After a great week in Gunter Hill COE, and specifically Catoma campground, it was off to sunny Florida to do the first of our planned explorations of the Gulf coast. The goal was to find a park (or parks) that might be suitable for spending the upcoming winter months in bit warmer weather than we did for certain times last year. We know we're behind the 8-ball on doing this, as many parks get filled up earlier in the year in advance of snowbird season, but we're really not interested in the middle and south Florida parks many people look for, because frankly they're usually too expensive or too packed in and crowded for our tastes.
We don't like opening our awning and wondering if it will hit our neighbors slide-out. I don't care how warm the weather is.
And we also have a budget to consider. Sure, we can go as high as $40 per night, but we'd much prefer something in the $30 range, and some of these places are way too proud of themselves when it comes to monthly rates in the winter season. I don't care what you offer, $2,000 per month is simply robbery (unless it's for a beach view)!
So while the Gulf coast isn't as warm as the Florida peninsula, we think it is a good balance between warmer weather and lower prices – and we don't need a beach view, either.
Our base campground was Five Flags RV Park just west of Pensacola, Florida. It's a quirky little park that (like many these days), caters to full-time residents with a few transient sites for people like us.
There are doors leading out of their fence to the local convenient store and to a bar-b-cue place. One looks like you're entering an Airstream and the other just some other camper. Their laundry rooms are a couple of old modified trolley cars.
The have an old drive-in style sign at the front entrance with silly puns that change on a regular basis.
But the really nice thing is that their sites are wide, with concrete and crushed rock pads to handle just about any length or weight RV and grassy areas between. They have two different “dog parks” which double as retention ponds when it rains. Which, btw, need to be mowed more frequently. When the grass in certain areas is taller than Grover, it's too high by far. Poor Grover picked up a little slice on the bottom of one of his pads, but he's healing nicely; even if he hates his cone head.
Grover did get to see his first beach and got a stroll in some water. He was NOT impressed.
Otherwise, it's a gem of a park just about 20 minutes away from beaches, and nicely situated just 7 miles away from the Alabama border and only an hour away from Mobile Bay. We booked seven days, with the intent on scouting out some local Alabama and Florida parks first-hand, while enjoying some drive time in the Mini. Largely, we were unsuccessful in finding anything that suited our criteria both east and west of our base camp, but thanks to some fellow Open Roader Facebook friends we have a couple of other potentials to look at (via Google Earth) that just might do.
And why are we now relying on Google Earth to do our research?
Our original reservations had us staying until Wednesday morning – the 16th of September. As the week wore on, Sally's track looked like it was going to hit New Orleans; bringing heavy rain and some tropical force winds to the Pensacola area, but not much else. But then she started wiggling around in the Gulf, and her track kept getting closer to the east instead of the west. We've been in heavy winds and downpours before (although not at the same time), and we knew our 36LA could handle the early forecast for our area, but my Spidey-Sense was tingling on this storm.
Sunday night we disconnected just about everything except power, and went to bed still thinking we could either stay or go the next morning. About 4:30 AM I'm up and glancing at the latest storm track, and it doesn't look very good to this amateur weather guy (I studied meteorology in grade school). Too much rain being forecasted – as much as 20-plus inches – and the northeast quadrant of the storm was uncomfortably close to the tip of the Florida panhandle (remember, we're 7 miles from the Alabama-Florida border). Barbara and I speak briefly, and it's determined that we are going to be slides in and jacks up by 8 AM. We're outta here!
Good call as it turned out . . . As you can see from the news, we dodged a big bullet by leaving two days early.
We headed directly east along I-10 in order to stay away from the effects of the storm. The winds weren't bad – gusts to 30 MPH – and we pass through a couple of tropical rain bands, but we get to Tifton, GA and Wallydock for the night before continuing on to our go-to park in North Georgia, Leisure Acres. Here we'll be picking up our youngest daughter and our grandson Jace for a three-week trip to New England to see family and friends and get our annual seafood and roast beef sandwich fix. This trip will be a bit different than last year when we had Jace; he's older by a year and his mom is around to herd him instead of just us.
That being said, this blog will be on hiatus until after that trip, as my PC time is usually short-lived when Jace wants to hit the keyboard. We'll still do updates on our Parental Parolees Facebook page, so be sure to keep up with us using that media.
Meanwhile, it's time to break out the cold weather gear for Barbara . . . because, well - Barbara.
Gunter Hill COE? Great!
Our Tiffin experience finished for now, it's time to head back out on the road. While fun and informative, 4 ½ weeks at Camp Red Bay cannot remotely be described as “glamping”.
We need some trees and water surrounding us, so we made a reservation for Gunter Hill COE, just out side of Montgomery, Alabama, a short 3-4 hour ride from Red Bay. Recreation.gov is the way to reserve spots in any Federal campground across America, so we started looking at descriptions of campsites furnished by the folks at Recreation.gov.
Not a good idea.
What looked to be one of the best sites available was site 131 in one of two campgrounds at Gunter Hill. It was listed as being suitable for an 85' motor home, with 50A service and water (no sewer). The campground was listed as “ANTI”, short for Antioch. There is another campground called Catoma, but no sites were available for the time frame we needed, which was over Labor Day. But hey; 85' long site, right?
Come to find out that the site was long enough, but severely sloped down towards the back. We also found out that Antioch was a more “primitive” campground; older, heavily wooded and narrow sites with sandy / gravel bases. And while you can drop a travel trailer or fifth wheel onto a heavily sloped sandy / gravel site, a motor home does not play well in that environment. After placing three 2x8” blocks under each jack, our 36LA was STILL not level. Even adding 2 more 2x12” blocks under each jack got us to where we could level, but by morning the soft sand had shifted enough to make our jacks unstable.
In addition, our heavily wooded site was sitting right under some hickory trees, and the nuts would drop down a hundred or more feet and crash onto our roof, waking us up and scaring poor Grover! One hit so hard it knocked off a ceiling vent cover and sent it crashing to the floor. Antioch is great for tents, travel trailers and fifth wheels, but NOT motor homes!
After a drive through Catoma campground, we contacted the office to get our reservations changed once a suitable site became available on Sunday afternoon.
Catoma is night and day different than Antioch. Every site has a concrete pad, 50A service, and something rare at COE parks – sewer connections on almost every site. The sites are wider, with picnic table, fire pit and lantern stand. And they are ALL level. We didn't see any site there that we could not back our 38' motor home into, and there were more than a dozen pull-thru sites for the really big rigs with trailers. Our new site 22 had a small view of the lake across the street through some trees, but it was a water view nevertheless.
And NO HICKORY TREES!
Met a great couple over at Catoma. We were walking Grover and passed by another Open Road tucked waaaaaaay back in a site that had to be more than 150' long. Quick check on the slides and noticed it was a 36LA like ours (so we knew they had impeccable taste), so we stopped by to say Hi. We had been playing Facebook tag letting each other know where other Tiffin owners were in the park. Beverly and Billy have had their 2019 just a little longer than we have had our 2020, so the usual stories were swapped about differences between each one, and of course modifications, hacks and equipment. Really nice people we hope to see down the road again.
Overall, we're really happy with our stay at Gunter Hill, especially in the Catoma campground. Definitely one to revisit again!
After 4 ½ weeks in the destination town known as Red Bay, Alabama, we're finally leaving tomorrow morning!
Got our silicone done the day after Diamond Shield was reapplied, and waited rather impatiently for Bay 39 in Mechanical to open up so that they could diagnose and hopefully fix our weird thumping noise when we are on jacks for more than a day. Got the call Monday morning to be in Bay 39 (again) to see what was going on. The thumping noise had been present each and every day we were sitting in our site over the weekend.
Wouldn't you know, when we set up in Bay 39, not a sound was heard. Couldn't recreate it.
A bit miffed with their “You have to re-level most days after you first set up” excuse, I decided that we would set up in our site, wait to hear the thump when we moved around, and re-level the next morning if it happened. Twelve hours after setting up in our site, the thump returned. Re-leveled in the morning, and it went away – until the next night. I had also told them that if it came back again after the first night, they were coming to our coach to check it out instead of bringing everything in and heading to their bay.
Next night, thumping noise as before. Get up in the morning, ready to head over to Bay 39 to collect a couple of technicians, and suddenly there was silence . . .
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!!!!
Barbara and I looked at each other and said, “We give up”. We're done.
So I went over to process our paperwork in order to check out (6 pages of work done and a $0 bill), had them make a notation in our file that it wasn't fixed, and we're finally getting back on the road again.
Our time here has been filled with highs and lows. Met some great people who we hope we'll get to see somewhere down the road, got lots of things repaired (some of which we didn't even know needed repairing), but also kept hitting a wall on this darn thumping noise when we're parked for more than a night. Most of our Tiffin techs have been very good to great, with the exception of Mechanical. I just get the sense that they're going through the motions; doing the absolute minimum required of them, and nothing further. There is just no determination to get to the bottom of things in mechanical as far as I am concerned. It's just not up to the Tiffin quality we've come to expect.
Oh, and we got our motor home and Mini South Dakota registrations done by mail and received our brand new U.S. Passports, all thanks to the great people at Americas Mailbox!
But tomorrow, it's slides in, jacks up, reacquaint ourselves with our tow dolly, and we're headed to Gunter Hill COE outside of Montgomery, Alabama over the Labor Day weekend. It will mark our one year anniversary of full-time retirement RV living, and be a good test for our newly-installed Weboost cell signal booster.
We're really looking forward to this.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.