Are we in the Caribbean?

LOCATION:  Waco Lake, Texas – in north central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Airport Campground Army Corps of Engineer (ACOE) park on the Waco Lake dam/reservoir.  Top-knotch..  We probably have the best site..  Paved, long,  level site with a shelter.  Picnic table, stand-up grill, and firepit.  Electricity and water at site.  Dump station.  Good bathrooms.  $13/night with senior pass.  5 stars out of 5!
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 88..  Beautiful breeze off the lake in the late afternoon/evening.
DRIVE:  5 hours

We took our time at our Lake of the Pines campground in the morning, hiking around the area, and checked the area out again where we had our “episode” yesterday. 

Our route first zig-zagged around the lake.  We were on a lot of country roads.  They are labelled FM – like FM1968.  FM stands for Farm-to-Market, a carryover from times gone by.  In any case, we couldn’t make good time. 

We arrived here at Waco Lake about 5:00 and easily got set up.  We have really been enjoying these ACOE campgrounds.  You can’t beat the price and all the amenities.  I use this book to see if there are any ACOE parks along our route.  Normally, I use online searches, but the ACOE website is not user-friendly.  I highly recommend this book.. 

Our site is on a little point right on the water.  We have our own private beach….

Joy is very happy here, and is cooling off in the breeze coming off the lake.  She is quite alone….the park is probably about 10% occupied, and we are in a section all by ourselves. 

The sunset was gorgeous.  We feel like we are on a Caribbean island!

George happily made a fire in the stand-up grill. 

DINNER:  I made tuna burgers from the leftover fresh ahi that we had grilled the other night.  I added egg, cracker crumbs, dill, and hot sauce to make the patties.  We cooked them in our iron skillet over the fire.  Side was a nice salad.. 

We turned off the A/C after dinner, opened up, and were very comfortable temperature-wise.  We will listen to the waves lapping on the shoreline all night.  Bliss! 

Stuck on a dead-end!

LOCATION:  Near Jefferson, Texas in far NE corner of state
CAMPGROUND:  Brushy Creek Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) campground at Lake of the Pines.  Our paved, level site overlooks the lake.  Electricity and water at site.  Nice showers and  bathrooms.  TV reception, but no cell service.  $14/night with senior pass.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Hot and humid.  High 88.  We are back in Texas!
DRIVE:  2.5 hours

We spent a leisurely morning at the DeQueen campground.  I chatted with the host.  She is a 77-year-old, VERY southern widow who enjoys being the park attendant year ’round.  She putt-putts around in her golf cart talking with people.  Before Covid, she checked people in, assigned them a site, etc.  Now with Covid, everything is done online and she really doesn’t have much to do. 

Our drive was an easy one today.  Not long after leaving DeQueen, Arkansas, we crossed over to Texas.  Even though we are in Texas, we are still a long way from south Texas where we have a tiny house.  We are in the Piney Woods section of the state.  There are beautiful, tall pine trees everywhere.

Lake of the Pines is another large ACOE dam/reservoir.  The lake has 150 miles of shoreline.  I imagine it is busy with boaters during the summer, but is nice and quiet now.  Only about 25% of the campsites are occupied.

After checking in, we looked for our campsite.  The numbering was a little confusing, and we missed our turn.  We ended up in the tent section.  Instead of immediately turning around, George wanted to explore further.  Uh-oh.  My worst nightmare…….The road turned into a one-lane maintenance road and then suddenly dead-ended at a locked gate. 

We were stuck in the middle of a forest on a very narrow partly-paved road.  George thought he could do a U-turn.  When he drove forward into the forest, we heard a god-awful sound.  We got out to check…it was the hitch/sway bar stuck in the dirt.  There was too steep a drop-off between the asphalt and the forest’s sand. 

He inched the truck and trailer back and forth.  The tires were spinning; the truck was sliding sideways.  The back wheels of the Airstream came off the ground and spun in the air.  It was horrible to watch.  The hitch kept getting stuck in the drop-off dirt and made grinding noises.  Finally, he decided that turning around was not an option.  He got the truck and trailer back on the road and then backed up about 1/2 mile.  I tried to guide him, but the road was narrow and curvy.  He did an excellent job.  Never in a million years could I do that.  We finally got back to the tent section where we could get turned around.  Whew!

An hour after we had checked in,  I was still shaking by the time we found our site and got set up.  We had margaritas to welcome us back to Texas and to calm us down.

DINNER:  I smashed some hamburger buns down to make a flatbread (since I didn’t have any flatbreads) for a pizza.  After toasting the bread lightly, I spread a layer of Boursin herbed,  creamy cheese on top.  Then, I added a layer of Italian sausage, green peppers, onions, green onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.  I sprinkled on a bit of parmesan.  “Splendido”!  as they say in Italian. 

Shorts and T-shirt weather!

LOCATION:  DeQueen, Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Bellah Mines at the DeQueen ACOE lake
WEATHER:  Hot and humid.  High 82

We took a hike around the campground, noticing the mess the raccoons had made overnight with the garbage.  Must have been quite a party!

It is summer-like weather here.  We put away our winter clothes and bedding and pulled out shorts and t-shirts.  I even turned on the air-conditioning a bit to get the humidity down.  Wow, what a contrast from a few days ago!!!

We went in to the town of DeQueen in search of lunch, gas, and wifi.  The host here at the campground said that there were some good Mexican restaurants here because there are a lot of Mexicans living here.  It is probably due to the big chicken-processing plants here. 

We found a very authentic one, just a shack with a cover on it.  It really reminded us of where we live in south Texas during the winter….TV on with a Telemundo show, extensive menu in Spanish on a chalkboard, and very friendly Mexican customers. 

The restaurant is named El Huarache which means “sandal”.  I had encountered huaraches before on a menu in Mexico and asked about the name since I was confused.    I learned then that a huarache is a large sandal-shaped tortilla.  It is kind of a slang thing.  Since this restaurant is named Huarache, we ordered that for lunch.  We split one (for only $4).  This is one half…

George doesn’t look too happy because this is a dry county and there was no cerveza to go with his huarache lunch  🙂

We found the town’s nice library and used the wifi.  I made some reservations for upcoming campgrounds and planned our route through Texas – trying to avoid the Interstates and the big cities like Dallas, Houston, and Austin.  Not easy.

On our way back, we drove around the lake and explored some of the area.  There are a lot of homes that look like hoarders live there.  How can anyone even walk around a place like this?

George repeated his fire routine from last night:  First he made a fire in the stand-up grill where we cooked dinner.  Later, he moved the hot coals to the fire pit for a nice evening fire.

DINNER:  Grilled rotisserie chicken.  This is something I like to do when we have a grill.  I buy a whole, cooked chicken, then grill the boney pieces.  It gives them a nice crunch and a smoke taste.  This way, you don’t have to worry about getting the chicken cooked throughout without burning it..  (Tales from the past).  We slathered it with BBQ and buffalo wing sauce.  Side was sauted veg – onions, mushrooms, poblano peppers.  I froze the rest of the chicken for future meals. 

BOOK:  “Aftermath” by Peter Robinson.  This is another one in a long series about a British detective in a remote North Yorkshire village.  4 stars out of 5. 

Raccoon: 16; Opossum: 12

LOCATION:  Near DeQueen, Arkansas, in SW corner of state
CAMPGROUND:  Bellah Mines Campground Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) park on DeQueen Lake.  One of 3 ACOE parks here.  Beautiful!  Small.  All sites face the lake.  Ours is a pull-through with electricity.  Paved, level site.  Stand-up grill, fire pit, and picnic table.  Very peaceful and quiet.  With senior pass, $8/night!  Definitely 5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Overcast.  The day warmed as we got farther south.  High  77
DRIVE:  7 hours

To keep ourselves occupied as we drove along today, we counted roadkill.  Here are the results:

Raccoon:  16
Opossum:  12
Deer: 3
Dog: 1
Cat: 1
Fox: 1
Sheep (!):  1
Unidentifiable body bits smashed to smithereens (although likely to be skunk based on the smell):  countless

I’ve come to believe that “scenic byway” is a government euphemism for crappy road conditions.  We took one of these byways today all the way from southern Missouri across the state of Arkansas, to the far south of Arkansas.  Indeed, we did see some nice scenery.  The trees  are just starting to turn but are not as brilliant as up north, due to a drought they have experienced here this summer.

I drove through twisty, narrow roads through the Ozark Mountains.  We were on the Pig Trail Byway.  I first thought it was Pig Tail due to the curly pigtail-like shape that was the highway.  After many turns and twists, a road sign appeared that said “Caution – Extremely steep and dangerous curves next 3 miles”..  What?  Could it get worse?  Oh yes, it could.  It seemed to be about straight down, with lots of 20 mph curves, and then 10 mph switchbacks.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of traffic (hunters) coming toward me so I had to make sure I stayed in my lane.  I applied the brakes so frequently that they got hot.  We could smell them, and then a warning sign came up on the dashboard telling me to let off the brakes.  Finally, we came to a little valley and I drove without the brakes and they cooled off.  Then, another one of those same signs!!!  I had 3 more miles to go.  Thankfully, this time it was mostly uphill.   My idea was to just coast from curve to curve, going so slowly that I didn’t have to apply much brake when I approached the switchbacks.  This worked fairly well, but I’m afraid I annoyed the long string of cars behind me!!!

We arrived late afternoon at this ACOE campground.  What a gem!  Due to Covid, the ACOE campgrounds require you to make reservations online or via the phone.  They are trying to minimize contact with the hosts.  The problem here is that we had no signal.  The host kindly loaned us her phone so we could make the reservation.  (no fears of Covid, I guess). 

Our sight overlooks the large lake.  One fisherman was out.

After that long drive, George made me a martini – shaken, not stirred.

Joy is happily set up for 2 nights here.

George loves stand-up grills.  I collected dead branches and twigs and he made a good fire.  We grilled our dinner on it.

After dinner, we moved the coals to the firepit and enjoyed the ambiance.

We are indeed “Traveling with Joy”! 

DINNER:  Blackened tuna steaks.  I covered them with a lot of black pepper, then blackened them quickly in the very hot iron skillet on top of the fire.  They were still pink in the middle – the way we like them..  Side was steamed vegetables to which I added a dollop of spinach dip for a nice, subtle creamy touch.

Driving Through Hillbilly Country

LOCATION:  Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Missouri in SW part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Mill’s Creek Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) inside the park.  Flat, level, cement pads with excellent grills and picnic tables.  Clean showers/bathrooms.  Electricity.  Water and dump  station. Beach, marina, and volleyball court.  $10.50 with senior pass.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Very windy during the day.  Warmer – high 73
DRIVE:  8 hours

We left the Harvest Host brewery fairly early as we had read that high winds were on their way.  I drove the first part – on an Interstate.  We have been spoiled by driving the backroads, and it was very tense on the Interstate – lots of semi-trucks.  Not only were the trucks annoying, we were overwhelmed by billboards.  There are a lot of tacky tourist attractions in this part of the state, and they were advertised a lot.  The most amazing/unusual one was billboard ads for “Homemade Fudge from Uranus”.  Think about it…..

After an hour, we were able to get off onto a nice secondary highway.  The winds were indeed strong, gusting to 40 mph at times. 

Our destination was a campground in the Mark Twain National Forest.  We got off the nice secondary road and took a scenic byway to get there.  The views from the rolling hills in the Ozark Mountains were indeed scenic, but a lot of the scenery was marred by political signs,  Confederate flags, and hillbilly trailers and houses with junk spilling out of their open front doors into the yards.  Amazing!

It seems that every day our Garmin tells how many hours to the next destination, and it is always wrong.  It was supposed to take 3.5 hours to get to the Mark Twain Campground.  It was more like 6.  Could it possibly  be due to my pokey driving? …… 🙂

The campground was full.  Every site was packed full of RVs, ATVs, and people.  It turns out that this is an ATV mecca due to the trails around this area.  So, we kept going.  Another issue was that we did not have cell service.  We were just too remote for any.  Finally, we came to a town and picked up service.  I called a few campgrounds from my ACOE campground guide.  Most were full.  One had 3 slots open, so we reserved it.  We drove another hour and arrived. 

Boy….we are glad that the Mark Twain campground was full and we ended here instead.  It is a beautiful campground.  Our site is right on the water.  Here is the view…

Table Rock Lake is huge – more than 43,000 acres.  There are 10 ACOE campgrounds here, a state park, commercial RV parks, and lots of resorts.  We are near touristy Branson with its shows and other tourist attractions.  We won’t be going there. 

DINNER:  It was too windy to grill, so I cooked inside.  I added some leftover chicken parmesan meatballs to a garlic/onion/mushroom/white wine sauce and poured it over some penne pasta. I baked it with some buttered bread crumbs on top.   Side was mixed steamed vegetables.  Sadly, we have even more leftovers! 

From the Mississippi River to the Missouri River

LOCATION:  Labadie, Missouri – outside of St. Louis, MO
CAMPGROUND:  Labaddie Brewery, a Harvest Host site.  Huge parking area.  Great beer.  Lovely setting.  5 stars out of 5.  (Yes – the town and brewery are spelled differently). 
WEATHER:  Sunny.  Heading south.  High 65
DRIVE:  6 hours

We had heard that the road outside of Nauvoo (last night’s stay) was closed southbound.  While George was chatting up the local ladies last night, one had told him about a detour.  The main instructions were to turn at “the big red barn”.  Well, there were lots of big, red barns, and none seemed to have a decent road next to them.  We managed to find our way, although it was a bit dicey on some one-laned farm roads. 

We crossed over the Mississippi from Illinois to Missouri.  All of a sudden – cheap gas!

This will be our departure from the Great River Road.  Another year, we hope to follow it farther.  We were on a SW route, and stopped in Hannibal, Missouri, home of Mark Twain.  We parked and strolled downtown – quite cute, but very touristy….Mark Twain Hotel, Mark Twain Museum, Mark Train Coffee Shop – you get my drift.

Then, through beautiful backroads countryside – reminded us of North Carolina and Virginia.  We passed through Missouri River towns, some with a lot of distilleries and wineries. 

Although we were in Missouri, we felt like we were travelling quite internationally….passing through towns named:  Lima, Mexico, Cuba, Rhineland, Krakow, and Japan.

Labaddie Brewery is lovely -out in the country even though it is not far from St. Louis.  We got settled along the line of trees.  Four  other Harvest Host RVers joined us. 

After setting up, we had some of their beers – really tasty! 

We are tracking the weather, as a cold front is supposed to be coming in with fierce winds and cold.  We need to boogie-down south ASAP.

DINNER:  Leftover vegan eggplant parmigiana

Meandering down the Great River Road

LOCATION:  Nauvoo, Illinois – on the Mississippi in NW part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Baxter’s Winery, another Harvest Host site.  Easy parking on gravel, behind the winery.  Right next to a soybean field.  Wines not too good, but the owners and staff very friendly.  Bar next door.  4 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Colder.  High 57
DRIVE:  6.5 hours

We took our time driving down the Great River Road along the Mississippi.  Our GPS and the Great River Road were not in sync so we got off the beaten path a few times.  We started the day in Potosi, Wisconsin where we had spent the night, then soon crossed over to Illinois. 

We drove through a lot of cute river towns, some quite prosperous looking, and others not so much.  It was a day full of interesting names of towns for me —  1) Keithsburg (my brother’s name is Keith), 2) Joy (our Airstream and my mother’s name), 3) Alexis (our daughter’s name), and 4) Carman – me, just misspelled!

At the winery, we checked in with the 5th generation owner.  It is Illinois’s oldest winery. 

The owner had us pull aside as the soybean harvester was just getting ready to harvest the beans right next to Joy.

We watched him from the Airstream.  He was really close.  It didn’t take long at all for that big machine to harvest the small field.  Here is the view from our indoor window…

We went inside the winery for a tasting. In addition to wine, they sell a lot of local meat and cheese, homemade pies, homemade jams, and spices.  The wine wasn’t that great, but their bubbly was ok, so we bought a bottle.  We also bought some good-looking blue cheese.

After the soybean harvesting, we settled Joy in a nice flat area, then went into the adjacent Wine Barrel pub, part of the winery/vineyard.

We enjoy seeing all of the fall and Halloween decorations. This is next to the winery…

The pub is quite small, and the customers all appeared to be local regulars, including the owner’s husband.  George chatted A LOT with fellow customers while I caught up on wifi.  We ordered their spinach dip and chips – a huge bowl for only $2.50 – as an appetizer, and to support the pub. 

DINNER:  Repurposed leftovers — skirt steak (frozen weeks ago from a Harvest Host farm), with sauteed onions, stuffed into a pita bread with tzasiki and goat cheese.  Not too shabby, but there is still steak left! 

Another fun brewpub!

LOCATION:  Potosi, Wisconsin in SW part of state
CAMPGROUND:  A Harvest Host site – Potosi Brewery.  Quiet. Friendly.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Cloudy.  Cooler – high 66
DRIVE:  2 hours

We had a great omelette breakfast thanks to the Browns, friends from Retama Village with whom we stayed last night.

Here we are standing on their deck which overlooks the Mississippi.  This is the obligatory photo, they told us, that they always take of Retama Village guests..

Our brewery destination was only 18 miles from their house, as the crow flies, but we had to go south to get to a bridge to cross the Mississippi, and then go north again.  On the way, we stopped at a rest stop with some beautiful red buds and leaves.

We have been to this Harvest Host brewery before, and enjoyed it, so it is nice to be back.  We got set up in their event center parking area.  We are on a bubbling creek.

Joy is very happy here, among the fall flowers and trees.

We went in to the brewery to get warm, to use their wifi, and to kill some time.  The brewery was started in 1852 and has a lot of character.

It has a national beer museum inside that we toured last year.

DINNER:  We split their Tex-Mex flatbread and George had some beer cheese soup.  Both very good.  We ate and drank slowly to savor the evening (since the trailer was rather cold and dark). 

BOOK:  “Turkey Trot Murder” by Leslie Meier.  I grabbed this book online while I was waiting for some others to become available.  With its title, I wasn’t expecting much but it was actually decent.  It is about a murder that takes place around Thanksgiving, but has a  backdrop storyline about racism in our country. 3 stars out of 5

Are we in Europe?

LOCATION:  At some friends’ house in Guttenberg, Iowa – in NE part of state
WEATHER:  Beautiful again.  High 68.  Windy
DRIVE:  5 hours

Of course, we are not in Europe (sad to say), but we did travel from Stockholm (Wisconsin not Sweden) to  Guttenberg (Iowa not Germany) today.  Towns named Luxumburg and Vienna are nearby.

We followed the Great River Road and crossed back and forth over the Mississippi.  Starting at last night’s Harvest Host winery/cidery in Wisconsin, we drove south, then over to Minnesota, then down to Iowa, then back to Wisconsin, and finally back over to Iowa.  We were trying to get the best views of the river valley.  Iowa has a reputation being a flat, boring-looking state but that certainly isn’t the case here.

We stopped at a lake along the Mississippi for a picnic lunch which was beautiful.  (I forgot to take any photos again!)

We arrived at Rod and Gayle Brown’s house in the late afternoon.  They are our neighbors in Retama Village, where we spend a few months each year in the winter.  They just built a “barnominium” here.  Wanting to take advantage of the river views, they built a garage and a “man cave” on the first floor, and their living area above.  They can watch the big barges go by on the Mississippi from their deck, patio, kitchen, and living area.   Lovely.

They have a perfect set-up for visiting RVers.  They have a full-hookup area with water, electricity, and sewer. 

We grilled hamburgers and portobellos on their grill for dinner, and had a great conversation.  Joining up with friends while traveling is a real treat. 

Meeting up with my brother

LOCATION:  Stockholm, Wisconsin – along the Mississippi in east central part of state.
CAMPGROUND:  Another Harvest Host site – Maiden Rock Winery/Cidery.  It is a huge orchard out in the country.  Very peaceful.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Rain in the AM, clearing to become a very nice, fall day.  High 65
DRIVE:  3 hours

We packed up from the AirB&B cabin.  It is amazing how much “stuff” one has to lug back and forth.  Alexis and Graham left at 9:45; we followed shortly thereafter at 10:00. 

It was a beautiful drive, getting sunnier as the day went on.  The leaves here are a bit different.  The beautiful red sumac are in their full glory.  We will be putzing along the Mississippi, following the Great River Road, for a few days at least.  This is a view of Lake Pepin, part of the Mississippi, on the drive today…

We got settled in the winery/cidery.  They were doing a surprisingly brisk business – wine/cider tasting and customers doing “pick your own” apples. 

My brother and his wife came over from their home in Minneapolis to visit with us.  We sat outside of Joy, our Airstream, for conversation and happy hour drinks and snacks.  The weather cooperated and we were quite content sitting in the setting sunlight.  BUT – I forgot to take a photo!!!  Next time.

DINNER:  Time to get back to leftovers.  While with Alexis, a vegan, I did not cook any meat, so now we will start using up some of our leftover meat from the freezer.  Tonight was BBQ ribs and a butternut squash.