Sunday, October 31, 2021

Day 12 - 14: Traipsing Through Civil War and Colonial Territory

Colonial-era re-enactor in historic Sharpsburg, Maryland.
What did you learn and still remember from your U.S. history lessons? 

In school, I just couldn't relate to it; it was something to memorize for the tests then forget about. Sure,  I'd heard a bit about colonial times and the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence in 1776, which we lay claim to as the birth of our nation. Reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln* provided far more insight on than anything I learned in school about the miracle of Lincoln's election, the decision to engage in Civil War, the eventual victory, contribution to equality, and its cost to us as a nation. 

*If you've never read it, I highly recommend Team of Rivals; it's an excellent biography of an amazing man, a pivotal leader, and an astoundingly savvy collaborator. We can learn much today from Lincoln's example in a nation that of late feels as divided now as then.

A small portion of a massive diorama of Civil War clash in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
We were told the dioramas were found mouldering in a local barn.
Yet when we stopped by the remarkably intact historic town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, where, as luck would have it, they were doing period re-enactments of colonial and civil war times. For folks growing up there, the stuff I read about in history books that felt both long ago and far away happened on their turf. Sharpsburg was incorporated in 1763 before we considered ourselves an independent nation.

The formerly peaceful agricultural land and canal distribution point became embroiled in a bloody battle between the pro-slavery Confederate army and the Union, trying to hold a frayed nation together. Churches served as stations for sharpshooters and it seemed nearly anything with a roof served as a hospital for the masses of wounded soldiers.
Ranger re-enactor in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
For Sharpsburg'sre-enactment, kids, seniors, and quite a few in between costumed up and chatted with us and other visitors passing through about what life was like "back then." We particularly enjoyed talking with the Ranger, self-described as the Special Forces of the colonial and civil war era who despaired over the foolish tactical and strategic choices made by others that cost so many their lives.

Oddly, what I recall the most about the Civil War from my history class was that Lincoln dispatched journalist photographers to capture and bring home the horror of the wounded and dead in the hopes there would never be another war. Alas, he succeeded in establishing war photojournalism, but as we all know, it failed miserably as a deterrent to future wars.
Reconstruction of John Brown's Fort in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.
Earlier the prior day, we stopped far too briefly at Harper's Ferry. Our first stop was John Brown's Fort, famed abolitionist John Brown's daringly captured sanctuary fort for escaping slaves. Before long, however, Brown and those of his compatriots who survived a Confederate raid were captured.  The Confederate state of Virginia tried Brown. found him guilty of treason and hung him. 
The town of Harper's Ferry is preserved as a National Historic Park in West Virginia.
The first Confederate Civil War invasion of the North took place in the town of Harper's Ferry. Its access to supplies by B & O (Baltimore and Ohio) railroad and the C & O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal s the conjoint of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers made it a vitally strategic point in the Civil War. It changed hands eight times during the Civil War.
Burnside Bridge battle plaque at Antietam, one of three major battlefields in Antietam,
inside the 
Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.
Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland to this day remains the single bloodiest day of battle in our country's history.  On September 17, 1862, in twelve hours of fighting, nearly 23,000 soldiers were either killed, missing or wounded. At a terrible cost of to both sides, but more so to the Union, nonetheless, the Confederate army retreated the next day. 

Lincoln used that opportunity to make the emancipation declaration, the United States intention to end slavery. Apparently, that declaration was not entirely altruistic, but spurred on by a desire to discourage Brittian, who outlawed slavery in their county already from taking the side of the pro-slavery Conferates.

The rebuilt Burnside Bridge monument today; same as depicted in the plaquard in the image before this one. 
Antietam National Battlefield park, Maryland.
As for us, we didn't allow enough time to fully absorb what we were seeing. If you don't know the players by side or the battles' significance you may feel a bit lost, almost akin to watching a forgein movie in a language you don't speak, especting but niot getting any subtitles. The momuments seem to assume you possess their significance beforehand or travel along with a. guide or a keyed in to the parks application with a virtual tour. We. weren't equipped with either. We watched a video in the park headquarters, our first stop, which helped.

Here's a good pictorial overview of Antietam from another blogger.

War Observation Tower, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.
The War Obervation Tower was built over 100 years ago, in 1897 to give a bird's eye view of the battlefield. It's also a site for teaching; the tower docent's favorite story was about he five-star generals, preceeded by a phanx of security, who showed up to make tower observation, then departed on callas quickly and inexplicably as the' arrived.

Today, the site of those bloody battlefields is peaceful, making it the best possible Civil War memorial. 

If I visit that area again, I will brush up on my history before attending its living momuments, to get a greater appreciation of their importance.Even if I don't make it back there, it whetted my appetite to learn more, particularly given the divides in many cases along similar lines in our country today. As the cliche goes: Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
The yellow of soybean fields as seen from War Observation Tower, Antietam Battlefield, Maryland.
Cornfields also are maintained on the battlefields today for historical authenticity.
Normally, I stick to one topic in a post, but this is a bit of a round-up. sp I'm going to shift gears for a moment from the historical setting to what was going on with us personally.

The whole reason Wayne and I were in Maryland was to visit my nephew, Ryan, and his wife and their daughter who I hadn't seen for eight years, back in 2013. We caught them at an especially busy time, so the only window we had to meet was Friday night, for dinner. We adjusted our schedule to make that work. We enjoyed seeing them on their own instead of at a larger family event and got a better sense of what their life is like in the place they call home.
Marlee, Ryan, and Beth—family time in Frederick, Maryland.
Happy as I was to see and spend time with family, Frederick is a hideously expensive place for lodging. The only place we could find to stay for under $100 was a horrible Motel 6, by far the dirtiest and most spare hotel I've ever stayed in and appeared to be the kind of place for drug deals and prostitution. Yet oddly, some of the scariest folks there were unfailingly polite and pleasant to us. I still gave the hotel a one-star Google rating and the whole experience was so depressing that it nearly made Wayne and I turn around and drive home. Due to crappy weather, we'd just abandoned our plans to drive the Skyline through Shenandoah National Park, where we also intended to camp. We were spending a lot more than we intended and at that moment not enjoying our travels nearly as much as we expected to.
Local birds featured prominently on this building in Front Royal, Virginia, a marked departure
from the town's many historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just before heading on to Harper's Ferry amd Maryland, we stopped off in the historic town of Front Royal. It's definitely a tourist-oriented town, but its visual appeal made it a worthwhile stop anyway. Still, one of the newer buildings is what caught my eye there due to its striking murals.
Antietam Campground, alongside a scenic section of the Potomac River. Virginia.
After our crappy night in the Fredericks Moel 6, we pondered our plans.  Unfortunately, GPS doesn't give you an option to "find cool towns and scenic byways." Wayne used our road atlas—ye, we are that old school sometimes—to find a scenic highway. Wayne made an impromptu turn off the highway at a brown sign to the C & O Canal. He saw a sign to a campground and followed it there to Antietam Creek Campground. We came equipped to backpack and tent camp and expected to do so more than we did. Once again, we thought we'd lost out on a viable option: the campgrounds were full.
Gary Glick, our exceptionally kind Antietam Campground host, and his dog Bene.
However, Gary Glick, the campground host took pity on us decided to create a space for us. He placed us in a lovely, private campsite that no one booked because it was supposed to be closed. His kindness restored our spirits and inspired us to continue on. He also gave us a tip on a campsite down the road where we saw the best fall color our entire trip at a gorgeous waterfall. More on that in my next post.

Time and time again as we travel, no matter what we say we're going to see, we find it is the people we meet along the way that make the trip. Thank you, Gary. Our time with Wayne's longtime friend Steve in Asheville was another highlight, as was meeting our cruising friends nearby, Scott and Kim Dickens, who we hadn't seen since we were in Conception, the Bahamas in 2014. They live in a comfortable home with a back deck with a territorial view, with a barn for their two mules and another outbuilding for chickens--a much different life than cruising, but a good one that suits them well. 

Location Location
This post covers the time we spent where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland intersect and served as the primary battleground area for the U.S. Civil War.

We arrived back at Sunnier Palms. in Fort Pierce Florida on Wednesday, October 27th, but there will be additional posts to capture the remailing fall foliage road trip highlights. However, the next post will be a heatwarming story about a change in our lives since we just returned to Sunnier. Stay tuned for that.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Day 11: Zagging: What you do when your scenic highway plans are lost in the clouds


The fog was thicker than this. 
Photo credit: Katie Moun,
What do you do when your scenic vista plans are lost in the clouds?

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and following it with a Skyline drive through the Shenandoah National Park were high on our list of what we wanted to do on our fall foliage tour. The weather forecast looked good. 

This is what we expected to see along Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive. 
Mother Nature had other ideas.

As we drove into Shenandoah National Park the fog blinded us."Is it supposed to clear up as we go up in elevation?" We asked the park entrance ranger. Nope, he told us. "When's it supposed to clear up?" We asked, still holding out some hope. "Days." 

This is what we actually saw.

We drove up to the first overlook, looked, then turned back around and exited the park, eventually the visibility got better.

Kitchy Grand Cavern bat golf mascot.
Now what? We wondered. We planned to see my nephew Ryan, his wife Beth, and their daughter Marlee in Maryland, but they weren't available until the next eve. The drive was only a few hours away and the day potentially stretched long in between.

Luray Caverns, the biggest caverns in the Eastern US and the most visited in the country was in between Waynesboro WA and Western Maryland, where family awaited. Why not? we thought and toddled off through backroads highways and small towns. 

Image pilfered from
Before Luray, we came across Grand Caverns. Both were well rated (as is nearby Skyline Caverns), Luray is the far more popular of the two. Since we tend toward the road less traveled, we opted for Grand Caverns as they were smaller, cheaper ($20/adult, $17.50 with military discount versus $32/adult at Luray) and we'd never heard of them. We're keen on taking the road less traveled.

Grand Caverns Lodge, Grotto, Virginia.
We arrived just in time for the next tour, so we went for it. The cave is a mile-long tour and runs seventy minutes.

One of the larger caverns in Grand Cavern, Virginia.
Grand Caverns' claim to fame is that it's the longest publicly shown cavern in the US, even through COVID. Tours started in 1806. We all toured masked.

The Fantasia portion of Grand Caverns, Virginia.
How would we rate it? We can't compare it to Luray or Skyline because we haven't toured them. Grand Caverns is a less expensive tour and I suspect the caverns may be less grand (despite their name) and more "touristy." Grand Caverns, golf bat icon aside, is fairly low-key. Our experience is more well-known and more widely advertised attractions like Luray tend to be more "Disney," which is not our thing. We both felt that there were a number of places we would've preferred to linger a bit longer. 

Our tour guide at Grand Caverns told us they called this massive stalagmite
The George Washington.
The narrative about how the caves were used (and abused) over the years struck me as more interesting than the caves themselves. I won't play spoiler, if that sort of thing intrigues you, visit.

These stalactites reminded me of sharks' teeth.
What do they remind you of?
Grand Caverns, Virginia.
Luray tours run longer, so we figure Grand Caverns worked better for us as it gave us more time afterward to find a place to rest our heads that night, especially since we planned to camp and I avoid setting up camp, cooking, and cleaning up in the dark.

These cave fixures, called draperies, reminded me of caramel taffy, Maybe I was hungry.
Grand Caverns, VA.
Though we enjoy cave tours, we are too spoiled from Carlsbad Caverns, which we toured in May 2019 to be easily wowed from most cave tours; it's the best we've seen. However, I can tell you my camera did not do Grand Cavern justice.

Maybe that "cave taffy" made me hungry, 
The Shenandoah River ran muddy past this Elkton VA park. Nice picnic spot, though.
We stopped at a sweet riverside park in Elkton Virginia for lunch.

Kayakers on the Shenandoah River, Virginia.

After Grand Caverns, we settled on Shenandoah River State Park campground to pitch our tent and lay our heads. That would leave us plenty of time to explore historic Harper's Ferry on the way to see my nephew and his family in western Maryland the next day.

Shenandoah River State Park boardwalk.

Chicken of the woods mushroom in Shenandoah River State Park;
the most dramatic mushroom I've ever seen!

What insect made this design in a fallen tree?
Reminded me of moth larvae designs on the trees on Fraser Island UNESCO World Heritage site in Australia.

This lion's mane mushroom also in Shenandoah River Park is another tasty edible.

Guess I was on a mushroom mania hike; these wood mushrooms looked especially pretty too.
Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia.

The campgrounds were walk-ins (yay, no generators nearby) and relatively private. There were even hot showers and flush toilets, which made it feel less painful to pay $27.50 for a tent campsite.

Location Location

At the moment, we're in Knoxville Tennesee on our 29th day of travel. We plan on being back in Fort Pierce by Halloween. I will continue to do highlight roundup posts for our full trip.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Day 5-11: Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall (& hanging with a friend in Asheville)

Scary-sounding name for a beautiful vista and trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
When we polled our friends on how to make the most of a US East Coast Fall foliage tour, one of the most repeated suggestions: driving the Blue Ridge ParkwayThe Parkway runs 469 miles through the Great Smoky Mountain portion of the Appalachians, through North Carolina and Virginia, where it links to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. To make the most of it, split it up over at least a few days, like we did.

My video will give you a one-minute tour of some of our highlights.

One of my favorite highlights not in the video is getting a good smooch from Wayne atop Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the US west of the Mississippi. Why not?

The Parkway also is rich in pioneer history. A cabin shown in the video is the former home of Orlean Hawks Puckett, born in 1844. As a midwife, she delivered over 1,000 babies. She lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two, though she lost all of her own twenty-four children. 

Asheville, North Carolina is one great area to bail off the Parkway. While Asheville's renowned for its thriving art scene and a foodie mecca, we were most interested in catching up with our friend Steve.
Me, Wayne and Steve on the Tanbark trail just outside Asheville, NC on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Steve played tour guide around Asheville, and we also popped up to the university's tiny but free botanical gardens.

Canoeists on Asheville NC's French Broad River.
After Asheville, we popped back onto the Parkway with the intent of driving the whole shebang then continuing into Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive. 

However, road construction kept us from completing the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
Instead, we took a couple of long detours to reconnect after short stretches of road closures along the Blue Ridge.
Fog. We saw more of this on the Blue Ridge Parkway than we anticipated.

Driving through clouds also messed with our enjoyment of the Blue Ridge Parkway's scenic vistas, as well as putting a damper on our plans to camp along the way. We took solace in the vibrant reds of dogwoods and maples, the bright orange of sycamores, and buttery yellow birch leaves. Foggy or not, the fall foliage was still gorgeous.

Location Location

We're currently in Oswego New York. We've spent most of our trip out of wifi range. More catch-up blog posts are on the way.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Day 3-4: Gorge-ous Park in Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park


Overlook, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia.
After two nights in a motel in South Georgia because we couldn't nab a campsite on Cumberland island, we were itching for a night in the great outdoors. Tallulah Gorge State Park or Cloudland were my two top picks. With Asheville, NC as our next stop, Tallulah fit the bill best.
Our campsite, we had it all to ourselves.
We arrived in just enough time to sort out our backpacking gear, hike up to our campsite, set up, cook dinner, and do dishes before sunset.

Wayne at Tallulah Gorge overlook in the morning. We didn't see another soul until 9:30 am.
Trail steps across the canyon, on the other side of Tallulah Gorge.
There are some advanced hikes that require permits to head down into the Gorge bottom. We didn't have time for that this time around.
Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.
My big draw to Tallulah Gorge was its suspension bridge. Alas, I have a talent for planning park trips when the suspension bridges are closed.

Blocked: Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.
The bridge was closed for three days, including our two days there.
A few of the steps to Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.
You could still hike down to the bridge. Lotsa steep steps to do so.
A glimpse of the water under the bridge was all I could see.
A teaser of a view.
Under Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.

Still, pretty enough to be worth the fifteen or so minutes to see what I could and rejoin the upper rim trail.
Fall foliage inspired our trip, but other beauties abounded.
Two Tampa Florida area gals who do flower pressings from wherever they travel.
Everyone we chatted with along the trail was friendly.
Pollinators, still busy in the fall.
Guessing the gals were careful where they picked.
One of seven waterfalls in Tallulah Gorge.

The views along the ridge trail were terrific.
Close-up of the colorful lichen on a rock overhang in Tallulah Gorge.
Dam work prevented access to other park areas.

Guess all that means is we'll have to return someday!

Location Location
These were taken at Tallulah Gorge State Park, in Northwest Georgia, September 29-30 2021.

By the time this posts, we expect to be out of range, camping in West Virginia.