Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Twelve days of Dog Travel

If The Mutley Crew Wrote The Song (Twelve Days Of Christmas)...

A slow squirrel near an oak tree
two grooming gloves
three garbage cans
four wingless birds
five tugging rings
six geese on a platter
seven ponds for swimming
eight trails for walking
nine cats for chasing
ten frogs a leaping
eleven balls for catching
twelve chew-bones coming
and a slow squirrel near an oak tree...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On The Blue Ridge Parkway

We decided to spend our summer vacation driving the Blue Ridge Parkway on its 75th year of operation. Starting our Parkway experience at its beginning in the Smokies would have been backtracking for us, so we entered the parkway at Asheville after spending a delightful week end in that city.

We skipped the Visitors Information Center, since I already had several guidebooks in hand. Best one was, Best Of The Blue Ridge Parkway by Nye Simmons.

Our first stop on the Parkway was the Crafts Center a few miles up the road. This is worth a stop and I highly recommend it, although if you are really intent on shopping for mountain inspired arts and crafts I've not found anything better than the galleries and shops in downtown Asheville, Biltmore Village, and my very favorite at Groveland in Grove Park above Asheville.

The Parkway was an eye opener in many ways. First of all the stunning vitas and scenery, with a pull over viewing area every so many miles. Very soon after beginning our drive we saw a Black bear ambling across the road and disappearing into the underbrush at the shoulder. Our first day we pulled over and got out to take pictures at most of the overlooks but that became very time consuming after awhile and we began to be more discriminating as the trip went on in order to make mileage.

The speed limit along the two lane winding Parkway is 45 miles an hour which is about as fast as anyone could reasonably travel on the road. Often we had to go much slower, not because of the traffic we expected in summer that was actually nonexistent, but because of road conditions. We were warned about fog and mist rolling quickly in and it did. Visibility became very limited much faster than you would imagine. There are guardrails along the drop off side of the road but they are only about a foot and a half high and are wooden and would not stop a vehicle the size of our Winnebago from plunging over the mountains. There are no wide shoulders to pull over onto aside from the planned overlooks in case of breakdowns so anyone coming around the corners would indeed plow right into you. Pretty scary thought.

Picture this: there you are, tooling along looking out over the tree tops into valleys several thousand feet below, knowing that one misstep can send you plunging over the precipice. Then the fog rolls in without warning. You can see about five feet ahead, that's it. And this happened on a pretty regular basis.

Also there are no gas stations and no restaurants along the 450 mile Parkway with only several exceptions. There are a few state campgrounds with limited facilities. So, you really do need to plan ahead.

And remember, when the guide books say that something or other is only 35 0r 40 miles out of your way that's mountain travel not as the crow flies, so it takes a lot longer to get there than you'd suppose it would. The only real option for camping or sleeping is to get off the Parkway and go into the numerous small towns near the roadway for accommodations. That's okay, since nearly every exit has something interesting to see. We opted for Linville, NC where we toured the Linville Caverns and Natural Bridge, Va where we toured the Natural Bridge and adjacent Indian Village. Both of which we really enjoyed. Other exit points of interest in NC might be Grandfather Mountain, Boone, Vale Crucis, and Mt Airy (the real Mayberry RFD).

Its impossible to see everything in a few days but we really enjoyed Mabry Mill, The Orchards at Altapass, The Peaks of Otter and the Johnson farm, the Linville Viaduct, and Mt Mitchell (highest peak east of the Mississippi). We decided to skip the last 5o miles or so due to time constraints and drove through the Shenendoah Valley to Charlottesville Virginia to see Monticello which turned out to be one of the very best days of the trip.

We had no trouble finding campgrounds to stay in but did have trouble finding real full service grocery stores. Even convenience stores were few and far between. When you get excited about finding a Food Lion, you know you've been traveling the Parkway too long! Another creepy thing was that the internet and cell phone service was all but non existent in the mountains. You really feel cut off. Staying as we do in an RV without a satellite dish, we didn't even have the option of TV for news.

If I have any disappointment to report on this trip it might be that pretty much everything closed at 5 pm. Living in Florida where everything is open until mid to late evening in summer, it was hard to get everything that we wanted to see in by five. Especially since we are not early risers by choice. We were disappointed in the Parkway stop at Moses Cone Park. The Crafts Center was mediocre compared to the others we toured and the house tours of the mansion were very limited in times. We skipped stopping at Grandfather Mountain for this and that was a mistake. Pretty much everything else was a definite thumbs up!

All for now.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On The Road With Mutley Crew, report 1

One of the reasons we got the Winnebago was so that we could travel with our three dogs. We discovered on our very first week end trip to the beach that three dogs in the 24.6 foot View was not going to work since one of the pooches turned out to be territorial and food aggressive in the confines of what is basically a one room kitchen/bedroom/pantry situation. Constant crating for Chili, the bossy blue heeler, was not an attractive option so we found a boarding kennel for her that she really enjoys.

Ah, Happy Paws. With a bone shaped salt water pool, outside play groups all day, private ball and pool time, indoor glass-doored spacious air conditioned and heated individual sleeping areas at bedtime with piped in soothing music what's not to like? And don't forget the grooming. This facility is located in East Orlando, near the University of Central Florida.

Our other two dogs, Abby and Ginny, got along perfectly on the RV and showed no signs of road stress so it seemed logical to board the third when we travel.

I'd done very little traveling fro a dozen or more years prior to purchase of the RV, partially because of my reluctance to be parted from my canine family, so I have little advice regarding hotels and car trips with dogs. The few occasions I experienced were pretty smooth: we stayed at dog friendly hotels in the La Quinta chain and stopped at highway rest stations for potty breaks when necessary. La Quintas (at least the ones we tried) welcome big and little dogs equally.

Once we began to take trips in the Winnebago we checked the books that list the campgrounds and noted that many listed in the Good Sam's Campgrounds guide book state that pet restrictions exist in many private and state campgrounds. We have not (as yet anyway) experienced this personally in our rambles through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Virtually no one asked when making a reservation what sort of pets we have or how many or what breeds they are. The only 'restrictions' listed on the campground brochures are regarding excessive barking, leash use and poop bags. All very reasonable. In fact, many of the campgrounds we visited have fenced in dog play areas, dog walk areas, and one in SC even converted a putt putt course to a dog agility course!

The KOA and JellyStone parks are very pet friendly and provide multiple amenities for dogs and their humans. We also noted that a majority of campers we encountered travel with multiple dogs of various sizes and some take their cats along. I've even seen a parrot or two.

Since our RV is small, we do not tow a car for sightseeing but use the RV as our main vehicle as well as hotel. We have had some minor parking issues here and there but not often and always have to be thinking of the dogs safety when we are sightseeing, but the upside of this is that they are always nearby to check on, not left behind in the campground all day.

We had a hard time street side parking in Savannah but found that if we parked in the train station lot we could walk to the main attractions in less than ten minutes. And since Savannah is very dog friendly the pooches could go with us. Ditto parking issues in Pittsburgh where there were only three campgrounds well outside the city proper as far as we could find. St Augustine was a hassle as well. But then, it would be a hassle for cars of any type to find street parking there. There is always a solution, sometimes you have to look for it awhile.

I highly recommend the collapsible food bowls available through Camping World stores which work splendidly for travel in RVs or cars and there is a plastic no spill water bowl that gets thumbs up from me. We have a sign on the window informing folks of pets inside, extra vents and fans installed for their comfort and they always travel in harnesses and tags and have been microchipped. From experience, I also recommend bringing extra leashes, having a wet/dry vac on board, and extra towels. Don't forget a dog first aid kit, medications, and vet shot record.

All for now. Happy tails.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation and before that

Pictures: (top to bottom) a mountain meadow view along Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway, at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC scene along the parkway, Danny happy to be on Amelia Island for Memorial Day, on Destin Beach, at Knight's Templar Spring Convent in San Destin

Wow, I can't believe that we haven't posted anything here since February...its true that the year (2010) has flashed by at warp four, but really we've been remiss. Did you hear that Dan Dan? We're supposed to be talking about our RV ing travel experiences here, right? My excuse is that I've been writing a novel about the adventures (and travels) of a dragon. What's yours? LOL

We did take some interesting jaunts in the Parakeet (the Winnebago View) since I last posted: First, we went to the Panhandle of Florida in early March for my investiture as a Dame in The Sovereign Military Order of The Knights of Jerusalem (Knights Templar). Danny is already a Knight of the Priory of Holy Rood, which encompasses Georgia and Florida and part of Alabama. (This blog is not about the Knights but should you be wondering: despite the name it is a charitable organization not military these days) The ceremony was in a lovely little church near the sugar sand beaches in Destin and it was a bit of a tricky maneuver to get formally dolled up in expansive Templar capes in a 24 foot motor home but we managed pretty well.

We stayed for several days at the beautiful Topsail State Park Campground which has wonderful paved spaces with all the amenities one expects in a top campground, great bicycling and walking paths to the ocean and close proximity to restaurants and shopping. Thumbs up for staying there. The beach was stunningly beautiful and not crowded. Of course this was before the BP Oil spill. My heart and prayers go out to the people of the Panhandle today for their economic recovery and the ecological devastation that was suffered.

We took the long way home through the "Big Bend" area that follows the coast, which is listed by Readers Digest Books as one of the most scenic drives in America. It was indeed lovely, even if it took almost nine hours to reach Orlando again. We particularly enjoyed stopping at Carabelle Beach for lunch and a dog walk. Anytime a beautiful beach welcomes dogs, it gets my thumbs up!

Our next long week end trip was to St Mary's, Georgia and Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida over Memorial Day week end. We had a sort of mini family reunion with Danny's uncle and aunt, mother, sister, and cousins and this time we stayed at the Jacksonville North KOA. We enjoyed wandering the streets of the quaint little seaside town of St Mary's: the shops, historic buildings and museums, and sampled some pretty good seafood too. I can really recommend going to Ft Clinch State Park for picnics and swimming and a quick tour of the Fort itself. The beach was pristine, the water clear, and it was not crowded. Dogs were not welcome on the beach in Ft Clinch Park but they are permitted on the beach at Fernandina and nearby St Augustine.

For us, it was an easy three and a half hour trip from Orlando. We planned to stop in St Augustine but found parking in the historic area very difficult so opted to spend a couple hours on Flagler Beach instead. 63 pound hound, Ginny, encountered a grumpy ghost crab. Ginny backed away from the crab. It was an historic moment.

We opted out of going to Cumberland Island since the only way was by a smallish ferry that operated twice daily. No cars, trucks or RVs or dogs are permitted on the island. Relatives who went weren't too impressed. They reported that bicycling was hard going on the sandy paths, the flies were biting, the wild horses wouldn't come close and the resort ran everyone off that wasn't a paying guest there. We felt we made the right choice in spending the day in St Marys instead.

Our summer vacation trip in mid July was to Asheville NC, then The Blue Ridge Parkway, into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and SW West Virginia. This trip will be detailed in near future blogs with lots more pictures. For now, I will post several of my favorite pictures so you can get an idea of how beautiful the area was.

I will mention one issue we experienced on a the technical side on this trip. It was extremely hot in Virginia (100 degrees) and we had to leave the dogs in the RV for several hours in a fairly sunny spot while we toured Monticello. We were parked facing downhill and other RVs were parked quite close to us.

Of course, we put on the generator to run the A/C while we were gone! We always crack a window or two for emergency ventilation, run plug in and battery fans in several places on the RV and we have a ceiling fan in the bath area that automatically comes on if the a/c goes off in an emergency and the temp reaches a certain level. I thought that was probably enough back up to keep the dogs safe.

When we returned to the RV we heard an alarm going inside the unit. Dashing to open the door we hardly dared imagine what we might find wrong inside. My heart wanted to stop beating in dread but the dogs were at the door with wagging tails. Danny said the Carbon Monoxide alarm was on. I opened all the windows immediately to further ventilate but even though the alarm would not shut off neither the dogs or we seemed affected.

Once we left the lot, the alarm stopped. Here's what I think happened. The weird angle of sloped mountain parking and the proximity of the RV next to us meant that either their or our propane fumes were being sucked in our vented window. Fortunately, there was enough fresh air being circulated inside and out again by the small fans, the large bathroom ceiling fan and the other cracked window over the cab on the other side to save the dogs.

We are addressing this scary problem for future trips in every way we can since the dogs are our number one priority. I welcome suggestions from other RV enthusiasts and travel veterans however. Since many of the folks we see in the campgrounds and parks travel with dogs this has got to be solvable. Since one of the reasons we got the Winnebago was so the dogs could always be with us, we do not want to leave them at home.

If you want to hear a bout how I got lost for forty minutes in a SC campground in the dark, you will have to wait for the next post. But, I will be back very soon. I promise.