August, 2016 – Uniontown, Pennsylvania

The trip south of Pittsburg to our first of a couple of Corps of Engineers campgrounds was largely uneventful as it was mostly along nice 4 lane highways. I am already becoming thankful for these nice 4 lane highways in the mountains since without them the trip would be slow and windy with a lot of steep grades both up and down. Since our new destination was a Corps of Engineers campground, The Outflow Campground to be specific, this meant it was deep in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania. Therefore, even though I am naming this blog for Uniontown, we were more than 20 miles south of this major town near the small town of Confluence. This also meant that we were leaving the very nice RV Park with its manicured lawns, cable TV and strong phone signals for the internet. In contrast, The Outflow Campground, is heavily used by fishermen, bikers, and campers with nice but small sites. In addition, there were no sewer hookups and to our surprise, no water hookups either!! We had to fill the fresh water tank for the very first time at the spigot at the entrance booth (blocking the entrance to the campgrounds) and had to watch our water consumption all week in fear we would run out. The RV has a water pump that we had never used before, so we still had running hot and cold water. The electrical hookup was only 30 amp, so we also had to be careful about running the air conditioner and microwave at the same time, which we have gotten use to. There was even no laundry facility and since there was no laundrymat in the small town of Confluence, we decided to wait until the next week to clean our clothes. Thankfully, we had decent phone coverage, so we did have an internet connection. The worst thing, according to Kal, was the TV reception. Being in the mountains and down at the lake meant that the reception was terrible. We were limited to just ABC for the week. While this would normally not be a problem we had enjoyed watching the Olympics in the afternoon and evening every night the previous week and now we were cut off completely. Although we had seen a lot of coverage of the swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, etc all last week, we would miss all the coverage of the second week of the games. There was even no reason to seek out a sports bar as the women had lost their previous soccer match to Sweden.   Such is the life of the full-timer!!

Campsite

Especially since there was little else to do in the campgrounds, we headed out on Tuesday for one of the National Park sites in the area. About an hour from the campground, west of Uniontown, is Friendship Hill National Historic Site. We did not look at the website before going so we had no idea what to expect. We pulled into the parking lot down a nice tree lined lane and all we could see was picnic tables and a restroom facility. It looked like this area might be limited to a couple of hiking trails and little else. A short paved path wound up the hillside from the parking lot and once we crested the hill we saw a large stone house. There was also a bronze statue of someone named Andrew Gallatin with his surveying equipment. I had never heard of Gallatin, so we were still wondering what we were in for. One part of the large house was a small Visitor Center where a nice high school intern, was eager (and a bit nervous) to tell us all about Andrew Gallatin and Friendship Hill. He did a very nice job describing the history of the different parts of the house interspersing information about Gallatin.   I would be surprised if any of you have ever heard of Gallatin either, since he was not one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, although he did play a major role in defining our government. At the age of 19, Andrew Gallatin immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1780, just after the Revolutionary War. Although he did not start out with much money, through some land speculation he was able to buy 370 acres in the frontier of western Pennsylvania by 1786.  He built a two story Federal style brick home he called Friendship Hill and moved in with his new wife, Sofia.  However, Sofia died a few months later and partly for this reason Gallatin entered into politics being elected to represent his area at the Pennsylvania Convention where he helped draft their new state constitution.  From there he moved on to the Pennsylvania Assembly and the US House of Representatives.  When he was selected to serve as the Treasury Secretary under President Jefferson, continuing through President Madison is where he made his contribution to this nation.  A firm believer that the federal government should not be in debt and the new nation still under the heavy burden of debt from the Revolutionary War, his first achievement was to reduce this debt by over half.  He then moved on by financing the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the initial funding for a new National Road to run from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia (which just happened to pass close by his home at Friendship Hill).  He also financed the War of 1812 by introducing Treasury Bills for the first time.  Later he served as Ministers to both France and Great Britain and other accomplishments once he left public life.  Although I had never heard of him, Andrew Gallatin was a major player in making sure our new country did not default on its debt.

After watching the two short videos they had, we explored the different parts of the house, which had at least four periods of construction that did not match each other. There were steps at odd places, three separate stair cases, and the stone addition that his son added did not even connect with the current house and had to be reached by a covered walkway. The most interesting feature was in the stone kitchen that was added at the same time as the stone house. A fire back in the 1900s destroyed the roof of the kitchen and other structures. The National Park Service is still actively restoring the original house, but has opted to not restore the ceiling of the kitchen. It is covered by a modern roof that is set above the original. This allows visitors to see all three constructions that took place at one location. Once you figure out what you are looking at, it is a great idea. After the tour of the house, we also toured the grounds which includes a stone gazebo set at the top of the bluff overlooking the Monongahela River. There is also a short path down to the supposed grave site of Sophia, who we knew was buried in an unmarked grave overlooking the river. Even though there is no head stone, the short stone wall around the grave is rather distinctive. At this point we ate lunch in their nice picnic area and decided not to do any further hiking as the weather was very humid with temperatures in the low 90s. So we drove back to the RV where we could spend the afternoon in the nice air conditioning.

We woke on Wednesday to a nice rain shower, so like we do when we can, we headed for a casino. The previous day we passed a very nice looking casino right on US 40 called The Lucky Lady, which was less than 20 minutes from the campgrounds. Being so close, we got there by 9:30 in the morning, which meant there was literally very few people. It turns out this casino is a private establishment for guests of the resort, so we had to become “guests”. This meant purchasing a $10 gift card that we could use to eat lunch, so it was not a big deal. We had our choice of slot machines and enjoyed an hour of gambling, without losing too much. Then Kal had the bonus on a $0.40 slot machine that gave her 12 free games with extra wild symbols. Before those 12 games were done she was awarded another 50 free games and before that was even half done she got another 10 free games!! Although not all of the free games would hit big, there were enough that she won $95 before all the free games were done!! I did not do as well, losing about $20, but still for the day we came out over $100 ahead. It was sure nice for a change and we really enjoyed watching the free games which took over 15 minutes to play out. We ate an early lunch in their restaurant and got another surprise. For $13 each we each got a meal, mine was lasagna and Kal got an open roast beef sandwich. After eating the salad and soup, which all we really needed for lunch, they brought out the meal. The lasagna I had was 3 times the lasagna I have ever been served before and Kal’s open faced sandwich was nearly twice the size of mine. Either meal could have fed a family of 4!! I ate maybe a third of my meal and Kal barely touched hers. We took them home with us and ate the next 3 days from those left overs!! After basking in our winnings we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the campground, especially since the rain had stopped for the day and it had cooled off.

KalGambling

For Wednesday we decided to just stay in the campground so I could work on this blog and generally do nothing much all day. On Thursday we were back on the road, traveling once again on US 40 to Fort Necessity National Battlefield. We were not as interested in this National Park since we had visited it while I was attending a conference in Pittsburg about 10 years ago. However, a lot had changed over the 10 years and it was like we were seeing it for the first time. The exhibits in the Visitor Center are excellently done leading visitors through the history of the area from the time of George Washington’s defeat at the Battle of Fort Necessity to the construction of the National Road. The history of the area began as a time of tension between the colonies of Great Britain who saw the Ohio Valley as prime territory for settlement, the colonies of France who wanted control of the Ohio Valley for trade and commerce that linked their colonies in Louisiana and Canada, and the Iroquois Confederacy that wanted everyone out of their territory and fought for both sides. The French were building a series of forts from Lake Erie to the Forks where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River. In 1754, a young George Washington was sent with a regiment of Virginia militia to widen the Indian trail to allow for wagons from Maryland into the frontier of Pennsylvania and to confront the French that had constructed Fort Duquense at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to form the Ohio River.  By June they had reached a spot called the Great Meadow near the Monongahela River where they found a marshy, natural meadow that was perfect for feeding their livestock.  So they built a small round stockade to protect a small log building used to hold their supplies and called it Fort Necessity. This stockade was not meant to be a great defensive structure, only to protect their supplies from the Indians and fellow soldiers. After learning about a small force of French and Indians camped 7 miles from Fort Necessity, Washington led a small group to intercept them. At dawn on May 28, they found the French encamped at the bottom of a ravine giving them the high ground above the rocks. It is still debated who shot first, but all of the French were either captured or killed, including their leader Joseph Coulo De Villiers, Sieur de Jemonville.  Jemonville’s brother led a force of about 600 soldiers from Fort Duquense in retaliation and on the morning of July 3, 1754, surrounded Washington at Fort Necessity. Rather than fighting in the open, the superior French forces stayed in the woods, which were too close to the fort, leaving them a clear line of fire down into the trenches. On top of that, it was raining heavily all day and the trenches were full of water. By the end of the day, the British forces were in terrible shape, but the French were low on ammunition. Therefore, they negotiated terms of surrender, which allowed the British to withdraw, but also named George Washington personally responsible for the death of Jemonville. Thus began the French and Indian War that would eventually become the first “World War”, known as the Seven Years War in Europe. The following year the largest British army in the colonies so far, under the command of General Braddock, once again left Maryland in April. George Washington was also involved as Braddock’s aide de camp. While on the march they improved the road cleared by Washington, which became known as the Braddock’s Road. By mid-June they road building was slowing down the British so much, that Braddock took 1300 picked soldiers on to dislodge the French from Fort Duquense. However, on July 9, the French ambushed the British troops south of the fort and defeated them, killing or capturing nearly 2/3 of the troops. General Braddock was also wounded and died 3 days later during the retreat. Washington had Braddock buried in an unmarked grave in the center of the road to protect it from the Indians. So in the period of two years, George Washington faced some of his greatest military defeats. He never forgot the lessons he learned and even returned years later to purchase the area around Fort Necessity. The important history of the area did not end there. Braddock’s road was used as a wagon trail by settlers and tradesmen for over 50 years as a major road into the Ohio Valley. By 1811, the federal government funded improvements (due to Secretary of the Treasure Andrew Gallatin) to the road that now extended from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia (then part of Virginia). When turned over to the states, funding for repairs and improvements were raised by a series of toll houses along the road. This road became the first National Road and was eventually extended through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, eventually ending in St. Louis. It became a major thoroughfare for people and commerce through the years with many towns and businesses springing up along its route. Today US 40 primarily follows the route of the National Road.

After exploring the Visitor Center with its wonderful exhibits and taking in the video about the battle, we proceeded to explore the reconstructed Fort Necessity. Not only would the wooden stockade and building not have survived to today, but the French burned it after capturing it in 1754. It is interesting that the original reconstruction was of a larger stockade in the form of a large oval, until archeological evidence was found to locate the remains of the burned stockade and the fort was rebuilt. We had the chance to talk with a native American at the site that was conducting demonstrations of fighting techniques and musket firing. We caught him between shows and got a chance to talk with him clearing up some of the questions I had about the Fort. We then drove to their picnic area, which is a nice wooded area built by the CCC in the 1930s. After lunch we drove over to the Mount Washington Inn, which was an inn and tavern during the heyday of the National Road. It was actually an overnight stop for one of the many stagecoaches that operated on the National Road. They have done a nice job restoring the inn and filling it with period pieces. The downstairs is the tavern for the men, a fancy parlor for the women and families, and a central dining room. Upstairs are the bedrooms, where guests would share the rooms and even the beds. From there we continued northwest along US 40 to the site of Braddock’s grave. During some repairs being made to the National Road, they uncovered the remains of a body in the middle of the road, that are likely to be those of General Braddock. His remains were moved to a spot nearby off of the road where they erected a monument. From there it was another short drive to the turnoff for Jemonville Glen where the NPS is preserving the area around the ravine where Jemonville was killed on May 28, 1754. There is a nice paved walkway to the overlook of the ravine that is likely where Washington was during that morning when they surprised the French. A dirt path circles around down into the ravine so you can get the perspective of the French and their Indian allies. The path is suppose to be a 0.5 mile loop ending back up at the parking lot, but somehow we missed the turn back to the parking lot. The main path seemed to continue on to a city park in Jemonville Glen and once we passed a sign stating the NPS boundary I knew we had a problem. A little beyond the sign there was a fork in the trail with one fork leading back across the little creek. Figuring this was the correct trail, we took it, climbing back out of the ravine. After going about another 0.25 mile I was convinced this trail was not leading back to the parking lot, especially once it began to descend back to the creek. I called Kal back up the slope and we decided to head cross country as I was pretty sure the direction we needed to go to get back to the parking lot. This would have been a good decision, except for the ferns and vines that covered the ground. We were not able to see all the downed limbs, rocks, and debris below the ferns so walking was treacherous. Thankfully, my sense of direction was correct and we soon saw the truck through the woods. We had managed to turn this simple 0.5 mile hike into a very tiring 1.5 mile hike through the woods, at least half of which was not on a trail. By this point we were both exhausted and it was mid-afternoon. We still drove on down to Uniontown to go to a Walmart before heading back to the campground.

Especially after the tiring day on Friday, we decided to spend the weekend in the campgrounds. I got caught up on the blog and Kal read at least a couple of books!!

August 2016 – Altoona, Pennsylvania

The trip from New Castle to Altoona was basically due east, but started out on two lane highways.  As we approached the Allegheny Mountains these roads had some inclines that had Kal flooring the engine to attempt to maintain a modest speed of 40 mph.  The truck seemed to make the climbs with no problems, just not very quickly.  Once we got onto US 22 we became really concerned as the GPS showed a very winding road and we had to cross over the summit of the Allegheny Mountains to reach Altoona on the other side.  However, US 22 became a very nice 4 lane highway with much lower grade then we had already seen, so the rest of the trip was easier then it began.  When I made the reservation at Wright’s Orchard Station Campground, I had expected to be outside of Altoona, however, we were just on the outskirts of the city.  There was a Super Walmart within walking distance of the entrance to the campground and directly across the busy street was the Convention Center that Donald Trump would be speaking at later in the week.  In addition, our GPS had the campground located on the wrong side of the street, so we ended up having to pull into the theater parking lot in order to get turned around.  As we pulled into what we thought was the campground all we could see was a self storage facility along the street.  We stopped the RV and walked into the office of the self storage facility and found out we were actually at the right place.  They got us checked in and we proceeded to pull the RV in behind the storage units with a lot of trepidation.  It certainly did not look good.  However, as we pulled into the campground we were in for a very pleasant surprise.  Wright’s Orchard Station Campground is a small campground with only about 35 sites, but only a couple of them had RVs permanently installed and these were for the owners.  All the other sites were for transient guests which is twice as many as we found in most of the campgrounds this summer.  Of course, the amenities were limited to a restroom/showers and laundry facilities as there was no swimming pool or playgrounds.  For us, this was great!!  We certainly had all we needes.  The best part, however, was the beautiful condition of the campgrounds.  The sites are grassy with gravel parking areas big enough for any rig.  We had a back-in site, but they have a number of pull-through sites available as well.  The bathrooms were new and clean and the washing machines within easy walking distance of the RV.  In the center they had a small pavilion they use for small events, such as the nachos event they hosted on Saturday for the guests.   In turned out that the self storage facility not only blocked sight of the busy street, but also eliminated any noise.  I would certainly stay here again if we are ever back this way in the future.  You just can’t tell what you will find by looking at it from the road.

Campsite

Unlike the previous week, we had three National Park sites to visit in the area and we were not certain we would be staying the entire week as we may need to head to William’s to park the RV so we can catch a plane to Birmingham for Kal’s mom.  Thankfully, we were now only 3 hours from William.  Therefore, we wanted to get right to the National Park sites, so on Tuesday we headed to Johnstown to explore the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.  We were expecting the memorial to be downtown Johnstown, so we were both surprised when the GPS and signs on the highway had us exit US 219 about 15 miles northeast of town.  It turns out that the National Memorial is located at the remains of the dam of Lake Conemaugh that caused the tragedy on May 31, 1898.  At that time Lake Conemaugh was owned and maintained by the South Forks Fishing and Hunting Club,  which was an exclusive club for industrialists from Pittsburgh.  Members included over 80 of the wealthiest industrialists including Carnegie, Mellon, and Frick.  The lake was built by the state of Pennsylvania to provide water for the Main Line Canal System that terminated in Johnstown in 1838.  After the canal was closed around 1854, the lake and dam was sold first to the Pennsylvania Railroad and then multiple private owners until acquired in 1881 with the intention of creating a location for this exclusive club.  Previous owners had removed the pipes under the dam that would provide an emergency outlet and repairs to the surface were not up to current standards.  To make matters worse, the South Forks Fishing and Hunting Club had lowered the dam several feet o create a wider causeway for carriages and had installed a screen in front of the spillway to keep the black bass they had stocked in the lake from escaping.  All of these were factors in the upcoming tragedy.  However, the biggest factor was the weather.  After celebrating Memorial Day on May 30, 1989, the Johnstown residents had to deal with heavy rains.  It is estimated that 6-10 inches of rain fell over night and the next day.  Johnstown is located at the confluence of two rivers with steep hillsides in all directions.  The citizens were already dealing with heavy flood conditions, some as deep as 10 feet on May 31.  Consequently those that could evacuate had already moved to higher ground, leaving most of the citizens trapped in their homes.  By the morning of May 31, the water in Lake Conemaugh was nearly to the top of the dam and despite frantic efforts to clear the spillway and dig an additional spillway on the other side of the dam, the lake overtopped the dam by 3:00 in the afternoon.  The dam completely collapsed at 3:10 releasing 20 million tons of water racing down the Little Conemaugh River towards Johnstown 14 miles away.  Part way down the river makes a large oxbow turn where the Pennsylvania Railroad had constructed a viaduct over the river through a cut in the hillside to bypass the oxbow.  The crest of the river, along with much of the debris, roared through this cut to the viaduct while the vast majority of the water continued around the oxbow.  This debris dammed up the river under the viaduct and actually stopped the flood momentarily.  However, 8 minutes later the viaduct collapsed and the flood obtained a new hydraulic head making it even more powerful then it would have been.  The small town of Mineral Point was completely wiped clean leaving only bedrock and the village of East Conemaugh was also destroyed.  By this point the flood had picked up tons of debris including homes and railroad cars.  In Woodvale it picked up the Cambria Iron Works including miles of barbed wire.  All of this hit Johnstown 57 minutes after the dam collapsed.  The destruction would have been bad enough if the flood had been allowed to continue downstream.  However, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s bridge, known as the Stone Bridge, on the downstream side of Johnstown, was substantial enough to withstand the flood waters.  The debris violently stopped the flood creating a whirlpool 50 feet deep in the center of town.  As if this was not bad enough a fire broke out in the debris and more people were probably burned to death than drowned from the flood.  The official tally was 2,209 deaths on the fateful day.  The relief efforts was also massive and immediate, especially with the Pennsylvania Railroad, reestablishing service just two days later.  One of the first relief organizations to arrive was the new American Red Cross headed by Clara Barton who oversaw much of the relief effort.  This entire story is told in detail in a very good 30 minute movie in the Visitor Center.  Children are advised not to attend and rightly so.  The movie would easily bring you to tears or terrorize you at the same time.  Except for the exhibits at the Visitor Center, there really is not much left to see at the site.  You can park within easy walking distance of both ends of the remains of the dam, which we did, but again there is not much to see since the Lake is long gone.  There are some hiking trails that descends to the river, however, it was simply to hot in mid-August for us even to consider it.  Obviously, the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club never recovered from the disaster.  The fancy club house and a few of the cottages from that time still exist.  The club house is part of the National Memorial and they are slowly restoring it.  It was not yet open to the public so all we could do was walk on the covered porch and look in the windows at a bunch of empty rooms.  Hopefully future guests will be able to see the interior and get a better feeling of the life of the rich and powerful at the end of the 19th century.  To get a complete picture of the tragedy there is also a Johnstown Flood Museum within Johnstown, that is suppose to focus on the relief efforts.  However, neither of us deals with tragedies very well, so decided we had seen enough and headed on back to the campgrounds.

On Wednesday we continued our exploration of the National Parks in the area.  Unfortunately it was the site of another tragedy to befall western Pennsylvania, the crash of Flight 93.  Everyone probably remembers where they were when the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York collapsed and the horror of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.  There was a fourth airplane hijacked that was most likely targeting the White House, Delta Flight 93.  Flight 93 was a non-stop flight from Newark to San Francisco and while flying over Ohio was hijacked by four terrorists at 9:28.  Whereas the other three hijacked planes had left on schedule, Flight 93 had been delayed 28 minutes, so by the time of the hijacking both planes had already struck the twin towers.  Using their cell phones the other passengers on Flight 93 were aware of these attacks and concluded they would be next.  They took a vote and decided they had nothing to lose by attempting to retake the plane.  The cockpit voice recorder captured the noise of the ensuing struggle, but they were not able to gain control of the plane.  To stop the uprising the terrorists wagged the plane from side to side, as well as, up and down, motions that were observed on the ground.  In its final moments the plane flipped upside down over western Pennsylvania and at 10:03 plowed into an empty field at 563 mph.  Upon impact the 7000 gallons of jet fuel exploded and all on board were not only killed, but few very small remains were ever found.  This National Memorial commemorates the crash site with a very impressive Visitor Center that is still under construction.  In the Visitor Center there are a number of exhibits about September 11, both in general and specific to Flight 93.  Leading from the Visitor Center is a tree lined path that makes a wide curve down to the Memorial Plaza located along the outside border of the debris field.  Or rather this will be a tree lined trail once the red maple trees they transplanted have grown enough to provide some shade.  These trees had just been planted last spring and many of them have not survived the summer drought, so it is still a work in progress.  The Memorial Plaza is also nice with its granite walls listing the names of all the victims with an impressive view of the sandstone boulder that marks the crashsite along the actual flight path.  Instead of walking back up the long curve to the Visitor Center, we opted to take the shorter, although steeper trail, that winds back and forth through the grass as it climbs the hill.  By this point the temperature was in the low 90s with no shade anywhere.  Consequently, we were both spent and to top it off there was no picnic area so we had to eat lunch in the hot truck sitting in the sun.  In my opinion, this memorial to Flight 93 is really overdone.  It is already a HUGE memorial with further plans to plant more trees and construct a massive wind chime.  Future visitors may be very impressed with the final product, but for my money I would have appreciated a simpler memorial that told of the tragedy and bravery of the passengers and crew.  This site had more the feeling of celebration rather that I found inappropriate.  I will give them this, though.  There were more visitors during the middle of the week at the Flight 93 Memorial than all of the other National Parks we have visited this summer combined.

In addition to watching the Olympics on NBC every afternoon and evening all week, we also had to find a restaurant that had access to NBS Sports Channel so we could catch the US Women’s Soccer game.  So on Wednesday we checked out a local sports bar close to the campgrounds for supper and their last soccer game in group play.  They should have been able to beat Columbia, as they always had in the past, but Columbia surprised them with two goals on set pieces.  The best they could do was to tie the game 2-2, which was still good enough to win their group.

On Thursday we set out to the last National Park site in the area and also the closest to Altoona, the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.  Except to check the hours we had not looked into this site and had no idea what we were going to find.  From the name I was confused since it sounds like it dealt with both a canal (Portage) and a railroad which made no sense.  It turns out I was surprisingly correct!! Back in the 1830’s the building of canals was king.  The Erie Canal would transform the northeast, leading to the economic boom in Ohio and the establishment of New York City as the premier eastern port.  The future of Baltimore was also being made with Maryland’s canal system.  Pennsylvania certainly did not want to be left out and had their own extensive system of canals in central and eastern Pennsylvania.  However, western expansion had a big problem: the Allegheny Mountains.  Their Main Line Canal System terminated at Holidaysburg on the eastern side of the mountains and the canal from Pittsburgh ended at Johnstown on the western side of the mountains.  In the 1830’s the only choice was to offload the canal boats onto wagons for the arduous and slow roads over the mountain to once again load them on canal boats to continue the journey.  A better solution was needed and the Allegheny Portage Railroad was their answer.  Construction began in 1831 of a series of 10 incline planes (5 on each side of the mountains) with relatively flat tracks and a few tunnels in between.  Canal boats were constructed so they could be split into 2 or 3 parts that could be floated onto railcars while still fully loaded.  These canal boats would now be pulled up the inclines using stationary steam engines that ran a continuous loop of rope and later steel cable.  The railcars would be pulled up these inclines by attaching them to this continuous loop.  Railcars descending the inclines would be lowered using a water brake, also located at the engine house, that worked like a large shock absorber.  Of course, the best scenario would be to have balanced railcars both ascending and descending at the same time.  In between the inclines the railcars would be pulled along the tracks, initially by mules and later by steam locomotives.  Surprisingly this Portage Railroad operated for 20 years, from 1834 to 1854 until the Pennsylvania Railroad was able to construct a track that bypassed the inclines.  Today the Visitor Center has probably the best movie we have seen about any National Park.  It is told from the perspective of an old man reminiscing about his life from assisting to build the Portage Railroad to working at a variety of jobs over its 20 year lifespan.  From the Visitor Center you descend down to Incline 6 which is at the summit and just about the only part of the railroad that still exists.  Along the path you can still see the marks in the sandstone where they quarried out the stones to use instead of wooden ties to hold the rails.  They have reconstructed a short section of the rail leading up to the engine house, which they have also rebuilt over the original foundation.  Inside the engine house they have reconstructed all of the machinery, including the cogs, wheels, and water brake with a good explanation of how it all worked.  Also at the summit is the restored Lemon House, which was the stop over point for travelers on the Railroad to get something to eat or drink or possible stay the night, although this was rare.  Passengers had less than an hour to eat before they had to reboard the train to continue their journey.  Consequently, the Lemon House, which is an impressive sandstone building, has all the hallmarks of a fast-food restaurant.  Along with a tavern for the men and a plush sitting room for the women and families, there is a large common eating room.  The menu was limited to a single item, stew, which was continuously being made in the kitchen.  The tables were very simple, the chairs were hard and uncomfortable, and the floor was wooden to easily clean up any spills.  All the makings of a fast-food restaurant!  After exploring the Lemon House we took advantage of a 1.5 mile Nature trial loop that wound its way through the Pennsylvania woods on the summit of the Allegheny Mountains.  The end of the trail is along the flatter section of the railroad where you can still see the sandstone blocks in the ground used to support the rails.  Once we finished the hike we drove over to their picnic area for a nice lunch with rain threatening.  From there it is a short drive down Old US 22 to the Skew Arch Bridge.  This bridge along Incline 6 is where the National Turnpike crossed over the Portage Railroad.  Since they would not cross at right angles the bridge was built on a curve to accommodate both modes of transportation.  Since Old US 22 is itself a 4 lane highway that mostly follows the path of the Portage Railroad, they split the highway around the bridge in order to preserve it.  It was certainly strange to see a bridge going nowhere out in a median between the lanes of the highway!

At this point we had seen all the National Historic Site had to offer, but we were not finished for the day.  Nearby is the Horseshoe Curve National Historical Landmark that spelled the ultimate end to the Portage Railroad.  Actually in 1854, the New Portage Railroad was opened which was a railroad track that followed much of the path of the original Portage Railroad, but bypassed the inclines.  However, this only lasted two years until completion of Horseshoe Curve that was a much more direct route over the mountain. This curve is till used today by the Pennsylvania Railroad to move tons of freight and passengers on Amtrak.  It is an engineering marvel that is 2375 feet long curve of 220 degrees around the mountainside.  Due to the curve the grade is less than you find other places, but is still 1.8% as it climbs 122 feet in elevation.  The Visitor Center at the foot of the curve is a typical tourist trap, but they do offer the Funicular, an tram on an incline plane, to bypass the 192 steps up to the tracks.  I am pretty sure we would have not made the trek without the Funicular, although coming down the steps was not so bad.  The view of the valley looking out over Altoona is impressive, but the real view is of the trains going around the curve.  We were fortunate to watch 5 trains going both directions and the longer ones you could see coming and going at the same time!  We had to get some pictures of the same train going both ways to share with Kal’s father who remembers traveling the curve as a passenger on a troop train.  From there it was only a couple of miles back to the campground.

Friday was spent in the campgrounds doing laundry and cleaning the RV with a quick trip to a local Applebees for the second half of the women’s soccer game at noon.  We had misunderstood the start time for the game, only to find out the score was tied at halftime from the coverage on NBC.  We made it for the second half and were disappointed when they lost to Sweden, who’s coach is the previous coach of the US Women’s team.  Not only would we not get to watch them play for the gold medal in the Olympics, but this means no more trips for dinner to watch the games!  Oh well, such is life.

Saturday and Sunday was spent in front of the TV watching the Olympics all day, both days, especially when Kal figured out that we were not likely to get NBC at the COE campground next week.  The only break came during Saturday when we took a bit of time to meet the owners of the campgrounds and share in their nachos (which were very good).

August 2016 – New Castle, Pennsylvania

Since the entire trip from Akron to New Castle was along the Interstates, the pull was very easy and less than 2 hours.  As we had plenty of time, we did stop at the rest areas along the way, which made the entire trip very easy.  Rose Point Park Campground is another large campground that is around 90% occupied by seasonal campers.  There is only about a dozen sites at the front of the campground for seasonal campers and even some of these were filled with RVs they were keeping in storage for the weekend.  Even though we had reserved a site over a month in advance, all of the pull-through sites were already booked for the coming weekend.  However, the campground is very nice and although it was a back-in site, we had full hookups with 50 amp electric service.  The bathroom and laundry facilities was less than 50 feet away, so we had everything we needed.  The staff were also very friendly and helpful with two of them assisting us with putting the RV into the site.  Before they showed up, however, I made the attempt by myself.  We had the last site in the row, which meant we had the entrance road that we could use to easily get the RV started into the site.  However, we some strategically placed rocks along the road and trees in the site across from us, it was very difficult to get the truck straightened back up in front of the RV.  After getting the RV at a pretty good angle I decided to try again, this time using the site behind us to turn this into a pull-through site.  This idea would have worked fine except for the berm created by their attempts to level that site.  The truck absolutely refused to pull the RV over the berm without digging holes.  So I pulled back around to begin the backing in process again.  By this time the staff was there to assist and after a couple of back and forths we were able to get the RV into the site.  However, even with their attempts to level the site, we still had to use our leveling blocks under the wheels.  While not spacious, the site was wide enough for a picnic table and fire ring and we were set for the week.

Campsite

The weather forecast for the week was hot and muggy conditions, that reminded us of the summers in Alabama we were trying to avoid.  In addition, there were no National Parks in the immediate area as this was our half-way point to the National Parks in the Allegheny Mountains in central Pennsylvania.  Therefore, we had no plans for the week and it was going to be very hot and humid anyway.  I checked the state parks I have pinned in Google Earth and found a state park just a couple of miles from the campground, McConnells Mill State Park.  So we got an early start on Tuesday and went to explore the park.  Come to find out, in addition to a working grist mill and covered bridge over Slippery Rock Creek, there was a 2 mile loop trail along the creek.  The road down from the picnic area to the grist mill is a very narrow, steep, one-way road, that winds around some massive rock outcrops.  Even taking it very slow we were concerned that our HUGE truck would be unable to navigate the turns.  Once down to the mill, the parking lot was essentially a U-turn into a very small lot that looked full of cars.  Not being sure we could make the turn anyway we proceeded on back up to the parking lot at the top of the gorge.  Once again the road was very narrow with even tighter turns around huge rock outcroppings.  We pulled into the parking lot and Kal decided we would just hike from there down to the grist mill.  While there was a trail, after descending over 100 steps Kal realized this was not going to be an easy hike for us, especially since we were adding this to the 2 mile loop we wanted to hike.  So we went back to the truck and drove back down to the grist mill.  After 2 attempts we were able to finally negotiate the U-turn at the bottom and luckily there was one spot in the parking lot.  The grist mill is still being maintained as a working example of late 1800 grist mills using water turbines instead of water wheels and rollers instead of mill stones.  However, being during the week the mill was closed, which was good in a way as I doubt we would have been able to park here over the weekend.  The covered bridge is also in excellent condition and still open to motor traffic.  After a quick exploration of the outside of the mill and bridge we started down to the path along Slippery Rock Creek.  Slippery Rock Creek is a very pretty mountain stream with many rapids and small cascades.  During the spring when the water is much higher it is a favorite place for local kayakers.  I can certainly see why, although the water level was too low in early August.  We enjoyed the hike downstream and then back upstream on the other bank.  While the path was well maintained around the grist mill, it became very rocky and continually going either up or down as it kept as close to the creek as possible.  Consequently, after two miles of negotiating rocks, roots, and short steep up and down hill sections, we were done with hiking for the day.  Since we were so close to the campgrounds, we returned to the RV for lunch and relaxing at the campgrounds during the afternoon, especially since it was too hot to do anything else.

 

Wednesday was another hot day so we just stayed in the campgrounds, where I worked on this blog and Kal read a book.  Thursday was also spent in the campgrounds doing laundry and cleaning the RV until late afternoon.  The Rio Olympics had their official start on Friday, however, the women’s soccer tournament started on Thursday and the US Women had their first game of the tournament.  Therefore, we located an Applebees in New Castle and headed in for the game.  We had a great time, with great seats at the bar and good food to watch the women win their opening game against New Zealand.

After two days in the campgrounds I was ready to get out and do something on Friday.  Especially since it rained in the morning, we decided we could get away with checking out the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.  Even though we ran into a guy in the parking deck that complained about the “tightness” of their slot machines, we had a pretty good time.  I won fairly consistently and Kal lost only around $20.  You might think that doing this well would mean we came out ahead for the day, however, anytime we break even (which is what we did) is a good day for us.  Friday night was the opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics and although it was not quite the technological marvel of the previous two Olympics, it was still very impressive.

What with the Olympics on NBC all weekend, we did nothing else, except to head back to Applebees on Saturday to watch their win over France.  You may wonder why we are going out to watch the soccer when NBC has nearly non-stopped coverage.  Except for a couple of hours covering other events such as the cycling road race and some volleyball, NBC coverage is almost exclusively swimming and gymnastics the first week of the Olympics.  If you want to watch anything else, such as soccer, boxing, golf, etc you have to have cable with at least the NBC Sports Channel.  Since we are limited to stations over the airwaves, we have to look for a sports bar.  I miss the past two Olympics when I literally taped all of the coverage, except for the boxing, and watched them non-stop the next day.  I had to be careful not to watch any news that might give away the results, but I was able to watch a lot more of the events skipping all the commercials and “fill” segments that supposedly analyze the events.  However, they actually spend most of the time on the life stories of the athletes (mostly American).  Even without the boxing it was a challenge to keep up with all the events and all of this coverage did not come close to all of the events in the Summer Olympics!!  Now we are restricted to just the very limited, over hyped events they choose to cover on NBC.  If you add up the commercials (often in the middle of the event), the personal studies, and all the tourist activities of the army of talking heads sent to Rio, less than half of their coverage is athletic competition.  I assume I will get tired of complaining about their coverage after a week or so, but I certainly miss cable TV.  Except for events such as the Olympics, I am quite satisfied with our non-cable service.

July 2016 – Akron, Ohio

After only a couple of days on the antibiotics, Kal still had a pretty bad cough, although it was getting better.  Since the pills for her cough made her drowsy, there was no way she wanted to make the drive to our next location south near Akron, Ohio.  Therefore, it fell to me to pull the RV.  I only make a point of this since this was the first time I had pulled the RV except to back it into campsites.  Except for the obvious slow acceleration and having to use the side mirrors to watch for traffic, it was as easy to pull the RV as Kal had always stated.  There is no movement side-to-side and only an occasional back and forth jolt, especially when you hit a bump.  The trip was almost entirely along 4 lane control access highways with multiple interstates (90, 80, and 76) and Ohio 11 which was also 4 lane.  So it was an easy 2 hour pull to our next location, Cutty’s Sunset Camping Resort.  This campgrounds is one of the most expensive we have stayed in on our travels, but it certainly had all the amenities.  We not only had a pull-through full hookup site with 50 amps, but there was a lot going on in this campground of over 400 units, mostly seasonal campers as is normal around here.  We had some nice neighbors coming and going all week in the transient part of the campgrounds and even over the weekend their were empty sites for transients.  The site was even long enough to easily fit the truck in behind the RV.  The only thing missing was free WiFi (since we refuse to pay an additional fee for it) and no cable for the TV.  Although we had more channel selections then was usual since we were close to Akron, Canton, Youngstown, and even Cleveland.

Campsite

Since we did not spend any time at our previous location doing laundry, Tuesday was our day to get caught up(plus it gave Kal an additional day to recover).  This campground not only had a large air-conditioned laundry facility, but there was a lounge next door with couches and satellite TV!!  Kal had it made.  In the meantime I cleaned the RV and got started on making reservations through the middle of September.  We were modifying our plans in order for Kal to meet with her brothers in Birmingham to make plans with their parents on September 18, (which is also her parents 65th anniversary) so we had to move south faster than we had intended.  So far I had reservations for only the next 3 weeks in Pennsylvania, so we had 5 weeks to explore West Virginia and get to my sister’s in Tennessee for Kal to travel to Birmingham.

The weather on Wednesday was hot with temperatures in the low 90s and especially since Kal needed to stay out of direct sunlight, we opted for a location indoors.  Downtown Canton, Ohio had a prime location for this, the First Ladies National Historic Site.  So we drove the 30 miles into Canton and found a parking space behind what we thought was the National Historic Site.  In turns out that this site is actually two buildings.  We had parked behind the second location, the Ida Saxton McKinley home.  The Visitor Center for the site is in the restored City Bank building, which was less than a block away.  On the first floor of the bank they have a few exhibits of the First Ladies of America, that is, dresses and accessories.  Since women fashion is not my thing, it didn’t take very long to have a look.  They also have a short film about the changing roles of the First Ladies that I found much more interesting.  However, we were only about half way through the film when our tour was called, so we walked back up the street to the Ida Saxton McKinley home.  The history of this home was very interesting, since it was never owned by President William McKinley although he lived there a total of 13 years before his death by an assassin in Buffalo in 1901.  It was actually the childhood home of his wife, Ida Saxton, who was a daughter of a very prominent Canton banker.  As a socialite in Canton, this home hosted many parties and dances as the third floor was built to be a large ballroom during her childhood.  The property itself had been willed to the daughters for two generations instead of the sons and thus was the property of Ida’s sister and her family.  When Ida and William were married they were given a house by her father 5 blocks away.  However, since they lived in Washington D.C. while he was in Congress or in Columbus while he was Governor, they sold this house.  In addition, the deaths of their two daughters in infancy along with the death of her mother and some serious illnesses related to epilepsy, left Ida a semi-invalid.  They essentially moved back in with her sister, converting the ballroom on the third floor to living space.  This made for an interesting layout of the rooms since it was originally a single large room.  There were some interesting narrow doors that did not extend to the floor that had been used for storage of the chairs and tables when it was a ballroom.  Most interesting is that there were no fireplaces on the third floor, so the only source of heat was convection from the chimney!!  They have done a great job in restoring the house from its past history as a store and boarding house, finding or replacing the furnishings based on old photographs, and conducting a very interesting tour of the home.  After the tour, we ate lunch at a nice garden/picnic area they had built next to the house just off the busy Market Street in downtown Canton.  Not needing to walk back to look at some more dresses we headed back to the campsite for a relaxing afternoon.

By Thursday, Kal was feeling strong enough to do some hiking so we headed over to the other National Park in the area, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  Initially designated as a National Recreation Area to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for the residents of Cleveland and eastern Ohio, this 33,000 acre area became a National Park in 2000.  It is a very large National Park with a lot of trails, old farms, and towns to explore.  Knowing we could not see it all in one or two days, we headed to the main Visitor Center (there are 3 in the park) at Boston Store Visitor Center to find the highlights.  As with many other small towns in the Cuyahoga Valley, Boston Store began as a general store at one of the locks on the Ohio and Erie Canal back in the 1803s-40s.   Plans for the canal began back when construction of the Erie Canal was being built, but funding was delayed until the Erie Canal was virtually finished.  The first section of the canal connected Cleveland on Lake Erie to what was to become Akron, on the Continental Divide.  The canal followed the Cuyahoga River as far as possible before making the climb up to the divide.  With a total of 41 locks over the 37 miles, 15 at the southern end climbing up to Akron, it was a major undertaking.  Construction began in 1825 and was completed through Columbus to Cincinnati by 1832, with this first section completed in 1827.  This canal literally changed the history of Ohio, which began as scattered farmers numbering around 50,000, to the third richest state in the US by the 1840s.  Although use declined due to the advent of the railroads following the Civil War, the canals continued to be used until the flood of 1912 destroyed most of it.

At the Visitor Center we learned about some of the more popular locations to explore and upon leaving we went to Brandywine Falls.  This is an 85 foot fall that would be wonderful in the spring.  However, during a drought in late July, there was not much water flowing in the river, so the falls were not as great.  However, the boardwalk down to the falls was a nice shaded walk on a hot July day.  Kal had no problem with this short walk, so we decided to try a more challenging hike.  We drove over to the area known as The Ledges, which is a sandstone outcropping of 10-100 foot sheer rock faces.  In the center of the area is a nice picnic area with facilities built by the CCC that we first ate lunch.  Then it was about a 0.25 mile hike to the rim of the outcropping where the trail descended to the Ledges loop trail.  This is a 1.75 loop around the entire outcropping.  The most spectacular rocks are at the beginning of the loop where HUGE boulders have sheared lose from the wall making paths a couple of feet wide that you can use to explore all sides of them.  There is also Ice Box Cave, which is closed to protect the bats, from which a cool breeze comes out.  The temperature drop in front of the cave must be at least 20 degrees and was very dramatic.  I suppose the effect from larger caves will be more dramatic, but this sure felt nice when the outside temperatures are in the low 90s.  Since the trail was relatively level, we were able to make it around the entire loop that included a nice overlook of the surrounding valley at the point you climb back up to the top.  I was relieved that although tired, Kal seemed to be able to make the hike with no adverse effects.  By now it was mid-day and very hot, so we headed on back to the campgrounds.

 

The weather forecast for Friday was for scattered thunderstorms with cooler temperatures for the weekend, so we decided to take advantage of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.  This railroad is the latest incarnation of the original railroad that ran in the Valley and is now strictly a sightseeing train.  They have a diesel engine at both ends of the train as it goes north and south through the National Park on a 3 hour loop.  They must get a lot of passengers as there were more than an dozen 1950 vintage passenger cars from the heyday of the railroads.  The railroad runs from downtown Akron, Ohio to the northern end of the National Park, just south of Cleveland.  There are two planned stops along the way, but there are other stops it can make if requested.  In fact, they run a bike service where tourists can ride with their bikes for $3.  It is common to take the train to one of its stops along the canal and then ride on the Towpath Trail to another stop where they waved down the train to return to their car.  A great idea!!  We rode the train nearly to the north terminus and got off at the Canal Exploration Center, another of the National Park’s Visitor Centers.   We bought sandwiches on the train for lunch at the Center.  Before eating lunch we first explored the exhibits they had at the Center, which was fantastic.  They have a number of interactive exhibits about the history of the Ohio and Erie Canal and its impact on the local economy.  I spent nearly 2 hours taking advantage of the many exhibits.  Outside the Center is the only working lock remaining on the canal, from which you can see how it operated.  Our plans were to hike the 2 miles down the towpath to the terminus of the railroad where we would pick up the train.  However, while we were exploring the exhibits a thunderstorm rolled in and for the next hour or so it rained.  So we ate our lunch sitting on the porch of the Center and waited for the rain to stop.  By this point we were not sure we would have sufficient time to make the hike and did not want to miss the final train of the day!  Instead, we walked a bit on the towpath and just waited for the train to arrive.  The trip back to Akron was much quieter with a lot fewer passengers, so we were able to get ahold of their free audio tour.  This is device with earphones that is controlled through GPS signals to play little snippets of information along the way.  They ranged from stories and songs about the canal, natural features outside the train, to bits of history.  For example, we learned about the beginnings of Akron which sits on the Continental Divide that splits water flowing north to the Great Lakes from water flowing south to the Ohio River.  Akron started as a waystop for passengers on the Ohio and Erie Canal who had at least 6-8 hours (often over night) wait for their canalboat to make it up and back down the locks on the canal.  So Akron started as a series of taverns, stores, and lodges for the travelers.  This was timed to correspond to the point where we crossed over the remains of the locks climbing up to Akron, which we had missed on our trip out.  I would strongly recommend taking advantage of this free program, especially since the program is different for north or south bound passengers.  It was now nearly 6:30 in the evening, so we grabbed dinner at a fast-food restaurant before heading to the campground.

Saturday was spent relaxing in the campgrounds where I finally got caught up on this blog.  I mentioned earlier that I needed to spend time on mapping out the next 6 weeks and making reservations.  This is what I did the last couple of days when we got back to the RV early in the afternoon.  Once I realized that we were only a month from Labor Day, I knew we were going to have a problem for that weekend.  Sure enough, the COE campgrounds in West Virginia that I wanted to stay in were booked solid.  I tried a private RV park near where we wanted to be, only to find out they did not have any openings either.  I then left a message with the only other private campground in the area that I knew about and waited to hear back from them.  Thankfully, they contacted me on Friday, although we missed the call while we were on the train, and they had two sites left.  I grabbed one and then proceeded to make the rest of the reservations with no problem.  Thus it was not until Saturday that I could get back to work on the blog.  Saturday night was also the night of the concert in the campgrounds.  They had brought in a country band, known by the name of their lead singer, Amanda Jones.  This five piece band was very good and gave a good selection of original music and crowd favorites.  After an hour and a half of playing to a basically silent crowd of campers sitting in their camp chairs and golf carts on three sides of the stage, they finally got people up to dance.  By the end of their second set, the crowd was really into the whole experience.  I suppose part of the problem was that it was just too hot until the sun set and the other it takes a while for the basically 50+ crowd to warm up!!  There were also a number of families with young children that took advantage of the dance area in front of the band for their antics.  It was a nice 2.5 hour concert with a lot of very good music and fun.

There was still one location I wanted to get to in the area and it was the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.  So on Sunday we headed back to downtown Canton to his Presidential Library.  This also turned out to be the location of the William McKinely National Memorial which is a huge granite and marble tomb for the 25th President.  In fact, it is one of the largest monuments to a President.  We had plenty of time to climb the 108 steps to the monument, although all the joggers that use the site made it up a LOT faster than we did.  Once we got to the top we found out that the doors don’t open until the Presidential Library opened at noon, and it was only 11.  So, after sitting in the shade for an hour, we climbed back up the 108 steps to go inside the monument and take some pictures of the dome and joint caskets of William and Ida McKinley.

McKinleyMemorial1

We then descended the steps to enter the Presidential Library and Museum.  Unlike all the other Presidential Libraries and Museums we have visited, this museum was almost entirely about the history of Stark County.  McKinley was limited to one large room in one wing of the museum where they had on display a number of artifacts owned by McKinley.  However, they did have a cute animatronic program with talking William and Ida McKinley robots that talked about a number of subjects you could choose from.  You could learn a little about his experiences in the Civil War, campaigning for the Presidency, his views on the political subjects of the day, and the event leading up to his trip to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo where he would be assassinated.  The rest of the building all dealt with the history of the county, which was very interesting by itself, just not what we were expecting.  One wing was laid out as a town street from the late 1800 with all the shops you would find there.  They ranged from a blacksmith, photographer, millinery, gas station, doctor, lawyer, etc etc.  Along with many artifacts and short audio programs, it was an interesting presentation of this time period.  Another wing had numerous exhibits about the significant time periods from the frontier days when this was the Western Reserve before statehood, through the canal period, the railroad period, up to today.  I was amazed to find out the many industries that came and went over the past 200+ years.  Not only was there a continuing emphasis on agriculture, but there was also significant periods of coal mining, iron and steel manufacturing, and many other specialized industries such as watch making and ball bearings.  Finally, there are a couple of other areas primarily for the children.  This included a Exploration room that provided hands on exhibits of both the natural and scientific worlds and a small planetarium.  Since it turned out that our admission to the museum also included tickets to the 2:00 show of the planetarium, we stuck around to see the show.  I always enjoy the opportunity to learn again about the constellations you can see, however, the program following this about the planets nearly put Kal to sleep.  By this point we were starving since we had not eaten lunch so we sought out a good Mexican restaurant for an early dinner before heading back to the campground.

GregInMuseum

July 2016 – Erie, Pennsylvania

Although I am naming this blog as Erie, Pennsylvania, our destination for the week was actually just over the state line in Ohio.  Most of the trip to our new location was along state highways in New York as we were once again avoiding the tolls on I-90 and the congestion around Buffalo.  It was a pleasant drive, although one of our longer pulls this summer being just about 3.5 hours.  Once we got south of Buffalo, I-90 was no longer a toll road and we joined it for the quick trip through this spur of Pennsylvania.  It is obvious that the whole reason for this spur was to provide the state of Pennsylvania with a port on Lake Erie and the city of Erie is still an important port on the lake.  Our new location was Evergreen Lake Park located right at the first exit from the Interstate in Ohio.  The campground literally backs up to the Interstate, so I was initially concerned that we would have to listen to the traffic all day long.  However, our site was located near the back of the campgrounds and was just about as far away from the noise as possible.  In fact, the traffic was just a low background noise most of the time.  Evergreen Lake Park advertises over 250 sites, which I believe, although like nearly all the private campgrounds in the northeast 95% of the sites are for seasonal campers.  Which meant the campground looks filled to capacity even though there is nearly no one in the campground during the week and not much busier over the weekend.  Most of their sites for transients are located in an open area with no shade near the office, but we were very fortunate to be located in a small area of 4 sites located within the woods near the back of the park.  It was a pull-through site with plenty of room between the sites and lots of shade.  This was important since the temperatures throughout the week was in the 90s every day and with only 30 amp service we had to be careful with running the AC.  In fact, our surge protector cut out a couple of times over the weekend due to low voltage, which protects the RV but also means no AC, microwave, or TV.  The Park also advertises that nearly all of the sites have full hookups, but this is only for the seasonal sites.  None of the transient sites had sewer hookups, which is really not a problem for us as we can make it for a week before dumping.  The only real complaint I have about the campgrounds were the tight turns forcing us to circle around to get out of the campgrounds with the RV and the fact they had no laundry facility.  Rather than dealing with the laundrymat in “downtown” Conneaut that had very limited parking in front of a busy street, we opted to wait until the following week when we could use the facilities in the campgrounds.

Campsite

Although we had just spent a couple of days last week relaxing in the campground after the kids all left, we had two National Parks in the area to visit during the week.  So Tuesday, we set out to explore the Cuyahoga Valley National Park located in between Cleveland and Akron.  However, we no sooner got on the Interstate that it was obvious we had a problem with one of the tires.  On our trip to the park, Kal had pulled into a truck stop to fill up the gas tank, just to be safe since we should have had enough fuel to make it.  On our way out of the truck stop there were some huge potholes full of water.  She dropped the right rear tires into one of the holes and I suspect damaged the outer tire, since we could tell the belts were separating when we looked at the tires as soon as got back off the Interstate.  Therefore, our plans were changed and we began looking for a tire store.  The closest store was back in Conneaut so we headed back there only to find this store was closed.  The next closest tire store was English Tire back in Pennsylvania and since the tire was getting worse by the minute, we decided to check it out rather than trying to make Erie.  English Tire is a relatively new tire store located out in the country a few miles south of the Interstate.  Although there was nothing around it but farm fields, it looked good so we checked it out.  As expected they would have to order the tires and I decided to go ahead and replace all four of the rear tires.  We had to replace at least the two on the right and I was concerned about the other two tires as we had already replace the two front tires less than a year ago.  So we made an appointment for Thursday morning and limped on back to the campsite.  We spent the rest of the day and all day Wednesday relaxing in the campsite.  It did give me the opportunity to get a lot done on this blog as I had an eventful two weeks to write about.

Thursday morning I took the backroads back to English Tire so I could drive 30-35 mph while the truck felt like it was going to shake itself apart.  They were able to get right to the tires and had replaced all four in about 1.5 hours.  Since it was only 10:00 in the morning by this point, we had plenty of time to do some exploring.  Over the past two days we had determined that the Cuyahoga Valley National Park would actually be closer to our next location near Akron, so we decided to hold off.  Instead we headed towards Cleveland to the James A Garfield National Historic Site.  This NHS is actually northeast of Cleveland in what today is a suburb, so we did not have to deal with the city traffic.  Today the NHS is situated on a city street and consists primarily of the house that Garfield purchased while he was a US Representative as a retreat for his family from Washington D.C.  Where once the estate was over 100 acres of farms fields and orchards to give his family the farming experience that he grew up with on a farm in Ohio, today the urban sprawl has limited the property to a few acres behind the house.  Beside the house itself, your first impression of the property is the strange looking lighthouse with a windmill stuck on top.  This is actually a large windmill that Garfield had built to pump water up into a large cistern on the third floor of the house.  Thus, he had one of the few properties in the state with running water at the time.  The Visitor Center is located behind the house in the carriage house on the property and has some nice exhibits about the life and career of James A. Garfield.  Like myself, you probably don’t know very much about James Garfield, the 20th President of the United States.  He was a Major General during the Civil War leading a brigade during the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh, and Chickamagua.  However, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1862 and had to give up his commission.  He served in the Congress for 17 years and had some notable successes and scandals during the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War.  During the 1880 Republican National Convention he nominated John Sherman, the then Secretary of the Treasury.  However, the convention was deeply split between Sherman, Grant, and Blaine so on the 36th ballot he consented to have his name entered as a compromise candidate and won the nomination!  At this time in history, Presidential candidates did not campaign for themselves as this was seen as unseemly.  So he moved back to his home in Ohio where he set up a campaign headquarters in the current carriage house and had installed a telegraph wire to stay connected.  However, this also provided the means for reporters to send in their stories and they literally camped out on his front yard throughout the campaign, coining the term Lawnfield to the property, in the popular press.  It also so happened that the railroad ran through the property as well, so after constructing a whistle stop, Garfield had supporters visiting his property on a daily basis.  Thus, he ran the first low-key “front-porch campaign” delivering speeches from his front porch.  However, the reason you probably don’t know much about Garfield is due to the fact that he was assassinated in July during his first year as President.  Unlike today where the first 100 days are critical time for a new President to begin his legislative agenda, in the late 1800s the first few months for a new President are tied up with appointing his cabinet and dealing with all the political appointments throughout government.  This entailed a lot of fights for confirmation with the Senate and having to interview a constant stream of applicants.  One of these applicants was Charles Guiteau seeking a position as consul of Paris, although he was completely unqualified for the position.  After being turned down repeatedly, he decided the nation would be better served with Chester Arthur as President and shot President Garfield in the back as he was leaving to join his family for a short vacation on July 2, 1881.  President Garfield died 11 weeks later from the wound and thus his Presidency has been largely forgotten.  His wife, Lucretia, created a fund to raise money for a memorial that was so successful that she spent a large portion of the fund to add a wing to the house.  In this new wing she created the first Presidential Library to hold some of the massive collection of books Garfield had collected over the years along with a large walk-in vault to protect all of his papers and correspondence.  Today these are all in the Library of Congress, but the size of the vault and opulence of  the library are worth the time.  The most amazing fact is that the house remained in the family until they donated it to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1936 along with all the original furnishings they had preserved from that time.

The only other thing we simply had to do while we were in the area was to explore some of Lake Erie, so on Friday we selected the closest state park on the lake, which happened to be Erie Bluffs State Park in Pennsylvania.  This was a good choice as it is a 387 acre park that has never been developed and contained over 1/2 mile of undeveloped shore line.  The park is not well developed, on purpose, which also meant there was just a small point of access at Elk Creek.  The trails are also not well marked and along with numerous side trails leading in every direction, it was easy to get turned around.  However, with Lake Erie on the north and highway on the south, it was nearly impossible to be truly lost.  Initially we took the trail up the 90 foot bluff along the lake and went inland to check out the rare Oak savannah, which was quite interesting.  However, after walking about a third of a mile in the heat, even though the day was overcast with a chance of rain, we turned around and went looking for the Lake which was our real reason for exploring the area.  We found the lake with no problem and found a few vantage points to look out from 90 feet above the lake.  Once again it is water as far as you can see, especially with the overcast conditions.  As we made our way back to the parking lot at Elk Creek, we found a place we could descend the bluff and get right up to the lake.  Although there was supposedly a trail along the base of the bluff, I would not recommend it, at least not when we were there.  For as for as I could see along the shore, Lake Erie came right up to the foot of the bluff.  We would have had to wade.  Although we had probably only hiked about 1.5 miles, the weather was so hot and humid with no breeze, that we were both spent.  So we got back into the truck and headed back to the campsite for the afternoon.

 

We had no plans for the weekend and intended to spend both days relaxing in the campgrounds.  However, Kal had developed a serious cough over the past week and was growing concerned that the allergy pills were not being effective.  Therefore, on Saturday she decided, wisely, to have it check out at a nearby clinic.  They determined she had the beginnings of pneumonia and prescribed some hefty antibiotics and cough suppressant.  I was certainly relieved that she got it checked out as she had a bad bought with walking pneumonia a few years ago.  Especially since she had to stay out of the sun due to the antibiotics, it was good that we could just relax in the campgrounds.  I was able to get caught up on the blog as well.