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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

muffuleta-sign

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!

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Brand A Wet Calf

ranch, cattle

Waiting For The Cattle

Shortly after starting work at Flaming Gorge NRA a brochure circulated announcing the 6th annual calf branding exhibition at historic Swett Ranch. Sweet Ranch is located in the Ashley National Forest and is open for both self guided and docent tours. The Swett family homesteaded in the Uinta Basin from 1909-1970. Many of their descendants still live in the Vernal, Utah area. Three generations graze cattle on National Forest land each summer. In order to graze cattle in Ashley NF they must be branded and the brand registered with the state of Utah. The flyer said in case of rain the event would be cancelled as “The cowboys won’t melt but you can’t brand a wet calf.”

roundup, cattle,

Round ‘Em Up

We were working that day but two of the other volunteers who had been here before took a few extra hours so we could attend the branding. Thanks Judy and Fred! The branding took about 2 hours. Teams of two first roped the calf, a third got it on the side and tied the feet and the fourth did the branding. Two women gave injections. If the calf was a bull, he became a steer.  The only part that bothered me was the smell of hair burning and yes, skin too. The smell stayed in my nostrils for a couple of hours. We noted some cows could have cared less when they were separated from their calves while others followed closely and checked their offspring thoroughly upon release.

roping calf, cowboy, branding

Roping The Calf

Teamwork

Teamwork

This Won't Hurt

This Won’t Hurt

Branding Time

Branding Time

cow, calf, ranch

A Concerned Mother

 

Our favorite part was watching the youngsters “help” while dressed in their best western wear. One four year old had a swagger and strut that made us laugh.

The Next Generation

The Next Generation

child, Utah, ranch

Cowboy With Attitude

Another day we hiked the 2.5 miles from Greendale Overlook to Swett Ranch enjoying scenery and wildflowers along the way. Fellow volunteers George and Diane gave us an in depth tour. Oscar Swett built the first one room cabin in 1909. He married Emma and they raised 16 children here. A two room cabin and the ranch home were built to accommodate  their growing family. Oscar farmed and ranched here. He was very thrifty and repurposed many things such as the 1917 Hudson windshield used as a workshop window. Here are a few pictures from the historic homestead.

Three Swett Homes

Three Swett Homes

Horse Barn

Cow Barn

Laundry On The Porch

Laundry On The Porch

 

Out And About Around Fresno

After a much too long break we are back blogging again. Whew! Can you believe we had to go back almost a year to catch up? So here we are in Spring 2015.

campground, California

Eastman Lake from Cordoniz Campground

We moved on up the central valley of California to another Corps of Engineers campground called Codorniz, about an hour northeast of Fresno. It overlooks Eastman Lake. Due to low snowpack the lake levels were down. Once off the interstate we are immediately in another agricultural area and as we approach the campground the road becomes a bit rough. The campground is wonderful and we had reserved one of the full service sites. This put us near Fresno, CA.

While looking online to see what we should check out we found Forestiere Gardens. This goes down as one of the places Chari thought was fun and Steve came along rolling his eyes. It is a California State Landmark and listed on the National register of Historic Places. The Underground gardens and home were the life’s work of an Italian immigrant named Baldassare Forestiere. After arriving in New York he worked his way across to California with the hopes of owning an orange grove. He bought land only to find a layer of hard pan a few feet under the surface prevented him from growing his crop. The scorching summers made him start digging a shelter in the cool earth below. One room became 2…3…a home…a potential hotel…a productive citrus grove and garden…the work of a lifetime. While Baldassare Forestiere died many years ago from complications following hernia surgery (that’s what 50 years of digging gets you) the facility is still managed by his relatives. Access is by tour only. You wind along through corridors of stone and adobe through “rooms” of his house, past citrus trees almost 100 years old and wonder how one man could spend his entire life building it. Definitely one of the more unusual historic homes we’ve visited.

On tour at Forestierie Gardens

On tour at Forestierie Gardens

Forester Gardens, Fresno

Orange Tree Growing In Subterranean Garden

Original Entrance

Original Entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining Room and Climate Information

Dining Room and Climate Information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Niche For Radio

Niche For Radio

 

 

Also in Fresno we stopped at the farm store operated by students at Fresno State. This agricultural college has its own meat processing plant, dairy, vineyard and garden. We bought cheese, sausage, syrup, bread and (of course) ice cream. Well worth a stop.

Much of the rest of our week long stay was spent driving through the countryside enjoying Spring blossoms, stopping at roadside markets and finding interesting historical markers like the one about Grub Gulch. This area along a stream was one of the many gold panning sites of 1849. The name came from its reputation that miners could always find enough gold here to grubstake themselves. In the 1880s a town by that name was established. although it had a store, bars and a hotel the sign claimed it never had a church. The town burned down in 1920.

Scenery Near Grub Gulch

Scenery Near Grub Gulch

Life In Death Valley

Death Valley, landscape

Subtle Colors Of Death Valley

From Lone Pine we headed back east over the Inyo Mountains to visit Death Valley National Park. We’d never heard of this range but after going up, over and down pulling a 35′ trailer we certainly will not forget the ride! We knew the road was challenging and stopped at the Lone Pine Visitors Center to check on road conditions and potential problems. They gave us the green light and said “just go slow on the descent”. Not that you could have done anything else! With 20/20 hindsight we should have had the video camera going to accurately give you the feeling of heading down over miles of switchback roads without guardrails. Go slow they said. You bet. At times we crept around curves at 15 mph or less only to find ourselves immediately reversing direction for another curve. I’ve become very confident in Steve’s ability to handle the DreamChaser but…when I’d look down the unprotected chasm on my side my toes would curl and I’d find my palms getting sweaty. I let out a BIG sigh of relief when we finally reached the bottom!! When watching the video be sure and take notice of the surrounding mountains and picture us there.

A Vast Wasteland

A Vast Wasteland

 

Water In The Desert

Water In The Desert

Our campground would be at Furnace Creek which is mostly dry camping. There are a few full service sites here but they were booked months ago. The only criteria that is a bit difficult to work around is that you must be at your site to run the generator and all generators off by 7PM. In March it isn’t a problem but we sure wouldn’t want to be here much later without access to air conditioning. One evening we were sitting outside when the campground host came by and asked if that was our generator running. I said yes and (looking at my watch) indicated we had 15 minutes to go. No, said the host. You forgot to change your watch. It’s daylight savings time now and you’re 45 minutes beyond the generator curfew. Oops!

Blue-eyed Grass

Blue-eyed Grass

Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus

Death Valley is a huge park with over 3,000,000 acres to explore. We did a lot of hiking to earn enough points for our bumper sticker, roamed through the Harmony Borax Works and Borax Museum, went on wildflower explorations, watched beautiful sunsets and toured Scotty’s Castle. We joined Ranger led tours for a full moon dune walk and to see Death Valley Scotty’s real cabin home. We made scenic drives to Artists Canyon and Titus Canyon. We explored ghost towns in the park such as Rhyolite and one just outside the boundary on BLM land. Our week went all to fast. Not since visiting The Everglades have I begun a park visit questioning just how much I’d enjoy only to find myself loving every minute. There is so much more to explore so here’ where we say “When we come back…”

Borax Wagon

Borax Wagon

Steve (Spielberg) Maier has created a video of our days in Death Valley. It runs about 25 minutes. So run to the bathroom, grab a beer and some popcorn but most of all enjoy one of our national treasures. As usual, please allow the video to fully upload before playing for best results and click the icon at the lower right corner to bring to full screen.

Steve AT Natural Bridge In Death Valley

Steve At Natural Bridge In Death Valley

 

Dunes at sunset 1

Dunes At Sunset

 

Zabriske Point Sunset

Zabriske Point Sunset

A Week In O’Keeffe Country

Sorry for the delay in posting but our Jet Pack we use for internet died and we had to get a new one. On a good note we want to say thanks again to everyone who follows us or has stumbled onto our blog. We have now hit 25,000 views! That was a goal we’d set for 2014. With your help we made it. Where will we be on the total views for 2015? You’ll have to check in and see.

We now start on our way up and down US 50 through Colorado and then turn south into New Mexico. Our last day at Curecanti was a rainy one but high in the mountains it came down as snow covering the peaks. It was magical! The DreamChaser climbed it’s highest point at Monarch Pass, reaching 11,200 feet. The decent was “interesting” as we negotiated a ten mile 7-8% grade.  At one point Steve said “The transmission temperature is getting hot. I’m going to pull over and let it cool down.” That gave us a chance to get out and snap a picture or two. I only had my iPhone which handled the contrasty situation OK but not great. We continued on without incident.

Colorado, US 50, Monarch Pass

The View At Monarch Pass

Before long we reached flatter ground. Soon we found ourselves out of the woods and into the desert. The Chama Wild and Scenic River, Santa Fe National Forest and Carson National Forest along with beautiful rock formations make the northern New Mexico landscape appealing. We arrived at our campground on Abiquiu Lake. This is a Corps of Engineers park and a beautiful place to stay. With our Interagency Pass it was also very inexpensive. In fact for the next two weeks we’d be in Corps parks and our total cost was less than $150. In the summer you have to reserve an electric site way ahead. This time of year there were still vacancies. There is a beautiful view of the Pedernal from the campground. This was Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite mountain. She is quoted as saying “Maybe if I paint it often enough someday God will give it to me.”

Abiquiu Lake, Corps of Engineers campground,

Abiquiu Lake

Pedernal, Georgia O'Keeffe, art, New Mexico

View Of The Pedernal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2008 before Steve came into my life, I’d visited Santa Fe with friends. We’d driven up to Abiquiu to see where Georgia O’Keeffe had lived. We learned you could tour her home through the O’Keeffe Museum but weren’t able to fit it in on that trip. I put it on the “someday” list. This week is “someday”. We choose the regular tour which costs $35 as the curator led tour for that week was already full. We were fortunate to have as our guide a retired fine arts professor who was also a painter. He said he’d been doing tours for only a month but you’d have thought he’d done it for years. He’d certainly done his homework. The tour did talk about her art but centered more on giving you insights into O’Keeffe as a person. Our guide talked about how she’d found the run down building belonging to the Catholic Church and how it took her ten years to convince the Church to sell it, the restoration and design of the home, her relationship with the community and the healthy lifestyle she followed. O’Keeffe lived to be 96. Many of the people who work on the estate today are grandsons and granddaughters of people who worked there when she was alive. Steve and I both loved the story about her relationship with her gardener. O’Keeffe collected rocks from many areas in the southwest and displayed them on her living room window sill. Of course being an artist she had them arranged aesthetically. Without ever speaking about it to each other occasionally the gardener would move a few rocks. O’Keeffe would spot the change and move them back. This went on for years. Neither of them ever acknowledged the game. Unfortunately no photos are allowed on tour. The photos used here are from the O’Keeffe Museum website.

Abiquiu O'Keeffe Home

O’Keeffe Home Living Room Looking Onto Garden

Studio Annex

Studio Annex

Courtyard Of O'Keeffe Home

Courtyard Of O’Keeffe Home

We spent time exploring the Ghost Ranch, a large workshop and conference center now owned by the Presbyterian Church. When O’Keeffe lived there it was a private ranch where she stayed and painted prior to obtaining the Abiquiu house. Today they hold self improvement, art and literature, paleontology and other workshops. They also rent rooms and cabins and have hiking trails and two museums on the property. We took a hike, visited the museums and enjoyed the gorgeous New Mexico fall weather. Toward the front of the property there is a log home. Does it look familiar? This was left on the property after being built for the set of “City Slickers”, the classic Billy Crystal movie. And yes, the sky was really that blue!

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Hiking At Ghost Ranch

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

movie prop, wagon

A Wagon From The Movies

A Tree Grows In New Mexico

A Tree Grows In New Mexico

movie, City Slickers, Billy Crystal

Cabin Used In “City Slickers”

At the suggestion of our campground host we took a drive to Echo Amphitheater in Carson National Forest and then to a monastery along Forest Road 151 in the Santa Fe National Forest. In other parts of the country these would be prominent sites. Here they compete with so many other beautiful sites that they are hidden gems. Echo Amphitheater true to its name creates a voice Echo, echo echo… The drive out FR 151 was amazing as we passed rock formations that looked like hobbit houses, the Chama River and at the end of the road the beautiful  Christ In The Desert Monastery of the Benedictine order that just celebrated fifty years in this location. Georgia O’Keeffee came here often to paint. The monastery was designed by renowned architect and woodworker George Nakashima. When I lived in the Washington, DC area I took a day trip with the Smithsonian to Nakashima’s home and workshop in Pennsylvania. The monastery uses solar power as the only source of electricity. The monastery runs the only monastic brewery in the US, the Abbey Brewing Company. In 2006 a five part television series, The Monastery, was made for TLC about five laymen living and following the monastic life for forty days. It is a place of total peace and serenity. While we were there no services were being offered but if you are lucky you might hear the monks performing Gregorian chants. Amazon offers a CD of the chants but we were not able to locate the TLC program.

New Mexico, Echo amphitheater

Inside echo Amphitheater

Rt. 151, scenic drive

The “Hobbit” Houses

Chama River, scenic drive

Chama Wild And Scenic River

church, landscape

Christ In The Desert Monastery

Monastery Gate

Monastery Gate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

church, Christ In The Desert

Inside The Monastery Chapel

Another day we headed over to Bandelier National Monument. If you can get in before 9am you can drive right to the Visitor Center.  After that you must park in the satellite lot and take a shuttle to the park. This is because the parking in the park is so limited. We got ourselves up and going. The drive up the canyon is worth the trip all by itself. We arrived just in time to take a special tour given by volunteers telling about the work the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).  Until the CCC built the current road the monument was very difficult to access and had low visitation. We didn’t know at that time we’d be giving similar information about the CCC at Petrified Forest National Park. Following the tour we walked the trail through the cliff dwellings and posed for a picture.

Bandelier, national monument, scenic drive

Driving To Bandelier NM

Along The road To Bandelier

Along The road To Bandelier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frijoles Canyon Scene

Frijoles Canyon Scene

CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps

CCC Buildings At Bandelier

rock formations

Tree In The Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking Amongst The Ruins

Walking Amongst The Ruins

Posing In A Cliff Dwelling

Posing In A Cliff Dwelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our way back we decided to go through Los Alamos and see the Bradbury Museum which tells the story of the Manhattan Project and current studies at the laboratory. It was strange to go through a security check point to enter a city. The museum was very interesting even though we were pushed for time.

atom bomb, Manhattan Project, Bradbury Museum

Display At Bradbury Museum About The Manhattan Project

Delivery Of The Nuclear Capsule For The Trinity Device

Delivery Of The Nuclear Capsule For The Trinity Device

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trintinite

Trintinite Formed From Heat Of Nuclear Blast

 

 

 

 

Our week went very quickly. Now we make a short move down to Albuquerque for an event we’d been anxiously anticipating for several months.

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.

Best Of Times, Worst Of Times In Key West

Off we go to the southernmost point on the continental US, Key West, Florida. Finding an RV site nearby was a challenge.  We really wanted to stay at Bahia Honda State Park but that’s like winning the lottery. So we reluctantly settled for a commercial park, Boyd’s Campground, on Stock Island just north of Key West. This turned out to be every reason we hate commercial parks: overcrowded, expensive, unpleasant neighborhood and noisy. Had it been just us, we might have cancelled and walked away from our deposit but we had a good friend from Charlotte flying in to join us.

Boyds Campground in Key West

Too Close For Comfort

The site we were given was so tight that it took three park employees to guide Steve in and at least twenty back and forth moves to get in place. At one point our rig was so close to a palm tree that only the fronds kept us from rubbing against the trunk. If the site across from us hadn’t been empty we would never have gotten in. Once in our site, the box on the rear was in the bushes. We couldn’t have gotten our bikes off even if we wanted to ride them. The site was unpaved and unlevel. The “sitting area” barely held three chairs and our slide was only 18″ from our neighbor’s sewer connection. Oh yes, to add to the ambiance we were in the flight path for the Key West International Airport and Boca Chica Naval Air Station where they train the Top Gun pilots. The surrounding neighborhood was industrial buildings mixed with rundown mobile home parks (slums). Finding a place to walk Opal was a challenge for sure.  All this for four time so what we normally pay.

Having gotten most of “the bad” covered, we’ll go on to the “the best” part.

birds, Audubon, Key West

Audubon Print Of White Crowned Pigeon

birds, Audubon, print

Original Audubon Print Of A Cormorant

Key West today is geared to tourists but still has the flavor of bygone pirate and starving artist days mixed with “Margaritaville” and grand old homes. When you find a parking place (all are paid spaces) you stay there and walk…and walk…and walk. One of our first stops was the Audubon House. John James Audubon stayed here during his trip through Florida in 1832. At that time the property was owned by a wealthy harbor pilot and master wrecker, John H. Geiger. The property remained in the family for four generations but fell into disrepair by 1958 as the family fortune dwindled. When the last owner, a Howard Hughes type of recluse, died the property was scheduled for demolition. Through the efforts of a local benefactor the property was restored and now showcases life circa 1850 with eighteen original Audubon prints on display. One, the white crowned pigeon, was painted using the tree that still stands in the front yard. This painting had special memories for me as my Mother, an avid bird lover, had this print and the one of wild turkeys in the dining room of my childhood home. The gardens around the house are beautiful and a wonderful introduction to subtropical plants of the area. There is a brief docent lecture then you continue on a self-guided tour. Photography is allowed but no flash inside the home.

Audubon, Key West

Audubon’s Workshop

Audubon, garden, orchid, photography

Orchid In bloom In Audubon House Garden

Audubon, garden, fern

Backside Of Fern Leaf In Audubon House Garden

bromeliads, garden, Key West

Bromeliads In Bloom In Audubon House Garden

Key West, Mel Fisher, museum

Mel fisher Museum In Key West

Stop number two was the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum. Located in an old firehouse near the cruise ship pier it is a must see stop for anyone who has ever dreamed of finding buried treasure. Two ships of the Spanish treasure fleet, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were enroute from Havana to Spain in 1622 laden with gold and silver bars, coins and wealthy colonial passengers.  Their treasure was desperately needed by the royal treasury to offset the cost of the Thirty Years War and Court expenses. The two ships carried over a million and a half pesos which in today’s dollars would be over 400 million. The Atocha was fitted with twenty cannon and sailed in last position.  The fleet sailed in September, six weeks late, at the height of hurricane season. Caught in a storm just off present day Key West they sank taking their treasure with them. Of 265 passengers only five survived. The Atocha treasure would not see the light of day until relocated by Mel Fisher and his team on July 20, 1985, sixteen long years after the search started. If you want to read more about Mel Fisher or the treasure ships visit http://www.melfisher.com. If you are a certified scuba diver perhaps your bucket list would include the vacation package to dive The Atocha.

Atocha, sunken treasure

Photo Of Diver At Atocha Treasure Site

Mel Fisher, Spanish Treasure Fleet

Drawing of Mel Fisher At Work

For us landlubbers, a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum must suffice. There you will find conserved artifacts of gold, silver, porcelain, emeralds and religious items along with maps and photos of the recovery site. But we went further than just seeing the artifacts behind glass. We took the behind the scenes tour to the conservation lab. It costs ten dollars in addition to museum entry and is offered Monday-Friday. Schedule your visit ahead as only small groups are taken into the lab on each tour.

shipwreck, treasure, museum, behind the scenes, tour

Artifacts In Conservation Lab Tank

conservation lab, Mel Fisher museum

A Cast Being Made From A Horseshoe

shipwreck, artifact, tour

Tour Guide With Brain Coral Encrusted Hammer Artifact

No visit to Key West is complete without playing tourist as you stand in line waiting to take a picture of yourself at the Southernmost Point in the USA Marker. While there we learned about the cable hut in the same location. This was transported to Key West by Flagler’s railroad. Its job was to protect the connection between the land line and the 125 mile underwater telegraph line between Key West and Havana, Cuba.

Old Town is filled with funky shops, restaurants, sidewalk vendors and the ever present Key West chickens. Everyone gathers at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier for the spectacular orange sky sunsets.

Southernmost Point, Key West, Florida

Chari And Steve At The Southernmost Point

Key West ,Telegraph

Telegraph Cable Hut

lighthouse, Key West

Key West Lighthouse

KW Street Musician (aka "No, I don't know where you can get pot!."

KW Street Musician (aka “No, I don’t know where you can get pot!.”

museum, Key West

Hustle And Bustle In Old Town Key West

Key West, Mallory Square

Pier At Mallory Square In The Evening

jet ski, Key West

Jet Skis Along Harbor In Key West

Old Town Key West Evening

Old Town Key West Evening

Key West Cigar Store Indian

Key West Cigar Store Indian

sunset, Key WestView From Sunset Pier

Everyone Crowds Sunset Pier

Everyone Crowds Sunset Pier

Chari And Steve Swimming In January At Bahia Honda SP

Chari And Steve Swimming In January At Bahia Honda SP

The Wharf, Florida Keys, restaurant

Steve At The Wharf

To give ourselves a break from walking, we took a day and drove to Bahia Honda State Park. This is the closest state park to Key West and Florida’s most visited state park. The water temperature was listed as 73 but oh it felt a lot cooler than that going over your stomach. However we were not going to come to the Keys and not go in the water. Mind over matter!! Once in it wasn’t bad at all. We drove over to the campground and checked it out for future visits. On our way out we asked the gate volunteer for a restaurant suggestion. He said a place called The Wharf was good. We can second that. After a relaxing day on the beach a good meal on an outdoor terrace was the cherry on the sundae. We even watched an iguana have dinner on leftover veggies from the restaurant.

iguana, Florida Keys

Iguana Joined Us For Dinner

More sightseeing took us to the Truman Little White House and Ernest Hemingway’s home. The Truman Little White House is located in the Truman Annex neighborhood of upscale homes and condos in Old Town Key West. Originally the home was built as officer quarters for a submarine base. Although it bears Truman’s name because he visited here more than any other President he was not the only President to come here. President Taft came enroute to his inspection tour of the Panama Canal. Taft was known for his love of driving the countryside. Each year the museum crafts an original Christmas ornament. One year it used the car Taft drove loaded with presents.  Thomas Edison stayed for 6 months while developing new weapon systems. FDR visited here several times. The Department of Defense was created here by the Key West Agreement. President Eisenhower stayed here to recuperate from his heart attack in late 1955-early 1956. President Kennedy visited twice in 1961 and 1962. The base was closed in 1974. Other Presidents who have stayed here after their term of office include Presidents Carter and Clinton. The property was deeded to the State of Florida and opened as a museum and historic site in 1990. A list of the most popular Presidents was posted and Truman ranked #5 after Lincoln, Washington, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt. Rounding out the top ten were Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Regan. Bringing up the five least popular were Harding, Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and  Buchanan. We were given guest passes because of our connection with Dr. Watson that we mentioned in an earlier post. The tour was very informative. Having read Truman’s biography, we enjoyed our visit very much.

Truman, Key West

Truman At Dedication Of Everglades NP 1947

Truman, Little White House

Truman At Little White House

Kennedy, Hugh McMillan, Key West

Kennedy And McMillan Meet In Key West

Jimmy Carter, Key West

The Carters Spend Christmas At Little White House

Our last sightseeing stop was at the Hemingway House. This was the best tour we took. The stories the guide told were funny and informative. Hemingway was an enigmatic character: handsome, hard drinking, outdoorsman and philanderer. His books are classics as are the movies made from them. His home is also the home of over thirty six toed cats. One of the stories told is about the cat’s water bowl. Hemingway was a frequent face at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. When the bar moved from its original location he brought home a urinal from the bar stating “he’d pissed enough of his money down it to buy it.” His then third wife took it and after cleaning it up made it the cat’s water dish. Another story relates to a penny buried in concrete at the home. When his wife (can’t remember if it was number 2 or 3) installed a pool over his objection he threw a penny into the concrete saying she now had his last cent. This visit made me want to read more about Hemingway and his books.

Hemingway, author

Portrait Of Hemingway At Age 35

Hemingway's Writing Studio

Hemingway’s Writing Studio

The Hemingway House In Key West

The Hemingway House In Key West

Hemingway, Old Man And The Sea

A Painting Of Hemingway’s Old Man And The Sea

The Unique Garden Fountain And Cat Water Bowl

The Unique Garden Fountain And Cat Water Bowl

We decided to have dinner at Sloppy Joe’s and enjoyed the fish tacos and nachos but the key lime pie was terrible. It was prepackaged and the sugar wasn’t dissolved giving it a granular texture. Find your key lime pie elsewhere. Be sure to locate the web cams and call a friend who can go online and see you.

restaurant, Key West

Restaurant Poster At Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe's, restaurant

Sloppy Joe’s Is A Key West Icon

Hemingway, Sloppy Joe's

Painting Of Hemingway Fishing

restaurant, sailfish

Mounted Sailfish At Sloppy Joe’s

Now we return to “the bad” part of our visit. Steve had realized that Boyd’s Campground was so crowded we would not be able to exit following the proper direction of the road. That should speak a bundle about the poor design and crowded conditions at Boyd’s. We spoke to two employees who after looking at the situation agreed we’d need to go out the “IN” route. They said “don’t worry, we’ll get you out OK. We do it all the time.” The next morning when we were ready to leave we got them to assist us. One man drove a golf cart ahead to make sure no one entered while we were exiting. The other employee walked ahead of our RV and at each and every turn faced our rig and gave Steve verbal and hand signals to ease us through the tight turns. We’d made it to the last turn but there were times we’d missed cars by just inches. The last turn took us out of the campground and past the office. There were two RVs parked on the left in the waiting area and another car parked on the right at the laundry. This forced us to make a sharper turn than we would have preferred. At no time did the employees try to open up space by asking the RVs to back up, move the parked car or ask campers to move the cars in front of their rigs parked just inches from the road.  Any one who knows anything about trailers knows the tighter the turn the more the rear end of the trailer will swing. We were 90% through the turn when we heard the sickening sound of metal scraping. The right corner of the box on the back of our trailer had sideswiped a car. We stopped of course. Police were called but no citation given because the accident occurred on private property. We claim that we were under the direction of the park employee and that the park is at fault for not giving enough clearance for safe exit. They are claiming no responsibility. How this will end is unknown. We can only warn anyone considering a stay at this park, DO NOT COME!

RV accident, Boyd's Campground, RV parks Key West

Running The Gauntlet Through Boyd’s Campground

RV accident

RVs To The Left Of Us

RV accident

Cars on The Right Of Us

RV accident, Boyd's Campground

All We Needed Was A Few Inches To Get Through Safely