Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Charleston Christmas and a Savannah Birthday!

In the past 5 years we have spent Christmases in Salt Lake City Utah, Quartzsite Arizona (x2), San Antonio Texas and now Charleston South Carolina! By far our least favorite Christmas location. Not because of the town, oh that is very charming, it was the RV Park we stayed at. Lake Aire RV Park just on the outskirts of southern Charleston was our top pick for two reasons; 1) they had an opening and 2) they were Passport America members. So at $23 a night (water/electric) we booked 3 nights over Christmas. 

But before arriving there we spent 2 nights at Myrtle Beach State Park exploring that area. This was a nice park ($30/night with W/E/S) and the first area we have been in since leaving Pennsylvania that the campground was crowded.
Site 298 was perfect for us!

Dakota loved chasing the pigeons on the beach!

Myrtle Beach State Park Fishing Pier in the background

We spent two days walking the beach with the dogs. There were more people on the beaches but not enough to make it feel crowded.
The city of Myrtle Beach was really not our kind of area. WAY too touristy! Restaurants, hotels and shops everywhere. I could not imagine that area during peak season. We did partake in one of the many seafood buffets. The Original Benjamins Calabash Seafood Buffet came highly recommended by Jessica and Shane who were ate there a couple of years ago. The normal price is $40 per person but they were running a promotion where you could get $1 off for each canned good brought in and donated up to 30 cans so at $25/person it was definitely a bargain! We did not try all 170 items on the buffet, we pretty much just stuck to crab, shrimp and other seafood delights. We walked out of there stuffed and definitely got our monies worth!

Then it was on to Charleston and Lake Aire RV Park. We had received a call on our way down saying that the office would be closed for the next two days but they were going to post our site number on the door. True to their word, there was a map directing us to our site right on the door. We weaved our way through all the other rigs and turned the corner where we got the first view of our site. They must have thought we were royalty as what we saw was an island of a pad totally surrounded by 2-3 inches of water! We had our own moat around our site! 
We looked around and there were a few other sites open but none were any better. Looks like we will be swamp-camping for the next few days! If you are in the area, I would definitely skip this park and find one on a little higher ground.
We did not have a lot on our list for this area. Our main adventure was exploring the town and taking in the architecture of the buildings. We headed down to the French Quarter which was filled with restaurants, churches and old homes. 

Most of these buildings were built in the mid 1700's. We would pass house after house that said "Built in 1737, built in 1738, built in 1740". Many houses and churches had placards stating they were built in that decade. It really got me wondering what the city must have looked like back then. The entire city must have been under construction as these buildings took a long time to build!
These functioning gas lanterns were pretty cool

The ironwork on this building was incredible

Some of these markers dated back into the 1700's!

Think of the work that went into building these
US Customs Building

USS Yorktown
Whoever owns this did not have a good day
We had hoped to visited Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter but both were closed due to the government shutdown. Maybe next time. 

We tried two restaurants; Pearlz Oyster Bar and The Oyster House. Pearlz was awesome! The other restaurant, not so much. 

On Christmas Eve we spent a 1/2 hour trying to get a family photo using the camera's delayed shutter setting and a tripod. We must have taken 20 or more pictures but none of them were worthy. The best one we got was my test shot with just Barb and the dogs. For some reason when I entered the picture everything went to pot. 
So then we tried with just the dogs.....
Barb setting up the shot!

This is the best one we got
Christmas morning arrived and the dogs were excited to see what Santa brought! Well, one of the dogs was. Since this was Daisy's 11th Christmas, she knew the drill. Dakota on the other hand was not so sure, although she knew something exciting was going on she would sniff the stocking and run in her crate, sniff and run, sniff and run. Daisy on the other hand tore right into hers (and Dakotas)!

I smell something yummy in there!
Got it!
There was a mixture of treats and toys in each of their stockings. As Daisy would open each of the toys Dakota would emerge from her crate, steal the toy and retreat back into her crate. This scenario played out 4 times until Dakota had all the toys in her crate!

I got all the toys!
Later, once all the toys were evenly distributed they started to play with them.
She's watching Dakota who is waiting to steal her toy
What did Barb and I get for Christmas? All my gifts were house related where I got some tools we needed to work on the house while Barb got a pair of slippers and a food chopper she wanted. 
No spotting scope :(
On the 27th we drove 2 1/2 hours south to Savannah Georgia. Well, actually Hinesville to Happy Campers RV Park that was recommended by Shawn and Kim (Shifting Gears), blogger friends who had stayed here while they were in the area. This is a great park, full hookups, $21/night with Passport America. Most of the sites are filled with fulltime military residents and have really large yards.  
Our Happy Acres site

We had a variety of activities on our list for this area but once again the rain hampered our plans. We made good use of our time sending out bid requests for our lumber, windows, as well as our steel siding and roof. Yikes, looks like we need to both find fulltime jobs again!
The dogs are chill'in while Barb has blueprints spread everywhere.....
We did, however, make it out to walk the Historic District of Savannah one day.

Sherman's headquarters

Georgia Volunteers Monument

Moss and Ivy covered the trees

Of course we had to stop by Leopold's Ice Cream!

Savannah Cotton Exchange
I was expecting it to be a lot like Charleston but it was actually quite a bit different. They both had some unique church and home architecture but Savannah also had a lot of statues, monuments and a nice park to walk around. Both were interesting in their own right.

Our final full day in Savannah was a big day as it is my birthday! We are going to celebrate it watching football and having a crab leg dinner. Life is good! 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Peak Season/Off Season, Which do you Prefer?

After 5 years of full time travel, coast to coast and border to border....having visited numerous sights at peak tourist season and during the off season we continuously come to the same conclusion. We, by far, prefer the off season. It is not even close.
When else would you get pictures like this? 
Custer State Park in April

Or see a 10 foot snow bank?
Lassen National Park in March
Oh, there are some tradeoffs and it definitely depends on what you want to see and do in a specific location but for us, the quiet seclusion of the off season is the best way to go. 
But once in a while you do question your sanity
South Dakota November 
There is no better example of this than our home town of Custer South Dakota. Peak tourist there, like many summer-centric locations, is basically from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Kids are out of school, the sun hovers overhead and daylight hours go well into the evening. In Custer, everything is in full swing. Every business is booming, there are waiting lines at the restaurants, and the local attractions filled to capacity. This is a time we try to avoid town altogether.
But then you are rewarded with sights like this!
 But even after Labor Day the tourists don’t stop. Once the kids are back in school these locations start to see a different type of tourist. Many foreign tourists have waited for this time to visit these sights. In fact, many tour companies cater specifically to these travelers. This is also the time an entirely different demographic hits the road. The locals refer to them as “The newlyweds and nearly-deads”. The pre-nesters and empty nesters who are not tied to life centered around school hours. 
Crater Lake National Park in March
For us, there is no better time than to visit some of these iconic locations than the months of November through May. Oh sure, there are some downsides. Some of the attractions are closed, many of the souvenir shops are closed. Some restaurants and motels are even closed. But these are travel stoppers...... We are not there for souvenirs and dining where the locals eat is always a plus. 
You also get the trails to yourselves!
We were again reminded of this as we work our way south from Pennsylvania to Florida in mid-December. Campground after campground we had our pick of spots, in a couple places we were one of only 3 or 4 campers in the entire place!  

After leaving Assateague Island we headed south to the Cape Charles area where we enjoyed two rainy days at Eastern Shores Welcome Center where they allow you to stay for 48 hours free of charge (no hookups). This was the only free spot we were able to find on our journey south. It is just parking lot but since it was raining almost the entire time we were there we just enjoyed listening to the rain pitter patter on the roof while we read and watched a few movies. 
From there we were off to the Outer Banks! Along the way we had to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel where for the first time ever we drove underwater! The bridge/tunnel combination is 20 miles long and has two mile long sections that go underwater and allows ship traffic to pass overhead. 
20 miles of bridge!

Headed underwater!
We have read over a dozen blog posts of people who had visited the Outer Banks and were excited to see it for ourselves. ALL of the campgrounds in the area were closed except the Cape Hatteras KOA which was offering a 25% off-season discount. 

There was one other rig in the park but they managed to squeeze us in right along the beach.
We spent our days walking the beach. The dogs went crazy running and running. Dakota loves to run in the surf and has finally learned not to drink the salt water. Another bonus of off-season is the last two parks had relaxed leash rules on the beach between Labor Day and May 1st.
Dakota of course headed right for the water!

The entire beach to ourselves!

The bird on the right only had one leg and would hope around everywhere
One interesting thing about the area is all the wind and sand. There is so much sand blowing that there are drifts along the road that they have to use heavy equipment to move pretty much constantly.  
The sand drifts along the road were over 10' tall!
We also visited the Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island Lighthouses while in the area. The temps were in the mid 50’s so it was quite comfortable and we were virtually the only people visiting the lighthouses. The downside was we could not walk up to the top as they were closed for the season. 
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Bodie Lighthouse

The other downside of the area….. The Dairy Queen was closed! The humanity! But, we did get to have our first Duck Donuts experience! For those of you who have never been to one they make donuts to order. You go in there and take an order menu selecting the toppings you would like on your donut. Apple, bacon, coconut, chocolate, maple…. Pretty much anything you can think of. Then they fry the donuts and make them on the spot. Delicious!
We also visited the town of Kitty Hawk where, you guessed it, is the home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. With free access using our National Park Pass, we walked the visitors center reading many of the displays. It is amazing what they did in the early 1900’s with the tools and equipment they had.
We walked the very spot where Orville and Wilbur took the first flights.

Each of these markers represent where each of the 4 flights landed
We also walked up to the Wright Memorial which overlooks the First Flight area. 

Barb joined in on the first flight!
Our bonus adventure in the area was visiting the Oregon Inlet famous as the port for the show Wicked Tuna Outer Banks. We toured the marina and saw The Fishin' Frenzy, one of the boat from the show.

We are not really into the touristy things like waterparks, paddle boarding and swimming in the ocean so we don’t feel we missed much in this area coming in the off season. Oh, wait, we did not have the humidity and mosquitoes that is prevalent in the summer months, so I guess we did miss those two things! 

While in Carolina Beach we stayed at the Carolina Beach State Park ($15/night no hookups). Again it rained pretty much the entire time we were here but we did manage to get out on a couple of hikes and do our first Navy ship tour when we toured the USS Carolina Battleship. Let me tell you it was well worth the $14 each! But we had a problem even before we got there. With all the rain the parking lot was flooded! I drove through the water and dropped Barb off at the front door but I had to wade through the water after parking the truck!
The parking lot. That small dot in the middle is the top of a fire hydrant!

The complexity of the ship was incredible. 9 levels; it took us over two hours to tour the ship. The tour is self guided and although they have directional signs we got turned around a number of times and probably missed parts of it. We only crossed paths with one other person in the entire 2 hours!

We have never really given them much thought and the fact that it is really a city within itself. It had a post office, dentist, barber, doctors office, metal machine room to make parts from scratch. You name it, it had it!
One of the ships stores

The bunks were 5 high!

One of several turret aiming stations
Powder being loading into gun

Powder stores

Ships wheel and controls
The battleship is a must see if you are in the area!

Our time in Carolina Beach is done and it is now time to move on. We are off to Myrtle Beach where hopefully the rains will subside and the sun will shine!