Saturday, October 28, 2006

Natchez Trace State Park, Lexington, Tennesee

We highly recommend Natchez Trace State Park (especially for RVers) located off I-40 in western TN, halfway between Nashville and Memphis. It's a state park with full hook-ups, open, spacious sites (good for satellite TV reception), on a lake with fishing, close to a town with a Super WalMart, all for $17.50 a night. Here's Ed relaxing by the campfire with Duncan, Roxie, and Bonnie.

...and the view from our site.

I'd never so much as held a fishing pole in my whole life, but Ed taught me to cast and I caught my first fish, a little blue gill. But I didn't bait the hook and I made Ed take him off the hook and throw him back. Some fisherwoman, huh?

I'd heard of kudzu, the "mile-a-minute vine", but I'd never seen it before. This vine was imported from Asia and planted to control soil erosion. It clings to trees and cuts off oxygen, eventually killing it's host. Kudzu can actually grow about 10 feet in 24 hours. Unfortunately, it has no natural enemies and is fire and pesticide resistant. Kudzu is probably here to stay in the south.

The Music City; Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is not just the home of Andrew Jackson, it's also the home of country music. That's a tough subject for me to write about because I'm not a fan and know next to nothing about the "who's who" in that world. Another thing...I'm way behind on this blog and want to catch up. So I'm not going to write much except to illustrate the photos that I took. So here goes:

These photos are taken downtown. This street is lined with "honkey-tonks", the clubs where all the "wanna-be" country music stars play for tips only, hoping to be "discovered."

Also on this street is the Rydell Auditorium. It is a converted church and was the site of the original Grand Ole Opry shows back in the thirties.

Elvis played at the Rydell but wasn't well received, back in the day. His daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, played here a few years ago and wasn't liked much either, according to our tour guide. Maybe too much rock 'n' roll in them for the country music folks. Today, the Grand Ole Opry performances take place every Fri & Sat night at a new auditorium on the outskirts of Nashville. As a sign of the times, the performances are broadcast continually on one of the satellite radio channels, I think it's on Sirius. If we'd stayed through the weekend we could have gone and seen Trisha Yearwood, a name even I recognize.

Speaking of Elvis, look who I found in front of the 2nd Ave. Sun Studio Record Shop! (Sun Studio was Elvis' first label and the studio was actually in Memphis.)

After our walk downtown, Ed & I hopped on board a Grayline trolley for a tour. A few highlights:

This is the Parthenon in Nashville. It is a full scale replica of the original in Greece. It is built of limestone, as opposed to marble, however.

This Parthenon was originally built as part of a Tennessee Exposition. The theme for the fair was "Athens of the South" and this is the only building left from the Expo. Surrounded by formal gardens, the site is now used for civic and cultural events and is popular for weddings.

Our trolley tour passed through the section of town where all the deal-making takes place. Major record labels have their offices and studios here. RCA/Victor is one of the oldest and best-known. I loved the guitar out front. This is one of those photos that can be better appreciated by clicking on it to get a larger view.

Finally, I liked the Tennessee State Capitol building, set high on a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River.

I hated to give Nashville short shrift, but we have to get going to Memphis , Little Rock, Hot Springs...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Hermitage; Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee is not just the home of country music. It was also the home of the 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. Yes, his is the face on our $20.00 bill! But until I visited "The Hermitage", I knew nothing about this extraordinary man.

His story proves the old saying that anyone born in the US can grow up to be President. Orphaned at age 14, Andrew Jackson somehow got himself educated and moved to Tennessee from North Carolina. Despite nearly becoming bankrupt at one point, eventually he became a successful owner of a cotton plantation. He married and never had any biological children. He did adopt a nephew and an orphaned Indian boy. When the War of 1812 broke out, Jackson joined the Tennessee militia. Despite no formal military training, he rose through the ranks and became a general. His successful defeat of British forces at New Orleans began his rise to prominence in Tennessee politics, culminating in the presidency of the US. Sadly, his wife died of tuberculosis just three weeks before he took office in Washington DC. When his term was completed, he retired to the Hermitage and lived there for the rest of his life. The house has been meticulously restored to the way it looked in 1837. Most of the wallpapers and furnishings are original. No interior photos are allowed. The grounds are extensive and can be toured by wagon with a costumed interpreter for a small fee.

The Hermitage exhibition is committed to also telling the stories of the African-American slaves, without whom the plantation could not have been successful. The slave cabins are on display. Typically, a family with 10-12 children might share one room, with additional sleeping quarters in the loft. Here are photos of the outside of a "duplex" and interior photos of one side.

President Jackson visited the grave of his wife every evening at sunset. The tomb is set amidst the formal gardens, which his wife had enjoyed tending so much. It must be beautiful in the summer.
I have been to Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington. Ed & I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, a few years ago. There must be other president's homes I can add to my list. I wonder if there's a possible travel article in there somewhere that would appeal to RVers as a road trip. Have to give that some thought. Anyone have an idea?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mammoth Cave National Park; Cave City, Kentucky

Three years ago, we stayed in Bowling Green, Kentucky while Ed completed his training at Camping World RV Institute. We never took the time to visit Mammoth Cave, only 40 miles away, and Ed had promised me that we' d come back and see it. So I was determined to seize the opportunity on this trip. Last weekend, we made our home base at the brand-new Cave Country Campground in nearby Cave City, KY.

Mammoth Cave is so-named because it is the longest cave system in the world, with over 367 miles of mapped tunnels. Jewel Cave in South Dakota and a cave in Russia are the second and third longest caves - and Mammoth Cave is longer than the two of them put together! Mammoth Cave was established as a national park in 1941 and became a World Heritage Site in 1981. Geologists estimate than there may be another 600 miles of unmapped tunnels that extend beyond the 53,000 acres of the Park's borders.

The guided tours of various sections of the cave sell out every weekend and this Saturday was no exception. We had a few hours until we could get on a tour, so we decided to take a boat ride on the aptly named "Miss Green River". The Green River flows through the park and is the culmination of all the underground rivers that have carved Mammoth Cave out of the limestone. The river was high and muddy from all the recent rains. Our captain pointed out turtles, warming themselves on the fallen trees on the riverbank.

After lunch at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, we returned for our tour. Members of our group boarded three schoolbuses that had been converted to run on propane. Our driver took us to a man-made entrance to access one the prettiest parts of the cave. Most of the cave is dry, but this part has a short section where dripping water created stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations over thousands of years. We climbed down 250 ft. via extremely steep and narrow stairways and passages.

Our ranger explained that the earliest cave guides hoped to lure wealthy New Yorkers to come visit Mammoth Cave. So they named many of the chambers and formations after places in New York. For example, here is our guide giving us information as we are all seated in a great big "room" they called "Grand Central Station".

After a brief rest, we continued our 3/4 mile walk through another dry portion of the cave.

Finally, we descended 75 steps into the only part of the cave with formations. Here is a type known generically as "draperies". See the curtain folds?

The grand finale of our tour, with yet another New York reference, is the multi-story wall called "Frozen Niagara". As impressive as Mammoth Cave is, we still think no other cave rivals Luray Caverns in Virginia for sheer beauty, interesting formations and colors. But each is unique - we've seen Jewel Cave and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico also - and Mammoth is well worth a visit.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A day without internet access is like a day without sunshine...but 10 days with no internet drove me crazy!

I have not been able to update the blog or send e-mails since we left PA 10 days ago. We connect using our cell phones and need a digital Verizon signal. All through Maryland, West Virginia, and Kentucky we were on an extended network that is OK for phone calls but doesn't work for data. Finally, in Cave City, KY, we got to an RV park with free Wifi, but their system kept crashing. Yesterday, we arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, and we are back in touch, much to my delight.

Back in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, a fellow camper mentioned that he visits each year to get his train "fix". We got ours by taking a 45 minute ride through the countryside on a fully restored coal-fired steam train, complete with parlor car adorned with stained glass, a white-tablecloth dining car, an open car, and coach cars for us regular folk. Each car cost over $200K to restore.

The National Toy Train Museum is also located in Strasburg. I had as much fun as a kid - pushing buttons to activate trains laid out on elaborate sets of villages, countryside snow scenes, trains from other countries, toy trains of various gauges and manufacturers. If we were not traveling by RV, we might have been tempted to stay at the adjacent Red Caboose Motel. Each "room" is a restored car, laid out on a track, set up as a 'sleeper". How fun! "Rent a caboose for the night and wake up on the right track!" (as seen on the sign below.)

Moving south from Strasburg, we spent two nights at Rocky Gap State Park, just east of Cumberland, Maryland. Our campground was situated on a man-made lake with lots of walking trails. The dogs enjoyed that tremendously.

Next up...Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Photos of the Amish girls' memorial

God's Little Angels...

We weren't going to do it. We didn't want to be morbid curiousity-seekers. But in the end, we couldn't not visit the memorial to Naomi Rose, Marian, Anna Mae, Mary Liz, and Lena. I fought back tears as we drove through farmlands and saw two Amish girls, about 8 or 10 years old, walking home from school, swinging their lunchboxes. Dressed in pinafores, hair tied back in identical buns at the nape of their neck, they looked just like I imagine the schoolgirls who were brutally shot must have looked. Five of the girls are still fighting for their lives in the hospital. A memorial has sprung up just down the street from the school for the five who died. The little Amish boy looking out from the buggy is looking at the school, which has been boarded up and will probably be torn down. Remember "Gods' little angels" and say a prayer for their families and the community in mourning.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lessons in Forgiveness....

The story of the shootings of Amish schoolgirls has been seen on TV all over the world. Strasburg is less than 10 miles away from Nickel Mines and the one-room schoolhouse where the tragedy took place. We have not seen it, but we have seen other schoolhouses like it, and the Amish farms with their great white barns set amidst green hills and valleys, and the horses and buggies clip-clopping along the roadways. We have not had an opportunity to speak directly with an Amish person, but the locals we have met know the families and some of their children. The Lancaster papers are filled with details of the lives of the victims, their families, as well as the shooter and his family. Of all the places in the world, one would not expect violence of this magnitude to erupt in the midst of the peace-loving Amish. The thought came to me that this cataclysmic event will change the lives of these people just as surely as the events of 9/11/01 changed our world. But as they struggle with broken hearts, their message of faith and forgiveness is reaching out to the whole world. Three stories I heard touched me to the core. The first is the that one of the oldest girls, knowing that Charles Roberts was about to start shooting, asked him to shoot her first, in the hope that the younger girls would be spared. She died and her younger sister was wounded. The second was about the grandfather of the one of the victims, standing by as his granddaughter's body was being prepared for burial by her mother, telling the girl's siblings that were in the room, "We must forgive." Wow, could I ever say that, were I in his shoes? Finally, of the 75 or so mourners at the funeral of the killer, about 1/2 of them were Amish family members of the victims. Why were they there? To show support for Marie Roberts, his widow, and their three young children. In fact, the Amish elders have decreed that a portion of the funds donated to help the families (who have no medical insurance) be set aside to help the Roberts family. I can't think any testimony more powerful than this, that love and forgiveness, through the power of Christ, can triumph over hate and revenge.

We came to Strasburg because we wanted to visit the Living Waters & Millenium Theatres, where biblical stories are recreated in full-scale performances, complete with live animals, such as Noah's Ark. And yes, last night we went to see a play called "Ruth", a dramatization of the events in the Old Testament book of the same name. It was an awesome lesson in love and redemption. But never did we dream, before we came here, that the deepest spiritual lesson we could learn would come from the Amish community here in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

We have liftoff...

Our work is done, our generator is fixed, and so we were able to leave CT around 2:30PM today. We had considered heading north for some "leaf-peeping" but realized that the campgrounds up north in MA were booked for the upcoming Columbus Day holiday. So we headed south to the KOA Kampground in Newburgh, NY just for tonight. We found a campground with space for the weekend in Strasburg, PA, in Amish country, not far from Lancaster. This was something we had planned before the recent tragic school shooting in nearby Nickel Mines, PA. We visited the Amish country in Indiana two years ago and especially loved the restaurants with meals served family-style, delectable pies and breads, and other homemade foods and crafts. So tomorrow we'll drive about 200 miles to White Oak Campground and stay 2-3 nights to explore the area.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Last Day at Cha-Wi-Ma Campground...

Since it's our last day in Chaplin at our seasonal site at Cha-Wi-Ma Co-op, Ed & I took the dogs for their last romp through the woods. It does my heart good to see Roxie, at 11 yrs. old, running with Duncan along the paths and darting off to chase chipmunks and squirrels. Last year, when we first adopted her from New England Sheltie Rescue, she couldn't even walk the whole way, much less run. Duncan loves to wade in the Natchaug River.

Tomorrow, we are bringing the motorhome in to be serviced. We may have to wait a day or two for parts. Until we're all set, we'll be parked at my RV dealership in Windsor Locks. Then, off to PA for our first stop on our journey west.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Five days and counting....

For the past week, we have been winding down our lives in CT for this season. Work has almost come to an end and it's time to say our good-byes to friends and families. It's always bittersweet as we are sad to leave those we love behind, but are excited to begin a new chapter in our travel adventure. On October 5, we will head south and west, spending 6-8 weeks traveling to Tucson, Arizona, where we will spend the winter.

Tonight we had an early Thanksgiving dinner at my Dad's house with my sister, her husband and their two daughters. Ed cooked a turkey breast and we had two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans. Marguerite made a cranberry relish that was my Mom's recipe and a sour-cream apple pie from the Silver Palate cookbook. We got out my Mom's china, crystal and silver, which we haven't done in years. With the addition of two small girls and without Mom, it was very different than previous years, yet I found it comforting that some traditions remain and brought back wonderful memories.