Our travels that began in 2018 are about discovery and learning. And the thing we discovered quickly is you can count on the unexpected. We also learned that we can prepare for those unexpected events, but more importantly, we learned to keep all challenges in perspective. During our first year of RV travel, we met a woman at a campground whose husband had fallen seriously ill with a heart condition the previous year. He became sick on the road days after starting their full time RV lifestyle. They got as far as northern Florida and that is where we met her, at a campground close enough to where her husband could receive medical treatment. That was 2018.
By the time Vivian broke her ankle in northern Arkansas, we had been traveling for three months during the summer of 2019, our second year on the road. A few weeks after her break, we were back in northern Florida and as Vivian was out of commission, I had laundry duty. Which brought me to a campground laundry room where I met a man whose wife was physically debilitated. They too were fulltime RV traveling and had to stop in their tracks due to her sudden illness. Their last stop was now their permanent home.
Three’s a charm. So there we were at the end of our 2019 travels with a broken ankle and a broken hanger bracket (in case you don’t know, hanger brackets hold up the RV’s suspension) – what more can we pile on that? While we did manage to get a new hanger bracket welded onto the RV at our campsite, the job performed seemed dubious. Meanwhile, we had a slideout issue that needed to be addressed in a big way. We drove gingerly back to Chokoloskee for the winter and awaited the next year for major repairs in Indiana.
Vivian recovered fully from her accident, so we came into 2020 ready to rumble. Prior to that, we had barely crossed the Mississippi River, so our plans for our third year included lots of western states and the Continental Divide. But then, along came COVID and that changed our travel itinerary drastically. And we had a slideout and suspension repair scheduled, which caused us to begin our travels by heading up to Indiana as carefully as possible.
The repairs went well and our travels to the Great Plains commenced. A nail in the truck tire at a KOA campground in Topeka, Kansas was the rudest interruption to our travel itinerary (other than “closed to covid” signs). Our travels through the Great Plains was to end in the south, beginning with Arkansas, but that all changed.
2021 was to be an epic travel year out west and would be our longest stint on the road. So much more defines that trip beyond the amazing places we visited – some good, some bad. We lost loved ones that year. This resulted in Vivian’s sister unexpectedly traveling two months with us out west. It was her dream to see the national parks and the mountains, but it came with the loss of her husband. And we learned to live and travel as three. All women no less!
Our RV travels have taught us much, about the United States & the people that live and travel in it, RV maintenance and troubleshooting, the good side and bad side of planning ahead, and mostly about our resilience. But of all the things we have learned, the one that sticks out most is that the unexpected is quite reliable. And we have had our share of unexpected events and changes.
Back home in Chokoloskee last year and after getting everything cleaned from an accumulation of travel dust and setting up for a long winter season on the island, I begin eagerly to plan our 2022 trip as I always do. In the world of RV traveling, you must plan, especially now that everyone and their grandmother has purchased an RV. Acquiring reservations in sought after locations was necessary in my mind. So much so that by the end of February 2022, we were booked solid from May 8 to October 17.
Oh, I had a great trip planned, elegantly designed by western mountains and midwestern trout streams & great lakes and bookended with southern and Appalachian culture and wilderness. Three National Parks, three National Lake Shores, four Great lakes, and at least four State Capitals were on our list of things to experience. There were no COVID restrictions to look forward to, all doors were open. AND – we could add four state stickers to our map.
“Plans are only good intentions…”. And then suddenly, circumstances caused us to change our 2022 travel plans. The insane price of diesel weighed us down as we approached our May departure date, so we made the executive decision to cut our trip in half and delay our departure by seven weeks. That cost us $178 in reservation cancellation fees.
It had been three years since we stayed on Chokoloskee Island beyond the month of May. Anticipating seven more weeks, our moods faltered, and the sweltering heat and humidity of south Florida contributed generously to that. Unacclimated and unaccustomed to seeing all our snowbird neighbors leave one by one, we find ourselves at this moment nearly alone on our paradise island, struggling to put our gears back in neutral.
But you know what? We may be giving something up, but we’re not giving up that much. We may not hike the Rocky Mountains, but we’ll hike the Appalachians. We may not rack up four new states on our sticker map, but we’ll add one. We may not see a bison this year, but we will cross the Mississippi. We’ll spend quality time along the shores of four Great Lakes, visit four State Capitals and more interesting cities to boot, we’ll paddle, photograph and fish some beautiful waters and we’ll visit two National Parks and three National Lake Shores while we’re at it.
There are large swaths of territory that will remain stickerless on our U.S. map this year. One way or the other, we’ll eventually get to the Pacific coast, visit many more National Parks, and work our way up to Maine. And we’ll travel Canada and as my mother would say “God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise”, north to Alaska. At least that’s the plan.
So with that, unexpected changes and events are reliable and very much a part of RV traveling. Vivian and I can deal with it and most importantly, we’ll count our blessings while we’re at it.
Stayed tuned as we take you on our next adventure that if all goes as planned will, among many things include visits to a couple river cities while heading north along the Mississippi, a Presidential Library, the driftless area of Wisconsin, the rugged north country along Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, the Appalachian Mountains and the New River Gorge, and more Florida State parks. And plenty of beautiful things to photograph and plenty of rivers, streams and lakes to fish and paddle on!
For those RVers wishing to explore The Land of Enchantment, our itinerary may prove useful. This comes with a caveat and that is – there is so much more to New Mexico than what I have to offer here. Which is why we plan to come back and spend more time in the southwestern state that enchanted us from beginning to end.
This blog includes slideshows illustrating and describing places we visited. Please take the time to look at them and also check out many of the links provided. Additionally, I wrote four blogs during our stay in New Mexico, each one offering a historical perspective. You’ll find a link to each at the end of this blog, please check those out as well!
On May 5 we entered New Mexico north of El Paso on Highway 54, 202 miles beginning at Mt View RV Park in Van Horn, Texas ending at Alamogordo’s KOA. For more rustic camping, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park (which came recommended) and Dog Canyon dispersed camping next to it, are about 17 miles south of Alamogordo. There is nothing to see in Alamogordo except the New Mexico Museum of Space History, but it’s location was convenient for White Sands National Park.
We left Alamogordo by way of Highway 54 to a small town called Vaughn. As we drove through it, I researched it to learn Vaughn was a railroad town complete with a Harvey House Hotel. Now, it is a known drug-smuggling route and patrolled by the county sheriff, New Mexico Rangers and State Police, Motor Transportation Police and Vaughn Police Dept. Probably much safer than it looked, Vaughn was a convenient diesel stop on our way to the Santa Fe KOA.
After Santa Fe, we drove 70 miles north to an Army Corp of Engineers campground called Riana, located on the Abiquiu Reservoir. This was the only campground in our New Mexico itinerary where we wanted to spend quality time. Unfortunately, the water levels were so low that Vivian had to forego her kayak fishing plans.
Four nights at Riana gave us only three days to explore the area and explore we did. We wanted to see the following (distances are one-way from Riana):
Ghost Ranch – 8 miles. Purchasing a day pass for $10 allows you to hike the beautiful grounds where O’Keeffe painted many of her desert scenes and visit the museum. The entrance is conveniently located on Highway 84.
White Place (Plaza Blanca) – 10 miles. On private property, permission can be given to go in a hike this wonderous landscape where O’Keeffee created her ‘White Place’ paintings. The entrance is on the outskirts of Abiquiu.
Another short distance of towing, 67 miles brought us to the Taos Valley RV Park. With only 3 nights and one and half days of non-stop rain, we had little time to walk downtown Taos (Taos Pueblo was closed due to Covid) and drive over to the Rio Grande River Gorge.
Our final stop in New Mexico before entering Utah was Moore’s RV Park and Campground in Bloomington. From Taos, we stopped over at the Albuquerque North/Bernalillo KOA for one night before heading north on Highway 550.
Bloomington would be our home for one week, but we spent very little time there as we had many places to visit and explore including the following (miles are one way from campground):
We hired Navajo Tours USA to take us into the Lybrook badlands one afternoon and glad we did. The badland areas, including the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area are accessible on public lands but a 4-wheel drive, navigational knowledge of the area and attention to weather (roads becoming impassable due to rain) are essential if you really want to get in there and see it. For a shorter version, the Bisti wilderness can be easily accessed from a parking area not far from Highway 371 and an easy hike in allows you to see the badlands up close.
Last but not least, check out my previous blogs for a little history and perspectives on New Mexico:
To summarize our 2021 travels – we pulled out of Chokoloskee on April 9 and returned on Nov 11 with an additional 17,319 miles, 8626 of which were towing miles. Traveling spanned over 216 nights, 48 locations, 16 states, and 8 new states meeting our sticker map criterion which is at least one night in the RV. We visited 10 national parks and stayed in 7 state parks (representing 4 states) and spent 41 nights in 8 Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds across 6 states. We boondocked a total of 4 nights (3 Harvest Hosts) and enjoyed full hook up 76% of the time.
As we near the end of another year, it is only fitting to reminisce on our travels. And because I am a blogger, I will share my reminiscing with you! But wait, don’t leave yet because what I will do is boil our travels down to some highlights, provide you information on specific regions (routes, campgrounds, places of interest), and perhaps add some useful tips, especially for those who are current or future RV travelers.
I begin my reminiscing with a top ten campground list from 2021. Chosen out of 45 campgrounds, these 10 stand out because of one simple criterion – we would be contentedly happy at this campground for an extended period because of its abundant natural space (land or water) that can be explored, irrespective of its amenities.
However, this list comes with a BIG DISCLAIMER – rating is not based on amenities such as wifi, phone signal, antennae TV or laundry; rather it is all about the aesthetics, the wilderness, the space, the wildlife. In fact, lack of all said amenities were absent at some of these campgrounds! So, I will admit, the great outdoors is the draw, lacking certain amenities, especially a phone signal is challenging beyond a 2-3 day stay.
Nevertheless, if you want to “get away” to a conveniently located campground where you can paddle or hike in a wilderness area while having the comforts of a campground that accommodates large RVs, check out these campgrounds.
So, we really got to know the place well. It is relatively secluded (but easy to get to) and among the quietest campgrounds we have stayed in. Viewing the sunrise over the lake, long walks in the surrounding forest, the ease of launching the kayak, and the wonderful onsite owners, all made the lack of wifi and laundry facility less painful. Read more about this northern Michigan location here.
Riana Campground. One of the 3 Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds making our top ten list, this one is located on Abiquiu Lake in northern New Mexico – about 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and 70 miles west of Taos.
Despite unusually low water levels (which made kayak fishing next to impossible for Vivian), the ambience of a spacious campground overlooking a large body of water with mountains in the background just made my heart sing. Although not full hook up, it has, like most Army Corp campgrounds what RV’ers value highly – easy in and out, space, a view, and easy hook ups (water and electric in this case). I loved walking around the bluffs overlooking the lake, so enjoy this slideshow from those hikes.
And lastly, please check out my previous blog about our visit to the Abiquiu area, or what I like to call “Georgia O’Keeffe Country”.
St George Island State Park. It comes as no surprise that 4 of the top ten campgrounds are state parks and there are two more given honorable mention at the end of our list.
It is also no surprise that among our top ten campgrounds is one located on one of Florida’s spectacular Gulf of Mexico beaches. Vivian and I are beach loungers, but the sand dunes were among my favorites to photograph, and Vivian loves to fish. Hiking trails, an easy walk to the beach, and lots of birds & other wildlife makes this one of Florida’s best.
Read about our visit to St George Island State Park here.
We could have stayed at the Bismarck KOA but when I discovered that this state park campground offers wonderfully large campsites along the Missouri River and has an interesting history, it was a shoe-in. Not only was having the Missouri River near our campsite a perk, but so were the miles of hiking trails that offer beautiful overlooks of the river, lots of deer, and a historical tour of a Mandan Village and Fort Abraham Lincoln where several replicas of buildings are scattered about as you can see in the slideshow below.
You can read about our visit that includes a tour of North Dakota’s state capitol here.
Caddo Lake State Park. What brings Caddo Lake to this list are many things, among which are the following – our campsite, the relatively small and peaceful campground, miles of hiking trails and of course, Caddo Lake itself.
If not for the fact that it rained constantly during our 5-night stay, we would have enjoyed more of this park and it likely would have ranked higher. Read here about our visit to the surrounding areas including the historical town of Jefferson. Above is a slideshow from the park, including the very hilly road coming in and out of the campground.
Foscue Creek. Another Army Corp of Engineers, west of Montgomery, Alabama near the town of Demopolis.
Funny thing, we were originally reserved for five nights but ended up staying an additional 3 nights which required us to move twice. So, we had the pleasure of staying at three different sites, all of which offered a waterfront view. We enjoyed the water, the peacefulness, relatively easy access to water with a kayak and plenty of hiking trails to go around. Read here about our civil rights tour taken while we stayed at Foscue Creek and another Army Corp campground, Gunter Hill.
White River Campground, Hamilton County. Other than being a county park with level concrete full hookup campsites that accommodate large rigs, there is nothing extraordinary about this campground. It is after all, in Indiana, located among corn and soybean fields.
To visit family in Indianapolis, we could stay at a campground located closer to the city, but instead we keep coming back to White River because we really enjoy it. Maybe it is because this rural campground is a welcome reprieve after spending a day in the city. With miles of hiking (biking) trails, an easy walk to a lake and the White River, we enjoy the wildlife and wildflowers that come with its open surroundings. I wrote about our first visit to White River back in 2018, check it out here.
Top O’ the Morn Resorts. If I have any regrets from our 2021 travels, it is that I did not take more photos of this Wisconsin campground we called home for a short 3 nights.
Located on Iron Lake, not far from the Apostle Islands, we serendipitously discovered Top O’ the Morn given that the coveted coastal campgrounds were either full or unaccommodating to our RV. So glad we found it because we fell in love with its quiet lake ambience. We didn’t have time to get out on the lake with the kayak, but we’ll be back.
Colt Creek State Park. There is no doubt, Florida has some of the best state parks in the country. Although many of them are not accommodating to our RV, a handful are and the best of them is Florida’s newest state park, Colt Creek.
There is no beach or spring-fed water filled with manatee, nor is the campground itself on the water. Instead, it is within central Florida’s wetland and pine flatland territory, home to much wildlife including otter, eagle, deer, alligator, and wading birds, all of which we saw while there for a short 2 nights. With lots of hiking trails, a couple lakes to kayak on and a paved road with little traffic for bicycling, you could enjoy this park for an extended time easily.
R Shaefer Heard Park. I didn’t think of this Georgia park as being #1 when we were camping there, but in retrospect, my thoughts kept going back to this place. What sticks in my mind is the water view from our campsite and the fact we could launch the kayak within feet away from the RV.
Not only that, the lake is so picturesque with its cypress trees and near perfect waterscapes (no manmade intrusions).
Although there are no hiking trails, the well shaded campground is very large with several loops that it took me over an hour to walk its entirety up and down relatively steep inclines. It’s a wonderful campground to have a bicycle. We discovered that the loop we camped on, sites 1-10 (we were on #10) was the easiest for water access.
I have three more campgrounds to give honorable mention to. Here they are:
The irony of saving our visit to the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery for last was not lost on us. By then, we had already visited the state capitol and Selma where we got educated on the historic Selma to Montgomery march that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Despite the amazing story of Rosa Park’s simple act of defiance against injustice has been in America’s conscious for as long as I can remember, we learned at the Rosa Parks Museum that this single act set off a wave of events that eventually led to the Selma to Montgomery march and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Immediately following the arrest of Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, the president of The Women’s Political Council, a group of Black women working for civil rights began the call to boycott Montgomery’s city buses. The night of Park’s arrest, Robinson and others from the council printed out 35,000 flyers announcing a citywide bus boycott on December 5, 1955. Local black residents stopped riding the buses on that day.
About 50 miles west of Montgomery is Selma within Dallas County. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Dallas County and adjacent Lowndes County were among the poorest and most repressive for black people in the country. Racially motivated terrorism and police intimidation was so rampant that Lowndes County was known as “Bloody Lowndes”.
By 1963, eyes had turned toward Dallas County and Selma as a hotbed of civil rights turmoil. John Lewis, founder and chairman of the Nashville-based Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) made a scouting trip to Selma and came back to report “The blacks are too scared, and the whites are too mean”. Nevertheless, SNCC came to Selma and organized voting registration for its black community.
Sam Walker, historian and curator of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma told us that at the time, the pastor of Brown Chapel was resistant to making his church the meeting place for organizers given the recent bombing in Birmingham that killed four children on September 15, 1963. His wife thought otherwise, “It’s because of those four little girls that you need to do this”. So, he did. And as SNCC attempted to mobilize the community to apply to register to vote, voter application denials increased and so did the violence.
By 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined up with SNCC to make Selma the location to focus on the Black voter registration campaign. SNCC has been there for a couple years dealing with the violence and intimation of Jim Clark’s police state. But now, all eyes were on Selma with King, who had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize in the lead.
By February 18, 1965, national media attention was drawn to Selma and the voting rights cause as King and other civil rights leaders organized several demonstrations. King has been arrested on February 1 and during the three days he sat in jail, he wrote “Letter from a Selma Jail” which was immediately published in the New York Times. On the night of February 18, Jimmie Lee Jackson and his mother were participating in a nighttime voting rights march in Marion, Alabama. Unarmed and trying to protect his mother, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by the state troopers that came in to break up the march.
Jackson’s death spurred SCLC and SNCC leaders to organize a Selma to Montgomery march in which Selma residents would march to the capital and present Governor Wallace with their grievances. The first march on March 7 did not go well.
On October 19, 2021, we parked the truck in downtown Selma and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the same direction as that of the marchers on March 7, 1965. As Vivian and I crested the top of the bridge and continued to the other side, we tried to envision what those marchers, or as Sam Walker calls them, ‘foot soldiers’ saw waiting for them on the other side of the bridge.
The attack caused outrage around the country, and March 7 became known as “Bloody Sunday”. Following Bloody Sunday, Martin Luther King, Jr who had been in Atlanta on that day, returned to Selma and led another march on March 9. The march was ‘symbolic’ and upon reaching the bridge, the King and the protestors decided to turn back rather than risk another violent confrontation.
Civil rights leaders sought court protection for a third march from Selma to the state capitol. It was provided and President Johnson sent National Guards and troops in the protection of the protesters. Third time is a charm. On March 21, about 3200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking about 12-15 miles a day, sleeping in fields at night. By the time they reached the steps of the capitol on March 25, they were 25,000 strong.
But as they say, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”. Meanwhile, back in Lowndes County, violence against Blacks who attempted to register to vote increased. White land owners retaliated against tenant farmers who registered to vote or engaged in voting rights activities by kicking them off the land. SNCC leaders, including Stoky Carmichael organized and helped keep the dispossessed families together by building a tent city to serve as a temporary home, located on land donated by the Matthew Jackson family, along U.S. 80, currently where the Lowndes Interpretive Center is located.
I will end this blog with two photographs taken from inside the Alabama state capitol. Three years ago, we visited Eufaula, Alabama where we learned about Horace King. King, born a slave in 1807 became a successful engineer and architect, and then later a member of Alabama’s House of Representatives. It was our pleasure to learn that the beautiful cantilever stairs in the capitol were designed and built by Horace King.
According to Dictionary.com, the noun Leg.a.cy [leg-uh-see] has three meanings, the second of which is “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor”.
Over three years ago, Vivian and I began living in an RV and traveling throughout the United States. As the case with all RV travelers, our motives are many. But above all, what began as a casual sideline interest and then quickly evolved into the driving force behind our itineraries is learning the history of the United States. As we languished through the south, our curiosity for all stories that comprise American History brought us to Montgomery, Alabama. It is here where America’s darkest legacy was brought to the forefront of our consciousness through the most enlightening visual exhibition we have ever seen. It stopped us in our tracks causing us to reflect and dig deeper into the meaning of ‘Legacy’. By sharing our travel experiences, we also wish to share our learning experiences, and like us, you may learn and gain insight into our country’s legacies.
The Legacy Museum is filled with dramatic and passionate displays of photographs, 2-D and 3-D art, videos, and written words, accompanied by audio-recorded narratives, and music. Unfortunately for me, photography was not allowed in the Legacy Museum. To describe in words our emotions and thoughts as we examined one exhibit after another is impossible for me without representing them with photographs.
Instead, I found some photographs on the internet from news reports of the opening of the Legacy Museum that I will use here. Plus, I was allowed to photograph within the National Memorial of Peace and Justice, which was toured in partnership with the Legacy Museum. With that, please take the time to read while viewing each photograph below.
The museum is divided up into several large rooms that take you through time beginning with the kidnapping of Africans and slave trading ships to North America. You are brought face-to-face with the domestic slave trade with replicas of slave pens and first-person accounts from enslaved people narrating the sights and sounds of the slave trade. As you move along, you become overwhelmed with the written words on display, reproductions of ads and flyers that serve as firsthand accounts of slave trading and then later lynchings.
One of the last rooms in the museum is a very large one where several displays of incarcerated individuals on pre-recorded video screens displayed as a prison visitation booth. You can choose any one of the booths where an incarcerated individual awaits you. Pick up a phone provided at the booth and listen to the inmate’s story.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was also created by the EJI and opened in 2018 as a monument to commemorate the thousands of African Americans who were lynched during the American era of racial terrorism. After viewing the Legacy Museum, we took a short walk over to the memorial and once again encountered a visceral display of one of America’s most violent histories.
Following the Civil War and the passing of the 13th and 14th Amendments, white backlash to re-impose white dominance through violent repression in the south escalated in the face of Black political and economic competition created by emancipation and voting rights. Court rulings were also part of the backlash as in 1876, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment prohibits a State from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; but this adds nothing to the rights of one citizen as against another. Meaning simply – African Americans in the South were left of the mercy of white terrorists if those terrorists were acting as private citizens. Later, it ruled that upholding racial segregation was fully consistent with the 14th Amendment under the guise of “separate but equal”.
After six weeks in Michigan, we were more than ready to move on – too many memories mucking things up and we just needed a change of pace. Exhausted from the events surrounding mom’s passing and all the stress that came with them, it felt good to draw our attention to the details of RV traveling. The undercurrent of melancholy was interrupted by the joy of being back on the road. With some reserve and a smidge of guilt, we could not help but feel the sweet relief that comes when responsibilities are replaced with freedom.
But rest would have to come later, we had some necessary maintenance and repairs looming over us, and the unknown outcome of the repair made us edgy thinking of the worst-case scenario which might mean being homeless for several days in northern Indiana. Thankfully, the worst-case scenario did not happen, instead, the repair required one day of waiting and two nights at the Grand Design Factory Service Center campground.
Now, with service appointments behind us we had only one simple obligation before getting home on Nov 11 and that was our scheduled Forever Warranty service appointment in Florida’s DeFuniak Springs seven weeks from now.
Although most of our travel itinerary this year was mapped out way ahead of time and included campgrounds reserved months in advance, we left the final two months of our trip (post Labor Day) unplanned until we were deep into our travels. Although spectacular landscapes formed our western travels and are forever forged in our memories, I attempted to add a glimmer of brilliance into the final weeks through the Midwest and South with a one-week stay near the Great Smokies and another week on Florida’s wild and beautiful gulf coast in the panhandle.
But those plans changed after some thought given to our travel expenses. So, I slashed our travel budget and reduced our travel time by one week. Which gave us seven weeks and 1200 miles between the day we left Grand Design and the day we were scheduled to pull into our home base in Chokoloskee Island. Given that we were too early to see the most spectacular of fall colors and would avoid the country’s most popular national park, what could we possibly do for two months?
Enjoy this slideshow of images from our short stay in Kentucky.
I think, more than anything, we just wanted to rest. So, we languished in the south. Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama would supply us temporary homes on the cheap. My budget slashing met we would take advantage of our senior park pass and stay at Army Corp of Engineer campgrounds at $12 – 15 per night. Who needs wifi or reliable cell service when surrounded by dense forests of green leaves and the subtle and spotty collection of red, orange, and yellow complemented with a water view? We met the challenge, but it was far from easy, I will admit.
Enjoy this slideshow of images shot around the Center Hill Dam. The fog was enticing and I couldn’t help but capture the scene.
It is true these weeks in the south have been lackluster compared to Utah and Montana and let’s face it, the vibe here in the south is very different from that out west. Here, we spent most of our time surrounded by local folk who bring their campers to the lake for vacations or just to have a change of scenery. So, we idled through the slow rhythm of the south and enjoyed the down time as much as possible. But we also discovered, learned, and reflected. This was most especially true during the three weeks we stayed in Alabama.
With that, I’ll share this portion of our trip mostly through my photos from our campgrounds as there is no pointed story here, no history lesson, no grand experiences to talk about; rather, instead it serves to segue to the next blog which will address our extraordinary experience in Alabama. Stay tuned and enjoy the photos.
Enjoy the slide show below of our home in Georgia for five days, on West Point Lake.
After Georgia, we landed in Alabama where we would stay for three weeks.
For those interested, the campgrounds we stayed in are the following:
White River Campground, Cicero, Indiana – this is a Hamilton County park, very good price, full hook up, concrete pads, laundry. Not far from Indianapolis but within a rural area. Lots of hiking/biking trails and of course the White River. Very popular with locals, so reservations that cover a weekend have to be scored months in advance. They are going to an online reservation system in 2022, for better or worse.
The remaining campgrounds are all Army Corp of Engineer and can be found on Recreation.gov. A national park lifetime senior pass gets you 50% off the already low price of camping. What a bargain for us at $12-15 per night! All are near water, so fishing is usually an option.
Moutardier – on Lake Nolin in Kentucky. Water/Electric/50AMP, no laundry, spotty cell service, no wifi. Not the easiest campground to maneuver around, deep drop offs, narrow curves, and none of the waterfront sites have hook ups. But it is convenient for Mammoth Cave National Park. You can do a fair amount of walking/biking around the hilly campground and there is a hiking trail near the marina.
Long Branch – on the Caney Fork River downstream from the Center Hill Dam in Tennessee (east of Nashville near Lebanon). It is a relatively small campground, concrete pads, water/electric/50AMP, laundry and wifi if you are in the right location. The ambience is hit or miss as you have the beautiful river, but the dam and electrical plant near by. Easy in and out though and convenient for accessing Burgess and Cummins Falls State Parks. Not a good campground if you want to hike or bike around.
R. Shaefer Heard – on West Point Lake near LaGrange and West Point, Georgia. We loved this campground! Many of the sites are waterfront allowing easy access with a paddle boat, but you have to chose your campsite wisely. Avoid 66-84 loop unless you like very narrow and steep driveways, only 30 AMP and don’t want easy access to the water. I thought our loop, 1-16 was the best for water access. If you like to walk and bike, this is a wonderful campground for that, large and hilly! Water/electric/50AMP, laundry, very spotty cell, no wifi.
Gunter Hill – near Montgomery, AL. This campground was recommended to us; it is one of the few Army Corp that offers almost entirely full hookup/50AMP, and laundry! Although waterfront sites are fewer than not, they are all spacious, wooded and concrete level pads. There are no hiking trails, so walking/biking only around campground and main road to marina and the other more rustic campground.
Foscue Creek -Demopolis, AL on the Tombigbee/Black Warrior Rivers. Nice park with full hookup/50AMP, but no laundry or wifi. Cell service adequate. Most sites are waterfront, quite lovely. Nice for walking/biking, has some hiking trails as well.
The RV parked for six weeks in northern lower peninsula of Michigan was not normal for our home on wheels. August 8th, the day we drove to our 6-wk home was out of the ordinary as well, beginning with a flat RV tire 30 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge. That event, which could have been much worse, set the ball rolling. Or should I say, set the tire rolling and turned our 6-week stay into an opportunity to attend to many things that needed attending to. Tire life was running out, the RV was covered in 6000 miles of dirt, certain things needed replacing or repaired, and not the least of which, our hair was getting long and unruly.
Consequently, our first week at the lake did not include kayak paddling, fishing, or photography; instead, it was to do the following:
Replace all four RV tires
Dental checkup and cleaning
Put mom under hospice care
Replace truck bed cover
Replace all four truck tires
Install new shocks on the truck
Wash and wax the RV
If you enjoy water and wilderness, there is much to do in Michigan’s north country. We were camped smack in the middle of the ‘Tip of the Mitt’, meaning Lake Michigan was as close to us to the west as Lake Huron was to the east, and the straits of Mackinac to the north. We were camped at the headwaters of the Ausable River surrounded by forested land where the deer and elk roam and where one can walk for miles. And there are way too many lakes to discover, all accessible within a day’s time. Adding to the north woods experience was having the RV parked next to a lake where Vivian could roll the inflatable kayak to the boat launch any time she wanted. (Enjoy this slide show of some images from our short time exploring the area).
Despite crossing each item off the list during the first week, we still had little time for exploring and enjoying Michigan’s north country during the remaining 5 weeks. Instead, we spent most of our time in Gaylord, my hometown located 10 miles north of the lake. Daily drives to The Brook where mom lived made Gaylord the focal point of our time in northern Michigan.
I spent the first 23 years of my life in Gaylord where I was born. Gaylord, according to my niece who is the City Manager has a current population of 3200, give or take. The charming town is known as “The Alpine” town where Tyrolean architecture dominates its main street. I’ve always been proud of Gaylord – it is an attractive place, a place to come back to or never leave. I left Gaylord 40 years ago but come back to visit many times. This time, our visit was different. This time, I couldn’t get the memories out of my head, like a TBS movie that keeps playing over and over.
Everything made me think of mom. I-75 bisects Michigan from Sault St Marie to Detroit and somewhere along the way, crosses Gaylord’s main street. Standing tall and new next to Exit 282 is a Tru by Hilton that sticks out like a sore thumb with its modern architecture so opposite of Gaylord’s Swiss motif. Each time I visit Gaylord, fewer memories are supported by iconic buildings as one by one they are replaced with something new. Where the Hilton now stands was for decades the Chalet Motor Lodge and Restaurant, a one-floor building with a suite above the lobby, A-framed by the typical Swiss Chalet sloping roof. Mom worked the reservation desk at the Chalet for years and she often allowed me to hang out there while she worked. I could watch color TV in the lobby, go swimming in the indoor pool, buy a Tab from the coke machine. None of these treats were available to me at home. Watching mom work in her spiffy blue uniform behind the desk where she greeted people from far-away places made me feel lucky and rich.
Vivian and I walked Gaylord’s Main Street where businesses from the past have long ago been replaced. Historic plaques on buildings helped remind me of some of those businesses and many memories of time spent downtown. We passed a community art gallery where Bill’s Party Store once stood. It’s where I stole a 12-pack of beer on a dare. My friends and I got caught drinking that beer on a school bus and when mom found out, she marched me down to Bill’s, made me apologize and pay for the beer. I never stole anything again in my life.
Across the street from Bill’s is the Fifth Third Bank which was once the Gaylord State Savings Bank. It’s where mom helped me get my first loan so I could establish credit at the age of 18 with $500 to buy a new stereo. On the next block over is the Otsego County Building where the county library was in the basement. I can remember mom taking me there to get my library card for the first time, a rite of passage that opened the world to me. I knew that if I checked out a book or two, she would be obliged to take me back in two weeks to return them.
As a sidenote, here are a few more tidbits of information about Gaylord & surrounding area.
Of all the memories I have of mom while growing up in Gaylord, the one that stands out the most involves St Mary’s Catholic Church. The church building itself is memorable, still standing as a reminder of the Sunday morning services my family and I attended for so many years.
Even more memorable were the nuns that ran the St Mary’s School, especially Sister Michaela, who still gives me nightmares. I spent the first four years of school at St Mary’s Elementary. By the time I entered fourth grade, I think my mom had soured on the Catholic Church somewhat. Not the religion, just the church itself. My mom has always been religious on the spiritual side of it, but never guided by the social constraints imposed by the church. This was poignantly clear to me from the story she told me of her visit to a faith healer. Heartbroken and devastated from losing her first baby and barely surviving childbirth herself, mom took an aunt’s recommendation to visit an old Polish farmer and his wife, spiritual healers from the old world. After many prayers, he placed his hand on her stomach and told her she would have babies. This after having been told by doctors she would never have children.
One day, mom received a phone call from Mrs. Bozwiak, the secretary at St Mary’s Elementary. That day was the last Friday of the month, or what we schoolgirls called “free day”. It meant I could wear my own dress and not the standard gray blue uniform. Mom had bought me a colorful dress with bright yellow and red designs to wear on Easter Sunday. I was so proud of that dress as I knew my dad would see me wear it shortly after leaving the hospital where he’d been recovering from his first heart attack. When Mrs Bozwiak told mom that Sister Michalea removed me from class and wanted mom to take me home and change my free-day dress to a more suitable one (i.e., longer so the legs above the knees were not showing), mom went ballistic on the nun. Everybody knows everybody’s business in Gaylord and for sure, that old nun knew my dad was in the hospital. That’s what did it for mom. After that, Sister Michaela never bothered me again. And after I finished that fourth year, mom put me in Gaylord’s public school. Common decency 1 – orthodoxy 0.
During the first 3 weeks of our 6-week visit most of my time was spent at The Brook and Vivian was with me much of that time. Things were happening way too fast and conversations with attendants and nurses were getting more desperate as we watched mom’s independence dwindle down to nothing. She and dad traveled in an RV up to the day he passed away 30 years ago and even after that, she continued the RV lifestyle on her own until settling in Florida for the winters. Vivian always said mom was the trailblazer for us to get into RV life. Although mom told stories of strangers helping her with the RV while traveling, watching her now relying on strangers to do the simplest things like getting dressed and using the bathroom was more than I could bear.
Fortunately, sadness was interrupted often by our time spent with family and friends, happy hour with our campground neighbor, and by the healing powers of long walks in the woods. Having my brother and both my sisters around me was comforting, we were all in this together. During our final week on Big Bradford Lake, family matters were pretty much tied up and everyone was back to their normal routine. My two sisters had moved on. With the little time we had left, Vivian and I tried to make the most of our solitary time left in the north woods. It may be a long time before we get back here, but we will be back for sure. But for now, we have other places to see and things to do, we have our RV life to live. That’s what mom would do.
After spending months exploring the red rocks, white sand dunes, deep canyons, glacial mountains, plains prairies, and badlands, we were now in the Great Lakes region of the country – the great north woods – the badger and wolverine states. And central to our short time in Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the greatest of great lakes – Superior.
On Sep 18 while researching ‘Lake Superior’ in preparation for this blog entry, the Google-search headline “One kayaker dead, and another reported missing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore” appeared at the top of the results list. Six weeks prior, Vivian and I paddled a kayak along Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Along the peninsula shoreline, we paddled gently over sandy bottom shallow water that revealed a shipwreck and allowed us entry to small caves pock marking the vertical rock shoreline. The warm and calm waters were as far removed from Superior’s reputation as anything could be.
Our morning on Superior’s water brought back memories of our 2004-trip to its most famous island, Isle Royale, a National Park. A visit to the park requires one to fly in or ferry across Lake Superior. After three days hiking Isle Royale, our stay on the island was unexpectedly prolonged as our boat ride back to the mainland was cancelled due to inclement weather – waves reaching 10 feet or higher. At midnight, 12 hours past the normal schedule, we boarded the boat and ferried across “the lake that never gives up her dead” over glass flat water.
Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario – The Great Lakes of North America are the largest collection of freshwater lakes in the world, by total area and the second largest by volume. Lake Superior, the most northern of the five is the largest freshwater lake in the world.
The Ojibwe Tribe that once dominated the northern great lakes region for centuries named the lake “gichi-gami”, meaning “great sea”. Later, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow spelled it “Gitche Gumee” in his poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’. In 1976, Gordon Lightfoot adopted Longfellow’s spelling for his song ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fiztgerald’. The name “Superior” originally came from the French explorers in the 17th century that referred to their discovery as ‘la lac supérieur’. The name was later anglicized by the British into its current name, ‘Superior’.
Following the Apostle Islands, we made a beeline across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to a town called Brimley. Our campground was 30 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge which we needed to cross sooner than later. But, before that, we had a couple more days left with Lake Superior. Not far from us was St Marys Falls, a non-navigable 21-ft drop that separates Lake Superior from Lake Huron. To bypass these falls, the Soo Locks were constructed.
In 1855, the first locks were constructed, allowing passage between the two great lakes. Over time, commerce through the locks and canal had increased significantly and gained national importance. In 1881, the locks were turned over to the US Army Corp of Engineers that built two parallel locks that provide a gravity-powered 21-ft lift system. Freighters 1000 ft in length and holding 70,000 tons of cargo pass through the locks frequently.
It is a wonderful thing to stand in the Soo Locks observation platform located in Sault (pronounced SOO) St Marie and watch a 1000-ft freighter enter a lock. From Superior coming in on an easterly direction, ships enter a lock filled with enough water to match the Superior’s level. Several minutes pass as water is released and levels decrease 21 feet. Once the water is level with Lake Huron, the eastside gates open, and the ship continues its course. The opposite occurs when ships go upstream from Huron to Superior. Approximately 7000 vessels pass through the Locks each year, despite it being closed between January and March.
From our campground, we drove about 30 miles or so along the scenic Lakeshore Dr north through the tiny town of Paradise and ending at Whitefish Point where the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located. There’s a darn good reason why the museum is located at this cape outpost. Every vessel entering or leaving Lake Superior must pass Whitefish Point, the most dangerous shipping area in the Great Lakes.
More vessels have been lost in the Whitefish Point area than any other part of Lake Superior. It is estimated by most sources that the Great Lakes holds 6,000 shipwrecks and a loss of life exceeding 30,000. One of those wrecks that came onto North America’s collective consciousness lies 530 feet below Lake Superior’s surface about 17 miles away from Whitefish Point.
With a crew of 29 men, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank during a storm on November 10, 1975. At 727 feet in length (considerably short than the more modern freighters), the Fitzgerald is the largest to have sunk in Lake Superior. A U.S. Navy aircraft equipped to detect magnetic anomalies associated with submarines, detected the wreck on November 14, 1975. An additional survey using a side scan sonar determined two large objects were lying close together on the lake floor, indicating that the Fitzgerald had been snapped in two.
The ship’s bell was recovered from the wreck on July 4, 1995. A replica with each of the 29 sailors’ names engraved on it was put in its place. The bell is on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot
Check out my previous Blog about our visit to Michigan 3 years ago.
Among the many things you can see in North Dakota are the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world, the largest land mammal in North America, and the tallest habitable building in North Dakota. I have already devoted at least one blog to the largest land mammal, which is the American Bison, so this one will focus on the other two attractions located in North Dakota “where possibility is as endless as the horizon”. Ranked #1 for the hardest working state (what else are you going to do when it’s biting cold), North Dakota was worthy of the 10 days we spent within its borders.
Somewhere in the southwestern quadrant of North Dakota is a town called Regent, population 157. Saaalute! To Vivian and me, Regent seemed to be another example of the many boom-to-bust prairie towns we have seen on our travels through rural America. But interestingly, Regent, which is surrounded by miles of rolling farmland never experienced a boom. In fact, the greatest census number I could find for Regent was 405 in 1950.
But then came Regent resident Gary Greff. Greff is quoted as saying the following, “I came home one day and was looking at my town and said, ‘you know, this town has gone from 500 people to a hundred’. I thought if someone doesn’t do something, it’s only a matter of time before we’re gone. We don’t have a railroad, we don’t have the population, we don’t have the infrastructure. Why would a major corporation come to Regent? Rather than sit around waiting for someone from the outside to come in and save my town, I need to do something.” And do something he did.
“Nobody’s going to drive 30 miles off the interstate for normal sculptures, but they might drive for the world’s largest”, was Greff’s logic behind his sculptures that are placed along side a 32-mile stretch of highway. Indeed, the most observed sculpture located on the northwest corner of exit 72 where I-94 and 102nd Ave SW meet is “Geese in Flight” which is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. In 1991, Greff completed the first sculpture (The Tin Family) along the unnamed highway that became known as ‘The Enchanted Highway’. Enjoy the slideshow, pictures of Greff’s sculptures along the highway.
In 1861, President James Buchanan signed into bill the creation of the Dakota Territory, which included both Dakotas. In 1883-84, the first capitol building of the territorial government was constructed in Bismarck located in the northern region of the territory. Attempts to admit the Dakota Territory into the Union over several years eventually resulted in the formation of two states in 1889, North Dakota and South Dakota. President Benjamin Harrison hid the order in which each state’s proclamation was signed, so the exact order remains unknown. But, because North comes before South in the alphabet, North Dakota became the 39th state, followed by South Dakota.
One of the many travel goals we have is to visit state capitols. Unfortunately, until recently in Salt Lake City, this has proven to be impossible in the era of COVID. At last, we visited our first capitol building in Utah where we were impressed by the magnificent neoclassical revival architectural style and exquisite artwork. It’s a hard act to follow, but follow we did to Bismarck, North Dakota. Despite North Dakota’s capitol being only one of two on our travel itinerary, we could not have chosen more dichotomous buildings to visit. If the 50 state capitols were placed on a spectrum according to the ornate qualities of the architectural design, then Utah and North Dakota are on the far opposite ends of the spectrum.
On December 30, 1930, North Dakota’s capitol was destroyed by fire. During the fire, North Dakota Secretary of State Robert Byrne broke a window to get to the original copy of the state’s constitution. Suffering from cuts and burns on his hands, he saved the document. Other state employees also risked their lives to save documents. The Governor George F Shafer organized a team and directed the use of 40 state prison inmates to scour the still smoldering building and salvage the vaults and other items that remained.
The disaster meant a new building would need to be constructed during the Great Depression. Designed by North Dakota architects, the rebuilt capitol became the tallest building in North Dakota and became known as the ‘Skyscraper on the Prairie’. Just under 250 feet and 21 stories, its Art Deco design is anything but ornate. The capitol campus expanded over time with the addition of a State Office Building, the North Dakota Heritage Center and the North Dakota Dept of Transportation, and a Judicial Wing was added to the base of the capitol tower. While the state capitol campus and park were expanding over the decades, North Dakota’s population was decreasing. Today, North Dakota’s state capitol is a popular tourist attraction with its garden-style park, museum and monuments. Enjoy this slideshow of North Dakota’s classy state capitol and following that, a slideshow from its impressive Heritage Center Museum where we learned some history of North Dakota.
One last tidbit about our visit to North Dakota. After leaving our campground in Dickinson, we came to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan, which is on the outskirts of Bismarck. Just a few days past the halfway point of our 216-day trip, we camped on the western bank of the Missouri River for a few days, thus marking the end of our tour of the American West. On July 31, we packed and hitched up and drove the RV east across the Missouri one last time. Soon, we would cross the Mississippi River near its headwaters and enter the great lake states for a totally different experience. Stayed tuned. Enjoy the slideshow below of the Ft Abraham Lincoln State Park.
I invite you to check out a few more of my blogs that relate to this one in some way or another.
The early morning silence was hypnotizing, as I quietly stalked the horses from a safe distance to find a clear view of the small herd. Standing still with camera in hand, the only sounds I heard were the rapid clicks of the camera’s shutter. This went on for a couple hours. That is, until I heard the deep and alarmingly close bellow of a bison.
One hundred days into our travels and 4520 towing miles later, one week ago Vivian and I completed our west-by-northwest route from Chokoloskee, Florida to Glacier National Park, Montana. We left the Rocky Mountains after having visited nine national parks beginning in New Mexico. Now in North Dakota, we were several hundred miles into our east-by-southeast route. On the morning of July 27, I was photographing wildlife in the badlands within National Park #10.
The legacies of conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt are significant and far reaching. Every time a President designates a National Monument, we have Roosevelt to thank for the 1906 American Antiquities Act. The comeback of the Plains Bison from near extinction is owed to President Roosevelt. As president, he was directly responsible for adding 230 million acres of protected public lands, including five national parks. There I stood in Theodore Roosevelt National Park photographing a herd of wild horses that are also in some way associated with the park’s eponym and his legacy.
I carefully walked toward the herd while examining my surroundings. Way too early for the drive-by tourists, I was alone with the wild horses. Meet equus caballus, the modern horse of North America. One of the mares, the largest of the group stood on a high hill overlooking the herd while giving me the eye. For the longest time, she did not move and neither did I. That’s fine, I can wait. The others paid no attention to me as they grazed casually. Eventually, the mare relaxed and went back to the calm demeanor of grazing. That’s all I needed – I was in.
During the modern ranching era, of which Roosevelt was a part, feral horses were considered a nuisance and cattlemen worked to exterminate them throughout the west. Efforts to preserve them ensued and in 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandated their protection and named them a “national heritage species”. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few where free-roaming horses live and are part of the legacy leftover by Roosevelt’s open range ranching era.
The small herd of horses gave me a gift in the form of a day-old filly and the mare she identified as mom. Almost entirely, my attention was drawn to the young horse with its long lanky legs barely able to keep her upright as she sprang back and forth in fits of energy, never straying more than a few horse lengths from mom. After short periods of activity, the young one would find a nice spot to lay down for a spell. Her watchful mom never let her out of her sight, and she most certainly was aware of the coyote that stalked the herd from a higher point for a short time that I could see.
For many years, the National Park Service attempted to remove all horses from the park. In 1970, the park changed its policy to recognize the horse as part of its history, yet another Roosevelt legacy. Horse management rather than removal is the park’s current approach. Occasionally, the park rounds up a small number of horses and takes them to public auction. Current management has evolved and includes contraception, genetic research, and low-stress capture techniques.
It wasn’t until after the fact when I began researching the horses that I learned about the North Dakota Badlands Horse, a nonprofit organization that monitors the herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. From their website, I found the link “2021 Foals” and discovered photographs of newborns. I was so delighted to find a picture with information on the mare and filly I had spent two hours photographing. The mare’s distinct markings made it easy for me to identify her. From the photograph description, I learned her name and her filly’s name, Dolly and Oakley, respectively. Oakley’s birth date was also provided, July 26, one day before I met her and Dolly. I also learned Oakley’s daddy’s name is Flax, the stallion who appears in a few of my photographs.
From last year’s visit to Custer State Park, I recognized the loud snorts and grumbles that emanate from North America’s largest land mammal. So, when I heard the distinct bellowing of a male bison that came from the other side of a hill where the horses were grazing, I suspected there was more than one bison nearby. Bison run in herds, and I did not want to find myself in the middle. The horses had already begun to move further away, cueing me to leave as well.
Within his namesake park, perhaps the most direct evidence of Roosevelt’s legacy is the extremely large bison herd that interrupted my photo shoot with the horses. The Park is a relatively small patch of land that is part of the Plains Bison’s rich grassland once extending from Canada to Mexico. When you visit a park and see bison in great numbers, you cannot help but think about their comeback from a few hundred shy of total extinction. Among many ways humans caused the bison’s near extinction was the re-introduction of the horse into North America. Horses compete with bison for grazing, but it was the use of the horse for hunting by the Plains Indians that caused a much greater devastation to bison.
But that was then, and this is now. The North American wild horse is a popular symbol of freedom, bravery, determination, and beauty. And for that, I am privileged to have spent time photographing them and observing their equine culture for a short time. After spending two hours with Flax and his harem, Dolly and Oakley, it was time for me and the horses to move out of the way and allow the bison its space. The horse and the bison co-exist in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but the bison is the landlord. The unnamed bison, the keepers of the grasslands. Thank you, President Roosevelt.