For the end of April we planned our most ambitious trip yet, a two and a half week trip to visit our son, William, for his birthday the first of May. Of course, since this was the main reason for the trip, about a week of the time was spent at William’s house, so we have still not lived in the pop-up camper for more than a week at a time. In fact, most of the time in the camper was getting to Maryland and getting home. Since we were not in a rush we took four days to get to Maryland and seven days to come home. The timing was set since we wanted to attend World Tai Chi Day on Saturday, April 26 we could not leave until Sunday, April 27 and we had to get to William’s by his birthday on Sunday, May 4. Although I do not spend much on this blog with what we are doing in Auburn, most of you are probably aware that Kal and I are taking Tai Chi classes twice a week and our class is made up of mostly retirees even older than us. We have found Tai Chi to be great for flexibility and mobility and the longer routines take a good of practice and concentration. Our class is getting pretty good and we would be putting on a demonstration at the Forest Ecology Preserve for World Tai Chi Day which is a worldwide event. The demonstrations of different styles of Tai Chi and Qigong were fascinating, especially the long forms which lasted over 10 minutes as compared to our forms which lasted only a couple of minutes.
On Sunday, I was sorry we did not pack the car up on Saturday since the day began with rain and we had another wet start to a trip. We did get the camper ready the day before, so we were still out of Auburn by 9:00. Our first stop was to see our daughter, Bryna, in Asheville, North Carolina. Although Asheville is not on a direct line to Maryland, it was a mandatory stop. Not only did we want to see our daughter, but William requested another “beer run” to pick up as much beer as we could haul and since it was his birthday we could not refuse. We had to shuffle stuff between the camper and car to make room but we settled on two cases of beer for William and one case for ourselves as we needed to restock as well. We also had a delightful dinner with Bryna and Chris in Asheville, which just seems to have the best places to eat and I think Chris knows them all. We stayed the night at the Asheville East KOA again, only this time we got a camping spot as far away from the train tracks as possible. This KOA was much larger than we had thought and the spot along the pond and away from the traffic was great. We will likely continue to use this campground whenever we make future “beer runs”. If you ever get the chance to try Hi-Wire beer (either the brown ale or the lager) I highly recommend them and not just because my daughter and son-in-law are major partners in the brewery and bar.
The trip really began on Monday, when we took off for Smith Mountain Lake State Park near Lynchburg, Virginia. After a day with interstate traffic around Atlanta and Greenville, we did not want to travel interstates. Also the rain had caught up with us, so the rain was almost constant all day. So we set the GPS to avoid free ways and off we went. We even got to play a game with the GPS as it determines “the fastest route” even if this route is only a minute faster than a more direct route through town. Instead of following the signs for the state highway through Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the GPS told us to take some side streets through town. After Kal missed one turn it took us a couple of miles to circle back. Then we missed another turn that we had made before and now the GPS had us going all over the place in downtown Wilkesboro. After spending over 20 minutes before finally getting out of town only to find out we were still on the same state highway, I learned to double check the GPS with the atlas! We got to the campsite without any further problems from the GPS and even in the rain, Smith Mountain Lake State Park is one of the loveliest state parks we have ever stayed in. It is isolated and not heavily used even with the proximity to Lynchburg and Roanake. The sites are spacious, heavily wooded, and beautiful in the early spring. We did have an adventure getting the camper backed into the site. For some reason I thought the hookups were on the right side of the site, even though they are ALWAYS on the left side since all the connections for any camper are on the left. Therefore, once Kal convinced me I had to move the camper to the left I had to turn the camper hard to move it over. Once started in the correct direction I had to swing the car around to get in front of it and managed to put the right tire over the landscape timbers used to mark the driveway. The timber and the slight drop off on the other side and the wet grass and mud made it impossible to pull the tire back over the timber. We had to unhook the camper where it was and force the car out of the site with one tire on either side of the landscape timber. I felt a bit foolish, but I have learned a valuable lesson about backing up the camper. Understand where you are going before you start!!
As planned, we had the next day off from pulling the camper and had our choice between two National Historic Sites to visit. Since the weather was still misty and quite cool we decided to go the closest site that we had passed coming to the State Park, Booker T. Washington National Monument. This is an historic site of a small Virginia tobacco farm where he spent the first 7 years of his life as a slave. Having visited Tuskegee University last year, we were already familiar with his later life, this was an opportunity to learn of his early life and understand some of his motivations. The real enjoyment was talking with the NPS volunteer who was a graduate of Tuskegee University in the 60s. He had delightful stories of working at the George Washington Carver museum on campus and campus life at that time. He was a great resource for understanding the motivations of Booker T. Washington who believed the education was the key versus more radical views of other early African-American leaders like W.E.B. DuBois. Once again I was very impressed with the life and accomplishments of Booker T. Washington and the impact of Tuskegee University. I also enjoyed the small farm. Almost all of the historical landmarks that have survived from the civil war era are plantations of hundreds of acres, relatively large homes, and slave quarters. This is the only example we have seen of a small farm, 207 acres, that was self sufficient with tobacco as the only cash crop. Slaves were necessary for this type of farm to exist since they were not paid. Booker T. Washington was born on the property and lived in the cookhouse along with his mother and sister, sleeping on the dirt floor. He worked from the time he could walk, as everyone on the property did, from Mr. Burroughs family to the slaves. The site had been maintained in the conditions that existed at the time. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed, although only the foundation stones of the farmhouse still exist.
Wednesday, the last day of April, was spent pulling the camper up to William’s home near Mt. Airy, Maryland. Once again we had fun with the GPS. Even though the fastest route through Virginia did not include insterstates, the fastest route according to the GPS would be to take the beltway around Washington D.C. Knowing better than this, we told the GPS to avoid freeways. This added over an hour to the time according to the GPS, but we found out that this was greatly exaggerated, since avoiding freeways meant avoiding all four-lane controlled access highways of which there are quite a few in Virginia especially as by-passes around towns. Once we learned to ignore the GPS when it wanted us to exit a four lane highway as it became limited access, we found out that the additional time was less than 30 minutes given you can travel the posted speed on the beltway, which is often not the case. Besides the Virginia and Maryland countryside is much prettier than six lanes of crazy traffic! We had to meet William about a half mile shy of his house since the gravel road gets steep and was still not in the best of shape after their brutal winter in Maryland. We hitched the camper to his Ford 250 with four wheel drive and off we went. It was a good thing we did, since I am convinced our Mariner would not have been able to make it with the camper. William backed the camper into their carport for the week and after letting him put it up and grabbing our dirty clothes we celebrated with some of the beer we had brought. I must say this was probably the best “campsite” we stayed in the entire trip with comfortable beds, laundry facilities, and dogs. Besides the camper seemed to be happy since it was out of the weather under the carport the entire time!
Thursday was Kristin’s day off from the horse farm and we talked her into taking us into Washington D.C. to visit the Smithsonian. The weather was still very cool although the rain had ended for the week. Of course, with my love for museums we knew we would not be able to see much of the Smithsonian in one day, so we decided to take on just one, the Museum of Natural History. As I knew it was, this is the best museum I have ever been in. Beginning with the iconic stuffed elephant at the entrance we took in the many exhibits they offer. We began our day in the “Living on an Ocean Planet” exhibit which contains many interactive exhibits about the Earth’s oceans including climate, currents, plants, and animals. I would have probably spent most of the day in this one area if Kal and Kristin didn’t keep me moving along. From there we entered the Hall of Human Origins where you can see reproductions of all the skeletons found that are at least related to our direct ancestors along with interactive exhibits about how they figure out the age and life styles of the archeological discoveries. Finally the Hall of Mammals should not be missed as there are stuffed examples of some of the iconic and interesting mammals that populate the earth arranged by continent. Unfortunately, the dinosaur exhibit was closed as they are doing 3-D scanning of the dinosaur skeletons (including T-Rex) to create a new exhibit of 3-D models! Following lunch in the cafeteria (be ready for an expensive buffet lunch although it was good) we proceeded to the second floor. There we spent time with all the skeletons both large and small in the Hall of Bones, learned about the symbiotic history between butterflies and plants in the Butterflies + Plants exhibit, wondered at a small sample of the insect world in the Insect Zoo, learned about how crystals and gems are formed along with some of the most beautiful examples of gems and jewelry including the Hope Diamond in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. By this time we were exhausted but I forced both Kal and Kristin to visit the Ancient Egyptian exhibit where I saw my first actual mummy including mummified cats and snakes! Finally we stumbled through the Genome exhibit which was the only disappointment to me. They provided some good examples of what mapping the genome can mean, but they gave almost no explanation of the process itself. We did manage to make it back to the subway and on our way back home before we collapsed. Actually I think I was the only one to about collapse, as much from mental overload as physical fatigue. That was certainly too much information on too many topics to be able to synthesize more than just a small bit of it.
Kal and I were on our own on Friday and we decided to knock out some more of the National Parks, Antietam and Harpers Ferry. We had already visited both of the these parks during a vacation with William back in the 90s, but I wanted to see them both again and get my lapel pin. Since we had seen both of the parks in the past and they are within 20 miles of each other, we thought we could do both in a day. This was almost a mistake since we had to rush through Antietam and the many museums in Harpers Ferry would take a day to do it justice. Once again I was impressed with the brutality of the Battle of Antietam which was the bloodiest single day battle in the Civil War with about 23,000 of the 100,000 soldiers either dead, wounded, or missing. Antietam was General Lee’s first attempt to secure a major Confederate victory on Northern soil, in part, to secure recognition and support from Europe, particularly France, which could have changed the outcome of the war. His target, as it would be the next year, was Harrisburg, PA, but the Union forces learned of his plans and the battle occurred at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, MD between about 40,000 Confederate and 60,000 Union forces. We were fortunate to arrive just in time to participate in the Ranger talk about the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself and its aftermath from a vantage point on top of the Visitor Center where the entire battlefield can be seen. This talk along with the excellent movie about the battle provided the perfect introduction to the battle that we visited by car. Following touring the battlefield we proceeded on to Harper’s Ferry along the same road the Stonewall Jackson used after capturing Harpers Ferry prior to the Antietam Battle and General Hill’s Light Division used to arrive from Harper’s Ferry just in time to keep General Lee from being surrounded at the end of the battle. Harper’s Ferry played a major role prior to the Civil War due to the Weapons Armory and factory at the confluence of the Potomac and Shennadoah Rivers, the railroad systems, and the C&O Canal. Harpers Ferry is also known for the attack by John Brown prior to the Civil War when he attempted to take the armory to obtain weapons to lead a slave revolt. Following the destruction of the Civil War to both the armory, the major industry of the town, and frequent floods from the two rivers, Harpers Ferry never recovered from the War. Although many of the buildings have been lost over the years, there are still a number of historic buildings with interesting histories. The Park System owns and operates most of the historic district by the Point, however, there are a number of private residences and commercial outlets such as restaurants and bars just a block up from the rivers. I suspect that parking could be a problem for tourists, so I would recommend paying the NPS fee to park at their visitor center on the bluff above the town and catch the shuttle down to Harpers Ferry. There are also a couple of sites outside of town that relate to the taking of Harpers Ferry by General Stonewall Jackson leading up to the Antietam Battle.
The weather on Saturday promised to be warm and sunny so William and I decided to play disc golf, however Kal is doing rehab on her right shoulder and could not participate and Kristin had to work. So after a good breakfast at a local eatery we dropped Kal off at the fairgrounds that were hosting a huge sheep and wool fair. William and I then went on to Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge to a disc golf course that I had played once before. The course is challenging only because all the holes are further than those I am used to in Opelika. Even though they were still listed as par 3 holes, I was going to average 4 shots per hole. William did a little better making par on about 40% of the holes. The weather was very pleasant even though the course was very muddy in some spots and water was still flowing over some of the pathways between some of the holes. After finishing our game we picked up Kal from the fairgrounds where she was entertained by sheepdogs trying to keep the sheep in their pens. I understand the pens were too high to keep the sheep from going underneath them and the dogs had to herd them back in. It was also obvious that she could have spent more time at the event as she had just gotten to the main building when we called her. In any event, we went back to William’s house where we spent the afternoon playing some new board games that William had acquired since we had last visited.
Sunday was William’s birthday so we left the day up to him, especially since it was going to be the only day we would be able to spend with both William and Kristin. They decided to go on a hike in the beautiful spring weather, since they had not been able to do any outdoor activities during the brutal winter over the past few months. I guess continuous snow makes it difficult to get outside unless you own skies. Being from the south, I can only sympathize. We went to Sugarloaf Mountain Stronghold, which is non-profit corporation that operates the mountain for the public “enjoyment and education in an appreciation of natural beauty.” It is a surprising mountain to find so far from the Blue Ridge and it is imposing rising 1282 feet above sea level or 800 feet above the valley. It is dominated by a red and white oak forest and crisscrossed by a series of hiking trails. Before embarking on the hike we stopped at a local Starbucks to access the internet (William does not have internet or cable at the house – they rely on a data plan with their phones). I showed them how geocaching worked and downloaded the geocache sites along the trial we planned to hike. The trails are heavily used, especially on nice weekends in the spring and summer, but they are well marked and easy to follow. Except for being slowed down by my right hip and knees which complained about all the steep uphill grades, we enjoyed ourselves. After getting them close with my geocache GPS unit, Kristin found the first three caches and it appeared that she was pretty good at it. We had one cache that required us to climb a steep grade up to a rocky ridge and start searching for a cache. They instructions stated the cache was behind the rocks on the trail and under a small log. After searching all over the rocky ridge looking under “small logs” we set down to take a short break. After getting some water and discussing the situation with everyone, I picked up a stick about 0.5″ in diameter and about a foot long that was sitting in a crevice in the rocks next to where I was sitting. There was the cache! I guess I was holding what could be a “small log” although I consider it a stick of firewood. William had recently got a watch that ties in with his Android phone and found a geocaching app that would provide a directional display to a set of coordinates similar to my GPS unit. This would certainly be a better setup even though my GPS fits comfortably in my hand. Really cool!! The four of us spent the afternoon once again at William’s house testing out some more of his new boardgames that work best with at least 4 people.
On Monday, Kal and I were again on our own as both William and Kristin had to go to work. We only had two days left in Maryland and since it might rain on Tuesday, we decided we wanted to spend Monday outdoors. Therefore, we decided to spend the day at Gettysburg National Battlefield. We had been to Gettysburg during a vacation with Williamin the 90’s and it was memorable. Back then we were at the battlefield on July 3, which was the date of the third day of the battle. We didn’t realize this at the time, but every year there is a major reenactment of the battle. We got “drafted” by the Union forces to engage the Confederates along with about 20 other tourists. They lined us up and we marched to the top of a small hill where we “fired” our muskets and “charged” the Confederate position in the woods. It was a neat experience, even though unexpected at the time. This visit was not as dramatic, but we were both amazed by the changes in the battlefield. When we visited 20 years ago the Visitor Center had only a small museum and bookstore. Today the Visitor Center is a huge building with modern facilities. After paying our admission fee we had to stand in line to enter the theater, which was reminiscent of Disney World. The movie was good giving the background to the battle, as well as, detailed description of the three days from July 1-3, 1863, and the aftermath and impact on the town of Gettysburg. While the movie served its purpose, the next presentation blew me away. You exit the theater and immediately get on an escalator that takes you up into the middle of the Cyclorama of Pickett’s charge. The Cyclorama is an oil painting 337 feet long and 42 feet high done by Paul Philippoteaux in 1883. We saw pictures of the cyclorama 20 years before while it was still under rennovation. To see the entire painting along with a foreground of fences and gear from the battle arranged so it was difficult to tell where the painting stopped was amazing. Since the painting is a montage of the entire charge that took over 3 hours including the artillery barrage, there is a short program about the events of that afternoon with spotlights to show the appropriate scene on the painting. This alone was worth the price of admission! After taking as much time as they would allow us we proceeded on to the museum. This is by far the largest museum dedicated to the Civil War and is certainly the best I have ever seen. They first third of the museum consisting of 5 rooms is dedicated to the reasons for the Civil War and events leading up to the battle. The next 5 rooms are about the battle itself with films and displays depicted each day of the battle. The next 2 rooms deal with the immediate aftermath of the battle along with the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln in November when they dedicated the National Cemetery. The final 4 rooms deal with the major events of the rest of the Civil War and its long lasting importance. After spending over 2 hours in the museum, my appreciation for the importance of this particular battle was greatly increased. After buying the CD for the car tour and eating a late lunch, it was obvious to both of us that we were not going to be able to view in the entire battlefield in the time we had left. So we decided that we would have to return the next day to finish the battlefield, which should give us enough time to visit Eisenhower’s Farm which is right next to the battlefield and is another National Historic Site. I would recommend purchasing the CD for the driving tour as it gives a better explanation of what you see at each stop then the brochure itself. Although I will warn you that the CD needs to be updated, since some of the parking areas are not facing the same direction as assumed by the CD. Although I cannot be certain, but I believe this is the same CD, in tape form, we purchased 20 years ago. The driving tour is well designed as the first stop is well away from the Visitor Center and takes you through the events of the first day. The tour then proceeds along Seminary Ridge, which is the location of the Confederate line and then along Cemetery Ridge beginning at Little Round Top and ending at The High Water Mark marking the extent of the Confederate advance. We only got as far as Little Round Top before we had to head back for dinner.
We began our second day at Gettysburg by actually visiting the Eisenhower National Historic Site which President Eisenhower purchased in 1950. Although he grew up in Kansas (Kal and I both visited his boyhood home and Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas as kids), he wanted to retire in Gettysburg after falling in love with Pennsylvania while commanding Camp Colt at the Gettysburg battlefield where he trained army tank corps at the end of World War I. The farm has been maintained as it was in the 1950s during his two terms as President and eventually retirement. The Historic site includes their home and grounds (189 acres) along with an adjoining farm, known as Farm 2 (306 acres), owned by his partners in an Angus cow ranch. It was a successful enterprise winning grand championships at the Pennsylvania State Fair and blue ribbons in major competitions in the US. Except for a brief introduction to the house by a NPS volunteer, the tour is a self guided tour of the grounds. I know Kal especially enjoyed the cow ranch with the heated barn and old farm equipment, but I got a kick out of the huge outdoor grill with twin fire boxes on either side. After spending the morning at the Eisenhower Farm, we ate a quick lunch and continued our driving tour of the battlefield where we left off at Little Round Top. Especially with the side trip around Culps Hill which was the “hook” of the fishhook defense used by General Meade on the northern end, we barely finished the tour in time to head back for dinner. While the fighting at the northern end of the line is not talked about very much, it is here that the Union forces withheld the assault of the Confederates who held the town of Gettysburg at the base of the hill for two full days, the first day fighting extending past midnight. A truly magnificent National Battlefield that deserved at least a day and half.
Wednesday was a travel day south to Virginia. To change things up we traveled south closer to the coast going south of Richmond to Chippokes Plantation State Park. The trip itself was uneventful. Kal is getting more comfortable pulling the camper even on the Interstate between Fredricksburg and Richmond. Chippokes Plantation State Park is on the south bank of the James River on the site of an old southern plantation. Even though the State Park is about half way between Richmond and Norfolk and quite isolated, it is obviously heavily used during the summer as most of the campsites could use some work and the bathrooms were old. I choose this State Park due to its proximity to Jamestown and Williamsburg which are both north of the James River. By road this looked to be about an 1.5 hour drive even though they are directly north across the river. As it turned out, we could not have picked a better campground to see these attractions. It turns out there is a free ferry operated by the Virginia DOT that runs every half hour only about 3 miles from the campground. It was great getting up every morning to drive a couple of miles on county highways to catch the ferry for a 20 minute ride across the James River and be within 3 miles of Jamestown and on the outskirts of Williamsburg. It also turned out that Jamestown is the southern end of the Colonial Parkway, which is a two lane controlled access highway similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is about 17 miles long and connects Jamestown on the James with Yorktown on the York River running right through the center of Williamsburg with an exit right at the Visitor Center for Colonial Williamsburg. Finding this out made our decision easy for the next three days: Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
Jamestown is the first “Permanent English Settlement” in the new world in 1607. It was not the first attempt of an English settlement (which was Roanoke Island), but it was the first to succeed, although that was close. Of course the four month journey from England meant they were trying to establish a colony starting in the fall of 1607 without any time to plant crops or prepare for the winter. They were dependent upon trade for food from the Powhatan Indians. While relations started out good with the Indians, they did not have much food to trade since they were in the midst of a 10 year drought. To protect themselves from the Spanish they built a wooden stockade fort to live in the first few years. More settlers arrived in 1609 with fresh supplies, but the ships with the supplies and leaders was lost due to storms in the Caribbean. The winter of 1609 was known as “the starving time” as only 60 out of 300 survived the winter. By this time there was open conflict with the Indians that killed anyone attempting to leave the fort. It should also be noted that Jamestown is on an island for defensive purposes. However, this island had no fresh water streams and water from wells would not be fresh due to saltwater intrusion. The settlement did survive and managed to thrive after this difficult beginning. It is important to understand that Jamestown was not a colony of settlers, but a business enterprise. It’s real purpose was to find natural resources that could be exploited for the betterment of the investors and England. Therefore, the settlers were largely craftsmen rather then settlers and they were dependent in the early years on regular shipment of supplies, materials, and craftsmen from England. There was a larger proportion of jewelers, geologists, apothecaries, botanists, leather workers, and soldiers to protect them. The soldiers also were a larger proportion of noblemen that were not in direct line for inheritance and looking to make their fortune in the new world. Remember, this was a business enterprise first and a colony second. Eventually Jamestown grew into the first capital of the British colony of Virginia in 1624 and owed its continued importance to laws that restricted trade with Virginia to the port at Jamestown. In 1676 back country settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon lead a revolt against English rule over a weak response from the Crown to Indian attacks. The rebels seize Jamestown and while Governor Berkeley is raising troops from off shore, Bacon burns Jamestown. Jamestown never recovers since the capital is now moved inland to Williamsburg. The site of Jamestown became tobacco farms. Today the National Park Service has reconstructed some of the foundations of the buildings that made up historic Jamestown. The location of the fort was believed to be lost to erosion in the river, however, in 1996 the Jamestown Rediscovery archeologists found evidence of the fort and only the western bulwark had been lost to the river. Excavations have continued on the site on a non-stop basis since then. We were fortunate to have a young archeologist for a guide that had worked there since her apprenticeship when the initial discovery was made. She described the excitement of uncovering a trash pit and discovering multitude of artifacts from armor to jewelry. Within the fort they were finishing up their work on the original bakery that was built underground with the ovens carved out of the walls. There is also an excellent archeology museum where they highlight a small fraction of the artifacts found including the evidence they have about cannibalism during the winter of 1609 (multiple knife marks on the skull and leg bone of a young girl for example). It was all very fascinating and a full days worth of exploring.
Since the weather was supposed to be better on Friday than Saturday, we decided to move on to Yorktown and leave Colonial Williamsburg for Saturday. The trip up the Colonial Parkway was great with the multiple stops along the way with interpretative signs giving the history of the rivers. It therefore was close to lunch time when we got to Yorktown. Whereas, Jamestown marks the beginning of the English colony at one end of the Parkway, Yorktown marks the end of the English colony and the beginning of the United States of America. The battle at Yorktown occurred during September of 1781 at the end of the Revolutionary War. It was the last major battle of the war, securing independence although it would be another two years before the Treaty of Paris formerly recognizing our new nation. It was a combination of a sea battle won by the French fleet that effectively blockaded General Cornwallis in Yorktown, a siege by General Washington commanding a combined Patriot and French force of siege cannons provided by the French fleet, and a storm cutting off Cornwallis’ escape across the York River to Gloucester Point that forced the surrender of the 8300 man English garrison. In contrast, the battle at Gettysburg covered hundreds of acres, involved 100,000 soldiers, and lasted three days during the Civil War a hundred years later. The battle of Yorktown covered only a hundred acres with just over 25,000 soldiers and began with the Battle of the Capes on September 5 and the siege of Yorktown on September 28 with the bombardment not starting until October 6 and final surrender on October 19 after two weeks of bombardment. The battlefield can be easily seen in an afternoon and I once again recommend purchasing the CD as it provides a good account from both the English and American perspective. They have reconstructed most of the earthworks built by the Americans and French along the two siege lines, as well as, Redoubt 9 and 10 that were captured in hand-to-hand combat. The redoubts in particular are interesting as they make it easy to imagine the difficulties of storming them at night. We did not have time to see any of the town of Yorktown, which is supposed to have many historic buildings from the time period and museums. It should be mentioned that the admission cost to either Jamestown or Yorktown covers both parks.
On Saturday we once again rode the ferry over to Williamsburg (did I mention how convenient the ferry and the Colonial Parkway were?) and took the Colonial Parkway to the Visitor Center at Colonial Williamsburg. The cost for a day in Colonial Williamsburg is over $40 each and they seemed disappointed that we did not want a multi-day ticket and were convinced you could not see it in one day. As we later learned it was NOT necessary to buy the tickets to see about 80% of Colonial Williamsburg as the streets are open to the general public to walk in. Most of the tourists did not have the passes. All the shops, period taverns, and reenactments are free to the public. What is not free are the various tours and workshops in the shops. For example, our passes provided a tour of the Governor’s Palace and the Wythe House, as well as, access to the workshops including bakery, blacksmith, wheelwright, bookmaker, etc. So by the end of the day we decided that the cost was worth it, however, we were glad we could not stay another day and purchase a multi-day ticket. The entire experience of Colonial Williamsburg is not to be missed. They do everything they can to immerse you in colonial times. The actors in period clothing are everywhere and there are multiple performances throughout the day at different locations. We were fortunate to participate in the storming of the Governor’s Palace as the Williamsburg residents were demanding to know where and why the gun powder was removed from the city’s armory in the middle of the night. Following this incident, Governor Murray vacated the Palace to seek safety on the ships and this is the reason used by the actors to let us take a look at the Palace. Once we walked into the entrance hall of the Governor’s Palace it became obvious that this was going to be a different experience then other tours of historic buildings. Whereas, other historic buildings strive to maintain the current state of the structures and period pieces, it is obvious that they are very old. However, the reconstruction of the Governor’s Palace (which completely burned down in 1781 following the Battle of Yorktown when it was used as a hospital since the capital had been moved to Richmond in 1780) and all the furnishings look brand new and many of them are recent reconstructions. Even though you know you are not looking at the originals to see the Palace as it really would have looked when its use in the 1780’s was very impressive. The formal gardens behind the Palace are also extensive and could take hours to see it all. The same could be said of the workshops, which are all reconstructions using period tools and materials. For instance, we watched the wheelwright in the process of constructing a vise for a new workbench in the shop, which had to be completed before the work in the shop could be expanded to a second workbench. We watched a tinsmith making mugs and other utensils to use in the other shops and taverns in the town. The blacksmith was making items needed in the town and not just trinkets to sell to tourists. It was truly a different experience and one that should not be missed even if you are more about the history than the commercialization which can be easily overlooked in Colonial Williamsburg.
On Sunday, neither of use was looking forward to heading home after the great last three days. There was still a lot more to see and do in the area and we plan to return for at least another week or two. However, we had reservations in South Carolina and Kal had a doctor’s appointment the day after we got back. So, we hooked up the camper and headed south through North Carolina to Little Pee Dee State Park in South Carolina. At first, I was not impressed with the campsite or the state park. It is a relatively small state park near Dillon, South Carolina, and far from any metropolitan area. While semi-paved the road in the park was very rough and it was a couple of miles into the campgrounds. As far as I can tell there is only a single hiking trail to a beaver pond on the park. It is obvious that the majority of campers come for fishing on Lake Norton at the campgrounds. Consequently the campsites are not heavily used and very spacious and sandy. The bathroom was surprising clean and modern and we grew to like the campgrounds. It was certainly remote enough.
I talked Kal into spending our last day visiting another National Park Battlefield back up in North Carolina. The state park we were camping in was very close to the state line and the Moores Creek Battlefield was only about 80 miles away. A 2 hour drive to see a small site is about our limit after spending the previous day in the car. However, the trip turned out to be considerable longer than 80 miles as the bridge was out across the Cape Fear River causing a 25 mile detour (50 mil round trip). Fortunately the Moores Creek Battlefield is very small and took only a couple of hours to tour and eat lunch. Unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed on Monday and Tuesday, so we did not get to see their film or get my lapel pin (I will have to order one). However, the battle is simple enough that the brochure was more than adequate. Whereas the Battle of Yorktown was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War, the Battle at Moores Creek could be considered one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It was a skirmish between patriots of North Carolina and loyalists supporting the British Crown on February 27, 1776, months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This was the battle that convinced North Carolina and many in the colonies that this was not just a rebellion against English policies, but a revolution from English rule entirely. As a consequence, North Carolina was the first colony to authorize its Continental delegates to vote for independence. The battle itself was a culmination of the attempts by the patriots to block the loyalists to provision and join with British ships at the coast. After a number of attempts to get by the patriots, neither side really wanted to fight each other, the loyalists thought they saw their chance at Moores Creek. On the west side of the creek the patriots under Lillington set up a small camp which was approached by the loyalists under MacDonald. Believing this was the extent of the forces they sent a letter demanding surrender which was refused. Therefore, at 1:00 am on February 27, 1776 the loyalists began their march on the camp protecting the bridge over Moores Creek. However, the camp was abandoned and the planks had been removed from the bridge leaving only the girders that had been greased. They then waited for daybreak and rushed the partly demolished bridge with claymores raised. However, Lillington had arrived at the bridge two days before on February 25 and built earthworks and established small cannons on the east side of the bridge and had been reinforced by 850 men under Caswell. The battle lasted only a few minutes with the loyalists in retreat. Within weeks the loyalists were captured along with 1500 rifles, other supplies, and 1500 pounds sterling, which is over $3 million dollars in today’s currency. The National Park Service has reconstructed the bridge and earthworks along with cannon emplacements to give a real feel to the battlefield. I was also surprised by the paving they used for the walks. Instead of asphalt it was a thick covering of wood/bark shavings held together with some type of glue. While this probably allowed for rain to filter through, it sure made a soft and springy surface to walk on. It looked fairly new, so I wonder how long it will last. I was also impressed that the NPS is actively burning the battlefield itself and planting longleaf seedlings in an effort to return it to a condition similar to the 1700s.
There is not much to say about Tuesday, except to say it was a long 8 hours on the road to get back to Auburn. We went Interstate the entire way to minimize the time and except for getting around Atlanta, Kal seemed to handle it well. We need to find another way around that metropolis! The next step will be to try for a two week period where we live the entire time in the camper. Not sure when that will be since Kal wants to watch the World Cup which starts the end of June and we are still hoping the house will sell. We had one visitor that we know of while we were gone and had another visitor the day after we returned, with another one on Monday of this week. That is more activity then we have seen so far so were are keeping our fingers crossed.