Category: State Parks

Buccaneer State Park

Saturday, April 30, 2022

I got up early, fixed some coffee and listened to some birds not far away. Although I couldn’t tell what they were, they sounded big. Looking at Google Maps, I saw a big lake or inlet next door. There was also a creek close to my camp. No wonder there were mosquitoes. I drove out of the park, turned right and followed South Railroad Avenue going behind my camp site. There was a train track on the other side of the road. 

The Gulf from South Beach Blvd.

As I slowed down to look at the big estuary, a man got out of his car in front of me. I pulled over behind him, thinking I would take pictures of some egrets or something similar, but there were none. The man started rigging up a fishing rod, so I walked up and asked what he was going to fish for. 

In his mid-sixties, he put a Hula Popper on as he told me he came here every morning for an hour’s fishing while his wife slept. He said he sometimes caught sea trout, flounder, largemouth bass and drum. “OK”, I thought to myself. “I think I’ll hang around and watch.”

This guy was a pro. He had a Daiwa rod and a Japanese reel, braided line and a tippet he tied onto a loop at the end of the line. As we talked, he must have thrown one of two lures  200 times, and never got caught in the grass once. He could throw that thing a long way with a two-handed grip with the lure dangling 2.5 feet below the end of the rod. He knew the currents and the wind, so he threw it past and left of a point. The current would carry the lure right past the point. It was pretty-much high tide, his favorite time to fish.

Fish began jumping to our left and further out. I suggested he needed a boat. “Ahh, I used to have one, but now I’m too old and sore to pull it out. I sold it last year.”  The jumping fish were bait fish trying to escape some predator. Sea gulls cried above, swooping down to capture some. 

Finally, we introduced ourselves. Stephan Champagne (pronounced with Creole accent). He was born and raised in New Orleans, but traveled a lot with business. He worked with the railroad for years, and said this is still a busy line carrying all sorts of goods – whatever someone wanted to have shipped. He worked in Newport News for a while, installing a system for ship building that was a big success. 

Finally he got a hit – a good one. He had switched to some 2.5” topwater crawler he gave me the name of, but I no longer remember. It was a very nice trout. He quickly dispatched it with a knife to the spinal cord and threw it into a cooler. “Dinner”, he said with a smile. He said he preferred topwater lures. “It’s just more fun.” 

After a few more casts, he looked at his watch. His wife would be getting up, so he started packing up, and we said our goodbyes. I enjoyed my morning with Stephan, and I think he liked having some company. I liked his stories as well as watching an expert fish. He talked about his 40’ mahgany trawler he bought and restored. He and his wife enjoyed traveling in it for about 7 years before he got tired of throwing money at it.

I stood looking at this pretty piece of water, imagining a nice fishing kayak, maybe one you power with your feet. Maybe I could get to the other side where all the fish seemed to be. Then again, maybe Stephan was right. Drive up, throw lures for an hour in the early morning, watch the gulls and maybe take a nice fish home for dinner.

Driving to New Orleans

April 28, 2022

Next week I am doing a 5-day photography/cultural workshop with Mark Zablotsky Photography in New Orleans. Mark lived in New Orleans for two years while doing his Periodontics residency in the 80’s, and he has been back many times for continuing education. 

I could have flown down, but didn’t want to, or I could have taken the train, which I strongly considered. It would have been cheaper than driving if I didn’t get a sleeper. A sleeper pushed the price to $507, so I opted to drive.

I thought about taking the Airstream, but a hotel is included in the price of the course. In my many campground stays, I have often wondered what it is like to stay in cabins or tents that are so often in campgrounds. They seem rather under-utilized, so I thought I would give them a go. 

Sweetwater, Tennessee is an hour short of half way to New Orleans. Actually I thought it was half way, but I didn’t factor in the time change, which happens just east of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I had booked a small cabin at Sweetwater KOA, not far off I75. The costs are about $77 without plumbing and $110 with plumbing. I thought I would try it without plumbing, which means no sink or shower, but I would later learn there is a faucet in front of the cabin.

It’s a bit like camping with the trailer, using the bathroom for showers etc, but in the middle of the night, the treck to the bathroom is cumbersome. Cooking is more like camping with a tent. All in all, it was a nice little cabin, and I slept well.

I liked the little reading light
The cabin was called Dolly

I chatted a while with the owner of this beautiful camper that isn’t made any more.

I was up and out early, but I had to go into town for gas and DEF. I went into Skinner Auto Parts Store at 7:00 and it was hopping. Sweetwater is a town of 6300, but looks smaller. I think everyone was in the auto parts store, and they all knew each other. A nice man behind the counter asked what I was looking for, and he pointed to the DEF right by the front door. He greeted two others by name before pointing to the Diesel Clean on aisle 10. After I paid he carried two containers of DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) out to the truck, set them down and said goodbye. Two small groups were talking in the parking lot. A donut shop next door caught my attention, so after filling the DEF tank, I went over and got a couple of donuts and coffee. I think it was the owner sitting at a table who thanked me as I walked out. What a nice, little town.

Sweetwater, Tennessee

Back on I75, traffic was busy on this Friday. Chattanooga was busy, but Birmingham was more busy with road construction making things come to a complete stop several times. By the time I got to I59, things got less hectic. I pulled into Buccaneer State Park at 5:15. A young man showed me to my Tentrr and wished me well.

I had visions of exotic tents I had seen pictures of in Africa, but it wasn’t exotic. It was a nice tent on a wooden platform with two chairs out front. Like the KOA cabin, there was a bed inside and a picnic table and fire pit outside. 

I went out of the park, along the gulf coast and turned toward Waveland and went into Da Kitchen Too restaurant. It was rated a 4.3, and I envisioned home-style black cooking. It was not. It was hopping on Friday night, and the all-white staff couldn’t keep up. A young girl pointed me to the refrigerated cabinets to get my own beer. The food wasn’t worth waiting for.

At my Tentrr, I poured a glass of wine, and started to relax when the mosquitoes came out. I retreated inside the tent. Tired from two days of driving, I went to sleep early. I vaguely heard a train horn in the distance. It progressively got louder until I thought it was coming through the middle of the tent! I could feel the rumbling of the train. I sat right up, trying to remember if there was a train track coming through camp. Fortunately it rumbled on by and I went back to sleep. Two more times trains came by in the night.

Betz-Tiger Point Preserve

We have spent several days exploring reserves, preserves and state parks north of Jacksonville, and there are a bunch. There was Pumpkin Hill on Pumpkin Hill Creek, Cedar Creek and Betz-Tiger Preserve. These are on Pumpkin Hill Creek, so there are various kayak/boat launches. We have wandered roads and walked trails. What we discovered is there are some wonderful horse trails in this area. It would also be fun to kayak. It’s good to be alert when walking trails in Florida. I’m also sure there is some great fishing if you know what you are doing. In the evening Sandra fixed a great dinner of Chicken Picata, asparagas, salad and a nice bread 😊

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

Just east of Jacksonville, Florida is Kathryn Abbey Hanna State Park is an unusual spot. To its north is Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. In fact there are many reserves to the north and west. There is so much water in this area, it boggles the mind – Back River, St. John’s River, Pumpkin Hill Creek, Clapboard Creek, Trout River, Ribauld River and more. We went exploring some of these reserves, but they are so vast, one could spend a lifetime exploring all the waterways. But then, as often happens, the best was right in our back yard – in Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, a great blend of beautiful beach on one side and a number of lakes on the other, where birds and alligators abound. While Martha, Ruff and Sandra took a Tuk Tuk tour of Jacksonville, I explored Kathryn Hanna.

Anhinga

Anastasia State Park

It’s next to impossible to get a campsite in Anastasia State Park to the east of St. Augustine. Only Jane B knows how to get it done! Although we love North Beach Campground, we drove over to Anastasia to check it out. The campground is excellent, and there are two main attractions – the beach and a big lake. It is also nice being close to St. Augustine. We went for a long walk on the huge, flat, peaceful beautiful beach, where there are no houses or hotels for four miles. The alternate mode of travel was the bicycle, or even better, an electric bike with fat tires. This is one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. I can’t imagine what it is like in warmer months.

On the way back to town, I stopped at a car wash and washed my filthy truck. We stopped at Ace Hardware for a new thermometer for the outside of the trailer. Then we met Sandra and Ruff at O’Steen’s Restaurant for lunch. We have eaten there before, and it is truly unique. They are always busy, with lines outside. We checked in and sat on the bench outside. I asked a fellow, who looked the part, which bike was his. He said the red one. It’s bike week, and they had enjoyed the ride up from Daytona for lunch at O’Steen’s. I sat next to a young man who rode a different kind of bike – a bicycle – with his grandfather. Four ladies were dressed nicely and had obviously been here many times before, as the the lady keeping track of the line knew their names. We were still sitting when they came out from having their lunch, toting little leftover boxes. I offered to buy one, but got no takers.

From last year

After serious study and debate, we all ordered the lightly battered and butterflied shrimp. They also have great vegetables and hush puppies. It’s where we learned about Datil sauce, made from local Datil peppers.They are great shrimp! Great service, great food at a good price. It’s on my favorites list.

9) Where someone is always being blessed”

Tomoka State Park, Florida

We drove east across Florida from Manatee Springs State Park to Tomoka State Park, passing near beautiful Ocala. It’s like Lexington, Kentucky, with gorgeous horse farms. This is the height of show season, and big horse trailers were traveling to events. Tomoka sits between Orlando and Jacksonville, just north of Daytona Beach and south of Flagler Beach. It is a very nice state park with well-protected campsites and sand roads. The Tomoka River runs through the middle of it, providing a great place to kayak.

We have never been to this park, so we drove around exploring “The Scenic Trail Loop”. It is certainly scenic. It was Bike Week, so lots or Harleys were also driving the loop, mixed in with local travelers. I came to a frantic stop at Boardman Pond, a beautiful spot on the Halifax River. I grabbed my camera, tripod and walked back up the busy road, and for 40 frightening minutes took a hundred pictures of ducks, little blue herons, big blue herons and great egrets as cars whizzed by a few feet behind us. It’s a dangerous place to shoot, but would prove to be the best of the trip. I would later learn there is a viewing platform on the other side, but we would not see so much at that location.

Little blue heron

We drove over to Ormond Beach and went into Hull’s Seafood Market, maybe the best we have ever been into and bought a big Tripple Tail filet to grill over the fire. After lunch, we put the kayaks in and paddled Tomoka River for an hour or so. In the middle of the float, I was surprised by my phone ringing. It was Nick from The Apple Core. I find it difficult to understand people on a cell phone in perfect conditions, but with the wind blowing in my ears, I could barely make out what he was saying. He said he need to replace some chips and a board, that cost $450. The labor would bring it up to $920, and did I want to go ahead? “Yes, go ahead Nick.” That was an expensive bottle of wine!

Manatee Springs State Park

This is the second time we have been to Manatee Springs, and we will be back! The campground is excellent and the springs and boardwalk are very cool. It is a short stream from the springs to the lovely Suwannee River, but don’t underestimate it. Depending on the time you come, there will be opportunities to see a large variety of wildlife. This site lists 179 species of birds sighted: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L127260. Of course, there are manatees which we were fortunate to see. This is a place for kayaking, swimming, picnicking, hiking and diving, so it is a popular spot.

We hiked a beautiful trail through the park, then went to dinner at Suwannee Belle Landing, a very good restaurant on the river. Using a shuttle service to take us up stream, we kayaked the Suwannee for two hours down to the springs. I wasn’t too excited about floating what seemed to be a docile river with little wildlife, so I didn’t take a camera. As luck would have it, I was once again proven wrong. The Suwanee is a beautiful river teeming with wildlife. We watched 50 Ibis fly into the trees, herons along the edges of the river, fish jumping, black vultures migrating and a tree full of wood storks. Sometimes it’s nice just to float along and enjoy the ride! Next time we will take a longer float and take the camera.

Suwanee River at dusk
Belle Landing
Alligator tacos
Key lime pie

Grayson Highlands State Park

Tuesday, October 18, 2021

Preparing for the trip to Grayson Highlands, I turned on the propane and started the refrigerator in the Airstream. Luckily, I went back for something and smelled smoke. Checking the refrigerator vent, I saw smoke coming out and quickly turned it off. I already have a leaking water tank – now what? A couple of hours later I turned it back on with the same result – smoking. OK, without fresh water or a refrigerator, what should we do? We decided to load the groceries in my big Pelican cooler and carry a case of bottled water. We might have been OK without water, because the campground has full hookups, but they have cut off the water at campsites due to drought.

I read up on a smoking refrigerator on Airforums, and there were several suggestions. One was to blow out the tube leading to the stack. Two – clean the stack by banging on it. Three – remove the refrigerator and clean the stack. Four – buy a new refrigerator for $1,500 – $2,000. Before leaving at 10:00, I blew out the tube with canned air. Three stink bugs came out. The refrigerator would not work on electric, so I opened the cover to the circuit board and removed 15 more stink bugs! Still wouldn’t work on electric, so I changed a small glass fuse. Still didn’t work on electric. I banged on the stack and more stink bugs fell out. I think the smoke was coming from roasted stink bugs. I then fired up the refrigerator on propane – no smoke 😀. I didn’t want to travel four hours with it on, so I turned it off and would fire it back up when we got there, keeping a close eye on it.

Description

Elevation: 3853 ft.

The extensive 4800-acre Grayson Highlands State Park provides any nature enthusiast premier wildlife watching potential within the mountain range home to Virginia’s highest peak, Mount Rogers. The park offers camping, picnicking, overnight horse stables, a visitor center, hiking trails, and access to the Appalachian Trail. The Rhododendron Trail can be accessed from Massie Gap in the park. Hiking along the summit of Wilburn Ridge can produce spectacular cliffside views. This trail connects to the Rhododendron Trail. The Rhododendron Trail then forks to lead into either the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail or the Appalachian Trail to Mt. Rogers (not accessible by horses).
Habitats within the park range from open meadows, northern hardwoods, rocky outcrops, rhododendron thickets, sphagnum bogs, grazed pastures, Fraser fir groves, and red spruce forests. Nine trails originate within the park, but several of these connect to the extensive trail networks of Mount Rogers National Recreational Area and the Appalachian Trail. Mountain hikers should note that the least strenuous and shortest hiking trail, at 4.2 miles to the summit of Mount Rogers, originates at Massie Gap within this park. Sullivan’s Swamp can be accessed from Massie Gap, as well. This rhododendron bog holds many unique treasures, occasionally including alder and willow flycatchers.
Wildlife watching in this park can be rewarding any time of the year. In addition to eastern hardwood breeders such as wood thrush, ovenbird and black-and-white warbler, in summer, visitors can look for nesting songbirds typical of high-elevation forests, such as black-throated blue, black-throated green, Canada, and chestnut-sided warblers, as well as scarlet tanager and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Spring and fall visits can produce a copious number of migratory warblers, thrushes, and vireos. This park is also home to a large diversity of other wildlife as well. Visitors should keep an eye out for black bear, bobcat, red fox, ruffed grouse, deer, and wild turkey. Salamanders can be plentiful, and this is one of the few regions where Weller’s salamander can be found.

We met our friends, Ruff and Sandra, Tuesday afternoon for a three-night stay in Grayson Highlands. They have a new camper, and were worried about pulling it up the mountain with their Honda Pilot, but they had no trouble. We enjoyed an evening by the fire catching up on the latest happenings.

Each morning I went down to the overlook for sunrise. With colors about peak, it was beautiful.

Martha and I hiked the Cabin Creek Trail the first morning. It is listed as strenuous, but really isn’t too bad unless you hike up Cabin Creek, which we did. This section of Cabin Creek is a tremendous series of waterfalls, all of which are pretty.

The next day we all hiked up Massie’s Gap Trail to see the ponies that remain wild here. We then walked up the Appalachian Trail south to the park boundary. A ranger at check-in said we would find horses there, and sure enough, three were there. A photographer was coming down and said there was a great overlook ahead, but it was socked in with fog. I love fog, as it often makes cool pictures, but I have recently had a fog overdose.

Sunrise at the overlook the next morning was cool with the clouds.

Martha’s chicken black beans and rice skillet dinner
Campground store
Shower house and Pepsi
Wayne Henderson is a highly sought-after guitar maker lives nearby
Visitor’s Center
Visitor’s Centter

We have barely scratched the surface of Grayson Highlands and will surely return. Happily, the refrigerator worked fine on propane, although not on electric. It might require a new circuit board, but I’ll read more on Airforums.

Grandview/Little Beaver Lake

Sunday, October 9, 2021

“Grandview is a peaceful place to relax and unwind while enjoying outstanding views of the New River. From 1400 feet above the river at Main Overlook, visitors are rewarded with one of the most outstanding views in the park. On a clear day you can see directly into the heart of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, including seven miles of the New River and its watershed. From Main Overlook visitors can also get a glimpse of some of the gorge’s unique cultural history. From here you see an active railway and the town of Quinnimont, where the first coal was shipped out of the gorge in 1873. Don’t miss the views from Turkey Spur Overlook, and be sure to walk the woodland trails.

Grandview is a great place to see the spectacular displays of Catawba rhododendrons that bloom here every spring. The purple Catawba rhododendrons bloom in mid May, while the white great rhododendrons bloom in July. The exact bloom times are not always consistent year to year, so check with a ranger at one of our visitor centers or check our facebook page for updates. 

The Grandview section of the park includes overlooks of the New River, a visitor center (open seasonally), five hiking trails, ranger-led walks and talks, summer outdoor dramas, and picnic areas with playgrounds. Information about renting picnic shelters at Grandview can be found on the Permits and Reservations page of this website. Grandview is home to Theatre West Virginia, which features outdoor drama presentations from June through August.

Grandview was originally a part of the West Virginia State Park system. In 1939, the state of West Virginia purchased 52 acres of land at Grandview to develop a day use park. The Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, shelters, and a picnic area, all still in use today. Construction began in 1960 on the 1200-seat Cliffside Amphitheater. The children’s playgrounds, recreation area, and additional walkways were built from 1961 to 1964. After more than 50 years as one of West Virginia’s most popular state parks, Grandview was transferred to the National Park Service in 1990.

Directions

To reach Grandview from Beckley follow I-64 East five miles to Exit 129 B. From Lewisburg follow I-64 West forty miles to Exit 129. From either exit, turn right and follow Route 9 North six miles to Grandview.” from: https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/grandview.htm.

It sometimes looks like this:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573575702516450754/

butt what we found was:

Off we went to Little Beaver Lake, trying to get there before the sun got too high and the winds picked up. It is a beautiful, little lake, complete with campground and state park. “With 562-acres, Little Beaver State Park offers family fun, beautiful scenery and incredible outdoor recreation. The park features nearly 20 miles of trails to explore and an 18-acre lake where anglers may fish year-round. Stand up paddle board, kayak, canoe and paddleboat rentals are available seasonally. Park visitors can also enjoy biking, picnicking and camping at Little Beaver.” from: https://wvstateparks.com/park/little-beaver-state-park/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_Lfxn_Ho8wIVHR-tBh1ZbAOeEAAYASAAEgJr3vD_BwE.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

Friday, October 8, 2021

I am on a great photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring some of the best places in West Virginia. Babcock State Park is another great park in West Virginia encompassing 4,700 acres and abuts the New River National Park. With miles of hiking trails, cabins, campgrounds, a lake, swimming and sports facilities, it has a lot to offer. The major photographic attraction is Glade Creek Grist Mill, “one of the most photographed images in the world.” (https://wvstateparks.com/glade-creek-grist-mill-babcock/).

Patchwork quilt of mills

Milling is an occupation that died in the 1950s but nostalgia brought it back. The Glade Creek Grist Mill, built in 1976, serves as tribute to the hundreds of mills that once dotted the landscape in West Virginia. 

It’s a replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that was located nearby, according to Stephen Tyree, the miller at Glade Creek.

“It’s the most photographed mill in the United States and it’s world renowned,” Tyree said, noting that the mill receives thousands of visitors each year from as far away as Europe and Asia.

Although it’s a relatively new mill, Glade Creek is a patchwork quilt of sorts, built with parts salvaged from much older mills that had ceased operation. Its main structure came from Stoney Creek Grist Mill in Pocahontas County, the water wheel came from Spring Run Grist Mill in Grant County and other parts came from Onego Grist Mill in Pendleton County.

Learning by doing

Tyree began working at the mill as a college student. He had applied to be the park naturalist but jumped when he was offered the job as miller. Having no experience was no deterrent for the determined man.

“I learned by doing,” he said. He ordered a textbook to use as a guide as he learned his way around operating the mill, and he’s happy to share his knowledge with the guests at Babcock.

The milling process begins by pouring dried, shelled corn into the hopper—the receptacle above the grindstone. Outside, a sluice gate controls the water flow from Glade Creek, turning the water wheel and setting in motion the gears that operate the 900 lb. grindstone. As the ground corn falls from the grain spout it’s filtered through a mesh screen, where the miller or his assistants use a bolting hammer to separate out the cornmeal.

But there’s one more step. Even if the customer brought his or her own corn to grind, the miller gets his cut. 

“This is his toll,” Tyree said, brandishing a flat wooden paddle and raking it through the cornmeal. Whatever amount fits on the paddle—typically 8% to 10% of the haul—he gets to keep as his charge for grinding the corn.

If customers didn’t bring their own corn, they could still buy cornmeal from the mill, he added. But in these instances, money rarely changed hands. 

“Back in the olden days, most people bartered because they didn’t have money,” Tyree said. “They’d trade milk, butter, eggs, vegetables, nails, lumber … whatever they had, for a sack of cornmeal.” (https://wvstateparks.com/glade-creek-grist-mill-babcock/)

We visited this area twice, once in the evening, and then the next morning. Mark hurried us along for the morning shoot. Although it was still too dark to shoot, I hurried along, and I realized why. Being such a popular spot for photographers, they were soon lined up. I was having trouble keeping my camera steady as I tilted it over to get a vertical shot. Mark had been telling me I needed a more stable tripod and ball head. Now I could see why. Yesterday, I had knocked my lens back to proper shape after dropping it at Cooper’s Rock. I broke my lens hood and dented the area where you screw on a filter, and a filter was an essential item for this shoot. After hammering, I was able to restore its circular shape, but I spilled some crud from my tools onto the lens. If I wiped it off, I would scratch the glass. I tried to blow it off, but that didn’t work well either, so I ran it under water. I was able to safely clean the lens, but now there was some condensation on the lens. Apparently some water got inside the lens. Fortunately, Kevin was using a Nikon camera, and he graciously lent me his lens after he finished. Whew! I then got out of the way, so others could get their shots.

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