Friday, February 28, 2014

Crooked Letter Brewing Company and Gulfport MS… Next up is Mardi Gras!!!

We left Henderson State Park and drove a bit further than we originally had planned as we were trying to escape some of the overnight freezing temperatures forecasted for the eastern coaster areas. As a result we drove through the Florida Panhandle and then through the tunnel in Mobile, Alabama and after nearly 180 miles we pulled into a Passport America called Campgrounds of the South near Gulfport Mississippi. The RV  park is a no frills park but perfectly okay for our short stay in this area. Also, at twenty bucks per night it is budget friendly as we are still trying to save some money after spending so much on our tires for the RV this month.

imageWith all the cold or rainy weather we have had here in Mississippi we haven’t spent anytime along the beautiful coastal area of Gulfport or Biloxi but we did spend some time in a casino and also found a crafted beer brewery as well. So all was not lost…

However when reading and researching Mississippi breweries we were confused about our inability to find Happy Hours or tasting rooms.  According to a fellow we met the craft brewing is in its infancy in Mississippi thanks to the grassroots lobbying efforts of his non-profit group called Raise Your Pints. We learned that home brewing has only just recently been legalized and there are still strict rules associated with new breweries only able to offer tastings through tours or along with food at restaurants.  Lobbying efforts are ongoing to expand and loosen these regulations… Good luck Mississipians!!!
The Brewery we found in Ocean Springs,Crooked Letter Brewing Company, charged $5 for tours that included six samples for each paying adult  These tours.are held on Tuesdays and Saturdays. When purchasing our tour tickets the fellow mentioned that we could buy glasses with their logos on them for an additional $5 to be used for samples instead of the plastic cups… the very small plastic cups. Since we needed some new beer glasses anyway and the logo was nice we shelled out an additional $5 for two glasses. 

imageWe bellied up to the bar for some samples. Our first pour was their Crooked Heffy and after they poured about 1/2 pint into our glasses for the sample we knew buying the glasses turned out to be a really good idea.  The tour was casual and informative and afterward we were allowed to return for our remaining samples. We enjoyed all our samples but really liked two of them. Sharon loved their Mystery Romp Porter and the one I liked, an IPA, was one of the three beers they are making for the sole distribution by the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi. That’s right the Beau Rivage serves three of their beers made especially for them… pretty cool.

imageAfter the tour we moseyed over to a place to grab a bite at the Government Street Grocery not far from the brewery . This bar/restaurant was recommended to us by the brew master at the Crooked Letter Brewery. We shared a real tasty fried gulf shrimp po’ boy and some equally tasty hand cut fries.  A great ending  to a very fun evening for us both…

We liked the beer so much we made a visit to the Beau Rivage Casino on another day for some complimentary drinks and some gaming. I also failed to mention that the Brew Master at the Crooked Letter Brewery will also be at Mardi Gras (our next stop) and invited us to a private party while we are there. We will certainly take advantage of this if we happen to find the party.. Tomorrow we are excitedly headed to the fun-filled festivities in New Orleans for Mardi Gras…

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida…

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One hundred thirty eight point nine miles was how far we planned to drive from Ho Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, Florida but when I woke up it was raining like mad… Worse yet, when I turned on the TV we were under a severe thunderstorm watch with quarter sized hail predicted. Fortunately for us they canceled the watch just before the storm made to Carrabelle. So with a break in the weather we closed up the RV and hit the road about 9:45 am hoping to dodge a good part of this nasty front.
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Three and one half hours later after a lot of light to moderate rain we pulled into Henderson Beach State Park. We were early so they asked us to park at the beach parking lot and wait for them to call later when our site was vacated. Now that we gained an hour (we are on CST) we figured this was a good time to More Emerald Coast 010exercise the generator to make an early lunch while waiting. Almost immediately afterward we were allowed to move to site 50, a pull through, and set up the RV. Man these are some huge pull through sites…
This was a beautiful site even in the rain… We settled in and made a short walk to the beach as soon as the rain had let up. Not even torrential rains would keep us from checking out the beach. We just love this part of Florida with the sugar white sand and emerald green waters. Topping this off was a dark and More Emerald Coast 028mysterious sky and the scene was a bit surreal… We were only able to enjoy a short stay as the rains looked to be returning so we reluctantly headed back.
As the rain continued we headed to Fort Walton Beach to meet up with fellow bloggers Janie and John of Flamingo on a Stick. We met at a brew pub they recommended called Props. Nice place, nice beers nice company… We were both so glad to finally meet up with them as we had a great time chatting and getting to really know each other. It was amazing how much in common we actually had. We are hopeful we will see them somewhere else down the road.
More Emerald Coast 022The next day the rain had let up and we spent the day along the beach and beautiful emerald waters. With sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70’s it was going to be a beach day. Sharon settled in to read a book and I tried my luck with a bit of fishing. Nothing was biting so we both took a long, long stroll down the white sugar sand beach…. man we live a really horrible life!
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More Emerald Coast 015We were only able to stay two nights as it seems State Parks are always difficult to reserve spaces on short notice. Next up for us is a Passport America park in Gulfport Mississippi. With cold weather headed this way we will drive a bit further west to escape the overnight freezing temperatures forecasted for Florida panhandle.IWe are looking forward to some delicious gulf shrimp and maybe a little gaming at the casinos....

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ho Hum…

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Ho Hum RV Park 010We left Suwanee River RV Rendezvous a little earlier than we normally do since the weather forecast predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms to pass through the area.. Before leaving we went over to Grandma Susie’s Cookin' Shack to order two Wimpy Specials (one egg, one sausage, hash browns and rye toast.… a whopping $5.35 and we didn’t have to clean up afterwards… priceless! We finished up breakfast and went back to finish packing up in preparation to hit the road. We went about 116 miles this day.
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Leaving the park we headed west and it wasn’t even an hour down the road I could see the front coming through and warned Sharon that we were about to get some heavy rain and wind… so hold on!!! Sure enough the wind hit and I slowed to about 45 mph.  Next came the the rain… monsoonal like. It lasted for about 10 minutes and then we made it through the rough stuff. The rest of the trip we encountered moderate to light rain with light winds.
Ho Hum RV Park 026We arrived at Ho Hum RV Park just east of Carrabelle, Florida around 12:30 and the rain had stopped with the sun actually peeking out of the clouds. The fellow who checked us in said he was sure happy we brought the good weather because they had early morning heavy rain for about two solid hours… I guess our ten minutes of heavy rain and wind didn’t compare to what they experienced. This is a nice little park right on the Gulf of Mexico and a great place to spend a few days…
Ho Hum RV Park 016Lucky for us the weather was great the rest of the day. We settled in and walked all along the beach.  I even had time for a little time fishing on the park’s private pier. I didn’t catch anything nor did I even get a bite. The Cormorants just offshore were having a lot better luck fishing than I did, but I still enjoyed the day as the weather turned out waaaay better than forecasted.
The next day we relaxed and spent some time on the beach just west of Carrabelle. I tried my hand at fishing once again to no avail. We went into town and decided to try a cold beverage at a little tavern called Harry’s. The beer was cheap and cold but unfortunately they allow smoking in this bar and it was nearly unbearable with the thick smoky air inside. One beer and we were out of there..
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Next up we hope for more beach time at Henderson Beach State Park near Destin Florida where we reserved two nights…
NOTE: Sigh… I woke up to a Severe Thunderstorm Warning so we will have to watch the weather for an opportune time to leave this morning…

Friday, February 21, 2014

Kayaking the Suwanee River and Moving to Carrabelle, Florida…

Suwanhee River day trips 021Suwanhee River day trips 022Our last few days the weather has been absolutely fabulous as we have hit the 80 degree temperature mark and as a result we have spent some time on the water. We inflated our toy boat, errr kayak, and put it in the beautiful and very calm Suwanee River.
We planned to paddle a good ways up stream and then take a leisurely float back downstream to where we put in. I knew there was a fairly good current after having watched the river the last few days but it appeared as if we could stay close to the shore and make some nice Suwanhee River day trips 020upstream progress. Well once we got in it appeared as if my hopes were wrong as the current was quite a bit more powerful than I had wished.
None the less I paddled our little toy boat upstream until I couldn’t paddle any longer. This strategy worked out just fine as we were able to float down stream back to our starting point with very little effort on my part. There are a lot of limestone rocks along the banks that have eroded into nice, scenic features and have resulted in many caves Suwanhee River day trips 023being exposed along the shoreline. We also spotted several magnificent Red Shouldered Hawks perched in some of the snags and still leafless Bald Cypress trees.
We had hoped to spend more time on the river but this resort has a fantastic pool and hot tub so the rest of our time was spent on this much more placid and current free water… Man it had been a while since I was in a hot tub and I almost forgot how wonderful they can be!
Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park 015Today we are leaving this nice park to heading toward the Forgotten Coast once again where we have two nights booked at the Ho Hum Park near Carabelle, Florida. The weather looks like it is taking yet another turn for the worse so I guess we won’t be getting any quality beach time like we had hoped.  I guess that’s okay as we will still find ways to enjoy the days somehow…

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stienhatchee and Keaton Beach Florida…

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imageThe cooler weather subsided here at Suwanee River Rv Rendevous so we decided to make a run over toward the coastline as this is the only part of coastal Florida we haven't explored. I wasn’t really expecting much as most of what I read about this part of coastal Florida was that it had virtually no beaches and was primarily a fishing hotspot. There was however a small man-made beach in the town of Keaton Beach that I thought we might check out.
Suwanhee River day trips 005The plan was to drive a 107 mile loop and see what was in this area. First we headed toward the town of Stienhatchee, Florida which is about a forty minute drive southwest of here. The landscape in this part of Florida is a mixed Pine Oak Forest with lots of large Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss. There was a lot of swampy wetlands all along state road 51 where we spotted some egrets, herons and an occasional Belted Kingfisher.
The town of Stienhatchee is a scenic little town that is mostly located north of the Stienhatchee River that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A really neat little fishing village but once we got out of the car we realized that it was still a bit chilly to really enjoy the day. The winds were blowing off the Gulf of Mexico and the with the ocean Suwanhee River day trips 007at around 59 degrees Fahrenheit it made for a very chilly stop. We did walk around a bit and noted that a lot of small boats were heading out for a day of fishing and we found out why later in the day… 
We left Stienhatchee and headed Northwest toward Keaton Beach. About half way there I noticed there was a Wildlife Refuge along the road. Then we saw a gate open with an information billboard so we pulled in and discovered the Tide Swamp Wildlife Management Area. We drove down a dirt road named Dullas Creek Road for a few miles and it ended at a picnic area with a boat launch. Lots of fishermen were here too and as we chatted with a few of them we discovered why… It seems that this area is brimming with Suwanhee River day trips 008sea trout and as one fishermen put it “It takes us longer to go out to the water than it does for us to catch our limit of trout.” Dang, sure wish we had brought the kayak and my fishing gear…
Well that certainly explained all the fishing boats in this area…. Just before we left a bunch of Wildlife folks showed up and after chatting with one of the fellows I confirmed my suspicion that they were about to set off a prescribed burn. Having set off a bunch of these in one of my previous careers we left in order to avoid all the noise and smoke that was sure to follow shortly.
imageOur last stop was at Keaton Beach, even a smaller town than Stienhatchee. We found the small park with the man made beach. It too was chilly as the winds were still blowing off the cold waters. We walked out along the water’s edge and along a nice fishing pier until we decided it was simply too cool to enjoy as we would have liked. So we headed back to the RV Park and noticed as we got there that it was 10 degrees warmer inland than along the waterfront. So at home we had a nice Happy Hour outside and enjoyed a beautiful sunset with some tasty Sam Adams Seasonal Brews...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What makes an RV Park the perfect one?

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Not every RV park we land in is a perfect park. We have stayed in many parks all up and down the scale from being very nice to those something only slightly better than a parking lot. We are currently in Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park and it got me to thinking about what it takes for a park to be perfect or to be one with the “it” factor. Then it also had me pondering that nearly every park out there probably has the “it” factor to someone.
Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park 012Take the park we are in now for an example… Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park which is about 3 miles outside the small town of Mayo, Florida. It is located in Lafayette County which, by the way, is one of only three dry counties in the entire state of Florida. By dry, I mean they don’t allow the sale of alcohol inside their county.
The RV park is composed of two sections. The section we are currently in has been recently developed and as such all the vegetation has been denuded leaving only the recent plantings behind. But the newer section has a fabulous new bath house, laundry, library and pool/hot tub facility.  Beanbag toss and horseshoes are here as well as a big pavilion with picnic tables and easy chairs.  The older section is more for tent campers or those with very small rigs but it is a completely wooded area with very mature oak trees and is along the scenic Suwannee River.
Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park 013That being said, what is within easy driving distance of Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park? Well not much… There are several State Parks nearby because they are protecting some natural springs and offer nice access for Kayakers and SCUBA divers but not too much for hikers and bikers ad such.
So what makes this park have the “it” factor for some and not for others? For some the barren open newer RV park offers easy access to satellite TV signal which is a big plus for some but doesn’t matter to us. We would maybe prefer the more wooded serene older campground as it offers a chance to watch the birds and bees, but it is definitely not big rig friendly.  In fact, big rigs are advised to park at the ample space provided at the newer campground and walk down to the office to check in.
Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park 004The park being in the middle of nowhere doesn’t really appeal to us but does appeal to many others. I spoke with a fellow at our last RV park (also in the middle of nowhere) and he said he loved the park because it reminded him more of the country and not the city life he was accustomed to.
This park smack dab in a dry county also doesn’t appeal to us as we like to seek out the occasional “dive bar” or at the very least sample a newly made craft beer in a local mom and pop establishment. However others might revel at the fact that alcohol is snubbed by the county as they have no love for the evils of the drink. In fact there is only a tiny grocery store in town so visitors should stock up on groceries (and alcohol) in advance of their visit here.
Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park 010We will enjoy driving over to see the various warm water springs and if the weather cooperates we hope to inflate the kayak to take a trip up the Suwannee River.  We realize we really can’t enjoy this park like one of our current neighbors does as they love this park since it provides them such great access to some of the best cave diving in the USA. In fact cave divers from all over the world come to this area to cave dive. Sharon and I are SCUBA certified divers but have no desire to do so in a dark cave… simply not a thrill for either of us.
Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park 011One interesting diversion at this park is Grandma Susie's Cookin' Shack opened only on the weekends.  It features very inexpensive down South home cooking.  So even though there is a lack of restaurants in town this little gem serves up some good grub…  Restaurants are another important item for some RV’ers but not so much for us since we cook most meals in our home. And for the sake of our blood pressures, we decided one or two breakfasts are all we should partake at Grandma Susie's Cookin' Shack.
Where the two of us may not think a great deal about some aspects of this park and it’s location, others might find it the perfect park with the “it” factor they seek out. Overall we are glad we came to experience this nice park for a short term stay, but we are looking forward to the next park where we will be closer to our “it” park because we will be right on the ocean waterfront at Ho Hum RV Park near Carrabelle, Florida along the forgotten coast.
After these ponderings I have concluded every park may be the perfect park with the perfect “it” factor to somebody out there…

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hiking in Barr Hammock Preserve, Florida…

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Barr Hammock Preserve 029With a cold front pushing through our area soon we decided we had better get outside for some hiking before it hit our part of the state of Florida. I read that there was supposedly great hiking at the Barr Hammock Preserve. It was a short 20 minute drive east alongside Interstate 10 just west of Micanopy over to the preserve. The Barr Hammock Preserve is more than 5,700 acres of an expansive wetland area called the Levy Prairie.
The Levy Prairie Loop Trail is simply a long looping set of levees that ring this wetland prairie. The trailhead was located near the dirt parking lot and had a kiosk with trail maps.Actually a map may not have been necessary as there is only one trail… a 6.5 mile along the levees that circumnavigate the Levy Prairie. However, Sharon liked having a map to track our location and mileage.  She also likes to wear her polar watch to track our calories burned. At the trailhead our initial choice was which way to go on the loop. We noted that going south would provide a lot of sun as there are very few bordering trees whereas the northern route offered shade via a woodland canopy.
Racoon Tracks   Bobcat Track most likely
We chose the southern route and started out with the sun beaming down on us on the 74 degree day, perfect for hiking!   There was more brown than green in the expanse surrounding us as a freeze or two had knocked down the green stuff and given it a rustic brown hue… The trail was still a bit muddy from the earlier rains but it was nice as it exposed many of the tracks left behind by the residents. I was glad to have my camera and binoculars because there were lots of birds along this trail as the Yellow Rumped Warblers and American Pipets were easily seen all along the surface of the levees. The most notable sound this day was the musical cacophony of the large flocks of Sandhill Cranes overhead as they have begun gathering together preparing for their northern journey to their mating grounds.
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The trail had a few benches along the way (drawn on the map) where hikers can sit and gaze out upon the prairie. In the wet prairie were several Sandhill Cranes, many Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons and Glossy Ibis. As we neared the edge of the woods we were often scorned by some Red Shouldered Hawks screaming a warning to us that this was their turf and telling us we should simply move along…
Barr Hammock Preserve 033We walked nearly two miles before we finally spotted a smallish 5 or 6 foot American Alligator at the water’s edge. I was wondering if we would spot any of these beautiful beasts this far north especially with the temperatures a lot cooler here than in southern Florida. As we entered the more wooded part of the trail we saw a Blue Grey Gnatcatcher milling around the fruiting Red Maples full of bright red fruits. A thicket gave us our first glimpses of a pair of Common Yellowthroats as they flitted through the thick understory. Their brilliant yellow throats contrasted with their vibrant black “Zorro” style masks.
Barr Hammock Preserve 040After about 4.5 miles we came upon something that startled us… a really, really large alligator sunning on the trail. Now this guy had to be at least 10 feet in length and he/she was sunning with its head up and mouth slightly opened. There was no more than about 6 to 8 feet of usable trail behind the big tail that we would have to navigate to get around this beast! With only 2 miles left and 4.5 if we had to turn around I  was determined to get past it.  I chose to pick up some sticks and toss them in the alligator’s proximity hoping to spook it back into the water below. After 10 or 15 sticks being tossed and even after one that bounced and nudged it the gator simply wouldn’t budge….
Barr Hammock Preserve 045With only a few sizable sticks left and after making tons of loud noises by clapping I threw the last few sticks. Another bounced on the ground and nudged the very end of its tail when at last it sprang forward and launched itself into the open water below with a thunderous splash… As we both calmed down we were happy that we were now able to go the shorter route to complete the trail. We were cautious keeping our eyes pealed for other gators but we saw only one more gator as it was making its way into the water well off the trail. 
American BitternAfter we finished this great hike we laughed about the prospect that if that alligator we had encountered near the end wouldn’t have budged we would have had to walk completely back the other direction making this already longish hike of 6.5 miles more than 10 miles… Yikes! Lucky for us this wasn’t the case and we happily had a great hike with a little adventure thrown in…
Today we head about 75 miles further northwest to Suwannee River Rendezvous Resort where we scored an $89 weekly rate from the Tampa RV Show.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day Trip to Cedar Key, Florida…

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Cedar Key Florida 006Our first couple of days at Williston Crossing RV Resort had us seeing much cooler temperatures than we would prefer along with rain. Thankfully the resort had a nice fitness room I took advantage of while John preferred walking around the huge park to see the large pool complex, an out-of-commission train on premises, a grist mill and lake. We also have free cable TV so we have enjoyed HBO and various other cable channels as entertainment during those rainy days.
Cedar Key Florida 009Gainesville, Florida 025
On Sunday morning we arose to warmer temperatures and sunny skies so after breakfast, John surprised me with a plan he cooked up for a day trip over to Cedar Key. He originally discovered the area while planning our exodus out of Florida and he tried in vain to get me excited about a possible stay there. After the big beautiful beaches in Bonita Springs I just couldn’t get too excited about what looked to me to be a big fish camp. However I was willing to explore it for a day and off we went.
Gainesville, Florida 034It was an hour long drive on country roads where we were able to see osprey, red shouldered hawks and even one bald eagle. Just outside town was Sunset Isle RV Park and Motel John had found in his research so we dropped by to take a look. What a quirky little park this was. On some of the buildings are brightly painted murals and most all the sites while a little tight but had spectacular water views. Along the waterfront were several short piers to walk on as well as benches scattered about facing the water to pause at while taking in the serenity of the views. It was a tiny park compared to the one we are at now but it was bursting with personality.
Cedar Key Florida 012After chatting with a few campers at the park we determined it was a friendly place and decided to check out the town to see how we liked it. The park was two miles from town so we could see that if/when camping there we could easily bike to town as there was a nice sidewalk beside the road all the way into town. The town had the same quirky personality as the park did. There was a huge pier for public fishing, again with spectacular water views. The town was well laid out and easy to navigate with several dog friendly casual eateries. The one John picked was small but had a wonderfully talented two man band blending great entertainment along with our oyster po’ boy lunch.
Gainesville, Florida 031After lunch we took a long walkabout even stumbling upon a museum state park with a wonderfully preserved late 1800s home I really enjoyed touring (free). At 4:00 John had the final surprise planned as he had read about a neat little Tiki bar outside town near the park we liked. It was a small waterfront bar made mostly of recycled beer bottles beside the Low-Key Hideaway Motel. In fact the hotel also has three RV sites beside the Tiki bar, how cool is that! The bar also sported some bright colors and bottle art as well as some neat cork and bottle-top art. The owner of all this, Cindy, was also our bartender this day (a former four year RV full-timer from Michigan) and what a fun lady she was providing great conversation with her back story of how she and her husband found and decorated the place. In the end I guess John had an “I told you so” moment because he was right as I had badly misjudged Cedar Key and did feel some regret we didn’t stay at least a week or two enjoying more of its vibe… Oh well, there is always next time…
NOTE: Sharon penned today’s blog…