A Winter On The Crystal Coast

Oceana Pier On Atlantic Beach, NC

Winter On The Outer Banks

Along The Crystal Coast

We arrived at Cape Lookout National Seashore in early November 2017. This would be our home for almost 5 months while we volunteered as Visitor Center docents for the National Park Service. The main Visitor Center is located on Harkers Island, North Carolina and the National Seashore  protects the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks: North and South Core Banks and Shakleford Banks. The  iconic landmark for the Cape Lookout is its black and white diamond painted lighthouse. The seashore is also well known as a shellers haven and for the wild horses that live on Shackleford Banks. This part of the North Carolina coast is called the Crystal Coast because of the beautiful beaches, ocean access and numerous bays and rivers. East of the town of Beaufort to Cedar Island (where you catch the state ferry to Ocracoke Island) is referred to as “Down East” with a unique culture and way of speaking due to being isolated well into the 20th century. We don’t have space enough to detail all that we did here but we hope there is enough so you’ll come visit yourself.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse And Assistant Keepers Quarters

A lot of people ask “Why do you want to go to the beach in the winter?” Our reply is because everyone else doesn’t! The pristine beaches you can walk for miles and rarely see anyone else, after a storm the shells are washed up and ready for the taking and in town you can walk in to a restaurant or find free parking without the hassle. One other reason: Steve hates heat and humidity so he’d never go in the summer! I lived in North Carolina for 20 years and had gone to the northern Outer Banks but never to this area. I couldn’t believe what I’d missed!

CALO Visitor Center In Beaufort


Oil Shed And Summer Kitchen Near Lighthouse










When we started work as volunteers both the Harkers Island and Beaufort Visitor Centers were open so we had days at both. The Beaufort VC is located in the old post office building with some city offices. The building was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project in 1937 during the Great Depression. In the lobby are four murals painted by Russian born artist Simca Simikovich representing life and history of this sea oriented area. One shows range markers used to guide ships into Beaufort harbor. Because of the shifting shoals and sandbars Cape Lookout and the Outer Banks were called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Mailboat Mural

Another mural shows a mailboat headed for Cape Lookout lighthouse. Due to rivers, bays and marshes the Down East area had no roads or bridges until the 1940s so all transportation and commerce came and went by boat. The mailboat was the link between the isolated communities and town.

Live Decoy Geese Mural

A third mural shows geese that were raised from eggs by the Ca’e Bankers of Portsmouth Village on North Core Banks. They imprinted on the villagers and stayed. The birds were used as live decoys to bring in migrating wild geese for hunters.

Shackleford Ponies Mural

Of course there is one of the Shackleford ponies. At an average of 44-48″ at the withers they are between pony and horse so both terms are used. DNA tests link these horses to Spanish horses but no one knows just how they got here.

The last mural depicts the famous wreck of the Chrissie Wright. It is placed over a doorway. When this ship foundered on the shoals  off Shackleford Island during a winter storm all but one of the crew froze to death while islanders watched helplessly from shore. This tragedy led to the establishment of a lifesaving station on Cape Lookout two years later. Even today locals will refer to a cold stormy day as a “Chrissie Wright Day”.

Chrissie Wright Mural

The town of Beaufort was the third town established in North Carolina and dates to 1713. History abounds all through the area and we took full advantage of learning as much as we could from tours, special events and lectures. 2018 is the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s capture and the sinking of his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, nearby. One of the most interesting locations was the Ann Street Cemetery. If you love old cemeteries this is one you need to see. The self guided tour brochure details many stories from the unmarked graves of settlers killed in the Tuscaroran War in the early 1700s to the little girl buried in a cask of rum when she died at sea to area privateer turned statesman Ottway Burns.

Chari At The Veterans Day Parade

Shortly after we arrived Cape Lookout was represented in the Morehead City Veterans Day parade. So we rode in one of the NPS boats and showered the kids with candy. We learned that because of the area being home to several military bases this parade is one of the longest in the country. We also did the Down East Christmas parade and served as Santa’s sleigh!

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice?

Another holiday event was the Beaufort Candlelight Home Tour through private homes and buildings in the historic district. The Beaufort office was open that night. We worked a few hours and also had time to tour. On Christmas Eve we attended services at the Ann Street Methodist Church built in the 1750s and still in use.


Christmas On Harkers Island



Crab Trap Christmas Tree At Core Sound Museum

We enjoyed touring Harkers Island to see the holiday lights. Several of the homes displayed the area’s symbolic anchor outlined in lights. We decorated the interior of our Visitor Center and strung lights on the anchor from the Olive Thurlow, a shipwreck near cape Lookout, that greets visitors to the Harkers Island location. The Cape Lookout lighthouse is normally open for climbing mid May to mid September. So we were very excited when a New Years Day climb was scheduled and we were to be working. In preparation, we learned the history of the lighthouse, interpretive points and climbed it – all 207 steps! The view is fantastic! Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the climb was cancelled.

Hackers Island Visitors Center


View From The Top Of The Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For Thanksgiving we took a harbor cruise aboard The Crystal Lady around Beaufort Harbor and had Thanksgiving dinner. A great way to spend the holiday when you are in a new area. A special holiday celebration was our trip to New Bern, NC to take the city tram tour and visit Tryon Palace. We highly recommend the tram tour. Our guide was excellent and gave us insight into this historical city. It is said that houses have moved more in this city than anywhere else as the city expanded and developed. As we observed several times when the guide would say “This house used to be over there.”  One house has been moved 5 times! The original Tryon Palace burned down and the current structure is a replica built from the original plans. New Bern was the capitol of the colony of North Carolina and Tryon Palace served as the Governor’s palace. Each December for two weekends they hold a candlelight tour of the palace with living history skits done in several locations. Outside on the grounds are tents with period entertainment and in front of the palace black Americans perform the traditional song and dance of enslaved people called Jonkonnu.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Cruise






















Tryon Palace Living History Dancers











Jonkonnu Singer




Jonkonnu Dancers







Performer Signora Bella Does A Comedy Juggling Routine

During the winter the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort holds monthly lectures on Wednesdays. Since we were off the lectures became a highlight of our time here. We attended four lectures on topics from Native people of the area and the Tuscaroran War, whaling on Shackleford Island, the story behind the sperm whale skeleton and heart on display at the museum and Churchill’s Pirates (a British fleet sent to the USA to patrol the Outer Banks against German U-boats). There are three NC Maritime Museums but the Beaufort location is the largest. It houses displays and relics from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, about the Civil Air Patrol in WWII, the Menhaden fishing industry and sea chanteys, and boating/recreation in the area.  After the lecture about the sperm whale Steve and I got to hold the plastinated heart which weighed in at 55 lbs. This museum is a must see if you visit.

That’s A Whale Of A Heart!

Speaking of must see brings us to another wonderful museum, the Core Sound Waterfowl and Culture Museum. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and folkways of the Down East communities. The Core Sound is the body of water between the mainland and the Outer Banks. Each November the CSM and the Decoy Carvers Guild sponsor the Core Sound Decoy Festival. Thousands of folks attend. We worked one day at a NPS table with a kids fishing activity and one day in the VC but we did have time to see the festival for a few hours. I never realized there were so many types of decoys! Decoy carving is still active and the best carvers are true artists. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to telling the story of the independent and hardworking people who lived on the islands and mainland Down East communities. They were a self reliant, closely knit and religious people whose way of life is but a memory. Don’t miss this either.

Jellyfish Dancing

The Aquarium Dive Show












Other great places to visit are the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knolls Shores and Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon has a wonderful beach area and provided a place for us to go when the ferries weren’t running. The Fort itself has a lengthy history from the mid 1800s thru WWII. Rooms are set up with interactive audio and displays of the various historical periods. The Pine Knolls Shores Aquarium features fish and reptiles of the NC coast. It is one of three NC aquariums. Both Fort Macon and the Aquarium have extensive programing so be sure to check the website before your visit.

Fort Macon

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the great restaurants in the area. Seafood lovers rejoice! Not only in the restaurants but we found fish markets galore. We ate our fill and then some of red and black drum, sea trout, shrimp, scallops and oysters. However once in a while we took a break and pigged out at Grumpy’s in Morehead City. Known for the in house cured corned beef, we highly recommend the corned beef hash and reuben sandwiches. Another seafood break spot was the Seaside restaurant at the Citgo station on Harkers Island for the best fried chicken. We toured areas up to two hours away. When we went to Kinston, NC to see a Civil War era ironclad we also dined at The Farmer and The Chef of Food Network fame. A higher class restaurant than we normally frequent, it was a superb meal. Another trip took us south to see Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. They were renovating the Visitor Center and we had postponed the trip hoping it would reopen before we left. That didn’t happen but we did walk the trail and read interpretive signs. That gave us an appetite (doesn’t everything?). We looked on the GPS and picked a spot called Something Fishy just based on its name. When we walked in we saw Guy Fieri’s poster on the wall. This was a DDD spot he’d been too just 3 weeks prior. The evening I am writing this blog we saw the episode including Something Fishy. Let’s just say we never had a bad meal!

Dinner At The Farmer And The Chef

Moore’s Creek National Battlefield

January and February are the slow months for the national seashore and we worked 2-3 days a week. This, according to locals, was the coldest winter they had had in 30 years. We had not one but two snowstorms albeit not more than four inches of snow. However for this area that was a lot and we got “snow days” off from work. There were several days when winds would be too high and the ferries to the islands wouldn’t run. On the days they did run we took advantage and enjoyed combing the beach without crowds. A home school group came and the equine biologist did her Horse Sense tour for them to Shackleford Island. Did we want to go along and take photos for the park? How fast do you think we said yes? Dr. Sue is so informative and gave a great tour. This tour is given monthly in the summer and fall. We highly recommend it. You need to sign up for it as space is limited. During our workdays Steve and I enjoyed doing research and read extensively. We were able to develop some outlines for Shade Shelter talks to be given by staff during the summer. Topics we learned about were the history of lighthouses, types of sailing ships, WWII along the Outer Banks, the Menhaden fisheries, the Winter of 1918 when Core Sound froze over and stories of Down East plus a great book called The Paper Canoe.

The Welcoming Committee

Banker Horse

Snow At The Seashore

That’s Not Sand!

When we arrived five months seemed a long time but oh, it went so quickly. We had a wonderful time and best of all the staff said we were welcome back anytime. OK, twist our arms! We take with us wonderful memories! So long Cape Lookout! So long Crystal Coast!

Worth Getting up Early To See

Steve At The Top Of Cape Lookout Lighthouse

South Core Banks Pier










Leave Only Footprints


A Cajun Christmas In New Orleans

NOLA Panorama

NOLA Panorama

We’ve been wanting to spend time time in New Orleans ever since we hit the road. This year (2016) we finally got here. Another sticker for the RV map. That only leaves 3 states in the lower 48 we haven’t camped in West VA, Ohio and Connecticut). We chose Bayou Segnette SP on what is referred to as the westbank area. Good choice as it has large sites, free wifi, free laundry and is only a 10 minute drive to the Algiers Point ferry to downtown New Orleans. The parking for all day was $5 and senior rate on the ferry is $1 each way. If you are lucky you might even get serenaded by the calliope from the Steamboat Natchez.

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

We spent the first day with friend and fellow volunteer from Red Rock Lakes, Marilyn, touring two of the six sites that are part of Jean Lafitte NHP. The first was Chalmette Battlefield (site of the 1814 Battle of New Orleans) and the other in Thibodaux, LA at the Acadian Culture Center. We arrived in Thibodaux just in time for a Ranger led walking tour of town covering history and architecture of the area. If you enjoy discovering the small towns and hidden gems of our country, don’t miss this walk. We saw original Acadian homes, Victorian homes, Art & Craft homes, Beau Arts buildings and even one of only two Second French Empire homes in Louisiana. We also learned about the Louisiana seal which depicts a pelican with 3 chicks ripping her own flesh to feed them. This was created based upon what the first governor thinks he saw. Truth, per the Ranger, is that pelicans never have more than two chicks and usually only one survives, no bird would rip itself to feed young and that until the late 20th century the seal also showed blood droplets. The Center hosts free events such as a Cajun music night and a local dialect of French discussion group to preserve the language. At one time it was illegal to speak the Acadian language. We ended the day with a meal at Fremin’s, once a pharmacy cum restaurant. Oh, those smoked oysters and gumbo!

Seal Of Louisiana

Seal Of Louisiana

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Malus-Beauregard House

Malus-Beauregard House










Victorian Home In Thibodeaux

Victorian Home In Thibodaux

Second Empire French Home

Second Empire French Home










Thibodeaux Cemetery

Thibodaux Cemetery

Day two was a walking marathon through the French Quarter. We started at the Old Mint, the only mint to have coined currency for both the US and the Confederacy. Currently it is also being used as the Visitor Center for the New Orleans Jazz NHP. Then we walked and photographed ourselves silly on the fabulous architecture and seasonal decorations. We returned to the Jazz park for a Ranger led walk on music and cuisine. If America is the melting pot of the world then surely New Orleans is the epicenter. We knew about the Spanish, the French, the Acadians, the Caribbean influence but Canary Island Islenos … we had no idea. We were still able to catch half of the free jazz concert by the NPS Arrowhead band too. Starving we stopped for a muffuletta and jambalaya.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

The French Market

The French Market

Shabby Chic

Shabby Chic

The Cornstalk Hotel

The Cornstalk Hotel

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony









Landmark Eatery

OMG! The Food!

OMG! The Food!








New Orleans Architecture

New Orleans Architecture

French Quarter Scene

French Quarter Scene

All That Jazz!

All That Jazz!


New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

Being in a vibrant city at holiday time is special. We loved the decorations, the lights at The Oaks and most of all the Cajun custom of guiding Papa Noel with bonfires along the levees. Steve has put together a video of these events and our visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!





Where Next? #10

It’s hard to believe that our wonderful summer in northern Utah is coming to a close. So where will the four winds blow us next?

First we are headed over to Laramie, Wyoming to visit friends who are volunteering at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historical Site. Then south to the Silverton/Durango area in Colorado. A brief stop at Petrified Forest NP to say hi to staff where we volunteered in 2014-2015. Lastly we turn south to try our hand at being camp hosts for the Coronado National Forest at Parker Canyon Lake about an hour south of Tucson, AZ. After 6 weeks there we make an almost straight through drive to Charlotte, NC. We know now that full timing is what we want so no use paying to store things for 15+ years. We’ll pare down to just a few memory pieces.

Then a much overdue trip to see Steve’s family in Chambersburg, PA for Thanksgiving. From there we meander for a month via Alabama, Florida and Louisiana to our next volunteer job at Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We’ll be there from January-March 2017.

Our path this time looks a lot like a ricocheting bullet, doesn’t it? Thanks for traveling with us!

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

Christmas At La Posada

Winslow, Arizona, La Posada

Celebrating Christmas At La Posada

When we began our RV lifestyle we decided that gifts for special occasions would be experiences rather than “stuff”. Continuing on with this trend for our third Christmas on the road we celebrated by having dinner at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, http://www.laposada.org. It was, for us, a very big splurge. Was it worth it? You bet. The hotel and the Turquoise Room restaurant are beautiful any time of the year but no better time than when decked out in holiday finery. Joining us were fellow RV volunteers, Carolyn and Ed.

Steve and I have become very interested in the story about the Harvey House Hotels, the Harvey girls and Mary Jane Colter through our studies at Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert Inn, now a National Historic Landmark, was managed by the Fred Harvey Company following WWII. During the renovation, Colter, their lead architect brightened the interior, put in picture windows and had Fred Kabotie paint several murals. Very few of the Harvey House buildings remain today. You can read the Fred Harvey Story in “Appetite For America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West- One Meal At A Time” by Stephen Fried. Who knows, maybe you’ll become a Fredhead too!

Fred Harvey, Harvey Houses

Fred Harvey

La Posada like so many historical properties went from riches to rags and was restored to its former glory. Briefly, here is the story. When Fred Harvey (1835-1901) left Liverpool, England at age 15 little could he imagine that people would still be talking about him more than one hundred years after his death. He started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher. He spent every minute learning from chefs, owners and workers. He wanted to create fine hotels and restaurants in the American West. Working with the Santa Fe Railroad he built a chain of hotels and restaurants in towns along the tracks. Known for excellent food, top drawer service and beautiful decor Harvey Houses became destinations themselves. He was one of the first employers to use women as trained servers. The Harvey Girls had to be single, have an eighth grade education, be of good moral character and commit to at least a year contract. They could not marry while employed, were known for their crisp black and white uniforms and lived in company housing with curfews. Like the hotels, being a Harvey Girl became a desired career. After Fred Harvey’s death the company was run by his sons. They expanded into working with the National Parks.

Mary Jane Colter At Work In The Grand Canyon

Mary Jane Colter At Work In The Grand Canyon

It was during this period that they employed Mary Jane Colter (1869-1958), first as an interior designer then as architect. Some of her best known work is at the Grand Canyon National Park. She designed La Posada as if it were the grand hacienda of a wealthy family of Spanish heritage. It was the jewel in the Harvey House crown. Following WWII Americans turned away from railroads as a means of travel in favor of improved roads and airplanes. La Posada closed as a hotel in 1957. The furnishings and decor items were auctioned off. The building was repurposed as office space for the railroad and a medical clinic. Fast forward to 1997 when two new owners with a vision purchased the building and sixteen acres of land. Gradually they have restored this grand hotel into a destination once again. If you find yourself traveling along I-40 be sure and stop. Watch the documentary about the restoration. Eat in the restaurant. Stay the night. Rooms are very competitively priced. Traveling with a dog? No problem. Lots of dogs bring their owners here.

Until you can enjoy this gem for yourself here are a few pictures from our visit. It was too late by the time we finished eating to go “Stand on the Corner” but yes, this is the same Winslow memorialized in the Eagles song.

Turquoise Room, restaurant

The Turquoise Room

Gift Shop

Gift Shop

Famous American Women

Famous American Women

Light, Action, Camera

Light, Action, Camera

Eat Dessert First

Eat Dessert First




















Native American Rug

Native American Rug

Spanish galleon

Spanish Galleon



















Happy New Year

Cheers From Us and Happy New Year





Happy 2014!

Happy New Year to all!  We hope you all had as fantastic a year as we did, and hope that 2014 will be even better!

Last year, at New Year’s Day, we posted a blog entry listing our goals for 2013.  Well, here we are at New Year’s Day again!  How did we do?  Here’s a repeat of last year’s post, with our comments and goals for 2014.

In 2013 we said “We can’t imagine a year more exciting, challenging, draining and life altering than 2012. What could 2013 offer? We don’t know and that’s what keeps us on the move as we seek new places, new adventures and check off a bucket list item or two.

I’m not going to call them New Years Resolutions that way I can’t break them. I’ll call them goals instead.”

Here were Chari’s Top 5 For 2013:

1)   I want to develop our blog to be more user friendly, add new features and reach 5000 views. In 2012 after just 6 months the blog has 21 followers and reached 1,188 views. Now that’s nothing compared to some of the top rated blogs but we appreciate each and everyone who has taken an interest in Homeless and Loving It!

By New Year’s 2014 – To my utter amazement this was achieved and surpassed. We now have 69 followers on the blog and many more via Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in. We ended 2013 with 11,175 views. So where to go from here? Shall I really reach for the stars by saying I want 25,000 views? Yes.

2)   I want to ride a Segway on a tour in some city or other place. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and now it’s finally reached the top 5. 

By New Year’s 2014 – Done and enjoyed in Savannah. Don’t have a new challenge selected for 2014 but I’m sure one will come along.

3)   I want to take a sailboat day trip. I’ve been on big ships and small boats. I’ve kayaked and canoed but I’ve never been on a sailboat.

By New Year’s 2014 – Didn’t get out all day but had a wonderful time on an evening cruise in Halifax Harbor.

4)   I want to continue seeing National Park sites toward our goal of seeing them all. I haven’t counted recently but I think we are at 60 out of 391. What are the chances of reaching 25% next year? That means 38 more places. Mmmm, a tough one. It’s not the count that matters but the fun and learning along the way.

By New Year’s 2014 – Made it to 22% and our count is 86 NPS sites. So let’s shoot for 30% in 2014. That means 123 sites but we’re heading west and there are more parks out there.

5)   See a moose in the wild when I have my camera with me. Two years ago I was kayaking in Idaho when I rounded a bend and came within 100 feet of a cow moose and her calf. I stopped and said “I won’t hurt you” meaning “and I hope you won’t hurt me.” She just looked, decided I didn’t need further investigation and walked away with the calf in tow. To this day I consider this the best wildlife shot I could have had, the one that got away.

By New Year’s 2014 – Saw 5 moose, once w/o the camera handy and 4 when it was too dark to shoot from our truck.

       New For 2014 – Two out of five from 2013 are moving forward to 2014. What else should I shoot for?

1)  Make myself use my tripod more often. I have a bad habit of just grabbing the camera and taking off.

2)   Keep current with our blog. Easier said than done!

3)   Get myself out of bed and do sunrise shots. For this I’ll pretend to be going back to work (yup I just said the W word). Definitely easier said than done!

Better not get too carried away I’ve already had enough self-improvement for today.

Here were Steve’s Top 5 For 2013

1-     I want an adventure.  Something I’ve never done before.  2012 saw two, flying in a hot air balloon, and flying in a sailplane.  Don’t know what this new adventure will be, just know that I want one!

By New Year’s 2014 – Well, I don’t know if anything in 2013 qualifies as a special adventure comparing to ballooning or soaring in a sailplane.  Guess I’ll have to keep working on this one.

2-    Just recently we’ve eaten a couple of meals that place first and second on my all-time favorites.  One was Emeril’s recipe for Shrimp and Grits, which we made with fresh caught Gulf Shrimp.  The other was our own recipe for Cajun style baked oysters.  Don’t know which one places first and which one second, it may be a tie, but at some point in 2013 I want to make and eat a meal that pushes them to second and third place!

By New Year’s 2014 – Finding the Atlantic Snow Crab processing plant in Nova Scotia definitely qualifies!  Buying crab right from the factory, bringing it home, making a salad, popping open a beer, and sitting outdoors dipping crab meat into a half dozen different cocktail sauces…  Ahh, Life Is Good!  And, this meal did double duty!  Putting all the shells in a pot and cooking them down made a great stock for a fish chowder!  (Or chowdah, as a certain sister-in-law might say)

3-    I want a “National Geographic Moment”.  I’ve experienced a few in my life, and Chari has had some.  One of mine was being so close to Northern Right Whales in the Bay of Fundy that when they spouted, I got wet.  Another was being on the fifty-yard line watching while two bull elk locked horns in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  Chari and I watched enthralled as the bats flew in their hundreds of thousands from Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and wound their way to the horizon in the twilight sky.  I’d like another “National Geographic Moment”.

By New Year’s 2014 – Let’s see…  would being up-close and personal with humpback whales in the Bay of Fundy qualify?  Umm…  YES!

4-    I want to experience a moment of pure wonder and serenity.  Once, I sat under a pine tree at the Grand Canyon, in the midst of winter, when the only other person in sight was my brother, who also sat under a pine tree about a quarter of a mile away, and watched while the canyon slowly changed colors as the evening sun sank into the western sky.  Another was sitting on the beach near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse watching as the morning sun rose to my left, a thunderstorm raged to my right about a mile or so offshore, and a pod of porpoises played in front of me.  And watching a fantastic display of the Northern Lights while driving alone through the night across North Dakota was another.  I’d like to experience this feeling again.

By New Year’s 2014 – Driving along a coastal road in Nova Scotia, we turned off on a side road leading to a town called White Point.  It turned out to be a small fishing village, maybe a dozen homes and eight or ten fishing boats in the harbor.  At the far side of “town” was a path leading out onto a peninsula, about half open meadow, and half wooded.  The ocean waves swept the shores on both sides while seabirds soared overhead.  We walked passed a grave, marked “The Unknown Sailor”, and I told Chari that we found the place where she could scatter my ashes (hopefully not for another fifty years or so!) 

Also in Nova Scotia, near the town of Lunenburg, we kayaked in an area known as Blue Rocks.  Paddling through the calm waters, among rocks and islands covered with a golden colored seaweed was absolutely beautiful…  rivaling the Antelope Canyon paddle on Lake Powell as the prettiest paddle I’ve ever done.

5-    I’d like my life of wandering with Chari to go on forever.

By New Year’s 2014 – Still working on this one, and now we’ve got another year under our belts! 

Overall, I’d say that four out of five is pretty darn good, and as for having a great adventure?  Well, Life is an adventure, and we’re having one every day, so I guess that makes five out of five! 

What are my goals for 2014?  I can’t think of any from last year that I would change.  Let’s just list the same goals again!

Here’s Opal’s Top 5 For 2013

1-   I want to actually catch a squirrel.

By New Year’s 2014 – Still working on this one.  But, I’ve come close a couple of times.  For 2014, I’m going to add “catching a pelican”.  Either one will do!

2-  I want to run and roll in the sand on 10,000 more beaches.

By New Year’s 2014 – Only 8372 to go!

3-  I want Mom and Dad to take me everywhere and not leave me in the stinkin’ trailer.

By New Year’s 2014 – We’re not making any headway on this one.  What does it take to educate those people?  Guess I’ll still need to keep rolling my big brown eyes at them when they look like they’re going to leave me alone.

4-  I want “people food” with every meal.

By New Year’s 2014 – We’re doing good, but we’re not up to 100% yet.  We’ll keep this one on the list too.

5- Just once, I want to be left alone after I’ve fallen asleep for the evening instead of getting woke up to go out and pee. 

By New Year’s 2014 – They actually did it!  Once.  Let’s shoot for two times in 2014.

Paddles, Pedals And Playas On Saint George Island

We are starting the New Year off with a change to the blog as far as theme. Now our page will have a sidebar listing the most recent posts and an archive list by month so you can look back easily if you wish to refer to a past post without scrolling through every post. You can also search the blog by keyword if you can’t remember where you saw something or if you are new to our blog and have a special interest area. Let us know how you like it. We have our own new feature photo too. We will have links to major sites mentioned here so you can just click on them to get more information.

SGI, Apalachicola

Bridge To SGI

When we left you in the Alabama post we were late leaving for our 5 hour drive to Apalachicola, Florida. Our “home” for the next 2 weeks would be Saint George Island State Park. We really try to make it to the parks before sundown. (Backing the trailer into an unfamiliar site in the dark isn’t always the easiest thing to do.  Steve) Today that was not to be. We crossed the Apalachicola Bay bridge then the almost 5 mile bridge out to Saint George Island turned left and got to the park about twenty minutes after sunset. The sign at the entrance said “park closes at sunset” and the gate was down. We didn’t know the code to get in! Thank goodness for cell phones. We called the park number and someone was able to give us the code. We found our site and parked. It was level enough so we could make do and stay connected to adjust our position in the morning. From now on if we’re going to arrive after sunset we will call and check about closing time and gate access. Live and learn.

We Love SGI!

We Love SGI!

This is our second visit to Florida’s Hidden Coast as the area is nicknamed. It runs about 150 miles roughly from Panama City on the west to Tallahasse on the east. Apalachicola (known as Apalach to the natives) is the largest town on this strip. Apalachicola is itself just a small town of shrimp and oyster fisherman and tourism. It is the kind of place we love with quaint 1880s-1920s buildings,  locally owned businesses, great seafood and empty sandy beaches. Last February we stayed at Saint Joe Peninsula SP about 35 miles to the west. While we enjoyed the park the sites would be too small for our new trailer. We’ll spend time at on a barrier island known as SGI to the natives, to the east of town. The campground at SGI is smaller with 50 sites but they are large, private and level. The island is approximately 20 miles long by 1 mile wide and the park is located on the easternmost 9 miles. There is a sandy Nature Trail connecting the campground to the East Slough beach access on the Gulf and another primitive spur going off to the lagoon side. Opal and I made good use of these for our morning walks. Dogs are not allowed on the park beaches but SGI does allow them on leashes. Toward the middle of our visit we found a beach access on the Apalachicola Estuary Research land that is open to foot traffic only and Opal could be free to run wade and roll in the sand. The campground had a resident Great Horned Owl who sang us to sleep most nights with his HOO-HOO-DE-HOO.

St. George State Park

Nature Trail At SGI State Park

shells, seashore

Shells In The Surf

Google Earth, Apalachicola

Google Earth View Of Apalachicola Area

Since we didn’t get anything published in our old blog from the trip last year due to life going into warp drive we’ll combine some pictures from both trips. Last year the weather was cool and wet so we did a great deal of exploring since it wasn’t good beach weather. This year the weather was in the 50s-70s and much sunnier so we did more kayaking, biking and beach walking hence the name of the post Paddles, Pedals and Playas (Spanish for beach). Yes we are showing off our high school Spanish.

A quick look back at our February 2012 trip:

1) Finding a great dog beach which we named Opal Beach that had wonderful driftwood for photos too

2) Touring local museums such as the Florida Constitution Museum in Port St. Joe and the John Gorrie Museum http://www.floridastateparks.org/johngorriemuseum/default.cfm in Apalachicola

3) Visiting Florida Caverns SP http://www.floridastateparks.org/floridacaverns/  and Wakulla Springs SP http://www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings/ for photography ops

4) Prowling the shrimp boat docks for more photo ops

5) Walking historic Apalachicola for yet more photo ops

driftwood, beach

Driftwood At Opal Beach

Steve and Opal At St. Joe Peninsula Beach 2/2012

Steve and Opal At St. Joe Peninsula Beach 2/2012

Florida, Caverns

Inside Florida Caverns

Atamasco lily

Atamasco Lily At Florida Caverns

egret, Wakulla Springs

Egret At Wakulla Springs

birds, anhinga

Anhinga In Breeding Plumage On Wakulla River

shrimp boats

Net Results At Shrimp Boat Dock

Florida, shrimp boats

Shrimp Boats I

Apalachicola, Florida

Apalachicola Home

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas From Site 45

This year we’d be here over Christmas and New Years. Not having room for a tree we decorated the outside of the trailer. Our new lifestyle calls for not adding to any “stuff” we carry. We’ve adopted a “If we can’t eat it, wear it, take photos with it or put it in the gas tank we don’t need it” attitude. So instead of buying each other presents we decided to have expensive (at least for us) restaurant meals to celebrate. Christmas dinner was a five course meal at the 1907 Gibson Inn. It was beautifully decorated for the holidays. An appetizer (shrimp and crabmeat cocktail), salad (a variety of greens with goat cheese and their own special dressing) and soup (sweet potato) was the same for all diners. I had cornish game hen for my entree and orange creme brûlée for dessert. I had duck and pecan pie with ice cream covered with a mocha sauce. And I had the leftovers! 

New Years dinner was at the Owl Cafe, an 1880s building that is now part kitchen store, part restaurant and part Tap Room. We ordered off the menu. We both started with lobster bisque, then I had grouper and I had steak with a crab cakeDessert for me was a flan with caramel sauce and I can’t remember but it was good. They didn’t bring home any leftovers! This year is not starting out well. Our food fest didn’t stop there. We frequented Lynn’s Seafood store in Eastpoint and made Emeril Lagassee’s coconut shrimp, his shrimp and grits, fried and cajun oysters, grilled shrimp and oysters and maui mahi. Why do my clothes feel tighter? I’m not one to recommend products often but when we had the coconut shrimp we used a mango coconut pepper sauce by Tropical Pepper Co. If you see it in the store, buy it.

Emeril, coconut shrimp

Mmmm, Coconut Shrimp

Apalachicola, Gibson Inn

Christmas At The Gibson Inn

SGI, lighthouse

SGI Lighthouse At Christmas

Christmas, Apalachicola

Orman House At Christmas In Apalachicola

Most of this visit was spent leisurely walking beaches, kayaking on the lagoon and taking bike rides. Here everyone is out walking, biking, roller blading or boating. The easternmost end of the park is kept as a primitive area. You can walk or bike to it for free or pay a fee to drive the 5 miles out there. We chose to bike the 11 miles R/T from the campground twice. Not having ridden for almost a month my legs did feel it a bit on the first trip but by the second trip I rode back without a break. The road starts out paved then becomes broken pavement then a dirt road and lastly a dirt road with sand traps that will take you from 10mph to zero in 3 feet. Last year we photographed shrimp boats and this year it was oyster boats.

kayaking, St. George Island

Steve Enjoying Saint George Is.

oyster boat, Florida

Oyster Boat Reflection

oyster boats

Oyster Boats At Eastpoint


Florida Boat Pier Near Alligator Point

beach, SGI

Biking To East Beach

Saint George Island State Park

Where Sea Meets Sound

biking, SGI

Ride On Gal

kayaking, photography

Underwater Shot Of Chari Kayaking

beach, SGI

SGI East Beach

beach, gull

Gull Tracks

pets, Apalachicola

Opal At Estuary Beach

Florida, gulls

Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay

We did stop in to see the Apalachicola Maritime Museum. We got there about 1 o’clock and the staff was still at lunch so one of the instructors let us in and said “pay when the girls come back”. We learned a lot more about the history of the area such as its economic rise and fall through the cotton boom and Civil War. Remember when we talked about the Anaconda Plan? Well, the Apalachicola River was one of the first rivers to be blockaded as it was the outlet for one of the South’s major industrial centers, Columbus, GA. During the Civil War England turned to China, India and Egypt for cotton causing imports from the South to fall to 1/8 of pre-war status. The Confederates had booby trapped the Apalachicola River with log snags. These continued to plague steamboat traffic until the Corps of Engineers finally cleared the river. Next it was a logging boom town for cypress. One of the prettiest homes in town was built by logging merchant Thomas Coombs and now is the beautifully restored Coombs Inn. When that industry played out the area turned to fishing and oysters. Fresh water from the Apalachicola river mixes with the salt water of the bay to produce just the right mixture to nurture oyster beds. The area now supplies 10% of the nation’s oysters. The demand for the oysters is bringing a new threat of over harvesting to the area. We were told that currently a truck leaves Apalach once every hour to deliver oysters to the markets. The size of oysters is decreasing and some of the beds may need to be shut down. The museum also holds hands-on classes in wooden boat building and sailing. They offer day and week long cruises on their schooner Heritage as well as pontoon boat and airboat rides.

wooden boat

Museum Teaches Wooden Boat Building

Apalachicola marine museum

Marine Museum Schooner

One evening we took Opal for her beach time and decided to go to the western end of the island where we hadn’t been before. Do you ever feel like you are being put somewhere for a reason? First there were the dogs on the road, then the lady who fell and now… a house fire. We were walking back on the beach toward the truck when Steve looked up and said “That chimney is on fire!” Opal and I stayed on the beach while he ran to the house. No one was home even though doors were open. A neighbor just returning from shopping grabbed a hose while his wife called 911. Soon afterward the man renting the house appeared and fortunately so did the fire department. They doused the chimney and roof with foam and water. All was under control by the time we left.

chimney fire

Oh, Oh!

House Fire Crossfire

House Fire Crossfire

It's Not Raining

It’s Not Raining

W e did take one day to drive to Tallahassee to see Steve’s cousin. We got to town a bit early so we spent an hour or so at the Florida Museum of History. Not having time to see the whole museum we limited ourselves to a traveling art exhibit of Florida paintings and a quick walk through of agricultural history. Most of the artists we’d never heard about but there were 3 we recognized: Frederick Remington, Thomas Hart Benton and N. C. Wyeth. I never knew Remington did anything but western art. He had sold his collection of western art and through his connections with Teddy Roosevelt was allowed to go to Cuba to paint scenes from the Spanish American War. His Florida paintings were done while he was waiting to deploy. 

There are still three small museums left for us to see (the SGI lighhouse, the Orman House and the Raney House), kayaking the Apalachicola River and through the marshes at Tate’s Hell State Forest, taking a ferry over to St. Vincent’s Island NWR and more shrimp and oysters. So until we come back…..