December 29, Sunday: Took our time on the drive to Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, near Wilmington. Arrived at dusk, and set up in site #34. Our “home” for the next 5 nights was deep and wide, well-separated from neighbors. A large graveled (tent-pitching?) area behind where the trailer sat had a lovely live oak branch cascading across it—Jack had to watch his head going back and forth to the bathhouse, but it was quite a nice addition to the amenities. We tied the dog run to it and later, used it to “air out” some of the dog bedding.
Although our drive was dry, we found many mosquitoes upon our arrival in the waning light. It was rather damp in the air and on the ground all around. We had leftovers for dinner.
Because we arrived at dusk late on a Sunday evening, we didn’t discover the “shortcut” to the bathhouse until the next AM, right off the back of our site. Likely because of the holidays, Jack found the men’s side of the bathhouse to be messy, with too-little paper anywhere to serve. On the women’s side, not much was out of order and the facilities were just fine, including several semi-private showers. In the showers, however, I found few hooks on which to hang stuff (and the bench was small). In several of the showers, they had retro-fitted wooden covers over what I assumed had once been vents or windows, and these had closures on which to hang a shower kit and a net bag to keep clothes off the bench and dry.
December 30, Monday: There was more rain overnight, but we slept until the dogs got restless at around 7:30. Toasted some of Jack’s good bread, showered, and put up the awning, etc.—things we didn’t get around to during our late arrival.
Headed into Wilmington for groceries and lunch. Ate at a Mexican restaurant called Corzano’s, which I thought meant “deer’s” or “stag’s” or some such, due to the images on the sign. When I tried to translate it, the closest word I could find that was a real Spanish word was Corazóno’s, which means “heart’s.” Not sure how that fits, but I tried translating “hart” (another name for a deer, especially a male deer) but the phrase “corazón a corazón” means “heart to heart.”
So I guessed that Corzano must be the surname of the person or family who owns the restaurant. In any case, our meal was delicious, with portions so generous I had to take some of my fajita burrito back to camp. They have excellent salsa, too.
I took a long walk with the dogs to the second (of two) camping loops. At the top of this loop are some cute (very small) cabins, which appeared popular. My guess is that one would need your own camping gear to stay in one, but I did not peer into any windows.
I found that this second campsite loop was mostly closed off. Not sure why, but not counting the cabins, it’s a small loop with its own bathhouse, and some pretty nice unserviced sites interspersed. In front of the gate was site #46—if one can live with an unserviced site, 46 has a beautiful, deep (private) access point to the Snow’s Cut Trail that traverses the high bluff of the Snow’s Cut River (a tributary of the Cape Fear River). I imagined that carrying a couple of camp chairs out to the bluff would make for some quite lovely sunset-watching with an adult beverage. But the downside would be that the vast trail system at the park is quite popular and that trail would be rather busy.
Because of the weather and the shady site, we ran the generator for ~3 hours to get our battery up to snuff for the night furnace. We ate leftover game hen & winter vegetables, and added some rice to the mix for our dinner.
December 31, New Year’s Eve, Tuesday: Another “good sleeping” night as the overnight was nice and cool (high 40s) and we decided to sleep without the furnace. Getting out from under the Rumpl blanket was another matter—it was 52 inside, so we hopped up to turn on the furnace and get the space warm before arising at around 8:30 to a lovely, crisp, and clear day.
The cool temps for the rest of our stay kept the mosquitoes at bay.
In the wee hours, we’d been awakened by a horrible caterwauling and decided it was coyotes on the hunt and it sounded like they had caught their prey.
Piddled around for most of the day. I wanted to try a breakfast casserole in the Omnia oven, so we’d gotten the ingredients at the grocery and I used the remains of Jack’s bread (going stale) in the mix. The recipe requires refrigeration overnight, so we put the Omnia with the ingredients ready-to-cook into the back of the truck to stay cool overnight. I will include the recipe I used below for anyone with an Omnia that wants to cook a delicious breakfast casserole—if you have space and weather to keep it cold-ish overnight.
I ate the leftover burrito from Corzano’s for lunch, and with the dogs, we headed to the Snow’s Cut Trail to see how it fit with the rest of the trail system. Our goal was to get to the Visitor’s Center and see the carnivorous plants, but the place was closed. In summer there’s a trail where you can spot them growing in the wild, but in the winter they are invisible in the wild and dormant. But apparently, the VC has an indoor display of them in an artificial environment. Even though the VC was closed, the restrooms were accessible so we took advantage and then carried on exploring more of the trails, clocking 2.6 miles total.
Saw lots of interesting plants, fungi, and flowers along the way.
For evening chow, we cooked the remaining half of kielbasa, and I roasted the second “round” of winter vegetables I’d prepared before we left home. This time, I roasted them for less time and they were much better—more flavorful and less mushy—than the first round had been (less time = 35-40 minutes). Got the opportunity to use one of my Christmas presents: a portable Dutch Oven steel cooktop with raised sides for wind protection. The legs are adjustable and can even be removed, leaving a 4-inch rise so the cooktop can be used on a picnic or other table without fear of burning up everything below.
Enjoyed some kick-back time in the chill of evening, and rang out 2019 with a dram of whisky.
January 1, 2020, Wednesday: The dogs got restless around 5:30-6 on this morning, so we got up a bit earlier than normal to 44 degrees outside.
After walking and feeding the dogs, I got out the Omnia from the “cold storage” in the back of the truck and cooked it on medium-low for about a half our, then turned it up to medium-high for the last half-hour (or so). Took it off the heat and let it sit for about 10 minutes while Jack grilled some toast to accompany. It was pretty delicious.
We tried to air out the dog bedding, but the site is shadier than expected, and it was quite cool all day, so our need for “sunshine and summer air” wasn’t exactly what we got. Later, we offered an Alto tour to someone who asked to see inside and thawed the filet mignon we’d brought along, in anticipation of our New Years Day meal.
We enjoyed a lovely bonfire, some good wine, and a delicious meal of grilled filets, “smokehouse” style green beans, and potatoes au gratin. Very nice (and hopeful) way to launch us into 2020.
January 2, Thursday: Another chilly night. We again awoke to 44 degrees outside, and only 49 inside. Ate a reprise of the breakfast casserole heated in a frypan, and took a very long hike to Sugarloaf Dune, “a prominent pre-Colombian geologic feature.” I have included the storyboards we read below in case anyone wants to read more about it.
The various trails to get there wind throughout the park and were marked on the map as being ~2.5 miles one-way. The ones we chose went mostly through what I might call “piney savannah”—we traversed the Campground Trail first, then connected and continued along the Sugarloaf Trail past Grass Pond, Lilly Pond, and Cypress Pond. We hit the Swamp Trail on the return (which was not swampy).
While the trails are well-marked, it’s a good idea to take one of the trail maps with you so you can see your options and choose your path.
After the hike, we took showers, and Jack began to pack for our departure. For dinner, we headed into Wilmington to Michael’s Seafood, and the place was packed. We sat on the back (enclosed) patio with enormous gas-flame heaters to keep it useful in winter. But the space was incredibly loud! It was difficult to hear yourself think. We both had shrimp and grits, and although it was tasty, Parkway Grille in Floyd does a better job of shrimp and grits (IMHO).
One final thing I should mention, especially for those who travel with dogs: There are trash and recycling bins all over the camping loops. Literally every 50-75 yards or so, there’s another 4-bin “station” for both garbage (including dog poop bags) and recyclables (single-stream). A true luxury if you’re walking and picking up after dogs.
Given these bins are just wooden containers, I had thought to myself, “Well, I guess they don’t have a raccoon problem here (see the prior post from Hunting Island, SC)!” But they do, indeed, have raccoons, as we saw a troupe of the pests traversing the campground just prior to leaving. I wondered how they managed to keep them out of the garbage . . .
Omnia breakfast casserole
Bread: you’ll line the lightly oiled bottom of the Omnia’s silicone liner with sandwich-width sliced bread cut in cubes/chunks. You can use store-sliced bread or homemade, white or multi-grain, crust on or off. How much you need depends on what type of bread you use. I used about 2 slices, chunked up and fit flat on the bottom. The bread should form a relatively unbroken “mat” at the bottom, approx. .5 to 1 inch thick.
- ~7 eggs
- ~1.5 c milk
- ~ 1/2 c store-bought pico de gallo
- ~ 6 grilled sausage patties, crumbled (or about 1/3 of a “loaf” of ground sausage, fried & crumbled)—can also use ham or cooked, crumbled bacon, etc.
- 1-1.5 c shredded sharp cheddar
- Cayenne and chili powder to taste
- Spray olive oil lightly on the Omnia silicone liner
- Drain the liquid from the pico de gallo as you assemble the rest of the casserole
- Mix the eggs with the milk and any spices or herbs you want to add
- Place the bread in one layer on the bottom of the Omnia
- Sausage on top of the bread
- Pico de gallo next
- Some of the shredded cheese (save some for the top)
- Pour egg mixture over all—the amount should cover easily but not drown the rest of the ingredients. Use a fork to press everything down and get some air out.
- Top with the rest of the shredded cheese.
- Let rest overnight in a cool place/refrigerator.
Pre-heat the bottom (separate) cooker (7-10 minutes?) before adding the Omnia on top.
Cook on Medium/Medium low for about a half hour. Raise temp to Medium/Medium high for another half hour.
Once steam begins to come out of the holes in the top of the oven, give it another 5 minutes and test with a knife to assure the eggs are solid.
Remove from heat and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
Serve with toast or fruit.
About Sugarloaf Dune — At 55 ft. Above sea level, Sugarloaf Dune is part of an ancient sand dune ridge that formed when sea levels were higher. It was named Sugarloaf in 1663 because it resembled a mass of crystallized sugar. The name caught on and Sugarloaf has been on navigational charts ever since. Throughout history, the dune has been a landmark for river pilots traveling the Cape Fear River.
American Indians inhabited the area around Sugarloaf from 6,000 BC until their decline [due to disease brought by Europeans and being forced west by white colonists—LC] in the early 1700s. Artifacts and remnant mounds of shellfish from these former inhabitants can still be found in the area today.
Sugarloaf played an important role in the defense of Fort Fisher and Wilmington during the Civil War. In the winter of 1864-5, about 4,500 Confederate troops encamped here. A one-mile line of heavy earthworks stretched from Sugarloaf on the edge of the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. Confederate earthworks can still be seen in the park today.
Twenty-five years after the Civil War, a pier located at the base of Sugarloaf Dune became a major transportation link for the area. A local steamer called “The Wilmington” made regular stops at the pier, often carrying up to 500 passengers. An open car railway then carried passengers from Sugarloaf along what is now Harper Avenue to the boardwalk for a day at the beach.
Before the park was established in 1969, the Sugarloaf area was used and misused by the general public. Four-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, and beach buggies trampled the fragile dune vegetation and caused major erosion. Today, exposed tree roots are signs left behind by the activity of the past.
This historical landmark is still being threatened. You can protect it:
- Stay on the designated trail
- Do not climb or walk on the dune face
- Keep out of the fenced areas
- Report any damage or misuse to a park ranger
Help the park protect Sugarloaf Dune for future generations to enjoy. [Hear, hear!]