May 2015 – Hampstead, Maryland

It was now time to take a break from the weekly travel up from Florida and living in the RV.  Our next stop was just about a hour and a half further north to Hampstead, Maryland where my son, William, has recently bought a home in the rural countryside.  He had only been living there a few months and we had not yet seen his new place, although we had seen pictures and heard about from Nikki who had already been there.  The trip was uneventful since we stayed away from major cities and traveled mostly on US highways and county roads.  William had taken the day off of work, so he was there to greet us and make sure we did not miss it.  As we pulled into his driveway, he exclaimed “I did not realize how big it is.”  We make a pretty impressive sight on those narrow, winding, country roads.  Fortunately, William and Kristen have bought a home with over 5 acres of land for their horses, so William had no problem pulling the RV into the front pasture to turn it around and park it next to the house.  We immediately had to take a tour of the two pastures and hear about his plans for improvements.  Since it already has a stable for Kristen’s horse, their main efforts will be to rehabilitate the pastures and replace the fencing around the front pasture.  I have to admit the view from their home, with the rolling terrain and backdrop of large hills in the distance was impressive.  Their home is also very nice and they have begun the process of painting and making other improvements.  For instance, they had just recently completed painting the guest bedroom where we will be staying for the next two weeks.  The rest of the day we got caught up and made dinner to greet Kristen when she got off work.


On Tuesday, our focus was to get a few things done that we had been waiting on.  In the morning we found a Urgent Care Clinic in Westminster and got our physicals done.  Most importantly was the bloodwork to check our cholesterol levels.  This work very well taking less than an hour, once we got into the clinic.  When we showed up the fire alarms were going off and everyone had evacuated the building.  I don’t know what the problem was, since the firemen showed up and quickly reopened the building.  It must have been a false alarm?  I also made an appointment to get the 5000 mile maintenance done on the truck at a local repair shop in Hampstead.  Since William and Kristen were at work, we enjoyed lazing around on our old leather couch (which William had taken when we got rid of everything) and watching TV.  Once William got home he introduced us to a new game, XXXXX.  Kal and I enjoyed this game a lot since every game is different.  You begin as a group exploring the house where both good and bad events happen.  At a random point in the game suddenly changes.  In most of the scenarios one player is identified as the traitor.  This player is then given an objective from the rules book for traitors and the other players have their own opposing strategy.  The game ends when either the traitor or the other players meet their respective objective.  We found that it needs to be played with more than 3 players as there was little chance to beat the traitor with only two other players.  Still it was an interesting game and different then anything I had ever player before.

William had planned on taking Wednesday off since it was Kristen’s day off.  We were looking to do something different then traveling all the time, so we spent most of the day working in the yard.  Kal got to ride their lawn mower and did a good job cutting the grass in their yard and front pasture.  Kristen and I attacked their fence along the front of the pasture removing the boards which were rotting out and needed to be replaced.  To begin with we were trying to save the boards as much as possible, so it was slow.  Once we decided they were not worth saving we really got to work and started to make progress with breaking the boards off their posts.  William rotated from helping Kal, whipping and putting roundup on the fenceline and assisting Kristen and me.  After lunch we set up our outside table, which we had not got out of the box yet, and our awning in the backyard and played a couple of games of spades.  It felt odd to once again do yard maintenance after being essentially “on vacation” for the past six months.  It was fun.

On Thursday we took the truck into the garage and spent another day hanging out at Williams while they were at work.  This gave me the chance to try out the relatively new Final Fantasy game on William’s Playstation.  This is an on-line game very much like WOW that we had enjoyed playing with members of my family (Suzy and Robin in particular) and I was anxious to try it out.  I really enjoyed it, which is unfortunate since on-line gaming is simply not an option with the RV.  Our data plan with Verizon would not handle the traffic needed and I suspect the band width would make play difficult.  When we picked up the truck, we found out it was leaking coolant.  They told us it was the seals around the exhaust system that on a Diesel engine get very hot to control pollution and have to be cooled.  Replacing the seals is normal after 70,000 miles, but would have to be one at a Ford Dealership.  However, it was not harming the engine so long as we added coolant and the leak did not get worse.  Therefore, we decided to wait since William and Kristen would be working and we would need the truck to do our site-seeing.

William decided to take Friday off from work, so we talked him into taking us into Washington D.C.  As you probably know if you have been reading these blogs, we have already spent a number of days in D.C. in the past couple of years, but there is still a lot to be seen.  Our main objective on this trip was to visit the Smithsonian Museums and we had already started with the Air and Space Museum out at Dulles airport the week before.  However, since William had already seen most of the museums on the National Mall, we decided to visit Ford’s Theater instead since he had been there before.  With William to guide us through the trip to and in the subway system, we had little problem getting there.  After walking to Ford’s Theater we found we had to get tickets for the museum and theater.  The tickets are free and are used to control the number of people in the museum at one time.  I was surprised to see the number of visitors at Ford’s Theater on a Friday morning on the first of May, since all the other National Park sites for the past 6 months had not been heavily attended, especially during the week with the children in school.  However, this was not the case here.  There were long lines and even the Visitor Center was crowded.  Consequently, we could not get tickets until 2:30 in the afternoon, which left the whole morning open.  So we walk a couple of blocks to the National Portrait Gallery, which is a Smithsonian Museum that William had not visited before and were there when they opened the doors at 10:00.  I am not a big fan of art and art museums are not high on my list of venues to visit, however, there were a couple of exhibits that I did enjoy.  The most interesting were the portraits of all the Presidents.  While I could recognize most of the Presidents, those between Monroe and Lincoln I don’t know, as well as many of those between Grant and Hoover.  They also included historical information about their Presidency, which I found interesting.  Even then, we were only able to walk through about 2/3 of the museum in the couple of hours we had before going to lunch and making it back to Ford Theater.


As I am sure everyone knows, Ford Theater is the location where President Lincoln was shot just five days before General Lee surrenders to General Grant at Appamatox Courthouse in 1865.  John Wilkes Booth leads a band of conspirators to assassinate not only President Lincoln, but also Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward.  Seward is wounded, but the assassin assigned to Johnson cannot bring himself to carry it out and flees.  Ford’s Theater and the Patterson House across the street where Lincoln was taken and died the next morning are parts of the National Historic Site.  Back in high school, I went on a trip where we watched a play in Ford’s Theater and they still hold plays there today.  However, the rest of the Theater is nothing like I remember it, of course this was over 40 years ago.  Today they have an extensive museum in the basement of the Theater, where exhibits lay out the entire Civil War from President Lincoln’s perspective.  After seeing all the Civil War Battlefields in the Eastern Theater in the past year, it was neat to understand it from Lincoln’s viewpoint.  He was frustrated with his generals and other commanders going through quite of a number of them before General Grant in 1864.  I was able to fill in details about his choices over the years of the Civil War and understand his frustration with not being able to end the war when the Union held a large superiority in manpower, arms, and ammunition and through a tightening blockade was denying aid to the Confederates.  After the history of the Civil War, there are exhibits that detail the conspiracy of John Wiles Booth and the events leading up to the fateful day.  You then ascend up into the theater where you can get a view of the box in which Lincoln was shot and listen to a Park Ranger detailing the event.  Then it is across the street to the Patterson House where you start with the events that night and the next morning seeing the room where Mary Todd Lincoln spent the night worrying and the back bedroom where he died.  They have interconnected this house with the one next door to provide additional space to then detail the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth over the next couple of weeks, ending with his death in a barn.  From their you descend to a floor with memorabilia from the event including the contents of President Lincoln’s pockets.  Finally, you descend around a very large stack of books that have been written over the years about Lincoln.  I knew a lot of books had been written, but I was still impressed with the three story stack of them (even though close examination showed some of them were repeats).  We did have to deal with the traffic between D.C. and Baltimore on the way back and I was glad that William was driving.  I cannot imagine having to deal with that on a daily basis, but William seems to be resigned to it.  It does give him a chance to listen to audio books, so it is not a total waste of time.


Saturday was another day of work for Kristen, so we hung around the house and Kal got to watch her fill of EPL soccer, which she has greatly missed over the past few months.  We did get to see a game now and then when NBC covered it, but for the most part she has not gotten to watch it as she has the past couple of years.  At the same time I got to play Final Fantasy for most of the day, which was certainly a joy.

On Sunday, we went to visit Kristen at work at the Paradise Stables.  Up until last year she had been working at a horse rescue.  While she enjoyed this work, the facilities were not the best and the management of the rescue left a lot to be desired. After getting fired from her job on the barn staff for reasons that ultimately turned out to be wrong, she eventually found a position as Barn Manager at Paradise Stables.  To state this is a step up from the horse rescue would be a huge understatement!  The stables, pastures, indoor training facilities, and general working environment are outstanding.  It is obvious the owner really cares about the facility and has the money to support it.  During the winter, Kristen was able to stay overnight at the stables with free room and board when the weather was nasty and even got to board her horse for free until her new place is ready.  I suspect the horse owner’s pay a lot to board their horses there.  In addition, Kristen is in charge of the barn operations and is much happier then the continual “drama” at the horse rescue (did I mention she is also being paid better?)  It is a great improvement and I am very happy for her.

GregOnBarrel KristenWithHorse WilliamWithHorse

After a couple of hours at Paradise, we traveled west to the Catoctin Mountain National Park.  Like Prince William Forest south of D.C., Catoctin Mountain is another example of the Federal government moving farmers on marginal land to better farmland and providiing work for the CCC and WPA during the Great Depression.  However, unlike Prince William Forest, these recreational camps were not taken over by the DOD during WWII.  Instead, one of the camps was improved and made into Shangri-La, a retreat for President Roosevelt to use during the summer to get out of D.C., yet remain close enough during the war.  Under Eisenhower it was renamed Camp David and is still used today as a Presidential retreat.  Consequently a large part of the National Park is not accessible by the public, but the remainder has miles of mountain hiking trails and a nice winding road through the park.  Unfortunately, the road was closed the day we were there, for unknown reasons since it was open when we left, so we were limited to only those few trails that could be accessed from the Visitor Center on the highway.  From there they have two trails. One that leads straight up the mountainside which was out of the question for our 60 year old joints, and one that goes to Cunninngham Falls.  This was a nice trail and certainly challenging enough for us, although William had to patiently wait as we rested a number of times since it was uphill to the falls.  The biggest disappointment was that the trail paralleled the highway, which provided constant traffic noise (especially motorcycles) even though it was out of sight much of the time.  The falls themselves was worth the hike, even though it has been unusually dry this spring.  It was also odd that the falls are actually in Cunninngham Falls State Park, which has its own trail to the falls.  Both trails are boardwalks with railings at the falls and the surprising thing was they did not connect even though they were less than 50 feet from each other!  Why?  After an afternoon of hiking we decided to meet Kristen for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

KalAndWilliam WilliamAndGreg

Monday was William’s birthday, so it was his choice of what we were going to do.  After dropping his car off at a garage to check the brakes, we ran over to Westminster to pick up our lab results.  While Kal’s were complete, it tuned out that they failed to request the cholesterol screening for me.  Since this was the major reason we went to the doctor, this was unacceptable.  Luckily the lab still had the blood samples and could get the tests ran in a couple of days.  We also dropped by the pet store to pick up their bladed dragon pet, which had not been eating since they bought him the week before.  Everything seemed to be fine and he was eating know.  We suspect the problem was an old UV bulb over the tank.  The rest of the day was up to William who choose to do nothing for his birthday except to go out to dinner, which was fine by us.  His birthday dinner was at The Ale House in Columbia, Maryland which was a fantastic place.  They had some great ales they make themselves and I had the best macaroni and cheese with sausage I have ever had.  The spinach and artichoke dip was pretty awesome as well.  I for one, had a great time celebrating my son’s birthday!

Tuesday, William was back at work, even though the brakes on his car were still not right.  They had replaced the master cylinder on Monday, but the brakes were still not right.  While they were at work, Kal and I traveled back into D.C. to visit some more Smithsonian Museums.  Our goal was to see both the Air and Space Museum and American History Museum in a single day, so we would not have to travel back into the city again.  While not entirely completing everything we would like to see, it would finish the major items off our list.  Starting with the Air and Space Museum since we had already seen the larger museum out at Dulles Airport, we figured we could see it before lunch.  Even though it is 20% of the size of the Udvar-Hazy Center, it is still a very large museum and doing it in just a couple of hours is not the way I like to see museums.  Kal can walk past and catch just the highlights of an exhibit, where I like to read every word.  Thankfully, she kept close to me and kept me moving, so we did see most of the highlights of the museum.  They had an extensive exhibit about the space race with Russia ending with the landing on the moon and the training unit of the Landing Module.  I enjoyed the exhibits on the milestones in aviation which included Lindsburg’s Spirit of St. Louis and one of the planes flown by Amelia Earhart.  Another room was devoted to the early years of flying with the Wright Brother’s original plane from 1903 and other early planes and engines.  We did not even go into some of the rooms due to lack of time, but we did see the World War II exhibit about the life and myths surrounding the combat pilots.  I certainly could have spent more time there.  All together we got a very quick, at least for me, visit to the Air and Space Museum followed by a quick lunch in their cafeteria.


After lunch we walked down the National Mall to the American History Museum.  Again we had only a couple of hours before we wanted to catch the subway and try to get out of the city before the evening rush.  Although they did a great job with the permanent exhibits that were open (some were closed while we were there), I was disappointed overall with the museum.  I expected to be totally overwhelmed with the number of artifacts I know they have in their collection, but more of the museum was devoted to explanations of the history or impact of the artifacts they did display.  The transportation exhibit was impressive from the John Bull locomotive to the cable cars, automobiles, and buses.  We saw an early Airstream trailer that is certainly is MUCH smaller than our fifth wheel.  It squeezes in a kitchen, dinette, and bed in a pull along trailer that was only about 15 feet long!  I guess they were as popular then as they are now.  In the exhibit about the maritime industry, a volunteer pointed out to use the original sliver of gold that started the California gold rush.  It is so small that we missed it and had such a huge impact.  There were also a lot of great models of ships from every time period in our history from all over the country, including a round canoe used by Indians made from hides.  There was an exhibit about the first recordings made by Alexander Graham Bell and the technology they have recently used to decode the recordings, absolutely amazing.  In the center of the second floor is the actual US Flag that flew over Fort McKinley during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.  We learned about this flag last year when we visited Fort McKinley and it was great to finally see it.  Even though we only spent a couple of hours in each museum we were both wore out and still had to deal with the traffic jams on I-95 to get back to William’s.  We made it though, although I would not want to do it every day!


Wednesday was again Kristen’s day off and William took the day as well to deliver his car back to the garage to continue the work on his brakes.  Fearing the outcome, they had decided it was time to look for another car so they went to the Mazda dealership to gather some information.  Meanwhile, Kal and I worked outside during the day.  She continued her work mowing the yards and I went to work cleaning the outside of the RV.  It had not been cleaned since Florida and was due for a good cleaning.  Once they returned from the dealership, William and Kristen got to work on finishing a sign for use to hang on the RV.  It is a sign that says “Somers” made out of bent horseshoes and mounted on a piece of wood.  The wood was painted blue and the letters painted orange in Auburn colors.  In the afternoon, William and I convinced the women to let us continue a new game of XXXXX.  We had started a massive game the day before and wanted to continue with the same characters.  This game is a version of D&D set in the days of the Wild West.  Your characters go on missions exploring caves and even other worlds through portals.  A bit strange in concept, but well designed for a D&D game without a dungeon master.


On Thursday, William’s car was still in the shop so he had the day off and went with us to Delaware.  Unfortunately, there are no National Park sites in the state of Delaware, which I find surprising, but I wanted to visit the state anyway.  So we decided to check out Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge on Delaware Bay.  Expecting to go on some easy hikes of a couple of miles, I was surprised to find out that this National Wildlife Refuge is basically a 12 mile drive through the tidal marshes and around the freshwater ponds with only 5 short hikes.  The freshwater ponds were constructed with dikes and causeways to provide the ability to manage the water levels in the freshwater ponds.  This way they can adjust the level of the ponds to promote plant growth over the summer to enhance the wildlife habitat for migrating waterfowl in the fall.  There are three observation towers around these ponds that provide an excellent view of the habitat from above the trees.  We were surprised to see the large number of grassy mounds scattered throughout the tidal marshes and even along the edges of the ponds.  They look like small beaver lodges, but they are made of grass not wood.  They are the homes of muskrat which are becoming a problem for the refuge due to their numbers.  We had been told to be on the lookout for a bald eagle, which was suppose to have a nest on the property.  While we did not see the nest, we were treated with an opportunity to watch a bald eagle on the ground across the pond from us.  We tried to get some pictures and went along a trail that should have brought us closer, but unsuccessfully.  We did manage to see three snakes, one up a tree, one on the ground, and one on the road, all of which did not please my son at all.  In any case, we had a very enjoyable day in Delaware with my son and it is another state I can cross off my list.

SnakeInTree WilliamAndGreg WilliamAndKal

William had to take Friday off again since the used part they installed in his brakes was not specifically for his model leaving the ABS light on.  This would destroy any value as a trade-in so they were going to have to use the bottom half of his old system with the top half of this used part.  Go figure!!  In any case we were stuck at Williams for the day, so I cleaned the inside of the camper while he painted the sign and Kal continued the mowing.  In the afternoon we continued our marathon game to a logical conclusion and got if finally off the dining room table before we went to bed that night. Saturday was much like Friday, with Kristen working and Kal, William, and I working in the yard.  William and I finished removing the boards from their fence and Kal finished the yard (at least for a week when it will have to all be done again). Kristen had Sunday off, so we all packed up in our truck (William’s car was still in the garage!) and headed to Hampton National Historic Site, which is just north of the beltway around Baltimore.  I think we all found something at Hampton to remember between the Mansion, gardens, and buildings on their Home Farm.  The Mansion was the home of six generations of Ridgelys dating from 1790.  When completed the Hampton Mansion was the largest family home in the United States and was not located in any city of the time.  Today it is within the metroplex of Baltimore, but then it was in the center of the woods and field of Maryland, a days journey from Baltimore.  The original builder, Captain Charles Ridgely survived only a year after the Mansion was completed and had no children.  The entire estate was willed to his nephew Charles Carnan who had to change his name to Ridgely in order to inherit it as stipulated in the will.  Charles Carnan Ridgely continued to expand the family’s wealth and land holdings, serving as Governor of Maryland for two terms from 1816-1819.  At this point their enterprises included an ironworks, quarries, farms, coal mining, and mercantile covering over 25,000 acres and 300 slaves making it one of the largest plantation in Maryland.  The Mansion was used to impress his guests and business associates and it is easy to see why it worked so well.  The opulence of the dining room alone was amazing with the wall paper scene depicting a fantasy of life along the Seine.  Since it does cover six generations, each room is dedicated to one descendants and they did a great job displaying appropriate artifacts in each room.  It is also amazing that nearly all of the artifacts are the original items and they have many more in storage.  The gardens were not very impressive, being so early in the spring, but they will be spectacular later on, I am sure.  Finally, the slave quarters, dairy, and the home of the Overseer at the bottom of the hill from the Mansion were also interesting showing again the changes over time.  It was interesting to learn that they were designed to resemble a small village such as you would see for the serfs in Europe, all in order to provide a good view from the Mansion!!  This extended even to a fake chimney constructed over the dairy, which did not need a chimney since its purpose was to keep the dairy products cool in the summer.

GregAndWilliam KristenAndKal

Looking back, our time at William’s was more than I could have hoped for.  Partly because of the problems with his car, which were not fixed until the following week when they immediately traded it in on a new Mazda, and partly because he wanted to spend time with us, we got to see a lot more of William they we expected.  Unfortunately, Kristen had to work most days, so we did not get to see her as much as we would have liked.  We got a needed break from traveling all the time and helping in the yard was a welcomed change.  William and I also got to spend hours playing board games and games on the playstation which we have always enjoyed when he was growing up.  Unfortunately, this also meant I did not have the time I expected to get caught up on this blog.  I arrived at William’s two weeks behind on the blog and left his house four weeks behind.  At the time of this writing, we are now in New York and I when this is completed I will be still three weeks behind.  With as many sites we are visiting at each stop, it is difficult to catch up.  What a problem to have!!  Hope you are enjoying reading about our travels, even though they are a few weeks old by the time I post them.

April 2015 – Manassas, Virginia

Our next stop on our trip around Washington, D.C. was a short pull, being only an hour from our location at Prince William Forest RV Campground.  We already knew our new location was a working farm, but the Greenville Family Farm Campground was still a surprise.  The offices are actually the back door to their farm house after you have pulled the RV around their barn.  There are cows in the pastures and during the week they were spreading manure which made the campground smell like a stock yard at times.  Besides this aspect, it was a very nice campground with full hookups and easy pull through sites and it was a different experience staying in at a farm instead of state parks or some of the “parking lots” we had stayed in.  We got unhooked with no problem and settled in for a nice evening. Besides being to the southwest of Washington, D.C., the main reason we chose this location was the proximity to the Manassas National Battlefield Park just a few miles away.  It also gave us access to other National Park sites to the west of D.C. Campsite So on Tuesday, we traveled the few miles to the Manassas Battlefield, or if you prefer the sites of the two battles at Bull Run which is the preferred name by the Confederates.  There were two battles fought during the Civil War at essentially the same location and they are known as the First Battle and Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run.  The First Battle was the first major land battle of the Civil War in July of 1861.  The first shots were fired on Fort Sumter in April, so both sides had been collecting their armies, training, and positioning themselves for the last couple of months.  Both sides also believed the conflict would be quickly resolved with a single major battle.  Brig. Gen McDowell was in command of the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia, which would become the Army of the Potomac of 36,000 raw volunteers and Maj. Gen Beauregard was in command of the Confederate Army of the Potomac, which would become the Army of Virginia (confusing right?) of 22,000 raw volunteers.  McDowell marched his troops out of D.C. and it would take them two days to reach Manassas Junction as they picked blackberries and dawdled along.  This gave Beauregard sufficient time to consolidate the Confederates to meet the Union at Manassas Junction and recall General Johnston forces from the Shenandoah by rail.  The two forces met on July 21, 1861 on and around Henry’s Hill with neither side able to organize their troops.  Initially the Confederates were driven from the field only to be bolstered by the arrival of Johnston and they were able to turn the tide on the Union.  The Union troops retreated piecemeal back to D.C. amongst the spectators that had come out to see the grand show.  Both sides learned that day that battle was not a single heroic charge and the Civil War was going to be a long and bloody battle.  Since most of the action centered on Henry Hill for the first battle, all the important sites can be seen by walking from the Visitor Center.  We waited for the Ranger walk around the battlefield who did a great job setting the scene for the battle and pointing out the essential locations and actions.  Once again I strongly recommend taking the time for these Ranger walks whenever possible. FirstRangerWalk FirstGreg The Second Battle of Bull Run or Manassas occurred the following year, 1862, following the Confederate victory in driving General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac away from Richmond in the Seven Day Battles.  General Lee saw an opportunity to strike quickly towards D.C. before McClellan can transport his army by ship back north from Fort Monroe on the Chesapeake Bay.  General Lee faced General Pope’s newly formed Army of Virginia.  The sides were approximately evenly matched (51,000 Union and 55,000 Confederates) and each were much larger than the armies that faced each other the previous year at the same place.  The left wing of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was commanded by General Stonewall Jackson, who managed to get behind Pope and capture the supply depot at Manassas Junction and General Pope was convinced he had Jackson trapped, if he could only find him.  On August 28, 1862 Jackson attacked a column just east of Gainesville that ended in a stalemate and Pope had his chance.  Unfortunately, General Longstreet in command of the left wing of the Confederates had broken through a lightly defended Union troops in the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap and was on the move to join with Jackson.  On August 29, Pope hammered the Confederate line that were protected behind an unfinished railroad bed that provided an excellent defensive position and could not dislodge him.  Meanwhile Longstreet moved onto Jackson’s right flank by noon.  On August 30, Pope still believed that he had Jackson trapped and did not believe that Longstreet was there so he renewed his attacks on Jackson’s line behind the railroad bed.  When massed Confederate artillery stopped the attack, Longstreet counter-attacked along the Union left flank with a 25,000 man charge which rolled up the Union army forcing it to retreat towards D.C.  The railroad bed that saw most of the fighting was close to Henry Hill along Bull Run and the end of the battle was a Union stand on Henry Hill that kept the Confederates from capturing the Union army.  This was a much larger battlefield then the First Battle of Bull Run requiring driving to different sites.  Once again we purchased the Driving Tour CD for the battle, which was great.  With the CD you visit the sites around the battlefield in chronological order and get a good understanding of the battle.  I especially liked the unfinished railroad bed that is still very much in evidence behind which the Confederates held off the Union attacks on August 29.  The site of the main charge up a steep hill by the Union on August 30 was also interesting.  I could not understand why Pope would choose this location for the charge since it was up a steep hill against Confederates that were hidden behind the railroad bed at the top of the hill.  Obviously the counter-attack by Johnston coming back down this hill had all the advantages. SecondGreg SecondKal This finished all the Civil War Battlefields in the area, so for Wednesday we did something totally different.  We traveled a short distance to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center which is located at Dulles Airport.  This is an annex to the main museum on the National Mall in D.C., but it is MUCH larger.  Therefore, they are able to display a lot more airplanes, missiles, and space vehicles then they could squeeze into the original location.  When you drive up, you are immediately impressed by its size which is larger than two large hangers.  It should be noted that like all Smithsonian Museums, they are free to the public, however, it costs $15 to park.  I am not sure how this is free since you have no choice, but it is certainly worth the price of admission.  We arrived just after the opened on Wednesday at 10:00 and stayed there until 3:00 that afternoon and could have spent longer, but we were both brain dead by then.  We began by attending one of the free guided tours by volunteers where they give information on the highlights.  Our tour guide kept moving slowly the entire time, yet it still took over 1.5 hours for the tour.  We obviously took a LOT of pictures, but I will include only a few highlights of what we saw.  They have many of the earliest airplanes that you see in old movies and pictures, except for the Wright Brother’s plane which on the National Mall.  They have many WWII planes including rare German and Japanese planes, the Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, many experimental planes over the years, the first Fedex plane, examples of early commercial planes, one of the Concorde jets, and the Space Shuttle Discovery.  There are also missiles of all types, satellites, engines, and other components.  The amazing thing was they are still adding planes every year and are in the process of restoring still more for display.  There is also an observation tour that mimics a control tower where you can watch planes landing and taking off.  We got to watch a thunderstorm roll in and cover the airport.  It was an amazing experience, much more than the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall which we saw the following week. GregInMuseum OverviewThunderstorm Thursday was laundry day, groceries, and working on the blog.  As you can see, keeping up with this blog has turned into quite a challenge.  It generally takes about a half an hour to write each of the pages and battlefields can will take over an hour.  With visiting 5-8 sites in a week this can add up to considerable time.  The blog itself takes over 2 hours and then I have to scan all the brochures and add the pictures which takes another 2-3 hours.  When we are visiting 5-8 sites in a week it becomes impossible to keep up with.  However, I was not too concerned since we would be spending two weeks at William’s house and it should be no problem getting caught up. On Friday it was back to visiting National Park sites in the vicinity, of which there are still quite a few to choose from.  Our plans were to visit two of them on Friday and two more on Saturday, leaving Sunday as another day to spend in the campgrounds.  So on Friday we headed to McLean, Virginia to explore the Claude Moore Colonial Farm.  This is a farm frozen in time to the mid-1700s using farming practices you would see on a small farm in Virginia.  Their cash crop would have been tobacco which was sold and shipped to Great Britain as required by the Colonial Government.  The other crops of corn, vegetables, and herbs along with pigs, chicken and cows would have been for their own consumption.  It is a small farm, so there is not much to see there, which was disappointing.  However, there were two young people in period clothing doing chores around the house and corn field while we were there.  It was interesting to talk with them about what they were doing and how.  We did not volunteer, but the literature about the property encouraged participation in the activities.  I was not surprised that the heavy plowing of the small tobacco field and corn field are done by modern tractors since I did not see any draft animals on the property.  They have a number of activities planned for the summer including harvest times and market fairs on special weekends.  It was also interesting that the farm is located right behind the CIA headquarters at Langley and I wonder if this is not a major reason the federal government decided to establish a national park to protect this area from urban development.  In total we only spent a couple of hours exploring the farm. GregAtHouse FieldWorker After lunch at the Colonial Farm, we traveled a few miles to the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.  We knew that this is primarily a venue for outdoor performances through the summer and the season was not yet open, however, their webpage indicated there were hiking trails around the facility and backstage tours.  Unfortunately, we were too early in the season for the tours.  Not surprising, we were the only visitors on that Friday afternoon as we walked up to the ticket booth.  Fortunately we ran into a National Park Ranger and he led us into their very small (about a 6X6 room) Visitor Center where they had some maps of the trails and a Park Service Brochure.  He gave us a quick tour of the outside of the main stage, the Filene Center which is an enormous structure made out of Douglas fir.  He claimed that the seating in front of the stage held 3000 people with another 4000 that could sit on the small hillside in front.  It certainly did not look big enough to seat this many people.  We then went on their hiking trail that goes around the entire facility which creates a nice green space in the middle of a heavy urban area.  The interstate actually borders the park and except for a concrete wall you would be able to see the traffic just a few feet away.  It was obvious that they have a serious deer problem since they is nothing growing on the ground and signs indicated they estimate the deer population to be 35 deer where 3 would be the carrying capacity.  The trail takes you by the small Children’s Theater in the Woods which is a nice small venue for children programs.  It was interesting that they are in the process of a complete catalog of all the plant and animal species found in the park.  This will be a huge undertaking even in a park this small! FileneCenterBackstage NatureWalk On Saturday we headed back into the same area as Friday to explore the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park, or at least a VERY small part of it.   The canal itself extends over 180 miles from D.C. to the Cumberland, much of which is protected by the NPS.  Other parts are protected by city and county parks, but all of it is accessible for hiking, biking, and fishing.  The towpath alongside the canal has only a slight grade as the canal was built so the water did not travel faster than 2 mph.  There are 6 Visitor Centers at different locations within the park and we visited only one of them, the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center.  The Great Falls of the Potomac River where it drops 76 feet from the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain, was a huge challenge to the construction of the canal.  George Washington started a company to take on this challenge with 5 locks known as the Patowmack Canal that was only partially successful since it was still nearly impossible to travel upstream.  It wasn’t until 1828 that they tried to improve on this with the C&O Canal that uses 7 locks in this one mile stretch out of the total of 75 locks in the canal.  The last section of the canal was completed in 1850, but by then the canal was almost obsolete due to the railroads.  The Great Falls Inn was a waystation for travelers during the 60 year history of the canal and the Visitor Center includes some nice exhibits of what life was like on the canal for the families that made their living either on boats or as the lockkeepers.  We were also treated with a demonstration of a boat (which you could ride for a fee) being pulled up to and up through the only working lock at the location.  The operation of the lock was surprisingly simple and could be done by one or two individuals.  We then took a walk down to the boardwalk that takes you out to the Great Falls itself on the Maryland side of the River.  This is the largest fall line falls in the United States and it was really impressive.  The boardwalk has to cross over two branches of the river which create some spectacular falls of their own, but they are only a small prelude to the main event.    From the vantage point on the north side of the River you can see across the falls to the overlooks in the Great Falls National Park, which we decided not to visit separately since we had already had a great view of the falls.  If we ever return to this area in the future I intend to see the falls from the Virginia side.  You area also suppose to be able to see the remains of the earlier canal by George Washington. BoatUnderTow KalAtPotomac We limited ourselves to only the morning at the Canal and could have spent a lot more time.  However, we wanted to visit another National HIstorical Site in the area, the Clara Barton National Historical Site.  Following her experiences during the Civil War where she provided aid to the wounded soldiers and led the massive effort to locate and rebury Union soldiers that died at the major battlefields and Andersonville Prison, she traveled to Europe and learned about the Red Cross.  After a period of five years she was able to get Congress to approve an American Red Cross which she then served until she was 83 years old.  Her house at Glen Echo, Maryland served also as the offices and storage facility for the Red Cross throughout her lifetime. From here the Red Cross would respond to natural disasters all over the country.  The history of Glen Echo is also interesting as it was started by Edwind and Edward Baltzley as a Chautauqua center in 1904.  These centers catered to the wealthy by offering cultural events and a retreat for the wealthy in a luxurious environment.  By this point, Clara Barton was world famous and the brothers offered Clara to build her a house if she would agree to move their in order to build the prestige of the new community.  She accepted the offer and had built a very interesting house since it serves both as a home, offices, living quarters, and warehouse for the Red Cross.  Unfortunately, while we were there they had removed all the furniture for a major reconstruction this summer, so we only had a few pictures to go by.  There were two very interesting features that we did see.  First, the main hallway is paneled in wood, all of which open to reveal huge shelves for supplies.  The second was the wall coverings throughout the house.  Although the brothers built the house to her specifications as promised, they did not finish it.  Rather than spending Red Cross money to cover the walls she used linen bandages tacked onto the wall.  This gives the walls an interesting and unique look to them. HouseSideview After another long day of exploring the history of the area, we spent Sunday as another quiet day in the campgrounds.  After the past couple of weeks of being constantly on the go to see the National Parks in Virginia and Maryland, I look forward to these quiet days in the campgrounds.  On Monday, we will be heading to William’s house to spend a couple of weeks and we can spend more time just relaxing.  Although, there are a number of National Parks in the area that I want to visit and of course the Smithsonian Museums in D.C.

April 2015 – Dumfries, Virginia

Our next stop on the adventure was south of Alexandria, Virginia at Prince William Forest Park, which is just west of I-95.  It was a short pull, mostly along I-95, so it was relatively easy.  It is true that the Prince William Forest RV Campground is a National Park campground and located in Prince William Forest Park.  However, the campground is operated by a private concessionaire and is located on the north edge of the National Park.  To get into the National Park you have to get back onto I-95 and travel south one exit to the southern end.  The only road in the park that connects with the campground is not open to the public.  While this was strange for a National Park campground, the location is even stranger.  It is right on Virginia 234, which is a busy 4 lane highway that goes west to Manassas.  The campground is wooded, but just to the east is a grade school and there are shopping centers in both directions on the highway.  It was a unique experience watching recess at the grade school from our RV!  The site was also too small for our 35′ fifth wheel and we had to sit at a pretty severe angle in the site and park the truck 100 feet away.  Even then our front end and back slideout stuck out in the road.  Thankfully, nobody had an issue getting around it.


Tuesday was cold and rainy, so we decided not to attempt to finish the Civil War battlefields at Fredericksburg until the weather improved.  Instead we headed up I-95 to the beltway around Washington D.C. and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.  About 10 miles south on the Maryland peninsula is Fort Washington Park.  With the traffic it took over an hour to get to Fort Washington, even though it was only 10 miles from the campgrounds as a bird flies.  Getting over the Potomac River was the challenge.  Fort Washington is a brick and mortar fort constructed after the War of 1812 to protect access to Washington D.C.  This is not to say this was the first fort at the site.  Fort Warburton was completed in 1809, but it was blown up by its own garrison during the War of 1812 to keep it out of British hands after they bypassed the fort on foot to burn the capital.  Extensive remodeling was done in 1840 and upgraded again in 1875 when 4 large Rodmann guns were installed.  In 1886, Fort Washington was the first location in the Endicott system of concrete reinforced structures with disappearing rifles.  Thankfully Battery Decatur was built outside the brick fort instead of inside like so many others we have seen.  Eventually there were 8 batteries constructed in the vicinity around Fort Washington.  Since the weather was a light rain all morning, we were the only visitors to the fort on a Tuesday morning.  In addition, the Visitor Center was closed for rennovations and a small welcome center was established in the officers barracks.  The most unusual feature of the fort were the two bastions in the fort.  Rather than building the fort up to create the bastions for the cannon, they used the bluff overlooking the Potomac River and you had to descend from the parade field into the bastions.  Due to the weather we took only a couple of hours to explore the fort and ate lunch sitting in the truck.

GregInFort KalAtSallyPort LongView

This still left all afternoon, so we decided to visit Fort Foote, another Civil War fort.  As with the other brick forts in the south, the advent of rifled cannons during the Civil War made these fortifications obsolete.  In addition, it was decided that Fort Washington was too far away from Washington D.C. and Alexandria, to provide the needed protection from the Confederate Navy.  Therefore, a site along the bluff overlooking the Potomac River was selected for an earth and wood fort that was closer to the city.  Eventually Fort Foote became the largest of the hastily built forts encircling Washington D.C. during the Civil War.  Near the end of the war, Fort Foote was one of the first locations to receive the large Rodman cannon, which were deemed to heavy to move after the war and are still on the site.  Except for the moat on the landward site and some earthworks there is very little left of Fort Foote, which underscores the temporary nature of these forts.  It also started to rain and the pathway to and from the fort was quite muddy, so again we did not spend much time exploring.  This meant that we beat the afternoon commute on the beltway and the journey back to the campgrounds was not to bad.


Although the front left cool temperatures, Wednesday was suppose to be windy with no rain, so we headed back south to Fredericksburg to finish the other two Civil War Battlefields in the area.  We had already purchased the Driving Tour CDs, so we were all set to go.  After a stop at the Chancellorsville Visitor Center to visit the exhibits and see the site of the wounding of General Stonewall Jackson, we headed out on the battlefield tour.  Following the devastating Union losses at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862, General Burnside was replaced as the Union commander by General Hooker.  Hooker spent the rest of the winter training his troops and building up their morale.  By spring the Army of the Potomac was once again ready to attempt the capture of Richmond.  With replacements, the Union army still outnumbered the Confederates by over 2-1 (nearly 140,000 versus 60,000), so Hooker split his army with his main force crossing the Rappahonnock and Rapidan rivers to the west of Fredericksburg and converging at Chancellorsville crossroads would attack General Lee from the west.  At the same time a smaller force would cross the Rappahonnock downriver from Fredericksburg and threaten General Lee from the east trying a double envelopment of the Confederates.  The Battle of Chancellorsville is known as Lee’s “perfect battle” for his bold move to split his inferior forces.  He left a small force of 1500 men defending Marye’s Heights and Prospect Hill at Fredericksburg and moved to intercept Hooker at the crossroads.  He split his forces again on May 2, 1863, sending General Jackson’s entire XI Corps on a flanking march around the right flank of the Union army.   They stealthily marched until early afternoon along back roads little more than cart paths to surprise the Union’s right flank.  The maneuver was very successful initially throwing the Union right into total chaos.  Unfortunately, the fall of night ended the fighting before the entire Union army was routed and now Lee’s army was split.  However, the victory was bitter sweet when General Jackson personally scouted the position of the Union as darkness fell and was mortally wounded by his own soldiers as he returned to his lines, dying three days later.  This was a severe blow to the Confederates.  On May 3, Hooker mistakenly ordered the cannons off of their strategic location on the heights of Hazel Grove in between the Confederate forces, allowing the Confederates to mount their own cannons at point blank range of the crossroads and reunite their army.  May 3 was the fiercest fighting of the battle with General Lee eventually drove the Union army back from the crossroads to around the U.S. ford.  Meanwhile, the Union army under General Sedgewick was able to take Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, but too late to give support at the crossroads.  Confederate General Early did an excellent job of a fighting retreat finally stopping the Union army at Salem Church.  By May 7, the Union Army of the Potomac had retreated back north of the Rappahonnock River and General Lee had scored another major and costly victory against the Union overcoming impossible odds.  Believing they were invincible with General Lee at their command, the Confederate Army took the fight to the Union, invading Pennsylvania leading to the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863.


The Battle of the Wilderness overlaps part of the Battle of Chancellorsville, but the Driving Tour CDs really helped to keep them separate although we visited some of the same sites again in the afternoon.  The Battle of the Wilderness occurred in 1864 and is the first of a series of battles known as the Overland Campaign that ended with the siege of Petersburg and eventual capture of Richmond in 1865.  After his victories in the Western Theater, especially the capture of Vicksburg in 1863, General Grant was given the overall command of the Union Army.  However, he attached himself to the Army of the Potomac, thereby, limiting the authority of General Meade.  By this point, the objective of the Union Army had changed from the capture of Richmond to the destruction of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  Determined to press their advantage of manpower and armaments, General Grant intended to force General Lee to engage him in open ground by threatening Richmond.  He once again crossed the Rappahanock and Rapidan Rivers west of Fredericksburg and began his move towards Richmond.  At first, General Lee’s army was spread out with General Longstreet around Gordonsville and General Hill at Orange Courthouse.  Grant’s plan was to quickly converge on Wilderness Tavern and quickly move through the Wilderness along the Orange Turnpike before Lee could respond.  However, Lee knew the strategic importance to him of the Wilderness since the brushy conditions would greatly reduce the effectiveness of Grant’s superior firepower in soldiers and cannon.  As General Hill was the closest to the Wilderness he was ordered to engage Grant before they could move through it and on May 5, 1864 did just that.  General Longstreet was ordered to quickly move to the area as well.  The ensuing battles on May 5 were a mess for both sides as they had to contend with the thick woods, even to the ignition of the woods burning the wounded in the area they had fought over.  General Longstreet arrived just in time on the morning of May 6, to save the Confederates from disaster and fighting continued along a wide front throughout the day.  None of this was to General Grant’s liking as he wanted to confront General Lee in more open ground where he could bring his superior firepower to bear.  Therefore, on May 7 he moved south along the Brock Road with the intention of cutting Lee off from Richmond.  Lee had to respond and this led to the second battle of the campaign at Spotsylvania Courthouse, which we had visited last week.  By this point it was already after 5:00, so we grabbed a quick dinner and headed back, exhausted, to the campgrounds.

GregAtWilderness KalAtWilderness

Having finished the Civil War battlefields in the area, on Thursday, we headed back to the Maryland peninsula to visit another National Historic Site important to the Revolutionary War, the home of Thomas Stone.  Thomas Stone was one of the founding fathers of the US that is not well known and I have to admit I had never heard of him.  His home in Maryland was selected as a National Historic Site for exactly this reason.  Thomas Stone was a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but was a voice in the Continental Congress to find some way to reconcile with Great Britain instead of seeking Independence.  However, after the petition drafted to King George at the First Continental Congress seeking reconciliation was summarily rejected by the King, he voted for Independence even before he was allowed to do so by the Maryland’s Annapolis Convention.  In 1777 he served on the committee to draft the Articles of Confederation, but withdrew from the committee after his wife became ill with smallpox during an epidemic in Philadelphia while she was visiting.  He did accept a position in the Maryland Senate to advocate ratification of the Articles, but lived only 3 months after his wife died from smallpox in 1787.  If not for the illness and death of his wife, Thomas Stone would likely have been a name we all remembered as a founding father.  His home near Port Tobacco, an important seaport on the Port Tobacco River during the colonial period, is an excellent example of the residences of the wealthier Maryland colonists.  After being nearly destroyed in a fire in 1977, the National Park Service has done an excellent job restoring the home and furnishing it with colonial era pieces.  The grounds themselves are beautiful and was a very nice way to spend a morning.  They give tours of the house and we had the joy of touring the house with one other couple.  I was able to ask a lot of questions and really enjoyed the tour.


After lunch at the National Historic Site, we traveled back north on the peninsula to Piscataway Park which is located just across the Potomac River from George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.  This is exactly why this park was created, to protect the vista from Mount Vernon from industrial and residential development.  The park is administered primarily by the Accokeek Creek Foundation, which was created for this purpose.  As it was early in the spring, there was not much going on in the park when we were there, but during the summer and fall it gets very busy.  They have a demonstration pioneer farm with heritage farm animals. They were just beginning the planting of crops.  There is also a demonstration ecological farm that works with local farmers to develop ecologically friendly practices.  Except for seeing they had turned the ground, there was nobody working at the farm to talk to.  Therefore, after a couple of hours of exploring the short hikes and buildings at the pioneer farm, we headed back to the campgrounds, in part, to recover from the previous day at the battlefields.

KalOnBoardwalk HeritageSheep

On Friday it was time to “bite the bullet” and visit the renowned Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.  This is a private museum, rather than a National Park, which means it has a hefty admission fee ($17 each).  It was evident when we drove into the parking lot at the end of the George Washington Parkway that the money has been well spent.  In fact, it felt more like we were at Disney World.  The production is expansive and designed to impress as soon as you walk up.  Your admission fee includes access to all the grounds, museum, and a tour of the mansion.  From their beautiful welcome center you walk up the hill and are hit immediately by the beautiful grounds and huge mansion.  It has been beautifully restored and maintained in the colonial period of George Washington.  Since our tour was not for a couple of hours, we began our visit by walking their prepared pathway down through the woods to the farm buildings.  They had already planted the “test” crops in the plots of land maintained by George Washington for this purpose.  George Washington was an innovative farmer, which meant there are a number of features you won’t find anywhere else.  The biggest change was moving from tobacco as the cash crop to wheat.  At the time all tobacco had to be shipped to Great Britain for sale, whereas wheat could be sold on the local market.  This was one of the reasons for the tensions with Great Britain that led to the Revolutionary War.  Therefore, George Washington tested different strains and planting methods for his wheat.  He even developed a unique way to thresh the wheat with the construction of an eight sided structure that has been fully restored.  Horses would be led around the second floor of the building stepping on the wheat sheaves to separate the grain which would fall through the floor to the ground floor and collected.  This minimized the amount of dirt and other debris in the grain over the common practice of walking the horses on the ground.  On the way back to the mansion we stopped at George Washington’s tomb where you can see the stone caskets of George and Martha Washington in a very nice setting.


To deal with the number of visitors (there were over 2000 visitors on this Thursday in early spring), the tour of the mansion is more like a Disney attraction then a tour.  Your tour time is nothing more than the time you are allowed to join the queue.  This line is in continuous motion as you move through each of the rooms in the mansion where employees give a canned speech about the room on an endless loop.  They really should invest in some Disney animatronics instead of hiring people to endlessly repeat themselves all day!!  Even then the mansion is VERY impressive, especially when you realize the number of visitors that would have sought out the former General and President of the United States.  One architectural feature that sticks in my mind is the way the exterior of the mansion is made to look like stone, even though it is all wooden.  While the paint was still fresh they applied a fine layer of sand to give the appearance of stone.  After being forced to quickly walk through the mansion, we took our time visiting the many outbuildings which included stables, kitchen, offices, wash room, blacksmith, etc.


After lunch in their cafeteria, we got back in the truck and drove the short distance to another parcel of land owned by George Washington where he had build a grist mill and whiskey distillery.  Both of them have been fully restored and are functioning.  The tour of these facilities is also covered by your admission and they did an excellent job.  We got to see a grist mill that looks brand new in full operation.  The way they had automated the movement of grain to the grinding stones, followed by sifting the resulting flour into different grades and bagging each grade was amazing.  The entire operation could be done with just a couple of millers.  The whiskey distillery also looks brand new and is used to distill and bottle whiskey twice a year.  Our tour guide gave a complete explanation of the 18th century process, which they still use today.  After aging the whiskey is bottled and sold to the public.  We thought about buying a small amount, but the price tag was exorbitant (over $50 for a pint).  Thank goodness for modern labor saving methods.


Since Sunday was forecast to be rainy, we decided to explore Prince William Forest on Saturday.  Since we were technically camping in the Park, we felt we should at least take a look at it.  As with most National Parks focused on the natural environment, the main attraction are hiking, biking, and horse back riding and they have trails for all of these.  I actually found the history of the Park to be quite interesting.  It began as four summer camps for urban children during the Great Depression when the CCC and WPA built roads and camp facilities close to Alexandria and Washington D.C.  The displaced farmers in the four towns within the park were compensated with better farming land then this marginal to poor land.  The summer camps only operated for a few years before World War II broke out and the National Park System gave up control of the Park for Defense Department purposes.  What these purposes were remained a secret until only the last few years.  It was widely believed it was a Prisoner of War Camp once locals noticed the barbwire fences and guard dogs on patrol.  However, it turns out it was the main training facility for wartime spies in the OSS.  Each of the four camps were converted into training facilities and the woods were used for field exercises.  In fact, much of the forest is still restricted from the public due to concern over unexploded ordinance from the war.  Today, the Park is a natural haven and we took advantage of two short hikes before our picnic lunch and an extended walk down to the remains of an iron pyrite mine along the river.  There is also a one-way road that winds through the park providing a lot of great views of the forest, especially for the many bikers in the bike lane along the side of the road.  It was a very pleasant afternoon, since it had warmed up from the chilly temperatures earlier in the week and I enjoyed the early spring view of the Virginia countryside.


Sunday we spent in the campground getting the laundry, shopping, and cleaning done.  I did have some time to work on this blog, one of the last opportunities I had.  I was not too worried as I figured the two weeks we would be spending at my son’s house in a couple of weeks would give me ample opportunity to catch up.