With gas prices through the roof, but no choice in still watching Jace every day for his summer vacation, changes had to be made to our planned Northeast itinerary.
Changes as in – blowing the itinerary up entirely and sticking to inexpensive Corps of Engineers parks for the summer and staying down South to minimize mileage on the motor home.
So the good news is that we saved some money over the past month and still had some fun with Jace. The bad news is that our usual goal of chasing cooler temperatures in the summer by heading north was toast. Mid-summer in central and southern Alabama is BRUTAL, especially when you're staying on water in COE parks. And the worst thing is you can't swim there, because even if they did have beaches at the two parks we stayed in (they don't), there's a little problem with alligators in Alabama – as in, they have them. Oh, and using an inflatable kayak? Not recommended.
So it was lots of walks on fairly level roadways and fields, and lots of bike rides for me and Jace. At six years old, he's a bit behind his peers in bike riding, as he still uses training wheels due to lack of practice over the past 1 ½ years since he got the bike, but he's almost ready to lose them. Maybe during our last 2 weeks of summer vacation in Georgia. Hasn't kept him from barreling down roads at high speeds, though. With daily highs in the mid to upper 90's, Grover's extended walks needed to be early, or just following an afternoon rain, as the pavement was too hot for his paws.
Our first campground was a new one for us at Issac Creek COE. It's an older park, but nearly all the lots are shaded, if a bit narrow. There are about 10 older lots up by the entrance that consist of small gravel, but the rest are cement pads with paved driveways.
On arrival, our camp hosts knew exactly who we were, as they had tried to reach us earlier in the day to change our reservation. They thought we might not be happy with the lot we had booked (Lot 2, one of the older gravel lots) and thought we might not even fit comfortably in it (we did). But while an alternate lot had already been booked by the time we got there, they promised to find us another one if it opened up. The next day, they were showing us Lot 17 by the creek, and we moved. These hosts are the epitome of helpful people, and go out of their way to make sure you're happy at Issac Creek.
As with many COE parks, a dam is involved, and Jace got his first closeup view of the dam that formed the lake on which this park sat. With all the heavy summer rain we endured, he got a chance to see spillways opened up to release the excess water upstream, which was pretty cool.
Issac Creek is located about a half hour's drive from Monroeville, Alabama. Monroeville is famous for two authors; Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Harper Lee wrote 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (one of my all-time favorite movies). The courthouse in downtown Monroeville is the inspiration for the trial's movie set, and was painstakingly replicated in Hollywood for the filming of the movie. It was kind of chilling to stand in the actual courtroom and imagine Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch defending his client. Afterwards, we went upstairs and sat in the balcony where Jem and Scout watched the trial take place.
Not so close by, but still a day-trip away is Mobile, AL. While there is much to see in Mobile, the problem with not staying too close is making sure that Grover isn't left alone for the majority of the day. It's not that he'd do something bad, but it's not fair to him to be left alone for so long.
But there was one attraction I'd been waiting to see for a couple of years, but hadn't been able to because of time or weather constraints, and that was the USS Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park. Unlike many naval displays across the country, Battleship Memorial Park features more than just the featured attraction – that being a World War II battleship. It also has the USS Drum, a WWII-era submarine that you can venture through, lots of military aircraft and even some tanks!
There's one snack in Alabama that we haven't been able to find elsewhere, and that's something called “cheese straws”. I don't know if they're available anywhere else, but we've only found them in Alabama. It's a delectable treat of cheese, flour, cayenne and other spices squeezed out of a pastry bag and baked to crunchy goodness. Tried them about a year and a half ago when visiting Hodges Winery outside of Montgomery, and I can't get enough of them since. What's interesting about this trip is the brand we found at a local Publix. It's called “Mook Mills”. “Mook” is the nickname I call my grandson, Jace, so we just had to buy these!
One of our neighbors, a fellow 36LA owner, told us about a play place for kids on the other side of Montgomery called Nutopia. Lots of padded places to jump on and from, lots of slides, and lots of places upon which to climb. It was a perfect place to take Jace to keep him occupied, and to burn off energy without killing us as well. Jace hooked up with a 10 year-old boy named Jai who helped Jace get over some fears he had with some of the taller slides, and they both had a great time playing together.
We also visited a local sunflower field. Got a ride through it on a tractor-pulled trailer, and got some nice pictures of Jace.
After 2 years of rehabbing my right shoulder, I decided to attempt swinging a golf club again. Montgomery has a very nice city course and driving range about 15 minutes away from where we were camped out at Gunter Hill, so Jace and I hit the driving range. Needless to say, after 2 years removed from swinging a club, and this being Jace's first time (and him using an adult club as well), neither of us are ready for the pro tour anytime soon.
Finally, Jace spent a lot of time riding his bike in both COE parks we stayed in. We had gotten him the bike a couple of years ago, but he really hadn't had a chance to do a lot of riding over those two years, so he was still on training wheels this trip. Following a month of many hours bombing around COE parks in Alabama, he finally soloed without training wheels at our next stop in Georgia!
Now into early August, it's time for Jace's summer vacation to end as he heads back to school, and Mimi and Papa get some much needed rest and relaxation until the next time we have him over in early September.
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.