donations. Although you should leave an appropriate donation or the suggested donation amount if one is posted.

You may find yourself enjoying the less popular attractions as they are less crowded and their volunteers are eager to share information about the location.

So before you rack up $50-70 a person heading to Disneyland or Six Flags this summer, surf the net! Consider driving to the Waltons Mountain Museum ($6), visiting the International UFO Museum & Research Center ($5), trekking to Vikingsholm Castle ($6.50 to park) or discovering the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit for free on a Tuesday…

If you don’t have a RV or tent, don’t fret! Most campgrounds offer cabins with basic bunks and beds to deluxe cabins completely furnished. Often even deluxe cabins cost less that a hotel stay. Ask if they have discounts, as most campgrounds will offer a free night if you stay longer than 4-5 days or during the weekday.

Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be fun. There is a great deal in this country to see that is educational and fun for the whole family that won’t break your budget!

International UFO Museum and Research Center

International UFO Museum and Research Center

NOTE: Waltons Mountain Museum is in Shuyler, VA (around 160 miles from Washington, DC); the International UFO Museum is located in downtown Roswell, NM; Vikingsholm Castle is located inside Emerald Bay State Park on Lake Tahoe (California side); the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit is located in Fort Pierce, FL on the beautiful Indian River Lagoon. This is just a few of the thousands of attractions across the U.S. that are inexpensive and family friendly.
 
First in, first out at the truck stop!

First in, first out at the truck stop!

It appears that fuel prices are on the rise again and that means for RVers who were planning on putting some mileage this summer, pennies will have to be pinched.

The extra $20 t0 $50 that would normally be spent at a campground can be saved by skipping a few campgrounds while enroute to your destination.

Depending on the length of your journey, spending every other night at a truck stop can save you a hundred to several hundred dollars. We usually average $300 a week on nightly campground visits while enroute to our destination. By spending every other night at a truck stop, we only spend around $100 a week.

Most truck stops and travel centers are catering to RVers, especially those with “big rigs”. Flying Js, Pilots, TAs and Loves can be found throughout the Lower 48 and Canada. A quick visit to their websites can reveal all their locations along your planned route.

A nice thing about truck stops is that many now have dump stations and water, in addition to fuel, propane and other items. Before you park for the night, you can get fueled up and be ready to leave the next day.

However, there are a few things you should remember about overnighting at truck stops. RVers have rules or guidelines when overnighting or “parking” at businesses and these rules should be regarded even at a truck stop.

First of all, stop and ask if it is okay to overnight. Ask someone at the fuel desk and ask them if there is a particular area designated for RVs. If there isn’t and you find yourself among the semi trucks, don’t get in their way. Find a parking spot on the end or toward the back. If you see other RVers, try to park by them. “Skipping” parking spots makes no difference at a busy truck stop. You’ll only find yourself surrounded by semi trucks in the morning! So if you find another RVer, park beside them.

In the photo above (taken at a Flying J in Virginia), we arrived a little after 5 PM and found another RV family already parked for the night in the truck lot (notice the motorhome behind us). We backed our rig in beside them. Later that evening, we found ourselves surrounded by other RVers.

It is very important that while at a truck stop (especially if you are parked with the semi trucks) that you stay within your lines. If you have trouble backing your rig or have trouble staying in your lines,  find a pull-thrus if you can. But if you find a truck stop with a double pull-thru, make sure you pull all the way forward so that someone can park behind you.

Another thing to remember is to be courteous and try to get in your spot as quickly as possible without holding up the traffic flow.

An overnight guideline that most RVers have (especially for retail parking lots) is to not run their generator. However, this is often overlooked in large truck stops where trucks often run all night. Just be mindful of your neighbors if you choose to run your generator for more than a few minutes.

Of course, if you are overnighting in a truck stop (or any retail parking lot), you should not put your slides out. That is a major overnight sin! If your RV layout blocks a closet or another area you need access to, make sure you re-locate those items to easy access areas prior to overnighting. And by no means should you put down your awning or set up camp (lawn chairs, rugs, etc…) while overnight parking. You are not camping, you are parking.

While you are there, please patronize the truck stop. Buy fuel or shop in their store. Grab a bite to eat from their restaurant. We have found some of the best pizzas around can be found at truck stops! You don’t have to spend a great deal (remember you are there to save money), but if you aren’t at least buying fuel, buy something. A bag of chips or some hot dog buns – anything to show your gratitude.

If you have a frequent fueler card with the truck stop, be sure to use it. Not only will it help lower you fuel bill, but usually other purchases will help earn you points and freebies.

There are some safety issues about overnighting. Turn on your door light and your scare lights. Make sure all you RV doors, outside compartments and tow vehicle doors are locked. Never, ever just open the door to someone who knocks on it! Open a window near the door and speak to them through the window until you know what is going on. If you are overnighting at a truck stop, do not go wandering around a night. If you must walk your pet, do it near your RV. Semi trucks come and go at all hours in a truck stop. Tired drivers may not see you in the shadows!

Overnight parking at truck stops is a great way to save money (and time if you are too tired to look for or drive to a campground). Just be mindful of others, patronize the truck stop and stay safe!

Please Note: Overnight parking at retail settings such as Walmart is a little more involved (as they aren’t designed for RV or semi truck parking like truck stops) and overnighting at rest areas is even more restricted in some areas. If you decide to overnight park anywhere, always seek permission, follow signs and obey the RVers “official” overnight rules.

 

For those of us Full-Timers who have learned to tolerate the craziness of the Big 3 (the weekends of Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day), this one went by rather smoothly.

Of course, that is for those of us who have become immune to those Weekend RVers who allow their six year old children to drive golf carts around the campground at dark,  those who leave their TVs and radios at full volume while they visit friends on the other side of the campground and those who congregate in large numbers at night to talk loudly in front of your RV while you are trying to sleep.

I did see some things that did surprise me this weekend… which was rather alarming, because I thought I had seen it all!

The first surprise was the travel trailer that pulled in beside us with a full-size dog house in the back of the pickup truck. They promptly set it up behind the RV and erected a little fence around the area. I learned it “wasn’t an RV dog” and that it would spend the weekend within whimpering distance of my bedroom. I don’t know which was worse, the barking dog or the owner constantly yelling “shut up” all weekend.

The next eye-opener was the number of adults who placed lawn chairs in the back of their pickup trucks and had their friends and family sitting in the back sipping on canned drinks while they cruised the campground. I’m not quite sure what all that was about, but after seeing several “families” drive around this way I figured they all must have been too cheap to rent a golf cart.

Of course, nothing can top a RVer who was either too cheap to rent a full hook-up site or too lazy to go to visit the free dump station. What did she do? She dumped her RV tote tank in the river that families canoe, kayak and tube.

So we survived another one of the Big 3 and are nervously awaiting for the Fourth of July weekend. It has me wondering if there will be more surprises in store for us this season!

PLEASE NOTE: In all fairness, I do not blame campgrounds that are overwhelmed during the Big 3. Most are at full capacity with a small local and workamp staff working around-the-clock. Each campground has rules and regulations, but they are hard to enforce under these circumstances. If you are a Weekend RVer, please be understanding of the rules and respect your fellow Campers.

FoamHenge

No, it’s not Stonehenge… it’s Foamhenge. Just a few miles off I-81 in Natural Bridge, Virginia you’ll do a double take when you drive by this foam replica. You just never know what you’re going to see from your RV! 🙂

Foamhenge

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

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