November 2014 – St. Mary’s, Georgia

Our next stop was to be our first experience in a State Park with our new RV.  The trip itself was a short 1.5 hour drive down I-95, which Kal is getting comfortable with so long as the traffic is not heavy.  I-95 is a six lane highway all the way from Savannah to Jacksonville, so traffic was no problem.  However, the only sites available on line were for back-ins and after seeing some of the state park camping areas I was nervous about backing the RV into a site without any assistance, except for Kal, and missing all of the trees.  We pulled into Crooked River State Park be 12:30, which gave us plenty of time to negotiate the site.  It turns out that even though you reserve a particular site, you have the choice of any site that is open, ie with no tag on the post.  We pulled around the camping ground thinking about a couple of sites that I thought I could back in to, when we came up on a pull through site that was a piece of cake!!  It is a beautiful site with numerous longleaf pines overhead and a thick undergrowth of palmetto.  With the RV across the front of the site providing a wall, we can’t see any other campers.  This is a great change from the narrow pull through sites we had been staying in and we both love it.  I am also confident that I would have been able to back the RV into many of the sites since they are well angled to make it easier.  The only downside to most state parks is the absence of a sewer connection.  We have found that the gray tank can hold a week’s worth of use, however, we have decided to use their showers to make sure.  We have also decided to not use the bathroom in the RV so we don’t have to use their dump station before we leave next week, however, I am not sure this is our best decision since it is VERY dark at night walking to the restroom and getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom is NOT convenient!  State Parks will generally not have cable TV or WiFi, although we are close enough to Jacksonville that our antennae should work fine, however, this state park has cable.  A very nice surprise, except they need to increase their gain, since the reception degrades every evening.  I assume this is due to the number of people using their TVs.  This is no WiFi, as expected, so we are using our hotspot this week and will need to monitor our usage.

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There are a number of National Parks that we want to visit along the Georgia and Florida coast, along with a couple of interesting state parks, so we should be kept busy all week.  Since the National Parks are our priority we started the week with exploring Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island near Brunswick, Georgia.  Fort Frederica, along with Fort St. Simons on the island were established by James Ogelthorpe in 1736 to provide a line of defensive forts along the coast to protect the new Georgia colony from Spain.  At this point in time, Savannah was under the control of trustees in England, rather than the Crown, who were interested in investing in the colony to ensure it’s success.  When Ogelthorpe asked for a garrison to protect Savannah from Spain, he was provided with a garrison of British regulars which he supplemented with Scottish highlanders and Indian allies.  To supply the fort, colonists were also recruited to build a town outside the fort with its own earthworks and palisades surrounding the new town.  The houses and forts were all built using tabby and some bricks and included every profession needed to supply the fort; carpenters, bakers, farmers, etc.  In 1742, the Spanish landed troops at Fort St. Simons and Ogelthorpe withdrew his small garrison to Fort Frederica, five miles away.  On July 18, 1742 the Spanish were caught in an ambush as they were approaching Fort Frederica, at Bloody Marsh.  Even though the Spanish had the superior force, especially after half of Ogelthorpe’s soldiers had abandoned the position to run back to the fort, they ran low on ammunition and withdrew.  Although the battle became famous as the Battle of Bloody Marsh, there were very few fatalities.  After a few days they Spanish left believing the misinformation that British reinforcements were on the way.  After the War of Jenkins Ear ended in 1748 recognizing Georgia as a British colony, so the garrison was disbanded.  Without the support of the military, the town began to decline and by 1755 it was mostly abandoned.  The National Park Service has done a great job at the National Monument, being able to reestablish the layout of the town in front of the minimal remains of the fort.  Much of the fort has been lost to the ocean from erosion and only part of the powder magazine remains.  Also part of the soldier barracks outside the fort can be seen.  None of the houses remain, however, there has been a lot of archeological research.  They have located all of the streets and by locating the foundations of Hawkins-Davison house which had a common wall, allowed correlation with a map of the town to provide the location of the streets and other foundations.  Many of these foundations have been excavated and stabilized providing an opportunity to explore much of the town.  They also have an audio tour that you take with your phone that was well done and added a lot to the understanding of how the town functioned over its limited life.  After visiting the Fort we went off searching for Fort St Simons and Bloody Marsh.  We were not able to find Fort St Simons, however, we did find Bloody Marsh.  There is a small monument located at the marsh, which we could have found much more easily if we had asked for directions at the Visitor Center since the monument is actually a unit of the National Monument.

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On Wednesday, we decided to take a break from all of the historic sites we had been visiting and explore the natural environment of Cumberland Island National Seashore.  Once again, this National Seashore can only be accessed by boat, so we needed to take a ferry to the island, which only leaves at 9 and 11:45 every day.  Even though the State Park is only about 10 miles from the Visitor Center on the mainland, we did not want to try and make the 9:00 departure time.  Besides the ferry also leaves the island only twice a day, at 10:15 and 4:45.  We would either have only an hour on the island or have over 6 hours on the island, which we though was more than we would need.  Depending upon what you want to do you could easily spend 6 hours, since it is over 15 miles long, but we decided 4 hours would be enough.  We did not have any problem getting tickets, although you would have to have reservations during the summer!  The ferry was not full on the trip over, but the trip back was near capacity and this was during the week in early November.  Before we boarded the ferry we met Ramona Dear, a professional photographer that was going to the island to take some pictures of the wild horses and other wildlife.  Kal and Romona struck up a conversation about photography that lasted all the way to the island.  She gave Kal some information about her facebook group for new professional photographers that sounds really interesting.  We watched her “stalk” some of the wild horses while we were eating lunch once we got to the island and again ran into her at dinner since we were eating at the same cafe across the street from the Visitor Center once we got back.  We had a good time with her and Kal may take her up on her invitation to visit the Gulf Shores National Seashore when we visit the Pensacola area at the end of the month.  Back to the island.  We thought we would spend time exploring the natural ecosystems on the island and we did take a mile hike along the beach and marveled at the live oak maritime forest in the center of the island, however, the main attraction was the wild horses and historical ruins.  The herd of wild horses from the Spanish Colonial Era are almost tame, not caring at all with getting close to them to take pictures.  The history on the island begins with James Ogelthorpe establishing forts on both the north and south points of the island at the southernmost defensive forts to protect Savannah from the Spanish.  There was also a town to support the forts as we saw at Fort Frederica, however, I am not sure if they have ever found their locations.  Most of the island was owned by Nathaniel Greene following the Revolutionary War, where he had plans to build a house and harvest the live oaks for sale to the ship building industries in Europe.  I did not know that he had created a huge debt during the Revolutionary War by using his own money to supply his troops.  However, he died before he was able to realize his dream and after remarrying, his wife built his dream of Dungeness in 1803.  Actually, this was the second Dungeness since Ogelthorpe had built a hunting lodge at the same location that he had called Dungeness.  The Greene Dungeness was a four story tabby house that lasted until it was abandoned during the Civil War and burned in 1866.  In the 1880s Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew Carnegie, purchased Cumberland Island.  His wife Lucy, completed a 59 room mansion after Thomas’ death in 1886 by removing the previous ruins of Dungeness.  Cumberland Island became an island resort for the rich and famous being entertained by Carnegie family.  Lucy continued to live at Dungeness until her death.  The children were unable or uninterested in maintaining the property which was left abandoned until it burned spectacularly in 1959.  This fire is really unfortunate, as the ruins of the huge mansion, grounds and other buildings is fantastic and I would have loved to see it intact!!  In any case, it is still impressive.  They even had a recreation building, that also burned, that had an indoor swimming pool, pool room, gymnasium, and a hunting lodge.  Obviously, that building was a small mansion all of its own.  Even the remains of the buildings that made up the “village” of workers and servants was impressive since it took over 200 people to maintain the property since the island was self sufficient with farms, ice house, power plant, and herds of cattle.  As the children grew up, Lucy built them their own large houses including Greyfield, Plum Orchard, and Stafford Plantation.  It is my understanding that only Plum Orchard is still there and we did not get to visit it since it is 7 miles north of the docks on the island.  After exploring the ruins of Dungeness we proceeded to the beach where we had a nice mile walk along the ocean.  We were not the only ones making the same loop as there was a large group of people walking in the same direction on the beach ahead and behind us.  It was a strange sight looking like an exodus of some sort.  The water and weather were too cold for swimming or sunbathing, so everyone was just strolling along, all in the same direction.  In crossing back across the island the path led through the Sea Camp campground which is in a relatively young stand of live oaks.  The crisscrossing of the branches from all the live oak trees was amazing.  The campgrounds were also interesting begin cleared areas of sand where each site is “carved” out of the palmettos covering the ground.  Following a short ranger presentation about the history of the island we boarded the ferry for the return trip at 4:45.  Since it takes about 45 minutes to get back to the mainland, we had a unique opportunity to watch a spectacular sunset through the high clouds without any trees blocking the view.  While generally we like to return to the RV by mid-afternoon, the full afternoon on the island was a great experience and having an early dinner in a restaurant didn’t hurt either.

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After a surprising day on Cumberland Island, we figured we would try again to visit a National Park devoted to nature at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.  I have to admit that the information about Timucuan on the web was confusing.  As it turns out Timucuan is a complex of locations northeast of Jacksonville along the coast of National, State, and City property working together for preservation of both ecological and historic locations.  In fact, most of the Preserve can only be visited by boat, especially the acres administered by the National Park Service.  The GPS unit for Timucuan took us to the Visitor Center for Fort Caroline National Memorial, which turns out to be a unit of Timucuan.  There are hiking trails at Fort Caroline that we took advantage of, however, the main attraction of this location is the Fort Caroline.  The Visitor Center was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because they did not have any movie about the fort.  This is the first National Park we have visited without one.  The small museum are a mix of exhibits about the natural environment in the Preserve and the history of Fort Caroline.  Fort Caroline is notable because it is the only attempt by France to challenge Spain in the New World.  In February of 1562, the French Explorer, Jean Ribault, landed on the May River (now St Johns River) looking for a site to establish a French colony, before continuing on to South Carolina where they built and manned a fort known as Charlesfort. We visited the remains of Charlesfort last year at the Marine base on Paris Island.  Two years later, René Goulaine de Laudonnière, who had been Ribault’s second-in-command, returned with 200 colonists to build Fort Caroline on the May River and Jean Ribault joined him with additional soldiers and colonists in June 1565.  However, the recently appointed Spanish Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, was had orders to remove the French colony.  He found Fort Caroline in September, 1565 and moves south to establish the fort at St. Augustine to provide a base of operations.  On September 20, 1565 the Spanish capture Fort Caroline, killing all the men and taking the women and children captive.  In 1567, France retaliates by recapturing Fort Caroline and killing all the Spanish.  Thus ended France’s only attempt at a colony in Spanish Florida.  Since the fort existed for less than 5 years, there has been no archeological evidence of its actual location.  Based on maps the National Park Service has created a scaled triangle fort with moat and palisade to provide a visual example at where they fort could have been.  Once again we had the joy of exploring an historic site in amongst grade school children enjoying a field trip, right down to a demonstration of a musket firing.  BOOM.  After lunch we took a hike in the natural area of the Timucuan Preserve that led through some amazing oyster shell middens.  We assume we were seeing thousands of years of oyster harvesting by the Timucuan and previous tribes of Indians as the earth along the salt marsh was nothing more than piled oyster shells many feet deep in all directions!  We had heard that these middens are common along the coast, but this was the best example we have seen so far.  To think how long it would have taken to create these continuous piles of oyster shells is humbling.

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On Friday, we returned to the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve to explore another part of the Preserve accessible by car, the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island.  Originally over 1000 acres, the Kingsley Plantation was one of the properties owned by Zephaniah Kingsley from 1814 through 1852, his total ownership was over 32,000 acres.  On Kingsley Plantation, he grew Sea Island cotton using slave and freeman labor.  For those of us that have grown up with the historical accounts of slavery that was used in the plantation south up to the Civil War have learned about the oppressive gang system where slaves worked all day long under the supervision of white overseers.  They have done an excellent job at Kingsley Plantation to present a different system that, while still slavery, had the potential to be more humane.  Kingsley came from the three tier view of slavery common under the Spanish where slaves from Africa were still viewed as people, more than just property.  Instead of the two tier system in English America of slaves (black) and masters (white), the three ties system recognized the wealthy, freemen, and slaves of any color, although all the slaves were black.  In addition, they used the task system instead of the gang system.  Under the task system, the slaves were given a task each day that, for most of the year, could be completed by early afternoon leaving time for the slaves to grow their own garden crops or crafts for sale and to have time for their families and social life.  Slaves also had the opportunity to buy and/or earn freedom for themselves and their family, which meant they could not be sold.  Kingsley believed in this combination of incentive and hope along with the threat of punishment to keep the slaves productive and content.  His wife was a purchased slave from Africa that he freed and married.  Their mixed children were viewed by the community as members of the wealthy tier and held prominent positions in the community.  Kingsley also followed his wife’s African traditions and had three other wives with children of each.  Slaves could earn their freedom and continue to work on the plantation for wages.  However, once Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822 the laws and views of slaves changed and Kingsley moved his wife and children to Haiti to protect them.  Today the site of the Kingsley Plantation consists of only about 60 acres covered with trees and consists of the original plantation, that had been enlarged over time, tabby barn, and most of the tabby homes of the slaves.  The National Park Service also provides a free audio tour using GPS enabled phones that automatically track your movements and start to play when you approach one of the numbered stops.  Although it did not pick up every location, it was an interesting way to gain a good understanding of the life and history of the Kingsley family and most importantly, the slaves of which there is little recorded history.  This historical site is well worth the visit, but take advantage of the audio tour as it adds a lot to the experience.

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Saturday was a day in the State Park with Kal getting the laundry done and I got started on this blog.  We also watched football in the afternoon and evening where we saw Alabama pull out a defeat of Mississippi State and Auburn lose to Georgia.  While the Alabama game was fun and exciting, the Auburn game was a disappointment.  For some reason, Auburn’s offense took a day off and never got going.  Even when we lost the two previous games, our offense was always in a position to win, but not this game.  It was disappointing, but life goes on even for football fans.

Sunday was going to be out last day at Crooked River and we had the choice of two state park.  Fort King George is a Revolutionary War fort in Darien, Georgia and Fort Clinch, a Civil War fort in Fernandina Beach, Florida.  We decided on Fort Clinch, since it is a brick and mason fort that did not see any action during the Civil War and should be in good condition.  They have done some reconstruction in the fort, but since it was not shot at during the war it is in surprising good shape.  It is different then Fort Pulaski which was a massive fort with multiple levels for cannon.  Fort Clinch is only a single level with cannon placed on an earthen wall set inside the brick walls, which are called detached walls for this reason.  Cannon were also placed on the five bastions at the corners.  The fort was not completed at the beginning of the Civil War and was captured by the Union army when the Confederates withdrew and consolidated its armies in 1862.  The Union army worked on the fort during the war, but never fully completed it.  For instance, the officers quarters are marked out on the ground but never built.  It was manned again during the threat of the Spanish-American War but was garrisoned for only a couple of months.  They have done a good job with period furniture, tools, and supplies in most of the buildings and on the first weekend of each month, volunteers in period uniforms and clothing populate the fort for visitors.  We were too late for November, but still enjoyed exploring the fort.  While not a must see, I would still recommend a visit for anyone interested in seeing an intact fort with some reconstruction from the late 1800s.

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Monday was supposed to be our travel day to Torreya State Park near Tallahassee, Florida.  It was going to be a stressful drive for two reasons.  First, it was going to take at least 4 hours, one of our longer trips and second the weather forecast was for severe storms heading our way.  When we got up in the morning they had already had tornadoes in the area we were traveling to and we were going to have to drive through it.  However, when we went to put in the slides, the big slide holding the refrigerator, stove, and entertainment center was not working correctly.  The right side was coming in, but the left side was stuck.  It eventually came lose, but it was still not working.  Looking at it, we discovered the push bar had broken lose from the slide!!  Well, it was obvious we were not going anywhere on Monday and had our first experience with dealing with repairs on the road.  We called our Roadside Assistance program with Good Sam’s and they were able to find us a repair shop that would be able to make it to the state park before 12.  Noon came and went and the weather turned nasty.  We were under a severe thunderstorm warning until 1:30 and we took off for the concrete block restroom in the heavy wind and rain when we went under a tornado warning at 1:15 lasting until 1:45.  It was a nervous time, but we did not see any tornado, only heavy rain and lighting along with strong wind gusts.  No damage, but also no repairman.  We understood that with the weather and reports of traffic problems due to the storms on the major highways around Jacksonville, there was going to be delays.  We waited patiently all day for the repairman from Gator Haters to show with the slide out part of the way out and nothing hooked up.  He finally arrived after 6, which is after dark and there are no street lights (or any other lights) in the state park!  He obviously was not going to accomplish anything but take a look at the problem.  We had sent pictures to Peterson Industries that make the Excel and they sent their recommendations for repairs which was going to involve welding the arm back on to the slide.  I am really disappointed to learn that the slides are totally dependent on a couple of spot welds to pull the slides into the body!!  It doesn’t seem to me this would be strong enough and it had obviously failed.  In any case we were stuck at Crooked River State Park for at least another night.

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Tuesday was spent in the State Park waiting on the guy from Gater Hater to show up and fix our slide out.  Not much to do so I spent the time catching up on the blog.  Kal finally called Gater Hater around 4 in the afternoon, only to find out that they were working on finding some one who could weld the pieces back together.  So we stayed another night at the State Park.  Following the storms the day before, we were under a hard freeze warning Tuesday night.  We switched the propane over to the full tank to be sure we did not run out of propane in the middle of the night and disconnected the water. We learned that by leaving the vent off and windows closed, we stayed very warm in the RV.  I no longer have any concern about subfreezing temperatures (at least down to 28 degrees).

On Friday, the guy from Gater Hater showed up at 9 in his Pepsi maintenance truck.  It turns out he is a one man repair shop, working two jobs (the other being a Pepsi maintenance man), and raising 3 girls that he is mighty proud of!  He got the parts off the RV in less than half hour and was off to the welder.  He was back in about an hour and had the RV put back together in less than another hour.  While talking with him I found out that for him this was a major repair and he probably would not have taken the job if he had known more about the problem, but he felt he had already stranded us long enough and decided to take the job.  I am glad we did, as I am convinced the RV is now better than new, at least with regard to the slide out.  We owed him for 3 hours of labor, however, he did not have the ability to create an invoice with him.  Unfortunately, we needed the invoice to submit to Peterson Industries for reimbursement and he understood.  I hate not paying him since he certainly needs the money and had earned it.  It was really no problem for us to stay another three nights in the State Park.  Kal got to know Linnie fairly well since she had to go each day to extend our stay.  While the State Park was fairly full over the weekend, there were only a couple of RVs during the week.  Finally, it was time to head to the Torreya State Park near Tallahassee, Florida.

November 2014 – Savannah Georgia

On Wednesday, October 29, 2014, we traveled south to Georgia, specifically south of Savannah.  We had been in the Savannah area last fall and had already seen all the National Park System sites, as well as, Savannah, so we figured we would spend some time at some state parks south of town.  We pulled into the Savannah South KOA at mid afternoon.  They were surprised that we would be spending 12 nights and after a couple of days we understood why.  This KOA is right off of I-95 and in the fall it is just an overnight stop in the “Snowbird Express” to Florida.  It nearly emptied out every morning and completely filled up at night, with rigs showing up after dark.  Everyone we talked to was on their way to Florida for the winter and so are we, although we are not in as much of a hurry as we will be spending Christmas in Birmingham with Kal’s family this year.  The KOA is very nice with a great lake alongside the sites.  It turns out the lake was man made from dirt that was used to build the Interstate highway and it is the home of a small flock of mute swans and a stopover for Canadian geese.  The swans are a good bit further south then they should be, but they keep them around by feeding them in the morning.  Feeding time is quite a sight every morning and a bit noisy.  It is certainly a nice sound in comparison to the cars and trucks on the Interstate that is a constant roar day and night.  Most of the sites are pull through, although they are very tight.  We have had to move our truck to make room for a neighbor to pull out with their fifth wheel and I am not certain how we are going to get out if our neighbors do not leave first.  We were also surprised to see another Excel Winslow RV that looks very similar except it is a 31 foot rig (ours is 34) and also has a Tri-Am sticker on it.

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Kal got on the internet and found a couple of interesting things to do while we were here.  One of them was a reproduction of a Spanish galleon by the name of El Galeon Andalucia that had sailed from Spain and was visiting locations along the coast.  Since it was only going to be in Savannah until the end of October, we figured there was no time like the present.  Of course, the ship was docked at the wharfs right down town, so we had to find someplace to park our big truck.  After our experience with the parking deck in Charleston, we were not ready to try that again!  Parallel parking on the street was obviously out.  We knew of a parking lot at the end of the wharf from our visit last fall, however, it was closed for some kind of construction project.  There is also some small parking lots down on the wharf, however, they are accessed by very narrow cobblestone streets that would be a problem if we met any traffic coming up from the river.  Kal was not comfortable navigating these narrow streets, however, we did find a place we could pull straight into along the street.  However, parking was restricted to a maximum of 2 hours which wasn’t going to long enough and Kal had had enough of dealing with downtown Savannah.  I was certainly tired of having every suggestion being shot down and by this point we were not talking with each other.  Dealing with Savannah with our huge truck was not going to happen, so we headed back to the KOA and didn’t talk much the rest of the day.

On Friday, we were ready to try it again, but downtown Savannah was out of the question.  Instead, we headed to the Wormsloe State Historic Site.  Wormsloe was the estate created by Noble Jones.  As one of the original colonists arriving with Ogelthorpe in 1733 to establish the grand experiment of Savannah.  Although Noble Jones was a humble carpenter in England, he was one of the few original colonists that had useful skills needed to establish the colony.  He acted as the town’s surveyor laying out most of the town, as well as, Augusta, Georgia.  He also served as the colony’s treasurer and physician for a time.  He applied for a lease of 500 acres on the south side of the Isle of Hope in 1736 although it was not approved by the Trustees until 1745.  He built a fortified home using tabby construction techniques consisting of 8 foot high walls with bastions at each of the four corners.  Wormsloe was one of a series of fortified structures between Frederica on St. Simons Island and Savannah to provide protection from the Spanish who also claimed the area.  During the conflict with Spain in 1739 known as the War of Jenkins Ear (part of the War of Austrian Succession) Wormsloe provided protection along the southern approaches to Savannah.  The remains of the tabby house is the centerpiece of the State Historic Site along with the grave of Noble Jones’ son.  Paths also takes visitors to sites overlooking the rice fields that are now salt water marshes and reconstructed outhouses including blacksmith forge and waddle and daub house that are used during special events during the summer.  Besides the tabby ruin that is worth exploring, the drive into the plantation is impressive.  The entrance road is lined with very large live oak trees that date from the 1890s.  It is the longest line oak drive with over 400 trees!  You literally cannot see the end of the drive from one end to another with the trees disappearing into the distance.  Very impressive!  There is also a two mile loop trail that takes visitors to the Civil War Earthworks known as Battery Wymberly, which was part of the defensive ring of batteries surrounding Savannah.  It saw no action and was abandoned in 1864 when General Sherman approached Savannah on his “March to the Sea”.

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Friday night it started turning cold with the first major cold front of the season that dropped snow in the upper elevations of Tennessee and North Carolina.  The front itself was to push through our area on Saturday with little potential for precipitation, but a promise of high winds.  While the weather should not prove much of a problem for us in the RV (although the gusts we got on Saturday did rock the RV a couple of times and dropped some good size limbs out of the pine trees) it did interfere with our plans for the day.  While researching the Savannah area, Kal found out there was going to be the first annual balloon festival at Hunter Army Airfield which is part of Fort Stewart and just a few miles down the road towards Wormsloe that we were just at.  So we got up before daybreak on Saturday and knew immediately there was going to be a problem since the winds from the front were already blowing too hard.  Sure enough we saw on the local news station that the event was canceled for Saturday, however, they still planned on lighting the balloons after dark and there was still Sunday morning.   As I said the weather was rough all day with gusty wind, so we did not try to do anything except watch soccer in the morning and football in the afternoon.  I was able to finish and post my blog for our time in Charleston.  The football between Auburn and Ole Miss was riveting, although I did not like the way it ended.  Auburn should have lost the game, but managed to keep Ole Miss out of the endzone with two fumbles within the red zone.  The first fumble was good and should have sealed the game, but Auburn came out too conservative and had to punt the ball.  Again with penalties that Auburn was plagued with all game, Ole Miss quickly moved the football down the red zone.  Their star wide receiver, Treadwell, made a spectacular catch and battle for the endzone only to collapse backwards on the goal line with an Auburn player pulling backwards on his jersey, broke his leg, and thereby fumbled the ball right at the goal line which Auburn recovered for a touch back.  I don’t like thinking that we won the game because their star receiver breaks his leg at the goal line.  It does leave Auburn with only a single loss and still in the hunt for the final four team playoffs.

I sure wish Auburn would play some games in the afternoon like other civilized teams, instead of running until midnight.  Most of the time we can sleep late on Sunday, however, this week we once again got up before dawn, although with the change from daylight savings it was 6 instead of 5 as if this made any difference!!  We drove out to Hunter Army Airfield by 7 and was one of the first too arrive.   The weather was calm and cold (it got down to 38 degrees over night) and should be perfect for balloons, in my opinion.  They were just getting started with putting up the first balloon to test the weather, so we took time to explore the military aircraft they had on display.  We were hoping to see one of the drones that they talked about on the news, however, it was not there.  We did get to see and talk with the Army personnel about their Apache attack helicopter, a Chinook transport helicopter, and a Black Hawk helicopter.  By this point they were starting to unload and inflate a number of balloons, of which, there was about a dozen eventually.  We found out the weather conditions were going to limit them to tethered flying as these calm conditions were still too windy and unpredictable.  So much for my knowledge about good balloon flying weather.  In any case, the main attraction was for people to sign up to take a quick ride in the balloons, which neither Kal nor I were interested in.  I did not see any of the balloons get above about 10 feet off the ground.  Instead we volunteered to assist a couple from Florida to inflate their balloon.  This kept us busy enough that we did not get any pictures of all the balloons.  Inflating these big balloons is really pretty simple.  You first drag the balloon out of its canvas bag using the truck and lay it out on the ground.  You then turn on a big fan to blow air into the balloon with two people holding the bottom of the balloon open and two or three other people spreading the rest of the balloon out as it inflates.  Only after you have the balloon fully inflated by the fan do you turn on the propane engines to shoot hot air into the balloon.  The basket begins laying on its side to shoot the hot air into the balloon.  As the balloon lifts up, it pulls the basket upright and you are ready to go.  Out next task was to “walk” the balloon from the grassy area over to the pavement.  This is a more a process of trying to steer the balloon a little each time he pops the basked just off the ground.  The major effort is provided by the truck which is tethered to the balloon to keep it from taking off.  Once on the pavement we thought there would be some time for him to take passengers up, however, the light breeze was swirling too much and they were taking the balloons down.  Therefore, we immediately deflated the balloon pulling on a long ski rope attached to the top of the balloon to lay it down on the pavement.  Once deflated we only had to stuff it back in its bag.  It is a good thing there were five of us working on this step as you have to lift up small parts of the balloon at a time to get it into the bag.  We celebrated the “launch” with a glass of champagne and the event was over.  It was a neat experience, but nothing like watching the balloons flying that we saw in Utah.   We enjoyed it and will be on the lookout for balloon festivals in the future.

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Sunday night was back into the upper 30s again and we woke up to a very cold RV!  The propane heater had quit some time during the night and although it was warm in the bed, it certainly was not warm anywhere else.  Kal looked up repair advice on the internet and proceeded to take the panel off the furnace outside the RV.  We did manage to get the cover off (only taking out 6 screws we did not need to remove) and had no idea what we were looking at!  The wires all seemed to be tight and the fuse appeared to be fine, so I had Kal turn it back on.  It started just fine which meant the starter had power, but then would stop after a few seconds after lighting the propane.  I asked Kal if she had checked the propane and she said she had, but I am now convinced she did not have it set correctly.  I checked the propane bottle we had been using and found it to be empty, turned the other bottle on and turned the switch for that bottle.  The furnace started right up and kept going this time so we put the panel back on and decided the only problem was an empty propane bottle.  Thank goodness.  After this excitement we proceeded on with our plans for the day which was to explore Ft McAlister, a Civil War for on the Ogeechee River.

Fort McAlister was improved in 1861 by the Confederacy to protect Savannah from Union ships coming up the Ogeechee River, a deep water river just south of Savannah.  The Ogeechee River makes a big hairpin turn and the location of Fort McAlister at the base of the turn provided a continuous line of fire on any ships navigating the long turn in the river.  Along with pilings in the river and mines it effectively blocked the southern exposure of Savannah from ships.  After the fall of Fort Pulaski in 1862, the Confederates knew that brick and mortar forts were vulnerable to the new long range rifled cannons of the Union and built Fort McAlister with timber bombproofs, armories, and gun emplacements covered with sand.  It proved an effective design as Fort McAlister was never silenced by Union ships although they tried twice during the war.  It did not fall until General Sherman took the fort by land ending his March to the Sea.  After his long march from Atlanta in 1864, General Sherman needed supplies badly before attacking Savannah and the Fort McAlister on the Ogeechee River was the logical location.  Therefore, on December 13, 1864, he sent Brigadier General Hazen 4000 man infantry to take the fort.  After taking all day to approach the fort, Hazen’s infantry stormed the fort late in the afternoon.  Being defended by only 230 Confederates the Fort fell within 15 minutes and General Sherman had his supplies from the waiting Union ships.  Savannah fell without a fight in time for General Sherman to make a Christmas present of the city to President Lincoln.  In the 1930s the property was purchased by Henry Ford who began extensive restorations of the fort.  Consequently it is the best reconstructed Civil War earthen fort you will ever see.  Today there is a self guided tour of the fort that has one surprise after another.  Instead of the rusted out cannons and piles of sand you see at other Civil War sites, this Fort is fully reconstructed down to reproductions of the cannons and gun emplacements.  The most amazing sight was the bombproof in the center of the fort.  Instead of just a pile of sand with possibly a wooden door showing the opening, this bombproof is fully reconstructed with bunk beds and fireplace and the place is huge on the inside!  Of course they are using electric lights instead of candles for lighting and the entrances are brick instead of wood and concrete for floors instead of sand, but being able to see inside a bombproof was a surprising experience.  The bombproof would only be used during combat or as a hospital, the soldiers would normally be staying in tents outside the fort itself.  For anyone interested in Civil War forts, this is must see!!

Bombproof2GunEmplacement GregAtFort

After the experience of Fort McAlister we were looking forward to see what Georgia has done to preserve Fort Morris, which is a Revolutionary War era fort that was more to protect the English colony and Savannah from the Spanish who also claimed the area in the mid 1700s.  Unfortunately, after driving all the way to the Fort, which is only about 15 miles from the KOA, we found it is open only Thursdays-Saturdays.  We would have known this if we had checked the website.  Live and learn.  On the way back from Fort Morris we saw signs for Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center and decided to check it out.  It is located just west of I-95 on the Cay River and consists of a nice boardwalk over wetlands transitioning from a fresh water marsh to a brackish marsh to a tidal marsh along Cay Creek.  The boardwalk snakes through the transitional wetlands for about half a mile providing opportunities to sit and enjoy nature along with a interpretive signs describing the importance of each transition and the flora and fauna that can be seen.  The boardwalk also has an observation tower that gets the visitor into the canopy above the marsh and a nice large overlook at the Creek.  We enjoyed a very leisurely walk and talk with some locals that were enjoying the warming weather on a Tuesday morning.  The walk only took a little over an hour which still left us the entire afternoon to get Kal a haircut and for me to catch up on this blog.

GregOnBoardwalk KalOnBoardwalk

Since Fort Morris would not be open until Thursday, we decided to take in the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum that is right on I-95 just north of Savannah.  We had seen it last year when we were staying at Hilton Head over Thanksgiving and wanted to check it out.  Thank goodness we had all day, as this museum is amazing.  It may be a common occurrence, but there was at least three tour groups at the museum that day with planned lunches being set up in multiple locations on the Rotunda.  After waiting for them to deal with all the tour groups, we finally got our tickets and entered the museum proper which starts with a series of exhibits of the events and timeline leading up to World War II and the involvement of the US after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942.  It turns out that tour groups get their own personal guides, who provide a verbal commentary of the exhibits instead of just looking at them.  Along with the small crowd of senior citizens, this was a distraction making it difficult to concentrate on reading the exhibits for myself.  However, the movie about the Battle of Britain was excellent and set the stage for the US to enter the war.  The difficulties they had in moving the command, planes, personnel, and materials to England was fascinating.  By this point we had left the tour group behind and were on our own as we waited for the beginning of the Mission Experience which starts every half hour on the quarter.  Just as the first movie was to start with Kal and I begin the only participants, in came the tour group.  All of a sudden we were in the middle of a packed house.  The tour guide did give some valuable information, but much of the first movie on the mission briefing was lost to the chatter from the tour group as they found their seats.  From the first movie, you move as a group to a second movie about the preparations for the mission by the ground crew.  From there we all moved into the third movie on the mission itself and this was amazing.  They had at least six movie screens at different angles at eye level, two more titled down from the ceiling, and another titled up the floor.  As the mission progressed you could view the action from multiple angles around, above, and below you.  Along with flashing lights and sounds when you are hit by flack or bullets it is a great experience.  From the Mission Experience you exit into the Combat Gallery which has a number of very interesting exhibits including a large scale model of an British airfield, a B-17 in honor of the “City of Savannah” which was the 5000th airplane processed through Hunter Field in Savannah.  They are still restoring the plane and you can watch them at work!  I especially enjoyed the replica of a “Safe House” which depicted the living conditions in Nazi-occupied countries that provided aid to downed airmen in their rescue and escape.  Scattered throughout the replica are the stories and artifacts from a number of these airmen including some pictures of them with the local families providing assistance and hiding them from the Germans.  The Prisoner of War exhibit was also well done.  After seeing these exhibits I was disappointed with the exhibit celebrating the end of the war.  There was not very much to it.  There is also a huge exhibit of artifacts donated by the veterans organized by combat group.  This area alone would take you hours to take it all in!  Finally, outside the museum in a Memorial Garden with plaques, statues, benches, and plantings commemorating flight and ground crews.  I have never seen so many memorials stuffed into one place!  Everywhere you look are multiple plaques and statues listing the members of some crew along with the nickname they had for the crew.  Finally, they have a replica of an English chapel with stained glass windows depicting scenes related to flying and the flyers.  It was stunning to say the least.  All in all, this museum was amazing and we were overwhelmed with the information we learned about World War II and the role the Mighty Eighth played in defeating Nazi Germany.  It should be noted that the Mighty Eighth was the most decorated unit in the war, but also suffered the most casualties with over half of the casualties in the Air Force!  We certainly owe these veterans and heroes a lot and this museum brought it all into focus for me.

GregAtJet KalInMuseum StainGlass1

On Thursday we decided to stay in the campground to do laundry and clean the RV.  While Kal did the laundry and went to the store, I kept busy cleaning the RV.  I decided to clean all of the woodwork in the RV, which is a lot!!  All of the solid wood cabinets, doors, and shelves are beautiful, but they take over 3 hours to clean.  After all the cleaning, we spent a leisurely afternoon and I was able to catch up on this blog.

Friday was back again to Fort Morris, a Revolutionary War and War of 1812 site.  Again we were surprised by what we found.  I was expecting a fort that was part of the defensive outposts leading up to the Revolutionary War.  What we found was the town of Sunbury, a forgotten Revolutionary War town.  Established by a town charter in 1758, Sunbury grew into a port city second only to Savannah in Georgia.   Located on the Medway River, it had the deepest harbor south of the Chesapeake Bay.   It was a prominent town at the beginning of the Revolutionary War with two of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence for Georgia from the area.  Button Gwinnett owned nearby St. Catherine’s Island, a barrier island at the mouth of the river and Lyman Hall lived in Sunbury.  The third signer, George Walton, was a lawyer in Savannah, but was held prisoner in Sunbury during the war.  The fort was built south of the wharves to protect entrance into the river where the Medway River takes a sharp right hand turn, meaning the ships had to come straight at the guns in the fort before being able to turn to return fire.  Sunbury had been the staging area for three failed attempts or the Patriots to take British held St. Augustine in Florida early in the war.  On January 9, 1779, Sunbury fell to the British when Major General Provost brought a large force north from St. Augustine and bombarded the fort into submission after surrounding the town.  Upon withdrawing from the town in September, 1779 they burned and destroyed the town.  Although Sunbury recovered some of its prosperity, it never regained its prominence and eventually disappeared completely.  There are no structures left of the old town and most of the property has new residential owners.  Sunbury did have a brief revival during the War of 1812 when the ruins of Fort Morris were used to construct a new and much smaller Fort Defiance.  Although armed barges were sent to guard the port at Sunbury, it never saw action during the War of 1812.  Except for archeological findings the only visible remains are the reduced earthworks of Fort Defiance.  They have a nice film and small museum about the town and fort, but the real attraction are the remains of Fort Defiance.  There is a self guided tour of the fort provided in the brochure and they also loaned us a portable DVD player with reenactors providing the tour with information at each numbered stop.  It was a great addition to the experience, although it would be difficult to provide large numbers of visitors with a portable DVD player.  It looked like they had around 6 players available.  It was a good reason for exploring the site during the week in November.  Also the weather could not have been better with deep blue skies and cool temperatures.

GregWithDVD KalOnTrail

Before settling down to watch college football on Saturday, we visited the Colonial Midway Museum in Midway, Georgia.  Although it turns out that the house is a reproduction of a colonial plantation, it was built in the 1950s to house the museum, it is still historic.  However, the museum inside was a complete surprise.  We expected a number of exhibits and artifacts, what we found was a well designed personal tour of the exhibits and artifacts.  When we got there soon after they opened at 10 in the morning we were the only visitors and were treated to a personal tour.  We were joined by another gentleman, that I suppose we drove nuts from all the questions and discussions we got into with our tour guide.  We spent 3 hours on our tour and enjoyed every minute of it.  Our tour guide had a lot of stories about the history of the area including Sunbury, Midway, and Liberty County from the Colonial period through the Civil War.  I believe we covered just about everything in each room of the house and each piece had a story.  We learned more about the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Gwinnett, Hall, and Walton including a story about how how Button Gwinett was appointed the first interim Governor of Georgia only to die from wounds in a duel soon thereafter.  Of all the signers of the Declaration, Gwinett’s signature is the most valuable to collectors because he did not live long enough to accomplish very much.  We also learned of the connection between a minister in the area, whose granddaughter was the first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, and the long lineage of Stewarts that eventually led to the mother of President Theodore Roosevelt and somehow to Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind.  I am afraid I don’t remember the details of all the stories as it was a lot of information, but it was still interesting and fun.  The tour also included the old Congregationalist Church that dates from just after the Civil War.  The previous church had been used to butcher hogs on the altar by the Union troops during their occupation in 1864 and was burned when they left.  They don’t have services there anymore except twice a year, but the balcony where the slave servants could attend the services was interesting.  It was also interesting that they would rent the pews to raise money to pay the salary of the minister.  I really enjoyed discussing things we had learned about the Revolutionary War from the forts and cities we had visited in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina and I look forward to finding out more about Georgia’s role in the war next week around Brunswick.

TourGuide

Saturday afternoon was taken up with watching Auburn play the most bizarre game against Texas A&M?!  After spotting them 14 points by fumbling the ball on their first offensive play, Auburn was playing catch up through the first half until they went 17 points behind with a blocked field goal at the end of the half.  After the initial fumble, the offensive was playing very well, but the defense could not seem to stop A&M consistently even though A&M’s quarterback was a freshman starting his second game and they had totally changed the offensive line.  The first half was very frustrating, but they still had the second half.  In the second half, Auburn’s defense still could not stop A&M from scoring although they held them to a couple of field goals.  Auburn’s offensive was moving and making great plays and they got within 3 points and the football with 5 minutes to go.  They did not want to score too quickly so was taking their time, which may have been the problem, I don’t know.  With 2 minutes to go they fumbled the ball inside the 5 yard line!!  The replays show that the Arits-Payne was the first player to fall on the ball and possession should have remained with Auburn, however, A&M had a hold of the football when they dug through the pile and they were mistakenly given possession.  With two time outs and a great defensive stand, Auburn kept A&M from advancing the ball, even tackling the runner in the end zone on third down, although replays showed the ball was just outside the goal line when he hit the ground.  Okay, so now A&M had to punt the ball squeezed into the end zone and gets off a decent punt.  Auburn now had only a minute to salvage this disaster of a game and quickly moved the ball down the field.  With 46 seconds to go, Marshall tries to call an audible at the line and for some reason (???) the center hikes the ball before anyone was ready and hits himself in the butt.  Obviously he somehow thought Marshall was taking the hike under the center which he almost never does.  Another fumble and this time A&M gets the fumble cleanly.  No time outs and the game is over with Auburn somehow doing every thing necessary to salvage the game, but managing to fumble the ball on their last two drives in the last 2 minutes of the game.  Weird!!  We now have two loses and hopes for another run at the Championship are now dim.

Sunday was our last day in the Savannah area and we decided to check out one of the many National Wildlife Refuges in the area.  Most of these Refuges are on barrier islands and accessible only by boat, however, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge is accessible by car and even has a 4 mile driving tour of the refuge.  We enjoyed a hike around one of the fresh water ponds that hosted a number of very noisy ducks and some wood storks.  After another short drive we stopped to take another hike around part of the old airfield that was a fighter training facility in World War II.  Aside from the asphalt runways, the area still had little vegetation due to soil compaction, I guess.  During the hike we scared up a large flock of small birds that kept us entertained for the first part of the hike.  After lunch at the location of a rich estate that was used as the Officer’s Club for the airfield, but was torn down when it became a National Refuge.  The only remaining evidence of the estate is a large fountain in the woods that is now the home of a whole lot of frogs!!  We took another short hike after lunch along another of their old paved roads to nowhere.  I can’t figure what all the pavement was for except as part of the old airfield, except this paved road was obviously much newer.  We had an enjoyable time hiking in the woods, however, all of the hikes were in maritime and loblolly forests instead of along the salt marshes that surround the refuge on three sides.  It would have been nice to have one of the trails along the marsh.

IslandInLakeKalAtFountainFrogsOnFountain

October 2014 – Charleston, South Carolina

After the rain on Tuesday, the weather on Wednesday was clear and cool for our trip to Charleston.  It was only a couple of hours down I-26 to Charleston and except for the traffic, which was heavy as we neared Charleston, it was an easy pull.  We found Lake Aire RV Campground just off US 17 without a problem.  It is a nice campground with mostly pull-through sites and full hookups.  Where we did not get much rain the day before at Columbia, it had rained heavily over night at Charleston.  There were extensive puddles and mud everywhere in the campground.  Our site was muddy, but at least it did not have any standing water.  They were actively pumping out some of the sites from the rain!  We didn’t have any real problem pulling the RV into the site except I had to drag it through the weight of the RV (over 15,000 pounds) sank into the mud leaving some deep ruts in their grass.  We have a nice little pond with a bench just outside the RV along with a picnic table and fire pit.  In addition, the bathroom/showers are a short walk.  The best feature of our site, though was the live oak at the end of the site, which had produced a lot of acorns.  This attracted a gaggle (or is it herd or flock or something else?) of ducks that come by twice a day to gather acorns.  They are quite tame and aren’t concerned no matter how close you get to them.  There are also a couple of squirrels collecting the acorns that will chatter at us if we get in their way.  All in all, Lake Aire is a very nice campground to spend our first two week period at.

CampsiteKalWithDucks GregInFog

We decided to spend two weeks in the Charleston area because there is a lot to see.  So Thursday we got started with the first of three national park system sites.  We set the GPS for Fort Sumter National Monument and were on Sullivan’s Island before I realized that it was taking us to Fort Moultrie, not Fort Sumter.  It turns out that Fort Moultrie is administered as part of Fort Sumter and I guess the GPS location is set for the main offices which are at Fort Moultrie.  In any case, we decided to visit Fort Moultrie first, since we were already there.  Fort Moultrie National Monument is an interesting fort since it has a long history extending from the Revolutionary War through the coastal defenses during World War II.  During the Revolutionary War, Fort Sullivan, which was renamed Fort Moultrie for the commander of the fort in the Revolutionary War, was only a wooden and sand fort made from palmetto logs.  While not very permanent, the use of palmetto was a good choice as it is very fibrous and would not splinter when hit by cannons.  The location of Fort Moultrie is also unique as the shoals forced ships to come north parallel to the coast straight at Fort Moultrie and then turning west into Charleston Harbor.  This meant ships could not turn broadside to the fort until they turned into the harbor, during which they are being pounded by the cannons in the fort.  They were able to turn away the British fleet of nine warships under Admiral Parker attempting to take Charleston early in the Revolutionary War in June, 1776.  The British would eventually have to take Charleston by siege in 1780 with a combination of land forces and a naval blockade.  A second fort made of palmetto logs was built in 1798 as part of a coastal system of forts, but it was destroyed in a hurricane in 1804.  Obviously, none of these forts remain today and even their exact location has not been determined.  A brick and mortar fort was then constructed in 1809 which was minimally manned for 50 years until the Civil War in 1860.  Along with Castle Pickney, Fort Sumter, and Fort Johnson they protected the vital port of Charleston Harbor.  In December, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union and the Federal garrison at Fort Moultrie under the command of Major Anderson was vulnerable to any land attack.  They abandoned Fort Moultrie to the yet unfinished Fort Sumter which was much more defensible.  In April 1861, the cannons at Fort Moultrie participated in forcing Major Anderson to surrender Fort Sumter, thus beginning the Civil War.  In April 1863, the Union began a 20-month bombardment of both Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie.  Following the Civil War, Fort Moultrie continued to be a major component of the shore defenses with many upgrades of the defenses.  In 1885 it became a part of the Endicott system of steel gun emplacements all along the coast.  This system lasted through World War I.  By World War II, stationary coastal forts were obsolete and Fort Moultrie was used as the control center for the nets and mines used to protect the harbor from German submarines.  All of these changes are today visible at Fort Moultrie and they have done an excellent job of restoring different sections of the current fort to highlight the multiple time periods including mounted cannons from each period.  We also had the pleasure of joining a ranger led talk and tour of the fort.  His presentation along with the excellent Visitor Center and movie provided a good understanding of the complex history of the fort.

FortSeaside ParkRanger

We continued our history lesson on Friday by visiting Fort Sumter.  Fort Sumter is located on a man-made island at the entry to Charleston Harbor and can only be accessed by ferry.  The Visitor Center is located in downtown Charleston where you can get tickets for the ferry.  If you aren’t aware, we are traveling in a VERY big Ford truck (350 Super Cab), which is not the easiest vehicle to take into city traffic and Kal is certainly not yet used to it.  The only place to park at the Visitor Center is a parking garage, which is not built for large pickup trucks!  The corners were all tight with narrow parking spaces and every time we went under the main concrete supports I cringed!!  Trying to park it at right angles is difficult under the best of circumstances and thankfully we found a spot on the fourth floor that we could cheat the truck forward into the space ahead of us so it did not stick out into traffic.  We got away with it, but in the future I think we will avoid parking garages.  As it turns out there is also a ferry to Fort Sumter from Patriots Point where there is parking for large vehicles.  We would have missed the displays in the Visitor Center, but there was not very much there anyway.  In fact, I found the Visitor Center to be a disappointment.  My education about Fort Sumter was limited to knowing it was where the Civil War began.  Unlike Fort Moultrie, the history of Fort Sumter is limited to just the Civil War.  It was built as part of the harbor defenses at Charleston along with Castle Pickney, Fort Moultrie, and Fort Johnson, which was formidable for the time.  The crossfire on ships attempting to enter the harbor would be devastating.  When the Civil War began, Fort Sumter was not yet complete and fewer than half of the cannons had been installed.  When Major Anderson decided to abandon Fort Moultrie for the more easily defended Fort Sumter, most of the cannon were still in pieces and he had only 127 soldiers, 13 of which were musicians.  He had no chance to hold Fort Sumter, but delayed the start of the war for three and a half months as they negotiated.  In the spring of 1861, President Lincoln had ordered supplies and reinforcements to be delivered, which could not be allowed.  Therefore, after one final attempt to get Major Anderson to abandon the fort, on April 11, 1861 opened fire on Fort Sumter.  The first shot was delivered from Fort Johnson, but Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney also participated.  After 34 hours of continuous bombardment, Major Anderson surrendered the Fort.  The Confederates took command of the fort and over the next two years reinforced and fully manned the fort.  In April of 1863, the Union landed troops south of Charleston on Morris Island and created a battery of guns to begin the destruction of Fort Sumter.  Using ironclads and a shore battery, the Union reduced Fort Sumter to rubble over the next year and a half of shelling.  Ironically, the more they destroyed Fort Sumter, they stronger it became as a defensive structure and the fort never fell.  Today there is not much to see except the lowest floor of the fort since it was covered by the rubble and the center of the fort is another of the steel gun emplacements that formed the Endicott system of shore defenses.  The ferry ride over to the fort takes about 20 minutes and they only give you an hour to tour the fort before the ferry brings you back.  Since they have a captive audience the Park Rangers put on a great talk inside the fort, however, this took at least 20 minutes from the time you have to visit the fort.  I was able to see the entire fort (there really is not much left of it), but did not have time for the museum they had set up in the old Endicott battery that takes much of the island today.  The greatest thing I found was a entire set of Parrot cannon that were in amazing condition.  The cannon were on the bottom floor of the fort and were buried in the rubble.  When the Endicott battery was constructed they were covered with sand instead of being removed.  When discovered in the 1950s under the sand, they had been well protected from the elements.

FortSumter

After we got back from the island we sat at a park bench along the shore and watched the fish jumping out of the water, when all of a sudden we saw a fin.  It was a small group of dolphins swimming back and forth just off shore.  Kal was able to get some good pictures of them.  We ended up spending over an hour for lunch watching the show.

 

Dolphin

After dealing with the traffic of downtown Charleston, we did not want to travel back downtown, so we decided to visit the location of the original settlement at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.  Back in the late 1600s, South Carolina was northern extent of the New World claimed by Spain.  Creating a British settlement this far south was risky, but the potential rewards were great.  Instead of using the peninsula where Charleston is located today, they went across the Ashley River because the shallow water and marshy terrain made it more defensible against any Spanish attack.  The original settlers were a mix of colonists from England and Barbados.  There plan was to duplicate the success of the sugar plantations in Barbados in South Carolina and their primary mission was making a profit for the English investors.  Initially they tried growing sugar cane and other tropical crops, which did not do very well.  Their primary exports became wood for barrels to ship sugar cane out of Barbados and animal furs.  The palisade and cannon emplacements they started with were primarily for defense.  Since growing crops using slave labor was the goal, the colonists immediately established plantations outside the palisades.  In fact, they have found evidence for only a couple of structures within the palisade and they are not certain what they were used for.  The Spanish only tried to attack the settlement once with no success, so after 10 years they created the town center on the peninsula known as Oyster Point where there was a deep harbor for shipping.  Today the State Historic Site consists of a great Visitor Center that tells a detailed story of the history of the settlement with great displays, some interactive.  They have included a small zoo with examples of animals that would have been hunted by the settlers including red wolves, white tailed deer, panther, otter, turkeys, and bison, although the bison they had are the western bison since the eastern woods bison are now extinct.  They have reconstructed the palisade in its original location except for a short section where they show you stain on the ground the archeologists used to locate it.  They have also reconstructed the cannon emplacements and the third Saturday of every month is a cannon firing demonstration.  This demonstration was another reason we choose to visit Charles Towne on Saturday.  Wow, are those cannon loud!!  However, my favorite part was a replica of 17th century sailing ship that would have been used at the time.  It was able to travel the shallow waters, but still able to sail to Barbados.  It was essentially our first UPS at it would deliver and pick up goods at each individual home along the river since Charles Towne had no need for a central harbor.

CannonFiring GregOnShip

Sunday we spent at the RV park watching soccer, working on my blog, and cleaning the outside of the RV.  Monday was my birthday and I wanted time to do absolutely nothing.  Kal did get the laundry done, we went out to dinner, and I got to talk with Suzy, Jenny, and Bryna. The rest of the time I read and played games on the PS3.  It was actually the kind of birthday that I have always wanted to have, but rarely got when the kids were growing up and I was working.

On Tuesday, we wanted to do more sightseeing, but neither of us were interested in taking on Charleston.  So we headed west about an hour to a state historic site about the Civil War battle at Rivers Bridge.  This is a small historic site in the sandhills where the Salkehatchie River creates a swamp along multiple river channels as it approaches the coast.  In 1865, Major General Sherman had already burned Atlanta and taken Savannah.  By February of 1865 he was heading north to either Charleston or Columbia.  His main purpose was to punish the south and degrade their will to fight, especially in South Carolina where the Civil War began.  To further confuse the Confederates he split his forces making it difficult to know where he was heading.  Major General McLaws was posted at the crossing of the Salkehatchie River with the task of preventing the western branch of Sherman’s army from crossing.  Using thousands of local slaves the built an impressive set of earthworks along the banks of the river as the causeway crossed the swamp.  On February 2 they successfully stopped the Union forces from getting out of the swamp.  However, they did not have the manpower to hold the position as on February 3 they were flanked on both sides and had to retreat.  While the causeway still exists, the bridges are no longer there, but you can still see where it enters the swamp.  The earthworks are the largest I have ever seen and still impressive today.  Being the only visitors on Tuesday morning, we had the joy of a personal tour with the State Park Superintendent that gave us a detailed description of the two day battle which complemented the interpretive signs along the 3/4 mile trail around the earthworks.  The site also contains a memorial honoring the Confederate soldiers that died in the battle, which is rare.  To this day, there continues to be a large memorial service with bands and speakers to honor the soldiers lost.  Originally the speakers would be state politicians, but today they are generally historians.  From the Superintendent it is clear that at least this part of South Carolina is still fighting the Civil War.  Part of the reason was the brutal methods used by Sherman, destroying plantations, homes, and major cities.  On top of losing brothers, sons, and husbands, many South Carolinians along the coast lost their homes as well.  This was reinforced on Wednesday, when I had the chance to talk with a local landowner who owns and manages over 75,000 acres of forests close to the battle.  He has ancestors that fought in the battle and has many family stories of the difficulty they had in rebuilding their lives during the Reconstruction years.  His family will never forget what was taken from them.

Earthworks1 GregWithRanger

On our way back to the campground, we saw signs for a Tuskegee Airmen Monument which was curious.  We followed the signs to a small monument at the small airport at Walterboro, South Carolina.  This was the airfield that the Tuskegee Airmen and other flyers completed their combat training before being deployed in Europe.  At that point in time the Walterboro Army Airfield was segregated which caused some problems with the Officers Club when the white officers decided to take their business to the local country club.  There was also information about the German POW that were housed here and worked at the airbase and local farms during the war.

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Wednesday began with the 10,000 mile oil change for the truck.  It is amazing to me that we have already traveled 10,000 miles since we began this journey.  Of course, most of those miles are visiting parks and other attractions while not pulling the RV, but still it is surprising.  We took it to a local Ford dealership that was listed on the BG webpage and were treated very well.  They completed a detailed check of the truck, changed the oil, and even washed the truck (I had been trying to talk myself into doing it) in about an hour and a half.  Since we took the truck in at 8:00, this still left just about the entire day available to us.  We decided to explore a county park that was just down US 17 from the campgrounds and in between the campground and the Ford dealership.  The Caw Caw Interpretive Center has over 6 miles of very well maintained trials (it looks like they blow the leaves off the trails every day) through bottomland and maritime forests and along the dykes of colonial period rice fields.  There is a nice Visitor Center that gives the cultural history of the use of African slaves to cultivate the rice, how the system functioned, and the wildlife you can see on the property.  In addition to the old rice fields, there was a short lived tea plantation on the property in the early 1900s.  The tea plantation only lasted about 6 years, but the undergrowth is still dominated by tea plants.  Very strange.  One of the things I learned about was the task system used instead of the labor gang system with overseers used in later cotton production in the south.  Slaves were assigned tasks, such as tending a 1/2 acre of rice plants for a day or some other domestic chore for the plantation.  Generally these tasks only took part of the day, the remainder was spent developing trade skills and producing items for use or sale to benefit the plantation.  We had an enjoyable couple of hours hiking the trails and stopping to view the birds in the old rice fields.  I especially enjoyed the extended boardwalk (over 1400 feet long) that snakes through a cypress-tupelo swamp.  Suspended just above the water with swamp and water as far as you can see is a great way to visit a swamp.  Certainly a lot better than slogging through in waders!  They even had a small overlook with two cypress rocking chairs where we sat for a time enjoying watching the leaves falling from the trees and floating on the water.

KalInChairCanal

By Thursday, we felt ready to take on Charleston again and crossed the Ravenel Bridge to Mt Pleasant and Patriots Point.  Located at Patriots Point are the USS Yorktown, a Essex class WWII aircraft carrier, the USS Laffey, a WWII battleship, the USS Clamagore, a Cold War era submarine, and numerous planes and jets.  For anyone interested in taking a tour, plan on spending an entire day.  We spent over an hour and a half on the USS Laffey, over 3 hours on the Yorktown, and did not even get to the submarine.  The self guided tours are well done with the use of short film clips, mannequins, and interpretive signs.  I would recommend spending the extra money for the audio tour of the Yorktown which has over 100 audio explanations throughout the ship.  I found it kept me moving since I could listen to the explanation as I was walking instead of standing to read the signs.  I also learned a good bit more about what we were looking at than Kal did without the earphones.  Unfortunately, it meant I largely ignored Kal, which to be truthful is not that much different than how we do any museum. You do get to see all parts of the aircraft carrier from the engine room to the flight deck and the two bridges above deck, although you still only get to see less than 25% of the ship.  The aircraft carrier also houses over 24 planes, jets, and helicopters that have flown from its deck until it was decommissioned in 1970.  The price of the ticket also includes access to a Vietnam village with helicopters from that conflict, however, it was closed for repairs while we were there.  For history buffs and anyone interested in technology, this is a must see and well worth the price of admission.  The greatest thing was that much of the restoration work and informal tour guides are done by actual crew members that served on the battleship and carrier.  I assume the same was true of the submarine.  It was great to be able to talk with someone who knew first hand what life and duty was like on these ships!

Yorktown2EngineRoom JetonDeck

On Friday, it was time to finish the National Park System sites in the area with a visit to Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mt Pleasant.  The site is the remaining acres of Snee Farm, one of four plantations and a large house in Charleston owned by Charles Pinckney, that has not become residential homes.  Unfortunately, none of the original structures still exist, the current house was built in 1828 and is itself an historic building.   All of the original structures were destroyed in a hurricane.  There is a short walk to the archeological remains of the some of the slave homes and a view of the old rice fields, but the main purpose of the site is exploring the history of Charles Pinckey, a forgotten founding father.  It is important to understand that South Carolina was by far the most wealthiest colony at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Most of the history I learned centered on Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, ie New England, but it was South Carolina and Charleston in particular, that represented the wealthy aristocracy of the time.  North Carolina was still a backwoods area since it had no deep water harbors and Georgia was basically Savannah.  Charles Pinckney was a member of this aristocracy and wealth and along with his cousins Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney were instrumental in framing the Constitution of the United States and leading efforts for its ratification.  He claimed that he submitted an early draft of the Constitution known as the Pinckney Plan, but no formal record exists today since all of his papers were lost when their home in Charleston burned down.  Charles Pinckney served as Governor of South Carolina, as well as, terms in the US Senate and House of Representatives.  The Visitor Center displays and movie about Charles Pinckney are very well done and provide a lot of information about his life and contributions to the founding of our nation.  I have to admit I did not know much more than his name and did not consider him as one of the founding fathers.  It only takes a couple of hours to see this Historic Site, but I would recommend it for anyone interested in the founding of our country.  It always helps to learn about the history when you can be where it happened in person.

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We slept in late on Saturday and had plans to find a local sports bar to watch the Auburn football game.  However, the game was not until 7:30, so we had all day and decided to visit the Caw Caw Interpretive Center again for another hike.  Previously we had spent time in the swamp and around the old rice fields.  We did not get to the eastern part of the park along the bottomland hardwood and old tea plantation.  For the most part this trail was not along an old dyke or road, but meandered through the forest.  I was surprised with the number of spruce pine trees in the understory and the size of the swamp chestnut and live oak trees.  It was also unusual to see the proliferation of the tea plants in the understory, but since they prefer moist shady locations I should not have been surprised they have flourished for the past 100 years.  The trail eventually led back to the rice fields where we saw one of the largest alligators I have seen sunning itself on the other side of the canal, about 10 feet away.  It was satisfied to lie on the bank without moving and we were just as glad that it did!  At 6:30 we went to the local Southside Bar and Grill for a late dinner and a football game.  Since Auburn was playing South Carolina you can imagine the partisan atmosphere of the bar!  South Carolina played a great game right up until the end with Coach Spurier pulling out every trick in the book.  Their defense couldn’t stop Auburn who scored a touchdown every time except for the first and last drives of the game.  However, Auburn’s defense could not stop South Carolina either and only beat them because they intercepted the football three times in the end zone, including the last play of the game.  It certainly gave the partisan crowd at the bar a lot to cheer about and we had a great time interacting with a few of them.  It was a lot more fun than sitting in our RV watching the game, although I am not so sure I will enjoy a partisan bar that we will likely find while we are staying in south Alabama next month for the Iron Bowl!

After the late night at the bar and the beers I drank, we spent Sunday taking it easy at the campground where I was able to work on this blog.  We didn’t do much else and it was nice.

On Monday, we decided to take a chance and visit Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site.  Most state parks are not open on Monday, but the website stated they were open every day and once we got there we found out why.  There is no Visitor Center and aside from one worker raking some dirt, there does not appear to be any employees.  It is a small park consisting of a picnic area and the town site of Dorchester.  Dorchester was founded as a trading post between the markets in Charleston, the plantations along the Ashley River, and trading with the native Americans and settlers living in the backwoods further west in 1670.  I found it interesting that it was founded by a group of Congregationalists from Dorchester, Massachusetts instead of entrepreneurs from Charleston.  They laid out the town with quarter acre lots surrounding a large market square.  Markets were held every Tuesday and Saturdays with four day fairs in April and October.  For about 100 years it was a busy trading town and once they built a wooden bridge across the Ashley River, it was an important location on the maps of the Colonial Roads at the time.  However, as settlers continued to expand westward and better highways were built that were not as dependent on the rivers, it was eventually abandoned.  It was in the decline before the Revolutionary War and never really recovered from British occupation in 1780.  The best feature of the site is the fort surrounding an armory built out of tabby, which is a concrete made by burning seashells to extract the lime and combining this with more seashells and sand.  It makes a good concrete as this fort is essentially intact after over 300 years of erosion.  It is the best example of a tabby fort still in existence.  There is also the remains of the brick bell tower that was part of St. George Anglican church built adjoining the market square.  It takes only about an hour to explore the site, but it made for a pleasant morning before returning to the RV for an afternoon of doing laundry and working on this blog.

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Tuesday was spent in the RV park cleaning the camper and completing this blog.  It is really nice living in an RV that takes less than an hour to clean if we are both working on it.  We always keep it picked up and our stuff basically stored away, so cleaning the bathroom, dusting and sweeping takes very little time.