May, 2018 – Paducah, Kentucky

The trip north from the center of Tennessee to the area north of the Land Between the Lakes near Paducah, Kentucky was a nice drive through the multiple towns to the west of Kentucky Lake.  We actually drove past Murray State University, which we are familiar with from their multiple appearances in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, but never knew where it was located.  We arrived at another Corps of Engineers campground on the extreme northwest shore of Lake Barkely by 1:00 in the afternoon.  Our initial impression of the campgrounds was pleasant as it is located in a beautiful location on the shore.  However, our impression soon changed as we approached our campsite.  While it all looked inviting, we found the paved road to be extremely narrow with tight turns that barely accommodated the RV that was bordered on the uphill side with a deep concrete ditch.  It would not have been too bad if our campsite was near the bathrooms as the parking in front of the bathroom would have given us room to maneuver.   Unfortunately, our site was right on the beginning of a curve with two trees blocking any kind of straight shot into the site.  My first attempt to back the RV in was a complete disaster as I had no room to swing the truck around once I got the RV pointed into the site.  I had to pull back forward and try again coming in very shallow.  Once again I was not able to straighten out the truck before the back end of the RV threatened to hit a tree.  By this point I was about convinced there was no way to back into the site.  Willing to try one more time I came in VERY VERY shallow and pulling the truck forward multiple times to get it lined up with the RV.  Thankfully a neighbor came over to give us a hand and with his help I could ignore the RV itself and concentrate on just the truck.  Between the three of us we finally managed to get everything lined up and backing straight into the site.  Once in, our opinion of the campground immediately improved and we enjoyed watching the families of Canadian geese that frequented the area between us and the lake.

Last spring we visited the south end of the lakes but confined our attention to Fort Donelson and Fort Henry on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, respectively.  These forts were instrumental during 1862, the early part of the Civil War.  This year our goal was to explore the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area.  So we started out with this in mind on Tuesday.  We stopped at the Welcome Center on the north end of LBL and obtained information about the hiking trails and sights to see.  Here we learned that the main Visitor Center was quite a distance away at the center of LBL, which made sense, but also convinced us to spend our first day in the northern part of LBL rather then starting with the Visitor Center as we normally do.  Our destination was the Woodlands Nature Station which offered hiking trails and a small zoo of native animals.  As you enter the area there is a short hike through the remains of Hematite Furnace that we stopped at first.  This is a short interpretive hike through what remains of the community of Hematite and the iron furnace.  Back in the 1830-1840s this area Between the Rivers was renowned for its high quality pig iron being produced from the 7 large iron furnaces.  Hematite iron ore is a high yielding ore and was located very close to the surface.  Along with easy access to limestone and the abundant oaks and hickories for charcoal it was a prime area for iron production.  Employing around 200 workers a small community grew up in the area.  The Civil War put an end to this industry and the remaining population became relatively isolated.  All of the buildings are now gone and all that remains are depressions in the ground.  It is not clear whether this was natural or whether the federal government destroyed the buildings when LBL was established in the 1960s as they did with any existing homes that were not physically moved by the owners.

While the Woodlands Nature Station could be described as a small zoo of native animals, it is really a rescue facility for animals that cannot be released into the wild.  The most common reason is they were family pets that never learned how to survive on their own.  Along with small exhibits inside of reptiles, snakes, and fish, the outdoors garden is impressive.  Notable exhibits included the bald eagle that thinks it is human, the coyotes, and a mating pair of red wolves.  There are also exhibits of deer, turkey, and multiple raptors and owls.  We even had the privilege of talking with a Naturalist as they fed their opossum and found out a lot of what they do at the Station.

On Wednesday we got a 6:00 start to the day to explore the Elk and Bison Prairie down near the Visitor Center.  This is a 700 acre enclosure where the Forest Service is attempting to reintroduce a small herd of bison and elk.  Prior to the invasion of European settlers, the native Indians maintained most of the area as an open prairie to promote the bison and elk herds.  These early settlers often commented about the abundance of game in the area until their farms wiped them all out.  Using prescribed fire and seeding of grasses, the Forest Service is attempting to recreate the prairie.  Even with a nice paved road circling through the area it is recommended you visit either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the bison and elk would be feeding.  We drove the loop three times in the hopes of spotting them, but only managed to see a small group of 3 elk near enough to the road to see them.  We saw no sign of the bison until we were leaving the area two days later along the fence line bordering the US highway that cuts through the middle of the LBL from east to west.  We were certainly disappointed even though we enjoyed our cold breakfast we ate in the truck.

Not wanting to call it a day we drove back to the Woodlands Nature Station to take in a two mile loop trail around Hematite Lake.  Unfortunately, the boardwalk along the upper end of the lake was damaged in a storm, so it was a one-mile hike in and then back out instead.  As the hike was along the shores of the small lake, it was an easy trail and quite enjoyable for a mid-morning walk.  Before leaving for the day we drove to a picnic area near the north end for lunch.  Following lunch we explored the scenic drive with views of Kentucky Lake at the north end.  Although there were numerous turnouts and small parking lots, the Forest Service is going to have to cut some of the trees on the shores of the lake.  The views of Kentucky Lake were very limited.  With the early start to the day, we did all this and still returned to the campground by 2:00 for a relaxing afternoon.

Thursday we spent relaxing in the campground, so on Friday we headed back to the LBL to explore the Visitor Center and the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living Museum south of the Visitor Center in Tennessee.  We started with the Working Farm and spent all morning wandering the grounds and speaking with the living interpreters.  I was impressed with the entrance station that was built into the side of a hill with grass growing on top.  This obviously kept the inside much cooler which consisted of a small gift shop and a couple of exhibits about living on a farm in the 1850s.  Outside was the farm itself.  We watched an interpreter plowing a small tobacco field using two mules and a home made harrowing plow that consisted of boards in a V shape with iron spikes to drag through the earth.  We talked with an interpreter spinning wool from the onsite sheep, another interpreter making a fancy table cloth on a loom, and finally an interpreter doing leather working.  The most interesting aspect of the visit was the use of heirloom breeds of chicken, sheep, hogs, ducks, cattle, and mules.  They only part that was not authentic to the time was the two houses on the property.  This was done on purpose to show the lifestyle of a small family living in a one-room log home versus a two story, multi-room dog trot home for later generations as the family grew.  It was a very pleasant morning talking history and lifestyle with the interpreters.  There is an advantage to visiting these places during the middle of the week with few other tourists.  I should mention there was a small group of elementary students there that we managed to stay out of the way of, for the most part.

During the afternoon, we finally visited the Visitor Center as our last stop in the LBL.  Once again, I was somewhat disappointed as there was very little to see or do at the Visitor Center.  They do have a series of exhibits that provide a brief history of the area, which answered a lot of question I had about how the Recreational Area came about.  As I expected it was basically a land grab by the Federal Government, starting with the TVA during the Depression.  Granted the area never really recovered from the Civil War and there were only a few thousands residents in the 170,000 acres between the rivers, but still LBL was created by displacing these families.  Kentucky Lake was completed in 1940 and through the use of the Eminent Domain principle, the federal government condemned the flooded land, having to forcibly removing the inhabitants.  Plans were soon started to also dam the Cumberland River to the same depth as Kentucky Lake so a canal could be built between them without the use of locks.  This would obviously flood even more of the land, displacing most of the rest of the inhabitants who basically lived near the river anyway.  The feds did a better job of compensating the owners and even moved their homes or businesses from the area.  However, this all took a lot of time so it was not until the 1960s that Barkley Lake was formed.  Many of the homes were moved and the rest were destroyed by the feds leaving the new LBL  with recovering second growth forests.  Today it is a beautiful location with many recreational opportunities.

We really enjoyed our week exploring the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area, but decided to spend the weekend in the campgrounds.  Saturday was spent with laundry and cleaning, but Sunday was spent just enjoying the weather.  This was especially true since the weather decided to just skip spring all together.  A couple of weeks ago it was a prolonged winter with snows in the mid-west, but now temperatures are nearing 90 with records likely to be set next week.  We were certainly not looking forward to the trip on Monday with expectations of temperatures over 90 degrees.

May, 2018 – Lexington, Tennessee

The trip north from Pickwick Dam to the Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee was not as fast as it could have been as we decided to travel lesser state highways that stayed close to the Tennessee River at it meandered north towards the Ohio River.  Still it took less than 2 hours to make the trip.  As you expect our GPS unit took us to the headquarters of the state park which is just off I-40.  As it turned out this in the extreme northern part of the park, which is about 48,000 acres!  It is a VERY large state park dating from the Depression when it was purchased and worked over by the CCC and WPA.  Consequently, we had a slow 15 mile drive back to the south through the park to find the RV campground.  As it turns out it is only a couple of miles outside of Lexington, Tennessee which made the trip to the store much shorter.  If we had known this ahead of time, we could have saved close to half hour on the trip.  In any case, the campground on the shores of Pin Oak Lake is very nice.  All of the sites are laid out well with plenty of room between sites and the usual picnic table and fire ring.  Our site was right on the corner of small loop which meant we had nearly a straight shot backing it up into the site.  In comparison with the trouble I had at Pickwick Dam, I was able to back the RV up quickly and in a single shot.  It also turned out that all of the sites in the park have sewer hookups which is another plus. The only downside was the love-struck cardinal which saw his reflection in the RV and truck windows as a rival.  By the end of the week I even had him trained so I could anticipate where he would attack next and be there to scare him away.  It never did any good, as he was always back for more.

Tuesday promised to be a warm day with temperatures in the low 80s, so we got an early start of explore the Civil War Battlefield at Parker’s Crossroads that Kal found searching the internet for things to do in the area.  Parker’s Crossroads is actually just a few miles west of the state park, however, without roads going west, we had to travel south to Lexington before we could head north to Parker’s Crossroads.  They have done an excellent job preserving the battlefield even though I-40 cuts through the middle of it.  They have a nice Visitor Center as well, although I was disappointed with the small museum and second rate video about the battle.  We also purchased the CD for the driving tour, which only cost $1.  This was good since all it contained was word for word the information you read on the many interpretive signs in the tour.  This is a relatively small battlefield that pitted Brigadier General Nathan Forrest against Colonel Dunham and Colonel Fuller on December 31, 1862.  Along with a couple stops highlighting important locations during the battle, the most important are the first and last stops.  At both stops there are paved trails about a mile in length with many interpretive signs along the trail.  The first stop gives a good overview of the background and events leading up the battle along with the Parker’s farm at the center of it.  The last stop is the most important as it circles through the Union position with signs about all the important things that occurred during the battle.  There is another paved trail to the north of the interstate that visits all the Confederate cannon positions during the battle.

The battle at Parker’s Crossroads occurred at the end of 1862 which was a very good year for the Union in the Western theater of the Civil War.  In April, General Grant won the battle at Shiloh gaining control of the Tennessee River and captured the critical railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi.  Following the fall of Fort Donelson in January, the Confederates also gave up Nashville with hardly a fight in February and General Rosecrans was planning an assault on Chattanooga.  Using the rivers and railroad, Grant was quickly moving and supplying his forces taking Memphis and threatening Vicksburg along the Mississippi.  To counter this, General Bragg ordered Brigadier General Forrest to command a force of 1800 cavalry and cannon to infiltrate western Tennessee and destroy as much of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as possible.  On December 10, he crossed the Tennessee River at Clifton and immediately routed the forces at Lexington,  He then moved towards Jackson, where he was outmanned by over 10-1 using a number of tactics to convince the Union forces there that his force was much larger then it was.  After making feint towards Jackson, he turned north and quickly began destroying train depots, supply dumps, tracks and bridges north along the railroad.   By December 20 he was near the Kentucky state line and decided he had done all the damage he could and turned back south to outrun the pursuing Union army.  By this point his raid was VERY successful as it would take nearly 6 months to repair the damage he inflicted.  By this point he was likely the best supplied force in the whole Confederate army with modern Union rifles, increasing his cannon from 4 to 9, and his fighting force up to 2500 soldiers by recruitment of Confederate sympathizers along the way.  On the morning of December 31, Colonel Dunham was determined to block Forrest from reaching the Tennessee River and he moved his 1500 man force to a position northwest of Parker’s Crossroads.  Forrest used his enhanced supplies to advantage and simply lined up his cannon to drive the Union back to the crossroads.  Forrest knew he needed to defeat Dunham quickly as Colonel Fuller was moving south with more than 1500 men as quickly as they could.  Again using his advantage of cannon he began pounding the Union soldiers who had taken up position behind a picket fence which was a mistake because the flying splinters from the fence probably did more damage than the cannon shells.  He also moved cannon to both the right and left flank to rake down the Union line.  Dunham’s cannon were completely useless since they only had four to begin with, one of which was lost at Hick’s field earlier.  After a couple of ineffective rounds they also ran out of ammunition.  This was certainly not a problem for Forrest who continued to bombard them with no plans to charge their position.  While this was going on, Forrest sent a force around the Union right flank through a ravine to capture the Union supply wagons and attack their rear.  Dunham led a group to drive off this rear attack, thereby splitting his forces in two.  At this point Forrest ceased firing and sent in a messenger to demand Dunham’s surrender, which he refuse both times.  However, his men on the front line believed they were surrendering and had started to raise white flags.  Just in the nick of time, Fuller showed up while this was going on and attacked Forrest’s rear capturing a lot of their horse holders since this was a cavalry force to begin with.  Now Forrest found himself between two Union forces, at which points, he orders them to “Charge them both ways!”.  He leads 75 mounted soldiers against the left flank of Fuller, which disrupts them long enough for Forrest to retreat with nearly his entire force.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that Dunham’s men were already beaten and did not put up any resistance to Forrest’s retreat south around their position.  Forrest made it back across the Tennessee just ahead of a very large force coming from Jackson and reported back to General Bragg with more men, cannon, and every other supply than he left with.  The raid was so successful that General Grant pulled back to Memphis and delayed his attack on Vicksburg until the following summer.

Wednesday was not nearly so exciting as all we did was travel a couple of miles to the Pin Oak Lodge where we took in a couple of miles hike through the Tennessee woods.  It was a nice hike and I hope to do more of it over the summer.

We spent Thursday doing laundry and cleaning the RV in preparation for leaving on Friday for Birmingham.

Kal’s father decided not to have a formal memorial service for her mom, especially since nobody left of his generation would be able to make it.  However, Kal along with her brothers decided that the family needed to get together anyway, so everyone made plans to meet at their parents home on Saturday.  Jenny rented a car in Orlando and spent Friday driving up to stay with some friends of hers in Atlanta and drive over to Birmingham to spend the day on Saturday.  William caught a plane to Asheville on Friday where he was picked up by Nikki to spend the day driving to Birmingham.  Mark and Pam drove in from Dallas and we drove south from Lexington.  Kal and I met Will and Nikki at a sports bar in Birmingham where we enjoyed watching a English Premier League Football game while enjoying some craft beer.  From there we met up with Mark and Pam, along with Phil and his family, for dinner at Kal’s parents house.  We spent the night at a nice Best Western nearby and came back to spend the day with Kal’s dad and all his immediate family once Jenny arrived from Atlanta and Phil’s son Jared and wife Joy came over for the day.  Along with some family friends who stopped by later in the day we had a very nice family get together that we have not been able to do for some time.  We all gave toasts to grandma and even threw in a birthday celebration for all the May birthdays.  It was great seeing all the family and I think we all did a lot of good for Kal’s dad who lost the love of his life.  On Sunday we all traveled back to our families and work and we returned to our campsite in Tennessee.

April, 2018 – Savannah, Tennessee

On Monday we had another short trip pulling the RV north to Tennessee.  The trip was mostly on state highways and took about 1.5 hours.  Our next destination was the TVA campground at Pickwick Dam on the Tennessee River.  We had stayed at this campground last spring and remembered it as a lovely campground with a nasty odor from the pulp mill across the river most of the week.  Thankfully, the campground was just as nice and the odor was not nearly as bad as last year all week.  I guess either the pulp mill was not in full operation or we had favorable winds.  I also remembered they made it difficult to back-in your RV by putting up railroad ties on both sides of the pad that are not much wider than the wheel base.  Along with trees, posts, and other obstructions across the road making it difficult to swing the truck, it took me four attempts before I got the RV going at the correct angle.  Once I got everything lined up properly, backing it in was not a problem, although the RV was still at a slight angle since the railroad ties made it very difficult to change the orientation very much.  Other then this problem, this is one of the best maintained campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  While it did fill up over the weekend, for the most part it was very quiet and serene, even with the multiple barges going through the locks each day and into the night.

Since there were no hiking trails in the campground, we decided to cross the Tennessee River on Tuesday to the Pickwick Landing State Park just on the other side.  Last year we had spent out time here visiting Shiloh Military Park, so this was our first time to the state park.  Along with all the water activities associated with the lake, the park operates a full golf course and marina.  Supposedly they also have a disc golf course, however, I saw no evidence of it from their maps.  Since we were there for a hike, I figured I would check into more fully later in the week.  They do have one nice hiking trail that is a 2.8 mile loop going out a peninsula into the lake above the dam.  Along with some nice views of the lake and dam, there is also the remains of the CCC camp that built the original dam on the river and the remains of the docks used when the area was logged.  The trail is relatively flat as it winds through the woods overlooking the lake.  The only challenge was a bridge across a stream emptying into the lake that was underwater due to the high level of the lake in the spring.  Since this was very early in the hike, we decided to cut upstream to look for a place to cross the stream.  We were obviously not the first to take this detour as there was a faint trail along the stream.  Except for scaring up a water snake that immediately dove into the stream, we managed to find a narrow spot without too much trouble.  Kal just about gave up on the hike due to the snake until I convinced her it was more afraid of us then we were of it and had hightailed it into the stream.

Wednesday was very wet with heavy rains that put standing water nearly up to the steps of the RV (only about an inch deep) so we stayed close and relaxed inside the RV all day.  Thursday morning we were woke up at 6:00 in the morning with a call from Kal’s dad that her mother had passed away during the night.  While greatly saddened we were also relieved that it was finally all over, especially since her dementia had gotten so bad she hardly recognized anyone.  Obviously the rest of the week was spent close to the campgrounds with multiple phone calls, texts, Facebook posts, etc to contact everyone and await the decision about memorial services.  We did get the bikes out a couple of times to ride around the campgrounds, but for the most part we stayed close to the RV the rest of the week.

We did drive into Savannah on Friday to go to the store and took a few hours to check out the Tennessee River Museum in downtown Savannah.   This is a small museum with exhibits highlighting the history of the Tennessee River.  Exhibits included paleontology and geography of the area, archeological evidence of the Indian cultures, early settlement history, a large section on the Civil War, the brief history of steamboats on the river, and the history and current cultivation of freshwater mussels.  It took just over an hour to peruse the exhibits which was a welcome change from the stress of the week.PetrifiedWood

April, 2018 – Tishomingo, Mississippi

Another quick trip north along the Tenn-Tom Waterway to Piney Grove COE Campground outside of Tishomingo, Mississippi.  We did not stay here last year as they canceled our reservation and we had to stay at Tishomingo State Park, which is right on the Natchez Trace.  Piney Grove is just about 10 miles from the Trace and is a better campground than the state park.  The sites are beautiful and spacious and we had one that backed onto the lake.  We enjoyed listening to the symphony of frogs and birds in along the grassy bank each night.  The campground was nearly empty during the week, although it was half full over the weekend, mostly with families and fishermen.  Unfortunately, Sunday was mostly rain which cut into a lot of their fun.  I did want to mention that I am getting much better at backing the rig into a site, as long as I don’t have any obstructions across the road from the site making it difficult to swing the truck around.  We were in back-in sites in the last two campgrounds and I was able to back the RV in a single attempt.  In fact, I did not even have to pull forward at all last week at Whitney Park campground.  I am finally learning how far to pull the RV up and how tight to make the initial turn to put the RV right where I want it.  The site last week was to the left and this week to the right with no problem.

Even though this was our first time at this campground, we did stay last spring in the area and had already explored the Natchez Trace.  So on Tuesday we checked out a 1 mile nature trail in the campground that wound its way down to the lake.  There were a number of numbered signposts, but since we did not have the accompanying brochure…  It was nice to finally get out for a hike in the woods, even though it was rather short.

On Wednesday we finally fed up with just relaxing in the campgrounds and decided to visit the stretch of the Natchez Trace from here south to Tupelo where there was a nice Walmart instead of the small grocery store in Tishomingo.  We stopped at all the pullouts along the Trace which included two short nature hikes, all of which we remembered from last year.  While it was nice to visit them again, we are both ready for somewhere we haven’t already been.

The rest of the week was spent in the campgrounds where we broke out our bikes to ride around the campgrounds, which is more of a challenge.  Although you would not consider Piney Grove to be hilly, the inclines are still more of a challenge they we would like.  We really need to do this more often then 20 minutes a couple of times a week.  I did use some of the time to plan our summer through Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and began the process of making reservations.  Unfortunately, we will have to use commercial parks and many of them do not open until May, which means there is nobody manning the phones.

April, 2018 – Fulton, Mississippi

The trip north to Fulton, Mississippi was another short trip of just over an hour to another COE Campground on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, Whitten Park.  We were not sure until we got there, but we had stayed at Whitten Park last spring.  So this was our second visit.  Once again we did not have any specific plans for the week, so mostly it was spent relaxing in the campground.  Except for severe weather Saturday morning, the weather was cool and pleasant.

On our way back from the store in Fulton on Tuesday we noticed there were some disc golf cages in the campground, so we stopped at the entrance to find out about them.  It was a new disc golf course put in last fall, which is why we did not see it last spring.  So I decided to check it out that afternoon.  It was certainly a new course and still needed a lot of work.  I assume there are plans to install concrete tee blocks to replace the rough gravel spots on most of the holes.  The fairways have been cleared of brush, but little else.  This did make the fairways easy to follow even though I had to guess about some of the tee locations.  The entire course is heavily wooded so I quickly gave up trying to miss hitting trees on every hole.  They also need to work on the numbers on each cage, as they jumped all over the place. However, after the course crossed a steep ravine twice, I refused to cross it two more times and skipped approximately 4 holes.  I picked up the course for the last two holes taking me back to the truck.  I certainly got a good workout climbing up and down that ravine!  In the future this might be a good course, but for now I would not recommend it.

On Wednesday, we ate dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and on Thursday, Kal drove all the way to Tupelo to find a laundromat while I cleaned the RV.  The only other interesting thing we did was to take in the street festival in Amory on Friday.  The entire downtown area had local vendors and artisans lining the streets and the town square was set up with a stage for local country music bands.  We listened to some of the music and wandered the vendors for a couple of hours.  We surprised ourselves with deciding to buy a second set of bedsheets at a very reasonable price made out of bamboo and Kal stumbled across a Tupperware vendor that had a plastic toy she was wanting to buy for Liam this summer.   We can’t wait to try out our new sheets, however, the proof will come this summer as they are supposed to be cooler then the cotton sheets.

As I mentioned before, Saturday was spent watching the weather as there were a number of thunderstorm warnings for our county in the morning and tornado warnings to our south.   Thankfully, all we got was a LOT of rain that continued all day.  As expected Sunday turned cold again following the front.  While I certainly enjoy staying in all these beautiful campgrounds along the Tombigbee River, I for one am looking forward to getting to some new locations to explore.  I can certainly tell that we are a couple of weeks later moving north this year as the trees are leafing out.  Although this is a cooler spring with below average temperatures for the most part.  Thank goodness we are not further north since everywhere north of Tennessee had snow from this last front.

April, 2018 – Columbus, Mississippi

The trip north from Pickensville was just to the other side of Columbus and took just over an hour along the same highway we had used to travel to Columbus a couple of times already.  Consequently, the trip was one of the shortest and we were once again camping in a very nice Corps of Engineers campground along the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  As there are only a couple of pull-through sites, none of them with sewer hookups, I opted for a back-in site with sewer.  This put us into the upper loop off of the waterway, which meant there was only one other camper most of the week and even the weekend there was only 3 campers in the entire loop.  I really liked our campsite, especially since it was right across the road from the bathroom.

We did not have anything planned for the week, partially since we were in this same area last spring, although at a different COE campground, and had already explored most of the historical features of interest.  In addition, the weather did not cooperate since 3 of the 6 days were raining and Saturday night actually had temperatures below the freezing mark, which is VERY unusual for April.  On Tuesday, I set out to play a round of disc golf on a course I played last spring in Columbus at Propst Park. Like last year, however, there were a number of occupied cars in the parking lot which made me very uncomfortable, so I decided not to play and went to Lowes instead.  It was a good thing I did since Social Security called soon after I got back to the camper to finish up my application and needed to talk with Kal for the spousal benefits.  As expected there was a question about her citizenship since she was born in Germany while her father was stationed there.  So we got up early on Wednesday to drive to the Social Security Office in Columbus, which was now only 15 minutes away.  They were able to verify her status and we were good to go.  Of course, we had to wait until Thursday to complete the process over the phone as it took 24 hours for their system to update.  In any case, they were able to change our request to begin benefits in March, rather than April, which means we should see the first check this month.  This is sure going to make a difference in our budgets and take the pressure off my IRA.  In fact, we will be able to substantially increase our investments over the next few years.

Unless you want me to talk about the weather, which got interesting Wednesday night and supposedly had snow flurries on Saturday, there is not much else to talk about.  We did break out our bikes and rode around the campgrounds on the warmer days, but for the most part just relax in the RV.

KalOnBike

March, 2018 – Aliceville, Alabama

Located between Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Columbus, Mississippi, Pickensville COE campground is a large campground on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  We stayed here last spring and enjoyed watching the barges travel on the waterway so much, we decided to come again for two weeks this time as we waited for spring to arrive.  It is a remote location along the state line and is therefore perfect for us.  They have some sites with sewer hookups, which is necessary if we are going to stay for more than a week, and we reserved a nice pull-through site near the river.  While it would be nice to have a better view of the barges, we are satisfied with this site and set up for a long stay.  This time of year in the south is known for the weather fronts that blow through every 3-4 days, often with severe weather along the front.  We arrived during one of these events on Monday with predictions for severe weather in the evening and overnight.  We therefore arrived early and except for a few sprinkles got set up with no problem.  We watched the weather as closely as we could, but all the severe weather stayed to the north and east.  In fact, we got very little rain out of it.  Even so the view out of the RV is a wooded swamp in this bottomland environment.

The first week in the campground was very relaxed as there is little to do in the region.  Kal drove over to Columbus during the week to do laundry and shopping while I cleaned the RV.  On Wednesday, I took advantage of the nice cool weather to drive to Lake Lowndes State Park near Columbus to play a round of disc golf.  Our financial advisor called me while I was on the course with the good news that it made sense to file immediately for Social Security so long as we are able to invest the money.  Sure makes sense to me!!  I enjoyed the disc golf course, even though most of the fairways are right along the road that leads down to the lake.  There were some interesting water hazards with the lake that I had to careful with and one hole I refused to play as it went right out to a very narrow point with the lake on three sides.  Just to big of a risk for me, so I skipped it.  It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

On Monday we got an early start and drove into Columbus to the Social Security office to file for our benefits.  After waiting 45 minutes for our number to be called, we were informed that they were short of personnel and they could not assist us without an appointment, the earliest being the middle of April.  Thankfully, they also had a computer set up to do the filing on line, so we opted for this approach.  We had started the process the day before on our computer, only to find out that they were going to have to mail us the forms for my signature and who knows when we would be able to get the forms from our Kal’s parents in Birmingham.  Obviously, their computer system was different as it required only an e-signature.  We got the filling form completed with no problem only to find out that I have to accepted into the system before Kal could file for spousal benefits.  By the end of the second week we are still waiting for my acceptance at which point they are suppose to call me to set up a phone interview for Kal.  Not sure how this is going to work, but we will be close enough to Columbus for the next two weeks to travel there if we need to.

On Wednesday we made a trip to Birmingham to visit Kal’s mom and family.  We spent about an hour with her mom showing her all the videos we had of her great-grandson.  She really enjoyed the videos, although I am not sure she understood who it was in the videos.  In any case, we had a nice visit and then drove to her parents home to spend some time with her dad.  He took us out to lunch, however, the weather was once again turning nasty and supposedly Pickens County was already under a flood warning.  Especially since the heavy rain was not suppose to hit until later in the evening, we are camped right on the Tombigbee River so we left with enough time to move our RV if we needed to before dark.  As it turned out, I have no idea what the flood warning was all about and the volunteers working at the campground assured us that it never flooded in the eight years they have been here.  So we spent the evening once again watching the weather as strong storm cells died out before they reached us.  In fact, we got no more than a sprinkle over night with the heaviest rain the next day.  Certainly not enough to cause any flooding.

Finally, during the rain on Thursday we decided to check out the nearby Aliceville Museum, located in downtown Aliceville.  Today the very small town of Aliceville has certainly seen better days with nearly the entire downtown area closed up.  However, during the second World War it was a booming town in western Alabama.  Aliceville was the location of the largest German POW camp in Alabama with 6000 prisoners.  I was not aware that there were 24 camps in the state, most of them small with enlisted men to assist local farms and industries.  There were 4 major camps located outside Aliceville, Opelika, and within Fort McClellan and Fort Rucker.  Of these, Aliceville was the largest and was the home for 6000 officer and NCO German soldiers from 1943-1945.  Originally the camp was made up with a mix of soldiers, however, there was not sufficient work opportunities for the enlisted men so they were traded for officers from other camps since according to the Geneva Convention officers and NCOs could not be forced to work.  Also according to the Geneva Convention, the POWs had to be fed the same as our own soldiers, so they actually lived better than the local populations who were having to deal with food rationing.  Although the soldiers were responsible for all the daily needs of the camp including cooking, cleaning, landscaping, building construction and repair, laundry, etc, there was still a lot of time to devote to sports, music, drama, and other activities.  According to a detailed listing of the evening entertainment everyone in the camp was likely involved at least a couple of times a week.  The museum houses a number examples of their art work including sculptures, paintings, and carvings.  We also enjoyed the stories from the resident historian about life in the camps.  The museum also houses one of the last surviving Coca-Cola bottling lines since the building was the “bottling plant” during the war until 1978.  The entire operation employed about 6 people to operate the line.  I got some great pictures of the bottling line to give a comparison to the beer bottling line Chris is running at Hi-Wire!!

CokeBottlingLine1

On Saturday I talked Kal into driving the 45 minutes to Columbus for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings.  While we were there we watched the only game left in the NCAA Final Four I was interested in seeing.  Although Loyola-Chicago gave Michigan a scare, Michigan managed to avoid the upset by scoring over 30 points in the final 5 minutes to win by over 10.  It was disappointing, but watching Michigan struggle most of the game was worth it.