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

Gunter Hill Campground…

WHAT A FIND! Our first stop in Alabama is Gunter Hill Campground located near Montgomery. What a find! We have a huge concrete pad, a full hookup with 50 amp electric service and a beautiful forest-like setting where we are surrounded by lakes and rivers. All sites have large well maintained picnic tables, a fire pit, and an outdoor grill. Many of the spaces are more than 50 yards apart and they are staggered for optimal view and privacy. All the roads are paved and it’s as easy as catching fish at a fish farm to navigate around in a big-rig motorhome. And listen to this. With my national pass we’re paying only $13 per night., and this includes electric. Although we’re only staying a little longer than a week, one can take advantage of all this and stay here for a full month before being required to depart. This is the best deal we’ve found in the all the time we’ve been traveling, which at this point is more than four years! Sometimes we’ve  stayed in really high-end RV parks and willingly paid as much as $110 per night. But at that rate it’s too expensive for an every day routine. So we feel really smug about the spot where we are right now.

A delightful spot near our site at Gunter Hill RV Park.

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Categories: Alabama | 6 Comments

Going home…

IT’S TIME TO GO HOME. We’ve been traveling and living in our motorcoach about four years now, and it’s time to go home. We’ve seen this great country from coast to coast. We’ve been to the beach at the Pacific, the Atlantic and on the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve stayed at beaches, in the mountains, along streams near waterfalls and in desert areas. We’ve gone boating in beautiful lakes and experienced the Fall colors in New England. We’ve met some remarkable folks and many have become friends. We’ve survived some real challenges and had some great celebrations, but it’s time to go home.

BUT THERE’S A CATCH. Where’s home? When we left San Diego four years ago, we sold our home in Deerhorn Valley. For years now, our motorhome has been home. And now we’re ready once again for a more traditional one, as in “house.” As we’ve explored this country we’ve given lots of thought to where we’d ultimately like to retire. There are so many wonderful states and cities, it’s hard to pick. Beach or mountains? Big city or little town? Temperature? Weather? We’re always hard pressed to answer the inevitable question we’re asked, “What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?” But, we’ve pretty much made up our minds. Oregon will become our new home.

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Categories: Alabama, Oregon | 8 Comments

Goodbye to Pensacola…

IT’S TIME. It’s time for us to move along! We’ve been in Florida, mostly Pensacola, for almost 18 months…far longer than we had planned. I’ve explained to you guys in earlier posts the reasons for our lengthy stay, and I can’t say we ever wanted to spend so much of our Great American Adventure here. But under the circumstances, we couldn’t have found a better place for a lengthy stay. We’ve seen lots of interesting sights, enjoyed the beautiful white sands and sparkling water of the Emerald Coast and met some of the finest people we’ve ever known.

Pensacola Beach at daybreak.

There are miles of beautiful beaches to explore and it’s easy to find one all to yourselves.

Florida’s Emerald Coast.

Mobile Bay on a cloudy day.

WE’VE SEEN LOTS OF SIGHTS. We’ve wandered through the world famous Naval Air Museum more than once and been impressed on each visit with the wealth of information and wonderful interactive exhibits. The young Marines who were our docents had stories to tell and made us proud to be Americans. The little beach town of Destin with its fishing boats and waterfront restaurants was a great day trip as was the Gulf Islands National Seashore. We visited a parrot sanctuary, saw more seafood on display at a fish market than anywhere else in the world, won a lot of money at the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore, took some cooking classes, saw the Blue Angels streak across the sky on several occasions, had brunch with CeeLo Green, and enjoyed lots of local restaurants “off the beaten path.”

Colorful parrots in Pensacola.

National Naval Air Museum.

Barrancas National Cemetery at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Pensacola is home to the Navy’s Blue Angels and we enjoyed seeing them many times during our stay.

These Hornet Jets fly at speeds up to 500 miles per hour, so it takes a pretty experienced photographer to get nice clear photos. But even though these aren’t as I’d like them, I’m posting so you can get an idea of how impressive the show is.

A TURKEY SHOOT? HURRICANES? HUH? I never dreamed I’d participate in a turkey shoot, eat real legitimate Southern barbeque, or be glued to the weather channel for hours on end as several hurricanes and tornadoes passed close-by. And last but not least, Pensacola is where we welcomed our little puppy Molly to the family when we picked her up at the airport after she made her trip to us from the breeder in Oklahoma. She’s been a delight ever since day one and, looking back, we’re hard-pressed to remember what we did with ourselves all day before she arrived!

This is Molly on the day we picked her up at the airport. She weighed only two pounds when we got her.

Florence takes aim with a shotgun at the turkey shoot.

Joe Patti’s Seafood Market has every imaginable kind of fish and shellfish. It’s by far the largest display of fresh fish I’ve ever seen under one roof. If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t live in the ocean. 

PENSACOLA RV PARK. We met lots of southern folks, up close and personal, and came to appreciate their respectful manners and gracious hospitality. The Williams family, who hosted our lengthy stay at Pensacola RV Park, is truly the epitome of all that’s good about the South. We will always feel blessed that we met and were able to get to know them. Hopefully our paths will cross again someday.

If you’re ever in the area, call this park for reservations. The park itself and the people who own and operate it are top notch! Thanks, you guys, for a wonderful stay and lots of memories!

 

The spaces are large and well maintained at Pensacola RV Park.

 

WE’LL LEAVE IN A COUPLE DAYS. Stay tuned, as we’ll announce our travel plans soon. We hope you’ll continue to join us on the next leg of our Great American Adventure.

I’ll continue my story next time.

Categories: Florida, History | 8 Comments

Here comes Cindy!

10 PM, JUNE 20, 2017

FIRST AN UPDATE: For those of you who follow my blog, I’m happy to report that my surgery is complete as is the biopsy. No malignancy! My doctor wants to monitor me for a couple more weeks and then we’ll be on the road again. Thank goodness! We’ll head to Georgia, then to South Carolina to visit my friend Jackie in Greenville. After that stop we will explore North Carolina, with a stop to spend some time with our dear friend Julie who lives in Charlotte. We’ll also take another look at Tennessee, Arkansas and Virginia. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

HURRICANE SEASON HAS ARRIVED.  The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season began June 1st and will last until the end of November. And the season is off to a quick start with tropical storm Cindy now threatening the Gulf coast. A tornado watch has just been issued for Pensacola and the National Weather Service is warning of imminent torrential rain, flash flooding, rip currents, high surf advisory and beach closures. Cindy will likely become a hurricane shortly. Great! Despite having been in the path of some very threatening weather in the past and being spared a direct hit, we’re concerned. These kinds of weather events are still pretty new to us and we’ll be glad when they’re just a distant memory.

This is the way things look right now! Pensacola is in the center of the screen. 

HERE COMES CINDY. At this moment, tropical storm Cindy is a huge and very messy weather system approaching the Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle, where we’re staying. Short of leaving the area, we’ve taken all the precautions we can at the moment. The awnings are retracted, the patio umbrella is secured as is the American flag, and the satellite dish has been closed down to present as little wind resistance as possible. We’ve emptied our tanks and taken on a supply of fresh water. Now we wait, but it looks like this storm is going to be a bad mamba jamba which will threaten us for at least the next five days. And we may have to evacuate sooner! Stay tuned.

UPDATE: JUNE 21, 2017: Tornado watches and warnings all day long. Severe flooding on roadways. Heavy rain, but we are safe. Storm continues.

UPDATE: JUNE 22, 2017: The rain is so heavy that it sounds like we’re inside a snare drum! Tornado watch in effect today until 3 PM, Central Time. Wind is picking up speed.

JUNE 24, 2017: The storm has passed, skies are sunny and but for the humidity all is well.

I’ll continue my story next time.

Categories: Florida | Leave a comment

Christ on a bicycle!

IT’S HARD TO WRITE A TRAVEL BLOG. Christ on a bicycle! When you’re not traveling, it’s darn-near impossible to write a travel blog. That’s been my frustration for more than a year while we remained in Pensacola on my doctors’ orders after the “brush with death” I had in November of 2015. Even though I’ll be forever grateful for the miraculous recovery I enjoyed and all your prayers and support, our Great American Adventure has not for quite a while been what we’d anticipated. And now, of all places, we’re  back in Pensacola!

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Categories: Brush With Death, Florida, People | 10 Comments

North America’s Oldest City, Part 2…

PLAN FOR THE DAY. It was bright and beautiful this morning, but there was also a brisk, chilly wind. We decided to visit a national monument in the colonial district and then take a look at Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Park. I was pretty sure that if I could consume a pint of that Fountain of Youth elixir I’d be good to go for another fifty years. That didn’t really work out, but at least I tried. And after that we hoped the weather would be a little warmer so we could introduce Molly to the ocean.

CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS NATIONAL MONUMENT. The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It’s located on the western shore of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine. Construction began in 1672, 107 years after the city’s founding by Spanish Admiral and conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles when Florida was part of the Spanish Empire. This Spanish fort stood firm against English attacks and helped Spain to hold Florida for many years. During the American Revolution it was a British stronghold. Later it became a battery in the U.S. coastal defense system.

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Categories: Animals, Florida, History, National Parks | 2 Comments

North America’s Oldest City, Part 1…

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA. As we prepare to leave Florida after so much time in the state, our last stop is St. Augustine, located on the Atlantic coast of eastern Florida. It’s the oldest city in North America. In fact it predates Jamestown and Plymouth by decades. It was founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Mendez de Aviles. And nowhere else in the world can you taste the waters of the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park where Ponce de Leon may have landed. Who knows, if I can drink enough of that water, this may turn out to be the best stop of our entire Great American Adventure! Read more »

Categories: Florida, History, People | 2 Comments

Kennedy Space Center…

WE TOOK A TOUR BUS. From Orlando, it’s just over an hour’s drive to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast, adjacent to Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean. We left “home” early with our friends Ben and Suzanne and arrived at KSC on schedule in about an hour. The Space Center is huge, with lots of buildings and exhibits spread over a very large area, far too large to explore on foot. But we took a NASA bus took on a narrated tour to even the most remote facilities and it was a pretty special trip. It’s awe-inspiring to get an up close view of the facilities that have actually constructed the launch vehicles, pads and even NASA’s Atlantis, one of the actual space shuttles. It’s on display in the Visitor Complex, suspended with its payload bay doors opened such that it appears to be back in orbit around the Earth. A multi-story digital projection of Earth rotates behind the orbiter. Atlantis returned to Earth for the last time on July 21, 2011. By the end of its final mission, Atlantis had orbited the Earth a total of 4,848 times, traveling nearly 126,000,000 miles.

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Categories: Florida, History, Museums | 4 Comments

Disney Springs…

A MALL, NOT A THEME PARK. More theme parks are located in Orlando than in any other city in the world. Disney World, Epcot Center, Sea World, Legoland to name just a few. But we’ve already been to these parks years ago and frankly didn’t have any interest in fighting the crowds to spend lots of money to see them for a second or third time. So today, we went to Disney Springs…a huge outdoor mall, not a theme park. Read more »

Categories: Florida, People | 4 Comments

Bok Tower Gardens and Pinewood Estate…


A GOOD DAY FOR A PICNIC. 
Yesterday would have been a good day for a picnic in central Florida. The skies were clear and a gentle breeze softened the upper 70’s temperature in the afternoon. The problem is that we hadn’t thought about a picnic when we began a drive down Highway 27…we were just “looking around.” But next time we’ll know to pack a lunch and stop for the afternoon at Bok Tower Gardens where after lunch we can get a second look at the Pinewood Estate and listen to the carillon concert at the Singing Tower.

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Categories: Florida, History, Museums | 2 Comments

Tiffany Art in Orlando…

A RAINY DAY. Today was overcast and drizzly, so it seemed like a good day for an outing we could enjoy indoors. We had read about a large collection of Tiffany art on display in the nearby suburb of of Winter Park, so we decided to pack up for the day and take a look. We’re glad we did.

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Categories: Florida, History | 2 Comments

Orlando, Florida…

WE’VE ARRIVED IN ORLANDO. We’ll be in Orlando for the next few months, enjoying the sun and beach weather as we wait for the rest of the country to get warmer. We’ve learned that motorhome travel is severely limited during the winter months as it’s just too cold to do much or go many places. Having lived in Southern California all our lives, and being spoiled by the year-round temperate weather, it’s taken some time for us to accept this reality. On those occasions in the last few years when we’ve decided to brave the weather so we could continue our Adventure, we’ve been reined in by freezing temperatures, violent thunderstorms, tornado threats, black ice and close-calls! So, we’re no longer trying to “keep things going” at this time of year. As soon as it warms up enough to travel again, we’ll head north in search of destinations we’ve yet to explore.

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Categories: Florida | 2 Comments