Migration Home – Fifth Stop Crater of Diamond State Park Arkansas

Crater of Diamonds

We left Gillham Lake area and headed east. We were on a mission. Hubby dearest wanted to see the old volcano site where melted pieces of a microcontinent he had just been reading about can be walked upon. I was out to get us to a place outside the latest hatched yellow severe storm area on the NOAA map. The dogs were just along for the ride. Klinger wanted to see our washing machine get a good workout. Actually, we took a short cut along a marginally shorter route according to our GPS. They say short cuts lead to long delays. In this case it led to feline motion sickness. The trip went up, down, up, down, swerve right, up, swerve left, down and similar twists and turns for three hours.  Now I know Mother Google says it takes 1 hour and 22 minutes but Mother Google does not adjust for pulling a trailer on turns that would be tight for Le Car, never mind a 30 foot travel trailer. I should have known better. Never take a short cut while pulling a travel trailer. We arrived and went in to set up. Thank goodness we were pulling into a full service campsite because Klinger got sick. That would be bad enough but his favourite place to ride when we travel is under the covers in our bed. I shall leave the rest to your imagination.

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Dick snapped the shot of me by their sign just after I went to check on the cat. And that says it all. One of my friends commented I must really love that cat. Yes, I do, but some days more than others. This park has a reasonable WIFI. After the laundry was done and the bed remade, we spent our first night catching up on email and following on the weather channel as severe storms drop tornados north, and west of us. (Gilliam Lake area was under a warning for a while so I was really happy we didn’t stay on there.) We got some rain but nothing else. The next morning we got up early to head down to the diamond mine and try our luck at getting rich quick by finding a diamond.

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Between hauling buckets of gravel for me to wash, Dick struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow from Ohio who was off work and looking for a quick buck. He was one of the semi pro types who pay their ten dollars and come in and sift through the volcano gravel every day here, over and over again. He was a friendly fellow and soon was giving us all kinds of tips and sharing his story. He also had pictures of various small diamonds he had already found on previous trips. I would hardly call it a get rich quick scheme since it was all much harder physically than we expected, but he does find enough diamonds to justify his daily $10.00 entrance fee and he’ll only need to need to strike a big one once and he can retire. Most of the people were just visitors with kids and only the semi pro types actually work very hard. The children really love it because they can get mucky and wet with everyone’s blessings. There was much happy kid noise.

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We picked our gravel in the runnels from the overnight rain. We figured any mother lode diamond would be easier to spot in running water. We paid particular attention to a semi permanent streamlet from a drainage pipe.SAM_9299 I did find a lovely perfectly clear quartz crystal I got very excited over for about 30 seconds until I decided it was quartz. That made me feel a bit silly. I took it to be identified, just in case, on our way out and the rock identifier lady also got very excited for about 30 seconds before announcing it was just quartz. That made me feel better. After only three hours of this I was thoroughly wet, mucky, and cold. A toddler had a temper tantrum nearby and I knew exactly how the poor little girl was feeling.

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We finished the day by a trip to the gift shop. Across from the gift shop is a science and history display of the diamond mine. Dick was disappointed to note nothing about the microfossils or the microcontinent. He started to tell the nice lady at the gift shop about how their science section was out of date and needs updating. She gave him a comment card and told him to write it all down and leave it in the box. She even seemed really fascinated by what Dick was saying. I was impressed. Well bred southern ladies are a special treat to interact with.

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Before bed we took the dogs on the exceptionally nice trail from our campsite down to the river. It was a wide paved trail accessible for wheelchairs and particularly scenic and lovely. The dogs enjoyed their walk as much as we did.

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We left on the third day after deciding we would try Oklahoma now. By the map, it looked to be easier on our tranny and our cat. On our way out, Dick dropped off the comment card with careful details about how their science section was out of date, appropriate references to bring it up to date and an offer to help, complete with his contact information. Just outside of the state park we stopped at several really delightful second hand/antique/touristy/vintage stores for a couple of hours and spent too much money and had a real blast doing it. And so I can highly recommend Crater of Diamonds State Park even if you don’t find a diamond.

And I was right about the drainage ditch. We saw this only a bit later.  Boy finds huge 7.44 carat diamond in Arkansas state park. Watching him on TV, we could see he found this beauty right at the spot we had been gathering our gravel. I am happy for him. (Jealous yes, but happy for him.)

We took pictures this time but I forgot to write a proper review. It’s a really nice campground, full service, inexpensive, reasonable WIFI, easy to get around. I do recommend it. They have not yet contacted Dick about their out of date science display so be sure to keep in mind you are standing only a few miles above a wonderful microcontinent full of microfossils if you go. We headed off to Oklahoma with the cat in the cat carrier sitting in the bathtub. He was not a happy camper.

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Migration Home – Fourth Stop Gilliam Lake Arkansas

Gilham Lake

We left Louisiana and headed north into Arkansas. The interstate soon became a rather pleasant four lane divided highway through one small town after another. The terrain went from flat to rolling hills that border on small mountains. We travelled along the Red River of the South. We stopped at the MacDonald’s in DeQueen for a snack and checked the internet for more details. I had a map of Army Corp of Engineer sites in the state so I knew approximately where we were going. Our dog Fred had not been swimming for some time so I wanted us to be well out of gator country. Imagine my surprise to read that alligators once ranged all over this region but were extirpated by settlers and overhunting. They have been gradually recovering and expanding their old territory. We had to get north of DeQueen to be sure we had no possibility of our Fred have a close encounter of the toothy kind. After comparing facilities we decided on Gillham Lake.

We missed the turn at Gillham. Our GPS didn’t seem to like going that way and we didn’t see the sign until we were driving past it. The interstate was now a plain old two lane road going up and down and up and down with a lot of trucks and no place to turn. We got to Grannis before we could turn around and the map, and another unobtrusive sign, showed us another road in. We now got to experience Arkansas backroads. I had noticed before that these Arkansas types seemed to go in for really big trucks, like 250 and 350 deisels with their RV rigs. I learned why on this trip. The roads went down at ridiculous angles and then came back up at such steep grades I had to shift the truck into the lowest gear and the temperature on the transmission began creeping up the hill with us. Pretty country, lovely little farms, cattle herds of about twenty animals, horses, chickens, and up down, up down, up down, with an occasional rapid turn. We reached the campground and then we were kind of stumped. There were three sites marked on signs and no directions as to which one we should go. We tried Little Coon Creek first. After a very steep three mile drive of up-downs, crazy twists and riding the brakes a lot, we found it was just a few campsites on either side of the road. No one else was there. We used one campsite to turn around. We went back up the hill, paused to let the tranny cool again, and then tried Big Coon Creek. The road did not have as many twists and turns but that last hill down into the campground was a shocker. The steepest hill yet leading right into a small beach. I wondered how many people ended up in the lake. This was much nicer though! We pulled into site 19 which had the loveliest view of the lake and settled in as it got dark.

We stayed three days and we had a wonderful time. We took the canoe out. We ended up following the shoreline because of all the high speed boating traffic that nearly capsized us more than once with big wakes. The geology of the region was really fascinating. Wonderful pink and orange sandstone and granite layers that were shoved up to at least a 45 degree angle to make the hills. We had a lot of discussion between about the geology the area. By an interesting coincidence, Dick was reading a paper on origin of life and it included references to some ancient fossils from a microcontinent under the area we were in. That led to us really appreciating the geology we were seeing while imagining a microcontinent miles below.

We were still seeing lots of the birds we see nesting back at home. It seemed we were migrating home with nuthatches, pileated wood peckers, blue jays, wrens, warblers, eagles, ducks, geese, loons, crows, and orioles. What a pleasure to travel north with these lovely little birds. (Sorry no pictures as we were relaxing too much.) In addition to many colourful birds we were treated to many colourful wildflowers.

We had several long walks. One real treat was the folks next door invited us to join them at their campfire and we had the nicest visit. They were local people and they were able to fill us in on a lot of details of the history and nature of the park. We were going to stay longer in Big Coon but our campfire hosts told us about how this campground got flooded after heavy rain just the year before. They had barely gotten their own rig out while that lake rose up 70 feet in less than twenty four hours. There was rain in the forecast so they were going to leave a day early to avoid a repeat.

We  were finally able to let Fred have a nice long swim and he had such a good time. Unfortunately there were some rough rocks and he cut himself so we went home from the beach with him seeping blood. Once we were back I carefully cleaned the wound, applied antibiotic ointment and wrapped it up in layers of bandages and a final top layer of duct tape. For some reason duct tape makes a very fine doggy bandage. When you change the bandage the tape comes off easily without pulling out hair. Bonus, judging by the expression Fred makes if he licks at it, it tastes too horrible to put any serious effort into chewing it off. These days you can buy duct tape in every imaginable colour. I had white on hand because I had to repair the cover of the air conditioner on the inside and the white duct tape didn’t look quite so… well duct tapey. I know most of us who have rigs end up with ones largely held together by duct tape, but it is considered tacky and redneck. I also had standard grey duct tape because, well, grey is the standard you can buy in bulk. I wrapped Fred’s foot in grey because it matches his fur best.

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We drove up to see the third campsite, Cassatot Reefs, which is easily the loveliest of the three campsites at Gilliam Lake. I have a passionate love of the sound of water over rocks. and so we decided we would move to that site and stay for a week and enjoy the running water. Cassatot Reefs is below the dam and not subject to flooding. We packed up to move. Getting back up the hill meant driving in the lowest gear with four wheel drive on and there was an even bigger hill on the shortest route from Big Coon Lake to Cassatot Reefs. We decided to just take the easier road into DeQueen and take the trailer along with us and drive the longer easier other road back into Cassatot Reefs. The Talmud says “Men plan, God laughs.” This was proven to us again.

We got to the same Macdonalds and had a snack while we went on line. I always check the weather first. I was concerned to see that Cassatot Reefs was not just expecting heavy rain. It was in that dreaded yellow hatched area on the NOAA map meaning severe weather was possible. Meanwhile Hubby Dearest had discovered that an old volcano had brought up melted lava chunks of that microcontinent and deposited it up at our level. Looking for another campground we found one called Crater of Diamonds State Park which was located right on that old volcano site. It was also outside the hatched weather danger. And so we decided to skip more of Cassatot Reefs. We left moving east outside of the yellow hatching to try our luck diamond hunting.

This is my review of the Gilliam Lake Campground.

Gilliam Lake is a smallish dammed lake built by the Army Corp of Engineers. It has three campground sites. We visited all three during our stay. Two are above the dam on the lake and lead to boat ramps. Little Coon Creek is simply 10 sites, all back in, on both sides of the road down to the lake just before a large boat ramp. There is very little to recommend these sites if you are not a fisherman but the lots are big and spacious and all were empty when we were there. It has modern washrooms and showers. Big Coon Creek is on the next lake inlet and also above the dam and it has some 31 sites, all back in. It was mostly full when we were there. It is a fisherman’s dream with room for a big rig, a big boat trailer, and a truck. All the sites are paved and have a barbecue and fire pit. The washrooms are new and clean. There are also showers with abundant hot water. There is a nice sandy beach and four playground structures including one in the water at the beach. Although both campgrounds are above the dam, Gillham Lake itself is infamous for rising many feet in under 24 hours in heavy rain. The locals told us you have to watch the weather and be ready to clear out fast if it rains heavily because the campgrounds will be underwater with little warning. We saw plenty of evidence that is is the case in the form of high water lines and deposited logs on the shores. One women told us about pulling her rig out in pouring rain and high water and barely making it just last year. The third campsites is Cassatot Reefs and it is on the Cassatot river below the dam. This 30 site campground is the largest of the three campsites because it is strung along the river just past the spillway with most of the sites overlooking the river. It is a pleasant and pretty stretch with long cement walkways by a park-like setting on the river bank with benches and swings. The campsites are set high above the flood plain on a ridge. There are three sets of pretty little rapids between deep pools. These campsites are smaller and older and do not have room for a separate boat and trailer in addition to a rig. There is a canoe launch and the current runs swiftly. These campsites are also mostly not paved but are packed gravel. Washrooms and showers are older style flush toilets. The dam was built to protect downstream houses and so of the three, this campground below the dam is the least likely to flood. I was alarmed to hear just last year the lake was full right up to the top of the dam which makes me wonder if water could flow right over the dam, given enough rain, but apparently this has not ever happened. We watched a grader repairing the dam above the current water line and a lot of evidence that the local who told us about last year’s flooding was not exaggerating. The roads into all this campground are about 3-4 miles of very deep drops and very steep hills that required I use 4 wheel drive and low gear to climb. These roads were really narrow and curvy in a few places. Not for driving by the faint hearted, an overloaded rig or one with poor brakes! Both Big Coon and Little Coon are served by a single dump site at the park entrance so you have to haul your full tanks up the hills to dump. Cassatot Reefs has its own dump site also at the top of the hills. There are two additional boat launches into the lake in addition to the ones at the campsites and due to the large number of high powered boats going at very high speed in this small lake there are a lot of wakes and noisy traffic. We therefore found canoeing to be a challenge. I enjoyed our stay and it was interesting to meet dedicated fishermen but I am not sure we’ll come back again.

And this is how far we have come on our slow migration home.

Gillham Lake

Migration Home – Third Stop Beaver Dam Campground Louisiana

 

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We left the Petrified Forest and continued our journey westward into Louisiana. I would have preferred to stay off the interstate but there is that great big river to cross and not a lot of bridges that reach that far so, interstate it was. The trip west was brief and uneventful. We stopped at a rest stop with internet and picked up our email, checked for disasters, made sure all was well with the family and then continued on to the National Forest’s Beaver Dam Campground.

We ended up even more cut off from the world than before because now the TV antenna did not pick up anything. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself so I went back to working on my novel. What a wonderful spot this campground was. Quiet, lovely small lake, almost every campsite empty. There were a few people around but most were overnighters who came in late and left early. The few who stayed over the two nights we were also stopped were fishermen. On one of our walks we went along the upper spillway and chatted with some locals who were fishing. They had pictures of big bass they caught before. They warned us about big gators at the other end of the levi. We walked a trail back to the campground, did a tick check and settled in for a quiet evening of writing.

We had a long discussion on the longer walk along one of the trails. Among the emails that were waiting to be picked up was a message from one of the campgrounds we had planned to stop in while visiting Utah.  They sent word that due to exceptionally heavy snow, they were opening late. We considered our option and eventually decided that were enjoying this slow pace of travel so much maybe we would just really slow down and  skip Utah this time. I looked longingly at our maps. Arkansas was packed full National Forest and Army Corp of Engineer campsites. We still had a month to go before we had to be back in Canada. We had driven through Arkansas once, and on a second trip, we stayed at Hot Springs and it had been so very nice. Arkansas was beautiful and spring was in full roar here. Why not do Arkansas instead of Utah? And so it was decided. Utah is the only state in the lower 48 we haven’t been to yet but we would leave it for another trip. We had two nights and full day in Beaver Dam Campground before making the decision to head north into Arkansas. Six night, three leisurely drives and four states. Not a bad pace at all.

Here is my review of the campground:

This is a National Forest campground. You enter Minden and then turn just before the main street stores and then take a long winding road through rural areas before arriving at the site. Much of the drive from Minden is through a very poor unkempt neighbourhood which was discouraging. Closer to the Park, poverty gives way to newer suburban development and hobby farms. The campground is not well marked. We saw one sign in the town of Minden and then nothing until we reached the National Forest so use your map or GPS to find your way in. We expect big lots and space between sites in this type of campground but this one is exceptionally so. Our paved site was so large that with our pick up and trailer still hitched (56’) we would have room for another entire truck in front of our rig. In addition to the very large wide drive there was a huge pad of fine gravel with an oversized picnic table. This campground could take the biggest rig I have seen. Each site had its own set of garbage cans. Half the sites are reserve and half are first come first served. The place was about one quarter full on the early spring weekday we arrived. We had a nice selection of sites. A local old timer proudly showed off pictures of a 9 pound 23 inch bass he caught at the base of the dam’s spillway. Firewood was not provided so if you must have a fire, be sure to stop in and buy some from the many places on the way in who are selling. The campground host was friendly and welcoming and proudly boasted about how this campsite won some sort of well deserved award for their super clean bathrooms. This campground is a good 20 miles from any store and you will not pass any stores after you get off the interstate unless you detour through Minden so stock up before you go in.

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Migration Home – Second Stop Petrified Forest Mississippi

Our second stop was at the Mississippi Petrified Forest Campground. Being scientists, we tend to get excited about stuff like fossils and other unusual places which appeal to Geeks and Nerds. This place is a National Landmark but it is not a National Park so no discount but we stopped in anyway. It was an impulse thing. Dick saw this place on the map and said he wanted to see it. The times Google gives for driving have no connection to reality when you are pulling a trailer and have a husband, two elderly dogs and a cat to worry about. It was getting late. I was tired of driving. We decided to check it out. Sometimes an impulse stop like this is a disaster but sometimes great stuff happens and this was a good impulse detour.

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On arrival we decided to stay for two nights. We had two reasons. One was due a pet accident, we had some more laundry to do that really couldn’t wait. [*big sigh*] Since this was a full service campground with the sewer hook up, we could do it ourselves in our portable washer. Second the weather was for rain and cold and the possibility of storms further west. It seemed like a good idea to let that happen without us being nearby. The next morning the weather was indeed drizzle and rain. The TV antenna picked up a local station with radar so we watched for a rain free spot and then took the petrified forest walk mid afternoon while north and west folks were dashing for their storm shelters.

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The gift shop has pamphlets you get to do a self guiding tour which begins with a neat historical context display. Each spot is clearly numbers and you read the booklet and learn new things. It wasn’t pouring rain during our walk but the trees were dripping so our decision to wear rain gear was correct.

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I liked how you can get right up close and touch the petrified logs, some of them were really huge.

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There were many examples of petrified wood, large, small, complex, simple, colourful and beautiful. The booklet gave us detailed background on the history of the discovery of the forest and explanations like why certain colours appear on some  logs.

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Not only was the petrified forest a treat to see, the living forest around and above us was also lovely. Since we are both amateur botanists we enjoyed that almost as much. We also saw a lot of birds and a deer.SAM_9208

We spent a good two hours on the guided tour walk and then it started to rain again. I was not too bothered though because with the rain, we found we were alone on the walk. (Note that about 1/3 of the walk (with the best parts) was wheelchair/stroller accessible.) The walk ends by going through the indoor displays and then the gift shop. The indoor displays were wonderful. Short of the Smithsonian, I have never seen such a varied display of minerals from around the world in one spot. We really enjoyed that. They even had amethyst and fossils from back home!

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Last stop was the gift shop. When you have as many grandchildren to buy for as we do, a place with neat stuff that kids like is always appreciated. No doubt the owners also appreciated our devotion to the grandkids. We picked out a really nice very small sample of the petrified wood for ourselves. We left with our treasures and the owners positively beaming at us.

That was the second stop on our slow migration home. We took five days to go across three states and travel about 500 miles or 805 km. Next stop, Louisiana!

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Here is my review of the campground:

We pulled in on a whim because we are fossil fans. The Petrified Forest is privately owned and has an attached campsite with room for eleven rigs. They charge a modest $22/night. The full service campsites are neat, clean, well maintained. A maintenance worker came by for morning clean up and check on things. An employee came by in the afternoon to make sure that all was well. The road are narrow and the turns on the one big loop are a little on the tighter side but not impossible for our rig. There were no trees and hazards near the road. The roads themselves were surface washed out in a few spots but there was also a lot of fresh gravel as if being on a hillside it is a constant struggle to keep the roads from washing out. The setting is overall beautiful trees and shady. Some campsites are close together, most are widely spaced. There are both pull throughs and back ins. There are some longer term residents but the owners limit those to 6 months and I presume they are employees because their rigs were all neat and newer. There was a long list of rules but none onerous for a short term stay. We were originally sent to #7 but the very nice lady checking us in said we could change to #8 if we wanted to. This was a good thing because #8 was not long enough for our rig to find a level spot without unhitching. There was no wifi available. The trail through the petrified forest is well laid out and a pleasant walk of 45 minutes with a written guide to the sights. It is available for a discounted fee of $5 if you are camping there. If you like fossils and minerals, they have one of the best selections that I have seen in one place in their museum and gift shop. Overall a very good value and we were pleased with our stay. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay here again, but it was well worth stopping and seeing once.

Migration Home – First Stop Miller’s Ferry Campground Alabama

Our first trip after leaving our Florida stop in Panacea was a rather standard one for us of about 300 miles (500km). We traveled 289 miles (465km). We avoided big cities and interstates as much as possible. It was tempting to stop in at the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna Fl as we had such a great time there before. However we were still planning on getting to Utah at this part of our trip. We wanted to get some mileage under out tires so we left Marianna without stopping. We made only one stop at the Walmart outside Mariana to stock up on some groceries. We planned on stopping two days at an Army Corp of Engineers campsite which we assumed have very limited shopping opportunities.

Millers Route

We arrived just before 6:00 and tired and ready to stop. We were grateful that the nice lady at the office agreed to wait while we found a nice campsite. We had only enough energy to unpack and settle in. We walked the dogs and got lost in the dark. We fell into bed early. We have no pictures to show since we were too busy unwinding to care about documenting anything.

Miller's ferry Campground

The next day we awoke to the sight of a huge eagle sitting in the tree right outside our campsite. What a way to start the day. Drinking coffee with an eagle perched right nearby. Later we walked the park again. We decided a bike ride was in order and we ended up at the Sandy Shores Road on the opposite side of the lake. We chatted briefly with some local fishermen at the narrow bridge past the marina. We saw a lot of wildflowers as spring was in full rage here. After a relaxing lunch we did a load of laundry. It was weird having no internet and no TV reception after working hard all winter. So we just relaxed and unwound in a very pleasant fashion.

This is the review of the campsite I posted elsewhere:

This is an exceptionally nice Army Corp of Engineers campsite on a lake produced by a dam. Fishing appeared to be exceptionally good judging by what we saw being pulled in by fellow campers and the huge number of cormorants, pelicans and an eagle perched in a tree near our campsite. The campground is really large and wide with wide paved roads with easy turns and paved pads and drives. There are a variety of sites, pull through and back in, but all of them are huge. You can get sites right on the lake for an additional $2 charge ($1 if you have senior America pass.) The lakeside plots range from ones where you could walk straight out into the water to those raised up on ridges. We took a ridge site as we have a dog who loves to swim and we were warned about gators in these water. Presumably this is why they only allow swimming in designated areas which are closed in winter. This position also gave us an exceptionally lovely view of the sunset over the lake. Showers and laundry were modern and clean. No charge for showers, $1 for both the washer and dryer. There was only one dump site which meant waiting in line on the way out and the campground was half empty while we were here. I was told it fills right up in summer so the line must get very long. There are a couple of very nice children’s playgrounds next to the showers and with campsites right around them. All were full and the playgrounds were busy with happy children and parents watching from their campsite. The campground has a lot of additional services like free life jacket loan service and horseshoes. There is a very nicely designed boat launch. This is an exceptionally lovely campground and we will be back. I’d give it a ten except for the lack of sewer hookups and the line to dump. We camped at Miller’s Ferry Campground COE in a Travel Trailer.

The next morning we got up and left early for Mississippi.

Tate’s Hell State Forest

One of the things I meant to post about was our visit to Tate’s Hell State Forest. It’s a weird place that was once a dense swamp that got remade into a tree plantation. It lies between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers in the Florida panhandle. It got its name because a fellow named Cebe Tate got lost in the swamp for days in 1875 and when he finally found his way out he announced “”My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” That’s the legend of how the swamp got its name.

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The original swamp from hell was drained, flattened, and many roads and deep drainage ditches between by flat planted forest blocks result in a grid like set up which reminded me of the prairie more than anything else. Beyond the grid pattern there is little resemblance to the prairie. The combination of deep ditches and forest and open roads has changed the nature of the place from an inaccesible forbidding swamp like Okefenoke Swamp to a place you can drive right in and yet see all kinds of wildlife up close. There is only primitive camping in designated areas of the forest so it isn’t a place for big rigs even though the main roads are wide enough. There are many trails in addition to the roads and it is a favoured hunting ground for the locals. Some of the roads have been allowed to deteriorate until they are nothing but trails and some roads were very well maintained and even a little sports car can manage them. The forest is huge. We explored only one small bit right off the highway. I am told it includes great places to fish, oyster and canoe in addition to hunting. We went in for a short visit late in the day after a long walk at St George Island and a pizza dinner.

On our visit we saw deer, more birds than I can name, opossum, and a small snake. The place reputedly is full of alligators which would not surprise me one bit.  Those big wide deep ditches would be great gator habitat and all the associated mammals and birds would make for good eating. Our hosts, Jane Elzie Brand and Jack Rudloe gently suggested maybe Dick’s interest in closely examining the lily pads by leaning over the edges on his knees was better done just a little further back from the black water. I would not recommend taking a dog off leash either lest a beloved pet end up like Jack’s poor Megan did. These deep ditches are just a bit too good for gator sneak attacks. (We did not see any gators. It was cool and they don’t normally do much in cool weather.)

One of the more interesting features of the park is “miniature” or “hat rack” cypress. You can get right up close to one such stand at the Ralph G. Kendrick Boardwalk. It is an easy drive in and there is good parking. (I would not recommend doing it with a big rig as the ditches full of water are on both sides and it would be a bit tight to turn around. You could leave the big rig on the road before the turn and walk in.)

The cypress trees are literally dwarf or miniature and you can see them up close. Being winter, the cypress were silvery with no green except the Spanish moss green and the rest was kind of brown and drab. I half expected to see Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor. Still we had a very nice time. There is information on these little trees posted on the dock and they are not a distinct species as I first thought. Underlying impermeable clay means the swamp is shallow and nutrient poor. The trees are stunted rather than dwarf.

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We spent about an hour at the boardwalk. There was a lot to see but the sun was setting and the no-see-ums got pesky in spite of how cool it was. It was a nice way to end a very nice day and I can heartily recommend taking a detour through this fascinating forest if you are in the area.IMG_0241

We’re Home.

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We left Florida to travel home on February 24th. We rolled into Alonsa on March 30. The trip is 1960 miles (3154 km) by the shortest route. That works out to an average of 54 miles (87 km) a day. Okay, we meandered. This trip home was the closest thing to migrating that we have done yet. Migrating birds (with a few notable exceptions) don’t typically fly hundred of miles a day for days on end. They fly a bit, stop and hang out, fly some more, stop and hang out some more, and move north at a very leisurely pace. They wait until the weather is perfect before they leave or they move on because the weather is rotten or the food ran out. That is how we chose to travel north this year. We originally planned to go to Utah but the place we would have stayed at had record snowfall. The campground sent us an email saying opening was delayed so we decided to explore more of Arkansas and Oklahoma instead. I’m so glad we did! It was the best trip home yet.

We would travel a short distance, never more than 300 miles (482km) and often a lot less than that. We also made it a point to stay a minimum of two nights wherever we did stop. This meant we always had a day off to go sightseeing or hang out or just be at each stop. If we liked a place, we stayed longer. We kept an eye on the weather and if NOAA started making those yellow hatched lines on the big map, we planned our moves to be outside of severe weather areas.

We have always been ready to stop into a National Park or Army Corp of Engineer Campsite for a night. This time we decided to make a point of staying in one as often as possible. Most of these campgrounds do not have any form of internet, most are outside cell phone range, and quite a few don’t even pick up anything on the TV antenna due to their isolated locations. We had to plan on living without internet. The results were surprisingly positive. Both of us got a lot more writing done. I relaxed for hours at a time not following every unfolding of the latest Trump angst. I missed my children being in ready contact but they are adults and perfectly capable of handling their own crises and they did.

We rolled into Canada at about 4:00pm. Our last stop was at a North Dakota campground which was open according to their website and the message on their answering machine. However, we arrived to discover “open” meant only for walk in winter camping with no rig. This left us with nowhere to go and only four hours to home so we just decided to go all the way. That was our longest day driving.

One of our neighbours very kindly plowed out our drive and so we were able to pull in and collapse in our house. What a pleasure to find it exactly as we left if except for a few more cobwebs and a layer of dust. The ground was completely snow covered. We spent the first week home unpacking, reorganizing our life around the stick house, and seeing a dentist (for a tooth that was doing a nagging ache which turns out to be a cavity starting) and a doctor (for refills). Since we are planning on renovating the inside of our house we also picked up a lot of stuff for the renovations. Today we tackled the very first project. We put in an old fashioned clothesline with a wonderful squeaky wheel. Laundry is normally hubby dearest’s thing in our life but I couldn’t resist trying out our new toy first. What a pleasure to hang laundry outside to dry.

Being without internet for days to hours meant I did not keep up blogging. I do intend to backtrack and share our adventures (and misadventures) now that we safely home. Home is where you park it and for the next few months our home will be our little yellow stick house on the prairie. Maybe we’ll hit Utah on the way south next winter.