After driving nearly 200 miles across the corn and hay fields of the South Dakota Prairie we dropped into the Missouri River Valley and arrived at a beautiful lakeside campground on the outskirts of Pierre, SD. Farm Island Recreation Area is a pretty spot with large, level sites and 50 amp electrical hookups. There is a convenient water and dump station near the entrance. We arrived, happily with reservations, on an August Friday afternoon and the campground was nearly full. There were many families and the kids had a blast swimming in the lake. The lake is fed by the Missouri River. It has a sandy bottom and is pretty shallow for a good distance out – making it perfect for children. Because of the layout of the campground only a fourth of the sites are by the water. Because of that, people pretty much walk through those sites to get to the lake. I know some people get bent out of shape when that happens, but at this campground it’s just the way it is. We smiled and said “hello” and they smiled in return. By Sunday evening, though, that was all over. The place was nearly empty and we pretty much had the campground to ourselves the rest of our stay.
Here are a few things you might want to know if you plan on visiting Farm Island. In addition to the camping fee there is a South Dakota State Parks vehicle entry fee of $6 a day. Since we were intending to stay four days and then visit Custer State Park later on we got a $30 annual pass instead. There is also a $7.50 out of state booking fee. I had no problem getting satellite TV which is a good thing because I don’t think there was any over the air TV. My Verizon signal was solid. When I tested the water with our TDS meter it reported numbers as high as 1000. That’s really high and at the limit of what is considered fit for human consumption. I suggest you bring drinking water. Finally, the flies are real pests throughout this area. Be prepared to defend yourself unless the wind is blowing.
Our final day at Farm Island was “eclipse day.” We woke to a severe thunderstorm that was pretty scary – wind, hail, and a downpour. Really, we should have bugged out to one of the shower houses. However, the storm was on us before we knew it. After 10 or 15 minutes of (thankfully) small hail, things let up. We feared the heavy clouds would block our view of the eclipse which was at nearly 90% for the area. However, at just the right time the skies cleared and we had a good view of the impressive display of God’s handiwork.
We’re just finishing up a one month stay at Raccoon Valley Escapees RV Park at Heiskell, TN, just north of Knoxville. The setting of the park is scenic, in a pretty valley with tree covered ridges on either side. Of course, this is eastern Tennessee, home of the stunning Smoky Mountains. Without doubt, this is a great area. The campground itself is basically a gravel parking lot. Sites are very close to one another with one’s neighbor’s utilities in your front yard. The grounds are well kept, the rest rooms clean, and there’s a nice activity center.
The campground hosts a weekly gathering of local musicians who sing and play for a few hours each week. Anyone who plays an acoustical instrument is welcome to join in. The music ranges from pretty good to “not pretty good” (if you get my drift.) However, everyone is having a good time and it makes for a friendly, easy going evening.
The monthly prices here are quite good and that has drawn a variety of residents. There are traditional Escapees who travel in their RV’s full time and there are working people who had never heard of Escapees, but joined to get the discount rate as residents of this park. Most everyone is friendly or at least cordial. Because of price, location, and limited sites the park stays pretty busy.
My Verizon signal was good. Our satellite TV is via Dish Network. There are plenty of over-the-air TV stations but the primary Dish channels are on the Dish “eastern arc.” Since my dish is a western arc one, and since the trees pretty much blocked my western satellites I decided to bite the bullet and buy the replacement LNBs. I found them on Amazon for around $25. After swapping them out and aiming the dish to the eastern satellites I had all my channels again. From what research I’ve done, I’ll be using the eastern satellites for another month or two and in the future I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the option of switching between satellite sets when we travel east.
Honestly, a month was too long for us to be at this park. Had the campsites had a bit more elbow room we would have liked it better but it still would have been longer than we really wanted. I’d return here for a week or maybe two, but that’s about it.
We really like this campground. The Escapees club is the largest (maybe only) organization for fulltime RVers so when we are at an Escapees park we enjoy the company of like-minded people. This campground, being in the sunny south and in such an interesting area, attracts lots of folks who maybe aren’t RVing fulltime but are at least “long-timers” who spend the winters as “escapees” from the cold north. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and there are lots of walkers who enjoy stopping for a chat.
Not only are there many people in RVs, there is also an entire neighborhood of houses occupied by folks who have “retired” from RV travel or at least have decided this would be a good place to put down some roots. There are a variety of houses but nearly all of them have some kind of accommodation for a RV. It’s fun to walk around and see all the innovative ways people have built houses that also provide for RV parking and use.
The RV area is grassy on packed sand. We enjoyed the spacious site and a nice shady oak tree. In the past we have parked under oak trees in the fall and didn’t enjoy the acorn bombardment on the camper. This being spring we mainly had to put up with leaves falling (the oaks don’t shed leaves until new leaves come in and “push” them out).
There are lots of activities in the park’s activity center: everything from a music group to quilters to a chair “caning” group. Of course, there are plenty of eating opportunities as well.
Let me include in this review a special mention of Robertsdale Church of the Nazarene. We worshiped with these fine folks the past month and enjoyed it very much. Pastor Melissa and her congregation made us feel right at home and I recommend this church to any who visit Escapees Rainbow Plantation.
Every year since we became fulltime RVers I’ve posted an expense sheet, but 2016 wasn’t a typical year. As I’ve written in previous entries to this blog we took an unexpected break from traveling to serve as interim pastor. That assignment lasted six months. Add to that around five months (January-March and then November-December) volunteering at San Jacinto Battlefield/Battleship Texas and there’s not much of the year left!
Our campground costs this year, as you can guess, have no connection to what anyone else would pay. Also, our F350 pickup has been mostly parked. We have a small car that doesn’t travel with us when we are on the road, but this year we ran the wheels off of it. In other words, our camping and travel costs in 2016 wouldn’t be of much help to anyone.
Basically, our expenditures are just living costs and don’t have anything to do with fulltiming. Because of that I’m not publishing an expense sheet for 2016.
A few months ago I did a blog entry on Second Wave Expenses. This was a terrific year for us to take on several replacements and do some upgrades. We also had a couple of major unwelcome expenses: a new air conditioner for the 5th wheel and a major repair on the car. These two items amounted to several thousand dollars. The fact that we weren’t traveling enabled us to absorb these biggies.
And, as I said, we had some other, more voluntary, expenses. They included stuff like:
• A new backup sewer hose
• Two-Way Radios
• Wilson WeBoost and antenna to replace our worn out Wilson Sleek
• Replaced all incandescents with LED Lights
• Two new Recliners
• Heated Mattress Pad (nice on winter nights)
All said and done, even with the major repairs plus all the voluntary purchases we came out on the positive side of the spreadsheet. Had we traveled as planned, I think we would have been about on budget but maybe a bit behind on the year.
Our plans are to return to touring in the early spring and to make our 2017 Adventure a good one. Stay tuned!
Things didn’t go for us as planned in 2016. Our intention was to head west to Moab, Utah and then north to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and then east to the Black Hills of South Dakota before turning south again in the late fall.
Instead, we left our winter volunteering position at San Jacinto Battlefield and Battleship Texas and drove less than 100 miles to Conroe – and then right back to the Houston area, having accepted an interim pastor position at our home church, Clear Lake Church of the Nazarene in Webster, Texas. Our stay was an enjoyable and blessed six months of ministry during the pastoral transition. We also were glad to be close to family through some challenging days. Once our time of ministry at the church was finished it was back to San Jacinto to begin another winter of helping out on Battleship Texas.
As you can guess our 2016 travel map isn’t very impressive and our expense sheets wouldn’t be especially helpful to anyone who is looking into the fulltime RV lifestyle.
One of the neat things about this life is that we have wonderful flexibility. In small ways it is seen when we decide to change our travel plans to stay an extra day or two in a spot while we wait for better travel weather. In a big way it showed up as we scrapped an entire year’s worth of travel plans to do what we felt the Lord wanted us to do.
Moving on to a less lofty discussion, I’ll mention that not having campground fees or big diesel costs this year allowed us to spend money on several extras. Some were unwelcome, like a major repair to the car; and some were purely an extravagance, like the cruise we booked. We spent money on the 5th wheel, taking on projects both large and small, including buying two small recliners.
We’re looking forward to a return to our touring RV lifestyle in 2017. In the early spring we plan on heading to the southeastern part of the country, then we’ll head north looking for cooler summer temperatures, and then we may try for the Black Hills again in the fall.
Those are our plans. That is, unless the phone rings.