2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  ON THE ROAD:  TEXAS TO GEORGIA
+ CAMPING AT THE NAVY LAKE SITE @ ALLATOONA

TUESDAY, MARCH 30

 
Bumper snicker on back of motorhome:
"Poor mileage for a vehicle. Great for a home."
 
 
We were kind of sad to leave Brazos Bend State Park on Sunday. After being in one (warm and beautiful!) place for almost a month, it was time to head to the Atlanta area for Jim's next trail race. He already "sacrificed" a fixed-time event in Alabama so we could stay on at the park as campground hosts; he didn't want to miss another one.

Our destination campground in Georgia was the FamCamp at Dobbins Air Force Base, a distance of about 900 miles from Brazos Bend.

For reasons I'll explain in a little bit, we were unable to find a suitable site there and ended up farther north of Atlanta at the Navy Lake Site, a recreational area with a scenic campground on Lake Allatoona. Our total distance ended up at 933 miles.


View of cove on Lake Allatoona from our campsite

We decided to take two rather leisurely days sandwiched around one longer day in the middle to make the drive. The weather was great all three days, sunny and in the 60s and 70s by each afternoon. We made good time and enjoyed the bright green grass and spring-flowering shrubs and trees throughout the journey.

Here's a recap of our trip from the RVer's perspective. I didn't take any photos along the way except for the two below at Sam's Club. All of the other photos are at the Navy Lake Site where we are camping this week.

DAY 1:  BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK, TX TO LAFAYETTE, LA

This was one of our rather short days, just 271 miles, so we didn't leave the park until almost noon. That gave us time to go for one last run/walk on some of our favorite trails before saying good-bye to BBSP.

We've got the drill down pat for getting the Cameo ready for travel so that process didn't take us very long. Jim had already washed the rig, checked the air in all the truck and camper tires, and filled the fuel tank in the Ram the day before. While I was securing some things inside, Jim emptied the grey and black tanks right before we left and put enough fresh water in the appropriate tank to last us for two nights on the road -- and then some, in case of a snafu that might mean a third night on the road.

You learn things like that if you go camping very much.


Georgia destination Plan B

The load was light enough, however, for us to get an average of 12 MPG of diesel fuel heading east. That's very good for towing a 14,000 - 15,000 pound 5th wheel behind us. (Because of prevailing winds from the west, we usually get better mileage going east than west.)

We followed FR 762 and 1462 from the park to US 288 N. to I-610 around the southeast part of metro Houston, then I-10 for the remainder of the afternoon. The roads were all good and fairly smooth.

Traffic was moderately heavy, which surprised us on the weekend, but it moved at speed.


Office at the rec site, with signs pointing to the boat docks and ramps,
canoe rental area, beach, pavilions, and picnic areas.

The only glitch we had on Sunday was a stubborn deadbolt lock on the camper door.

We stopped at a rest area west of Beaumont, TX to go to the bathroom. Even at rest areas with restrooms, we usually use our own potty. Unfortunately, this rest area did not have a restroom -- and we could not get into the camper! Ugh.

We fidgeted and continued on, calling AAA as we drove. They wanted us stationary so we decided to stop at the next rest area. Jim was able to get the lock open there (with great effort) so we cancelled the locksmith. He wasn't even on his way, so it's no telling how long we would have been there waiting for him. Until we can change the deadbolt lock, we'll use just the more simple entry lock and hope no one breaks in.


A nice evening to rent a canoe at Lake Allatoona

That night we parked at the Sam's Club on Ambassador Caffrey Parkway in southwest Lafayette, LA. There is also a nearby Walmart that allows overnight parking and has diesel fuel. With a Walmart  shopping card (3 off per gallon) we paid $2.66/gallon to fill 'er up. Jim was happy to spot a Whataburger restaurant within a short distance; guess what he had for supper? (I zapped my favorite Amy's frozen Indian dinner for mine.)

We thought Sam's would be the quieter choice since it closes at 6 PM on Sunday. Ha! For several reasons, we didn't get a good night's rest. There is an adjacent car wash that remained open until 10 PM and re-opened at 7 AM. It was quite noisy, but not as bad as the construction crew that descended on Sam's Club after the store closed at 6. They were also quite noisy as they remodeled the front of the store. They were still working when we went to bed at 10:30. I don't know how long they worked. Earplugs helped, but not entirely. And earplugs did nothing to block the bright lights and full moon . . .

Oh, and did I mention that the parking lot sweeper came roaring by before sunrise??? We've had that happen at a couple of other Sam's Clubs, too, but not Walmart.


Ya think??  Sometimes the military has a sense of humor. (sign in campground)

We shouldn't complain, though. We got a free night of "camping" in a relatively safe place off the road, we had the best internet and TV reception we've had for a month, and we finally found our favorite low-cal-but-creamy fudge bars (Swiss Miss) at Sam's Club. The Sam's at Sugar Land, TX didn't have them, nor did Walmart. We also discovered you can buy wine and beer on Sunday in Louisiana -- cars and RVs, too! They don't have Blue Laws like Texas.

DAY 2:  LAFAYETTE, LA TO BIRMINGHAM (HOOVER), AL

This was a typical 8+ hour day for us on the road -- long enough to cover 466 miles but not so long that it wiped us out.

Morning rush hour wasn't bad in Lafayette. We left Sam's a little before 8:30 AM and soon reached I-10 eastbound. Traffic was moderately heavy again (this was a Monday) but moving well all day through LA, MS, and AL.


Early evening over the boat docks

Word of warning to those hauling 5ers and trailers: there are some very annoying sections of freeway with clickety-clack pavement, including several miles of I-10 east of Lafayette. Once we reached the scenic Henderson Swamp area, the road was mostly smooth again until periodic sections on I-12 in Louisiana, I-59/I-20 in Meridian, MS, and I-59/I-20 in Alabama. It makes us worry about what's happening back in the RV with all the shaking going on. It's probably not as noticeable in a motorhome but it drives us crazy with a 5er.

Other than that, the trip was enjoyable yesterday with all the pretty dogwoods and other flowering shrubs and trees along the route. As we drove north through Mississippi and Alabama we regressed back to earlier spring foliage and flowers, such as forsythia, daffodils, and redbuds, which is always cool.

We enjoy the same phenomenon in the spring and fall when we go from lower to higher elevations.


Lake Allatoona is almost at "full pond" this week.

At Baton Rouge we followed I-12 east to I-59 north, stopping briefly at a huge Camping World store at exit 35 to look at locks and buy a new screen door handle.

While I was driving Jim called Carriage, Inc. about some warranty work we have scheduled at a Cameo dealer in North Carolina next week. It's the closest dealer to Roanoke so we figured we may as well stop there on our way from Atlanta to Virginia so we don't have to take it back out again during our brief layover at the house.

Jim also mentioned the newly-malfunctioning door lock and the service manager said he'd send a new one to our house so Jim can install it when we get back there. It's covered under warranty but simple enough to replace that it's not worth the effort to go to a dealer to have the work done. Jim's already fixed a number of things on the Cameo that some less-skillful RV owners would have to find a pro to repair. Even for jobs covered under warranty, that's a hassle we prefer to avoid whenever possible.

All travelers on these freeways should note that some of the roadside stops in Louisiana and Mississippi (and other states) are only "parking areas" and have no restrooms. They are marked as such. If you want a rest room, visitor information, and/or a nicely-landscaped place with picnic tables, choose the welcome stations at the LA-MS or MS-AL state lines or the rest area at MM38  southwest of Tuscaloosa. Those have free dump stations, too.

INTERESTING SAM'S CLUB EXPERIENCE

We chose to stop at another Sam's Club overnight on Monday. This one comes with a story, too, but the ending is better!

This Sam's is located off I-459 on John Hawkins Pkwy. south of Birmingham in a 'burb called Hoover. When we went inside the store to ask permission to stay overnight, the manager initially said no.

That surprised us -- it was our first refusal of permission, ever, from a Sam's Club anywhere we've asked -- but we said thank you and graciously left the store. No problem: Plan B was to park at the Walmart down the street!

We were hungry and pretty tired from all the driving, however, and decided to remain a few more minutes so we could eat supper in the camper before moving to Walmart. The Sam's parking lot had plenty of room and we weren't hogging anyone's space.

A few minutes later the female manager and male assistant who had conferred with her about our request came out to the camper. They were leaving work and were parked near us.

We initially assumed they were annoyed because we hadn't left yet. We were ready to assure them that we'd be moving along pretty soon when they knocked on the door, smiled, and said they'd reconsidered and we were more than welcome to stay overnight right where we were.

Well, that was a surprise, too!

We thanked them, talked a little bit about our lifestyle, promised to leave before the store opened in the morning, and told them why we usually preferred Sam's parking lots over Walmart's (Sam's closes at night). Jim commented about the lovely Bradford pear trees blooming outside our door, and everyone was happy.

We can only conclude that the manager saw we were in a handsome rig that cost 'way more than anything else in the parking lot . . . and hoped we'd spend some big bucks in her store!

That overnight experience was more typical of our previous stays at Sam's Clubs than the problems we had on Sunday night. It was quiet, no street sweeper woke us us at 5 AM, and we had good TV/phone reception and a faster internet connection than we've had in campgrounds in AZ and TX most of the last four months.

We slept well that night and never did see what the Walmart parking lot looked like down the street.

DAY 3:  BIRMINGHAM, AL TO LAKE ALLATOONA, GA

This was deliberately our shortest day on the road. We wanted to reach Dobbins AFB early in the afternoon and have some time to relax in our new campsite.

We had a nice, sunny day for a non-eventful drive through Alabama and Georgia on I-20. We did reach Dobbins early in the afternoon. That's good, because we had to resort to Plan B here. After 196 miles of driving, we ended up at the Navy Lake Site farther north:


This is better than Sam's Club, eh?  Jim and Cody walk on the campground road below our site.

We enjoyed driving through the hillier, more wooded terrain east of Birmingham to the Atlanta area. There was plenty of traffic all day but it moved at speed. We were slower than most of it, trying to maintain a speed of 60-62 MPH to conserve fuel.

Traffic got really heavy on I-285 on the western side of Atlanta and I-75 north, even in the middle of the afternoon. After living in metro Atlanta for 25 years (1974-1999) I'm used to heavy freeway traffic. I'm not as used to towing a big RV or being the navigator through it, however.

A bigger surprise to me than the heavy traffic was the higher price of diesel fuel in Georgia. When I lived there it was one of the cheapest places in the States to buy gas and diesel, at least in the metro area. We paid a whopping $2.92/gallon for fuel at the Flying J at exit 19 on I-20 in west Georgia. We got enough fuel to get us to Dobbins, where we hoped we'd find it cheaper. That became a problem when we had to drive farther north to a different campground. We ran with the "empty" fuel light on for several miles before finding a campsite at the lake. We'll get fuel tomorrow when we run errands in Marietta.

We made a good decision to dump our grey and black tanks at Flying J on Sunday. The dumps at Dobbins NAS and the Navy Lake Site would be much tighter for us to maneuver.

We've camped at Dobbins AFB previously in the HitchHiker, which was two feet shorter than the Cameo. We don't remember that being a problem. This time, however, there were only three of the sixteen sites left and they were all much too small for us. You can't make reservations at Dobbins and the office personnel didn't know if anyone was leaving in the morning. We could boondock for free in a parking lot next to the tennis courts, but for only one night. (Regular campsites are $12/night with water and electricity; there is a dump station.)

LAKE ALLATOONA NAVY RECREATION AREA CAMPGROUND

Fortunately, we'd already investigated staying at the Navy Lake Site at Allatoona (I think that's the official name of the place). We hadn't made reservations there, however.


Part of the campground, where several trailers and 5th-wheels are pulled head in
to back-in sites! Huh?? CG staff used a tractor to situate them that way, but we don't know why.

We called to see if there were any RV sites large enough for us and the manager said yes, but only two of the twelve sites would accommodate a large rig. He held one of them for us until our arrival.

About half of the sites were occupied when we got there. We had other alternatives in mind if the Navy campground wasn't an option; there are seven Army recreation areas around the lake, too, but they are even farther away from the Atlanta metro area and their facilities vary.

We aimed north on I-75, driving past Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park to Acworth and exit 283 on the southwest side of Lake Allatoona. The campground is several miles to the southeast of the freeway along narrow, hilly, winding rural roads. We weren't certain which way to go at one fork in the road. Our GPS wasn't very helpful. It's a good thing we picked the right way, or we might have found ourselves in a situation where it would be impossible to turn around.


Entrance road to cabins and campground

We arrived at the campground around 3 PM, drove past the amusing 6 MPH sign, and mostly blocked the narrow, one-way campground loop road while we checked in at the office. This place really isn't designed for larger RVs but we did OK getting in and we won't have to worry about it again until we leave on Sunday. This will be our home for the next four days.

So far we are pleased. The campground is situated on the hills above one of the lake's numerous coves. We have a great view of the lake from our long, back-in campsite. No one is in the site across from us (next photo) or on either side.

It's a good thing the site across from us was empty when we came in. The road is so narrow and there are so many trees that Jim may not have been able to maneuver the Cameo into our spot if a camper had been parked there. It will be much easier to pull out when we leave.

Twelve RV sites with water and electricity (30-amp service) cost $14/night or $330 a month. That's a good deal. Thirteen tent sites are $10/night. There is a dump station. Visitors can make reservations at this campground, which is a plus.

The rec area office has a game room. There is no laundry facility available in the winter but it's open in the summer when there are more visitors. We have WiFi at our site, lots of TV stations (but not NBC with only our Cameo's antenna), and a strong Verizon phone connection.

This recreational site also has seventeen cabins available to rent. I noticed on one website that the cost depends not only on the season and the size of the cabin, but also on military rank! I assume the higher the rank, the higher the rental fee for any given cabin but I could be wrong.

Maybe rank has its privileges.


One of the cabins

Lake Allatoona is a 12,000+ acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir that supplies most of the water to the residents of three counties north of Atlanta. It serves many other functions, too, from flood control to hydroelectric power generation to recreational uses.

It's the latter that draws many locals and visitors to its shores. The lake is a popular boating, fishing, skiing, and swimming destination. There are several public marinas and private boat ramps around its perimeter, as well as numerous city, county, state, and Army Corps of Engineers parks and campgrounds.

Although only military personnel and retirees and their guests may use the Navy Lake Site, the public can camp at the seven campgrounds run by the Corps. Water and 30-amp electric sites equivalent to ours are $20 (there are many variations in price depending on the hookups and proximity to the lake shore). Folks with National Park senior passes can camp for half price. We won't qualify for one of those until Jim turns 62 in August.

The Navy site where we're staying has three docks on the lake below the campground and cabins. Visitors can bring their own boats to the boat ramp, store them in one of the docks, or rent motorboats or canoes. We don't boat (yet) but we sure enjoy camping near lakes.

The recreation site also has pavilions, picnic tables, and a sandy beach for swimming in the summer. Cody wants to go in the water but we haven't found a good place yet to let him swim without being seen. Dogs are allowed in campsites but not in cabins or on the beach.


Beach and three boat docks

This is a nice place to hang out but there are a few things other people might find annoying.

Although the Navy Lake Site is a few miles off I-75, the access road mostly parallels close to the freeway.  You can hear road noise from some of the cabins and RV sites up on the ridge; ours is down the hill far enough toward the lake that sounds are muffled.

The Navy Lake Site is not real close to stores and restaurants. We're used to that because we usually prefer the more remote campgrounds. Jim's a happy camper because there's a Steak 'N Shake restaurant close by. He likes those even better than Whataburger. I'm happy because Walmart and a couple of Thai restaurants are within several miles. Kennesaw Mountain is a reasonable twelve-mile drive; that's one of my old trail running venues and I want to go back there this week.

Dobbins would have been closer to the race site at Sweetwater Park west of Atlanta, but I don't think it's an option for us as long as we have the Cameo. We didn't see any sites that looked large enough for a 36-foot 5th wheel. We're happy we found the Navy Lake Site.

Next entry:  hiking at Kennesaw Mountain, which has some of the nicest trails in metro Atlanta

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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