Camping with Suzi

Join me as we discover camping in our national forests.


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Fire Ants – Beware!!!

As we leave the Southern Region behind, I have to say overall our time in the south has been good. The folks have been friendly and hospitable, even if the weather hasn’t been. Yep, for the most part we enjoyed our time in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.

One thing Fred and I did not enjoy and will not miss about the south are the fire ants common in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas campgrounds.

It seems the fire ant was accidentally introduced into the United States by a South American cargo ship coming to an Alabama port in 1918, and now infests the majority of the Southern and Southwestern United States.
fire ants
A typical fire ant colony produces mounds in open areas, and feeds mostly on young plants, seeds, and sometimes crickets. Fire ants will attack small animals and can kill them. Unlike many other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants only bite to get a grip and then sting (from the abdomen) and inject a toxic alkaloid venom. For humans, this is a painful sting with a sensation similar to what one feels when burned by fire—hence the name—and the aftereffects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive individuals.

Fire ants nest in the soil, often near moist areas, such as river banks, pond edges, watered lawns and highway edges. With the wet weather we “enjoyed,” the fire ants were happy to build their mounds all over the place. We were told these mounds can reach heights of more than a foot but, fortunately, mostfire ant mound were six inches or less.

Colonies are founded by small groups of queens or single queens. Even if only one queen survives, within a month or so the colony can expand to thousands of individuals.

In the US, the FDA estimates that more than US$5 billion is spent annually on medical treatment, damage, and control in red ant-infested areas. These ants cause approximately $750 million in damage annually to agricultural assets, including veterinarian bills and livestock loss as well as crop loss.

The venom of a fire ant sting causes stinging and swells into a bump. This can cause much pain and irritation at times, especially when stung repeatedly by several at once. The bump often forms into a white pustule, which is at risk of becoming infected if scratched. However, if left alone, it will usually go down within a few days. The pustules are unattractive and uncomfortable while active, as Fred’s leg will attest. And, some people, like myself, are allergic to the venom. An antihistamine or topical corticosteroids helped to reduce our itching.

First aid for fire ant bites includes external treatments and oral medicines.

External treatments are a topical steroid cream (hydrocortisone), or one containing aloe vera. I’m told, regular toothpaste can be a quick and simple relief. Also, a simple solution of half bleach and half water applied immediately to the area can reduce the pain, itching and, perhaps, pustule formation. But check with a doctor or PA before trying either of these “home remedies.”

Oral medicines are antihistamines. Over-the-counter worked well for me.

If you experience severe or life threatening allergic reactions to fire ant insect stings, see a doctor or hospital immediately. The more severe reactions include severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, or slurred speech.

Shattered window in Hattiesburg, MS

Generally, our departure of from one place to another is pretty routine, lacking drama or excitement. However, getting out of Hattiesburg, MS was anything but.

The day before, Fred was sitting in the rig, at the dining table, when BAM!!! the window next to him shattered. The private campground’s manager was cutting grass with a riding mower and “kicked-up-a-rock” which shot into the window about four inches below Fred’s nose. Scaring!!! Darn tooting! Fred was save from hurt by the fact the manufacture had installed safety glass but, as you can see, the window was destroyed.

This event occurred mid-afternoon. Our friends were due for dinner in a few hours so I focused on dinner while Fred dealt with window repaired. The folks at nearby Country Creek RV Sales and Repair were great (again Thank You, Chris). They came over immediately, assessed by the damage, checked their stockroom for a replacement window (didn’t have one), suggested an alternative “temporary fix”, returned to our rig with roll of two foot wide “Scotch” tape, and covered our shattered window with that super sticky stuff. FYI: The “temporary fix” – a local glass company will install a replacement plexiglass window. We’ll install the “real thing” when we get home. The “temporary fix” would be done “bright and early” the following morning, the day of our departure.

Morning came and we started breaking camp, waiting for the glass repair folks to show up. By 9:30 the shattered window was gone and a clear plexiglass window was installed. As Fred and repairman said “good-bye” and walked around the front of our rig, both noticed the ding our window shield had suffered over a month had “grown”considerable in the cooler temperatures of the night. Now, instead of being the size of a plum pit, the ding had spread out to the size of a catcher mitt!

Now, my Fred is a very conservative person. With that ding growing so much over one night, he decided a replacement was needed.

“You guys got a window shield for our rig?” Fred asked the glass repairman.

“We should,” the repairman responding. “I’ll call to make sure.”

About ten minutes later it was confirmed; they had a window shield. So we waited while the repairman returned to his garage, pick up the window shield, find a helper, and return to make the installation. In the meantime, Fred contacted our insurance people and made the necessary arrangements.

By 11:30 AM with new window shield, a temporary side window and enough excitement and drama to last for the remainder of our 2009 travels, we departed Hattiesburg.

My Essentials Junk Draw

Doesn’t everyone have a “Junk Draw” in their homes. When you go camping, it isn’t a “Junk” but an “Essentials” draw. It is where you find what you need when you need it. We have designated a shallow draw under the refrigerator as our “Essentials” draw but, I think, an old shirt box under the passenger’s seat would work, too.

While you will want to tailor your “Essentials” draw to your needs, this is what we have found needed for quick fixes when on the road camping:

1. Matches
2. Rubber bands
3. Duct Tape
4. Krazy Glue
5. Twine or String
6. Level
7. Sewing Kit
8. Multihead Screwdriver
9. Scissors
10. Tape Measure
11. Utility Knife
12. Flashlight
13. Vaseline Petroleum Jelly
14. Candle Stubs
15. Glo Stick – for emergency
16. Lightbulbs

We keep our extra batteries in a closet where it is a bit cooler. Extra fuses are in Fred’s toolbox with our hammer, screws, nails, etc. During the season Fred is always tossing something else into our “Essentials” draw but the above list is what we start with.


Fred loves his technology but I worry that he puts too much faith in it. Example: Fred plotted our route from Marathon Lake campground (Bienville NF in Mississippi) to Hattiesburg, MS on his beloved State Atlas mapping software. Fortunately, I was somewhat familiar with the roads around Marathon and was immediately suspicious. As we drove out of the campground, following the software’s route, it was apparent I had cause to question the plotted route. The program had us going down one gravel road after another. Not a good thing to do with a motorhome. Conclusion: technology is okay but it doesn’t replace good sense.

Chief Hickory

It still surprises and thrills me when someone recognized Fred or myself as authors of the U.S. National Forest Campground Guides and

Just the other day, as we were leaving the Bankhead National Forest’s Corinth campground, a nice looking gentleman walked right up to me and wanted to know if we were the authors of the website. I said we were and the gentleman related how he and his wife had been at a woodcarvers’s gathering nearby. They decided to explore the area before they attended a monthly “Flea Market.” They went on-line and discovered our website. Based on our description, this couple decided to spend a couple of days at Corinth campground (good choice) before attending the “Flea Market” and returning to their home in Florida. I was walking on clouds for the rest of the day.

As a token, I assume, of appreciation, the gentleman gave us Chief Hickory. He carved it himself from a Hickory nut. Amazing!

If you aren’t familiar with the Hickory nut, it is a dense heavy nut in an incredible thick husk. I can’t image the effort and time it must take to have carved the chief’s face with wrinkles and all. Aubrey, Chief Hickory’s woodcarver, was very humble about his skills and talent but I think the “proof is in the pudding.” Thank you again, Aubrey, such a lovely, thoughtful gesture.

Tips for Hiking Comfortably

If a key characteristic of hiking is “watching where you put your foot,” I am definitely a Walker and no way a Hiker. I’m much to busy looking all around to be worrying about where my feet land. Besides, IMHO, hiking is for sweet young things with buff bodies and trim legs, not for an old chubby broad like me with jiggling thighs.

Besides, walking is my preferred form of exercise, especially when we are on the road. Thirty to sixty minutes (one to two miles minimum) of walking each day is my goal and “the kids” are a huge help in making this goal. Walking at first light invigorates me but there is something magical about watching the sun set on another day.

If you think walking might be something you’ll enjoy, here are some tips I’ve learned:

  • Wear comfortable clothes that are appropriate to the season.
  • Ditto on your shoes.
  • Use a pedometer and forget the clock.
  • Drink before, during, and after walking – cool, clear water is best.
  • Stand tall, hold tummy in, and walk with shoulders down (if shoulders come up, it’s a sign you should take a rest).
  • Don’t walk the same route every time. Experience different routes with different sights and challenges to stay interested.
  • Find a walking buddy. For me, Ralf is better than Dani since he isn’t interested in chasing squirrels, rabbits, or birds. However, the pace Dani sets does get my heart rate up.

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.

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