Heading to Tennessee (October 8-15, 2020)

After leaving Moodus, CT on Thursday, October 8th, we drove 270 miles to Catawissa, PA where we spent three nights at J & D Campground.  Although the drive was mostly on interstates, it was slower than expected due to many work zones and one major backup.  The campground is located a short distance from Knoebels Amusement Resort, where they hold a large Covered Bridge and Arts Festival this weekend each year.  The festival was cancelled this year due to COVID but the campground was still requiring a 3-night stay.  Our site was one of only a few pull-throughs in a very large campground.  After having stayed in nearly-empty campgrounds in MA and CT, it was quite a change to be back in a full campground.

We spent Friday doing routine chores, such as laundry, grocery shopping and getting Jan’s hair cut.  We did stop to see two of the 28 covered bridges in Columbia and Montour counties.  The first was the 185-foot-long Rupert Bridge, originally built in 1847 and restored in 2000-01.  The second one was the 99-foot-long Wanich Bridge, constructed in 1884.

We spent Saturday with Ken and Cathy Bentz, two friends we met during our trip to Alaska in 2018.  We met the Bentzes in Ashland, PA and toured the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine.  This anthracite coal mine operated from 1911 until 1931.  When the business closed, all the equipment was stored in the cave and the entrances were blasted closed.  While they had hoped to resume mining someday, that never happened.  In 1961, Ashville officials came up with the idea of re-opening the mine for tourists.  They had a small budget so, other than re-timbering the shafts, the mine appears largely as it did in 1931.

Our tour began with a short ride on a narrow-gauge steam train.  The train was used years ago to haul coal bins but now pulls passengers alongside Mahanoy Mountain.  We got to see where coal was originally recovered using strip mining and a “wildcat mine” where out-of-work miners would illegally dig for coal during the Great Depression.  Our guide explained that the State of Pennsylvania had decided to reclaim the strip mines by filling them with trash and, then, burning the trash.  This led to a disastrous result in neighboring Centralia, PA when one of these landfill fires hit a vein of coal in 1962 and is still burning underground today.  The government was forced to buy out and relocate almost all the landowners.  Centralia’s population has dropped from 1,500 in 1962 to 6 diehards today.

The next part of the tour involved riding into the tunnel on mine cars that were rebuilt to carry passengers.  Our guide, an experienced miner, led us down gangways to see veins of coal, manways and coal chutes.  He explained the dangerous process for mining this coal, employing many children as young as 10-years-old, working 12-hour-days, six days a week.

After leaving Ashland, we drove to Pottsville, PA.  We ate lunch at Wheel, a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant.  Each diner gets to design their own grilled cheese sandwich, using over 85 ingredients.  We each selected our own bread, cheese, protein, toppings, dipping sauce and side.  They were delicious!

We then toured the Yuengling brewery.  Yuengling was established in 1829 and is America’s oldest brewery.  Our guide took us through the plant that has been operating since 1831, after the first plant was destroyed by fire.  We walked through caves that had been hand-dug into the mountain by out-of-work coal miners and were used for beer fermentation before refrigeration.  We could see remnants of the brick walls used by the government to seal off the brewery during Prohibition.  Our tour guide explained the brewing process and she led us through the brew house, racking room, packaging room and Rathskeller.  The tour ended with free tastings and, of course, the gift shop.  We ended up buying a case of one of their new products, a Hershey’s Chocolate beer.

It was a fun day and we really enjoyed seeing Ken and Cathy again.

On Sunday, we drove 240 miles to New Market, VA where we spent the night at Endless Caverns Campground.  Endless Caverns accepted Passport America so our site only cost $29 for the night.  It started raining as we entered Virginia and continued to rain for the next 24 hours.  The campground looked lovely but, due to the weather, we stayed in our rig the whole time.

On Monday, we drove 240 miles to Mount Airy, NC where we spent three nights at Mayberry Campground.  This campground also offered the half-off Passport America discount for two of the nights, so our total cost for the three-night stay was only $78.  Our pull-through site sat atop a hill so we had a great view of the campground below us, at least until an Allegro Bus pulled in behind us and cut off our view.

We spent Tuesday with Dave and Cheryl Albert, friends we met earlier this year at Tropical Trails RV Resort in Brownsville, TX.  Dave and Cheryl live nearby in NC.  They picked us up at our site and took us for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  We stopped for lunch at Mabry Mill.  Despite being mid-week, this was a popular spot and we had an hour-long wait for a table.  While we waited, we explored the mill.  Mabry Mill was built in 1910 by Edwin Mabry, a jack-of-all-trades who had been a chairmaker, a miner, a coal company blacksmith, and a farmer.  He and his wife operated the mill until 1936, grinding corn and sawing lumber for their neighbors.  In 1945, the National Park Service restored and landscaped the mill.  Today, it is one of the most photographed features on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

After a delicious lunch, we drove to Pilot Mountain State Park, 20 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, NC.  Pilot Mountain, rising to a peak 2,421’ above sea level, is one of the most distinctive natural features in NC and has served as navigational landmark for centuries.  We walked up to several overlooks where we could watch lots of raptors soaring above the peak and view the valley below us.  We later spent time in the new Visitor’s Center where we viewed exhibits about the park and the surrounding area.

On the drive back to our campsite, Dave took us through downtown Mount Airy.  This whetted our appetites for Wednesday’s further exploration of the town. After socializing awhile back at the campground, it was time to say goodbye to Dave and Cheryl.  We really enjoyed seeing our friends again and appreciated having such good guides to show us around the beautiful area.

On Wednesday, we spent the entire day in Mount Airy.  This small town, just six miles south of the VA border, was long known as a center for furniture and granite.  However, it is best known as the hometown of Andy Griffith.  Mount Airy was the inspiration for Mayberry, the fictional town in the Andy Griffith Show.  There are lots of Andy Griffith and Mayberry attractions in the town.  We visited quite a few of them but felt like we had just scratched the surface.  After having a huge lunch at Little Richard’s BBQ, we strolled down Main Street and visited many of the shops.  We stopped at replicas of the Mayberry courthouse and jail, Wally’s Service Station, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch, as well as quite a few other attractions that draw on the Mayberry theme.  We walked by the Andy Griffith Museum and saw the TV Land sculpture of Andy and Opie.

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