Brownsville – Month 2 (February 12 – March 12, 2020)

On Thursday, February 13th, we attended a happy hour on the patio outside the Amenity Center. A two-man band called Shake & Bake performed for two hours. We were surprised when Hill Dishman, the campground owner, joined the band to sing a couple of songs. Hill has a very good voice and did an outstanding imitation of Willie Nelson.

Friday was Valentine’s Day and we celebrated by heading over to South Padre Island. We first stopped at Tequila Sunset where we sat outside overlooking Laguna Bay and listened to live music. When it started to get too cool for sitting outside, we walked up the street to Louie’s Backyard. At Louie’s, we were able to sit inside and listen to live music. We also visited the nearby sand castle displays.

Brownsville – Month 1 (January 12 – February 12, 2020)

On Sunday, January 12th, we left Fredericksburg and drove 349 miles to Brownsville where we will spend three months at a new campground, Tropical Trails RV Resort. Jan had learned about this campground online and we booked our reservation last summer. Originally, we believed it was going to open in October 2019. However, over the following months, the opening date kept getting delayed. Each time, Jan would call Bonnie, the General Manager, to seek assurance that the park would be open by mid-January. It did finally open on January 1, 2020. When we arrived, we noted that there were only about 30 rigs parked in the 165-acre campground. We quickly discovered that the campground was clearly still a work in progress. We took one of the sites with some grass growing on the door side. In the days to come, Phil watered the grass most mornings. We hope to have an established lawn by the time we leave in April. Although it felt like we were camping in a construction site, the owner was wise enough not to park campers next to each other. As a result, we had plenty of privacy and were able to park our truck on an empty site nearby.

One of the advantages to being in a nearly-empty campground was that we were able to meet a lot of the other campers at the many organized activities. On Monday morning Phil joined about 10 other campers on the four new pickleball courts. He was one of the few who had played the game before and was disappointed that the group disbanded after playing only two games. On Monday night we joined a number of fellow campers to watch the NCAA football championship game and, for non-football fans, a game of Mexican train. While Phil watched football, Jan was quite successful playing Mexican train.

On Tuesday we went to our dentist appointment. After sitting in the lobby for an hour, we learned that they had been unable to confirm our dental insurance. So rather than wait any longer, we rescheduled for Wednesday. We then dropped by to visit the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts who are camping at the nearby Winter Haven campground.  On Wednesday we met at the amenity center and learned to play shuffleboard. Although we had a large crowd, no one really knew the rules so we had to rely on the few who had watched YouTube videos beforehand. In the afternoon, we returned to the dentist. Although we were able to get x-rays and an examination, the cleanings were delayed until mid-February.

On Thursday we joined a group at the amenity center for a shrimp boil. In addition to shrimp, there was more than enough sausage, potatoes, corn and bread so no one walked away hungry.

On Friday we joined a caravan to Nuevo Progresso, Mexico. Since we had been there several times before, we explored on our own but we did join the group for lunch at Arturo’s. After lunch, we headed to our usual beauty salon and both got $10 pedicures. When we returned to the campground, we attended a presentation by a local travel agency that included a Mexican dance team and free margaritas.

On Saturday evening, Jan’s friend, Sheila Gaskin, arrived for a weeklong visit. We attempted to eat dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Harlingen but the line was too long. We left and headed to the Texas Roadhouse in Brownsville. Although we still had a 40-minute wait, the meal was very good.

On Sunday, January 19th, Jan and Sheila spent the afternoon at South Padre Island. Phil stayed at home to watch the Tennessee Titans lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. That evening, we met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at The Lucky Barrel to watch the Green Bay Packers play for the NFC championship. Unfortunately for our friends from Wisconsin, the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

On Monday, after Phil played pickleball, we headed back to Nuevo Progresso. This was Sheila’s first visit to a Mexican border town.

On Tuesday we attended the campground’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. We then headed to South Padre Island and visited the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue facility. Later we had an early dinner at Pier 19.

The weather forecast for Wednesday had called for rain all day. Although the rain ended early, we opted to spend the day indoors so we headed to the Sunrise Mall. Phil went to see the movie ‘1917‘ while Jan and Sheila went shopping. We then went to Russo’s NY Pizzeria for dinner.

On Thursday we went to South Padre Island (SPI) and headed to Clayton’s for music and cheap wings and beer. Although the temperature in Brownsville reached 81 degrees, it only reached 68 degrees at SPI and was quite windy. We moved our seats four times to stay in the sun. Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt joined us for the last hour.

On Friday, Jan and Sheila picked up Roxi and Beth and headed back to Nuevo Progresso for the day. Phil met up with Tom and Todd at C & C Wings.

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Jan, Beth, Roxi and Sheila at lunch in Nuevo Progresso

Saturday morning we woke up at 4 am to take Sheila back to the Harlingen airport for her flight home. We got back home shortly before 6 am and had no trouble falling back asleep for several more hours.

On Sunday we went to the SPI Convention Center to do some shopping at the Marketplace. We met the Rykals, the Ehlenfeldts and some friends of the Ehlenfeldts (Ed and Teresa) there. After having explored all the booths at the Marketplace, we all headed to Louie’s Backyard for lunch. We then headed to LongBoard Bar & Grill where sat and enjoyed music by a husband and wife band.

Phil played pickleball on Monday morning. In the afternoon we headed to Boca Chica Beach and spent an hour walking up and down the beach. We were able to see the expansion to the SpaceX facility that has happened since we were in Brownsville last winter.

Phil spent most of Tuesday dealing with various medical and dental issues. We both played shuffleboard on Wednesday morning.

On Thursday, January 30th, the owners of Tropical Trails RV Park, Hill and Donelle Dishman, hosted a happy hour at their condo at the Boardwalk Yacht Club on South Padre Island. Their home was beautifully decorated and included a tiki bar in the lower level. After the happy hour, we all headed across the road to Gabriella’s Italian Restaurant. The food was very good and we had a good time getting to know some more of our neighbors.

We participated in a shuffleboard tournament on Friday afternoon. We played four games but, unfortunately, did not come away with any of the prize money.

On Saturday we drove to Donna, TX and strolled through the Don-Wes Flea Market and made a few purchases. We then headed across the border to Nuevo Progresso for a late lunch.

Phil spent the following Monday and Tuesday prepping for his colonoscopy. The combination of prepping for the procedure and needing to be at the surgical center at 6:15 am Wednesday kept Phil up all Tuesday night watching five episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. The procedure went smoothly. As usual, the prep was worse than the actual exam. Upon returning home, we both slept a long time.

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All ready to go

The high winds kept us from doing much over the next few days.   On Thursday afternoon we drove to downtown Brownsville with the intention of having dinner at the Made in Mexico Festival.  Unfortunately the neighborhood was quite seedy and didn’t appear to be where we’d want to be after dark.  We wandered around the block but decided it wasn’t worth paying the $5 admission.  Instead, we headed back to Russo’s Pizzeria for dinner.

On Friday afternoon we went over to Winter Haven RV Park and had dinner with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts.

Sunday was Leslie Verhaeghe’s birthday and her husband, Jim, had planned a surprise campfire for her. Unfortunately, the strong winds made a campfire a no-go so, instead, we all met in the Amenity Center and ate birthday cake and played games. We learned a couple of new games: Golf and Zonk. Golf is a 9-round card game and Zonk is a variation of Farkle, played with six dice.

The wind on Monday was so strong that Phil could barely manage to get our door open. We are really getting tired of the wind and are already thinking of spending next winter elsewhere. The one excitement for the day came when a herd of goats found their way into the campground. Jim Verhaeghe and his dog, Vader, responded quickly and shepherded them back to where they belonged.

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On Tuesday, February 11th, we joined a group from Tropical Trails for a trip to the Heritage Museum in downtown Brownsville. We attended a lecture by a history professor from UTRGV. The lecture covered Mexican history from their independence from Spain in 1821 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The professor discussed the factors that kept Mexico from evolving as successfully as the US after obtaining their independence. We learned a lot about Santa Anna who served as president or military-backed dictator 11 times from 1833-1855. Apparently Santa Anna quickly grew bored of being president and would frequently relinquish power to his vice-president, only to change his mind shortly thereafter.

Short Stop in the Texas Hill Country (Dec. 28, 2019 – Jan. 12, 2020)

On Saturday, December 28th, we left Goodlettsville, TN and drove 270 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park. Heavy rain had been forecast for the entire day but, fortunately, we only got light drizzle until we were set up at the campground. Then the skies opened up and we had torrential rain all evening.

On Sunday, we drove 235 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at Shady Pines RV Park. This was our fifth stay at Shady Pines and, as usual, we used this layover to get our annual vehicle inspections on the truck and trailer.

On Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, we drove about 285 miles to Elm Mott, TX (outside of Waco) where we spent the night at I-35 RV Park. We had hoped that our route would bypass Dallas but our GPS took us all the way to the edge of downtown Dallas. Then, due to new highway construction, the GPS had Phil in the wrong lane to make the turn to head south. We continued on on I-30 until we found a different highway to the south. It was quite stressful and an experience we will try to avoid in the future. This was our first stay at I-35 RV Park and it was quite nice for an overnight stay. They provide free made-to-order breakfasts that were quite good, albeit a little slow.

On Wednesday, we drove 215 miles to Kerrville where we spent nine nights at Buckhorn Lake Resort. The weather during our stay was surprising nice for January. Although the nighttime temps dropped slightly below freezing a few times, the daytime highs were mostly in the 60s.

Our sole reason for this visit to Kerrville was so Jan could see her HMO doctor and Phil could get his dentist’s final signoff on the implant he got last February. We took care of both of these appointments on Monday, January 6th. Other than Phil playing pickleball every morning, we really didn’t do much else during our stay. We did a 80-mile scenic drive through the Hill Country one day and visited Enchanted Rock State Natural Area another day. When we arrived at Enchanted Rock, we expected to hike the Summit Trail but encountered a sign that said the trail was closed. It appeared that we would be limited to hiking the loop trail around the perimeter of the rock. However, as we began our hike, we could see other people at the summit so, after almost circling the rock, we hiked up the side of the rock to the summit. We descended along the Summit Trail and never did see any reason why the trail would have been closed.

Our original travel plans had called for us to spend the weekend of January 10-12 in Austin, visiting Jan’s nieces, Brittany and Katie, and Brittany’s husband, Caleb. However, when the girls expressed an interest in spending the day in Fredericksburg, we cancelled our Austin reservation and booked a campsite at The Vineyards of Fredericksburg for the weekend. On Friday, January 10th, we made the 35-mile move from Kerrville. Although the winds were gusting during our move, the storm held off until we were settled into our new site and had lunch at West End Pizza Company. However, when the storm did arrive later that afternoon, it was quite intense. The winds were fierce and there was plenty of thunder and lightning. We watched out our living room window as a 15-minute hailstorm pounded Jan’s car but, fortunately, the hailstones never got big enough to do any body damage.

The weather was better on Saturday. Brittany, Katie and Caleb arrived from Austin shortly after noon and we had lunch at the Rathskellar Restaurant where we all had German food. Then, the girls went off to explore the many shops along Fredericksburg’s Main Street and the guys headed to National Museum of the Pacific War. This museum, the only one of its kind in the Continental U.S., is centered on World War II’s Pacific campaign. The tickets are valid for 48 hours and one could easily spend two full days exploring all the many exhibits and media presentations. Unfortunately, Phil and Caleb only had three hours available until the museum closed so they had to move along fairly quickly. They both learned a great deal about the many battles to capture remote islands throughout the Pacific. When the museum closed, the guys met up with the girls again at the Auslander Restaurant and Biergarten where we relaxed and enjoyed drinks and snacks.

 

Christmas in Tennessee (December 11 – 28, 2019)

We had intended to leave Gulf Shores on December 9th but, when we couldn’t find reservations in the Huntsville, AL area, we decided to stay two more days. On Wednesday, the 11th, we drove 150 miles and spent two nights at Sherling Lake Campground in Greenville, AL. This was the same campground we had stayed at on our trip to Gulf Shores in late October. We got the same pull-through site as before (#40). It had rained for all of our previous stay so we hoped for better weather this time. Unfortunately that was not the case, so we spent most of our stay indoors.

On Friday, we drove 340 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent 15 nights at Grand Ole RV Resort, our go-to private campground in the Nashville area where we had stayed numerous times before. We left Greenville early in the morning so we could reach Nashville before rush hour. Although we reached Nashville at 2 pm, the traffic was already bad but we managed to get through it. Jason came over in the evening and brought us lots of mail and packages that we had had delivered to his house.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Montgomery Bell State Park and watched Jason, Jarrod, Jess, and their friend Matt and his girlfriend run in the Bell Ringer 15K race. After the race, we had burgers for lunch at M.L. Rose in Nashville.

On Sunday, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came over for spaghetti dinner.

We had received notice from La-Z-Boy that the two recliners we had ordered in October were available for delivery. However, since the delivery people were not allowed to take away old furniture, we had to find a place to dispose of our old recliners. Fortunately we were able to fit the recliners in the back of Jan’s SUV and we dropped them off on Monday, one at a time, at Goodwill. We spent the next two days cleaning the living room carpet in anticipation of the delivery of the new furniture on Thursday.

On Friday, December 20th, we went to Extra Space Storage in Nashville and rented a 5’ x 5’ storage unit. We had been sharing a 5’ x 10’ unit with Jarrod and Jess for the past two years but, with them moving to Denver after Christmas and taking most of their stuff, we were able to downsize to a smaller unit that we will continue to share.

On Saturday, Jan had a get-together with many of her high school friends at Cracker Barrel in Dickson, TN.

On Sunday, we met Brenda and Philip Dunlap and Jason in downtown Nashville and had dinner at Woolworth on 5th. After dinner, we and the Dunlaps went to the Ryman Auditorium for a Christmas concert by Amy Grant and Vince Gill.

On Christmas morning, we met Jason at Jarrod and Jess’ apartment and had a delicious breakfast, then opened presents. We all then went to Beaman Park Nature Center and hiked a 3-mile loop. After the hike, we drove to our campground and enjoyed sitting outside in the beautiful weather. For dinner, we had our traditional Honeybaked ham and our favorite side dishes. There were plenty of leftovers for everyone.

On Friday, December 27th, we drove to Camden, TN for the annual Madden family lunch at Country & Western Steak House. There was quite a large turnout, including infant Elena Fuentes who drew a lot of attention. After lunch, we stopped by the courthouse to drop off Sheila’s present.

Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 11, 2019)

On Friday, November 1st, we drove 145 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we will spend a little more than five weeks at Gulf State Park. We had reserved site #197, a pull-through site that was just two sites down from where we parked on our previous stay. We will be there for the month of November but will have to relocate for the final eight days of our stay. Two other couples, Tom and Roxi Rykal and Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt, who we had met last winter at Palmdale RV Park in the Rio Grande Valley, were also spending the month of November at Gulf State Park.

On Saturday morning we rode our bikes around the park and stopped at the butterfly garden. We had a trail map but it didn’t include the campground roads so it was difficult to know how to get back home. After riding around in circles for a while, Jan fortunately spotted our rig down the road.

Later that afternoon, we joined the other couples at Flora-Bama, a large, multi-stage entertainment venue on the Florida/Alabama state lines. We watched a performance by Big Earl and his band. They were very talented musicians and humorous, albeit off-color, entertainers. After listening to a couple of sets, we all headed across the road for a late dinner at the grill.

On Sunday we rode our bikes to the beach and walked along the gulf shoreline. The water was surprisingly warm and we enjoyed wading in the surf.

On Monday Phil visited Bayside Orthopedics to get treatment for his shoulder that had been hurting for about a month. He was relieved to learn that the pain is most likely the result of bursitis, rather than a rotator cuff tear. He received a cortisone shot and was referred to a physical therapist in Gulf Shores. That afternoon, Dave and Jo Peterson, another couple we had met last winter at Palmdale, arrived for three nights and dropped by our site to visit.

Tuesday morning we rode our bikes again and stopped over at Tom and Roxi’s site. The other two couples were already there so we spent about an hour socializing before resuming our ride. That afternoon we returned to Flora-Bama to play bingo. We had known Dave and Jo were planning to visit Flora-Bama but were surprised when we all arrived at the same time. The four of us spent a couple of hours playing bingo. The games were free and the number caller was quite entertaining, although somewhat hard to understand. Jan ended up winning twice and getting two half-off certificates for the restaurant where we had dined on Saturday night.

On Wednesday morning we returned to the beach and strolled up to the pier. The surf was rougher than it had been on Sunday. We had to be careful to avoid stepping on several large jellyfish washed up on the beach.

That afternoon we got together with the other three couples. The boys headed into town and visited a local microbrewery, Big Beach Brewery Co., while the girls stayed at the campground and had a wine tasting party. Upon joining up again, we all gathered around the central fire pit near the Rykals’ and Ehlenfeldts’ sites. Later, we moved to the Rykal’s picnic table for a pot luck dinner, before returning to the fire pit for more socializing.

On Saturday, November 9th, we drove to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and attended the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts. This was the final show of the 2019 season for the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. In addition to seeing the Blue Angels , we watched demonstrations by F-16 and VFA-125 fighter jets as well as precision flying and aerobatics in vintage WWII planes and other planes. We were glad we had chosen to go on Saturday rather than Friday because the weather was perfect, whereas Friday’s weather had been cold and windy.

After the air show, we drove to the grill at Flora-Bama to watch the Wisconsin–Iowa football game, since the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts are from Wisconsin. The restaurant was packed and, although the restaurant had dozens of TVs showing college football, almost every one of them was showing the LSU-Alabama game. Fortunately the manager was from Wisconsin so he had one TV showing the game we wanted. He was very helpful in getting us a couple of tables by that TV so we were able to watch the Wisconsin victory.

We kept busy over the next few weeks, both in the state park and in the neighboring communities. The weather was quite nice most days so we were able to ride our bikes frequently. We had numerous get-togethers with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals, including celebrating Beth’s birthday at Crab Trap. We returned twice to Flora-Bama to play Bingo and Jan won a game each time. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we went ahead and reserved a site at Gulf State Park for November 2020. A week later, we also reserved the site for December 2020.

The days around Thanksgiving brought us a lot of activity. We shared a Thanksgiving feast with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals. Sadly, Todd’s mother had passed away a couple of days earlier so Todd and Beth had to depart immediately after our meal to head back to Wisconsin. Our sons, Jason and Jarrod, arrived that afternoon and we headed to the beach in time to see the sunset.

On Friday, November 29th, we rented a couple of additional bikes for the guys and rode all the way to Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach, where we had appetizers. Jan’s cousin, Lori Davis, and Lori’s husband, Bruce, arrived Friday afternoon and stayed until Sunday at the Hampton Inn in Orange Beach. Jan’s high school friend, Donna Ditges, and her husband, John, also arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed at Gulf State Park, two sites away from ours. The Davises and Ditgeses joined us at our campsite and we socialized until it was time for dinner. All of us, except the Ditgeses, headed to Papa Rocco’s for pizza and entertainment by Charles “Bo” Grant. Bo Grant is a former member of the 50’s and 60’s doo-wop group, the Platters. Bo was the last performer to replace an original member of the Platters and toured with the group from 1984 to 1998. We had seen him at Papa Rocco’s two weeks earlier and Jan had told him she would be back on her 60th birthday and hoped he would sing Sixty Candles (Jan’s version of the original song, Sixteen Candles). Unfortunately, Bo’s scheduled appearance on the 30th was canceled so we had to go on the 29th instead. As before, we had a great time singing the oldies along with Bo. He remembered Jan and did serenade her, albeit with the original version of Sixteen Candles.

On Saturday morning, we, and our sons, drove to the Hampton Inn and walked along the beach with Lori and Bruce. That afternoon we hosted a get-together at our site with the Davises, Ditgeses and Rykals. The men watched various college football games on the TVs, inside and out, while the women socialized. That evening, we were joined by the Davises and Ditgeses for Jan’s birthday dinner at Fin & Fork.

On Sunday morning, December 1st, we had to move to a new site for the balance of our stay, since our original site was only available for monthly stays. We met Lori and Bruce at Flora-Bama shortly before noon and discovered that the second church service was still in progress. We were surprised to see such a large congregation at what is primarily an entertainment venue. After discovering that the main building of Flora-Bama did not have the Tennessee Titans football game on TV, we walked across the street to the Ole River Grill and joined several other fans to watch the Titans beat the Colts. On Sunday evening, Donna and John invited us to their RV for lasagna.

Monday was largely spent on domestic duties but Donna and John came over in the afternoon to play games. We introduced them to Farkle and they brought Taboo.

On Thursday, December 6th, we returned to Flora-Bama for our last chance this year to play Bingo. This time, Phil won a game. Jan had been enlisted to serve as the judge but we swear that didn’t impact Phil’s win.

On Friday, three of Jan’s childhood friends, Sheila, Michelle and Helena, arrived for the weekend. It was a group birthday celebration, as all four women had turned 60 this year. They rented a condo in Gulf Shores overlooking the beach and Jan joined them for their stay. The four friends enjoyed the next three days; shopping, dining and laughing. They played Farkel every night.

Traveling to Gulf Shores, AL (October 26 – November 1, 2019)

On Saturday, October 26th, we drove 215 miles to Gadsden, AL where we spent three nights at River Country Campground. The weather forecast had called for strong rainstorms to begin around noon so we got up early and were on the road by 9 a.m. With gaining an hour crossing back into the Central time zone, we were able to arrive by noon. Fortunately, the weather forecast had improved by then and we were able to get set up before the rain arrived. The campground is on the banks of the Coosa River and we had a beautiful view of the river from our living room window.

On Sunday we visited Noccalula Falls Park and hiked five miles. We began our hike on Black Creek Trail, a wide gravel walking path that runs parallel to Black Creek but quite a distance above the creek. After a mile, we detoured down to the creek and found a more rugged trail. This trail was much more fun, as it required a lot of climbing over rocks and up hillsides. We first followed the trail to a suspension bridge over the creek.

We then continued down the trail to the falls. When we reached the falls, we were able to go part way behind the falls but the slick rocks kept us from going all the way.

The legend of Noccalula Falls, which appears to be true, originated during the period in which the white settlers in the southeastern states pushed the Cherokee Indians into northern Alabama, where they encroached on Creek Indian territory. The Cherokee chief promised his daughter, Noccalula, in marriage to a Creek sub-chief as a peace offering. However, Noccalula was in love with a Cherokee brave. Instead of being married, on her wedding day she jumped to her death on the rocks of the Black Creek falls. A statue of Noccaulua has been erected near the site where she is believed to have jumped.

On Monday afternoon we drove through “Historic Downtown Gadsden.” Although downtown Broad Street had quite a long strip of businesses, it has definitely seen better days and we didn’t see any reason to stop. Upon returning to the campground, we went for a long stroll on the riverwalk that wraps around the property along the Coosa River. We visited the boat slips and a small chapel with three rows of pews. There are many long-term residents in the campground and many of them have decorated their sites for Halloween.

On Tuesday we drove 195 miles to Greenville, AL where we spent three nights at Sherling Lake Campground. Sherling Lake is a campground owned by the town of Greenville and only costs $30 a night (tax included). It’s a small campground but one of the nicest we’ve stayed in. We had site #40, a full hookup pull-through with a concrete pad that was very level. It was raining when we arrived but stopped long enough for us to get set up. The rain started up again that evening and continued for most of the next two days so we didn’t get much opportunity to explore the park. Fortunately the rain had stopped on Friday morning when it was time for us to leave. We may return to this campground in December on our way back north.

October in Tennessee (October 11 – 26, 2019)

On Friday. October 11th, we drove to Baileyton, TN where we spent two nights at Baileyton KOA. Although the distance was only 223 miles and over interstate highways most of the way, it took us over 5.5 miles due to a GPS-caused wrong turn, a multi-vehicle accident and multiple lane closures leading to long delays.

On Saturday we celebrated four years of full-time RVing. In the past four years, we have driven over 45,000 miles and camped in 44 states and 4 Canadian provinces. Although it hasn’t always been trouble-free, the positives have greatly outweighed the negatives. We initially committed to three years but, right now, we don’t see any end in sight for this lifestyle.

We drove to nearby Greeneville, TN to visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site which honors the 17th president by preserving his tailor shop and homes. We began the day at the Visitor Center where we watched a video and viewed a number of exhibits. Learning about Andrew Johnson’s presidency seemed timely in light of current talk of impeaching a sitting U.S. president.

Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 in Raleigh, NC. His father died when he was 3 and left his family in poverty. Andrew’s mother apprenticed him and his brother to a tailor when he was nine. His apprenticeship contract required him to work until age 21. However, after throwing rocks at a young girl’s house to impress her and then being threatened with a lawsuit by the girl’s mother, he and his brother fled Raleigh and broke their apprenticeship contract. The tailor offered a reward but they evaded capture as they traveled through the Carolinas, Alabama and Tennessee. Andrew eventually settled in Greeneville and opened a tailor shop. This tailor shop is now preserved in a brick enclosure that is attached to the Visitor Center.

Although he had received limited education as an apprentice, Andrew became very committed to learning. His wife Eliza taught him writing and mathematics and he joined debating clubs. By 1829 his tailor shop had become a popular gathering place for people to discuss current events and politics. Johnson’s interests turned to politics and he was elected alderman of Greeneville, then mayor. From then on, his rise was steady – to state representative, state senator and U.S. representative. In 1853 he was elected governor of Tennessee and was sent to the U.S. Senate in 1857. His political philosophy was based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution and a belief in states’ rights. This initially made him very popular with southern Democrats. However, Johnson believed that secession was unwise as well as unconstitutional.

In 1862, after Nashville was captured by Union forces, President Lincoln appointed Johnson as Tennessee’s military governor. For the general election in 1864, Republicans formed a coalition with those Democrats who supported the Civil War. They re-nominated Abraham Lincoln and chose Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his running mate. Johnson became president on April 15, 1885, following Lincoln’s assassination.

President Johnson clashed with the overwhelmingly Republican Congress, mostly over issues related to Reconstruction. He was opposed to Republican plans to impose military rule and black suffrage on the South, both of which he considered unconstitutional. Johnson vetoed a total of 29 bills, based on the grounds that Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority, but Congress overturned 15 of these. One of these was the Tenure of Office Act which forbade a president from removing, without consent of the Senate, federal office holders previously confirmed by the Senate. Johnson considered this a violation of the executive power bestowed on the president by the Constitution.

The radicals in Congress had long been looking for grounds to remove Johnson from office. When Johnson removed the Secretary of War in 1868, he was impeached by the House. The Senate trial lasted nearly two months. With 54 members in the Senate in 1868, 36 votes were needed to convict. Among the Republicans, the radicals had 35 sure votes. They needed just one more vote. All nine Democrats and three moderate Republicans sided with Johnson. There were seven undecided Senators who all ultimately voted “Not Guilty” and Johnson’s presidency was preserved. Johnson’s acquittal had great consequences for the future of the United States. Had Johnson been convicted, a dangerous precedent would have been set, allowing for removing a president from office for trivial reasons, such as political unpopularity. Interestingly, the Tenure of Office Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1926, thus vindicating Andrew Johnson.

Johnson returned to Greeneville in 1869, after Ulysses Grant was inaugurated. However, in January 1875, he was chosen to serve Tennessee in the U.S. Senate, making him the first ex-president to have done so. He died of a stroke six months later. His wife, Eliza, lived six months longer than Andrew, despite having suffered with tuberculosis for 40 years. She had passed her illness on to all five of their children, as well as the grandchildren, but Andrew never did contract the disease.

After leaving the Visitor Center, we walked to the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. Johnson chose to be buried atop a hill which he owned. He was buried wrapped in a US flag and with a copy of the Constitution resting beneath his head. His wife, their immediate family, and many descendants are also buried in this family plot. His gravesite remains an active military National Cemetery.

We then returned for a guided tour of the Johnson homestead which they had purchased in 1851. Although Tennessee came under Union rule in 1862, east Tennessee was still occupied by Confederates. Eliza and the children escaped through the enemy lines. The Confederates confiscated the house and used it as a hospital and army headquarters. As a sign of their displeasure with Johnson’s pro-Union stance, they left the house’s plaster walls covered in graffiti. The family did not return to the house until Johnson’s presidential term ended in 1869.

Our final stop in Greeneville was at the Johnson’s first home, which they owned from the 1830s until 1851.

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The Johnson’s first home in Greeneville

After leaving Greeneville, we drove a few miles to Limestone, TN and visited David Crockett Birthplace State Park. The park housed an 18th century farmstead which featured a replica cabin of the type Davy Crockett might have lived in, animal paddocks and costumed living history interpreters. We particularly enjoyed watching the wildly-plumed fowl and the snoring hogs.

On Sunday we drove 233 miles to Nashville where we spent five nights at the Seven Points Corp of Engineers campground. Our drive was very similar to Friday’s. Although almost the entire trip was on interstate highways, the trip took 5.5 hours due to two long traffic delays.

On Tuesday we visited The Hermitage, the plantation home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, and his wife Rachel from 1804 until their deaths. We watched a video and then viewed exhibits dealing with his life.

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767. His father died three weeks before he was born. Jackson’s eldest brother, Hugh, died during a Revolutionary War battle in 1779. Jackson and his elder brother, Robert, began to help the local militia as couriers and they were taken as prisoners in 1780. Robert and his mother died from disease during the war, leaving Andrew an orphan at age 14 and strongly anti-British.

After unsuccessful efforts as a saddle-maker and schoolteacher, Andrew studied law under the tutelage of an attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1787. He got appointed as a prosecutor in the Western District of North Carolina, which would later become the state of Tennessee. He moved to the small frontier town of Nashville and met Rachel Donelson Robards. Rachel was in an unhappy marriage and had separated from her husband in 1790. Andrew married Rachel in 1791, although her divorce had not been finalized, thus making the marriage bigamous and invalid. Although they did remarry in 1794 when the divorce was finalized, the first marriage would be a source of controversy as Andrew began his political career.

When Tennessee achieved statehood in 1796, Jackson was elected as it’s only U.S. Representative. He was elected as U.S. Senator in 1797 but resigned the following year. He then served on the Tennessee Supreme Court until 1804.

Although he lacked military experience, Jackson had been appointed a major general of the Tennessee militia in 1802. During the War of 1812, he led U.S. troops in the defeat of British-allied Creek Indians, ultimately resulting in the addition of present-day Georgia and Alabama. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, he led the defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans, the last major engagement of the War of 1812. Jackson was hailed as a national hero. He was ordered back into service in 1817 and, exceeding his orders, invaded Spanish-controlled Florida. Although criticized by many in Congress and President Monroe’s cabinet, his actions ultimately led to Florida being ceded to the U.S.

Jackson’s military exploits made him a rising political star. He was elected to the U.S. Senate again in 1823 and ran for President in 1824. Though Jackson won the popular vote, no candidate gained a majority of Electoral College vote, which threw it to the House of Representatives to select the President from among the top three electoral vote getters. Even though Henry Clay didn’t make it into the top three, as Speaker of the House he had enough influence to sway the outcome in favor of John Quincy Adams. When Adams then named Clay as Secretary of State, it appeared to Jackson and many others that these two had struck a “corrupt bargain” to defraud the American people of the president they wanted.

The 1928 election was extremely nasty. Adams’ supporters criticized Jackson’s military record as proof of his tendency to revoke people’s rights and they seized on his marriage to Rachel as proof of his immorality. Although Jackson won in a landslide, the jubilation turned to grief when Rachel died 19 days later. For the rest of his life, Jackson blamed Rachel’s death on the slanders hurled at her during the campaign. Jackson was reelected easily in 1832 over Henry Clay.

Jackson’s two terms as president were marked by both good and bad. He survived the threat of South Carolina secession over high tariffs. He dismantled the Bank of the United States, which had held all the federal funds despite being privately owned. He utilized the power of the veto more broadly than any previous president, using it to shape his policy. He became the only U.S. president to pay off the entire national debt. While Jackson championed the causes of the common man and became known as the “people’s president,” this was only true for white people. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act which forcibly relocated most Native American tribes in the South to Indian Territory. He opposed the abolitionist movement, which grew stronger in his second term.

In 1835, Jackson was the target of the first U.S. presidential assassination attempt. A deranged house painter pointed two pistols at him but both misfired. Interestingly, when both guns were tested later, they fired perfectly.

Following his two terms in office, Jackson returned to the Hermitage and began putting it back in order. It had been managed badly in his absence by his adopted son. He remained highly influential in national and state politics for the remainder of his life. He died in 1845, at the age of 78, and was buried next to Rachel at the Hermitage.

After viewing the exhibits, we took a guided tour of the mansion, begun in 1821 and expanded in 1831 and 1834. After Andrew Jackson’s death, his adopted son’s gambling debts forced the sale of the Hermitage to the state of Tennessee. It was opened as a museum in 1889 and 95% of the furnishings on display are originals. The interior of the mansion is quite ornate and the rooms are very large. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the mansion.

After touring the mansion, we strolled the grounds and gardens of the estate. Throughout our walk, we used audio devises that provided details regarding each stop. The plantation, which eventually totaled 1,050 acres, primarily grew cotton and was worked by up to 150 slaves. We were able to see the site of the Jacksons’ simple cabin where they lived from 1804 until 1821, later converted to slave quarters. We walked through Rachel Jackson’s garden and visited the tomb where Andrew and Rachel are buried.

On Wednesday Jan went to Cheekwood Estate and Gardens with Jess, Sheila and Michelle. Cheekwood is an extraordinary 1930s estate with a Georgian mansion and 55 acres of cultivated gardens and expansive vistas. They enjoyed touring the museum and walking through the botanical gardens that were decorated for the autumnal season.

On Thursday we went to Long Hunter State Park and hiked the 4-mile Day Loop Trail. Most of the trail was within a few hundred feet of J. Percy Priest Lake. That evening, we met Jason, Jarrod and Jess in downtown Nashville and had Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Gino’s East, one of our favorite pizza restaurants when we lived in the Chicago area.

On Friday we moved 25 miles to Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, TN where we spent two nights. Jan enjoyed the afternoon with her cousin Lori. Jason and Jarrod came by in the evening. After listening to the live entertainment at the campground, we had dinner and then introduced the guys to the game Farkle.

On Saturday we went to La-Z-Boy and ordered a couple of recliners to replace the ones we have sat in for the past four years. We will take delivery when we return to Goodlettsville in mid-December. We had been looking at recliners for almost a year but had had difficulty finding good quality furniture that would fit in our RV. Jason and Jarrod came over again for dinner and another game of Farkle.

On Sunday, October 20th, we drove 205 miles to Heiskell, TN where we overnighted at the Escapees’ Raccoon Valley campground. We have stayed at this campground numerous times when we have service appointments with our RV dealer in Knoxville.

Monday morning we drove 25 miles to RVs for Less for service. We had submitted a list of 12 issues that needed to be addressed. We never have any idea how long the repairs will take so we just plan to stay on the dealer’s lot for however long it takes. In the past we’ve had to wait for the service people to finish work for other customers but, this trip, they got right to work on our rig. We did spend Monday night on the lot but, by early Tuesday afternoon, they had finished nine of the 12 items on our list, as well as an additional item that was identified while we were there. Parts needed to be ordered for two of the remaining issues and, since the parts wouldn’t arrive until Friday, we needed to find a place to stay for the next three nights. Late October is a very popular time to visit the Smokies due to the fall foliage so, when we had to find last minute reservations in the area, it proved very challenging. We tried 12 campgrounds before we were able to find an opening at Big Meadow Family Campground in Townsend, TN. The only condition was that we had to agree to move sites after the first night. So, after spending Tuesday night in site 64, the owner brought a tractor to our site on Wednesday morning and moved our rig to site 61 for the final two nights. The move required backing out of our site and around a tree so we were glad to let him do it for us.

After getting set up in our new site, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and, armed with our bear spray, hiked the 4.5-mile Walker Sisters Cabin Trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike and, although the trees were not as colorful as usual due to the dry summer, the trail was still quite scenic.  We did not see any bears but we did spot a deer.

The story of the Walker sisters’ cabin is very interesting. John Walker, a Union Army veteran, and his wife, Margaret, moved onto the homestead in 1870 and raised 11 children there. When John died in 1921, the property was deeded to six spinster sisters (one died 10 years later) who continued to live there. In 1926, Congress authorized creation of the national park, allowing North Carolina and Tennessee to buy nearly half a million acres, most of which were privately owned. Parcels of land were purchased from families and timber companies. However, the Walker sisters refused to leave their mountain home. Finally, with the dedication of the park in 1940 and facing a condemnation suit, the sisters agreed to receive $4,750 for their land and the right to live out the rest of their lives at their home. It seems like the sisters got the last laugh. In 1946 the Saturday Evening Post published a feature article about the sisters. This led to a steady stream of tourists and a source of income for the sisters. One of the sisters died in 1962, at age 92, and the last surviving sister died two years later, at age 82. The cabin, as well as a corn crib and springhouse, are still standing.

Before reaching the Walker cabin, we reached the Little Greenbrier one-room schoolhouse which John Walker helped build in 1882. The building continued to serve as the community school for over 50 years, until 1935. Because there was so much work to be done on the farms during warm months, classes were only held in the winter for 2-3 months. The building also doubled as a Primitive Baptist church until 1925, with the church’s cemetery in an adjoining lot.

After completing our hike, we drove to nearby Gatlinburg and had an early dinner and did some shopping.

On Thursday we returned to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drove Cades Cove Loop Road. A “cove” is a relatively flat valley between mountain ridges. Native Americans had visited Cades Cove for thousands of years but Europeans first began to settle the Cove in 1818. The population reached 685 in 1850, then crashed to 275 in 1860, before growing to 708 in 1900. In 1927, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began to buy out the farmers, either willingly or unwillingly, to provide land for the national park. For over 100 years, travelers had entered and left the Cove by five narrow unpaved roads. When the national park was formed, the 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road was built on the general route as a formerly unpaved two-lane road. Due to the popularity of the loop road, especially during peak tourist seasons like now, traffic moved around the loop very slowly. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored 18th and 19th century structures. We had driven the loop previously so we didn’t visit all the stops this time. We mostly just enjoyed the scenery and fall colors. We did spot deer, wild turkeys and a hawk but were disappointed that we did not see any bears.

The weather forecast for Friday called for rain starting at noon so we got going early and returned to RVs for Less by 10 a.m. The rain held off long enough for them to install two new ceiling fans before noon. When the rain stopped later in the afternoon, they finished the few remaining repairs. Since we knew it would be futile to try to find an open campsite on a weekend night in the area, we got permission to spend another night on the dealer’s lot.