More Adventures Around the Florida Gulf Coast

Great Blue Heron

Our week at Fort Pickens Campground in the Gulf Islands National Seashore sped by. When we weren’t walking on the pure white sand at the beach, exploring Fort Pickens and the batteries, or visiting the National Naval Aviation Museum we were wandering around the Florida Gulf Coast.

One day we took Blondie outside of the National Seashore to go to the Pensacola Beach Dog Beach. A small section of beach has been set aside to allow dogs on a leash to enjoy the beach.

Blondie went for a swim at the Pensacola Beach Dog Beach
Blondie went for a swim at the Pensacola Beach Dog Beach
A Legendary Beach Bar

One day we took a drive along the Gulf to the Florida-Alabama state line to visit the famous Flora-Bama Bar. The bar has been called the “Last Great American Roadhouse” and ranks among the “Best Beach Bars” in the world. The wooden building is located on the beach between high rises and we almost missed it as we drove along the Gulf road. Originally built in 1964, it has survived fires and hurricanes. After suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the building was restored.

Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar

It was quiet the day we went. Their busy season starts with spring break.  Their “Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party” brings huge crowds in April.

Besides the famous beach bar, there are two restaurants, a liquor store, a marina, and plenty of parking across the road on the bay. We enjoyed a lunch of shrimp po’boys at their Old River Bar and Grill overlooking the bay before heading back to our campground.

Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar beach side view
Gulf Coast Good Eats

For us, no trip to the Gulf Coast would be complete without a trip to a seafood market. In our quest for Stone Crab Claws we stopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market in Pensacola. The huge seafood market has been in business in Pensacola for many years and sells every kind of fresh seafood and related items you can imagine. Iced down in the display cases were fresh grouper, redfish, snapper, other fish, gulf shrimp, scallops, stone crab claws, oysters, and seafood of every kind. Also available are made in house shrimp and other salads, smoked mullet dip, seafood spreads, seafood chowder and other specialty items. Then there were smoked sausages and other specialty meats along with many Cajun specialties. In another room were sauces, condiments, and kitchen items to help prepare and eat the seafood.

The place was packed but we were served quickly and left happy with Jumbo Stone Crab Claws, shrimp salad and smoked mullet dip for dinner.  Best meal we had on the entire trip.

Joe Patti Seafood in Pensacola
Joe Patti Seafood in Pensacola

Located just a short drive from the entrance to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola Beach was recommended to us by several of our friends so of course we had to give it a try. Our friends didn’t steer us wrong. The Cajun fried shrimp appetizer and Grouper Sandwiches were excellent.

Peg Leg Pete's in Pensacola Beach, Florida
Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola Beach, Florida
Wildlife and Sunset Vewing

Even sitting in our own campsite we were entertained. One day an armidillo walked into our campsite driving Blondie wild.

Armadillo in our campsite
Armadillo in our campsite

We walked out on the fishing pier at Fort Pickens to see what the fishermen were catching. One fisherman was reeling in a stingray as we arrived and we saw another catching Drum in a cast net. As we walked along the pier a Great Blue Heron walked right in front of me before hopping up on the railing to put on a show. There were actually two herons on the pier and when the first one flew off, another took his place on the railing.

We enjoyed more beautiful sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunset over the Gulf
Sunset over the Gulf
Evacuating the Campground

As the week went on the winds picked up and the waves got bigger.

The seas were getting rough
The seas were getting rough

When you check into the campground at Fort Pickens, you are taking a chance that you may have to leave early because of the road flooding. There is a low section of the road between the campground and the entrance to the park that is subject to flooding. During big storms, the campground has been known to flood. The winds had been picking up all week and storms were forecast starting on Thursday, March 10, our departure date.

On Wednesday afternoon we returned from our wanderings to find a notice on the door to our RV that the campground was closing at noon on Thursday. Several campers left that afternoon while everyone else (like us) started packing up and getting ready for an early morning departure. The luck of the Irish was with us since we were scheduled to leave anyway.

After leaving the campground we drove through a section of the Fort Pickens Road that was underwater.

My review of Fort Pickens Campground can be found on Campendium.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Creek Side Camping and Barbeque in North Carolina

After two days of elk watching in Cataloochee Valley we packed a lunch and set out from our campground in Waynesville for a 40 mile drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of fall colors.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile scenic parkway through the southern Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. The northernmost point of the parkway is Mile 0 in Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia. The southernmost point is Mile 469 near Cherokee, North Carolina. There are scenic overlooks, picnic areas, hiking trails, and campgrounds all along the way.

Although we have traversed several sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the past we had never been on the area in North Carolina north of the Highest Point at Mile 431. On our journey this time we traveled south from  Mile 408 at Mount Pisgah to Maggie Valley at about Mile 455.

The first order of business was a picnic at the Mount Pisgah picnic area at the top of a short paved trail. After lunch under the trees we started our journey south, stopping at several of the scenic overlooks. It was too early in the year for the peak autumn colors but a few of the leaves were beginning to change.

Fall Colors on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Fall Colors on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

Looking Glass Rock got it’s name because sunlight will reflect off the granite when there is water collected on it.

Looking Glass Rock Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Looking Glass Rock Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

There was beautiful scenery every where we looked.

Beautiful day for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Beautiful day for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

We found a few more fall colors.

A few fall colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
A few fall colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

There are many folktales surrounding the Devil’s Courthouse. It was getting late and we decided to skip the trail to the top.

Devil's Courthouse Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Devil’s Courthouse Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

The picture on the left was taken 8 years ago when we first stopped at the Highest Point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile 431. The one on the right from this visit.

The photo below is the view from the Highest Point.

Highest Point Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Highest Point Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

A few clouds rolled in as we continued south,

Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

Our home base for exploring Cataloochee Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway was Creekwood RV Park a few miles north of Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Our site backed up to a beautiful creek. It was a perfect place to relax after a day of wandering.

Of course we had to try some North Carolina barbeque while were were there. The Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville was recommended and the spareribs, chicken, and brisket were done to perfection. And it turns out the owners are originally from Georgia!

Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville, NC
Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville, NC

Beautiful fall weather, bugling elk, scenic drives, camping beside a creek, and delicious barbeque. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Wandering around Ridgeway, South Carolina

We’ve had a wonderful summer at home in Georgia but the fifth wheel hasn’t moved in four months. It’s time to hit the road and do a little wandering in the RV.

We are heading to Virginia to spend a few days visiting our daughter’s family. We’ve made this trip several times before and although we could make it in one day we like to stop somewhere in North or South Carolina to break up the trip.

We enjoyed taking a walk around the pond in the campground
We enjoyed taking a walk around the pond in the campground

I love staying in new places so after I read a good review of the Little Cedar Creek Campground I decided we would check it out. The campground  is clean and well maintained with friendly and helpful camp hosts.  The sites are wooded, spacious and quiet. There are trails through the woods and at the bottom of a hill is a little pond and a creek. We decided to stay two nights so we could explore the nearby town of Ridgeway.

A Moose in the South Carolina Woods
A Moose in the South Carolina Woods
Dawg vs Gator
Dawg vs Gator

Downtown Ridgeway has some interesting old buildings, shops and a wonderful restaurant in the old town hall. We strolled around downtown and enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Old Town Hall Restaurant.

Next stop, Virginia!

Wandering in the Briar Patch

“Skin me, Br’er Fox,’ sez Br’er Rabbit, sezee, ‘snatch out my eyeballs, t’ar out my yeras by de roots, en cut off my legs,’ sezee, ‘but do please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,’ sezee.”

– – from the story “How Mr. Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox”  in the book “Uncle Remus: Being Legends of the Old Plantation” by Joel Chandler Harris.

When I was a child, my family spent a week every summer with my grandmother in Eatonton, Georgia. Back then, U.S. Highway 441 was a major north-south route through Georgia.  The highway went through the downtown of many small towns and Eatonton was one of them. From the highway travelers saw the statue of Br’er Rabbit which sits on the courthouse lawn (the picture in the header above shows Br’er Rabbit is still on the courthouse lawn today).

Times have changed and these days a bypass goes around the town. Travelers who take the time to get off the bypass and explore the downtown area will find two interesting museums, a butterfly garden that is a certified Monarch Way Station, charming shops and an award winning restaurant.

Although I’ve lived most of my life in coastal Georgia, my roots are buried deep in the red clay of Putnam County in middle Georgia. My mother grew up on a dairy farm in Putnam County and after she and my dad retired there in the early 1970’s  my children got to spend their childhood visiting Eatonton, the county seat, each year. I still go there several times a year.

Joel Chandler Harris and the Uncle Remus Museum
Brer Rabbit stands in front of the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, GA
Brer Rabbit stands in front of the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, GA

Joel Chandler Harris, the author of the Uncle Remus stories was born in Eatonton in 1848.  Harris first introduced the characters of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear in a newspaper column. The column was so successful he later published several popular books of the stories. The 1946 Disney movie “Song of the South” brought these characters to life on the big screen.

Uncle Remus Museum honoring author Joel Chandler Harris in Eatonton, Georgia
Uncle Remus Museum honoring author Joel Chandler Harris in Eatonton, Georgia

A visit to Eatonton wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Uncle Remus Museum located in Turner Park, three blocks from the courthouse on Highway 441. The building housing the museum was created from original slave cabins from Putnam County. Two cabins were moved to the museum location and combined to make the two main rooms of the museum. Later, a third room was added from a Putnam County plantation home. In these rooms are many first editions of his books, interesting displays of artifacts from the 1800’s, and shadow boxes with wooden carvings of the characters.

Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, Georgia
Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, Georgia

The day I visited the museum I was greeted by Georgia, a delightful and enthusiastic volunteer who entertained me with many great stories. The Uncle Remus books were printed in at least 27 different languages and the museum has visitors from all over the world. In one of the display cases are several books published in other languages that were sent to the museum from visitors when they returned home after visiting the museum.

Georgia Writer’s Museum

In addition to Joel Chandler Harris, Eatonton is also the birthplace of Alice Walker, award winning author of “The Color Purple”. Flannery O’Conner’s home was in nearby Milledgeville.

The Georgia Writer’s Museum features permanent displays celebrating these three authors. In addition, there are books on display from many of other Georgia authors.

Again I was greeted by an enthusiastic volunteer who walked with me through the museum and told me some interesting stories about the authors.

Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch

A fairly new addition to the town is a beautiful butterfly habitat created by local volunteers. The garden is Certified Monarch Way Station No. 9045 and is also  an official site for geo-caching. When I visited there in August, 2015 several varieties of Swallowtails kept me entertained.

I created a Mesh gallery of the garden. Click the right arrow on each photo to advance to the next picture.

Smith’s Coastal Grill
Smith's Coastal Grill, Eatonton, Georgia
Smith’s Coastal Grill, Eatonton, Georgia

Of course we have a favorite restaurant when we are in Eatonton.  Smith’s Coastal Grill, located on Jefferson Street just a block from the courthouse, was recently named one of the 100 Great Plates in the state of Georgia and is featured in Georgia Eats, the Official State Culinary Guide for the state. They won this honor for their amazing fish tacos. Other favorites are shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and Key Lime Pie that rivals any you could get in Key West.

Right next door to the restaurant is Smith’s Sweets with coffee, homemade pralines, pastries, ice cream and if you get there on the right morning, delicious chicken biscuits.

More of the beautiful Texas Hill Country around Inks Lake

Bluebonnets lined the roads around Inks Lake
Bluebonnets lined the roads around Inks Lake

Inks Lake State Park in Burnet (pronounced BURN-it DERN it) was our home for the 4 nights before Easter weekend. Thanks to my friend Tim in Arlington for recommending this park.

We arrived early in the day and were able to get a beautiful waterfront site. The bad news is we would have to leave on Good Friday because the park was full for Easter weekend. I knew we would love the area when we saw bluebonnets lining the roads to the park.

Our waterfront campsite was a great place to watch ducks, geese and all the water activities. We saw people paddling canoes and kayaks, floating on tubes,  and fishing from motor boats. The sunsets were gorgeous.

I love talking to locals to find out the best places to see. We stopped at Longhorn Caverns State Park one morning to ask about the tours. The ranger had seen me taking pictures of bluebonnets beside the road and he told us about a great scenic drive south of Llano. We were headed to Llano for lunch so we were off on a bluebonnet hunt after we stuffed ourselves with brisket and ribs.

Cooper's Barbeque in Llano, Texas
Cooper’s Barbeque in Llano, Texas

One afternoon we toured nearby Longhorn Caverns. During prohibition the cavern was privately owned and the cavern was run as a honky tonk and restaurant. In one of the large rooms was a bandstand with tables set up all around. When prohibition was repealed the owner gave the land to the state of Texas.

One morning we took a hike on the Valley Spring trail in the state park. The trail started out beside the lake and wound through the woods with wildflowers growing beneath the trees.

Inks Lake State Park has moved up near the top of my list of favorite state parks. Our site was a back in paved pad with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern hook. We had a huge area beneath shade trees to set up our chairs and watch the world go by. There are two fishing piers, a marina and boat launch, canoe and kayak rentals, playground, camp store,  and several hiking trails. Click to read my campground review of Inks Lake State Park.