Friday, April 27, 2007

No travels, just an update

No current travels to report. We have been at home in Oklahoma for awhile now. The coach is out in the storage lot collecting dust. This has given us time to visit with our families. Have kept one or the other of our grand daughters. They are growing so fast. We had Emma, the oldest, today while her mother worked. Also, Aurora and her mother came by for a short visit.

We have also spent time with our parents. Although they are in their late 80's we are very fortunate to still have both of Rick's parents and Joanne's mother with us. We did get a bit of a scare when Rick's dad had to spend a few days in the hospital this past week. He is all better and is back home. At 88 he is still very involved with the company he served as president for nearly 30 years.

This next weekend we will bring the coach home from the storage lot and start getting it ready to travel. The plan is to leave on Friday, 4/4/07, to head south to attend the Monaco America Spring RV Rally in Rayne, Louisiana.

Our grand daughters: Emma Dawn Stone and

Aurora Marie Stone

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Birds of a Feather Motor Coach Club, April 2007

We joined up with our Oklahoma camping club this past week for the monthly get together. We went to the Cedar Valley RV Park in Guthrie, OK. This is a nice park located just west of Guthrie in an area known for its golf courses. Duffy Martin owns the courses which include three championship courses and one executive course. The executive course, an 18 hole par 3 layout, is on three sides of the campground.

We arrived around noon on Thursday, 4/12/07, and set up camp. We wound up with seven coaches for the weekend. On Friday night we all went to a local BBQ place for dinner together. Afterwards many of the folks got together in the rally hall at the campground to play cards. Saturday the host couples, George & Frankie Chapman and Lloyd and Dorothy Johnson, put on a cookout out for us. There was plenty of hamburgers and hotdogs to feed everyone. We also had two other of our couples come up for the evening to make a total of 18 members for dinner.

While the women visited and set up the rally hall to eat the men were outside doing the cooking.

Here Dorothy & Frankie get all set up inside for the meal.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Florida Trip Travelogue's

Prior to setting up a blog we sent out e-mails to our friends. Below is the travelouges from our trip to Florida in early 2007.

Travelogue day 3, 1/12/2007

Well we have started off on another adventure. We left Oklahoma City on Wednesday, 1/10/07, and drove south to Gainesville, TX, to the Outlet Mall. They have an RV Park adjacent to the mall so we spent the night there. On Thursday we left out and headed east toward Sherveport and then down to Alexandria, LA. We spent that night in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. That just left a little over 100 miles to go to Duson, LA, for the first stop on our trip. We will be here, at the Frog City RV Park, until Sunday.

We are headed to Florida for a couple of months. We will be attending two RV Rallies while down there. Here in Duson we have joined up with five other couples who are going to the same rallies. (Lew & Dottie Anderson, Don & Vicki Leith, Bob & Maribel Clerc, Bob & Marlene Rea, Rod & Jean Bahnson) Another couple will arrive tomorrow. (Andy & Linda Clarkson) On Sunday morning the seven coaches will head east to cross Mississippi and into Alabama where we will spend the night.

The twelve of us that are here went to a local Cajun restaurant to sample some of their local flavor. In addition to great food they had a band playing zydeco music. Tomorrow night we’ll try another local eatery.
The weather is warm and nice. We had a little rain today but not enough to make things very muddy. Hopefully that will be it until we get out of here.

Travelogue—Day 6

We are in Robertsdale, AL. We arrived here yesterday after leaving Duson, LA. We drove 302 miles and arrived in here around 3:30.

In Duson on Saturday night we all went to a local seafood place called Thibadeau’s. Their specialty is crawfish. Two of our groups ordered the specialty and were served a platter of five pounds of crawfish. Try as they might neither were able to eat the whole tray of the little red creatures.

On Sunday morning all seven coaches left out of the Frog City RV Park in Duson and headed east. We drove across the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi and into Alabama. Just east of Baton Rouge we hit a really bad stretch of Interstate 10 that set the coach to bouncing. As we bounced down the road we listened to all of the dishes rattle. Upon arrival in Alabama we opened the closets to find all our clothes in the floor, as the hangers had bounced off the bar they were hanging on. We also had a couple of shelf brackets give way and dump their contents.

Here in Robertsdale we have been relaxing. We actually had dinner here in the coach and then joined the others for happy hour. Today we took the car and drove over to Pensacola Beach, FL, to meet up with my cousins for lunch. They live in Cleveland, OH, but come down here every winter. We ate at Heimingways Island Grill in Pensacola Beach. Had a good visit and are planning to come back to this area on our way home, in late February, and spend a week or so. Tonight most of our group went to Lambertt’s Restaurant in Foley, AL, for dinner. You may have seen this place on one of the TV news shows. They not only serve huge servings of great food they bring around what they call “pass arounds”. This includes fried okra, macaroni with tomatoes, apple butter and thrown rolls. That’s right, thrown rolls. They literally throw you the hot rolls from across the room. All the food was delicious. Since we had a big lunch Jo and I decided to order light. She decided to "just order a salad".

Yesterday was our longest schedule driving day at 302 miles. Tomorrow will be the shortest day. We will be going 90 miles down the road to DeFuniak Springs, FL. We will only spend one night there before starting to head south down into Florida.

Travelogue—Day 8

We’ve now been on the road over a week and are just barely into Florida.

We spent last night in DeFuniak Springs, FL. The storm that hit Oklahoma has finally caught up with us. (We have been running pretty much ahead of it all week.) Last night was cold and rainy. The sun came out this morning and we had a pretty good day of driving. We left DeFuniak Springs at 9:45 this morning and went all of six miles to stop at Wal-Mart. After some shopping we headed back to I-10 and moved on east, only stopping for fuel and lunch. (I’m told by the others in the group that I can’t call it “stopping for gas” anymore since I now drive a diesel coach.)

We are now in Lake City, FL, and it is cold and wet again. Most of the group are over in the RV Park’s clubhouse playing cards. The group has also grown to eight. Another of the Monaco folks was waiting for us upon arrival here. We’ll leave out first thing in the morning and head for Tittusville, our first true destination. There we will join up with the rest of the MCOA group for a small rally. There should be around 50 coaches there.

Not sure about getting internet access for the next week or so since we will not be staying at a regular RV Park. Two of the coaches traveling with us have DataStorm antenna on their roofs that pick up satellite connections for DSL access. If we park close enough to them we can pick up their signal via the WiFi. Otherwise, we must rely on what is available in the park. So, if you don’t hear from us for a while you know why.

Travelogue—Day 11

We are wrapping up a small RV rally in Tittusville, FL. We got in here last Thursday around noon. Got the coach backed into our site and hooked up to electric and water and were ready to party.

That afternoon was a happy hour hosted by the guy that set up the rally. He lives here at The Great Outdoors (TGO). This is an residential community designed around the needs of the RVer. All the sites are set up to accommodate an RV. The sites are actually owned by the RV owner. These sites vary from just an RV pad with full hookups to very large houses with a garage for the RV, with every other option in between those.

Thursday night we all went to dinner at the restaurant here at TGO. They set up a buffet for us since we had 92 people signed up for the dinner. Friday we were scheduled to go on a day cruise on one of the gambling ships. This would have lasted from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The night before our oldest dog, Brandi, got sick and has having problems with wetting on the carpet. She also threw up. We were afraid to go off all day and leave her in the coach. We opted out of the cruise and did some sight seeing. (Wound up being gone most of the day anyway.) Brandi did okay and she seems fine now.

Since we were not going on the cruise we decided to go see a local lighthouse. We went to Ponce Inlet Lighthouse just south of Daytona Beach. This is one of the tallest lighthouses in the country. It has been fully restored along with all it’s outbuildings, including the light keepers houses. The tower is 175 ft high and has 203 steps to get to the top. It took us awhile to get to the top but the view was worth it.

Today we took a tour down the Atlantic coast to Cocoa Beach and south. We stopped several times along the way and went out to the beach. We spent a little time at the Cocoa Beach Pier and also watched some of the fisherman casting their lines from the beach out into the surf. It was a bit windy which put a chill in the air. Out in the sun, and out of the wind, it felt very warm although it only got up to 70 today. We wound up driving about 60 miles down the coast before heading over to Interstate 95 and going back north to Tittusville.

Tomorrow we will leave here and caravan (all 50 motor coaches) to Orlando for the big Monaco Come Home Rally. They are expecting 600 coaches there. This rally will be held at the Orlando Fairgrounds. I’m not sure what facilities they have other than I do know we will only have electric hookup. It is doubtful that we will have access to the internet during this time but who knows. WiFi seems to sprouting up about everywhere. If not we probably won’t have a chance to get back on the internet until after Friday of next week when we move back up north to Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, FL.

Travelogue—Day 14

Well, the big rally officially kicked off last night. There are 600 motor homes here at the fairgrounds in Orlando. Those of us that had met in Titusville caravanned over here (about 40 miles down State Highway 50) right through the middle of Orlando. This was really something with 50 coaches, each towing a car, going through town. At the same time we arrived a caravan of 24 coaches was coming in from the west. This left the parking crew with their hands full for a while.

The rally is going very good. A welcome party was held by Monaco Coach Corporation yesterday evening. All four coach companies owned by Monaco are represented here. In addition to the Monaco brand, they also produce coaches under the Holiday Rambler, Beaver and Safari brands. In addition to the 600 coaches attending the rally the company has brought in almost 100 brand new coaches for us to view and possibly buy. (Since we did just that out the last rally this past October it is doubtful they will entice us to buy another one.) With 600 coaches here that means that Monaco is hosting approximately 1200 people at the rally.

A large part of a rally is the food. The rally fee includes catered breakfast and dinner Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We rolled out early to start the day with a good breakfast and ended the day with a dinner of barbeque ribs and chicken. Also, each night after dinner entertainment is provided. Tonight we had the Clay Cooper Show. This is a country music show from Branson, MO.

The weather has leveled off and is comfortable. Sunday, and our trip over to the fairgrounds, was very nice. Monday started off cool and then got worse. It poured down rain most of the day and into last night. This morning started off overcast but in a little while the sun came out and it was really nice. Hopefully we have seen our rain for this rally but we must remember this is Florida and rain is just part of the life here.

During the rally there are several seminars on topics from maintaining your coach to convection oven cooking classes to craft classes. Most of these seminars are led by folks from the different companies that provide the components of our coaches, such as Cummins Diesel, Onan Generators, etc. We are taking in those seminars that fall within our interest. Also we have Monaco factory technicians here make repairs to the coaches of the attendees. The techs will perform two repairs on each coach for free, regardless of the age of the coach. We had a hard time finding things that needed to be fixed. The tech came this morning and was through within just a few minutes. There is also a Monaco parts truck here so we can purchase any items we need to maintain our coaches.

The rally will run through this Thursday. The entertainment planned for Wednesday is a comedian and on Thursday night they have a big band that does MOTOWN music and has numerous celebrity impersonators to perform this music.

Travelogue—Day 19

Well, it is Sunday evening, 1/28/07, and we are just relaxing.

The Monaco Come Home Rally ended last Thursday night and Friday morning we packed up and moved north to Jacksonville. We are now at the FamCamp (that is what the military calls the on base RV Parks) at the Naval Air Station here. This is a nice facility with full hookups at about half the price we would be paying in a private RV Park.

It is great to be back on a Naval Base. It’s a little new for Joanne and she was not ready with her ID card when we drove in the main gate. The best part about being around Navy people is they all call me Chief.

Friday afternoon we just relaxed. We went over to The Fouled Anchor (the base Chief Petty Officer Club) for lunch. The base personnel were getting off work early for some reason and the club soon filled up with Chiefs. It is amazing how young these guys look. When I was a young sailor the Chief always seemed to be the oldest and wisest person around.
Saturday morning was time to catch up on laundry. The FamCamp has laundry facilities, as do most campgrounds, but these are free. Jo did the laundry that has been piling up during our travels over the past three weeks. That afternoon our good friends, C. K. and Bertina Myers, came over to visit. These are the people we came to Jacksonville to see. C. K. was a crewmember on the old USS NEWPORT NEWS and we met them several years ago during one of the ship reunions in Boston, MA. We will be hooking up with them later in the week to visit more and do some sightseeing. Bert and Jo will probably do some shopping.

Today we drove up north, almost to the Georgia border, to do some sightseeing. We got on the coast highway to come back south. We went to a state park that is built around an old Civil War fort that was built to protect the harbor. In addition to the fort the park is very large and takes in a lot of beach area. We walked the beach picking up seashells that had washed ashore. Also washed ashore were many jellyfish. The sea birds were feasting on the jellyfish. We got a good collection of seashells to take home to our grand daughters.

We scouted around some of the area and were able to find a lighthouse on Amelia Island. The lighthouse is now closed, as are most of the lighthouses in America, but we were able to drive into a residential neighborhood and climb up through a vacant lot to get close enough to take pictures. We then headed south to Mayport Naval Station. To get off the island we had to take a short ferry ride across the St Johns River. At the Naval Station we found another lighthouse to add to our picture collection. (Jo is really into lighthouses.) We also drove around the base to check out all the ships that were in port. After eating dinner on the base we headed back to the other side of Jacksonville to the Naval Air Station to find our dogs very happy to see us since we had been gone all day while they laid around in the motor coach.

Travelogue—Day 23

We have really been enjoying the Jacksonville area. On Monday we met up with our friends at their house for a visit and then the four of us headed south to St Augustine. This is a beautiful town that celebrates the Spanish influence of this area. We had a late lunch at one of the local seafood restaurants and then drove over to a nearby island to the St Augustine Lighthouse. This was our fourth lighthouse so far on the trip.

On Tuesday Jo and I went back to St Augustine to do some exploring of the old city. We went to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. This area has been preserved and has an educational show concerning the travels of de Leon. From there we parked the car to walk in town. A large fort, built by the Spanish several centuries ago, stands to guard the harbor. A wooden, reinforced wall to protect from attacks from the French surrounded the original city. After entering the city gates we strolled down St George Street to see all the shops and the historic places that have been preserved. Located here is the oldest wood schoolhouse in the country. We again had lunch at a fine seafood restaurant.

On Wednesday our friends took us to the downtown Jacksonville area and we walked on the River Walk. This is a redeveloped area for shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Later in the evening they took us to a Fish Camp, a seafood restaurant, which is located out in a swamp area. Although it was too cold for them this time of year this place routinely has alligators come up to the docks surrounding the place. In addition to being able to arrive by car, there are adjacent docks so the locals can arrive by boat.

Today was a day to relax. We had lunch at the Chief Petty Officer Club here on the base. Later we toured an area here on the base that has many restored, historic planes on display. We also made a run on the base commissary (major food supermarket) and picked up a few things.

Our time here is quickly running out. We had not planned to leave until next Monday but have found that the date we are to arrive at our next rally has been moved up. We’ll leave Saturday morning to head southwest to the other side of the state, near Tampa. There we’ll again join up with the other six coaches we came to Florida with so we can all go in together to the rally. By arriving together we will be able to park together.

More to come after our next trip down the road.

Travelogue—Day 28

Much has happened since the last installment. We pulled out of NAS Jacksonville last Saturday morning and had an uneventful trip to Wildwood, FL. Wildwood is the location of the Monaco Coach Corporation’s factory service center. (We have an appointment back there on 2/19 to have some minor warranty work done on the coach.) One of the six other coaches (Don & Vicki Leith) was at the service center getting some work done and we were going to meet them there and then travel to Brooksville together on Sunday.

As soon as we pulled into Wildwood this great couple informed us that they had prepared dinner for us and to join them. After getting parked and set up we left our coach to join them when we noticed another coach had come in and was at the dump station. (This is where you pull in and dump the contents of your holding tanks.) When the folks waved at us we realized it was friends from our Monaco America club, Rod and Cookie Baker. We had last seen them in Tucson last October when we bought our new coach. They were one of the couples that helped us transfer all our stuff to the new coach. They had been out west all this time and had just driven in from Tucson. They are getting warranty work done at the service center now.

After a good visit with Rod and Cookie we went to Don & Vicki's and had a great dinner. Late Sunday morning we pulled out behind them and headed to the Elks Lodge in Brooksville. This is where the original seven coaches, plus another that had joined our little group, were to meet prior to going into the rally grounds on Monday morning. We all got pulled in and set up when I noticed that our refrigerator was not working. No power whatsoever to the unit. The other guys and I spent a couple of hours checking fuses and wires. Even after two calls to Monaco Tech Support in Indiana we still did not have a fix. At this time Jo and I decided to pull out and drive the 50 miles back over to Wildwood to be there first thing Monday morning to get it fixed. This would mean we would miss the Super bowl party our group was having that night at the Elks Lodge. But it did give us a chance to have a better visit with Rod and Cookie.

Back at Wildwood we immediately got with the Baker’s and went out to eat. Afterward we started looking for a Wal-Mart to try to locate some dry ice to put in our freezer to keep the food from spoiling. We found the Wal-Mart but not the dry ice. We wound up buying two bags of very hard, frozen ice and putting them in our freezer compartments. The next morning I reported to the service desk with our problem and asked if we could get in immediately so we could return to Brooksville by 10:00 am to rejoin our friends before they left for the rally site. That was not to happen. We were told that if they could see us at all that day it would be in the afternoon but probably Tuesday. At that time I sent Jo and the dogs back to Brooksville in the car to attempt to get into the rally site with the group and save us a parking space with them. (You must enter together to get to park together.) If they did not get us fixed by Monday then she would have to come back to Wildwood for the night. About 3:00 pm the Tech came to the coach, spent ten minutes and found a fuse, that we had missed, had blown. With the fridge working I headed back to Brooksville and joined our little group.

We are now parked on the runway at an old military air base. (Above is a picture of the rally after it started showing all 1900 coaches) There are two runways that form a vee. Each one is one mile long. The west runway is complete full with three lines of coaches and the east, where we are parked, has two lines full and they will start on the third tomorrow. All in all they are expecting 1800 coaches at this rally. We have no hookups so we are completely dry camping. That means no electricity, water or sewer. We came in with a full fresh water tank and the holding tanks were empty. We are running the coach off the batteries and the inverter. We can run our generator anytime between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm to recharge the batteries. This is our first attempt to dry camp for this long a period. We will be here until next Sunday.

This rally, the Southeast Area of the Family Motor Coach Association, does not actually start until tomorrow. Yesterday and today they were just getting everyone in and parked, getting all the vendors set up and the tents rigged for the seminars and entertainment venues. This will be by far the largest rally we have ever attended. Not sure we would have come to one this size by ourselves. By being here with the others it makes it fun. We have had dinner together the last two nights and the ladies have it worked out for the whole week. Last night two couples made chili for all of us. Tonight two other couples set up the grills and we had hamburgers. Out turn is Thursday night and the two couples have decided to take the whole gang out for pizza. (This decision was made between them and my dear wife while I was sitting over at Wildwood.)

Tonight after dinner was time to have some fun. We are all parked at the end of the runway closest to the main activities. The volunteers that are helping with the coach parking are working directly in front of us. Since the rally is so spread out they will be having trams coming around to move people around. By our lead coach the parking guys left a group of signs marked “tram stop”. These were to be placed up and down the runway tomorrow mornings. We have taken those signs and placed one by each of our eight coaches and then one that says, “Tram turn around”. This leaves most of the rest of the mile long runway open. Additionally, our leader, a retired San Diego policeman, has a phony utility post that has a dummy electrical box and water hydrant. We have set that up behind his coach and he has his electric cable and his water hose “hooked up”. This has gotten many strange looks from people driving or walking by. Tomorrow morning we will be out there to see the reactions as the parking crew starts bringing in more coaches. (They say you are supposed to come to these rallies to have fun and we are just trying to do our best.)

Well that is the last of our current hijinks.

Travelogue—Day 33

The Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rally is over and we have moved on again. Our happy band of travelers has broken and gone on our own merry ways. A couple of the coaches have gone to Dade City, FL, to work on a Habitat for Humanity build. Others have headed to Orlando for Disney World or down to the Keys in far south Florida.

We have moved to the Tampa area. We are at a RV Park just on the northeast edge of Tampa. We’ll spend the week here to kind of unwind and relax. We have pretty much been on the run every since we got to Florida. In addition to visiting with our Navy friends in Jacksonville, we have attended three RV rallies. The best thing about being here is we are hooked up to 50 amp electric and have fresh water and sewer hoses hooked to the coach. No more dry camping.

The SEA FMCA rally was without a doubt the largest rally we have ever attended. At last report there were just under 2000 coaches in attendance at the rally. In addition they had well over 100 vendors, selling anything and everything for the coach. We managed to get a new sunshade for the front windshield of the coach. This is placed over the windshield when we are parked. This helps keep the heat out of the coach, others from seeing in but still allows us to see out. We will go over to Winter Haven, FL, this Friday to pick it up.

The entertainment at the rally went from poor to great. All the entertainment was performed in a huge tent that seated about 4000 people. The first night was a male trio from Nashville who sang and told jokes. The sound system was so poor it was almost impossible to understand anything. Additionally, it was extremely cold in the tent. We wound up leaving not long after the show started. We skipped the entertainment the next two nights since it was just folks from within the FMCA organization performing. Saturday night made up for the other nights. First, the sound was improved. Second, seats were reserved right down front for all of us “first timers” who were attending their first SEA rally. Third, the group, The New Odyssey, was exceptionally good. The group consisted of three guys, all from Chicago, who performed a large array of music. Additionally, the all played multiple instruments.

One of the high lights of this past week was when several of our happy band made a trip to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. This is a placed that is set up to study and help preserve the manatees. They have several manatees at the park but they also have a large collection of other wildlife, including a large group of Florida gators. (I’m not talking about that college team but big, live alligators.)
As previously mentioned, we packed up and all went our separate ways this morning. We will miss our traveling group but we have made some great new friends. After arriving here in the Tampa area we got the coach all set up and then drove over to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and had dinner. Nothing special about the place, just another casino with bank after bank of slot machines and lots of cigarette smoke. Probably won’t go back over there during our stay. This evening I’ll be looking on the Internet for places that we would like to see. There is a Busch Gardens here but theme parks are not really our cup of tea. I’m sure we’ll drive over to the Gulf to see the beaches.

Travelogue—Day 38

It has been a full week so far here in the Tampa area. On Monday we drove over to the Gulf coast to see the beaches. Along the coast for about thirty miles is a strand separated from the mainland by a river. We started at the south end at St Pete Beach and drove north, stopping along the way to see the beautiful white sand on the beach. At the north end was Clearwater Beach.

On Tuesday we finally decided we needed to take Brandi to the doctor. As I may have mentioned earlier, she was having a problem urinating. When she would go outside she would try very hard but was usually unable to go. When inside she would try to tell us she needed to go out but found she could not wait and went on the floor. This has been going on for about three weeks. It is very unusual for either of our dogs to go in the house. Anyway, we found a local Vet and made an appointment. Turned out he was on vacation and had a retired Vet filling in for him. The guy we saw was originally from Oklahoma and had graduated Vet school at Oklahoma State. (It really is a small world.) Turns out Brandi has a bladder infection that is causing her problems. She is now taking an anti-biotic twice a day and will for three weeks. After just a few days we can already see a big improvement. (We were gone most of the day today and had no surprises waiting for us when we returned.) The rest of Tuesday was used to catch up on laundry here at the RV Park.

Wednesday we drove north to Dade City to check on our traveling friends progress. Two of the couples we traveled to Florida with went from the rally in Brooksville to Dade City to work on a Habitat for Humanity build. They are helping to build a house for a lady with seven kids. Due to the weather they had gotten delayed starting since they could not get the slab floor poured on Monday. By Wednesday they had the slab down and had gotten one wall in place. We got there in the late afternoon and then went out to dinner with them to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Thursday was a day to relax. We mostly hung around the coach and did just that. I did take time to find a barbershop and get my hair cut. After driving all over this part of town all I could find was beauty salons or style shops. What I wanted was a real barbershop with a real barber. Finally stopped at the local Navy Recruiting Office for help. When I walked in I announced that I was there to sign up and was ready to ship out. The young Navy men there just laughed at me. After explaining my situation they directed me to a nearby shop in a strip mall.

Today, Friday, we drove east to Winter Haven. During the rally in Brooksville I ordered a sunscreen for the windshield of the new coach. This is placed over the front when we are parked to help keep the heat out of the coach plus giving us some privacy when the front curtains are open. They had to make it up to fit the coach so we went to their shop in Winter Haven to pick it up. This is the same town where Cypress Gardens are located so we took the occasion to go see the park. Cypress Gardens is the home of the famous water ski shows. With the weather being cold we were surprised that the shows were being performed. The park also has huge botanical gardens. Due to the cold weather and the predicted freeze warning for tonight the staff was working very hard in covering many of the floral arrangements. In addition to see the gardens and shows we also had a chance to see their animal displays up close and personal. They have an aviary that you can walk through and a building full of plants and butterflies that you can get up close and personal with.

In their alligator display they have a former movie star. One of the gators was in the Tarzan movies made back in the 1930’s. After his movie career he was placed in a breeding farm and in 1975 was brought to Cypress Gardens. Today he is 77 years old. This was very interesting since the average lifespan of a gator in the wild is 40 to 50 years, although some in captivity can live to 100 years old.

Tomorrow we will go across the road from the RV Park to the Flea Market. This is a very large Flea Market that is only open on Saturday and Sunday. Flea Markets seem to be very popular down here. We have driven by many of them during our travels. We’ll go to the Flea Market after breakfast here in the Park. The management of the RV Park serves breakfast for everyone each Saturday morning.
Tonight we are under a freeze alert. This is very unusual this far south. While we were up in Jacksonville we had a couple of nights that it got down below freezing. Each of those times I went out and unhooked my fresh water hose for the night. We also have a built-in electric heater in our utility bay. This is not only the area where the water hose and sewer hose are connected it is also where the water holding tanks are located. When I flip the switch it puts it on automatic so that if the temp drops below a set amount the heater comes on and keeps the bay warm.

Travelogue—Day 45—February 23, 2007

Time has ticked away and we have moved on.

Our week in Tampa went by pretty fast. Last Saturday we went over to the Flea Market to see what they had. This thing was huge. We spent most of the morning there and still did not see it all. We able to pick up a few things “we needed” and cheap prices.

On Sunday we pulled out and headed back north to Wildwood, FL, where the Monaco Factory Service Center is located. We had an appointment for Monday morning to have a few items repaired under our warranty. When we pulled in our friends, Bob & Maribel Clerc, had just pulled in and had taken the last spot in the campground. (The Clerc’s are one of the couples that we traveled cross-country with on our way down here.) With no spots left we had to back up to one of the bay doors to the shop and settle to just have an electric hookup for the night.

The facility was full when we arrived and soon was overflowing. Monaco Coach Corporation builds luxury motor coaches under the brand names of Monaco, Holiday Rambler, Safari and Beaver. All of these brands are worked on at this facility. This is one of just three such facilities in the country, the other two being in Indiana and Oregon. We have heard many stories of folks coming in for work and being there for weeks at a time before the work is complete. Another of our friends, who are members of our Monaco America RV Club, had already been there two weeks when we came in. Other people had been there going on eight weeks at that time.

We checked in with the Service Writer first thing Monday morning and were assigned to a work crew of technicians. Apparently when Service Writer and team of techs a person gets is just the luck of the draw. We were very lucky because we were assigned to one of the best. They got us in around mid morning Monday and went directly to work on the coach. By Wednesday evening they had completed all repairs. We were all ready to leave out on Thursday morning when we found a couple of small items that needed to be addressed. The tech team leader came right out and cleared them up and off we went.

While at the Wildwood facility we did not get to do much. It was recommended by other coach owners to stay with the coach and available to the techs. Not only were we there if they had any questions we could make sure the work was progressing. (Our friends the Clercs left on Tuesday to spend the day at Disney World. They had been told that certain items would be taken care of while they were gone. When they returned late that evening the coach had never been moved from the campground and nothing had been done.) We had to be up each morning we were there and ready for them to come take our coach by 7:30 am. This meant rolling out of bed around 6:00 am. That is hard on us retired folks. Although we were welcome to stay with the coach the kind of work we were having done inside did not lend its self to that. Plus, since we have this little female dog that likes to nip at people we thought we should take her elsewhere. So, Joanne spent all day Monday and Tuesday sitting out in the parking lot in the car with both dogs. (They have a very large lobby with some nice easy chairs for us to use and pets were welcome. Again, with Brandi’s behavior around strangers we decided this was not a good idea.) I spent most of the day between the car, the lobby and the coach. The company has an open shop policy so I was able to observe all the work that was being done.

We were able to find a dog groomer while there. The last time the dogs had been groomed was on January 3rd, before we left home. They were really getting shaggy. So they got to go to the day spa all day Wednesday. We are always hesitant to take them to anyone except their regular groomer in Oklahoma City. The current groomer proved us correct in that thinking. They did a good job with their face and head but then completely scalped them. They now have no Schnauzer skirt or fringe on their legs. They both look like skinned rats. I’ve always said the only difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is two weeks. With them it looks like it will probably take two to three months before they look like normal Schnauzers again.

Anyway, yesterday we were able to leave the service facility and continue on with our Florida journey. Since it has been colder than we expected when we planned this trip to Florida we decided to go south. We headed down Interstate 75 past Tampa and farther south. We stopped briefly in Punta Gordo, where we have some friends from our Monaco America club. Al and Joy Fetch met us at a rest area on the interstate and we had a good visit. Then we went on down to Ft Myers and spent the night parked behind the Camping World store. This morning we started out again and went down through Naples and then across a section of I-75 that goes from the Gulf side of Florida to the Atlantic. This section is called Alligator Alley. It goes directly through the Cypress National Wildlife Preserve. Both side of the roads that high fences to keep the wildlife out in the marsh and off the road. These were at least eight feet high, chain link fences with cables along the bottom to keep the gators from pushing through them. On each side of the roadway, on the other side of the fence, were large canals. We spotted several gators swimming along in the canals.

We arrived in the Miami area around noon and then went down to the Florida Keys. The Keys are a string of islands leading from the Florida mainland southwest out into the Atlantic. These islands are strung together with very long bridges, one bridge being seven miles long by its self. It is about 100 miles from Key Largo all the way out to Key West. This is mostly a two-lane road with speeds between 25 and 45 MPH. Around 3:30 pm we arrived at Key West and are now in the campground at Naval Air Station, Key West. This is a very popular campground and is normally full. The sites with full hookups are all taken. (They only allow people to stay two weeks at a time in the full hookup sites.) We are in the overflow area, which means we are back to dry camping. We can run our generator between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm so we have it running now. The only problem with running the generator is the fumes from the diesel it burns. Another one of the couples that we traveled to Florida with, Andy and Linda Clarkson, got here yesterday. We’ll get to spend some time with them while were here. Andy is also a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer.

Key West is as far south as you can go in the continental United States. There is a marker on the south side of the island that marks exactly 90 miles from Havana. (This is probably as close as Joanne will ever get to Havana. I have been closer since I was at Guantanmo Bay Naval Base, on the edge of Cuba, back in my Navy days.) We will do some exploring of the Keys this week including taking a cruise on a glass bottom boat. Our campsite almost backs up to the Gulf of Mexico. Tonight we had some huge pelicans sitting down on the beach. We plan to be here until Wednesday of next week and then start our trek back up north to the Orlando area.

Travelogue—Day 49—Tuesday, 2/27/07

Well, our time here in Key West has slipped by and we’ll have to leave in the morning. At least in the winter this is close to paradise as you can get. The temps have been in the high 70’s and low 80’s. We get a good cool breeze off the water. That is good since we can’t run the generator at night so we could not run the air conditioners even if we needed to at night.

We have seen a lot and walked a lot. The main part of town and harbor area is very compact with very narrow streets and almost no street parking. Each day we went into town we wound up parking in a parking garage and heading out on foot. As a person would suspect, everything is pretty expensive here. The only saving grace for us is that we can stay on the base so the cost of the campsite is minimal.

On Saturday we went to town and did a lot of the tourist stuff. We walked the harbor and toured the Shipwrecked Museum. We also learned that when Truman was President he had his “Little Whitehouse” down here. The Navy owned most of this island at one time. In addition to the Naval Air Station, which is still here, there was also a Naval Station and a Naval Submarine Base. Where the sub base was located there were several very large houses used as senior officer quarters. The largest, which actually was two house built into one, was the base commanders house. At that time the base was without a commander. Truman’s doctors had ordered him to take a vacation away from the stress of Washington so he came here. He liked it so well he made the commanders house his official “Little Whitehouse” and wound up taking many vacations here during his time in office. It is now privately owned, as is the rest of the sub base, and is a museum. It was a very interesting tour. Also, on Saturday, we made a trek down to the end of the island to see the marker showing the southern most point in the continental US.

Sunday was a day of relaxing and upkeep. We spent most of the day at the coach. I took time to wash the car and Jo got caught up on all the laundry. Most folks bring their entire dirty clothes home with them when they return from vacation. When you are retired you are always on vacation. Also, when you are gone two to three months at a time you still have to do those little chores that you would have to do at home. Sunday evening we went down to a place here on the base called Sunset Point. It is a little club out on the end of a point in the Gulf of Mexico that is a perfect place to watch the sun go down.

On Monday, we went back into town to do more tourist stuff. We found us another lighthouse, this now makes five, and climbed it. Got some great pictures from up there. This lighthouse was directly across the street from the house where Ernest Hemingway lived during his days in Key West. We took that tour also. It was very interesting. He always had many cats around and some of them had six toes on their front paws. Many of the descendents of his cats still live at the house, 50 to be exact, and some of them do have the six toes. Monday also was the day we took a trip on a glass bottom boat. It took us about a mile out into the Atlantic Ocean to a coral reef. Through the glass we could see the reef up close with all it’s eco systems and the sea life swimming around it. After the trip we had a good seafood lunch on the wharf before heading to the lighthouse.

Today was pretty uneventful. We took the car and drove back up the Keys for about fifty miles. Each of the Keys (islands) appears a little different and has different things to offer. We went into a state park on one of the Keys and spent time wading in the Atlantic. The beaches aren’t the sand you would expect in the Atlantic. They are made of crushed coral so it makes walking in the water a little tough for us tender footed people.

Tomorrow morning we will pack up and head back up north. We will drive up through Miami and Fort Lauderdale on Interstate 95. We understand that the traffic up that way is pretty heavy so we don’t expect to get very far past Miami before we stop for the night. (We are currently about 150 miles from Miami and the speed limit on the Keys highway—U.S. Highway 1—is usually between 35 and 45 MPH.

Travelogue—Day 54—Tuesday, 3/6/07

On the road again. That’s our current theme song.

We left Key West on Wednesday of last week and traveled back up to Orlando. We decided not to take Interstate 95 up through Miami/Ft Lauderdale due to the heavy traffic load. Instead we took U.S. 27 up through the middle of the state. By Wednesday evening we had gotten up to the southwest corner of Lake Okeechobee and pulled into a nice RV Park in Clewiston, FL. On the drive up we hit a pretty good rainstorm. The rain was hard enough to get everything wet but not enough to wash everything down. With the trucks passing us and throwing up the stuff on the road the coach and car were really filthy when we arrived. (Instead of the normal dirt you would find on and along the road down there it is fine coral dust. This left a white film over the vehicles.)

Our reservation at the RV Park in the Orlando area was not until Friday. Due to that we decided to stay in Clewiston two nights. This gave me a chance to drag out the hose and brush and give the coach a very needed bath. I also wash at the car but did miss a few spots there. On Thursday, after the coach’s bath, we decided to drive over to the east coast to find another lighthouse. This makes six we have sought out. This one was located in Jupiter, FL, just north of the Palm Beach area. It was about 65 miles over there. This lighthouse is located on an active Coast Guard base so we had to be escorted on a tour of it. The climb this time was 102 steps. It’s always tough to climb these things, especially hard on these old knees, but the view from the top is usually spectacular.

On Friday morning we headed on north to the Orlando area. We went to an RV Park in Kissimmee on the south side of Orlando. This stop was for a chance to spend some time with my parents. They had flown in that day for a convention at a major resort in town. Since we had not seen them in almost two months this gave us a pleasant visit. We went to the hotel/resort on Saturday and had lunch with them and some other members of the delegation from Oklahoma. On Sunday we went over and picked them up and went to Denny’s for lunch. This day was my mother’s birthday. The convention was only having sessions during the mornings on these two days so the delegates would have a chance to do some tourist things while in town. On Monday the sessions went all day so we did not pick up the folks until last afternoon. Brought them down to the RV Park where Jo had fixed a great dinner. Had a really good visit before taking them back to the resort. They flew home this morning so we got back on the road also. (While in Orlando this time we just relaxed and did a little shopping at the local factory outlet stores.)

Tonight we are back up in northern Florida in Lake City. We are at one of the very first RV Parks where we had stayed when we first arrived in Florida early last month. Tomorrow we will head west to Pensacola. We will be staying at the Blue Angels Campground at the Naval Air Station. We’ll spend a few days there doing some Navy sightseeing and visit with my cousins who spend their winters in the area each year.
And with that, the saga continues.

Travelogue—Day 59—March 11, 2007

The Florida portion of our trip is just about over. We pack up tomorrow morning and head west. Currently we are about as far west as we can get and still be in Florida. We are camped at the Blue Angels Campground, which is part of Naval Air Station, Pensacola. This park is on the Perdido Bay that divides Florida and Alabama. It is a really nice park down in the trees.

We arrived here last Wednesday afternoon and set up camp. This campground is divided into two sections, one with full hookups and one with partial hookups. The full hookup side is full, as it normally is, so we only have water and 30 amps electric. We’ll need to stop by the dump station on our way out tomorrow to empty out our holding tanks.

First thing Thursday morning we went looking for the lighthouse located on the base. This is our seventh lighthouse to seek out since we’ve been down here. This one is located on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. We were not able to climb this one since it is not open to the public. The buildings around it are still being used as offices for the Coast Guard. Also, that morning we made our necessary run to the base commissary to stock up on groceries.

We’ve had a good visit with my cousins, Bob and Yvonne, while we’ve been here. We drove over to their condo last Thursday afternoon. They are just a few steps from the most beautiful white sand beach in Navarre Beach. (They are what are called “snow birds” down here. They actually live in Cleveland, OH, but spend their winters down in Florida. Guess we would fall under that same title this year.)

On Friday, Bob and Yvonne came over to our place to see the new coach and go with us to tour the Museum of Naval Aviation over on the main base. This is a fantastic place to see with one of the largest collections of airplanes you could ever see in one place. Actually, it is very hard to see it all in one day. Later, after stopping back by the coach to let the dogs out to exercise and give them supper, we drove over to Foley, AL, to Lambert’s Restaurant for dinner. This is the place that is famous for the “throwed rolls” that we visited on our way down early last month.

Yesterday, Saturday, we caught up on all the laundry and then decided to go over to the base to have lunch at the Chief’s Club. Unfortunately the club was closed on the weekend. Times have sure changed since my Navy days. Back then almost everything resolved around a club. With the military’s de-emphasize of alcohol use the clubs really don’t get much use anymore. On most bases they are open for lunch and dinner during the week but get little use on the weekends so they are usually closed. We wound up at the Navy Exchange at their food court for fast food. Later in the afternoon we took the dogs and headed back over to the cousins for dinner and a visit with them and their good friends who are originally from Oklahoma City.

Today is a day to lie around and relax. There is an old military fort that is located on the main base that we are going to explore. The National Park Service operates Fort Barrangas. After that I will be scouting around for some place to get Internet access and send this. Also, need to clean up all the e-mails that have built up in the last few days. One major problem of camping down in the woods on a military base is we almost never have WiFi access. There has to be somewhere that I can find a WiFi hotspot to take care of this.

Travelogue—Day 67—Home

Well, our expedition to Florida is over. We arrived home around noon today, Sunday, 3/18/07. Now to get the coach unloaded and cleaned up so we’ll be ready to go again next time out.

We left Pensacola last Monday morning and headed for west, stopping in Gulfport, Mississippi. We stayed on the Navy CB base there. This is the headquarters base for the Navy’s Construction Battalions for the entire Atlantic Fleet.

While we stayed in Gulfport we took the time to drive around and see what has been accomplished since hurricane Katrina hit this area two years ago. It was amazing how little had been rebuilt. US Highway 90 runs along the coast across the Gulf Coast. We drove the area that covers Gulfport and Biloxi. We had been here 10 years ago and stayed at one of the Casino hotels. At that time this was a beautiful drive with the beach, with it’s white sands, on one side of the road and large homes and hotels on the other. Interspersed in this were many casinos, all on the beach side and floating on the water. Now, most of those casinos are gone and much of the beach is still closed, although the white sands are still there. A very few of the casinos have rebuilt and reopened with a couple of more about ready to open. On the other side of the road, for about three blocks inland, there is mostly nothing but vacant lots. Occasionally there will be a new house that has been built but then it will be vacant lots for two or three blocks before there is another one. Many of these lots have a house foundation or concrete slab. Some of these lots have small travel trailers, provided by FEMA, where the original homeowners are living, hoping to be able to rebuild on the lot. Several of the hotel/motels that got hit are still standing, in the same condition as they were after the storm. They have just been fenced off and left as is. It makes a person be very thankful for what they have after seeing this devastation. The economy in this area is in bad shape since a large part of the tax base was lost when the casinos and other businesses were wiped away.

We stayed in Gulfport for a couple of days. We checked out a local outlet mall, giving Joanne a chance to pick up a few items. On Wednesday morning we headed north to Jackson and then west to Monroe, Louisiana. On Thursday we drove to Melissa, Texas, just north of Dallas, to stop in to see some friends and drop off a couple of packages that were sent by the leader of our original trek out to Florida. On Friday, we again headed north but not very far.

Our Oklahoma motor home group, the Birds of a Feather, were having there first meeting of the year at a campground in Sulphur so we stopped in to see them for the weekend. There were 11 other motor homes there when we arrived. They were very surprised to see us show up since they thought we were still in Florida. Friday night we went out to dinner with all of them and on Saturday night we had a great potluck dinner. Sunday morning was time to break camp for the last time and head home. Now we are back, at least for a while, and will be getting back into the normal routine.