April 2016 – Mt Airy, North Carolina

For one final week in North Carolina, we decided to go somewhere new and headed to Mt Airy, which is near the Virginia state line.  The trip was uneventful since it was all along the Interstates with multiple rest stops that we took full advantage of, eating a nice picnic lunch at one along the way.  We pulled into Mayberry Campground around 2 in the afternoon to find a very nice commercial campground with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.  For those of you that remember, Mayberry was the location of the Andy Griffin show and even though the town of Mayberry was fictitious it was supposed to be close to Mt Airy, North Carolina.  Thus the name of the campground and they used it to full advantage.  Along with many pictures and memorabilia on the walls, the names of the roads were all from the show.  Our site was on Barney Fife Avenue, for instance, which was just off of Andy Taylor Avenue.  The campground itself very beautifully maintained, although there are not very many trees for shade.  We had a nice pull-through site on a “corner”, which meant we had no neighbors around us.  We had a nice “backyard” that extended up the hill to one of the other loops of campsites.  The only negative of the campground was its proximity to the Interstate.  While it is convenient to be less than a mile from the Interstate, the campgrounds actually backed up to the highway so there was a constant roar of trucks and cars until late in the evening.

Campsite

After our relatively hectic week in Asheville and due to the fact there was no close “points of interest” we really wanted to see, our time was mostly spent in the campground.  The next two days were spent renewing our passports, getting caught up on this blog (since we had good internet access in this campground as opposed to the bad service we had for the past two weeks), and making reservations through July for our plans at Niagara Falls.  We spent a day doing laundry and cleaning the RV and generally just took it easy reading and playing video games on the PS3.

By Saturday I really needed to get out and do something, so I found a nearby disc golf course at the Armfield Civic Center at Pilot Mountain.  The course was only 20 minutes from the campground and the weather on Saturday was beautiful and cool once the cold front cooled things off from the 80+ degrees we had during the week.  I must say this was an amazing disc golf course.  It had a great mix of short challenging holes and long holes along the hiking paths at the back of the Civic Center.  Unfortunately, I did not play well which was frustrating, but the beauty of the course made up for some of this.  I was only on the fourth hole when I had to stop and let some high school age teenagers run through on a 5K run I did not know would be using the trails.  Since they were running down the next fairway I had no choice but to wait until they all cleared.  Hole 5 was up a steep and wooded hill which did leave the running trail, but began to wear up my knee and hip.  For Hole 6 you climb up the rest of the hill where the tee box is actually a small area in front of rock shelf with the pin down at the bottom.  Luckily there were a lot of trees in the way as I would have seriously overshot the pin if it had not hit branches and fell within a few feet of the pin.  The next hole was flat and open, but hole 8 was across a ravine full of rhododendron trees over 15 feet tall and up a steep slope.  Once again I had to rest after making it up the slope and fortunately they provided benches or picnic tables at each tee for this purpose.  The next 3 holes were back and forth across the top of the hill and very open.  By hole 16 I was concerned that the course was not heading back towards the parking lot, when I found out why.  Hole 15 is a 744 yard, 5 par course, which means you cannot even see the pin from the tee box due to the two hills in the way.  This is the second longest hole I have ever played and after sizing it up I threw the disc as hard as I could.  Of course, it would have helped if I had aimed it down the fairway instead of the trees on the right of the course.  From there I buried the disc into the trees on the left and after 3 more terrible shots I finally approached the pin.  Of course this was the way I played the entire day, so it was no surprise.  Hole 17 was also interesting as the fairway just in front of the tee box was a bridge over the creek, which you had to clear on your first shot.  While I did manage to clear the bridge the disc immediately hit a very small tree (less than an inch in diameter) and fell just on the other side of the bridge!!  I could not even get lucky.  I did make a good shot on the last hole, so they day was a total loss and I did enjoy the course.  At times I felt it felt more like miniature golf than disc golf!!

April 2016 – Asheville, North Carolina

The trip into Asheville was a nervous time for me, since the “Check Engine Light” had come on during the previous week while we in Tennessee and even though the truck seemed to be running well, we were going to be pulling the RV up into the mountains.  The last couple of times the error code had indicated a problem with the exhaust system that eventually cleared itself out, so we were hoping it was the same condition again.  Once again the truck had no problems climbing the grade up into Asheville and we pulled the RV into the US Forest Service Campground at Lake Powhatan, which is adjacent to Bent Creek Experimental Forest.  We were both surprised to its proximity to Asheville, as we thought we would be a good bit southwest of town.  As it turned out we were just 15 minutes from where our daughter lives, so this was definitely the best place for us to stay in the Asheville area.  Not only were the sites in the woods with plenty of room between sites, instead of a crowded commercial campground, but we paid less than half of what a commercial site would cost due to our Senior Pass.  WHAT A FIND.  Unfortunately, the site I had reserved was an electric only site (15 amp), which was going to be a problem.  Being so close to Asheville, it was already at around 70% capacity and only going to fill up over the coming weekend.  Luckily they did have available one full hookup site left that wasn’t booked for the weekend, but it was possibly too short for the RV.  They were kind enough to take me in their golf cart to inspect the site and upon looking at it, I was fairly certain that it was large enough.  So we pulled the RV down to the site, which was a back-in unfortunately, and I proceeded to back the RV into it.  A tree on the near side of the site meant I had to back in on a severe angle, especially since the sites were not angled to provide easy access.  I got the RV heading into the site with no real problem, however, trying to straighten the truck up ran the front tires up onto rocks and a log on the other side of the narrow road!  It took a couple of shots and moving some rocks before we could make the turn.  Although the initial attempt was adequate, I took the opportunity to try and move the RV over to the left.  This took a couple of shots, but I was able to get it where we wanted it.  By backing the RV until the back end overhung the brush at the back of the site, we were able to generate enough room for the truck to sit at an angle while keeping all the tires on the pavement.  When the camphosts came around to check on us, they were impressed that we were able to get the RV and truck onto the site so well.  One final point about the site.  When we pulled out the following Monday, we had to once again deal with the tree on the near side at the front of the site.  Kal was barely able to make the turn and pull the RV out without scrapping the tree, although the top of the RV was less than a inch at the closest point.  Obviously I was watching it carefully the whole time.  Suffice it to say that we were very pleased with the site and the campground in general.  During the week we were surprised by the number of bikers that frequented the trails during the week and especially over the weekend.  This was reflected by the campers as well, as nearly all of them were young to middle aged bikers with no families.

Campsite

Tuesday was our daughter’s day off, so we headed to their house to do our laundry.  Kal also took advantage of the situation and asked Nikki to go shopping with her while I stayed put and did the laundry.  I certainly did not mind since I am not one to enjoy shopping and this give Kal and her daughter some quality time together.  Besides I am perfectly capable of taking care of the laundry.  Once they got back from their shopping excursion we walked to a local restaurant for lunch.  After Chris finished his day at the brewery, we all went out to a nice dinner joining with Chris’s folks that now live in the area and two college friends that were visiting.  It was a fun evening, although I am still not sure that a chicken pot pie goes well with a belgian waffle, which is what I had for dinner.  Once again I am amazed with the number of great eating establishments with interesting menus that you can find in Asheville.

Since both Chris and Nikki worked on Wednesday, we started the day with a nice 2 mile hike in Bent Creek Experimental Forest.  It was still early spring in the mountains, so most of the trees had yet to leaf out and the spring flowers were not in evidence, however, it was a pleasant hike through the forest.  There was sufficient uphill grade that we both got a workout, especially since the trail immediately went uphill from the road.  Of course, this meant the second mile was mostly downhill.  So much for their designation of an “easy” hiking trail.  Later that afternoon we headed back to Nikki’s where they barbequed some steak and chicken wings for a great meal with them and their college friends.

KalOnTrail1

On Thursday it was time to clean the RV, which was not done this time while Kal was doing the laundry, instead she went to the store.  Therefore, I was not yet done when she returned, so she got to see all the things I do to clean the RV and had a few welcomed suggestions to improve the effort.  For dinner we grabbed out making for nachos and gave Nikki a treat that she had not enjoyed for a number of years.  I believe Chris enjoyed it as well after drowning them in taco sauce and sour cream.

We were on our own once again on Friday, as both Nikki and Chris had to work so we took another hike in Bent Creek.  This time the trail was as advertised, being a fairly level walk along a small creek up to the woods road, where it was downhill back to the truck.  Once they got off work we headed back to their house where we quickly got into their car and headed out for “pizza and a movie”.  One of the unique venues in Asheville that we have taken advantage of more than once when we visit, is the pizza and movie at the Asheville Brewing Company.  The showing beginning that Friday was “The Revenant” which we were all interested in seeing.  After ordering a couple of “interesting” pizzas (which is all they offer) and a pitcher of beer, we settled in their comfortable chairs and tables to watch the movie.  I can see why it won the Academy Awards as the cinematography was amazing, especially the bear fighting scene and surviving the rapids on the river.  They came up with so many ways to kill him, that I was surprised that the avalanche they showed did not bury him.  In any case, we all enjoyed the show, although it ran so long that we were not likely to get back to the campground before they closed the gate at 10.  We did check before we left and they assured us that although they close the gate, it is not locked.  Sure enough we pulled in just after 10 and they had just closed the gate.  However, it was not locked and the camphosts were still in their office and came out to open it for us.

Saturday promised to be a special day as we planned on traveling north to Virginia with Nikki and Chris to the Virginia Creeper Trail once Chris got done with his morning meeting at the brewery.  We were on the road shortly after 10, which was fortunate as it turned out to be a 2 hour drive and we had reservations for 2 pm. We did have time for a leisurely lunch at a local taco cafe and walk over to the bike shop by 1:30 to get our bikes.  Chris was the first out the door to get his bike while we were discussing helmets and got the last bike they had available.  The rest of us had to wait while they brought some more bikes from their other location in town, so we all did get bikes.  While our bikes were adult bikes, Chris’ was built for a teenager and proved to be too short over the course of the day.  He did look rather strange hunched over his bike they whole afternoon!!  So much for being first out the door.  They loaded our bikes along with other bikers catching the shuttle and proceeded up the mountain to Whitetop Station.  I should probably say a couple of things about the Virginia Creeper Trail.  This is one of the premier mountain biking trails in the nation and it certainly lives up to its expectations.   The entire trail is 34 miles long along the old railroad bed of the Virginia Creeper Railroad, hence its name.  While some bikers will do the entire 34 miles, most do either the leg from Abingdon to Damascus or Whitetop to Damascus since both are 17 miles and downhill all the way!  The leg from Abingdon is mostly through rural areas with supposedly unobstructed views of the valley, whereas the Whitetop leg is down through the forests along the Whitetop Laurel River.  This leg is steeper and does not have the 3-4 miles of level biking you find on the Abingdon leg, so this is the one we choose.  Since the trail was the old railroad bed, this meant it was as straight as possible creating a lot of bridges across the steam and especially at the top had a lot of cut and fill to create an steady grade.  This all made for very easy biking with nothing to do but apply the brakes from time to time. This is certainly the way to enjoy traveling along a mountain stream as it took very little effort and yet was slow enough to enjoy the view.  Most of the bridges have been replaced with sturdy wooden structure designed for bikes and the path was mostly small gravel with very few ruts or bumps.  Truly a great experience and one I would certainly do again.  The entire trip of 17 miles takes between 2.5 and 4 hours depending upon the number of stops you choose with many interpretive signs along the way where you learn about the local history and natural environment.  Since the railroad was primarily for logging all of the surrounding forests were relatively young second growth, but still beautiful in April.  With only a single significant stop to view the river, we made the trip in 2.5 hours.  I will admit that even though there was very little effort involved the last 1.5 miles was level as it approached and went through Damascus.  Consequently, it took some effort, especially to get around a large group of bikers and catch up with Nikki and Chris and my left knee gave out on me.  I had to get off the bike and walk it for about a quarter mile to give it a rest before catching up to the others who were starting to get concerned.  Next time I will just take it easy and let gravity do all the work and enjoy the experience even more.

Sunday they both had to work again, so after recovering from our great Saturday adventure we joined them one final time for a great dinner in West Asheville of burritos and margaritas.   I don’t know if we will ever be back with the RV in Asheville in the future as our travels will be to the west, but we have always enjoyed our time, meals, and family every time we visit and we certainly know where we would stay if we do return.

April 2016 – Lenoir City, Tennessee

Once again, most of the trip to east Tennessee was not on any Interstate, however, the state highway was four lane which made the trip easy.  It was the longest drive we have had since last fall, being over 3 hours.  Since my sister lives in the area, we were familiar with Lenior City, although we had never stayed at the Melton Hill Campground since there are closer commercial campgrounds to her house.  However, with the Senior Pass, our stay at the TVA campground was at a substantial savings.  The campground turns out to be less than a mile from I-40, so our GPS device had us turn on a side road as soon as we left the Interstate.  Unfortunately the entrance to this road had a dip that was too severe for the RV and we caught the bottom rung of the ladder hanging off the back.  It was severely bent and broke the first time I put any weight on it, so the step up to the ladder is going to require our step stool unless we get the ladder replaced (haven’t decided yet).  There was also no sign for the campground where we turned, which should have been a warning but our GPS had done surprisingly well in navigating us to campgrounds.  Getting to the Visitor Centers of National Parks has been an issue, since the GPS wants to take us to the offices which may not be the same location, but never a problem with campgrounds.  However, when we got to a cross road with a sign just for the TVA dam and nothing in sight, we thought we had a problem.  I called the campground and sure enough the GPS had us turn about 1/2 mile too soon from the highway.  So we had to get turned around which is not easy with a 35 foot trailer.  Luckily there was very little traffic on the road so we were able to take the entire intersection.  Kal attempted to back the RV herself and nearly jackknifed the RV before I got her to stop.  She got very upset and left the job to me.  After a couple of attempts I was able to get the rig turned around and headed back to the highway.  We easily found the correct entrance since it had a big sign along the highway.  After finding the small RV they are using as an office they pointed out our site which was very small.  We first had to travel around to a parking lot to get turned around to properly line up to back into the site.  The volunteer was kind enough to assist me in getting the RV into the site which had to go in at a severe angle to fit.  Once we pulled the truck off the road onto the site, there was very little room left.  However, the site was very level and we got set up with no problem, although we could not use our awning as it would hang out over the road.  Not really a problem, since we rarely use it anyway.

Campsite

Since the last campground did not have laundry facilities (and neither does this one) it had been nearly two weeks without doing laundry.  So our first order of business on Tuesday was to head to my sister’s house to get our laundry done.  We spent most of the day visiting with my niece, Shannon, and doing the laundry until the kids and Suzy got home.  Shannon made all of us a nice chicken dinner, unfortunately once Suzy got their it was nearly time to leave for the night (she had a late meeting at her school that night).

We spent most of the day on Wednesday cleaning the RV and relaxing at the campground.  We joined Suzy, her family, and fellow teachers at the Mexican restaurant that meet every week for dinner.  We had a enjoyable time getting to know her friends and kidding around with Shannon’s kids.  I don’t suppose the margarita’s Suzy and I drank had anything to do with it?  We took it easy around the campground on Thursday and Friday with plans to get with Suzy on Saturday.

Suzy had been contacted by our Aunt Ellie, who was planning to move closer to her family in Georgia over the summer and was going through all the stuff she and Uncle Jerry had accumulated over the years and deciding what to take with her.  Among the items was an antique Secretary that had been in the family since the mid 1800s.  My parents had it until my Dad passed away, so Aunt Ellie offered it to Suzy.  Since we had a truck, she asked us if we would be willing to go with her to get it.  Especially since it had been years since we had seen Aunt Ellie, this made it a perfect excuse to visit.  She lives north of Knoxville, so it was only about 1.5 hour drive from Lenoir City.  Suzy met us at the campground and we removed the fifth wheel hitch from the bed of the truck.  We met Aunt Ellie at her home, which they have done a beautiful job with the landscaping over the years.  It has many interesting features including gardens, flower beds, gazebo, and wishing well.  Before we loaded up the secretary, Aunt Ellie first took us to lunch at a very nice steakhouse in town.  After lunch we got to work and loaded up the secretary being very careful to secure it with straps and bungee cords.  We then had time to visit and tour the property, which was our first opportunity to see it, even though she will now be moving out of.  It was nearly dark when we got back to Suzy’s house to unload the secretary, but it was still a great day visiting old relatives and catching up with my mother’s side of the family.

On Sunday we headed back to Suzy’s for a dinner party with all of Suzy’s grandchildren.  Kal took nearly 100 pictures of everyone before dinner.  Since this is likely the last time in a long while that we will be visiting my sister, as our travels will be west of this point in the future, we sincerely hope they come to visit us in the future.

 

March, 2016 – Tullahoma, Tennessee

From Guntersville, Alabama, our journey turned north once again as we finally left Alabama after more than 4 months in the state.  Our destination was south of Nashville, near the town of Tullahoma (which just happens to be familiar since we used to live on Tullahoma Drive!).  The only thing to note about the trip occurred as we were entering Lynchburg, Tennessee.  Along both sides of the highway there were a large number of rectangular, three story gray buildings with parking lots but no cars.  It looked like an abandoned military installation of some kind, but there were no signs giving any information about them.  Just beyond this string of buildings was the entrance to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery Visitor Center so we assumed (correctly) that the buildings must have something to do with the distillery.  Our destination was Barton Springs Campground which is another TVA campgrounds on the shore of Normandy Reservoir.  It is a small campground with only about 20 sites, but ALL are pull through sites with electric and water hookups.  Our site was on the shore of the lake, but since they had just began to refill the reservoir for the summer, there was 100 yards of pebbles before you got to the water.  In fact, their swimming area was completely dry.  It was a nice campground with only a couple of other occupied campers in the area during the week.  It got a little busier over the weekend, but even then it was less than 30% full this time of year.

Campsite

With rain forecasted for later in the week, we made plans for Tuesday and Wednesday.  The Jack Daniel’s distillery really caught Kal’s attention when we drove by it on Monday, so she pushed to check out the tour.  So around mid-morning we headed back to Lynchburg to the Jack Daniel’s distillery.  We were surprised by number of tourists visiting the distillery, even during the middle of the week.  We noticed that the parking lot was full on Monday and it was once again full on Tuesday.  We did manage to find a spot in their overflow area and walked to the Visitors Center.  They have done a wonderful job with the Visitors Center and surrounding landscaping making a very nice setting.  We discovered that the regular tour is free, however, I insisted we pay for the tasting tour.  We had about an hour before the tour began, so we spent some time looking through their small museum about the making of whiskey, the local culture, and history of the distillery.  They do have a small gift shop where they sell some of the whiskey, which was surprising since this is a dry county.  We did find out later that the county allows the sale of only special or collectable series, which means only their most expensive products in fancy containers.  I am sure everyone purchasing the whiskey was buying it only to add to their collections, but it was too pricey for us.

GregAtBarrelStorage

Our tour was called at 11:30 and began with a bus ride through the historic downtown area of Lynchburg where you can buy literally anything with Jack Daniel’s logo on it and up to the rickyard where they make their own charcoal.  Unlike other whiskies, Jack Daniels gets it distinctive flavors from filtering the raw distilled liquor through sugar maple charcoal.  They literally drip the liquor into the charcoal and allow gravity to slowly pull the liquor through the finely ground charcoal.  This process alone takes nearly a month.  It is interesting that Jack Daniels not only makes its own charcoal, but also the white oak barrels needed to age the whiskey.  We got to stick our heads into one of the ageing warehouses where they stack up the barrels 70 feet high in racks in those large warehouses we had seen the day before.  There are hundreds of these warehouses scattered over the 2000 acres of the distillery since they age the whiskey for 4-6 years.  It is the extreme temperature changes in these buildings that opens and closes the pores in the wood, creating the unique flavors in their whiskey.  The rest of the tour includes the natural cave where they draw the spring water for the distillery, the original office, the vats where they cook the mash, the huge copper stills where they distill the liquor, the 30 foot tall vats of charcoal used to filter the liquor, and a small part of the bottling facility.  The entire tour took over 1.5 hours and ended up at back at the Visitor’s Center where we were taken to their tasting room.  We got to sip a very small quantity of five of their whiskeys.  This started with their premium brand, Gentleman Jack, which is filtered a second time after the aging process in their charcoal.  This process removes all of the “kick” or “finish” from the whiskey making the smoothest whiskey I have ever tasted!  There was literally no finish at all, but all of the flavor.  It was amazing!!  We also got to sample one of their Top Barrel brands.  I say “one of them” because everyone is different.  These come from the top barrels in the warehouse which receives the greatest changes in temperatures making each barrel unique in flavor.  While it still tasted like Jack Daniels, the flavors were certainly more intense and interesting.  Did you know that you can actually buy an entire barrel of whiskey, which they will bottle and ship to you along with the barrel it came from!  Finally we got a sample of the main brand “Old Number 7” for comparison, as well as, their Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire.  They add honey to the Tennessee Honey which made it too sweet for my tastes and cinnamon to the Tennessee Fire which produces a lasting burn in your mouth long after the whiskey is gone.  Even though they gave us a nice sip of each of the whiskeys, this was still enough for Kal to feel tipsy especially since it was now 1:30 and we had not had any lunch.  So we ate lunch at the nice picnic area on the grounds and Kal felt good enough to drive back to the campground.

Distillery

On Wednesday we headed to Murfreesboro to another National Park that we had not visited yet.  Stones River National Battlefield is another Civil War battlefield that played a major role in the war.  In December of 1862, President Lincoln was looking for a decisive victory to boost his announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in January.  He ordered General Burnside to attack General Lee at Fredericksburg in early December, even though waging war in the winter is not a good idea.  As we learned last year, this attack was a disaster for Burnside who got slaughtered in Fredericksburg.  President Lincoln then looked to General Grant at Vicksburg, but the siege there did not provide any decisive actions.  Therefore, he turned to General Rosecrans who had recently been promoted to command the Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, Tennessee for a decisive victory.  Therefore, the day after Christmas, 1862, General Rosecrans began the short march to Murfreesboro to confront General Bragg who had established winter quarters there not expecting any action until spring.  The weather was terrible with rain and cold and with the Confederate cavalry harassing the supply lines it took General Rosecrans until December 30 to approach within 2 miles of Murfreesboro.  By this point General Bragg had established his troops along Stones River and the two armies set up for battle.  I found it interesting that the each division had small military bands that would play every evening and when one of the bands started “Home Sweet Home”, the bands on both sides took up the tune.  Both Generals also had the same battle plan for the next morning, to attack the right flank of the opposing line and attempt to cut off their supply line and retreat.  However, General Rosecrans planned his attack to start after breakfast, while General Bragg planned his for daybreak.  Therefore, the Confederates were able to surprise the Union forces on the right flank during breakfast which caused a general rout of the Union back towards the Nashville Pike.  By 10 am they had forced the Union right flank back three miles to the pike where the majority of the Union forces that were supposed to attack the Confederate right flank had been assembled.  It would have been a total defeat except for General Sheridan’s division at the center of the right flank who had his troops ready at daybreak.  They slowed down they Confederates at an area of limestone outcroppings now known as the Slaughtering Pens since he lost nearly a third of his men before they ran low on ammunition and had to withdraw.  By this time the Union had regrouped along the Nashville Pike and the massed artillery stopped the Confederate advance.  As opposed to later in the war when the Confederates would have hastily built defensive works to hold their position, the prevailing strategy at the time was to continue with offensive charges even across open cotton fields.  The artillery cut them to pieces making this battle the scene of the highest percentage loss in the war and heavier casualties then either Shiloh or Antietam.  The center of the Union line was now along the Nashville Pike at a location called Round Forest which was now the point of the “V” in the lines.  The Union continued to hold this position throughout the day repelling multiple Confederate charges.  Later this location would be renamed “Hell’s Half-Acre”.  General Bragg assumed that General Rosecrans would retreat back to Nashville after this defeat and sent word to Richmond about his victory.  However, General Rosecrans decided not to retreat and fortified his position.  January 1, 1863 was spent recuperating and tending to the wounded by both sides and except for a few probes was uneventful.  On January 2, General Bragg once again tried to dislodge the Union army by attacking the left flank at McFadden’s crossing.  Even though the Union army had established a position east of the river they were quickly pushed back across the river.  However, as the Confederates tried to achieve the bluff on the west side of the river they found the Union had amassed over 90 cannon to sweep them back to the river with devastating results.  It was then General Bragg’s turn to retreat back to Murfreesboro which he soon abandoned for better defensive positions further south.  General Rosecrans moved his army into Murfreesboro, providing President Lincoln with his much needed victory.  He spent the next six months building a 250 acre fort, named Fort Rosecrans, that included the Stones River, the Nashville to Chattanooga Railroad, and the Nashville pike.  This became the main supply depot to support the Union advance through Chattanooga and Atlanta for the rest of the war.  Once again they had a nice driving tour, along with a CD that took you to the major locations of the battle.  We really enjoy these CDs of the battlefields.  Unlike other battlefields, this one is fairly small, but still took the better part of the day to explore.

The weather on Thursday progressively got worse throughout the day as predicted with severe storms building to the southwest through the evening.  We ate an early supper and watched the weather on the TV.  Around sunset they were tracking a tornado that should stay to our north and two more tornadoes that could threaten us to our southwest.  Fortunately, the cells were moving almost due east, so it looked like we should be in between the two systems.  When they put the county under a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, we headed to the bathroom where we listened to the broadcast on our weather radio and occasionally pulled up the radar on the iPad.  Since it had gotten dark there was not much to see.  After standing around for over an hour with little rain or wind we finally called it and went back to the RV.  By this point the storm systems had weakened so the tornado risk was gone and even though we had some heavy rains later in the evening, there was nothing severe.

We spent Friday taking it easy in the campground, but decided to do something different on Saturday.  We had noticed earlier in the week that the Normandy Fish Hatchery was going to have an open house on Saturday, so we decided to check it out.  Neither of us had ever visited a Fish Hatchery, so it was all new and interesting.  The employees were all very friendly and informative as we talk with a couple of them extensively about how the fish hatchery operates.  At this fish hatchery they primarily produce walleye, stripped bass, a couple of trout varieties, and catfish, to stock the many reservoirs in the state.  At the time they were producing walleye fry for transference to the holding ponds on the property.  The most interesting fact we learned was that the stripped bass are actually a saltwater fish that spawns in freshwater and actually does very well in the deep water reservoirs in the state.  However, they require a moving water column in order to successfully spawn and the water in these lakes does not have enough motion.  Therefore, if you catch any stripped bass then it very likely came from this hatchery.  It is also evident that without the hatchery there would be no stripped bass in Tennessee lakes, which I assume would be a disappointment to local fishermen since these fish can get very big!!  We were also treated to hot dogs with all the trimmings and even though it was only 10 in the morning, we had to partake.

March 2016 – Double Springs, Alabama

Unlike the previous trip that took far longer than it should due to construction and accident on the Interstate, the trip north from Tuscaloosa to Double Springs was along state highways with no delays.  It took just over 2 hours to make the trip.  Whereas the previous campgrounds were Corps of Engineering, this was our first stay on a US Forest Service National Forest campground, specifically the Bankhead National Forest.  The entrance station was not manned so we had to call a number they had posted to get the camphost to come check us in.  They didn’t take long, but we found out the pull-through site we had reserved was having water problems, so we had to pick a back-in site.  The reserved area of the campground (which they adhered to religiously for some reason) was empty, so we had 10 sites to choose from.  We picked one that was close to being a straight back-in and it was certainly long enough for the largest RVs.  I got the RV into the site with no problem and we got set up.  The reserved sites were well up from the bluff overlooking the lake but you could still see it through the trees.  A short walk down the bluff led to a nice overlook of the lake that was built by the Youth Conservation Corps back in the 70s.

Campsite

After spending Tuesday in the campground and working on this blog, we spent Wednesday exploring Natural Bridge of Alabama.  This is a private park that has obviously seen better times.  At one time it looks like it was a very nice park, nowadays it is run down and in need of repairs.  The small gift shop is in a quaint old building with a nice fountain and sitting area to the side.  The natural bridge is a short walk from the gift store around in a small cove that you can’t see from the gift shop, so you have to pay admission before gaining access.  As you come around the corner on the trail you get a stunning view of the natural bridge.  It is reported to be the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies and is nearly 150 feet long soaring 60 feet above you.  It is a sandstone arch in front of a shallow limestone cave.  The trail continues into and around the cave with iron railings that are needed since the limestone is slick with the constant water dripping from the roof.  Consequently there are a number of small stalactites extending down from the roof and interesting “stone wave” patterns from the deposits.  The trail continues along the bluff to a number of other smaller limestone caves and then returns back along the creek, for a short mile long hike through the woods.  The most interesting feature for me was the number of hemlocks in the immediate area.  Obviously the limestone cave maintains a cool, moist environment throughout the summer to support this habitat.  There are also supposed to be a number of rare ferns growing in the area as well, but it was too early in the spring to see any.

The rest of the week was devoted to playing our new video games in the morning and watching the first two rounds of the NCAA Basketball tournament on TV.  Thank goodness we were now in a location that got pretty good reception of CBS and NBC, although now we lost ABC.  Not a big loss as it was CBS for the basketball that we were most interested in.  Of course we could only watch 25% of the games in the first two rounds as we did not have cable so could only access those games on CBS.  Thankfully, some of the best games were on CBS, with some great upsets in the first two rounds.

March 2016 – Guntersville, Alabama

We had another short trip of just over two hours east from the Corinth Recreation Area on US Forest Service land to Honeycomb Campground on the shores of Lake Guntersville which is our first TVA campground.  Our first impression of Honeycomb was that it looked more like a commercial RV campground than a federal campground like we were used to.  It has a nice campstore with just about anything you would need in camping supplies and food.  They even had a volunteer take us around to our campsite and helped us back the RV into it.  Upon talking with the volunteer we found out that they had closed the campground for a couple of years and reopened in 2009 after some major rennovations and upgrades.  Although the sites were all small, more like a commercial campground, they were nice and our site backed up to the shore of the lake.  In fact, the view out of our “living room”, which extended to about a foot of the water, was of the lake and hills beyond and was very nice.  In fact, by the end of the week, we were going to miss the view.  There was a flock of Common Coots feeding and swimming just off shore and a couple of Canadian Geese that came by every day to forage.  While our initial impression of the campground was not very positive, we really enjoyed our spot on the lake.

Since the previous campground did not have laundry facilities, we really needed to do laundry so we spent Tuesday in the campgrounds and while Kal did the laundry I cleaned the camper.  It was unfortunate that Tuesday was such a beautiful day, but we really needed to get caught up.  Wednesday was another nice day, so we headed about 20 minutes around the lake (it was only about 9 miles if we were a bird) to the shores of the Tennessee River and Lake Guntersville State Park for some hiking.  Since it was too early in the season for the entrance booth to be manned, we had to drive up to the Lodge to get information about the hiking trails.  I have been to the state park in the past, but I don’t think we ever went up to the lodge, as I would have remembered it!  It is a very nice facility with rooms overlooking the bluff down to the river.  We got a trails map and found a two trails that we could make into a 2 mile loop through the woods, the Kings Chapel and Terrell trails.  Kings Chapel winds through the woods to an old cemetery at what used to be a small Chapel, from which Terrell winds around Graveyard Hill back to the road.  Not realizing we had two choices for Terrell, we proceeded up a steep hill where we got some nice views of the river in the distance.  It was also obvious that we had not been doing much hiking, as we found the uphill stretch to be a challenge on Kal’s knees and my hip.  As we continued on the trail and dropped back down the hill we met up again with the other branch of Terrell trail, that went around the hill instead of over it!!  From this point it was essentially downhill back to the road and we were back to the car before noon.  Instead of eating the picnic lunch we had brought, we decided to go to the store and head back to the campground.

KalOnTrail

As predicted the weather on Thursday was wet with a lot of rain, although the threat of severe weather never materialized.  We also tried Thursday evening to watch the next round of the NCAA basketball tournament, however, our CBS reception was very poor and we had to give up after watching an hour of stop-and-go action!!  While disappointing, it is to be expected when traveling in an RV and staying in remote campgrounds as far from large cities as possible.  We did try to watch basketball on Friday evening with no better luck, and since the rest of the tournament will be broadcast on TBS instead of CBS, we are done with watching it.  We find it very interesting that CBS makes a lot of noise about carrying the NCAA Road To The Final Four, but opts to show reruns of its evening programs instead of showing the tournament giving it all to TBS.  VERY DISAPPOINTING.  So we spent the weekend playing our video games, working on this blog, and taking it easy in a beautiful location watching the pine trees turn everything slightly green and hardwoods pop out their new leaves.