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 http://vagabondpress.wordpress.com). 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.
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.
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 http://byways.org 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 http://www.escapees.com . They have a wonderful discussion forum open to members that will answer many questions you might have.
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 http://www.pattis-settlement.com 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 http://www.lbl.org 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.