Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Escapees RV Club Memorial Day Promotion

You know summer is eminent when the much-awaited Memorial Day Weekend is on the horizon. Time to hitch up the camper for a long weekend of outdoor fun.  This Memorial Day, Escapees RV Club is celebrating Freedom for All by offering a great promotion in honor of the servicemen and women for their sacrifice and our freedom. 

The following is their press release Escapees asked us to share with you all.  We will definitely be taking advantage of this deal and saving $10 on our membership renewal.  SOLDIER-000001828106Medium
Our servicemen and women give much to our country and we believe they deserve our appreciation.  As said by the author Joseph Campbell, "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."  We at Escapees are thankful for those who offer their lives as a sacrifice for the freedoms Americans enjoy.  RVers experience this freedom every time they hit the road, exploring the beautiful sights our country offers from coast to coast and border to border.  To celebrate these heroes, and their service to our country, we are extending a one-day discount to new and renewing members of our organization.  

For one day, May 30, all Escapees RV Club memberships are discounted $10, making them only $29.95 for US residents and $39.95 for those in Canada or Mexico.  If you are an honorably discharged veteran, you are eligible for an additional 5% discount.  Veteran or not, we want everyone to have affordable access to our country's natural treasures.  
All memberships get full access to benefits offered by Escapees, including
  • 15 - 50% discount at partner parks around the country
  • access to our online resources
  • a subscription to Escapees magazine, our award-winning publication
  • access to our Boot Camp, mail service and events
This promotion is only available for memberships purchased online.  For more information on member benefits, and how to sign up for membership, visit our website at http://www.escapees.com/store/join/memorial-day-sale 

We send our thanks to all those who have served our country and defended our freedom which allows us to travel in a free and beautiful country.  Have a safe and wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

RV Park Review–Springhill Park (Fort Smith, Arkansas)

Website:   Springhill Park
Location:  1700 Lock and Dam Road, Barling, Arkansas 72923
Date:         March 2016
Price:        $20/night ($10/night for Golden Age Pass holders) + tax

Springhill Park in Fort Smith is yet another great U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground and recreation area.  We are huge fans of Corps parks for numerous reasons and this one did not disappoint.  The campground is set among tall trees adjacent to the John Paul Hammerschmidt Lake and James W. Trimble Lock and Dam of the Arkansas River.  The park is located in Barling, Arkansas which is just a short drive from downtown Fort Smith.  The area offers plenty of sights to see (especially for history buffs) and interesting things to do.
The campground is open year-round.  Campsites can be booked on-line at recreation.gov except during the off-season (Nov - Feb) when all sites are walk-in.

Site information:192

The park has 44 total sites divided into two loops – one with 30 amp electric (A loop) and the other with 50 amp (B loop).  Water is available at some sites and at the centrally-located dump station.  Finding out which sites have water on recreation.gov is a bit confusing.  When looking at the “site list” page you will notice no sites have water listed as an “amenity” but it does list the electric.  To find out if a site has water, click on the link for specific details of a particular site and it will indicate if there is water hook ups.   

All sites and roads are paved and easy to navigate in a big rig.  Many sites are very long with only eleven sites being less than 45’ in length (and only seven under 40’).  One major downside of this park is that only about half the sites (in Loop B) were not flat enough for us to get level without having the wheels off the ground.  Smaller RVs or trailers that use blocks instead of automatic leveling jacks should be able to get level.


All sites have a picnic table and fire pit.  The sites in A Loop (pictured below) have a paved parking space adjacent to the paved RV pad.  Campsites are closer together and have fewer trees creating a more open feel than in the B Loop but do back-up to a small pond that makes for a nice view. 


We stayed in site B1 and loved the privacy and tall trees surrounding the site and the large grassy field next to us. 

Sites B9 and B11 have great views of the water and offer plenty of room between you and your neighbor while others are tucked nicely into the trees. 


The patios in B Loop (pictured to the right) have a concrete patio on a cement pad.  Most of the patios are located at the back of the campsite. 

181We picked up roughly 15 television channels (including the three major networks) with our antenna.  Trees may prevent you from getting satellite if your dish is fixed on the roof.


Located in both loops are a a bath/shower building (which were very clean), playground, and pavilion.  There are hiking/mountain biking trails that leave from the campground.  Mountain biking is a big deal here and there is a 10-mile "fast" trail where experienced bikers race frequently.  Other amenities include basketball courts, boat launch and picnic pavilions.


Surrounding area:

The park is a few miles from Fort Smith proper and about eight miles to downtown attractions including the National Historical Park.  Within two miles are a few restaurants, gas station, and a super Walmart is less than four miles away.  The area immediately surrounding the park is a nice part of town that felt safe to us. 

For more information on the area click here to read our blog post. 

What we liked:

We loved the feel of this park with well-spaced sites, a nice wooded setting and a site with the amenities of electric, water, and a pavement.  The location was great to downtown Fort Smith so you didn’t feel isolated if you wanted to go sight-seeing, out to eat, or shopping.  Being right on the lake meant we could easily go kayaking or fishing and there were plenty of places to walk throughout the property.  Access to the park is easy and manageable for a big-rig towing a car.  The price $20/night (or $10 for senior pass holders) is quite the deal. 

What we didn’t like:

The park would have been great if there was sewer at the site but we loved it anyway and would definitely stay here again.  The other ding this park gets is the fact that so many sites are unlevel.

Spirits two cents:

This park is good for dogs as there is plenty of room to walk them within the campground and on the trails.  She did swim at the boat launch which is always a plus for her and she would give this park high ratings.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rally Time!

Have you ever attended an RV rally?  Curious about what goes on at one? 

These events take on all variations of names whether it is called a “Rally” or “Get-togethers” or some other name, there are all types.  Some are sponsored by national RV clubs like Good Sam, Escapees, and Family Motorcoach Association while others are sponsored by RV manufacturers.  Most rallys have planned activities and entertainment, offer informational seminars, showcase new RVs and camping gear, and are a great way to meet other RV enthusiasts.  They may focus on a certain RV type or brand or on a membership organization.

We recently attended our second motorhome rally and had such a great time we thought it was definitely something we needed to share with you all.  (Click here for a blog post about our first rally.)   The recent rally we attended was put on by our coach manufacturer, Entegra Coach, one of the motorized division of Jayco Corp.  The event was called “Spring Fest” and was the kick-off of a series of year-long rallys spread across the country in interesting and fun places like Big Sky Montana, Pigeon Forge Tennessee, Las Vegas Nevada, and more.  Spring Fest also served as the official preview of the 2017 Entegra line of coaches … which was just one of many wow factors this event delivered.


The rally was four days of jam packed informational seminars, fun outings (including an in-depth tour of the factory), service calls for repairs, driving sessions, catered meals, special dinners, and great camaraderie with other Entegra Coach owners and many Entegra staff.  The rally was held just down the road from Entegra’s home (Middlebury, Indiana) in the famed RV Capital of the World – Elkhart, Indiana and the turnout was great with over 80 coaches coming to the party! 

Monday afternoon kicked off the event with registration, a little shopping for Entegra goods, and a sign-up for repairs or service work to be done on-site while at the rally.  Later that evening was a dessert reception (with open bar), time to mix and mingle, and capped off with a trivia game.  Luckily, we sat at a table with trivia buffs and pulled off the win which scored our table some amazing prizes.  Gift prizes for each couple at our table were awarded and, to our amazement, we scored a $100 gift card!  We were thrilled, although keys to a new Entegra Cornerstone would have been welcomed too (Ha, Ha!).


The mornings of the next two days were all about learning.  Each morning started with a hot catered breakfast and coffee to wake us up followed by four hours of absorbing all the knowledge we could about the intricate parts of Entegra Coaches from the chassis to the cook-top to the Aqua-Hot water and heat systems to more.  The seminars and question sessions were very informative to us and we learned a lot about detailed aspects of our coach, how they worked, and maintenance requirements.  It was like having the coachs’ manual explained to us.

After lunch, the afternoons had us out and about visiting museums, taking a tour of the impressive factory, test driving a 2017 coach, and shopping in the local area.  But when the sun started to set the day was not over.  Some amazing events were in store and Entegra went all out.  The first evening was a fancy gala at the RV/MH Museum Hall of Fame. 
The event really demonstrated Entegra’s and their parent company, Jayco’s, commitment to their customers with so many staff members attending from all reaches of the company.  Chairman of the Board, Directors of Customer Service, Vice President of New Product Development, Service Operations Manager, and more.  There were more directors there than at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles which really impressed us.  The nice thing about the event is that one of these directors, vice-presidents and other higher-ups sat at each table which we found really fostered a dialogue between customer and company.  Part of this family-like feeling stems from the fact that Jayco is the largest family-owned and operated RV manufacturer in the world.  We sat with Jason Bontrager (Director of Delivery Services and grandson of the company’s founder) and his wife.  They were charming and interested in what we as customers had to say about their product.  

The star of the gala was the unveiling of the 2017 impressive line of coaches which had some people placing orders and certainly peaked our interest.   They do look pretty cool at night all lit up with their bling.


The second night was a roaring 20’s themed event complete with flapper dancers to entertain, lessons in the Charleston, and a scattering of gambling tables ready for you to try your luck with the poker chips they provided.  And, of course an amazing meal. 


The final day was one of the most important from a customer standpoint – a suggestion session.  Entegra owners spoke freely and constructively about changes they would like to see made to better Entegra coaches.  While many times these situations turn into the feeling like nobody is listening (or just a complaint session) this one was different.  Numerous staff were on hand to record the suggestions and relay what has been tried in the past and what future changes are already in store.  We found out there are some very good design and engineering reasons as to why some requested changes are not easy to make.  We left with the solid impression that Entegra wants to build coaches for their customers.

Entegra Coach continues to impress us with their commitment to service and striving to be a leader in motorhome quality and technology.  The 2017 models feature technological advancement like blind spot monitoring and collision avoidance, Vegatouch integrated pad systems which let you control and monitor your coach in one location, and the only manufacturer to offer a 2-year warranty.  Their commitment to providing an amazing coach, phenomenal customer service, and a dynamic approach to innovation and change that has made us loyal owners.  This rally was just one more way that they showed a commitment to the customer.  The four-day event with food and drinks, camping costs, seminars, entertainment and excursions was only $150.  What a bargain!  584

For you who may be considering buying an Entegra Coach or just wanting to learn more about the product, we encourage you to attend one of these rallys as there are some that are open to non-Entegra owners.  You will have the opportunity to learn about the coach firsthand from the manufacturer and talk to other owners.  But, BEWARE!  There is no better salesperson than a satisfied Entegra owner and you will be surrounded by a lot of them. 

We had a great time at the rally and so glad our friends Rob and Linda (of My Quantum Discovery blog) were there and it was super nice to meet so many great Entegra owners.  Definitely looking forward to attending another rally. 


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Fort Smith, Arkansas

Our trek through Arkansas ended in a special place for me that I have been going to for years – Fort Smith.  My mom was born and raised in Fort Smith and my dad lived there for a short time as a boy (it is also the place where their lives crossed paths which led to marriage years later).  Summers and holidays were spent visiting my grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and a massive extended family.  There was always family dropping in to say hi or we were off to see relatives (including great-grand parents).  Ahh yes, it was the good ole’ south where large family get-togethers were common and the place to share plenty of laughs over way too much food.   

So Betsy and I set our spring travel sites on Fort Smith for a visit over Easter weekend.  The years since my childhood have changed many things.  Sadly that includes the passing of my grandma, grandpa, and most recently, my Uncle John.  Like in the past, we took a drive to my grandparents old house. The house holds many childhood memories of dogs and cats, climbing trees, games in the yard, multiple trips down the slide, the smells of a Thanksgiving turkey roasting, and having lots of family around.  Sadly, the house now stands vacant and ready to be sold.  Another chapter closes.

We parked at a great Army Corps of Engineers campground just a short drive from my relatives' houses.  The sites were 070awell-spaced, in a beautiful setting along the Arkansas River, and very comfortable. 

Now, we were ready to get moving.  My Aunts Jackie and Cindy took us to the quaint town of Van Buren (where Jackie is the Director of the Chamber of Commerce) and to see the Drennen-Scott Historic Site for a look back in time.  John Drennen was a clever business man with an extended web of enterprises.  His life as a plantation owner, bank trustee, merchant, Indian Agent, and other assorted professions brought fortune and made him an influential man in the area. 

The Drennen-Scott Historic Site opened its doors to the public in 2011 with the help of $5.2 million dollars and six years.  The house dates back to 1838 and was occupied by family members until 2005 when it was purchased by the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.  Today, the house proudly stands as a “working laboratory” for university students.  The restoration brings to life the character of the house by saving an astounding 1,000 original items and some 100 pieces of furniture.  We were given a guided tour by a very knowledgeable volunteer whose passion made for an interesting and informative tour. 


Often we find ourselves in town visitor centers but there is something unique about Fort Smith's – it’s housed in a former brothel (and the first one to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places).  Don’t let the official name of the establishment, the “River Front Hotel,” fool you as this lively establishment was known simply as “Miss Laura’s Social Club.”  Fort Smith seems to enjoy playing up their colorful past.  After all, the visitor center brochure bares the slogan “Our Brothel Still Takes Care of Visitors!”  At the turn of the century, Fort Smith was a wild and raucous border town where cowboys, outlaws, pioneers, Indians and all sorts passed through.  Add a railroad to the mix and what better location than this for a red light district filled with brothels?  Today, the fully restored building serves as a Fort Smith information center and a link to the past.  Volunteers offer guided tours throughout the house and tell the shady details of what happened at Miss Laura’s.


A short drive away is the National Cemetery which serves as a beautiful resting place for veterans and their families. 

One of the notable persons buried in the cemetery is Judge Isaac C. Parker also known as “The Hanging Judge.”  Parker was appointed by President Grant as United States District Judge of the western district of Arkansas which was no easy task at the time.  Fort Smith played an important role in the expansion and development of the United States. By the early 19th century more and more white settlers were moving into the newly acquired territory that came with the Louisiana Purchase of 1805.  White settlers moving into Native Americans' territory meant competition for resources and space and increased tensions.  To ensure the safety of settlers and keep the peace, the U.S. Army established a string of military posts along the western frontier of which Fort Smith was the first and westernmost of these.  It was Parker’s responsibility to uphold the law and see that justice prevailed.  He heard over 13,000 cases and sentenced 160 people to die (of which only 70 faced the gallows).  Parker’s reputation as the hanging judge is a bit of unfair labeling.  Parker believed in rehabilitation, reformed criminal justice, and advocated for the rights of Native Americans but his reputation was overshadowed by the hangings.

The story of Judge Parker and more of the Fort Smith's history play out at the Fort Smith National Historical Site.  Here a representation of the stark gallows still stand prominently on the complex.  The visitor center offers an orientation film, extensive exhibits, and expansive grounds which tell more of Fort Smith’s history. 


Not too far from downtown is another place where history was made.  The barber shop at Fort Chaffee where Elvis got his GI military haircut.  Oh, you know we had to check that out!  The building is restored to its 1958 condition where thousands of U.S. Army enlistees received their signature army buzz cut.  There is also a historical museum with photos and artifacts documenting the 70-year history of Fort Chaffee – a base that was used by the United States Army to house German prisoners of war, Cuban refugees and relocated Vietnamese citizens. 


We had a great time exploring Fort Smith.  But the best part of our trip was the time we were able to spend with family making new memories.