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Local Secrets of Tucson

Yesterday, we left Tucson and are currently heading east towards Atlanta.  We plan on making a slow trek back.  Our daughter is due to have our first grandchild soon and we would love to be there for that.

It was an unplanned exit, as we had intended on staying in Tucson until April 1.  Unfortunately, our job there did not work out.  I will go into it more at a later date.  Things are too fresh right now and Dave and I are planning on decompressing a bit as we head back across the country.

In the meantime, I would love to share with you a few of the local secrets of Tucson.  We truly loved the area, and will go back one day.   Arizona was home to us.

Unique Local Food of Tucson

As with most southwestern towns, Tucson has a large abundance of Mexican restaurants.  We tried as many as we could while we were in the area.  All were good and each had their own unique flair.

Guadalajara Restaurant offered the unique aspect of making your salsa for you at your table.  Not only was it fun to watch, but your salsa was made to our own specifications.

Want it extra hot?  No problem!

We loved the mariachi band, the festive atmosphere and of course the food!

Sonoran Hotdogs

Our coworkers, Rob and Connie from Circle Pines, spend their winters in Tucson.  They told us not to miss the Sonoran Hotdogs.  In fact, they made a point to take us out to their favorite place to get them.

The best thing about work camping is making lifelong friends.

So, what is a Sonoran hotdog?

It starts with a hotdog wrapped in bacon and grilled until it’s crispy. It is then stuffed into a hand made split-top roll called a bolillo (pronouced boh-lee-yoh). It is topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeño salsa.

It is literally heaven in a bun.

El Güero Canelo, is perhaps the most famous maker of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson.  Seriously, if you are in the Tucson area, don’t miss out on Sonoran Hotdogs!

Want pizza?  Grimaldi’s is a great place for just that.  Huge is the word.  And tasty too.

Raspados

And finally, we need to get dessert, right?

Raspados is the Mexican version of “scraped ice” or snow cones.  They are made with layers of shaved ice, homemade syrups, fruits, candies , ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk.  While standard flavors like strawberry, banana, plum and pineapple are popular, there are also exotic combinations such as the chamoyada with lime, tamarind candy and spicy chamoy sauce.

Don’t leave Tucson without trying one.  They are amazing!

Sentinel Peak (Also known as “A Mountain”)

From downtown Tucson, you can see the big white “A” on Sentinel Peak located just southwest of the city.  The A is a 160 ft. tall structure made from basalt rock, constructed in the early 1900’s by students from the University of Arizona.

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The secret is that you can actually drive up this mountain, see the A up close and personal and look down at amazing views of downtown Tucson!

The perfect time to check this view out is either a sunrise or a sunset.  Since we don’t love getting up early, we hit it one evening during an amazing sunset.

Touching the A is considered good luck.  So naturally, we did.

And then we enjoyed the sunset over Tucson.  Sentinel Peak was surprisingly busy for the sunset viewing.  Apparently, this is not such a secret after all…

Click here for more!

Only in Arizona- The Tumbleweed Christmas Tree!

Yes, at first glance it looks like a normal Christmas tree in the center of town.  But Chandler, Arizona creates something unique and beautiful each year.  Something that you can find nowhere else in the country…

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This beautiful tree is made up of thousands of tumbleweeds!

Yes, thousands of them!  It takes around 1,000 of these tumbling dead bushes to create the massive 30″ tall tree each year.

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Local tradition holds that Chandler’s Tumbleweed Tree was the brainchild of Earle Barnum.  He came up with the idea for the tumbleweed tree after seeing a tree built with local pine boughs in his hometown in Indiana.

How do they make a Tumbleweed Tree?

Starting in the fall, the tumbleweeds are gathered and then placed around a chicken wire frame.  They are then sprayed with flame retardant white paint, sprinkled with over 65 pounds of glitter, and strung with lights.

This wonderfully unique tradition has been carried on for over 60 years in the town of Chandler.

Of course, once we heard about it, we had to see it!

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There was lots to see and do in the town area surrounding the Tumbleweed Tree including great little shops and restaurants.  Naturally, we had to try out one of the restaurants.

The sacrifices we make for this website.  LOL!

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We decided to check out Crust Restaurant, a local Italian eatery.  From inside, we could watch the tree as darkness began to fall and the lights were lit.

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We had some amazing pasta dishes at Crust.  We enjoyed a fresh board of Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Bruschetta, along with our main course of Grandma’s Pasta- a yummy mix of pasta, meatballs, sausage, ricotta and marinara!

Definitely worth a return visit!

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And as darkness fell, the Tumbleweed Tree grew even more beautiful!

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We really enjoyed the lights in the square.

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After all, it is pretty hard to decorate an RV.   The lights in the streets were amazing.

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This is our second Christmas living full time in our coach.  And one of the things I love about that is that we can experience Christmas just a bit differently each year.

Last year, we were on the beaches of Florida, and this year we are enjoying a Tumbleweed Christmas tree!

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And back at the campground, the doggies are settling in just fine.  Faith and Ralph have decided that the campground was pretty nice about supplying them with an official “doggie sidewalk”.

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We brought a few more of the old traditions back to our coach including whipping up a big batch of Old Fashioned Potato Candy.  (You can find the full recipe on my other website, Suzy’s Sitcom).

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Faith and Ralph (and both of us) wish you all an amazing, happy and healthy holiday season!

Next week, I plan on doing a review of our past year on the road!  Stay tuned!

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Local Secrets of Northern Arizona!

Work camping jobs are normally around six months long.  One of the things we love about being able to stay in an area for a while is the fact that eventually, we get to check out some of the things that the locals know about, but the average tourist never gets to experience.

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Here are three of our favorite “local secrets” that we have enjoyed over the past few months…

Bill Williams Mountain

The tiny town of Williams is surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks.  These are part of the San Francisco volcanic field.  Now dormant, these beautiful peaks used to be active volcanos!

Bill Williams Mountain is the tallest of those peaks surrounding Williams and is named after Old Bill Williams, a scout, guide and mountain man who lived in the 1800s.

We heard that there was a dirt road available to get to the top.  At 9,256 feet above sea level at the peak, it was sure to be an amazing view.  So we set out to find it!

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Instructions to get to this local secret are as follows:

Take 4th street out of town toward Dogtown lake.  Go 4.7 miles from downtown and turn at the first dirt road on the right, just after the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour.

Yep, it isn’t marked very well.  Hence the local secret, right?

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Warning- do not try to take this road in inclement weather, right after a rain, or in a vehicle that sits very low to the ground.

It is a total of 6.9 miles from the main road to the top of the mountain.  The road is in relatively good shape, but is steep and full of many switch backs and hairpin turns.

Oh, and there is no guard rail.

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The view is well worth it.  Our little KIA “I-think-I-canned” the whole way up.  We were glad we traded the VW bug in.  It sat so low to the ground that it never would have made it.

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At the very top of the mountain you will find a large antenna farm.  We were careful to respect any no trespassing signs as we took in the view from the top.

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Here we were at 9,256 feet above sea level and we could literally see for miles!

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Want to go a little higher?  Well, there is a fire tower on the top of the mountain too!

Dave refused to climb it, but I decided to brave it and climbed about half way up.

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From there I had an amazing, unblocked view of all directions.  Down below I was able to make out the campground.

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Fall is in the air this time of year and the journey to the top of Bill Williams Mountain was full of beautiful photo opportunities.

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The ride to the top and back down is full of beautiful scenery and definitely worth the effort.  For those that enjoy a good strenuous hike, there are some great trails that also go to the top of this mountain.  Just be aware of changing weather, and local wildlife.

And true to most local secrets, we didn’t run into a single person the entire trip.  I love these kind of secrets!

Click here for secret #2!

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Amarillo by Morning…

On our way west towards Williams, AZ, for our new summer job, we made a couple pit stops along the way.  One of the more impressive ones was Amarillo, Texas.

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Traveling along Interstate 40, once you get on the west side of Oklahoma City, the land flattens out where you can see for miles and miles.

The winds were strong.  Dave said it felt like he was driving a sail boat.  We were getting gusts of 15 to 25 mile an hour winds which seemed to be from the south, rocking the RV as we tried to make our way west.

Car sickness may or may not have ensued…

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We had a scheduled stop in Amarillo and were very glad to get off the highway after about a 5 hour drive from Oklahoma City.

So why Amarillo?

So much to see and do here!  Unfortunately, we only had one day to take it all in, so we chose a couple places that intrigued us.  But keep in mind if you are ever in Amarillo, there are canyons, museums, botanical gardens, and even a huge livestock auction where you can hang out with real cowboys and get a glimpse of the cattle industry that is so huge in this area of the country.

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We stayed at the Amarillo KOA and pretty much had the park to ourselves.  I loved the wide open spaces!

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These little guys greeted us at the campground store entrance.  Amarillo must be home of the mariachi bands!

Or maybe the home of colorful metal musicians…

Cadillac Ranch

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Once settled, our first order of business was to go out and visit Cadillac Ranch.  Unfortunately, we had an issue with the tow cables on the car and had to replace them first, which entailed a trip to Home Depot.

Cadillac Ranch is located about 5 miles west of city of Amarillo.  With our late start, we got there just as the sun was setting.

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Cadillac Ranch is actually a public art installation.  It was created in 1974 by an art group called Ant Farm.  The installation consists of Cadillacs, representing the car line from 1949 to 1963.  Each of the cars is half-buried nose first into the ground at an angle that is supposed to correspond with the angle of the Great Pyramid.

Note the graffiti.

You see when the art work was originally opened up to the public back in the 70’s, there was an issue of folks breaking off souvenirs and painting graffiti onto the cars.

After fighting it for a bit, the artists decided to allow others to add their own personal touch to this piece of art.

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Visiting Cadillac Ranch  and adding graffiti to the cars is now encouraged.  In fact, while we where there, at least 20 other people were there with spray paint adding a bit of themselves to this piece of art.

Bring a spray paint can and paint what you want!  Just be aware that it probably will be painted over in no time.  Cadillac Ranch is an incredibly popular destination for those that are passing through.

So how about a famous Amarillo eatery?

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Oklahoma, land where the buffalo roam…

On our way across country from Atlanta, GA to Williams, AZ, we made several stops.  One of which was to spend a couple days in Oklahoma City,  visiting with my oldest daughter, Laura.

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We stayed at the Oklahoma City East KOA.  Check out this amazing site!  We were so impressed by how beautiful this little campground was- and how well kept!  Frankly, if it wasn’t for the scary tornado potential in the area, we would consider working here.

But there is the tornado thing and the fact that we really don’t have a basement.  And I’m sure that is something that I just have to get over now that I live in a virtual tin can, but at the moment I am good with heading west.

Anyway…

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The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

My daughter took us on a tour of the area, including a drive out to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, roughly 100 miles south of Oklahoma City.  It is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was important in saving the American buffalo from extinction. In 1907 the American Bison Society transported 15 buffalo, from the New York Zoological Park to the refuge.  At that time, buffalo had been extinct on the southern Great Plains for over 30 years.

The buffalo herd now numbers about 650 on the refuge!

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One “rule of thumb” when you are around wild animals.  If you hold up your thumb in front of them, and you can still see them, you are too close.

And as you can tell from the photo, wild animals come in all forms!

Scary.

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Mount Scott

Our tour of the mountains included a trip to the summit of Mount Scott which offers amazing views of the Oklahoma countryside.

And of course a visit to Meer’s Restaurant- a popular place in the area famous for it’s giant Meer’s Burgers.  Because we had to eat, right?

Here is a short video of our visit! To see is in large screen, click here.

Our next stop- Amarillo, TX!  See you there!

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Top 10 Things to See and Do in Tybee Island, Georgia

When you think about the state of Georgia, you most likely won’t think about beaches.  Heck, we all go to Florida for that, right?  But I have to tell you that there is one hidden jewel located right off the coast of Savannah, Georgia that will take your breath away.

Tybee Island Is a barrier island located 18 miles off the coast of Savannah, GA.  Tybee is rich in history and beauty, and hosts great restaurants, accommodations and three full miles of uninterrupted public beach.

If you are interested in checking the island out, we have put together a list of the top 10 things to see and do in Tybee Island!

1. Tybee Island Lighthouse 

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I’m sure you already know I’m a fan of lighthouses.  If I find myself near one, I just have to check it out.  Tybee Lighthouse has been guiding mariners safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years.

This beautiful lighthouse is surrounded by all of its historic support buildings, including the Tybee Museum, which was established in 1961.

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For a small fee, you can gain entrance to the lighthouse, climb all 178 stairs and see a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

Note: Here and throughout most of the island, parking fees are required.  (You can obtain a parking pass from most hotels and campgrounds in the area).

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2. The Crab Shack

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When we first starting going to the Crab Shack, 20 years ago, it was true to it’s name.  It was really a shack.  Over the years, this little restaurant has become a major tourist attraction, featuring large screened in dining rooms, outdoor dining under the trees, a gift shop, aviary, and even an alligator enclosure!

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The atmosphere at this little restaurant is surely a draw.  Heck, even Hollywood noticed!

The movie The General’s Daughter, starring John Travolta was filmed here.

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But the biggest draw for us is the Seafood Platter.  This one?  This is a platter for two!

Look big?

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You aren’t kidding!

This restaurant is the one that we compare every other one to.  So far, nobody has beaten it.

So where do you fish?  Click here for more!

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Top 10 things to see and do in St. Petersburg Florida!

We have spent the last five months in St. Petersburg, FL, working at the St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach KOA.

During the winter season from November to April each year, the population of the area doubles when “snowbirds” move down from the north to enjoy the warmer winter in the area.

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For us, that meant winter season jobs at the KOA!  And that meant a full five months in St. Petersburg, FL, enjoying the sites and sounds of the area.

I’ve compiled a top 10 list of our favorite places to see and do in the area.  Granted, it’s a bit on the foodie side.  We like food.  It’s a given.

Enjoy!

10. Tarpon Springs

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Tarpon Springs is the self proclaimed Sponge Capital of the World. And it was a favorite destination of ours while we were in St. Petersburg.  This quaint little coastal town located about 45 north of St. Petersburg had lots of great little shops, handmade soaps, and awesome Greek food.

Oh, and sponges too!

It is a small port that houses the sponge industry.  Very entertaining.  It is worth the short drive.  Be sure to check out the Spongeorama Sponge Factory for the free movie on how the sponge industry started in Tarpon Springs and the sponge museum.

To read about our adventure in Tarpon Springs – Click Here!

9. Twistee Treat

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We love ice cream.  So there was no way that we could just drive by this huge 20 foot tall ice cream cone without stopping to try out the menu.  Twistee Treat is a  Florida thing.  They are located throughout the state, with two locations right in the St. Pete area.

They specialize in old fashioned soft serve ice cream, yogurt, and other tasty treats.  The awesome part?  They offer 66 different flavors of soft serve!

Of course this meant my challenge was to try all 66 of those flavors.  I made through over half the list, I’m proud to say!

Want to know some great places to view wildlife? Click here…

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Tarpon Springs, Florida- The Sponge Capital!

One of my favorite places to visit in the area is the little town of Tarpon Springs.  Drawn there originally by an arts and crafts show, we have now driven the 45 minutes north of St. Petersburg several times.

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After living in Maine for six months, this little coastal town almost seems like home!

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Tarpon Springs is the self proclaimed Sponge Capital of the World.  You see, in the early 1900’s, it was discovered that the Gulf of Mexico was rich in varieties of sponges.  This attracted Greek sponge divers who wanted to make a living in the United States.

Over the next 30 years, the Tarpon Springs sponge industry became the largest industry in the state of Florida.  Even larger than the citrus crops or tourism!

In the 1940s, blight reduced the growth of sponges, and this profitable industry was nearly wiped out. However in the 1980s, new sponge beds were found. Now, Tarpon Springs is back to being a leader in the world’s natural sponge market.

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Our first visit in Tarpon Springs included our friends and coworkers, Rick and Judy and their granddaughter.

I’m totally getting that selfie thing down!

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This bustling little town is the home of many small and interesting shops.  Of course, there are plenty of natural sponges available for purchase all over town.

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And lots of great homemade soap shops.  I’m a big fan of homemade soaps and having tried my hand at them before, appreciate the quality and amazing selection!

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Soap shops, tourist items, t-shirts, you name it.  This town has something for everyone.

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Couldn’t find enough seashells?  They have your back.

I won’t tell.

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Dave’s favorite place in this town is the Hella’s Restaurant and Bakery.  Their huge selection of Baklava, Spanakopita, cookies, pastries, and cakes is enough to get you in the door.  Dave has gone their twice now and stocked up on Cannolis.

Awesomeness.

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Yes, this town even has a Husband Day Care Center!

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Hungry?  Head over to Yianni’s Greek Cuisine Restaurant, right on the Sponge Docks!  They offer traditional Greek cuisine and live music.  My favorite is the Pork Gyro Platter with tzatziki sauce!

And amazing Sangria!

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And I even found a boat named after me!

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Tarpon Springs is a great little town for family fun.   It is one of the many highlights of our stay here in the St. Petersburg area!

Fall in New Jersey

Did I mention that I’m terminally behind in posts?  We have been in Florida for nearly a month and I’m still writing about the trip down!

We took a month to get from Bar Harbor to St. Petersburg, FL and during that time we did a lot of relaxing, visited tourist attractions, and even attended my daughter’s wedding.

After leaving the New England Coast in mid October, we headed to New Jersey.

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New Jersey?  You bet!  Most folks think New Jersey is just an extension of New York City with nothing but pavement, traffic and congestion.  And I’m here to tell you that most of New Jersey is nothing like that.

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We were headed to Lake Hopatcong, NJ, where Dave grew up.  The plan was to visit friends and check out the area.  He hadn’t been back in years!

We parked the RV at Panther Lake Camping Resort.  It is a 160 acre camping retreat located next to a scenic 45 acre lake in Andover, New Jersey. Loved the beautiful trees and the nice grassy lots!  The RV park was just a short driving distance to our destination, Lake Hopatcong.

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Lake Hopatcong is the largest freshwater body in New Jersey.  Located 30 miles from the Delaware River and 40 miles from New York City, it is a mostly residential lake whose few public access points include Hopatcong State Park and Lee’s County Park Marina.  

Most of the shoreline is privately owned by individual lakefront residents, homeowner or community associations, or restaurants and marinas.

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Wildlife along the shore was plentiful.  In fact the deer were a tad too friendly for my taste.  They did not have any fear of humans and would pretty much come right up to you.

They sure were beautiful, though.

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Here we were able to meet up with Dave’s childhood friend, Daniel.  He and his family still live right here where they grew up.  They hadn’t see each other in over 30 years.  It was a fun reunion!

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We went out to dinner with Daniel and his family where we all insisted on sitting outside along the water, bundled up in our sweaters.

Because when you are in such a pretty area, you really need to enjoy it.  Right?

It was a lot of fun meeting this amazing family, and we do hope to visit with them again in the future!

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As for the town of Hopatcong and the area around it really seemed to stand still in time.  According to Dave, this ice cream stand was a regular destination of his as a child.  He says it looks just the same.  Home of the Skyscraper, Cliff’s Ice Cream is a regular tourist attraction.

Of course, we had to stop and get a bit of ice cream.  Sometimes I have to sacrifice for the benefit of the website.  Right?

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And I’m here to tell you that New Jersey is a beautiful place in the fall!  Check out this fabulous pumpkin and gourd display!

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The Lake Hopatcong area is home to many U-pick farms.  And many of them are open year round!  Depending upon the season, you can find all types of fruits, vegetables and flowers available.

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We spent quite a bit of time at several of the farms in the Andover area, picking large black berries, cucumbers, green peppers, and fresh corn.

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Just look at this bounty!  You can’t find fresher corn that that!  And if you are looking for a great way to make it and some yummy berry cobbler on the grill, be sure to check out my 3 Berry Cobbler and Grilled Corn on the Cob recipes!

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Faith says we need to get back on the road now.  Note the gapped teeth in the front.  We call her our little hillbilly.

Anyway, we headed south from New Jersey after a fun visit.  Our next long-term destination would be Tybee Island, Georgia, for a brief reprieve before we attended my daughter’s wedding in Atlanta.

Stay tuned!
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A visit to the New England Coast

I’m a little behind on posts.  We are currently in St. Petersburg, FL at our current campground job.  Over the past month, we’ve traveled south,  attended a beautiful wedding, and even had some major RV issues.  Lot’s of ground to cover!  So I’m going pick where we left off…

After leaving New Hampshire, we headed toward the coast to check out Boston Cape Cod KOA.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by the manager who told us that Bar Harbor Oceanside KOA had won the Founders Award!

This is one of the top awards given out by KOA based on customer satisfaction.  We were thrilled to be part of it!  And how awesome to be recognized as part of a successful team!

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And speaking of great campgrounds, Boston Cape Cod had lots of green space and large shady RV spots.  We made ourselves at home and pulled out some maps to check out the area.

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We wanted to see the beach and decided to start with Nobska Point Lighthouse.  The Nobska Point Light is located at the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. It overlooks Martha’s Vineyard and Nonamessett Island.

The light station was established in 1826, and the current tower dates to 1876.

If you don’t know by now, I simply cannot pass up a lighthouse photo.

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Or a fun bird photo for that matter.  It was rainy that day and the ocean was full of white caps and foam which made for a cool background in this seagull photo.

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And look at the rocks!  Have I mentioned before how much I love fun rocks?  In fact, last time we were in Massachusetts, I found rocks to love.

After a day of perusing the beaches, we stopped at the local diner.

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One of the many things I love about the New England area is all the vintage diners.  Yummy food served quickly and in a nostalgic atmosphere.  This diner, interesting enough is called “Dave’s Diner“.  Easy to remember, right?

While it looks like a vintage diner, it was actually built in 1998.  The diner colors, layout and decor were carefully chosen to create the fun and colorful look of the 50’s era.

And the food was delicious!

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Of course, no trip to Cape Cod would be complete without a visit to Plymouth Rock, right?

Upon entering the town of Plymouth, we saw this impressive structure along the shore.  The rock was waiting for us inside! We prepared ourselves to be duly impressed.  This rock had seen so much history!

Here is where the pilgrims first stepped onto shore from their ship, the Mayflower!

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Well…it must have been a small ship.  Or the rock shrunk.  Or something.  I wasn’t prepared for how small it actually was.

And it turns out after some research that no historical evidence exists to confirm this rock as the Pilgrim’s actual stepping stone to the New World.  Plymouth rock is more of a symbol of the courage and faith of the men and women who founded the first colony in New England.

And that is okay with me.  Even if it was slightly underwhelming.

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According to my research, the rock as it exists today is estimated to be only about 1/3 to 1/2 of it’s original size due to being broken and chipped away at by 18th and 19th century souvenir hunters.

Oh, and notice the scar across it?  Apparently sometime in the 1800’s, it was decided to move part of the rock to the center of town where folks could better enjoy it.  That part was eventually moved back to join the rest of the rock a few years later, and “frankensteined” back onto the other half.

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We might have been a tiny bit disappointed by the rock, but the replica of the Mayflower definitely made up for it.  And the beautiful sunset behind it.

Red skies at night means “sailors delight”.

New England was beautiful.  Someday, we hope to return and spend a bit more time there.  But time was going fast.  We had to be in Atlanta by November 1 for my daughter’s wedding and then onto our new job in St. Pete.

So we hit the road again.

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The dog’s snagged their favorite spots in the front of the coach, and we set out for our next stop, Lake Hopatcong, NJ.

New Jersey, you say? What the heck is in New Jersey?  Well, you just might be surprised…

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