Fort Yargo State Park: Mistakes were Made

I’m viewing our weekend at Fort Yargo as our first official trip with the trailer, since we stayed two whole nights and actually did things other than sit inside and listen to the rain like we did in Chattanooga. And…..it was fun! And also sort of full of near catastrophes! I’m going to break the post into two separate parts, so as to keep the catastrophes from tainting the fun. Also because if you’re just interested in hearing about Fort Yargo and not so much about the specifics of newbie RVing, you can just read that part. In fact, I’ll break things up loosely into THREE parts: the campground, the rest of the park, and then RVing issues.

Fort Yargo State Park east of Atlanta and only about an hour away from us (well. In Friday rush hour traffic it’s more like an hour and forty five minutes), but we’d never been there before. (This is kind of a theme in these posts. There are so many places we’ve never been!) The fort the park is named for is a small log structure built by settlers in 1792 for protection against Creek and Cherokee Indians. We picked this park on this weekend because they were having “Fun at the Fort” on Saturday, and we love fun. They do one of these every month, it looks like; they open up the fort and have all kinds of demonstrations and hands on stuff about life in the late 1700s. In addition to periodic historical reenactment fun, the park boasts a big old lake and some nice mountain bike trails.

The Campground Part

We left as soon as Dave got home from work, and after sitting in a lot of traffic, got to the park around six. We pulled up to the little gatehouse, where the guy told us we had been supposed to pull into the RV parking space and check in at the office. I’m not sure how anyone would know that unless they’d been there before….the space in question is very subtle, with some paint on the ground indicating that it’s RV parking, but no actual sign or anything. Anyway, though, he told us we could go on to the campground and set up and then come back to check in.

A couple of notes about Georgia State Parks (you know, now that we’re seasoned experts): There’s a $5 day use fee that you have to pay in addition to your camping fees (once per stay, I believe–not every day), unless you buy a park pass. You can buy a park pass for $50/year or a “Friends of Georgia State Parks” membership for $80. The extra $30 gets you enough perks that it was worth it for us to buy it. You get two free nights of camping with it, for one thing, so right off the bat around $50 of it was paid for.

The other thing to know is that camping reservations are not site specific. You reserve a type of site, so you know you’ll have one, but you pick your specific site when you get there. This worried me a little, since I’d read that Fort Yargo is really popular on weekends and I knew we couldn’t get there until relatively late. In fact, I checked online the night before we left and found that the campground was completely booked.

But we stopped by the campground host on our way in, and they let us know which sites were open and then directed us to one just a couple of spots down from them and helped Dave back into it.

We have one private and one public campground under our belts now, so not a whole lot to go on so far….but DAMN our site at Fort Yargo was huge compared to the KOA in Chattanooga!

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Super long with more than enough room for the trailer and van (and our trailer + van combo is sort of ridiculously long–probably a bit over 50 feet; I think these are called 50 foot sites, but ours was much longer than that). And see how it looks like we can’t see anyone else camping near us? Yeah, that was almost true. We did have neighbors just out of the frame on the right side of the photo, but we could see nothing but woods behind us and on the other side. And there was someone across the street, but it was so far away it didn’t matter.

Other thoughts on the campground: if you get there early, you can get a nice lakefront site, although these are mostly somewhat less private than ours was:

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We saw a few GIANT pull through sites, so that’s another prize to shoot for if you can get there early (or maybe just on a weekday).

Also, we were in campground 1, i.e. the first one we came to. And it was fine. But there was a trail that connected it to the other loop, campground 2, so we walked over several times and saw a good bit of it,  and I think we’ll try to get in that one if we ever find ourselves in Fort Yargo again. It was closer to the playground, for one thing. And it seemed more kid friendly in general; I think it’s a flatter loop, and there were tons of kids running/biking around every time we were there. And. Mostly? The bathhouse was WAY better there. The one in our loop was….okay. But the one in the other loop was much newer and nicer, and was spotless every time I went in it (there are water and electric hookups at Fort Yargo, but no sewer, so the bathrooms were of interest to us on this trip. We weren’t (and still aren’t) sure how long we can go without emptying our tanks, so we tried to use the campground bathrooms except at night).

We walked over to the other loop several times to play on the playground:

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And put on performances in the amphitheater that was in between the two loops. Amphitheater was complete with….inspirational graffiti?

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And of course to visit this little kitten that was hanging out there all weekend. We spotted a couple of other cats elsewhere in the campground, so I imagine this little guy is part of a big feral cat population, and he’s still little enough that he’s not particularly wary of people yet. He came very close to the kids whenever they sat quietly near him, but he wouldn’t quite let them touch him. It’s possible we’d have one more cat at home right now if he would have.

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What else? They sold firewood ($10 for a wheelbarrow full) at the campground, but nothing else. There’s no store within walking distance of the campground and the “trading post” back at the park entrance is very small. There were a fair number of souvenir type things, but not much in the way of supplies or groceries (I think the only food they sell is candy and chips). No ice cream. That made the kids sad. That said, there are plenty of stores (including groceries and Wal-mart and Target) within a few minutes of the park. Also a Menchies. So we got our ice cream like substance there.

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The Rest of the Park Part

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Saturday morning we headed out for Fun at the Fort. Dave ended up dropping us off and going to PetSmart for most of the time we were here (more on this in the next section), so it was just me, the kids, and Fiesta. The fort is really just a small, log cabin like structure with a single room downstairs and a loft for sleeping upstairs. Word is up to 32 people would stay in here at a time back in the day. My understanding is that the building is only open when they’re doing the reenactments; the rest of the time you can look around outside and learn about the fort from a number of interpretive signs.

But on Fun at the Fort day, you can also learn about the fort from real live people wearing costumes. There are different stations to go around to and at least some of them you can try some things out for yourself. Milo and Gus got to shave some wood (for starting our campfire that night!)

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And saw a slice off of this log:

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And Abe got to (at his insistence) walk Fiesta all by himself. Fiesta is a patient and tolerant little dog:

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There’s a hiking trail that goes along the lake near the fort, too, and we explored that a bit:

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After all the history fun, we went back to the trailer and Abe took a nice long nap while I read and Dave took the older kids mini golfing (available in the park for $4/person, if I remember right).

The next morning after breakfast we went for a quick walk on the Birdberry Trail before we packed up and headed home. It’s a paved one mile loop with lots of signs along the way telling you about plants and animals you might encounter in the area. There was another trail that branched off at one point, and we followed that for awhile, too. It was a flat, easy, and pretty little walk, with lake views and a lovely wooded area that the kids decided to call Mirkwood:

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The RVing Catastrophes and Not Catastrophes Part

1. Getting out of our neighborhood: I worried about this for days beforehand. Fear of trying to leave at rush hour was one of the reasons we didn’t leave until Saturday for our last trip. Our road gets very busy. We pulled up to the stop sign, waited about 8 seconds, and pulled out no problem with a nice big gap in traffic. Not a catastrophe.

2. Traffic and directions: For some reason, I didn’t really give a whole lot of thought to how much traffic we were going to hit. It was pretty miserable, and the trip took nearly twice as long as it should have. And THEN the phone took us a really weird way, and we ended up on these tiny little residential streets to get to the park, when it should have been as straight shot from the highway. It was fine, but next time we’ll do a better job of looking at google street view and all that and not just trusting Siri. Inconvenient and annoying.

3. Tire blow out: We actually didn’t have a tire blow out. But we THOUGHT we did. It was really weird. We still don’t get it. We heard a noise, looked back in the mirror to see a bunch of smoke, pulled over to the shoulder (people really did not want to let us over. It was rude. You should let people with imaginary tire blow outs over). Then Dave got out and looked and….nothing. Nothing at all. Everything looked completely normal. It still does! Mysterious, but not a catastrophe.

4. Soft dog crates: We ordered 3 soft dog crates for this trip, for the dogs to ride in in the van and to hang out in in the trailer when we aren’t around, reasoning they’d be lighter and easier to deal with than metal crates. When we got to the campground, we discovered Fergus loose in the back and a Fergus-sized hole in the door of the crate. Oops. A few of the reviews noted that this could happen, but we ignored these and pretended like we didn’t know that our Scottie is a little bundle of anxiety sometimes. So that’s why Dave was at Petsmart instead of having fun with historical reenactments Saturday morning. He bought a hardsided crate for Fergus, and so far the other dogs are fine with their soft crates.

This little mishap aside, the dogs did really well on their first RV trip. They seem to like being in the trailer, and they definitely like going for lots of walks. And we left them alone twice (crated, in the trailer) for short periods of time, and they seem to have done well. At any rate, we didn’t hear any barking when we pulled up, and no one kicked us out of the campground for having incessantly barking dogs.  Pricey and time consuming, but not a catastrophe.

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5. Dropping the trailer: After we got backed into the site, Dave set to work leveling the trailer. The site was relatively level, but he needed to put down some wood under the tires on one side. So he got the trailer pulled up on those and then put the tongue down on a block of wood and then….BOOM. The trailer lurched forward, and the tongue slipped off the block. This has actually happened to our poor trailer before. But that time it was the fault of the guy at the dealership who was helping Dave get hitched up but didn’t really know what he was doing. This time it was totally Dave’s fault. He forgot to chock the wheels after he pulled onto the wood.

Dave looked despondent. “I don’t know what to do now,” he said. Fortunately, the friendly campground host was nearby, and I suggested Dave ask if he had a jack to help us out with. And he did! I took the kids and dogs on a walk, Dave got the trailer jacked up and back on its block, and all the leveling proceeded without further incident. Lesson learned: we apparently need an actual checklist of things to do when setting up, so we don’t forget anything as important as not letting our very heavy and expensive trailer go crashing down onto the ground. A minor catastrophe.

6. The blown fuse that wasn’t: Shortly after #5, Dave took off to pick up a few things at Wal-mart. The kids and I hung out and decided it’d be nice to make some popcorn. Handy hint: you can’t run the microwave and the air at the same time with 30 amps. It turns out. The microwave and air stopped working; the lights stayed on, but were, I assumed, running off the battery. I called Dave at the store, and we both expressed regret that we hadn’t gotten around to buying any fuses yet, like the guy at the dealership told us we should. We spent a long time trying to figure out what fuses Dave should buy at Wal-mart (“buy lots!” I said), and he finally returned with some that we hoped would work. “Wait a second,” Dave said, “there’s a breaker out where we plug the power in.” He went out and flipped that switch, and everything came right back on. But now we have lots of fuses for when we DO need them. not actually a catastrophe, but there were some tense minutes when I thought it MIGHT be one.

7. The driveway: Now we have to fast forward all the way to the end of the trip to find the next catastrophe. This was our third time backing the trailer into the driveway. The first time took a million tries, but we were expecting that, so we stayed in good spirits and it was all fine. The second time, Dave nailed it on the very first try! Perhaps we let that go to our heads a little too much, and the travel trailer gods decided to punish us for our hubris this time around.

We could not get the fricking trailer into the driveway for anything.

It was very frustrating. We just couldn’t get it to line up right, and we couldn’t figure out where we were going wrong.

Then it seemed like things were finally going to work out; the trailer was in the driveway! The stablizer jack came like half an inch away from scraping the driveway, but who cared?! It was in the driveway now!

But then, I watched in horror as the trailer veered off at a wacky angle and started to head onto our front lawn instead of back into its spot in the driveway. “I’m going to have to go around and try again,” Dave said, and, before I could stop him, he started turning left onto the road–the opposite direction from how he had pulled in. There was no room for error, and the stabilizer jack scraped the driveway immediately. In a bit of truly awesome timing, one of our neighbors chose this exact moment to pull into the neighborhood. Our neighborhood has only one street, and one entrance/exit. And the van was currently blocking that one access point thoroughly and completely. Dave panicked. “I have to go!” he yelled. “But the stablizer jack!” I yelled back. I was at that point not so worried about the stabilizer jack, which I was pretty much assuming was a goner by then, but that he was going to get totally stuck, not be able to move forward or backward, and we’d just have to sit there with angry neighbors trapped in their homes until we called someone to come help us out.

But Dave pulled forward; the stabilizer scraped noisily on the concrete for a few seconds, and he made it. Phew! He came back after making the circle, and wanted to try again immediately, but I insisted on a cooling off period so that we could collect our thoughts and save our marriage.

We ended up taking the stabilizer jack off as a precaution before trying again, but I think it wasn’t necessary. He got it backed in perfectly on the very next try.

After a careful analysis, we determined that the problem had been that he was lining the trailer up too close to the curb, and then we kept trying to correct it by pulling the trailer forward or backward more instead of by moving it away from the curb. Our driveway has a funny dip at the bottom, and the trailer just has to be lined up pretty precisely for it to work. I think we’ll do better next time. Knock wood. One thing I learned is that if I’m really worried about the stabilizer jacks scraping, it means the angle is all wrong, and Dave should pull back out RIGHT THEN and start over. Before he’s blocking the whole street. oh. And both the stabilizer jack and our driveway are, miraculously, none the worse for wear. Sort of Catastrophe. But All’s Well that Ends Well.

Longest post ever? It might just be. Congratulations if you made it all the way through! I feel like I should give you a prize. But I’ve got nothing!

RV trip to Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, GA. Campground review and Fun at the Fort historical reenactments

 


Comments

Fort Yargo State Park: Mistakes were Made — 10 Comments

  1. This was worth reading just for the picture of Abe in his Wild Things shirt. 🙂 I think with any new venture, there’s a learning curve. Look at how many near-disasters you won’t have next time because of all you learned this time! And those photos indicate that all that effort is totally worth it. I’m thinking Cane and I will need to consider more seriously our little travel trailer dreams.

    • See, I should have saved the picture of Abe as the prize for getting to the end ;). So far, despite the catastrophes, I’m still recommending the travel trailer for you–you live in such a beautiful area for it, too! I hear great things about your state parks :).

  2. Hee! Loved the “catastrophe” “not a catastrophe” classification system! We have figured out that campground electric is really wonky. We were at two different campgrounds that lost power (one due to a storm; one not). We also had our own electricity cut out and have had to reset it, too. So, sometimes RV camping with hookups is kind of like NOT. 🙂

    Your driveway story–hee! I think we have a 300 foot driveway for our 18 foot trailer, so I can’t feel your pain. One blessing of living in the country!

    Looks like a lovely trip, despite the catastrophes and near catastrophes.

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure we used the microwave and the air together at the Chattanooga KOA with no issues….but I looked in the owners manual, and it told me the air uses 15 amps and the microwave 10, so it makes sense that we’d be pushing it using both at the same time. Our driveway’s plenty long for the trailer (although not 300 feet!), and even plenty wide….it’s really all about the wonky dip at the end (and the fact that it doesn’t go straight back…we have to get the trailer in AND headed in the right direction; if it goes straight back it will hit the house. Which is not ideal ;)). One of my new hobbies when I walk around the neighborhood now is classifying every driveway I pass as “good for a trailer” or “not good for a trailer.” I have a pretty exciting life ;).

  3. The prize is hearing about all the fun and catastrophes (real and avoided)!! The cabin and reenactments look very cool!

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