Join us as we explore America…

 

WELCOME ABOARD!

This is the story of our “Great American Adventure.” It’s a record of our years-long motor home journey across America. It’s my online scrapbook. My collection of trinkets. My recording of nature’s soundtrack. I want to capture here the sights and sounds of our country, the breeze across the water and the smell of salt sea air. I want to hear the noisy bustle of city streets and the peace and quiet in the redwood forest. I want to milk a cow and drive a tractor, ride in a freight train’s locomotive and learn about hobos during the Depression. I’ll play checkers with one of the fellas in front of the General Store, visit the Grand Ole Opry, Woodstock and Radio City Music Hall.  I’ll go to a rodeo and watch the cowboys compete.  I’m going to sit a while with the old man on a bench and listen…really listen, to what he has to say. I’ll meet a  fisherman in New England and chat with him about the day’s catch. And I’m going to help anyone I can, in any way I can, along the way. I want to make a difference. I want to see our country and meet the people who live here.

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Las Vegas, New Mexico…

BREEZING THROUGH LAS VEGAS. Today is our second short stop in the little historic town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. We were here briefly in October of 2014, when we were in the area to explore Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands National Park and all the UFO sites in Roswell, New Mexico. This time we’ll just be here for a night and tomorrow we’ll head to a CoE Park near Santa Fe. It’s dry and brisk tonight. The temperature is about 45 and it’ll get down to the low thirties before morning. We’re at an almost deserted KOA park and it’s as dark as India ink outside. The only light is our little porch light and the stars shine brightly. The weather continues to guide us, as neither one of us relishes travel in snowstorms or on icy roads but so far we’re comfortable. And with the furnace in our motorhome, we’re cozy and warm as toast.

The town of Las Vegas, New Mexico was born of a Mexican land grant in 1833. Before that the area played host to Indian hunters, Spanish explorers and travelers of the Santa Fe Trail who took advantage of its hot springs and clear rivers.

 

The historic Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

 

INTERESTING TRIVIA ABOUT LAS VEGAS. 

  1. Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate lived in Las Vegas for a while in the 1870’s. They got into so much trouble they had to move to Tombstone, Arizona!
  2. Jessee James came came to town in 1870 to enjoy the Hot Springs. He was looking for a place to live anonymously. But he got into a horse race with Billy the Kid and three years later he was shot in the back by Charlie Ford.
  3. Colonel “Teddy” Roosevelt’s Rough Riders (623 strong) held their first reunion, one year after the battle of San Juan Hill, in Las Vegas in June of 1899. Amid the celebration and wild west show, Roosevelt announced his candidacy for president of the United States.
  4. Some of the West’s most infamous outlaws and troublemakers passed through Las Vegas. Among them: Scar-Face Charlie, Mysterious Dave, The Durango Kid, Cockeyed Frank, Webfingered Billy, Rattlesnake Sam, Cold Deck George, Flapjack Bill, Stuttering Tom, Little Jack the Cutter, Tommy the Poet, Flyspeck Sam and Handsome Harry the Dance-hall Rustler.

 

NEXT STOP. Our next stop will be at Cochita Lake near Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s the “end of the line” on the Old Santa Fe Trail which we’ve been driving for the last week or so.  We hope you’ll join us again there. I’m sure there will be lots to see and do!

 

Cochita Lake, New Mexico is just about 20 miles from Santa Fe. From the pictures we’ve seen, it looks as if it will be a good place to stay for a while, weather permitting. 

 

 

We’ll find lots to see in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

I’ll continue my story next time.

Categories: History, New Mexico, Wild West | Leave a comment

Driving through Colorado into New Mexico…

KANSAS IS BEHIND US.  Kansas is behind us and as we enter Colorado we find ourselves in a vast and sparsely populated area called  the Comanche National Grassland. In the distance we see the snow covered mountains around Denver and we’re glad that we made the decision to change our route and avoid the severe weather there. Vegetation here is mostly short-grass prairie although pinyon and juniper trees are found in rocky canyons, and cottonwoods and willows grow near streams. The landscape is vastly different from what we saw for so long as we drove through Missouri and Kansas, and grassland finally yields to some hills and pines. We’re on the Original Santa Fe Trail, one of America’s scenic byways. The Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. It served as a vital commercial highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880.

THE SANTA FE TRAIL. In 1821, the land beyond Missouri was a vast uncharted region called home to great buffalo herds and unhappy Indians, angered over the continual westward expansion of the white man. Before Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the Spanish banned trade between Santa Fe and the United States. After independence, Mexico encouraged trade. Though numerous dangers awaited him, Captain William Becknell was determined to make the trip through water-less plains and war-like Indians to trade with the distant Mexicans in New Mexico. On September 1, 1821, Becknell left Franklin, Missouri with four trusted companions, and after arriving in Santa Fe on November 16, and making an enormous profit, he made plans to return, thus blazing the path that would become known as the Santa Fe Trail.

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Categories: Colorado, History, Kansas, New Mexico, Wild West | 4 Comments

Leaving America’s Heartland…


IT’S WINDY!
  If Chicago is the “windy city” then the state of Kansas must be the country’s windiest state. Wow! A day or two ago the wind was so strong on the highway that we were forced to stop driving early in the day. We were fortunate to find a beautiful lake near the little town of Marion, Kansas where we took shelter for a few days and contemplated our next move. The sustained winds were about 40 miles per hour with gusts to 55 mph. It’s just not safe to drive in that kind of weather! We’ve now continued west on Interstate 70 to another small town called Goodman, Kansas, where the winds were calmer. But we’re planning to leave in the morning, because the weather forecast is for increasingly high winds, freezing temperatures and light snow. I just don’t know how to drive in these kinds of conditions! Before we depart, though, I want to give you my last impressions of Mid-America.

 

Wind farms are common sights on the plains of Kansas. And the propellers move briskly!

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America’s Heartland, Part II

WE’RE MOVING ALONG. A few days ago we put Missouri in our rear-view mirror and traveled west to Kansas, in search of Dorothy and Toto. We didn’t find them, but we did find more interesting spots in mid-America. The seasons are changing. There’s a chill in the air. Leaves fall from the trees and a red fox peers at us from the thicket as if to suggest that we’d best move along before snow covers the ground. We’ll next be in Utah and then Colorado. I’ve never driven in the snow, and I’m hoping the weather will cooperate so I don’t have to learn how to do it.

 

Believe it or not, this is the road leading to the town of Cherryvale, Kansas. I’d say we are a bit off the beaten track!

 

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America’s Heartland…

MANSFIELD, MISSOURI. As we trek across America from East to West, we find ourselves today in Mansfield, Missouri. Only about three hundred families live here. We’re still in the Ozarks. Highway signs blare: “Abortion is murder!” Streets have names like Hickory Hollow and Cemetery Road. A gunmetal water tower announces the town’s name. “Rick’s Quality Used Car Lot” lures customers with a string of multi-colored triangle-shaped flags flapping in the breeze. The lot is on Main Street. Of course. Baptist churches are everywhere. It doesn’t seem as if there are enough people to fill the pews on Sunday mornings. Everyone in “Ma and Pa’s Diner” knows each other. They’re polite to us but a bit skeptical of Californians. There’s a gas pump outside. A tractor driving down the road slows traffic. The town is very quiet.

 

Main St and Town Square of Mansfield, Missouri.

 

 

Rocky Ridge Farm, in Mansfield, Missouri. This is where the “Little House on the Prairie” books were written. The Laura Wilder Museum is next door. It’s closed. We’re parked in a grassy field nearby, where Molly has lots of room to run. She loves it here.  

 

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American writer known for the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books, released between 1932 and 1943, which were based on Wilder’s childhood in a settler and pioneer family. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the television series “Little House on the Prairie” was loosely based on the Little House books, and starred Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls and Michael Landon as her father, Charles Ingalls. 

 

 

Rural Missouri in America’s Heartland.

 

AMERICA’S HEARTLAND. This is middle America, a casual term for the United States heartland. The term is generally used as both a geographic and cultural label, suggesting a Central United States small town or suburb where most people are middle class, Evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant or Catholic. These are white folks. Hard work, simplicity and honesty are highly valued. As a cultural label, mid-America is contrasted with the more culturally progressive urban areas of the country, particularly those of the East and West coasts. Conservative, family values are typical of Middle America, although larger cities and major university cities are exceptions. Accordingly, many of the political battleground states are located in this part of our country. The economy is traditionally agricultural. Home prices are very low and economic disparities between folks are less pronounced than on the coasts. 

 

We’re in Middle America, “America’s Heartland.” The way of life and political climate here is as different from San Diego as “night and day.” Life is slow and measured. Everyone drives a dirty pickup truck. A few cows resting under an oak tree swish their tails to discourage the flies. There’s not much to do. Walmart is about 25 miles distant, and folks drive there just for an outing. 

 

Rural Missouri in America’s Heartland.

 

Typical scene “just outside of town.”

 

NEXT STOP: CHERRYVALE, KANSAS. By tomorrow evening, we’ll be in Cherryvale, Kansas…almost twice the size of Mansfield. Whowhooo! But it’ll no doubt be an interesting stop because it’s the home of Sam Avey, the wrestling promoter! (In Cherryvale, it’s a bit of a stretch to find notable people from the area!) However, and this may be the town’s saving grace for me, it’s also headquarters for the South Kansas and Oklamoma Railroad, a shortline that runs 511 miles of track in Kansas and Oklahoma. No kidding, those of you who have followed me on our journey for the last four years know that I’m a true “rail-hound,” a “train buff.” (Look on the “topic list” at the right of this page in blue print and click on “railroad” to see some of my railway posts.) So we’ll hope for the best. Plan to join us…you never know what you’ll find in the tiny towns of America’s Heartland. I’ll see you again in a few days.

“OREGON OR BUST”

 

I’ll continue my story next time.

 

 

 

Categories: History, Missouri, Museums | 3 Comments

Welcome to the Ozarks…

WELCOME TO THE OZARKS. We’ve arrived in southern Missouri’s Ozark Mountain Country, also referred to as “the Ozarks.” It’s a highland geologic region of the country’s central states of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, extending in Missouri all the way northeast to the suburbs of St. Louis.  Although sometimes referred to as the Ozark Mountains, the region is actually a high and deeply dissected plateau, covering nearly 47,000 square miles.

 

We’re in Missouri’s Ozark Mountain Area. The Ozarks are actually not mountains. Rather, the area is a huge plateau extending in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  

 

The hills in Tennessee, Kentucky and here in the Missouri are heavily wooded, green and beautiful. I love San Diego and it is certainly beautiful, but compared to this the landscape there is like a desert.  

 

Cattle ranch in the Ozark mountain area of Missouri.

 

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The Solar Eclipse…

How does the moon cut the sun’s hair? Eclipse it.

SOLAR ECLIPSE ON AUGUST 21, 2017. Not since 1979 and not again until 2024 will there be a solar eclipse like this one. What a big deal! I don’t know where you were during the eclipse, but in this part of the country seeing it was supposed to be a real “happening.” We’re staying at Wappapelo Lake in Missouri, close to the “path of totality” in a coveted spot to watch the moon pass between the sun and the Earth, according to the local astronomy folks.  People  from far and wide traveled great distances to get a glimpse of this rare phenomenon. For example, a farmer in a small town in Oregon rented spaces in one of his fields to ten thousand out-of-town folks who camped overnight to witness the eclipse! Everywhere we’ve been for the last month, folks have been talking about it. Safety glasses were given out in libraries and visitors’ centers and folks were definitely “on the road” for this event.  For this eclipse, the longest period when the moon completely blocked the sun from any given location along the path was only about two minutes and 40 seconds.  The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse like this was in 1979. Here are the stats for Lake Wappapello, where we watched the eclipse.

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Categories: History, Missouri | 2 Comments

Have you ever found a “kindness rock?”

KINDNESS ROCKS. Several weeks ago, I began finding small rocks, painted with inspirational quotes, around RV parks and at the beach. They were in plain view, unlike geocaches which are carefully hidden. Have you guys seen these kinds of rocks, just lying around on the ground? “What’s going on with this?” I wondered. So I checked it out and here’s what I learned.

 

Who’d have ever guessed I’d put a post on my blog about Kindness Rocks? Not too many years ago I wouldn’t have been “caught dead” posting such a silly thing, much less thinking about painting a rock on a rainy day. But now, it seems kind of fun and I’m no longer much concerned about what folks think! What about you? 

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Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes…

LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES. We’re in Kentucky now, staying for a few days in an area known as Land Between the Lakes. It is an inland peninsula formed when the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers were impounded, creating Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley–one of the world’s largest man-made bodies of water. The Army Corps of Engineers began construction of this huge recreational area in 1959, and in 1963 President John F. Kennedy created Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, a 170,000-acre national recreation space for all to enjoy. LBL was formed to demonstrate how an area with limited timber, agricultural, and industrial resources could be converted into a recreation asset that would stimulate economic growth in the region. Land Between the Lakes is the country’s only such national demonstration area. The park within this vast area where we’re staying is called Hurricane Creek.

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Categories: Animals, History, Kentucky | 8 Comments

Defeated Creek Campground…

WE’VE BEEN LUCKY. Since departing Florida last month, we’ve been very lucky selecting wonderful parks where we can stay along our cross-country trek. It’s not always easy to determine in advance how a place really looks…websites employ very crafty photographers to make the most of what a park has to offer. But often when we arrive we can barely recognize the place compared to what we saw online. Not so, we’ve learned, at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (CoE) parks and recreation areas. In our experience a CoE park is a sure bet. And our spot at Defeated Creek is no exception. In fact it may be the nicest spot we’ve stayed, ever! We’ve extended a planned four-day stop to ten days.

A perfect spot.

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Categories: History, Tennessee | 6 Comments

My wife can repair anything!

Access to the refrigerator components is from the outside. This is where Florence worked her magic and got our fridge up and running again. When I look at a mass of wires like that, all I can think of is calling for help!

IF IT’S BROKEN, SHE CAN REPAIR IT. I’m convinced that my wife can repair anything, so it’s time for me to write this post and pat her high! The topic is a little  embarrassing for me, but here we go. If it breaks, Florence can fix it. I’ve known she was handy for years, but since embarking on our motorhome adventure her skills have become far more obvious and far more necessary. Think about it. What if your brick and mortar house could be driven down the road…the plumbing, electrical systems, appliances, computers, and televisions all would take a real beating every time there was a pothole in the road! Right? Well, that’s exactly what happens even with the highest quality motorhomes. Things just stop working once in a while after taking such a beating. And it’s the reason that no matter how far off the beaten track we wander, there always seems to be a mobile RV repairman in the area. I’m convinced these guys make a fortune! I’ve often threatened Florence with “putting her to work.” If I purchased one of those inexpensive magnet signs advertising RV repair service and slapped it on the side of our Jeep, she’d be able to drive around these RV parks trolling for business. And she’d make a fortune just like the rest of those guys!

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The Beauty of Cades Cove…

 

No, we didn’t see a bear. But we might have, and I knew this photo would get your attention.

OUR LAST DAY AT THE PARK. Today was our last day in Gatlinburg so we had to choose between many places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to visit. We chose Cades Cove, on the advice of several locals whom we met at breakfast the other day. There are so many things to see and do in this area we wish our schedule allowed for a longer stay. A two or three month summer vacation would be about right to see all that’s in the Park and also in the town of Gatlinburg. If you’re going to come here, don’t make the same mistake we made and cut your visit short. Figure out how much time you’d like to spend and then double it! Oh my gosh, I wanted so much to stay here longer but in order for us to reach Oregon and find a new home in a timely fashion, we have to move on. When I tried to push Florence for a longer stay here she reminded me of this. And, even if I’d pushed, my authority is pretty much limited to having her pass the chips and guacamole! What can I say?

 

Visiting this park has been one of the highlights of our Great American Adventure.

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Categories: History, National Parks, North Carolina, Scenic Byways, Tennessee | 4 Comments

The Mountains are Calling…

GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE. You’re going to like it here! This small mountain town is home to less than 4,000 folks but it attracts more than 11 million visitors a year and can grow to a population of 40,000 on any given night. It’s nestled at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America. The locals claim that Gatlinburg is where Sunday drives were invented. There are three entrances to the Park from Gatlinburg and each one takes you through a different section of the 800 square miles of unspoiled Appalachia. The weather has been picture postcard perfect for our visit: blue skies and white fluffy clouds with high temperatures in the upper 70’s. And, for the first time in over a year, low humidity! It’s even bit a little chilly in the evening. We’re loving it!

 

The downtown parkway in Gatlinburg has hundreds of shops, restaurants, boutiques, hotels, lodges, dinner theaters and outfitters. A diner’s paradise and a shopper’s paradise. 

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Categories: Animals, History, Jeep, National Parks, North Carolina, Tennessee | Leave a comment

Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campground…

 

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE. Here we are in Tennessee at the Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campground in Chattanooga. The city is located in the southeastern part of the state, along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It is one of the top destinations in the South. It’s trolley-like Incline Railway scales steep Lookout Mountain before reaching Ruby Falls and Rock City, just across the border from the state of Georgia. From the observation point, it’s possible to see more than 100 miles to the Great Smoky Mountains and it marks a point in the US where 7 states meet along their borders: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. We’re now on the last leg of our years-long motor-home adventure across America. By November we’ll reach Oregon, which will become home for us. But we’ve got lots to see and do before then, right now in Chattanooga and then as we make our way to the West coast. So here’s a bit about Chattanooga. 

SUPER-FAST INTERNET. But first, here’s an interesting fact: Chattanooga may not be the first place that springs to mind when it comes to cutting-edge technology. But thanks to its ultra-high-speed Internet, the city has established itself as a center for innovation – and an encouraging example for those frustrated with slow speeds and high costs from private broadband providers. The city rolled out a fiber-optic network a few years ago that now offers speeds of up to 1000 Megabits per second for just $70 per month. This is light-years ahead of average U.S. connection speed, which is typically about 10 megabits per second. A city-owned agency, the Electric Power Board, runs its own network, offering higher-speed service than any of its private-sector competitors can manage. We became aware of the super-fast internet shortly after we pulled into our campsite. Wow! It’s even faster than the T-3 connection I had in my office when I was practicing law in San Diego, and at 45 megabits per second that was about as fast as one could get in those days.

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Categories: History, Railroad, Tennessee | 2 Comments

An eye-opener for me…

Martin Luther King, Jr.

VISITING MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA. Visiting downtown Montgomery was an eye-opener for me! The blacks and the whites don’t sit around singing Kumbaya together. All is not well, despite all the progress made during the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I’ll tell you a little about the progress made during the Civil Rights era, but I’ll also show you what I saw today. I guess I’m naive. I thought things would be different.

CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. African Americans in Montgomery nurtured the modern civil rights movement. In the post-World War II era, returning African-American veterans were among those who became active in pushing to gain their civil rights in the South. They wanted to be allowed to vote and participate in politics, to freely use public places and to end segregation. They comprised most of the customers on the city buses, but were forced to give up seats and even stand in order to make room for whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King, Jr., then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church led the boycott. Since fully 3/4  of those who rode the bus were black, it didn’t take long for Dr.King’s point to be made. By June of 1956, the US District Court ruled that Montgomery’s bus racial segregation was unconstitutional. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, the city desegregated the bus system and the boycott ended.

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Categories: Alabama, History | 2 Comments

Mrs. B’s Home Cooking…

Mrs. B. cooks the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, hands down!

THE REAL DEAL. We’ve had some pretty good meals since we left San Diego more than four years ago. But for the real-deal Southern home-cooked fare, our lunch today at Mrs. B’s was far and away the best. We happened on it by chance. Driving to Starbucks we decided we were hungry and Florence found four our five places on our GPS. They all sounded good, but for some reason I picked Mrs. B’s. I’m so glad I did. When we arrived, I had second thoughts for a moment. The place was located in a pretty run-down residential neighborhood and for some reason I felt a little nervous. After all, we are now in the truly deep South and far from any tourist attractions. We’ve unintentionally been around some real white trash and some blacks that looked as if they’d skin you alive for a twenty dollar bill! We’ve had a few “scares” as I’ll write about soon, but we decided to march right in to this little restaurant like we owned the place. Wow! The diners were mixed, friendly and seated at tables “family style.” I could judge in an instant that the food prepared here was going to be special and the owner and her helpers worked hard to make it so.

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Categories: Alabama, Armed Forces, Eateries | Leave a comment

Lowndesboro, Alabama…

AN HISTORIC TOWN NEAR GUNTER HILL. Over the years, I’ve shown you guys some small towns in lots of different “off the beaten path” parts of the country. They were all small, but Lowndesboro, Alabama is really tiny. However, despite its population of only about 140 souls, it’s packed with charm, a colorful history and lots of examples of Southern architecture dating from the 1800’s. Initially incorporated in 1856 by an act of the state legislature, Lowndesboro lapsed and was not reincorporated until 1962. It is one of only two towns in the county with a white majority of residents. We heard about this place last evening from some locals we met and decided this morning to go take a look. Here we go.

This is the road from Gunter Hill to Lownsburo. It’s typical of country roads in the deep South. It’s not uncommon to be slowed by a tractor driving down the road or animals wandering from one place to another. And there are alligators in the ponds and bogs on either side of this and many back-country roads. When we first arrived in the South, this terrified me. But now that we’ve spent so much time here it just seems like an ordinary situation! Just don’t swim without knowing it’s safe. 

Marengo House. Circa 1847. Now used as a Town Hall.

The grounds surrounding Morengo are meticulously maintained. There’s nowhere here to spend one’s tourist dollars so the townsfolk are motivated by a desire to memorialize the history, I suppose, rather to make a buck. Impressive. 

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Categories: Alabama, Alligators, History | 2 Comments