July 10: A Tangled Web We Weave

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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.

July 6: 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.


June 29: Where Ken Burns Left Off

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Two weeks into our travels and the tow mileage barely broke 500. That’s how we roll, slow and easy while making a call from the road to find out if we can check in early at the next campground. But, the high volume traffic indicative of the east coast more than makes up for the low mileage. We ended our 107-mile day in Savannah relieved to have missed several I-95 accidents that showed up on our Google maps.

How charming, there’s an outhouse behind our campsite. Actually, it’s a nice bathroom facility and despite it being Mr John’s, is unisex.

Red Gate Campground and RV Resort would be our home for the next 7 nights. Although the RV was parked in a large field with several other rigs and had not one inch of shade, we enjoyed it and the manager was quite helpful. The best part of Red Gate was the horses. And goats. It was idyllic and I made it a habit to get up early each morning to catch sunrise over the horse fields, say good morning to the goats and walk to Patty’s Shack where at least 3 roosters lived with a few peacocks and fowls and many chickens. It was just so dang fun to hear the roosters crow in the morning while I drank my coffee.


And it was maddenly hot. The southeast states (basically everywhere we had been for the past 2 weeks and planned to be for the next 2 weeks) were experiencing an extraordinary heat wave. This was particularly acute during the two days we visited historic Savannah. On the first day, we took the trolley tour (which picks up at the campground) and rode through the entire district at least twice during that long, hot day. No matter where you look in Savannah, it’s beautiful. The architecture and the squares make that city stand out from all the rest. Savannah is rich with history, culture and architecture all rolled into one colorful city.

Savannah’s historic district is a feast for the eyes.

SCAD is all over Savannah, having bought and restored many historical buildings. And where else can one earn a degree in Animation, Interactive Design & Game Development or Sequential Art, to name a few?

Thanks to the 90+ temperatures, the highlight of our trolley tour was a pit stop to the historical Leopold’s Ice Cream shop founded in 1919. We arrived 15 minutes before opening and stood in a growing line of sweaty individuals eagerly waiting for the doors to open. At 11 am, we were in and greeted by several scoopers behind a busy ice cream counter and within a few minutes, we were enjoying Savannah’s cold deliciousness. We also found refuge in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist where my only non-iphone photographs of Savannah were taken.

In front of Leopold’s, 10:45 am.

In front of Leopold’s 10:50 am, just another hot day in Savannah.
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Inside the air-conditioned Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

I have to say, our impression of the oldest city in Georgia was clouded by the relentless heat and humidity. Good for us, there were so many other surrounding places to explore. For example, we visited the Wormsloe plantation and after seeing so many breathtaking photographs of the famous Wormsloe Drive, I was both delighted and disappointed that my only photograph of the tree-crowned road was through the front window of our big diesel truck while we drove down the road to the visitor center. Wormsloe is also a Tabby ruin and the story of its owner, Noble Jones is a fascinating one.

A F350 view of the famous Wormloe Plantation Drive.

Did I mention yet that it was horribly hot? In addition to melting our way through Savannah for a couple days, we visited many other nearby places, Tybee Island (quaint, artsy and extremely crowded), Fort Pulaski (highly recommended), Hilton Head (don’t bother) and Savannah Wildlife Refuge (great place, visit in the fall and winter). I recommend visiting and/or camping Skidaway Island State Park. We had been there before to camp, so we didn’t go in this time, but it is a very popular location for RV camping.

Our favorite place on Tybee Island and it’s conveniently located on the main road before you get to the beach.
Fort Pulaski was an unexpected highlights for us and a piece of history we did not learn about it until we arrived in Savannah. Moat-protected, the fort was built in the 1820’s as one of the United State’s Third System forts (post war of 1812).
Fort Pulaski did not see any action until the Civil War, when the confederate-held fort underwent a 112-day siege against Union forces.
For over 30 hours, the Union bombarded the confederate fort using experimental rifled cannons. The wall shows the damage to the fort where the “7” shaped damaged area was the union’s attempt at blowing out a rectangle that would have exposed the confederates stored ammunition. The confederates surrendered before the opening was completed. Consequently, the rifled cannons rendered masonry forts obsolete.

We reserved the fourth of July to do something we really wanted to do and that was to  paddle our kayak on Ebenezer Creek. So much of the history in this area centers around the Civil War. Our Civil War history lessons began back at St Mary’s in Georgia, but as we continued traveling north, we opened the story of America’s ugly war like an overstuffed suitcase. Prior to this trip, the extent of my Civil War knowledge could be written on one page with large letters and I have Ken Burns to thank for what little I remembered about it. I certainly didn’t come away from high school or college with any real Civil War knowledge. As our history lessons unfolded, the long-lasting impact of that war became clearer to me. We heard so many war stories but perhaps the one that stood out the most was the betrayal at Ebenezer Creek.

Vivian getting the inflatable ready for Ebenezer Creek.

It was common for black refugees to join Union troops because the soldiers would give the refugees food and safety in exchange for their labor. However, many other refugees came along by the hundreds, including women, children and older men. This had unfortunate consequences for Jefferson Davis’s troops who were attempting to “march to the sea” into Savannah. As refugees continued to increase in number, the troops were slowing down and there was a food-shortage. On December 3, 1864, Davis’s troops reached the icy and deep Ebenezer Creek. Davis ordered his army to build a pontoon bridge to cross the creek, and he told the refugees that they would be held back for their own safety because the confederates would be waiting for the Union soldiers on the other side. Once all the soldiers had crossed the creek, Davis ordered his men to dismantle the bridge, leaving the refugees stranded. It was estimated there were at least 5000 men, women and children left behind. Meanwhile, the confederate cavalry that had been stalking Davis’s army pressed the refugees from behind, and those that did not die attempting to cross the icy waters, were either slaughtered or captured.

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The Cathedral of Tupelo and Cypress.

The story of the betrayal at Ebenezer Creek was on our minds as Vivian and I paddled through the majestic tupelo and cypress cathedral swamp. I thought I heard voices. The story speaks to us as a reminder that the beauty of the south comes with ugly scars and scab-ripped wounds. I must admit, our motives for RV travels are mainly shallow (e.g., fishing, photography), but we are also eager to examine our country’s history and gain a deeper perspective. As being one of the most significant events in American history, the Civil War is a significant part of our 2019 travels. And the direct connections that the war and its origins have on current events has become clearer to us with each mile traveled.

Our immersion into Civil War history had just begun, there was plenty more ahead of us. As we prepare to continue north, we dream of cooler temperatures. We’ll reach cool air eventually, but we had to put some miles on before we get a break from the heat any time soon.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: Having our RV parked on remote Chokoloskee Island has taught us that some things are totally out of our control with occasional power outages and subsequent boil water notices. Consequently, we rarely bat an eye at such minor inconveniences now and we come prepared. When camping in northern Michigan last year, we lost power twice. We expect that losing power will happen during our trip, but we honestly did not expect to lose water, which we did one early morning at Red Gate. Fortunately, we had some water in the fresh tank that we always keep on hand when traveling from full hook up to full hook up. After a few hours, the campground maintenance folks had it back on, but the moral of the story is, be prepared. If even you go full hook up all the time, you’re going to experience a lapse somewhere down the road.

Issue 2: Not an issue for us, but it may be an issue for you. We haven’t had our TV connected to cable since leaving Chokoloskee. We rarely watched it anyway and instead, use the Firestick to catch up on YouTube video subscriptions or Amazon Prime series. But while traveling we don’t always have adequate Wifi to do that. So, during our travels we have become experts at finding air antenna channels. Using the app “Antenna Point”, we can locate the direction to the closest towers and if we are lucky, capture a dozen or more channels. I think it was through Georgia and South Carolina where we were so delighted to watch original Star Trek episodes while eating dinner. And don’t get me started on my excitement when I found a Mary Tyler Moore marathon somewhere in Pennsylvania! Yes, our boring baby boomer selves often end our evenings watching MeTV, GetTV, Decades and well, you get the picture.

June 21: Friendly Chickens & Zombies in Georgia

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Our languid travels got us barely over the Florida-Georgia border to our next campground where the RV would be well shaded under the oak trees draped thick with Spanish moss that would serve as our home for a week. Surrounded by salt marshes that extend gently toward the ocean, we have a long way to go before we escape the heat and humidity. But that’s OK, there is much to explore in these parts and we are in our element.

Entrance to the campground
Our well-shaded site

Our campground park was small, charmingly old and well shaded. The bonus was the friendly kitty that came to visit us during happy hour in our front yard. The kitty, Boots, belonged to the owner. Boots was not the owner’s only pet; there was a chicken (the name escapes me) who also came calling at happy hour. Apparently, Boots and the chicken were kind of lonely. During the winter months, many seasonal visitors become long term friends with the two. For that reason, we hesitated to hand out treats to Boots and the chicken given we were short term residents. Apparently, Boots spends a fair amount of time sitting on an empty lot mourning the loss of her friends when they pull out and we did not want to contribute to her depressed state of mind.

We could have hung out with Boots and the chicken all day, but we had places to visit, the first being the quaint seaside town Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. It is the northernmost Florida city on the Atlantic side. I discovered it from one of those “Top 10” lists, something to do with charming U.S. seaside towns. We really enjoyed walking around the old neighborhoods.

The 60’s Ford Falcon was timed perfectly.
Charming homes with a flair
Historical and over grown

A bit worn down from our walking tour in the relentless heat and humidity, we were happy to find an air-conditioned Cuban Café not far from main street USA. After getting our “Miami 3:05 PM” fix, we sought out more AC at the Island Art Association Gallery. I always love to see local artists’ work especially when it is inspired by the natural world. This art gallery was the highlight of Fernandina Beach.

Fernandina Beach’s Cuban Cafe
I learned something new from the Island Art Association – “Photo Encaustic” is a form of art where a photograph is combined with wax. Very cool.

I dreamed of photographing the driftwood beach of Jekyll Island, so the next morning I got Vivian up and out the door by 5 am to make the hour-long drive to the beach so I could capture sunrise.

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No that is not a zombie, just me carrying my tripod and camera.

The sunrise was lackluster and the tide was low, so my vision was not met. But the eerie driftwood trees stood out as they always do and I couldn’t help but think of how they might look in the dark surrounded by zombies. Come to find out, zombies have been here before (apparently season 7 of the Walking Dead) and they were back for the upcoming season 10, just hours before we arrived on the scene. I didn’t know this when we first got there and stumbled onto a large shipwreck half buried in the sand. Turns out it was a Walking Dead movie set and dismantling had commenced later that morning. Thankfully, we just missed the zombies.

There’s a story in there somewhere, stayed tuned for season 10 of the Walking Dead.
I tried my luck at another driftwood beach, this time on Talbot Island.


One of the highlights of our visit was the Okefenokee swamp, Georgia’s largest wilderness and the headwaters for the St Mary’s and Suwannee Rivers. We felt at home there, a familiar place where alligators and snakes thrive, and it was so dang hot. Native Americans referred to it as the land of trembling earth where unstable peat deposits tremble when stepped on.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge offers paddling trails to remote camping platforms. We will be back!

We took a boat tour, led by an honest-to-God peat lovin’ swamper who proudly announced he was 6th generation Okefenokian. He then asked where we were from. Vivian said “Chokoloskee Island”. Oddly, the Okefenokee native made a joke about the name Chokoloskee and mumbled something about it being a mouthful. That’s how I expect most people to respond, but not a 6th generation Okefenokian (that’s pronounced O-key-fe-no-key-in), especially given Chokoloskee is short a syllable. Funny sounding names aside, our guide explained to us that the swamp was built upon peat, not mud as he reached down to grab a handful of it. He further explained that if you got out of the boat, you jump up and down on a patch of land and the movement would be felt by someone standing on another patch of land 50 feet away. Land of the trembling earth.

There’s peat under those waters, and yes, gators.

Our travels are steeped in history lessons and learning new words and phrases. I had never heard of Tabby Ruins until this trip. I learned about Tabby ruins while driving to and from our campground many times and passing a small, unpretentious sign that read “The Tabby Ruins”. Finally, curiosity got the better of us and we investigated the ruins on our last evening. Tabby is a term used to describe a concrete made from crushed oysters, lime, sand and water. The ruins that are the remains of forts, plantation homes and commercial buildings can be viewed along the coastline from north Florida to South Carolina. They are so popular that there is a travel guide.


These ruins were once a Sugar cane mill.

Here’s another interesting tidbit – within the Kings Bay naval base on the nearby St Marys River, dolphins are trained to guard it. We learned about the dolphins from the docent at the St Marys Submarine museum whose husband was a navy sailor – except he got horribly seasick and consequently, the navy decided he would serve them better in a submarine. We spent an hour at the museum which included a wonderful video showing life on a submarine (we later learned that the video left out the most interesting parts) and many artifacts and documents from WWII submarines. However, the highlight was the unplanned “15-min before closing” discussion we had with the docent that turned out to be the most fascinating of the tour. Besides the dolphin story, she enthusiastically shared many tidbits of intriguing information about submarine life or “silent service” that are way too many for this blog, but here are three; oxygen gets made, the most important piece of equipment is an ice cream machine and toilets explode.

The two of the three essentials for happy hour here in southern Georgia – the thermacell and a fan.

Our week among the salt marshes and driftwood beaches ended too quickly as we began to prepare once again to hit the road. If it were not for the oppressive heat, we would have explored more, particularly Cumberland Island. But that’s OK, the best part of having home on wheels is we can come back.

Kindred spirits, Everglades friends of ours bought a home on Crooked River. We were fortunate to visit them there and enjoy their backyard view.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: We noticed some bubbling of the decals on the fifth Wheel (2018 Grand Design, Reflection 303rls). You may think this is benign but what can happen is water build-up inside those bubbles. After speaking to Grand Design, we learned the bubbles could be addressed by popping them to release any water. Done, problem avoided. Later in the trip, we stopped at Grand Design headquarters that was on our route picked up a replacement decal. Connie and Vivian 2, RV imps 0.

Looks worse than it really is, easily fixed. Later in the trip, we were in Elkhart and visited the Grand Design headquarters where we were given a new decal to replace this one. I can’t say enough good things about Grand Design’s costumer service, they have been very good  to us.

Issue 2: We are on the move frequently on this trip. That does not leave much time to clean our home on wheels. But it must be done! Regardless of your view (Atlantic Ocean, Grand Tetons, Lake Powell, or whatever majestic scene you are enjoying), you must clean your house. Exhausted from constant heat while exploring the sites, menial indoor housework was a welcomed reprieve.

June 18: Where America Began


It was a meager 75 miles of towing to our next destination, 4 Lakes Campground near St Augustine. The campground was located conveniently near the old city and it honored our Passport America membership for the three nights we stayed, making it the second cheapest full hookup campground for our entire trip. It’s a new campground, recently opened last year. Our site was a pull through and level, which is half the battle at most campgrounds. Were there four lakes? Look it up on Google maps satellite image and you decide.

The view of 4 Lakes Campground from one of the 4 (or 3 depending on how you look at it) lakes.

On to St Augustine, lots of history here. And if you are a fan of the Standard Oil baron Henry Flagler, well this is the place to be because his influence is seen at every turn. While we visited, temperatures reached the mid-90s and typical afternoon storms blew in thwarting much of our sightseeing plans. We signed on for a one-day trolley tour, which was plenty of time to hear the city’s history from the well-informed drivers, all of whom have a gift for storytelling. But ask me if I remember anything from that oral tour of St Augustine? Not a thing, it’s a vague memory of dozens of facts and mini-stories rattled off one after the other as the trolley passed by several points of interest. After hearing the driver introduce himself as “Robert, the dread pirate” in a fake menacing drawl a dozen times to those boarding the trolley, we were ready to get off.

The Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church was built in 1889, in dedication to Henry Flagler’s daughter who died during childbirth. He, along with his daughter, grandchild and first wife are buried in the adjacent mausoleum.

Of course, we wanted to take part in the free tasting at the St Augustine Distillery which comes with the tour. I mean, we do have our priorities! We exited the trolley in pouring rain and went inside the distillery lobby to get our tickets for the next tour. More people poured in as the rain worsened outside and loud thunder surrounded us. And then we lost power. Long story short, after an hour of waiting in the dark, we left the distillery in want of a drink and promptly boarded the trolley for its next stop, the San Sebastian Winery. Lucky for us, the storm blew over, the winery had power, we got our free tasting.

Not a bad way to spend a stormy afternoon in St. Augustine.

The next day, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument and where America began. Almost 350 years old, the fort is the oldest in the United States and looks pretty good for its age. It was built by the Spanish and taken over by the British a couple times. Pretty much done with Florida by this time, the Spanish handed the fort over to United States in 1821. After that, its walls served as a prison during the Seminole wars and one of the most famous prisoners was Osceola, a Seminole leader captured while attending peace talks under a white flag of truce.

At the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, I like the presence of a park ranger over a prison guard.

Storms come and go quickly down here this time of year, so with a short reprieve between them we enjoyed a beautiful view from a roadside park along A1A south of St. Augustine. There, we struck up a conversation with a local fellow who pointed toward a strange looking building off in the distance. He said that was Fort Mantanzas and he highly recommended we visit it, so we did.

Florida  in the summer, love it or leave it.

Fort Mantanzas is a national monument and free. Compared to Castillo de San Marcos, it is extremely unassuming. A ferry takes you a short distance to an island where the fort stands. The round trip ferry ride and self-guided tour of the small fort takes less than one hour. The part I enjoyed most other than the view, was the rickety wooden ladder that leads through a narrow opening to the top of the fort. I was so delighted to see a young girl climb up and down that ladder with only a simple encouragement from mom. No coddling allowed in this fort!

A view from atop Fort Mantanzas.
To reach the top of the fort, you must climb through a narrow opening.
Vivian stays below and strikes up a conversation with a park ranger.

The forts and old St Augustine were the primary attractions for us, but the coquina rock coastline was the highlight for me. I left the RV one morning at 5:00 am and drove 45 minutes to the beach near Marineland. There, the beach is littered with large coquina (shellstone) rock and consequently among the most photographed beaches in Florida. Coquina is also the material used to build Castillo de San Marco and Fort Mantanzas. In the dark, I looked for rock and beach scenes to capture and waited for the sunlight to appear over the horizon. An hour later as I walked back to the truck, I realized I had walked past several fresh turtle nests in the dark.


19Jun19 2resized

19Jun19 3resized

Founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, St. Augustine is claimed to be the oldest U.S. city. But there is a more recent and interesting piece of history to it. St Augustine was a hotbed of racial violence soon after Brown vs Board of Education decision in 1963. KKK as well as police violence gave St Augustine national attention and created an upheaval of sympathy for those at the receiving end of the violence and deep disgust for those invoking the violence. Long story short, the events in St Augustine (including the arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr) were key in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At the end of our two days in St Augustine, we were ready to leave Florida.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: Is the trolley tour and museum passes necessary to experience St Augustine? The historical city is relatively easy to get around by foot if you are capable and willing to do so. And as an alternative to a museum pass, reading the history ahead of time will give you all the history you need as you take in the architecture on your own walking tour. Frankly, we found a lot of the attractions to be too kitschy for our taste. I will admit, purchasing the trolley made it easier to get around in the heat and rain. It also gave us free parking and free distillery and winery tours, so we factored those costs into the deal. Bottom line – do your research before you start purchasing tours and museum passes.

Issue 2: So far on this trip, our Passport America yearly fee has paid for itself and our “America the Beautiful” pass will eventually pay off as well as we continue our trip. I recommend both for long term travelers. There’s another one I recommend as well, Harvest Hosts. It has in the past and will prove once again on this trip that it is well worth the yearly membership fee.

June 16: Springing into Action

June 16resized
Our tow route to Blue Springs State Park. Avoid driving I-4 through Orlando while pulling at all costs!
Driving in Florida, in the summer.

Our five-month trip begins here. Our 250-mile towing route from Chokoloskee Island to Blue Spring State Park began and ended without drama. Well, maybe a little drama as we drove I-4 through Orlando which seems to be entirely under construction. Miles of concrete barriers provided barely enough width to drive through and made me a bit guilty that Vivian did all the driving that day. And right on cue, those Florida summer storms popped up at random with a vengeance. As navigator for the day, I kept one eye on the radar and the other on the map. Fortunate for us, we skirted the storms safely and once we arrived at Blue Spring, we had only a steady sprinkle from the remains of a storm that had blown through earlier.

Blue Spring offers refuge to manatee during the winter months. In the summer, they head north and are nowhere to be seen here.

Depending on what you read, it’s either Blue Springs or Blue Spring that is one of Florida’s most popular state parks. Do NOT confuse it with Blue Springs State Park in southern Alabama. Alabama’s park is a couple of cement ponds that are fed natural spring water at a rate of 3600 gallons per minute. That’s probably adequate to flush out a child’s wee; but call it what it is, a swimming pool.

Blue Spring is popular with scuba divers who can dive in and explore the underwater cave.

Florida’s Blue Spring on the other hand is a first magnitude spring, one of 33 found in Florida. It flushes over 70,000 gallons of water into the St Johns River each minute. Blue Spring is one of 700 springs in Florida where more are still being discovered. When it comes to natural springs, Florida is king. Not only that, Florida’s Blue Spring has manatees and lots of them. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them because like us, manatees prefer warm water and migrate north in the summer.

One of the access points to the springs. The spring is a very short distance from the campground.

We parked two nights in Blue Spring State Park. The state park experience was as expected; crowded, narrow tree-lined roads and cramped campsites. When we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, there was a nice big sign at the entrance that read “No entry, park full” and a roadblock in front of three cars lined up in front of us. I walked to the ranger’s station to let them know we had reservations. He said, “Oh, just move the roadblock and come in and be sure to close it after you get through it”. No problem – got it boss. Except he overlooked the inevitable which was that every vehicle behind our RV would follow us in, lock step. Which left me standing next to the roadblock watching cars go by and wondering if I was going to be fired on my first day of the job. Finally, I took advantage of a car with its driver’s side window down and shouted “Tag, you’re it”. Back at the ranger’s station, another kindly ranger laughed as he told me I should have just closed that roadblock immediately after clearing it. I guess my junior ranger days are numbered.

The 1/3-mile boardwalk follows along the spring and winds through a lush oak and palm forests.

After backing in and setting up in a gentle rain, we walked to the springs where a hoard of children played while their parents grasped the final few hours of a precious weekend before heading home. This is a popular location for locals to enjoy cool water. The park offers a couple access points to the water and some short distance boardwalks through lush forests. It also provides scuba divers access to the underwater caves. If all you do is look at the springs from land, it’s worth being there because it is one of Florida’s gems.

An osprey finds a perfect nesting location in downtown Sanford.

During our short stay, we were glad to have seen the springs, but we mostly looked forward to sightseeing at a couple little towns in the area, DeLand and Sanford. We wanted to visit Sanford because a friend had lived there when he was a yacht broker. He said good things about the river town he once called home, so we took that as a sign to visit Sanford because he rarely says anything good about any place in Florida.

The founder of DeLand, Henry DeLand wanted to make the town the “Athens of Florida”. So what did he do? He hired an architect to build an Italian Renaissance theatre. Built in 1921, DeLand’s Athens theatre has survived deterioration, closure and eventual revival. It continues to be a working theatre.

We visited Sanford in the morning and saved DeLand for the afternoon. I honestly don’t remember much about Sanford. I must admit, it was Monday and everything of interest to us was closed, including most of the downtown shops. But we wanted to see the town, so we stepped into the visitor center hoping to get some local intel. Unfortunately, the only person working there was a young man who behaved as if someone had just woke him from a deep sleep, snatched him from his bed and then dropped him in a visitor center without giving him any instructions or information that would provide him the means to do the job expected of the individual sitting behind a “Welcome to Sanford” sign. In short, we got nothing. After leaving the visitor center bewildered, we wandered aimlessly about town. After walking past a closed sign along main street for the umpteenth time, we decided to move on to Deland.

This is a portion of a very large mural in downtown DeLand. The artist used the faces of actual (past and present) persons to paint onto the bodies. Sense of scale was not keen!
My favorite mural on the walk included bears and other animals.
While walking DeLand’s mainstreet, know that you are being watched.

We were so delighted with the charm of DeLand and its many small (and open!) businesses displaying pride flags that we dug into our pockets and had lunch at Dick & Janes. We enjoy exploring locations and bringing our own lunch and water bottles to refill at a drinking fountain, but we had to splurge in charming DeLand! It wasn’t too horribly hot, so we took a nice walk around the city hunting for murals on the historic mural walk. We found most of them, but the city does make you work to find them! The crowning jewel of our visit was the county court house where a collection of art by Jackson Walker could be viewed at will. What a treat that was for us because it was old Florida and its rich history displayed in one oil painting after another.


One of Jackson Walker’s oil paintings and my favorite within the gallery is of William Bartram, titled “The Flower Hunter”. Bertram was a botanist and Florida explorer. He began his explorations in 1773 and explored much of Florida, including Blue Spring.

That was our entire time at Blue Springs State Park, a nice and easy way to begin our 5-mon trip. With 5 months of traveling and so many different experiences and places ahead of us, I wanted to take in Blue Spring and the surrounding area, but I was itching to move on.

RV and travel issues and concerns

I decided to add a section to each blog that would address issues we were confronted with during our stay at a campground or during the drive there.

The water pump was easily removed and opened. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most difficult of RV maintenance and repairs, this was a 3 (I’d rate it 2 if it wasn’t for the hard to reach screw hole to get it back in place).

Issue 1: We knew going into this that maintenance and repairs were part of the deal and we could only hope that all or at least most of them could be successfully performed by us. On our way to Blue Springs, we took a break and pulled off at a gas station. Our standard routine is to set the plumbing to Dry Camping and then simply turn on the water pump when we go into the RV to use the toilet. This time, the pump did not come on. First time for everything. All connections and settings checked out, so we called the company (Shurflo) that makes the water pump. It’s a water pump, not a deuterium fusion reactor so we figured it could be an easy fix. When we told them what was happening, they suggested it was likely clogged and required a simple cleaning, but if that did not work, they would send a NEW pump. So we took it out, took it apart and cleaned the filter. It worked! Problem solved. Vivian and Connie 1 – RV imps – 0.

Oct 1: Small Town U.S.A.

Land Use in USA
Make note that urban areas makes up less than 4% of the total 48 contiguous states land use.

“City people. They may know how to street fight but they don’t know how to wade through manure.”  Melina Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Road

As we drove a backcountry road that led us to our home for the night, we passed yet another remnant from days long ago. It was an old barn barely standing with a caved in roof that might have been destroyed by a UFO landing, like out of some old B movie. It is one of many that we have passed during our maiden RV voyage through America’s rural Eastern Heartland. Logging almost 2000 miles on backcountry roads of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, we see a lot of evidence of days long past, and that has left a couple impressions.

Northern Indiana, Amish country.


My first impression was from witnessing the widespread blight and poverty in these rural areas. I realize this is not news, but as we drove through depressed areas, we wondered how it got to be like that and how it could exist along with obvious signs of relentless prosperity. Usually these signs were in the form of a large modern home sitting on several well-manicured acres of land on the outskirts of some little town. Quite often, small town neighborhoods were a mixture of occupied homes that were either well-kept or in total disrepair. Certainly, a large city has its pockets of wealth and poverty, but when you drive through a small town and its outskirts, the contrast is more obvious.

Love seeing a small town theatre still in use.

I know cities have had their share of economic hits as well. But big cities have the advantage of being big cities, which means they have resources such as people to make a comeback. Urban areas have the upper hand given that four in five Americans live there, which makes up only 3.6% of the total size of 48 contiguous states. In 2016, 40% of the GDP came from the 10 most productive metro areas. Meanwhile, rural populations are declining, while poverty levels increase. Add to that, problems such as crime and opioid abuse are increasingly rural phenomena.

Every small town has a bar, unless it’s in a dry county.

It wasn’t always like that. After WWII, small towns prospered by contributing to the industrial economy. But much of that prosperity has disappeared for several reasons, including automation and jobs moving overseas. Among the rumblings coming out of rural America these days, perhaps the loudest comes out of coal country. Coal production today is twice as high as it was in 1920. Yet, current employment is about 10% of what it was back then (80, 209 in 2013 vs 784,621 in 1920). You can’t totally blame clean energy for that – instead, it’s technological advances in coal mining that have decreased dramatically the need for manpower (Sourcewatch). Indeed, a once prosperous coal town, Beattyville, KY was given the dubious distinction of being America’s poorest white town from 2008 to 2012 according to Heather Long of CNN Business. It once boomed from coal, oil and tobacco industries and the county where it is located was the No. 1 oil producing county east of the Mississippi for much of the 1900s. Now, 57% of its population receive food stamps and 58% get disability payments from Social Security.

Our Harvest Host MOO-ville Creamery contributed to the Guiness World Book of Records for the town of Nashville, Michigan.

At first glance, it is easy to suggest that people from towns like Beattyville should just buck up and move to where there are opportunities, like cities. I don’t doubt that some have, but this is not easy or even possible for many, especially older workers. Plus, living in most cities is not cheap and housing costs continue to outprice the average person’s income. So, is this the final predicament of rural America? I am going to go out on a limb and say no, it does not have to be that way. While poverty seemed to prevail in many areas we drove through, what we also saw were many small towns that were doing quite well.

Cedar Key
There’s a lot of history in Cedar Key, Florida.

Which leads me to my second impression and that is, each little town has a rich history and stories to share. It seemed no matter where, each town had an interesting fact or person associated with it. And quite often, the history of a small town would include a period of booming industry of some kind. And what I also learned is that a rich history can be turned into an economic resource for a small town.

A little home spun philosophy from Eufaula, AL.

A great example of this is Eufaula, Alabama with a population of about 14,000. It was once a major shipping center on the Chattahoochee River and played a significant role during the Civil War. The City of Eufaula’s website describes its current economic base as a “healthy mix of tourism, light manufacturing, industry, service and agriculture. The city has enjoyed steady growth due to expansion of existing industries and recruitment of new industries. I can personally vouch for its tourism industry having spent time visiting its historic downtown area, museums and historic mansion district. The city has a fascinating history to share and it’s does a good job doing so.

Seeing small town poverty is unavoidable when driving through rural America.

Given that 96.4% of America’s land is not urban, it is no wonder that a large part of RV traveling is through rural and low-population areas. Cities offer a grand view of history, art and culture, but there is something very interesting out there in rural America. A small town can be much more than just that place you want to get through as quickly as possible and certainly don’t want to be stuck in with a repair. The freedom to travel leads us to any place we wish, but we have found good reasons to travel to small town U.S.A. Here are three; the satisfaction of an RV lifestyle that contributes to small town economies, small towns have entertained and enriched us with their histories and stories, and we visit small towns for the first time, but never feel like outsiders. Small town, U.S.A. – more than what meets the eye.

The little town where I spent the first 24 years of my life.

Sep 19: We’re not in the tropics any more

Not what I wanted to see on a September morning!

“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” Anne Bradstreet

Using the reclining chair heater for the first time, I sat huddled in a fetal position under a crocheted blanket that was given to us as a wedding present from a dear friend who has always lived in Michigan. I was so pleased to have something made by my talented friend that I put the thought of never having to use it way in the back of my mind. But now, I was struggling to get every inch of my body under its warmth. Feeling like a wimp, I drank my hot coffee as I stared in horror at my ipad screen. The weather app was telling me it was a frightening 37 degrees outside. This is going to be an interesting month in Michigan.

T-shirt weather.

Only three days ago it was Labor Day when we drove the RV into the northern Michigan campground that would be our home for 28 days. 70ish degree temperatures made camp set-up quite pleasant as we listened to the rowdy glee of several campers in the outdoor pool squeezing out as much summer as they could before winter preparations fell heavy on their minds. The amiable weather continued for the next couple days as we explored the outdoors in t-shirts and long pants. Fall can be so lovely in Michigan. But then reality caught up and it became clear as we watched the temperatures dip well below our comfort zone that we would have to buck up if we were going to do any kind of outdoor activity for the next four weeks.

Ahhh, the beach. That’s me off in the distance photographing Lake Superior. I don’t know what everyone else is doing!


When I left Michigan over 30 years ago, I moved to warmer climates and never looked back. My spouse Vivian is not from Michigan, she comes from a region about as far removed from the north woods as anything can be. Sixty years ago, she was born in Cuba, only 90 miles south of Miami where she has called home for the past 57 years. She is, for all intents and purposes, a tropical girl. To put her in the middle of northern Michigan is like planting a palm tree in a snowbank. As for me, I rarely miss the cold weather and am quite content sweating through a south Florida summer. When temperatures drop below 70, my body goes on alert. Get below 60 and it goes into defensive mode. Vivian, never having had a steady relationship with cold weather just doesn’t know how to respond, except to panic over how few articles of clothing she owns for such climates.

the falls
Well worth braving the cold temps, don’t you think?


During our visit to northern Michigan, the fall chill gradually became more consistent and during that final week up to October 1, we were completely covered in clothing while inside the RV and spending a good portion of each morning strategizing our wardrobe before braving the outdoors. Do I need my long johns? Do I need a hat? Which socks should I wear? Are you taking your Marmot jacket? But somewhere in there, a funny thing happened. Somehow, we began to embrace the cold.

the falls
You can tell who the Floridians are.

The turning point was at Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula. I was so taken in with photographing Lake Superior and the falls that wearing four layers of clothing, hat and mittens just felt so right. I was really getting into the feel of the north winds whipping across my face as I set up the tripod on the beach of Superior. If I was going to photograph Lake Superior, I had to embrace the chill. In fact, I could have spent the entire day standing out in the cold, capturing that powerful great lake. I know from experience that as long as you can stay relatively comfortable while outside in 40-degree temperatures (wind chill well below that), you can be rewarded with warm inviting temperatures and hot beverages later on.

It looks cold, doesn’t it?

We spent the entire day in the frigid air of the upper peninsula with the exception of taking refuge at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub. And when we got back to the RV, it was warm. And it was so cozy. That evening, I wore my flannels and cooked dinner while enjoying the warmth that seemed to accentuate the smells of garlic and spices in our closed-up RV. Instead of the usual loud blow of the AC, the gas furnace offered a comforting low hum. I was loving it. I began to remember what it was like a long time ago. Even in the winter, I always wanted to be outside doing something; running, skiing, shoveling snow, chopping wood. I thought of that sensation of cold wetness and the beautiful feeling of putting on dry, warm clothing afterwards. If you want to enjoy winter outdoors, it simply requires the right attire and you having the good fortune of a warm place to come home to. I was lucky back then and I was feeling lucky now, in my RV.

Fueling up for a day outdoors.

Two nights before our departure, I had one last opportunity to photograph Lake Michigan. One hour before sunset we drove west enjoying our view through farm lands. Once we got to the great lake shoreline, the temperature was no higher than 40 degrees. But I was prepared for it as I walked up and down the beach carrying the tripod and camera, looking for that final shot. Vivian stayed in the truck to keep warm having had her fill of the cold weather from fly fishing several hours that day in one of northern Michigan’s many rivers. We were both embracing Michigan’s great outdoors, she through fishing and me through photographing. That’s what you do; embrace the cold, one degree at a time. The evening sky over Lake Michigan was a beautiful scene unfolding and I was captivated once again by a great lake. It was so easy to ignore the cold. After the sun set and a few blue hour shots, I got back in the warm truck.

Great lake
Thank you Lake Michigan, you were a lovely, lovely subject.

On our drive home, we reminisced about our time in Michigan and believed that we had experienced it as much as we could. We never stopped, even when the weather tempted us to stay in. We began thinking about more trips to northern parts with our home on wheels. This little excursion was only a small taste of what’s to come. But that is all in the future. In the meantime, we had things to do. It was time to pack up, torque the wheels, blow the leaves off the slide outs, and so on. We were preparing to head south; you know, like any self-respecting Floridian would do at that time of year.

deer season
You know it’s time to leave Michigan when you see this.

Sep 12 The Bridge

“When I was on top of a tower on a clear night, it was almost as if you could touch the stars. The sky was so beautiful.” Ron Zielke, Mackinac Bridge ironworker

The Mighty Mac
The bridge reflects on the calm Straits of Mackinac

When I was growing up in northern Michigan, my parents often drove us north on I-75 to Mackinaw City where our favorite aunt, uncle and cousins lived. The best memory I have of that hour-long drive was the exact moment when the Mackinac Bridge towers came into site. I can even remember my thoughts when I first saw the towers. My young brain did not comprehend a bridge because all I could think of was our car on the tower itself. “Are we driving on THAT bridge?” I would nervously ask my parents. The towers represented the bridge and that’s all I could see from a distance.

That exact moment.

Driving across the bridge was even more of a thrill for several reasons. The most obvious one is the bridge itself. The design of Mackinac Bridge was inspired from mistakes learned when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed under high winds. The bridge that would cross the icy Straits of Mackinac would avoid that mishap by employing open-grids on the roadway to reduce wind resistance. Although the grids increase stability in winds up to 150 mph, it’s a little unnerving to drive over them.

It never loses its thrill.

It’s even more unnerving when you are walking the bridge. Each year since the opening dedication in 1958, the bridge is closed to vehicle traffic so that thousands of people can walk it, a tradition held on Labor Day since 1959. While walking, you can’t avoid stepping on the open grids. If you dare and if the bridge sway doesn’t overcome you, the grid openings give you a bird’s eye view of the frigid straits water. This is the same water that is designated as a shipwreck preserve, dedicated to those who were lost on ships sunk in the dangerous shipping lanes.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of cars cross the bridge. For example, during the two busiest months of the year, over 600,000 vehicles cross the bridge in July and again in August. As I researched the bridge, I learned a new word, gephyrophobia, the fear of crossing bridges. A phobia condition has been identified for just about everything; like for instance, fear of ducks watching you or anatidaephobia. But gephyrophobia seems quite justifiable and even more likely to be common among people living in Michigan. Indeed, it is a very serious problem, so much so that the Mackinac Bridge Authority has a driver’s assistance program for individuals suffering from gephyrophobia. Over a thousand people each year employ this service.

Long exposure
A long exposure blurs the 1000-ft freighter passing under the bridge.

The fearful Mighty Mac has acquired several claims to fame over the years and perhaps the most notorious one came from a single event that happened in September 1989 when a 1987 Yugo driven by Leslie Ann Pluhar was blown off the bridge. The fact that it was a Yugo made it difficult for some folks to avoid a hint of humor when discussing the tragic event. But surprisingly, Pluhar’s tragic death is one of only two related to a vehicle falling off the bridge, the second of which was determined to be a suicide committed by Richard Alan Daraban in his 1996 Ford Bronco in March 1997. But these are not the only deaths associated with the bridge. I can remember talk about a man’s body forever sealed inside the concrete used to build the bridge during its construction. But this was an urban myth that just made the bridge appear sinister. In reality, five men did perish during the bridge construction and they are memorialized on a plaque in Bridge View Park, north side.

Aside from the tragedies blamed on the bridge, it is an inspiring piece of architecture. At night, it lights up with a stream of head and tail lights twinkling through the multi-color bridge lights arranged neatly along the trusses, catwalks and towers that are constantly being painted, repaired or maintained. The fact that the bridge connects mostly rural areas of the lower and upper peninsulas makes it look monumental with no interference from city lights. The towers stand boldly but also appear modest against the backdrop of the great lakes, especially in the winter when the straits become an icy plain. Those northern waters command respect and the bridge is a tribute to that fact.

The bridge never sleeps.

Vivian and I parked the RV in a campground about 30 miles south of the bridge in the month of September. During that time, a new moon offered the opportunity for me to capture the Milky Way scheduled to appear in much of its entirety in the southern skies. I had a vision; I wanted to capture it above the Mackinac Bridge, which meant I needed to be in the upper peninsula. So, Vivian and I decided to load our tent & camping gear into the truck and head north on I-75 toward the Mackinac Bridge, leaving our comfortable RV for the night.

At about 10 pm, a few hours after setting up our camp, we walked to the shoreline of Lake Huron, a hundred feet away from our campsite. We took in the uninterrupted view of the Mighty Mac while enjoying the cool, yet comfortable evening air. The bridge was rumbling with traffic that could be seen and heard. The colorful lights reflected playfully on the relatively calm waters. Below the bridge, freighters about the length of three football fields passed under and eventually disappeared into the abyss of the great lakes. The water seemed so peaceful lapping gently on the shoreline, while the bridge stood out in the distance all lit up with lights and activity. The entire scene was an interesting blend of wilderness and commerce. As the temperature dropped, I stood over my camera continuing to capture the bridge’s glory as best I could. Our cozy tent was nearby, but we stayed at the water’s edge for a couple hours, enjoying the Michigan night. “The towers touched the sky and it was so beautiful.”

Milky Way
Not exactly what I was hoping for, but still beautiful to see.

Sep 3 Full Circle

The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” William Thackeray

Wild River
The sun peeks through the fog over the Jordan River Valley.


It was like old times, driving down the rutty dirt road through the remote Jordan River Valley looking for a place to pull off and get out to access the river. Back in the day, a back country drive like this was a way for me and friends to seek thrills and mostly stay out of sight of the police who might spot one of us chugging a beer. This morning, I left our RV campground an hour before sun rise as I always do when I am on a photographic mission. Instead of a cooler of beer in the back seat, there lay a tripod and a backpack full of camera equipment.

Photographing the River
The best part of RV traveling, I have all my photography equipment ready to go at any time.

The pristine Jordan River, designated as Michigan’s first natural river, meanders 32 miles through the northwest region of the state. It is where fly fishermen and canoeists work the shallow and rapid waters and where hikers trek for miles along the river’s edge through low lying wetlands and up and down hilly forests. In many areas of the river it is concentrated with fallen trees strewn about randomly, fodder for beaver dams. In the spring, multiple colors of wildflowers sprout from the dead wood while low lying fog hangs eerily over the water for hours. In the winter, ice and snow accumulate allowing only the fastest moving water to penetrate the whiteness. It’s so wild here and at first glance, appears messy and chaotic. In many ways, it reminds me of the Florida Everglades where I spend most of my time photographing.

Fog over the water
Fog lays heavy over the water, creating a mystical scene.

The entrance to the Jordan River watershed area is a short drive from where I was born and bred. Geographically speaking, my home town, Gaylord is about 50 miles south of the Mackinaw Bridge that connects the upper and lower peninsulas. Ask any Michigander from the lower peninsula where they are from, and they will most assuredly point somewhere on the palm side of their hand and say, “Right about here”. Anatomically speaking, Gaylord is located on the distal interphalangeal joint of the middle finger. Or more appropriately, in the middle of the “tip of the mitt”. The small town of 3600 is surrounded by a vast wilderness. For many of us growing up in northern Michigan, driving for miles on dirt roads through dense forests was a favorite pastime if you were fortunate enough to have a car. The vastness of the wilderness meant freedom.

A trail map of the Jordan River Valley area.
Dirt Road
I love to drive down these roads.

When I left Gaylord 35 years ago, it was mostly to start a new life in a city rather than to escape a rural life. I had goals, and Gaylord was simply not in the plan. I never disliked Gaylord, in fact, I rather enjoyed it. The wild remoteness of northern Michigan was a bonus to me, but when the time came to leave, I never looked back as the city sirens called.

Hint of Fall
I was in Michigan only long enough to see the first hint of fall color.

City life and building a career meant so much more to me at a young age. The irony of it is, as I got older, I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to escape the city. But it wasn’t until I became a nature photographer that my connection to wilderness became poignantly purposeful and later, a significant reason for my RV travels. For the past 15 years, my canoe explorations of the Everglades and other south Florida waterways has been the driving force behind the photography. I spend days at a time paddling the canoe to remote hurricane-swept islands where I find the most beautiful waterscapes to capture. It’s nothing for me to go out in the canoe before sunrise and paddle through a wetland marsh, completely alone and surrounded by water and the wildlife it supports. The south Florida wilderness has been my home for a long time.

Before we came here with the RV, I visited in late spring just in time to capture some wildflower color on the Jordan River.

Since Vivian and I started traveling and living fulltime in our RV this year, Michigan has been at the top of our list of travel destinations. As we planned our first RV trip, my thoughts went back to the beautiful Jordan River and how I might photograph it. While Vivian researched fly fishing opportunities, I researched photo opportunities.

Wild River 2
Chaotic and messy, such is nature in the wild.

After finding a small area to park, I got out and walked carefully down a steep grade through the dense forest that led to the Jordan River. I’ve been here before many decades ago, but back then the river was nothing more than a playground where I could jump logs and see how far I could get without falling into the water. This time, I took my time and carefully stepped over each log while I studied the terrain looking for pleasing compositions and good light. This could go on for a very long time, sometimes resulting in photos, other times not. But I was in no hurry and I could come back again on another day; after all, the RV was parked nearby in a campground for an entire month. I had the luxury of spending hours studying the river’s nuances. Indeed, we planned our RV trip so that we had quality time in one place to make the most of photographing and fishing.

Some color
Come on fall colors, you can do it!

Finally satisfied that I had something worthwhile to photograph, I went back to the truck where I put on my waiters and boots and prepared my tripod and camera. Tripod on shoulder, I walked back to the water where a beautiful scene unfolded before me. As I placed the tripod legs firmly in the sandy bottom, I imagined I was back in Florida’s swamp, it looked and felt all so familiar. I was home again.

The River
The wild Jordan River.

Please check out my YouTube video on photographing the Jordan River.