This morning we dropped Charley off for a little work. While he can surely hold his own with the big rigs, he’s riding a little rough. So after much research on Fred’s part, we think we’ve come up with a solution to make our riding on the road – more specifically, over the bumps! – a lot smoother.
We’re now heading back up to Chicago, then Appleton, in Toad, sans Charley. We’re leaving him in good hands (we hope!) at a truck repair place down in South Carolina. Wayne’s going to install some new shock absorbers and a sway bar – which at first I was mistakenly calling a roll bar. I hope we don’t need a roll bar!!
After our holiday time with family and friends back up in the Midwest, we’ll drive Toad back down to rendezvous with Charley, then off we’ll go to see Daddy & Joan in Southport. From there, we’ll make our way down the Carolina & Georgia coasts, with stops in Charleston and Savannah, then head to Ft. Myers Beach for Christmas and our fabulous Jolly family wedding after Christmas!
Charley has served us well for almost six months, but we all can use a tune-up every now and then….
It’s really nice when you expect that you’re going to have a good day, and then it turns out to be a greatone! That describes Saturday, November 15th, the day we visited Congaree National Park outside of Columbia, South Carolina. Congaree is the 17th National Park we’ve visited together in our quest to visit them all, and honestly, we had never even heard of it until we started familiarizing ourselves with the 59 parks and where they are each located.
Congaree National Park preserves the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. At one time, there were over five million acres of this forestland in the U.S., but early in the twentieth century, loggers began harvesting the giant trees found in these hardwood forests. Cypress was particularly in demand as ‘wood eternal,’ for it doesn’t rot. Over time, millions of acres of trees were clear cut to meet the demands of a growing country, leaving very few hardwood forests behind. Fortunately for the Congaree Swamp, early efforts to harvest the trees here were short-lived and unprofitable, so these trees survived. Today in Congaree, only 26,000 acres remain, and as this is the largest tract of its kind left, it is not surprising that the giant trees here are among the tallest in the United States.
Back to our day… we arrived at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center with plans to take the 10 a.m. ranger-lead interpretive walk and found we weren’t the only ones who had this same great idea. In fact, a large group of nice teens and their adult leaders from a Venturing group [a co-ed adventure program run by the Boy Scouts of America] were there, so bundled up in warm coats, hats and gloves as the Arctic Blast cold spell hit us down south here, too, some 25 of us set out with Ranger Jon Manchester to explore the park.
Our 2.7-mile walk started out on a portion of the nice boardwalk loop trail in the ‘high grounds’ where Jon explained what types of species did well in this area – several oak species, sweetgum and holly. Further walking brought us to the floodplains area where water tupelo and bald cypress trees with their ‘knees’ had both adapted for growth in floodplain conditions. It’s a good thing we had a boardwalk to walk on; the muck looked like it could swallow us up!
Just a bit farther up the boardwalk, with only about a foot in elevation change, we came to another section of the forest that was just dry enough most of the time to support undergrowth like the switch cane we saw growing, and then other oak varietals and ash trees in these better-drained flats. It was fascinating to see these changes in the forest and to really understand them. Ranger Jon also pointed out other signs of healthy life in a forest – the sapwells of the woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers (a fun bird name; also in the woodpecker family) and the burls that trees grow on their bark to protect themselves from disease.
We ended our walk at Weston Lake where I added a new vocabulary word to my list – oxbow. An oxbow is a lake that used to be a river. Sometimes, changes in the environment force a river to reroute, and when a part of the river gets cut off, it becomes an oxbow lake. While most oxbow lakes usually dry up over time and become sloughs, Weston appears to have a water source that allows it to remain a lake.
It was really a wonderful hike and we got so much more out of it because Ranger Jon guided us and shared his knowledge with us. Walking back to the Visitor Center with him after our official tour had ended, we came upon a pile of feathers – light gray with pinky-reddish ends. These were clearly the remnants of lunch for some creature in the forest! Jon photographed the feathers and looked them up when we got back; it appeared to be a cardinal – past tense. In addition to the 80+ species of trees here in the park, there are some 170 bird species, 60 reptile/amphibian species, and 50 kinds of fish.
Fred and I ate a picnic lunch, then decided on a second, longer hike (4.7 miles) for our afternoon in Congaree. We looped out farther from the Visitor Center and saw more of the forest and floodplains, and we certainly understood and appreciated the area much better. We saw just a few more people out in the park – very likely because of the cold near-winter day – but a few brave souls were out, including Neil, and his sweet dog, Wolfie, who shared some of the afternoon trail with us. From our research, we could see that a very popular use of this park is kayaking and canoeing, an activity that’s all but over now for the winter, but would surely be another wonderful way to enjoy the park.
For this remarkable place, it seems we all owe a lot of gratitude to Harry Hampton, the conservationist, writer, and outdoorsman for whom Congaree’s Visitor Center was named. Back in the 1950s, he began a one-man campaign to preserve this hardwood forest tract. His tireless efforts and those of others who joined his unpopular-at-the-time cause paid off; in 1976, this sanctuary became Congaree Swamp National Monument, then in 2003 it became Congaree National Park, most of which is now a federally-designated wilderness area.
So while we knew we would enjoy our time here in this national park, as we do in each of them, we had no idea just how truly great of a day this would be! This majestic wilderness of towering trees is a magnificent place to hike, canoe, fish, birdwatch, and stroll the boardwalks. And while Congaree is always in motion as water levels constantly change, it is a place where stillness and tranquility can still be enjoyed.
Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through pictures of our lovely day in Congaree National Park:
November 13, 2014 — We saw this location on the atlas [yes, we still like to use this old-fashioned navigational tool!], and in our quest to visit as many of our nation’s outstanding national park units as we can, we routed to Chesnee, South Carolina, home to Cowpens National Battlefield. Cowpens is a Revolutionary War battlefield, and the brief battle that was fought here significantly changed the course of the war.
We were surprised to learn that more Revolutionary War fighting was done in South Carolina than in any other of the American Colonies! In their ongoing fight for independence from Britain in the 1770s, the Colonists struggles settled into a stalemate in the North. But Britain, not giving up, mounted a second campaign by bringing the fighting to the South. From 1778-1780, the British Regulars (paid professional soldiers fighting for the King) had won a series of victories in the region, first capturing Savannah and then Charleston. This gave Britain’s Lord Cornwallis the confidence that the British could soon take control of the whole South and, with this region in hand, move back north and take care of the rebellious Americans once and for all. The brash and confident British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton was full of confidence as he lead his redcoats against the Patriot force commanded by General Daniel Morgan in early 1781.
On January 17, 1781, the two sides met in the Cow Pens, a frontier pasturing ground just off the Green River Road between Chesnee and Gaffney. General Morgan, knowing that he was outnumbered by Tarleton’s men, sent for militia units from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia – men who were fighting to protect their homes and their land, but whom Morgan knew were no match for British battle tactics. But Morgan, well-known for his military abilities, devised a brilliant tactical plan to defeat the larger, more experienced British Regulars.
In less than an hour, these local militiamen, partnered with Morgan’s tough Continental soldiers and a small cavalry, gave a “devil of a whipping” [as Morgan described it later] to Tarleton and the British, who sustained nearly 1,000 casualties [killed, wounded, captured, or missing] that morning. Morgan’s losses were just 24 killed and 104 wounded.
With this battle won so easily, the Continental Army now had the momentum and psychological boost they needed. Later that year – October 1871 – Britain’s Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in Yorktown, Virginia, in the last significant battle of the war; arguably the one that would ultimately lead to the British surrender to the Americans and the end of the Revolutionary War in 1873.
As we always do, we really enjoyed our history lesson in this small, yet hugely important place. And, as always, we are grateful to all those who work to preserve such important sites in our country’s history.
November 7 – 12 — Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain Chain. Confusing? Suffice it to say that however you refer to these mountains – the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smokies, or the Appalachians – they’re stunning! They take their name from the rising streamers of a misty blue haze which so frequently envelopes the valleys and ridges of this magnificent mountain range.**
The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on earth; older than the Himalayas and the Alps. Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains some 15,000 years ago, and this is one of the many reasons for the unparalleled diversity found in both plants and animals in the park today.
The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park, and the Appalachian Trail runs right down this ridge, as well; no doubt making this a popular section of the A.T. for hikers. There are two main entrances to the park: Oconaluftee just north of Cherokee on the North Carolina side, and Sugarlands just outside of Gatlinburg on the Tennessee side. A 30-mile road connects these two cities, following along the Oconaluftee and the Little Pigeon Rivers. In addition to Oconaluftee and Sugarlands, there are two more Visitor Centers – Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome – each showcasing different elements of the park and offering unique opportunities to understand the rich biodiversity in this area, see the varying flora and fauna in the park (the Smokies are home to over 100,000 different life forms), learn of the pioneering spirit of the hearty farmers of yesteryear in what were once vibrant mountain communities, and marvel at well-preserved remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture that date back to the mid-1800s.
We stayed in the town of Cherokee on the North Carolina side, which is actually on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Over 1,000 years ago, the Cherokee people wove their culture into this land, and names such as Oconaluftee are reminders to us of who was here first!**
Our campsite was wonderful. We backed up onto the Raven Fork River (see embedded slide show, below, for photos) and thoroughly enjoyed watching anglers in waders fish for the Brown and Rainbow Trout in the cold river waters. As mentioned in an earlier post (Perry & Dee Dee Come Visit), we really enjoyed hosting Perry & Dee Dee for the first two days we were in the area. Then the remaining days found us driving through the park, visiting and learning in all four Visitor Centers, hiking a few trails on a couple of days, touring the Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, driving the loop road through Cades Cove where we saw demonstrations of the old ways of life in the Smokies, and seeking out wildlife – we saw elk, wild turkeys, a hedgehog, a fox, and we even spotted a black bear in the woods – my Smoky Mountains visit was complete!
Geography, climate, and evolution combined to create this wonderful place. Today, it is the most visited national park in the United States, drawing over nine million visitors each year; more than double the next closest park. It is a place of peace, beauty, and recreation – a true sanctuary to come together with nature.
Hover your cursor over the photo, then click the arrows to scroll through pictures from our visit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
** Sadly, much of the blue mist we see today is air pollution; ozone depletion and acid rain have reeked havoc here and elsewhere.
** In another sad chapter of American history… in 1838, as the Smoky Mountains became a destination for ‘new Americans’ to settle and set up their simple farm lives, most of the Cherokees were marched west by the U.S. Government into settlements in Oklahoma. Thousands died on what was called the “Trail of Tears;” the forced relocation of Native Americans. Today, the town of Cherokee is largely made up of direct descendants of the Cherokee people who have lived in these lands for hundreds and hundreds of years.
November 13 — We thought one more drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway might be nice as we were leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park today. We found a 20-mile stretch that looked good on the map – thought we’d take it then link back up with the highway we needed to be on to continue on south. Then all of the sudden… OH DANG!!!
Can you see the sign – 11’10” clearance? Do you see the little tunnel in the center of the picture where the road ends? Do you know how tall Charley is? Taller than 11’10”!!!!
Fortunately the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway didn’t have many cars on it today! Unable to go through the tunnel without searing off the top of our motorhome (and that would be SO BAD!!) we ended up having to unhook Toad in the middle of our lane. Then Fred did an amazing five-point turn in Charley across both lanes. [The drop-off off the edge was steeper than it looks in the photo, and there was no shoulder!] Then we re-hooked Toad onto the back of Charley. Then we retraced our steps back down the Parkway to where we had entered it 30 minutes before.
Now that’s a mistake you don’t want to make too often! Lesson learned – check roadway clearances on scenic byways and highways/roadways built long ago before you plan on driving your 12’4″ RV on them!
You know you have good friends when you tell them you’re a couple of hours away from where they’re heading for the weekend and they detour to come visit you instead. They’re even better friends when they know they will have to sleep on an air mattress on your floor, take cold showers in the shower house at the campground, coexist together in tight quarters with you, have no space to put their personal items, and endure the chill of the November outdoors, and still agree to come visit you. Meet our great and wonderful friends, Perry & Dee Dee.
It was another episode in our series, We Couldn’t Have Planned It Better If We Tried. As we were driving in North Carolina en route to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and our campsite there, we texted Perry & Dee Dee and asked them where their property was. We knew they had some land around these parts and were planning to build on it soon, and we sensed that we were nearby. It turns out their little slice of heaven on the Nantahala River is within an hour of where we were, and when we told them how close our campsite was to their property, they turned their car in our direction and joined us the next day before noon.
Their stay with us, while unplanned, was absolutely fantastic! Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday were filled with lots of spontaneous fun. We enjoyed happy hour around the campfire both evenings and shared two delicious dinners, if I say so myself. They showed us their property and the nearby surrounding area – we can’t wait to come back to visit once their house is built! In general, we just laughed and joked and ribbed and reminisced as old friends do.
Fred and Perry’s friendship dates back to 1979 – 35 years ago! – when they were stationed on the USS Albany together in Gaeta, Italy, while serving in the U.S. Navy. On this Veteran’s Day, then, it seems appropriate to thank them both for their service to our country. And to Perry & Dee Dee, thanks for a fabulous weekend! We look forward to seeing you again next month in sunny Florida!!
For the first time in three days I have semi-reliable connectivity, so I’m hoping I can catch up on a few posts – hurray! :) This post dates back to Friday, November 7th. — We continue to make our way south. We have a couple more national parks to visit before we take our Thanksgiving break back up in Chicago and Appleton with family and friends; visits we are very much looking forward to! As we were planning our November travel, we learned that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Scenic Byway, making it a must-see/must-drive on. It connects Shenandoah NP in Virginia all the way to Great Smoky Mountain NP in North Carolina – how convenient as that’s exactly our itinerary!
Not so fast, though… upon further study, we didn’t think we wanted to drive the whole thing. Even through this is an All-American Road noted for its scenic beauty, we didn’t feel the need to enjoy all 469 miles of the parkway as the maximum speed limit is just 45 m.p.h. – a bit slow, even for Charley! It seems to be a dream for motorcyclists, though. Driving along the crests of the southern Appalachian Mountains through ancient bedrock, rolling forests, and 200+ small towns… not seeing a single billboard or road sign… marveling at the 151 bridges built by the WPA/CCC over several decades (construction on the parkway began in the 1930s, but it was not finished until the 1980s)… stopping at some of the 275 scenic vistas along the route… experiencing an untouched and untamed oasis of calm… while all of this would be lovely, we don’t have the time for it to take four days! We decided to drive a few portions of it, so planned our itinerary accordingly.
We spent a couple of nights in a great little campground on a mountaintop just outside of Asheville, NC. We had a few ‘big city’ errands to take care of there – got an oil change for Toad at the Subaru dealer and had some PC issues taken care of at Office Max – places we hope not to be too near any more than we have to on this trip. As we left Asheville, we stopped in at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center for yet another stamp in our NPS Passport books, then headed on down the road, er, parkway…. Next stop: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a true renaissance man – a scholar, a scientist in many fields; some not even yet defined and named, an “enthusiast” of the arts, a farmer, an architect, a global leader… the list goes on. An avid reader (and that’s an understatement; he sold some 6,700 books that essentially created the Library of Congress, then deciding he couldn’t live without his books, started amassing a new collection), he read in seven languages, reading books only in the language in which they were written (apparently he didn’t like translations) and was teaching himself an eighth. By all accounts Thomas Jefferson was brilliant – that’s an understatement, as well. John F. Kennedy once commented at a gathering of Nobel Laureates, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” (insert laughter)
Monticello is the home Thomas Jefferson always knew he’d build. He was born and raised a short distance away and had inherited the 3,000 acres of the mountaintop and surrounding areas that had been his father’s tobacco fields. And it was always his desire to stay in Virginia to read, study science, farm, raise his children, and live a tranquil life on this, his beautiful mountain.
Yet feeling that it was his duty to his newly-forming country, he wrote the Declaration of Independence [at the age of 33], and then spent the next 33 years in public life. Post-Declaration, he served as a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly and to Congress; he was the governor of Virginia; he was the minister to France; secretary of state; vice president; and, of course, the third president of the United States from 1801-1809. Notable achievements during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the United States, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition which furthered discovery and exploration.
Monticello itself is filled with household items, furnishings, paintings, and many other wonderful relics and artifacts depicting what life was like when Jefferson was here. We easily spent six hours touring the house and exploring the plantation. His land was subdivided into farms including Mulberry Row; the heart of the farming activities taking place at Monticello. Enslaved, free, and indentured workers and craftsmen lived and worked here, with work changing over time ‘to accommodate the the varying needs of Monticello’s construction and Jefferson’s household and manufacturing initiatives.’ There is evidence that shows 23 structures on the plantation in 1796, but because they were mostly wooden, little of them has survived the last two centuries.
A striking aspect of the design of Monticello is how Jefferson hid the “dependencies,” or essential rooms the servants used, so that they were easily accessible to the house without being visible. The ice house, beer cellar, wine cellar, kitchen, smokehouse, dairy room, carriage house, stables, indoor privies (a real rarity for the day), and household slave quarters are all below the main level of the house. All are connected with an underground, unseen passage – quite a design! Fittingly so, Jefferson is buried here, and his grave is in the family cemetery a short stroll down a path in the back of the house.
Fortunately, the only two owners of Monticello, prior to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchasing it in 1923, were responsible stewards to his legacy. During the years they owned the property, they worked to restore and preserve the estate. And perhaps understanding the importance of his life and his contributions to society, Jefferson was a fastidious record keeper. Ensuring historical accuracy of all that is done here, his surviving collection of log books records every cent Jefferson spent, inventories of his assets at any given time, what was planted in each of the many gardens, genealogical details of all who lived and worked on the plantation; the list of lists goes on and on. And still in tact are all of the 19,000+ pieces of correspondence Jefferson wrote and received. In fact, one of the many wonderful implements on display in Jefferson’s study is the polygraph Jefferson used for copying all of his letters. He’d use one pen to write, and a second pen attached to the writing pen he manipulated made a second copy of all that he wrote.
To this day, the words that Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence nearly 250 years ago still inspire individuals as well as nations all around the world. The ideals that “all men are created equal” … and all men have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” established the foundations of self-government and individual freedom in America. Ironic then, isn’t it, that in his lifetime Thomas Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves?
For as brilliant of a man as Jefferson was, he couldn’t reconcile the issue of slavery in his own life. He acknowledged that such a difficult problem would have to be solved by future generations. By the same token, today’s conversations about Jefferson and slavery must also include Sally Hemings (1773-1835). A member of the large Hemings family of slaves at Monticello, she was an enslaved lady’s maid in the house. Recent DNA tests show a genetic link between the Jefferson and Hemings families, and based on existing scientific documentation, statistical evidence, and oral history, most historians now believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered five of Sally Hemings’ children.
And on the thread of legacy, according to our outstanding tour guide, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for inspiring three things: freedom of government, freedom of religion, and freedom of the mind. With his writing the Declaration of Independence and the founding and designing the University of Virginia, I’d say he succeeded in helping inspire much of the world in these categories.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation that operates Monticello today continues to acquire Jefferson’s original artifacts as they become known and available. They are now working to restore and develop the second and third levels of the house which consists of family bedrooms and the dome room. Monticello is certainly a place to put on your ‘need to visit’ list when your travels take you to southwest Virginia.
It is not a beauty contest, although, many of the competitors are quite striking. There are no style points, but the participants are very graceful, in a raw, athletic kind of way. Nicely attired handlers do not position competitors in statuesque poses and then slowly trot them around a ring. There are no “Best Behaved” or “Miss Congeniality” awards. In this competition, there is only one thing that matters: speeeeed.
This past weekend we were at a campground just east of Shenandoah National Park and as it so happened, our stay coincided with an event sponsored by the United States Dog Agility Association. In this event, dogs tend to be on the smaller end of the spectrum, with Border Collies typically being the largest participant. When you see the course that they run around, scamper through and over, slalom, jump over and through, and teeter on, you can understand why there are no German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, or Dobermans in the ranks.
I really enjoyed watching the dogs tear around the course being directed by a handler’s commands and hand and body movements. The dogs run the course in a set fashion, with time penalties being assessed for not getting cleanly over jumps and missing an obstacle. My favorite dogs to watch working were the Border Collies. As one of the handlers noted, they are “wicked smart and wicked fast.”
Here is the link to the association’s website: www.usdaa.com , and a few photos of the athletes in action.
Hover your cursor over the below photo, then click on the arrows to see Fred’s photos from the dog agility event:
Search Jolly Out There
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain
# of total NP Units*= 189 Latest NP Units* visited: ⊕ Delaware Water Gap – 07/15/18
⊕ Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park – 05/08/17
* National Park Units include National Monuments, National Historical Parks, National Battlefields, National Seashores, etc.; there are 413 NP Units at present; we’re seeing as many of these as we can along the way.
Quote of the Day
Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost The Road Not Taken
Out There by the Numbers
2 years 5 months on the road 82,501 miles driven 50states visited 1,122 miles hiked 176 miles biked 263 miles paddled 301 different places stayed 4,450 gallons of fuel for Charley ... June 1, 2014 - October 31, 2016
January 2018 — It’s winter here in southwest Michigan, but Fred has been training in earnest for his next endeavor which is to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail; the A.T. for short. March 25th will find him “stepping off” at the Southern Terminus of Springer Mountain, Georgia, and with a mix of good training, good planning, and good fortune, he will finish up some 2,200 miles / 14 states / six months later atop Mount Katahdin in Maine. Stay tuned for much more detail about this in the days to come….