Friday, April 30, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: Spring Flowers

Paul and I took a day off last week.

We decided to lace up our walking shoes, escape reality

and take a day trip to Nerstrand-Big Woods, one of our favorite state parks located an hour south of us.

On a mission to find spring flowers, we covered the trails in the southern portion of the park before our picnic lunch

and a portion of the northern side of the park after we ate.

When the leaves just start to come out on the trees, certain spring flowers blossom before shade dominates their world.

We found Large-Flowered Bellwort

Spring Beauty

Marsh Marigold

Wood Anemone


Wild Geranium


Wild Ginger

and Early Meadow Rue.

However, the main reason for our hike that day was to see the blossoming White Trout Lily. These plants grow in colonies and carpet the forest floor throughout the park in the early spring.

We have been visiting this park for thirty years and this is our first time to see these flowers in full bloom.

There were spots along our hike where we stopped in complete awe. I love these moments in life!

Each stalk produces a single hanging white flower. We very carefully lifted one to admire the blossom.

In a month, one will be unaware these beautiful flowers exist in this park.

We love Minnesota!

Great photography, Paul!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our Route Home With A Little Help From Our Friends

Between April 1 and April 17th, we pulled our travel trailer 2000 miles from Florida to Minnesota. Over the past two years, we have spent approximately 180 days living in our camper. As a result, we have learned a few things to make our trips less stressful. Here are some travel aids we take with us on the road:

The Garmin
We bought our first GPS receiver for our trip to Florida last January and are learning how to use it to our full advantage. It has saved us considerable time and stress and we are happy with the purchase.

Exit Now Interstate Directory
We will always travel with some sort of directory such as this when we are towing our camper. We decided we needed this guide during our first cross country trip pulling the camper. It lists what is available at each exit as you travel. Most importantly, it indicates which gas stations, restaurants, hotels, etc. are RV friendly, which means there is sufficient room to pull in for fuel or park to get a bite to eat. The only thing we didn't like about the book is the spiral binding is defective. I had to constantly put the pages back together. At least it kept me occupied during those long hours on the road. Hopefully, they have corrected this problem in the new edition.

Woodall's Campground Directory
We find campgrounds and RV resorts using Woodall's Guide. There are other guides on the market that are probably just as good, but this is what we have always used. In addition, we have developed our own rating system for campgrounds and now have questions we ask when we call for a reservation.

Here is a overview of our trip From Venice, Florida to Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota:

Destination #1 
Camp Venice Retreat, Venice, Florida to Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, Florida
Distance: 250 miles

Camp Venice Retreat was our "home" in Florida for February and March. It was our second stay there and we are already booked for next winter! We found them online when we planned our 2009 trip to Florida.

We wanted to go to the eastern seaboard on our way home and decided to camp at Anastasia State Park. As we have learned about state parks in Florida, we made our reservations online 11 months in advance. It is a wonderful park and we would definitely go back again. We were there for six nights.

Destination #2
Anastasia State Park to Whispering Pines RV Park, Rincon, Georgia
Distance: 184 miles
Whispering Pines is a small park conveniently located about 25 minutes from downtown Savannah. We called them the day before we left St. Augustine and stayed there three nights. The facilities are clean, but there is not much to the park as far as features. We weren't there to spend time in the park. One complaint is their wifi connection is very poor. If we need to use the internet when we are at a location, we always ask about the availability before booking reservations. We were told it was available, but didn't expect to have to sit outside the office on a park bench to get online with a very weak signal.

Destination #3:
Rincon, Georgia to Oak Plantation Campground, Johns Island, South Carolina
Distance: 97 miles

Oak Plantation is a very nice, large RV resort with clean facilities. However, it has more speed bumps than we have ever seen in one location. It made getting in and out of the park rather laborious. Wifi was adequate, with availability in the campsite, another feature we now ask specifically about before booking reservations! We stayed there for three nights and made our reservations the day before we arrived in the Charleston area.

Destination #4
Johns Island, South Carolina to Ripplin Waters Campground, Sevierville, Tennessee
Distance: 361 miles, not counting the back tracking we had to do because of a rock slide that closed the freeway in North Carolina!
Ripplin Waters is a nice place, very conveniently located near Smoky Mountains. It is on our list to return when we spend more time in that area. We were now done exploring and were on our straight trip home, stopping each evening at a campground and up early to get back on the road. Once we knew how far we could comfortably travel each day, we would call to book our spot for the night. We didn't even completely unhitch the camper from the truck at night to make getting on the road easier each morning.    

Destination #5:
Sevierville, Tennessee to Woods-N-Waters Campground, Columbus, Indiana
Distance: 362 miles
This campground is conveniently located right off the freeway. It was clean, but our campsite backed up to some sort of industrial park with loud trucks that beeped all night.

Destination #6:
Columbus, Indiana to Sky-High Camping Resort, Portage, Wisconsin
Distance: 452 miles
This campground is conveniently located near the freeway on a beautiful hilltop. It was the off season, so it was very quiet the night we stayed. It looks like a busy, family campground resort with a big pool and lots of activities during the summer. It is open all year as it is located next to a ski resort. We experienced clean facilities and good wifi. We both felt "road weary" at the end of this day. In future trips, we won't plan four consecutive days of travel without a stop of at least two nights in one spot.

Destination #7:
Portage, Wisconsin to Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
Distance 233 miles
The last two days of our trip we drove through very windy conditions, which is never fun when pulling a travel trailer. We have gained profound respect for semi drivers on these trips. What professionals!
It's good to be home. However, the transition between living in the camper for so long and moving completely back into the house is taking time. I didn't anticipate that and find it quite interesting, actually! We talked to someone at one of the RV parks on our way home who told us after one of their extended road trips, she and her husband would cook their meals in their house and then go out to their camper to eat. At least we aren't that conflicted! Our next planned trip is northern Minnesota trip in May. We love camping in the spring!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Charleston, South Carolina

Our next destination was Charleston, South Carolina.

Our first morning there we went to the historic downtown district. Again, we opted to take a guided tour. We were lucky to have a tour guide all to ourselves, so we were able to specify what we were most interested in seeing as we rode and walked through the area. In addition to an historical overview of the area, we wanted to see gardens and we certainly weren't disappointed. Most of the homes in the historic district are privately maintained.

Our tour guide even brought us to specific plants he loved most.

Piazzas (or porches) are one of the most distinctive features of Charleston architecture. They were intended as outdoor living spaces and to also shade homes from the sun.

Gardens were places for people to entertain their guests in the heat of summer.

An historic trust dictates the preservation of homes. This home was incredibly decorative, with hand carved plaster details.

Notice the fencing surrounding this home. It originally was owned by a slave trader who feared for his family's safety. Descendants of the original owner still reside in the home.

Because of its location on the coast, Charleston was cooler than the low country outside of the city.

Many of these mansion were built as summer homes for plantation owners.

They came to the city in the summer time to escape the heat and mosquitoes.

The district is a living museum and we could have easily spent more time there.

However, we wanted to visit Charles Towne Landing, the site of the original English settlement founded in Colonial South Carolina in 1670. There was a replica of a ketch on the landing, a vessel typical of what the young colony would have used for conducting trade on the eastern coast and in the West Indies.

After the colony moved across the river to Charleston's present location, the land was privately owned. Fortunately, the property was donated to the state and is now a state park. However, the original gardens and home still remain.

We enjoyed the well preserved private gardens.

Could one ever tire of azaleas in full bloom?

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

We were up early the next morning to spend the day at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. This plantation was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, descendants of whom still own the property today.

It originally was a rice plantation. The old rice fields are now home to many varieties of wildlife.

The property includes four preserved and restored original slave cabins. Each cabin reflects a different period of the African experience on the plantation; from slavery to Reconstruction, through the 1920's and on to the 1960's. These cabins were the most interesting part of the tour for both Paul and me.

Some sections of the gardens on the plantation are more than 325 years old, making them the oldest unrestored gardens in America. This grand old oak is probably older than that.

We were interested to learn Magnolia is home to the oldest public gardens in America. They opened to the public in 1870 as a way for the family to generate income after the Civil War.

 Knowing it was our last day before we drove home, we had to take just one more picture of the azaleas.

The next morning, we were up early and on the road. Time to go home and get back to reality!