Camping with Suzi

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Tuskegee National Forest

Chutkee Okhussee
There are only two national forests with no developed campgrounds: Tuskegee in Alabama and Delta in Mississippi. This week Fred and I visited, researched, and explored the Tuskegee National Forest. The weather, during our time there, didn’t show this little national forest at its best but, explored many of its nooks and crannies.

A little background info on the Tuskegee NF. The land, purchased by the federal government between 1935 through 1938, was once one of the most eroded and abused territory in Alabama. Many restoration projects and changes occurred between the time of purchse and November 27, 1959, when it was proclaimed a national forest by President Eisenhower. Since then the Tuskegee NF continues to be a landscape reborn and healing.

When I first spoke with the Forest Service person responsible for recreation in the Tuskegee, he gave me a few tidbits. First, this forest is popular with college students (Auburn and Tuskegee universities within a 12 mile drive of the forest). The forest is one of the few in the Forest Service that is in only one County. And, while you can camp anywhere in the forest (except during hunting season), a no cost campfire permit is required.

While Tuskegee has no developed campground is does have a bunch of what we call “designated disperse” campsites. These “designated disperse” sites are area’s of various sizes that have been cleared, relatively level, and mostly open spaces. There are no frills, no tables, no grills, and nothing at these sites. Bare bones basic, yes. But to me, they seem perfect for a group of tent or car or a couple of adventurous rv campers.

It took us a couple of days to find all the “developed disperse” sites (we’ll post their gps locations on the website in awhile) and we got a good look at this forest. This forest could really use some funding but they are doing the best they can with what they get.

Fishing is available in three locations: Okhussee Chutkee (small pond) and Okhussee Thloko (big pond) have catfish; and we are told, Largemouth bass are in an oxbow pond near the Tsinia Wildlife Viewing Area. The Tsinia Wildlife Viewing Area is a great idea that has fallen into hard times– so sad. Taska Recreational Area is now only a picnic area, nice but more a rest stop than anything else. There are three hiking trails: Bartram, Pleasant Hills, and Bold Destiny. I would say they are all day hikes but, between the rain, heat, and humidity, we did not hike any of them. Like I said, Tuskegee is a small forest with limited recreational opportunities.

Fred and I believe there is a reason for every national forest. Perhaps I should have talked with some other member of the Tuskegee National Forest’s team to learn more about this forest and what the purpose is for it. I hope it is more than just a place for college students and hunters.

I’m glad we finally got to spend some time in the Tuskegee, and I hope Auburn and Tuskegee universities takes advantage of this little parcel of public lands, but I don’t think there is any reason for us to return. It is unfortunate but there are some national forests that I make me wonder “Why?”

Problem Solvers

Spent a week in Louisville, KY (actually camped in the KOA in Clarksville) visiting with Douglas, my son, and a couple of Fred’s classmates. It was a good week. We did a lot visiting, eating good food, working on national forests and grasslands (see Little Missouri, Grand Cedar, and Grand River national grasslands) and managed a ton of catching up with family and friends (Fred kept remarking about how old his friends had gotten .)

I got to go shopping with my daughter-in-law (step grand-daughter #1 is off to University and step grand-daughter #2 is getting her old room, so shopping for some redecorating was in order) and found two items to solve a couple of problems I’ve been dealing with: a plastic cutting broad and a micro-fiber drying mat.

Anyone who has had to sit with a laptop computer actually in their lap is well aware the darn thing can get really hot. To help us navigate unfamiliar roadways in the motorhome, we use a combination of my laptop, Delorme Topo software, and a Garmin GPS unit. This combination works well for us but there is a rat’s nest of wires and the only place for the laptop is my lap (much to Ralf’s annoyance). I had been using a towel but it wasn’t a very good solution. I saw a large plastic cutting board and a light went off. Whether it is the front seat of the motorhome or in the shade of the awning, the cutting board has been an outstanding solution to the problem.

My annoyance with the designers of my motorhome has been expressed in earlier blogs. I keep finding work-arounds for their foolishness and this micro-fiber drying mat I spied (see under the dish drying rack in photograph) while shopping with my daughter-in-law is just my latest. As you might be able to see, the space between the stove top and sink is rather narrow. Without the drying mat water under the dish rack I get water all over the place. On the floor, through any cracks it can find, along the back wall, it was water, water, water everywhere! I would end up drying the floor after drying the dishes and mopping up the water that collected along the back wall. What a pain in the tussy!!! With the micro-fiber drying mat, problem solved!

Lovin’ Corinth cg

Personally, I love camping this time of year. Temperatures are comfortable and the crowds are gone. The trees are just turning a variety of brilliant hues but haven’t started to drop their leaves. Without the crowds, wildlife is returning to the campground, making it easy to watch their activities. Does it get any better?
Corinth campground
I met a man at the Louisville KOA who stays only in KOA Kampgrounds. I asked if he had every tried a national forest campground. He looked at me as if I had a second head and responded, “I need full hook-ups.” As I sit here in my spacious Corinth campground site, I send up a small “thank you” that he has not discovered the delights of the Forest Service’s Southern Region campgrounds, leaving more room for me!.

I sit in my site, typing with a big Yellow popular tree on one side of the motorhome, and a full hook-upsstand of Wild magnolia and Short-leaf pines on the other side, while a delicate-looking doe nibbles the grass along the roadway, and silently thank whoever was responsible for the creation and construction of Corinth campground in Bankhead National Forest. Did I mention it has FULL HOOK-UPS! Although hook-ups is not common elsewhere, the Southern Region seems to have made a serious effort to provide electric and water hook-ups in at least one campground in every forest in their region.

This morning, the “kids” and I took a hike from Firefly loop to Corinth campground’s tent only spur along the shore of Lake Lewis Smith (over a mile). It was a pleasant stroll through the area’s hardwood forest with occasionally glimpses of water. Being able to hike the trails of Bankhead National Forest’s campgrounds was a pleasure we didn’t have when first here, some 13-years ago. The lake level is down but the recent rains have brought the level up a bit. The rain, plus continuing warm temperatures, have encouraged a variety of fungi to grow along the trail. I want to hike this trail again before we leave and get some photos of these interesting plants.

Change often comes slowly to a national forest but not to the man-made entities in and around the forest. A case in point is Looney’s Tavern. We explored this piece of Civil War history during our last stay in the Bankhead but, we understand, it is now closed, defunct, and a thing of the past. Sad. Why? A little known tidbit of information is that county where Looney’s Tavern was located was fill of “Jacksonian Democrats” who held no loyalty for the Confederacy. On July 4, 1861, the country’s 3000 residents drafted resolution proclaiming their independent heritage and desire to secede from the War. With that the Free State of Winston was established. During the whole War, the citizens of the Free State of Winston attempted to maintain neutrality and peace. Unfortunately, the Confederacy did not recognize the Free State of Winston and continued to conduct raids for supplies and personal throughout the county during the War. For the whole of this period, Looney Tavern was the gathering place for political discussions.

I reminds of the current conversation over that idiot’s outburst during the President’s speech – you shouldn’t paint everyone with the same brush. Not everyone in the South agreed with the Confederacy and not everyone agrees with that guy disrespecting the President. Hope that idiot doesn’t get re-elected to illustrate my point. I’m off my soapbox.

Time with Beegie in Nashville

On our way to thFred and Beegiee Bankhead National Forest, AL from Louisville, KY, Fred and I decided to stop in Nashville, TN to meet up with one of Fred’s Western Kentucky University classmates, Beegie Adair. Fred remembered her as a very good “piano player” with a “great” smile. Well, let me say, she is that and so much more.

Fred and I enjoy a wide variety of music styles. To de-stress and relax jazz is our preferred musical genre. Beegie plays that every Thursday night at F. Scott’s Restaurant and Bar on Crestmoor in Nashville.
beegie adair trio
F. Scott’s is an elegant and friendly establishment well-suited to Beegie’s music, personality and character. The food was almost as good as her music but we are basis. Our time with Beegie was much too brief. I hope we will be able to spend more time with her at a future date. In the meantime, we have her music. Thank you, Beegie.

If you would like to hear a sampling of Beegie’s playing, please go to her website.

Thoughts on national grasslands

I love national forests but I’m discovering national grasslands are special and unique unto them selves. May be it is because they are so open and vast and empty. They are cris-crossed by barb wire fences so cattle can safely graze on the tall rippling grass so may be they aren’t really so open. I think their vastness is related to how small we are in their landscape. And as to empty, grasslands are full of amazing plants, special animals, and dotted with isolated ranches and farms. So what make s them special? May be it’s imprint left by those who went before and those who continue to try taming the land.

I’ve always been a wander. As a youngster it was three years here, thirteen months there . Then, as an adult, I spent half dozen years here and a decade there but never felt rooted in one place. Fred, on the other hand, retains his connection to New England and Cape Cod. I called more places home in the firstfarm scene five years of my life then Fred has in his whole life!

In some ways, I envy Fred and those folks we meet that have that have a connection to one place. Especially when a place has the unique beauty of a grassland. You can see the love of the land and a way of life in the basswood carving done by a gentlemen who spent his life on a plot of land in Sheyenne National Grassland.

And then there is the couple how live overlooking the expanses of the Curlew National Grassland from their farmhouse and welcome strangers like us with open arms. They know every hillside, stream, and secret of this area. They told us about Colen H Sweeten Jr. who writes about his time on the Curlew. A favorite piece of theirs is “Field Thirteen” (fenced pastures are all given names so the permittee will know which is for his use). It reads like a mini-novel.

Here are few lines from “Field Thirteen”:
field thirteen
A blizzard comes up
With no warning at all
When you’re cuttin’ out cattle
Late in the fall.

The horse you are on
Turns from ornery to mean
There’s a pretty good chance
You are in Field Thirteen.

. . . .

Field thirteen can get pretty mean,
But, today I’m enjoying the ride.
The feeling won’t last, but ghosts of the past
Ride along in the dust at my side.

Want a forest experience?

That’s what we were asked by a Forest Service employee the other day. You see, we generally call about a week head to make our appointment with the District folks. Even though we have selected a campground to stay at, Fred or I will ask if there is a campground they would suggest. Generally, the answer is vague but this Forest Service person responding with, “Do you want a forest experience?”

Fred grinned and said, “That’s what we prefer.”

To which, she suggested not a Forest Service campground but a State Park near the District office!

Okay, that State Park is more convenient to the Forest’s district office but . . .

Well, the whole thing got me thinking about what exactly is a “forest experience”? Are trees required? Can you have a “forest experience” in a grassland or in a place with no tree? Are smelling vaults (pit toilets) required? Must you be in a tent or is it possible to have a “forest experience” in a motorhome? Is a “forest experience” only achieved in a wilderness area or can you have one in an urban forest setting with little or no privacy between campsites?

I think the answer to all these questions is yes, except for the smelling vault. In my opinion, smelling vaults are not a requirement thanks to the installations of SST (Sweet Smelling Toilets) and compositing vaults.

For me, a “forest experience” can be enjoyed in a tent in the backyard or in a motorhome far from everything. Electric power is not required but there should be a star-studded night sky, a natural quiet that comes from inside you as well as from all around, and pleasure in the simplest of things like a perfectly roasted marshmallow or a visit from a furry woodland critter.

Yep, IMHO you can have a “forest experience” in your backyard, in a city park, county park, state park, national park, maybe in a private campground (but none I can think of) and certainly in any National Forest. You don’t need any fancy equipment, multi-room tent, expensive cook stove, or special gourmet food. You just need to get out where things grow and critters walk, crawl, flutter, and fly. Your stay doesn’t have to be long. A two mile hike is a good introduction for a “forest experience.”

But be warned – it is a good thing that can be habit forming.

Do I want a “forest experience”? After fifteen years of researching, visiting , surveying, camping, and spending upwards of 180 days each year eating, sleeping, and thinking about national forests, that answer is a definite YES! The more important question is, “Do you want to join me in a forest experience?”

Pictures from Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a rather unusual place. About 50 miles south of Chicago, it is something of an oasis for your spirit. Once a busy ammunition plant, supplying the fighting forces of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam with things that go bomb, the Forest Service has been tasked with the enormous task of returning the land to its original eco-system – a tallgrass prairie.

Fred and I had timed our visit to Midewin to coincide with a couple of tours. One looked at what remains of Joliet Army Ammunition Plant and the other was a Photography tour focused more on flora and topography. Fred got some great photo of the Plant but my interest was on the plants found in a tallgrass prairie. Here are some of the photographs I took in the area called “South Patrol Road Restoration.” To reach this area start at the Explosive Road trailhead and head south for about two-miles, then head west for another two-miles. That should get you to N41 20.905; W88 09.492.

An eye-level view at the “South Patrol Road Restoration”

The name is unknown for these precious tiny rosettes.

this shot required me to shoot skyward. Name unknown.

I know this one – New England Aster

I think this is a Beebalm

Part of restoring the tallgrass prairie is getting rid the plants that don’t belong. The Osage-Orange tree is one case in piont.

Broken seat belt in a small town

It has been a rough season for our equipment. We have had a wide variety of things break. From small annoyance such as a tail-light burning out and Fred’s electric toothbrush falling apart to more critical stuff like the kitchen faucet shearing off and, now, an inoperative seat-belt. (The steady drip/drip/drip from the shower stall suggests that will be our next challenge and let’s hope the occasional problem of the coach door not opening will wait until we are home before going critical.)

Unlike at home, problems with equipment while on the road seem to always require several hours in the car to reach a place where replacement or repair can be achieved. The broken seat-belt is a case in point.

Now, I love my little Suzuki Grand Vitari (a.k.a. Squirt). With 70,000-plus, it continues to run like a champ and to drive like a dream. I would never have thought a seat-belt could “break” and require so much effort to fix. It seems seat-belts are so reliable, no one in Wisconsin keeps them in stock. (To say nothing of the challenge of finding a Suzuki dealership.) A helpful Ford dealership in Eagle River, WI found a Suzuki dealership in Michigan who would order the part for us. Yipeee!

A week later, the replacement seat-belt was delivered to the Michigan dealership. The reason it took a week? It seems there is a tiny explosive in the belt’s locking device and that required special handling which delayed delivery. It also means this life-saving piece of equipment cost a pretty penny.

Because of the presence of an explosive, and the arrival of Saturday and Sunday, delivery of the seat-belt from the Michigan dealership to the Wisconsin dealership would not be accomplished for four or five more days. That would put us further behind schedule so Fred and I opted to drive the 100 miles to the Michigan dealership to get the part.

One hundred miles to, 100 miles back, piece of cake. Because we spent more than half those miles on County Routes, the trip took three hours each ways. Beautiful country, even in the rain, was enjoyed but my poor tussy. (Because it’s the passenger seat-belt that is in-operative, I must ride in the back-seat and want to convey my apologizes to all those people who have had to ride in my back-seat – I had no idea have solid that seat is.)

To get the seat-belt installed required a nearly two-hour drive from our campground (Bear Lake) near Laona back to Eagle River, WI. But now I can move back into the front seat.

My point is stuff happens when you are away from home. Flexibility and a willingness to see problems as adventures helps a good bit. And hope if you do have a problem, it occurs in or near a small town. We have found the people in small towns to be the most resourceful, talented, and helpful folks

Friends at The Pines

I love this job!!!! Especially when we get to meet interesting folks like the ladies at Ed and Mary’s “Pine Acres Pub and Restaurant”. Ed and Mary Adams are pretty nice, too.

“The Pines”The-Pines-owners, as the locals call Ed and Mary’s pub and restaurant, was a “happening place” for decades. Maybe 40 years ago, The Pines was a dance hall and a saloon but we know The Pines only as a bar and restaurant. Co-owner Ed’s dad tells stories about going to The Pines for dances and hanging out there when he was a young man. Another story is about Ed’s cousin and how, as a kid, he earned fifty cents cleaning up the place on Sundays. When The Pines went up for sale, Ed and Mary were ready for a change, and it seemed natural for them to buy the place where so many family memories were centered.

Thirteen years ago we stopped at The Pines after surveying the Nicolet National Forestbrule-River-campground’s neighboring Brule River campground. (FYI: Brule River campground is, IMHO, one of the nicest campgrounds in the Nicolet National Forest and is its best kept secret). A tall cold one sounded good so we dropped in. Irene, the owner at that time, was behind the bar with a sprinkle of locals holding a heated conversation in front. Irene broke off talking and served us our beverages and then began regaling us about the beautiful bar her husband had built for her. It is a gorgeous piece and she had every right to be proud. Irene is gone but her bar still shines brightly in the afternoon sunlight.

Ed and Mary purchased The Pines three years ago and made a few changes to the bar area. The biggest change they made was re-opening the old dance hall as a restaurant. You can almost hear the music played by a local three-piece band and see the couples gliding across the nFriendarrow plank wood floor. However, today the area where you can dance is a little small. Ed has built in these enormous satin finished wood plank tables and benches into the outside walls. They are so big you can easily sit eight adults, set down all their plates, and still have room. This arrangement leaves enough room in the center of the room for the “Ladies of Iron River,” MI to have their weekly card game. They have been gathering every week for twenty-plus years! Imagine that! They play only one card game. One lady called it “Bitch Rummy” but I think the name should be more like “Friends Forever Rummy.”

What a good day when you can discover a great campground, a great historic establishment, and make new friends.

Wifi or Broadband?

Anyone who has sent us e-mailed during a camping season, waited for our next blog, or wondered when we were going to post an update to current postings will be familiar with: “Sorry for the delay in responding but we are currently researching the such–and-such and communication is limited.”

Frustrating? YES, for both you and us!

Fred tries to have the best devices and latest methods to insure our ability to communicate with the world but we are always slightly behind the curve. (He just purchased a “Signal Boost-Mobile Amplifier Kit” after being without reception for more than a week. Works well enough.) However, I think this year our problems with communicating reached a crossroads and we are hoping things will be easier from here on. We are using both broadband and wifi!

Ways to communicate electronically have changed greatly since we began our project in 1994. Acoustic couplers and phone booths have evolved to cell phones with broadband and laptops with Wifi. Broadband and wifi are a delight when compared to our phone booth days but do we need both? You may not but, in our case, Fred says the answer is yes. I think of it as insurance that we will have the greatest chance of success.

I don’t know about other cellophane companies but we use Verizon and it has good broadband coverage across the nation. We have found a few “dead” zones (most in the campgrounds of the Superior NF) but, in general, they have been few and far between. The downside of broadband is when we can use it. Our plan has “free minutes” from 9PM to 6AM – a bit late for me but good for Fred – and that’s when we can do an upload and the more time consuming internet work.

Fred’s latest “toy” is a Blackberry phone. We can get our email anytime and anywhere the Blackberry “sees” a broadband signal. (FYI: The broadband seems to work better than the phone part-go figure.) Any message that requires immediate action can be dealt with right then and there. Works well except it has a touch screen and I’m finding the learning curve to be frustrating.

I remember, back in the day, Fred and I would drive around an area, usually a residential area, with this search-and-identify wifi device in hand. I would point it at this or that building and activate the device and hope we receive a “good” signal. That was back when wifi in homes tended to be insecure. Not the case today, now most households and businesses have secured their wifi (a good thing). But, often small businesses (bakeries, café, taverns, etc.) have wifi. All you need to do is go in, buy something, seat down and boot up. Outstanding! And wifi is becoming more readily available in private campgrounds (yes, modems are going the way of the Model T) which is better for us then using an wifi hotspot provided by some business.

So, which is the “must have” for anyone traveling? That’s a tough question. I’m no techie but if I had to give one up I’d probably drop the wifi and start going to bed at 7PM and getting up around 3AM to use our broadband. But if I were traveling in any other mode than an recreational vehicle, I would probably hold on to the wifi and dropping the broadband. Remember we need our laptops for work so. . . If there was no reason to bring the laptop, wifi and broadband would be left on home. I mean, would a carpenter bring her saw, hammer and nails on vacation?

Which is the best method to maintain communications with family and friend for business or pleasure? There are a bunch of techie questions that need to be answered along with the importance of your keeping in touch with whomever. Will a simple phone call from a pay phone be sufficient? If someone wants to get hold of you, does it have to be “right now”? Will you need to get hold of someone “right now”? What is your budget? So many questions. My suggestion is to follow the old “k.i.s.s” rule – keep it simple, stupid.

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