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?

 

 

 

Going Coastal

Usually, at the end of a six-week trip, I’m ready to head home. This time? Not so much. Traveling to so many brand new places has been a wonderful adventure. We’ve already made notations for places to visit next time. It’s been an extraordinary exploration.

At the end of the last post, we were about to get bounced out of our one-night stand at Santee State Park. Hope nobody lost any sleep worrying about us – we simply got a much better site the next morning, proving (to us, anyway) that sometimes it’s better to fly by the seat of your pants. There weren’t any ‘big’ things to do at Santee – it was a busy, chaotic park. The main attraction were a couple of sink holes locates a few miles from our campsite, so we jumped on our bikes to check them out.20171023_134924767348998.jpgMy first sink holes! I was excited. Perhaps there were visions of the famous Florida sinkholes with houses cascading into the depths. I was not prepared for the underwhelming sight of a ten foot  depression with a bunch of weeds and scruffy shrubs growing out of the bottom – with a fence around it, of course, to keep us all from harm. Needless to say, disappointment reigned. I couldn’t even get a decent photo.

Onward to Carolina Beach State Park, where we had a rustic campsite reserved for two nights. Score! This gorgeous park is perched alongside the Intercoastal Waterway on Snow’s Cut. Our site was within 100 yards of the waterway, lined by a three-mile trail.20171022_1430381275632085.jpg 20171023_1713261059568019.jpgCamping perfection. Have to admit that we got really lucky in reserving this site – there were plenty that were not so roomy, nor so scenic.

Carolina Beach is located just on the edge of Wilmington NC. Just down the road is Fort Fisher, one of the last coastal forts to fall in the Civil War. All that’s left of the Fort are some grassy embankments. 20171023_1346221468247690.jpg20171023_134723331651457.jpgThere are no buildings still standing, and the Visitor Center was closed the day we were there, so much of this remains a mystery. But, it’s a spectacularly beautiful site – home to five battles with Union forces. The first was a disaster, and the last resulted in the fall of the last big Confederate seaport.

The surrounding area is magnificent. Cypress trees lean shoreward from years of offshore winds.20171023_133958-11243828454.jpg A bike/walk path, void of any visitors with the exception of John and me was perfect for us to enjoy the wild and beautiful shoreline.20171023_121946-11738925648.jpg We stopped in to the delightful Good Hops Brewery – a wonderfully dog-friendly pub, where the owner’s pup came out to greet us. I’m sure there was much more in this area to explore, but we were content to hang out and enjoy our coastal camp.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore was a spot on our radar for many years. Although the Michigan coast is magnificent, it’s just different than the ocean. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but we sure don’t have long lines of surf fishers in the Great Lakes. 20171026_1303512085939482.jpgThese guys (yes, they are almost exclusively men) drive out on to the beach in their trucks equipped with front mounted racks for fishing rods and coolers. The atmosphere is casual – it’s all about the fishing, not the actual catching of fish. Most seemed to be fishing for Black Drum, but most catches seemed to be tossed back into the sea – too big, too small, whatever….we saw fishermen lined up on every beach.

Reservations here (Frisco campground) are not site specific – we were allowed to choose our own space upon arrival. The wind was shrieking when we pulled in, and big rain was predicted, so we opted for a site in this magnificent campground that offered a bit of shelter. 20171027_1111291969407008.jpgThe dunes and stunted cypress provide plenty of little coves and hidey places for camping. Protected from the wind, but with a view of the ocean (if we peek around the corner), we grabbed a great spot, and hunkered down. Wow – it howled! We are about 500 yards from the ocean, and hearing it roar every day is wonderful. But, on sunny days, it’s been great for John to harvest from his solar farm (which we needed in a big way, after days of rustic camping).20171027_1110271001074699.jpgToday, our last day, it was not windy. The silence this morning was deafening. This big, yet vacant campground has one big drawback for us, however. The seemingly innocent, grassy areas everywhere are actually carpeted with sand burrs. Even in the middle of the road, the burrs attack and stick. Walking Jezzy is an ordeal (mainly for her) because every few hundred yards we have to stop and pull burrs out from between her toes. Check out this photo of my shoe after taking the trash down the road (about 100 yards).20171027_1122421154430523.jpg Camping here is challenging, but oh so beautiful.IMG_0959One of the main scenic attractions here is the magnificent 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a towering 198.5 feet high (second highest in the world). I was unprepared for how majestic this would be – it is absolutely astounding.

IMG_0966We’re lighthouse veterans and nothing compares to this. How horrible was it to find out that it was closed to climbing as of October 14? Devastating. We could only lust from the outside. The crazy story of the lighthouse makes it even more appealing. In 1999, it was moved over 1/2 miles from its original site to the current location. 20171027_111844291983141.jpgWhat an engineering feat! Take a look at this photo from a beach poster.20171026_1322471980651941.jpg The lighthouse originally stood between the sign, and the water’s edge, not more than a few hundred yards from where I stood. If you look closely, you can see the changing shoreline, and how it endangered the lighthouse. All this great history made its closure even tougher to swallow – it is staffed with National Park Service volunteers, and their season runs from April to Columbus Day. Had we known that, we would have planned differently. Sigh. Move on.

We cycled south the next day, intending to hop the (free) ferry to Ocracoke Island for a bit of exploration. The sea was pretty flat, so I was kinda willing to attempt the ferry ride – I’m a notorious weak-stomached sailor. But, but the time we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, toured the Graveyard of the Atlantic museum, there didn’t seem to be enough time left to take the one hour trip over, cycle around a bit, and then ferry back. Plus, I have to admit, I was leery of a possible rocky boat ride. So, we passed…

For me, the highlight of the Museum was the portion dedicated to the USS Monitor, the ironclad which sank off the Hatteras coast on New Year’s Eve 1862. A few artifacts, and video of the raising of some of the pieces of the Monitor are thrilling to see. Sorry, no photos allowed.

We spent much of our time wandering the beach, enjoying magnificent views. Every day brought different sights – cloudy skies are much different than sunny ones.20171025_1330521434042014.jpg20171025_1328102080419288.jpg20171027_125853101484049.jpgTomorrow, we’re heading to camp in the driveway of T@DA pals Gail and Sid in Portsmouth, VA. They stayed with us for a few days a year ago, and we’re anxious to explore their hometown with them. It will be our first driveway camp, and we’re looking to the comforts of friends and a home for a few days.

Home in a week – hard to believe we’re winding this fantastic trip down already.

Tennessee, Briefly

What a week! After our last night underwater in Arkansas,20170503_173005 we charted a course to Memphis, and headed out. Oops…after a couple of hours on the road, we hit an Arkansas State Highway which was closed by flooding. Detour. Oops…this other State Highway is also closed. To make a long story short, our 4-1/2 hour trip to Memphis turned into an eight hour ordeal.

First impressions of  T.O. Fuller State Park (12 miles from downtown Memphis) weren’t encouraging, but that was quickly overcome. The thick brush alongside the campsites was overgrown, and the campground had kind of a forlorn look to it. But we were won over by an onsite washer/dryer (only $1.00/ea), and a free ice machine! Not to mention sparkling clean, if aging, bathrooms. Fuller SP was the first State Park east of the Mississippi River to admit blacks. And, this was in the 1930s! It seems incredible to me.

The National Civil Rights Museum was our target for our first cycling trip into town. It was a long, crazy ride through some rather sketchy areas, punctuated with 20 minute wait for a freight train. The Museum is located at the old Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr’s. assassination.20170506_140122 The Museum is a testament to the everyday struggles non-white Americans have shared over the years to be granted equal rights. Why should that ever have been an issue? The bus on which Rosa Parks staged her quiet protest is there. 20170506_131845Remember the lunch-counter sit-ins?20170506_132258 Bus bombings? 20170506_132842One of the most moving areas (for me) was the section devoted to James Meredith’s struggle to gain admittance to Old Miss. The film clips are devastating to watch. So many reminders to all the shameful eras of US race relations. The lines to get into the Museum stretched way down the street – blacks and white, old and young. There are lessons to be learned here.20170506_134609Next stop was David Crockett State Park, where we had another history lesson. Near US64, the park encompasses portions of the original Trail of Tears, the route taken by the Cherokees (and some other Native American tribes as well), when they were forcibly relocated from their homelands in NC, GA, VA, and SC to new reservations west of the Mississippi. The sections here were along the route taken by 650 Cherokees led by Captain Bell. 20170508_112759Nearly four percent of the group died on this three-month trip. Lots of history to be absorbed here.20170511_113416 Jezzy was tuckered out after all the learning.20170508_135739 Camping at Crockett SP was great. 20170510_142613We had a huge campsite, and met our Canadian neighbors in their brand-spankin’ new Alto trailer. What a gem. It’s a step up we could seriously see ourselves making.

Onward to Tims Ford State Park in Lynchburg. The only game in town there is the Jack Daniel Distillery, so we took the tasting tour. 20170510_12321020170510_121339If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ll know that the word ‘whiskey’ has probably never been seen in print here. We’re beer drinkers! But, when in Lynchburg… And, we are happy we did take the tour – there’s much to appreciate here. Let me give you a few fun facts.

  1. Jack Daniel owned his first distillery when he was about 14, through an odd combination of circumstances. He was a small man – only 5’2″ (with a size 4 boot!). In a fit of rage, he kicked the safe in his office one day, and broke his foot, which never healed properly. After several successively more aggressive amputations, he eventually died of gangrene, after having the rest of his leg removed at the hip. This statue is entitled “Jack on the Rocks”.20170510_122214
  2. They make all their own barrels onsite, and also produce all their own charcoal, which is used to filter the whiskey. All the water used comes from a spring on the property.
  3. All the Jack Daniel’s whiskey sold in the world are produced in Lynchburg. Even more crazy is the fact that Lynchburg is located in a dry county in TN – the only place to get a drink in the county is on a paid tour of the distillery.
  4. During many sections of the hour-long tour, photos are off-limits. But we got to sniff and look at all areas, and watched a portion of the specialty bottling line.

Then is was time for our tasting. 20170510_130737To my surprise, I really enjoyed four of the five selections (the exception being Tennessee Fire, which is JD + cinnamon liquor).

Southern Tennessee is beautiful, rolling country. 20170510_16223220170510_105856Our travels from camp to camp were enjoyable as our eyes feasted on lush green forests and barns of every shape and age.

Crossing back into the Eastern Time Zone for the first time this year, we’re now camped at Thunder Rock Campground, along the Ocoee River. 20170512_151356This is the site of the whitewater course in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and our campsite is right on the river. We’re so fortunate to be here on this day (Saturday), as the dams have been opened for the day, and water is rushing along at 1400 cubic feet per second. Daredevil kayaks, river rafts of all sizes and careening downsream, with sometimes unexpected results.20170513_11590920170513_12013320170513_111738 It’s thrilling even to watch.

We cycled down to the area near the National Whitewater Center, and parked ourselves along the rocks to watch. It brought back memories of my rafting down the Gauley (WV) River two times many years ago. What a thrill. Our National Forest Service Campground is fabulous as well, with the only drawback being its proximity to US64. Lots of car and truck traffic. There are dozens of  hiking and mountain bike trails here. An adventurer’s paradise.

Sorry I haven’t included any links to these places or any additional background information. We haven’t had any phone signal or WiFi for a few days, so I’m sitting in the truck in the parking lot at the Whitewater Center, grabbig a bit of signal. The longer I leave these posts unwritten, the worse they get.

This is our last week of camping before turning the big red truck north and scampering for home. We still have Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and our Blue Ridge Rally to finish off this long trip. Can’t say we’ve enjoyed EVERY minute, but it’s certainly been an adventure.

California Days

Boy, have we ever covered a lot of ground since my last post. Funny how a bit of time trivializes all of the things we did – it seems really silly to detail activities to the extent that I usually do. So, we’ll go with the Cliffs Notes version here – bits of commentary. Photos. And California is so beautiful that I have dozens that I would like to share.

Before leaving Crystal Cove State Park, we had to take one extended bike ride to Coronado Island to see the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Wow. I couldn’t take any photos from a vantage point that made any sense, so you’ll have to enjoy the linked ones instead. There is even a sand sculptor on the beach there, creating fanatastical castles.wp-1489722400006.jpg It really is a look into another vacation world. Our bike ride took the biggest chunk of a day, and covered 50+ miles. Loved the fact that probably probably 45 miles of this was on dedicated bike paths, AND a brewery was right along the route.

Moving on to San Clemente State Beach was interesting, as noted in my last post. Our campsite was overgrown with weedswp-1490289949242.jpgand a couple of feral cats seemed to adopt us – drinking from Jezzy’s outside water dish, hanging out by the warmth of our campfire, and sitting on our picnic table.wp-1490289471717.jpg And yet? What a great campground – kids, bikes, tons of tent-campers. The campground itself is perched atop some delicate-looking sandstone cliffs. wp-1490289999739.jpgIt’s amazing (to me, anyway) that these cliffs are still standing – you can scratch them with your fingernail. But they are beautiful, especially strewn with spring wildflowers. wp-1490289917234.jpgwp-1490289739477.jpgWandering down the beach, we spied on Nixon’s old house – Casa Pacifica. wp-1490289890597.jpgwp-1490289864289.jpgLots of surfers. wp-1490289851524.jpgwp-1490289830255.jpgWe cycled down a beach path, and wandered out on the San Clemente pier. wp-1490289812166.jpg20170323_102117.jpgwp-1490289621329.jpgwp-1490289588089.jpgSan Clemente vs Laguna Beach? Old money vs new artsy money. Both fun.

It was a shock to leave the beach and head back into the Mojave Desert, but that’s what we did. Owl Canyon Campground near Barstow, CA was our next stop. With our senior pass, camping was $3/night. It couldn’t have been better.wp-1490669231753.jpg About 80% of the 30 campsites were empty, so we grabbed a good one, and set up for two nights. Ahhhh, so quiet. Huge, starry sky. The only bad thing was that it was super windy, so we couldn’t enjoy a campfire, or even an evening cookout. The wind was howling!

We did hike into the Canyon the next day, taking Jezzy on the two-mile loop.wp-1490669266731.jpg Sadly, as we neared the end, we found a rocky wall obstacle. We could have gotten up and over, but there was no way we could have boosted Jezzy over. So, we had to turn around and trudge back. There’s not much else out there – we learned that we were lucky not to have been there on a weekend – it turns into a Jeep off-roader wild party. So happy not to have blundered into that!

Death Valley was our next stop, but that deserves its own post.

Nixon, Revisited

Move over LBJ. We may have just replaced your Museum with a new favorite, and an unlikely one, at that. We visited the Nixon Museum two days ago, and were absolutely blown away. It starts with the gigantic portrait by Norman Rockwell inside the door.20170317_094411.jpg As always, we began our investigation of the Museum by watching the introductory film. No pussy-footing around here – the opening scene is Nixon’s emotional exit speech, and we see him and Pat getting into the helicopter. President Ford wipes a tear from his eye. Bang! What a beginning. This scene is echoed in another exhibit as well, showing Nixon from inside the chopper looking out.wp-1489722399890.jpgClosed for six months last year while the Museum’s exhibits were re-tooled, I can only say that the results are stunning. There are all sorts of interactive displays, and huge sections both on Watergate and Vietnam. Timelines on both are really helpful in sorting things out.wp-1489772426258.jpgIt was disquieting to see the weekly Vietnam stats that were kept in a safe. Take a close-up look at the document on the right.

Actual conversations can be listened in on using old-style big push-button phones. We found things to like about Nixon – things that we forgot, or that had been overshadowed by Watergate. He signed Title IX into being – ending gender-based discrimination in education and sports programs. Anyone who went to school in the 60’s knows how huge that was. When I was in high school, there were ZERO sports for girls. None. Nixon also abolished the draft, and ushered the all-volunteer army into existence. Loved the photo showing mail and telegram response he got after referring to support of his Vietnam policy by the Silent Majority.wp-1489722399830.jpgThe War on Cancer. The opening of diplomatic relations with China. The introduction of the Space Shuttle program. Signing of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with Russia.wp-1489772405859.jpgThe creation of the EPA. And, surprisingly, Nixon championed a health insurance program, with subsidies to help everyone afford coverage, which was shot down by the Democratic congress. It’s interesting to remember all the things we’ve forgotten. Here are a few other photos from the Museum. I think these are the same drapes Trump is currently using.wp-1489722399676.jpgwp-1489722399529.jpgwp-1489772488550.jpgwp-1489722399372.jpgNixon was a voracious note-taker, and went through thousands of yellow legal pads during his career. His college roommates nicknamed him Iron Butt, for his ability to sit in one chair for hours, making and reviewing notes. Maybe that’s how I’ll remember him. Make it a point to visit this spectacular site if you’re near Yorba Linda, CA.

Our home for the last three nights has been Crystal Cove State Park, perhaps the most beautiful campground we ever stay in. wp-1489722399742.jpgwp-1489722399716.jpgwp-1489722399395.jpgThis is our third time here, and each time we make plans for another visit. Our campsite is perched right over the Pacific Coast Highway, and the pounding surf lulls us to sleep every night. One oddity this trip has been the dense fog, which rolls in after dusk every night, and doesn’t clear off until after noon. Makes for a short day to whale watch. While wandering down the beach, we did see this sand castle, which pales in comparison to the professionally crafted one at Coronado Island that we saw a few days ago. But beautiful, nonetheless.wp-1489722399306.jpgwp-1489722400001.jpgWe are heading off today to a new camp at San Clemente State Beach, just a few miles to the south of here. San Clemente was the site of the Western White House in Nixon’s time. wp-1489722399527.jpgThe Nixons spent many weekends there while he was in office, and returned to San Clemente after he left. We’re looking forward to exploring a new Park – camping on the CA coast is astonishingly expensive. Our basic site – no water or electric is $50/night. Showers are coin-op. It certainly is the most we have paid for any state park camping, but it is oh so worth it for a week.wp-1489722399181.jpg