I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list
Wednesday, April 24, 2013: Woke this morning in Graceland RV Park to cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid 40’s…..however with a strong northerly breeze it felt a lot colder. Pretty good day to travel and make some mileage. We are beginning to get a bit homesick and are missing our Maine family. In addition we recently received word that our grandson Joe’s girlfriend is preparing to set sail with her father for an extended transatlantic voyage and we would like to see them before their departure next month.
During my own pre underway preparations, I noticed that a propane tank had emptied overnight and the regulator had automatically shifted the propane load to its twin. Noticing there was a propane fill station near the office, I asked about getting the depleted tank refilled. The park maintenance man jumped in his four-wheeler came to our site and removed the empty tank. As I was continuing to hook up the truck to trailer, he returned the filled tank and reinstalled it…..the only charge was for the propane! Now that’s service!! As he drove away I mustered my best Elvis impersonation and yelled: “Thank You, Thank You Very Much!”
At 1030 we were on I-240 heading east until we cleared Memphis where we merged with I-40.
It was a beautiful drive but we noticed increasing volume of traffic, especially long haul truckers. We had thought of going to Nashville for a few days but decided to leave that for a future trip. In addition we discussed visiting a cousin on my mom’s side that lives in eastern North Carolina. Bill and Joanna and their two children have been very hospitable about inviting us to dooryard surf with them. However on this trip that would cause a few days detour and we are getting real anxious to get back home. Sorry, guys please don’t pull the welcome mat just yet. We will make it on a future trip…..promise!
Today was devoted to making miles so we stayed on I-40 and soon were crossing into the Eastern Time zone losing an hour. It had been a smooth travel day, but since it was a bit gloomy dusk seemed to come early. Just west of Knoxville, Tennessee we noticed a Flying J/Pilot Truck Plaza ahead where we decided to pull in for the night.
Thursday, April 25, 2013: We were awakened around 0630 by the gentle rumble of truckers starting their days drive. It was a restful night at a rather austere campsite with a great price…..free!
Flying J, and its sister company Pilot are nationwide truck stops that also cater to the RV’ing public. Most feature separate RV fuel lanes with fresh water to fill tanks and sewer connections to dump the grey and black tanks…..all while filling the gas tank, washing the windows and getting some of the best coffee on the road. Most also allow overnight parking and provide long and well lit parking spaces right in front of the 24 hour store. In addition, if you have one of their affinity cards (free for the asking) you can score discounts on fuel, food and services….a great deal overall!!
This particular Flying J was attached to a Denny’s Restaurant and since we were tiring of our own cooking and since we wanted to patronize a business that does so much for the traveling RV’er, we decided treat ourselves to breakfast. To sweeten the deal (pun intended), it was Bacon Month!
This special menu contained many common entrees spiced up by adding bacon. I chose the french-toast containing thick maple frosting and smothered in bacon enhanced caramel syrup piece of art shown below.
I also had two eggs and hash browns and to ensure I at least had one healthy item I ate the entire orange wedge garnish thingie!
We rolled out of the restaurant an hour later and stumbled outside in a complete food coma. After a few walking laps about the parking lot we were sufficiently recovered to attempt to motor on.
Finally underway at 1040…..it is a bright sunny day and the temperatures are in the mid-50’s. Our goal for today is to encounter the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) just north of Ashville, NC. On I-40, we skirted Knoxville and continued easterly. In a little over an hour we encountered our old friend I-81 and turned to the north.
From I-81 we took US 11E to US-19E entering North Carolina at 1427 and soon joined the BRP near Mount Pisgah.
This 469 mile National Scenic Parkway runs along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains and is managed by the National Park Service. Work on the BRP began during the great depression as a WPA project and was built to link Smokey Mountain National Park in the south to Shenandoah National Park to the north. It took over 52 years to complete using a combination of government and private construction teams. The CCC was heavily involved until WWII when they were drafted and replaced by conscientious objectors assigned to the Civilian Public Works program.
As a throughway there is no fee to enter and it is open year round, weather permitting. However the facilities are seasonal and most everything was closed this early in the year…..including the campgrounds, much to our chagrin.
As the premier US scenic highway there is no more beautiful way to travel in the eastern US. The BRP features many pull-outs and scenic view parking opportunities.
On a clear day, the views are incredible. One is compelled to stop at each and every opportunity as the scenery is so dramatic and constantly changing. Some overlooks feature short hiking trails that lead to even more awe inspiring views. There is no reason to hurry when traveling in these majestic mountains.
Well, it’s getting late and we need to find a spot off the parkway to stay the night. Fortunately we discovered Raccoon Holler RV Park a mere ¼ mile away! Since tomorrow is Tucker’s birthday we really needed cell phone connectivity to sing him our rendition of “Happy Birthday”. After many miles of no cell service, we received a signal as we entered the campground! True “road magic” once again!!
Friday, April 26, 2013: Up early but lounged about the campground waiting for a decent hour to call our grandson Tucker to wish him a happy sixth birthday. In addition the campground was a great opportunity to walk about a bit and log some miles on the old Fitbit’s.
Driving back up the short access road we encountered the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) at 1105, it is a sunny and warm morning…..perfect for a drive in the Appalachian Mountains.
A lot of the BRP is exposed on both sides and affords majestic views to the horizon. However some parts meander through alpine meadows and farmlands which are just as scenic.
One could blow through the entire length of this incredible National Parkway in a day, however to fully appreciate the natural beauty you need to slow down, stop occasionally and walk away from the pavement where you will be rewarded with views such as this.
The bright green spring foliage, newly blossomed wildflowers, verdant valleys and distant hazy mountains create one of nature’s most breathtaking views…..it is a true spiritual experience and brings to mind one of my favorite quotes attributed to John Muir:
“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God,
than in a church thinking about the mountains”
As mentioned, none of the National Park visitor’s centers were open but a few concessionaires were and we stopped at them all. One of which was the historic Moses Cone manor that contained regional arts and crafts for sale.
Moses, who made his fortune in the textile industry by supplying an improved denim material to Levi Strauss, built the 13,000 square foot mansion in 1901. While Kit shopped, I sat on the grand colonial revival porch and enjoyed the view.
In addition to making and spending gobs of money (Moses, not Kit) one of his “hobbies” was road building. Old Moses personally graded and landscaped the 25 miles of carriage trails that wind about his 3,500 acre estate. Today many of these trails are open to hikers, bikers and equestrians.
Back on the road we continued north and rolled into the great state of Virginia around 1330. Fortunately at this time of the year there was little traffic and since there were plenty of spots to pull over our “RV conga line” of following vehicles were minimized. We pulled into most overlooks that were roomy enough to safely park and fortunately there were many of those.
There was one couple from…..OK, I’ll say it, New Jersey…..that would blow by us on the narrow twisty parkway in their Lexus only to pull into the next scenic overview, roll slowly by to see the sights and exit right behind us to repeat the crazy move once again. After a few miles, we lost sight of the Jersey couple as I assume they were well on their way back to their Garden State.
Traveling as we do, we meet some of the most interesting people. At one stop we hit a goldmine of international travelers. First were a couple of guys from the Netherlands.
They shipped their bikes overseas and have been spending the past few months touring the east coast. Spent quite a while sharing travel stories and getting their impressions of the US. At another stop we met a honeymooning couple from Israel. Their perception of the US and world events was quite interesting. They both thanked us for the friendship America shows to Israel and planned to come back and explore America more thoroughly.
Usually in late afternoon we start discussing where to land for the evening. Kit noticed what looked to be a nice Virginia State Park off the BRP to the east. I vetoed the suggestion as it was 9 miles off route and I was sure we would find a suitable spot alongside the Parkway as we did last night…..so on we rolled. Around 1830 I started to research a place to stay the night. Noticing on the internet what looked to be a nice campground a short distance to the west we called and secured assurance they had plenty of room. However as we exited the Parkway and came to a “T” in the road, the route to the west had a sign that read “Not Recommended for Large Trucks or Recreational Vehicles”. So the only option was to turn to the east. That particular route plunged down a very steep road, twisting and turning about the mountainside. In what seemed like forever, but in reality was only about 15 minutes, we finally leveled out as we popped out in a small rural Virginia farming community. Fortunately we still had internet connectivity and discovered a campground about 9 miles to the south…..yep, backtracking the same direction and distance we would have been had I listened to Kit two hours ago! Think that little mistake of mine will be mentioned again? (Good possibility-Kit)
Camp Karma (honest, I did not make that up!) turned out to be a nice place established a few years ago by a couple of aging Hippies.
As we were settling in for the night and checked computers for the news of the day, we received the sad news that our friends, and fellow RV’rs, Vince and Candy had lost their beautiful dog Buster.
The above photo was from happier times just a few weeks earlier. He was the most well behaved and gentle dog we have ever known and a constant companion to Vince and Candy…..RIP Buster.
Saturday, April 27, 2013: Up to cool sunny weather and after a walk about this real nice rustic campground we were on the road by 1130. In a half hour we were back on the BRP at an access point we passed yesterday so about 6 miles of this morning’s drive was a repeat of yesterday……yep, Kit made sure to mention that fact.
One spot we were looking forward to visiting was Peaks of Otter Lodge. Our friends David and Betty had enjoyed this facility many times and raved about it. We had planned on partaking of lunch at the restaurant and to explore the area. However, we found it closed as well……the parking lot was even blocked off! Not because of the early season but due to the previous operators decision to not renew the lease with the National Park Service. Hope someone steps forward to take over the operation as it looked to be a very nice place to stay.
Spent the afternoon poking about at roadside overlooks and enjoying the countryside and pleasant spring weather in the Appalachian Mountains. The trees and flowers were at their peak spring hue and the native birds were very active.
We thought of pushing the “No Camping in the Overlooks” policy and just set up for the night at one of the more remote parking areas but thought better of it when talking to a fellow RV’er that said they tried, and got caught. Many NPS rules make sense……this one does not, especially when the established National Park campgrounds are closed. Short overnight parking in a fully self-contained RV would not hurt a thing.
One of the stops we made featured an old homestead that had been stabilized and protected by the National Park Service.
It was fun to poke around the old log structures and envision how the mountain people survived in this area a few hundred years ago.
As we were pulling into another scenic view overlook a motorcycle came up and the rider mentioned he had seen our military stickers on the trailer and just wanted to thank us for our service……nice.
On one of our last stops, we noticed that threatening clouds had moved in and the views were beginning to be affected by the deteriorating conditions.
We were nearing the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and had planned to continue north on Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. Since it was getting late, and we were running short of vittles, we exited the Parkway at Waynesboro, Virginia and let Lucy guide us to a local grocery store. As Kit shopped, I researched campgrounds in the area and settled on one a short distance away.
Since it was a weekend and at the beginning of the camping season the North 340 RV Park was pretty crowded with locals getting out for the first time since last summer. We were able to nestle in besides a family from Virginia Beach and a motorhome full of middle aged women out for a girl’s getaway…..both groups interesting to visit with.
Sunday, April 28, 2013: Woke to really nasty weather…..cold, fog, wind and drizzle. Visibility was only a few hundred feet, not really a great day to travel Skyline Drive so we went to plan “B”……move over to I-81 and head for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As you can see, the weather was pretty bad.
Rolled through part of West Virginia and Maryland before crossing into Pennsylvania at 1520. We moved to PA-76E passing by pastoral farms and arrived at Gettysburg RV Park an hour later. Even though it is the 150th anniversary year of the Battle of Gettysburg, the campground was near empty due to a combination of the weather and the early season. Because of this, we were able to score a nice private site on the river.
The rain had slowed and the sun was trying to break through but the long range forecast was for more of the same. So we took the opportunity to walk about the park for a bit and enjoyed the river burbling right behind our camper.
This is a great facility for the history buff as all the Gettysburg sites are a short drive away. We decided to stay two nights so we could tour the area and enjoy a much needed down day.
Monday, April 29, 2013: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Following a relaxing breakfast in the camper, Kit and I made our way to Gettysburg National Military Park stopping at the brand new visitor’s center and museum.
We had last visited this area in 1975 with our three young children. At the time the visitor’s center was relatively small and basically housed the famous “cyclorama” and a few battlefield artifacts. Today the facility is massive, many of the historical artifacts that the national Park Service had in storage can now be displayed. The cyclorama has been refreshed and greatly enhanced being housed in its own separate rotunda.
The cyclorama, created in 1883 by a French artist Paul Philippoteaux depicts the battle of Gettysburg in a 360 degree painting displayed in a way to put the viewer in the center of the action. Realism is enhanced by the strategic placing of actual pieces from the NPS collection placed in the foreground. Look closely…..the cannon in the foreground is real, the ones in the background are in the painting. Now add lights, sounds, dialog and an informative narrative and the realism is incredible!
Normally, we can make it through most National Park visitor’s center in about an hour……we were in this facility for over four hours, and still did not see it all! If you are ever in the area, this place is definitely worth a visit. In fact we spent so much time in the museum that we passed on the self-guided auto tour of the actual battlefield. We have vowed to return and spend much more time in this historic area.
Returning to the campground tired and pleased we had made time to visit Gettysburg, we enjoyed a nice meal and sat outside next to the river until time for bed.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013: One of the main reasons we returned from our winter RV trip through Pennsylvania was family. My mom was raised in Philadelphia and most of her people still reside in the area. We are always warmly welcomed by our Philly family and returning for a periodic visit is a highlight of our trips.
Our first family visit was to be Don and Pat in York, Pennsylvania which is a short drive to the east. However since they both work we took advantage of the campgrounds liberal departure policy and lounged around until 1400 when we pulled out and made the 35 mile trip to their home.
Don, an engineer and Pat, a school principal have raised their family in York which is about 100 miles to the east of Philadelphia.
They graciously invited us to dooryard surf in their driveway which we readily accepted.
Since Pat was taking graduate courses at a nearby university, Don, Kit and I decided to go out to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants.
It turned out to be a Mexican-Peruvian place and the mix of cultural cuisine was incredible, and the local brews were quite tasty as well. After bringing each other up to date on our lives, Don shared a bit of news about his latest project at work. As a Materials Engineer, he is a member of a team that designed, built and tested the martian rover, Curiosity. His expertise was in the area of powering the rover which uses a thermoelectric generator featuring Plutonium as its heat source. As an added bonus, his daughter Sarah, while an intern out of Drexel University worked on the rover as well. It was amazing to actually talk to an individual that worked on a machine that is currently crawling about the surface of Mars gathering and analyzing samples from the environment.
After dinner we returned to their home and enjoyed some of Don’s home brewed beer. Soon, Pat arrived and we continued our visiting until it was time to retire.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013: Originally, we had intended to pull out this morning and head into the Amish country of Lancaster County. However, Don informed us that Lancaster County started on the other side of the Susquehanna River which was just a short drive away. He then invited us to leave the trailer in his driveway explore the nearby sights and stay an additional night with them, which we gladly agreed to.
Being mid-week, Don and Pat had to work. However, one attraction they recommended was The National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
I’ll have to admit, I was wondering how interesting could a museum devoted to timepieces be? Boy, was I wrong…..both Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed the displays of the earliest methods to mark time to the latest high tech devices. The most interesting, however was the displays from the “golden age” of clock making such as these magnificent grandfathers clocks.
Or these more “common” mantle and wall clocks.
The craftsmanship in the casework and movements were incredible for their time (no pun intended).
A particularly interesting piece of timekeeping art was this eleven foot tall animated clock made by Stephen Engle.
Completed over a twenty year period, this “Monumental Clock” was finished in 1878 then taken on tour about the US. Folks spent good money to sit in a tent and wait patiently for the individual figures to become active at different preset times. A complete animated cycle took two hours and many folks would get their money’s worth by waiting the entire time to see all 48 figures in action. Fortunately we only had to wait about ten minutes for the clock to cycle through as the docent manually moved the hands. The craftsmanship and technical complexity of this ancient clock was amazing to observe.
In the museum, there was also a replica of a late 1800’s manufacturing facility and retail shop.
Since it was near lunch time, we got a lead from the receptionist at the museum for a family style Amish restaurant so off we went. The home cooked food and desserts were incredible and the Amish wait staff was very friendly and accommodating.
Needing to walk off some of the meal, we decided to take a tour of an authentic Amish farm just down the road.
Keeping with Amish religious teachings, the home had no supplied electricity or public water. The stoves were wood fired or propane, the lighting was kerosene and if electricity was needed it was in the form of batteries that could be charged by generators. Domestic water was hand pumped into the kitchen and waste water was shunted into the garden…..nothing was wasted. If the family could afford a telephone, it had to be located outside. In another words, nothing could be connected to the family’s home.
The barn housed a new mom busy nursing her offspring and paying little attention to the nosey tourist snapping her photo.
That was until I got a little too close, the 500 pound mom raised her head and loudly snorted…..the dust flew, and so did I.
In a far safer part of the barn there was a craftsman whittling items from tree branches.
Chris is a world renowned whittler and a published author. Everything he makes comes from found wood and worked with a standard old pen knife…..his art is truly remarkable. Since it was a slow day, and since stuff like this fascinates me, I spent an hour visiting with him as he worked. Soon paying customers arrived and I moved on but not before purchasing a piece of his work.
Returning to Don and Pat’s for the night we continued our visit then off to bed in our cozy little camper in their driveway.
Thursday, May 2, 2013: Up, breakfast, hitched up and on the road by 1030. We decided to take US-30 back across the Susquehanna River and into Amish country for the trip east. Since we had a day to explore before arriving at our next family stop we decided to amble about the countryside to see what we could find in the rest of Lancaster County. Within the hour we were rolling through Bird in Hand and Kit spotted some nifty shopping opportunities. As she took off on her mission I stayed behind to research a place to stay tonight and check various components on the truck and trailer…..a task I accomplish every day or so while on the road. It was then that I noticed a severely worn tire on the aft starboard side of the camper. Figuring it would be prudent to change over to the spare and minimize any inconvenient blowouts, I jacked her up and changed it out. The wear was very strange, much like something was rubbing on the tire as it rotated but there was plenty of clearance around the tire.
However, the part that alarmed me the most was that the tread had begun to delaminate from the carcass! Had that let go at speed the resulting damage to the side of the trailer could have been substantial…..not to mention the sudden increased load on the remaining tire could have detonated it as well. Not a pleasant thought!
As I was changing the tire three fellas stopped to see if I needed any help. One an Amish gentleman named Mel offered to take the damaged tire to a local garage if I needed. Gotta love small town America!
When Kit returned, we made our way to Intercourse, Pennsylvania and the Beacon Hill RV Park, a place we had enjoyed staying in the past. The campground is right next to an Amish farm and all the sights, sounds and smells of organic farming are there to enjoy.
After dinner we sat out on the lawn as the Amish folks clip clopped their way down the road in their wagons.
The sound of the simple life is mesmerizing. I was able to capture a short video as one of the many carriages trundled by…..check it out at:
Friday, May 3, 2013: Woke to a rooster crowing next door and the pungent aroma of manure beginning to warm in the morning sun. Enjoyed a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs with fresh Apple Fritters that we had purchased yesterday.
Broke camp and were on the road at 1030 under clear warm skies. Kit wanted to get in some more shopping and since it was a short drive to our next destination we found a great spot to park the truck and trailer that overlooked a bucolic farm.
After a couple of hours of browsing through the shops, we had lunch and headed to Springfield, PA to visit with our Philly family for the weekend.
Around 1830 we pulled up to my cousin Mary Kate’s driveway and settled in for what promises to be a great weekend of visiting family and exploring the area. I decided to pull in frontwards so the door would be facing the house.
Backing out may be an issue but I suspect not…..time will tell. Looking forward to a fun weekend!!!!
Kit’s Corner: This being our fifth winter of traveling, I’ve begun to notice some patterns in the way things break out. The last couple of years, we’ve traveled northeast and stopped in Minnesota to visit family. This year, we kind of hustled across the southern US as we were anxious to get home. We were surprised to find none of the camping areas open on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We lost quite a bit of time in searching out private campgrounds, which was frustrating. We’ve learned that we need to be a bit more proactive in researching campgrounds in the off season.