An Interesting Mix In Year Six

Wow! Can we really be coming to the end of our sixth year on the road? We don’t feel we’ve even scratched the surface of things to do and see!

From May 2017-May 2018 we covered many miles as you can see in our route map below. We almost made a spoon shape route. We went from the Rockies to the Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes while juggling health and RV repair issues. Challenges… yes. Adventure galore! Drop dead gorgeous scenery… you bet! Good eats … mmmmm.

We are starting a new composite map for years 6-10 as continuing to layer our routes would make it unreadable. However just for fun we’ll post a composite so you can see what 180,000 miles looks like.

Join us for Year Seven as we explore summer in northern Minnesota, head back to Indiana for (we hope) our last major repairs and on to a glorious winter in Arizona. See you on the road!


Our 6th Year On The Road


Composite Of Our First Six Years

A Winter On The Crystal Coast

Oceana Pier On Atlantic Beach, NC

Winter On The Outer Banks

Along The Crystal Coast

We arrived at Cape Lookout National Seashore in early November 2017. This would be our home for almost 5 months while we volunteered as Visitor Center docents for the National Park Service. The main Visitor Center is located on Harkers Island, North Carolina and the National Seashore  protects the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks: North and South Core Banks and Shakleford Banks. The  iconic landmark for the Cape Lookout is its black and white diamond painted lighthouse. The seashore is also well known as a shellers haven and for the wild horses that live on Shackleford Banks. This part of the North Carolina coast is called the Crystal Coast because of the beautiful beaches, ocean access and numerous bays and rivers. East of the town of Beaufort to Cedar Island (where you catch the state ferry to Ocracoke Island) is referred to as “Down East” with a unique culture and way of speaking due to being isolated well into the 20th century. We don’t have space enough to detail all that we did here but we hope there is enough so you’ll come visit yourself.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse And Assistant Keepers Quarters

A lot of people ask “Why do you want to go to the beach in the winter?” Our reply is because everyone else doesn’t! The pristine beaches you can walk for miles and rarely see anyone else, after a storm the shells are washed up and ready for the taking and in town you can walk in to a restaurant or find free parking without the hassle. One other reason: Steve hates heat and humidity so he’d never go in the summer! I lived in North Carolina for 20 years and had gone to the northern Outer Banks but never to this area. I couldn’t believe what I’d missed!

CALO Visitor Center In Beaufort


Oil Shed And Summer Kitchen Near Lighthouse










When we started work as volunteers both the Harkers Island and Beaufort Visitor Centers were open so we had days at both. The Beaufort VC is located in the old post office building with some city offices. The building was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project in 1937 during the Great Depression. In the lobby are four murals painted by Russian born artist Simca Simikovich representing life and history of this sea oriented area. One shows range markers used to guide ships into Beaufort harbor. Because of the shifting shoals and sandbars Cape Lookout and the Outer Banks were called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Mailboat Mural

Another mural shows a mailboat headed for Cape Lookout lighthouse. Due to rivers, bays and marshes the Down East area had no roads or bridges until the 1940s so all transportation and commerce came and went by boat. The mailboat was the link between the isolated communities and town.

Live Decoy Geese Mural

A third mural shows geese that were raised from eggs by the Ca’e Bankers of Portsmouth Village on North Core Banks. They imprinted on the villagers and stayed. The birds were used as live decoys to bring in migrating wild geese for hunters.

Shackleford Ponies Mural

Of course there is one of the Shackleford ponies. At an average of 44-48″ at the withers they are between pony and horse so both terms are used. DNA tests link these horses to Spanish horses but no one knows just how they got here.

The last mural depicts the famous wreck of the Chrissie Wright. It is placed over a doorway. When this ship foundered on the shoals  off Shackleford Island during a winter storm all but one of the crew froze to death while islanders watched helplessly from shore. This tragedy led to the establishment of a lifesaving station on Cape Lookout two years later. Even today locals will refer to a cold stormy day as a “Chrissie Wright Day”.

Chrissie Wright Mural

The town of Beaufort was the third town established in North Carolina and dates to 1713. History abounds all through the area and we took full advantage of learning as much as we could from tours, special events and lectures. 2018 is the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s capture and the sinking of his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, nearby. One of the most interesting locations was the Ann Street Cemetery. If you love old cemeteries this is one you need to see. The self guided tour brochure details many stories from the unmarked graves of settlers killed in the Tuscaroran War in the early 1700s to the little girl buried in a cask of rum when she died at sea to area privateer turned statesman Ottway Burns.

Chari At The Veterans Day Parade

Shortly after we arrived Cape Lookout was represented in the Morehead City Veterans Day parade. So we rode in one of the NPS boats and showered the kids with candy. We learned that because of the area being home to several military bases this parade is one of the longest in the country. We also did the Down East Christmas parade and served as Santa’s sleigh!

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice?

Another holiday event was the Beaufort Candlelight Home Tour through private homes and buildings in the historic district. The Beaufort office was open that night. We worked a few hours and also had time to tour. On Christmas Eve we attended services at the Ann Street Methodist Church built in the 1750s and still in use.


Christmas On Harkers Island



Crab Trap Christmas Tree At Core Sound Museum

We enjoyed touring Harkers Island to see the holiday lights. Several of the homes displayed the area’s symbolic anchor outlined in lights. We decorated the interior of our Visitor Center and strung lights on the anchor from the Olive Thurlow, a shipwreck near cape Lookout, that greets visitors to the Harkers Island location. The Cape Lookout lighthouse is normally open for climbing mid May to mid September. So we were very excited when a New Years Day climb was scheduled and we were to be working. In preparation, we learned the history of the lighthouse, interpretive points and climbed it – all 207 steps! The view is fantastic! Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the climb was cancelled.

Hackers Island Visitors Center


View From The Top Of The Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For Thanksgiving we took a harbor cruise aboard The Crystal Lady around Beaufort Harbor and had Thanksgiving dinner. A great way to spend the holiday when you are in a new area. A special holiday celebration was our trip to New Bern, NC to take the city tram tour and visit Tryon Palace. We highly recommend the tram tour. Our guide was excellent and gave us insight into this historical city. It is said that houses have moved more in this city than anywhere else as the city expanded and developed. As we observed several times when the guide would say “This house used to be over there.”  One house has been moved 5 times! The original Tryon Palace burned down and the current structure is a replica built from the original plans. New Bern was the capitol of the colony of North Carolina and Tryon Palace served as the Governor’s palace. Each December for two weekends they hold a candlelight tour of the palace with living history skits done in several locations. Outside on the grounds are tents with period entertainment and in front of the palace black Americans perform the traditional song and dance of enslaved people called Jonkonnu.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Cruise






















Tryon Palace Living History Dancers











Jonkonnu Singer




Jonkonnu Dancers







Performer Signora Bella Does A Comedy Juggling Routine

During the winter the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort holds monthly lectures on Wednesdays. Since we were off the lectures became a highlight of our time here. We attended four lectures on topics from Native people of the area and the Tuscaroran War, whaling on Shackleford Island, the story behind the sperm whale skeleton and heart on display at the museum and Churchill’s Pirates (a British fleet sent to the USA to patrol the Outer Banks against German U-boats). There are three NC Maritime Museums but the Beaufort location is the largest. It houses displays and relics from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, about the Civil Air Patrol in WWII, the Menhaden fishing industry and sea chanteys, and boating/recreation in the area.  After the lecture about the sperm whale Steve and I got to hold the plastinated heart which weighed in at 55 lbs. This museum is a must see if you visit.

That’s A Whale Of A Heart!

Speaking of must see brings us to another wonderful museum, the Core Sound Waterfowl and Culture Museum. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and folkways of the Down East communities. The Core Sound is the body of water between the mainland and the Outer Banks. Each November the CSM and the Decoy Carvers Guild sponsor the Core Sound Decoy Festival. Thousands of folks attend. We worked one day at a NPS table with a kids fishing activity and one day in the VC but we did have time to see the festival for a few hours. I never realized there were so many types of decoys! Decoy carving is still active and the best carvers are true artists. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to telling the story of the independent and hardworking people who lived on the islands and mainland Down East communities. They were a self reliant, closely knit and religious people whose way of life is but a memory. Don’t miss this either.

Jellyfish Dancing

The Aquarium Dive Show












Other great places to visit are the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knolls Shores and Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon has a wonderful beach area and provided a place for us to go when the ferries weren’t running. The Fort itself has a lengthy history from the mid 1800s thru WWII. Rooms are set up with interactive audio and displays of the various historical periods. The Pine Knolls Shores Aquarium features fish and reptiles of the NC coast. It is one of three NC aquariums. Both Fort Macon and the Aquarium have extensive programing so be sure to check the website before your visit.

Fort Macon

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the great restaurants in the area. Seafood lovers rejoice! Not only in the restaurants but we found fish markets galore. We ate our fill and then some of red and black drum, sea trout, shrimp, scallops and oysters. However once in a while we took a break and pigged out at Grumpy’s in Morehead City. Known for the in house cured corned beef, we highly recommend the corned beef hash and reuben sandwiches. Another seafood break spot was the Seaside restaurant at the Citgo station on Harkers Island for the best fried chicken. We toured areas up to two hours away. When we went to Kinston, NC to see a Civil War era ironclad we also dined at The Farmer and The Chef of Food Network fame. A higher class restaurant than we normally frequent, it was a superb meal. Another trip took us south to see Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. They were renovating the Visitor Center and we had postponed the trip hoping it would reopen before we left. That didn’t happen but we did walk the trail and read interpretive signs. That gave us an appetite (doesn’t everything?). We looked on the GPS and picked a spot called Something Fishy just based on its name. When we walked in we saw Guy Fieri’s poster on the wall. This was a DDD spot he’d been too just 3 weeks prior. The evening I am writing this blog we saw the episode including Something Fishy. Let’s just say we never had a bad meal!

Dinner At The Farmer And The Chef

Moore’s Creek National Battlefield

January and February are the slow months for the national seashore and we worked 2-3 days a week. This, according to locals, was the coldest winter they had had in 30 years. We had not one but two snowstorms albeit not more than four inches of snow. However for this area that was a lot and we got “snow days” off from work. There were several days when winds would be too high and the ferries to the islands wouldn’t run. On the days they did run we took advantage and enjoyed combing the beach without crowds. A home school group came and the equine biologist did her Horse Sense tour for them to Shackleford Island. Did we want to go along and take photos for the park? How fast do you think we said yes? Dr. Sue is so informative and gave a great tour. This tour is given monthly in the summer and fall. We highly recommend it. You need to sign up for it as space is limited. During our workdays Steve and I enjoyed doing research and read extensively. We were able to develop some outlines for Shade Shelter talks to be given by staff during the summer. Topics we learned about were the history of lighthouses, types of sailing ships, WWII along the Outer Banks, the Menhaden fisheries, the Winter of 1918 when Core Sound froze over and stories of Down East plus a great book called The Paper Canoe.

The Welcoming Committee

Banker Horse

Snow At The Seashore

That’s Not Sand!

When we arrived five months seemed a long time but oh, it went so quickly. We had a wonderful time and best of all the staff said we were welcome back anytime. OK, twist our arms! We take with us wonderful memories! So long Cape Lookout! So long Crystal Coast!

Worth Getting up Early To See

Steve At The Top Of Cape Lookout Lighthouse

South Core Banks Pier










Leave Only Footprints


A Cajun Christmas In New Orleans

NOLA Panorama

NOLA Panorama

We’ve been wanting to spend time time in New Orleans ever since we hit the road. This year (2016) we finally got here. Another sticker for the RV map. That only leaves 3 states in the lower 48 we haven’t camped in West VA, Ohio and Connecticut). We chose Bayou Segnette SP on what is referred to as the westbank area. Good choice as it has large sites, free wifi, free laundry and is only a 10 minute drive to the Algiers Point ferry to downtown New Orleans. The parking for all day was $5 and senior rate on the ferry is $1 each way. If you are lucky you might even get serenaded by the calliope from the Steamboat Natchez.

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

We spent the first day with friend and fellow volunteer from Red Rock Lakes, Marilyn, touring two of the six sites that are part of Jean Lafitte NHP. The first was Chalmette Battlefield (site of the 1814 Battle of New Orleans) and the other in Thibodaux, LA at the Acadian Culture Center. We arrived in Thibodaux just in time for a Ranger led walking tour of town covering history and architecture of the area. If you enjoy discovering the small towns and hidden gems of our country, don’t miss this walk. We saw original Acadian homes, Victorian homes, Art & Craft homes, Beau Arts buildings and even one of only two Second French Empire homes in Louisiana. We also learned about the Louisiana seal which depicts a pelican with 3 chicks ripping her own flesh to feed them. This was created based upon what the first governor thinks he saw. Truth, per the Ranger, is that pelicans never have more than two chicks and usually only one survives, no bird would rip itself to feed young and that until the late 20th century the seal also showed blood droplets. The Center hosts free events such as a Cajun music night and a local dialect of French discussion group to preserve the language. At one time it was illegal to speak the Acadian language. We ended the day with a meal at Fremin’s, once a pharmacy cum restaurant. Oh, those smoked oysters and gumbo!

Seal Of Louisiana

Seal Of Louisiana

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Malus-Beauregard House

Malus-Beauregard House










Victorian Home In Thibodeaux

Victorian Home In Thibodaux

Second Empire French Home

Second Empire French Home










Thibodeaux Cemetery

Thibodaux Cemetery

Day two was a walking marathon through the French Quarter. We started at the Old Mint, the only mint to have coined currency for both the US and the Confederacy. Currently it is also being used as the Visitor Center for the New Orleans Jazz NHP. Then we walked and photographed ourselves silly on the fabulous architecture and seasonal decorations. We returned to the Jazz park for a Ranger led walk on music and cuisine. If America is the melting pot of the world then surely New Orleans is the epicenter. We knew about the Spanish, the French, the Acadians, the Caribbean influence but Canary Island Islenos … we had no idea. We were still able to catch half of the free jazz concert by the NPS Arrowhead band too. Starving we stopped for a muffuletta and jambalaya.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

The French Market

The French Market

Shabby Chic

Shabby Chic

The Cornstalk Hotel

The Cornstalk Hotel

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony









Landmark Eatery

OMG! The Food!

OMG! The Food!








New Orleans Architecture

New Orleans Architecture

French Quarter Scene

French Quarter Scene

All That Jazz!

All That Jazz!


New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

Being in a vibrant city at holiday time is special. We loved the decorations, the lights at The Oaks and most of all the Cajun custom of guiding Papa Noel with bonfires along the levees. Steve has put together a video of these events and our visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!





A Day In The Life Of A Volunteer At San Juan Island National Historical Park

off to work 1Many of you know that Steve and I have spent summer 2015 working with the National Park Service as volunteers on San Juan Island in Washington. There are two locations where volunteers work: American Camp and English Camp. We are assigned at English Camp. Our duties run from simple greetings to more detailed explanations of the park’s history, selling bookstore items, working with children on the Junior Ranger program and performing in the weekly Living History. As we became more knowledgeable about the Pig War, Steve developed an in depth talk for interested visitors. To his own surprise, he has found he enjoys public speaking. Chari has found, to her surprise, that she enjoys working with children far more than she would ever have imagined. Volunteers give their time but get so much back in return.

We took our small video camera down to the English Camp Visitor Center with the intention of filming Steve giving his presentation to a small group for our own use. As luck would have it, that day a group of 20 high school students from OMSI camp (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) were visiting and interested in hearing his talk. Then another ten or so visitors came in who also wanted to attend. We set up the camera and Steve talked about one of our country’s lesser known conflicts. Just this past weekend Steve had given his talk to a gentleman who said he wished his grandson could have heard the talk. His grandson is a real history buff and they have visited many Civil War Era battlefields together. Steve offered to e-mail him this video but alas it was too many gigabytes. So we are posting this for him and hope some of our other followers enjoy hearing it too.

The blockhouse At English Camp

The blockhouse At English Camp

A quick note to correct something in the talk. Since filming this we realized we had a name wrong. To set things straight, when Steve talks about one person having kept their cool in thirteen years as Admiral Baynes, it should be Captain Hornsby of the Royal Navy. The learning curve goes on… Also after the introduction which was recorded with a microphone later you may need to turn up the volume on your computer.

And now… Here’s Steve……………..

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.

Gorge-eous, Just Gorge-eous!!

Lechworth blog header post size

We’ve been following the Fall season color for about a month. Our next stop was to be THE Fall photo spot but… Mother Nature seemed a bit ahead of us. Many of the trees were quite bare but many were still dressed in glorious reds, yellows and oranges. Our stop would be at Lechworth State Park along the Genessee River Gorge. Often referred to as the Grand Canyon Of The East, the gorge drops almost 600 feet to the riverbed below. Last year about this time we were at The Grand Canyon Of The South (see our post in October 2012 archives).

The Highland camping area at Lechworth has both serviced (30 amp, tank water) and unserviced sites. Some loops allow pets and some do not so be sure to specify that when you make reservations. We’d picked a site close to a water fill point in the 700 loop. After Steve backed in we realized the site was extremely unlevel side to side. We tried two boards, then three, then four. At last with five boards under the tires on the right we were even. This was the most leveling we’ve ever had to do. Even using the stool at the end of the steps it was a steep climb into the trailer and I felt I should be singing “Climb Every Mountain”. For non-campers there are cabins and a lovely hotel in the park. The park staff was great and not only accepted our mail at the Visitors Center but brought it up the nine miles to the camp office.

Who Needs A Stairmaster?

Who Needs A Stairmaster?

Weather however was not as cooperative the first few days. Our first photos of the gorge were blah and very contrasty. Thanks to HDR technology we were able to counteract the contrast problem to more accurately show what our eyes enjoyed. We’d almost finished the scenic drive when the sun appeared so back we went to redo some of the more photogenic spots. Here’s a brief tour.

Genessee River Gorge, Grand Canyon of the East

Genessee River Gorge

New York State, Fall

Fall In Western New York State

fall foliage

Color Me Beautiful!

Genessee River Gorge

Reflections In The Gorge

More Color And Reflections

More Color And Reflections

Down The Lazy River

Down The Lazy River

Lechworth State Park

Scene At Letchworth State Park

HDR Vintage Look

Pretty Enough For A Postcard

Fall foliage

A Single Red Tree On The Hillside

What A Showoff!

What A Showoff!

A few days later we drove over to Watkins Glen State Park. Steve had been there as a child and even though I grew up in New York State, I’d never been to the Finger Lakes area. Watkins Glen was a grist mill area that became a privately operated tourist attraction in July 4, 1863. I thought it was interesting that the day before people were attending the opening and strolling along Watkins Glen, the battle of Gettysburg was happening only a state away. Then in the early 1900s Watkins Glen became the first New York State Park in the Finger Lakes area. Dogs aren’t allowed on the Rim Trail so we gave Opal a walk on the South Trail and left her in the truck while we did part of the popular Rim Trail. Here you can cross a suspension bridge and go down into the gorge, walk behind a waterfall and get great photos. The path tends to stay quite wet and muddy. Even though there are numerous signs to wear “appropriate” footwear there were folks in flip flops, high heels and stylish boots. Watching them try to get through puddles without getting their feet wet was entertaining. Glad we had on our hiking boots and could just plod on ahead. Here’s another quick tour.

Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen From The Suspension Bridge

New York State Parks

Walk Behind A Waterfall

The Finger Lakes

The Rim Trail


Making A Splash At Watkins Glen

western New York

Waterfall On The Rim Trail


Watkins Glen Curves

Arlington National Cemetery



March 28 was a cool and blustery day, and we decided to visit Arlington National Cemetery.  Again, we parked the truck at the Vienna Metro Station and took the train.  As Chari has mentioned, it’s a clean, efficient system, and really the only way to get around in the D.C. area.

We’ve visited a lot of cemeteries since we’ve been on the road, and we love wandering and looking at the old tombstones and markers, some centuries old, and wondering about the lives of the people interred there.  Sometimes we’ve visited military cemeteries, usually at the site of a National Battlefield, like Little Bighorn or Gettysburg.  It’s different in these places.  The battlefield graves are not of people who lived out their natural lives, but are of men and women whose lives were cruelly interrupted by the horrors of war and who never returned to the arms of their families and friends.  Other graves in these military cemeteries are of veterans of all American wars who survived their wartime experiences and were able to return to a normal life.

But this is different.  This is Arlington.  This place is special.  You feel it as you enter the gates, along with thousands of other people, both citizens of the United States and citizens of the world, who come to pay their respects.  This is not just another military cemetery, although in some respects, it is just that.  Veterans of all of our armed conflicts are eligible for burial here, and as at the others, you feel a profound sense of respect for those who lie in the thousands of graves.  But this is Arlington.  This place is special.  This is where we honor our greatest heros.  Arlington.


The first thing you see as you enter and look to the top of the hill is Arlington House, with the American Flag flying at half-staff.  Arlington house was built for George Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson of our first President and only grandson of his wife, Martha Custis Washington.  Custis’ father, John Parke Custis, bought the 1100 acre property in 1778, and after the death of his grandmother, Martha in 1802, decided to build his home there and name it Mount Washington.  Family members convinced him to call it Arlington House, after their ancestral home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  An English architect, George Hadfield, who also participated in the design of the U.S. Capitol, designed the house.  Custis’ only surviving daughter, Mary, married her distant cousin Robert E. Lee, and in 1857 inherited the home.

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln offered command of the Federal Army to Lee, who declined and resigned to join the Confederate Army.  He reported to Richmond, and almost immediately wrote Mary advising her for her safety to leave her home due to its proximity to Washington.  Because of its high ground position overlooking the city, within days of her leaving it was occupied by Union troops.

View of Washington DC from Arlington House

View of Washington DC from Arlington House

General Irvin McDowel used the house as headquarters for his Army of Northeastern Virginia, and in 1864, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, a Georgian who had served under Lee in the days before the war, believing Lee had made a treasonous decision in fighting against the Union, had Mrs. Lee’s prized rose garden dug up to bury twenty-six Union soldiers.

After the end of the Civil War, Robert and Mary Lee chose not to contest the Federal Government’s decision to confiscate the property during the war for “non-payment of taxes.”  But in 1870, when Robert E. Lee died, his oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, who would have inherited the estate, sued to regain the property.  It wasn’t until 1882 when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.  In 1883, in a signing ceremony attended by the son of Robert E. Lee and the son of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln (then Secretary of War) the estate was sold back to the Federal Government for $150,000, about three and a half million in today’s dollars.

So much for the history of the estate.  Now on to the cemetery itself.



We took the bus tour through the cemetery.  The driver/tour guide spoke of various monuments and facts throughout the tour, but we only made three scheduled stops, at the John F. Kennedy grave, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and finally at Arlington House.  We were free to wander on our own at each stop, and then pick up another bus to continue the tour.  Since, as I mentioned, it was a chilly and blustery day, we didn’t spend a lot of time on our own, but someday we’d love to go back and spend the entire day wandering and exploring the cemetery.





Today’s politicians, of both parties, who profess to revere Kennedy, would do well to remember these words instead of pandering to those looking for a handout.

From the walkway not far from Kennedy’s grave, I saw the back of a stone for Michael A. Musmanno, whom I had never heard of, but I was intrigued by reading that he was a presiding judge at the International War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg.  I looked him up on-line afterward, and found he led a very interesting life.  He served in the Navy in both World Wars, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral.  In civilian life after World War II he served as a justice in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania until his passing in 1968.  He must have been quite a controversial character, as in his tenure, he himself wrote more dissenting opinions then in the previous fifty years of the court combined!  I only saw the back of his stone, but was able to find a photo of the front on-line.



The quote on the front of the stone reads:

“There is an eternal justice and an eternal order, there is a wise, merciful and omnipotent God. My friends, have no fear of the night or death. It is the forerunner of dawn, a glowing resplendent dawn, whose iridescent rays will write across the pink sky in unmistakable language – man does live again.’ 

The final words of Michael A. Musmanno in his debate with Clarence Darrow, 1932.”

I found another stone quite interesting.  Again, from my position I was only able to see the back, but it indicated that the person buried there was a veteran of the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II.  A long military career indeed!  There was a number on the back of the stone, so I did a bit of research on-line and found his name was Frank Fletcher, and not only did he serve in those three wars, he was a Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in the Mexican Campaign in 1914.  He was Task Force Commander at the Battle of Coral Sea in World War II, the first battle in history fought between Aircraft Carrier groups, and the first battle where opposing forces were out of sight of each other.  Two destroyers bore the Fletcher name.  The first, DD-445 was named for his uncle, the second, DD-992 was named for him.

This is all I saw.  Note the number at the top of the stone.

This is all I saw. Note the number at the top of the stone.

I found this picture while researching the number.

I found this picture while researching the number.

For a very interesting internet article about Admiral Fletcher, see:

There is a memorial to the Battleship Maine, which exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898 and was a cause of the Spanish American War.  Was it truly sabotage, as the American press professed?  Or was the cause of the explosion a fire in a coal bunker?  The controversy goes on to this day.  Admiral Fletcher, by the way, at one point had served on the Maine.  The actual mast of the Maine is part of the memorial, as well as the names of the 261 fatalities carved into the monument.  I found it interesting while looking at the names of the marines and sailors that several of the sailors had rates which no longer exist.  Like John T. Adams “Coal Passer” (I envision a bare chested, sweaty man covered in black coal dust with a large flat shovel piling coal into a boiler), Charles Anderson “Landsman”, and Bernhard Anglund “Blacksmith”.  And how times have changed from when Orientals served in the American Navy as cooks or servants.  Suki Chingi “Mess Attendant” and Yukichi Katagata “Warrant Officer Cook”.



We saw a memorial to the Challenger Astronauts.



And a tribute to the Americans who lost their lives in the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran in 1980.



But by far, the most impressive sight at Arlington is the Tomb of the Unknowns.  There are unknowns buried at most battlefield military cemeteries.  In wars up to and including the Civil War, the only way to identify a dead soldier was if someone who knew the man could identify the body.  Or if he had some personal belongings such as a letter or a bible on his person.  By World War I most soldiers were wearing some sort of identification, but oftentimes these were lost and the bodies remained unidentified.  After “The Great War”, it was decided to create a monument to The Unknown Soldier, thus honoring every soldier killed in battle whose identity was forever lost.  The soldier chosen would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The process of choosing a particular person to be so honored was quite complex.  The custom was followed for World War II and Korea, and again for the conflict in Vietnam, although by Vietnam, means of identification were much improved, and the remains selected were eventually identified and returned to his family.  For an extremely interesting internet article about the selection process, please see:

The Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater

The Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater, location of the Tomb of the Unknowns





Inside the Amphitheater is a small museum, housing artifacts relating to the Unknown Soldier Tomb.  Honors from countries all over the world are on exhibit.  One I found very interesting was a letter from the King of England in 1921 thanking the American people for bestowing on the British Unknown Soldier from World War I the Congressional Medal of Honor, and so honoring ours with the Victoria Cross.  The flags that draped the caskets of each of our soldiers, from WWI to Vietnam are on display, along with the Medals of Honor issued to them.





Quite by accident, while visiting the rest room, we happened by a soldier explaining to a family including a young boy, probably about twelve years old, about the proper procedure for placing a wreath at the tomb.  The lad was extremely attentive, and I found out later he was being instructed because he was going to place a wreath there.

We were privileged to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and it was very moving.  Although there was a crowd of a couple of hundred people watching, including many children, there was dead silence.  You could hear a pin drop.  The following video lasts for about six or seven minutes.  It’s a bit shaky in places, I was holding my small pocket camera, but turn on your volume and note the silence and respect of the spectators.

And please, as an American, please make the effort to visit Arlington.