Our Chalet Truck Camper

Our Chalet Truck Camper

Sunday, May 06, 2012

May 4 and 5 - Wandering from Corps of Engineers to Corps of Engineers

It's hot! and it is only early May.

Of course Mississippi and Tennessee are not Maine but still it is hot. The locals say they wonder what July and August will be like this year. We left the Tombigbee Corp of Engineers park and headed roughly north east.

Several more stops along the Natzhez Trace including walking way back in the woods to find that an early pit mine isn't anymore. At least no snakes along the way. We've followed quite a few miles on this road and would highly recommend it for a very leisurly drive. You don't take this road to make time but to enjoy a bit of history and a quiet pace.

We've been travelling, touring, walking and taking in a lot of history sites for the last three weeks and decided to take a down day. Leaving the Trace just north of the monument to Meriweather Lewis, we kept to small roads sout of Memphis. Shocking to get onto I-65 briefly and once again be amongst the 18 wheelers. Luck was with us again or is all that good, clean living? :) and we got a waterfront camp site at the Corps of Engineers Ragland Bottom CG on the Caney Fork River. There was a cancellation and we decided to stay two nights just to rest up and get the camper/truck cleaned up a bit. The dam is being worked on so the river was quite low but not enough to stop a fascinating parade of fishing boats, party boats and canoes/kayaks. Nice neighbors shared fresh caught fish and sweet potato with us. We gave back some smoked salmon.

Relaxing day today. Caught up on laundry, cleaning the inside of the camper and just resting by the river. Neighbors brought over some smoked pork BBQ saying they knew northerners never got it that good. I'm afraid they were right! Again we have a 5th wheel group who travels with a smoker on wheels like you would see at a fair. Big, ugly and cooks fabulous meat.

We are so fortunate to have a truck camper. Easy to manuver, large enough for our needs, small enough to get into places the 5ths and TTs and As will never go. Yes I know our camper is one of the bigger ones but we can still fit down a lot of our country's small spaces.

Tomorrow we will head east, braving the traffic through Knoxville and ending up somewhere in far western VA or northern TN. There are National Forest campsites, more COEs and who knows where we will end up. We're pretty well headed home but surely will find more to see and do along the way.
May 1 to 3 Natchez, Vicksburg and CoE Waterway

Up early and into Natchez before the heat hits. Downtown Natchez is actually quite small and easy to walk around. There are many small side streets where the truck camper easily fit so we moved from area to area.

A lot of the town buildings near the waterfront had balconies like New Orleans with cafe tables for that first morning cup of coffee. The flowers were plentiful, smelled like the south  and even the magnolia was in bloom.

We drove by many of the old mansions on the bluff. Chosing not to take a carriage ride or visit the many casinos, we started off on our trek up the Natchez Trace. This route was originally used by the Chokataw Indians for trade routes, then used by early settlers to move goods from Natchez to Memphis.

Inns and small towns grew up along the way and finally the road was abandoned for wider roads through towns. The depth of this old trace is amazing as it was worn down by foot and wagon traffic.

The Trace is now under National Park management and is a very well maintained two lane road with many turnouts to see historical or natural sights. No commercial vehicles are allowed, speed limit is 45-50 mph and it is very relaxing to drive. There are also three free campgrounds along the route as well as roads off it to get to diesel or other services. We cruised through one of the campgrounds just to see what they were like. Paved, level, boondock, well spaced and a bath house. It's early season and the one we went through had one camper.

The NPS has a brochure with every stop along the Trace marked by mile marker. You can look ahead and pick out the ones that interest you the most. We stopped at several Indian mounds and many of the natural sites such as swamps and old growth forests. That made good walks and travel breaks.

Arriving in Vicksburg, we went to a campground where it would be easier to take the camper off and feel safe about leaving it while we explored. Not a lot of choices and the one we were in was tight quarters. Very nice couple next door from Michigan who were camped for months for his work on a nuclear power plant rebuild. They were in a very old travel trailer and they spent a lot of time examining the truck camper and how it worked. TCs are pretty impressive aren't they?

May 2 - Vicksburg tour

Up early again - you think it might be the time zone change? Camper off the truck and over to start the day with a tour through the Vicksburg National Military Park Museum. We watched the film made on the battle for and siege of Vicksburg.

I'd never realized the length of the siege, how many died and that the surrender at Vicksburg and Gettysburg were on the same weekend. The campground had provided us with a narrative CD for the 16 mile long driving tour through the park. Learned a lot, walked a lot of paths to see memorials, views out over battlefields and several houses of civilians who lived in the middle of the battle.

We spent a long time walking around and through the USS Cairo, a gun ship sunk by the Confederates using a wired mine. It was found and raised 100 years later and been as restored as it can be. It'd thought it would be quite small but it wasn't. As interesting as the ship was, the museum at the ship site was more so with all the artifacts brought up and restored. The ship sank in 12 minutes with no loss of life but everything was left behind. The cemetary for the war dead was quite sobering.

Huge thunderstorm with very dark clouds came and we got the camper situated between two tall hills in the park hoping not to have a repeat of a tornado sighting. Torrential quick rain but no funnel thank you very much. We did a drive through of downtown Vicksburg, being too tired for more walking. The Mississippi is quite impressive in width. We did find this flood gauge down on the riverfront. 

May 3 - Natchez Trace and Corps of Engineers Piney Grove CG

Today was a travel day northward along the Natchez Trace. Took a half hour walk on a boardwalk back into a cypress swamp and later walked to what was supposed to be a beaver lodge - not.

Tonight we are camped in Piney Grove Corp of Engineers Park again on the Tombigbee Waterway. $10 - lake on three sides of us, paved level spot, water, power, utter quiet except for the small waves coming in from passing barges. Unfortunately the site is reserved for the weekend or we would be here a few days. Might move to another one further back and take some time to clean up this road weary camper and couple.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

April 30 to May 1 - Florida to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana

April 30 to May 1 - Florida to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana

No we didn't cross four states in one day. We decided it was time to head inland away from the ocean and back into country. Route 331 from Grayton Beach, Florida crosses into Alabama at Florala. We've passed back into cow country with a side of paper company forests all in a row ready to harvest. I wonder how much of the south is owned by paper companies? The acreage must be huge as every where you look there are pines matured to various sizes. The other reason you know you are in paper company? The log trucks that barrel by and the smell of a processing plant. Good steady jobs I would imagine and the re-seeding is pretty evident to keep the "crop" coming.

At Opp, AL we switched over to Route 84 which is what we all call a red road. Shows up red on maps, is usually in pretty good shape but offers a trip through the back country. Talk about red - the land is red here with many fields being bright red. It's dry here and I can imagine that red turns to mud pretty easily as it is so fine.

Hot today - I mean for us it was HOT - 90F and humid for the first time. Even though I was raised as a southerner, I just don't handle heat like this well anymore. Joe was sweltering. Our plans to head to Arizona have been put on hold for a winter trip. The idea of trying to take walks in desert country in 100+F just isn't appealing at all. Our house sitter said it was 28F the other morning in Maine with a frost. Quite the difference.

The best kept secret in camping is the Corp of Engineers campgrounds. Tonight we are in a camp near Coffeeville, AL on the Tombigbee River. This river goes all the way to Mobile and also further north from here. We've had quite the parade of beautiful 30-40 foot cabin cruisers go by. Last there was a barge pushed by a tug that brought Coast Guard memories back for Joe. The river is controlled by a series of locks and is at full height. Our camp site is large, level with a gravel area for the picnic table, power, water, and a dump station - all for $10.00. That's taking advantage of the Golden Age Passport but $10?? If this were elsewhere it would easily be a $45 site. Don't tell anyone!

Again we will wander in the morning but are now thinking about heading north along the Mississippi or maybe follow the Georgia mountains into NC. Cooler there? Wimps? Yes but hey somebody has to be it.

May 1 - Natchez and Louisiana

We decided to keep on Route 84 over to Natchez and then up to Vicksburg. Tonight we are actually across the Mississippi River in Vadalia, Louisiana. Camping in LA now counts camping in all the states except NJ, Alaska and Hawaii. No idea how we've skipped NJ?

We spent so much time in the Natchez Visitor center that we didn't get into town. The wealth of history, exhibits, documents, photos is astonishing. There was a docent talking about life on the river back in plantation times from both the owner and slave point of view. We followed her along as she talked about history after the Civil War, the Depression and finally the emergence of a thriving new culture for all.

Walked along the river to watch the barges. Four containers wide and 5 long, they carry a lot of goods up and down the river. Walked the top of a levee also. It is about 15 feet high and a couple of hundred yards back from the river. The locals we talked to said the last big flood, the river went over the bank and also over the levee.

Tomorrow we'll go into Natchez, walk the river area, drive back in the old houses and then head along the Natchez Trace to Vicksburg. It's almost 8PM and still 84F with big thunderstorm clouds in the distance.

April 29 Florida Panhandle

April 29 - Florida Panhandle

I thought the coast of Florida might have a little elevation. NOT! Now I see how devastating the big hurricanes can be. Route 98 runs right along the Gulf of Mexico, passing small towns, fishing fleets and houses, both old style and new McMansions. The houses on the ocean side are all three stories tall with the first two stories looking like cranes up on long legs. Living space appears to be on top which must give you a good workout whenever you get home. We saw a lot of vacant lots which had at one time held a house. A lot of new houses also including massive condo projects. We were also surprised at the density of large trees so the hurricanes don't get everything.

Apalachicola is a jewel and home to a fishing culture. We'd wanted to stop for oysters but since we were passing through on Sunday morning, the vendors were closed. Town is interesting to walk through as it isn't really "touristy". We saw two other truck campers parked but never caught up with their owners. One had Wyoming plates, the other Michigan and you wonder if they were traveling together. Pelicans are everywhere and tend to group on the bridge pylons. They look like flying dinosaurs.

Laundry is the bane of traveling and every once in a while just has to be done. Grayson Beach State Park is a smaller Florida campground with well separated sites. We always opt for a smaller site with power if possible but no need for water or dump as they are usually available from a central area. Laundry done, temperature hovering at 88F, we opted to take a relaxing afternoon by the camper. Evening brought a walk on the powdery sugar like sand  - very hard on the legs. We've got to figure out how to carry bicycles. Too many good bike paths all over the south to pass up. Course that means relearning how to ride a bike!

We did get our seafood. The park ranger, a local, recommended GoatFeathers. Thinking the portoions would be small we both got the small seafood platter. One would hve fed both of us and we like seafood. Huge Apalachicola oysters, shrimp, fish with grated horseradish. Had the second platter for a late supper at the camper outside with no bugs around.

Where are we headed? We don't know but probably north through Alabama and then over to Vicksburg.