Well, looking back at our blog updates (or lack there of), I think it's an unnecessary confession that none of us enjoy blogging. However, even with that confession, I must say our negligence here is appalling. So let's do this... blank slate. I can do that right? It's my blog page after all isn't it? I suppose I can do what I want to do, right! I'd hashtag #newyearnewme right here except its now August as I'm writing this. I digress, I'm rambling now... where was I.... Oh, thats right, an update... Kansas!!!!
We've been told by countless other travelers that Kansas is vast flat land void of anything of interest. Although our experience thus far is limited to the eastern side of the state, I can tell you most assuredly that Kansas is beautiful! We have been camping here at a beauty spot east of Wichita for a few days now and we are awestruck. Check out the link below for recent photos. This has been a welcome reprieve to us weary travelers and a comfortable pit stop on our way to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Forest.
It occurs to me, however, we have been so lacking in updates since our last "Covid 19 update", those of you that try and follow along with our journey, piecing clues together from our social media sites as best you can, may be struggling to fill in the gaps between our isolation in Cleveland, TN to this peek into the beginnings of the western leg of our travels.
So lets catch you up to speed...
As the months in isolation in Tennessee drug on, my family and I came to the decision that our house was on wheels for a reason. We noticed that Covid was only getting worse in our corner of Tennessee and that other states out West were faring much better. Although we love being able to spend time with dear friends that host us when we are in town, we were anxious to get back on the road. We went from waking up in a new zip code every morning to being static in one location, Covid isolating for an extended period of time. As nice a "hidey hole" as it was, the extreme change of lifestyle was a difficult transition to say the least. So with some reservations, we said our goodbyes at the beginning of July and set off to make up for lost time. However, there were some complications.
There always are in life.... complications. We were so anxious to hit the road that we left Cleveland despite having three general doctors visits and an outpatient surgery scheduled in our home town area. We knew we couldn't go too far away as the appointments were spread out through the whole month of July, but we began to travel anyways within a small radius of home.
We first headed past Helen, GA into beautiful mountain country for a week. We needed to pick up our new tow dolly in a small town nearby and that was a great excuse to take in the scenery and even hike a bit of the Appalachian trail. Once we had the dolly in our possession, we headed north up to the western side of North Carolina.
North Carolina was amazing. We stayed at a beautiful cattle ranch for a night and then headed toward the Nantahala River. At the Nantahala we boon docked right on the river! It was truly wonderful. While in the area, we drove up to Bryson City, NC and spent some time hiking in the Smokey Mountain National Forest.
Next we needed to head back towards Cleveland, TN again for the next round of doctor's visits so we stayed at a winery one night and then the next several nights at one of our favorite campgrounds... Gee Creek in Delano, TN. We very much enjoyed the respite from bouncing around so much, on a schedule. Typically, we have no real agenda or time table. If we like a place, we stay a bit. If we are tired of moving, we don't. If we get bored, we find a new adventure. This keeps things relaxed and interesting. When you have annoying things like doctors appointments scheduled, you are subject to someone else's timetable and that can suck the joy out of traveling full time. Gee Creek was a nice break from the agenda hopping.
At the end of our stay in Gee Creek our last appointment was complete and it was a big one. Our oldest Abigail had her wisdom teeth removed. We gave her a few days at the campground to heal a bit and then headed off to begin the western leg of our journeys. We drove up to Nashville, then further up into western Kentucky to the Paducah area where we spent a little time at the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park. We really enjoyed the park there, but only briefly stayed before driving into Missouri.
In Missouri, we explored a few small towns and then stumbled upon a wonderful free campground in the Mark Twain National Forest. It was so pleasant there that we stayed for three days before pushing on to Branson via Springfield. We spent 3 nights at a wonderful farm South of Branson while we explored the area. We all had a great time.. what a cool area. I think the consensus from our family is that Branson is much nicer than Pigeon Forge, TN, but we still prefer Gatlinburg, TN to Branson, MO. Thats just our opinion... we heard many say they like Branson better entirely. Branson has their own version of Dollywood as well, it's called Silver Dollar City. However, as cool as it looked online... we will have to save that park for another visit. We decided that an amusement park wasn't wise at this point in time.
From Branson we drove up through Springfield, MO again and then West into Kansas. Kansas! ... and we're back! Caught up and on the same page. Well nearly. We followed Route 66 from Missouri down the South-Eastern tip of Kansas taking in some sites on the way, like Wilson's Creek Battlefield, Rivington's old Route 66 store, and the historic town of Carthage, KS. A 3 hour drive later, we find ourselves just outside of Wichita and a three night free stay at Lake Clymer.
Next, we have to head into Wichita for the day to replace a ceiling fan that went bad on us. Thankfully, it's under warranty and the manufacturer is based out of Wichita which is right on our way. Also, we have managed to finally kill our solar batteries. The bank we had set up was never intended to do the work load we have tasked it with. Now that we have solar and have been trying to ween off of using our generator... well, long story short, we have killed our 2 batteries in about a years time and are going to go ahead and invest in the battery bank we need for the long term.
As we head into Nebraska after Wichita, we are excited to see how the new fan and the upgraded batteries in combination with our new solar panels improve day to day life for us. Boon docking is wonderful, but in the adding of some new off the grid upgrades to our skoolie, we hope to make boon docking more comfortable for the family as a long term solution to living on the road full time.
Now that I have caught our blog up to date, this is where I may feel inclined to vow to do better about making entries. It would most likely be a lie of course, but it feels like the correct thing to do at this point. Sherry and I are still hoping that one of our children will decide that they LOVE blogging at some point and take over the task. LOL. Wouldn't that be great? Until then, I'll do my best to keep this page on our website current for those faithful few who actually read our ramblings. Until our next blog entry...
P.s- Pictures from all the above mentioned stops are posted daily to our social media sites. For convenience sake, we live stream those accounts to this website. Here is a link so you can see beautiful pictures of our most recent adventures. Thanks so much for your support of our page. It means a lot to us.
Covid 19 quarantines are much more tolerable when you are living on beautiful property. We took our amazing new DJI Mavic 2 Zoom on a hike to one of our favorite land adjacent beauty spots. Come along with us as we show some amazing vistas from our corner of Southeast Tennessee, nestled at the feet of the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just to let everyone know we are safe and everyone in the family is doing well. With much deliberation we felt led to pause our travels. We are back home now just north of Chattanooga, while we wait for this pandemic to blow over. It is our intention to self isolate from friends and family for a couple weeks while we make sure our travels haven’t given us the wrong kinds of souvenirs to bring home. Thanks for all the love, prayers, and support. We are excited to hit the road again soon but caution in these virus matters seems prudent. Be safe everyone.
-The Serenity Bus Crew
OUR DAYS IN THE vero BEACH AREA- 4.5 STARS
Before I review Vero Beach, it would be prudent to set the foundation for our future Florida reviews. Our intent is to show how a family can beach hop in Florida for an extended period on a shoestring budget. Additionally, it's important to understand the reviewer... I am a 41 year old husband and father of four who hates heat, sand, crowds, and sweating. So needless to say, the beach is not my favorite place. I know this puts me outside of the norm, but I am who I am. In order to negate some of these irritants, we are beach hopping in the off season, the last week of December through January. The temperatures are typically in the 70's, the crowds are at a minimum, parking and traffic is much improved, and things are proving to be cheaper. That said, this non beach bum dad is a much happier camper. In our reviews, we will give an star rating out of 5 stars. We will average the opinions of the 6 of us and base it on things like cleanliness, parking, beach quality, amenities, beauty, cost, x-factor, and conveniences like beachside showers. With that ground work laid, let's get on with our review.
Disclaimer: Some of our best experiences while Florida beach hopping, thus far, occurred in the Vero Beach area. As a family, we unanimously agree this location has been a trip highlight. Our big positives for Vero came from the locals and unique discoveries. With that said.... we can say with relative certainty you would like Vero as well, however, personal experiences have factored into our high opinions of this location. With that said.. on with the review.
We first pulled into the area and immediately looked for a friendly place to day park. Burnt out from frequenting Florida Walmarts along the state's eastern coastline, we were anxious to find a friendlier parking respite. We happened upon the Vero Beach Outlets, luckily I might add, as our experience in the Vero Beach Outlets was wonderful. We wanted to do a little shopping in the outlet mall, but when your skoolie is 40 feet long and a blinding silver testimate to good old fashioned American ingenuity "Merica!!", well, let's just say that we aren't always so warmly received (see our Cocoa Beach review for an example). Contrary to my typical mantra, "it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission", I trudged into the outlet's management office to humbly ask if we might park our monstrosity for the day and to my pleasant surprise they were genuinely excited to have us there. Jackie and Beth were complete joys. After explaining our family travel story, they immediately friend requested us on social media and shared our website to their Vero Beach Outlet Facebook page. Talk about above and beyond. We were told we could stay as long as we wanted and come back the next day if needed as well. When we finally let the ladies get back to their productivity, feeling bad for talking their ears off... we left with a couple very nice gifted tumblers and a slew of outlet mall coupons (which we promptly went to utilize... see the pictures below). Our faith in humanity and spirits restored, we pursued the beautiful mall and fantastic variety of stores. Thank you so much Jackie and Beth, for your incredibly warm welcome to Vero. If you are in the area, you absolutely must check out the Vero Beach Outlet Mall. Stop in and see the ladies in the office! Tell them Serenity Bus Project sent you, and they will load you up with fantastic coupons and brighten your day. As a side note, while we were there, we had another great visit with the street side kettle corn vender. He spends the winter months in Florida and the Vero Beach Outlets. His conversation was as enjoyable as his delicious kettle corn's unique flavors. Tell him hello from us as well and enjoy a chat and a tasty sample of his product.
On our first day exploring Vero we drove to the Vero beachfront and went to the McLarty Treasure Museum. The museum is small, but very enjoyable. The staff was wonderful and a wealth of knowledge. We were met at the door with a warm smile and fun museum activity worksheets for the little ones. After touring the facilities on our own and watching the movie about the "Treasure Coast" and the "1715 Fleet", we were joined again by one of the museum volunteers. They took a ton of personal time to educate our children, pull exhibits from their cases, and let our kids learn hands-on, as well as insisting our kids get their pictures taken holding real treasure (see the pictures below). Outside the back doors of the museum are a series of boardwalks leading above the mangrove trees canopy to an elevated deck made to look like a pirate ship. The deck is a panoramic observation point for the "Treasure Coast" beach front, and is lined with informative placards for the children to discover and learn from. There are a few different treasure museums in Vero which we didn't visit... we can whole heartedly recommend McLarty's as one you should.
Side note: Google 1715 fleet, if you are interested in why this area is called the Treasure Coast. Spoiler alert.... They pull millions of dollars in riches from this part of the coastline every single year.
!!!WE RESCUED A CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SEA TURTLE!!! The next day, to appease our children, we went to Humiston Beach Park at the recommendation from the ladies at the Vero Beach Outlets. The beach park was beautiful! It had a nice playground, fantastic restroom facilities, beachside outdoor showers, and was surrounded by really nice boutique shops. We walked up and down the ocean front street seeing the beautiful local shops (pictures below) and restaurants, before wandering down to the beach. Inspired by our new found Treasure Coast education, we decided to take an extra long beach walk at near dusk, all secretly hoping to find our fortune. WE FOUND TREASURE! Ok, that's misleading... we didn't find treasure in the traditional sense of the word, but what we did stumble across ... for my family... was as good as. About a mile beach walk north of Humiston Beach Park, there it was. The cutest little sea turtle hatchling struggling with the intense waves, birds, and exhaustion. An amazing discovery to be sure, but a few things made this turtle find extraordinary. 1) It was January... several months early for sea turtle hatching season. 2) It was the early evening and sea turtles are programmed to come out at night for their own safety. 3) This particular sea turtle was a Hawkbill sea turtle... the rarest of the rare. Critically endangered and not known to be in this area of Florida, we had so many questions. What do we do? We knew we shouldn't mess with him, normally? Do we leave him to the circling scavenger birds? He was exhausted and hardly moving and the tide kept throwing him back onto the drier sand... did he have any chance of saving himself? We didn't know the answer to any of these questions so we made several phone calls. Long, frantic story later we found ourselves speaking with the marine biologist on-call who instructed us to bring the little hatchling to the rehabilitation center a few miles away. With some very specific instructions on transporting and care, we nervously and excitedly began our mission to save our new amphibian friend, which our children lovingly named Franklin. We managed to find and safely deliver this little trooper to the sea turtle experts who said that most likely "Franklin, had been trying to self rescue since nightfall the night before and most assuredly would have lost his battle for life to the circling sea birds had we not stumbled across him. We felt like heroes! On the drive home, our kids were beaming with pride in our accomplishment the whole way to our bus. As I sit her and type this review, several days later, I can tell you with all honesty that not even finding ship's treasure on the beach could have outshined rescuing little Franklin, and giving him a second chance at life. Knowing that sea turtles can outlive humans by many years.. there is something particularly awesome in knowing that we helped save a treasure for our children's children.
It's worth noting that this beach had amazing surf and tons of large shells. Uniquely, we discovered vast amounts of coral chunks littering the shoreline. (see pictures below)
Still excited from our sea turtle adventure the night before, we drove back to the beach area.. this time to visit the Pelican Island National Wildlife refuge. It's stunning! We highly recommend a visit to the park and a short hike to any one of the many gorgeous panoramic vistas. In the pictures below, you can see the exceptional boardwalks above the tree line to picture perfect postcard-esque views of the park and lake. Undisrupted by human development, the natural beauty here is truly staggering. Interesting tidbit, Pelican Island was created into the country's first National wildlife refuge by Teddy Roosevelt. This formation spearheaded a cascade of National wildlife refuge formations, continuing until the present, and spanning this wonderful country from coast to coast.
Our time in Vero began and ended on high notes.... and rescuing a hatchling sea turtle in the middle wasn't bad either. It's easy to say that we all enjoyed our experiences in Vero immensely, but as I said above, our experiences here were unique to our visit and causing us to rate Vero with warm fuzzies. The constants here still make for a great visit for anyone. I can say with all certainty that if you visit Vero Beach Outlets and meet Jackie and Beth you'll be charmed and get some great shopping in a beautiful facility accomplished at the same time. We can say with confidence, that if you drive to McLarty's Treasure Museum, Humiston Beach, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, or anyone one of the other local highlights... that you will enjoy it as well. If passing by the area, don't skip Vero... plan to spend a couple days and discover Vero's beauty for yourself. All totaled, we give Vero 4.5 stars. For us... a stronger beach culture/vibe and local music could have easily bumped our rating to a perfect 5... but maybe we are knit-picking... so decide for yourself.
$5 in diesel moving our bus from day parking to overnight parking
$20 in gas for our car. We did more driving here than in other locations mostly due to our bad logistical plans
$30 per day avg in food per day for a family of six
Accommodations- FREE. Thanks to our skoolie home on wheels.
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