What Goes Up Must Come Down

High Time In The Rockies

High Time In The Rockies

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.

Traveling East Fall 2016

Traveling East Fall 2016

Bear Lake At RMNP

Bear Lake At RMNP

Girls Day Out

Girls Day Out

Can you Hear Me Now?

Can you Hear Me Now?

Wanna Play?

Wanna Play?

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.

Sand Creek Massacre Location

Sand Creek Massacre Location

Native American Monument At Sand Creek

Native American Monument At Sand Creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View Of Bent's Old Fort NHS

View Of Bent’s Old Fort NHS

A Demonstration Of Knife Making

A Demonstration Of Knife Making

Trading Post At Bent's Old Fort

Trading Post At Bent’s Old Fort

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. 

Museum In Ellis, Kansas

Museum In Ellis, Kansas

Chrysler's Car

Chrysler’s Car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desk Used By Chrysler

Desk Used By Chrysler

One More For The Reading List

One More For The Reading List

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Fort Larned Architecture

Fort Larned Architecture

Graffiti Or History

Graffiti Or History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larned Harness Shop

Larned Harness Shop

Fort Larned Hospital

Fort Larned Hospital

Quarter Master's Office

Quarter Master’s Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Commissary

Post Commissary

nicodemus-vc

Nicodemus NHS

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!

Gella's Diner In Hays, KS

Gella’s Diner In Hays, KS

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”.

He Never Met A Man He Didn't Like

He Never Met A Man He Didn’t Like

Will Rogers Birthplace

Will Rogers Birthplace

Will Rogers Statue

Will Rogers Statue

Will Rogers Museum

Will Rogers Museum

 

 

Extensive Exhibits Can Be Found Inside

Extensive Exhibits Can Be Found Inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Clanton"s Cafe On Route 66

Clanton”s Cafe On Route 66

This Is Triple D All The Way!

This Is Triple D All The Way!

He Liked It!

He Liked It!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World's Largest Totem Pole

The World’s Largest Totem Pole

More Ed Galloway Art

More Ed Galloway Art

In The Eye Of The Beholder

In The Eye Of The Beholder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

luminaries

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.

Gettysburg Diorama Scene

Gettysburg Diorama Scene

Abe, Mary and Winfield Scott

Abe, Mary and Winfield Scott

Drummer Boy

Drummer Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Long Parade

A Long Parade

Union Troops

Union Troops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Confederates

The Confederates

women-in-parade

Women Marchers

Zouave Unit

Zouave Unit

 

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.

Where Next? #10

It’s hard to believe that our wonderful summer in northern Utah is coming to a close. So where will the four winds blow us next?

First we are headed over to Laramie, Wyoming to visit friends who are volunteering at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historical Site. Then south to the Silverton/Durango area in Colorado. A brief stop at Petrified Forest NP to say hi to staff where we volunteered in 2014-2015. Lastly we turn south to try our hand at being camp hosts for the Coronado National Forest at Parker Canyon Lake about an hour south of Tucson, AZ. After 6 weeks there we make an almost straight through drive to Charlotte, NC. We know now that full timing is what we want so no use paying to store things for 15+ years. We’ll pare down to just a few memory pieces.

Then a much overdue trip to see Steve’s family in Chambersburg, PA for Thanksgiving. From there we meander for a month via Alabama, Florida and Louisiana to our next volunteer job at Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We’ll be there from January-March 2017.

Our path this time looks a lot like a ricocheting bullet, doesn’t it? Thanks for traveling with us!

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

Where Next #4

It looks like we’re due for another Where Next post as we look ahead to the next six months. These locations are a general plan but as always subject to change for a variety of reasons. First we head over to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a photography workshop on nighttime photography. That’s an area totally new to us so we’re really excited. Then (brrrrr!) we go north to celebrate Thanksgiving and an early Christmas with family. Back we come to NC for a major repair on the trailer (see Attack of the Tree Branch in June 2013). With trailer and ourselves all refreshed and repaired we finally head south for some fun in the sun. Spring will take us to a new area of the country and many new adventures. Remember, if you want to view this full screen, click over the picture.

Google Earth, travel, RV, Florida

RV Travels November 2013 – April 2014

Our Top Ten Campgrounds For June 2012- June 2013

Today is the first day of summer and everyone’s thoughts are turning to spending time outdoors. So we thought we’d share the top ten campgrounds we’ve used this past year. These are not in any order of preference just listed as we thought about them. We hope you get to enjoy them.

beach, SGI

St. Georges Island State Park

St. Georges Island State Park

   Appalachicola, Florida

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Bandit's Roost On Kerr-Scott Lake

Bandit’s Roost On Kerr-Scott Lake

Bandit’s Roost COE (Corps of Engineers) Campground

Wilkesboro, North Carolina

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kayaking, photography, Kentucky

Energy Lake At LBL

Piney  LBL Campground 

Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area

Kentucky and Tennessee

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Atalaya, architecture

Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

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wildflowers, Vermont

Winhall Brook Campground

Winhall Brook COE Campground

South Londonderry, Vermont

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Assateague Island

Assateague Island

Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island, Maryland

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Near Camden Hills SP

Near Camden Hills SP

Camden Hills State Park

Camden, Maine

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Georgia Veterans State Park

Georgia Veterans State Park

Georgia Veterans State Park

Cordele, Georgia

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Promised Land State Park

Promised Land State Park

Promised Land State Park

Greentown, Pennsylvania 

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Historical Site Near Fishermans Memorial SP

Historical Site Near Fishermans Memorial SP

Fishermans Memorial State Park

Narragansett, Rhode Island

There’s Always Something To Do In Philadelphia – Part 2

Philadelphia, sailboat

Checking Out Penns Landing

We returned to Philadelphia during the following week. Not wanting to have problems with the PATCO folks again we decided to drive into town. There is an open air parking lot at Penns Landing. Although they charge $20 a day to park that was comparable to taking the train. Then it is just a few blocks to walk into the historic area. Today would be an exploration on foot, just out to see the area. After parking we took a few minutes to check out a sailboat that is used for river cruises. If we are ever here in warmer weather that sounds like fun.

Our first stop was the Ben Franklin Post Office which still functions as an active Post Office. His home no longer stands but a metal frame has been erected to give you a feeling for size. They’ve marked where his privy and well were, just ten feet apart. No wonder folks got sick drinking water back then!

On to the Federal Reserve Tower just a block down and across the street from the Visitors Center. Here you will find a free exhibit about the history of our monetary system and the role of the Federal Reserve. There is tight security here including a body scan machine. No photos allowed either. We didn’t always have a true national currency. The First Bank of the United States was located in Philadelphia and can be visited as can the building that housed the Second United States Bank. Both failed to have their charters renewed after the first twenty years. It would be 75 years until the Federal Reserve was created and the system we have today would be created. At one time someone traveling from Illinois to New York would find the money in their pocket (state issued) was worth only 50 cents on the dollar! There is a display of counterfeit money and you need to decide if it is real or fake. Some are fairly easy but some really require an expert to detect the flaws.

Now for some walking and just seeing the sights. The Betsy Ross House was mobbed by school groups so that was crossed off the list. We passed the Arch Street Meeting House, a Quaker Meeting House built in 1804. Then on to the Carpenters Hall. The building was constructed by a trade group prior to the American Revolution. The Carpenters Hall functioned much as a union would today minus collective bargaining. Ben Franklin had a history with the Carpenters Hall as one of its members built his home and he used the upstairs of the Hall to meet with a French spy before the Revolution began. It was the site of the First Continental Congress and a set of chairs used by them is on display.

Walking on toward the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial you pass the Todd House. You may not recognize the name Dolley Todd. She was married to John Todd, a lawyer, and had two children. In 1793 she was widowed when her husband died of yellow fever. She also lost one child the same year. You most likely do know of her as Dolley Madison after she married James Madison and became our 4th first lady. The 1776 home is open only for tours by the National Park Service.  Further down the block we saw a sign stating that Casper Wistar lived in this home. Who was he? A noted physician, anatomy professor and abolitionist, he instructed Merriweather Lewis in medicine and paleontology prior to the Corps of Discovery heading west.

Just a block or two further was an old church, St. Mary. Several plaques hung on the front wall telling of her part in the early history of our country. On July 4, 1779 the Continental Congress and numerous dignitaries were here to celebrate the first public religious celebration of the Declaration of Independence. On November 4, 1781 another service was held to give thanks for the victory at Yorktown. Besides our leaders, the ministers of France and Spain attended as well as numerous French troops. The conquered flags of Great Britain were laid upon the altar. Another tablet noted that John Barry, father of the United States Navy, was buried in the adjoining cemetery. John Barry came to America from Ireland. He was the first captain of the first ship owned by the Continental Congress and served as commander of the Navy during the Revolution. George Washington then appointed him the first supreme commander of the Navy. Yet another plaque notes this as the resting place of Thomas Fitzsimmons (signer of the Declaration of independence), George Meade (grandfather of George Gordon Meade the Union general at Gettysburg) , General Stephen Moylan (George Washington’s aide-de-camp and Commander of the Cavalry at the close of the Revolution) and Matthew Carey (leading publisher and a chief force in the creation of American literature). If you’d like to read more about Matthew Carey please see the information photo below. To make it easier to read, enlarge to full screen and zoom in. A walk through the grave yard lead to more interesting signs. Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste Tronson DuCordray was a French military artillery expert and engineer who volunteered to come to America to assist the colonists almost three years before France officially entered the war. He was made Major General and commanded the works along the Delaware River. He drowned crossing the Schuylkill River and was given a state funeral and the Continental Congress attended. Another foreign dignitary so honored was Don Juan de Miralles, an agent of the Spanish government in 1780. Colonel Charles von Kusserow was a Prussian born army officer who fought with the Union Army during the Civil War at Antietam, Fredricksburg and Yorktown and received many honors. The sign by his grave says he suffered sunstroke twice during his service and died at age 46 in 1879.

There was a small sign at the street side next to a building called the Powel House. It told about how in 1931 Frances Wister and Herman Durhing, an AIA architect, formed the  Philadelphia Society for Landmarks. They bought and restored the Powel House. Then they lobbied not to have historic properties razed and for new buildings to be built in a harmonious design. Some of Philadelphia’s treasures that were saved are the Franklin Institute (now the Atwater Kent Museum), the U. S. Customs House and Elfreth’s Alley (the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in America). They were instrumental in getting Independence National Park established. The Society now manages four properties that are open to the public: Powel House (home of patriot Mayor Samuel Powel), Physick House (home of the Father of American Surgery), Gumbelthorpe (summer home of the Wister family) and Waynesborough (home of Major General Anthony Wayne). Maybe we’ll see them on another trip.

By now we reached the Kosciuszko National Memorial only to find it closed. It’s open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Guess we should check the NPS website before starting out. The Edgar Allen Poe house was also closed for renovation. More reasons to return. Our last stop was the National Jewish American Museum which opened in 2010. There is airport type security here. Steve had to leave his pocket knife with security until we left. We had an hour and a half to spend but could have stayed twice as long. The six floors of the museum are packed with displays from early Jewish immigration through the present. There are rotating exhibits as well as the permanent collection. Maybe we’ll come back and finish some other time.

All of this sightseeing had given us an appetite. We couldn’t leave without having a Philadelphia cheese steak so we stopped at a local pub on the way back to the truck. While we did a lot there is so much more to see… there’s always something to do in Philadelphia.

Franklin Post Office

Franklin Post Office

post office, Ben Franklin

Still Working After All These Years

Famous Folks Have No Privacy

Famous Folks Have No Privacy

Philadelphia, Quakers

Arch Street Meeting House

Carpenters Hall

Carpenters Hall

cemetery, Philadelphia, history

St. Marys Cemetery

Matthew Carey Information

Matthew Carey Information

Todd House

Todd House

We’ve Hit The Road Jack… Ain’t Comin’ Home No more, No More

H  A  P  P  Y     A  N  N  I  V  E  R  S  A  R  Y     T  O     U  S  !  !

Today marks one year since we drove out of our driveway in Charlotte, NC to begin a new life as full time RVers. It’s gone soooo fast! We can’t believe it’s been a year already. The DreamChaser has traveled approximately 31,000 miles through 12 states. We’ve moved 35 times to 7 Federal/ Corps of Engineers parks, 4 private parks, 3 county parks and 20 state parks. We’ve added many lapel pins to our collection which now hovers around 250. We’ve visited several National Park Service sites but we have only seen 17% of them so there’s lots more in store.

What will we do to celebrate? Since we are on the coast in Salem, Massachusetts it seems fitting that we should fulfill one of our Bucket List items by taking a sunset sailing cruise aboard the Fame. Cruises don’t begin until Memorial Day weekend so our celebration will be a bit late. We have just arrived at Winter Island Park for twelve days. When we called to make reservations we were told the park didn’t open until May 20th. I mentioned we were full time RVers and would need to find another spot for a few days. The manager then offered to have us come in early if we didn’t mind being there by ourselves without office staff. Mind having a campground overlooking the water all to ourselves for three days? I think we can handle that. So we will celebrate tonight with dinner out and then sit in the gazebo with a glass of wine  and watch a beautiful sunset. This really is the perfect life!

Here’s an overview of our travels May 17, 2012-May 17, 2013. Remember if you want to see a picture full screen, just click over it once.

RV, full time RVers, travel

Our First Year Travels

We are looking forward to many more new places and new faces as we move on up the coast and back down again in 2013. Then we’ll say goodbye to the East for a while and turn the DreamChaser west.

Thanks for traveling with us! Sit back and leave the driving to us as we begin Year Two of Homeless and Loving It! 

In The Valley Of The Forges – Part 2

Valley Forge, National Park Service

Valley Forge NHP

The town of Valley Forge was named because it was a thriving town in the Valley of the Forges about halfway between Philadelphia and Reading. Nearby Pottstown was named after a prominent iron master with the surname of Potts. From our elementary school days we all know Valley Forge as the place where George Washington stayed during the winter of 1777-1778. I guess I also thought that Valley Forge had been a National Historic Park for a long time. I was surprised to learn that it came under the National Park Service in 1976. Before that it was a Pennsylvania State Park. At one time there was a railroad depot at the state park and visitors would ride out from Philadelphia to visit and picnic.

The Ranger Leading Our Tour

The Ranger Leading Our Tour

Train Depot At Valley Forge State Park

Train Depot At Valley Forge State Park

We came on a Saturday and it was good we did. Had we come the next day, we’d have been in the middle of a crowd for a 5k event. If we’d come during the week there would have been no special events and we wouldn’t have learned as much. The Living History exhibits are given on weekends from April through October. We started by watching the movie at the Visitor Center and then it was time for a Ranger led tour. As with most of our tours, the Ranger was very knowledgeable and added a lot to what we already knew.

He began by asking “Why did George Washington pick this location?”  Standing on the hilltop where the encampment was located you quickly realize the advantage of the high ground. Sentries posted here and on nearby Mount Joy and Mount Misery would prevent British regulars from surprising the Continental Army. The Continental Army had some early success but by 1777 the British Regulars had landed and controlled both New York and the Continental capital of Philadelphia. The Continental Congress had fled to York, PA. Washington determined that to try marching south to Wilmington would be too dangerous. The Patriots had a supply depot in Reading to protect. Lastly the colony of Pennsylvania had told Washington if he took his troops more than 25 miles from Philadelphia they’d withdraw their troops, funds and resources. So Valley Forge was chosen. The replica troop cabins you see pictured represent just a few of the 2,000 shelters that were built atop the hill.

The Advantage Of The High Ground

The Advantage Of The High Ground

Armies of that time normally withdrew to winter quarters and battles were seldom fought. That is why Washington’s crossing the Delaware on Christmas 1776 had been such a surprise and so effective. Many wanted him to use the same tactics again the next winter but he did not think that prudent. Most people think Washington was encamped here just for the winter but they were here from mid-December 1777 to June 1778. Much of that time was spent drilling and perfecting skills so that when the Continental Army left Valley Forge they were as professional as any army in the world. They needed to be. At that time Britain had the best military in the world. So who was responsible for this transformation? A young man named Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben. He had been a lieutenant in the Prussian Army. He met Ben Franklin in Paris and offered his services. Sensing von Steuben’s talents, Ben Franklin suggested he introduce himself to Washington as General von Steuben. Steve bought a book the Ranger suggested about von Steuben. Once again we are reminded of how fragile this American Revolution was and how tentative those first years were.

Living History At Valley Forge

Living History At Valley Forge

Another change that occurred here was conversion from a militia style army with short term enlistments (1-2 year) to a regular army with three year or “duration of the war” commitments. To lure men to take these longer enlistments the Continental Congress offered land bounties and monetary bonuses. Many of the enlistees were foreign born so that the military was multinational as well as mixed races. There were numerous women in the camp as wives followed husbands and performed nursing, seamstress or laundress.

Contrary to the popular view of starving soldiers in rags there were supplies enough to provide a subsistence level of food. If a soldier was found to be “naked” he was not allowed out of his hut. The term as used then meant that the soldier did not have the proper uniform to perform his duty. Transporting enough supplies across rutted dirt roads clogged with snow was more the issue than one of supply. Farmers did however play both sides and often preferred to sell for the more stable British currency than the almost worthless Continental script. It was disease (influenza, typhus, typhoid and dysentery) rather than starvation that took most of the 2,000 men who died at Valley Forge. Most of them died during the last 3 months when supplies were more plentiful. There never was a battle here.

In May 1778 Valley Forge received word that the French had entered the war. In later years there would be help from the Polish military, the Dutch and Spain. With France now sending troops the British had to rethink their strategy and withdrew from Philadelphia in May 1778. Washington engaged the British at Monmouth, New Jersey and demonstrated his forces new prowess by routing the British from the field. Valley Forge might better be thought of as drawing a line in the sand than a season of deprivation.

Here’s some food for thought. The Ranger said this was really America’s first Civil War. Families were torn apart as some sided with the Tories (British sympathizers) and others with the Patriots. Even Ben Franklin’s family was divided. The Pennsylvania Dutch who are not Dutch but German fought against the Hessians. He also called the War of 1812 America’s second War of Independence.

Typical Soldier's Quarters

Typical Soldier’s Quarters

Officer's Quarters At Valley Forge

Calvary Officer’s Quarters At Valley Forge

The Doctor Is In

The Doctor Is In

After the tour we looked at the replica encampment and listened as living history actors spoke of military tactics, guns and clothing. There was a table set up with medical tools and medicines of the day. A quick trip back to the museum at the Visitors Center held an unexpected surprise. There is a cave on the Valley Forge site where fossils of saber toothed tigers, mastodon, giant sloths and flat faced bears have been found. The picture below shows a black bear compared to the flat faced bear.  I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley or anywhere else for that matter.

Black Bear vs Flat Faced Bear

Black Bear vs Flat Faced Bear

We ended our day by driving to the opposite end of the park to see Washington’s headquarters. As with many other officers’ wives, Martha Washington came for a visit and stayed most of the time the camp was here. George Washington had a few house slaves from Mount Vernon with him.

George Washington's Headquarters At Valley Forge

George Washington’s Headquarters At Valley Forge

Washington's Office

Washington’s Office

George Washington DID Sleep Here

George Washington DID Sleep Here

Kitchen At Washington's HQ

Kitchen At Washington’s HQ

So ends our two day visit to the Valley of the Forges.