Extended Stay in Lynchburg, VA

The metal contact sound we heard coming off the Blue Ridge Parkway was a rear wheel bearing that failed and took out the rear axle gears. Luckily, Pam’s Uncle Bill lives in Lynchburg so we had a place to stay and an awesome tour guide while the Roamer is being repaired.

Lynchburg, like many towns across the US, had a vibrant Main Street and local industries before shopping malls and out-sourcing created empty buildings throughout the downtown area. Some, like Lynchburg, are coming back with downtown renovations that are making the Main Streets vibrant once again.

Shoes were a big industry in Lynchburg and the local hotel, which used to be the shoe factory, has street art in front as a reminder of the past.

It’s also the rail crossroads and has been since pre-Civil War days. Coal is running through town now from West Virginia on its way to Norfolk and overseas.

Beautiful brick buildings along Main Street are being renovated into condos, restaurants and businesses again. There are random pianos all over town where you can sit and play (if you can play).

Some things downtown have not changed, like the farmer’s market that has been going strong since 1783. The peaches here are delicious.

In 1971, Jerry Falwell founded Lynchburg Baptist College that grew into Liberty University in 1984. It’s a huge campus with a lot of construction in progress to make it even bigger and better.

We drove around the campus and visited the Snowflex Centre, where you can ski or snowboard any day of the year on the white astro-turf mountain.

Pam’s uncle volunteers his time to several local charities including Habitat for Humanity. This is their current house that’s under construction.

The last time Pam and I passed near here a few years ago we chuckled at the sign that said, “Appomattox – the sight of the reunification”, figuring it was just a Southern perspective on things. We had time to explore the area now so we went to Appomattox. If you ever get the chance to go – you should. We had one the best Ranger tours and talks I’ve ever heard. You could almost see Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia heading along the roads through this small town and coming to the realization that they were surrounded.

Grant and Lee had fought and maneuvered for weeks up to this point. Lee’s Army was the North’s focus because it had inflicted 60% of all casualties against the North during the Civil War. Grant was promoted to end the war for Lincoln, and aid his 1864 presidential campaign. It was his election in Nov 1860 that triggered the secession of the South by Feb 1861. Grant had done his job. Lincoln won the 1864 election and by April 1865, it was clear that the war was soon to be over.

Grant was known as “unconditional surrender” Grant, so Lee was unsure of what to expect. Jefferson Davis had instructed Lee to release his troops to continue the fight as guerrilla warfare instead of surrender. Lincoln, seeing that the war nearly over, instructed Grant to offer very favorable terms and pardons to all the Confederate soldiers if they dropped their guns and went home, so they could start the rebuilding process.

Grant and Lee met in the brick building down the road on the left. Lee, not knowing what to expect was quote: “Then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths”. This road was once lined with Union soldiers, and the guns of the Confederate soldiers were left along the roadside as they passed.

This was the room where Lee and Grant came to terms for the end of the Civil War, and it really was a re-unification of the country.

A painting shows what is must have looked like during the process.

They set up a printing press in one of the nearby buildings and printed nearly 30,000 pardons over the next few days. The Confederate soilders could use the pardon as a train, boat, and food ticket to get back home unmolested.

Lincoln was assassinated less than a week later, leaving us to wonder what he could have accomplished if he was able to fulfill his unification plans.

With Bill as our excellent guide, we went back further in time to tour Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest home on the outskirts of Lynchburg. This was an octagonal home he constructed as a retreat from the public life of Monticello.

The home is in the process of being restored to its original design, deleting the modern changes from more recent owners who used it as their home up until 1984.

About an hour away, we also went to see Monticello, Jefferson’s better known home.

The grounds around the place were beautiful.

Jefferson had spent enough time in France to appreciate French cooking and wine. Both of his homes had kitchens similar to French kitchens and well stocked wine cellars.

Monticello means “Little Mountain”, and it’s easy to see where it got its name when you are there. There is a beautiful vista in nearly all directions overlooking the nearby Virginia countryside.

Lynchburg also has a nice trail system around town to hike, bike or run along the Blackwater Creek.

There are a few bridges that also cross the creek every few miles.

We came across this turtle on the path. He must have been buried in the mud along the creek bank, but he was not coming out to say hi while we were there – lol.

The Roamer mechanical problem was very unfortunate, and will probably be costly, but if we had to be stuck somewhere, Lynchburg was a great place to be stuck. Hopefully, we will be back on the road after the holiday and on our way to Nova Scotia. I see some long driving days in our near future to make up for the delay.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of beautiful highway running through the Blue Ridge Mountain Range from the Great Smoky Mountain NP in North Carolina to the Shenandoah NP in Virginia.

The weather was a little wet when we left the Great Smoky Mountain NP, so we jumped off the parkway and headed to Brevard, NC to meet up with Pam’s Cousin Bill and his girlfriend for lunch. Brevard is the land of the white squirrel but we didn’t see any while we were in town.

Getting on or off of the parkway can be interesting. There are a limited number of places to enter or exit the parkway, and since the road runs along the ridgeline the access roads can be very mountainous. Luckily we were heading down one very crooked road and squeezed by two trucks carrying the new sections of a bridge heading up the mountain (with about 20 cars following them up).

The weather broke after lunch and once we got back up on the parkway the views were beautiful.

The Natchez Trace Parkway was relatively flat. In fact, where we camped along that parkway in Mississippi was at an altitude of 600 feet, nearly its highest point of 807 feet. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a roller coaster by comparison; climbing up to 5,000 or 6,000 foot overlooks down to 2,500 foot gaps or hollows roughly every 5 miles.

Every once in a while there is also a tunnel that looks way too small to pass through, but we fit.

Other than the constant climbing and down-shifting, the drive is very enjoyable and the views along the parkway are gorgeous.

We jumped off the parkway and camped at Stone Mountain State Park in northern North Carolina. After a wet and cloudy day, we were treated to a great sunset while I seared some steaks.

The next day we jumped back onto the parkway. It’s hard to imagine a 469-mile road with a speed limit of 45 mph and no stop signs or traffic lights. Once you are on the parkway, you can just drive.

Like the Natchez Trace, there are places along the parkway to stop and see some interesting things. One was the Blue Ridge Music Center, which covered the history of the music that has come out of this region.

The center had a good map of the region and the parkway, showing its relationship to various states.

Another place we stopped along the way had a beautiful mill that was busy grinding wheat for folks.

It also had a blacksmith shop that was again closed and locked. I’m starting to see a trend here – lol.

The parkway is a very beautiful road that slices through the woods the entire way.

We got off the parkway at Lynchburg to see Pam’s uncle. However, the Roamer made some nasty noises when we pulled off the parkway. We have an appointment with the local truck guys in town to help fix what may be ailing our ride. We get an unplanned weekend in Lynchburg to explore this area while we get our truck back into shape next week – hopefully.

Great Smoky Mountains

We left the Natchez Trace Parkway on our way to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is situated on the Tennessee – North Carolina Border. That was too much ground to cover in a day so we made a few stops to get there.
First we stopped at Corinth CG in the Bankhead National Forest in northern Alabama. Another beautiful lake was at this campsite, but it was very humid. It seemed all the folks there either had Bama, Auburn or Confederate flags flying at their campsites. We chatted with a few campers, and the accent and candence of speech is so different in the south that we always end up repeating ourselves. We probably come off as very fast-talking outsiders. I guess we need more sweet tea and fried food to help take the edge off – lol.

As we crossed Alabama we saw a sign for the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL – had to stop. It was the creation of a Benedictine monk, Brother Joseph Zoettl, at the St. Bernard Abby. He created minatures of many of the world’s famous buildings and shrines over a period of decades. This picture captures less than 10% of his creations in the beautiful gardens.

We camped the night at Cloudland Canyon CG in the northwest corner of Georgia. It was up in the hills at about 6,000 feet. Finally some cool air. We had a nice hike while it rained, and the tree canopy was so dense that we barely got wet.

The overlooks at the canyon were impressive. I guess this is what the Grand Canyon would look like if covered with trees.

We left Georgia and made our way up into Tennessee. We stopped for lunch at an old mill that is now the town’s park.

The back mountain road we wanted to take into Smoky Mountain NP prohibited vehicles over 22 feet. We found out later from the Rangers that there is a bridge on the road with a very tight exit turn that has pinned larger vehicles. We drove around through Pigeon Forge, TN instead and were amazed by the tourist business that it pulls in due to the park and Dollywood.

We camped at Elkmont CG in the NP, a crowded campsite, but a necessary evil if you want to be in the park to see the sights. We really enjoyed the fireflies at dusk that luckily outnumbered the people by a significant margin.

The next day we drove to Cades Cove in the park so see the old village there. It too had a mill with a miller grinding corn that you could buy. I was a little disappointed that the blacksmith shop was locked and empty – a possible future position?

The village had several old style barns that offered both storage and shelter, with easy access.

The drive there was on a one-way loop road with many low branches that we tried to miss. I’m sure our new hatch has a few scratches on it now from the roads we have been driving.

We stopped for lunch at a nice stream in the park.

We saw a lot of wild turkeys and black b’ar (bear) while driving around. Over the course of the day I think we counted five bears. Traffic comes to a stop when there is a bear to be seen, and at one stop folks got out to see one over the bank along the road. A mother was hurrying her son along to get there, but he was not happy about stopping – “Maw, it’s probably not a b’ar, just another tu’urkey”. Too cute.

We made our way up to Clingmans Dome (aka Ole Smokey), which sits in the middle of the park right on the Tennessee – North Carolina border. The peak is at 6,644 feet, which you can climb for these lookout shots over the mountains. The Appalachian Trail runs right through this part of the park and right past the peak.

We drove across the entire park the next day on our way out, and onto the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north.

Natchez Trace Parkway

When putting together our treks, there are always a few places that we need to be on a given day that set the overall course of our trip. Filling in the time and distance between those few places and times is the fun part of in traveling. We knew the first leg of the trip would be a southern route to the east coast this year to pass through Tyler, Texas, but getting from there to our next “must stop” in Nova Scotia was wide open.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the gems that you find every so often while traveling. This National Park was started in 1938, with the final sections completed in 2005, creating a 440-mile park that runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN.

It’s a beautiful two lane road with a speed limit of 50 mph and limited on and off. The added bonus is that it passes by many historical places along the way that are well marked and easy to access.

One of the first stops heading north is Emerald Mound, an eight acre, multi-level plateau built between 1300 and 1600 by the Mississippian Indians for ceremonial purposes.

Another stop is Mount Locust, a stand (aka an inn) built in 1780 along the Trace, the last remaining of roughly 50 stands along the Trace in its day. The Trace started as a series of Indian paths from the salt licks in Tennessee to lower Mississippi. It then turned into a well used trade and travel route between Natchez and Nashville, and points north.

There are sections of the Old Trace that you can hike. Before the steam engine gave boats the power to travel up the mighty Mississippi River, many would build flat boats for their goods, float them down the Mississippi River from the rivers that feed it, sell their goods and the boats for lumber, and then walk back home north along the Trace. The month-long journey was just part of the getting the goods to market.

The signs along the Parkway, denoting another site to see or read about are striking.

The Cypress Swamp was just that. A river had changed course and the old depressed river bed is dry for part of the year, but also creates the beautiful swamp where the cypress trees grow. We didn’t see any gators, but they were there. The sign said to look for logs with nostrils.

It started to drizzle while we were in the swamp, but turned into a torrential downpour once we hit the road again. There were branches and leaves all over the road, and just a few miles from our campground a tree fell and blocked the road. I jumped out and with the help of a few more that joined me we snapped the tree in half and opened the road. This worked until a larger tree fell and blocked the road about a mile further down the road. Luckily a construction crew from Tupelo was coming the other way with a chain saw and cut the tree. Then several of us rolled it off the highway.

We camped the night at Jeff Busby Park, a beautiful national parks campground right off the Parkway. We were the only ones there! I guess springtime, for the flowers, and fall, for the leaves, are the really busy times along the Parkway.

When we left the campground and got back on the Parkway we were amazed how pristine the road looked, not a leaf or branch anywhere on the road. We asked at the next visitor center and they explained that the crews were out all night cleaning the storm debris off the highway.

Another stop was the Bynum Mounds, which are burial mounds that date back to around the year 100 BC.

We then crossed the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a canal that connects the Tennessee River with a shorter path to the Gulf down the Tombigbee River though Mobile, AL. It was first proposed by the French in the mid 1700s. A survey was completed by the US Army Engineers in 1827 but construction did not begin until 1972, and completed in 1985. And we think things go slowly today.

We then crossed the Tennessee River, and neared the completion of our trip on the Trace.

We made a final stop at Rock Springs. It was a nice hike around a spring where beavers had constructed a multi-tiered pond.

We then left the Parkway to head east, completing over 330 miles of the 440 mile parkway. Even in the humid heat and rainy weather, the Natchez Trace Parkway (National Park) was a beautiful place. We’ll try to get back again in either the spring or fall and see it in a different season.

Learning to Perspire Southern Style

After spending the entire summer last year above 5000 feet in the cooler elevations, this trip through the South is a lesson in how to camp in heat and humidity. We haven’t mastered it yet, but we’re getting better.
While we do have AC, neither of us prefer it to a good cool breeze through open windows in the evening time. However, while the daytime is roughly 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity, the nights are 70 degrees with 90 percent humidity. How is that even possible? Our hatches have rain sensors so they automatically close in the night due to high humidity, trapping us in our own sweat. We now know to disable the sensors, but a good nighttime thunderstorm is bound to be in our future – lol.

We made our way to Tyler State Park in Tyler, TX. It seems that once you get to western Fort Worth area, Texas becomes a lush landscape with trees, grass and vegetation everywhere. Our campsite was in a forest with a huge lake nearby.

The reason for the stop in Tyler was to visit with my Aunt and cousins. David, myself, Aunt Mary and Dean are pictured here, and we all had a great time catching up. I was the youngest of eight in my generation, while David was the eldest. Aunt Mary, at 92 is as sharp as every and a pleasure to talk with for hours. Dean and my older brother were about the same age and they were thick as thieves back in the days when the family got together while we were growing up. Hopefully, we can pull together a family reunion for all this coming year.

We all went out to dinner and a Christian biker group eating at the same restaurant offered to bless our rig for us. The even gave us a sticker for our sticker collection in our utility box.

We left Tyler and made our way to North Toledo Bend State Park on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River that divides Texas and Louisiana. The campground was again next to the water, where the trees grow out into the water.

We had a nice hike along a trail with longleaf pines that reached for the sky, with hundreds of fingernail-sized frogs hopping all around our feet.

We even had a nice armadillo visit us in the evening time. I went out to get a picture of him, but was amazed at how quick they can scurry away. I was hoping he would roll into a ball.

We crossed Louisiana and the mighty Mississippi River into the state of Mississippi.

Just across the border was a BBQ place where we stopped for lunch. The chicken and brisket were great. It’s hard to pass a well painted longhorn steer.

We camped at Natchez State Park for the night and will start the Natchez Trace Trail tomorrow. We had a nice spot next to another huge lake. We need a boat. However, the time in the campground was good because we blew a water pump, but luckily had a spare and installed it. All better for now.

Natchez is the most southern point of this trip. Tomorrow we begin to head north for the next couple of weeks until we hit Nova Scotia.

West Texas

Our epic trek #4 has begun. The current plan is to not drop back into the valley of the sun until the daytime highs are 80 degrees or below. It was pushing 108 degrees when we left so it may be some time before we return.
We stopped the first night at our place on the rim. It’s always 30 degrees cooler there so it was perfect for an evening walk. We watched a beautiful moon rise above the ponderosas.

Neighbors of ours were out waiting for the evening primrose to bloom. I never knew that it only bloomed after the sun sets. Turns out we have evening primrose all along our road.

We then took off east for our first planned stop in Tyler, Texas to see some relatives of mine. We needed to cross New Mexico and decided to stop at El Morro National Monument the first night, one of our favorite places.
It was made a National Monument by Teddy in 1906, one of the first. The place has a little bit of everything. There are ancient Zuni Pueblo ruins that date back to 1100 to 1400.

There is a great hike with a mini “Canyon de Chelly” spider rock.

And there are pictographs and carvings in the sandstone that are from the ancient Zunis, the Spanish in the early 1600s, to the US Army in the 1840s and later the wagon train passengers heading to California.

If you have never been to El Morro I highly recommend that it be a future stop. They even have a free campground!

After spending an entire month last year exploring New Mexico, we decided to just shoot across the state this time to get to new places quickly. We did stop at the Abo Mission ruins for lunch, one of the three Spanish missions built in the 1620s.

We spent the night at Ft Sumner State Park, along the Pecos River. Ft Sumner’s claim to fame is that it’s where Billy the Kid was killed and buried. Although, the local Sheriff, who stopped to talk about our rig, told us the story of the only Sheriff to be recalled was the one that wanted to dig up Billy’s grave and verify that it was him buried there.

We made it out of Ft. Sumner just before the Old Fort Days parade shut down all traffic. We passed one of the floats getting ready for the trip down Main Street with a herd of energetic kids aboard.

We then headed into west Texas, and as Pam put it – one of Dante’s circles of hell. I’m sure there is a nice part of year to drive through west Texas, but June is not it. It was hot, windy and humid all at the same time. And the scenery was nearly constant, with farm and cattle land stretching to the horizon. We took the back roads and did enjoy the historical markers along the way, one which said the 1890 census for the county included not only the folks, but the names of their favorite horse too.

We ended camping for the night at the southern end of Palo Duro Canyon, at Caprock Canyons State Park. While beautiful, the place was roasting hot until the sun went down. Luckily we had a campsite with power and enjoyed the AC until things cooled off.

Next to our campsite was a prairie dog city. The little guys were very curious, and chirped out the alarm as we strolled through.

The park also has a bison herd, and while we saw their droppings everywhere the bison must have found a cooler place to spend the day hidden from view.

We pushed further east into Texas until we hit Ft Richardson State Park outside Jacksboro, TX. The old fort was first put in place after the Civil War to enforce martial law until Texas was readmitted into the US in 1870, and then as a launching base for the Indian Wars in the west.

It was much cooler here, no AC required. During our evening stroll through the park we saw a lot of fireflies, something you never see in Arizona – pretty cool.
We’ve covered nearly 1000 miles already and have nearly 3000 more before we hit Nova Scotia in early July. Stay tuned.