Sep 16, 2019 – The New Normal

Vivian in the wheelchair at sunset, Catherine’s Landing RV park near Hot Springs. Concrete pads were an extraordinary luxury.

To most, accessibility is taken for granted. The word “inaccessible” has no context to an able-bodied person. Like discrimination, you really don’t get it until you’ve experienced it. The short of it was, Vivian had only one good leg while the other was basically a useless appendage for two months following the break. Because of a minor misstep on wet grass, her ankle bent underweight and within an instant, many things became inaccessible to her. Accessibility soon became the new standard by which we measured everything. Accessibility, or lack thereof, became the lens through which we viewed RV travels.

An unconventional approach to negotiating the fifth wheel stair steps; the step stools served as knee rests.

Why bore you with the details of how we acquired medical equipment, negotiated post-surgery follow-up visits, and all the research on bimalleolar fracture recovery, when instead, I can describe the remarkable places we visited in Arkansas during the few weeks following the surgery. I was not comfortable leaving Vivian alone during that time after her surgery; consequently, my photography plans were mostly scrapped. And of course, fishing was no longer on Vivian’s itinerary. More to the point, Vivian could not do anything without my assistance, so whatever fun things we did would be casual sightseeing that a) we both enjoyed, and b) offer a certain level of that precious commodity – accessibility. As we crossed off our respective itinerary plans, we were left with one item intact – casual sightseeing.

Downtown Eureka Springs as viewed from a tour tram. These streets wind through the city and no two intersect at a 90 degree angle. And there are no traffic lights!
Most homes have at least two stories, built into the rocky terrain.

This ironically led us to Eureka Springs. I say ironic because this historic Ozark mountain town is also known as the ‘stairstep town’ because of its mountainous terrain through which streets and walkways wind. A visit to Eureka Springs for able-bodied persons would require a respectable amount of effort walking those steep walkways perusing quirky shops, visiting the cave grottos, touring the museums, taking in the historical Victorian architecture and so on. We had to find an alternative which was a tram tour and one that accommodated the wheelchair.

Grotto Spring was one of our tram tour stops. The grotto needed to be protected from street construction in 1890, so an enclosure of limestone and ornamental stonework was created.
Inside Grotto Spring.

The essence of Eureka Springs revolves around the healing powers of the spring water that were known to the Native American long before European Americans discovered it. Among those European Americans was Dr. Alvah Jackson, credited for discovering the springs which he claimed to have cured his eye ailments. He wanted to share that so during the Civil War he set up a hospital in a local cave to treat soldiers. Afterwards, Eureka Springs became a popular tourist destination and was once promoted as a retirement community for the wealthy.

The Cresent Hotel, built as a resort for the rich and famous, was eventually purchased after standing vacant for a long time having and is open for business.

Because of the famed healing powers of the spring water, you can imagine that Eureka Springs attracted many colorful characters including Norman G. Baker, who was run out of Iowa in 1937 for practicing medicine without a license (his story is well worth the read). At that time, Eureka Springs was a depressed town following the stock market crash. Millionaire pseudo-doc Baker moved to Eureka Springs with his cancer patients, reopened the Crescent Hotel that had fallen into disrepair and turned it into a cancer-curing hospital. As Baker commenced in promoting his cure which was to drink the area’s natural spring water, the spa and resort mountain town enjoyed renewed vitality (the hospital apparently cleared ½ million dollars in one year). But alas, federal charges against Baker for mail fraud in 1940 sent him to prison for four years.

The essence of Eureka Springs.

Two weeks following Vivian’s accident, we land in the American Spa, Hot Springs where we stayed for 10 days. There was much to see and do, so we wasted no time getting to The National Park where we could partake in accessible park ranger tours.

The Fordyce Visitor Center where ranger-led tours give you a glimpse into the bathhouses long before it became a national park in 1921. Prior to that, it was designated as Hot Springs Reservation in 1832.
A tour of a bathhouse shows you how it looked over a hundred years ago.
One of the 2 locations where you can stick your hand in the thermal water. It comes out of the ground at 147 degrees F, but by the time it reaches the pool, it’s cool enough to touch without scalding.
People come to fill up their water bottles from one of the many thermal spring fountains in Hot Springs. The hot springs were protected by Congress in 1832 with the intention the water be used.

And we weren’t going to let inaccessibility keep us from enjoying lunch at the famous McClard’s Bar-B-Q restaurant. I think what put McClard’s on the map besides its food are the prominent people who visited it, including Bill Clinton who is the only person whose reservation is accepted and the only one for whom a change to the menu was made (after Clinton’s by-pass surgery, they added an item that did not include bread or added sugar). Clinton enjoyed eating at McClard’s while growing up in Hot Springs and as president, continued to do so.

Our truck parked on the right, we waited for lunch crowd to leave so that Vivian could more easily navigate through the tiny restaurant.
Smoked turkey is a popular dish at McClard’s and I savored every bite while Vivian enjoyed the ribs.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, we drove to Little Rock to visit the William J Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Think whatever you want of the Clinton’s, but this museum was well worth it, and on an accessibility scale of “don’t bother” to “I can enjoy this 100%”, Vivian enjoyed our visit thoroughly throughout this modern building with wide open spaces. The library also houses temporary exhibits and during our visit, we had the great pleasure to see Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea. A non-profit art project founded by Angela Haseltine Pozzi in 2010, tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches are used to create monumental art installations.

Enjoy the slideshow below of the Clinton library. Built next to a pedestrian bridge on the Arkansas River, the building cantilevers over the river in the spirit of “building a bridge to the 21st century”.
Throw away plastic and rubber become art, an exhibition at the Clinton Library.

Following that, we stopped in to pay homage to nine brave children at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. It was a solemn visit to the small visitor center built across the street from the infamous school where those children walked the cruel gauntlet that led them to integrated education.

The words of segregation, in response to the police protection for the Little Rock Nine.
The words of Carlotta Walls, “Super Negro”.
Little Rock Central High School is the only operating high school designated a National Historic Site.

My memory of these places is somewhat tainted by the degree of inaccessibility we experienced. As I write this, Vivian has had full mobility for several months (11 months have passed since the break). Despite the inconveniences of struggling to push the wheelchair up a steep path or hoist it into the truck for the umpteenth time, or entering a campground bathroom with “handicapped accessible” signs only to discover there were no rails in the stalls or not being able to move the wheels on a gravelly uneven ground, we never forgot that this was a temporary inconvenience and nothing more. So yes, our final weeks of our 2019 travels got disrupted in a big way; but we had good times and we got over the bad times.  

RV Tips and Issues. I highly recommend that both of you (if you are two) feel comfortable with every aspect of moving your rig; dumping, unhooking, hitching, driving, backing up, unhitching, hooking up -repeat cycle. If one of you goes down for the count, the other needs to step in. I will admit, I was relieved Vivian was able to drive the fifth wheel, which meant she could do the backing-in because that has been her designated job from the start and she is much better at it than I am. Of course you can also rely on the kindness of strangers.

Sep 9, 2019 – Breaking from Normal

Our first evening in the beautiful White River.

This part of our trip began with great anticipation and much preparation building up to one thing, the White River in Bull Shoals Arkansas. But that all ended just as quickly as it began. Let me start by describing how the preparation played out.

Much of Vivian’s spare time (when not actually fishing) is to prepare for and learn about different fish species she will encounter on our travels & how to fish for them. And she is learning how to tie flys. In addition to watching an inordinate number of YouTube videos narrated by slow talking fishermen who are willing to share every last infinite details of their fly tying skills, Vivian collects animal parts and tries to make them look like insects, just like the big boys do in their videos. And often as she is hunched over the table with said animal parts and lots of shiny twine, I can hear mumbling words like “I am going to need new eyeglasses”.

Fly tying takes up some space in the RV.

Her skills go beyond the challenges of manual dexterity. Vivian, who speaks fluent Spanish and English has picked up a third language. And through guilt by association in a very small living space for the past year, I have necessarily expanded my vocabulary as well, although many of the words seem nonsensical, like “wooly bugger”, “Chernobyl ant”, “hippie stomper”, and “the hunchback scud”. This is the language of fly fishing and it is spoken often in our RV.

The White River in Bull Shoals Arkansas is famous for its trout fishing and would be our greatly anticipated next destination following Bennett Spring. And with a ridiculous spike in luck, Vivian secured a one-week reservation for a riverside campsite at the Bull Shoals State Park. In the afternoon, we arrived at our campsite, one of the premier spots on the river. But something was wrong in paradise. The water level was extremely high and the current was wicked fast. We watched drift boats motor against the current past our campsite and then minutes later drift downstream as their fishing occupants attempted to catch a fish. Boats repeated this pattern several times as the evening set in. There were no fishermen wading these waters.

This presented a problem for Vivian who has been anticipating wearing her waders and boots to walk into the White River from our campsite. Her dream of doing this was dissolving quickly. It also became evident that any quality fishing Vivian was going to do would be from a boat, possibly her kayak. With sheer resolve in her heart, Vivian would try her luck casting a line from the shores of the White River. After Bull Shoals, we had three more fishing locations, so if the White River did not work out, there would be plenty of opportunity for Vivian to quench her flyfishing thirst. Both of us had much to look forward to during the next few weeks in Arkansas.

The stairs the lead to the scene of the crime.

The next morning, I hiked briskly up a rocky path through a steep forested ledge. Coming from the Everglades, I was not use to this kind of terrain and so I used extra precaution negotiating rocks and inclines. Like any other RV traveler, Vivian and I have thought about worse case scenarios and how we would manage them. One of those scenarios is getting injured while enjoying the great outdoors. So, I walked carefully through the woods and periodically checked my phone for assurance of a signal. Eventually, I hiked back to the campsite to grab my bike and explore the rest of the park.

My phone rang as I was putting on my helmet. It was Vivian. I couldn’t think of any good reason why she was calling me since she was out fishing. I answered and immediately knew something was wrong. “I need you to come help me, I think I might have broke something”.

The long haul back to the truck.

Vivian is probably the most careful person I know when it comes to any form of physical activity, so I could not imagine what had happened. As I drove the truck to her location, I reckoned the worst case scenario was a strained muscle and with some RICE, she would be fine in a few days. When I saw her sitting on the steep steps that led down to the watery banks of the river, I saw it was a bit more serious, most likely an ankle sprain since her left ankle was clearly swollen. “Must be a sprain, broken bones don’t cause that much swelling, do they?” My attempt at rationalizing that it was not as bad as it looks was not getting us anywhere because it became very clear that Vivian could not walk. I had to get her up those stairs and into the behemoth truck.

Luck is a mysterious thing. Of course, breaking one’s ankle in two locations is not lucky, but what happened next can only be construed as pure luck. At best guess, Vivian broke her ankle at about 7:30 am. With the help from strangers, I got Vivian in the truck and we arrived at the Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home by 8:30 am. By this time, visions of small town health care inadequacies and insurance denials danced through my head. But we had to do what we had to do.

By 8:45 am, we were in an examining room after having completed the necessary paperwork. And I was relieved that our insurance covered this facility. Vivian was doing well so far and later we read the doctor’s report which included the following description of his patient, “She is a pleasant and positive female”. I never saw her wince in pain.

Not one, but two breaks

By 9:00 am, Vivian was wheeled to X-ray and by 10 am, we were getting the report from the on-call physician. Expecting to hear the word “sprain”, we were harshly jolted into reality when told Vivian had two breaks, a bimalleolar break. Vivian attempted to reconstruct the event in her head and seriously could not remember what happened. She remembered walking slowly on the grass near the river and then laying on the ground. She heard a snap and figured it was her rod which had broken during the fall. After getting the X-ray report, her first thought was that snap was not her fishing rod after all.

Screws & plate in place.

Without skipping a beat, the doctor told us Vivian would need surgery. Oh, this just keeps getting better! Now, I was thinking about our living and traveling situation. Staying on at the state park was not an option, we would have to move to another campground after our 1-week reservation ended and I would have to do the moving. But before we get to that part, back to the surgery. We are thinking that surgery meant at best, later in the week (this was a Tuesday), at least a few days away. Instead, what we got from the doctor was a most sincere apology, “I apologize that we can’t schedule your surgery until 1 pm today because you’ve eaten earlier this morning.” Both feeling bemused and relieved, Vivian was whisked away for surgery preparation. During that time, we met the orthopedic surgeon who by reputation is one of the best surgeons in the area. Did I mention having luck? The surgery went well, plates and screws inserted with no problem. I had Vivian back home by 4:30 pm.

Vivian receives a crash course in crutch walking before leaving the hospital.

We were faced with the spectacular task of getting Vivian out of the truck to the RV door, up the RV steps and up the steps to the bedroom. This was going to be interesting. All I wanted was to get her comfortable and not moving for the next couple days while I would frantically figure out what needed to be done, where to go next, make phone calls, cancel upcoming reservations and make new ones, acquire necessary medical equipment, etc. As luck would have it, Vivian was not in pain. But she was incapacitated. And as she lay in bed after overcoming the challenges of using the tiny bathroom, it was at that point we were hit with the reality of how dramatically our RV travels had changed.

8 hours following the break.

RV Tips and Issues

The obvious tip here is be prepared for anything, especially if you are full time living in an RV. You may be an optimist but you do have to consider the possibilities and be ready to deal with them. As you prepare for travel, begin your sentences with “What if…?”, and then think through how you would deal with it. This may require putting certain things in place ahead of time, like purchasing insurance that will cover you if you need to have the RV transported back home. Of course, health insurance is a big deal and not having consistent coverage state to state can be a huge problem. In short get your belongings, finances, insurance, family members, etc on board to help anticipate and minimize the fall out from any event that might happen.

Sep 3, 2019 – The Disney World of Fishing

Bennett Spring State Park

Our reasons for traveling the United States are much like everyone else’s – seeing and experiencing new places, learning its history and meeting people with varying experiences and perspectives. These are inherent to our travels and I could say the foundation of most anyone’s RV travel plans. But of course, each traveler has his or her own interests and as well, Vivian and I each have our agenda. If it were totally up to me, our travels would revolve around one thing, photography. But alas, Vivian is not a photographer and has other interests. Or should I say – she has a fishing obsession.

A scene from Bennett Spring State Park. Some anglers prefer fishing upstream, some prefer downstream from the dam. Each day, the spring water is restocked with rainbow trout.

We left the driftless area of Iowa on Labor Day, spent one night at a Harvest Host (beautiful place, delicious Meads), and arrived the next day at Bennett Spring State Park in southern Missouri. When planning, I am quite often the one who finds potential campgrounds. When I discovered Bennett Spring, I got excited because not only is it on water, but it is a very popular fishing location. While I always consider Vivian’s interests, I am not senseless enough to think I can choose the perfect fishing location. So, I ran my idea past her.

An old mill stands on the spring, remains of the old days here.

Bennet Spring is described as “a place of peace and recreation that has welcomed generations of enthusiastic anglers”. The spring runs through the state park and is stocked daily with rainbow trout “waiting for lucky fishermen”. On the state park’s website are several pictures of fishermen standing in the water, lined up, side-by-side casting their lines. If you like to fish, what could possibly be wrong with this place? But alas, after researching it awhile Vivian concluded with much derision, “It’s the Disney World of fishing”. Because both of us have a disdain for Disney vacations, I winced knowing exactly what she meant. Having spent much of her life fishing in the vast Everglades wilderness from a solo kayak, standing in well-stocked waters with dozens of other fishermen was not Vivian’s idea of ideal fishing.

In frustration, I went back to the drawing board to find a more suitable location. But then, Vivian gave it more thought because she had a clear goal in mind. Bennett Spring could very well be useful and serve as an important step toward a goal which, in theory was to be achieved at our next destination. More on that later.  

Our state park campsite in campground 1. Non expensive, full hook-up, excellent wifi, level concrete, spacious & shaded; more than many RV resorts have to offer.

Consequently, I booked us five nights at Bennett Spring State Park. When we arrived there, I was coming down from a euphoric photography high that began on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin and ended in Iowa’s idyllic farm country. In short, I had hundreds of photos to process. I could not think of a more perfect location to do that than a fisherman’s trout fishing paradise; Vivian would keep busy with her goal attainments while I would enjoy a rare treat, fast and free wifi service at our campsite. The weather was fabulous and each morning, dense fog hung over the beautiful spring that was a few hundred feet from our campsite. This became an irresistible photo subject. In between morning shoots on the river, a day in Springfield (more on that later), extensive bike rides and strenuous hikes through the very large (3216 acres) state park, I worked on my photos.

Beautiful water in morning fog. I shot this before the horn blew at 7:30 am.

While I settled into a routine of exercise, image processing and blog writing, Vivian set out to make the most of her stay on the river. Fishing at Bennet Spring is an orchestrated event. You can’t just go in there and start fishing willy nilly. Oh no, there is a rhyme and a reason, and you better know the rules of the game. First, you must get the lay of the land. The river is divided into three zones as follows: Zone 1 permits flies only, Zone 2 permits flies and artificial lures only, and Zone 3, permits only soft unscented plastic bait & natural and scented bait.

I think its because of the challenge, but Vivian uses only unscented artificial lures. Consequently, Zone 3 was off limits!

Second, you must acquire a 1-day license. The day before, you go to the park office and stand in line after 7:00 pm to purchase a 1-day license. Repeat as needed. The license must be clearly displayed on your hat while fishing. Third, you can only fish within a specific time frame. Like clockwork, a loud horn sounds off at 7:30 am, signaling the fishermen (who are already lined up along the banks of the spring) that they can enter the water and cast their lines. Then at 7:15 pm, the same horn blows again, warning the fishermen to promptly get their casts out of the water. All that just to catch a little trout.

I’ll hark back to my glory days in Iowa and Wisconsin. As far as photography is concerned, these locations were worlds apart and each one very different from what I am use to. Traveling with a camera has been a great learning experience. Likewise, Vivian approached Bennett Spring much the same way. Despite the Disney quality of it all, she observed other fishermen and gathered information from those willing to share their knowledge (she has a knack for getting people to open up to her). She learned about correct tippet size, fly presentation, flying to proper depth, casting correctly into the current, and so on. Fishing is a strange culture to me, but I believe it when she says it was well worth the time and money spent. Because after Bennett Spring, she would be fishing one of her dream locations, or at least in theory (more on that later).

Anglers lined up along the spring at dawn.
As I road my bike through the state park, all views of the spring included people fishing.

Meanwhile, we left the park for a day to visit Missouri’s number one tourist destination. No, not the Gateway Arch National Park in St Louis; but the “granddaddy” of all outdoor stores, the place that attracts four million families, sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts every year, the mecca as Vivian describes it – Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters. Your read that correctly, the original Bass Pro Shop that began in 1972 as a small bait shop and has since added restaurants, museums and aquariums. It is the Disney World of the outdoor recreation industry.

This is one happy camper!

I knew when we got there I would be spending the entire day in this place while Vivian immersed herself in the aisles of lures and other fishing-related gadgets and widgets. I spent my time looking at the fish in the aquarium and walking around taking in the visual overload that fill the store to the brim. It is a gawdy, over-the-top display of the commercialized great outdoors. But we had to go there; and that’s all there is to it.

At least the bait and tackle is easy to find.
And that’s where I could find Vivian.
Would have spent my time here had we timed it better!

Our stay at Bennett Spring State Park, although not a true wilderness experience was a building crescendo for our next destination in Arkansas, only a short 100 miles away. In short, it was a perfect stop over for what was to come, the crème de la crème of fishing destinations and one of Vivian’s top bucket list fishing destinations. At last, we would arrive there soon after leaving Bennett Spring. 

Instead, I spent my time with the sharks…
and the gators.

RV Issues and TipsWater weight is a big deal to us. We did the math and can’t travel safely with much water in the gray, fresh or black tanks. Not only that, we were told by the people who built our RV’s frame and suspension (Lippert) that ideally, there should be no water in the fresh tank or no more than 4-5 gal if necessary when traveling. We heed their advice and here is our approach to that issue. First, we boondock with no hook ups occasionally but only for one night at a time (usually at a Harvest Host). When we know we are going to do that, we add no more than 5 gal to the freshwater tank and another 4-5 gal in a hard-sided container while at our full-hook up site. As we use the water from the freshwater tank, it is transferred into the two gray tanks and the black tank, distributed in a way that the weight is no longer an issue. Second, if we know we are going from one full hook-up site to another, we make sure the freshwater tank is empty and carry a gallon container of water for toilet flushing when stopping along the way. Third, we frequently stay in parks that do not offer water hook-up on site. In those cases, we travel empty and fill up the freshwater tank once we arrive at the campground. At the dump station, we empty the freshwater tank along with the gray and black tanks. With little water left in the fresh take, I open the drain valve and let it run out onto the road. Fourth, if we ever travel without knowing where we will be staying next, we fill the 7-gal hard-sided container and have it ready for the chance we may need to transfer the water into the fresh tank.

One last thing, even if you think you may never need your freshwater tank because you camp with full hook-up all the time, you should be prepared to use it. This means sanitizing it and occasionally putting water in it and exercising the water pump. It’s one of those things that when you need it, you don’t want to be without it. Indeed, you may find yourself with full hook-up and the water gets shut off for some reason. It has happened to us! Or worse, you may find yourself boondocking unexpectedly. Be a Scout and be prepared.

Aug 19, 2019 – Wait, we’re not finished with Wisconsin yet!

A view from our roof of Harrington Beach State Park’s campground. Lake Michigan is a short 1/2 mile walk behind this scene.

Somewhere in our travel research, I read that Harrington Beach State Park is one of the best state parks in the state of Wisconsin being located on Lake Michigan. I figured after spending a week photographing Lake Michigan from Door County, it couldn’t hurt to spend a few more days doing the same from another vantage point.

Up the road from our campsite.

Ironically, while staying 3 nights at Harrington, I spent the least amount of time on the shores of the great lake; instead there was much more to this park. Good thing because the lake’s water levels are so high, there was no beach! Enjoy the photos from this beautiful and historical park.

Forested trails lead you a short distance to Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan shoreline at the park. There is a beach area, but as you can see water levels are high and the beach is submerged.
From the 1890s until 1925, a dolomite quarry (now called Quarry Lake) operated in what is now Harrington Beach State Park. Here, you can see tracks laid out in the water for the mule-driven carts. Below, enjoy a slide show of the state park.

There was another draw to staying at Harrington Beach and that was to visit yet another post-industrial city, Milwaukee. Yes, the city that has or had the following distinct and I might add, diverse characteristics:

  • the German Athens of America
  • the largest Polish settlement in the U.S.
  • the distinction with New York City of having the largest percentage of immigrant residents in the U.S.
  • the major city in which for years the Socialist Party of America earned the highest votes
  • a street named after Al Capone because he owned a home in a Milwaukee suburb
  • avoided the severe declines that other rust belt cities could not because of its large immigrant population and historic neighborhoods
  • nicknames “the cream city” because of the prominent cream-colored brick used to build many buildings
  • once the home of the world’s largest beer breweries (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller) and number one beer producing city in the world
  • home to America’s Black Holocaust museum
  • home to Laverne and Shirley
The historic Third Ward was once a flat swampy area. Drained, it was soon populated with primarily Irish immigrant homes along with factories & warehouses. It was known as “Bloody Third” for its frequent fistfights.
The headless mural created by German artist Andres Von Chrzanowski. According to the artist, the mural pays homage to women who dyed hosiery in this building for the Phoenix Hosiery Company. As you can imagine, the headless part of the mural has conjured much controversy.
We passed a lot of art sculpture on our downtown walking tour.
Milwaukee’s Riverwalk.

With only a short time for a visit, we came to admire some of the historic architecture of Downtown Milwaukee, added steps to the FitBit while enjoying the Riverwalk, stood in awe inside the iconic Milwaukee Museum of Art and ate an authentic Mexican lunch in the Historic Third Ward. We didn’t experience enough of this city but enjoy these photos from what we can share with you. Also, to get a slightly different perspective of the city, check out our friends’ Spencer and Lorraine Saint’s travel blog about their visit to Milwaukee.

I think the best part of our visit was the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Without going through the museum, we enjoyed being inside the Quadracci Pavilion (shown here), designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Below is a slideshow of the inside of the building, specifically the Windhover reception hall.
A pedestrian suspension bridge connects the art museum to downtown Milwaukee.
From across the bridge, the iconic “moving masterpiece” Burke Brise Soleil can be seen atop Windhover Hall. An architectural and engineering accomplishment, the wings span 217 feet and opens and closes at specific times of the day. Ultrasonic sensors detect wind speed and when winds reach 23 mph for 3 sec, the wings automatically close. You can read about the science behind its creation here.
We also enjoyed viewing the architecture in the down town area. This one was built between 1902-04 out of Indiana limestone and represents a Beaux Arts style. As with several other buildings in the area, is ornamented with fluted columns, carved stone grotesques and bronze grill work. The slideshow below provides more images.

RV Tips and Issues

We have learned the hard way to research campsites before we reserve one. That is, we spend a good amount of time studying Google satellite images. And it isn’t just that anymore, now we use the measurement tool in Google Earth to evaluate campground road and campsite widths. If we are lucky, we can get a street view of the campground as well. And sometimes, we find someone’s video of campsites at specific campgrounds. All of this information available to us has made our life easier and has helped us avoid further problems. We are convinced that some of our previous campsites (because we didn’t know any better) were the reason for having serious suspension issues (more on that later). My advice is if you have a moderate-sized trailer, class A motorhome or a fifth wheel is the following:

  • Know the full length of your rig (this includes tow vehicle connected to trailer or fifth wheel). Ours is 49.5 feet (truck connected to fifth wheel). Therefore, we DO NOT reserve campsites that are shorter than 50 ft.
  • For back-ins, look for campsites that are on a straight-away and not on a curved portion of the campground road. Look at the first image at the top and notice the curved road. Vivian got in with no great problems, but the curve made it more difficult. Thankfully, there was no obstacle on the other side of the road.
  • With satellite views, look for objects that will interfere with backing in. This is where knowing the width of the campground road comes in handy.
  • When in doubt about a campground, search YouTube videos, you might get lucky and find images of the campground. Check out this YouTube channel titled Campsite Photos.

Aug 12, 2019 – At Death’s Door

The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to return soup at a deli.”

Balancing the tripod and camera on my shoulder, I carefully climbed along Lake Michigan’s steep and rugged shoreline searching for a rock ledge flat and wide enough to set up for a sunrise over the great lake. A continual onslaught of powerful waves violently crashed against the vertical expanse of rock several feet below me. Frequently, the water impact resulted in a tall fountain of spray that kept the rock surface wet where I knelt behind the tripod. As soon as I set up to shoot, kinetic energy released from a rogue wave brought a torrential splash over the ledge. My reflexes worked well to move the camera back fast enough to avoid drenching the electronics. This was the lake I wanted to photograph more than anything and it was not making it easy.

Tripod legs extended well below the comforts of my ledge.
Another day at the beach in Door County.

The day before, we drove over 300 miles from the northwest corner of Illinois to Baileys Grove Campground in Baileys Harbor, Door County. Door County comprises the upper region of Green Bay Peninsula that is surrounded by Green Bay on the west side and Lake Michigan on the east side. One year prior, we stayed in Michigan where I photographed from its eastern shoreline. This time on the Wisconsin side, if I could throw a rock far enough across the lake, it would have landed in almost the same spot where I photographed a year ago from a sandy beach.

These trees survive brutal conditions along Lake Michigan’s rocky ledges. Horizontal roots for strength, perhaps?

Much of Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline within the state of Michigan is characterized by miles of gentle sand dunes that are created by the prevailing westerly winds. In stark contrast, Wisconsin’s western shoreline is characterized by tall rocky bluffs and rugged cliffs. It is the western portion of the Niagara Escarpment which is most prominent in Green Bay Peninsula. The escarpment rises from the shores of Lake Michigan and drops sharply into Green Bay. On a ledge, the peninsula benefits from the constant air movement from the surrounding waters which helps maintain moderate temperatures in the summer. Indeed, during our week-long stay in August, we enjoyed temperatures that never fell out of the 60 to 75 degree range. The warmer air also provides a longer growing season, perfect for the vineyards and vegetable farms, which we also enjoyed.

A wedding photographer prepares for work in Ephraim overlooking the harbor on Green Bay.

The challenging Lake Michigan shoreline cannot be described without mentioning how Door County got its name. Directly above the top of Door County lays Washington Island. Separating the island from the peninsula is a mere 7 miles of important navigational passage that connects Lake Michigan to Green Bay. Appropriately referred to as “Death’s Door”, it is littered with shipwrecks. In 1881, the dangers of this formidable, yet important shipping route led to the construction of a by-pass canal that cuts through the peninsula about 40 miles south of the point.

Ephraim Moravian Church, on the National Registry of Historic Places continues to hold service.

Door County has a rich Native American and European/French Canadian settlers’ history, but what caught our attention (thanks to the Ephraim Historical Foundation) was the charming bayside community of Ephraim. A few weeks earlier, we were introduced to the intriguing history of Moravian immigrants that settled in Winston-Salem, NC. While the southern community originated from Germany, Ephraim was founded in 1853 by a group of Norwegian Moravians led by the Reverend Andreas Iverson. On the shores of Green Bay, Ephraim soon became a busy shipping point as well as a tourist attraction. By the end of the 1800s, Ephraim’s main source of income was through tourism as hotels and businesses as well as the sale of summer homes attracted summer vacationers.

The Goodletson cabin stands along side the Prairie Schoolhouse.
The Goodletson’s kitchen.
Common sense taught at the Pioneer Schoolhouse.
Photobombing Kjesten and Thomas Goodletson with rabbit ears.

The Ephraim Historical Foundation has a wonderful walking tour of museums that can be visited within a day. It includes The Iverson House (the oldest framed house in Door County) and the Goodletson cabin which has an interesting history. The Goodletson home was built on Eagle (Now Horseshoe) Island in 1855 but in 1860, the family decided to move to Ephraim. Life was much more difficult back then compared to now, and consequently, people must have put a fair amount of time and energy into figuring out how to make life easier and affordable. Which got me asking the question, if you were living on an island and wanted to move to the mainland several miles away, which would be the most viable solution – wait until winter and drag the cabin across the ice or sail over to the mainland during summer and build a new cabin? Be it for the cost or the work involved in cabin building, the Goodletson family figured out that dragging their home across ice was the best solution. After setting it up in Ephraim, it remained in place for over a hundred years. Now, the original cabin can be visited on Moravia Street, next to the Pioneer Schoolhouse Museum.

The Ephraim Moravian Church welcomes everyone with open arms, according to Rev. Dawn E. Volpe, whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our visit inside the church.

When visiting a new place, some things must be experienced and quite often that experience involves food. Vivian and I tend to reserve our measly restaurant budget for exceptional places that represent a location’s unique culture. This time, it was the infamous Fish Boil which is much more than a meal – it is a show. Locals warned us to plan ahead and make our reservations several days in advance, so we reserved a spot at the White Gull Inn five days prior.

Yes, but you better have reservations!
Patiently awaiting the fish to boil.
The fish boil finale. To really appreciate this, you have to see the video.

We can thank the Scandinavian immigrants for fish boil. Back in the day, it was an economical way to feed large groups of fishermen and lumberjack. Today, the fish boil is more than just a meal, it’s a spectacle. You are asked to arrive 30 minutes prior to being served so that you can experience the show of cooking the meal. It goes something like this. You and about 30 others stand around a large black kettle hanging over a fire behind the restaurant waiting for the water to boil. As soon as the water begins to boil, the fish boiler lowers wire baskets filled with potatoes into the water. Shortly after that, small cuts of whitefish are added. The only seasoning is salt and for every 3 gallons of water, there is a pound of salt in the boiling water. After about 10 minutes, the oils boil to the top. At that moment, the short-lived spectacle begins as the fish boiler pours kerosene onto the fire. With huge flames engulfing the kettle, water quickly boils over leaving behind the salted and cooked potatoes and fish. The fish chunks remain firm and believe it or not, they are tasty. It’s an all-you-can-eat meal topped with homemade cherry pie. Classic Door County cuisine.

Ready for cherry pie!

Aside from the fish boil, small town charm, farmers markets and history museums, Door County has a variety of wilderness areas to explore – coastal wetlands, forests, meadows and rock ridges. Consequently, we filled our time with hiking and kayaking. Although the temperatures were ideal for outdoor activities, unusual northeasterly winds made the original idea of kayaking along the cliffs of Lake Michigan less appealing. Instead, we opted to take our inflatable kayak up to the Mink River, protected waters off Rowley Bay. A calm and casual day of paddling through a marshy area made us feel like we were back in Florida. Only a few hours earlier, I was standing on a precarious rock ledge trying to protect myself from the cold wet spray of great lake water. Tomorrow, we would hike through maple and birch forests in search of wild turkeys and a lone white pine. Door County packs it all in during the summer months.

Vivian getting our inflatable ready for a paddle on Mink River.
Are we in Florida? Marshes intermingle with rocky coastlines in Door County.

As with the driftless area of Iowa, we did not want to leave Door County. As time goes on, we look back on the places we have visited and a few of them, like Door County have left deep impressions on us. I will always remember Door County for the peacefulness we experienced through its charming coastal towns, small farms, lack of noise (no trains!), lack of traffic (driving miles on a back road without seeing another vehicle), and near perfect weather conditions. In our short time, Door County was on its best behavior.

A cave found along a rocky trail in Peninsula State Park.

On the final morning of our visit, I walked back to the Cave Point parking lot after two hours of negotiating water spray and rocky ledges to photograph Door County’s “most iconic natural landscape” one last time. For the past week, it was only during my photo shoots at Cave Point that I felt the discomforts of cold wetness that reminded me of the harsh winters that come soon after the fair-weather tourists leave. I wondered if we would ever see this place in the winter. On second thought, I prefer my current impression of Door County to last a very long time.

Lake Michigan was calm that morning.

RV Traveling Issues and Tips

Specific to Wisconsin, prepare to pay for a yearly state park pass. We made reservations at Harrington Beach State Park near Milwaukee and paid for it online. Upon arrival, we learned that out-of-state visitors must pay a daily park fee of $11 ($44 for our 4-day camping stay). So, we opted to buy the yearly pass with the intention of staying at another state park. The take-home message here is, research each state and budget accordingly, and not only for camping at state parks but for day visits as well.

We enjoyed hiking on the many trails in Peninsula State Park located on Green Bay Peninsula.

August 9, 2019 – Driftless in Iowa

The view from Mississippi Palisades State Park on the Illinois side. As you look over the expanse of river, the trains sounds interrupt the silence frequently, a continuous reminder that the Mississippi River is a dutiful servant to commerce.

We drove north on Illinois’ scenic state road 84 along the eastern edge of the upper Mississippi River where we arrived at our home base for four days, Mississippi Palisades State Park. It was our introduction to the driftless area. When I think of the Mississippi River, I have visions of low country deltas. The area here is nothing like that with its rock cliffs standing 1000 feet above the river. When I did learn about the driftless area, it became clear that the upper Mississippi River is a completely different one from its southern counterpart.

Mississippi Palisades State Park is the largest one I have ever been in. Sites were spread out far and wide, for both RVs and tents. Our remote site was a short walk to a trailhead but a very long walk to a trash can or bathrooms.
Another view of the Mississippi River, this time from the Iowan side from a lookout point in Pikes Peak State Park. Minutes earlier, everything you see here was totally shrouded in fog (photo below), with the sun barely peeking through.
On the lookout point that overlooks the Mississippi River. From Pikes Peak State Park.

The driftless area is a geologically unique territory represented by Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota and if not for Vivian’s fly fishing research, we would never have known it exists. How the driftless came to be has to do with the absence of glaciers. Glaciers are known to flatten things and when they retreat, they leave behind drift (clay, gravel, silt). Because this area escaped the leveling effects of glaciers during the last ice age, its landscape is characterized by ridges, deep river valleys, spring-fed waterfalls, caves and cold-water trout streams. Without drift. This unassumingly beautiful area is like a combination of Florida and New England. It is similar to Florida because of its karst geology comprised of soluble rock (i.e., limestone) and for its underground drainage system of sinkholes and caves. But the large cliffs, ravines and forested areas are more akin to New England. There are very few lakes in these parts, but the upper Mississippi River passes right through it. And it is fly fishing’s best kept secret.

Downtown Galena, where much of its historic district can be seen.
Operating since 1937.
The Galena History Museum is well worth the time (about an hour). Here, you’ll learn much about Ulysses S Grant (and will see a pair of his military boots on display) who lived in Galena for several years. You’ll also see this card describing Susan B Anthony’s two visits to Galena. Have times changed?

Even better, the driftless contains one of the top ten charming small towns in America, according to TripAdvisor. What’s not to love when you put charm and small town together? Consequently, we spent a day walking the downtown streets of historic Galena. The town is named for the main ore in lead which formed the basis of the region’s early mining economy. Although native Americans had been mining this area for over a thousand years, European settlers turned it into the first major mineral rush in America. By 1828, Galena was the largest city in Illinois. By the beginning of the 21st century, lead demand had declined dramatically, and Galena became a rural farming community. Later, Galena was listed on the National Register of Historic Places with 85% of its structures within the historic district.

A sweeping view of the driftless landscape, seen from Horseshoe Mound Preserve, just before you drive into Galena.

We left the eastern banks of the Mississippi to go north, but a couple weeks later came back down to the driftless, this time to a small town in northeast Iowa. If Galena is the flamboyant city-wannabe country girl, Elkader is Galena’s hardworking but quirky never-leave-the-farm sister.

Our Elkader home, at Deer Run RV Resort. What a view!
We passed this grain mill every day when we walked to downtown Elkader.

Elkader is unassuming in all its qualities (except for the gigantic grain mill that hovers over the downtown area) and full of delightful surprises. I so enjoyed walking the empty streets of the tiny town one early Saturday morning as the sun rose above the hills overlooking main street. While walking down the main street sidewalks, the smell of baking bread from Pedretti’s bakery, the one-room city hall building, the movie theatre, the lack of traffic and other reminders of smalltown life made me want to live there. Our home on wheels was parked less than one mile away, so in reality we were living there.

Saturday morning on main street in Elkader.
The historic Keystone Bridge that crosses Turkey River. “The longest, double arch, stone bridge west of the Mississippi”, constructed in 1889.
Hard at work in Pedretti’s bakery on main street.
Elkader was named after Abd el-Kader, an Algerian hero who led his people in a resistance to French colonialism. Schera’s, an authentic Algerian restaurant is owned by a native Iowan of French-Algerian descent. The restaurant has been featured on NPR and the BBC.
What more is needed than one room for Elkader’s city hall, adjacent to the Opera House.
Main street in the evening after leaving Deb’s Brewtopia.
8 pm and its 69 degrees. The daily temperatures were pleasant and evenings were perfectly coolish.

During our 10 days at the Deer Run RV Resort on the outskirts of town, we experienced Elkader’s wonderfulness; pumping then paying at the gas station, buying fresh eggs, vegetables and homemade pastries from local women, tasting various brews at Deb’s Brewtopia where Deb grows her own hops in the backyard, crossing the historic Keystone bridge many times, perusing the 3-story Turkey River Mall antique store, and enjoying a pleasant dinner at Elkader’s only gay-owned Algerian restaurant, Schera’s. All this while a river runs through it.

Why we came, to fish and photograph.

We took in the town of Elkader as often as we could, but only in between our driftless area explorations, which was why we were there in the first place. Vivian researched the numerous trout streams and had her heart set on practicing her new flyfishing skills in as many of them as possible. I tagged along looking to photograph the uniqueness of the driftless area. When we explain to people that we spent time in Iowa (and not just to drive through it!) while enjoying every minute of it, they were perplexed. We tell them, the driftless area of Iowa is very different from the rest of the state. And it has some impressive places to see, such as Pikes Peak State Park where the bluffs reach their maximum height of over 1000 feet or the unique Effigy Mounds. Rolling farmland goes on for miles, interrupted by country roads with minimal traffic and farms with barns and silos. The tariffs were in full force when we were there, so we talked about that with the campground owner, Doris. The locals, mostly farmers seem to take it all in stride; the recent floods, the current drought, lack of sales to China, and so on. What else can you do?

This particular area is referred to as Bloody Run, not sure why and not sure I want to know. It turned out to be the most picturesque of all the streams we visited.
Water levels were very low.
Rocky ledges run along much of the creeks we visited.

Almost every day, we got out before first light and drove to a remote trout stream where Vivian could fish. Water levels were extremely low, which seemed strange given the severe flooding four months earlier. The waterfall at Pikes Peak was nothing more than a trickle. But I photographed water whenever I could. The enchanting farmland kept calling me and I really wanted to capture it under the right conditions.

What a fantastic morning on the lookout point.

On the last morning of our stay, I sat inside the RV drinking coffee with darkness outside. I rolled the window shade up and peered out. Through the darkness, I could see heavy fog. Opportunity finally arrived. I quickly gathered up the camera and equipment, got dressed and drove off into the dark abyss to a lookout point I had discovered earlier. Conveniently, it was only 2 miles away, so that by the time I arrived the sun had yet to peer over the horizon.

I could not get enough of this scene.

What a glorious site that unfolded before me. For miles, I could see green undulating hills veiled in long folds of fog waving across the land like flowing scarves. The sky awakened in color as the sun appeared and the illuminated fog kept a fluidity that created an ever-changing view. Facing the sun, I worked the scene only to get more excited when I turned around and saw an equally beautiful front lit view. For well over an hour, I ran back and forth between my designated spots and captured the morning as it brightened the sweeping farmland. I got what I came for and not a day too soon.

I dreamed of capturing a scene like this one, finally it came true.

We left Iowa on Labor Day to head south with anticipation for what was to come. As is always the case when RV traveling, some places try to pull us back as we leave them for the next adventure that pulls us forward even stronger. But that is the beauty of RV life, we can come back.

Steps leading up to one of the caves we discovered hiking around the driftless. As I got closer to the opening, the air temperature dropped by at least 15-degree.
Bridal Veil Falls at Pike Peak State Park was only a trickle in late August. But it was a beautiful trail leading to it.

RV Traveling Issues and Tips

We pull a fifth wheel, therefore we drive a big diesel truck which requires maintenance now and then. If you are traveling extensively, you must plan for some maintenance. In our case, the F350 Ford needs an oil change every 5000 miles or so, filters need replacing, tires need rotating, etc. We keep a record of these things and can anticipate when and where we will need to visit a Ford dealer. Fortunately, Ford dealers are just about everywhere. The point it, when planning your trip, account for the maintenance schedule and be sure you have access to service wherever you plan to be. Not only that, consider that you will probably have to devote at least a half day to get these things done.

Jul 18, 2019 – Post-Industrial Tourists

Our 183-mile route from Gettysburg to Keystone State Park.
Our 109-mile route from Keystone State Park to Mill Creek Army Corp campground on Berlin Lake, Ohio.

Following Gettysburg, we headed west into the heart of America’s rust belt. And of all the places we could see, we wanted to visit Pittsburgh and Cleveland. As we planned our trip, we told many people this fact and their curt response, “Why?” along with their looks of dismay are still burned into my conscious. Visiting Cleveland was excusable – but Pittsburgh? As we drove west on I-76, certainly there must have been more to see than these two cities made from steel and oil.

Once a retreat for the Kauffman family of Pittsburgh, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwaters was the perfect diversion from the city.

I suppose I could focus on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater where we spent a morning after a short drive from our campground. I could talk about the history we learned about Wright’s most famous and arguably his most beautiful piece of work within an exquisite wilderness area. I could also talk about Ohio’s only National Park, Cuyahoga Valley that is adjacent to Cleveland. We spent a morning exploring its grand waterfalls and walking through lovely marshes. I could talk about the peaceful lakeside campsites that we enjoyed coming home to each afternoon. Instead, let me take you on a post-industrial tour.

Three Rivers Park in Pittsburgh from which you have a full view of the great rivers.

Pittsburgh is a river city having been built at the confluence of not two, but three rivers – Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. Consequently, it became an industrial city following the American Revolution. And it was the starting point of the Lewis and Clark expedition which was one of the draws for us. Later, it became a major steel producing city, accounting for almost half of the national steel output in the early 1900s. Production sky rocketed during WWII and as a result, Pittsburgh suffered the highest levels of air pollution after almost 100 years of industry, described once as “hell with the lid off”.

Across the Allegheny is the Andy Warhol Bridge. Not far down is the Rachel Carson Bridge. On the other side is the Andy Warhol Museum and the PNC Park stadium. You could easily spend a couple days in Pittsburgh and never get bored.

Finally, Pittsburgh initiated a “Renaissance” to help clean up its air and rivers. By the 1980s, the steel and electronic industries crumbled with massive layoffs from mill and plant closures. Later, the economic base, like in so many other post-industrial cities shifted toward healthcare, technology and tourism. The success of the revitalized city and the remnants of industrial days long past were both quite evident as we walked the many downtown streets, including the bustling Market Square. We enjoy visiting cities that include art and culture as part of their draw and Pittsburgh drew us in. As with Winston-Salem that had the Hanes family, Pittsburgh has Heinz, as in ketchup. It also has Andy Warhol and Mr. Rogers. Where else can you see a bridge dedicated to America’s quirky artist near a baseball stadium, a history museum with a display dedicated to pre-school children’s favorite neighbor and a beautiful outdoor park at the point where three major rivers join.

Well worth the time to visit the History Center that is chock full of exhibits.
What more do you need in Pittsburgh?
The Heinz History Center has a wonderful tribute to Pittsburgh’s favorite son, Mr Rogers.
The 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing was celebrated with a film on the day we visited the Heinz Center.

Up next, Ohio (try to contain the excitement). I had a good reason to spend a few nights in Ohio and I have very fond memories to blame for that. One of my favorite ways to spend money as a teenager and young adult in the 70s was buying record albums. And I enjoyed looking at the album covers just as much as I enjoyed listening to the music, for which I spent thousands of hours from the time I bought my first record to the very last (mind boggling to think how productive I might have been otherwise!).

Feelings of nostalgia convinced me to visit Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and drag Vivian along with me (and now I am going to drag you along too!). She doesn’t share the same warm and fuzzy feelings I have for rock and roll, but the museum has enough for everyone, and I was certain she would enjoy parts of it. She did like being inside Johnny Cash’s old tour bus and I believe it is the only thing she remembers from our visit, probably because it had more to do with RVing than rock & rolling.

This was a bonus, a Woodstock exhibit featuring some photos by famed Woodstock photographer, Jim Marshall.
Jim Marshall’s photographs of Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, two iconic women among a sea of male-dominated music.
I want one of these dolls! I loved Patti Smith back in the day, and really liked Gilda Radner’s impression of her on SNL!
Right next to my Yes albums was Neil Young’s Harvest album.
Had to see the glove.
Johnny and June-Carter Cash’s home on the road.

My entire impression of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can be summed up as follows – it was like the experience of listening to a new album for the first time. Lots of anticipation, really digging the first and second songs and then the excitement dwindles with each subsequent song. Yep, expectations kind of went to the wayside as I worked my way through the crowded dark hallways, one exhibit after another.

The best for last, my all-time favorite artist and musician, David Bowie.

But I am glad I went. My eclectic taste in music was represented well at the Hall of Fame. It reminded me of a couple things, like how I loved looking through albums at a record store. It also reminded me of spending time perusing my 6-ft long album collection. Even better was when someone else went through my records as rock and roll was always a great conversation starter. I would eagerly wait to see which albums they pulled out and ask me if we could listen to one. Within the RR Hall of Fame, it was interesting to see some displays crowded with several people, while other displays got passed over quickly by most. But it was a nostalgic feast and besides, where else are you going to see a fan of Black Sabbath standing next to a fan of Madonna for all the same reasons.

A home with a view at Keystone State Park, our respite from the city.

Visiting cities have been a happy part of our RV travels, even if their sordid pasts include a burning polluted river. As I write this, COVID has already affected the entire world. In our little world, it caused us to make changes to our 2020 travels, including avoiding cities. As I reminiscence about Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I am so glad that we spent a little time in each as we wonder when we will visit another American city in the future.

RV Issues and Travel Tips.

Tip 1: Cost of going to the city and nearby attractions does not have to be expensive. We visited both cities for under $100 (not including cost of diesel). In Pittsburgh we visited the Heinz History Center, Fort Pitt Museum, and Market Square area. We spent a total of $23, $7 for parking, $16 for Fort Pitt. We got into Heinz for free because a nice couple standing in line with us had coupons to share. In Cleveland, we spent $72; $10 for RR Hall of Fame parking, $52 for RR Hall of Fame and $10 for parking at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Tip 2: Owning a big truck (and we don’t have a dually!) gives city parking a whole new meaning. But don’t let that keep you from visiting a city. With a little research, you can find relatively inexpensive parking lots with enough room to park. The key is to do the research, make a phone call or two, view the Google satellite image of the area, be flexible with your time and find the best route in. We chose to drive into Pittsburgh on a Saturday morning, which meant less traffic, cheaper parking and more parking spaces available. All that despite a Pirates home game later in the day. By then, we were leaving anyway. Which brings up another tip; check the schedule for hometown sporting events. Away games are a bonus, unless of course you are going there to see a game.

Jul 15, 2019 – Gettysburg

The bucolic farm scene spread out before me as I hustled to set up the camera and tripod in predawn darkness. The unfamiliar crisp air added to my thrill of being surrounded by uninhabited hallowed grounds that make this place so special. Behind me, another scene was unfolding, a brilliant pink sky illuminating a swath of light fog across the green pastures. Rustic criss-crossed fences served as the perfect foreground for the scene and there were no utility poles or lines to rudely interrupt it. This was photographic heaven to me; no people, no cars, no noise, only beautiful farmland. My only opportunity to photograph a landscape here, my mind was focused on the technical and aesthetics of creating an image worthy of Gettysburg National Military Park. I wasn’t exactly thinking about the history of my photo subject as I hit the shutter button. My primary thoughts were on creating a good composition that included the full moon before it set over the bright red barn and the brilliant pink sky before the colors and fog disappeared into daylight.

As I framed a farm scene through my camera’s viewfinder, I wasn’t thinking about the Sherfy family that were forced to give their farm to confederate soldiers who in turn made a hospital from the large barn. Nor was I thinking about the union soldiers who stormed the farm and burned everything in sight, including the barn. As I took one shot after another, I gave no thought to the Sherfy family who fled their home and then returned after the battle to rotting corpses and charred fields. It was only later in the day that I gave serious thought to the Sherfys and many other citizens of Gettysburg. Now, every farm on the national park battlefield is a replica or a monument built for the park.

Our 211-mile route to Gettysburg, along the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

Ever since leaving the low country and working our way north along the Appalachian Mountains, I had fallen in love with the rolling farm country that comprised much of our route. Gettysburg would be a special display of that idyllic countryside with its cannon replicas and numerous monuments to soldiers and their commanders. And I wanted to photograph it. But of course, our primary reasons for being here was to immerse ourselves in the history of the Civil War and enjoy our national park service at its best.

Recently coming from Fort Sumter, we were primed for Gettysburg. Our campground, Artillery Ridge was conveniently located a very short distance from the national park’s visitor center. Having only two days to take it all in, we opted for the combination bus tour and cyclorama film on one day and then the next, we attended a ranger-led tour and drove around on our own through the park. The entire park experience was intense, and we spent a lot of time listening and reading. As I learned more, I realized why Civil War reenactments are a big deal here. But it also became clearer to me why these grounds are a national park. These things cannot be forgotten and although the battle of Gettysburg took place over 150 years ago, the park brought it back to life in such a breathtaking way.

Aside from the amazing tour guide, the highlight of our trip was visiting the the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting. Created by a French painter in the 1880s, it is 377 ft in circumference and is 42 ft high.
The oil painting comes with light and sound effects to bring to life the explosions across the battlefield.
Somewhere in this painting, I swear I saw a soldier that looked like President Lincoln laying dead on the ground. I wish I could find it to point it out.

I was taken in at how such a profound and horrific event in American history could be presented in a way that satisfied both the casual tourist and the Civil War history fanatic. It’s all there, entertainment as well as in-depth history lessons and battlefield analyses. The park lays it out for us to interpret and feel on our own. I wonder if visitors, like myself who never experienced Civil War firsthand or do not have ancestors who did, leave there with a piece of humanity they did not have before. I feel I did.

I read somewhere that the Civil War was the end of ancient warfare and the beginning of modern warfare. Artillery innovation was on a steep curve during those four years and also gave the Union forces an edge over the confederates.
You can see a ranger-led tour under the tree in the background. Monuments and cannon replicas are scattered throughout the 6000-acre park. Each one comes with a story .

There I stood with tripod and camera standing on the very ground where tens of thousands of men lost their lives fighting their neighbors and where commanders made good and bad decisions that ultimately led to the defeat of the confederate rebellion. I left Gettysburg with a few good images and a deeper understanding of the Civil War, but I also came away with a sense of hope for our country that seems to be steering off course. We are in a time when cavalier mention of “starting a civil war” does not cause dismay but instead is shrugged off as the divisiveness among Americans cuts deeper each day. We all need a history lesson now more than ever.

The Virginia Monument is a bronze statue of Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveller and a group of figures representing the Artillery, Infantry, and Cavalry of the Confederate Army. The 3-day battle was a turning point and ultimately led to the defeat of Lee’s confederate forces.

RV and travel issues, concerns and tips

Issue 1: If your rig is wired for 50 AMP, opt for 50 AMP spaces even if they cost you more than a 30 AMP space. When temperatures outside rise above 90 degrees like they did when we were in Gettysburg, that 50 AMP can make all the difference in AC comfort. We reserved a 30 AMP site to save a few bucks, but immediately upgraded to 50AMP once we arrived. Well worth having when you want that AC running smoothly.

Tip 1: If you plan to visit Gettysburg, these are my recommendations. First, stay at Artillery Ridge Campground; it’s expensive but well worth it for the location. Second, I highly recommend you spend at least two full days. We had 2 days for the park and I wanted at least one more day. The ranger-led tours are numerous and well worth it to plan your days around them. Third, I also highly recommend you reserve a personal tour guide by car or a take the less expensive bus tour. We opted for the bus tour and although we were two among 50 or so people, the tour guide was outstanding. Guides are typically locals that know the Gettysburg battle inside and out. You can ask them any question and they will have an answer. And last, you MUST see the cyclorama painting, that was a highlight of our visit.

The monument to Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren stands on Little Round Top where it is believed Warren stood while surveying confederate forces below. His soldiers successfully defended the hill.

Jul 10, 2019 – A Tangled Web We Weave

July 10resized

Taking baby steps, we drove north toward the Appalachian Mountains, the barrier between the east coast plains and interior lowlands of North America where we would eventually get to. But first, we had some things to do on this side of the country. Three hundred miles west of the coast as the crow flies, we spent two nights near Winston-Salem at Tanglewood Park, our first county park camping experience.


Very nice campsite within a hundred feet or so from a biking/hiking trail.

County parks are urbanesque compared to state parks and tend to offer much more than a campground. But, we took our chances with Tanglewood and glad we did. The RV campground is a relatively small area within a 1100-acre park filled with beautiful cycling and hiking trails, a manor house, a horse stable, swimming pool, two golf courses, lakes, playgrounds, tennis courts, etc, etc. The history of Tanglewood park is even more interesting.

Horse stables at Tanglewood Park

In 1921, William Neal Reynolds (brother of tobacco’s R.J. Reynolds) and his wife Kate, purchased the Tanglewood tract and Manor House. There, the Reynolds lived until 1951 when the Tanglewood property was willed to the citizens of Forsyth County as a public recreational park. The couple wanted the county citizens to enjoy the beauty and history of their country estate – but under one condition. The generous couple added a stipulation to their will that the park be open to white people only.

Along came the Civil Rights Act in 1964. At once, the trustees who oversaw the Tanglewood estate were thrown into a modern-day predicament. In some form of compromise, the trustees closed much of the park including the Manor House, pool, theatre, motel and restaurant. A few more years past as officials attempted to find a legal solution but it was a suit filed in federal court in 1970 that forced the issue to final resolution. The court ruled that Tanglewood must be open to all races or be closed. After some complications concerning park operations, the county park was officially integrated in 1971. Now that wasn’t so difficult, was it Tanglewood?

You can easily spend a couple days within Tanglewood Park, if only to walk around and enjoy the scenery.

The history of Tanglewood probably would not have come onto our radar screen except that a week earlier during a 4th of July celebration at the park, a park visitor made the news. While relaxing at the park’s pool, she noticed something odd about the festive red, white and blue wrist bands handed out to all the park visitors. What were supposedly semblances of the American flag were instead of the confederate flag. When this was brought to the park’s attention, blame was passed on to certain park employees who unwittingly ordered the wristbands and park officials immediately got rid of them, the bands that is.

During our short visit, we spent the day in Winston-Salem, and it brought back memories. I clearly remember the iconic green and white package of Salem cigarettes because my dad smoked them right up to the day of his first heart attack. I wouldn’t have known Salem cigarette packages were green despite all the TV ads because we didn’t have a color TV back in those days. I also remember how a pack of cigarettes felt in my small child’s hand because dad would occasionally give me a dollar and send me to the corner drug store to buy his cigarettes. And if it weren’t for my family history, I would not have known that Winston-Salem was once the tobacco industry capital of the world. It’s also the home of Krispy Kreme, by the way.


Cigarettes and donuts, the breakfast of champions.

Not to put heart disease in the forefront, but what is left of the tobacco industry is barely noticeable in the charming city of Winston-Salem. The twin city is called by some as the “City of the Arts and Innovation”. What’s not to like about the second most livable downtowns in America according to the Wall Street Journal? By the 1940s, 60% of Winston-Salem working folks worked for either Reynolds or the Hanes textile factories. And here’s an interesting cigarette fact, despite being 200 miles from the ocean, Winston-Salem was once designated by the U.S. government as an official port of entry for the U.S. because it imported so much French cigarette paper and Turkish tobacco for Camel cigarettes. Now, the largest employer in the twin city is Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Once again, times have changed – tobacco has been replaced by biomedical research.

Old Salem buildings as they looked two hundred years ago. Unmarried men and women lived in separate quarters; the building on the right was the home for single men.

We spent most of our day at Old Salem, which I knew nothing about until then. And I knew nothing about the Moravians. Old Salem is a historic district in Winston-Salem and originally founded by the Moravian community in 1753. It is now a living history museum that provides an interpretative tour of a Moravian lifestyle. During the early 1400s, Catholicism was firmly established in Europe. In Moravia, a small group of Germans began following the teachings of a local priest, John Hus who believed that the bible should be interpreted by the individual and not be reliant on the interpretation of the clergy. This went against the traditional Catholic Church, so they burned him at the stake for heresy in 1415.

Old meets new with the Wells Fargo building overlooking Old Salem.

Hus’s followers, the Moravians were forced to stop their religious services; but in secret many continued the practice. Eventually, the Moravians who had turned to the Protestant reformation, resurfaced in the Czech Republic. There, Count Zinzendorf was so taken in by the Moravian’s spiritual expression and acceptance to all who wished to join their faith, that he granted them land to build a village where they could practice their faith freely. From there, they thrived and grew, and embarked on missions throughout the world.

The original Winkler bakery is a working bakery where you can buy fresh bread made daily.

Women’s work is never done.

Converts were attracted to the emotional religious services and the orderly and close-knit community life of the Moravians. Moravians, contrary to traditional religions, believed women and men were spiritually equal and women were full participants in religious services. Women could be spiritual leaders, alongside their male counterparts. In 1735, the first Moravian missionaries arrived in the New World, specifically Savannah, Georgia. Later, more successful colonies grew in Pennsylvania (Bethlehem for example) and later in North Carolina, now known as Old Salem. Unbeknownst to us, this would not be our last encounter with Moravians on this trip.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love”. A Moravian Motto

The English-style mansion serves as the entrance to the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem.

Added gallery space connects with the Hanes mansion.

I’d like to mention something about the Hanes family that also comes out of Winston-Salem because I grew quite fond of them after visiting SECCA, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem. SECCA has been around since 1956 as a non-profit visual arts organization. In 1972, James G. Hanes willed his 32-acre estate and English Hunt-Style mansion to the gallery. The mansion was renovated and a 8896-sq-ft gallery was added to it, followed later by a 24,500 sq-ft addition in 1990. A small donation gets you into the gallery where you can enjoy cutting edge and contemporary art exhibits dedicated to southeastern artists. A portion of the Hanes mansion is also on exhibit and the exquisite taste of its owners in full display. SECCA is one of Winston-Salem’s jewels, and we have an underwear magnate to thank for that.

Gilded wood paneling covers the walls of the sitting room of the Hanes mansion, where Mrs. Hanes looks over.

The entrance way from the gallery to the mansion.

Historical meets contemporary art, where the original walls of the Hanes mansion remain intact in the entrance of the gallery.

Our stay near Winston-Salem was a short one, but so glad we took the time to visit. Now, we have some climbing to do, before passing over into the vast lowlands of North America.

RV and travel issues and concerns

You can easily see how the rear jacks compensate for the decline.

Issue 1: Unlevel sites. When RV traveling, parking on unlevel sites are inevitable. At Tanglewood, the site was flat and paved, but inclined significantly. We’ve had a few occasions where our auto level system resulted in a wheel coming off the ground. We figured out how to finesse the landing jacks to avoid this from happening, but it took a few trials and errors. You simply have to know that you will encounter unlevel sits and  prepare to deal with it. We have several leveling blocks that are quite easy to drive the wheels up onto. Despite the leveling system telling me we are perfectly level, I always check with my own level and tweak the system if needed.

Jul 6, 2019 – Fightin’ for our Rats

Feeling relieved to have survived the 120-mile drive on I-95, we happily pulled into Santee State Park’s spacious Cypress View Campground. We backed in easily to our site that appeared to be the only empty one in the middle of a holiday weekend. The next day, we visited Fort Sumter and Charleston and came back to an empty campground. For the most part, it stayed that way until we packed up and left four days later. We basically had the entire back forty to ourselves while camped at Santee.

Fulltimers look forward to Sunday afternoons in the state parks.

After our day trip to the coast, we spent the remainder of our time within the state park. Vivian would finally do some fishing from the inflatable kayak on Lake Marion two mornings in a row. Meanwhile, I explored the large wooded state park by bike. I loved every minute of it, except for that one time when I dropped my wallet in front of the RV door and didn’t notice it was missing until I was 10 miles into my bike ride. I raced back to the campsite, not knowing where the wallet had dropped but suspected it was near the RV. And there it was, in clear view next to the stairs where it had laid for an hour.

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Exploring the park with my camera on an overcast day yielded a nice forest scene.

Meanwhile, my wallet lay all by its lonesome.

Santee State Park is adjacent to Lake Marion, the largest body of water in South Carolina and the result of the largest earth moving project in U.S. history. It is essentially a reservoir along with Lake Moultrie created by the damming of the Santee River in the 1940s. Lakes Marion and Moultrie are separated by a canal and together have 450 miles of shoreline. This, like so many other reservoirs were made to supply hydroelectricity to rural areas of the south as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. And as with many of the other reservoirs, its creation came at a cost. As the largest earth moving project, 160,000 acres of pine forests and swamp were flooded. Submerged in Lake Marion is the town of Ferguson and curious folks in kayaks can find some of the remains of the watery ghost town. One of the interesting views of Lakes Marion are several cypress trees standing in the water. Apparently, the creation of the reservoir was a rush job (we had just entered WWII) and they flooded the area before many of the trees could be cleared.

Vivian in the kayak

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Her first bass of the trip!

Camping at Santee allowed us the opportunity to continue our intensive history lesson of the Civil War by visiting Fort Sumter near Charleston which proved to be a turning point for me in my Civil War lessons. Fort Sumter is one of many sea harbor forts built along the Atlantic coast as a defense against attacks on important seaports, such as Charleston.

Fort Sumter as seen from the ferry


On April 10, 1861, confederate forces in Charleston demanded Fort Sumter to surrender knowing that a resupply ship was on its way from the north. The commander, Maj Robert Anderson refused. On April 12, confederates opened fire with cannons. The next day, Anderson surrendered. The Civil War began and the first death from the war was recorded.

Ferry to Fort Sumter

On our way to the fort

As I walked through the fort’s museum and studied each display, it seemed that all the complicated history of the war and the reasons why it happened finally boiled down to one raw fact; cotton was king. Wealthy southern landowners needed slaves to maintain their large cotton plantations, northern banks were woven into the cotton economy and New England textile mills relied heavily on it. Cotton, along with tobacco and sugar was a worldwide luxury commodity and between 1803 and 1937 it was America’s leading export, much of it going to Britain whose textile industry accounted for 40% of its exports. In short, the economics of cotton ruled the land.

Fort Sumter view of the Charleston Harbor.

Trans-Atlantic slave trade (the middle passage) ended in 1808 but only after nearly 400,000 Africans were transported directly to the U.S. Charleston was known as the slave trade capital, accounting for almost half of the number of people that came into this country. But there was also a second middle passage which involved far more black people and that was the internal or domestic slave trade that peaked from 1830 to 1860 when cotton was king. Of the 3.2 million slaves working in the 15 slave states in 1850, 1.8 million worked in cotton.

This 10 x 20-ft flag flew over Fort Sumter during the confederate siege. Union soldiers saved the flag and after the surrender, the confederates allowed Maj Anderson to take it with him for safe keeping. It went to New York City where it was displayed at a patriotic demonstration on Union Square. After the war, it was kept in the Anderson family until 1905 and then eventually given to the national park.

Cotton’s value was considerably lower than that of slaves. Slaves were three times more valuable than livestock and twelve times more that of the entire U.S. cotton crop. While the price of cotton and land declined, the price of slaves increased. And we can thank the cotton gin for that by increasing slave productivity tremendously, which led to higher profits and increased demand for slaves. On the eve of the Civil War, there were over 4 million slaves in the United States, owned by a relatively small portion of the southern population. Slave-labor cotton was so profitable it took a civil war and over 600,000 lives to end it.

The American flag flies proudly at Fort Sumter, under the watchful eye of a park ranger.

By the 1830s, abolitionists were becoming more influential. And when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, it started a wave of anti-slavery sentiment. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe, he said to her “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” And the abolitionists had their martyr in John Brown after he was tried and hung for treason following his attempted raid on Harper’s Ferry. Not only that, immigrants mostly from Germany and Ireland during the potato famine of 1840s and 1850s became an available pool of low wage laborers, decreasing the need for slavery. One by one, northern states began to abolish slavery. Finally, the creation of the Republican party in the 1850s and subsequent election of its first presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, got the ball rolling in the right direction, except there was a powerful resistance and it all began in South Carolina.

We’ve learned so much from our national park service.

What began at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 and ended at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865 was the tragic result of a clash between a slave-dependent economy and the very fact that slavery is wrong. It is befuddling to think of how so many poor men, simple farmers and laborers joined a confederate force to fight their neighbors when the reality was that the secession attempt was about maintaining slave-dependent wealth. Somewhere in there, people were riled up into believing that the federal government was going to swoop down and steal all their rights. While abolition was moving the country in the right direction morally, it would be at the expense of a very powerful institution and the wealth it brought to many white people. In short, the federal government was taking away the right to own human beings as laborers for personal gain. In Michael Shaara’s partially fictional book about the battle of Gettysburg “The Killer Angels”, he describes a scene where a union soldier asks some confederate prisoners why they are fighting. When they answered, “We’re fightin’ for our rights”, the union soldier confused the word ‘rights’ for ‘rats’ and was even more confused to learn the confederates were not fighting for slavery.

As cliché as it may sound, we have put our home on the road and have gone to look for America. And it is this leg of our trip that we have become so immersed in the Civil War, that it seems every day we think about it and try to wrap our minds around this country’s great tragedy. How could this have happened? After so many lessons learned on this trip, it remains incomprehensible.

Oh, and we did stop to see the Angel Oak.

During our stay at Santee State Park, we welcomed temperatures below 80 degrees during these final days of our low country tour of the southern states. Soon, we would begin making our climb into the Appalachian Mountains and maybe, just maybe feel a cooler breeze. But first, we had more southern hospitality to enjoy.

Cypress trees in Lake Marion. Those are cypress ‘knees’ in the foreground. Their purpose is not known, but they likely have several purposes including aeration and support.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: Laundromats or lack thereof. Our laundry duties come once a week. So far on this trip, we have stayed at campgrounds that offer nice laundry facilities – that is until now. Vivian who is usually the one in charge of laundry will do a Google search and read the reviews of local laundromats. There was only one laundromat in the nearby “town” of Santee and it got horrible reviews. And now we know why, the laundromat had seen better days decades ago. While waiting for the wash and dry cycles, we stayed on guard unnecessarily because every person doing their laundry looked completely exhausted and defeated, so safety was not threatened in the least bit. After that, not a day goes by that Vivian does not lament the fact our 32-ft RV cannot accommodate washer & dryer, and dreams of one day upgrading to one that can.

That little flow meter has come in handy.

Issue 2: We bought a flow meter to attach to our water hose so we could evaluate how well we conserve water. We learned while at Santee that we could get it down to about 12 gallons per day, including both of us showering each day. This knowledge will come in handy when we find ourselves in a campground without water or sewer hook-up, and that day is coming.