It is fun finding specialty zoos while traveling and St. Augustine has a rather unusual one devoted to alligators. The zoo was founded in 1893, starting off as a small exhibition of Florida reptiles. It continued to grow and has been at its current site on Anastasia Island since 1920. Anastasia is actually a barrier island off the Atlantic Ocean east of St. Augustine. Besides alligators, the zoo also has all the crocodile species (24) from around the world, a bird rookery and exhibits of African birds and other reptiles.
I enjoy visiting zoos and thought this one was well laid out and interesting to visit – plus I do really like seeing alligators, both in the wild and in captivity. The zoo has several shows during the day including ones where visitors can learn interesting facts and observe alligators being trained and fed. When it was feeding time at “Alligator Lagoon,” the gators came charging through the water to get their share, quite a spectacle of huge open mouths and snapping jaws.
On a series of wooden platforms I walked through the native swamp filled with alligators and crocodiles swimming and lounging. Near the pools is also the wading bird rookery which was for me a highlight. The birds are completely wild and are not fed or interacted with by zoo staff. They are free to come and go as they wish. Since there were so many birds it appears they find this zoo appealing, even though there is a throng of alligators lurking below their tree habitat.
Most of the birds I saw were Herons, Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks. Some of them seemed to be busy building nests as they were carrying branches and twigs.
Another interesting bird area was “Birds of Africa,” which are not free to come and go. Below is a photo of the Marabou Stork, one of the largest flying birds in the world with a nine foot wing span. It has a long pink air sac hanging from its throat which can be inflated or deflated like a balloon. It is used for display to either attract a mate or defend their territory.
Cape Griffon Vultures are one of the largest vultures in Africa and feed solely on dead animals the size of an antelope or larger. These vultures are hunted because locals believe if they eat their eyes they will obtain the bird’s clairvoyant abilities and become successful in gambling. When I visited, two adults were taking turns sitting on a nest with eggs.
The zoo has a collection of albino alligators that come from the Louisiana Bayou. These alligators wouldn’t last long in the wild because their coloring would not allow them to blend into the surroundings. Being pale also means they are in danger of skin and eye damage from the sun. Apparently it is a good idea to take a long look at these unusual gators 😊. Legend says those who gaze upon these beautiful reptiles will receive good fortune.
One of the largest crocodiles to have ever lived at a zoo has been preserved here. Gomek once lived in the waters of New Guinea where he terrorized and killed local villagers. After being captured, he eventually came to live at the St. Augustine Zoo where he died in 1997 at about 80 years of age. He is now displayed in a room surrounded by beautiful hand carved Papua New Guinea art.
Since the St. Augustine Light Station is also located on Anastasia Island and near the Alligator Farm I thought I would include a few photos. Visitors can tour the museum there and go to the top of the tower.
Thanks for checking in – more to come, stay tuned!
St. Augustine is all about history and very old buildings which suits me well since I love both of those things. In this blog I wanted to talk about several historical sites I explored beginning with the spot where the city first began, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. It was on this site that Don Pedro Mendez de Aviles came ashore in 1565 to claim Florida for Spain and establish the St. Augustine settlement. At the time, the Timucuan Indians had lived here for generations. Archaeological discoveries have been ongoing in this park for years with artifacts from Native Americans as well as early European settlers.
Many people have heard about the legend of Ponce de Leon searching for the “fountain of youth.” Although it hasn’t been proven for certain that he actually searched for or drank these waters, the spring has been flowing in this park since the days when he arrived in 1513 leading the first official European expedition to Florida. If he did drink the water, it didn’t seem to help his longevity as he died at the age of 46. In the early 1900’s, the landowners created a roadside attraction selling the magical water for ten cents a glass. The park considers this to be Florida’s oldest attraction based on guest books signed from 1868 (everywhere seems to claim they have the oldest something 😊). Visitors can still take a sip in the 60 year old spring house, drinking water that supposedly contains over 30 minerals.
I did my duty and had a cup. I found it amusing that a day or two after my visit, I came down with one of the worst upper respiratory viruses of our RV traveling. We had left St. Augustine for our next location at Jekyll Island, Georgia. We were too sick to do the activities I had hoped like biking the island, visiting the turtle hospital, etc. So, the healing water didn’t do me much good although I had little expectation in the first place 😊 .
The park has a variety of other activities including a planetarium, excavation and other historical sites, a Native American village and weapon demonstrations.
St. Augustine has the oldest and largest masonry fort in the United States – Castillo de San Marcos located on the shore of Matanzas Bay. It is operated by the National Park Service and visitors are welcome to walk all around the inside courtyard as well as on top of the walls. Some of the rooms can be viewed including storerooms, a chapel, and barracks set up with furnishings and artifacts. It is really a beautiful fort in amazing condition, although not my favorite of our travels. That goes to Fort Morgan located at the end of a peninsula near Gulf Shores, Alabama. Fort Morgan was so atmospheric and fun to explore with lots of rooms and passageways. The Castillo had so many visitors and a less mysterious and adventurous feel about it.
The Fort is built in a star shaped design called “bastion” and has thick walls, battlements, towers and a moat. The star design made it effective for mounting cannons and to withstand attacks from cannon projectiles. The Fort has stood for so many years thanks to the material it was made from – a rare type of limestone called “Coquina” which is found in the area. Because the rock is porous and light it doesn’t shatter like granite or brick and therefore cannon balls would just lodge in the walls.
The main part of the Fort was completed in 1695 and it remained in military service for 251 years before being deactivated in 1933 and turned over to the National Park Service. Possession of the Fort changed six times among four different governments: Spain, Great Britain, the Confederate States and the United States.
St. Augustine claims to have the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States. It was built before 1763 during the first Spanish occupation and has never been reconstructed. It was handmade from bald cypress and red cedar logs bound with wooden pins and iron spikes. The first students were immigrants from Minorca, an island owned by Spain located in the Mediterranean Sea. They came to the school to learn English and it cost 12-1/2 cents a day to attend. If they had no money, they paid by bringing food or wood for the teacher. The schoolmaster lived with his family upstairs from the classroom. A kitchen was located in a separate building out in the courtyard.
Inside the building, a photograph and news clipping shows the class of 1864 having a reunion in 1931. There were nine students present and their combined ages totaled 708 years! At the reunion, the former students arranged the classroom as they remembered and this is the way visitors continue to see it today.
Some times misbehaving students got sent to the dungeon located under the stairwell. Life was a little harsher for students during those days.
My favorite part of the school building was the floor. It was made from “tabby,” a type of concrete popular during the time period. The concrete was made by combining water, sand, ash and broken oyster shells. I thought it was neat to see a floor filled with shells.
Since St. Augustine has so much old, there has to be the oldest house to visit. It is called the Gonzalez-Alvarez House and was built about 1723. The house really did look and feel old when I stepped inside and toured the rooms. Many different families lived here until 1918, when it was turned over to the St. Augustine Historical Society who did some renovations and made it into a museum.
I loved all the old walls around St. Augustine and most are made from Coquina – a type of rock filled with shell fragments. I will close with a photo of one of the walls.
Stay tuned for more exploring in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S.
Camping at North Beach Camp Resort in St. Augustine was definitely a plus. This turned out to be one of my favorite campgrounds of our RV travels. The location was perfect – sandwiched between the beach and the intracoastal waterway. It was also close (about 5 miles) to the historic old town of St. Augustine. We stayed here for two weeks in February of 2018. I wrote in my previous blog that I was going back in time to write about a place I hadn’t had time to cover. I have lots more to say about the town itself, but for this blog I wanted to write about our time enjoying our campsite and nature.
Our site was surrounded by live oaks with hanging moss and palmettos. We had lots of bird visitors with about twelve different species coming to our feeders. At that time in our travels, this was the first place where we had birds coming to our site. Since I love to sightsee, I usually wanted to go exploring some where each day. But here, I was content for a few days to just sit outside and watch the parade of birds coming to visit.
Besides birds, my other favorite interest was collecting shells. The first time I went to see the Atlantic Ocean and beach across the road from our campground I was a little disappointed by all the brown sand. I was used to seeing the bright white sand and turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and this was a definite change. But the masses of seashells all over the beach made up for it. I had a great time collecting and learning about them such as cockle, coquina, calico scallop, whelk and auger.
While the beach was a great place to take walks and collect seashells, the Tolomoto River which is also the intracoastal waterway was the best place to watch the sunset. The waterway was just a few steps from our campsite and featured a small dock/pier and Aunt Kate’s Restaurant where we ate dinner one night. From the dock we watched boats go by and pelicans darting around looking for a bite to eat.
During our travels, Mark and I have enjoyed visiting area wildlife refuges to see the local plant, bird and animal life. We were fortunate to be fairly close to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) Reserve that has a variety of trails. It is located north of St. Augustine and south of Jacksonville. We went there a few times for exploring and really enjoyed the scenery. We hiked through forests of live oaks and saw palmettos; on boardwalks and bridges over salt marshes and through savanna grassland. The most exciting animal sighting was an armadillo digging in the dirt with his snout near the trail.
I had never had a good look at one before and this guy was in no hurry to leave as we approached. Armadillos are the only living mammals that have armor – bony plates covering the back, head, legs and tail. Armadillo is a Spanish word meaning “little armored one.” Here is an interesting fact about armadillos that I just recently learned. They are the only animal that carries leprosy and so it is recommended that people don’t touch them or eat their meat 🤢.
Here are some photos from our treks through the preserve, one of our favorite walking and nature experiences during our time in Florida.
Thanks for checking in and hope you enjoyed a look at some nature around St. Augustine. In this post I am also including a gallery with more bird photos. Until next time!
While planning our travels through the Florida Panhandle in the winter of 2018, I knew I wanted to spend time in St. Augustine which is located on the Atlantic Coast of Northern Florida. The draw was visiting the oldest city in the United States with many sights to see and learn about. We were able to find a great RV park near the coast and booked a stay for two weeks. I am glad we stayed for that long as there was enough to keep us busy. St. Augustine definitely won my heart, becoming one of my all time favorite cities during our RV travels.
So you might wonder why I am writing about our time in St. Augustine two years after our visit. At the time, I was trying to catch up on my blogs and make them more current, so I made the decision to write about this city later. Especially since there was so much to write about! Now seems to be a good time as we are staying a little longer in California before continuing our travels. It will be fun to revisit our time there and hope you enjoy the journey as well.
St. Augustine has many facets. It is a city with a lot of tourist attractions that draw a crowd and also full of historical buildings and artifacts. In this post I thought I would write about three great ways to explore: 1) trolley, 2) cruise boat and 3) on foot. We decided to start out with the Old Town Trolley tour that gave a general overview with 23 stops along the way. Since it is one of those hop on hop off trams, it was easy to spend time in various locations and then catch another one and move on. The trolley went past a number of historic buildings including Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. (More to come on this fort in a future blog post).
We also passed several historic churches with my favorite the Memorial Presbyterian Church, one of the most stunning churches I have seen on our travels. The building was completed in 1830 and worship services have been held here ever since except when the Union Army occupied it during the Civil War using it for military purposes. One afternoon I attended an organ concert here and it was magnificent.
The trolley took us along the historic sea wall next to Matanzas Bay. St. Augustine is known for beautiful water views. Two marble lions, copies of the Medici lions in Florence Italy guard the Bridge of Lions 🦁 that crosses the bay and intracoastal waterway.
When the Spanish occupied St. Augustine they built a stone wall around the city to fend off attacks by English invaders in 1702. A reminder from this time period is the City Gate which we drove past. It opened in 1739 as the only access through the defense line in the north side of the city.
As the trolley wound its way through the city making its stops, Mark and I had to chuckle when we arrived at the St. Augustine Distillery and everyone emptied the tram! The Distillery offers an excellent free tour and we decided to be part of the mass exodus. Although I don’t favor hard liquor and Mark has minimal interest, we liked learning about the Distillery’s history and seeing the big copper stills where they make their spirits. In the tasting room, our tour guide also concocted two different drinks of the day, the “Florida Mule” and “Rum Tiki Cocktail” and then gave everyone a taste of each. Then it was on to the gift shop with more tastings available prepared by several staff members.
Back on the trolley we stopped for another tour at the Whetstone Chocolate Company where we donned hair nets and for Mark, a beard net.
As a chocoholic, it is hard to pass up this kind of tour and it was a fun journey to learn about the history and process of making chocolate. We had tastings of different kinds of bars as well as cocoa nibs. We walked through the factory watching chocolates being processed like the hearts wrapped in red paper pictured below.
St. Augustine is one of the nicest cities for walking and I spent several days exploring historic streets, buildings and museums. We found the best breakfast place to fuel up for some exploring – Maple Street Biscuit Company. They specialize in freshly baked buttery biscuits crafted into all kinds of sandwiches. My favorite was the “Sticky Maple” which consisted of a fried chicken breast with smoked bacon sitting in a pool of real maple syrup. Oh my, I thought about that biscuit meal for a long time after, it was that good.
The cafe has a unique way of identifying your order which is taken at the counter. Each day they have a different question on the board and your answer is what they will call out when your meal is ready.
The main thoroughfare in the historic district is the narrow, pedestrian St. George Street that is filled with boutiques, bistros, gift shops, galleries and historic homes. It is quaint and atmospheric and gave me a feeling of being transported to a different time and place. Side streets off the main thoroughfare lead to interesting shops like the Casual Warrior’s Kimono-Ya which carried kimonos and accessories for women and men. For those that want to dress up like a pirate, clothing and accessories could be found at the Skull and Crossbones Pirate Store. Then there was the St. Augustine Textiles which specialized in colonial clothing for reenactments.
In one shop we found a cigar maker busily rolling tobacco leaves. Mark bought a cigar but now is unsure whatever happened to it. I think I remember him smoking it at our campsite, but it might have been his intention that never really happened. Perhaps one day the cigar will turn up in some hidden location in our tiny abode.
Cobblestoned Aviles Street is considered the oldest street in the U.S. and also has shops, restaurants, galleries and several museums like the 18th century Spanish Military Hospital Museum. I took a tour to learn about colonial herbs used in medicines and observed demonstrations of some scary looking medical equipment.
One afternoon I took the St. Augustine Scenic Cruise on Matanzas Bay to see the city from a different vantage point. I have said this before during our travels that when some kind of boat tour is available I will definitely be on board. This was a relaxing and lovely time on the water.
We passed the Castillo de San Marcos fort as well as other landmarks like the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
I hope you enjoyed a look at a little of what St. Augustine offers. Stay tuned for more on exploring this magical place!
In my last blog, I wrote about RV parks that have stood out in some unique way. I wanted to continue this time with a few more of our notable stays.
Camping Next to a Famous Road:
Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway was one of our favorite experiences during our RV travels in 2018. This road stretches for 469 miles along the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina. It features a number of historical sites, beautiful scenery and amazing views. It is one of the most famous roads or drives in America and is overseen by the National Park Service. When I was trying to find a place to stay in Virginia so we could spend time driving this road, I was pleased to see that Fancy Gap Campground sat right beside the parkway. We would have easy access for exploring in either direction.
When we arrived to Fancy Gap the campground was almost empty since we came in the fall season. But we soon had a visitor at the site next to us when a Canadian couple arrived. Unfortunately we don’t remember their names, but we do remember their dog who was called D’Artagnan after one of the Three Musketeers. As they were setting up, the gentleman warned us that D’Artagnan would want to come inside our trailer, as he loved to check out new places. Right away, D’Artagnan headed up our steps and nosed the door to get in. Mark opened up to see what was going on, but the poor pooch was not allowed to come in.
There is so little space in our 21-foot travel trailer, especially for a good sized, furry dog. But we did make friends with D’Artagnan and I tried to make amends by giving him carrot pieces for a treat. Sometimes I would glance over at their campsite and see him looking longingly over our way, still hoping for an invitation. They only stayed a night or two as they were headed to the North Carolina coast. Soon after they left, I read about a hurricane approaching the coast where they were headed and I hoped that D’Artagnan and his “people” were staying safe.
Best RV Park Transportation:
While exploring Oklahoma City (OKC) in the fall of 2018, we stayed at Twin Fountains RV Park and found something unique. This was the first park that offered transportation from two onsite limousines. A larger one was for groups or parties with the “smaller” one for families. The park would take you wherever you desired within about three miles. OKC has some great museums and one day I asked to be chauffeured to the wonderful National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum which took me much of the day to explore. When I was done I called for a pickup and they were very accommodating. It was the only time of our travels when I was chauffeured any where. Oh, I did forget that I have my own built in chauffeur with Mark as he likes to be known as Beth’s Driver (hee, hee), but it was my first limousine ride of the trip.
An RV Park With the Cutest Decorations:
Bandon By the Sea RV Park is a pleasant place in a good location as it is located just a few miles from the beach and Old Town Bandon, Oregon. Their decorations are what caught my eye as many of their fences are adorned with colorful tea pots. I love tea pots, tea cups and drinking tea, so I thought this decorating idea was really unique and clever and the teapots seemed to be holding up well in the coastal environment. Apparently the owner had a good sized collection of tea ware and wanted to make use of them. If I still had a home I would be looking at getting some thrift store tea pots to decorate my fences!
RV Park With the Best View:
We were hoping for a great view before arriving to Seal Rocks RV Cove in Oregon and were not disappointed. Situated on a bluff above the rocky coastline, we could watch the surf come in and see the sunset at night. We liked it well enough that we decided to stay an extra few days, even though I was eager to see other places along the Oregon Coast. Our site was quite large with a private grassy area to ourselves. For our Oregon exploring, we did have the rainiest weather here, but it was still a lovely stay and the mist and rain added some to the ambience. Yes, Seal Rocks RV Cove would definitely qualify for a repeat visit. We wouldn’t mind more of that ocean view.
A Campground With the Best Forest Trail:
I really enjoy staying at RV parks with onsite forest trails. We enjoyed this amenity at Blowing Springs RV Park in Bella Vista, Arkansas which had a network of trails in a beautiful forest, one of my favorite places for walking. Other places included Abel Mountain Campground in Braintree, Vermont with a trail along a branch of the White River and Timberland Campground in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with a walking path next to the Androscoggin River. Then there was the nature trail at American Heritage RV Park in Williamsburg, Virginia where I had a close encounter with a black snake. My favorite though was Lum’s Pond State Park in Northern Delaware. We really enjoyed this park with spacious, grassy campsites, but I was most pleased with the six mile hiking trail that looped around the shore of the pond/lake through a lush, hardwood forest.
Lum’s Pond was also unique because it was the only state park we have ever stayed in. Mark is happy to travel in any state or area, but he likes to have full hookup campsites which means electricity, sewer and water. Many state parks don’t have full hookups, especially for sewer but Lum’s Pond was an exception.
Camping Next to a Railroad Track:
Most RVers don’t like parks within hearing distance of railroads. They gripe about train whistles at night and being unable to sleep. So, I had a little trepidation when I booked us at the Campus RV Park in Independence, Missouri. It turned out that our site was right next to the road and just on the other side was the train track. In our RV travels, this was our closest encounter with a train which did come by regularly sounding its horn. But Mark and I decided it was not that bad. We are actually pretty fond of railroads and often seek out “train stuff” in our travels. Although the campground itself had no appeal, the location turned out to be great. It was not far to walk to the old downtown of Independence which is full of historical attractions. From Independence, the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails left to go west in the mid 1800’s. This is also the former home of President Harry Truman and his library/museum. It was worth it to stay near those tracks and get to explore the very interesting town of Independence.
The Most Musical RV Park:
We love visiting places with music, so while exploring Arkansas we had to spend some time in the small town of Mountain View. This town prides itself on being the folk music capital of the world as they are known for their festivals throughout the year. The town takes their music seriously and local citizens gather regularly for jam sessions in front of the courthouse or a local downtown park. We stayed at Ozark RV Park which has their own morning jam sessions in a little building on the property.
In addition, when the right people drop by the park’s office, a jam session is bound to occur. The park is located right next to the Ozark Folk Center State Park which features music shows in their auditorium as well as the opportunity to see old time mountain crafts being made. It was only a short walk through a gate and we were on the folk center property where we watched some great musicians perform in the evenings.
The Quirkiest RV Park:
While visiting West Virginia we stayed at Pegasus Farm RV Park, which turned out to be the quirkiest of our travels. It started at the entrance where the owner had a sign noting the park was closed. He had warned us stating that the sign was to discourage pipeline workers from coming into the park and asking if they could stay. At our arrival we found there was no office to check in. Luckily we encountered the owner on the way in and after introducing ourselves he pointed out our site “over there.” This was the first RV park with no office and no paperwork to provide information and a map. For the first few days we had no idea where the trash bins were located. The long driveway into the park was another mystery. It was approximately 1/4 mile long and so narrow that only one vehicle could drive up and down at a time. If two vehicles happened to meet, someone would have to back up and some of the RV’s staying at this park were very large. We had this happen to us once at night with two vehicles coming in and another going out. There was a time of confusion before everyone could continue on.
Then there were the spreading of ashes. As we were settling in our first day, I took a walk on the expansive property which used to be a farm and Mark stayed behind to relax outside our trailer. From the site next to us, the owner came over ahead of a group warning Mark that they were there to spread the ashes of a deceased former camper on his “favorite” spot. Although the campground was a bit quirky, we loved exploring this part of West Virginia, with some of the most beautiful scenery of our RV travels.
The Best Laid Out RV Park:
Usually I like RV parks with an outdoorsy, nature feel. But Mark and I were quite impressed with Deer Creek Valley RV Park in Topeka, Kansas. It was the best laid out park we visited with large concrete sites nicely spaced and separated with lots of green grass. We found out that the owner had a concrete business which explained why the park looked so good. It was a beautiful place that was a pleasure to stay in. Outside the park gate was also one of our favorite eating experiences at Lonnie’s BBQ, one of the top restaurants in Topeka and only open a few days a week. Luckily we were there at a time when we could enjoy dinner and meet the very friendly owner who walked back with us to the park after we finished our meal. Our stay here also meant the realization that tornadoes are a fact of life in Kansas, so the park provided a storm shelter if needed, the first one we encountered on our travels.
Best RV Park at a Coastal Destination:
We have enjoyed several coastal retreats in our recent travels, but our all time favorite is at Mosslanding KOA located on the California coast south of Santa Cruz and north of Monterey. It is a small, unassuming park with few amenities that comes at a hefty price for the night. But this is okay because as you know, location is everything. It sits right next to the harbor where fishing boats come and go and sea lions can be heard barking at all times of the day and night. I really enjoyed seeing all the wildlife, especially the otters, my favorite sea animal.
From our site I walked through a gate and was at the parking area and launching spot for whale watching trips. Monterey Bay is known for whale watching and great sightings can be found a close distance from Mosslanding.
The small village of Mosslanding has a number of restaurants within walking distance and our go to place has always been Phil’s Fish Market, my all time favorite seafood restaurant with lots of delicious dishes. I usually can’t pass up the Cioppino, one of their signature dishes. Mosslanding Beach is also a close walk, a great place for a stroll and the opportunity to see more wildlife like shorebirds and the snowy egret in photo below, who was catching his own fishy meal from the surf.
Thanks for following along with us and stay tuned for more to come!
Our nomad lifestyle traveling throughout the U.S. for over two years has meant staying at a number of different RV parks or campgrounds. We have spent time at approximately 105 of these, mostly for a week or two, some for several nights and even a few for a month or more. For me, the RV parks are mostly just a means to an end, a place to stay so we can explore nearby attractions and experience the U.S. Our reservations have always been kept and we have had good stays at almost all of them for which we have been grateful. Although they have varied of course depending on the state and region, most have not been particularly notable. In this post I thought I would focus on some that did stand out. These might not necessarily have been our favorite parks, but they were unique in some way.
A Park With a Swamp:
We loved our time in Louisiana where we stayed at Bayou Wilderness RV Resort for one month. This park was notable in that it had its own swamp. Now I love swamps and this one although small was attractive but unfortunately alligator 🐊 free. (In my opinion, a good swamp needs a few alligators 😊). Since we were there in late fall, the cypress trees had turned a rusty orange color and were dropping their needles.
We experienced two other notable things while staying at Bayou Wilderness. It was the only place where it snowed while there in December. Although the snow only fell lightly during a morning, it did stick for a day. The park owner told us that he had not seen snow there for many years, so a real novelty. The other thing is that this was our cheapest stay at only $480.00 for the entire month.
Most Interesting Park Geologically:
We stayed at Blue Rocks Campground in Lenhartsville, Eastern Pennsylvania for four nights. Our main reason for staying in that area was to visit Hawk Mountain, a well known place for birders to come see hawks migrating. A very good friend of mine and her husband were the caretakers of this sanctuary in the 1930’s and I had always hoped to visit. This was not one of our favorite stays as we didn’t really like our spot, but the massive landslide of rock like a large river through the forest was an impressive sight. These boulder sized rocks stretched for a mile downhill through the Park.
The Best Walking Path:
We were delighted with our stay at Riverview RV park in Vidalia, Louisiana. It wasn’t necessarily because of the park itself, but because we were camping next to the mighty Mississippi River. There is something about this river that is so alluring that I can see why it has been written so much about and immortalized, plus it is the second largest river in the U.S. We loved watching all the barges and tow boats come and go and at night in our trailer, we could hear the hum of their engines passing in the night. There were plenty of places to view the river as a mile and a half long concrete path stretched from the park along the shore, passing under the bridge which crosses from Vidalia to the town of Natchez, Mississippi.
The Tastiest Park:
Place me in the middle of a grove with ripened oranges 🍊 and I am one happy camper! That is what we found at Orange Grove RV Park located outside of Bakersfield, California in a large citrus growing region. This expansive park is a favorite with us for a few reasons. Besides the oranges, it features long pull through spots that are easy to set up in. The camp sites were literally carved out of an orange grove with trees lining each site. In addition, there are orange trees or mini groves along the sides of the park. We also liked visiting the California Fruit Depot, located around the corner. This is a small shop that features samples of almost everything sold including dates, candies, nuts and dried fruit.
RVers are welcome to pick as many oranges as they wish, as long as they are picked when ripe. They even have picking tools to help campers get at the highest fruit. The last time I was there I felt almost gluttonous I picked so many, even though there were so many oranges they were falling off the trees. Since we were heading back to our campground in Northern California near where our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids live, they were happy to see us when we gave them a large bucket of oranges to squeeze for juice.
The Best RV Park Name:
Mark and I have a hard time remembering the names of parks we have stayed in. Sometimes they just don’t stick in our minds, especially when we have been to so many places. One name I haven’t forgotten is “All About Relaxing,” a park located in Mobile, Alabama. The owners were former RVers who wanted to create a park with features they appreciated when they were on the road. As the name implies, they made a number of places to just hang out and relax – there was a pool, patio sitting areas, hammocks and a fire pit each night. Everything was clean, cheerful and nicely decorated. Unfortunately, it was freezing temperatures when we stayed in early January 2018 so hanging around outside was difficult and unusual for this time of year.
The Name Rang True:
Bay Breeze is a cute little park located on Mobile Bay near Gulf Shores, Alabama. It was one of the smallest parks we have ever stayed in. We were lucky to get a spot here for two weeks as it is usually filled with repeat visitors who come from the cold north to spend the winter on the warm Gulf of Mexico. In our case, one of the visitors had to leave for an emergency giving us this opportunity. I was thrilled to be staying just feet away from the water. We soon encountered those bay breezes the park mentions in their sign. In January 2018 the South was gripped with freezing temperatures and the wind howled across the Bay with such ferocity that I couldn’t stay outside even bundled up for more than about 10 minutes.
Repeat visitors talked about how temperatures were usually in the 70’s and 80’s, not in the low 40’s during the day and below freezing at night. Mark put a number of his knitted hats in the office and chuckled the next morning as he saw most being worn and walked around. We were here for two weeks and the weather did improve. We really enjoyed the park, the ambience and the Gulf Shores area where there was much to see and do.
The Best Sunset:
Sunset Point RV Park, located on a very quiet bay in Maine came to be one of my all time favorite parks. It was a beautiful location and a short trail went along the shore with places to sit and watch the sunsets 🌅. We stayed for a week but the first several nights the sunset evaded us as clouds and fog drifted in. We did have a few nights of color though and it was as nice as we hoped. We also had a very pleasant campsite and we could order a freshly cooked lobster 🦞 from the owner which was served up to our door at the time we requested.
Most Unusual Neighbor:
There weren’t many RV parks to be found in the vicinity of Newport, Rhode Island and we were staying during the Labor Day weekend, so I was glad to find an available spot at Meadowlark RV Park in Middletown, a few miles north of Newport. I read online reviews that this was just camping in a field with no amenities, so we were not expecting much. What we weren’t expecting was a graveyard right next to our site. We parked the truck literally within inches of a marker. The graves were not even surrounded with a fence or wall for protection, just a sign noting their historical significance and penalties for vandalism.
I found graves to be quite old in New England and it was no exception here. The gravestone above notes the deceased as Edward Tewes who died in 1776. Could Edward have died while fighting in the Revolutionary War? I did some research but had no success finding information about him. We had a great stay in Middletown and I loved visiting Newport, one of my favorite cities of our travels!
Most Isolated RV Park:
I decided to book a stay at Rusty’s RV Ranch in Rodeo, New Mexico because it was close to Portal, Arizona, a birding hotspot near the Chiricahua Mountains. I also thought it would be near Chiricahua National Monument, a park I had always wanted to visit but this turned out to not be accurate. But all the great birding did keep us busy. People come here for something else besides the birds – the dark sky. This is reputed to be one of the darkest skies in the country and a favorite location for sky gazers and astronomers. The park is surrounded by wide open spaces with no towns of any population for many miles. Rodeo is so small that it doesn’t have a regular grocery store or a place to get gas. We were told rather nonchalantly that the nearest gas was 14 miles away in the town of Animas, New Mexico which is also a little place although not as sleepy as Rodeo.
Thanks for checking in and stay tuned for my next post on more notable RV parks.
While visiting Matt and Emma a year ago in Southern California, Matt and I took off to explore a few swanky hotels in Beverly Hills. Our first stop was at the Beverly Hills Hotel also known as the “pink palace.” This was my second time to visit here, the first several years ago in early December. Of course, it was not to stay there as room prices vary from about $800 to $1100 per night. After all, I am just a simple RVer living in a small travel trailer 😀 . My rent is often less than that for a month. But the hotel is gracious and doesn’t mind visitors who just want to come in and soak up some atmosphere for awhile.
The Beverly Hills Hotel has been around for awhile, even before the city of Beverly Hills existed. It opened in 1912, created with the idea of a place for people to stay while looking to buy property in the area. It became popular with Hollywood celebrities and other famous types and has hosted world leaders. Many movies have also been made here.
During my first visit, the hotel was wonderfully decorated for Christmas, but this time in January, I found other decorations to delight me. My favorite was the flowers that covered the banister from the first floor down to a conference room, bouquets of roses and other freshly cut blooms.
There are several places to eat at the hotel and we decided to try the Cabana Cafe which is located outdoors in a patio setting next to the pool. The legendary pool opened in 1938 as the “Sand and Pool Club” with real sand to make it feel like a true beach club. Eleven cabanas line the private poolside. Matt eyed the cabanas longingly and said he would be interested in having one if he stayed at the hotel. But, of course they come with a hefty extra price tag as well. No photos are allowed down in the pool area or at the cafe, so I only took one as we descended the stairs.
The ambience came at a price so we shared a more “affordable” pastry basket that cost about $25.00. When chocolate chip cookies cost $12.00 a piece, you can imagine what the breakfasts and lunches were like. The setting was beautiful with the hotel’s color scheme of pink contrasted with dark green and white stripes in the decor and furniture. We enjoyed basking in elegance for awhile.
After exploring around the hotel we left to find another hotel to hang out in. We had thought about stopping at the Beverly Hills Wilshire, but driving down Doheny Drive we saw signs next to the Four Seasons Hotel advertising the 2019 Golden Globe Awards and decided to quickly pull in. We had the car valet parked and as we got out cameras were clicking, since celebrity types were coming and going for the upcoming awards show the next day and you never know who might be arriving. Plus, Matt has been told he looks a little like the actor Matt Damon 😊 .
We saw they were offering a buffet in the garden but when we tried to go out to see if we could join in, for some strange reason we were not allowed 😃 . Turns out it was for a private party so we headed to the bar area. Matt thought we would get a drink and see if we could spot any celebrities. He soon made a sighting and asked if I recognized him. Sadly, I did not recognize Randy Jackson, a television personality who was a former judge on the hit show, “American Idol,” a show I had never watched. He sat at a nearby table talking to several people. I realized ahead of time that I make a poor celebrity spotter since I haven’t watched many of the “newer” TV shows and although I do go to the movies 🎥 occasionally, I rarely keep up with film stars.
Matt saw someone working there that he knew and he offered to take us on a tour of the hotel, but alas we had already asked the concierge desk to get the car, so we had to pass on a tour.
Another day we took off to explore the Hollywood Hills. Matt who is an adept driver negotiated well the twisty turns and steep ascents as we weaved our way around, taking in the fancy homes and gorgeous views from high up. I know I could not drive that well in this area, but Matt is used to it and he was a great tour guide.
At one point we drove past a residence and Matt asked if I had seen the gorilla out front. I had missed it, so he did a quick U-turn and went back. Yes, a stone gorilla with piercing, red eyes aglow standing guard out front was a first for me.
Matt had been doing some genealogy research and found the home my grandfather once owned in Nichols Canyon many years ago. This was an interesting stop for me as I had never seen the house before. My mother spent her growing up years in the Hollywood Hills, although I don’t think in this home.
After tackling the hills of Hollywood, we moved on to the Griffith Observatory, one of the most popular places to visit in the Los Angeles area. We parked below the building and got some exercise walking up the hill on the canyon road for a mile to the top. From there the views were magnificent and the building lovely as well. Lots of folks were there as it was getting near to sunset. In the photos below, we checked out the Los Angeles skyline.
Although a lot of people come for the views, there are quite a few exhibits inside related to astronomy. There is also a planetarium offering shows and telescopes to check out at night.
It is a must to be here at dark when the views become even more magical with thousands of lights from downtown Los Angeles.
Our next stop after the Observatory was the Glendale Americana at Brand which still had wonderful decorations from the holidays that were fun to see. This is a popular shopping, eating and entertainment complex. Among other things was a huge Christmas tree and delightful water fountain show. I read that they even have snow falling and carolers in the evenings before Christmas. My favorite was the trolley zipping down the street also decked out for the holidays. The very large chandelier at the entrance was also quite cool.
I hope you enjoyed some of our Los Angeles area exploring! Next time I thought I would do a little different post – notable RV parks during our two plus years exploring. Stay tuned!
Venice is a great place to hang out in the L.A. area and that is what we did one day a year ago while visiting our son and daughter-in-law. Although I am a California native and grew up in Southern California, I had never visited Venice. So I was looking forward to exploring this popular beachside town. We started out with the 2-1/2 mile ocean front pedestrian walk, a fun place where people shop, eat, skate board, bike and Segway. Vendors sell crafts in booths and artists showcase their creations along the sidewalk. The sound of live music adds much to the atmosphere.
The shop I thought the most interesting was “Titan,” which mainly sells two kinds of things – hats and large transformer models. It was fun to take photos next to several of the metal “monsters.” They were pretty creepy looking!
In 1905, Mr. Abbott Kinney, developed this area calling it “Venice of America.” It became a resort beach town with a pier and carnival attractions. He also developed the Venice Canals which are a short walk from the beach. By the time the depression hit, the amusement industry wasn’t doing well. Then oil was discovered and the beach was transformed into a drilling field. Pretty soon it wasn’t the lovely beach town any more but polluted with oil waste and called the “Slum of the Sea.” Drilling continued in earnest through 1932 but then dropped off. By the 1990’s the beach oilfield was finally depleted and the derricks torn down. Once again Venice became a tourist Mecca.
Venice is also known as a home for bodybuilders and has been called “Muscle Beach.” One area along the promenade is still set up with workout machines and weights. It was here that Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor, famous body builder, former California governor) came in the late 1960’s after immigrating to America. I watched a video that Arnold did from several years ago talking about his days in Venice. Although he and other body builders liked working out at nearby Gold’s Gym, they often came to Muscle Beach because it was a great place to get a tan to look good for competitions. He reported that they would work out on the machines and then run over to the ocean and jump in the waves to cool off. Although the body building area didn’t look as big or dramatic as I imagined, it was still interesting to see this historic sight. Mark loves him from his old athletic days when he was a budding weight lifter himself and used to read some of Arnold’s books. Plus, I am a bit of an Arnold and Terminator movies fan.
It was like stepping back in time to see the beautiful Venice Canals, a picturesque area. It was also much more peaceful than the promenade and beach area. People have charming homes along the canals and this is one area of L.A. that I think would be neat to live, especially since I love being near water. I would keep a kayak or canoe docked near my cottage and take to the water from time to time.
Today there are six main canals, four that run east to west and two north to south. When Mr. Kinney first developed them they were modeled after Venice, Italy. Gondolas piloted by gondoliers traveled the waterways with more canals than remain today. At first people called this “Kinney’s Folly” as they didn’t think he could make much from the beach marshland. But he succeeded in selling plots of land for homes and drawing many visitors. By the 1920’s when cars had become popular, the canals were seen as outdated and filled in for paved roads.
Thankfully, in 1993 the canals were restored with walk ways and bridges renovated, a six million dollar project.
I have always been intrigued by the little libraries that have become popular in recent years and are located in front of homes or businesses. If I lived here I would also have a little library like we found on a floating dock. People could easily paddle their craft up and check out a book.
As we walked back from the canals we came upon this delightful residence. The owner had decorated her shrubbery and palm trees with hand knitted “socks.” We visited a little admiring her handiwork.
There are plenty of intriguing eateries in the Venice and Santa Monica area. We finished off our exploring with dinner at the adorable and tasty little Caribbean cafe called “Cha Cha Chicken.”
Thanks for coming along with us as we explored Venice. Stay tuned for another post exploring the Beverly Hills and Hollywood area.
Towards the end of the year in 2018, I called Hollywood RV Park to see about making reservations to stay there a week or so in early January 2019. When I reached one of the office staff, she thought for a bit and said she wasn’t sure they would have a space since it was just after the holidays. As we spoke I mentioned that our son Matt and daughter-in-law Emma were staying at this park. She immediately said, “Why didn’t you tell me in the first place! We love Matt and Emma” and started to list all the reasons why. So, it ended up they were able to find us a site after all.
Hollywood RV Park is located in the city of Van Nuys and close to Hollywood, Burbank, Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles. When we came, Matt and Emma had been staying there for several months while working as travel nurses in the ER of an area hospital. They really enjoyed this park, the atmosphere, owners and close proximity to lots of interesting attractions. They enjoy the L.A. area, so this was a great fit. We were also looking forward to staying for a short while in the place they were calling home. I know I am writing about this long after the fact, but in early 2019 I was bogged down trying to catch up on blog posts from our travels in the latter part of 2018. But now I am glad I delayed writing about our stay there. It is fun reminiscing about the park, our sightseeing and especially going through all the photos.
Hollywood RV Park caters to people working in the movie industry, travel nurses, hospital patients and overnighters coming to visit the L.A. area. RV parks are few and far between in this part of California, something we have discovered during our travels. In populated places parks are often located on the outskirts, so finding one so close to all the action is rare. Movies and TV shows have been filmed at the park and shelves in the office hold awards (won by park residents), including an Oscar (the real thing) for the music to Star Wars. A number of people live here permanently including a few that were in the movie industry and one original occupant from 1976.
Checking in was a little different than other places we have stayed. Since the lanes and sites are a bit narrow, RVers do not back themselves in but are moved in by a fork lift equipped with a trailer hitch, eliminating the need for a tow vehicle. A number of times in the past few years Mark and I have had to struggle to back in to tight fits …… well, I say Mark and I but it is Mark who is doing the backing in as I admit I could never do it. So, it was nice to be able to get in so easily! Although the sites are a little narrow, once in we didn’t feel cramped.
The Park is decorated with cute signs as each lane has a name – ours was Hollywood Blvd. There is also a lot of original art work on backboards at the sites and a large painted mural at the end of each lane. This is a fun setting to walk around and look at what has been created.
The park has a neat club house where you can relax and watch TV as well as see live performances on their stage. More art work can be found on the walls as well as books and information on the history of Hollywood.
Each site had a little something nice to offer. Our spot had a Meyer lemon tree that was loaded with lemons. I am always excited to have any fresh picked fruit and I got busy making lemonade and slicing lemons into water.
Entering the park you must pass this guard on his police motorcycle. Looks like he isn’t getting enough of that California sunshine!
Stay tuned for more fun exploring near Hollywood RV park when we visit the beachside community of Venice in my next post.
If you love whole grains, you would really enjoy visiting Bob’s Red Mill located in Milwaukie, Oregon near Portland. Perhaps you have seen this product line where you shop as they are sold all over the U.S. and even around the world in supermarket chains and specialty grocery stores. We occasionally buy Bob’s Red Mill products and I had been curious about visiting here for several years. Bob’s provides a factory tour to see their production facility and at a separate location nearby there is a restaurant, bakery and store. We started out with the tour which is held at 10:00, Monday through Friday and takes about 90 minutes.
While waiting for the tour to begin we heard a piano being played in the next room. Turns out that Bob, the Company’s founder loves to play, frequently delighting guests with his songs. He couldn’t stay long though because as he came out of the room and I shook his hand he reported that he was, “off to a meeting.” At the age of 90, it appeared that Bob was still not retired!
As our tour began, we sat in a room surrounded with Red Mill products, information and advertisements. Our guide gave us a history of the company and how grains are processed. In 1978, Bob and his wife Charlee moved to the Portland area to retire and having an interest in milling, opened a business in an old mill building. They began stone grinding grains into flours and cereals and blending whole grain mixes. Over the years the company grew and they moved into a larger facility in 2007. They now have 410 employees working three shifts. On February 15, 2010, Bob celebrated his 81st birthday and announced to his employees that Bob’s Red Mill was now an employee owned company. An Employee Stock Ownership Plan was created that provided an orderly transition of ownership to the same employees that helped it grow.
During our tour we were able to look into windows and watch grains like corn and wheat being milled and packaged. They don’t allow photos though of the production floor. Everything looked very clean and orderly. We learned that employees start out as “temporaries” and if they do well can be kept on. Workers wear different colored uniforms depending on their job duties. After seeing the production we went to a room where we could pick out a few samples to take with us as well as visit the tiny gift shop for souvenirs.
After our tour we drove to the restaurant for lunch and a little shopping in their beautiful, modern building. We ordered food at a counter downstairs and ate at a seating area looking out over the store and bakery on the first floor.
The menu is pretty good and true to their whole grain concept. They offer whole grain hot and cold cereals as well as oatmeal for breakfast and grain bowls, salads and vegan sandwiches for lunch. But they also offer egg breakfasts and sandwiches with meat. Different varieties of bread are baked onsite and sold in the store.
While we were eating upstairs, I looked down at one point and saw Bob standing in line waiting to order at the counter. It struck me as funny that the founder of the company would wait in line rather than just go in the back area and have someone rustle him up a sandwich or grain bowl. Kudos to Bob for being just a “regular guy.”😀
The store sells every product that they make and I found it rather astonishing how many products are for sale here. There were shelves of different kinds of cereals, flours and nut meals, some of which I had not heard of before like kamut, garbanzo fava, amaranth, teff, cassava and coconut. There were baking mixes, grains, seeds, berries, beans and rices. Besides all the packaged items they also have a bulk area where you can buy a little or a lot to try out. I bought a little teff flour, an ancient grain from Ethiopia. I was tempted to buy a lot of their products, but alas we have limited space in our trailer. I did get some steel cut oats which we often eat for breakfast, an 8-grain hot cereal mix and a kamut hot cereal. Kamut is an ancient wheat grain with probable origins in the Fertile Crescent. I haven’t tried the kamut cereal yet but the 8-grain was delicious! I also got a bag of Scottish oats so I could make oat cakes. Below is a photo of them using the recipe I got at Bob’s Red Mill.
Located in the Southern Oregon town of Medford is the headquarters of Harry & David, who produce and ship all kinds of gourmet gift baskets full of sweet and savory treats. During other past trips to Oregon, we had stopped at the Harry & David store, but had never done the factory tour. During this trip we made a point to go and it turned out to be the right time of year as the company was busy getting lots of goodies packaged for the holiday season.
Our tour was to start at the the main store where we would board a large van to be driven to the production facility a mile or so away. But since we got there early we checked out all the goodies and samples the store offered. I was most interested in the “Moose Munch” which is an addicting popcorn coated with different kinds of chocolate, caramel and nuts. There were samples of each kind they sold, yum!
The Harry and David Company started when a man named Samuel Rosenberg bought some pear orchards and began marketing them in 1910. In 1914, his sons Harry and David took over and in 1934 began a mail order business. The company still produces special pears called “Royal Riviera” and during our bus ride to the production building, our driver took us by the orchards to see them. From pears the Company eventually moved on to other sweet treats.
We covered a lot of ground on our walking tour as the main building is huge. This is probably the largest food factory type building we have been in. We walked above the factory floor and watched hundreds of people filling and completing gift baskets and boxes. It was quite a sight. Including seasonal employees, approximately 8,000 people are working here.
Although the gift box/basket area was interesting, the best part was going to the baking building. The delicious smell was incredible! From windows above, we watched moose munch popcorn being made in big mixers. Large chunks of butter were combined with hot bubbling syrup to make a luscious caramel sauce. Popcorn was then mixed in and dumped onto a conveyor belt where it made its way to be packaged. I could have stayed in the moose munch area for a long time taking in those smells and watching the process!
The Company makes an incredible array of candies, cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, pies and fruit cakes. During our tour, we watched them make cinnamon rolls – spreading out the dough, putting the cinnamon sugar on and rolling it back up before putting the rolls in paper cups.
At the end we got a little box of delicious shortbread cookies filled with raspberry jam, a nice ending to a sweet day and fun tour of Harry & David.
Thanks for checking in and hope you enjoyed a look at our factory tours. Stay tuned for my next post on our Hollywood visit from one year ago.