Lake Mead N.R.A.

Lake Mead N.R.A.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Big Shoals Volunteer

Please follow along as I attempt to bring this blog up to date.

November 7, 2009.  We arrived at our site at Big Shoals and Little Shoals State Park and after driving down the mile and a half dirt road to the entrance, we quickly set up our rig on the concrete slab.  I had spoken with Ranger Dylan Shoemaker days earlier and was told that he and Ranger Gary Erixston would be in training the day of our arrival. 

Joyce and I had visited Big Shoals briefly on Sept. 28th.  Our first impression back then was that we would be in a forest with lots of tree canopy and a canoe/ kayak launch on the Suwannee River, the park itself appeared small.  At the time we didn’t realize just how large the park really is as it also connects to Little Shoals.

After setting up, we quickly discovered that the forest canopy really made the inside of our rig dark as sunlight was filtered, that coupled with our dark cherry cabinets (we could live with that).  We also discovered that with only our antennae, TV reception was very weak and the handful of channels we received didn’t offer news or weather (not sure how long we could live with that).  What initially concerned us was a tropical depression brewing in the gulf and expected to move in our direction and we had nothing but the radio out in the middle of nowhere to keep us informed.

That night we met Ranger Dylan Shoemaker and we immediately established a good rapport.  Dylan would be our closest neighbor as his state owned mobile home is located just inside the entrance to the park.  We learned that Dylan also did not have TV reception. Many of the pine trees in the park/ forest were dead and dying from beetle infestation.  I had become concerned our first day that there appeared to be several dead/ dying large pine trees around our rig.  I pointed out my concerns to Dylan and he immediately made plans to cut down the trees the next day.  That night we noticed just how very dark it gets in the forest.  Aside from our rig, there are no other sources of light visible around us.  Certainly a new experience for us urbanites!  50 ft. from the rig you couldn’t see your outstretched hand on a cloudy night.  However, in the following weeks, we adjusted to the darkness and the noises from the forest and its creatures.

November 8, 2009.  Dylan and Gary arrived at our site bright and early as planned.  Gary whom we met for the first time was also very accommodating and friendly.  He is the senior ranger with 30 yrs. of service with most of that time spent at Stephen Foster State Park and Big Shoals State Park.  Dylan had recently been assigned to Big Shoals State Park from Homossa State Park in February of this year.  

I backed our rig out of the RV site and Dylan and Gary began cutting down the dead pine trees, about 7 total.  The trees which were upwards of 40-50 ft were left scattered where they fell or pushed into the woods.  We were told we could burn whatever we wanted in our fire pit. We later made contingency plans for the threatening tropical storm if it made its way toward us.  Basically the plan would be for us to pull out before the storm got too close as it may not be safe in the heavily wooded area.  Thankfully, the storm weakened and slowed and didn’t pose a threat to us.

The next few days were spent getting to know the area and our duties.  Stephan Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park is the administrative headquarters for both Big and Little Shoals parks.  It’s located in White Springs, Fl just a few miles north.  With the upcoming holiday season and events in Stephen Foster, Dylan and Gary would be spending the majority of their time at Stephen Foster.  White Springs is the closest town.  It’s very quaint with old historic homes and small shops.  We only discovered three small restaurants and no large grocery stores.  The closest large shopping districts (Walmart) were in Lake City, Fl. and Live Oak, Fl. both of which are 30- 45 mins. away.  

Trail leading a short distance from our site leading down to the Canoe/ Kayak launch and Long Branch Trail.

Our duties included cleaning and stocking the restroom facilities building at Big Shoals, the two Clivus Multrans (recycling outhouses) one at Little Shoals and one deep in the park.  Our other duties include blowing off debris from the Big Shoals loop and entrance, and the paved 3.5 mile Woodpecker Trail (for pedestrians and bikes) that cuts through the forest connecting Big and Little Shoals parks.  In addition we would help to maintain the 27 miles of hiking, biking, off road and pedestrian dirt roads and trails throughout the park.  Moreover, we would greet and assist visitors if and when we came into contact.  Traveling back and forth from Big Shoals to Little Shoals via the Wood Pecker trail and dirt road (Road 1) and to the Clivus Multran and picnic facility in the forest  is about a 10 mile adventure.  The Rangers provided us with a John Deere Gator to use in the park.  The park is very diverse with areas for equestrians and shared trails for bikers and hikers, some of which follow the forested banks of the Suwannee River and/ or have small streams crossing them. Throughout our initial days we saw lots of large deer armadillos, squirrels, birds and snakes.  
On the map below, our site is on the small black dotted loop just north of #177.

The park is very diverse with areas for equestrians and shared trails for bikers and hikers, some of which follow the forested banks of the Suwannee River and/ or have small streams crossing them. Throughout our initial days we saw lots of large deer armadillos, squirrels, birds and snakes.

To resolve our news and entertainment issues, we (Joyce) contacted Dish Network and we ended up purchasing a satellite receiver/DVR and dish.  We also purchased month to month service. The installer was surprised he could get a signal through all the trees.  In previous campgrounds we either had cable service provided or the digital over the air signal was sufficient.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Short Return to Palm Harbor/ State Park Workamping

October 25, 2009.  We returned to Palm Harbor and agreed with George and Bonnie to park on their property for a few weeks.  In exchange, we would catch up on the yard and pool maintenance as the property had been vacant since we left.  We needed to return for a few appointments and to attend a party. 

Although I retired Sept. 11, under the Florida Retirement System pension plan, I wasn’t officially retired until Oct. 1st.  Under their plan, I was to receive my pension checks at the end of each month.  The first one for October had to be mailed along with documents to establish direct deposit and other matters.  Subsequently, we wanted to be there to receive the check and documents from the post office box and then close the box as we had established an address and mail forwarding in Pensacola (refer to an earlier post)

When we came back It was still hot and humid and we were looking forward to cooler temperatures.  Ultimately we were looking forward to finally getting out of there with no expected return date!  However, we sure were thankful to George and Bonnie for letting us use their RV space on their property.

Prior to retirement, I had applied on a whim for a volunteer job and RV site in a Florida State Park.  Although we had loose plans to leave florida by the end of he year,  I thought it wouldn’t hurt to apply.  Well surprisingly in July we were offered a site and volunteer position at Big Shoals State Park  I told the Ranger that we could be there November 7th.  Volunteering or “workamping” involves working a certain number of hours in this case 20 hrs. for each of us a week in exchange for an RV site.  However, this particular site is in a day use park and out in the “boonies”.  We wouldn’t have any neighbors and thus I wasn’t sure how long we (Joyce) would be able to deal with the isolation. Therefore, I hadn’t committed to any particular length of time.
Big Shoals State Park
This park features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. Limestone bluffs, towering 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River, afford outstanding vistas not found anywhere else in Florida. When the water level on the Suwannee River is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification, attracting thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts. A smaller set of rapids downstream is called Little Shoals. Over 28 miles of wooded trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The Woodpecker Trail, a 3.4 mile long multipurpose paved trail, connects the Little Shoals and Big Shoals entrances to the park. The river offers excellent opportunities for freshwater fishing. A picnic pavilion that seats up to 40 people is available at the Little Shoals entrance. Located on County Road 135, one mile northeast of U.S. 41 in White Springs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Southeast Sunbelt Agricultural Expo

October 16, 2009.  We hitched up and moved out of Holiday Campground and continued our slow and deliberate travel along US 98 towards US19 and Bronson Florida to stay with George and Bonnie.  We encountered rain along the route and I'm certainly not a fan of towing in foul weather.  By early afternoon we were back at the ranch.  We hooked up in the yard with plans to leave for Moultrie Ga. on Monday.

Monday the 19th, we set out for the Southeast Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie Ga.  The Expo is really all about farm equipment and related livestock and is held on the fair ground.  We followed George and Bonnie in their motorhome for over 300 miles before arriving at the Expo.  We had reserved two sites for 4 nights.  However, George managed to get us two sites all by ourselves at the far end of the field.  It worked out perfectly for us.

To be honest, I didn't expect to enjoy the Expo, as I thought it was primarily for farmers.  We decided to go only because our dear friends George and Bonnie have gone for several years and asked us to go.  I was surprised at the enormity of the Expo and the county fair type feel.  Joyce and I thoroughly enjoyed the Expo and the good company!

After the Expo we traveled back to Bronson for a few days as we would later be returning to Pinellas County, our former home.

Touring the Panhandle via US 98 and Panacea, Fl.

October 13, 2009.  We were scheduled to meet up with George and Bonnie back at their ranch on Oct. 16th. A few days later we would be traveling together to Moultrie Georgia for the Southeast Sunbelt Agricultural Expo.

We decided to take the scenic route east along the panhandle on US98.  I had yet to fill-up on diesel with the rig attached and in order to avoid it, I carried two 5gal. diesel fuel containers just in case my 36 gal. tank in the truck were to get dangerously low.  The extra 10 gal. gave us depending on driving conditions, an additional 100 mile range.  The stop and go traffic through Panama City took a toll on my fuel mileage. Fortunately, I found a fuel station in Mexico Beach that I could pull into with the rig and thus completed my first fill-up with the rig attached! Even though I had just over a half tank, it proved to be good timing as diesel stations seemed to be few and far between along US98.  Just outside of Mexico Beach we stopped just off the highway along the shore.  The sand and beaches were just as beautiful as I had remembered.

We planned to stop somewhere in the Big Bend area of Florida, about halfway to George and Bonnie's in Bronson, Fl.  However, my research on campgrounds had not yielded a lot of desireable campgrounds.  However, I had one possibility in mind in Panacea, Florida; Holiday Campground.  Upon arrival, I immediately noted that the grounds didn't closely match the website photos!  The RV park was very dated and had a lot of full time residents.  However, the beachside (read more expensive) sites were acceptable.  With few other options, we decided to stay for three days.  Once parked and situated, the views of Ochlockonee Bay at the Gulf of Mexico out the rear windows were fantastic.

 During our stay, we experienced mostly cloudy rainy weather, however we were able to work in a good bike ride.  We couldn't help but notice how almost every other home in the area was "for sale".  It was apparent the area    was suffering from the economic down turn and housing bust.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mail Forwarding, Naval Museum and Friends

While in the Pensacola Area, we decided to set up our mail forwarding and update our driver licenses and vehicle registrations.  Because we no longer owned a home or rented, we no longer have a fixed address.  American Home Base is a company the provides the mail forwarding and address services the we would need for our full time adventure.  Although the service could be established on-line, we decided to sign up in person and inspect the facility.  The business appears to be run out of a building that may have been a house at one time with a dirt and grass parking lot.  We received a mailing address and a "permanent address" to utilize for official purposes.

While visiting with Ashley and Andrew we had the opportunity to visit the Naval Aviation Museum. The Museum is a must see when in the area.

Aside from visiting with Ashley and Andrew, we visited some great friends of ours, Rocky and Gloria just across the border in Alabama.  They had recently returned from a government job in England and had purchased a new beautiful large home in Spanish Fort, Alabama.

  We had a great time visiting them and enjoyed a wonderful all you can eat fried mullet meal at the local restaurant.

Avalon Landing RV Park, Milton Florida

Oct. 2 2009, we arrived in Milton Florida near Pensacola and pulled into Avalon Landing RV Park without a reservation.  We had fortunately called ahead the day before.  The owners, Wendy and Jim were both very accommodating and were were able to rent for a couple of weeks one of their nicest sites on the water.  The park itself is small with small lots.  Many of the the off-water lots appeared to be occupied by older RVs that had not moved in a while.  However the views on the water, free wifi and cleanliness of the campground coupled with the proximity to Ashley and Andrew made it a perfect location for us.

The view of our narrow site near the rather steep boat ramp. To the left of the photo is a newly constructed short pier.

The view of our site looking from the water.  Note the clouds.  We did experience stormy weather during our two week stay.

Our view out the back window.

Overall this was a quaint but beautiful campground.  Because it's close to Ashley and Andrew, we will certainly keep it in mind whenever we return to the area.  We sure wish we had brought a kayak or canoe with us to take advantage of the beautiful salt marshes.  The owner, Jim had reported seeing an alligator hanging out in the area during construction of the pier.

Finally: Full Time on the Road

September 29, we left behind the beautiful property that George and Bonnie had rented to us.  Their house and property was an integral part of our successful transition to the full time lifestyle as the garages and RV site were perfect for our needs.  We traveled to George and Bonnie's ranch in Levy County near Bronson Florida and spent a few days.  They also have several RV hook-ups (power and water) on this property.

Parked along George and Bonnie's House

View out the window of the beautiful tree lined pastures with horses and cattle.

Prior to our trip to Fort Desoto Park, I purchased a Tire Pressure Monitor System for the fifth wheel.  The TPMS system monitors the tire pressure and temperature and provides a little piece of mind.  On of my greatest concerns is tire problems on the fifth wheel, as I've read a lot of stories involving blowouts and the damage that results.

After a few wonderful days with Bonnie and George, we set out for the Panhandle of Florida with a destination of Pensacola to visit Ashley and Andrew in their new home. We left our car behind as we planned to return in a few weeks for a joint adventure to Georgia.  Enroute we stopped for a couple of days in Marianna Florida at Florida Caverns State Park.   We picked this park as it was one of the few state parks off I-10 about mid-way to Pensacola.

This park is very typical of Florida parks at this time of year with lots of mosquitos, humidity and sand.  We enjoyed our mountain bike rides through the park, but did not visit the actual caverns.  Perhaps we will make a concerted effort to visit the caverns if we ever return.

Our First True Campground Experience: Fort Desoto Park

In September, after successfully camping at our rented home and at George and Bonnie's ranch, we decided to camp at a local Pinellas County Park, Fort Desoto Park.  This would be our maiden voyage to a real campground!

Fort Desoto Park, is located at the southern tip of Pinellas County just north of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on I275.  It's a county park famous for it's beaches: 
Fort De Soto Named America’s Top Beach for 2009 
Pristine Area Favorite Lauded as “Portrait of Tranquility” 
Fort De Soto Park was named America’s Top Beach for the second consecutive year by TripAdvisor, the world's largest online travel community.
Citing a “spectacular combination of soft white sand, calm, clear water and a laid-back atmosphere,” the popular online travel network put the park’s North Beach at the top of its annual best-of list, based on TripAdvisor's Popularity Index.
This marks the second time in three years the pristine Pinellas County beach has received top honors on an annual “best-of” list. In 2005 Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a.k.a. “Dr. Beach,” named Fort De Soto the nation’s #1 Beach. 

Our site was on the water, albeit more like a lagoon area in the back and canal in the front.  There were no sewer hook-ups, but it did have 50 amp electric.  Our site was large and contained an above ground grill.   All in all it's a beautiful park and campground.  However, getting a reservation is often difficult and pricey at $40 per night!

View of the front of the site which was an oyster laden canal.

To the right is a view out the back of our site, a shallow lagoon.

Our experience in this park cemented our desire to get on the road and begin the full time RV lifestyle.

Graduations, Wedding and Retirement

In May our daughter and future son in law both graduated from the University of Florida!.   Our son in law was then commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy.  Then on June 12th they married in a beautiful ceremony and reception in Safety Harbor, Florida.

Once they settled in Pensacola, our son in law continued with his training as an Officer in the U.S. Navy.  We gave them all our furniture and household items that we had stored to this point.
On September 11, 2009 I retired from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office !  Although it was a happy milestone for me, the date is certainly a solemn anniversary for the country, one that we shall never forget.

Below is picture of my first cruiser and my last.  I thought it was an interesting contrast!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Our Rig

In March we purchased our 4wd. 2009 Dodge 3500 Quad Cab Laramie with the 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel, automatic and the 4:10 differential.  We made this purchase with the realization that we would be purchasing a Carriage Cameo fifth wheel.  The sticker was $56K but we purchased it for $36K plus tax and at 0% for 48 months even though we were prepared to pay cash. The quad cab with the rear fold flat floor made it possible to build a flat deck for our Boxers, Maggie and Rico.  They could now ride high enough to look out the windows and be comfortable.  in addition, additional storage space was created under their deck!  I purchased a spray in liner for the bed of the truck and a Curt 20K fifth wheel hitch.  In addition I added an inexpensive bed cover for use when not towing.

I was fortunate to be able to store the truck in the large garage on the property as the months ticked away towards retirement.

In March we ordered our fifth wheel from Lazy Days Rv in Seffner, Florida.  We custom ordered our rig a Carriage Cameo F35SB3 to include, a larger refrigerator, second a/c, dual pane windows, astrofoil, generator prep, Morryde Pin Box, convection oven and other amenities.  We took delivery in May and after a two day PDI (pre-delivery inspection), we took delivery after minor issues were corrected.  The entire experience with Lazy Days RV was cordial and professional. We paid $56K for the coach which listed for more than $75K.

After bringing it home we parked it in the big metal garage alongside the truck.  The garage and another site on the property were equipped with 50amp service.  The size of the garage allowed us to make minor adjustments to the rig and to become familiar with it hooked up to power.  The RV site on the property made it possible for us to use the rig or practice "camping".   In addition we traveled to our friends 150 acre ranch 100 miles away and "camped" in our rig on a few occasions to gain additional experience.

Those few experiences utilizing the rig coupled with the knowledge that the fifth wheel would be our home for the next few years, made me seriously consider adding Bigfoot Levelers.   Bigfoot Levelers are a hydraulic self leveling system adaptable to fifth wheels.  It replaces the typical electric front jacks on the front of fifth wheels and adds a set of jacks behind the rear wheels.  With Bigfoot Levelers, the entire rig could be lifted off the ground if necessary! Not that I would try it! But it does provide a more stable rig.  Subsequently, in July I traveled to Lakeland Florida and met an authorized Bigfoot Dealer, Roy Trevino and had the Bigfoot Levelers added.  Roy was excellent to work with.  Although it was a substantial investment, I believe the ease of operation and automatic leveling feature would prove invaluable in the years to come.

With the help of a neighbor, I also added a custom bike hitch to the king pin to hold two ATB (mountain) bicycles or our tandem bike.

Our First Substantive Step

After years of financial preparation and study in preparation for our new full time RV lifestyle, We sold our home of 15 years in a buyer’s market, February of 2009. The majority of our furniture and furnishing went to Ashley and Andrew. We are bringing with us however, our two Boxers, Maggie and Rico whom I’m sure will challenge us throughout our new lifestyle!

My former supervisor (lieutenant), retired before me and moved out of the area. Unexpectedly he offered us his place on 1.5 acres to rent for a nominal amount as we transitioned toward our goal of full time RV Livin’. This property worked out great for us as it had a large house, large fenced yard for our Boxers and a large 40x 80 ft. steel garage to store our new fifth wheel and truck while we continued to work and prepare for our October kick-off to full timing.

Welcome to our blog

Please join us: Darren and Joyce Romero as we explore the greater continental United States of America. We will be traveling throughout this great country in a 2009 Dodge 3500 dually pulling a 2010 Carriage Cameo 36ft. fifth wheel (F35SB3). We were officially “full timers” the first of October 2009.

We are not experience RV’ers. However, I come from a family full of the wanderlust. My father and stepmother traveled full time in a fifth wheel rig after they retired throughout the 90’s. My older sister and her companion are also engaged in the full time RV lifestyle.

Join us as we experience the trials and errors of newbies! Our mission will be to explore as many of the continental states as possible over a period of a few years. We will move slow as this will become our lifestyle and not an extended vacation. Along the way we hope to explore and reunite with friends and family scattered across the country!