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.
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.
Soon it will be time to pack up and move on from Hot Springs, Arkansas. We have had a wonderful time here. The winter was a mild one with an early Spring. We hope to get a post written about our volunteering at Hot Springs National Park and the city which goes by the same name officially.
So where will we be heading next? Back west for the Summer of 2017 to Salmon, Idaho where we will be working for the City of Salmon and the U. S. Forest Service at the Sacajawea Interpretation Center. Along the way we will make stops in Nashville for a Photoshop workshop from Jim Zuckerman, see 7 more national park sites, see the Budweiser Clydesdale ranch, visit with friends and family and explore new areas of our beautiful country.
So pack your virtual suitcase and travel with us!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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….
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.
With another round of repairs finished we drove eight hours to the Georgia side of Lake Seminole. Normally we don’t drive more than 4-5 hours between stops. We try to follow the 2-4-4 rule. That’s 200 miles or four hours or get there by four o’clock. We took three days just to relax at Eastbank COE campground.
Our next stop was to be another COE campground just north of Atlanta. Not knowing the layout of a campground can make it difficult when choosing a site online. Most of the time we get good sites. Unfortunately while this one looked good on the computer it had a very difficult back in with gullies on either side of the road and a S-curve entry. Steve said “no way” which is unusual for him. The park was booked for the weekend and we couldn’t find another site. So we left and spent our first parking lot night at Cracker Barrel. It was chilly so we put Opal in the trailer vs. truck while we went in to eat. We didn’t think about the slides being in or that it was completely dark. As we came out of the restaurant we heard a very mournful “Awr-roooo! Awr-roooo! coming from the trailer. Opal was letting the world know she didn’t think much of this. I haven’t commented for a while but really now… they go in where it’s nice and cozy, sit down and have a meal and leave me squeezed in a dark, cold trailer. Who wouldn’t howl?
Then we headed on to McDowell Park in Charlotte for nine days of errands, appointments and seeing friends. By this time the parts for the awning arms were in at our RV dealer in Marion, NC so we headed for their campground. We dropped the trailer off for repair and drove up to Pennsylvania for a short visit to Steve’s family. Thinking repairs were finally behind us we made plans to head to Tennessee.
As we pulled into the Marion campground we saw the trailer was listing badly to the left. What now?!! Steve checked and found that when the mechanics had set up the trailer back on the pad, the locking pin on the landing gear didn’t go all the way through. The weight of the trailer had bent it and the footing had partially collapsed. It was Sunday evening and no one was around. Fortunately Steve is very handy and was able to stabilize things using jack stands. The next day the dealer repaired the problem so we could travel but … a part had to be ordered and would take a few weeks. Here we go again. As we write this five weeks later we are still waiting for the part.
So here’s our new itinerary for heading west to Montana.
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.
St. Georges Island State Park
Bandit’s Roost COE (Corps of Engineers) Campground
Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Piney LBL Campground
Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area
Kentucky and Tennessee
Huntington Beach State Park
Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
Winhall Brook COE Campground
South Londonderry, Vermont
Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague Island, Maryland
Camden Hills State Park
Georgia Veterans State Park
Promised Land State Park
Fishermans Memorial State Park
Narragansett, Rhode Island
We drove across Kentucky through the Daniel Boone National Forest on a glorious Fall day enjoying the trees in peak color. The eight hour trip went by quickly as we passed through the center of the state taking note of future stops by mountain lakes and museums such as the National Corvette Museum and a Shaker Village. Our destination was the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the western Kentucky/Tennessee border. It is named for a peninsula formed by two TVA lakes, Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River and Lake Barkley on the Cumberland River. We’d been here for four days in 2010 at the beginning of our retirement trip to Utah (see the old blog at http://vagabondpress.wordpress.com). That was just long enough to know we wanted to return for a longer stay. To see the following photo in more detail, click photo twice.
When we were here before our choice of campgrounds left a lot to be desired. We had found Kenlake State Resort Park just down the road and wished we were staying there. We remembered the lake view and camp sites with decks. So we had made reservations there. Amazing what a lot more experience in park selection, a not quite accurate memory and a larger trailer will do. We arrived to find the sites not nearly as large as we thought and situated so that a ninety degree back-in was required. The site we had chosen was impossible for us to use. Steve is very adept at backing in the trailer but you need to turn the truck at a sharper angle with this type of back-in and there were trees in the way. Thank Goodness this was the off season and only ten sites were occupied. We were able to select a site that was more of a straight back-in. However this one had its problems too. It was on an uphill incline so that the nose of the trailer had to be lowered all the way and the rear stabilizer legs didn’t reach the ground. We scavenged a cement block to put under one side and found a log for the other side. Necessity is the Mother of invention. Once in we enjoyed our two week stay tremendously.
Steve’s brother Fred and wife Chris drove down from Michigan for a long weekend and to pick up the Subaru. I’ve owned several cars since my first one, a 1969 Pontiac LeMans 350. Some I have loved. Some I have cursed. Some I was praying they’d stay together to get to the dealer for trade-in. The Subaru has been one of my very favorites. It is just a plain car without buzzes or whistles. It carried my 14′ sea kayak like an ant carrying something much bigger than itself. It plowed on through the rare 18″ snow in Charlotte where they clear roads by “solar shoveling”. It took me on many journeys to the mountains and beaches. I will miss my little red Subaru but we don’t need it. Good-Bye!
The weekend Fred and Chris were here was a perfect Indian Summer so we rented a pontoon boat for the day and set out on Kentucky Lake. At 184 miles long and averaging 1 mile wide, Kentucky Lake is one of the largest man made lakes in the USA. It was built by the TVA as a flood control and power lake in 1937. Today it provides excellent boating and fishing opportunities as well. The other lake in the area,Lake Barkley, was created in 1960. This was Opal’s first time on a boat and we didn’t know how she’d react. She loved it. I’ve come to expect that my Mom and Dad are going to try any and everything. If I want to be with them, I’ve just got to go with the flow. The lake was calm so I just chilled out and had a great time. They brought some treats along for a dog picnic too.
Most of the next 2 weeks were spent enjoying this area at a relaxing pace. I know it sounds odd when I say we needed a vacation from doing and seeing so much when to most people our whole life looks like a vacation. Just having time to wander in the woods and drive the main road through LBL called The Trace which is an American Scenic Byway http://byways.org or bike one of the trails was a pleasure. One afternoon when it was too windy to paddle on the larger lakes (edge of Hurricane Sandy) we took the boats out to Energy Lake. This is a 2 square mile lake on the peninsula that is really a dammed bay of Lake Barkley.
This area was once home to approximately 200 families. Everyone was moved out by the early 1950s. There are numerous family cemeteries scattered throughout the peninsula. Some are accessible by car (4 wheel drive recommended) and some only by foot. One day as we were walking in the woods we came upon two cemeteries back to back. There were many stones that were simply cinder blocks with metal markers in front indicating the relocated remains from another cemetery. We guessed correctly that these were remains the TVA had to move when Kentucky Lake was first constructed. I am fascinated by the names we run across in cemeteries. One name, Morning Caroline, triggered my active imagination. I envisioned a mother holding her newborn in the early morning light as the father gazed on his daughter for the first time and said “Morning, Caroline” Later in the day when the brother was asked “What should we call the new baby? He replied “Well Pa, you called her Morning Caroline.” The name stuck.
While we were at Kenlake there were a few rainy days. This gave us a chance to get our annual calendar done and ordered. We give these to family and friends each year. After Christmas I will post the pictures we used. We also joined a BOF (Birds of a Feather) interest group of the Escapees RV Club called World Wide Travelers. This group travels by RV in countries outside North America. Talk about wetting my appetite for travel! We won’t be able to do this until Opal is no longer with us but my bucket list overflows. For anyone who is currently more than a casual RVer or who is considering the RV lifestyle, I highly recommend the Escapees RV Club http://www.escapees.com . They have a wonderful discussion forum open to members that will answer many questions you might have.
One day at Kenlake campground we met another couple, Carol and Jim, who also were full time RVers and had started out about the same time. They still have a home base near Schnectady, NY. They joined us for the last laser light show of the season at the Golden Pond Planetarium in the Land Between the Lakes. We’d never been to a laser show before and weren’t sure what to expect.This one was set to country music. The planetarium has daytime shows on varying topics in astronomy. We planned to go back to see a show on the IBEX but never seemed to be in the area at the right time. OK, all together now…”When we come back…” This is one of the only areas in the east where I feel I could settle down if I weren’t an RVer. I love it here and so does Chari. The next evening the four of us had dinner at Patti’s 1880s Settlement http://www.pattis-settlement.com in Grand Rivers, KY just across the canal connecting the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at the northern end of LBL. This is more than a restaurant. It is a destination in itself. Do go to the website for more information. Their speciality is a 2″ pork chop. I ordered the 1″ chop and was so full I waddled home! There is also a well known theatre in Grand Rivers called Variety! We didn’t make it here either so that’s another place for, well you know, WWCB. Before we knew our 2 weeks had sped by. Kenlake campground was closing for the season. We had three weeks until we were to head to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. We had done some exploring and found three wonderful campgrounds on the peninsula. Two would be open until the end of November. We decided to stay on in LBL and move to Piney campground just across the line in Tennessee on Kentucky Lake.
Piney campground is operated by the US Forest Service but reservations and information will be found on the http://www.lbl.org site versus the Forest Service site. There are a few reservable sites but most of the almost 300 sites are first come first serve so arriving early in the week is an advantage. We were able to make use of an off season rate and get a full service (EWS) site for only $19/night. The maximum stay here is three weeks which worked perfectly for us. If we were rating the campgrounds we have used this would get 5 stars. We knew when we registered that the water at the campsites would be turned off on or about November 13 when nighttime temperatures reached freezing. No problem as there are freeze proof spigots available. We chose a beautiful site close to what we thought was one of these faucets so we could replenish our tank water. Much to our surprise when the water was turned off these faucets weren’t the freeze proof ones. So back to our tent camping roots we went resurrecting our collapsable 5 gallon water bottle, using paper plates and cups and trekking to the bathhouse vs using the trailer facilities. We had more than enough water for the week.
Exploring the area took us along the Fort Henry Trails. Fort Henry was under construction on the Tennessee River just north and across the river from Fort Donelson when the Civil War began. It was never finished. When Grant began his move down the river it was evident that the fort could not be held. All but five Confederate soldiers evacuated to Fort Donelson. Those five men were killed when their cannons exploded. The graves are located in the woods off the Fort Henry Trails. The only remaining structure from Fort Henry is an earthen berm.
Warm weather returned for a few days giving us the opportunity to paddle on the Cumberland River past Fort Donelson National Battlefield. This gave us a unique perspective of the Civil War battle that took place there as the Union Army used ironclad boats for the first time to attack the fort. Fort Donelson was built as a gatekeeper to the major riverways and important railroad crossroads in Nashville. Later on we visited the Fort too. Steve is the historian in the family so he will describe the tactics and the importance of this battle. Chari on the other hand gravitates to the human interest side of the story.
Chari asked me to do a little write-up of the importance of the events during the Civil War at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. She specifically told me to “Be Brief” so I’ll try!
In today’s modern world with high-speed freeways, mile-long freight trains, air cargo traffic, etc., we sometimes need to be reminded just how important waterways were for transportation of troops and supplies in past wars. Rivers provided routes for transport, but without the modern system of bridges, they were also barriers for land traffic. During the Revolutionary War, the Hudson River in New York was an extremely critical waterway, since its path, combined with Lakes George and Champlain, basically separated the New England states from the rest of the country. At West Point, the river makes an “S” curve, which meant, that in the days of sail, ships on the river would lose their wind and almost come to a complete stop, providing easy targets for the cannons on the bluffs above. Benedict Arnold’s treachery in attempting to turn over West Point, and control of the Hudson waterway to the British almost cost us our independence, and is why his name remains to this day synonymous with the word “Treason”. But Chari said to be brief, and West Point isn’t what I’m supposed to be talking about.
Inland waterways were no less important during the Civil War. And two very critical rivers were the Tennessee and the Cumberland. A quick look at a map will easily show why. Both rivers flow through the heart of the South, not only providing transportation routes, but cutting barriers for land traffic, just as the Hudson did in the Revolution. And another important strategic factor is that both of these rivers rise in the Deep South, and flow north, eventually meeting up with the Ohio River. Union control of these two rivers was critical toward winning the war.
The Confederates needed two forts, one on the Tennessee River, and one on the Cumberland. Unfortunately, the best sites for these forts were in Kentucky, a neutral state. A suitable location for Fort Donelson was located just south of the border, in the state of Tennessee on the Cumberland, where artillery could be placed high on the bluffs overlooking the river. The location chosen for Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River was on low and swampy ground however. The two forts would be roughly twelve miles apart, Henry on the east side of the Tennessee and Donelson on the west side of the Cumberland, so Confederate troops could move freely between them.
By early 1862, the Union was not having much success in fighting the Civil War. A relatively unknown brigadier general, Ulysses S Grant, working with Naval forces under Admiral Foote went after Fort Henry. Heavy flooding on the river had rendered the fort almost unusable. Most of the fort was under water, including the powder magazine. Grant landed his troops for a land assault while Foote attacked with his fleet of ironclad riverboats. The fort was undefendable, and fell before Grant’s troops saw action.
A few days later, Foote had moved his fleet back down river, north to the Ohio, and over to the Cumberland, where they steamed upriver for the attack on Donelson. Here, however, the Confederate artillery was well placed, and the Union fleet was forced to withdraw. But the fort was surrounded by Grant’s troops, although at the beginning of the ensuing battle, he was not present. The Rebels launched a surprise attack to open an avenue for escape, which was almost successful, but Grant arrived in time to rally his men. The Confederates retreated back to the fort. The Confederate General Floyd, and his second in command, General Pillow, panicked. They relinquished command to General Buckner, and escaped by small boat.
Buckner was an old friend of Grant. In times past, when Grant was seeing hard times, he had loaned Grant money to see him and his family through. He sent a note asking for terms, expecting his old comrade would be generous. Grant’s reply has gone down as one of War’s memorable quotes:
“No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately on your works.” Buckner was forced to accept “the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms” and surrendered.
The twin victories were the first in the war for the Union, and the people in the north went wild! Grant’s initials now stood for “Unconditional Surrender” and the mostly unknown general became famous. The following year, in 1863, he would force the capitulation of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, opening up that waterway to Union control. Lincoln would offer him command of the entire Union Army, and by April of 1865 he would accept the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House. He would become President of the United States.
A very bitter Buckner eventually resumed his friendship with Grant, and served as pallbearer at Grant’s funeral.
And that is probably the “briefest” account of the Fort Henry and Fort Donelson campaigns ever written!
Also at Fort Donelson we picked up information on the Civil War Barn Quilt Trail that Stewart County had created in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle at Fort Donelson (February 1862). It is also a wonderful way to see the countryside. We spent two days following three of the four loops. Of course, we found many interesting sights not on the trail as well. Think of it as an adult scavenger hunt. At a barn stating Welcome to Potneck we talked with the owner. We asked about the origin of the name Potneck. He said there are two versions. The first is that people were so poor here during the Depression that they had to stick their heads into the pot up to their necks to get anything to eat. The other story was that a man showed up at a church social drunk. His wife was so mad that she threw a pot at him and it caught him in the neck. We came across a small cafe in the equally small town of Bumpus Mills located in an old gas station and next to the abandoned Pugh general store. Later on the road took us to Tobaccoport which declares itself the “Dark Fired Capital of the World” and an iconic tobacco barn. We’d later learn that the process of dark-fired tobacco was highly sought after for snuff.
While we were driving in Dover, TN we passed a motor home that had pulled off the road in an emergency. The vehicle had caught on fire. From the looks of it the fire started in either the battery area or the engine. We heard later that everyone got out safely but the RV was a total loss. While we have a fifth wheel this incident made us think about what we’d do in such an emergency. Our fire extinguisher is in the trailer. We realized that we needed at least one in the truck bed as well. While fires such as this do not happen often, part of RV living is being prepared for emergencies and how to escape from the RV.
We visited the Elk and Bison Range located near the Golden Pond Visitor Center on two occasions. Tickets must be purchased to enter the security gate. You can spend as much time as you wish on each visit but for safety reasons you need to stay in the car or nearby. As with most wildlife the best viewing times are early morning or late afternoon. There is also a pasture where bison can be seen without paying. One afternoon we stopped as the bison were close to the fence. The light was good. Several of them had dirty faces and the air was crisp showing their hot breath curl upwards. Although I was a good ten feet from the fence number 912 took offense at having a picture taken and charged. I respectfully backed off. I knew if she were serious the fence wouldn’t really hold her back.
Other attractions in Land Between the Lakes are the Nature Center which serves as an education center using animals that for one reason or another cannot be released into the wild and a 1850s farm called the Homestead. Since these are run by the USFS if you have a senior pass the entrance fee is half price. If you don’t have one and are 62+ do get one. It costs just $10 and is good for your lifetime. The pass will save you a lot of money. The Nature Center didn’t offer as good photo opportunities as we’d hoped since you had to stay back and shoot through chain link or the animals were in deep shadows. We did enjoy seeing several birds of prey up close as the handlers moved them from their daytime quarters to overnight lodging. It reminded me of the Raptor Center in Huntersville, NC just north of Charlotte. At the Homestead period costumed volunteers and employees were available for questions and demonstrations.
One of the last activities we did was to drive over to the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. This whole area is on the Mississippi River Flyway and serves as a wintering area for many species of birds, especially ducks and eagles. The migration had just begun and we saw rafts (estimated at 2000) of American Black Ducks. By early January there will be between 200,000-300,000 ducks. Eagle tours are given on Kentucky Lake each January. We also saw white pelicans, mallards and merganser ducks. The refuge had just closed trails down to the water so no good photo ops. We understand that their job is protecting wildlife.
What a wonderful month we had! Now onto Mississippi.