Learning History And More About RV Living Firsthand On The Road

wildflowers, Tennessee

Tennessee Spring Wildflowers

We are self confessed history buffs. That’s probably one reason we’re making a point of seeing all 400+ National Park sites. Our Plan B route was designed to take us through areas for some of the lesser known NPS sites, some privately operated sites and visits to family.

Our first stop was Greeneville, Tennessee to visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. We had to stay in a commercial park as the two closest state parks were renovating their campgrounds. We found a small private park, A Round Pond, located on a farm in Baileyton. We did check out Panther Creek SP for later use and the new campground looks very good.

Andrew Johnson, history, US President

Andrew Johnson As A Young Man

So how much do you know about our 17th President, Andrew Johnson? If you are like us, chances are not much. He was catapulted into office upon Lincoln’s assassination. He also was the first President to face impeachment proceedings. Like all the other Presidents from Tennessee, he was not born there. He was from North Carolina. His widowed mother struggled to raise her family and when she could no longer support them she apprenticed her two oldest sons to a tailor. Working long days and no formal schooling cut his childhood short. Like the man he would follow in the White House he was self educated but read everything he could. After getting into trouble as a young teenager Andrew Johnson ran off to South Carolina and Tennessee where he established a tailor shop in Greeneville. He married and it is his wife who is credited with helping fill his education gap. The Andrew Johnson NHS is composed of a Visitors Center, the home where the Johnson family lived in the 1830s-1851 and the home he returned to after his Presidency. It was during the 1830s that he entered politics first as Alderman, then Mayor, state representative and US Representative. One term as Governor of Tennessee 1853-1857 led to his election to the US Senate.

history, US Presidents

Original Johnson Tailor Shop

Lincoln, Johnson, politics

Presidential Ticket In 1864













portrait, photography

Andrew Johnson After Being President






The beliefs he carried throughout his political career were anchored in strong faith in the common man. He favored free land for homesteading, public education and elimination of the electoral college in favor of direct election. He also believed in the preservation of the Union. It was this last item that made Lincoln choose him as Vice President. He needed a southerner from a border state on his ticket. However the two men differed greatly in personality. Lincoln was known for his jokes and storytelling as well as his ability to convince opponents to see his viewpoint. Johnson on the other hand was a very forceful and demanding personality. When met with opposition he became even more forceful which created enemies.

In the tumultuous days of Reconstruction Johnson butted heads with many politicians and even his own cabinet. One such conflict was the cause of the impeachment proceedings. Johnson wanted a federal army. William Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of State who stayed on, wanted states to have their own armies. When Stanton proceeded with his idea over Johnson’s disapproval he was fired. There was a law that no President could fire a cabinet member once they were approved. The Congress used this as grounds for impeachment while Johnson claimed he had “inherited” the Cabinet rather than having named his own. Much of the underlying ill will between Johnson and members of Congress played a part. He was impeached by the House but failed impeachment in the Senate by just one vote. He returned to Tennessee and lived the rest of his life as a private citizen.

A Trunk Owned By Andrew Johnson

A Trunk Owned By Andrew Johnson

Johnson's Field Desk When Military Governor

Johnson’s Field Desk When Military Governor










Andrew Johnson's Post Presidential Home

Andrew Johnson’s Post Presidential Home

Easter, egg decorating, egg roll

Egg Decorating Sponsored By The NPS

Today his legacy lives on every year when the White House sponsors the annual Easter Egg Roll. While he wasn’t the first President to hold the event he was the one who made it an annual affair. We were at the Andrew Johnson NHS just a week before Easter and the park was holding an egg coloring activity for local children. We’d been warned by the Visitor Center that there might be crowds. We went down to the second home for the tour anyway. Crowds? What crowds? We were the only people on the tour! The Ranger was very knowledgeable and spent a lot of time answering our questions. Don’t limit your visits to our National Parks to just the big ones. History really comes alive when you visit our historic sites too.

The following day we made a trip to another type of National Park site, the Obed Wild and Scenic River. First we stopped at the Visitor Center in the town of Wartburg, Tennessee. Then we drove to a parking area at the river and took a short hike to an overlook. Most people come here to hike, whitewater canoe or rock climb. It was still early Spring so the landscape lacked color. The Fall is most likely the best season for photography.

river, scenery, NPS

View Of The Obed Wild And Scenic River

hiking, photography

On A Hike At Obed River










Obed River In Early Spring

Obed River In Early Spring










For our next stop we headed to the Nashville, TN area to visit Steve’s family. We were staying at Cages Bend, a COE park in nearby Gallatin, TN. About ten miles from our destination a car was waving at us. “One of your trailer tires is very low”. We hadn’t felt a thing but pulled over right away. Yes it was low but Steve felt we could make it to the park. We did but just barely. By the time we’d parked and set up it was flat. So it was off to Discount Tire but they wanted us to bring the tire in. No problem as they loaned Steve a floor jack. The tire had a big gouge and was unrepairable. So $300 later and several trips back and forth to the tire dealer, we were all fixed. 

Andrew Jackson, The Hermitage, Nashville

The Hermitage

flowering trees, Hermitage

Hermitage Grounds In Early Spring










After a good time with Steve’s aunt and uncle we took a day to visit the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. This is a privately run historic site rather than a NPS site. “I guess we’re spoiled but neither Steve or I were impressed with our time there. We paid $12 each for entry then another $8 for audio tour sets. The museum was good and we learned a lot. Then we went on to the home. The tour was given by a series of guides who looked and sounded bored. It was a ‘get ’em in, get ’em out’ approach. Rooms were roped off so it was hard to see while in a group.” Compared to our NPS experiences and other historic home tours it fell way short of our expectations.

Andrew and Rachael Jackson, history, Tennessee, U.S. Presidents

Life Size Statues Of Andrew And Rachael Jackson

Andrew Jackson was a military hero after winning battles at Horseshoe Bend (1814) and New Orleans (1815) when he became a leading frontier political leader in the 1820s-1830s.. He had a tough and aggressive personality (nickname Old Hickory) which led him to initiate battles during the Seminole Wars and fight duels over personal slights. The most famous duel was over his marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards. She thought herself divorced when she married Jackson in 1790 only to find she was still legally married. Once the divorce was final the couple remarried in 1794. In 1806 after a political opponent published an attack on Jackson in the newspaper and mentioned the bigamous relationship, Jackson challenged him to a duel. Jackson sustained a bullet in the chest but shot and killed Charles Dickinson. Elected as our 7th President in 1828, his beloved wife died of a heart attack two weeks after her husband’s victory. Jackson was one of our few unmarried Presidents and his niece served the necessary social role until the Petticoat Affair (1834) and her death in 1836. Then Sarah Jackson served as well and this is the only time two women have served in the role of First Lady simultaneously. Although childless, Andrew and Rachael Jackson raised two Indian children, a nephew and acted as guardians for eight other children.

 During his tenure, Andrew Jackson championed States Rights but believed in the preservation of the Union, vetoed the reissue of a charter for the Second Bank of the United States, paid off the national debt in 1835 (the last time it was paid off in full), called to abolish the Electoral College, initiated rotation in government office for political appointees, passed the Indian Removal Act, survived the first assassination attempt on a sitting President and saw the admission of Arkansas and Michigan to the union. There is much more written about him than can be addressed here. A very interesting and controversial figure to be sure.

So now we pull out of our campsite and head to see some of Chari’s family in Mississippi. Chari practiced hooking up the trailer and drove out of the site and park for the first time. Still a bit nervous about driving in traffic Steve took over. “I really do think we have a guardian angel!” We hadn’t gone more than ten miles when BANG!! It sounded like a shotgun and we immediately knew we’d had a blowout. Yep, the other tire on the side of the flat had blown. There had been no evidence of damage or loss of air while we were parked. We pulled off, got out and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Here’s what we saw….

blowout, RV accident, roadside assistance

Damage To RV From Blowout

So here we go again. Call the insurance. Find a dealer on our route. Wait for parts to be ordered. Hope it doesn’t mess up our plans too much. How did that black cloud from Florida find us here in Tennessee? So Steve removed the torn fender. We called Roadside Assistance and got another new tire. Then headed on our way.

Where Next #5 – Now For Plan B

With another round of repairs finished we drove eight hours to the Georgia side of Lake Seminole. Normally we don’t drive more than 4-5 hours between stops. We try to follow the 2-4-4 rule. That’s 200 miles or four hours or get there by four o’clock. We took three days just to relax at Eastbank COE campground.

Our next stop was to be another COE campground just north of Atlanta. Not knowing the layout of a campground can make it difficult when choosing a site online. Most of the time we get good sites. Unfortunately while this one looked good on the computer it had a very difficult back in with gullies on either side of the road and a S-curve entry.  Steve said “no way” which is unusual for him. The park was booked for the weekend and we couldn’t find another site. So we left and spent our first parking lot night at Cracker Barrel. It was chilly so we put Opal in the trailer vs. truck while we went in to eat. We didn’t think about the slides being in or that it was completely dark. As we came out of the restaurant we heard a very mournful “Awr-roooo! Awr-roooo! coming from the trailer. Opal was letting the world know she didn’t think much of this. I haven’t commented for a while but really now… they go in where it’s nice and cozy, sit down and have a meal and leave me squeezed in a dark, cold trailer. Who wouldn’t howl?

Then we headed on to McDowell Park in Charlotte for nine days of errands, appointments and seeing friends. By this time the parts for the awning arms were in at our RV dealer in Marion, NC so we headed for their campground. We dropped the trailer off for repair and drove up to Pennsylvania for a short visit to Steve’s family. Thinking repairs were finally behind us we made plans to head to Tennessee.

As we pulled into the Marion campground we saw the trailer was listing badly to the left. What now?!! Steve checked and found that when the mechanics had set up the trailer back on the pad, the locking pin on the landing gear didn’t go all the way through. The weight of the trailer had bent it and the footing had partially collapsed. It was Sunday evening and no one was around. Fortunately Steve is very handy and was able to stabilize things using jack stands. The next day the dealer repaired the problem so we could travel but … a part had to be ordered and would take a few weeks. Here we go again. As we write this five weeks later we are still waiting for the part.

So here’s our new itinerary for heading west to Montana.

Google Earth, RV, travel

Plan B Route Georgia To Montana

Make That Two For The Road

RV, fulltimers, travel,

Chari And Steve’s Travels For Year Two On The Road

WOW!!  Can it really be two years since we pulled out of our driveway in Charlotte, NC leaving life as we’d known it for a modern day Travels With Charlie or in our case Opal? The answer is yes. We have 65,500 miles on the truck to prove it. In 2014 we stayed in 39 campgrounds and travelled 33,500 miles with about 30% of the time pulling the trailer. If you want to look at the map above in full screen just double click over the picture.

The Gypsy And The Vagabond

The Vagabond And The Gypsy

We made our first international trip to the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Chari has learned to hook up and disengage the truck and trailer. As of last week she now has driven interstates, backroads and into a truck stop. Learning to back into a campsite is a goal for year three. Real women drive RVs! After eighteen months of being east of the Mississippi River we’ve now crossed over to explore the west for a few years.

We’ve also experienced the down side of mechanical failure and accidents. Even this hasn’t caused us to question our decision to continue the RV lifestyle. We love it. We’ve seen and done so much only to discover we’ve barely scratched the surface.

We are officially SoDaks now, that’s residents of South Dakota. This is one of the most popular states for full timers to use for residency.

Most of all we hope you’ve enjoyed traveling with us. What will Year Three bring our way? You’ll just have to pack your virtual bags and come along.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled blog…

blog, travel, RV, explore

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!
(Year 1 Yellow and Year 2 Red)

The Silver Lining To Being Trapped In South Florida

Everglades, observation tower

Observation Tower At Shark Valley in Everglades NP

Before we begin if you haven’t read WHY WE DISAPPEARED go back and look at this post. Things will make a lot more sense to you. As we found ourselves cycling back and forth to the Ft. Myers/Naples area for repairs we had to cancel reservations. Finding new places was a challenge because this was peak season. All of the state parks and COE campgrounds were booked. Finally we were able to get a site at Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve for 10 days, exactly the length of time we needed until our last repair. As it turned out this stop would become one of our favorite places. To think we almost had passed it by.  A silver lining to an otherwise terrible time.

Midway Campground is located on the Tamiami Trail, US 41, between Miami and  Naples. The sites are set overlooking a small pond and are electric with tank water. The odd thing about it is while there are public restrooms there are no showers. To make our water last we used portable jugs for everyday supply, restrooms except at night and “Navy” showers. It worked just fine. The weather in early March was great. Spring was coming and over the period we were there the Cardinal bromeliads hanging on the trees burst into bloom. Big Cypress became a national park site when concerned citizens fought plans to build the world’s largest jet port here in the 1960s. It sits on the western edge of the Everglades.

birds, heron

Handsome Blue Heron

Big Cypress, bromeliad

Cardinal Bromeliad In Bloom











wild orchid, wildflowers

Cow Horn Orchid Closeup














alligator, swamp, photography

Aluminum Alligator

If we thought we saw birds at Flamingo CG, that was only a prelude to Big Cypress and two other Everglades areas; Shark Valley and Ten Thousand Islands. Birds, bromeliads, orchids, alligators, manatees, flying fish and cypress swamps made this a photographers dream. The two parks have joined together to promote the “Get Outdoors” program. They have the Tamiami Triathalon. This is not a race but a series of three activities you do at your own schedule. To get credit for each segment you check in at the appropriate Visitor Center before and after and get them to sign off on your participation form. The Tamiami Triathalon consists of a 15 mile bike ride at Shark Valley, a 6 mile kayak paddle at Ten Thousand Islands and a 5 mile hike on the Florida Trail from Big Cypress. We did it! Not bad for two mid-sixties folks, huh?

egret, swamp

Looks Like A Painting

Shark Valley, biking

Steve On The Shark Valley Trail

limpkin, snail, birds, nature

Limpkin With Apple Snail

We took the tram tour at Shark Valley first and learned a lot. A few days later we biked the trail while decked out with cameras, camel backs and tripods tied to our bike frames. We saw a Limpkin eating an Apple Snail, Roseate Spoonbills, egrets, anhingas, many types of heron and baby gators.

Everglades, Shark Valley, tram,

Shark Valley Tram Tour

birds, Florida Birding Trail

Roseate Spoonbill And Woodstork

birds, photography

Little Blue Heron

anhinga, shorebirds

Anhinga Chicks Almost Ready To Fledge













baby alligators


The next day we took a Ranger led swamp walk at Big Cypress and were treated to a gorgeous wild, Cow Horn orchid in bloom. This was a very special treat as these orchids only bloom this profusely every three or so years. They have become increasingly rare due to poaching. The water came to Steve’s knees but it was thigh high on Chari. Our whole group was well over 55. No rocking chairs for these Baby Boomers.

hiking, swamp, Big Cypress

NPS Ranger Leading A Swamp Walk

Big Cypress, swamp, hike

Sloshing Through The Swamp


Steve On Swamp Hike

Steve On Swamp Hike

We did more than the required paddle trip by going on a Ranger led paddle trip from Ten Thousand Islands. Just beautiful! You felt as if you were on a Caribbean vacation. Combine that with stopping to buy fresh from the boat seafood and you have a perfect day.

One evening we located the roosting spot for several thousand birds. Most of them were ibis with a few egrets and vultures. They flew in by groups of 30-50 for almost an hour. At first the squawking was deafening. As evening settled into night, the noise began to lessen. By nightfall it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. If you think this was some secret place, you’re wrong. It was right along the main highway. Cars rushing by not knowing what they were missing. A real National Geographic moment.

ibis, bird roost, Big Cypress

Flying Home For The Night

Closeup of Ibis Roost

Closeup of Ibis Roost

It was just the stop to chase our worries away… until…

While we were in Naples getting the truck repaired a storm developed with high winds. When we got back our screen house was damaged beyond repair. The awning had withstood the wind. The next day shortly after breakfast Steve was outside dismantling the screen house when I heard “Come here and help” in an I need you NOW tone. Wind had come up again and this time forced the arm of the awning out of the track! With difficulty we got it back in place. However we were afraid it might pop loose while traveling so we secured it with a rope.

The planned repair was done in Ft. Myers. Rather than wait for yet more parts we made the decision to go to Plan B and head “home” to North Carolina for the awning repair.

So long, Florida!! We’ll be back but not for quite a while.

A River Of Grass – Everglades National Park

Everglades, national park

A Prairie On Water

sunset, clouds

Everglades Sunset

After all of our problems in Key West, it was wonderful to pull into a wide open, drive through electric site at Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park. Flamingo CG is located at the southernmost area of the Everglades (about 35 miles from the entrance near Florida City) on Florida Bay. Most of the sites are unserviced and available on a first come – first served basis.  Electric sites (tank water) must be reserved on Recreation.gov. Even in late January which is high season, there were plenty of unserviced sites available. Don’t let the statement that only cold water showers are available deter you. While our loop had only cold showers we learned after two days that solar powered hot water showers were available in Loop A just a quick walk or bike ride away. Plan ahead when you come here and have a full tank of gas and all of your groceries. It’s a long way back out although we drove the road many times. However watch your speed on this long drive as rangers patrol and are quick to pull you over (voice of experience.)

Flowering Tree In Everglades NP

Flowering Tree In Everglades NP

Neither of us had been to the Everglades before and didn’t know what to expect. I was so apprehensive about another bout with biting bugs, snakes and other swamp creatures that I’d made overlapping reservations in case we needed to get out.  Nothing could have prepared us for how beautiful this area is. We absolutely loved it! So much so that we cancelled our other reservations and extended our stay from 7 days to 11 days. That meant moving from the electric site to an unserviced one but with our generators it was no problem. We already had mosquito hats. When we saw mosquito net jackets for sale at the marina store we bought them, just in case. Winter is definitely the time to go to avoid the bug problem. We heard that some evenings at the amphitheater were bad for bugs but the nights we went it was breezy and no problem at all.

mangrove tree

Mangroves Along Florida Bay

There are many free Ranger led activities and talks so be sure to pick up a schedule at the Flamingo Visitor Center. We were lucky enough to start our stay off with a talk about manatees. Even though they are nicknamed sea cows their closest relative is the elephant. We joined a 5 hour bird walk during which we saw 41 different species and thanks to a huge flock of coots, an estimated 5,200 birds. We started at the Anhinga Trail. If you do nothing else, do visit this boardwalk trail along Taylor Slough. Take care and follow the directions to vulture-proof your vehicle and cover it with a free tarp. The black vultures in this area attack the rubber around windshields and have been known to pull mirrors off cars. We saw herons, a bittern, a phoebe, purple gallinule, anhinga, wood storks, alligators, a crocodile, spider lilies and even a glimpse of a white crowned pigeon.

kayaking, paddling, Nine Mile Pond

Paddling With A Ranger On Nine Mile Pond

vultures, Everglades

Take Time To Tarp

vulture, Everglades

Vulture Visiting An Unprotected Car

birds, Florida, Everglades, Anhinga Trail

Purple Gallinule “Walking” On Water












ducks, photography

Three Mottled Ducks

birds, Anhinga Trail

Night Heron









Wood Stork

Wood Stork






cormorant, breeding plummage

Cormorant With Breeding Season Blue Eye








bird watching, Everglades, bittern

Spotting A Bittern On The Anhinga Trail










Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Looking For Dinner


















Blue Heron Sporting Breeding Plumage

The Flamingo area is all about water. If you don’t have a boat or kayak/canoe they can be rented at the marina. We did paddle trips on Coot Bay, Florida Bay and Nine Mile Pond. Our first time on Nine Mile Pond was with a Ranger. Later in the week we went with some new RV friends, Donna and Jack from Buffalo, NY. There is a marked water trail through mangrove thickets and marsh areas. On trip #1 I was desperate for a bathroom break as I landed when someone called from shore “I don’t think you want to get out there.” My boat was about 4′ from a large gator tail! I said “thanks” and found another spot. When I returned after driving 5 miles to the nearest toilet, Steve was sitting on a picnic table. We put the boats up and headed home. The next day he said “Did you pick up my camera yesterday?” It was nowhere to be found. PANIC! We checked Lost and Found. No camera. We went back to the pond. No camera. We asked a few people if they’d seen it. NO CAMERA. Then we spotted an outfitter’s van. We asked him. YES! He had picked it up and taken it to his office until he had time to turn it in at the Visitors Center. So we followed him back and retrieved not only Steve’s camera but our paddles and our life jackets. How do you spell relief???? With all the bad news in the world it is really nice to know that good, honest people are not an extinct species. We certainly keep our guardian angel busy!

On one of our trips out of the park we stopped at a local market called Robert Is Here. As the story goes, when Robert (owner) was about five years old he set up a stand on the street corner to sell some veggies from his family’s garden. Cars came and went but no one stopped. He was too small to be easily seen. The next day his Dad made a sign and placed it above the stand, ROBERT IS HERE with an arrow pointing down. Robert sold all the veggies that day. The name stuck and the stand has been a busy place ever since. You can get huge milk shakes in many flavors (we had key lime), buy tropical fruits and fresh veggies or shop for gourmet items.

While kayaking on Florida Bay, Steve took some great pictures of a pelican colony and shorebirds. We also took a short boardwalk hike through Mahogany Hammock where we found some interesting lichen and wood patterns we’ve turned into orbs. We’ll end now with our favorite photo of the whole trip. A too cute for words tree frog.

white, brownpelicans and cormorants copy

White And Brown Pelicans With Cormorants

pelican, photography

Pelican Mom With Chick

osprey, Florida Bay

Osprey In Flight Over Florida Bay










Palmetto Palm

Palmetto Palm Fan

Mahogany Hammock Boardwalk

Mahogany Hammock Boardwalk
















Orb Of Everglades Lichen

Orb Of Everglades Lichen


Orb Of Decayed Wood

Orb Of Decayed Wood

tree frog

Too Cute For Words