Monday, October 26, 2009

10/26/09 This week has been low key for us, which has been a definite change from the usual traveling and sightseeing. We have been at the SKP park called Sumter Oaks, in Bushnell, Florida. This is a very quiet park, with spacious sites, lots of tall trees and lush vegetation all around it. Here is a picture of our rig in the boondocking section, which is a quiet, grassy area located at the back corner of the park.

We had it all to ourselves and with the dump station water spigot nearby, it was quite a pleasant place to park for 6 days. Daily we did some sort of cleaning or repair task on either the car or RV, so the water spigot was invaluable. The most ambitious thing we did was remove all the maxi-vents from the roof in order to clean them and also clean the fan blades and vent covers in the ceiling. Since we had such nice surroundings to look at, we also washed all the windows and screens. These are all tasks that are difficult to do while being constantly on the move!
One of our self-imposed goals was to be back at the weights we were last year on Oct. 25 when we got married, since that was a pretty good weight for us. Well, we came pretty darn close because we were walking every day around this park. Nearly every time we got to the other end of the park, there was a pair of sandhill cranes hanging around one of the sites where the people fed them. Here is a picture:

They were also very vocal and they have a loud, raucous cry which is so distinctive that I'm sure we will recognize it the next time we hear it. These birds are also very large, being nearly as tall as I am! On the perimeter of the park near our rig, there is a small farm where there are 7 burros. They come to the fence in the morning and evening because the people in the park pet them and give them carrots.

Before we came here, we visited Tom & Rocki Blair at The Villages, a huge retirement community near Lady Lake, FL. They have a gorgeous new home and here is a picture of them in front of it:

They showed us all around the complex, which has about 70,000 residents (!) and so many amenities that Rocki calls it Disneyland for Adults. We went out for pizza with them at one of the shopping areas and were impressed with the free entertainment, convenience of stores, availability of mutual interest groups for socializing, etc.
While in that area we took a drive through the Ocala National Forest. Thank goodness the government has set aside this beautiful area for preservation or it would look like the rest of Florida which is full of strip malls, trailer parks, and amusement park schlocky businesses. There are a number of campgrounds which are big enough for RVs and we looked carefully at the one at Alexander Springs. It is a very nice park and the actual springs area is beautiful.

About 70 million gallons of water per day comes into these springs and they have set aside a nice swimming area, and you can rent canoes to take out on the river. There were also quite a few sandhill cranes wandering around these areas.

We also drove over to Orlando to arrange for a place to leave our RV and car while we are gone for nearly a month on our upcoming cruises. There is a good place in Kissimmee so after we made the arrangements, we went for a walk at the waterfront. It was beautiful there, with nice parks, and also a few more HUGE birds:

Later today we are driving all of about 45 miles to the Tampa area to have a visit with Joe Jackaway, a guy who was on our 10 month trip to Panama in the RV in 2004. After that we will head for Punta Gorda, to see Nancy & Bob Colbert, and pick up our new luggage which we had sent there. Have a great week, Everybody, because I'm sure we will!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

10/18/09 Hello from Florida! We have recently crossed the state line and are happy to be here where the sun is shining. Today we are driving to the Lady Lake area where we will have a quick visit with Tom & Rocki Blair. These are RV friends from Park Sierra, who were also on the South America cruise with us, who have now relocated to a retirement mecca called The Villages. Last January, when we were in this area visiting other friends, they drove us through The Villages and it is quite a large and impressive place. So we will give you a more complete report after our visit there later today.
Yes, we have arrived here much faster than anticipated. This is because two days ago, although we had planned to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC we quickly changed our plans because it was so COLD and there was a 50% chance of snow in the forecast. I think it was a freak cold snap and the temps will be getting warmer there in the next week, but we didn't want to wait around to find out! The main reason we even went to Asheville was to see our friends Rachel, Connie & Jenny whom we had met on a cruise several years ago. They were so much fun then and they still are, so we were very glad to see them especially on their home turf. Last October, they flew out for our wedding, which REALLY surprised and delighted us. This time they picked us up at the Elks Lodge, where we were camping in our RV, and we all went to the historic downtown for lunch. Here is a picture of us in the

After lunch we went to an interesting store, called The Mast Store, which had a lot of items from days gone by. Connie bought us a Moon Pie because we had never had one and here is the sign for it:

We decided it must be an acquired taste. It is usually eaten with an RC Cola, which we passed on, but then were sorry because the Moon Pie was kind of dry. All this stuff has way too much sugar!
Rachel then drove us up into the mountains to the end part of the Blue Ridge Parkway where there were some nice overlooks. The trees had started to change color in earnest so we took a few pictures:

Their houses are all on a fairly steep hillside, with gorgeous views over the valley, but the steepness of their driveways astounded us. Couldn't believe that a truck could get a modular home or any building materials up those slopes! Just thinking about walking or driving up these slopes in the winter scared the crap out of us, and it is Connie, Jenny & Rachel that have to contend with it, not us! They love it there, although they have a neighbor who is living up to the reputation that North Carolina redneck jerks have, and we advised them to move if he pulls any more shenanigans. We just love having wheels and the option to leave quickly if things start getting ugly, whether it be neighbors or the weather! It was such a lovely afternoon with these gals and we were sorry that we couldn't have had another day with them.
Our last post was from Douglas Dam near Sieverville, where Dolly Parton was born, and within 10 miles of Dollywood. I mentioned then that it was a nice campground with lake views and spacious sites so here are a few pictures:

Besides having lots of fun times with Laura & Gordon Bornkamp, we were joined by Gene and Martha Merryman. We hadn't seen them for several years, and they look just the same as the last time we were all together in AZ!! Each of us took a turn cooking so we had some great meals with the 6 of us and lots of good socializing and catching up on travel stories and personal news. It was nice enough one evening to eat outside, so here is a picture of the whole gang:

The next day it started raining and continued for days so we left for Asheville. Now that we are in Florida, we will be doing some visiting with friends, but also getting ready for our upcoming cruises. Our flight from Orlando to Barcelona leaves on Nov. 19 and we will be back on Dec. 13. The first cruise is a week in the Mediterranean and then we catch a 2 week trans-Atlantic back to Galveston.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

10/10/09 Today we are camping at Douglas Dam, managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, about 10 miles from Pigeon Forge. Other full-time RV friends, Laura and Gordon Bornkamp, are just across the way and we have been doing lots of fun things with them. Happily, the Golden Age pass is accepted here so it is $10 a night for electric & water, and we even have a nice view of the water. It has rained several times since we arrived here last Tuesday, and last night there were even tornado warnings. However, all is well today and it is merely much cooler and overcast.
Before we came here, we had several interesting experiences in Staunton, VA. Until we approached the town, we were unaware that the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and birth home were there. Couldn't pass that up so off we went to learn more about the 28th president. Here is a picture of him that was on a stamp:

He was the only president who actually earned a PhD although he also went to law school and passed the bar. He was the president of Princeton Univ., and the Governmor of New Jersey before becoming our Pres. I had no idea how many huge changes took place during his 8 years in office, between 1913 and 1921 until we went through all the museum displays. If you can enlarge this picture enough to read it, it kind of sums things up.

Just a few of the things that happened during his presidency were World War I, the development of unions, women got the vote, income tax was imposed, and the beginning of the League of Nations. Too bad he never learned to compromise because the League of Nations could have totally changed the way nations of the world interacted together if he had been willing to give a little bit in the organization of it. When he left office, his friends purchased his favorite Presidential car for him, a Pierce Arrow, and here is Elaine standing in front of it:

The home that you tour there is the one in which he was born when his father was a minister in Staunton. It is very well preserved, with most of the original furniture and the tour gives lots of information, as does the museum.
The next day we drove to Charlottesville to visit Monticello, the estate owned by Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president. He was certainly very accomplished, having been the author of the Declaration of Independence, architect, gardener, scientist, plantation owner, and founder of the University of Virginia. Monticello is the only house in the United States that has been designated a United Nations World Heritage Site. Here is a picture of us on the lawn with the home in the background:

It was a home that was designed and built by Jefferson, then remodeled, rebuilt and enlarged after Jefferson had lived in France for a while and decided to make his home more gracious and comfortable. No one is allowed to take pictures inside, so here is a picture I took in the museum:

It has a lot of interesting features because of Jefferson's interests and inventions. Unfortunately, although there are 21 rooms in the home, we were only allowed to see the first floor, and "the dependencies". These were the workrooms, store rooms, privies, ice house, kitchen, smokehouse, and a few rooms for slaves. They were cleverly located out of sight on the sides of the lawn area because they were lower than the house, and the dependency roofs became a walking deck. Here is a view of the front of one of the dependencies.

The gardens are extensive, not only because there were so many people to feed but also because Jefferson was always experimenting with new plant varieties and also trying to cultivate grapes for wine production.

After the main house tour, we took a tour through the garden area and along Mulberry Row, which was the main street of the former slave quarters. Our guide told us stories about the slaves and a lot of what went on at the plantation, including some of the information about Sally Hemmings and her children. She was the slave who accompanied Jefferson's daughter to France to join him there, and who was rumored to be his mistress. At least one of her sons has been positively linked to Jefferson by DNA evidence, and it is likely he fathered all of her children. His wife had only lived 10 years after they married and only 2 of their 6 children lived to adulthood. It seems so hypocritical that the man who wrote "all men are created equal", kept hundreds of slaves in his lifetime and only freed about 5 when he died. He also was in debt when he died and his slaves and plantation had to be sold. Here is a picture of some of the kids we saw touring the place who had come there in costume:

On the day we were leaving to drive down here to join Laura and Gordon, I woke up early with a bad headache so since we were up, we decided to leave. That meant we were hooking up the car to the tow bar when there wasn't much light and somehow I didn't get my side hooked up correctly and didn't realize it. A short way down the road a trucker honked at us and we saw that our car was going back and forth across the back so we quickly pulled over. The tow bar arm on my side was completely disconnected which allowed all the car movement and which also caused a big bend in the extension arm on the other side, probably caused when we stopped. Only the safety chains kept us from losing the car entirely, or having a lot of car damage. We had to take the extension arm partially apart just to get the car disconnected. We drove separately the rest of the way. The next day we took the tow bar to a Blue Ox dealer in Knoxville, and they ordered a new extension arm for us. It should be repaired by Monday.
Laura and Gordon were with us and since we were in Knoxville, we did some sightseeing. Here we all are together at the tourist information place:

The 1982 World's Fair was held here, and there is still a nice park, waterfall, and Sun Tower still standing from it. You can go up into the sun tower and look out over the whole downtown area.

The downtown area is served by several free trolley lines, and we rode one of those too. Market Square is an old market area where there are now restaurants with outside seating areas which looked very appealing on this sunny day. A lunch visit on another day would be great.
The next day Gordon and Laura drove us up into the Cades Cove area of Great Smokey Mountains National Park. When this park was created, in 1931, a number of sparsely settled communities such as Cades Cove were left uninhabited when they relocated the residents. Although the people were paid a fair market value for their properties, they were still very bitter about being forced out. There are still a few houses, barns, grist mills, churches, etc. that have been restored and are available for viewing. We had a picnic there and drove the entire scenic loop, stopping to do a hike along the way. Here is a view of the Great Smokey Mountains:

They aren't very high, compared to the mountains in the west, but they are very heavily wooded. The trees are starting to change color, but it will still be a week or two before the colors are spectacular. On our hike we saw several deer and they were not afraid of us at all, coming quite near us on the path. One surprising thing is that this is the most heavily visited national park, with 9 million visitors a year. We were very surprised at how many people were driving the loop road, and in the picnic areas, considering that it was a Thursday in October!! Here is a picture of a mill that has been restored and was in one of the old homesteads:

Yesterday we spent the whole day at Dollywood, with Laura and Gordon. It is a fairly charming place with lots of musical shows and thrill rides. Because the shows hold a lot of people it didn't seem as busy as it probably was. The weather was nice until late afternoon, when there were a few scattered showers. Here is a picture of us at one of the photo op places:

Our plan was to hit one of the water rides just before closing, so if we got wet, we would be heading home. So we did that and when the ride ended and we were heading out, the rain started in earnest, drenching us by the time we got to the car. Luckily, it was fairly warm so although we were wet, we weren't cold. Then later there were tornado warnings.
One of the first things we did at Dollywood was look at Dolly's Prevost touring bus. It was customized for her and still had a lot of her stuff in it. One of the things was this pillow, on her bed, which gives us something to think about:

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hello from Front Royal, Virginia. Today we are trying to catch up on a few things, as well as go for a walk/hike in the Shedandoah Valley National Park. It is nice to be parked at the Elks Lodge here because it is outside of town, so it is very quiet, and also there is a level parking lot with electricity available, which is nice. The first evening we were parked here, we were visited by 4 deer who materialized out of the nearby forest, munched a little of the grassy area on the edge of the parking lot, then disappeared again. Such elegant creatures.
The last blog entry was before we visited the Gettysburg National Military Park. This is not run by the National Park Service so we did not get a price break here for having a Golden Age Pass. The visitor’s center is huge and has 2 large theaters where they show an excellent film on the Battle of Gettysburg, which occurred July1-3, 1863. The outcome was a victory for the Union forces, but there were many moments of the battle when the Confederacy was very close to winning too. The statistics were sobering: eleven thousand men died and approximately 40,000 were wounded, captured or missing. Many men died later of infection or disease. During the entire Civil War, 620,000 men died, which was about 2 % of the population of the USA at that time. A loss on the same scale today would equal about 6 million deaths. After the battle, the poor people of Gettysburg were left to deal with all the dead and wounded as well as a town and surrounding area that had been severely damaged by the troops and artillery. Almost every building left standing became a hospital, with the townspeople as nurses and caregivers. It must have been overwhelming. The movie does an excellent job of showing the battle and maneuvering of troops, etc. and afterwards we were brought up to the cyclorama. This is a 377 foot mural of the battles which was painted on the inside of a round building and was finished in 1884. They flash some lights on various parts of the painting and simulate battle sounds while a narrator tells the sequence of events.

In the year that this was painted, it was the closest they could come to having a “moving picture” of the event. There used to be a lot more of these, but currently there are only 3 in existence. I thought it was cute that the artist pained himself into the painting. Also in the Visitor’s Center is an excellent museum which covers the entire Civil War, with emphasis on the Battle of Gettysburg. It has videos and displays as well as pictures and statistics, and if you go, allow more time than you think you will need because there is a LOT here. On the brochure they give you, there is a map of the battlefield with a driving tour that you can do yourself and descriptions of several of the stops. The driving tour is about 23 miles and goes all over the townsite of Gettysburg.
The Eisenhower Farm has also been turned into a national historic site and it is located right in the midst of all the battlefields, so to get there, you have to take a shuttle bus from the visitor’s center.

The house was donated with almost all of the original furnishings, and even has a lot of the knick knacks and kitsch that Mamie collected. Because of Ike’s military career, it was the only home the Eisenhower’s ever owned. There is a guided tour and some interesting information was given about some of the articles in the living room, because at the time they left the White House, the President was permitted to take with him any gifts he had received, including those from foreign governments. Today this is not the case. It was a working farm where Ike raised prize-winning Angus cattle, so there are also barns and stables, their old vehicles in the garages, and informational displays in an outbuilding.
When we got back to the visitor’s center, we went to the nearby National Cemetery. This was created to bury the dead from the July battles, but men were also buried here from other battlefields, and other wars. It is probably the most famous for being the place where President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address in November, 1863 when the cemetery was dedicated. The first thing you notice is the huge monument which is the focal point in the center, called The Soldier’s National Monument.

The seated figures represent War, History, Peace & Plenty, while above Liberty holds the wreath of victory and the sheathed sword of battle. All around this monument are the rows of gravestones, some with only numbers on the stones because many of the bodies at the Gettysburg battle were unidentified at burial.

After a last delightful day with Gerry and Karen, and a quick tour with Gerry through the surrounding apple orchards and winery, we drove to Charles Town race track and slot casino. The horses were running, and the casino was jumping. If you ever stay here, go in and get a player’s club card because they give you $25 of free slot play. Elaine played both of ours while I was doing something else, and she returned with $40 of their money. It is always fun when we get paid for staying somewhere! The next day we went to the nearby Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park. Once again we had to take a shuttle bus into the actual town because of limited parking. It is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and was of major significance in the Civil War. Many of the buildings have been recreated and the whole town looks very charming. Here is picture of what part of it looked like in 1880 and today:

The inside of some of the buildings has been recreated too:

Some of the buildings have been refurbished and are in use as stores or restaurants today.

After touring through the buildings and town, we proceeded across the bridge over the Potomac.

On the other side there is a railroad tunnel, where the train went through the mountain, and also part of the Appalachian Trail, which runs several thousand miles from Maine to Georgia. There is also a dry lock and part of the C&O canal on that side of the river. There was a contest between the railroad and the canal people to see who could build faster to connect this area to the industrial north and the railroad won. After a while the canal was abandoned and eventually went dry and has been used as a hiking and biking trail ever since. Here is a picture of Elaine at the dry lock #33.

Of course, the most significant event at Harper’s Ferry was in October, 1859 when John Brown and 18 of his followers stormed the federal arsenal trying to liberate guns in order to arm slaves and start a rebellion against slave-holding. They were eventually surrounded and trapped in the fire engine house, which today has been recreated and called John Brown’s Fort. Here is a picture of it:

They were all either killed or captured and John Brown was tried and hung. But many people believe that it was the incident that started the Civil War. We were ready to try to get some guns from the arsenal to use on some of the 300 kids who happened to be here during the same time we were! Most of them were noisy and unruly and could care less about what they were supposed to be learning during this field trip to what we thought was a very interesting place!
Another building in the town has some displays concerning Storer College, which was established after the Civil War to educate the newly freed Negroes. It also gives some of the history of the Niagara Society which was founded by W.E.B. DuBois and which was the precursor of the NAACP.
While we were staying at the Martinsburg Wal-Mart, Bob & Nancy Colbert called to let us know they were coming through on their way to Florida. So they joined us for dinner and a very nice visit before heading on their way again the next morning. This is one of the great things about having RVing friends: meeting up with each other in a variety of places and having a happy reunion every time.
A similar thing happened in Maine. We were walking through the Wal-Mart and ran into Bill and Gisela Pollock, who are friends from Boomer gatherings at Quartzsite. They urged us to visit them at their place in Front Royal, VA, so we contacted them when we arrived there several days ago. They were just returning from New York, so we had them over for a simple dinner and a pleasant reunion. They reciprocated last night by having us over to their delightful home in the mountains for a delicious gourmet dinner.

They lived and worked in the Washington DC area and this was their weekend getaway cabin. Now that they are retired, they have upgraded it to be their home when they aren’t out traveling in their RV. We so enjoyed seeing it and spending some quality visiting time with them there.
One main attraction we wanted to see within driving distance was Mount Vernon, the estate of George and Martha Washington. We spent an afternoon exploring there and it wasn’t enough because there is so much to see. So if you are going, allow more time.

It is located right on the banks of the Potomac River and there are incredible views out the back. Besides the tour through the actual home, there are many outbuildings, an interesting talk and tour about the slaves, several nearby farms which they owned, and an incredible new museum full of information, videos, and displays about Washington’s life, the Revolutionary War, his Presidency, and his life afterwards, and also the effect on the nation. I would have enjoyed spending more time there but 3 miles away was the gristmill and the distillery and time was running out. So we hurried over there and caught the last tour. Here is a picture of the gristmill where they ground corn into extra fine flour and used the rough stuff left over for chicken feed. He ground grain for his neighbors and took a percentage of the flour for payment.

This mill had to be located so far from the estate because this was where there was enough water and enough vertical drop for the water to run forcefully enough to push a water wheel. There was also enough water for the nearby distillery:

The distillery was constructed during the last years of Washington’s life and turned out to be one of his biggest money makers. In 1799, the last year of his life, he made 11,000 gallons of whisky in this distillery! Here is a picture of the inside with the guide, and also 2 of the stills:

Since I started writing this, we have left Front Royal and are now parked in Staunton, VA. One of the things we are here to do is drive to Charlottesville to see Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson. Now that we are here we have seen signs that the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library is here, as well as something called the Frontier Culture Museum so we might take time to see these too.