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Winter Wanderings Day #31-32, Sapphire, Brevard, Lake Powhatan, Asheville, NC, Diamond Lakes Regional Park, S Augusta, GA

On Valentine’s Day, we had a late lunch/early dinner at favorite, Blue Ridge Bakery in Brevard, topped off with their Valentine’s cupcake of the week, chocolate covered strawberry, a strawberry cupcake, filled with homemade strawberry jam, frosted with strawberry buttercream and chocolate ganache then topped with a hand dipped chocolate covered strawberry. Divine! We got provisions for the next few days and propane, then headed to Asheville to visit with Holly and family at her sister’s. That night we camped at our Asheville standby, Lake Powhatan, getting our favorite campsite #8 in the Big John Loop. Good camping karma. Perfect spot for the night, before heading south.

The following day, we drove, just south of Augusta, GA to Diamond Lakes Regional Park. It was an impressive complex with several baseball fields, basketball, tennis, playgrounds, library, fishing, hiking, and campground, right on the lake. There were no lakefront spots available, but our campsite #11 was on a little bog, full of peepers, who serenaded us all night long. Love the froggies!

We hiked about 2mi from the campground, around the series of lakes. It was just beautiful. We saw tons of turtles, herons, egrets, ibises, anhingas, Canada geese, deer tracks, beaver dams, and wetlands. Pippa did lots of pouncing along the shore, trying to get frogs and minnows, to no avail. Nigel played ball, the entire hike and jumped in the water a couple of times, splashing and digging. They had big fun on the gorgeous, sunny day, 15 degrees warmer than at home in WNC. Yea, for going south!

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Winter Wanderings Day #27-30, Fort Toulouse, Wetumpka, AL, Hard Labor Creek State Park, Rutledge, GA, Greenville, SC.

Saturday, we left Fort Toulouse. Pippa, immediately, jumped up in the dash, because there were leaves to hunt. After she tired of the fruitless hunt, she slept in dash. She’s a silly puppy! Nigel was in his daddy’s lap. I joked that they’re travel size. They really are!

We drove through rain and storms, again…It sure has been a wet winter. We arrived at Hard Labor Creek in the rain and freezing temps. The park looked wonderful. It had a really nice visitors center, where we checked in, golf course, mini golf, mountain bike trails, and brand new bathhouses from what I could see from the van, as we drove through. We had gotten campsite #20, in an empty cul-de-sac, in a gorgeous forest, right on Lake Brantley. We had the entire section to ourselves. Sadly, other than a trip to the bathhouse for a shower, and Wiley’s quick hike down to the lake front and back with the puppies, we were unable to hike or explore the park due to the stormy, cold weather. It’s a beautiful park with 24mi of hiking and equestrian trails, 17mi of mountain bike trails, campground, cabins, equestrian facilities, two lakes, beaches, and boat rentals. Only 2hrs from Greenville, with so much to do, this would be a great park to bring our granddaughter, Bree. Look forward to returning in better weather.

Continue reading Winter Wanderings Day #27-30, Fort Toulouse, Wetumpka, AL, Hard Labor Creek State Park, Rutledge, GA, Greenville, SC.
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Winter Wanderings Day #26, Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson, Wetumpka, AL

Grateful the rain broke, the sun, finally, came out on Friday, but the temperature had dropped into the 30’s. By lunchtime, it warmed up a good bit and felt good in the sunshine. The puppies were blissful to be liberated from the van and outdoors, as were we. We hiked from the campground, across the road to Fort Toulouse, a National Historic Landmark. We had it all to ourselves. The recreated 1751 Fort Toulouse was a charming little fort that sat at the fork of the the Talapoosa and Coosa Rivers, as they came together to form the Alabama River. It had, mainly, been used as a trading post, where the Indians exchanged fur pelts for guns and household items with the French, stationed there on the frontier of their Louisiana Territory. The local Alibamu Indians were part of the Creek Confederacy. “There were no battles at the post as French diplomacy forged allies with the natives. The surrounding Indians, commonly referred to as Creeks, wanted peace so they could trade with both the French and British”. There were high pointed log walls, encircling two standing structures, two chimneys, which were remnants of a third structure, an outdoor brick oven, and ledges in the corners for armed protection of the fort. The two remaining structures were a commandant’s house and a barracks that were colonial clapboard structures.

We then toured the two Creek winter houses and the one summer house, right by Fort Toulouse. It was interesting, seeing the different types of Creek homes. Two were mud-sided and bark roofed houses with bamboo multi level sleeping quarters, ladders, and dugout fire pits inside. The summer house was open sided with multiple level bamboo sleeping areas the length and width of the structure with a bark roof. There was an outside gathering and seating area between the three.

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Winter Wanderings Day #24-25, Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, FL, Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson, Wetumpka, AL

It was difficult to leave Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola. We had fallen in love and wanted to stay. We finally got the weather, we had gone in search of when we hit the road south from the WNC mountains, January 13th. Our time at Big Lagoon was dreamy! Sadly, pesky work got in the way, and we had to head north for meetings in Greenville, SC, this coming week. The rain, the morning we were to leave Big Lagoon, helped soften the blow. Will look forward to returning, next winter for sure. Add this one to you campground bucket list.

We drove through rain and storms from Florida to Alabama. It was an unpleasant trip. We arrived at Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson Park, near Montgomery, in the rain. What we saw of the park, from the van, was good. There was, what looked like a fort by the Visitors Center/Camper Registration. We looked forward to exploring the forts and park in a couple of days when the weather cleared up. Looked like it was going to be a rough couple of days of rain until then…

The Visitors Center/Musuem/Camper Registration was “located inside the “Graves House”, a Carolina Tidewater Cottage built around 1830 in Lowndes County Alabama. The Bookstore and museum features archaeological collections from French colonial, early American and prehistoric Indian items”.

We registered then went to get settled. The campground was sparsely populated. We chose campsite #32 on a bluff above the wide Coosa River. We had no neighbors, which was nice. The site was under large Spanish moss covered trees. Despite the rain, it was a beautiful setting. We had awful thunder and lightning storms with strong winds all afternoon and evening. The puppies were super stressed. Pippa went and hid under the bed in her cave. Nigel came and cuddled up with me on the bed, while Wiley worked in the front of the van. That night they were both in bed with us.

We spent almost all day, the second day, inside due to weather. We started the day with a tornado watch, which is scary, when you’re in a campground, in a van, down by the river. Thankfully, we did not experience any severe weather, just thunder, lightning, and strong winds. It’s very rare, we have an entire day, where there is not a break in the rain long enough for us to get in at least a short hike. At one point, Wiley went to take the puppies for a walk, just through the campground, when he thought the rain had stopped, but as soon as they left the van, I heard the rain start up again. They were not gone long and came back wet. I did not leave the van at all. Not a fun day. Nigel, particularly, was not amused. We could not wait for it to clear up, the following day, so we could see all there was to see at the park. Bring on the sunshine!

From two days spent in the van, you get puppy pictures. You are welcome!

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Winter Wanderings Day #22-23, Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, FL

Monday and Tuesday were dreamy at Big Lagoon. It was low 70’s, both days and we were in shorts. Yes, shorts! It was the first time on our Winter Wanderings this year, that I was able to don shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Oh, happy day!

Monday, it was sunny and bright, but not hot. Perfection! We hiked to the Governor’s Pavilion and scenic overlook on Big Lagoon. We had a nice picnic in the Pavilion, then, as we were about to leave, we noticed some picnic tables, past the playground, through the woods, so decided to check it out. Boy, were we glad, we did. We stumbled upon West Beach on the Lagoon. There was a great sandy grass area, right before the beach, that was perfect for Nigel to play ball. For Pippa, there was a tree with brush all around the base, that she stayed hidden in, blissfully, hunting the entire time, Nigel was fetching. Everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

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Winter Wanderings Day #21 Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, FL

Sunday morning, waiting for it to warm up at Big Lagoon, I worked on the second leg of our Winter Wanderings. We begin to head north on Wednesday to be in Greenville, SC for Wiley’s meetings 2/10-12. We’ll visit with family and friends there, then go check on the house and see friends in Sapphire for a couple of days before returning south. Of course, everything in Florida is booked, because of the snowbirds. Thankfully, I put in requests on for all the parks and dates we want. WanderingLabs has always come through in the past, so here’s hoping that trend continues. We were able to book our old standbys, Jekyll and Edisto, for the return trip. We always love both of them, but that is all we were able to book. Eek! Send good vibes!

Before lunch, we packed a picnic and set out from our campsite, #28 to catch the boardwalk, right across from us, leading to the trail system. Sweet spot! We hiked to Long Pond, where we decided to have our lunch at the covered picnic table overlooking the pond. It was sunny and 62, an absolutely perfect day. The day, I had been dreaming of since leaving the mountains 1/13. We had a lovely picnic then hit the Estuary Trail towards the observation tower and Big Lagoon. When we arrived at the shore, we saw sailboats, fishing boats, and kayakers enjoying the water. The sun was glistening off the water’s surface, like diamonds. It was so picturesque. It just took my breath away. In that moment, there was nowhere on earth, I would rather be than right there with Wiley and the puppies. My heart was so happy and grateful.

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Winter Wanderings Day #20, Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, MS, Bark Park, Perdido Key, Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, FL

On Saturday morning, we left Buccaneer and headed east. We were excited to drive through historic Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian, MS, I had heard about from my parents. They were really beautiful! Sadly, neither had a dog friendly beach, so we kept going. We stopped at Buc-ees, Texas sized “convenience store” near Foley, AL on Ashe’s recommendation. It was crazy! Outdoors gear, toys, home decor, grills, smokers, boilers, fire pits, food, and more. The size of a TJ Maxx. If you see one, stop! En route to Pensacola, located a dog beach for us, just 4.5mi before we arrived at Big Lagoon State Park. The “Bark Park” or River Rd Dog Park was right before the bridge that takes you from Perdido Key to Pensacola. The park was cute. It had a big dog and a small dog area. It was cold and very windy, so we had it all to ourselves. We opted for the big dog area, because it had agility equipment and covered picnic table, where the small dog area had nothing. After exploring and playing ball a bit, we went on through to the beachfront area. It was great! It had a small sandy beach and a wonderful, huge saw palm and brush area at the base of a tree for the dogs to hunt in. Our two loved it! Nigel played ball and hunted, because the hunting area was so sweet. Pippa was in heaven. Being so chilly, us parents did not make it long. After a while, we had to rally the troops and get back in the van. Being so close to the campground, we could return when the weather would be warmer, while we were staying nearby if needed. We would see.

We drove into Big Lagoon and were pleased from the get go. We wound through the pretty sand hills, all the way to the end of the park on the Big Lagoon. We parked and walked towards the observation tower. We were amazed by the beauty of it all. There were boardwalks over marshes, raised, covered picnic areas, overlooking the water, trails throughout, and the tower with great views of Grand and Big Lagoons, the marsh, beaches, lakes, and forest. We looked down into Big Lagoon from the tower to see two dolphins, swimming near one of the two kayakers. Wow! This park is a dream, especially with the promised weather ahead. Hallelujah! This was the perfect place to end this leg of our Winter Wanderings. It was chilly and windy, so we just did a short hike around, planning to explore a lot more over the next few days with warmer temps. The only drawback, being, like all Florida State Parks, no dogs allowed on the beaches. Other than that it was perfect!

Continue reading Winter Wanderings Day #20, Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, MS, Bark Park, Perdido Key, Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, FL
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Winter Wanderings Day #18-19, Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, MS

Thursday at Buccaneer State Park was a little chilly, but sunny. We were thrilled to have sunshine. At lunch, we hiked from the campground to the Pirates Alley Nature Trail. At 1.5mi, the Nature Trail was a maze of trails through the woods and along the marsh. It had a nice pier with a picnic table on it, overlooking the marsh. We saw lots of herons, egrets, ibises and other shore birds, hunting in the marsh. It was beautiful! Throughout the wood were fabulous red and orange, spotted, fairy mushrooms, which I loved. We did the the park’s lone trail, Thursday and Friday. The second day, between the rains, I saw what I, initially, thought was a fox through the woods. I called Wiley back to see it. Turned out it was a small red, wild pig, we could see clearly through the underbrush. We were so excited! The puppies smelled it, but didn’t see it. The little piggie stared at us for a couple of minutes, then ran off. The entire wood was all torn up, so we knew there were a lot more, where that one came from.

Both Thursday and Friday, after the nature trail, we hiked down past the water park, to the tiny beach area across the street from the park entrance. Nigel played ball and Pippa hunted. Friday on the beach, Pippa was hunting and dove snout first under a concrete block, which looked like it would hurt. She was focused and unwavering, as she stayed on whatever it was the entire time, we were down there. At one point Nigel abandoned his ball, curious as to what she was so fixed on. Determining, there was not anything, he returned to his ball. When Pippa finally emerged, she had a thin, long scratch on her snout. Poorest girl. She didn’t seem bothered by it. She is a dedicated huntress for sure, injured in her quest for the kill, that rarely ever happens. I admire her dedication and perseverance.

Continue reading Winter Wanderings Day #18-19, Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, MS
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Winter Wanderings Day #17, Fountainebleau State Park, Mandeville, LA, Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, MS

On another gray, wet, chilly day, we took a walk down to the Lake Pontchartrain waterfront and onto the pier, before leaving Fountainebleau State Park. I look forward to returning to this gem of a park, that I didn’t get to explore, because I was in NOLA with Ashe. Wiley and the puppies had some great hikes on the trails and boardwalks. We will definitely be back!

As we drove the short distance to Mississippi along the Gulf Coast, we saw a wild pig rooting around on the side of the highway. This fall, we saw a herd in FL and a couple in GA, all of them along the highway. Wiley saw the two babies at Fountainebleau, cross the trail, right in front of him. It is always exciting to see them, especially without incident. LOL! We stopped, just short of Buccaneer State Park, where we were to camp, so we could play on the dog-friendly beach with the puppies. Let me mention here, that we have now been to two Mississippi Gulf beaches, but have not let the dogs in the water. We saw a dead cat and two dead shore birds at Ocean Springs Front Beach, then a dead possum here in Waveland. These parks and beaches were closed this summer due to blue green algae. I believe there is still toxicity in the water, based on what we have seen…It is so disturbing, especially after the recent federal government’s lifting of what water protection there was. Agricultural, municipal, and industrial waste is what causes the water contamination, making it unsafe for humans and pets. Sickening and scary that this is allowed and will be even more prevalent going forward…

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Winter Wanderings Day #16, New Orleans, Fountainebleau State Park, Mandeville, LA

My final day in New Orleans with Ashe, we went to lunch between her classes. We ate at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, again, close to campus at St. Charles and Carrollton, across from Jazmine Café, and next door to Le Madeleine, all on the Tulane meal plan, which is so nice. They have so many fabulous restaurant options near campus, around Uptown that are on their meal plan. These are restaurants people come to New Orleans to dine at. The students are so spoiled! I hope they know how lucky they are. We started with Boudin Balls, which are fried sausage, rice, onion, and peppers, a New Orleans specialty. So good! Ashe got a yummy pasta primavera. I got one of the specials, a Thai shrimp wrap with Caesar salad. It was delish! The servings were huge and enough for a whole other meal for both of us. Yea leftovers! I took Ashe back to school and went to run some errands before picking her up again.

That evening, after work, Wiley drove over the 24mi Lake Pontchartrain Bridge to come meet us at Ashe’s. He had never seen her new apartment and, of course, wanted to meet Hugo. I had scoped out a wide street with two other vans parked on it, right around the corner from Ashe’s, for Wiley to park Happy. Luckily, when he arrived there, there was a spot available. He came in to see Ashe’s place and meet the kitty. Hugo did not come out, right away, so we decided to go get the puppies from the van to go for a walk down fabulous Freret St. in Ashe’s neighborhood. We stopped to get chai at Mojo’s then did a big loop back to the apartment. We put the puppies back in the van then hung out for a while at Ashe’s. Hugo, finally, came out and warmed right up to Wiley. He’s such a friendly cat.

For dinner we drove back down Freret, to Uptown favorite, High Hat. It had a great atmosphere. It was a historic pharmacy with beautiful tile floors, dark wood, and huge windows. It was crowded by 6pm with a happening bar scene. Luckily, we walked right in and got a table by a window. We could not resist and got Boudin for the second time that day, but wanted Wiley to try it. Plus, this was not rolled into balls and fried, but flat and grilled. So yummy! Wiley got their fried catfish. I got the fried chicken special with pimento cheese mac and cheese and greens. Ashe got the oyster po-boy. I tried everything. It was all divine. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a wonderful evening. Eat at High Hat!

After dinner, we said our difficult goodbye then Wiley and I hit the road back across Lake Pontchartrain to Fountainebleau State Park. It took about 45min, which is not bad. It’s so much nicer than the Bayou Segnette State Park, only 30min from Ashe, but there’s no comparison. Bayou Segnette has pitiful trails along concrete culverts and chain link fencing by the highway. The road noise is constant. The campground looks like a parking lot with no trees. Fountainbleau is gorgeous, so worth the extra drive time. It is our New Orleans campground home now. I looked forward to exploring a little the following day before having to leave. Wiley had been telling me all about the great trails and boardwalks through the woods, the bayou, and along the lake. I was bummed I had missed the two young wild pigs, that crossed the trail right in front of him, the previous day. Wiley and the puppies had been having plenty of fun without me, which felt weird, but I was glad they had enjoyed themselves. I cherished the time with Ashe and would not trade that for anything. So grateful for Wiley driving us to NOLA and for the van, allowing us to so easily visit family and friends. Yea Happy Camper!