Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 52 - (09/30) Home Again

We decided it was time to get home and drove the 430 miles needed to get there.

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
15 states
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

Day 51 - (09/29) Townsend, TN

We toured the Smoky Mountains today. It was a great, but contrasting, bookend for our trip to the southwest. It was green, cool and crowded.

We drove to Cades Cove and took the 11 mile driving tour first. The scenery and historic sites were outstanding. The tourist congestion was the worst we’ve seen in the past 7 weeks … it looked like hordes of retired people came out to look around.

Cades Cove

John Oliver Place … built in the early 1890s; it’s the oldest home in Cades Cove

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

Blacksmith Shop

John P. Cable Grist Mill was built about 1870. It was originally a grist mill and a sash sawmill

Corn Crib

Drive-Through Barn

Smoke House (and snake resort ... they warned us not to go inside)

We were tired and hungry after spending 4 hours on the Cades Cove tour. We drove to Gatlinburg for lunch and got a big surprise … we don’t like it. It’s a tourist city with a circus atmosphere and no parking. We’re really grateful for the visitor center worker who suggested on Monday that we stay in Townsend “on the quiet side of the mountain”.

Over the Mountain
We drove over the mountain to Newfound Gap and to Clingmans Dome after leaving Gatlinburg.

Smoky Mountains from the Newfound Gap (5046 ft) … looking toward North Carolina

Clingmans Dome (6643 ft) … the temperature dropped to 42°F and clouds covered the peak

Clouds at the Dome

We headed home through Pigeon Gorge and discovered it’s much like Gatlinburg. The main road was a lot wider, but it tipped the scales on the “circus meter.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 50 - (09/28) Townsend, TN

What a difference a day makes! We left a really bad campground this morning, drove 341 miles and ended up in an outstanding park just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Our route followed I-40E through Nashville and on toward Knoxville. It’s sunny and clear. The highway temperature has dropped from the 84°F we saw in AR to 73°F. We turned south on US 321 near Lenoir City and took the scenic route to Townsend. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are just a few miles away.

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.
The Little River flows just behind our site

This garden is just to the right of our site

Day 49 - (09/27) Jackson, TN

We left Texarkana at 11am today. We had originally planned to connect with Dick's sister in Drasco, AR (north of Little Rock), but that didn't work out. So ... we just changed plans as we drove through Arkansas.

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

Day 48 - (09/26) Texarkana, TX

We said good-bye to the Stevensons today. They’ll be at the Texas vs. UTEP football game and we’ll both be listening for updates on the OSU vs. Illinois game.

Ohio State alumni in Austin on game day

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’re staying at Shady Pines RV Park in Texarkana. It’s new, very nice and highly rated by Woodall’s. But, it doesn’t have many shady pines.

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.

Day 47 - (09/25) Austin, TX

The sun returned today. It’s a dandy last day to spend with our friends.

Barbara and Carol went to Carlos 'n Charlie's for a light lunch overlooking Lake Travis. The visiting time was great. The view of the lake was disappointing because of an extended drought.

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.


Kendall (front, center)

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

Day 46 - (09/24) Austin, TX

Today was a low key, relaxed day.

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

Day 45 - (09/23) Austin, TX

It rained all day, but our hosts took us touring to some cool places anyway.

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.

Day 44 - (09/22) Austin, TX

We had quite a rain storm last night. The temperature dropped 30° and today is overcast.

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

Day 43 - (09/21) Junction, TX

Today is a driving day. It’s sunny and clear. The trip takes us 348 miles from Carlsbad, NM to Junction, TX via US 285S and I-10E. The roads are straight and flat. The temperature reached 94°F. The speed limit on I-10 is 80 mph ... we didn't come close to it.

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.

Day 42 - (09/20) Carlsbad, NM

It’s sunny and clear today, but it won’t matter. We plan to go way underground at Carlsbad Caverns.

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.

Hall of Giants

Hmm, can't remember

Peeking through a small arch
Crystal Spring Dome

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.
Green Lake Room
Carol wanted to be our ranger guide

Bat Flight
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.
It's hard to believe these sights are buried deep under a peaceful hillside

Day 41 - (09/19) Carlsbad, NM

We drove 168 miles to Carlsbad today and did little else. There was lots of heavy rain on the way. The going was slow.

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

Day 40 - (09/18) Alamogordo, NM

It rained last night and twice today (at 5pm and at 7:30pm). All showers lasted 30 min or less. We were able to tour the area before the rain started this afternoon.

White Sands National Monument
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.
The dunes seem to stretch forever
This is a picnic area in the midst of the dunes. Water remaining from last night’s rain made it look like an ice fishing village.

We went “sand sledding”. No gloves, scarves, coats or boots are required. Just put wax on the bottom of the sled, sit down, shove off, hang on and laugh. It was great fun.

Carol rides a big dune
Dick doesn’t dare try it with no-hands
This is not a winter scene, but they do plow to keep the road open.

IMAX Dome Theatre
We saw a NASA space exploration movie. It included amazing photography from space shuttle flights and from the Hubble telescope.

New Mexico Museum of Space History
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.

Missile display outside the museum

End of the Day
This was a great day. It even ended with a beautiful sunset.

Sunset from the park

Did you know?
The White Sands dunes advance toward the northeast at 15 to 20 ft per year.

Day 39 - (09/17) Alamogordo, NM

We awoke to a gray overcast day. Weather reports tell us rain will cover our travel area for the next few days.

We drove 199 miles today. The route included US 180E to Deming, then I-10E to Las Cruces and US 70E on to Alamogordo. The sky was overcast all day and a heavy downpour moved through Alamogordo at about 6:30pm.

Along the way
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.

The missile range has played a huge role in development of military and space vehicles. Its test capabilities are diverse and extensive. The first atomic bomb test was conducted here at the Trinity Site in 1945 and the Challenger space shuttle landed here in 1982. The museum offered a wonderful explanation of test technology and missile history.
Carol views years of missile history
Dick ponders a strange VTOL vehicle

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.

Our site – looking east

Our site – looking west from front window

Our site – looking north from our door

Day 38 - (09/16) Silver City, NM

We have another sunny morning. It’s a great day to drive the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway … and we do.

Along the Byway
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!

NM 15 is a very curvy road
Pinos Altos
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
Opera House captures the flavor of the old west
Buckhorn Saloon

Gila Cliff Dwellings
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.
Unlike Mesa Verde, these dwellings were built in less than 100 years.

Carol explores lots of rooms

Hmm ... these are some serious porch steps.
Continuing on the way
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.

Santa Rita Copper Mine
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.

Santa Rita open pit copper mine

We were home and tucked in before a rain storm moved in from the SW. Tomorrow should be an interesting travel day.

Day 37 - (09/15) Silver City, NM

We saw lighting sparking on the horizon last night. The morning is sunny and clear. We’re sorry to leave this great campground.
Morning on Elephant Butte Reservoir

We drove 95 miles to Silver City on a route we’ll remember for quite a while. The part from Elephant Butte to Caballo on I-25 was a piece of cake … the part on NM 152W wasn’t. Speed limits were down to 10 and 15 mph in the sharp turns and switchbacks over the mountains.

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

We toured historic downtown Silver City in the afternoon. You could tell it was booming in the past. It was clean, sleepy and there were many closed businesses. They advertise 30 art galleries in the downtown, Carol loved it. Interestingly, the curbs were about a foot high. We assume it was a carryover from the days of muddy streets, horses and wagons.