Sunday, February 28, 2016

Change of Plans for All our Repairs

Tiffin Motor Homes has a very unique method of doing service work. No appointments are made, so customers' rigs get appointments in the work bays in the order in which they arrive into the campground. That is the reason we camped at Walmart and arrived so early on Sunday morning. That put us in front of the 24 other motor homes that arrived on Sunday afternoon. Some preference is given to rigs still under factory warranty (less than one year old), but Tiffin is known for the great way they stand behind all their motor homes.  

That is the reason that we made this trek to Northern Alabama in the winter, so we were certainly sad to hear about a new company policy that went into effect in September.  Unbeknownst to us, Tiffin no longer provides service paid for by extended warranty companies.  We have never purchased an extended warranty for anything in our lives, but living in a moving home with so many moving parts, we decided to do it this time. With several things breaking in the last year, we are certainly glad we did!  We are just sad now that we can't get the work done here like we had planned.

Tiffin did some work on our steps that had a recall, but now we had to get in line at another business across the street to get our other items addressed. Bunk House RV Repair is run by Benny, who used to be the manager of the service department at Tiffin. With Tiffin's change in policy, buying a repair business that accepts extended warranties might just work out well for him and his partners. He can walk across the street to buy any parts we'll need directly from Tiffin.  That saves us the shipping costs that we found out we had to pay when we had repairs done in El Paso last year. That also saves us all the time it takes to get things shipped, so we were glad they could work us in within three days of our arrival.

So our plans have changed, but we're still getting the needed work done in Red Bay.  In the mean time, we are trying to keep ourselves busy.  That would include a trip to Florence, Alabama to see a dermatologist. A spot showed up on Mark's scalp some months ago, and our M.D. son and our P.A. daughter-in-law recommended that it need to be biopsied. We also have a friend that just had surgery for melanoma in Houston, so that prompted Mark not to put off this appointment. We were so blessed to get to see a first rate dermatologist within an hour's drive of where we would be sitting in Red Bay. They even got the results back from the biopsy in record time--a pre-cancerous actinic keratosis. That was exactly what Luke and Jordan diagnosed based on the picture we texted them. So another trip to the dermatologist for freezing off the rest of the spot, and we are getting medical repairs done while we are waiting on our motor home repairs!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our First Night at Walmart

After over thirteen months on the road, we have finally experienced another first--our first overnight in a Walmart parking lot!

After a day driving up the Natchez Trace, we were a little too far away from our next destination to push on.  While we were still working, we would drive 8-10 hours per day on vacation to get to a destination. Now a 3 hour driving day seems huge. So after checking with Walmart management and doing some obligatory shopping, we bedded down for the night in the parking lot. 

It was the perfect temperature outside, so we didn't need any heater or air conditioner inside.  That makes parking with no hook-ups easy. We have a generator that needs to be "exercised" once each month.  Since we have had electrical hook-ups for the last month, it was a good time to run the generator for an hour to bring our batteries up to a full charge.  We left the car hooked up to the motor home and just walked to a local place for dinner that evening.  So it was a good experience for our first night at Walmart. There was the diesel truck noisily departing the parking lot at 1:00 a.m., but we would do it again.

We filled up with Walmart diesel before we left the parking lot the next morning. We had half of the diesel pumped, when the electricity went off. Our fast fill-up turned into a thirty minute waiting game, as it took that long to re-set the pumps when the electricity came back on. So our efforts to leave early were delayed, but we still arrived to our destination by 8:30 a.m. That would include crossing another state border into Alabama. As you can see from the sign, the Red Bay city limits are right on the state line.

Red Bay has been our ultimate destination for the last month when our bedroom slide-outs decided to quit working.  We thought the best place to get them fixed was the birthplace of our motor home. The tiny town is home to Tiffin Motor Home Industries, and it has a campground right beside the 49 service bays. We have never seen so many Tiffin motor homes in one place! They stretched as far as the camera could see.

We made the early morning drive, got checked into the campground, and still managed to make it to Sunday morning church services in Red Bay. Then we relaxed while watching the parade of motor homes coming into the campground for the rest of the day. We heard there were 25 Tiffin motor homes that checked in on Sunday.  With the ones already waiting in line for service, most of the 90 camping spots were filled by nightfall.

This morning we were at our first Walmart overnight camping spot, and tonight we were at our first Tiffin manufacturer's camping spot. It's a day of firsts!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tracing the Natchez Trace Part Two

After four days at Goshen Springs, Mississippi, it was time to make our last push to Alabama where we will get our motor home slides fixed.  This meant another day driving northeast on the next section of the Natchez Trace. We saw a white styrofoam cup laying beside the road, and realized that we hadn't seen a piece of trash in the past 200 miles. It's a very pristine area!

Mark is finding that driving on this narrow road with no shoulder takes a lot of concentration to stay between the lines.  But the speed limit is 50 mile per hour, and there is less traffic than the interstate. Of all the nice scenery out there, Denisa thinks this is the best view.

Just like there is no trash on the trace, there is also no billboard litter allowed.  We only saw those little brown national park signs, and occasional signs to remind drivers that the speed limit is 50. In the 146 miles of the Natchez Trace that we traveled this day, there were 30 different points of interest. We knew we were approaching another one of these sites when we would see a sign like this.

Then we would slow down to check out the parking area to make sure our 53-foot rig would fit.

Our first stop was Cypress Swamp.  That would include a half-mile walk through the water tupelo and cypress trees.

We love these old cypress trees that thrive with their feet wet. If they're really happy they start producing the little knobs you see in the water that are called cypress knees.  Here is Mark smiling because this is fun-knee.

Since we have stayed pretty close to the coast, by definition we have been pretty close to sea level in elevation.  But today we did some up-hill hiking all the way up to one of the highest points in Mississippi.  At 603 feet in elevation, this isn't quite up to the 13,000 feet mountains we were hiking last summer.  Quite appropriately, this peak is called, "Little Mountain."  We would have to say it is a very little mountain.

But it was fun to actually see over the surrounding tree tops. There was a group from the University of Alabama that was taking advantage of this lofty height for transmitting ham radio signals. This is part of the special 100th anniversary celebration of the national park system that is going on in 2016.

We packed a lunch and had a picnic among these giant trees at milepost 193.1.  It makes us feel quite small to hang out with these big boys.

Along the trail were large groups of wild hydrangea plants. The withered leftover blooms from last summer were still hanging on to the stalks.  We would like to return to this trail again when they are in their full glorious bloom!

Speaking of the coming of spring, we couldn't help but notice that some of the deciduous trees are starting to leaf out along the Natchez Trace. As we drove by at a blazing 50 mph, Denisa snapped a picture of one of the trees that was covered with bright red tiny buds today.

Of the 30 possible stops, we found that many of them pointed out things that used to be at that historic location.  There was the place where the Choctaw mission used to stand, and the spot where Louis Lefleur's stand opened in 1812, and the former roosting area for millions of passenger pigeons (that are now extinct).  We didn't make any of those "used to be" historic stops.  But we did park at the Bynum Mounds, that were built 2,000 years ago.

After a full day of driving and historic stops, we departed the Natchez Trace at mile post 262.  We drove through Tupelo and headed toward our night's stay in Fulton, Mississippi. At Fulton we experienced another first for us, but that would be the subject of another blog post . . .

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Our Kayak is back on the Water!

Over a month ago, our beloved inflatable Sea Eagle kayak ran into a mean oyster bar that punctured it. We called the man that sold us the boat six years ago, asking for advice.  Even though selling us a new one would have been to his financial benefit, we really have to respect the fact that he first wanted to help us repair it.  He asked for pictures of the damage, and he forwarded them to the Sea Eagle company for advice. They thought our best option was a product called "Air Stop."  We drove to five different stores in several cities before we finally got smart and started calling first. We finally found this elusive product in Houston, and found out we had to sign a waiver not to sniff it before we could purchase it. It took a while, but Mark found the time to make the necessary repairs.  He put several layers of Air Stop on the small puncture that is circled, and a patch over a deeply scraped area.

He also did some preventive layers on other areas that the sharp oysters scraped.

After all this dried and cured, we had to find the time to blow up the boat and allow it to sit overnight to make sure it was holding air.  This really shouldn't have taken a month to accomplish all these steps, but we are pretty busy with all our retirement fun and it's hard to get these projects done!  The good news is that the boat stayed inflated, so we were looking forward to putting it on the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, north of Jackson, Mississippi, that we are camped beside. It felt good to finally be back on the water! 

We got too close to this group of coots, and they started flapping their wings to relocate away from us.  Their take-off looks more like they are trying to walk on the water,  and we could see their "foot prints" in the water as they made their exit.

We are enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures for this area, and we almost reached 80 degrees this day. We also came upon a flock of white pelicans, lazing along a shallow water peninsula.  We counted almost 60 birds in this one frame.

Some of the pelicans took to the air, and we loved to hear the sound of those huge wings beating the breeze as they took off right over our heads.

There was a breeze, so we paddled close to the grassy areas at the edge of the water to stay out of the wind. That was where we saw a BIG splash, that couldn't be attributed to anything as small as a turtle or a bird. We continued to row to a new spot, and Mark spotted movement at the edge of the water. He saw it again and confirmed that it was an alligator tail. But are there really alligators this far north in Mississippi? Now we felt sure that the earlier splash was also made by an alligator.  That's when we both spotted another gator in the brush not too far from our boat. If you look in the middle of the photo below, you can barely see him from tail to nose at the edge of the tall grass.

The picture above isn't perfect, but Denisa was more concerned about keeping some distance away instead of getting that close-up shot. Mark offered to take the picture, but Denisa decided his expertise with the oars was more important than his expertise with the camera. This was especially important when the gator started moving towards us.  Then there was no doubt that we were seeing a Mississippi alligator!

We have enough sense to head for the dock in our newly repaired kayak, leaving the alligators to enjoy the beautiful weather. It's been good to be back on the water, sharing it with lots of God's creatures!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Another Capitol City, and Fun around Jackson, Mississippi

We stopped at a great campground just a few miles off the Natchez Trace--Goshen Springs RV Park. Ran by the Pearl River Water Authority, we have the widest-level-cement-50 amp-full-hook-up site that we have ever experienced.  That would be a 12-syllable description of our camping site. But us full-time RVers can be very descriptive when it comes to the important parts of our new home for a few days. 

Since we were staying just 20 miles from Jackson, Mississippi, we took a day trip to explore another state capitol.  We started at the free tour of the Governor's Mansion, since tours are only available in the morning. After so many years of being at work by 8 a.m., we now have a hard time making it to the last tour of the day at 11 a.m.!

No photos were allowed inside the mansion, but it was a very interesting tour. This is the second-oldest-continuously-occupied Governor's mansion in the United States. (If we are counting syllables today, that would be a twelve syllable adjective.) We were the first-ever audience to a new docent, who was accompanied by an experienced mentor for that first tour.  So we got two great guides!

Our next stop was the Old Capitol, just down the street. Now a fine Mississippi museum, it went through a full refurbish after Hurricane Katrina ripped off the roof ten years ago.  We are almost 200 miles from the coast, and never realized the hurricane caused such damage this far inland.

The outside was refinished to its original grandeur.  That would include covering the red bricks with stucco that is stamped to look like limestone blocks. When it was constructed in 1839, they figured out they could save some money by skipping this step on the back side of the building.

A beautiful staircase, topped with an ornate dome--this sounds familiar to the Old Capitol we just visited in Louisiana!

We visited the old Senate Hall, where Mark blended in with the Senators making speeches from turning points in Mississippi history.  We are learning much about these southern states' involvement with the Civil War, and how it changed their history.

Being from a younger state like Oklahoma, it's interesting to think that both Mississippi and Louisiana were replacing their first capitol buildings with newer, larger state capitols before Oklahoma even became a state. After touring the Old Capitol, we walked across downtown to their current capitol.

We entered the building to find that the legislature was in session. We also found that the state fish and wildlife department was hosting tables of displays and yummy snacks in the foyer.  We were visiting with a ranger when our tour guide from the morning's governor's mansion tour found us and asked if we wanted to join her next group.  She spends the morning at the mansion and the afternoon at the capitol.  Mississippi calls itself the hospitality state and we felt very welcome.

She whisked us through the highlights of the capitol, moving at a brisk pace that we enjoyed.  She pointed out the colorful dome that used to be white.  But it was hand-painted in the 1930's in an effort to make jobs for more state residents.  She also pointed out the 24 karat gold eagle on the top of the capitol dome outside.  That's a lot of gold considering that bird has a 15-foot wing span.

Our tour guide was a delight, pointing out more things that made this capitol unique.  Built before electricity was common, it also has gas lights.  Those marble-looking columns are a faux paint job that cost more than marble when the building was restored several years ago.
While we were in Jackson, we noticed that the upper left hand corner of the current Mississippi flag looks like a confederate flag. The day we were there, legislation was introduced to have a new flag designed, while also keeping the original state flag as well. So we thought it was interesting that there was a protest on the capitol steps the next day, demonstrating against the idea of making Mississippi a two-flag state. We are still learning about the culture and history of new places!

We got more exercise by walking again across the downtown area to the Mississippi Museum of Art. All four of our stops today were absolutely free, as well as enjoyable and educational.  It was a good day in the city!

But we are finding that we enjoy the days in the country just as much.  So the next day we were biking down a trail adjacent to the Natchez Trace.

This was a first-rate trail, with our own lane so we could enjoy the scenery without watching for cars on the road. The bike bridges looked sturdy enough for car traffic.

We thought we were taking a five mile trail, so we expected a ten mile ride by the time we returned home.  But the trail has been extended, and we just kept riding until we got to the very end. Instead of five miles, we had already biked eleven miles by this time. Notice that Mark is wearing his new neon orange biking shirt that matches the "trail closed" sign so well!

We headed home, enjoying another beautiful weather day. The local weatherman said that they are having temperatures that are 10-20 degrees higher than average for this time of year. We stopped for a picnic lunch we had brought with us, glad to have the calories since this bike ride got longer than we expected. It's a rolling trail, with hills and valleys. Denisa would huff and puff up those hills, hoping all that effort was worth it as we zipped down the other side.

On the return ride we took another trail that took us through the town of Ridgeland, then along the reservoir. The Barnett Reservoir is 16 miles long, and is very popular with fishermen in the area.  It also makes a nice back drop for a bike ride.
By the time we got home, we had pedaled 26 miles and we were tired.  We are enjoying Mississippi!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tracing the Natchez Trace - Part One

When we drew a line from where we were in Louisiana to where we needed to go in Alabama, it intersected the state of Mississippi with a diagonal that stretched towards the northeast.  That's when we realized that there was an All-American road that took that same diagonal.  So we made plans to trace the same path of that road--the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Stretching 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, we learned the footpath known as the Natchez Trace was used for hundreds of years by the area Indians.  In the early 1800's, it was also used by men called "kaintucks." A kaintuck was a boatman from the Ohio River Valley, who would float merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to sell in Natchez.  They would also dismantle their boat and sell it as lumber.  Then the kaintuck would walk northeast towards home on this footpath that became known as the Natchez Trace. We hiked this section of the trace that was easy to follow because in places it was 30 feet lower than the forest around it.

So our plan was to follow the Natchez Trace from its southern terminus in Natchez through Tupelo, Mississippi--the closest point to our motor home repair.  It is a scenic road that would be beautiful in the fall with its changing foliage, or the spring with flowering trees.  We thought it was still very nice in the middle of the winter.

At the national park information center, we got a map of the many historical stops available as we traveled northeast on the trace.  The first stop for us, at mile marker 10.3, was the Emerald Mound. Built by the native Indians hundreds of years ago, they carried soil to form the first mound that was 35 feet high and a whopping eight acres across. It is the second largest temple mound in the United States, built to support ceremonial structures like the secondary mound. The photo shows Mark standing on top of the second mound on top of the first mound. Considering that all of this soil was hand carried in baskets, it was a monumental task.

At mile marker 15.5, we explored Mount Locust Inn and Plantation.  One of the oldest structures in the area, this home was built in 1780.  It was home to five generations of the Chamberlain family, who farmed the land with the help of their slaves.  They also ran an inn where the kaintucks stayed on their walking journey north towards home.

At mile marker 17, we parked the car and rode our bicycles down the dirt road through the forest.

Another four miles down the paved road of the Natchez Trace Parkway, brought us to the other end of the trail.

That would allow us to hike the three miles back to the car, making our total hike and ride into a loop.  Most of the hike was easy to follow with the well-traveled trace sunk deep into the forest floor. There was also a good number of trees that kept Mark entertained.

Other entertainment came from this dead tree with two curious growths attached to it. This is one of the growths still hanging in the inside of the hollow tree.

The other was even larger, so we took a picture with Mark's hand to show more of its size and texture.  We left it in the forest, but after doing some research we found out that we should have carried it home with us.  It appears to be an edible mushroom, usually called a "lion's mane" or a "bearded hedgehog."  It grows on hardwood trees, and is a great source of protein that tastes like lobster or shrimp.  Who knew that something that looks like that would be a gourmet mushroom?

After our bike/hike loop, we drove to another area road to see Church Hill, Mississippi.  Built in 1820, it is the oldest Episcopal church in Mississippi.  We have come to find that cemeteries outside these old churches teach us much about history.  Most of the tombstones were from the 1800's, telling the story of people that were natives of Maine, Scotland, Pennsylvania, Maryland . . . They were obviously pioneers that came from afar to make a better life in Mississippi.

Our next big stop was at mile post 54.8.  We had a nice hike through the forest, where we are still amazed at seeing huge magnolia trees growing in the wild. That is why Mississippi is nicknamed the Magnolia state.

This hike brought us to the abandoned town of Rocky Springs, Mississippi.  In the 1790's this was a thriving town, and in the 1860 census there were 2,616 people living here.  But between the Civil war, a yellow fever epidemic in 1878, the cotton boll weevil, and the hardships of pioneer life, the town's population dwindled to zero.  The only structure left is the church, and again the cemetery told us sad stories of families in this community.

The next picture shows the tombstones of three of the children born to John and Sarah Powers.  They had a 15-day-old son that died in 1853, and two daughters that were less than a year old that died in 1852 and 1853. The process of putting together names and dates made us sharply more aware that these weren't just tomb stones--these were real people that led lives in very harsh times.

As we walked through the old cemetery we could watch family trees unfold before us. 

We found a whole section of tomb stones with ties to James S. Winters, who buried his 17-year-old wife named Lucy Ann in 1842. That young mother had given birth to a daughter that was buried at the age of 3. 

Mr. Winters married again, and later buried this 26-year-old wife named Dorothy in 1851, as well as their one-year-old son in 1849. There were grave stones for more children he had with his third wife named Caroline.  Finally we found the head stone for James, who died at the ripe old age of 48. He had certainly lived through the pain and loss and hardships of the 1800's as attested by all the graves in that section of the cemetery.

There were 25 different historical stops in the first 114 miles we have traveled so far on the Natchez Trace.  We stopped at 13 of them, learning about life on the Trace for the Indians, Civil War soldiers, kaintucks, and pioneer families.  It is a very educational "All American Road."

Driving a motor home down the Natchez Trace means that you don't have to worry about the wind sheer from meeting 18-wheelers.  No commercial vehicles are allowed on the Trace, and the maximum speed limit is 50 miles per hour.  Also, no billboards are allowed.  All of the signs we have seen are those little brown signs that point to the next national historical stop. It's not a road for making good time to your next destination, but is a good road for having a good time!  We'll be back on the Trace for "Part Two" after a little time in a campground north of Jackson, Mississippi!