STE3 Hop 8: Cedar Key FL to Sarasota FL

184 miles via FL 24, US 98, I-75 and FL 780. Cumulative tow miles: 1484. Truck miles: 205. Cumulative truck miles: 1975.

STE3 Hop 8

STE3 Hop 8

Our penultimate hop (I love that word!). It was a 3-hour jaunt, the first half on US 98 and the second half on I-75. It is a route we have traveled before and the weather was cloudy with occasional drizzle, so it was mostly a matter of covering the miles while we listened to our audiobook.

But there was one minor incident. At a stoplight in Crystal River a guy in a pickup pulled up next to me, motioned me to roll down my window and informed me that our left rear stop lights were not working. We pulled into a parking lot a few blocks later and checked it out. Sure enough, no brake lights on the left side. I jiggled the umbilical and they came back on. That was a first – running a successful light check before starting but having the lights fail anyway.

Our home in Cedar Key was the Cedar Key RV Resort. This was a very nice medium-sized park with nice landscaping and a LOT of dog owners. Rusty met a lot of canine friends. Our site was a very spacious pull-through at the end of a row, so we had an unobstructed view of woods out our living room window. Good cable TV. Daily pickup of both trash and recyclables. We liked this campground and would return.

I made a quick trip into Cedar Key itself, about 7 miles from the campground. Not very interesting. A nice beachfront town, but ho-hum. I saw nothing there that would make me come back.

STE3 Hop 7: Port Saint Joe FL to Cedar Key FL

STE3 Hop 7

STE3 Hop 7

217 miles via US 98, US 319, FL 345 and FL 24, with a refueling stop. Cumulative tow miles: 1300. Truck miles: 269. Cumulative truck miles: 1770.

Pelicans at sunset

Pelicans at sunset

Usually our refueling stops occur about 150 to 180 miles into the hop. This one occurred 24 miles into the hop. Why? Because the one diesel pump at the one gas station within 5 miles of our Port Saint Joe home was hit by a truck and put out of commission. So I was forced to find a place to refuel while towing the rig. I hate to do that, especially when the route does not include an interstate highway with a large truck stop.

Well, I found a Marathon station in Apalachicola that was actually pretty to get into and out of. The only other problem on the hop was that I thought I took a wrong turn when I got onto US 319 because that road took us due north for about 10 miles. I didn’t recall a northerly jog and figured the GPS was taking us on a longer (but faster) route. It wasn’t. The route did, in fact, include a northerly jog.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and only moderately interesting. But the day was beautiful and the traffic was light, so we traveled mostly under cruise control. I like that.

Our home in Port Saint Joe was Presnell’s Bayside Marina and RV Resort, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. We had a back-in site with unobstructed water views on two sides – arguably the most beautiful view in our 5 years of travel. Would we stay here again? Hell, yeah!

The best thing about that campsite? The view. Particularly the sunset view. I got some wonderful photos.

We dined on our last night in Port Saint Joe at the Sand Bucket, a very laid-back BBQ place just down the road. My pulled pork was very good, but the real star of the meal was the homemade potato chips. Just spectacular.

The view from my sofa

The view from my sofa

Pulled pork basket

Pulled pork basket

The bay in daylight

The bay in daylight

First sunset

First sunset

Our site

Our site

STE3 Hop 6: Orange Beach AL to Port Saint Joe FL

STE3 Hop 6

STE3 Hop 6

176 miles via AL 161, AL 182, FL 292 and US 98. Cumulative tow miles: 1083. Truck miles: 281. Cumulative truck miles: 1501.

Shrimp and grits at The Diner

Shrimp and grits at The Diner

Jett hated this route. I chose it because it was mostly on US 98 which I liked a lot, based on my experience on more southerly sections. It also cut about 40 miles off the route initially suggested by Google. So range was not an issue, but time was – this route was about 4.5 hours long, approximately 15 minutes longer than the suggested route. I decided to take it, knowing that it would have a lot of traffic lights. It certainly did. Jett was just about jumping out of her skin after about 100 red lights.

But I still liked the route. Major portions of it were very scenic as it hugged the coastline. And even the cities were interesting. I had never been to Pensacola or Panama City Beach. It was a long trip, but an interesting one.

I enjoyed our two nights in Orange Beach, too. I was drawn to the area because it is where my mother came the only times she went south in the winter. She seemed to like it very much, so I wanted to see it.

My impression? Both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are beautiful beach towns. The beaches are white and wide – and, in November, virtually deserted. Gulf Shores seems like more of a community, a real town. It has some nice restaurants and shops, including The Diner where we had a very fine dinner on the second night. My shrimp and grits was delicious. Recommended.

I took a day trip along the shore east of Gulf Shores. I didn’t learn a lot other than the area had a lot of RV parks, mostly very small (which we wouldn’t consider for a winter stay as it would just be too cold), a lot of beautiful white sand beaches and some very nice beach houses that would be a fine place to spend a week or two in the summer.

Our home in Orange Beach was the Pandion Ridge RV Resort, a new RV park conveniently located between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. The facilities were among the finest we have seen – wide concrete pads on very long pull-though sites, a beautiful office and pool and very nice bath houses and laundry rooms. The staff was very professional and the landscaping was beautiful. We would stay here again, no question.

Beach near Ft Morgan

Beach near Ft Morgan

Beach houses

Beach houses

Our site at Pandion Ridge

Our site at Pandion Ridge

STE3 Hop 5: Waveland MS to Orange Beach AL

STE3 Hop 5

STE3 Hop 5

153 miles via US 90, MS 43, I-10, AL 59 and the Foley Beach Express. Cumulative miles: 907. Truck miles: 341. Cumulative truck miles: 1220.

We don’t normally go on toll roads, but in this case it seemed like a good thing to do: by paying a $4.25 toll to use the Foley Beach Express we cut off over 10 miles of travel. It was a nice road, too. Well worth it.

This was another beautiful travel day – sunny, nearly cloudless, low 70s. The roads weren’t too crowded and we got some nice scenery, particularly across the Pascagoula River and Mobile Bay.

We spent 3 nights at the Silver Slipper Beachfront RV Park in Waveland MS. This is a bare-bones park with no amenities at all, unless you call the Gulf of Mexico an amenity. We had a beautiful concrete pad site with a view of the Gulf. No cable TV, but we pulled in a few channels from Biloxi. We very much liked this place and would return again.

Funnel cake

Funnel cake

Our site

Our site

Sunset over the RV

Sunset over the RV

One of our free days was spent traveling to New Orleans, as reported in the preceding post. The other day was spent, mostly, at the nearby Silver Slipper Casino. I played slots for over two hours and broke even (as the old joke goes… it is a good thing that I broke even because I needed the money). In the evening both Jett and I went and I lost $26 but she won $91. A good night at the casino made even better because we went to the buffet. I had to think twice because it was pricey: nearly $30 each. But we needed a good meal and, hey, we were up, so what the heck. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the buffet would be free for us – we had been randomly selected for a free meal. A good night at the casino made even better. The best part of the buffet was the made-to-order funnel cakes for dessert. Yum!

New Orleans

St Louis Cathedral and Jackson Park

St Louis Cathedral and Jackson Park

Jett at Cafe Soule

Jett at Cafe Soule

I don’t think any city was higher on my US Cities bucket list than New Orleans (or “Nawlins” – I like to say that just to annoy Jett). I finally got to remove it from the list on Saturday. Jett and I drove the 55 miles to the French Quarter with the intent of walking around, having dinner and just seeing what the city has to offer.

It almost didn’t happen.

New Orleans is not a friendly place for a large pickup truck. Following the GPS we got stuck in near-gridlock traffic as we entered the French Quarter. We found a way around that jam just to find another. After 30 minutes of frustration – and bypassing our intended parking lot because it looked too small – we had decided to head back home. But as we headed back up Rampart St we spotted a parking lot that looked like we could get into. We did and for a $10 fee we got the opportunity to walk around for 3 hours.

We used those 3 hours to get a good idea of what goes on in the French Quarter early on a Saturday. Crazy. Wall-to-wall bars and partying. A wedding, a street band, street fairs. A lively place, to say the least. I can only imagine what it is like later on a Saturday night or on Mardi Gras.

Jett got some beads. No, not by showing her boobs; by buying them.

We used one of our hours to dine at Café Soule. I had the “New Orleans Trio” – a cup each of shrimp gumbo, crawfish etouffee and chicken and sausage jambalaya. Delicious! We were also entertained, while dining, by a wedding reception just across the street.

The rest of our time was spent walking around the French Quarter. Yes, we walked a portion of Bourbon Street, but that wasn’t very pleasant because it was ripped up with construction. I learned that this construction – to update the sewer system – had been going on for nearly 2 years and had encountered all kinds of engineering problems.

Corner of Bourbon Street, with construction

Corner of Bourbon Street, with construction

We made it down to Jackson Square and the St Louis Cathedral just as the sun was setting, which made for some beautiful photos. Then we wandered our way back to the truck amidst the revelry which was just ramping up. We escaped the city before it got too crazy for old people like us.

New Orleans Trio

New Orleans Trio

Wedding

Wedding

STE3 Hop 4: Duson LA to Waveland MS

STE3 Hop 4

STE3 Hop 4

175 miles via I-10, I-12 and MS 607. Cumulative tow miles: 754. Truck miles: 176. Cumlative truck miles: 879.

This hop, like the others on I-10 and I-12, was rough. There were some pretty long stretches that felt like we were riding on railroad ties. But it was also interesting. It skirted the northern shore of Lake Ponchetrain, with long bridges over swampland. This was much more interesting scenery than we had in Texas. And, somewhat surprisingly, the bridges were a smoother ride than the rest of the interstate.

The navigation on this hop was a snap: get on I-10 until we reached MS 607, then follow the signs to the Silver Slipper Casino. Our destination was the casino’s RV park on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

Our two nights in Duson were spent at the Frog City RV Park, just off of I-10. This is a perfect location for an overnight stay. We stayed an extra night because I wanted to sample the local cuisine – cracklins and boudin. But the day was cloudy and unseasonably cold, so we didn’t go anywhere. I regret that as the boudin sounds delicious. I’m not so sure about the cracklins.

1110170905a_HDR

1110170905_HDR

STE3 Hop 3: League City TX to Duson LA

210 miles via TX 96, TX 146 and I-10, with one minor screwup and a refueling stop. Cumulative tow miles: 579. Truck miles: 214. Cumulative truck miles: 703.

The minor screwup was due to following a sign for I-10 rather than listening to the GPS. We went about half a mile, turned back and returned to TX 146. The refueling stop wasn’t really necessary, but was a nice rest stop.

The route, mostly on I-10, was rougher than we like. As with all the major interstates, this one was pretty beaten up in some stretches and, as always, was under construction. Things in the RV got pretty jumbled. Not the best hop ever, but not the worst. Pretty uneventful. The weather was cloudy and cool, so a pretty dreary trip.

Our home in League City was the Space Center RV Park. This was a pretty nice park, convenient to both the Space Center and Galveston. It had long pull-through sites (but very narrow) and good places to walk the dog. It also had a pathway to an adjacent Cracker Barrel restaurant, which we used the first night.

After my tour of the Space Center I made a quick trip to Galveston, just to see what the city looked like. I liked it. Perhaps not as nice as Charleston or Savannah, but it had a bit of that oceanfront southern charm feel. Its Pleasure Pier looks like it would be a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Pleasure Pier

Pleasure Pier

Our site

Our site

The park

The park

Johnson Space Center

Lobby with Lunar Lander mockup

Lobby with Lunar Lander mockup

Apollo control room

Apollo control room

Mars Rover

Mars Rover

I used our day in League City to travel about 5 miles to the Space Center museum, adjacent to the Johnson Space Center. The Space Center is both a welcome center for tours of the Johnson Space Center and a museum containing some very interesting artifacts of US space exploration.

When I got to the Space Center I immediately took a tour of the Johnson Space Center because I really wanted to see where our space program was based. I wasn’t disappointed. The 90-minute tram tour made 3 stops:

  1. The “Historic Mission Control” center – the control room for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and the first walk on the moon.  This is where the “one small step for man” words were first heard.  It is also the room where the Apollo 13 near-disaster was managed (see the Apollo 13 movie).  It was smaller than I had imagined and, of course, the technology looked ancient.  But it is a historic place and I am glad I got a chance to be there. It was also interesting to learn that the control room for the International Space Station – in communication 24/7 with the astronauts on the ISS – was just down the hall.
  2. The “mock up” building where mock-ups of current and future space vehicles are kept.  The building currently houses a full-scale mock-up of the International Space Station, a prototype of the Martian Rover and several prototypes of trans-Mars modules. I was not aware that so much work was underway for a manned Mars mission. This building is used for training current astronauts – both those heading to the ISS and those training for a Mars mission – and for engineering solutions to problems that crop up in the ISS.  This is also the building where solutions to the Apollo 13 problems were concocted.
  3. The Saturn V building.  This huge hanger houses an actual Saturn V rocket – one of the largest rockets ever built and the rocket that sent the Apollo missions to the moon.  It is, of course, incredibly large.  The fact that it exists at all after the termination of the Apollo program was a surprise to me.  This particular rocket was the one that would have been used for the Apollo 18 mission, had that mission not been canceled.  I doubt that a Saturn V exists anywhere else, so I was really thrilled to get to see this one.

The Space Center also had some interesting attractions:

  • “Independence Plaza” with an actual 747 that was used to transport the Space Shuttle, with a mock-up of the Space Shuttle Independence mounted on its back.  They were both open for viewing and contained some interesting kid-friendly displays that showed how the piggyback transport was put together and how NASA came to decide to use this odd transport vehicle.
  • A moon rock that could be touched.  I found this a bit disappointing as the rock was a flat shiny black tile-like artifact that didn’t look at all as I expected.  I expected something rough and other-worldly.
  • The Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 command modules.
  • One of the Gemini capsules.
  • A Mercury capsule.
  • A whole room of space suits worn by our astronauts.
  • A mock-up of the Lunar Lander.
  • Several theaters that offered several films and live presentations.  I went to just one – a film about our manned Mars mission.

I spent about 4 hours at the Space Center and felt that I really rushed it.  If you get to Houston, try to stop by this place.  It will be well worth your time.

Even better if you take your kids. There weren’t a lot of kids there when I visited on Tuesday afternoon, but the ones that were there looked like they were having a grand time.

I hope I can get back here for another visit the next time I get to Texas.

Soyuz mockup

Soyuz mockup

Apollo 11 command module

Apollo 11 command module

ISS mockup

ISS mockup

Saturn V

Saturn V

Moon rock vault

Moon rock vault

STE3 Hop 2: Aransas Pass TX to League City TX

STE3 Hop 2

STE3 Hop 2

186 miles, almost entirely on TX 35. Cumulative tow miles: 369. Truck miles: 191. Cumulative truck miles: 489.

This hop was more interesting than the previous two as it brushed the coast and had some nice causeways over two broad and very scenic bays. While it was just a state road, it was in good shape and much of it was 4 lanes. Not a bad hop.

The Palms

The Palms

Our Aransas Pass home was The Palms RV Park, a very nice park just 11 miles from the Route 1069 Campground – our home in Rockport less than a week prior. This park was unique in the STE in that it was a back-in site rather than a pull-through. We prefer the pull-through variety because they are easier to get into. But this park had none and we really wanted to stay there because we were considering it for a winter residence in 2018. But we are no longer considering it. It is just too small – only about 150 sites. And the cable was nearly unusable. But other than those negatives I really liked the park. The people were great, the laundry room was very nice and they had a large library and pool.

It probably took a couple of minutes longer to get into the back-in site, but it wasn’t difficult. Maybe 5 years ago it would have been difficult, but not now.

When I was removing the sewer hose in Brownsville I realized that one of my secondary hoses (I have 3) has a small hole and needed to be replaced. I needed the two remaining hoses to set up in Aransas Pass and in doing so discovered that a second hose – my main, favorite one – also had a small tear and needed to be replaced. Two hoses out of three failing at basically the same time. So I had to run down to WalMart and get replacements. I got a replacement for the cable connection, too, because we have been having so much trouble with signal quality on our main TV and thought that replacing the 50′ connection with a 25′ connection might help. The jury is out on that one. It probably helped a bit, but not much.

Dog park

Dog park

The pool

The pool

Our site

Our site

STE3 Hop 1: Brownsville TX to Aransas Pass TX

STE3 Hop 1

STE3 Hop 1

183 miles via TX 511, I-69E, US 77, TX 44, TX 358, I-37 and TX 35. Cumulative tow miles: 183. Truck miles: 298. Cumulative truck miles: 298.

This was a truly boring ride. At least coming south, via US 281, there was some farm activity. Going north on US there was nothing because there were no farms, just scrub brush. At least the weather was sunny and warm. And very, very humid. We had to turn on the AC, which is rare in our truck.

Our 3 nights in Brownsville were at the Breeze Lake Campground. This was a fairly large (250 sites) campground with mostly park models and long-term residents. The number of transient sites was probably no more than 50.

First let me say that the campers we met there were friendly and helpful. Other than that, I have nothing good to say about this campground.

The negatives:

  • The park management was terrible. First, they gave us a site that was occupied, then gave us incorrect directions to another site.  The office was not open during the posted open hours.  There was no place to leave the key card when we left.  Stupid stuff.  These people have no clue how to run a campground.
  • The roads were in terrible condition.  Big potholes, mud everywhere.
  • The roads were so narrow that I could not turn into my “pull-thru” site – I had to go around to the other side and back in.
  • The utility boxes at the sites were also in terrible shape.  Defunct cable hanging on them (the cable service had been terminated), rusty electrical boxes.
  • The sites were very poorly marked.  I had to get out of the truck and walk along the row of pull-thrus to find my site.  Again, stupid management?  How much effort would it take to clearly mark the transient sites?

Bottom line: this was one of the worst parks we have ever visited.  You would have to pay us to return here.

The additional truck miles were from two fairly long trips made to look for possible seasonal RV parks for next winter. We found one we liked: Llano Grande Resort and Country Club in Mercedes TX. There is just no question that this park offers great value: winter monthly rates under $700 ((we will be paying more than $1000 per month in Naples FL this year), with beautiful facilities, large sites (in some areas of the park) and an associated golf course with low rates. It is also just a few miles from Progreso Mexico where we could get cheap dental work done if necessary. So we will definitely consider it. The problem, we suspect, is that the sites that we would need for our large rig are going to be very popular. It is unlikely that we could get in. But we might try.