Four months seemed like a long time to be in one place when we arrived at the Sacajawea Center in Salmon, Idaho last May. In the blink of an eye, here we are in mid August and it is time to plan our next journey. All but one of these stops is new to us. We will be returning to Bandits Roost in NC where we visited often while waiting for our house to sell in 2012. We’ll be heading back east to volunteer at Cape Lookout National Seashore and in February 2018 celebrate Steve’s Mom’s 90th birthday. Although I spent 20 years in North Carolina, I never visited the southern part of the Outer Banks. Now we’ll have 5 months to play and explore. Along the way we’ll spend time in Cody, Wyoming and meet up with RV friends in Yellowstone NP, see the Black Hills of SD for the third time but in the Spearfish area, stop to see Steve’s brother in Wisconsin, visit 8 National Park Service sites, eat in 3 Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, take a steamboat cruise for Ocktoberfest and continue Seeing America Through A Bug Splattered Windshield.
It is that time of year again when we select the best campgrounds we used over the past year. In the past we have limited it to the top 10. This year we travelled more miles and used more campgrounds so we have over 25 to recommend. We also are color coding them. GREEN means new location we recommend, YELLOW means a previous selection we used again and still recommend (Our Hall of Fame) and RED means not recommended for big rigs like ours (40′ 5th wheel). For easier reading, bring the picture zoom in 3-4 times.
Over the past 5 years we have stayed in over 150 campgrounds and approximately half of these have made it to the annual list. For past recommendations refer to posts in July of each year.
Happy Camping Everyone!
No wonder it took so long to get this post written! We did a lot of sightseeing along the way. We had six weeks to reach Salmon, Idaho by May 12, 2017. So why did we head east instead of west?
Stop #1: Nashville, TN. We are both self taught when it comes to Photoshop and have been wandering around the land of Youtube tutorials. Now it was time to take a course. We had given each other Jim Zuckerman’s Photoshop Workshop for Christmas. It would be a two day course held in his home in Nashville. We located a place to stay at Henry Horton State Park. A definite return to park for us. The course was excellent and we hope you will see improvement in our technique on the blog. Below is my first attempt at a composite photo where the eagle was taken from one photo, changed to B+W, resized and moved onto the winter treescape. We also learned how to take a previously edited photo and improve on it with blending modes. Jim’s wife, Dina, dazzled us with 2 gourmet lunches and a dinner fit for royalty.
During our free time in the area we visited the Civil War site for the Battle of Stones River. Like at Gettysburg, this battle saw 1/3 of all troops killed during fighting (18,000 men). They have just added a RV site for volunteers too! We drove into Nashville to visit the Tennessee state capitol building. That makes number 5 so we have a ways to go to see all 50. The tour is free and very informative with a docent from the Tennessee State Museum. This is the only capitol building with human remains inside the walls as the architect died just before completion and is entombed there. It is the only capitol with the remains of a former president on the grounds, James K. Polk. In the picture of famous Tennesseans below how many can you name? Later we took in the Tennessee State Museum with three floors of exhibits. My favorite was the Les Paul “Old Hickory” guitar made from wood from a state record tulip poplar tree at the Hermitage which was brought down by a tornado in 1997. The finishing touch was dinner at a Nashville icon restaurant called the Loveless Cafe.
Steve has several relatives in the area and it was great to see all of them doing so well.
Stop #2: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
This large National Park Service site sprawls across the Cumberland Plateau in southeastern Kentucky and northeastern Tennessee. We stayed at the Blue Heron CG on the Kentucky side. As we drove in, the GPS wasn’t clear where we needed to turn and given a 50/50 chance we chose the wrong way. When you are towing a 40′ trailer you can’t just hang a U-turn. We had to go a ways down the road before finding a gravel parking lot to turn around. Steve did his usual great job. No problem. There was plenty of room. (Read that as he had 6″ before hitting anything.) I tried to sit there looking composed while my toes were curling in my shoes.
The area is named for the South Fork of the Cumberland River and begins just below Lake Cumberland. The views of the valley are stunning.There are 500 miles of hiking trails as well as scenic drives and both whitewater and calm water river paddling. Add to that two Visitor Centers, a mining museum and a scenic railroad and you have everything you need for a great nature based vacation. Did I mention the wildflowers were starting to bloom. We hiked to a waterfall and walked behind it. A few more weeks and it will be peak for them. We’d love to come back sometime for in the autumn for some spectacular foliage.
Stop #3: Vincennes, Indiana
Located an hour south of Terre Haute on Indiana’s western border along the Ouabache (aka Wabash) River lies the historic town of Vincennes. Founded by the French this was a hub of the fur trading era. Following the French and Indian War it became a British fort. During the American Revolution George Rogers Clark with a much smaller force overtook Fort Sackville thus making the Northwest Territory American land. Their story is one of daring and sacrifice. Had they not claimed this victory, England might still have claimed this area and the USA may not have expanded beyond the original thirteen colonies. George Rogers Clark has been eclipsed in history by his younger brother William of Lewis and Clark fame. He never received in life the money owed to him for mounting this campaign or the recognition he deserved. Today the George Rogers Clark National Historic site honors him and keeps his story alive. Be sure to read From Sea To Shining Sea that covers the lives of both Clark brothers.
Right next door was Grouseland. This was the home of William Henry Harrison when he was governor of Indiana Territory from 1800-1812. Vincennes was the territorial capitol. Harrison ran for President in 1840 on the slogan of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”. The home is now owned by the DAR and our guide was very knowledgeable. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside. We learned that his presidential campaign was the first “modern” campaign with music, slogans and gifts for donors. Too bad he died after only a short time in office. This made his vice president, Tyler the first VP to become President by succession. Later, his grandson, Benjamin Harrison would also sit in the Oval Office.
Vincennes other favorite son, comedian Red Skelton, has a museum adjacent to the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center on the campus of Vincennes University. I know I am dating myself when I say I remember sitting with my parents in our living room watching the one TV we had and laughing together over the characters Red Skelton played. Clem Kadiddlehopper was my favorite.I know some of you out there remember this too. Who was your favorite character?
We stayed at a beautifully maintained county park called Ouabache Trails. It is tucked away and we weren’t sure if our GPS (nicknamed Josie Fiend) was leading us into small roads where we couldn’t turn around. Then we saw signs for the park. Whew!
We made a quick run up to Terre Haute to see Chari’s cousin and her husband. Unfortunately he is suffering from Parkinson’s and recovering from a mild stroke. They are handling the challenges of “in sickness and in health” together. Hopefully as we write this he is back home.
Stop #4: North Central Missouri
A six hour drive from Indiana brought us to the USACE Ray Behrens CG at Mark Twain Lake. We are about two hours west of St. Louis near the small town of Florida, Missouri where Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was born in 1835. On arrival we learned the site we’d reserved was an electric only site. We’d need to be on tank water. This seems to be a common set up in Missouri at both federal and state parks. As luck would have it there was a cancellation for a full hookup site. With our senior pass it cost us only $12/night. Hooray!
A state park preserving Mark Twain’s birthplace home offers a very well done museum of his first years as well as some artifacts from his adult life. It was interesting to find out that U. S. Grant’s first army post was in Florida. Later in life both of these men would use their literary skills to earn money to overcome financial ruin, both would write their memoirs and Twain would publish Grant’s autobiography. Steve had a book signed by Mark Twain that he donated to the Birthplace Museum before we left. About twenty miles away is the town of Hannibal where Samuel Clemens grew up and where people he knew would become characters we love such as Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher and Jim. We toured his boyhood home and a museum about his life. In town is another museum dedicated to his literary works and the original Norman Rockwell illustrations for an edition of Tom Sawyer. We bought a CD called Mark Twain in Words and Music that was created to raise funds for establishing this museum. It features celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffet and many others. We’ll be listening to it right after this entry is written. We say this is a do not miss museum.
One place we had planned to visit was Warm Springs Ranch near Boonville, MO and home to the Budweiser Clydesdales. The ranch opened in 2008 as a breeding, recovery and retirement ranch for the horses. They started giving tours in 2009. The tours are very popular so if you have specific dates for a visit get your tickets online at least two months in advance. There is no access to the ranch other than via tour. The gates are locked until a half hour before the tour. When the horses see the cars driving in they know it is showtime and come running over to the fence to be petted. April is a great time to come as it is in the middle of foaling season. We were lucky enough to see several young Clydesdales, from one month to four months. Gestation is slightly over eleven months. At birth the foal is three and a half feet tall and weighs 125 pounds. There’s a lot of growing to do before they reach the average adult size of 2000 pounds. The tour begins at the breeding area, then on to the foaling stalls, the exercise area, the transportation trucks and finally more photo ops. All that touring can make you thirsty so yes there is free beer at the end. The horses are selected for temperment, white blaze on the face, black mane and tail, four white feet and standing six feet at the withers (shoulder). Horses that don’t meet this criteria are sold to other breeders. There are three hitches (teams) to handle all of the appearances. They are in Colorado, Missouri and New Hampshire. Each team on the road consists of ten horses, eight primary and two alternates. There are four positions a horse can be trained for; wheel (strongest), body (constant pulling), steering (holds position in turns) and lead (first to receive driver’s commands). Horses train for two years before joining a hitch. The driver’s train for six months and have to be able to handle a sustained pull of 75 pounds on their hands. The video below runs about two minutes and shows you our tour which while cool and cloudy was very enjoyable.
On the way home from Warm Springs Ranch we spotted a sign for the National Churchill Museum. Neither of us had ever heard of it. We had no plans for the next day so back south we went to Westminster, Missouri. The town is home to Westminster College and from the looks of the campus, not an inexpensive one. We were there on a Sunday and found street parking easily. That may not be the case when school is in session. The museum is housed on the ground floor of the college chapel. It was here in 1946 that Winston Churchill gave a speech and coined the phase “Iron Curtain” to describe Soviet domination of eastern Europe. For those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, this phrase became a household word. The museum details Churchill’s life and well worth a visit. That’s not all! The real hidden gem was the chapel itself. Originally built in the mid 15th century it was severely damaged by the Great London fire of 1646. Architect Christopher Wren designed and rebuilt much of London following the fire including this church. Design elements such as using clear glass vs stained glass were his trademark. The church stood until destroyed by the Blitz in 1942. It lay in ruins for 20 years and was almost hauled to the scrap pile. Westminster College needed a chapel and bought the ruins. Block by block it was shipped to the USA. Skilled stone masons reassembled the ruins and restored missing sections. The only structural change was steel reinforcement for tornados. Not only do you get to visit a wonderful museum but visit a Christopher Wren church without flying to England. Put this on your “must see” list as well.
Our last stop was to drive to St. Charles, MO and have lunch with Lois and Steve, fellow volunteers at Hot Springs NP, who live nearby. Since we were so close to St. Louis we stopped at the Ulysses S. Grant Farm NHS. We’ve all read about Grant the Civil War general and Grant the President but here we learned of his later life and civil rights activism. We’d hoped to see the Jefferson Expansion Memorial too but the renovation and reopening of the arch was not complete. Perhaps it will be by this Fall.
Stop #5: Iowa City, Iowa
We are still working on the long term goal of seeing every national park site. This brings us to Iowa City, the home of President Herbert Hoover and the Hoover Birthplace NHS. Before we tell you about our travels we want to warn anyone traveling in a big RV (over 30′) not to use Lake McBride State Park. The fact that they offer full hookup sites and the pad sizes are adequate would make you think it is suitable. There is nothing on Reserve America warning you of problems. We arrived and as we entered our camping loop we see a sign stating Limited Turn Around Ahead. We are able to get into the site as it is angled the right direction. Getting out, that’s another story! We couldn’t make the tight turn around and so had to go back and forth a dozen or more times to get headed the right way. We used the vacant site across from us. Had it been occupied we would have had to back down the road to where we could turn. Our experience with this and one other Iowa State Park says no more. They have not been upgraded for big rigs. OK, rant over.
Right next to the Hoover Birthplace is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. This is not part of the NHS but well worth the time to visit. We didn’t know that much about Hoover or his accomplishments. He is forever linked to being in office in October 1929 when the stock market crashed signaling the beginning of the Great Depression. He was a very bright and capable mining engineer and diplomat. We learned a lot and felt we had much better insight into the man and his time. By the time we left the museum to visit the Birthplace it was raining hard. Our visit was short.
Just north of Iowa City are the Amana Colonies, several small communities founded by German immigrants as communal neighborhoods in the 1880s. There’s Amana, Middle Amana, North Amana etc. Now days they are regular towns with strong German ties and great food. Tourism is their main business and homes have been converted to shops. We certainly did our share of eating and buying wurst and pickled vegetables! The highlight for me was climbing up on the largest walnut rocker in Iowa for a photo op. Oh honey, I shrank myself!
The other highlight in the area was eating at the Hamburg Inn #2 and trying their famous pie shake. Yup, a whole piece of pie, ice cream and milk whipped together. Steve had raspberry while I tried the chocolate bourbon pecan variety. They even have pie shake happy hour in the afternoons where you can get them at half off! Just found a website that lists the best dessert in every state. Sounds like a new goal for us is to eat one in every state!
Stop #6: Omaha, Nebraska
We moved on to Two Rivers State Recreation Area about 20 miles west of Omaha where we had a lovely pull through site. We came here to visit friends and fellow volunteers from Laguna Atascosa NWR, Janis and Lee. We had a great visit and got to talking so much we forgot to take a picture!
We had heard of a great museum about the Lewis and Clark Expedition during their time on the Missouri in Nebraska City. It was a bit more than an hour south but well worth the time. If you are a following the Lewis and Clark Trail or just passing through be sure to stop. It emphasizes the scientific aspects of the journey. My favorite exhibit was the keelboat with an interactive screen giving you an idea of how hard they had to work to head upstream on the river. I crashed on some rocks! So did I! My favorite exhibit was the one talking about how the native Americans caught fish. Originally this museum was built in partnership with the National Park Service but now is privately owned.
We took a day to visit the Henry Dorey Zoo. Lots of photo ops and great areas for the animals. We also watched two Imax movies and took the aerial skyway above the zoo. Lee drives the tram at the zoo but he was off today.
Stop #7: Grand Island and North Loup, Nebraska
We didn’t move too far only about 3 hours down I 80. We came here for two reasons: first we have friends Gayle and Bob, from North Carolina who are visiting family in the area. Nothing like a reunion with good friends when you are on the road. Secondly my cousins from Milwaukee, WI and another from NYC are coming out. None of us have ever been to the Manchester family home town of North Loup. Our first choice of places stay, Sherman Reservoir SRA, did not work out. The back in to the site dropped almost 3′ off the road. I could envision us cracking a storage tank or ripping off something. We moved on to Windmill State Recreation Area on the Platte River. The park has lovely pull -through sites. Parks along this area are in great demand during the sandhill crane migration. If I can get myself in the mood to handle the cold, I’d love to see it.
We visited the Hastings Museum in Hastings, NE. This town’s claim to fame is being the home of Kool-Aid. Once again we find things from our past in a museum! Kool-Aid was first made here and marketed as Kool-Ade in 1927. By 1929 it was being sold nationwide. Then came the Great Depression. Realizing the country would be in recovery for years the price was lowered to 5 cents and remained so for 20 years. In 1934 the FDA ruled that only drinks containing fruit juice could use Ade in their name and others had to use Aid.. So Kool-Ade became Kool-Aid. We also attended a planetarium show here and viewed other exhibits. Dinner that night was at a great Italian restaurant in Grand Island.
We met up with Chari’s cousins and drove out to North Loup. It is a small farming community with about 300 people. Popcorn is the local cash crop and the Popcorn Days Festival in August is still a major event. My grandfather was one of the founders of the festival. The family farm house no longer stands but we found where it used to be. We also located family graves in the cemetery and saw the church where my grandparents were married. Naturally, I had to buy some North Loup popocorn to take with us. For the last day in the area we visited the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island which has an extensive collection of pioneer and early settler housing from the area. On weekends they have living history volunteers in the homes to tell you about the occupants or demonstrate skills. We’d worked up a thirst and headed off to a microbrewery. They even gave us a behind the scenes tour. My cousin Kathy and her daughter Emily have done a lot of genealogical research. It is good to have a sense of where you came from and fun to see resemblances from generation to generation.
Stops 8 and 9: Quick Overnights in Nebraska and Wyoming
Our time was getting short so we put the pedal down and covered a lot of miles on Interstate 80 with overnights at the original Cabela’s store in Sidney, NE. They have a very moderately priced campground with full services and laundry. We needed both. We also bought a new tent and managed to spend all of our Cabela’s points. We look forward to using the tent at USFS and BLM campgrounds this summer.
Our overnight in Green River, WY brought us close to where we worked last summer at Flaming Gorge, UT. We had an uneventful night at the Walmart.
Stop #10: Massacre Rocks SP, Idaho
Our last two nights were spent at this state park in southeastern Idaho overlooking the Snake River. In preparation for our job at the Sacajawea Center we visited the Sho-Ban Museum of the Shoshone-Bannock nation. We were the only visitors there and the docent on duty spent a lot of time with us and was most knowledgeable. Then we did shopping, got haircuts and other get ready errands.
So now we have only a four to five hour drive up to Salmon, Idaho and our home for the next four months. See you again when we are out and about in central Idaho.
During our stay in Hot Springs, Arkansas we needed service work done on the RV several times. This meant leaving the trailer at the repair shop. Since we had to find temporary housing it was a great opportunity for some short “vacations”.
Our first trip was to Fort Smith, AR on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. We visited the Fort Smith National Historic site. Originally built as an Army fort on the far western frontier to protect settlers from Indian attacks and outlaws in 1817, it later became a federal courthouse and prison until it closed in 1896. There are exhibits on the U.S. Marshals, outlaws, Judge Parker and the Trail of Tears. We’d hoped to return to participate in one of the trial re-enactments they hold there but didn’t make it. Fort Smith has one of the most unique Visitor Centers we’ve seen. It is in a former brothel. We thought we’d just stop in for a moment and look around. This is a slow time of year and the docent asked if we’d like a tour. So for the next 45 minutes we were entertained by the story of “Miss Laura”, her girls and their gentlemen callers as well as the details of the house and how it became the Visitor Center. Last on our list of places to visit was the home and museum of General William O. Darby who formed the special WWII unit eventually called the Army Rangers. This is privately run and hours very. When we were there the docent was one of the founders. Sensing an interested audience talked for almost two hours and displayed items in their collection not normally on display. We had to graciously depart or we would have been there a lot longer. We can’t find our pictures so these are from the internet.
The second trip took us to the north central part of the state near Harrison and the Buffalo River National Scenic Riverway. We rented a dog friendly cabin through VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) at the same price as a motel room. We visited the Buffalo River National River, a NPS site although it was too chilly for on the water activities. We did a few short hikes and enjoyed the area. We are saying “when we come back” as it would be a fabulous place to paddle. Yes there are shuttles available if you like us have only one car. We also drove to the Mountain Home area to visit one of Steve’s uncles.
Trip number three was at the end of our stay and we headed to Petit Jean SP. This was Arkansas’ first state park. Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service was consulted and you can see his influence in the lodge. It looks like a smaller version of the great park lodges of the west. The CCC did a lot of work here in the 1930s from building cabins (like the one we used), to a stone water tower, to furniture still in use at the lodge today. For those who can do a strenuous hike there is a beautiful waterfall. We plan to return some day and use the excellent campground. The story of Petit Jean, a young woman who stole aboard ship to be near her beloved but pretended to be the cabin boy. A favorite of the crew “he” was nicknamed Petit John. Not until “he” became ill was it discover she was a female. She died and is buried at the park overlooking the Arkansas River.
Some day trips took us to Mt. Magazine SP, the highest point in Arkansas. This park also has a beautiful lodge and some of the cabins come with hot tubs! We are very impressed by the state parks we have seen in Arkansas. On our way there we stopped at Hickory Nut Overlook for a great view of Lake Ouachita and Ouachita National Forest. Another trip took us to the Lum & Abner Museum. I don’t remember this radio program but a friend of mine does who was raised in Arkansas. They were local “class clowns” who entered a local station’s talent contest making up the characters of Lum and Abner from Pine Ridge on their way there. Like Andy Griffith they used their home town area and people they knew in the routine. They became regulars and later went on to be syndicated. The store they featured in the program is now the museum. It is full of L&A artifacts and implements from early years in the Ozarks.
Heading south we visited Hope, AR, and the NPS site, boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. Arkansas loves Bill Clinton. Hot Springs is where he graduated from High School. There is a big sign letting you know it. Apparently, another claim to fame for this small town was the world’s largest watermelon. Now although surpassed several times, the sign still brags about the event. I had to stop and take a photo of a bit of roadside humor photography at a local grocery. The name of the town is Hope for a reason as it has seen better days and is hoping for a recovery.
We made several day trips to Little Rock to visit Heifer International Headquarters, The McArthur Museum, eat at Cotham’s Mercantile, tour the Arkansas Capitol and return to Central High NHS since we’d missed the ranger led tour when we were there in 2014. Steve’s Mom has been donating to Heifer International in lieu of giving Christmas gifts for the past several years. We were very impressed with both the philosophy of the organization and its totally green headquarters. For history buffs the Mc Arthur Museum is a treasure. This is where General Douglas McArthur was born. Right next door is the Arkansas Art Museum where we viewed early works by Ansel Adams. If you are going for lunch at the original Cotham’s Mercantile (there is a new one in town), do get there early. It gets busy by noon. They’re famous for the Hubcap Hamburger. Free tours of the Capitol give you an overview of state history and government. It is the only state that let’s you enter the vault and hold on to a big pile of cash. They do insist you give it back though! For anyone wanting to have an “in the moment” experience of what Civil Rights in the 1960s was all about should take the ranger led tour at Central High NHS. Since Central High is still used as a high school the tours inside are available only when school is in session and very restricted hours. You need to call ahead and claim a spot but the tour is free.
We had a wonderful and busy three months in Arkansas and still didn’t see everything we wanted to see or do. So as we like to say… “When we come back…”
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.
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!
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.
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!
We’ll apologize up front for the length of this entry but it does cover 5 weeks and almost 2,000 miles!
After our week in Durango we began our travels eastward. We began in the Rockies from a high point of 12,126′ at Cottonwood Pass on the Continental Divide while taking a day hike. For comparison that’s 42% up Mount Everest. From there it was all downhill to Charlotte, NC at approximately 750′. We spent 3 relaxing days at Elk Creek CG in Blue Mesa NRA before moving on to Boyd’s Lake SP in Loveland, Colorado
Our stop in Loveland was primarily for RV warranty work on our slides and stabilizing the refrigerator. We also wanted to see why our batteries were not charging while we are driving. That turned out to be a problem with the truck so off to the Chevy dealer. We are finding getting anything but emergency items addressed under the manufacture’s warranty while on the road difficult. Everyone is “too busy”. Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age but I think it’s really because they don’t get paid for it. More work needs to be done but we’ll wait until this winter in Arkansas. Next was Opal’s overdue visit to Banfield for her yearly checkup. She’s doing great for a 12 year old dog. The visit was a pleasure for both Opal and the vet… NOT! Then there was laundry, groceries and Walmart. All work and no play? Not us! We took in The Bensen Sculpture Garden, enjoyed a 10 mile bike ride on the bike trail at the park and ate at 2 Triple D spots. The restaurants were 451 in Fort Collins and Foolish Craig’s in Boulder. 451 was an upscale spot with good food but more pricey than the usual Triple D places. Foolish Craig’s was an eclectic spot with delicious crepes and other main dishes.
We drove to Rocky Mountain NP twice hoping the pass was open but had to settle for short hikes around Bear Lake and enjoy the elk bugling. On our second trip we stopped at the Colorado Cherry Company and fell in love with their tart cherry juice. We found spots in the RV to carry four gallons with us. We also took a long drive around to the south entrance to RMNP through the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. We stopped at the Forest Office and as luck would have it talked with the lead ranger who is also the volunteer coordinator. Turns out that his wife is the volunteer coordinator for RMNP too. We exchanged cards for a possible future work camp position.
Moving into eastern Colorado we left the beautiful mountains for the open plains. A dramatic contrast to be sure. Here we stayed at John Martin State Park on the Arkansas River. This park has the longest pull through sites we’d ever seen. There is electricity at the site but common water. Steve devised an easy way of refilling our water tank by immersing a marine bilge pump in a 10 gallon container then plugging it into the truck cigarette lighter port. BAM! Only 50 seconds to transfer water. We took time to select photos for our annual gift calendar and relaxed. We did visit 2 National Park sites: Sand Creek Massacre and Bent’s Old Fort. Both were very interesting. Sand Creek Massacre is a relatively new park and in the early stages of development. They have just received funding for a Visitor Center. We were fortunate to arrive just in time for a ranger talk about the event. He was one of the best interpreters we have heard. I wish more people would visit these smaller parks. They are hidden gems. Having been raised on the east coast we never studied or read about these formative events in our country’s history. Bent’s Old Fort was the first permanent settlement in the area and served as trading post and social gathering place in the first half of the 19th century. The building today is a recreation of the fort from plans sketched by a visitor. The rangers are not in the trademark uniform but wear period costumes and give informal talks. The two sites contrast each other: one a site of Manifest Destiny and military might overpowering native people and the other a thriving settlement where traders, mountain men and Native Americans coexisted peacefully.
Now we move on to Kansas. We found a fabulous place to stay at Cedar Bluff SP. Some sites offer full hookups for $19/night. It is a busy park in the summer however in late October only lightly used. For most of our stay we were the only RV in our loop. Opal enjoyed her off leash walks. Now, being the only dog in the park is the way I like it! (Opal) Many folks simply rush across Kansas. This is our third visit to the state and we have found interesting things to do each time. The closest town of any size is Hays, KS. On our way there for errands we noticed a sign for the Walter P. Chrysler Home Museum. We stopped in Ellis on our way back to see it. Turned out to be a great small town museum to their most famous son. We didn’t know much about him but after touring his boyhood home and learning about him we’d like to read a biography. Two of the most interesting displays were his own car (#6 off the line) complete with wooden wheels and his desk. Another “self made man” story.
While in the central western area of Kansas we also visited the Santa Fe Trail Museum, Fort Larned NHS and Nicodemus NHS. The SFT Museum detailed travels of pioneer families during the westward migration of the mid to late 1800s plus those who used the trail before them. Well worth stop. Fort Larned is another of the NPS sites dedicated to the series of forts built as protection and evidence of ownership as what was thought of as “The West” moved onward. At first you look at all the names carved into the buildings as graffiti but later realize this is an archive of those who passed through here. Before the NPS took over and restored the site locals came here often to picnic so many names are post fort and early to mid 1900s. The site is large and beautifully equipped with all the items one would find at an active post of its day. Nicodemus is a relatively new NPS site about former slaves who formed settlements in the midwest and west post Civil War. There are 5 remaining buildings of which 2 are open to the public.
Our final stop was for dinner in Hays. The area was originally settled by German immigrants and still has strong ties to its heritage. We decided to try a local micro-brewery/restaurant called Gella’s Diner. Steve had sauerkraut soup and a bratwurst platter while I enjoyed a potato soup and local specialty called a bierock. What’s a bierock, you ask? It is a meat, cabbage and onion mixture in a pastry. It is served with a sharp cheddar/ale sauce. MMMmmm good! We certainly do a good job of traveling on our stomachs!
Next stop: Oologah, Oklahoma. This is our first trip to the state of Oklahoma. Now we only have 4 states left in the lower 48 to have the RV. Our reason for coming here was to visit two of Steve’s cousins. Unfortunately one of them was in the process of moving and not able to come. We had planned to stay closer to Tulsa at a USACE park but at the last minute noted on the website a comment about low branches. Oh no! Been there, done that. So we chose Hawthorn Bluff USACE CG on Lake Oologah. We’d hoped to stay a week but the campground was closing down for the year on 10/31. So we quickly booked three nights at another USACE park on Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas. Besides seeing relatives we visited two sites about Oologah’s most famous son, Will Rogers. The first was his birthplace and the other was the Will Rogers Museum. I know who Will Rogers was but didn’t know much about him other than his witty sayings. He began as a trick roper and later added his trademark humor and wit at the suggestion of his wife. He was always very proud of his Cherokee heritage. He progressed on to lectures and newspaper columns until perishing in an airplane crash in Alaska with Wily Post. The museum is huge and has some fantastic videos of his roping tricks. You can easily see why he “never met a man he didn’t like”.
Of course we had to go when we found there was a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives spot nearby called Clanton’s. The owners are the fourth generation to run this Route 66 cafe since 1947. Known for their fried chicken and chicken fried steak, you best go early or plan on waiting in line. On our way home I spotted a sign for a Folk Art site. Steve asked “Do you REALLY want to go? He was hoping Chari would say no (meanwhile thinking of Lucas, KS). Yes she said. So off we went. The “artwork” by Ed Galloway was several concrete sculptures including the world’s biggest totem pole. The totem pole is 90′ tall, 18′ in diameter and displays 200 carved images. It took eleven years to build. We were there only a few minutes when the caretaker had to leave on a family emergency. Steve was VERY relieved!
At Corinth, MS we finally caught up with our reservations made before leaving Utah. We were there visiting Chari’s relatives. Previously we had stayed at J. P. Coleman SP. However, knowing the park we felt our new trailer would have difficulty maneuvering into the sites even though they were technically long enough. So we chose Piney Grove CG, a USACE park on Bay Springs Lake. The lake is part of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Canal project built during the late 70s for barge traffic. While it has never seen the volume of traffic hoped for it does provide a wonderful recreation area. 700 acres of my first husband’s family farm was purchased for what is now called Crow’s Neck. There is an environmental Education facility there. The RV sites at Piney Grove are large. The only downside is the thick tree cover making TV reception minimal.
We were lucky enough to have arrived for the Grand Illumination Celebration. This used to be an annual event in Corinth but with budget cutbacks it had not been held for three years. The Grand Illumination acknowledges casualties from the Battle of Shiloh and both Battles of Corinth for control of the railroad by placing 6,000 luminaries around town and at the NPS Civil War Interpretation Center. Each luminary is a casualty of the conflict. This year the Interpretation Center had a speaker on the topic of “The Role of Camels in the Civil War”. That’s right… camels. So here is the tale of Old Douglas. Old Douglas arrived by ship from the middle east in the 1850s. He was purchased to work on a plantation. When his master joined the Confederacy so did Old Douglas. Don’t get the idea he swept into battle Lawrence of Arabia style. His job was to carry the regimental band instruments. Old Douglas was in Vicksburg when he was shot and killed. Vicksburg had been under siege and soldiers were reduced to eating their boots. Let it be known Old Douglas did not die in vain. One thousand pounds of meat was a blessing to soldiers and civilians alike. We also visited two of the five Civil War era homes that remain in Corinth.
Then we had the last two long driving days to get to the Charlotte, NC area. Our overnight stop just north of Atlanta was a very nice USACE park named McKinney CG on Allatoona Lake. We’ll remember this one for a future visit to the Peachtree state. Likewise our stay at Ebenezer County Park near Rock Hill, SC was great. We cleared out our storage unit. All of our worldly possessions now fit either in the RV, truck or a 3’x3′ storage cube.
Lastly we headed to Chambersburg, PA for Thanksgiving with Steve’s family. Our only non family activity was a visit to Gettysburg Military Park and the Eisenhower Farm. We didn’t know that this was a special weekend celebrating the anniversary of the declaration of Emancipation. The park had several authors of historical fiction on hand. Steve met one of his favorite authors, Jeff Shara. The town of Gettysburg had a parade with over 500 re-enactors dressed in a variety of uniforms and period dress.
We packed a lot into our trip east and hope you have enjoyed this leg of our travels as we visit the icons and hidden gems across the USA.
From New Mexico we headed to Durango, Colorado for what would become a memorable week. We enjoy all of our travels but some visits you know are special. They will be revisited in our memories and photos for years to come. This was just such a week. We were lucky to be able to find an RV park with space on short notice in this ever popular leaf peeper location. We were even luckier to get two of the last four seats in the narration car of the Durango and Rio Grande narrow gauge railroad. Then Mother Nature gave us a home run. Not only did we hit peak color but it rained which meant snow on the mountains.
The San Juan Skyway sometimes referred to as The Million Dollar Highway follows US Route 550 from Durango to Silverton and on to Ouray and Ridgeway. From there it turns west and then south to Cortez and back east to Durango. In segments we did the whole loop. We jumped out of the truck frequently for photos. The scenery is breathtaking as is the elevation of over 11,000 feet. The road winds along and as you climb toward the old mining towns there is no guardrail. We learned later that this is intentional. Silverton has one of the highest percentages of avalanches in the world being located in five avalanche zones. When they occur the plows come along and push the snow over hedge. This couldn’t be done with guardrails present. Sans guardrail the journey is both barrier free and toe curling.
We set out on our first drive and found a formation similar to Mammoth Hot Springs, only much smaller, just a mile up the road. This is called Pinkerton Hot Springs. The colors of rust, tan, yellow and green blended perfectly with the Fall colors. It was a very overcast day with contrasty skies so we did most of our photos in HDR. Even though it was a damp day we didn’t mind because the scenery was so spectacular. The San Juan Mountains were settled late in the 19th century because they were so inaccessible. Discovery of silver, gold and lead finally brought miners and the towns of Silverton and Ouray. At one time there were 300 mines operating in the area. Gradually their bounty was exhausted and most were closed by the 1970s. The area is now mining the gold from tourists pockets. The Animas River flows freely down the mountains to Durango. We were fortunate enough to catch the DR&G train in Silverton just as it was repositioning for the return trip complete with steam billowing from the smokestack. It looked like a Lionel train setup.
A few days later we rode the DR&G train along the Animas River from Durango to Silverton. This is a narrow gauge railroad has tracks only 3 feet wide so it rocks quite a bit. Made for some challenging photo attempts! The engineers chose the narrow gauge style as it was easier to wind tracks through the mountains. It took two years for a route to be surveyed and established but only nine months to build by using 5 teams working on separate sections. They had to build tunnels, trestles and blast a bench along a ledge above the river. Prior to the railroad all supplies coming up and all ore going down had to be moved by mule teams. The railroad was completed in 1878. By the 1970s with mines closed the railroad was facing abandonment. A wealthy train aficionado from Florida bought the line and turned it from a failing enterprise to, as the National Geographic Magazine stated, the best train ride in the USA. This is a must do for anyone visiting Colorado.
We had about an hour to walk around the town of Silverton, visit the museum and take photos of the train. A return visit is needed for sure to take in all the area has to offer. We really enjoyed both of the interpreters on the train. The first one portrayed the first lawman in the area and filled us in on the early history of the area. The second one portrayed General Palmer, owner of the DG&R, and gave us history on why and how the railroad was built. Along the way we passed the house used in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. It is the one where Etta Place (Katherine Ross) lived and the bicycle scene was filmed. We had to laugh when the 20 something employee came through selling souvenir videos etc. The train was all adults and most with gray hair to boot. He mentioned that the video was narrated by Dennis Weaver and then went on to say he’d never heard of “Chester” before taking this job! OH NO! Say it isn’t so Mr. Dillon!
Durango is a fun place to walk and explore. We spent time in the depot museum, looked at neighborhoods with elaborate Victorian homes, admired restored hotels like The Rochester and ate at the Strater Hotel. The bar maids (dressed a la Miss Kitty) are one of the most photographed parts of Durango. The Rochester once a home for film stars of the 40s and 50s had fallen on hard times before its renovation in the 1990s. There we found a rare photo of “The Duke” in a Speedo.
Next time we hope to plan ahead and take the Photographers Special train where they stop along the way and pose the train for shots you can’t get any other time.