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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

RV Park Review–T.O. Fuller State Park (Memphis, Tennessee)

Website:    T.O. Fuller State Park
Location:   1500 W Mitchell Rd, Memphis, TN 38109
Date:         March 2016
Price:         $20/night + $5 reservation fee (25-50% various discounts apply)

Site:           #5


We stayed at this park for one night because it was the mid-way point on our trip from Alabama to Arkansas.  Additional factors in selecting this park were that it was in a fairly convenient location to I-55 (5 1/2 miles), a great price ($16/night with senior discount), and a state park with trails and plenty of green space.  The state park is 1,138 acres and offers plenty of recreational activities including hiking, an Olympic-size pool, basketball court, tennis courts, ranger-led programs, picnic pavilions, a playground, and a cultural center displaying artifacts found on the property.  (Note: most of these are not located in the campground but other parts of the park.)

This was the first state park east of the Mississippi River open to African Americans.  Originally designated as the Shelby County Negro State Park in 1938, the name was later changed to honor Dr. T.O. Fuller who spent his life empowering and educating African Americans.  Park facilities were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and while excavating an area they unearthed a prehistoric village that is now interpreted in the Chucalissa Indian Village Museum and located onsite.

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Site Description:

Park roads are paved and wide enough for any size RV to navigate.  Sites are paved with gravel patios containing picnic tables, BBQ grill, and fire pits.  There are a mix of pull-thrus and back-in sites of varying lengths (some of which claim to be 80 – 90 feet) which can be reserved on-line for up to 14 days.  Many back-in sites were longer than the pull-thrus.  About half of the sites are on a slight incline that we would consider unlevel.

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Our site (#5) was a pull-thru claiming to be 61 feet but was slightly short for our 45’ RV and tow car.   Luckily, we could pull forward enough into the road so we didn’t have to unhitch. If you are towing a trailer and don’t mind backing-in there are lots of options for long sites.  Check their webpage for details about each site including approximate length, width, and grade which may or may not be accurate.  There are also pictures of each site.

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Sites have electric (30 and 50 amp) and water that are easy to reach.  A dump station is located as you exit the park and is easy to navigate in and out of. 

We were able to get 20-25 channels with our antenna.  Our Verizon hotspot and 4G phone worked well. 

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Amenities: 

There are not too many amenities in the campground itself except a playground, restroom/showers, and laundry with free ice.  When I tried to go into the laundry room around 8:30 am it was locked so I can’t attest to how clean it was.  In other parts of the park are the Chucalissa museum (which you can get free tickets to when checking in), a swimming pool, hiking trails, picnic areas and tennis/basketball courts.

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Surrounding area:

The park is located on the south side of Memphis in a pretty run-down part of town which is very obvious if you approach from Route 61 (exit 7 off I-55) where you pass pawn shops, liquor stores, and dollar stores.  The other way to approach the park is from Paul Lowery Road (exit 9 off I-55) where you drive through an industrial part of town which leaves you with a totally different impression.  While there are gas stations, restaurants, and various shops within 3-4 miles of the park, we probably would not patronize them.  The park is located just 5 miles from Graceland and 10 miles from Beale Street and the downtown action so from that perspective, the location is decent.

What we liked: 

At $16/night (with senior discount) it was a great deal for a water/electric site for one night.  It was convenient to the interstate but you did not get road noise.  The park is large with lots of roads and trails for hiking or dog walking.

What we didn’t like:

The surrounding neighborhood made us feel a little uncomfortable as it was a pretty shady side of town.  Let’s just say the southside of Memphis does not appear to be that desirable.  While there is a 14-day limit, it appeared some of the people were spending extended periods of time in the park and there were some pretty run-down RV’s, one which was covered by a tarp.  We did notice one tag hanging on a site that was issued for more than 14 days so it may be possible to camp for extended periods of time.  There were hiking trails but we did not go on them because we honestly did not feel comfortable hiking there, especially toward dusk.

There were park rangers that lived on-site in residences nearby the campground that were armed.  While we did feel a little uneasy in the campground there were no incidents that warranted that conclusion - just our own paranoia.  The rangers were very nice at check in and did drive through the campground periodically. 

If passing through this area again, we probably would not stay here because of the uncomfortable feelings we had.   

Spirt’s two cents:

This park is fairly good for dogs with lots of room to walk them on roads through the park and miles of hiking trails. 



Saturday, March 12, 2016

2016 Spring & Summer Travel Plans

Wow, time flies.  March 2016 marks the passing of our fifth year being full-time RVers! 

Hmmm….wait….whatever happened to the “we may do this for a year or two” philosophy?  Many of you full-timers can relate – you get on the road and don’t want to come off.  What started as an exciting plan to “see the country” at a rapid pace has now turned into a comfortable nomadic lifestyle.  Yes, we’ve traded moving spots every four to five days in favor of spending extended time in particular places but we still love having wheels so we can roll our house into new and interesting places.

So as the spring flowers start to bloom, the birds look like they are ready to migrate north, we start thinking about our plans.  Within a week, we will say goodbye to friends, take a final walk on the beach and start our northerly trek. 

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First up, Arkansas.  Arkansas is a state that we have not spent any time in since we have been RVing.  Which is too bad because I have family there and it is a darn beautiful state.  Hot Springs, Fort Smith, Bentonville, and who knows where else will be on the agenda.  Between the natural scenery, soothing waters flowing in historic baths, and museums ranging from a world acclaimed art museum, the home of Walmart, the birth place of Daisy air guns and more our days will be busy.  To make it all the more fun on this leg of our trip we will be traveling with some good friends that recently bought a vintage 1970’s Airstream and are looking for some outdoor camping adventures. 

Moving north, we will stop in St. Louis for a visit with my family.  Early April will have us in Elkhart, Indiana for an Entegra Coach rally and a few days for annual service.  After getting our fill of great Amish food we will meander farther east to our ultimate summer destination – MAINE! 

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Between northern Indiana and Maine our route is unplanned but we may try and drop in on friends and family in that part of the country.  And there is always more exploring to be done in the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

This may come as no surprise to those of you who have been following us for a while but we will spend our summer in Maine!  It may be called the pine tree state but when we are there it is all about the lobster so we’ll start hauling those traps. 
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For the third year we will return to Narrows Too Camping Resort in Trenton (just outside of Bar Harbor) where Betsy will work in the office.  This year I am going to switch things up.  Instead of me working at the campground too, I am going to work as an event chef for Bar Harbor Catering Company. 

No doubt the summer will zoom by as it always does.  There will be plenty of hikes in Acadia National Park, lunches outside on the deck of Thurston’s Lobster Pound watching lobster boats sail in and out of Bass Harbor, pipping hot popovers at the Jordan Pond House, and evening campfires with old friends.  And yes, plenty of trips to the lobster pound in quest of dinner.  Are we lucky or what?! 

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Seaside, Florida

Meet Seaside – the charming coastal town in the Florida panhandle known for its sugar white sand, emerald water, mom-and-pop stores, and laid-back beach vibe. 

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We discovered this idyllic town a dozen or so years ago when we lived in New Orleans.   It was only a five-hour drive from our house and quickly became our go-to vacation spot.  Year after year, we rented cottages, houses, and carriage houses in our quest to escape the haze of work, craziness of Mardi Gras, and to get our beach fix.  Fast forward to 2010 when we bought our motorhome.  We traded in over-priced rental properties for the ease and enjoyment of bringing our house-on-wheels to a gorgeous state park just a mile or so from Seaside where the bill usually totals around $30 a night. 

For RVers wanting to visit Seaside, there are a few camping options.  The closest campground being Grayton Beach State Park (click here for a previous blog post mentioning the campground).  About ten miles away is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park (click here for a park review) and there are a few private options a little farther away.  For you non – RVers, there are thousands of rental units and boutique hotels to lay your head at night.

Downtown Seaside is full of energy and the town square is where it’s at.  Many of the town’s activities revolve around this large green space with an outdoor amphitheater where movies are shown under the stars, music is played as the sun sets, and the farmer’s market tempts your pallate. 

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The Saturday farmer’s market is a favorite of ours where we can browse local goods like honey, meats from nearby Twin Oaks Farm, ice cream from Southern Craft Creamery, and a personal favorite, cruffins from Crust Artisan Bakery – a satiating blend of croissant dough, fruit, and sweetness baked to golden perfection in a muffin pan. 

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Let’s back up a minute and explain the concept and design of Seaside which plays into it’s character and developed it’s soul.  Seaside is a mere 80 acres that lies smack dab between Panama City Beach and Destin but couldn’t be farther apart in personality.  The town is acclaimed world-wide as one of the iconic examples of New Urbanism where a defined town center with shopping and dining are well within walkable distance to homes, cottages and offices. 

In the 80s, developer Robert Davis had a vision for a pleasant, harmonious beachside town and made it happen on a quiet stretch of road called County HWY 30A.  There's a post office in the center of town and all the houses have names.  Green spaces and parks are prominent.  House fronts with inviting porches line these areas where walking paths encourage mingling with passer-bys instead of watching zooming cars.  Less than 300 homes make up this town (many of them available as vacation rentals) and all have a unique picket fence.  The towns streets end in distinctive beach pavilions.  If you are thinking this sounds like the movie the Truman Show then you are right. That's Seaside.

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While you may travel here by plane or car, bicycles are the way to get around in Seaside.  The community is totally walkable/bikeable (in fact, parking shortages and heavy traffic encourage alternate modes of transportation) and easy to access the multiple restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and most importantly the beach. 

A prominent feature in downtown Seaside is the Airstream food court where silver bullets serve up a myriad of food groups sure to please everyone’s pallet in your group.  This strip plays centerpiece to hungry people in search of gourmet hot dogs at Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs, Hawaiian shaved ice at Frosty Bites, healthy organic options at Raw and Juicy, and those looking for a creative take on the grilled cheese at the Meltdown on 30A

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But don’t think those are your only dining options.  For those looking for something a little more upscale with white table clothes and a stunning view check out Fish Out of Water at Watercolor Inn or Bud and Alley’s – a long time establishment named after a dog and cat which serve as the town’s mascots.  If casual is what you want, you are in luck.  Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar serves up a Neapolitan style pie while the Shrimp Shack fulfills your seafood craving. One place that is a must visit for us is Pickles Beachside Grill an open air diner set in the middle of town for great people watching and good food.  My personal favorite are the fried pickles but they make a mean hamburger and breakfast specials like the Hangover Omelette (not that I have ever had one – the hangover I mean). 

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Early risers will find Amavida coffee will satisfy their fix for joe while Great Southern will fill their bellies with their ever-popular Grits a Ya Ya.  After breakfast why not take in some shopping?  For bookworms and music junkies pop into Sundog Books & Central Square Records where you may find you spend more time than you think.  This independently owned joint caters to all whether you are looking for the latest bestseller or a steamy romance novel to entertain your hours spent on the beach.  And step into the The Seaside Style store for a t-shirt bearing the name of your new favorite beach town.

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Modica Market is a town favorite.  This family-owned deli and grocery store are anchored in the center of town. Take a grocery store, shrink it down and stack food and other assorted items floor to ceiling and you have Modica Market.  Gourmet snacks, fresh produce, cheeses, wines, prepared dishes, fresh baked goods, sundries, and all the staples are represented here.  I happen to be a fan of their morning glory muffins which taste great and re-energize me after a morning walk on the beach.
Pitizi’s home furnishings encite dreamy feelings of owning a beach cottage.  The Art of Simple brings together home goods, kitchen gadgets, kitchy decorations, smelly soaps, and cutesy napkins.  Per-spi-cas-ity lures you in with their bright and trendy womens’ wear and jewelry.

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Seaside remains true to its roots.  Architects and developers should be proud that their New Urbanism vision and movement has remained as they envisioned.  There are still no high rises (covenants restrict building height to no more than three stories), no chain restaurants, and it has maintained a clean and simple environment that draws people for those reasons. 

Even on red flag days with dark clouds, Seaside is a pretty, happy place to be.

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