Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 8, 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 Rykal’s and Ehlenfeldt’s 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.

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.

IMG_2006
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.

 

Two New States – Maryland & West Virginia (September 30 – October 11, 2019)

On Monday, September 30th, we drove 110 miles to Flintstone in western Maryland. We spent four nights at Rocky Gap State Park. Our reservation was in the one loop out of 11 that has electric but it had no water, nor sewer hookup. This required us to bring a full 100-gallon tank of fresh water with us from Gettysburg, PA. The drive was uneventful until we arrived at the state park. We had both entered the address of the state park in our GPS’s. Unfortunately this led us into a newly paved parking lot by the beach. When Phil checked the park office, he found a sign that said that the office had moved. Getting out of the narrow parking lot was a challenge and one of the trailer tires sunk deep in the ground. When we finally reached the campground, the registration office was closed. Phil dialed the number posted on the office window and a park ranger arrived quickly. When we reached our pull-through site, we discovered that it had a tight curve and there were numerous low branches in our way. Phil ended up climbing on the roof with a saw and branch trimmer. He spent about 45 minutes clearing lots of the branches above us, while Jan stayed on the ground and attempted to hide the evidence of our sawed branches. After clearing the branches, we moved our rig back and forth numerous times until we could find a spot that was fairly level and close enough to reach the power receptacle. It was about 91 degrees and humid so we were rather worn out by the time we got set up. The campground only had 30 amp hookups so we were limited to running one air conditioner.

Tuesday was another hot day, with a high of 89 degrees. We attempted to escape the heat of the afternoon by driving to nearby Cumberland, MD and visiting Wal-Mart and going to the movies. We cooked our dinner in the crockpot but discovered that running the crockpot and one air conditioner exceeded our 30 amps.

Wednesday was just as hot, with another day of 89 degrees. Phil spent about an hour that morning on our ladder cutting down more branches that would have been in our way when we attempted to leave the campsite on Friday. After noon, we drove through the campground and explored the beach area. It was a beautiful beach and the views were very nice. Unfortunately the heat kept us from spending much time exploring the area.

We then drove to the neighboring Rocky Gap Casino and enjoyed the air conditioning. We picked up our new member cards, which gave us each $5 for betting and $10 in food credits. We played the slot machines and walked away with net winnings of $64 and a free meal.

On Thursday we drove to Cumberland and boarded the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for a 3-hour train ride. The journey took us from Cumberland to Frostburg where we had the opportunity to watch the locomotive turn around on the turntable and then explore downtown Frostburg. It was another hot day but the railcars were wonderfully air-conditioned and the scenery was beautiful. The narrator did a good job of pointing out the sights along the way and explaining the history of the railway. Leaving Cumberland, the route traveled west through a breach in the Allegheny Mountains over an iron truss bridge, around Helmstetter’s Horseshoe Curve and through the 914 foot Brush Tunnel under Piney Mountain. The 16-mile trek was uphill all the way, climbing grades up to 2.8%. In fact, there is a bike path beside the tracks and several passengers chose to bring their bikes on the ride to Frostburg and then coasted back downhill to Cumberland. Upon our return to Cumberland, we strolled through the small downtown shopping district.

Friday was our day to depart Maryland and head to West Virginia. Fortunately the heat wave had broken and the temperature was back in the 60s. Despite Phil’s effort on Wednesday to clear the low-hanging branches on the way out of our campsite, we still found that we were penned in between large branches on both sides. After several failed attempts to maneuver a path between the branches, Jan called the park ranger for assistance. She was told that state law prohibited them from cutting down any live trees but they would come out to take a look. The first two rangers who arrived were unable to solve our dilemma so they called for backup. Finally they put a belt around one of the large tree branches and winched it with their pickup truck. This was enough to move the branch about a foot away from our trailer and, with the other rangers pulling on some of the smaller branches, Phil was able to get our rig out of the campsite with no damage. It had taken us over an hour to escape but we were very glad to get underway.

We drove 210 miles to the small town of Mount Nebo in south central West Virginia where we spent a week at Summersville Lake Retreat. Most of the drive was on interstate highways but involved lots of ascents and descents of the hillsides. Our campsite in West Virginia was about the polar opposite of the one we’d just left in Maryland. We had a long pull-through site that was easy to access and had no obstacles. We also were excited to have 50 amp electric again, as well as having water and sewer at our site and the ability to use our satellite TV. We had spectacular views of Summersville Lake from the front of our site and a lighthouse from our living room windows.

With our stays in Maryland and West Virginia, we reached a total of 44 states in which we have camped in the past four years. We are now only missing Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Jersey. We have no plans to visit any of these states any time soon.

IMG_1904
Updated map showing states in which we have camped

On Saturday we headed out to explore the campground. The map showed a trail that would have taken us to Summersville Lake but, when we reached the trailhead, we saw a sign that said the trail was temporarily closed. We later learned from the camp host that an ongoing property dispute with one of the neighbors had caused the trail closure. Fortunately the host had gone to high school in this area so she was able to recommend several other places we could explore.

Jan’s car was filthy after sitting under the trees for four days in Maryland so we first stopped at a car wash in Summersville. Then, after a visit to Wal-Mart, we headed out to check on some of the sites the host had recommended. We stopped at the Long Point Overlook which provided a great view of Summersville Lake. The water level was quite low. We attempted to climb down a hill to the water but it was quite steep and the fallen leaves made the footing rather slippery. After getting part way down the hill, we abandoned our efforts and moved on.

We next stopped at the Summersville Dam. This U.S. Army Corp of Engineers project, completed in 1966, is the 2nd highest earthen dam in the Eastern U.S. It is 390 feet high and 2,280 feet long. The Gauley River located below the dam is among the world’s best whitewater runs.  We then stopped at Battle Run State Park and explored the beach and fishing pier areas. The water level was so low that the sandy beach ended a long distance from the lake.

Our final stop for the day was at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. This was the site of an important Civil War battle in September 1861. Although the Union army suffered more casualties, their victory here led to the eventual Confederate withdrawal from western Virginia and enabled the movement for West Virginia statehood to proceed. We hiked a portion of the Patterson Trail that took us through a ravine where two Union soldiers had been killed, and 30 wounded, as a result of friendly fire in the darkness of the thick woods.

Sunday’s weather forecast called for rain most of the day and, although it never did rain hard, the day was extremely overcast and kept us homebound watching football. On Monday we decided we weren’t going to let another rainy day forecast keep us inside. However, as we headed to Wal-Mart, the skies opened up and we ended up driving through torrential rains and strong winds. We only had one small umbrella in the car and it was not adequate for our needs. It rained most of the afternoon, causing us to scrap our plans for grilling our dinner.

Tuesday’s forecast called for the rain to hold off until about 2 p.m. so we thought it would be safe to venture out early. Once again, the weather forecast was unreliable and we dealt with drizzle on and off most of the day. We headed out in the morning to visit the New River Gorge National River, about 15 miles south of our campground. The New River is not new. In fact, it is one of the oldest rivers in the world, older than the Appalachian Mountains themselves. New River Gorge National River is managed by the National Park Service who protect and preserve 53 miles of the New River, as well as over 77,000 acres of the magnificent gorge this river created.

Our first stop was at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center where we watched a film on the history of the area and looked at exhibits dealing with the coal mining industry that supported the locals for many generations. In 1873, the arrival of the C&O Railway opened this wilderness area to coal mining. By 1905, thirteen towns had sprung up between Fayette Station and Thurmond, 15 miles upstream. A landowner or mining company would open a coal mine and build company-owned houses and a store, creating a company town. Decades later, when the coal seam was exhausted or the mine closed due to changes in the marketplace, people moved away and these towns were ultimately deserted. Today, the New River Gorge is known for its scenic beauty and excellent whitewater activities.

We next walked down the 178 steps of the Canyon Rim Boardwalk to overlooks offering scenic views of the gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge, at 3,030’ long and 876’ high, is the longest single-span arch bridge in the world. The fog had rolled in while we were in the visitor center and the bridge was shrouded in the clouds.

IMG_6549
View from Canyon Rim Boardwalk overlook

When the New River Gorge Bridge opened in 1977, it reduced the time to get across the gorge from 45 minutes to less than a minute. After leaving the visitor center, we drove the pre-bridge route, the 8-mile Fayette Station Road. This 100-year-old road of hairpin turns winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across a narrow bridge, and up the other side.

The weather on Wednesday, October 9th, was beautiful so we were able to do some hiking. We returned to the New River Gorge area and hiked the 3.2-mile out-and-back Long Point Trail. This trail traverses forest and rhododendron thicket to a rocky outcrop (Long Point) with panoramic views of the gorge and New River Gorge Bridge. There were sheer cliffs at the outcrop with 100+ foot drop-offs that made us somewhat nervous. However, our bigger concern was snakes. Two of the reviewers on our Alltrails app had spotted copperheads on the trail within the past month. We kept our eyes on the many tree roots along the trail, making sure that none of the “roots” began to slither.

On Thursday we hiked the 4.3-mile out-and-back Long Point Trail. Although it had the same name as Wednesday’s hike, this trail led to a rocky outcrop above Summersville Lake.

RVing in the Keystone State (September 16-30, 2019)

On Monday, September 16th, we drove 250 miles to Saylorsburg, PA where we spent a week at Silver Valley Campsites. Saylorsburg is in the Pocono Mountains, a popular vacation spot for residents of the Middle Atlantic states. We had expected the drive to only be 216 miles but the RAM’s GPS had a different opinion. Since that GPS is configured to identify routes that are compatible with our rig’s dimensions, we generally follow it without always knowing why. Although we expected that most of the trip would be through New York, we were surprised when the GPS took us through New Jersey for about 40 miles. Then, when we arrived at the freeway exit Phil had expected to take, the GPS had him continue to the next exit and then instructed him to do a U-turn whenever possible, not easily done with a 39-foot fifth wheel in tow. We were quite relieved to finally make it to the campground and were much more exhausted than normal.

On Tuesday we drove to the Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center (JEEC) in Nazareth, PA. The history of Jacobsburg focuses on the Henry family and their small arms industry. The first of the Henry gun makers, William Henry I, opened his gun factory in Lancaster, PA in 1750. In 1792, William Henry II purchased land at Jacobsburg and built a gun manufactory. Henry II acquired the land from the heirs of Jacob Hubler, who in 1740 founded the community from which Jacobsburg draws its name. Three succeeding generations of Henrys produced small arms until the late 1800s. The Henry firearms were used in all of the nation’s major conflicts from the Revolutionary Way through the Civil War and became the prominent weapon of the western frontier.

The JEEC includes 1,168 acres of forests, fields, and creeks. We hiked the 3-mile Jacobsburg Red/Green Loop through the woods. There are 19 miles of trails that crisscross throughout the entire property, often making it difficult to stay on the route we intended.

On Wednesday we returned to the JEEC and hiked 4.2 miles on the Homestead Trail. The trail took us through meadows that were likely farmed in the past but are now teeming with wildflowers.

On Thursday we visited Bushkill Falls in Bushkill, PA. Dubbed “The Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls is among the Keystone State’s most famous attractions. This unique series of eight waterfalls is accessible through a network of hiking trails and bridges that provide fabulous views of the falls and the surrounding forest. Early records show that, in the late 1890s, a farmer charged tourists to walk through his cornfields to reach Bushkill Falls. In 1904, Charles Peters officially opened Bushkill Falls with admission costing 10 cents.  It costs a little bit more now.

We hiked 4.5 miles on the red trail. The red trail is the most demanding of the four routes and visits all eight waterfalls. Much of the early part of the hike was along rocky paths through the forest. At one point, Phil was looking at the trail map and came close to stepping on a large snake which quickly slithered away. In addition to the rocky paths, there were many bridges to cross and lots of sets of stairs to climb and descend. In total, these stairs had a total of 1,267 steps. By the end, our legs were quite weary. Despite this, the trails were beautiful and the weather was ideal.

On Friday, September 20th, we drove to Bangor, PA and did a 4.8-mile out-and-back hike. The majority of the trail was on the Appalachian Trail. Although the path was rather rocky, the first three miles of the hike were fairly easy and took us through a lush green forest. The fun really began when we reached the Wolf Rocks, a 1/3-mile section of boulders that we needed to scramble over. It was quite challenging but we managed to get through this section with no major mishaps.

On Saturday we drove to the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area in East Stroudsburg, PA and attended the Shawnee Celtic Festival. We began by visiting the petting zoo and the vendor booths, then headed to the festival tent where we listened to a Celtic band, House of Hamill. We then headed back into the courtyard and watched a drum and bagpipe band perform. By then, the temperature was approaching 80 degrees so we headed inside to the air-conditioned Irish Pub where we listened to performances of Celtic songs by Seamus Kennedy and the Rogue Diplomats. Many of their songs involved audience participation and were quite humorous.

On Monday, September 23rd, we drove 160 miles to Gettysburg, PA where we spent a week at Gettysburg Campground.

On Tuesday afternoon we were joined by two couples who had accompanied us during our 2018 caravan to Alaska. Ken and Cathy Bentz camped on one side of us and Tom and Trish Lehr camped on the other. After spending the afternoon catching up, we all headed to the Dobbin House Tavern for dinner. This restaurant is in a house built in 1776 by Reverend Alexander Dobbin. We dined in the basement portion of the house. After dinner, the group returned to our site and we were introduced to the game of Farkle. While somewhat similar to Yahtzee, Farkle provides the potential for players to rack up, or lose, a huge number of points on each turn.

Unfortunately Ken and Cathy could only stay one night so, after saying our goodbyes, we headed out on Wednesday with the Lehrs to explore the area. Our first stop was at Jack’s Hard Cider in Biglerville, PA. Named for Jack Hauser, who led Musselman Foods into national recognition in the 1950s, this company presses, ferments and packages their cider on site. The current showroom is on a hill overlooking the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside. We sat outside and enjoyed our drinks while snacking on cheese, crackers and apple slices. Our next stop was at the historic Round Barn & Farm Market. Built in 1914, this is one of only a few truly round barns surviving today. While the lower level of the barn sells produce and other food products, the upper level is available for staging weddings and other special events. By this point it was already early afternoon so we headed to Gettysburg’s Lincoln Square in the center of town and had lunch at The Pub & Restaurant. After lunch we stopped in at the neighboring Adams County Winery shop and enjoyed a wine tasting. We then returned to the campground where we played some more exciting games of Farkle. We also introduced the Lehrs to Giant Jenga and played a couple of competitive games before calling it a day.

On Thursday the Lehrs headed to a doctor’s appointment, so we were on our own to explore the town and learn about the Battle of Gettysburg. We began at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitors Center. We first watched a film, A New Birth of Freedom, narrated by Morgan Freeman. This film served as the starting point for our education concerning the events of the 3-day battle in which over 160,000 soldiers converged on the town of Gettysburg, with its 2,400 residents. Total casualties (dead, wounded, captured, and missing) for the three days of fighting were 23,000 for the Union army and as many as 28,000 for the Confederate army. We then went to view the “Battle of Gettysburg” cyclorama. This cyclorama, which depicts Pickett’s Charge where General Lee lost over 5,000 soldiers in one hour on July 3, 1863, was painted by a French artist in 1884 and moved to Gettysburg in 1913. The artistic work underwent a massive restoration prior to being moved into the newly-constructed Visitors Center in 1962. The Gettysburg Cyclorama is 377 feet long, 42 feet high and weighs 12.5 tons. We then explored the museum which contains one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world. The exhibits, along with multi-media presentations, helped to explain the events of each day of the battle and the terrible aftermath. We spent nearly two hours in the museum and were very impressed. We could have spent much more time in the museum if we had not already made reservations for a bus tour that afternoon.

The bus tour was in an air-conditioned coach and was narrated by a licensed guide. During slightly more than two hours, we drove through the battlefield and learned details as to the events that occurred on each day. The guide did an excellent job of explaining the troop movements and the ebbs and flows of the 3-day battle. We had three stops on the tour, including one at Little Round Top. We saw many of the 1,500 monuments throughout the park.

Upon returning to our campsite, Tom and Trish joined us for dinner. We played a couple of games of Farkle and then introduced them to Marbles. Tom’s good luck at Farkle continued with two wins at Marbles.

IMG_E6411
Playing marbles with Tom & Trsih

On Friday we said our goodbyes to the Lehrs and headed to a guided tour of the Jennie Wade House. We had purchased the value plan with our bus tour and this included admission to three additional attractions, from a list of eight possibilities. The Jennie Wade house was one of the options. Jennie Wade, a 20-year-old, was the only civilian killed during the battle. She had been staying at her sister’s house, assisting her sister who had given birth several days before. The Union and Confederate armies were positioned on either side of the house and were firing back and forth. The Union soldiers had encouraged the family to hide in the basement but, due to the condition of Jennie’s sister, Jennie’s mother refused. Jennie was kneading bread for the Union soldiers when she was killed by a bullet that passed through both the outside and inner doors. The Union soldiers then insisted that the family move to the basement and carried Jennie’s body there, where it remained until the fighting ended. During the tour, we were able to see evidence of the gunfire and artillery that had hit the house, as well as the holes in the two doors through which the fatal bullet passed. Artifacts from that day in 1863 are on display as well, including an artillery shell that was discovered, still live, in the roof’s eave during restoration and a floorboard with Jennie’s blood still on it.

In the afternoon we drove to the nearby town of Hanover and got an oil change for the Ram at the Dodge dealer. Although it was supposed to be the Express Service lane, it took nearly two hours. First, we discovered that the mechanic had gone to lunch so we did likewise. While driving to Chick-fil-A, Jan spotted a cinema that was showing Downton Abbey, so after the oil change was completed, we went to the movies. After the movie and a stop at Sam’s Club, we returned home somewhat exhausted.

On Saturday morning we drove to downtown Gettysburg and got a guided tour of the Shriver family home and business. George Shriver was a young man who had become rather wealthy making liquor on his family’s farm several miles from Gettysburg. In 1860, he built a very nice house in Gettysburg for his wife and two young girls. Attached to the house was a saloon and ten-pin alley. Unfortunately, George joined the Union Army before he could open the business and ended up starving to death in a Confederate prison. Since women were not permitted in a saloon, the business never opened. When the Confederates invaded the town of Gettysburg, Mrs. Shriver fled with the girls to the family’s farm. The house was occupied and ransacked by Confederate sharpshooters who knocked out bricks in the attic wall through which they could fire their rifles. There is evidence that at least two soldiers were killed in the house. The museum connected to the house contains relics that were discovered during the 1996 restoration, including live Civil War bullets that had fallen through the floorboards. One of the more sobering parts of the tour dealt with the aftermath of the battle. The thousands of wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate, were cared for all over town, including some in George Shriver’s saloon. With over 5,000 dead soldiers, as well as thousands of dead horses and mules, laying in the fields and woods under the hot July sun, the stench could be smelled as far as 30 miles away.

While waiting for our tour of the Shriver House, Jan had learned from the tour guide that there was an outdoor antique show, with more than 120 antique dealers, going on in Lincoln Square. Jan decided she would rather explore the antique show than visit another museum so Phil headed off with our remaining two tickets and visited the Gettysburg Heritage Center and the Gettysburg Battle Theater. The Heritage Center focused on what life was like for the civilians before, during and after the battle. The Battle Theater provided a multi-media presentation showing the routes the various forces had taken prior to converging on Gettysburg. When we reconnected, we headed to Friendly’s for a late lunch and then drove to Orrtanna, PA where we briefly attended an outdoor festival at the Adams County Winery.

On Sunday we spent our last full day in Gettysburg exploring the battleground by car. Our first stop was at the Sachs Covered Bridge. This 100-foot bridge was built in 1852. It carried both armies during the battle of Gettysburg and was crossed by parts of the Army of Northern Virginia as it retreated.

We then drove the 24-mile self-guided auto tour of the battlefield. Our first stop was a 120-step climb up an observation tower that overlooked both the southern portion of the battlefield and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower’s farmhouse and barn.

We drove most of the auto tour before stopping for dinner. We passed many of the 1,500 monuments that have been erected to honor the battle’s participants. Some of these are in fields in which corn has been planted in rows with paths that enable access to the monuments. We climbed to the top of the huge Pennsylvania Monument as well as another observation tower at Culps Hill.

Our final stop in the afternoon was at the Soldier’s National Cemetery which contains the remains of over 6,000 U.S. servicemen, including 3,500 Union soldiers killed in the Civil War. Nearly half of the Civil War burials are unknown soldiers. On November 19, 1863, government officials, battle veterans, and citizens gathered to dedicate the cemetery. Near the end of the ceremonies, President Abraham Lincoln offered a few remarks – his Gettysburg Address.  The exact location within the cemetery where the speech was given remains unknown.

After dinner we finished the Auto Tour. We stopped at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial where over 1,800 Civil War veterans gathered on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to dedicate this memorial to “Peace Eternal in a Nation Divided.” FDR gave the dedication speech. We also visited several other monuments, including the Virginia and Tennessee monuments.

 

The Shires of Vermont (September 9 – 16, 2019)

On Monday, September 9th, we left Biddeford, ME and drove 218 miles to Pownal, VT where we spent a week at Pine Hollow Campground. Pownal is one of 17 quintessential Vermont towns and villages referred to as “The Shires.” Pownal is located in the SW corner of Vermont, a few miles north of the Massachusetts state line and a few miles east of the New York state line. Bennington, the closest big town, is six miles north of Pownal.

The campground was arranged around a small pond and was beautifully landscaped. Since only their back-in sites had full hookups, we had reluctantly reserved a back-in. Fortunately there was an empty site in front of ours, making it relatively easy to get lined up before backing up. We were also fortunate to get one of only three sites that were satellite-friendly. After our last three weeks in Maine without satellite, we were glad to have more options for our evening entertainment. With the start of the NFL season, Phil was especially glad to be able to watch Monday Night Football.

On Tuesday, we drove to Williamstown, MA and hiked the 3.8-mile out-and-back Pine Cobble Trail. The trail, rated as moderate, was quite a workout. The elevation rise to the summit was 1,200 feet and, given that the hikes we had done in recent weeks in southern Maine had been fairly flat, this trail left us quite tired. The views from the summit, in both direction, were very scenic.

We spent Wednesday exploring a number of Bennington attractions. Our first stop was at the Apple Barn and Country Bake Shop, a large red barn packed with Vermont products and souvenirs as well as delicious-smelling baked goods.

We then drove to Bennington’s downtown and strolled along Main Street, examining the many storefronts and visiting a few. We spent quite a while at Bennington Potters, one of the largest work craft potteries in America. Before entering the store, we took a self-guided tour of the pottery factory. Unlike volume-based pottery businesses, Bennington Potters is organized around individual stations where carefully orchestrated handwork is completed on less than 800 pieces each day.

We next drove through the campus of Bennington College and then visited three covered bridges built in the 1800s.

Our last stop for the day was at the Bennington Battle Monument. This monument, completed in 1891, was built to commemorate the Battle of Bennington. This Revolutionary War battle, which occurred on August 16, 1777, was a major victory for the Continental Army over the British and is considered to be a turning point in the war. The monument stands 306’ tall. We rode the elevator up 189’ to the observation deck where we could view scenic vistas of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

The weather forecast for Thursday called for rain all day so we decided to visit a couple of museums in Massachusetts. Our first stop was at the Norman Rockwell Museum on an estate outside of Stockbridge, MA. We spent a couple of hours examining many of his works and learning about career. We also visited his studio that was moved from downtown Stockbridge to the museum campus in 1986, eight years after his death. We participated in two presentations in which the gallery guide told us about his life and pointed out many of the details in his works that we wouldn’t have noticed. We learned about the many steps and meticulous planning that went into each work before beginning to paint the final drawing, such as selecting the models, arranging the photographs, creating the layout, doing charcoal drafts, and selecting the colors.  Although he used professional models in his early years, he started using people he met around town in later years.

Norman Rockwell had a fascinating career. He knew he wanted to be an artist from an early age. We learned that, when Rockwell began his career, illustrators were revered like the rock stars of today, due to the large number of people who were limited in their ability to read. He enrolled in art classes at age 14 and dropped out of high school two years later to study art at The National Academy of Design. While still in his teens, he was hired as the art director of Boy’s Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. At age 22, he painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post. Over the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell works would appear on the cover of the Post. He was also very successful as an artist for magazine advertisements. In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms painting. These works toured the United States and, through the sale of war bonds, raised more than $130 million for the war effort.

After leaving the Norman Rockwell Museum, we drove to Dalton, MA and toured the Crane Museum of Papermaking. The Museum opened in 1930, making it one of the oldest corporate museums in the country. We arrived with less than an hour until closing time. Despite this, a retired long-time mill worker spent time helping us learn the history and processes involved in papermaking. Stephen Crane was the first in the Crane family to become a papermaker, in 1770, and the museum has a ledger showing the sale of currency-type paper to Paul Revere, who printed the American Colonies’ first paper money. In 1801, Crane Currency was co-founded by Zenas Crane. In 1806, Crane began printing currency on cotton paper for local and regional banks, before officially printing for the government. In 1844, Crane developed a method to embed parallel silk threads into banknote paper to denominate notes and deter counterfeiting. In 1879, Crane won a contract to produce U.S. currency paper. Today, Crane is the sole supplier of U.S. currency paper and this is 99% of their business, with the balance being used for other U.S. official documents, such as passports. Over the years, they have introduced many highly-secretive processes to deter counterfeiting, although our guide would not share the production process with us.

After learning about the history and process of currency papermaking, we were passed to another retired mill worker who gave us a hands-on demonstration of how cotton-based paper was made in the 1800s. U.S. currency paper is made from 90% cotton and 10% flax.  We learned that, until recently, U.S. currency paper was made from old rags, largely sourced from the garment industry. They now use off-grade cotton fibers from cotton gins, rather than rags, since there is so much spandex in the rags these days and spandex would cause the paper to be rubbery. We also learned the process for paper marbling, in which patterns similar to smooth marble can be transferred to paper. We got to make our own marbling artwork.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t have time to view the various exhibits but very much enjoyed our time at this museum.

On Friday we hiked the 5-mile Hopkins Memorial Forest Trail in Williamstown, MA. The forest contains of over 2,600 acres that originally consisted of small farms that were consolidated between 1887 and 1910 by Col. Lawrence Hopkins, for whom the forest is named. His Buxton Farms were considered the agricultural showplace of Williamstown. In 1934, his widow gave the land to Williams College which today uses the property as their Center for Environmental Studies. The hike consisted of a figure-eight loop on a wide path through the forest. Although the trail was rated as moderate and was over a mile longer than Tuesday’s hike, it was much easier than the previous hike.

On Saturday, Sept. 14th, we visited a variety of venues. Our first stop was at the Farmers’ Market in Bennington where we picked us veggies and soup bones. We then continued north to the small town of Arlington, VT. We first visited the Arlington Green Covered Bridge, just down the road from where Norman Rockwell had his studio from 1939-1953. Later in the day we visited the Chiselville Covered Bridge.

While in Arlington we stopped at the Sugar Shack and Norman Rockwell Exhibition. The Sugar Shack sells a variety of VT food products. All of their pure VT maple syrup is produced in the onsite sugar house. The Norman Rockwell Exhibition, in a wing of the Sugar Shack, focuses on Rockwell’s work during the years he lived in Arlington. His use of over 200 local people as models for his work is a centerpiece of the attraction. There are remembrances of many of the people he used along with the pictures they were in.

IMG_1672
Outside of the Sugar Shack
IMG_1663
Some of the remembrances of locals used by Rockwell in his paintings
IMG_1662
Some of the Rockwell covers for Boy’s Life
IMG_1658
The 1948 Christmas Homecoming cover, including family and friends as models
IMG_6235
One of Rockwell’s April 1st covers for The Saturday Evening Post

Another stop was at The Chocolatorium & The Village Peddler in East Arlington, VT. We watched a 15-minute video dealing with the history of chocolate and the process for making it. We also watched a video showing how chocolates are made in their small-batch shop. In addition to several exhibits, they had numerous large chocolate animals and a chocolate village. One of the owners spent time chatting with us about their business. Of course we had to purchase some chocolates and fudge before leaving.

On Sunday we drove to North Adams, MA and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Cascades Trail. This was an easy hike until we reached the end of the trail where the trail turned sharply uphill next to a waterfall. After climbing up and down this steep hill, we spent time climbing on the rocks at the base of the waterfall. The rest of the day was spent getting ready to get back on the road on Monday.

 

Maine – Part 5 (August 19 – September 9, 2019)

On Monday, August 19th, we drove 73 miles to Biddeford, ME where we spent three weeks at Homestead by the River Family Campground. The campground’s website had cautioned not to follow our GPS so Phil had written down their suggested directions. He missed one of the turns but managed to find our way to the campground without too much excitement. Upon checking in, the campground owner told Phil that the GPS would have taken us through the town of Saco, a route that she said would have been “horrendous.” Our site was in a large grassy field, under several very large trees. The trees made it unlikely that our satellite would get a signal but we tried moving the rig a couple of times before giving up on satellite. We had a clear view of the Saco River from our living room window. The owners operate a small farm with livestock including horses, sheep, goat, llama, chickens, turkeys and even a pig.

The high temperature on Monday was 85 degrees and Tuesday was almost as hot. We decided to head to the shore on Tuesday to beat the heat. We arrived in Old Orchard Beach, known by locals as ‘OOB,’ at noon and headed down to the beach. The beach was quite busy and became even more congested as the high tide approached, shrinking the amount of available sand. The beach, pier and nearby attractions reminded Phil of his childhood visits to the Jersey shore.

Wednesday brought heavy rainfall so we headed to the movies in the afternoon. We saw “Blinded by the Light,” the true life story of a Pakistani teenager living in Luton, England in 1987 who writes poetry as a way to escape the racial and economic struggles of his town and the traditionalist views of his father. He discovers power in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen and this gives him the strength to follow his own dreams. The movie was quite enjoyable and provided a good way for us to escape the rain.

The forecast for Thursday called for highs in the mid-80s so we took refuge in the air conditioning of the stores in Freeport, ME. The town was first settled in 1700 and had a history as a center for shipbuilding, lumber, fishing and canning. Its current status as a major tourist attraction is attributable to L.L. Bean. In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean opened a store in the basement of his brother’s apparel shop, selling the “Bean Boot.” The store became so popular that in 1951 it started staying open 24 hours a day. Its retail and mail order catalog facilities expanded into Freeport’s principal business. The L.L. Bean flagship store is now the anchor to a retail mecca of 140 stores, as well as many restaurants, drawing about 3.5 million visitors a year. In addition to visiting many of the retail outlets, we ate whoopie pies at Wicked Whoopies and had lunch at Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen (established by the granddaughter of L.L. Bean).

On Saturday, August 24th, we hiked the 2.2-mile Saco Heath Preserve Trail. The preserve was only a couple of miles from our campground. The first .75 mile was through the heath, most of which was on a multi-colored boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk, we did a short loop through the forest before returning to the trailhead on the boardwalk. Much of the boardwalk was lined by blueberry bushes. We managed to harvest a snack of blueberries but most of the bushes within arms-length of the boardwalk had been picked over already.

On Sunday we drove to Scarborough, ME and hiked the Fuller Farms Trails. Fuller Farms consists of 180 acres of fields and woodlands protected by the Scarborough Land Conservation Trust. We combined several of the trails into a figure-eight hike that totaled 3.1 miles.

On Monday we spent the day in Portland, ME. Despite only having a population of 66,000, Portland is the largest city in Maine and was much bigger than any town we’d visited this summer. The Greater Portland area has a population of 270,000, which represents one-fifth of Maine’s total population. We spent most of the day exploring Old Port, a quaint historic district near the waterfront with cobblestone streets and brick buildings housing boutiques, gourmet food stores, and souvenir shops. The biggest challenge we had was in deciding where to eat. Bon Appetit magazine named Portland the 2018 Restaurant City of the Year. We ended up having potato donuts, a Maine specialty, at The Holy Donut and lobster rolls at DiMillo’s on the Water. There was much too much to do in Portland for a single day so we plan to return.

On Wednesday we visited “The Kennebunks,” the side-by-side villages of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. The region was first settled in the 1600s and flourished after the American Revolution, when ship captains, boat builders and prosperous merchants built large homes. After a brief stop at the Kennebunk Chamber of Commerce office, we drove by many of these beautifully-maintained manors. One of the more notable was the Wedding Cake House, which locals claim was built by a guilt-ridden ship captain who left for sea before his bride could enjoy a proper wedding cake.

We next visited Gooch’s Beach and Middle Beach, two of the three expansive, sandy beaches in Kennebunk. Parking at the beaches requires a $25 permit for the day but we were able to find a free parking spot on a side street.

Our next stop was at St. Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery. We spent a long time exploring the walking trails along the Kennebunk River.

We then continued on to Dock Square, Kennebunkport’s shopping district, where we visited a number of shops and ate a late lunch at Alisson’s Restaurant.

We next drove along Ocean Avenue where we admired the multi-million dollar oceanfront homes, including Walker’s Point, the summer home of George H. W. and Barbara Bush which is still used by the Bush children. Jan was prepared to make offers on many of these homes but, with rain being forecast for later in the afternoon, we didn’t have time to stop.

IMG_3535
Summer home of George H. W. and Barbara Bush at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport

Our final stop was the fishing village of Cape Porpoise where we viewed lobster boats in the harbor and the lighthouse on Goat Island. For a time during the George H. W. Bush presidency, secret service agents lived on Goat Island, which provides a good vantage point of Bush’s estate at Walker’s Point.

We began Friday, August 30th, with a visit to Cape Elizabeth, ME. Our first stop was at the Cape Elizabeth Light. The lighthouse itself is now on private property so it was not accessible. However, we were able to view it from the rocks across the cove. We had arrived at the peak of high tide and the highlight of this stop was watching the waves crash onto the rocky coast.

Next we visited Two Lights State Park. This was the site of one of the many gun batteries that were built along the coast during World War II to defend the Portland Harbor and Casco Bay. A fire control tower, built nearby, was used to aim the guns at approaching enemy ships. We hiked a mile-long trail around the park that took us along the coast and through the forest. The views of the waves on the rocks were spectacular.

We then drove to see the Portland Head Light and Fort Williams. The Portland Head Light, first lit in1791, is the oldest, and most photographed, lighthouse in Maine. Fort Williams, begun in 1873, served as headquarters for harbor defense and contained gun batteries that were manned during World War I and the early years of World War II. We ate lunch at a picnic table overlooking Casco Bay.

After lunch, we drove to Portland. Our first stop was a tour of the Victoria Mansion. The mansion was built in 1858-1860 as a summer home for New Orleans hotelier Ruggles Morse and his wife Olive, both Maine natives. The house was built with the latest technology and featured gas lights, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heat, wall-to-wall carpets, and a servant call system. Ruggles and Olive lived in the house until 1893 when Ruggles passed away and Olive sold it, fully furnished, to the Libby family. The last of the Libby family moved out in 1929 and the house sat vacant during the Depression. It was saved from demolition in 1940 and has been open as a museum since 1941. Because of this history, it still has 90% of its original interiors. We did a self-guided tour but there were docents in each room to tell us about the furnishings and to answer our questions.

We then drove by the boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famed 19th-century poet and educator.

IMG_5823
Boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our final stop of the day was at the Portland Museum of Art, where they have free admission on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. We strolled through the exhibits on all four floors.

On Saturday we hiked the 1.5-mile out-and-back East Point Audubon Sanctuary trail in Biddeford Pool, a large tidal pool off of Saco Bay, approximately six miles southeast of downtown Biddeford. It was a mostly sunny day and most of the trail was along the ocean front. The Wood Island Lighthouse was visible across the bay. After our hike, we relaxed on the rocks above the shore.  On our drive home, we passed several oceanfront properties that would made been nice summer homes. That evening, Phil researched some of them and discovered one was a 1,100 square foot, 3 bedroom, 1 bath home that was listed for $2.4 million. The house next door was 1,800 square foot and listed for $4 million. We will keep looking!

On Sunday we returned to the Biddeford Pool area and hiked the 1.5-mile out-and-back Timber Point trail. The trail took us through woods and meadows, with the Little River on one side and a cattail marsh on the other. A short distance past the tip of Timber Point is Timber Island, a 13-acre landmass accessible by land bridge at low tide. Unfortunately we were there at 2 pm and low tide was at 7:30 pm. Timber Point was purchased in 1929 by Louise Ewing. Her husband, Charles, was a master architect who had studied in Paris in the late 1880s. The Ewing house, which is still intact, was his last major architectural project. Louise Ewing had a love of nature and wild things and it was largely due to her influence that Timber Point has remained relatively unchanged. Timber Point is now part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and is used as a resting spot by migratory birds in the spring and fall.

After a rainy Labor Day, the weather on Tuesday was ideal. We started the day with a 2-mile loop hike at Wonder Brook Preserve, part of the Kennebunk Land Trust. We then drove to the Franciscan Monastery and ate a picnic lunch. On our way out, we stopped to see a sculpture that had adorned the façade of the Vatican Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York City (1964-65).

We then drove to Dock Square in Kennebunk and rented a tandem kayak for three hours. We were told that we had arrived at the perfect time. Since it was an hour before high tide, we could paddle up the Kennebunk River with the current’s assistance. Then, when the tide started going out, our return trip would also be assisted. Departing the marina required paddling under a bridge with only a couple of inches clearance. However, when we returned, the water level was even higher and we had to lie back in our kayak and push our way along under the bridge.

With rain in the forecast for Wednesday afternoon, we limited our outdoor activities to a 2.5-mile hike at Horton Woods in the morning. This 100-acre wildlife preserve in Saco, ME includes diverse ecological habitats, including forests, marshes, streams, bogs and fields. It was one of the few moderate-rated trails in this area and we could feel the difference in the effort required to climb the hills.

That evening Phil observed the neighborhood cat tormenting a baby chipmunk again. Phil had intervened Tuesday afternoon and the baby chipmunk had managed to find refuge in one of our tire covers. On Wednesday night, Phil managed to get between the cat and the chipmunk. As he bent over to pet the cat, he felt the chipmunk run up his pant leg and onto the back of his shirt. When Phil called Jan to get the chipmunk off his back, her first instinct was to grab her camera. However, by the time Jan looked outside, the chipmunk was gone and Phil was left having to try to convince her that it had really happened.

On Thursday we headed north to Brunswick, ME. Brunswick’s main attraction, Bowdoin College, was founded in 1794 and has an impressive list of alumni, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, President Franklin Pierce and arctic explorer Robert E. Peary. Our first stop was at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Admiral Peary (class of 1897) led the first expedition to reach the North Pole in 1909. Donald MacMillan (class of 1898) also was an accomplished arctic explorer. When they returned from their respective polar travels, they donated many items they collected to their alma mater, including many mounted animals. After the museum, we strolled the campus green and peaked inside the chapel.

Our next stop was at Cabot Mills Antiques, located in a restored textile mill. In the 16,000 square-foot showroom, more than 160 dealers display a wide variety of furniture, books, art, china and porcelains. We explored the entire showroom but left empty-handed.

We had received a promotional email from KOA for 20%-off at L.L. Bean so we returned to Freeport on our drive south. When Jan used the discount to purchase a shirt, we received an additional $10-off coupon so Phil had to buy some socks.

Finally, we drove farther south to Portland and did a 4-mile harborside stroll along the Eastern Promenade Trail. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of sailboats out on Casco Bay.

On Friday we drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. For the past 3 centuries, Plymouth has been the hub of the coastal Maine/New Hampshire region’s maritime trade. The west bank of the harbor was settled by English colonists in 1630 and named Strawberry Banke. It was renamed Portsmouth when the town was incorporated in 1653. Portsmouth grew to be one of the nation’s busiest ports and shipbuilding cities. The town expressed its wealth in fine architecture with many fine examples of Colonial, Georgian and Federal style houses, many of which are still lived in today and some are now museums. We walked by many of these houses, including the following:

  • John Paul Jones House, built in 1758. John Paul Jones, American Revolutionary War Naval hero was a resident in 1781-82 when it was operated as a boarding house.
  • Tobias Lear House – Built c. 1750 by Tobias Lear, a merchant and ship’s captain.
  • Wentworth-Gardner House – Built in 1760 by one of New Hampshire’s wealthiest merchants and landowners as a wedding gift for his son.
  • Warner House – Built in 1716-18 by a sea captain, it is one of the oldest, urban brick houses in northern New England and served as the governor’s mansion for 20 years.
  • Governor John Langdon House – Built in 1784 by John Langdon, a merchant, shipbuilder, American Revolutionary general and 3-term governor of New Hampshire.

We also visited Prescott Park, a beautiful public park along the Piscataqua River and across from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (established in 1800).

After lunch, we drove past the many factory outlet malls in Kittery, ME and continued on to Fort Foster at Kittery Point. During World War II, approximately 100 men were stationed at Fort Foster (built in 1897) to protect the coastline and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where submarines were built for the war effort. The fort’s primary role was to protect the harbor’s intricate underwater minefield from sabotage and enemy minesweepers and torpedo boats. The Wood Island Life Saving Station, visible from the Fort Foster pier, was used as a strategic observation post to watch for German U-boats. Fort Foster was closed after World War II and was turned over to the Town of Kittery in 1961 for public use.

Our drive home took us through a series of beautiful beach communities, including York Harbor, Ogunquit, Wells Beach, Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise.

IMG_6109
Shoreline at York Harbor

On Saturday we drove to Wells, ME and attended the 32nd annual Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival. This prestigious event brings 120 of New England’s finest craftspeople and artisans, selected by jury, to exhibit their wares. We strolled through the grounds, visiting all of the booths and making several purchases. The temperature was in the upper 50s when we arrived but did warm up somewhat in the afternoon.

The festival was held at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. This site had been farmed for over 300 years before being turned over for public use in 1986. The Wells Reserve uses this historical site as a platform for education, conservation, and research, maintaining more than a dozen historic structures. The property has many trails, including one leading to Laudholm Beach. We hiked to the beach and enjoyed strolling up and down the shore. The weather forecasters had issued a High Surf Advisory and the wave action was quite strong.

Sunday was spent preparing to travel again. It was difficult to say goodbye to the Maine coast after a wonderful three months.