Friday, October 2, 2009
We started the day with sun and clear skies. It clouded over by mid-day and cleared for a sunny drive in Ohio. We didn't make it back before sunset, so we parked and unloaded in the dark.
It's been a wonderful trip. We're anxious to head out again, but not before we let the memories of this trip sink in.
9,167 miles driven (14.4 mpg)
6,934 miles towing the trailer
Some of the places we visited:
13 National Parks
8 National Monuments
4 State Parks
2 Space Museums
The employees and volunteers at national and state parks do an outstanding job of teaching and serving the public. Everyone we met was very pleasant and helpful.
We met strangers whom we'd now like to call friends.
Every place we visited was unique ... and the country is full of new sights to experience.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Methodist Church … a blacksmith and carpenter built this church in 1902 in 115 days for $115
Missionary Baptist Church, built in 1915 ceased to meet during the Civil War because members were mostly Union sympathizers and the Confederates held the upper hand here
John P. Cable Grist Mill was built about 1870. It was originally a grist mill and a sash sawmill
Smoke House (and snake resort ... they warned us not to go inside)
We drove over the mountain to Newfound Gap and to Clingmans Dome after leaving Gatlinburg.
Clingmans Dome (6643 ft) … the temperature dropped to 42°F and clouds covered the peak
Clouds at the Dome
Monday, September 28, 2009
Scenery between Nashville and Knoxville was beautiful, lush, green and so very different from what we saw in the southwest. Carol was entranced by the many “brown” highway signs. It seemed that Tennessee offers public park opportunities at nearly every exit. Their rest areas are well maintained and beautifully placed among trees.
Big Meadow Family Campground offers everything missing from last night. We’re parked along a river. It’s peaceful and cool. This is a phenomenal introduction to the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
We decided to see the Smokey Mountains before going home to Columbus. After a pretty, 374 mile drive through forested areas in beautiful weather, we ended up stopping in Jackson, TN. It's halfway between Memphis and Nashville, and kind'a out in the boonies.
There are very few campgrounds between Memphis and Nashville. We drove until after dark and finally pulled into Whispering Pines RV Park about 3 miles south of I-40E. This is one of the worst parks we've been in ... power was miss-wired and no rest rooms. Fortunately, we were prepared to operate self-contained and did. We wouldn't be here had we seen it in the light.
The day had a few highlights. Unfortunately, one will suggest all we do is eat.
Take exit 183 on I-40E (between Little Rock and Memphis), go south about 3 blocks and you'll find a parking lot on the left jamb packed with cars and semis. You're at Nick's BBQ and Catfish Restaurant. Dick had ribs, Carol had catfish and we shared fried peach pie. Wow! The meal was excellent.
We drove through downtown Memphis at 6pm. It was Sunday evening and the sun was setting. The view of the city and the Mississippi River was very pretty.
Did you know?
Texarkana is the only city in the US where the post office resides in two states and has two zip codes.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The trip to Texarkana was long (386 miles) and the route (FM 620 to TX-45 to I-35N to I-35E to I-20 to I-635 to I-30E) was pleasant.
We stopped at Collin Street Bakery in Waco, TX on a lark. It was an unexpected treat! We learned it was founded in 1898 and is famous for fruitcake. Their chicken salad sandwich on pecan bread was really delicious. Go north on I-35 and take exit 220A at Waco for great service and fresh baked goods.
Time out for lunch
There's little chance of wake damage with lake water this low
We had the opportunity to meet Barbara's daughter-in-law (Jill) and granddaughters (Cassidy and Kendall) at River Ridge Rattlers cheer leading practice.
Jill and Barbara enjoy the practice
At Jill's recommendation, Bruce took Dick on a shopping trip to Allens Boot Center for a real leather, hand-tooled, western belt. It was a great suggestion. The search was successful.
We finished the day with a fun dinner at Z' Tejas Southwestern Grill. Everyone decided to experiment by selecting a unique entree. The selections were delicious. As a reward we went home and finished off Barbara's Chocolate Whacky cake. We're obviously a very disciplined group.
Friday, September 25, 2009
We slept late and went to City Market for lunch and some grocery shopping. Their tortilla soup was excellent. The market specializes in offering the unusual … their shopping selection was out of this world. Fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, delicacies, you name it – they have it in wide selections.
Dinner was another Stevenson treat. Bruce prepared shrimp in garlic butter over linguini with asparagus. It was delicious. Barbara added her wonderful Chocolate Whacky Cake with ice cream to the event. Everyone smiled for the rest of the evening. (Note to us: we need to leave here soon or our clothes won’t fit.)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
First stop was Café Java for a great breakfast.
We learned last year that the Round Rock Donut Shop was recognized by MSN as one of the 10 best in the country. We didn’t test their rating last year. We pledged not to make the same mistake again ... it was the next stop. The donut holes were still warm and the chocolate bismark kept saying “more”.
We then got our first exposure to Cabela’s Sporting Goods. What an amazing place! They have a huge inventory of clothing and sporting accessories for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. They display life-size mounts of big and small game in multiple dioramas throughout the store. They have multiple locations and are worth a look-see even if you don’t buy anything.
Next we took a step back in time with a stop in historic Gruene, TX. The town has gently resisted change since 1872. We stopped by The General Store, The Antique Co. and The Hall. There’s much more to see here.
Note: The Gruene Hall is the oldest dance hall in Texas. It’s the place where George Strait, Lyle Lovett and Hal Ketchum got started. Their list of past performers is a who’s who of country music. Nolan Ryan’s 50th birthday was hosted here and John Travolta’s dance scene in ‘Michael’ was filmed here.
We finished the day at Carrabba’s Italian Grill for dinner. The zucchini fritti (fried zucchini with a very light batter) appetizer was the highlight of the evening.
We originally planned to stop at Kerrville for a few days then move on to Austin to visit friends Bruce and Barbara Stevenson. The weather isn’t encouraging sightseeing, the drive to Austin is fairly short, and the Stevenson’s encouraged an early arrival … so we’re changing plans.
The 151 mile trip passes through Fredericksburg and Johnson City to Austin. MapQuest couldn’t locate the Stevenson’s new home last year, but provided an accurate itinerary this year. Starting on I-10E, we took US 290E, RR12, RR3238, TX-71, RR 620 and N. Quinlan Park Road. How does MapQuest figure out this sequence of roads and turns?
We spent time investigating a wireless PC connection problem with Time Warner and got 1 of 2 running reliably.
Bruce prepared an outstanding dinner of Chicken ala Eddie. It was delicious, but we were sworn to secrecy on the recipe.
Monday, September 21, 2009
The highlight of the day was a wind farm along I-10. Windmills covered mesa tops for 24 miles.
We’re camped at a KOA in Junction, TX. It’s nice. We finally have a wireless internet connection useful from the trailer.
First off, it’s difficult to know how to describe this experience. The pictures won’t tell the story because lighting is dim and the formations are numerous and unique. We offer some snippets and assurance that the views were extraordinary. Here goes …
We did a self-guided tour of the Big Room, took a ranger-guided tour of The King’s Palace and finished the day by watching the Bat Flight Program.
The Big Room
It’s 75 stories below the surface (754 ft), covers 600,000 sq ft of area and has a maximum height of 255 ft. It took 1 ½ hours to walk the circumference. We think it’s aptly named.
Highlights included the Lion’s Tail, Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit and Rock of Ages.
Hmm, can't remember
The King’s Palace
It’s about 85 stories below the surface and has some of the most beautiful (highly decorated) views in the caverns. You can only go here on a guided tour.
Highlights included the King’s Palace, Papoose Room, Queen’s Chamber and Green Lake Room.
This was an unexpected treat.
There are an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 bats in the caverns. The bat census was estimated to be 1.2 million when the insect population was at its peak. Hopefully we can agree there are a lot of bats here.
We gathered at the amphitheatre outside the Natural Entrance to the caverns. The bats began to take off at about 6:15pm. We watched for over 1 ½ hours as they left the cave in a steady stream. We obviously lost count immediately, but there must have been 100s of thousands of bats. They rose in large swarms that looked like smoke trails. We didn’t see the end of their take off because it got too dark. The ranger said it normally takes 2 hours for them to depart and they return by sunrise.
We had a very nice lunch in an old mountain cafe in Mayhill, NM.
We stopped at Old Apple Farm Fudge Factory on the climb over the mountain out of Alamogordo. The fudge passed Carol's test and will provide sustenance as needed.
We're staying at Carlsbad RV Park and Campground. It's OK, but not great. Its greatest asset is proximity to Carlsbad Caverns.
We plan to see the caverns tomorrow.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
This is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. It covers 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin and it continues to advance. The Dunes Drive goes 8 miles back into the dune field. It’s beautiful, awesome and fun.
We saw a NASA space exploration movie. It included amazing photography from space shuttle flights and from the Hubble telescope.
Alamogordo was chosen to be the site of the International Space Hall of Fame. 28 countries furnished artifacts and exhibits of man’s conquest of space. The presentation was outstanding.
Dick flew a space shuttle simulator and had the best landing recorded for the day. FYI … he crashed on the first two tries.
This was a great day. It even ended with a beautiful sunset.
The White Sands dunes advance toward the northeast at 15 to 20 ft per year.
We stopped at the White Sands Missile Range Museum (about 20 miles east of Las Cruces).
Entrance to the area required opening all doors and the hood of the car for inspection. Guards used mirrors to look under both vehicles.
We’re at the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. It’s at the foot of the Sacramento Mountains, about 9 miles south of Alamogordo and 50 miles north of El Paso on US 54. This is another great NM state park.
The journey began in Silver City. First, we took NM 15N to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This part is just 44 miles. The route is the wildest and the most beautiful we can remember. The road is narrow, there are no center or edge lines, the hills are steep, the switchbacks are tight and the curves are sharp. Fortunately, road signs (and Terry McMahon from Ghost Ranch) warned us not to take the route with a trailer. It was excellent advice!
This old mining town is just 6 miles into the tour. It was started when a group of miners from California discovered gold here in 1859. This is still a rough, old mountain town. The gold is gone, yet the town continues to exist by grasping and sharing the past. A few views of the historic district follow.
Hearst Methodist-Episcopal Church – built with Hearst money in 1898
The remaining 38 miles were slow going, but we got to the visitor center and then took a 1 mile round trip hike to the see the 7 cave dwellings.
Cave #2. The wood flooring pole is original.
The return route retraced part of NM 15, turned east at NM 35 and finished up on NM 152.
We passed Lake Roberts and followed the Mimbres River through green orchards and small farms of the Mimbres Valley.
The Santa Rita/Chino Mines open pit copper mine is the oldest active mine in the southwest. It runs along NM 152 near Silver City. They sure know how to carve up mountains. It was worked as early as 1800.
This is the road we travelled – NM 152W on the opposite mountain.
We’re staying at Rose Valley RV Ranch just outside Silver City. It’s new and very nice!
A touch of the old west from our RV Park
Carol at La Capilla Heritage Park with Silver City in background