Saving the Best For Last

And, all of the sudden, we were back in our own driveway. Can’t believe six weeks slipped away already.

But, it appears that we might have saved the best for last, as our Southeast Tour finished with a bang. The last week (plus the Hatteras days) was probably our favorite of the entire trip. Here’s why…

So….onward we go to Portsmouth, Virginia where we camped at the home of our T@DA friends Gail and Sid. Perhaps the Campsh@ck has never had a more lovely site to rest her wheels.20171028_1718081398289939.jpg On the way there, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills, NC. 20171028_123114324045352.jpgAlthough the Visitor Center is undergoing restoration, a fantastic Ranger brought the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk experience to life. Markers chart the distance of the first four flights on December 17, 1903. Flight one was 120 feet. The fourth flight was over 800 feet. That’s a pretty impressive improvement for a single day. One the edge of the area is a series of full-sized bronze statues of Wilbur, Orville, the plane, the photographer, and a few other spectators of that historic day. It’s an inspirational place to visit.

OK, back to our visit to Portsmouth. The nearby town of Newport News is the home of The Mariner’s Museum, which is where we decided to spend a cool, rainy afternoon. 20171029_130658894841538.jpgDesignated by Congress as the National Maritime Museum, there are exhibits to capture the imagination of anyone – young or old, landlubbers or sailors. If you’re of a ‘certain age’ like me, you learned about the battle of the Union’s Monitor and the Confederate States’ Merrimack (actually the CSS Virginia) in the Civil War. (I swear that I learned the Monitor had won this battle. Not true, says the Museum – they battled to a draw.) The Mariner’s Museum is the home of the USS Monitor – pieces that have been raised from the spot where it sank off the Hatteras Coast have been restored onsite, and are displayed here. The history of these two ships, the story of their construction, and the battle are brought to life here in a variety of media, artifacts, and exhibits.20171029_143132984290267.jpg 20171029_140318419007988.jpgImagine these two ironclad ships pounding each other with cannons from a distance of a mere 100 yards. The unique revolving turret of the Monitor provided a difficult target for the Merrimack to hit, and the lighter artillery of the Monitor was unable to land disabling blows to the Merrimack.

Anyway….the Monitor sank while being towed on December 31, 1862. It took until 1973 for the wreck to be located, and it has been partially salvaged. That’s what’s in this Museum, and it’s incredible. (The rest is a protected underwater sanctuary where it went down). The anchor, ship’s wheel, the entire revolving turret with its two cannons, a lantern, and other artifacts are here.20171029_1318141907314660.jpg20171029_150637166493276.jpg20171029_1455351612396724.jpg20171030_09203843795966.jpgAbove is a full-scale model of the turret (complete with the guns inside) exactly as it looked when brought up from the bottom of the sea. Restoration is being done onsite at the Museum, and some pieces and parts are still submerged in a series of baths in order to stabilize the metal. Here’s a shot of the cannon in the above photo in its tank where it’s being rehabbed.20171029_151520787025923.jpg It’s thrilling and chilling to see all of this. The photos don’t do it justice. There’s also a full-size model of the Monitor outside, which I visited briefly in the pouring rain (everyone else stayed inside).

But, there’s more. The Museum also is home to the hull of the Oracle Team USA wing-sail catamaran, which won the America’s Cup in 2013 by defeating New Zealand in an unprecedented seven races after being one race from elimination. It is HUGE! It’s hanging from the ceiling, and the the size is just jaw-dropping.20171029_1546231371569811.jpgFilms from these races are thrilling. 20171029_1547491912918346.jpgYou can test your own power output on a winch (a professional World Cup participant can generate 500+ watts of power.) I managed about 90 for a very short period of time.

There are dozens of amazing models of nearly every kind of ship. Some are gigantic. All are precise and handmade.20171029_154314680577239.jpgIf you get a chance, go to The Mariner’s Museum. Plan to spend a whole day, then go back the next day to see everything you missed. It’s fantastic.

Somehow, Gail and Sid fell for our plea to join us at Shenandoah National Park for a few days of camping. 20171101_1059431509727254.jpgThey quickly packed up, and we all headed out to this amazing National Park in NW Virginia, along the Skyline Parkway. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, as well as many other trails. 20171031_1216431243448137.jpg20171031_1456211242352886.jpg20171031_1456561230823211.jpgWe watched a fantastic demonstration/concert of a hammered dulcimer.

The day after Gail and Sid headed home, we wandered a short section of the Appalachian Trail. What spectacular views! 20171101_1329001086048871.jpg20171101_134518305485962.jpgWe braved howling winds and the only really cold temps we had in our six weeks of camping to hike to a stunning waterfall. I can’t wait to go back – we hope to be able to camp at all of the Shenandoah campgrounds next year (four?) It looks like an intriguing place to explore.

One more spot – I’ll try to be brief. Hocking Hills State Park had been on our radar for a few years – fantastic photos have been posted by folks in our camping group. Travel and Leisure Magazine rated it the #1 spot to camp in Ohio. It was a dreary late afternoon when we rolled into the campground, expecting to have our choice of dozens of sites since it was mid-week/early November. Not so fast….apparently Ohioans love this park. It was booked full for the weekend, but we did find a promising site among the 20 or so non-reservable sites. 20171102_172201866132385.jpg20171103_10294839296417.jpgOur first impressions were not too positive. Hard rain the day before had left standing water everywhere. The entire campground is in need a several hundred trucks of fill to level out the low spots. The paved pads at each campsite were a few inches higher than the surrounding ground (at least on one side), leaving a mess of slick mud. Attemps had been made to cover up some of the low spots with bales of hay – we gathered up some excess hay from surrounding sites to try to keep us above the mess, with mixed results.

But what the campground lacks in charm, the surrounding area makes up for a hundredfold. We wandered around Old Man’s Cave, a spectacular limestone overhang which was inhabited in the 1800s by (of course) an old man and his two dogs.

Trickling water, waterfalls, weeping hemlocks and splashes of fall color made for spectacular viewing as we hiked about eight miles along the river from the campground to Old Man’s Cave, to Cedar Falls and around.20171103_1138161124243528.jpg20171103_1142282183531.jpg20171103_1142451265623605.jpg20171103_1201331507912173.jpg20171103_1204561752362669.jpg20171103_1216451342265296.jpg20171103_1229591570857113.jpg20171103_1308501422250300.jpg Wow. The scale of these limestone caves is so impressive – for once, I was happy there were other people in the photos to get a size perspective. We were just sorry that we hadn’t been there a week or so earlier, because the best fall color seemed to have already passed. Sorry if I bombed you with photos, but I couldn’t decide which to post.

Not surprisingly, it rained all the way home, and the sun hasn’t peeked out in two days since. The lawn’s a mess, and garden and perennials all need work. So, why can I only think of planning our next escape?




Wandering West Texas

Since leaving Big Bend, we’ve hit a number of eclectic spots – some planned, some by accident. In any case, it’s been a terrific week for the Campshaws.

Heading out of the Park, we were intrigued by the Terlingua Ghost Town which appeared on our map.wp-1485537560601.jpg It wasn’t far off our route, so we detoured. This was originally a mining site for cinnabar, from which mercury is derived. Most of the old structures have fallen, but there’s a quirky ghost town economy at work here. Along the road into the town are several spots where you can camp in a teepee, or a beatup Airstream. wp-1485537508473.jpgThere’s a real estate office that looks like a spaceship. wp-1485541029427.jpgWe wandered around the fallen buildings, then headed over to the cemetery, which was a real treat. Most of the graves are above ground, because of the difficulty of digging into the rocky surface. wp-1485537526157.jpgModern graves are decorated with objects that reveal the personality of the deceased.20170127_114239.jpg It’s a very interesting place to wander. We topped off our visit with breakfast at a small cafe there (fabulous Mexican breakfast burrito!), and hit the road.

Balmorhea State Park was our destination for two nights, a spot we picked by its location, not its interest. It’s home to a natural spring with a year-round temperature of about 70 degrees. In the 1930s, the CCC built a gigantic pool enclosing the spring, and the Park was born. wp-1485537090527.jpgwp-1485537463120.jpgwp-1485537479921.jpgThere is a bare-bones campground, and motel-type rooms available. It must be packed in the hot summer months, because there sure aren’t any other lakes around. But, it was so chilly and windy that none of the campers ventured in the water. If you look closely at the photos, you can tell from the water surface how windy it was. The pool ranges from 3-30 feet deep, with several diving boards. It was a nice stop, but we wished that we hadn’t reserved two days – we truly didn’t understand that there was nothing around, and nowhere nearby to visit. But, how about this cool door?wp-1485537427688.jpgWe chose a route to our next stop that took us past Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a place that I had never even heard of. We stopped into the Visitor Center, watched a brief slide show about the area, then headed down a trail to check out an old stagecoach stop. wp-1485537411335.jpgwp-1485537399749.jpgFrom 1858-59, the Butterfield Overland Mail stopped here on its route from St. Louis to San Francisco. What a grueling journey it must have been for the nine passengers along for the trip with 12,000 pieces of mail. 24 hours a day for about 25 days – with brief stops to change horses. Yikes. We didn’t have time to explore any other areas of the Park – saving that for another trip.

Hueco Tanks State Park was a gem of a find for our final night in Texas. wp-1485537360354.jpgTanks refers to depressions in the rocks which collect water, and there are hundreds of these in the rocky formations in the Park.wp-1485537348111.jpgwp-1485537330656.jpgFor thousands of years, indigenous people lived or traveled to this area, as evidenced by the petroglyphs which are scattered around the Park. Sometimes, you really have to lie underneath the rocks to see and photograph the petroglyphs.wp-1485537265734.jpgwp-1485537243134.jpg Most of the really great spots are available with a guided Ranger tour only. We were unaware of this, and didn’t allot enough time to do that. But, we did hike three trails, all with great views, and interesting rock markings. wp-1485537220068.jpgGraffiti has taken a huge toll over the years, probably one reason why permits are required to even enter the area, and are limited to 70 people a day. About half of the people we saw were rock climbers, as there are several areas here which provide challenging climbs.20170127_114753.jpg We enjoyed our great campsite. This is another spot which merits a longer stay – we left far too much unexplored.

See ya, Texas! Now we’re in Columbus New Mexico at Pancho Villa State Park. What an interesting spot this is. Columbus was the site of the last hostile action by foreign troops in the US – a raid by Pancho Villa’s troops in March 1916. wp-1485537115250.jpgThis sparked retaliation by troops led by General John J (Black Jack) Pershing into Mexico, with the intent of hunting down Pancho Villa. After a year, the troops came back to the US, emptyhanded. So many historic events surround this event – it was the last gasp of US Calvary troops, the first time gasoline and diesel-powered trucks and cars were used, and the first time airplanes were used for surveillance. Eight two-seater “Jennies” were deployed, and flew into Mexican airspace. However, the planes were not very maneuverable, and most were unable to fly back over the mountains to Columbus HQ. None of the eight lasted past the first month.

We really enjoyed wandering the Museum – check out this photo which shows Villa and Pershing in happier times. wp-1485537126670.jpgNote the caption of the man standing behind Pershing – Michael Collins was the last US astronaut to stand on the moon – a fact we learned a few weeks ago at the Johnson Space Center.

The Columbus Historical Center Museum also has a site there, which we very briefly visited. I lusted after this tiny little tricycle – what kid wouldn’t look great pedaling this around?wp-1485537146389.jpgwp-1485537166654.jpgThe downside to this area is the really lousy weather. Altough dry, the winds are unrelenting and merciless. Temps are in the 40s, and with a 20mph wind, it is most unpleasant. I feel grit etching my eyeballs.

In spite of that, we plan to ride our bikes into Mexico this afternoon and wander around the little town of Puerto Palomas, which is just three miles away. We hear there’s a great little cafe there. It will be a quick ride there, with that north wind pushing us, and a tough slog home. Oh well….

Bikes, Boats, and Boots

All of that worry for nothing! We (me) had spent a bit of time wondering how we would navigate Boston. Would our plan to take the ferry from our camp in Hingham be doable? The answer was a resounding yes! Whew.

Wompatuck (WOM-pa-tuck) State Park was our home base for five nights. Wish we would have stayed five more, as there’s too much to see and do in this gorgeous city. Everyday, we hopped on our bikes and sped (mostly downhill) the six miles to the ferry dock.20150917_090450 Our $4.25 one-way ticket got us a 35 minute ferry ride into Boston. Presto! Lots of departures made this so easy. Seeing the city from the Harbor was incredible.20150918_094642First on our list of things was to wander the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile red brick path which winds around 16 historic sites – Boston Common (the oldest public park in the US), the Old North Church, Faneuil Hall, the Bunker Hill Monument, Paul Revere House, historic cemeteries, and many other locations.20150917_11115620150917_11253820150917_111541 Tucked in among the skyscrapers and modern traffic are all these gems – it’s an amazing tour. 20150917_12011520150917_10261420150918_104057A huge disappointment to us was the fact that the USS Constitution was in drydock, and we were unable to board for a tour. 20150917_133208This legendary warship, undefeated in 47 battles, was impressive even through its cloak of scaffolding. We’ll be back for a tour when she’s ready. We did, however tour a mothballed destroyer, which is permanently located at that dock.20150917_124920

Day 2 was a more relaxed pace.  More sightseeing and coffee with a cousin that I have seen just once or twice in 20 years. We met at the Boston Public Market, a new food emporium which harbors all local artisan butchers, bakers, cheese-makers and farmers. Beautiful food in a wonderful setting. Energized, we traipsed around the City again, wandering into the Massachusetts State House, whose dome was actually covered with 23k gold in 1874. 20150918_125355We sure don’t build public buildings like that anymore. In 200 years, will anyone want to visit the public buildings we are constructing today? Stained glass, mosaic, and paintings in the dome brilliantly depict scenes from Massachusetts history.20150918_130018 Boston has a very moving Holocaust Memorial. Six huge glass towers represent the six primary concentration camps. Etched into these glass sides are hundreds of thousands of numbers, representing the prisoner numbers of those exterminated there.20150918_105208It’s an emotional bomb.20150918_104827Changing course, we had stop into Cheers, the pub which inspired the show I loved for so many years. Elbow to elbow – but a fun stop.  20150918_134549Saturday was Day 3, and we decided to take a different approach to exploration. We hopped aboard a ferry to Georges Island, the site of Fort Warren. 20150919_122228Constructed of massive granite blocks over two feet thick, the Fort is situated on the island with views out to all directions, and cannons mounted to defend from any direction. 20150919_12194920150919_12143520150919_12462520150919_125753Under construction for more than two decades, it was completed in time to become a prison for Confederate soldiers.  The Fort itself was never fired upon, and never fired a shot.

Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather were hundreds of sailors, who headed out into Boston Bay in sailboats of all shapes and colors.20150919_141814 Our ferry navigated through the regatta. At home, we get 20 people together to go for a bike ride – in Boston, they get 200 sailboats to all travel the same path around the Islands. It was a spectacularly beautiful sight.20150919_142438Sunday was our last full day in Boston, and we still hadn’t gotten over to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum yet.20150920_10362620150920_10372720150920_123248 This was the day we decided to bring our bikes on the ferry, so that we could make the cross-town ride to the Library. We figured that our best chance of survival in the legendary Boston traffic would be on a Sunday morning, and we were (almost) right. John plotted our route, and we had little trouble navigating through mostly deserted streets. Until….we found ourselves on a popular bicycle path that goes thru UMass and toward the Library. There was some kind of huge organized bike event in progress, and hundreds of riders were headed the opposite way from us. John had a VERY close call with one guy who was zooming along while staring across the river. He careened within about 3″ of John before finally snapping back into place. It would be too ironic that our (imagined) dreaded bike mishap would be with another bike instead of a motorized vehicle of some sort.

The JFK Museum was an emotional experience for both of us. Watching and listening to the Inaugural Address, reliving that horrible day in Dallas and the funeral afterward was powerful. 20150920_123102The intensity of those ten days in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis was explained in frightening detail. The US was truly at the brink of war with Russia, until Kruschev abruptly pulled back. The hours we spent there flew by. Did you remember that Jackie Kennedy was only 31 when she became First Lady?  31! That’s so hard to imagine.

Next door to the JFK Museum is the Edward M Kennedy Institute for the US Senate. 20150920_135300What an unexpected treat this was. Inside a full-scale reproduction of the Senate chamber, we participated in a discussion of an actual Senate bill (requiring immunizations for Head Start kids). 20150920_135856We listened, discussed, and voted. John eloquently quoted Abraham Lincoln in his comments in support. After discussion, we voted (14-1 for the bill). Our vote was compared with nationwide polls, and results of other groups voting at the Institute. We both wished we could hang out for more sessions, but we still needed to peek at the other exhibits, including a replica of Ted Kennedy’s office, and other exhibits about the US Senate for the last 200 years. 20150920_144818 Fascinating. It was frustrating to have to rush through, but we had been away from camp (and Jezzy) for hours, and we still had a two hour bike-boat-bike trip to get back home. Those 10 hour days were killer!

This post has gone on far too long. Too many mediocre photos, because I was in too much of a rush to concentrate and take a few good shots. But, there is just so much here to explore and enjoy. Can’t wait to come back. Just a few more random photos.20150920_08265620150919_10180920150918_09383420150917_13561820150917_12220220150917_124829

Fun and Not-So-Fun Times

It’s been a week of crazy ups and downs, primarily caused by weather, which restricted our camping choices in very unfavorable ways.

Our RV park site in Vicksburg was not fun.  Located ten feet off US 61, it was loud!  The soggy conditions created by the previous week’s 5″ of rain sure didn’t help matters.  We could feel the Fireball sinking into the mud, although it had been level when we set up.  We wandered around town for one day on our bikes, touring the Coca Cola Museum (Coke was first bottled there).  It was pretty lame.  No ice cream.  No floats.20150324_130934 There are many pleasant sights in town, but it sure didn’t have a prosperous feel.20150324_124845At night, we were kept awake all night long by roaring traffic.  We were grouchy and unsettled, so we decided to cut our visit short by a day.  (Part of our unhappiness was the premature announcement that we have trailer brakes.  Turns out we have trailer BRAKE.  The brakes on the side where the new bearing and shoes were installed don’t work.)  Don’t even get me started on this topic….Vicksburg National Military Park was a must to see before leaving the area, so we decided to pack up, tour the Park, then leave from there. 20150325_110152I had really mixed feelings about my Vicksburg experience.  First of all, the Visitor Center was wonderful.  The video presentation at any National Park or Monument is always our first stop – we love the big overview that we get from watching the film. The personal element of the Civil War battlefield films is exceptionally good.  Excerpts from actual letters are read while re-enactments are shown on the screen.  The eloquence of the letters is always moving.  Vicksburg was very different than other Civil War Parks we have visited.  This was more than a battle between soldiers – the siege lasted more than six weeks, causing townfolk to retreat to caves for safety.  Confederate troops were near starving as supply lines on the Mississippi were cut off.    20150325_120053Armed with a brochure and our 20 minutes worth of video input, John and I set off on our bicycles to tour the 20 mile scenic drive through the Battlefield.  Cycling along any National Park scenic drive is an excellent way to see the area, and absorb the site. 20150325_120537 Perhaps it’s not for everybody, but we sure can appreciate the physical nuances of the geography better on a bike than we could in a car.  While we are wandering around, examining artifacts and looking for the trenches dug by the Union Army, we are passed by many cars.  Most people don’t get out to read the plaques or look around.  Vicksburg, check!  What’s next on the Bucket List?20150325_112156No blow by blow description here, but I do have to describe the sad feelings that overcame us here.  The grandiose monuments are from the Union states, Illinois and Wisconsin in particular.20150325_11302320150325_11351820150325_115139 Michigan’s monument features a woman with a large gear in her hand to symbolize industrial strength.  There is signage to the effect that some of the Confederate states took longer to return to prosperity than their Union counterparts, thus, their battlefield monuments are smaller, and less grand.  No kidding.  General Grant’s headquarters area features a huge statue of Grant on a horse.  The Sherman Circle is devoid of statuary.  It seems very lopsided.  Fair?  Correct?  To the victors go the spoils of war?

One area that we did enjoy exploring was the USS Cairo (Care-o) Museum.  The Cairo was one of seven ironclads built for the Union by one shipbuilder during a 100 day period, at a cost of about $100,000 each.20150324_144454 All we lost in battle.  The Cairo is the only one which has been recovered.  It was not discovered until 1960, then raised, and installed here a few years later.

At Vicksburg Battlefield Cemetery, the remains of 17,000 Union soldiers (of which 13,000 are unnamed), are buried, as well as soldiers from the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. 20150324_15134120150324_151526 Most Confederate soldiers killed in the Siege of Vicksburg are buried in another Vicksburg cemetery.

Several hours after beginning our tour of Vicksburg, we hit the road, intending to camp at Warfield County Park, about 100 miles away.  Too bad for us – this park was closed.  Underwater!  We were directed by a couple of helpful gentlemen to check out nearby Lake Chicot State Park, about 20 miles away.  Sure, why not?  We plugged the info into Google Maps (our go-to source for directions), and headed out.  We shortly thereafter found ourselves driving along a rutted road on top of a levee, surrounded by cattle, who didn’t seem to understand why we were driving thru their territory.  It was awful, and yet a bit funny. We knew it was going to have a bad ending…..when we finally got to an area where the Google voice told us to ‘turn left to our destination’, it was a downhill trek into a gigantic swamp.  Perhaps there really was a State Park and a campground there, but there is NO WAY that we could have plowed our way down there, and forded all that water to find it.  John verrrrry carefully turned the Fireball around on the narrow levee “road”.  When we got back to the Highway, we pulled out all maps, phones, and camping resources to find a home for the night.  Everything is full (Spring Break), or closed (flood).  The only spot we can find is the Pecan Grove RV Park.

Another spot on a very busy major US Highway.  We are directed to pick any spot we want – “the driest ones are over there….”  As we’re setting up, there’s an old Dodge Caravan driving through the park with the horn blaring.  One of the doors has a sign on it like you’d see from a pizza delivery joint.  Here’s how this conversation went…

Me:  Are you trying to find a particular campsite for a delivery?

Cranky 90-year old African American (woman) driver:  What?  I’m just trying to sell YOU some tamales and pies!

Me:  Tamales?  I love tamales.  How much are they?

C90YOAAWD: $12 a dozen

Me:  Can’t use a dozen, but I’d take four.

C90YOAAWD:  I can sell you six or nine.

Me:  I’ll take six.

C90YOAAWD:  How about nine?

Me:  Can’t use them.  Sorry.  Forget it.

C90YOAAWD:  Why are you giving me such a hard time?

She hauls herself out of the minivan, and opens up the back, where she has a huge stockpot full of tamales (in bundles of 3!  I could have had just 3!!!).  Wraps up six in foil.  I give her $7.  We’re done.  For the record, they were awful.  We ate a couple of them, and threw the rest away.  Bummer.  We love tamales.

Next morning, we decide to bust for Little Rock, AR.  We hadn’t planned to arrive there until Friday, but we call an are able to get our campsite at Maumelle Campground (a Corps of Engineers Park) a day early.  Pulling in, it’s Ahhhh…….a real campground.20150327_091520 Trees.  Picnic Tables.  Fire rings.  A river.  Kids on bikes.  We’re going to be here for five days.  Already, the pressure of the last hideous week begins to dissolve.

Downside?  It’s freezing here (40s), and STILL RAINING!  Our arrival day is Thursday – it doesn’t stop raining until noonish on Saturday.  Long story short – this post is putting even me to sleep.

Clinton Presidential Library.  Beautiful, and interesting, but not as inspirational as the LBJ Library. To me, it just seemed to lack the charm of the LBJ.  20150328_11431020150328_121618 Clinton did sign the Family Leave Act into law, and also signed the law that made COBRA health benefits available to workers changing jobs.  NAFTA came into being during the Clinton Administration, as well as major strides in the Middle East peace process.  Most of everything was lost by the scandal which ensued from the Starr investigations into Whitewater and everything else Clinton.  The enormous Library is well worth a visit – it’s the largest, and most well-attended of all Presidential Libraries.20150328_12552720150328_12565020150328_122504We wandered over to the State Capitol.20150328_14330020150328_143440And the old State Capitol.20150328_134734Around downtown.20150328_13405720150328_13285220150328_135727The above quote was in a special bicycling exhibit in the old State Capitol.

The Central High School National Historic Site was a must-see.  Central High was where school desegregation came to a head in 1957.  Nine African American students were denied entrance to the school in defiance of federal law.  Federal Marshals were called in to escort the kids to school, along streets lined with opposing State National Guards troops and townspeople.20150328_160338 The photos in the museum are chilling, and the audio is shameful.  It’s chilling to think that this disgraceful episode happened so (relatively) recently.  We met a fellow camper here (with a T@B, no less!) who graduated from Central High.  Her father was actually a Senior there in 1957.  Every day is a history lesson of some kind or another.

Everything we have seen here revolves around the Arkansas River.  Perhaps it’s not as wide or dramatic as the Mississippi, but it’s certainly impressive.  Our campground is along its banks, it rolls right thru the center of downtown Little Rock, and there’s a bike trail that covers the 15 mile distance from end to end.  One of the most impressive features is the Big Dam Bridge, which spans the river.20150329_13175220150329_131822 This is the longest, largest bridge ever built solely for pedestrian/bicycle traffic.  Wow!  We pedaled into downtown on a sunny Sunday – one of the first nice days in the area.  We saw hundreds of cyclists and walkers along the way.  The biggest Community Garden I’ve ever seen was also along the path – there must have been 200 plots.  Some were as large as 30 x 30.  Lots of people out digging and planning.  I did stop several times to try to photograph this amazing area, but was unable to get a photo of anything that didn’t just look like dirt and fences. But, it was a fantastic area.

We cycled today (Monday) up to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.  What a gorgeous spot to hike and bike.  The historic focus of the Park is on the Trail of Tears, the paths taken through Arkansas by the Native Americans who were relocated under federal order in the 1830s from their homelands in the Southwest to areas in the Southeast.  All these routes passed through Arkansas, either along the river or land.  There are amazing scenic views,IMG_1321-001IMG_1318 trails, and a quarry open for swimming in the summer. IMG_1316-001 It was worth all the huffing and puffing we had to do on our bikes to get up there.

We head out Tuesday for TN.  That will be our last camp before Evansville, where we’ll hang out with John’s brother for a few days before finally going back to Grand Rapids.  Until Little Rock, we were more than ready to go home.  Now, we’ve had a couple days of great weather, a sterling campground, and a bit of cycling and sightseeing to buoy our spirits.  Home doesn’t sound quite so sweet anymore.



Mistake On the Lake

The phrase “mistake on the lake” has been rolling through my mind for the past couple of days.  It doesn’t apply to Duluth, which seems to be a wonderful place to live (or visit), but to our current campsite.  Yep, we’re camped out on the tarmac, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Here’s a photo of John grilling dinner….20141006_165824The sailboat behind us was moved into position early this morning, blocking our view of the graceful Blatnit Bridge, which connects Duluth to Superior, WI.  (This is not my photo – copied it from a random Google photo file)bridge When it became apparent that this boat was going to stay put, we knew that we had to visit whatever sights we were going to see in Duluth all in one day – we’re going to check out a day early.  I say this with a smile on my face, as we actually laughed out loud when we realized that we had a new sailing neighbor, which will not be sailing away anytime soon.  Mistake On the Lake is our campsite.

So, what to do with just one day?  It’s cool and windy as hell in the morning, so we hang out until 10:30 or so before heading out on bikes.  Minnesota Point was our first destination. This is the very southeastern tip of the little spit of land that lies between Duluth and Superior, WI.  There’s a narrow channel of water between the MN/WI ends.  The total length of 10 miles makes this the longest freshwater sand spit in the world. 20141006_11212320141006_112303 The road to the tip runs through a residential neighborhood, rather plain houses on one side, and spectacular beach homes on the other.

We had a good tailwind heading into town, so we decided to continue cycling along the Lakewalk, a paved path which runs north along the lakeshore from Duluth into the northern communities.  Part of the path runs through town, and past an interesting retaining wall, decorated with photo mosaics.20141006_122027A beautiful Vietnam memorial is also perched along this walkway.  This photo was shot through one of the ‘windows’ in the sculpture.20141006_122547Next up?  A beautiful Lakeside park, with several seating areas.  Brilliant sunshine had many folks out enjoying the day.  We were falling in love with Duluth.20141006_13380020141006_134216We 20141006_133954We traveled out of the City, and into a wooded area, where the paved path ran into several small towns to the north.  After a few more miles, we decided to head back to town.  Hey!  A brewery!  We’ve worked up a real thirst, so into Fitger’s Brewhouse for a quick refreshment.  We loved this place – the bartender had an entertaining crew of regulars gathered ’round, and they took us in as one of their own.  Excellent beer, and pretty good nachos, which we shared.  20141006_142019We liked this so much more than Canal Park Brewery, where we had dinner last night.  Beer there was pretty good, but it was superbusy, and just didn’t have the fun pub feel that we enjoyed so much at Fisger’s.

Now it’s time to visit the Train Museum. On the way there, we see this fabulous pillar beneath the Duluth Library. 20141006_162102 We’re sorry that we didn’t have more time to spend in this fascinating spot.  The first locomotive to be put into service in Duluth in 1862 is here (left).  Isn’t it the perfect Monopoly token?20141006_152938Good photos were at a premium at the Museum, as there was a very strong natural overhead light. 20141006_155617 We examined some of the huge coal-fired locomotives, which required 350 pounds of coal a minute to operate.  Passenger cars from the heyday of rail travel are there, as well as assorted coal cars, mail cars, a caboose (where you can sit up in the high seat and look out the window!).  Many old tools and artifacts from the boom years, as well as the years of decline are there to examine.  One exhibit we both loved was a video of a train equipped with a huge V-snowplow on the front.  It burst through huge drifts along the track.  Guess they need these up here in northern Minnesota, but it was an eye-opener to see.  The Museum is fabulous.

Time to head back to our parking lot campsite.  It’s nearly 5pm, and Jezzy has been patiently waiting for us to come back and entertain her.  We decide that we’ll leave tomorrow, although we had paid for an additional night.  Our original travel plan was to go to International Falls, MN (just because it’s there).  But, now we think that we really want to continue our journey along the Lake Superior shore, stretching northeast of Duluth, up to the Canada border.  Each spot we stopped along this magnificent Lake has its own character.  Some of the borders are white-sand beaches, some high rocky cliffs, some stony beaches.20141006_112523  We can’t wait to see what else is out there.  So, we say goodbye to our porthole view of the Aerial Lift Bridgewpid-20141006_212550-1.jpgand also to our view from the side of the Fireball, which doesn’t look out onto our sailboat neighbor.20141005_204805And hey – just to top things off?  Our refrigerator crapped out again!  Eh, so what?