All Packed Up And Nowhere To Go

As my mother used to say, it’s OK to make plans just don’t plan the results”. We’d gotten everything packed up and secured for the trip from Natchez to Spanish Fort near Mobile, Alabama. The last thing to do before heading out was to pull in the slides. We have 3 slides: one for the bed, one for a small desk and the main slide with the table, dining chairs and sofa. We can operate the slides from either 30/50 amp service or off of the battery. Since it is a big drain on the battery we usually keep plugged in until the slides are retracted. We also have a remote that can do this from the outside. The slides come in according to a set pattern and go out the same way so you can’t just move a single slide by itself. Opal was already in the truck sitting on her raised platform so she can look out the window. She knows the routine and knew we were getting ready to leave.

Bedroom slide in. Desk slide in. Main slide …… WHOA! What’s happening? The main slide stopped about halfway and the bottom started lifting. Back up and try again. Same thing. Try again. Same thing. And again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity when you do the same thing over knowing the outcome? Steve goes out and looks around. We try again. Now this is where Steve and I have a definite Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus thing going. I’m all for calling for help when something needs fixing if I don’t know how to do it. We have 3 roadside assistance plans: Good Sam, Coachnet and later we find one through the warranty on the trailer with Assurance. We’re paying for them, why not use them. Steve is of the opinion that you don’t call until you’ve completely exhausted every possibility of fixing it yourself. So in and out of the trailer, under and out at least a half dozen times with no improvement. Now the slide is not only raising up but moving in more on one side than the other. We finally call Coachnet. We talk to a technician. I’m holding the phone while Steve climbs under then relaying what the tech says and what Steve says in return. Steve has to cut into the undercarriage barrier to see what type of mechanism we have for the slide, electric or hydraulic. Finally  almost an hour later it is decided we need a roadside mechanic. Meanwhile, Opal won’t get out of the truck even when I put her lease on. So I leave her in there. I know we’re getting ready to leave. There’s no way I’m getting out and have them take off without me! The mechanic is 90 minutes away. We don’t want to unpack anything so we sit at the picnic table. Steve crawls under the RV some more and finally sees what’s wrong. A bolt from one of the shock absorbers has become lodged against the slide and won’t let it move correctly. This causes one side to move and not the other. The mechanic comes. Over an hour of trying. The only way to get the slide closed so we can travel is to cut the bolt. With the slide out of alignment some moulding had to be removed to allow the slide to clear the cabinets. Steve had to stand with a piece of cardboard against the cabinet while I pushed the slide retract button. That’s how close it was. Normally there is about 2 inches of clearance. We’ll be alright for travel but must go to a Dutchmen dealer so it can be repaired under warranty. Everyone thinks it’s a manufacturer’s defect.

We get out the MiFi internet and look up Dutchmen dealers to find who is the closest. We’re in luck. There are two in the Mobile area. We’ve used Camping World before with our old trailer so we call them. This is Saturday about 3pm. Yes, they can get us in on Monday.  Steve asks about a mobile mechanic coming to the campground. No, they don’t have one but they do have electric and water hookups in their lot and we are welcome to use them. By now it’s past our checkout time and we decide to spend one more night in Natchez. When Steve goes to pay we find out that all this time we could have gotten the senior discount rate! It’s available to non-residents as well as residents. Oh well, live and learn. One more thing to do, we must cancel our reservation in Alabama for tonight. No answer at the park but we leave a message. So we unpack as little as possible. Opal finally gets out of the car. This is really confusing. I’m sticking close to Mom and Dad tonight!

The next morning we finally get on the road for the 5 1/2 hour drive to Mobile. We find Camping World and there are 6 parking spots with hookups. We pull in and get set up. Not wanting to cook we check the iPhone App for Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. There are 3 places in the area. We choose the Gumbo Shack in Fairhope, Alabama. This sports bar setting offers creole dishes as well as regular offerings. This is the first time we’ve been in an area to try one of the restaurants since we left Charlotte. I ordered gumbo (excellent) and a shrimp panini. I had jambalaya (also excellent). Then we ordered cajun oysters. Oysters on the half shell with parmesan cheese, tobasco sauce and a slice of jalepeno. No leftovers! What about the dog?  While we were eating a local man came in with his Weimaraner. The dog obviously knew everyone and stood up on his back legs with his front feet on the bar just like he was ordering a drink. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get a picture but if you’ve ever seen those photos of Weimaraners dressed up and placed in human like situations you can picture this. A friendly, quirky place with good food.

The next day the trailer was packed up and taken to the shop. We were in luck. The warranty paid all but $136 of an almost $800 bill. Since we were here it seemed like a good time to have some routine maintenance done, tires rotated , a problem with premature wear on one tire resolved, an interior light replaced and 2 shades fixed. Since not all of the work could be completed in one day the trailer was moved back to the campsite for our second night in the parking lot. Again we call Meaher State Park where we were to stay and this time we tell them to cancel the whole reservation. They only accept cash or check so we didn’t have any money to loose. We weren’t alone. There were 5 other vehicles there. To kill time while we were waiting we drove around stopping at local businesses. Then we decided to drive down to Gulf Shores State Park. We’d tried to get reservations here back in August and we were surprised when they told us it was full all winter. After talking to the volunteer at the gate we now know why. Most state parks limit you to 14 days. Between November 1 and March 31 Gulf Shores allows continuous camping and only charges $450/month including water and electric. Reservations need to be made a year in advance. It looked like a beautiful park. One to remember for the future. We were hungry and stopped at one of the many seafood restaurants along the beach. When I looked at the menu I saw that today’s special was popcorn shrimp but Tuesday’s was crab cakes. I teasingly asked the waitress if she could pretend it was Tuesday. She said she’d have to ask. I really didn’t expect them to say yes since the special was half price. They did! The special was supposed to be a smaller portion but I had 2 large crab cakes.

Fort Conde, Mobile

Fort Conde in Mobile

Mobile, Alabama

View Of Mobile From Fort Conde

Mobile, Fort Conde

View Of Old Mobile Home From Fort Conde

Mobile, Carnival, Alabama

Mobile Carnival Museum

While we waited on Tuesday for the trailer to be finished we drove down to Mobile and stopped at the Visitors Center which is housed in a 4/5 recreation of the original Fort Conde that founded Mobile. As with many cities in this area Mobile has been under French, British, Spanish and American governments. We took a tour of Fort Conde then walked over to the Carnival Museum (closed). Mobile has a Carnival at the same time as New Orleans Mardi Gras. By then we received a call that the trailer was done. Now to find a place for tonight. After 2 nights in a parking lot we decided to move on. There was Plantation Escapees Rainbow Park not far away so we checked in there. Escapees Club members receive a discount on site rates but the park is open to general RVers too. Laundry had mounted up so this was a priority. We drove around while the clothes were drying and saw that there were homes with RV garages, permanent sites with storage buildings and the temporary lots. While we’re not ready to stay in one place for a long time yet, this did give us an insight into options available to us. Like many RV parks with lot owners and long term residents they have a lot of activities. Tonight they were having a community dinner for $5/person. So we went. It was nice to talk with people who had been doing what we’re doing for many years. One couple at our table had been RVers for 15 years. They all nodded knowingly at our tale of woe. Yes, they had similar experiences.

Wednesday morning after a quick breakfast and we’re off to Florida. Bedroom slide in. Desk slide in. Main slide in but what’s this? It’s not closed on the left and it’s not lined up correctly. We call Camping World to tell them we need to come back. “Just an adjustment” they say. Two hours later we really do get on the road. With this unexpected delay we don’t know if we’ll make it before dark. We stick to the interstate instead of the scenic routes we prefer.

To be continued in our next post Paddles, Peddles and Playas On St. George Island. OK so you caught Chari’s brain slipping a gear. Let’s try again. Make that Paddles, Pedals and Playas.

Catch The Holiday Spirit In Natchez, Mississippi Part 2 Of 2

Now to continue with our week in Natchez, Mississippi.

The Natchez Historical Park under the National Park Service consists of two sites; Melrose (see Part 1) and the William Johnson House. The William Johnson House honors a seldom mentioned segment of the antebellum South population, that of the free, black middle class. William Johnson was born into slavery. His mother was owned by a planter named William Johnson and it is thought that he was the father of the boy. His mother was freed soon after his birth but current law forbid freeing minors. He was freed at age 11. Again the law required that if at any time the freed slave was unable to take care of himself the owner was responsible for him. William Johnson became educated and trained as a barber however surprisingly he also was a slaveowner. He went on to own four barber shops and integrated into both the black and white economy. He kept diaries that give precious insights into the daily lives of the Natchez middle class. The house and separate kitchen was built after a fire and a tornado damaged much of Natchez downtown area in 1840. The main floor was rented out to other merchants while the Johnson family lived upstairs. This site is within an easy walk of the Natchez Visitors Center or can be seen as part of the historical area walking tour.

One evening we attended the Natchez Little Theatre production of A Christmas Carol Natchez Style. This is community theatre at its best. Natchez Little Theatre has been entertaining people since 1932. The traditional holiday story is adapted where Scrooge is a wealthy cotton merchant and Cratchit is a freedman in post Civil War Natchez. The show stealer was the five year old who played Tiny Tim. As only kids can do he had us all laughing when he made faces at the audience while other actors were saying their lines. The ghost of Christmas Past was also a hoot.

We also stopped at the Rhythm Club Museum which despite the open sign in the window was locked. We later learned that we were to call and have someone meet us there. The museum is in memory of the fire at the Rhythm Club in 1940 that killed 209 black residents who were gathered to hear a band from Chicago. It is in the top three worst nightclub fires in the US.

While in town we needed to stop at Verizon to see why our Mifi internet connection wasn’t working properly. The representative we spoke with turned out to be an amateur photographer. “Would we like to go out on his boat to the St. Catherine National Wildlife Refuge this weekend?” We would, of course, but we were leaving on Saturday. We exchanged information for a rain check next time we are in the area. He did give us a tip on a good local restaurant across the river in Vidalia, Louisiana. So we went to Nikki’s for dinner. It’s a small family owned place. Just the sort of place you’d think Guy Fieri would find. I had gumbo, blackened catfish, cajun fries and fried pickles. I had crawfish tails, frog legs and crawfish etouffe. I had all the leftovers. Thank Goodness for huge portions! We were stuffed to the gills, no pun intended. On our way out we spied the homemade pies. Tomorrow would be another day. So we bought a slice (enough for 2) of peanut butter pie. The best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth!

The Mississippi River is a beautiful sight at night so we spent some time photographing the riverfront.

bridge, Mississippi River

Casino Boat and Bridge Over The Mississippi River At Natchez

The next day we went back across the river to Louisiana to see the Frogmore Cotton Plantation, . Rand McNally has listed it as one of their “Must See Sites”. This is a modern cotton farm but the owners have recreated an antebellum cotton plantation by moving period structures to their property. We arrived early and watched a film on modern cotton farming. We learned that most of our cotton is sent overseas to Mexico and even China while we import from China… go figure! Another couple from Canada joined us. For a while we thought it might just be the four of us. Then a whole bus pulled up. Inwardly I sighed as a large group of slow moving seniors got off. I know I’m a senior too and one day age will catch up with me but now I just don’t relate to this. As it turns out, this was a blessing in disguise. When they have the buses from the paddle boat cruises Frogmore puts on a special tour led by Lynnette Tanner, wife of the owner. All participants are in period dress. There is music at the church from spirituals and gospel to Cum By Yah with all of us joining in ( yes, I know I can’t sing so I do it very quietly but I can bang a mean tambourine.). On the way from the church to the first building we were “stepping out” to some New Orleans style jazz. We were told the best dancer would get a prize. Steve won and got a Moon Pie. Mrs. Tanner led us through all of the buildings while educating us on antebellum plantation life, the changes after the Civil War and how sharecropping started. Sharecropping continued into the early 1960s when the mechanized cotton picker was invented. Since then the height of cotton plants has gone from 5-6 feet down to 3 feet. Seed today is selected for a lower height and a more branched structure so that yields per acre are higher. Two women from the boat were riding a golf cart due to mobility issues. As one of the woman got off the cart to enter a building she fell. After assuring us she wasn’t hurt, everyone was looking around thinking how do we get her up? So I stepped forward and asked her how she thought it best to get up. She told me she had two total knee replacements and could get to her knees but couldn’t push up. I positioned myself to both brace her knee and offer support for her to pull up. Up she came without much effort. Once a physical therapist, always a physical therapist I guess.

Frogmore, Louisiana, general store

Frogmore General Store

wagon, cotton, plantation

Old Wagon And Cotton Fields

Frogmore, Louisiana, barn

Frogmore Barn With Equipment

Frogmore, cotton gin

Cotton Gin At Frogmore

plantation, church

Inside Church At Frogmore

Frogmore, slavery, Louisiana

Slave Quarters at Frogmore

Frogmore, cotton, slavery

Frogmore Overseers House

barn, stencil, Frogmore

Barn Door With Stencil

plantation, Mississippi

Rosalie Front View

For the last plantation we had time to see we chose Rosalie which is located on part of the land originally occupied by the French fort, Rosalie. built in 1716. Rosalie , the plantation, was built in 1823 by Peter Little. He had come to Natchez at age 17 and became a wealthy landowner. When yellow fever took the lives of a ferry boat captain and his wife who were close friends, Peter Little married the orphaned 14 year old daughter, Eliza. After completing her education in the East she returned and they moved into Rosalie. The Littles had no children. When Peter Little died he had no will and sale of Rosalie was done at auction. The next owners, the Wilsons also had no children but fostered many. One of these children became their daughter in fact and when married she and her husband lived at Rosalie with their 6 children. Two of the daughters, referred to as Miss Annie and Miss Rebecca sold the home in 1938 to the Mississippi chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) with a life estate. The plantation was last inhabited in 1958. Most of the furnishings are those of the families who resided at Rosalie. Unfortunately no interior photography is allowed. Even in winter the gardens were lovely. A quick edit here. I forgot to mention that the large garden bell shown in the pictures came from the USS Mississippi. Steve is a good proofreader. The view of the Mississippi River is excellent. Our tour guide was very informative and since we were the only ones touring at that time, we asked a lot of questions.

plantation, history

Rear View Of Rosalie Plantation

plantation, Natchez

View From Front Porch At Rosalie

plantation, Natchez

View Of The Mississippi River From Rosalie

plantation, garden

Rosalie Plantation Winter Garden

flowers, plantation

Snapdragons Bloom In Rosalie Winter Garden

Rosalie, garden

Steve Ringing The Garden Bell At Rosalie

bell, Rosalie, garden

Foundry Mark On Bell At Rosalie

General U. S. Grant

General U. S. Grant

While we were in the area, for us that means within two hours, a visit to the Vicksburg National Battlefield was planned. We’ve been to Gettysburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga and Fort Donelson so far. With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in progress it is interesting to see how these separate battles

interrelate. Now we’ll turn the blog over to Steve.

John C. Pemberton, Vicksburg

John C. Pemberton

When we were in Kentucky and Tennessee, I wrote an entry in the blog about the Civil War activities at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.  I spoke then about the importance of waterways during the war, in particular, of the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers.  And about how an unknown General, by the name of Ulysses S. Grant, became a national hero with his victories at these two forts.  If the Tennessee and the Cumberland held such importance, imagine how much more strategic was the Mighty Mississippi, effectively splitting the country into eastern and western halves.  And the most strategic point on the river was the City of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Vicksburg, map

A View Of Vicksburg

At the beginning of the war, General Winfield Scott devised what became popularly known as “The Anaconda Plan”, whereby the entire coastline of the southern states would be blockaded, and the Union forces would use the Mississippi river as a highway to cut the Confederacy in half.  The Union already had control of the northern portion of the river.  In April of 1862, Admiral David G. Farragut fought his way from the Gulf past Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and made his way north to take the City of New Orleans.  In May, he moved upriver and demanded the surrender of Vicksburg, but had insufficient troops to enforce his demand.  The city remained in Confederate hands.

General Winfield Scott, Anaconda Plan, Civil War

General Scott’s Anaconda Plan

Admiral David G. Faragut

Admiral David G. Farragut

David Dixon Porter, Civil War

Admiral David Dixon Porter

Jefferson Davis said, “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote, “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.”

In the fall of 1862, General Henry W. Halleck was promoted from command of the Western Theater to General-in-Chief of all Union Armies.  In November, he assigned to the hero of Forts Henry and Donelson, U.S. Grant, the task of moving down the Mississippi and taking Vicksburg.

A quick look at a map will indicate that this was no easy task.  The city is located two hundred feet high on the bluffs overlooking a huge horseshoe bend in the river.  North and east of the city lies the Yazoo Delta, an almost impenetrable swamp, roughly two hundred miles long and fifty miles wide.  General John C. Pemberton commanded 12,000 Confederate troops in Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi, and General Earl Van Dorn commanded an additional 24,000 in Grenada.  Grant sent General William Tecumseh Sherman, with 32,000 men down the river toward Vicksburg, while he brought 40,000 to Oxford, hoping to lure the Rebels out.

Volumes have been written about this campaign, and for the next several months, Grant tried anything and everything to accomplish his mission, including attempting to dig canals to bypass the City of Vicksburg.  Nothing worked.  By spring, he had decided that the only way to take the city would be from the east and south, but to do that, he needed to bring his forces across to the east side of the river.  How to get there?

On April 17, 1863, a clear and moonless night, Admiral David Dixon Porter attempted a near suicidal mission.  He would take a fleet of seven gunboats and three empty troop transports downriver, past the guns of Vicksburg.  Trying to minimize noise and lights, he was nevertheless discovered by Confederate lookouts, and the bluffs erupted with cannon fire.  Seeing that his boats were getting hit high, not near the waterline, he guessed, correctly, that the cannon above could not be depressed low enough to hit him if he hugged the east shore.  He moved downriver right under the rebel guns, close enough so that he could hear the Rebel officers giving orders to their gun crews.  The fleet survived and made it through.  Five nights later, six more boats, loaded with supplies steamed south.  One boat was lost, but the crew survived by clinging to the wreckage and floating downriver.  Meanwhile, Grant marched his troops down the west bank of the river to a point south of Vicksburg.  Now resupplied, he had the Navy to ferry him across.

Vicksburg, Civil War

The Vicksburg Blockade

Again, volumes have been written about this campaign, and I won’t attempt to describe all the details of the siege and many battles that were fought in the ensuing months.  One battle that deserves mention, however, is Millikin’s Bend.  This was a supply area somewhat upriver.  It was defended by relatively inexperienced and undertrained black troops.  The prevailing sentiment of the time was that black troops would not fight, but when attacked by Confederate troops, they proved everyone wrong.  With help from gunboats, they fought off the Rebel forces, but not without heavy losses.  The defenders lost 652 men while the attackers lost 185.  Grant wrote of how well they fought, and while this was not a major battle, they earned the respect of many.  Recruitment of blacks soon began in earnest.

By mid-May Grant’s forces had Vicksburg surrounded.  For six weeks, under constant bombardment, no supplies got into the city.  On July 4th, when hope of relief ran out, Pemberton surrendered the city.  This was one day after Union forces under General Meade defeated Robert E. Lee at a small town called Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania.  On July 9th, Port Hudson, which had also been held under siege since late May, heard the news of the fall of Vicksburg and surrendered.  Union control of the Mississippi River was complete.

To give credit where it’s due, I got some help from Wikipedia with the images and the details while writing this.  Steve

Vicksburg, National Park Service

Vicksburg National Battlefield Entrance Arch

There is a 16 mile drive through the park with interpretive stops along the way detailing events Steve described above. The park brochure available at the Visitors Center is excellent. We bought a CD tour guide too. That was a waste of money. As with other National Battlefields we’ve visited the monuments were impressive. The sculptures and carvings really are artistic.

Troops from 26 states fought in this battle. Illinois and Ohio had some of the largest groups but even states like Iowa and Nebraska that you don’t often think about participating in the Civil War were there. The Illinois monument is the largest one and overlooks a slough where a major battle ensued. Right next door is the only remaining home on the battlefield. The inhabitants were caught in a crossfire for 3 days then signaled for help. A ceasefire was declared while they moved to safety. Then the battle resumed.

Vicksburg, history

Only Remaining Home At Vicksburg National Battlefield

General Grant’s statue is shown in the classic pose with all four legs of his horse on the ground indicating he died of natural causes. Two legs of a horse raised according to conventional wisdom means the rider died in battle and one leg raised means he died later of battle wounds. Not all sculptors adhere to this convention.

Ulysses S. Grant, Vicksburg

Grant’s Statue At Vicksburg

Our most pleasant surprise was when we reached the second Visitors Center that houses the USS Cairo, a Union ironclad boat. The USS Cairo was sunk in the Yazoo  River in 1862 during the Union’s failed campaign to establish a position east of Vicksburg. In 1964 the ship was located and raised. It sits today on a frame to support the fragile remains and is covered by a canvas canopy. You not only see the boat but smell the age of it. A platform has been built so you can board the boat for a closer look. We’ve seen National Historic Landmarks, National Natural Landmarks but who knew there were National Mechanical Engineering Landmarks? This is our first. The Visitors Center houses a small but interesting museum about the boat. It sunk in 12 minutes so the crew did not have time to remove personal items. Everyday artifacts of shipboard life are well displayed. There is even a Lea and Perrins Worchestershire bottle that except for not having a screw top could have come off the shelf today!

USS Cairo, ironclad ship

USS Cairo, A Union Ironclad

USS Cairo, Civil War

Viewing The USS Cairo

USS Cairo, ironclad boat

Underneath The USS Cairo

USS Cairo, Vicksburg, ship

Cannon And Paddle Wheel On USS Cairo

ironclad boat, history

Gear Used To Move Cannons Aboard USS Cairo

Vicksburg, Ohio, Civil War

On The Ohio Monument

Vicksburg, Civil WarVicksburg, National Park Service

Vicksburg, history

Vicksburg, Civil War

Celebrating A Small Town Christmas

Christmas, Mississippi

Canton MS Lights

While we were in Mississippi we drove to the town of Canton near Jackson to see their lighting display. They decorate the town square and surrounding buildings. Families stroll about downtown. For some children it is their first ride on a carousel. The weather was cool and clear.

So here are some photos to put you in the holiday mood.

Christmas lights, Mississippi

Canton MS Street Scene

Christmas tree, Canton

Canton Christmas Tree

Christmas Lights, Mississippi

Fireman In Lights

Christmas decorations

Raggety Ann Glows

Gingerbread Man, Mrs. Santa

Gingerbread Man At Mrs. Santa’s House

gazebo, Christmas lights

Gazebo In Christmas Lights





























Christmas lights, Mississippi

Canton Town




Christmas, reindeer

These Reindeer Don’t Fly











carousel, Christmas lights

Enjoying The Carousel






Christmas, New Years

Happy Holidays From Chari & Steve


Catch the Holiday Spirit In Natchez, Mississippi Part 1 Of 2

At Tupelo, Mississippi we took the exit for the Natchez Trace heading southwest across the state toward the city of Natchez. By doing this segment we will have travelled the entire parkway except for the section between the Alabama border and Tupelo. The Natchez Trace is one of five parkways under the  National Park Service banner. Can you name the other four without heading to Google or Wikipedia? Hint: Only one is located in a western state. Just so you won’t loose sleep over this I’ll put the answer at the end of this entry.

One of our bucket list goals is to visit all of the 391 (and growing) National Park sites. So far we have been to 58.

Natchez Trace, Mississippi, Travel

Traveling The Natchez Trace In Mississippi

Natchez Trace, tornado, Mississippi

Tornado Damage Along The Natchez Trace From April 2011 Storm

By taking the Natchez Trace our trip added an hour but who cares when the route is scenic and relatively free of traffic. Some place north of Jackson I asked Steve if he thought this would be a good road for me to try driving while pulling the trailer. I’d pulled our former 26′ trailer with the Toyota Highlander but never did learn to back in to camping sites. This trailer at 35′ long and 13′ high intimidated me but I knew I had to learn to do everything in case there would be a time when Steve couldn’t drive. So we pulled off at one of the many historic sites and I adjusted the seat and mirrors while Steve cleared out my “nest”. The “nest” is where I keep all of our maps, brochures, iPads and computers plus anything else we want handy. Having short legs is an advantage! So off we went. I was surprised to find the trailer pulled so easily. After a few minutes I relaxed. I learned how to judge braking time and once I even worked up the courage to pass a slow moving car. I did tense a bit as we went under the first overpass and Steve making a crunching noise didn’t help. Now I’m game to start learning to back in the next time we come to an easy site.

We arrived at Natchez State Park and pulled right into our full service site with a very level pad. Based on the two parks we have used we are very pleased with the Mississippi State Parks. We always tour the campgrounds to note sites we might want to use in the future. We were in campground A (old campground) but even the sites without sewer would easily accommodate our trailer. Campground B (new campground) has water and electric hookups and is on the lake. Again all of the sites looked spacious. We met another full time couple, Morey and Janet, from South Dakota and invited them over that evening. They’ve just completed their first year on the road. They were off to Texas for the winter.

Our first stop was to the Natchez Visitor Center for information on tours and for Chari to load up on brochures. We learned that 12 homes are normally open to the public. Right now two of them were undergoing renovation and were closed. During the Spring and Fall Pilgrimages these and over 30 private homes are open. Here only a day and already we’re saying “when we come back!” Natchez is one of the oldest cities in North America predating New Orleans by a few years. At various times it has been under French, British, Spanish and American governments. During the first half of the 1800s Natchez was chosen as the place to live by wealthy planters and merchants because it sits high on a bluff (i.e. not prone to flooding) and the breezes from the west cooled and reduced insects. At one time during the antebellum period, Natchez was home to 48 out of the 100 millionaires in the USA. Many of the men were originally from NY, PA and OH but married into prominent families. Adams County where Natchez is located was one of two counties that did not vote for secession from the Union. They feared, correctly, that whichever side won they would suffer financially. Oddly Vicksburg was the other holdout. Therefore Natchez was occupied early in the Civil War and the general in charge did not loot and destroy property. These actions preserved the properties we enjoy today.

One  of the plantation homes, Auburn, that normally charges $12/person was holding a free open house on December 9. We didn’t hesitate to take them up on the offer. They were trying to raise money for renovation of the kitchen building. There were volunteers in period dress, music and refreshments. All of the homes we would visit were lovely but the stories that went with them were even more fascinating. Auburn was designed for the first Attorney General of Mississippi, Lyman Harding by architect Levi Weeks and was completed in 1812. Weeks had gained notoriety when he was the defendant in a 1800 murder trial in New York known as the Manhattan Well Murder that was strikingly similar to the O. J. Simpson trial. Weeks was accused of killing a woman he was dating and stuffing her body down a well. His wealthy brother hired a “dream team” of lawyers that included Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Weeks was acquitted but public opinion ran against the decision and he was forced to leave New York. He relocated to Natchez. The feature Auburn is most noted for is the freestanding spiral staircase in the foyer. The staircase is made from cypress and the railing is black walnut. This was built by steaming the wood in spaghum moss and using bent wood techniques. Each of the 100+ spindles is hand carved with a round shape at the top and oval at the bottom. After Harding’s death in 1820, Auburn was purchased by a prominent physician, Stephen Duncan. It remained in the Duncan family until 1911. It was then donated to the city of Natchez. A city park was established on the grounds but the city wasn’t interested in the home. It fell into disrepair. All of the antiques were auctioned off. One of the docents said that several generations of Natchez children learned to roller skate inside this home! In 1972 a restoration project was begun by the Auburn Garden Club. Some of the original furnishings were located and donated back to the home. Today it is an excellent example of antebellum beauty. At the time I didn’t realize that there would be so few homes where we could take pictures. This home was beautifully decorated for the holidays as a special bonus.

Natchez, plantation, history

Approaching Auburn Plantation

Auburn, Natchez

Docents In Period Dress At Auburn

Christmas, plantation Auburn

Christmas At Auburn

Christmas, Natchez, plantation

More Christmas Decorations

Natchez, plantation, staircase

Spiral Staircase At Auburn From Second Floor

plantation, woodwork, Natchez

Artisans Created Intricate Woodwork

plantation, antiques, Natchez

Master Bedroom At Auburn

antiques, plantation, Mississippi

Antique Bureau

plantation, kitchen, Auburn

Kitchen Building As Seen From Second Floor Of Main House

The next day was cool and rainy so we wanted to do something inside. We chose the Natchez in Historical Photographs exhibit at the First Presbyterian Church. What a hidden gem this is! Rand McNally has even listed it as a Best of the Road selection for their 2011 Road Atlas. The exhibit houses over 500 photographs taken from the Civil War era through 1951 but most are from 1880-1920. It covers portraits from all levels of society and races, street scenes, men (and women) at work and play and river life. This is the collection of Thomas and Joan Gandy. Dr. Gandy found the glass plates and celluloid negatives that had been stored in boxes on an outside porch for decades. He realized their value and learned how to make prints from them. My favorite was of a street scene where a tailor is standing in the store’s doorway measuring a customer while outside the store is a sign offering information on the Klondike Gold Rush. No photos are allowed so you will just have to go see for yourself. What really impressed us though was a poem written by a local man called Youth. Both Steve and I felt this summed up our reason for doing what we’re doing. Steve has written a bit more about it.

There was, however, a poem, written by a Natchez resident, Samuel Ullman, entitled “YOUTH” hanging on the wall.  Mr. Ullman was a German Jew, born in 1840, and immigrated to the United States at age 11.  He died in 1924.  His poem struck a chord with both Chari and me, and we’d like to share it here.  A few of the words may seem a little dated today, as when he refers to what we call a radio with the word “wireless”.  We use “wireless” in today’s computer age with a similar but somewhat different meaning.  And the word “aerial” is a word I haven’t heard in years…  not since my own “YOUTH”.

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind;

It is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees;

It is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions;

It is the freshness of the deep springs of life

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite,

For adventure over the love of ease.

This often exists in a man of sixty more than a body of twenty.  

Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.  

We grow old by deserting our ideals.

 Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  

Worry,  fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust. 

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder,

The unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.


In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station;

So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite,

So long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism,

Then you are grown old, even at twenty,

But as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

What more can you say?

The chapel housing the exhibit is also interesting. It was built in 1828 but now is used as the education complex. The pews have the doors on the aisle similar to those we’ve seen in New England.

Natchez, church

First Presbyterian Church Stratton Chapel in Natchez

Christmas, decorations, church

Front Door Decorated For Christmas

Our next stop was at the two sites composing the Natchez Historical Park, a NPS site. The first was the plantation of Melrose. The entrance is lined with draping live oak reminiscent of Gone With The Wind. This mansion home was built in the Greek Revival style over the course of eight years by John McMurran, a wealthy lawyer, state legislator and cotton grower. This was one of five plantations he would eventually own. After moving to Natchez from Pennsylvania in the 1820s he married into a wealthy local family. Cotton was in high demand in England and prices were often manipulated by the growers. Today we’d call it a monopoly. In a good year a the  Mc Murrans could expect the equivalent of 3 million dollars. The Mc Murrans moved in to the mansion in 1849. The home was said to be decorated with everything “good taste and full purse” provided. They sold the property in 1865 to George Malin Davis after the death from disease of their daughter and grandchildren. The Davis family kept Melrose in the family until 1976. The National Park Service took possession in 1990. Currently the exterior is undergoing renovation. By Spring 2013 the front will be repainted the original cream color with a faux marble appearance.  A portrait of John C. Calhoun hung in the parlor. Since we had visited his home this summer, it was interesting to see how these families knew one another. The interior is lovely but dark. The shutters are kept closed to prevent discoloration from sunlight. This made hand held photography difficult. If you look closely at the master bed you will see 2 hooks on the rear of the canopy. This is where the mosquito netting was hung. The posts at the foot would be raised at night and the netting secured there. Yellow fever and malaria were constant threats in this area. Two slaves would use a large rolling pin to smooth the feather bed each morning. If you wanted to nap during the day, the day bed at the foot of the bed was used so as not to mess up the feather bed. In the dining room the large paddle structure over the table is called a punkah. Originally from India, it was operated by a slave and the back and forth motion cooled you and kept away flies.

Melrose, Natchez

Melros Plantation

Melrose, Natchez

Melrose Showing Chimney Stacks

plantation, slave quarters

Melrose Laundry With Slave Quarters On Second Floor

Melrose, Natchez National Historical Park

Winter Garden At Melrose

Christmas, Melrose, Natchez

Christmas At Melrose

Melrose, Mississippi, antiques

Master Bedroom At Melrose

Melrose, plantation

Melrose Parlor

Melrose, Natchez, plantation

Melrose Dining Room With Punkha

The next plantation is called Longwood and “it is the one everybody comes to see” because this is the largest octagonal house in the USA. Melrose seemed large at 16,000+ square feet but Longwood dwarfs it at 30,000 square feet. When wealthy cotton planter Haller Nutt (original family name was Scandinavian Knutt) wanted to build a new home he wanted something different than the current Greek Revival style, something to impress. He certainly got his wish. The Oriental villa with its Moorish Byzantine dome looks as if it were transplanted from Turkey to Natchez. The open rotunda towers 6 floors to the dome which is crowned with a 24 foot finial. The home was designed by a Philadelphia architect who brought 24 skilled workers with him and work was begun in 1860. One million bricks were made on the property. When the Civil War erupted in April 1861 the workers fled back North. The basement level was completed with local workers and the family moved to Longwood. Mr. Nutt thought the war would be short-lived and that the home would be completed when it was over. This was not to be. He died in 1864 and the remaining 2 floors were never finished. By luck or fate, our guide this day was a descendant of the Nutt family. His grandmother was the last inhabitant of Longwood. His mother grew up playing in the unfinished upper floors and wandering the estate. The furniture originally ordered for Longwood was confiscated by the Union port blockade. Therefore the furniture at Longwood came from Mrs. Nutt’s family and has remained there for 150 years. It was  beautifully decorated for Christmas. Much to our dismay no photos were allowed in the finished area but were allowed in the unfinished portions. We were told that the Pilgrimage Garden Club who now owns Longwood had allowed Bob Vila to film their sister property at Stanton Hall. When the show aired some enterprising crook used that to scope out the security system. Since then no photography has been allowed.

Longwood, Natchez, plantation

Longwood Plantation

Longwood, architecture

Architectural Plan For Longwood

architecture, plantation

Looking Up The Unfinished Rotunda

Longwood, Natchez, Mississippi

Longwood Main Floor

Longwood, Natchez

View From Longwood Front Porch

While we were waiting for the tour of Longwood to start an interesting event happened. Our guide, Alex, mentioned that he lived with his mother and grandmother on a plantation which was the oldest continuously inhabited plantation in Natchez. A man in the tour was from Natchez and asked “Do you still have the Mastadon tooth?” Alex replied “Yes. We used to use it as a door stop until someone told us how rare and valuable it was. Now we have it under glass.” The first man asked “Have you ever heard the story of when it was found?” Alex hadn’t. Here’s the story. It was Alex great grandfather or uncle who found a mastodon skeleton on the property. It was dug out carefully. It was very brittle. Ten men carefully moved the skull onto a truck. His great grandfather told the workers to take it up to the barn and he’d be along shortly. When he got to the barn he saw nothing but a pile of dust and some teeth. The workers, not knowing what these old bones were had just thrown it off the truck. The tooth they have now is the only thing that survived.

We can see that this post is going to be quite long. It was a very busy week. Since we want to get this posted before the holidays we’ll split it up into two parts. Before we go, here’s the answer to the National Park Service trivia question: the 5 parkways are 1) Natchez Trace Parkway  2) Blue Ridge Parkway   3) Skyline Drive   4) George Washington Parkway   5) Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP.

Addendum To More Than Turkey

In our rush to catch up we overlooked two events in the previous post. We were going to just edit the post but then many of you may only respond to new releases.

When we were traveling down the Nachez Trace from Nashville to J P Coleman S. P. we rounded a corner to see a white dog lying in the road. There was no traffic so we could veer away. Do you think that dog was hurt and that’s why he’s lying in the road? I saw another dog in the grass. I think his partner was killed and that’s why he’s there. We have to turn around! So we did a U-turn and pulled off the road.  To our amazement both dogs jumped up and came right over to us. They were not injured. The blood spot on the road we’d seen was a deer that had been hit. I went over and looked at the deer. Not much left. I think the dogs had been feeding on it and that’s why they were here. The two dogs were beautiful Great Pyrenees but their coats were full of burrs. It was obvious they were someones’ pets. No collars or visible ID. They repeatedly wandered into the road and even would lie down in the road. What to do? Cell signal on the Trace isn’t very good but I did have a brochure with the Park Service number on it. I reported the problem and was told they’d send someone to check on the dogs. I wanted to keep the dogs off the road so I took two rawhide chewies we had and gave each dog one well into the field. I’m sure they didn’t last five minutes. If we had a home and property I would have picked these dogs up. They were beautiful. Now I’d have had something to say about that (Opal)!! We can only hope that the dogs were returned to their owners safely.

The other thing we forgot was our trip to Tupelo, MS to visit Elvis Presley’s birthplace. I was about nine years old when Elvis first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Back then TV was very conservative and they would only show him from the waist up because of his “suggestive” moves. I remember my Dad saying “No kid of mine is going to listen to that c—-!” Right, Dad. By the time he was out of the Army I was more enamored of other rock stars so although I wasn’t a huge fan, I did enjoy his music. We played “Love Me Tender” at our wedding. As most of you know his folks were very poor and his birthplace is just 2 rooms equaling 450 square feet. That’s half again as big as our trailer. His folks couldn’t make the payments on the $187 mortgage so when he was 2 1/2 they moved out. He stayed in Tupelo until he was thirteen. The hardware store in town was where he got his first guitar. The property has a car similar to the family car, the church he attended and the home as well as a museum with many Elvis related artifacts. My sister-in-law remembered having to pick up her college roommate in Tupelo the day Elvis died and being tied up in traffic for hours.

Elvis Presley, Mississippi

Chari With Young (13) Elvis

Elvis Presley

Church Where Elvis First Sang

Elvis Presley, Mississippi

Presley Home In Tupelo, MS

Elvis Presley, Tupelo

Bedroom Of Presley Home

Elvis Presley, Elvis Birthplace

Kitchen of Presley Home

More Than Turkey Over Thanksgiving

We are fortunate to have friends and family scattered across the country.  We would arrive at J.P. Coleman State Park near Iuka, Mississippi two days before Thanksgiving. We have family in Corinth, MS about 45 minutes away. Another sister-in-law from Memphis would also join us. The park is located on Pickwick Lake, another TVA lake on the Tennessee River. When we have visited  before we have seen Shiloh National Battlefield in Tennessee, The Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth and the Contraband Camp also in Corinth. Please refer to our old blog for entries June 2010 Tennessee and Mississippi and November 2010 for the Grand Illumination.

Traditional Thanksgiving fare provided a table full to overflowing and many lunches and suppers thereafter. Our family enjoys playing card and board games after the meal. This year we learned a new domino game called Chickenfoot and played BeezerWeezer for the first time. Not that there is a competitive bone in any of us but Chari won Chickenfoot and Steve and Chari were the winning team for BeezerWeezer.

Time to do some exploring. We drove over to Tuscambia, Alabama which is about an hour away to see Ivy Green, birthplace of Helen Keller. We had recently seen, for the third or fourth time, the movie The Miracle Worker on TV and checked to see where Tuscambia was located hoping to make a visit. The actual home was not used for the movie. When the film was made movie cameras, lights etc. were still very bulky and the site could not accommodate all the gear. They did do a very good job of recreating the home. The story follows actual events. We saw the well pump where Helen connected the feeling of water running over her hand with what was being spelled into her hand. We also saw the cottage where she and Annie Sullivan lived and worked. The thing I thought was most impressive was her writing. She used a letter template much like that draftsmen used before CAD. A statue of Helen at the pump is on display and another one is in the US Capitol. Helen, Annie and her companion later on, Polly, are all buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In June through mid-July the play “The Miracle Worker” is performed at an outdoor theatre on the grounds. After visiting Ivy Green we were all hungry and asked a docent to recommend a restaurant in Tuscambia. She suggested Oh! Bryan’s and a good choice it was.

Helen Keller, Ivy Green, Alabama

Dining Room Where Annie
First Taught Helen To Eat At The Table

Helen Keller

Helen Keller’s Bedroom

Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker

Pump Where Helen First Said “Wa Wa” For Water

Helen Keller, Miracle Worker, Alabama

Outdoor Set For The Miracle Worker

On the way home we passed a sign for a Coon Dog Cemetery. Huh? You read correctly. So we decided this was just too unusual to pass up. We drove back the next day. A good thing they have signs along the way or we’d never have found it. It is 3-4 miles off the main highway way back in the woods. This is the National Coon Dog Cemetery and the only one in the country. I went with tongue in cheek thinking it would be humorous. At first look all of the plastic flower arrangements did give a redneck feel. However, I found that the sentiment was genuine. These dogs had been loved companions. Some markers were elaborately carved professional headstones while others were simple cement markers made by the owners. Still others were whimsical or funny. My sister-in-law says that when a burial is done they often have large tailgate parties. I guess that’s what the reason for the covered shelter. There’s a guest book to sign. People from all over have come here. The cemetery was started in 1937 and now has over 50 graves.

Coon dog, cemetery, Alabama

Coon Dog Cemetery in Alabama

coon dog, cemetery, Alabama

First View of The Cemetery

coon dog, cemetery, Alabama

Troop Was The First Dog Buried Here

coon dog, cemetery, Alabama

Coon Dog Marker

coon dog, cemetery, Alabama

Newest Coon Dog Marker

coon dog, cemetery, Alabama

Humorous Epitaph

After a wonderful holiday with family we were in the process of packing up when we were notified that our nephew in Colorado had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Life on the road isn’t any different than for house-based folk. You just learn to change plans on a  moments notice. So far we’ve found people to be very willing to help you out. We can’t say enough good things about the Mississippi State Parks. They allowed us to leave the trailer at J. P. Coleman (for an additional fee) in excess of the 14 day limit. The park at Natchez did give us a voucher for payment refund which we used to pay J. P. Coleman and later when we did get into Natchez. It’s times like this that you really appreciate their willingness to help.

We waited for five days until plans were finalized for the funeral. Then we drove to Michigan. It was a very sad week. We needed a diversion so on the way back we stopped in Wapakoneta, Ohio to see the Neil Armstrong Space Museum. We both belong to the generation who lived the Race to the Moon. (Chari)was in 7th grade when Alan Shepard blasted off aboard a Mercury capsule for his suborbital ride. In July 1969 I had recently graduated from college and gone into the Air Force. I was new to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. The Moon Landing party was the first one I’d been invited to attend.(Steve) I was also in the Air Force and stationed in Spain.  One of the highlights of my life is that I was one of the thousands of people who actively participated in the space program.  I was a telecommunications specialist stationed at San Pablo, which was a small annex connected with Moron Air Base.  We were about five miles outside of Seville.  We were involved with all the space flights, but particularly so during the Apollo program.  There were three stations set to relay direct communications with the astronauts from Houston.  One was in Hawaii.  One was in Australia. The third was in Spain.  No matter what the time of day was, as the earth rotated, at least one of these three was pointed toward the moon.  Any communication circuits between Houston and the astronauts, data circuits or actual voice communications, were relayed through San Pablo, if at the time, Spain was pointed in the right direction.  My job was to monitor and maintain the quality of these circuits.  I know I was only one of thousands of people throughout the world who had a job supporting Apollo, but I was thrilled to have participated. It seemed ironic at the time, that even though I was actively involved, I had to wait until the newsreels appeared at our base movie theater to see what the rest of the world watched in real time.  We had no television at San Pablo.  Another thing I’ll always remember, is the way we, as Americans, were treated after Apollo II.  This was during the Vietnam era, and there was a lot of anti-American feelings throughout the world, especially in Europe.  Even though the Spanish people were very friendly, there was always an undercurrent of hostility present toward Americans.  After the landing, I would be walking down the street in Seville, and total strangers would walk up to me, slap me on the back, and want to shake my hand because I was American.  It was a wonderful feeling. Walking through the museum we reminisced about Sputnik, marveled at the size of the Mercury rocket  (83′) compared to the Saturn V (363′) and tried our hand at operating a moon lander. By the way we both crashed! Once back in Mississippi it was time to pack up and head to Natchez.

space, rockets, moon landing

Relative Size of Rockets From Mercury Through Saturn V

space, Gemini, museum

Gemini Capsule

space, Neil Armstrong, Apollo

Apollo Command Module Control Panel


space, astronaut, museum

Steve Has The Right Stuff

lunar lander, Neil Armstrong, museum

Lunar Lander Simulator At The Neil Armstrong Space Museum

Relaxing At Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

We drove across Kentucky through the Daniel Boone National Forest on a glorious Fall day enjoying the trees in peak color. The eight hour trip went by quickly as we passed through the center of the state taking note of future stops by mountain lakes and museums such as the National Corvette Museum and a Shaker Village. Our destination was the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the western Kentucky/Tennessee border. It is named for a peninsula formed by two TVA lakes, Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River and Lake Barkley on the Cumberland River. We’d been here for four days in 2010 at the beginning of our retirement trip to Utah (see the old blog at That was just long enough to know we wanted to return for a longer stay. To see the following photo in more detail, click photo twice.

Google Earth Showing LBL Location With Lakes

Google Earth Showing LBL Location With Lakes

When we were here before our choice of campgrounds left a lot to be desired. We had found Kenlake State Resort Park just down the road and wished we were staying there. We remembered the lake view and camp sites with decks. So we had made reservations there. Amazing what a lot more experience in park selection, a not quite accurate memory and a larger trailer will do. We arrived to find the sites not nearly as large as we thought and situated so that a ninety degree back-in was required. The site we had chosen was impossible for us to use. Steve is very adept at backing in the trailer but you need to turn the truck at a sharper angle with this type of back-in and there were trees in the way. Thank Goodness this was the off season and only ten sites were occupied. We were able to select a site that was more of a straight back-in. However this one had its problems too. It was on an uphill incline so that the nose of the trailer had to be lowered all the way and the rear stabilizer legs  didn’t reach the ground. We scavenged a cement block to put under one side and found a log for the other side. Necessity is the Mother of invention. Once in we enjoyed our two week stay tremendously.

Steve’s brother Fred and wife Chris drove down from Michigan for a long weekend and to pick up the Subaru. I’ve owned several cars since my first one, a 1969 Pontiac LeMans 350. Some I have loved. Some I have cursed. Some I was praying they’d stay together to get to the dealer for trade-in. The Subaru has been one of my very favorites. It is just a plain car without buzzes or whistles. It carried my 14′ sea kayak like an ant carrying something much bigger than itself. It plowed on through the rare 18″ snow in Charlotte where they clear roads by “solar shoveling”. It took me on many journeys to the mountains and beaches. I will miss my little red Subaru but we don’t need it. Good-Bye!

The weekend Fred and Chris were here was a perfect Indian Summer so we rented a pontoon boat for the day and set out on Kentucky Lake. At 184 miles long and averaging 1 mile wide, Kentucky Lake is one of the largest man made lakes in the USA. It was built by the TVA as a flood control and power lake in 1937. Today it provides excellent boating and fishing opportunities as well. The other lake in the area,Lake Barkley, was created in 1960. This was Opal’s first time on a boat and we didn’t know how she’d react. She loved it. I’ve come to expect that my Mom and Dad are going to try any and everything. If I want to be with them, I’ve just got to go with the flow. The lake was calm so I just chilled out and had a great time. They brought some treats along for a dog picnic too.

Kentucky, boating, travel

Steve and Fred on the pontoon boat

Kentucky Lake, pontoon boat, fishing

Chari and Chris Kicking Back On The Pontoon Boat

Land Between the Lakes, fishing, travel blog

Time For Fishing

dog, boat, travel

Opal The Sailor Dog

fall color, Kentucky, travel, boating

Indian Summer On Kentucky Lake

Most of the next 2 weeks were spent enjoying this area at a relaxing pace. I know it sounds odd when I say we needed a vacation from doing and seeing so much when to most people our whole life looks like a vacation. Just having time to wander in the woods and drive the main road through LBL called The Trace which is an American Scenic Byway or bike one of the trails was a pleasure. One afternoon when it was too windy to paddle on the larger lakes (edge of Hurricane Sandy) we took the boats out to Energy Lake. This is a 2 square mile lake on the peninsula that is really a dammed bay of Lake Barkley.

This area was once home to approximately 200 families. Everyone was moved out by the early 1950s. There are numerous family cemeteries scattered throughout the peninsula. Some are accessible by car (4 wheel drive recommended) and some only by foot. One day as we were walking in the woods we came upon two cemeteries back to back. There were many stones that were simply cinder blocks with metal markers in front indicating the relocated remains from another cemetery. We guessed correctly that these were remains the TVA had to move when Kentucky Lake was first constructed. I am fascinated by the names we run across in cemeteries. One name, Morning Caroline, triggered my active imagination. I envisioned a mother holding her newborn in the early morning light as the father gazed on his daughter for the first time and said “Morning, Caroline” Later in the day when the brother was asked “What should we call the new baby? He replied “Well Pa, you called her Morning Caroline.” The name stuck.

While we were at Kenlake there were a few rainy days. This gave us a chance to get our annual calendar done and ordered. We give these to family and friends each year. After Christmas I will post the pictures we used. We also joined a BOF (Birds of a Feather) interest group of the Escapees RV Club called World Wide Travelers. This group travels by RV in countries outside North America. Talk about wetting my appetite for travel! We won’t be able to do this until Opal is no longer with us but my bucket list overflows. For anyone who is currently more than a casual RVer or who is considering the RV lifestyle, I highly recommend the Escapees RV Club . They have a wonderful discussion forum open to members that will answer many questions you might have.

Energy Lake, LBL, photography

Shoreline Reflected On Energy Lake

LBL, Energy Lake, kayaking

Chari Paddles Energy Lake

kayaking, travel, Kentucky

Did Mary Poppins Start This Way?

kayaking, Energy Lake, Fall

A Breezy But Beautiful Day

One day at Kenlake campground we met another couple, Carol and Jim, who also were full time RVers and had started out about the same time. They still have a home base near Schnectady, NY. They joined us for the last laser light show of the season at the Golden Pond Planetarium in the Land Between the Lakes. We’d never been to a laser show before and weren’t sure what to expect.This one was set to country music. The planetarium has daytime shows on varying topics in astronomy. We planned to go back to see a show on the IBEX but never seemed to be in the area at the right time. OK, all together now…”When we come back…” This is one of the only areas in the east where I feel I could settle down if I weren’t an RVer. I love it here and so does Chari. The next evening the four of us had dinner at Patti’s 1880s Settlement in Grand Rivers, KY just across the canal connecting the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at the northern end of LBL. This is more than a restaurant. It is a destination in itself. Do go to the website for more information. Their speciality is a 2″ pork chop. I ordered the 1″ chop and was so full I waddled home! There is also a well known theatre in Grand Rivers called Variety! We didn’t make it here either so that’s another place for, well you know, WWCB. Before we knew our 2 weeks had sped by. Kenlake campground was closing for the season. We had three weeks until we were to head to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. We had done some exploring and found three wonderful campgrounds on the peninsula. Two would be open until the end of November. We decided to stay on in LBL and move to Piney campground just across the line in Tennessee on Kentucky Lake.

Piney campground is operated by the US Forest Service but reservations and information will be found on the site versus the Forest Service site. There are a few reservable sites but most of the almost 300 sites are first come first serve so arriving early in the week is an advantage. We were able to make use of an off season rate and get a full service (EWS) site for only $19/night. The maximum stay here is three weeks which worked perfectly for us. If we were rating the campgrounds we have used this would get 5 stars. We knew when we registered that the water at the campsites would be turned off on or about November 13 when nighttime temperatures reached freezing. No problem as there are freeze proof spigots available. We chose a beautiful site close to what we thought was one of these faucets so we could replenish our tank water. Much to our surprise when the water was turned off these faucets weren’t the freeze proof ones. So back to our tent camping roots we went resurrecting our collapsable 5 gallon water bottle, using paper plates and cups and trekking to the bathhouse vs using the trailer facilities. We had more than enough water for the week.

Exploring the area took us along the Fort Henry Trails. Fort Henry was under construction on the Tennessee River just north and across the river from Fort Donelson when the Civil War began. It was never finished. When Grant began his move down the river it was evident that the fort could not be held. All but five Confederate soldiers evacuated to Fort Donelson. Those five men were killed when their cannons exploded. The graves are located in the woods off the Fort Henry Trails. The only remaining structure from Fort Henry is an earthen berm.

Civil War, cemetery, Tennessee

One Of The Confederate Soldiers Killed At Fort Henry

Warm weather returned for a few days giving us the opportunity to paddle on the Cumberland River past Fort Donelson National Battlefield. This gave us a unique perspective of the Civil War battle that took place there as the Union Army used ironclad boats for the first time to attack the fort. Fort Donelson was built as a gatekeeper to the major riverways and important railroad crossroads in Nashville. Later on we visited the Fort too. Steve is the historian in the family so he will describe the tactics and the importance of this battle. Chari on the other hand gravitates to the human interest side of the story.

Chari asked me to do a little write-up of the importance of the events during the Civil War at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.  She specifically told me to “Be Brief” so I’ll try!

In today’s modern world with high-speed freeways, mile-long freight trains, air cargo traffic, etc., we sometimes need to be reminded just how important waterways were for transportation of troops and supplies in past wars.  Rivers provided routes for transport, but without the modern system of bridges, they were also barriers for land traffic.  During the Revolutionary War, the Hudson River in New York was an extremely critical waterway, since its path, combined with Lakes George and Champlain, basically separated the New England states from the rest of the country.  At West Point, the river makes an “S” curve, which meant, that in the days of sail, ships on the river would lose their wind and almost come to a complete stop, providing easy targets for the cannons on the bluffs above.  Benedict Arnold’s treachery in attempting to turn over West Point, and control of the Hudson waterway to the British almost cost us our independence, and is why his name remains to this day synonymous with the word “Treason”.  But Chari said to be brief, and West Point isn’t what I’m supposed to be talking about.

Inland waterways were no less important during the Civil War.  And two very critical rivers were the Tennessee and the Cumberland.  A quick look at a map will easily show why.  Both rivers flow through the heart of the South, not only providing transportation routes, but cutting barriers for land traffic, just as the Hudson did in the Revolution.  And another important strategic factor is that both of these rivers rise in the Deep South, and flow north, eventually meeting up with the Ohio River.  Union control of these two rivers was critical toward winning the war.

The Confederates needed two forts, one on the Tennessee River, and one on the Cumberland.  Unfortunately, the best sites for these forts were in Kentucky, a neutral state.  A suitable location for Fort Donelson was located just south of the border, in the state of Tennessee on the Cumberland, where artillery could be placed high on the bluffs overlooking the river. The location chosen for Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River was on low and swampy ground however.  The two forts would be roughly twelve miles apart, Henry on the east side of the Tennessee and Donelson on the west side of the Cumberland, so Confederate troops could move freely between them.

By early 1862, the Union was not having much success in fighting the Civil War.  A relatively unknown brigadier general, Ulysses S Grant, working with Naval forces under Admiral Foote went after Fort Henry.  Heavy flooding on the river had rendered the fort almost unusable.  Most of the fort was under water, including the powder magazine.  Grant landed his troops for a land assault while Foote attacked with his fleet of ironclad riverboats.  The fort was undefendable, and fell before Grant’s troops saw action.

A few days later, Foote had moved his fleet back down river, north to the Ohio, and over to the Cumberland, where they steamed upriver for the attack on Donelson.   Here, however, the Confederate artillery was well placed, and the Union fleet was forced to withdraw.   But the fort was surrounded by Grant’s troops, although at the beginning of the ensuing battle, he was not present.  The Rebels launched a surprise attack to open an avenue for escape, which was almost successful, but Grant arrived in time to rally his men.  The Confederates retreated back to the fort.  The Confederate General Floyd, and his second in command, General Pillow, panicked.  They relinquished command to General Buckner, and escaped by small boat.

Buckner was an old friend of Grant.  In times past, when Grant was seeing hard times, he had loaned Grant money to see him and his family through.  He sent a note asking for terms, expecting his old comrade would be generous.  Grant’s reply has gone down as one of War’s memorable quotes:

“No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.  I propose to move immediately on your works.” Buckner was forced to accept “the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms” and surrendered.

The twin victories were the first in the war for the Union, and the people in the north went wild!  Grant’s initials now stood for “Unconditional Surrender” and the mostly unknown general became famous.  The following year, in 1863, he would force the capitulation of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, opening up that waterway to Union control.  Lincoln would offer him command of the entire Union Army, and by April of 1865 he would accept the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.  He would become President of the United States.

A very bitter Buckner eventually resumed his friendship with Grant, and served as pallbearer at Grant’s funeral.

And that is probably the “briefest” account of the Fort Henry and Fort Donelson campaigns ever written!

Fort Donelson, Civil War, history

Canon At Fort Donelson

Fort Donelson, Civil War, history

Dover Hotel, Site of Surrender

Also at Fort Donelson we picked up information on the Civil War Barn Quilt Trail that Stewart County had created in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle at Fort Donelson (February 1862). It is also a wonderful way to see the countryside. We spent two days following three of the four loops. Of course, we found many interesting sights not on the trail as well. Think of it as an adult scavenger hunt. At a barn stating Welcome to Potneck we talked with the owner. We asked about the origin of the name Potneck. He said there are two versions. The first is that people were so poor here during the Depression that they had to stick their heads into the pot up to their necks to get anything to eat. The other story was that a man showed up at a church social drunk. His wife was so mad that she threw a pot at him and it caught him in the neck. We came across a small cafe in the equally small town of Bumpus Mills located in an old gas station and next to the abandoned  Pugh general store. Later on the road took us to Tobaccoport which declares itself the “Dark Fired Capital of the World” and an iconic tobacco barn. We’d later learn that the process of dark-fired tobacco was highly sought after for snuff.

barn, quilt, countryside

Barn With Advertising and Quilt

barn, quilt, Tennessee

Quiet Country Scene

Tennessee, old building, country scene

Old Spring House

barn, quilt, country scene

Along The Civil War Quilt Trail

barn, tobacco, country

Tobacco Barn

church, quilt, Civil War Trail

Country Church With Quilt Square

barn, humor, countryside

Welcome To Potneck

photography, old house

Chari Casts A Shadow Photographing An Old House

diner, Tennessee, restaurant

Front Porch Of The Bumpus Mills, TN Diner

horse, colt, Tennessee

Tennessee Mare Walking Horse And Colt

old store, photography

Faded Advertising on Historic Pugh Store In Bumpus Mills, TN

barn, quilt,

Picturesque Barn With Quilt Square

dog, humor

Can We Go Home Now?

While we were driving in Dover, TN we passed a motor home that had pulled off the road in an emergency. The vehicle had caught on fire. From the looks of it the fire started in either the battery area or the engine. We heard later that everyone got out safely but the RV was a total loss. While we have a fifth wheel this incident made us think about what we’d do in such an emergency. Our fire extinguisher is in the trailer. We realized that we needed at least one in the truck bed as well. While fires such as this do not happen often, part of RV living is being prepared for emergencies and how to escape from the RV.

RV fire 1

RV After Fire

RV living, RV fire

A Total Loss

We visited the Elk and Bison Range located near the Golden Pond Visitor Center on two occasions. Tickets must be purchased to enter the security gate. You can spend as much time as you wish on each visit but for safety reasons you need to stay in the car or nearby. As with most wildlife the best viewing times are early morning or late afternoon. There is also a pasture where bison can be seen without paying. One afternoon we stopped as the bison were close to the fence. The light was good. Several of them had dirty faces and the air was crisp showing their hot breath curl upwards. Although I was a good ten feet from the fence number  912 took offense at having a picture taken and charged. I respectfully backed off. I knew if she were serious the fence wouldn’t really hold her back.

buffalo, Land Between the Lakes, photography

I Said NO Pictures!

buffalo, photography, travel

Buffalo Calf Comes Close To Car

buffalo, wildlife, photography

Grass, Grass, Always Grass

elk, photography, travel

Handsome Bull Elk

elk, photography

Elk Cow

elk, rut, Land Between the Lakes

Just Practicing

elk, photography, wildlife

Off And Running

elk, photography, travel

Why Did The Elk Cross The Road?

Moon Over The Elk And Bison Range

Moon Over The Elk And Bison Range

Other attractions in Land Between the Lakes are the Nature Center which serves as an education center using animals that for one reason or another cannot be released into the wild and a 1850s farm called the Homestead. Since these are run by the USFS if you have a senior pass the entrance fee is half price. If you don’t have one and are 62+ do get one. It costs just $10 and is good for your lifetime. The pass will save you a lot of money. The Nature Center didn’t offer as good photo opportunities as we’d hoped since you had to stay back and shoot through chain link or the animals were in deep shadows. We did enjoy seeing several birds of prey up close as the handlers moved them from their daytime quarters to overnight lodging. It reminded me of the Raptor Center in Huntersville, NC just north of Charlotte. At the Homestead period costumed volunteers and employees were available for questions and demonstrations.

Kentucky, history, log home

The Wagon Shed At The Homestead

The Homestead, Land Between The Lakes, Ox

Ox At Homestead Barn

The Homestead, history, photography

Two Room 1850s Home

history, farm, LBL

Living History Players At The Homestead

One of the last activities we  did was to drive over to the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. This whole area is on the Mississippi River Flyway and serves as a wintering area for many species of birds, especially ducks and eagles. The migration had just begun and we saw rafts (estimated at 2000) of American Black Ducks. By early January there will be between 200,000-300,000 ducks. Eagle tours are given on Kentucky Lake each January. We also saw white pelicans, mallards and merganser ducks. The refuge had just closed trails down to the water so no good photo ops. We understand that their job is protecting wildlife.

What a wonderful month we had! Now onto Mississippi.