Sunday, December 16, 2007

(42) Lake Placid Fla, the Real Florida

Living in the Country.

Highlands County that is. The county was orginally set aside for the Seminole Indians, that is until the Seminole war took place. They retreated into the Everglades and settlers moved into the county. I’m enjoying the real Florida. Surrounded by huge ranches, grazing land for cattle, dotted with lone pine trees and palm trees, orange groves that go on for miles and miles. Driving along hwy 27 in the heart of south central Florida, I occasionally see migrant workers picking oranges and grapefruit. The trees are heavy with a bumper crop. How they can get so many trees picked with so few workers is beyond me.

I’ve hit most of the restaurants in Lake Placid, as I’m about 15 miles from the town that was renamed a number of times, finally being named Lake Placid after a pioneer who lived in Lake Placid NY, came to this area, and decided it reminded him of all the lakes in his NY home town. It’s a sleepy little town that doesn’t want to grow up like the now larger town of Sebring Fla. 16 miles up the road from here.

I was invited over to Cape Coral on the Gulf to visit friends and stay the night. Good conversation, good food, a piano concert for one and even a movie too boot. The drive was interesting as I’d never driven along hwy 29 and hwy 80 heading towards Ft Myers. Talk about in the country. I stopped in La Belle and had lunch at a local diner. All the locals kept an eye on me as I came in. Curious as to who this “new” person was.

In Cape Coral, it’s residential with very few businesses, the homes are mostly single story concrete homes with tile roofs and perfect Florida landscaped lawns and palm trees along perfect grids of roads and canals built by the Army Corp of Engineers in the 50‘s.

I used my new TomTom GPS to get me there. An early Christmas gift to myself. Worked pretty well until I decided I wanted to check out a few shopping destinations. My TomTom wanted to make sure I got to my original destination first. I think I’ve it figured out. Fortunately it’s a pretty easy system. Should aid me in my travels this coming year. I’ll keep you posted.

My new diesel truck is getting on average just a hair under 20 mpg and I’m thrilled. I’ll feel much more comfortable traveling this coming spring, knowing my fuel expenses will be less.

Oh, I stopped by a home being built out here in the country. I just had to see if I could get a couple pictures. A couple of guys from Ft Lauderdale area moved out here to get away from the big city and are building a dome home. I was invited to take a tour of the place which is almost completed, along with their four dogs . What a fun home, about 1,300 sq ft in size. Lots of open space, each room with those interesting curved walls and triangular windows. Cool.

I’ll be heading back to Orlando in about a week and am looking forward to visiting with more friends and family for the Christmas Holiday’s. So give me a call or e-mail me if you’d like to get together. I’ll be staying at the Bill Fredrick/Turkey Lake Park on the west end of Orlando, Dec 21-Jan 3rd.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

(41) Travel costs for 2007

Here’s a little basic information on my costs for the past 9 months of travel. You can easily add about $1,000 a month for food, eating out, entertainment and road expenses/repairs.


NOV $437 $369

OCT $422 $473

SEP $688 $504

AUG $348 $834

JUL $308 $481

JUN $348 $628

MAY $431 $700

APR $584 $636

MAR $339 $750


So, as you can see, it wasn’t all that bad this past year for traveling. I did have to bring my truck in for repairs three times, each costing about $800 in repairs. I could have sworn I had a gas bill of over $1,000 a month, but after looking at my expenses, my highest bill was $834 for gas.

I now have a diesel engine and should gain a great advantage on fuel savings. We’ll see this coming year.

I’ve traveled a total of :

17,424 miles.

Quiet a distance, but very doable at a slow pace of about 150 to 200 miles a day max. I stayed at each site for between 5 and 10 days and when I got to my final destination out west, I stayed two weeks in the Grand Tetons and another two weeks at Yellowstone National Park.

My absolute favorite location this year was the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole area. The wildlife and mountain ranges and valleys were all spectacular.

Friday, November 23, 2007

41 Reports stopped for the Winter months

Thanks to everyone for coming along this past year on my travels across the country. The reports will begin again this coming spring (April 2008).

Have a great time looking back at this past year. Except for the most recent reports which cover visits with family and friends, (39 and 40's) all of the previous reports cover my adventures as I travel in my truck and 5th wheel camper.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

(40 part 2) 2nd Week in Orlando Florida


I didn’t have a chance to see everyone, but I sure did enjoy a couple more lunches, breakfasts and get-togethers.

I had lunch with a number of gals from contracts, Mary Lu, Linda H, Judy and Brenda. They told me about the recent cardboard boat contest held at work. A number of the codes and various military groups created airplanes, boats, and other less than sea worthy boats out of card board only. What a blast. Wish I could have been there. So fun is still had on occasion even though most of the worker bees couldn’t attend due to work loads.

My Niece Kelly, her husband Rusty and their 2 yr old son, Lucas joined me at Moss park for a bit, then we went over to a fish camp off of Boggy Creek road. After having an average but good lunch (we should have boated across the lake to a better restaurant), we headed out onto East Lake Tohopekaliga. Rusty and Kelly recently purchased a new speed boat, a real sunny yellow and white color. What a great time getting out on the water. The day was perfect, mid 70’s and sunny. We drove around the lake and into a couple of smaller hidden lakes through canals filled with marsh grasses, lake side homes dotting the lakes. We even came across a small island with a heard of goats on it. How cool. This is Kelly and Rusty’s favorite lake to go boating on.

After a final breakfast in town with my buddy, Patrick, I headed down to Winter Haven to a small Passport America park, Lakeshore Palms Travel Park. It’s almost on top of Cypress Gardens, one of the oldest Florida attractions still running. Lakeshore has a great Passport America price of $13.00 a night. I opted for an electric and water site only so I could back up to the small lake. This area is dotted with hundreds of lakes.

This will be my last report for the winter, barring a few sporadic reports when I go somewhere different and interesting. Enjoy a great fall and see you next spring, On the Road Again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

(40) Bonus report, New Truck

New Chevy Truck

Well I did it!. I bought a new Chevy Silverado 2500HD truck. It’s a 2007 classic design. Duramax Diesel engine with Allison transmission. I was able to get a fair trade-in and $6,000 of GM rebates which really helped the decision to purchase. Bottom line I paid $25K for a $40K vehicle.

I found the Chevy web site that links to a search engine. I put in Florida as the search, so that it would search all of Florida for the best deal. After looking at 2008’s, I went back to new 2007’s. Found out they were still offering the big rebates on what trucks were left over and was able to get one of them. Had to drive to Daytona, about an hour and a half away from my campsite. Not a bad distance to go for a good deal. The ordeal took about 7 hours including driving time.

I probably could have done a little bit better, but I just didn’t have my heart into brow beating the salesman and I was satisfied with the overall deal.

If you know anything about diesel trucks, drop me a line, as this is my first venture into diesel engines.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

(40) Moss Park Picnic, Orlando Florida

Moss Park, Orange County park, Florida

On Saturday, we had a picnic at Moss Park. I was eager to share this beautiful park with all my friends in Orlando. So many people never visit the parks in their own area where a person can get rejuvenated just by being in a tranquil setting, filled with trees, two beautiful lakes, a sandy beach and great hiking trails.

I used to come down here to swim, picnic or camp a number of years ago, only about 10 miles from where I lived in Orlando.

My first guests were Jan and Rose. We got together on Friday and had a great time sharing stories and a great lunch of a designer pizza and Greek salad. We came back to the campground and just sat around telling stories and sharing good tips on business and life. Talk about two classy looking ladies. I felt proud just to be able to sit with them at the restaurant.

On Saturday, Eddie and Debby came by for only a short visit as they had to get ready for a long trip up north due to Eddie’s dad being very ill. It was so good to see the two of them even under such sad circumstances. Debby and Eddie are two of my favorite down to earth people and hopefully future full time campers. You can just see the love and care they have for each other.

Linda came over with Dave and Dave’s grandson Mason. Now the picture of Dave with a beer in his hand was “staged”, so don’t get the idea that he always has one in his hand . Linda was looking like a cute vixen with her new blond hair cut. Her smile and laughter were contagious.
Dave and Lorraine Bird were the last to arrive and added a great mix to our already good party. My bestest friend, Pat helped me serve all the great food and drinks throughout the afternoon. Dave Bird is semi-retired but is still doing his great music gigs around town and Larraine continues to work years past her retirement age, keeping the Navy in ship shape. She’s a real work-a-holic.

It was so rewarding to share some time with some of my favorite people in the whole world. Just hearing their voices and laughter will carry me forward as I journey this wonderful land.
Still hoping to see my dear friend Ruth Hall and hope she gets over her bad cold soon. There are so many others I’d love to see as well, but busy lives make it difficulty to get together.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

(39) Orlando Florida, Moss Park

Orlando, Fla

I was a bit undecided as to which place would be my next destination. After much reflection, I decided to head out from St Mary’s on the Georgia/Fla border to Orlando (a 240 mile journey) with the hopes of being able to get a site for a couple of days at Moss Park.

To my surprise, I was not only able to get a site for a couple of days, but they had space for a full two weeks. Better yet, if I had listened to my good friend Ruth Hall, I would have realized that the county park system had recently changed their policy and now permit’s a person to make reservations over the phone. Fantastic.

Orlando is in Orange County and they have 5 parks with campsites, so it is now a great option for anyone coming to the Orlando area. My two favorite Orange county parks are, the Mt Dora park on the north end of the county and Moss park on the south side of town. The city of Orlando has one park for camping and it’s called the Bill Fredrick/Turkey Lake Park which also accepts reservations over the phone. All charge $18.00 a night for non residence.

Moss park is my all time favorite park in this area at least. It’s surrounded by two lakes and has lots of hiking trails through an attached forest property. The campsites are in the back of the park and each site is new with elect and water. Dump station is available. The campsites are large and are all back-ins which are perfectly angled to make it an easy task.

I love seeing the oak trees with their Spanish moss hanging down, the pine and cypress trees with little glimpses of the water just beyond. Moss park has a great sandy beach for swimming. The lakes are full as they are both spring fed. A boat dock is available at the front of the park as well as at the campsite. Pretty cool if you have a boat or a kayak.

The park is filled with sand hill cranes. They come by the campsite once or twice a day. Squirrels scamper and play, running up trees and jumping from branch to branch. Deer graze along the roads and quickly leap out of the way as I drive towards the front of the park.

I’m in awe of the sparkling sunny days with temperatures in the mid 70’s and dry crisp air. It’s quiet out here in Moss park. It’s good to be back home where I lived for over 32 years. Everything is new here, not like all the small towns I’ve been traveling through this past year. Lots of new big box houses and apartment complexes that are like two story cigar boxes. Very plane Jane looking but all painted soft pastel colors or complimentary earthy colors. If a house does have any style I would call it Spanish contemporary.

Oh and lots of killings going on daily and of course because it’s election time, the local news has caught many politicians in naughty sex acts in public bathrooms etc. Even caught a major of a small town in the area accused of have sex with youngins the day before the election. Hmmm. Or the bride to be that almost doesn’t get her wedding dress in time for the wedding. Food scares are pretty popular around here too.

Lots of construction going on as well. The bad housing downturn hasn’t slowed construction down too much around here by the looks of it. Driving around town has been relatively easy as Orlando has the best timed street lights anywhere.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

(38) 5 Points Alabama to the Florida boarder

5 Points Alabama

La Grange GA

When I last wrote to you, I was getting ready for a visit with Ruthie and Ray (James) Hemrick. They live in a very small community of 5 Points Alabama. I figured it’d take all of 5 minutes to get caught up on the gossip in town, but wouldn’t you know it. Ruth and I talked about everyone back at the Center, what’s going on in 5 Points and everywhere else and do I have a ton of news. Of course, none that I can publish! Darn, it’s good stuff too.

In any case, I discovered that the little restaurant down the street, now called Dockside, is run by a chef who does Cajun. So of course Ray, Ruth and I had to go check it out. Really great food. The presentation was perfect. Hope the chef’s able to hang in there until the marina builds a new hotel and restaurant. The lake is so low, most of the boaters aren’t coming to the marina.

I’m just outside of the town of La Grange GA which is on the boarder between GA and Alabama. A new Kia plant is being built and they expect the area to have a mini-boom from it. Remember this is rural Alabama and Georgia.

On Sunday afternoon I got a chance to pick pecans right from Ruth’s yard and we even picked some great red bell peppers right from the vine. Too cool. They found this really nifty device for picking up the pecans, It’s an oval basket on a pole made of wires and the pecans side in between the wires and stay inside the oval basket. Kind of like a wisk. All ready to be dumped easily into a bag and ready for me to take back to Fla.

By the way, I thought I’d better slip this in now. My travels are quickly coming to an end for this year. It has been a real pleasure sharing my experiences with you. I hope they’ve been entertaining and that you’ve learned some interesting things along the way as I have. I’ll periodically update the Blog through out the winter.

So right now I’ve driven across Georgia along 82 (Georgia‘s Southern Parkway) , which is a 4 lane divided county road. Nice green space between the lanes. This is pecan country, peanut farms and cotton. I’ve been able to see them harvesting the cotton, creating huge bails of cotton about the size a semi-truck. Some of the fields are so white, they look like fields covered in a light snow, with the dead twigs of the cotton plants peaking out.

I’m in Tifton, a small southern town 15,600, that has lost over 800 manufacturing jobs this past year. Not good for the economy. Staying in Paradise Rv campground. Beautiful grassy camp sites with pine trees interspersed between sites.

A couple days later, I continued on 82 until I hit Interstate 95 and head south to the Ga/Fla border. I had planned on staying on the Submarine Base, knowing a couple of the camp hosts there. Unfortunately after e-mailing them a couple of times regarding my arrival, when I got there, I was told there was only one campsite available for one night. Needless to say, I decided to stay at another campground, Crooked River State Park, just down the road. It helps to have alternative plans as these things can happen.

I’ve met a Loners on Wheels club staying at the park and was invited to a couple of their happy hours and even joined them for a dinner out at a local Seafood place. Nice group of campers. Many women and a half dozen men who have lost their partners and have decided to continue camping. It’s a very active group and they camp out every month all over the south east.

Not much else to report at this time. Have a super great day and enjoy the sunshine.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

(37) Florence Alabama to 5 Points

Florence Alabama

Muscle Shoals

Heading south from Lawrenceburg I’ve traveled 39 miles to Florence Al. It’s raining today and is expected to rain for a couple of days, but I had to get to a location that at least had better TV coverage, especially since I may be indoors a bit more with all the rain.

I found a really cute little city park called McFarland Park. It’s right on the Tennessee River with it’s heavily wooded shear rock cliffs on the opposite shoreline, dark grays with white streaks. $15 a night (Electric and water). Nice paved sites, half are pull-thru’s.

Florence is in the NW corner of the state and is a nice sized town. I love the sound of the small town on the other side of the river, Muscle Shoals. It sounds so beachy to me. In any case, I went to the only Frank Lloyd Wright home built in Alabama. It’s the second Usonian built and is considered the purest design in that field. Frank was very passionate about his homes that he designed and often made buyers sign a contract that they would not change anything in them without his approval. The wide expanse of window/doors (which had no hardware on the outside for safety) so they could only be opened from the inside. Every room in this house has access to the outside. His concept of bringing the outside in. Mitered corner windows with no seams to block the views, the horizontal lines of the building and roof lines.

Clearstory windows, fireplaces at the center of each of the main living areas. This was way before Tv, when families would gather around a fireplace. A beautifully restored home and well worth the visit.

I visited the Florence Indian Mound which is the highest one in the area. It’s now surrounded by industrial parks and the port of Florence along the Tennessee River. The area was originally inhabited by the (1) Archaic People over 10,000 years ago. They’re main diet consisted of eating the mollusks from the river thus giving the name to the area, Muscle Shoals. The (2) Woodland and (3) Copena Cultures who probably built the mound arrived around 4,000 years ago, or 4,000 BP (before present). They were replaced by the (4) Mississippian Civilization, then the (5) Historic Indians , the (6) Euchees, the (7) Shawnees from the Ohio River who eventually were replaced by the (8) Cherokees and (9) Chickasaws in 1715. The Chickasaws eventually gave up there claim to the area in 1816 and left on the Trail of Tears.

So what does this all tell us. One is that the ancient Indian tribes migrated into and then out of the area, but more importantly, that later on, each of the Indian tribes that settled here pushed the previous tribes out of the area enjoying the rich lands for themselves. Eventually the last Indian tribes, the Cherokees and Chickasaws being forced out by the U.S. in our quest to settle more land as we moved west. Man seems to want to take over the best lands for themselves. To the victor go the spoils so to speak. Looks like a pretty consistent theme throughout history.

I did a tour of Pope’s Tavern. Darn, they didn’t have any brew-skies chilled either. It’s one of the oldest structures in Florence and was used by both the Confederate and Union forces during the War between the States. It of course was a stagecoach stop, Inn and tavern in it’s time and would have made a great stop along the way. Sure would have been nice if they’d had a cold one waiting for me.

This town has all the major stores on the outskirts of town from Best Buy to Targets to Home-Depot and over 125 restaurants to choose from. Including 14 Barbeque places. Haven’t been able to check out any nightlife but it’s also home to the University of North Alabama so I’m sure there’s something going on around here. The two places I ate in were, Ricatoni’s Italian Grill in the old part of town. I had fresh bread dipped in herbs and olive oil and cheese ravioli in a tomato cream sauce. Great food and I ate at Guthrie’s. Guthrie’s is a fast food place, very nice looking place, with only one thing on the menu. Chicken strips. Includes coleslaw and fries. Really, that’s the only thing on the menu. And I’ve got to admit, they do know how to do a chicken strip justice. Shortest menu I’ve ever seen.

Using my trusty Road Master Road Atlas, I head out again and followed hwy 157 east just past hwy 65 to the Ave Maria Grotto. How did I know about the grotto? Easy enough, it was highlighted in my atlas. This is one of the best map books I’ve found and I use it to discover unique places along the way. I drove along this mostly 4 lane divided country highway up and down steep V shaped hills and valleys. Past dormant corn fields with errant corn sprouting up, and cotton fields with small tufts of cotton still clinging to some of the dead shoots.

The grotto is located on the grounds of the St Bernard Abbey a Benedictine Monastery of men founded in 1891. The grotto is in an old stone quarry and contains miniature replicas of many famous shrines and churches through out the world including a Hansel and Gretel scene built by Brother Joseph Zoeti.

I was able to travel to Bethlehem, St Peter’s Shrine, The temple of Fairies, The Tower of Babel, Lourdes Shrine and Dormition Abbey just to name a few. Anyone interested in historical sites and especially religious significant sites would really enjoy walking through this grotto. What a pleasant surprise out in the countryside of northern Alabama. Fresh air, inspiration, meditation, a sense of peace and joy.

I’m staying at the Noccalula Falls Campground in Gadsden Alabama for a couple nights. Nice park, $16 a night for water/elec./cable tv. Full hookups are available for a couple dollars more. The falls are anemic due to the lack of water, but still a really pretty site. I’m going on the hike around the falls this afternoon.

Now if you want a great meal, check out Gail’s CafĂ©. It’s right behind Paul’s Mountain Meat across from the Noccalula Park. I had chicken over rice, great fried okra, a squash casserole (more like a light delicate soufflĂ©) a roll, drink and banana pudding all for $7.00.

Well I’m heading down to meet up with Ruth Hemrick and her husband James. Just to say hi and talk about all the 5 Points gossip of what’s going on. That should take all of “5” minutes… (chuckle).

PS. Found a campsite called Southern Pines Campground off of CR-212. It’s owned by the Southern Harbor Marina and I was able to get a half off discount of $11 a night, full hookups.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

(36) Bonus Report on Vitamin D

Of course this isn't a travel report, but just something I wanted to share along the way.

Joint Pain, Back Pain.

The miracle of Vitamin D3

I thought I’d share this story about my own experience with aches and pains and the solution that’s worked for me. For a number of years, I have had a fair amount of back pain. Usually occurring if I sit in the wrong position for too long and especially after a nights sleep. I would usually wake up in the morning and had to get out of bed because my back hurt so much. I was even beginning to have pain in my legs at night as well.

Then about a year ago, while traveling on the road, my right arm really started to give me a lot of pain. Especially in the shoulder socket, my elbow joint and then finally my wrist. It was getting so bad, I couldn’t even lay on my right arm at night which I usually did. While driving, I’d have to rest my arm on the arm rest and try not to move it. The pain was almost constant.
I was heading towards my sisters home in lower Mich. And planned on asking her if she could get an appointment with her doctor for me. It was getting that bad.

By chance, one evening I watched a news article on TV with a doctor talking about the benefits of vitamin D. He mentioned first that over 80% of his patients were found to be deficient in vitamin D. Causing weak bones, loss of muscle and tissue, all leading to more aches and pains.

Obviously a light bulb started to blink in my brain. He mentioned that he was recommending that most of his adult patients take as much as 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day. Now we all know that calcium helps build bones and that it quite often comes with a smaller dose of vitamin D which works in conjunction with calcium. But unfortunately the dosage of vitamin D just isn’t enough if your deficient.

Since I had a couple of weeks before getting to my sisters house, I decided to go out and get a bottle of vitamin D and began to take 2,000 IU a day. Trying to be cautious, I didn’t feel comfortable taking 4,000 IU that the doctor had recommended for his patients. It is now believed that an adult can easily take up to 10,000 IU’s per day.

Well, within about a week to two weeks, I really began to feel a difference. After taking the 2,000 IU’s of vitamin D for about two months, my arm was completely healed. The relief from the pain in my joints was a God send.

I dropped down to taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D and continue to take it today. About a year later, I was talking to my other sister and it dawned on me that not only had it healed my joints in my arm, but that my back pain had finally eased to such a point that I was now able to lay in bed in the morning and enjoy a couple minutes more of pain free luxurious rest before stretching and getting out of bed. Completely pain free! Except for an occasional lower back pain after a full day of walking or touring, I never even think about my back anymore.

Needless to say, I practically feel like I have a new body. During this past year or two I have also started to take a multi-vitamin which I’m sure has helped to balance any vitamin deficiencies I may have had and could have contributed to my overall well-being.

I’ve done a bit further research and it’s recommended that one take Vitamin D3 which is a natural form of vitamin D that will be absorbed by the body much more readily. It’s odd that a search on vitamin D will list the many benefits including reducing the risk of cancer and MS, but rarely brings up the benefit of regeneration of muscle, bone and joints. That, I think is the best of all benefits.

Please do your own research as well. I’ve never had such a direct and positive benefit from taking any vitamin or nutritional supplement. I’m not an expert and have little knowledge about the benefits of other vitamins and supplements. However, this was my direct experience and I felt if important to share it with you. I hope it may help you or a friend if you find your in the same situation.

(36) Natchez Mississippi Trace Trail & Lawrenceburg Tennessee

Natchez Trace Parkway TN

Meriwether Lewis campsite

Hohenwald, 20 mile yard sale

Lawrenceburg TN

I sure did like my campsite back in Nashville, the Nashville Country Campground. The folks there were just so darn nice. But at the same time, I felt like a million bucks heading out on the road again. I had to drive into Nashville on 65 and loop around on hwy 40, drop down onto county road 100 to hit the Natchez Parkway. The traffic wasn’t bad so I was a happy camper.

If you’ve been following my travels, you’ll remember I took the Natchez Trace three years ago, starting from the southern end. I had at that time traveled ¾ of the Trace before exiting to go to Memphis. This was my chance to finish the northern end I hadn’t covered the first time.
Now as a refresher, the Natchez is a 444 mile trail that was used during the pioneer era to travel back along after the farmers and trappers traveled down the Mississippi river to New Orleans to sell their goods. They sold their flat boats and walked or road horses back north along the Natchez Trace Trail. It was originally a Chickasaw and Choctaw Indian trail. Today, it’s a wooded parkway with immaculately maintained rolling lawns on either side of the two lane parkway. Only recreational vehicles can use it. No commercial vehicles are permitted on it.

You know I love architecture so the first stop was to get a view and take a couple pictures of the double-arched bridge that spans Birdsong Hollow. It was completed in 1994 and was awarded the Presidential award for Design Excellence.

Now I’m only traveling 90 miles today, but it took me four and a half hours. I know I know. But when you travel the parkway, there are lots of wayside stops with historical markers and small walks to get you out in the countryside. At one of them which showed some of the original ruts of the old trail, I was the only one at the wayside stop. Walking along the black top loop, it was so quiet I could hear the soft footsteps of my rubber soled shoes against the pavement. Crows way off in the distance were circling high above a field, caw caw, caw caw. Letting me know they were there. The air fresh and crisp against a bright blue sky. Talk about feeling good and happy to be alive.

When I finally got to the Meriwether Lewis campsite, right on the parkway I noticed there was going to be a craft show in the park this weekend. As I drove into the campsite almost all the sites were filled. I got one of the last two available. Yippee. Not only that, after setting up, I discovered the campsite is FREE! Now that’s my favorite price to pay. Of course no hook-ups, but I have backup power with the solar panels so I’m all set. And it’s free.

Talked to my friendly neighbors and they told me that just down the street a ways, Lawrenceburg has a small city park, about 5 years old, that only costs $10 a night with all the basic hook-ups. What a deal. They built it on land by the creek which flooded real bad a couple years back. The Gov/city bought the land and tore down all the destroyed homes and built the campground. Better than rebuilding homes and having them destroyed each time a flood occurs.

And, would you believe, the small town of Hohenwald is having their Oktoberfest. About 20 miles of yard sales along hwy 20, a festival in town with live music all day and the craft fare here in the park. All within minutes of my campsite. I drove along the yard sale road and stopped at a couple of them. I love it. You meet the greatest people. Like the M&M lady. All bubbly and full of laughter. So of course I had to take her picture. Haven’t purchased a darn thing, but fun to look at everything.

On Saturday I went to the craft show here in the park. Lot’s of nice local stuff. Some artwork was really inexpensive and I was almost tempted to purchase a painting. But where would I put it? They had a country band, with a couple really big guys. The country folk around here really like to eat. Wow. After having a horrid meal from one of the food vendors, I decided to go back to the campsite and just enjoy a couple of hours of quiet time, reading a book and enjoying the perfect weather we’re having.

By the way, I’m not sure if you know this, but every time I write one of my stories, I think about each and every one of you that are on my mailing list. Many times, I’m writing specifically about something I just know you in particular will enjoy.

I headed out again along the 20 mile yard sale which was going full speed by the afternoon as I slowly crawled along county road 20 heading towards Hohenwald TN. There was to be more music on main street and I just had to go check it out. More country singers, including a young 8th grader doing his best to sing a couple good ole country tunes. Did pretty good on the guitar, but he needs a bit more practice on the vocals. Everyone cheered him on anyway. The town had more craft and food vendors and I at least got a decent hot dog and soda.

It’s been down in the 40’s at night. My gas furnace works well and the solar panels are keeping the batteries charged each day. A couple extra camp blankets on the bed and I’m all toasty warm for a good nights sleep. Today it’s going to get up to a record 85 for this time of year.

About 35 miles down the road, I’ve gotten off the parkway and drove through farm country into Lawrenceburg TN. I was able to find the city campground off of Evergreen and Hayes Ave. There are no signs to tell you your in the park/campground, but there it is, tucked away in one corner with Shoal Creek circling it on three sides. After contacting the local police officer who lives next to the park (he has the keys to unlock the water and electric boxes), I headed out to City Hall to pay for the campsite. Imagine, $10 a night. I’ve decided to stay for a week. Who wouldn’t at those prices.

Now the town is a quaint southern town with a population of about 100 Amish families just north of town. I’ve already seen two black horse drawn buggies ride into town. Right on the main street along with cars and all.

Deep southern accents are everywhere. Meat and two side vegetable specials are served at all the local restaurants here in Tennessee . Today’s special was chicken stuffing, mashed potato’s and gravy, peas, a drink and desert for $5.50. Most places give you a choice of meat and vegetables. I could get to like these prices.

Just heard one person got killed this past weekend during the miles long yard sale. A young Amish boy. Heavy congested country roads, Drivers and passengers gawking, trying to decide the next stop and find a place to park on the edge of the road. Sad. A fun event that has led to a number of deaths each year they tell me.

Oh, I just bought a small side table. It’s a salesman’s sample gate-leg table so it’s just a smaller version of what the salesman would have been trying to sell. The antique shop (one of those multi-dealer places right in the heart of town) told me that these are very rare. Could easily be worth about $300. I paid $46.00. Who knows. It’s a beautiful piece and I’ll use it well.

On the town circle are signs everywhere welcoming Fred Thompson the presidential candidate. He’s from Lawrenceburg. This is also one of the places David Crockett used to live. A statue and a small log cabin office attest to his popularity in these parts. Equally the Cherokee Indians have support in the area to tell their story as the original inhabitants of the area.

My final sort of tour was to Amish country in Ethridge TN. It’s 7 miles north of Lawrenceburg. I signed up for a wagon tour but they kept delaying it. After waiting two hours, I finally drove around on my own. I was a bit shy, didn’t stop at any of the Amish farms, as I didn’t want to say or do anything that would offend them. The Amish live a very simple life, with no electric, cars, or modern conveniences. They plow all their fields with horses and plows. I saw a team of four horses pulling a plow. Your not supposed to take pictures of them either. I saw quiet a few driving their black buggies along the sides of the roads where there was a shoulder, but most times they rode their wagons and buggies right on the main roads. Their farms are very run down and look poorly kept. Maybe they aren’t allowed to buy metal roofing or paint and supplies to keep them up. Not really sure. Sure wish I could have gotten on one of the guided tours to find out. There are like 50 farms that you can stop at and purchase things they make. Everything from furniture to candles, jellies and jams, bread, baskets to saddles and harnesses.

Postscript: A final comment on Lawrenceburg, it’s not a place I would spend a week in again. There’s not much to do here. The town itself is composed of a main square that is barely holding on. The main strip of shops along hwy 48 are mainly drugstores, car repair shops, farm feed and supply stores, discount stores a couple fast food restaurants and one Wal-Mart. All surrounded by some of the oldest derelict buildings around. No nightlife though I understand that during the summer they do have more festivals and music events. They’d have to or a person could die of boredom. One could easily visit here to go on an Amish tour and leave the next day.
And since I dropped Direct TV, having cable or at least a couple off air stations is a must. I have one Christian Tv station and a very snowy CW station. Ekk! Talk about being in the dark ages.

Friday, October 12, 2007

(35) Nashville Tennessee

The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson (7th president)

The Parthenon, Athena

The Grand Ole Opry

Country Music Hall of Fame/Studio B

Well I’ve settled into my new home, Nashville and it really does feel like home. As a full time traveler, you’d think I’d feel like I was always having to adjust to new surroundings. But sometimes, a place just feels right. Not really sure what it is. Perhaps it’s my love of music that makes me feel home. The people are friendly of course, the roads are a congested mass of circles and loops surrounding the city center, but once you get on the side streets, it all feels like normal town and city traffic. The hectic pace slowing down and it’s a bit easier to adjust to these new surroundings.

Nashville is called the Athens of the South for a couple of reasons. One, it has a number of buildings in the Greek style of architecture but also because it became an education center of the south early on. Having built Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities, a medical college and an Academy. Oh and the Parthenon! Can you believe, a full size replica of the original Parthenon in Greece! Including a huge statue of Athena. I was able to go in for free during their weekend “Multi-Cultural Event”. Lot’s of music from around the country, small vendors providing small samples of food from around the world and just good people watching. How neat to be able to see up close a Greek building without even having to leave the states. And isn't that the sweetest little girl taking a rest on a picnic table bench.

I started out my touring and exploring by going to the Hermitage (twice). Actually the first time I got caught between a couple large school groups and decided to leave and come back the next day which was a Saturday and little chance of getting stuck between those “darling” little urchins. The Hermitage is President Andrew Jackson’s estate and it looks much like it did when he built it, except the original 1,000+ acres of fields and grounds don’t have the cotton and other crops growing on them. It’s more a park setting today.

I didn’t learn all that much about Jackson as our 7th president, as the very extensive tour with head phones, tour guides in the main house etc. all concentrated on his life on the plantation or his career as a General in the Army. He served as the first territorial governor of Florida in 1821. Something I wasn’t aware of. The current tours are concentrating on the 150 slaves that ran the estate and their eventual freedom. Providing moving descriptions of the people and their lives.

In the evening, I went to the Grand Ole Opry. I took one of the Grey-line tour pkg. deals which saved on having to drive downtown at night. Well worth the small added expense. For anyone into country music, attending a show at the Grand Ole Opry is like finding the holy grail. Two of the top singers, Porter Wagoner and Tanya Tucker were no shows, but the show was still well worth it.

The show wouldn’t have been the Ole Opry without a few of the old timers like Little Jimmy Dickens with his collection of jokes and a song or two. Bobby Bare another old timer still has a voice that rings true. Having heard the small group at the campground the other night, one really appreciates the level of accomplishment it takes to get to perform on the grand Ole Opry. Like night and day.

Hearing performers like The White’s a family folk group (one of the daughters is married to Ricky Skaggs) I was just blown away by the beautiful harmony and rich sounds this family band made. A shame their music isn’t on the radio except for the small town country stations. But I’ve come to the Grand Ole Opry to hear groups like this and learn more about the really talented musicians that I just wouldn’t learn about any other way. They introduced a couple of new artists as well, but I didn’t catch their names and they weren’t on the play bill, having been added at the last minute.

And last but not least, the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s more than a museum, it’s where all the country music is stored and re-stored along with vintage movies and interviews. You can actually watch the technicians taking old vinyl records and tapes and storing them onto Cd’s after restoration.

It’s a pretty big place but my favorite part was going on the guided tour of RCA’s Studio B, where Elvis recorded tons of hits along with all the other country greats. But the best part was when our tour guide recognized Gordon Stoker of the Jordonaire‘s. That was the back up group that sang on so many of Elvis’s hits and many other country artists. He told us about his experiences singing until 3am with Elvis, how Elvis was able to sing “Are you Lonely tonight” with all the lights down real low, barely on, and his singing the entire song all the way through the first time without a single error. Well actually, the Jordonaire’s made a mistake on the last note, and that’s all they had to re-record and splice in, one note. He talked about how Patsy Cline had a quick temper and had no problem telling a D.J. off if he asked the wrong question. He and one other living member of the Jordonaire’s still sing back-up and have even sung backup for Ricky Martin. What a career. By the way, I believe he said he’s 87!
Our tour guide told us about song writers. This town is equally interested in writing songs as it is singing them. And this is probably part of the reason why. He told us how Dolly Parton wrote the song “I’ll Always Love You” as a thank you to Porter Wagoner for all his help in getting her career started. Remember when he took her under his wing and did all the duets with her? Then she broke away and started her solo career. Well that song alone has been done many times over with the biggest one being when Whitney Huston did the song for the movie. Well Dolly has made over $20 million dollars in royalties on that one song along. Elvis Presley approached her about singing the song as well, but he wanted part ownership of the song. She hated to turn Elvis down but as a smart business woman, decided to hold onto the songs rights. Smart business woman and $20 million dollars richer.

Oh, and the story about Patsy Cline, who had quite a temper. When Chet Atkins insisted she sing the song, “I fall to pieces” (not sure if I have the songe correct) with a slow beat. Patsy really enjoyed more upbeat songs and wanted to do the song with a faster tempo, well Chet won out and she was so mad, she channeled it to sing the song and now we have that awesome country song sung with so much passion.

Our guide also told us that Elvis loved using the grand piano in Studio B and asked to buy it. Chet Atkins the head of the studio wouldn’t sell it. We of course got to sit at the same piano that Elvis and all the other great musicians used to produce the Nashville sound. How cool. Lot’s of stories, I wish I could share all of them with you.

While touring around Nashville, I got a tip to eat at Sylvan Park Restaurant. A good Ol home town eatery. The place was packed, but I was able to get in and had a real good meal, including fried corn. Have you ever heard of it? It’s corn done in a basic rue of butter (or bacon grease) and flour with salt and pepper and a touch of sugar. Best corn I’ve ever had, yum!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

(34) Lexington to Nashville Tennessee

Mary Todd Lincoln Home, Lexington KY

Boone’s Station KY

White Hall, Gen Clay KY

Mammoth Cave KY

Nashville TN

Before leaving the Richmond Ky area, I had time to visit a couple more sites. Unfortunately most of the historic homes in this area don’t permit pictures to be taken inside. A real bummer for someone like me, who loves to take pictures.

The Mary Todd Lincoln home is the first home preserved for a 1st Lady of a President right in the heart of Lexington Ky. The guide was very careful to put Mary Todd in the best of light. To the point one would think she was a “modern woman”. Having been outspoken, educated, spoke both English and French fluently and could argue politics with the best of men. It was only near the end of the tour that there was mention of her being sent to an nut house. Still well worth learning about a very misunderstood person. Oh and being able to touch the same stair railing that Abraham Lincoln touched is about as close as I’ll ever get to such a great historical person. Whew, I get chilled just thinking about it.

Not far from my campground is White Hall, General Clay’s mansion. Gen Clay was a mentor of Abe Lincolns and a staunch abolitionist and writer of an anti-slavery paper. Kentucky being a middle state had families torn apart over the slavery issue. Mary Todd’s family was split down the middle and she herself was totally against slavery even before meeting Abe. Unfortunately, she was shunned by both the North and south, both thinking she was a spy and traitor. His home, White Hall has been totally restored. History is everywhere around here.

I also had the neat experience of being able to walk around one of those great farms in the area, with their tobacco barns and cut hay fields. It was at Boone’s Station. It’s now a state park and is where Daniel Boone and family established a settlement. Most of the traces of that settlement are buried, along with some of the Daniels family members. It was one of those warm balmy days, the sun shining, but not too hot. No one was around when I got to the Station, so I just walked around, along the edge of the fields, up the sloping hill to the back end of the farm, through the mostly unmarked grave sites of Edward and Samuel Boone, his wife Sarah and their son Thomas, brothers of Daniel Boone and few others who were killed during the Revolutionary war and Lick battle. Life was not easy for the new explorers of our country. I even got to see up close a tobacco field and walk inside the tobacco barn, with the tobacco leaves drying upside down before going to market. A mild hint of tobacco smell as the leaves dried. And yes Kentucky still lets folks smoke just about everywhere. That takes a bit of getting used too if you’ve lived in a state with smoking bans.

I finally got back on the road and headed west along the Kentucky Parkway before heading south on 65. It’s now a free drive, as they stopped charging tolls! How cool, a state that has actually retired their tolls on the road after the road was paid for. Imagine. It’s actually possible.

I decided to stay right in Mammoth Cave National Park. I got a campsite for $17, no hook-ups, so I’m back to using my solar panels. I had plenty of power last night to watch TV and read a book. The power barely went down with the use of a couple of lights and the TV last night. Lots of trees, but there’s enough sunlight hitting the panels to charge the batteries for one more night.

I took one of the many tours into Mammoth cave, just to get a feeling for the place. It’s the largest cave system in the world. Didn’t know that. Huge vast rooms that were once carved out by an underground river, millions of years ago.

One hundred miles down the road and I’ve arrived at my next campsite, Nashville Country Rv park. It’s on the outskirts of Nashville and will be my home base while exploring the city. Besides, the park has a “little Opry” night on Thursdays so I don’t even have to go out at night if I don’t want to too hear some good country music.

Now if you’ve been following my adventures, you know I love to hear live music. So I paid the $8.00 for a BBQ dinner and the free music in the park. A few sprinkles at the beginning of the evening hardly dampened anyone’s mood. As the evening became darker and the little outdoor stage was lit up, a couple of musicians began to entertain us. A 16 year old girl, as thin as a rail, belted out the first couple sets of music. But the evening really kicked up a notch when Tommy Ross came on stage. He’s a middle ages dad from the Ozarks who works as a store manager at Ace Hardware during the day and fulfills his love of music at night. His mom and dad, who I met are his groupies and have even gotten an RV to be able to follow their son around as he performs.

Sitting out on the lawn, everything dark beyond the light of the stage, Tommy began to sing one of his own songs about a truck driver having to leave his family once again to go out on the road. Off behind the stage and up the hill, behind a bank of trees, large semi-trucks with their night lights shining, driving along the highway were a reminder of those men that Tommy was singing about. A few late arrivals in the campground slowly drove past us behind the stage, their big rig Rv’s lit up like the moving homes they are, finally settling in for the night after a long day on the road.

Tommy Ross sang a lot of the old county standards, he knows over 400 songs, a few of his own that he’s written, and he even threw in Jimmy Buffet’s Margarita Ville, which I was hoping he would sing. Bringing me back to my Florida roots I love so much. A pretty good evening, considering I only had to walk about 20 feet from my campsite to enjoy it! Didn’t have to cook or clean the dishes. Life is good.

Lots more to come from Nashville….

Saturday, September 29, 2007

(33) Heading South to Boonesborough Kentucky

Boonesborough State Park, Kentucky

Lexington and Richmond Kentucky
Dulcimer Class

Well I had to leave my serene place on the Ohio river and travel though the rural countryside of Kentucky. By the way Walt, I never did get those canned peaches your aunt made….
But back to the journey at hand. I took hwy 27 which parallels hwy 75. It wasn’t too bad until I got to the town of Paris and Winchester where I had to go on a small country road 627. Not recommended for anyone with a camper. Ekkk! Talk about a narrow country road rolling up and down those old roads so narrow, I think if I held each arm out, I could touch each side of the road.

Driving along those back roads this time of year the trees have just barely begun to change color and leaves from some of the trees are already falling. Driving behind someone, all I see are dancing leaves. The vehicle in front stirs them up from the road bed and the leaves look like they are dancing a few feet off the ground. It’s quite a cheery site. Then a gust of wind will come by and more leaves will come tumbling down from all the trees lining the roads.
When I arrived at the campground, it looked like Halloween was about to explode. One of the park attendants is a fanatic about Halloween and I think it contains about every blowup character ever made for the holiday, as well as a field of carved pumpkins. More work than I’d ever put into any holiday. But the display at night is really cool with all the orange lights covering all the buildings and a couple of large sycamore trees.

I’m visiting with Jerry and Nancy Ensor, former co-workers. They moved hear a couple of years ago into one of the new neighborhoods (The Reserve) of brick homes on the tops of rolling hills with expansive lawns. Seems many people from around the world have discovered this part of the country as many of the home owners are from as far away as South Africa and South America. Jerry gave me an extensive tour of the area and we passed by the vast horse farms of the Emerit of Dubai, who usually flies in with his two 747’s barely fitting on the Lexington runway.
The Toyota factory is near here, as well as Kentucky Bourbon. Most of the horse farms and ranches are gentry farms as they no longer produce enough to make a living off of. But the horse farms that raise horses for racing are some of the most productive and wealthy ranches to be found anywhere.

A little tidbit. Most of the fences are now painted a black creosote as the white paint doesn’t hold up as well now that lead is no longer in the paint.

When we got to Nancy and Jerry’s home, we took a walk around the area. Off in the woods, down a gravel road is a foundation for a big home on the edge of the palisades. A large cliff along the Kentucky river way below. We happened upon one of the owners (Terri) and her two dogs and she told us the story. It was begun about a year or more ago and the contractor went over the budget of the contract for digging the foundation. The cost doubled. Then he doubled the cost of building the foundation. The owners had to stop at that point and go to court to settle the issues and currently construction has stopped. They’ve put the property up for sale, but may continue construction in the spring when her brother, also a contractor, will have time to finish the project.

Dreams. I recently heard a saying that walls are put in our way to see how strong those dreams really are. Because dreams don’t become reality for the weak. Sorry not a direct quote, but I think you can get the idea.

Below my campsite are the primitive campsites in Sycamore Hollow. It’s where Daniel Boone and his troop started to build some rough cabins. A couple weeks later it was decided that the hollow could flood and they moved up the hill where the Boonesborough Fort now stands. Kind of neat to know that Daniel Boone once walked on and explored this area that I’m now camping in. Walking in the footstep of explorers.

One of the many mini tours I’ve taken was to Bybee Pottery with Nancy. It’s a pottery business that’s been operating in the same place sine 1809. The shelves are usually stocked about twice a week and are empty within minutes. If you get there before 3:00 you can tour the old log building where they make the pottery and talk to the sixth generation family members and their employees making each piece by hand. The building is as old as the business and looks every day of it from all the wear and tear. It’s simple country clay pottery that has an honest charm to it.

Mixed in with all the new brick homes gradually filling in all the smaller farms are the old barns and farm houses that make this area sing out with country charm. Kentucky has started an artistic endeavor to paint colorful square patches of classic quilts on the fronts of some of the barns. What a neat way to spend an afternoon, traveling the back roads in search of these quilts.

Oh and right here in the Boonesborough State Park is the Riverfront Waterway Museum. The museum is housed in two of the lock masters houses built by the Army Corp of Engineers, on a hill above one of the locks. Kentucky has 14 locks on the Kentucky river which drops about 200 feet from beginning to end making the waterway navigable. Of course like so many of the canals and waterways built in the U.S., it became obsolete before they finished it, with the advent of the steam boat and railroads. The locks were operated until 1988. Now they stand closed and silent. Water flowing over the spillways in a mad rush to meet up with the Ohio River and the Mississippi. No commercial or pleasure boats can use the full length of the waterway even though the locks are still functional and in place. Occasionally the river still floods hiding the locks under many feet of rushing water until the waters finally recede.

On the local news today, it was mentioned that a number of black families in the area that have been supporters of Equal Rights, received a business card on their mailbox that said, “While you were sleeping, we were watching you”, from the KKK.

Last night I went to Jerry and Nancy’s Dulcimer class in Richmond. The Dulcimer has only 3-4 strings and only one string is used for the cords, the other two are for rhythm. A lot of dulcimer players take off the 4th string. It’s very easy to learn I’m told and the sound is very nice. The sheet music has all the notes, but also the numbers that tell you where to place your fingers. I think I could even learn this instrument.

Along with this new music hobby, Jerry and Nancy have their own hobbies they’ve been working on for years. Jerry’s a fine wood craftsman, he’s completely finishing out the basement in their new home and Nancy has a sewing room my sister Ann would be envious of.

Nancy was able to get us a private tour to Woodford Reserve Distillery. It’s a part of the company that also owns Jack Daniels, but produces a much more exclusive Bourbon in limited quantities. Her (faux) daughter works there and gave us a cool tour of the open cedar lined fermenting tubs, past the copper distillers made in Scotland (it’s the only company that distills it’s bourbon 3 times, filling the oak barrels and finally the storage warehouses where the liquid gold is aged for 6 to 8 years. A little tasting in the visitors center and a couple bourbon balls made for a very tasty afternoon. Bourbon is the only liquor invented in the U.S.

A bit more touring and then I head out, either east to Loretta Lynn’s home or south west to Nashville TN. You’ll find out next week which direction I go.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

(32) From Nasville Indiana to Cincinnati Ohio

Nashville Indiana

Cincinnati Ohio

New Richmond Ohio

I’m heading south now, on my way, I’ll be visiting with fellow campers that I’ve met during my winter stays in Florida. The campground is having a western weekend and my buddy Walt will be bringing his 4 horses for rides.

The campground is tucked away in a wooded section of the state, where the roads meander around farms, making 90 degree turns and curves as the road boarders each of the farms. What a fun weekend.
The campground had a movie night outside by projecting the movie on the whitewashed wall next to their swimming pool. I brought my gas fireplace over and we all huddled around it to keep warm. Tim brought over hotdogs and we roasted them while watching the movie. How cool.

The next day I was able to get a ride on one of Walt’s horses, Raven. I did pretty well too. Didn’t fall off or anything. There were a couple times while riding along the wooded trails, past a secluded pond, that we had to go down a steep embankment. At least it seamed steep to me sitting on top of a big ol horse. Raven knew how to navigate the hills and I just held on. What a fun rush.

Nashville Indiana

On Sunday we drove through these remote country lanes and went to a town called Nashville Indiana. A tourist Mecca about an hour and a half from Indianapolis. Apparently a writer/ comic strip creator for the New York Post (?) used to come here to get away from the big city. He liked it so much, that his friends started to follow him there as well to get away. Even a president, Franklin Roosevelt started to come here. Before you knew it, there were 350 shops filled with artists and craftsmen.
There are even two covered bridges in the area and a large state park. It’s a great town to walk around, have lunch or dinner and search for just the right gift for someone and enjoy art and even take in a play at the local theatre or enjoy the Little Opry house for some music. Oh and they have trolley tours and buggy rides through town providing some history of the area.

Finally weaving my way out of the campground and surrounding country side, I hit hwy 74 and headed towards Cincinnati. Amazing how the landscape changes between states sometimes. Indiana being mainly farm lands and the closer I get to the boarder of Ohio, the hillier it becomes and heavily wooded.


Cincinnati has an extensive highway system that surrounds the city and even cuts into a corner of Kentucky. I’m staying at Steamboat Bend Campground, run by the county and it borders the Ohio River. What a great campground. They only accept stays by the week or month. $120 a week (about $17 a night). I’ve been watching the long barges being pushed up and down river by those powerful tug boats. I absolutely love being on the water.

My friends Walt and Ben have brought Walt’s horses to Cincinnati to stay on a farm for a while, so we’ll have some time to tour the area. After setting up at the campground, we headed off to New Richmond. A small historical town right on the Ohio River. This area was well known for the underground railroad and a number of buildings have signs providing information on this part of our history. Cincinnati has a huge museum dedicated to the subject.

The next day, we all went to the museum that’s housed in the original Train Terminal, an absolutely beautiful art deco building that began it’s decline almost before it was completed as cars quickly reduced the need for passenger trains and mass transit. The building has wings for taxi’s, busses and trolleys to meet up with the trains. They never connected the trolleys.
The Train Terminal has a couple different museums to visit and we selected the history of Cincinnati. An expansive history going back to the native Indian tribes that built some of the most extensive earthen mounds in North America. One in the shape of a snake covering many acres. I got a scoop from a park ranger a couple of days later that the local Chippewa Indians now think it could represent Halley’s comet. More research is going on behind the scenes so you’re the first to hear about this publicly. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t give this part of native Indian history much space or information.

A complete miniature scale town showing the area back in the 1800’s is super cool. Especially the incline rails that took the trolleys up each of the hills surrounding Cincinnati. They’ve all been torn down along with the trolley lines and canals that ran through the city.

Walt told up that the city built subway tunnels around the time the canals were filled in, including the stairwell leading down to them. They have never been used. No subway ever ran in the subway tunnels. Hmmmm. You can still see some of the tunnel entrances from one of the highways going through town as well as the blocked of stairwells. I did a Google search and you can see some of the remaining couple miles of tunnels online.

Oh, and the city built some great over head bronze glass enclosed walkways between all the major buildings downtown for use during inclement weather. One goes from the second floor of a large skyscraper to the other side of the street and just ends. Doesn’t go anywhere, apparently never completed. Walt said the city is beginning to tear the overhead walkways down. Hmmm.

And the city has one more thing to be famous for. Jerry Springer was the mayor here before he became a famous T.V. star. Now isn’t that interesting.

There is little rhyme or reason to the road system from the first timers perspective to the city so it takes a while to get used to. I’m staying on the east side of town and I have to travel into Kentucky to get downtown. But it is a neat city built around heavily wooded hills and the river flowing through it separating Ohio from Kentucky. Lot’s of industry and a very active downtown area as well. Proctor and Gamble is headquartered here.

On the darker side of Cincinnati, the downtown has a couple of sections that aren’t safe to be in. There’s usually a couple of shootings reported on the local news every night and in the morning, the traffic reports show at least 6 accidents on the major highways as well as the usual 5 mile back-ups. Hate to say it, but the shootings usually involve blacks. 5 people were shot just the other night. Kind of sad, since this town was a main center for helping free the black slaves during the civil war period. Even being a major part of the underground railroad.

Although I’m camping right on the riverfront and it looks so idyllic from the tree lined bluff, I take a dirt path down to the rivers edge from the picnic area. I walk along the brown sandy shoreline. The waters warm to the touch. The hillside covered in weeds, brush and trees. From the waters edge all I see are old tires, tree trunks, rusted out metal boxes and part of a barge that sank along the rivers edge. Deer tracks, raccoon and a few other animal tracks are clearly visible in the wet sand. None of this is visible from on top where my camper sits.

I met up with Sam a newspaper editor today. I drove downtown then walked across the Purple People Bridge over to the Kentucky side to Newport on the Levee. It’s a shopping complex with good restaurants, movie complex and aquarium. It’s one of those places that wants to be a popular destination, but half the shops in the new complex are vacant. Waiting to be discovered.

Over lunch we had a great discussion about the city, it’s politics and we even got into discussing ways I could possibly make a few $$ on my writing. My new BLOG could be the beginning of it all.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

(31) Mac Wood's Dune Rides, Windy days, Michigan

Mac Wood’s Dune Rides

Good Eaten at Dave’s and Dorothy’s

Windy days

Since my truck has been in the shop all week getting pretty, I’ve been driving around with my sisters car. Dorothy and I decided to go up to Silver Lake to go on one of the dune buggy rides. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Douglas Dunes and a couple others also have dune buggy rides.

We drove along a number of wooded country roads with more fruit farms along the way. The keen observer would note that the hills in the area are actually old sand dunes, thinly covered with ground cover and trees.

When we got to the dunes around 10:30, we were the first visitors there and after the owners unlocked the store, we had a great opportunity to talk to them and learn more about the area. The granddaughter (Shelby) told us how the rides got started. Her grandfather owned a cottage and land along the dunes and one day he decided to try driving an old jeep over the dunes. He had so much fun, he came back and told grandma to join him on a ride. They had such a good time and after telling neighbors, one of the neighbors said he’d pay 25 cents for a ride on the dunes. Then another and another and before you knew it, they had themselves a business.

We had a great driver, Weasie Olson (her son Chris recently married the granddaughter Shelby and what a fun couple). Weasie told us how the dunes got started. By clear cutting all the timber off the land bordering Lake Michigan in the 1800’s, the strong winds off of the lake quickly revealed the sand dunes. Eventually burying most of the tree stumps and light soils and underbrush that once covered them. Eventually the trees will take back the sand dunes which have also been stabilized by the planting of sea oats and grasses. But before the dunes disappear, a number of cottages along the edges of the dunes and Silver Lake keep getting buried each year by the advance of the dunes especially during the winter. The poplar trees are survivors though and can continue to grow higher and develop new root systems even as they get buried deeper each year by the dunes.

What a fun ride on an overcast day. The contrast of the lighter sandy dunes against the dark skies and white capped lake, seagulls playing on the waters edge, fresh crisp air whipping around the sides of the dune buggy as we climbed around and over the dunes, with an occasional sprinkle hitting our faces just made the day feel energizing and alive.

On our way back home, my sister and I stopped at the Country Dairy farm in New Era Mich. It’s a full working dairy farm with a farm store and deli and a Moo school tours. We had a great lunch and all the milk you could drink included. Michigan is so much more than Detroit and cars. If you like Lakes, sand dunes, kayaking, canoeing and sailing, country farms and fresh air, this is the place to visit.

Note for future trips: From Sault St Marie (Canadian side) there is a train ride called The Agawa Canyon Tour Train. It travels 114 miles north through what I’m told is awesome scenery into the Canadian Shield. This is a trip I plan on taking in the future. Cost about $59-77 depending on the season.

Well I’ve had a great week spending time with my sister Dorothy and her husband Dave. Dave has completely spoiled me by creating some great dinners. Bourbon Glazed Salmon, Hand made pizza including the dough, Chicken, black beans with onions and green pepper burritos, and of course the melt in your mouth baby back ribs.

Indiana. I’m pretty much traveling through Indiana. Nice farm country to travel along. I’m taking a secondary road, U.S. 31. Going around Indianapolis the other day on their loop road, 465, was a pleasure. There were no repairs going on and the traffic really flowed nicely. I’m in a small hamlet called Trevlac and Bean Blossom. It’s all winding country roads. The Army Corp of Engineers/State campgrounds are a bit pricey, around $25 for a site with elect. I can usually do better in other states, but it seems the price of campgrounds continues to creep up.

I’ve met up with buddy’s, Walt, Ben, Scott and Tim. We’ve all met up at a campground where Walt will be giving horseback riding trips to the campers. Who knows, I may even get on a horse myself.

I’ll be heading to Cincinnati to meet up with a newspaper publisher and will discuss my Roving Reports… who knows, I may find a source for publishing some of my articles. Although I think the blog is just too cool for right now.

Then on to Richmond Kentucky where I’ll meet up with Nancy and Jerry and on into Tennessee .
Note: Photo of Lake Michigan by Louis Olson

Friday, September 7, 2007

(30) Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, to Montague Michigan

Pictured Rock National Lake Shore, Michigan

Montague Michigan

On Labor Day we had a chance to take the boat tour along the Pictured Rock Lake Shore. The tour begins in Munising Mich.

I of course tried to get a senior discount and was flatly refused…. They don’t give discounts ($31.00) and I was labeled a trouble maker right away . Well why not start the day right eh. When we got onboard I assured everyone we would be able to get coffee at their snack bar. Shot down again! No coffee. Had to settle for a coke. Really. What kind of a tour boat is this?

Leaving Munising Bay and traveling along the shoreline of Lake Superior, the day began a bit overcast and eventually cleared up as we traveled along the pictured rocks. There’s a loan short road that leads to one of the first outcroppings so we saw onshore visitors along with the castle rock. A sandy beach followed and then it became one shear wall of sandstone colored with stripes, streaks and horizontal lines, caves, grotto’s and even waterfalls.

One of the really neat events was when the tour boat (a fairly big boat) drove right into one of the grotto’s, high sandstone walls on either side and in front of us. Barely a foot or two of clearance. Wow, what a rush.

On our trip back the Capt. Was able to get really close to some of the shear walls then eventually crossed the bay again to give us a great shot of a wooden lighthouse that once housed the lighthouse keeper his wife and 12 children… imagine.
check out the video at:

Oh, after the boat tour we went into town and had lunch at Dogpatch. Lil Abner cartoon characters are all over the walls of this wood and beamed ceiled restaurant. If your lucky you may get a great waitress with tons of fun attitude and the food is pretty darn good too. Ron had stepped outside and she went after him waving a menu and told him to get back inside and order… I had a chef salad that was really awesome.

Leaving Grand Marais was like coming back from the edge of the world. What a unique remote part of the world. I headed south on hwy 77 and along U.S. 2 which follows the top edge of Lake Michigan. It’s been rainy and overcast, but if you like the water like I do, seeing it even in the rain is cool. The foreboding dark clouds hung so low on the horizon, that only a lighter thin band of clouds on the horizon lit up the scene. Dark low clouds and churning Lake Michigan. Occasional stops at Michigan’s wayside parks, those pleasant little parks that are all over the state. Crossing the Mackinac Bridge was almost like the golden gate, only bigger. Rolling fog covering the top half of the bridge which is painted a wheat color and light green. It must have been painted recently because the bridge looked spanking new.

Entering the Lower Peninsula I traveled along hwy 31 following the coast line of Lake Michigan. If I hadn’t made reservations in Montague Mich. (across the river from Whitehall) where my sister Dorothy lives, I would have stayed in a really neat town called Petoskey. Except for having parking meters everywhere, which I detest, the town is charming. And apparently thriving as a seaside vacation retreat. About a dozen guys were fishing from a bridge leading to the campground. Must have had lots of fish running the creek leading into Lake Michigan. Many expensive gated communities line the lake shore, but there were also a number of public campgrounds in the area as well as vacation motels etc. On the outskirts of town one can explore the many fruit farms, having everything from cherries, blueberries, apples, peaches, grape vineyards, you name it, it’s up here.

But, well how shall I say this. I had a boo boo. One never likes to admit mistakes, but since my buddy Ron already knows about it and he has a big mouth I figured I better tell everyone. As I was setting up camp in Petoskey in the rain, I was trying to avoid a large puddle and wasn’t looking behind me as I was parking the truck. Bang, crunch, Ekk! I backed into the 5th wheel Pin and tore the back right light and truck bed panel up.

Called my brother-in-law and got the name of a repair shop and set up an appt. to have them fix my mistake. Turns out the insurance company will pay all of it except for my deductible. Yippee.

To make things even better, I’m staying at a campground (Trailway Campground) in Montague Mich. I’m literally 50 feet from an ice-cream stand and grocery store. There’s a 25 mile bike path right outside my door and I can walk into town which is right across the parking lot. The bay with it’s boat docks is on the other side of the street from the campground. What more could you ask for.

The campground is reasonable and if I could stay a month, it would cost only about $350 a month, full hookups w/cable T.V. A real deal and great location.

Ps, I'm having a great time visiting with my sister Dorothy and her husband Dave the Chef.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

(29) Hancock to Grand Marais Michigan

Hancock Michigan
Ojibwa Casino II, Marquette Michigan
Grand Marais, Michigan

My last couple of days in the Copper Country were fun. I attended the Houghton County Fair, a truly small town fair, with horse contests, 4-H displays, Monster Truck shows, a mid-way with all the fair rides and characters that come along with it. I particularly enjoyed the music of two groups, Fiddlehead and a country singer, Tom Katlin. Tom was particularly good with a great husky voice and a deep sounding guitar.

The next day I drove around the Keweenaw Peninsula in search of light houses. I got to three of them, The 5 mile Lighthouse, The Eagle River and Eagle Harbor lighthouses. I believe the 5 mile lighthouse has been featured on T.V. It’s now a B&B and when I got there, there was no one around, so I just snooped in and around the place. Filled with way too much stuff from antiques to just old stuff, but fun looking around and the setting was gorgeous. The Eagle Harbor lighthouse comes with 4 museums for the $4 entry fee and is worth it. The views of the lighthouse, sitting on top of those rock outcroppings is quite spectacular. One of the museums has a 1927 Chrysler from The City of Bangor freighter. A really “cool” story of how the car got here. But if I told you, you’d have nothing to explore and find out for yourself.
If anyone would like full mega pixel pictures of it, I can send them out separately.

My sister Ann and I had one last evening together and we stayed up all hours of the night trying to catch up and share experiences with each other. Her new adventure begins in Oct and I can’t wait to hear from her on her move to Minneapolis. If anyone has any good contacts for her in the Minneapolis area for a job in elder care, senior living communities, she’d make a great manager. She has a degree from Marquette University and is eager to get into a great new facility that can utilize her talents.

I’ve driven to Marquette and I’m staying for one night at the Ojibwa Casinos. They have 6 campsites, first come first served, with electric and it’s free. I believe you can stay for about a week for free. No check-in or anything. I LOVE free! The drive from Houghton was smooth. Many of the roads up here have recently been newly paved. The trees are already turning color along the way. Fall comes early in the U.P.

The U.P. is truly an undiscovered area of the country. I used to live up here and I’ve still barely scratched the surface of discovery. After leaving the Ojibwa Casino this morning, I drove for miles along hwy 28, passing by acre after acre of national forest land, Hiawatha, state forests, Lake Superior State Forest, and Seney N.W.R. Each blending one into the other, creating huge tracks of forested lands with only the occasional cottage hugging the shoreline of Lake Superior. Driving through the small communities of Au Train and Christmas bordering Lake Superior, I was stunned by the beauty of the lake. Hard to miss it, with dozens of way-side parks and scenic vista stops along the way. Munising is where one can get aboard a tour boat to see the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or hop a ferry to Grand Island.

I traveled another hundred miles east and due north on hwy 77 which is really a country road. Actually, 25 miles of country road with virtually no houses or structures until you reach the end of the line, Grand Marais. Talk about a hidden gem! A small village with harbor, Lake Superior and the Grand Sable Dunes. It’s easily 60 to 75 miles to the nearest town and surrounded by rugged forest and grand views of lake Superior. Church bells chime every hour and half hour adding charm to a peaceful setting. Hardware store, grocery, a couple restaurants, small white churches and a bar complete the setting.

A really fun structure, the Pickle Barrel Cottage, sits in the center of town and once belonged to the Teenie Weenie cartoonist William Donahey. He and his wife summered in it for 10 years. But with so many visitor wanting to see the barrel cottage and the author, they finally gave it up. Come on up here to learn the full story of why it was built in the first place.

My buddy Ron tells me that building cottages along the shoreline is a long process requiring many permits. Once the permits are obtained, the home or cottage can only be used as a temporary dwelling, not a permanent residence. That’s why small established communities like Grand Marais are getting to be a bit expensive to purchase homes in. The lady in the pickle barrel told me that many of the homes are now owned by retirees having moved into the area. Making the school harder to maintain with less and less children living in the area. Their high school class had a total of 6 graduating last year.

Bordering Grand Marais is the Grand Sable Dunes, the highest dunes I’ve ever seen. The views from on top the dunes, overlooking Lake Superior, really gives a clear view of how crystal clear the lake is. We were able to see the lake bottom from our vantage point 500 feet above. Sable Falls is tucked in there and has quite a long stair step and boardwalk viewing area leading right down to the sandy beach. I saw where there was a log slide coming down off of the dunes with just a glimpse of the Au Sable light house. We weren’t able to get close enough for good picture taking but the views along the shore line are just spectacular. Almost the entire forests of the U.P. were harvested back in the late 1800’s. Now completely re-grown, hiding hundreds of smaller lakes within the forests.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

(28) The Copper Country, Houghton & Hancock Michigan

The Copper Country
Hancock/Houghton Michigan

I’ve arrived in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) where the folks are known at Yoopers. My sister Ann still lives here, but has big plans for a move. She’s planning on moving to Minneapolis to be closer to one of her daughters and to find a better paying job. She has the education and experience in the field of elder care, working in an assisted living facility and I know she’ll be able to find a much better job in a bigger city.

I’m staying again at the Hancock Beach campground, $18 a night for elect. & cable T.V. The campsites aren’t as pretty as last year, as they’ve had virtually no rain all summer and all the grass has died out. Many of the leaves on the trees are wilted from lack of rain and a couple of the maple trees have already turned color from the lack of rain.

This is a time to relax and just hang out. Ann of course has to work so we don’t get a chance to see each other every day as her work schedule changes constantly.

There’s a short walk through the woods lining the Portage lake canal that leads to the swimming beach. I love walking along this old path, listening to the birds and the gentle lapping of the water against the rocky shore line. The trees forming a canopy overhead. Occasionally the wake of a boat will reach shore and I can hear the crashing of waves for a couple of minutes… then back to the quite lapping of water once again.

My home town of Houghton is getting some grant money and a number of downtown building are sprucing up, putting new siding on and renovating a number of the stores. This town has such potential being a University town. It’s nice to see improvements being made. I had lunch at a fairly new chain restaurant called Joey’s Seafood and Grill. It’s Canadian owned and is a pleasant touch of urban upscale in an historical town. The foods pretty good too.

Driving past the Swedish Lutheran Church where I was baptized and went to Sunday school as a young boy, the Lode Theatre where we used to get a summer season pass to see all the great serials like The Lone Ranger or Superman who always ended up in a cliff hanger, (to be solved the next week) cartoons and a movie, and the Carnegie Library where I learned to improve my reading skills and gained a love of books.

I’ve been to the Quincy Mine for tours of the mine and inside some of the buildings, but on Wed. I took a walking tour of the grounds led by a young ranger. A perfect day, sparkling sunny and the temperature hovering around 82 degrees. We walked around some of the abandoned machinery, learning how each piece had a specific purpose for mining copper, peaking into one of the old company homes with it’s layers of wallpaper peeling off. Wallpaper was a real hit back in the early 1900’s. Initials and dates carved on the old wood siding by youngsters just learning reading and writing. Talking about the local history in the shade of the birch trees, seeing the water towers used along the railroad lines for the steam engines and how they had wood or coal heaters to keep the water from freezing in winter. They used steam hoists in the mines and train cars would drive right through the steam hoist buildings to deliver the coal, an operation that ran 24 hours a day.

Watching the local news from Marquette or Escanaba, some of the news broadcasters being very young and inexperienced. Almost embarrassing to watch. The big story in Hancock is the new condo building that has gone up right next to the lift bridge. Although they had gotten approved to build the Condo’s, they didn’t have final plans for connecting water/sewer lines or access to the extra parking needed. Besides that, the builders apparently went over the height restrictions and construction has been halted. No one in the community likes this new building and are upset that it blocks some of the view of the bridge. Progress is difficult up here in the U.P.

Hancock is celebrating Grandmothers by displaying stories of local Grandma’s on old doors artistically painted. Cute but a bit overdone. There are a lot of decorated doors in town.
Ann and I had another outing, going to Ming’s Restaurant up on the hill in Houghton. Excellent Chinese food, perfectly prepared and piping hot. We then went to a Used book store and had fun finding some great books to read. An evening of playing domino’s and eating popcorn with Ann and Jim (Ann won) and we completed a fun day together.

Simple pleasures, small towns, Dollar Bay, Calumet, Laurium, Gay, Eagle Harbor, country drives surrounded by maple, birch and pine forests, views of Portage Lake and Lake Superior, squirrels and chipmunks playing around the campsites.