Friday, April 29, 2016

West Virginia

We ended up making a pretty quick pass through West Virginia just because of lack of RV parks that can handle a rig our size. Two of the three things on the list for WV were accomplished on this trip so that isn't too bad. Ann doesn't like heights so New River Gorge was lower priority and will have to wait until next time we go through.
West Virginia Capitol - Charleston

Capitol - inside of dome

We were able to stop at the Capitol (of course) in Charleston as we drove through town. I used Google street view ahead of time to come up with a strategy for parking and it actually worked out. 

Capitol inside
This Capitol took 8 years to complete, in three stages, with the final stage opening in 1932. It is another very grand, all marble, huge building but it isn't particularly pretty or impressive in a way that makes you want to stand and admire it like the last few we've seen. The most impressive things about this one was the dome on the outside and the chandelier hanging in the dome on the inside.

We ended up doing a parking lot night at Tamarack in Beckley. This worked out great because they had big RV parking spots and good food that we enjoyed for both dinner and breakfast the next morning. The weather was rainy so we could walk around and enjoy the amazing works of West Virginia artisans. 

One of the other priority things to do in West Virginia was to go to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. The coal mines have such a history that I felt it important to learn, first hand, what it was all about. The town of Beckley bought a shut down coal mine and built an exhibit out of it. They brought in buildings from coal mining towns around the area (there are a lot of them), fixed them up, and made a nice little town. Then, of course, there is a tour of the mine. The tour guides are real miners. 
Mine tour
We had a guide that worked in the mines for 40+ years so the information was delivered in a genuine manor rather than some young person reciting a memorized script. The accent was so thick it took a lot of concentration to understand what he was saying, but that added a lot of the authenticity to the tour. The mine tour wasn't one where you go down an elevator. You go along a track into the hillside, riding authentic "man cars", and just go a short distance into the mine. He stops several times and talks about mining from the hand-loading days into the modern era, explaining equipment, how a miner worked, etc. and then the short ride back out. Not intimidating at all. 

Miner's three room house

Inside a bachelor's one room shanty


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Frankfort KY

Guess what? That's right, another state Capitol.
Daniel Boone burial site.
Reinterred here in 1845.

Next stop was Frankfort Kentucky. Not only is this the capital of Kentucky, it has a great historic section. On our way into town we stopped at the Frankfort Cemetery, holding people since 1844, to see the burial site of Daniel and Rebecca Boone. This cemetery is amazing with all of the really old headstones and it's hilltop view over the Capitol and Kentucky River.

Kentucky State Capitol
Once downtown, we started by touring the Capitol, the new one, that is. This building, completed in 1910, is relatively new compared to a lot of others. It is one of the few that rates as a "gem" in the AAA Tour Book. That rating is justified as it is beautiful with marble, mahogany, paintings and an excellent design. This one ranks right up there with Connecticut's Capitol in terms of grandeur, and actually, I think the design is better so I would give this one the nod as being slightly better.
Capitol from Senate Chamber
across to House Chamber

KY State Capitol
As you walk around the Frankfort historic area there are 36 information signs in front of buildings telling their story. We had beautiful weather to help make a long walk up and down streets very enjoyable. We were unable to tour the Old State House, the Capitol for 80 year prior to the new one being completed, because they only give periodic tours which didn't coincide with our visit to town.

After getting some lunch we went to the Buffalo Trace Distillery to learn about Kentucky Bourbon. This distillery also happens to be a National Historic Landmark as it is the oldest continually operated distillery in the nation, remaining operational even during Prohibition- for "medicinal" purposes.

John Brown house - 1801

Liberty Hall 1796

Garrard Crittendan house

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cumberland Gap

Our journey continued, finally, to one of the places that I had planned this trip around. Being a reader of historical novels and westward expansion, it was imperative to go to Cumberland Gap. The original westward expansion, beyond the seemingly impenetrable Appalachian Mountains, was funneled through this location. Famous people, maybe most notably Daniel Boone, made it a life's effort to conquer the hardships of this trek and make settlements in Kentucky. In reality now there isn't much to see. For me this is one of those places that it is just about being there, seeing the terrain, imagining the hardships, being in awe of the courage and perseverance of those people. This stop is more about the imagination, the appreciation, than seeing a building or natural wonder.

We drove up 25E off of I-81 in Tennessee. This twisting drive through both Tennessee and Kentucky is very pretty. As you approach from the south, you can clearly see "the gap" a couple of times from a long way off. It is very noticeable and very pronounced from the Tennessee side, but unfortunately we only got quick glimpses so no pictures. Right at the border of the two states, the Cumberland Gap Tunnel takes you under the gap. In less than a mile after getting out of the tunnel in Kentucky, you exit to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. From this side of the gap it isn't so pronounced. 

Info sign

The lower spot straight
above the road is the gap
from the KY side. 

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site - TN

Our next move was to the east across Tennessee. It was tough to find an RV park that suited our needs but we did find one that was good enough. Our next sight seeing adventure was to the
Andrew Johnson's Tailor
Shop - the actual one
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in the historic town of Greeneville, TN.
Andrew Johnson's first home
while a tailor.
This site has the actual first home, tailor shop and second home that Johnson owned when he lived in Greeneville. The visitor center and information signs tell the story of his interesting life. He was Vice President when Lincoln was shot and thus was thrust into presidency when in the depths of reconstruction after the Civil War. He did not see eye to eye with Congress which ultimately resulted in him being the first president ever impeached, although he was not removed from office.
Andrew Johnson second home.
The one he returned to in 1869.

When his presidency ended, he moved back to Greeneville to his second home. This home, due to a very proud and thoughtful daughter, has been maintained and restored to the time when Johnson moved back. It is fully furnished with 85 percent of the contents being original. This place is a great place to visit.
One room with almost all original

The town of Greeneville (the only town in the U.S. that uses this spelling) has a long and interesting history. I enjoy the fun fact that Greeneville was the Capital of the short-lived, "almost", State of Franklin. Use the link to read about it. This was an enjoyable town to walk around in after we visited the NHS.
Old Church in town - 1780

This church has a Civil War
cannonball just above the
light to the right of the door

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Our next stop, on what is basically a tour of state capitols, was Nashville Tennessee.  
Tennessee State Capitol
The Tennessee State Capitol construction began in 1845 and completed in 1859. This is another really nice building that has been restored and maintained to show-off frescoes, iron work, ornate light fixtures and marble hand rails complete with chips from bullets fired at people (that must have been some debate). The building is actually quite small compared to most Capitols we've seen because it is built to perform the basics without a bunch of offices. Congress was in session when we visited so we had to settle for pictures from the gallery and peaking in the doors when they were on break.

TN Capitol lobby

After visiting the Capitol we walked around Nashville checking out the music scene. Broadway bars and restaurants already had live music playing in time for lunch. We walked around listening for music that "called us in" to spend some time. We walked the Music City Walk of Fame and finally found a place for lunch. We liked Legends Corner with all of its great memorabilia and old music players. As far as going into any of the famous sites and museums, we just couldn't get ourselves to spend the outrageous prices they charge. We all have our priorities.

Former State Library in

Ryman Auditorium - original
home of the Grand Ole Opry

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


We really don't like big cities but we bit the bullet and took on Atlanta to see some things we really wanted to see. The closest RV park was in Stone Mountain about a mile from the Stone Mountain Park. That allowed us to check out the Stone Mountain carving the day we arrived, without doing a lot more driving.
Stone Mountain Carving

King burial
The next day we headed into the city and were surprised that we made it to our first destination pretty smoothly. Parking in Atlanta is horrendous for any vehicle much less a big truck like ours. First stop, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. They have a big, free parking lot - score. This site encompasses a few city blocks and contains a Visitor Center, a lot of information on the civil rights movement and trying times, a memorial with burial site, The King Center with exhibits containing King artifacts, a historic residential area including Kings birth home, and Ebenezer Baptist Church where Kings' grandfather and father both served as pastors. This is all a pretty impressive array of information about a great man.
MLK Nobel Peace Prize
Ebenezer Baptist Church
We left our truck parked in this wonderful parking lot and walked 1.25 miles to the State Capitol. This building was completed in 1889. It is a fairly modest building from a decoration standpoint with the one glaring (literally) exception being the gold plated dome. It was built with as many products from Georgia as possible including the marble on the interior.

After we found some lunch, we walked back to the truck and drove a mile on the Freedom Park Trail to the Carter Presidential Center. We visited the Jimmy Carter Museum which had a great film followed by a chronology of his life and accomplishments. The film talked about his life
Georgia State Capitol
and then about the Carter Center and the fantastic things it works on around the world. It's all a lot of good information about a another great man, another civil rights leader, and what he as done for people all over the world.
Jimmy Carter's Nobel Peace Prize

Exact replica of the Oval Office when Jimmy was president

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Congaree National Park & South Carolina Capitol

South Carolina State House
We moved on north to the Columbia, South Carolina area. It was an easy trip via I-95 and I-26 (other than dodging pot holes). Our first order of business was to see the state Capitol. Construction on the South Carolina State House (Capitol) began in 1855. Work was halted during the Civil War and its aftermath and then continued very slowly. The building is very unique in that, rather than lots of marble like most we've seen, it has a lot of ornate and nicely painted wood trim along with wrought iron.
South Carolina State House
Outside, the building has six bronze stars that mark the locations of cannon balls that hit the building when General Sherman fired on the city during the Civil War.

Giant Cypress tree
(panoramic up)
Our next objective was to go to Congaree National Park. This park began as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976 which was formed to protect one of the few remaining ecosystems of its kind, including the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland forest in North America. The status was changed to National Park in 2003.
The park is characterized by giant hardwoods and towering pines and comprises one of the highest canopies in the world and some of the tallest trees in the eastern United States.

Cypress "knees"

Giant Oak tree
The visitor center has some very effective displays regarding the ecosystem and the size of the giant trees. It also has a very informative film about the park and its ecosystem. We went on a 4.5 mile hike which gave us a good sample of what the 27,000 acre park is about. One of the main attractions is the super tall trees but getting a picture of such a thing is basically impossible. I tried using the panoramic option on my camera a couple of times just for fun. I included one of those above.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fort Pulaski National Monument

Fort Pulaski Demilune - the island
protecting the front gate
Our next move was up I-95 just barely into South Carolina. From this campground we were centrally located between sites we wanted to see. The first attraction was Fort Pulaski National Monument. Construction of Fort Pulaski began in 1829 and required $1 million, 25 million bricks, and 18 years of toil to finish. Many considered it invincible. By the Civil War, however, its armament was still not completed and it was not yet garrisoned. As it turned out, before United States troops could occupy the fort, they had to conquer it. In 1861, Georgia militia seized the fort. Long story short, in 1862 Federal troops used new experimental rifled cannons to bombard the fort from a mile away on Tybee Island.  

Fort Pulaski inside
On the second day they had opened holes in the wall that threatened the main powder magazine resulting in the Confederate commander surrendering only 30 hours after the bombardment began. Federal troops repaired the fort right away and garrisoned it until the war's end. The fort was used as a prison for a while and eventually abandoned. In 1924 the entire island was made a national monument.

Fort Pulaski inside
Restoration efforts began by the CCC in the 1930s. The fort is beautifully restored now and worth a visit. A striking visual is to walk around the entire structure and see all of the positions for cannons on two levels. It never received anywhere near the number of cannons that it could have handled but it was built to take on an attack from any angle.

Cannon in place


Fort Pulaski with wounds showing.
You can see the new brick where the
gaping holes were repaired

When we left the fort we drove over to Tybee Island to check it out (it is only a mile away) and get some lunch. We then drove to the town of Beaufort, SC. Beaufort is an old port town, second oldest town in the state, with many pre-Revolutionary War and antebellum houses. We walked for several miles around the historic old homes and enjoyed the quiet, well maintained neighborhoods. Several movies have been filmed at old homes in the town but we had a hard time getting a good view of the homes behind huge, old live Oak trees and bushes. I'm including a few pictures of the homes we could see.
Fort Pulaski outside

Beaufort SC mansion

Beaufort SC mansion

Beaufort SC row of homes

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Kennedy Space Center

Rocket Garden
And we're off again. The Frozen Four in Tampa is over so we are on the road again. First stop was to go to the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. The first thing you see when you walk in are rockets, how fitting. We did our Disney approach and headed for the back of the complex first and worked our way to the front. That meant we started out with the Atlantis Space Shuttle. Wow, we got our money's worth immediately. The Atlantis on display is the actual orbiter that flew 33 missions and over 125 million miles. You can see the wear, such as streaks on the tiles and dirt around the entry hatch from 26 years of people getting in and out. It was awe inspiring to walk around and view this amazing piece of history.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Vehicle Assembly Building
Four doors, each 456 feet tall
Several of the missions performed from Atlantis were to deploy and make repairs to the Hubble Telescope. Another of our favorite things at the Space Center was a 40 minute, 3D, IMAX film on the Hubble. It covered the space shuttle missions centered around it but also showed phenomenal film footage taken by Hubble. There really are no words to describe how spectacular this film was.

Those were our favorite parts of the visit. We probably would have thought more highly of the bus tour had we sat on the right side of the bus. Everything that we drove by was on the right side. We sat on the left and thus couldn't see well at all (so hint - if you go, sit on the right side of the bus as you are facing forward). On the return trip I was able to get longer distance pictures of the Vehicle Assembly Building but never got a good view of the gigantic crawler-transporter that is used to move the rockets and space shuttles from assembly to launch pad. The road to the launch pads was also closed for repair so we didn't get to see a launch pad.

In summary, it is expensive to get in, but worth it.