Our trip to New England and back complete, it was time for a bit of R&R&R (Rest, Relaxation and Recovery), and what better place to do that than in our favorite Corps of Engineers park, Gunter Hill in Montgomery, Alabama. Unlike last time, we knew the campground inside of the park we needed to book (Catoma), due to it's spacious, level cement sites and more importantly – full hookups!
The trip from Georgia is usually just a single day, but our reservations weren't going to start for another day, so we threw in a quick overnight stop using our Harvest Host membership at Hodges Vineyard and Winery about an hour outside of Montgomery. Harvest Host sites are generally boondocking sites with no amenities, sometimes with occasional electric or water hookups. Not so at Hodges. Two dedicated RV sites situated right beside their store, and full hookups as well. A very pleasant surprise. If they have more than 2 RV guests scheduled, there is an overflow parking lot with no hookups, but plenty of space.
In addition, they allow you to sample just about any wine they make, which is nice due to the fact that their wines tend to run a bit sweeter than most others. Their Pinot Grigio was more the color of a white zinfandel than a traditional white wine. It appealed to our taste buds as we like sweeter wines, but it might not be to other's tastes who appreciate a more traditional Pinot. We bought 4 bottles of wine (they have a blueberry dessert wine which will go perfectly poured over vanilla ice cream) and a large package of locally-made cheese straws - they are to die for!
We also had our second encounter with a hurricane this season, as the remnants of Hurricane Delta was working it's way northward. Sadly, it kept us indoors and unable to walk the grounds, but our brief view between tropical bands showed a very beautiful property. It was a short 1 ½ hour drive from there to Gunter Hill the next day.
We had booked two separate weeks in different sites due to no site being available for the whole two weeks we planned to stay there. Or so we thought. Our first week was scheduled for Site 4, while our second week was just down the road a bit at Site 21. What we failed to realize is that making reservations on Recreation.gov is different than making reservations everywhere else in the RV world. In the RV world, you book nights, allowing you to leave the NEXT day. On Recreation.gov, you book days, and the last day you book is the day you have to leave.
So there we were, doing some food shopping on a Saturday afternoon about 25 minutes away from the campground, and we get a call from the camp hosts telling us we were supposed to have checked out of Site 4 by 3:00, and it was 3:15 and the next people who had reservations wanted their site! Rushing back to Gunter Hill, we hastily pack up and unhook our utilities to clear the site. The next people to use our site were parked on the grass next to the driveway and had already plugged in their basic 20A power cable. Theirs was a school bus “conversion”, still painted in pasteurized processed cheese yellow, with the back rusted out and open to the air. But it was now their site, and we vacated.
However WE had no place to go, since our next site (21) was already occupied, and wouldn't be free until 3:00 the next day!
So we pulled into the parking lot for the bath and laundry house and proceeded to get back on Recreation.gov to see if there was a site available for the evening. Fortunately, we found Site 35 open for the night, booked it and backed our way in. We didn't bother to hook up everything – just power – as we were only there for the night. It was a shame that this site was already booked for the following week, as it was right next to the water; we would have changed our following week's reservations in a heartbeat. Our next site still had an obstructed view of the water, but it was not as good as what we had for the evening in Site 35.
So the next day, I make a number of reconnaissance trips on my bike past Site 21, hoping to see it unoccupied. No such luck. The couple using it had just bought a brand new 2021 Tiffin Open Road 34PA gasser and were giving it a shakedown for the night and following day, and needed to use the whole allotted time to test things out. I did manage to speak with the guy, point out a couple of things to look for (he has the dreaded softball-sized dimple on his front cap that we had), and gave him advice on how to best have it fixed in Red Bay. Finally, the site was ready for us by 2:30. Didn't take long to move, but I did have to haul my tow dolly around a second time in two days.
So lesson learned. If you're making reservations on Recreation.gov, remember that you're booking for the DAY – NOT the NIGHT. The last day you pay for is the day you have to vacate your site, NOT the next morning.
Despite all the mix-ups, our second stay at Gunter Hill was fantastic! With generally level paved roads, this was a perfect campground to break out our Montague folding bikes for some much needed exercise. Since the weather was good for both weeks, we averaged a bike ride a day, and sometimes two. In between, we got Grover into the exercise act by taking him on very extended walks at least once per day. One night, he was so tired he got himself out of my chair and promptly went into our bedroom, burrowed his way under our covers and went to sleep before we did!
We also met some really nice people during our stay; Jerry and Marsha in their Newmar diesel, Tim and Deb in their 5th wheel next door to us the first week in Site 3, and especially Tina and John Caparella, who full-time in their Denali travel trailer with their dog, Moose. We had planned to break out our Advanced Elements Lagoon2 tandem kayak during our stay, and it just so happened that Tina and John like to kayak as well. Making a play date for 10:00 on Wednesday morning, we haul our associated stuff and bagged kayak in the Mini down to the boat ramp parking lot, and have everything pretty much inflated and assembled by the time Tina and John arrive to unload their kayaks.
Two hours fly by as we take on the Gun Island Chute of the Alabama River. Beautiful scenery. Lots of waterfowl. No gators! Life is good. Arms are tired as we're hauling the 35 - 40 lbs of kayak and paddles back up the very steep boat ramp, but we make it. Everything packs back up the way it was supposed to, and we get back to camp to turn around and inflate it all over again so that the kayak can dry out before we leave on Saturday. It's not the first time we've used the bikes and kayak, but the first time we've used them in the same park, and more than justifies our purchases over a year ago.
By the end of the week (and double-checking the last DAY of our reservations) we're ready to head down to central Florida to scope out some potential January sites and see some friends and family.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.