May, 2018 – Paducah, Kentucky

The trip north from the center of Tennessee to the area north of the Land Between the Lakes near Paducah, Kentucky was a nice drive through the multiple towns to the west of Kentucky Lake.  We actually drove past Murray State University, which we are familiar with from their multiple appearances in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, but never knew where it was located.  We arrived at another Corps of Engineers campground on the extreme northwest shore of Lake Barkely by 1:00 in the afternoon.  Our initial impression of the campgrounds was pleasant as it is located in a beautiful location on the shore.  However, our impression soon changed as we approached our campsite.  While it all looked inviting, we found the paved road to be extremely narrow with tight turns that barely accommodated the RV that was bordered on the uphill side with a deep concrete ditch.  It would not have been too bad if our campsite was near the bathrooms as the parking in front of the bathroom would have given us room to maneuver.   Unfortunately, our site was right on the beginning of a curve with two trees blocking any kind of straight shot into the site.  My first attempt to back the RV in was a complete disaster as I had no room to swing the truck around once I got the RV pointed into the site.  I had to pull back forward and try again coming in very shallow.  Once again I was not able to straighten out the truck before the back end of the RV threatened to hit a tree.  By this point I was about convinced there was no way to back into the site.  Willing to try one more time I came in VERY VERY shallow and pulling the truck forward multiple times to get it lined up with the RV.  Thankfully a neighbor came over to give us a hand and with his help I could ignore the RV itself and concentrate on just the truck.  Between the three of us we finally managed to get everything lined up and backing straight into the site.  Once in, our opinion of the campground immediately improved and we enjoyed watching the families of Canadian geese that frequented the area between us and the lake.

Last spring we visited the south end of the lakes but confined our attention to Fort Donelson and Fort Henry on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, respectively.  These forts were instrumental during 1862, the early part of the Civil War.  This year our goal was to explore the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area.  So we started out with this in mind on Tuesday.  We stopped at the Welcome Center on the north end of LBL and obtained information about the hiking trails and sights to see.  Here we learned that the main Visitor Center was quite a distance away at the center of LBL, which made sense, but also convinced us to spend our first day in the northern part of LBL rather then starting with the Visitor Center as we normally do.  Our destination was the Woodlands Nature Station which offered hiking trails and a small zoo of native animals.  As you enter the area there is a short hike through the remains of Hematite Furnace that we stopped at first.  This is a short interpretive hike through what remains of the community of Hematite and the iron furnace.  Back in the 1830-1840s this area Between the Rivers was renowned for its high quality pig iron being produced from the 7 large iron furnaces.  Hematite iron ore is a high yielding ore and was located very close to the surface.  Along with easy access to limestone and the abundant oaks and hickories for charcoal it was a prime area for iron production.  Employing around 200 workers a small community grew up in the area.  The Civil War put an end to this industry and the remaining population became relatively isolated.  All of the buildings are now gone and all that remains are depressions in the ground.  It is not clear whether this was natural or whether the federal government destroyed the buildings when LBL was established in the 1960s as they did with any existing homes that were not physically moved by the owners.

While the Woodlands Nature Station could be described as a small zoo of native animals, it is really a rescue facility for animals that cannot be released into the wild.  The most common reason is they were family pets that never learned how to survive on their own.  Along with small exhibits inside of reptiles, snakes, and fish, the outdoors garden is impressive.  Notable exhibits included the bald eagle that thinks it is human, the coyotes, and a mating pair of red wolves.  There are also exhibits of deer, turkey, and multiple raptors and owls.  We even had the privilege of talking with a Naturalist as they fed their opossum and found out a lot of what they do at the Station.

On Wednesday we got a 6:00 start to the day to explore the Elk and Bison Prairie down near the Visitor Center.  This is a 700 acre enclosure where the Forest Service is attempting to reintroduce a small herd of bison and elk.  Prior to the invasion of European settlers, the native Indians maintained most of the area as an open prairie to promote the bison and elk herds.  These early settlers often commented about the abundance of game in the area until their farms wiped them all out.  Using prescribed fire and seeding of grasses, the Forest Service is attempting to recreate the prairie.  Even with a nice paved road circling through the area it is recommended you visit either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the bison and elk would be feeding.  We drove the loop three times in the hopes of spotting them, but only managed to see a small group of 3 elk near enough to the road to see them.  We saw no sign of the bison until we were leaving the area two days later along the fence line bordering the US highway that cuts through the middle of the LBL from east to west.  We were certainly disappointed even though we enjoyed our cold breakfast we ate in the truck.

Not wanting to call it a day we drove back to the Woodlands Nature Station to take in a two mile loop trail around Hematite Lake.  Unfortunately, the boardwalk along the upper end of the lake was damaged in a storm, so it was a one-mile hike in and then back out instead.  As the hike was along the shores of the small lake, it was an easy trail and quite enjoyable for a mid-morning walk.  Before leaving for the day we drove to a picnic area near the north end for lunch.  Following lunch we explored the scenic drive with views of Kentucky Lake at the north end.  Although there were numerous turnouts and small parking lots, the Forest Service is going to have to cut some of the trees on the shores of the lake.  The views of Kentucky Lake were very limited.  With the early start to the day, we did all this and still returned to the campground by 2:00 for a relaxing afternoon.

Thursday we spent relaxing in the campground, so on Friday we headed back to the LBL to explore the Visitor Center and the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living Museum south of the Visitor Center in Tennessee.  We started with the Working Farm and spent all morning wandering the grounds and speaking with the living interpreters.  I was impressed with the entrance station that was built into the side of a hill with grass growing on top.  This obviously kept the inside much cooler which consisted of a small gift shop and a couple of exhibits about living on a farm in the 1850s.  Outside was the farm itself.  We watched an interpreter plowing a small tobacco field using two mules and a home made harrowing plow that consisted of boards in a V shape with iron spikes to drag through the earth.  We talked with an interpreter spinning wool from the onsite sheep, another interpreter making a fancy table cloth on a loom, and finally an interpreter doing leather working.  The most interesting aspect of the visit was the use of heirloom breeds of chicken, sheep, hogs, ducks, cattle, and mules.  They only part that was not authentic to the time was the two houses on the property.  This was done on purpose to show the lifestyle of a small family living in a one-room log home versus a two story, multi-room dog trot home for later generations as the family grew.  It was a very pleasant morning talking history and lifestyle with the interpreters.  There is an advantage to visiting these places during the middle of the week with few other tourists.  I should mention there was a small group of elementary students there that we managed to stay out of the way of, for the most part.

During the afternoon, we finally visited the Visitor Center as our last stop in the LBL.  Once again, I was somewhat disappointed as there was very little to see or do at the Visitor Center.  They do have a series of exhibits that provide a brief history of the area, which answered a lot of question I had about how the Recreational Area came about.  As I expected it was basically a land grab by the Federal Government, starting with the TVA during the Depression.  Granted the area never really recovered from the Civil War and there were only a few thousands residents in the 170,000 acres between the rivers, but still LBL was created by displacing these families.  Kentucky Lake was completed in 1940 and through the use of the Eminent Domain principle, the federal government condemned the flooded land, having to forcibly removing the inhabitants.  Plans were soon started to also dam the Cumberland River to the same depth as Kentucky Lake so a canal could be built between them without the use of locks.  This would obviously flood even more of the land, displacing most of the rest of the inhabitants who basically lived near the river anyway.  The feds did a better job of compensating the owners and even moved their homes or businesses from the area.  However, this all took a lot of time so it was not until the 1960s that Barkley Lake was formed.  Many of the homes were moved and the rest were destroyed by the feds leaving the new LBL  with recovering second growth forests.  Today it is a beautiful location with many recreational opportunities.

We really enjoyed our week exploring the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area, but decided to spend the weekend in the campgrounds.  Saturday was spent with laundry and cleaning, but Sunday was spent just enjoying the weather.  This was especially true since the weather decided to just skip spring all together.  A couple of weeks ago it was a prolonged winter with snows in the mid-west, but now temperatures are nearing 90 with records likely to be set next week.  We were certainly not looking forward to the trip on Monday with expectations of temperatures over 90 degrees.

May, 2018 – Lexington, Tennessee

The trip north from Pickwick Dam to the Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee was not as fast as it could have been as we decided to travel lesser state highways that stayed close to the Tennessee River at it meandered north towards the Ohio River.  Still it took less than 2 hours to make the trip.  As you expect our GPS unit took us to the headquarters of the state park which is just off I-40.  As it turned out this in the extreme northern part of the park, which is about 48,000 acres!  It is a VERY large state park dating from the Depression when it was purchased and worked over by the CCC and WPA.  Consequently, we had a slow 15 mile drive back to the south through the park to find the RV campground.  As it turns out it is only a couple of miles outside of Lexington, Tennessee which made the trip to the store much shorter.  If we had known this ahead of time, we could have saved close to half hour on the trip.  In any case, the campground on the shores of Pin Oak Lake is very nice.  All of the sites are laid out well with plenty of room between sites and the usual picnic table and fire ring.  Our site was right on the corner of small loop which meant we had nearly a straight shot backing it up into the site.  In comparison with the trouble I had at Pickwick Dam, I was able to back the RV up quickly and in a single shot.  It also turned out that all of the sites in the park have sewer hookups which is another plus. The only downside was the love-struck cardinal which saw his reflection in the RV and truck windows as a rival.  By the end of the week I even had him trained so I could anticipate where he would attack next and be there to scare him away.  It never did any good, as he was always back for more.

Tuesday promised to be a warm day with temperatures in the low 80s, so we got an early start of explore the Civil War Battlefield at Parker’s Crossroads that Kal found searching the internet for things to do in the area.  Parker’s Crossroads is actually just a few miles west of the state park, however, without roads going west, we had to travel south to Lexington before we could head north to Parker’s Crossroads.  They have done an excellent job preserving the battlefield even though I-40 cuts through the middle of it.  They have a nice Visitor Center as well, although I was disappointed with the small museum and second rate video about the battle.  We also purchased the CD for the driving tour, which only cost $1.  This was good since all it contained was word for word the information you read on the many interpretive signs in the tour.  This is a relatively small battlefield that pitted Brigadier General Nathan Forrest against Colonel Dunham and Colonel Fuller on December 31, 1862.  Along with a couple stops highlighting important locations during the battle, the most important are the first and last stops.  At both stops there are paved trails about a mile in length with many interpretive signs along the trail.  The first stop gives a good overview of the background and events leading up the battle along with the Parker’s farm at the center of it.  The last stop is the most important as it circles through the Union position with signs about all the important things that occurred during the battle.  There is another paved trail to the north of the interstate that visits all the Confederate cannon positions during the battle.

The battle at Parker’s Crossroads occurred at the end of 1862 which was a very good year for the Union in the Western theater of the Civil War.  In April, General Grant won the battle at Shiloh gaining control of the Tennessee River and captured the critical railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi.  Following the fall of Fort Donelson in January, the Confederates also gave up Nashville with hardly a fight in February and General Rosecrans was planning an assault on Chattanooga.  Using the rivers and railroad, Grant was quickly moving and supplying his forces taking Memphis and threatening Vicksburg along the Mississippi.  To counter this, General Bragg ordered Brigadier General Forrest to command a force of 1800 cavalry and cannon to infiltrate western Tennessee and destroy as much of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as possible.  On December 10, he crossed the Tennessee River at Clifton and immediately routed the forces at Lexington,  He then moved towards Jackson, where he was outmanned by over 10-1 using a number of tactics to convince the Union forces there that his force was much larger then it was.  After making feint towards Jackson, he turned north and quickly began destroying train depots, supply dumps, tracks and bridges north along the railroad.   By December 20 he was near the Kentucky state line and decided he had done all the damage he could and turned back south to outrun the pursuing Union army.  By this point his raid was VERY successful as it would take nearly 6 months to repair the damage he inflicted.  By this point he was likely the best supplied force in the whole Confederate army with modern Union rifles, increasing his cannon from 4 to 9, and his fighting force up to 2500 soldiers by recruitment of Confederate sympathizers along the way.  On the morning of December 31, Colonel Dunham was determined to block Forrest from reaching the Tennessee River and he moved his 1500 man force to a position northwest of Parker’s Crossroads.  Forrest used his enhanced supplies to advantage and simply lined up his cannon to drive the Union back to the crossroads.  Forrest knew he needed to defeat Dunham quickly as Colonel Fuller was moving south with more than 1500 men as quickly as they could.  Again using his advantage of cannon he began pounding the Union soldiers who had taken up position behind a picket fence which was a mistake because the flying splinters from the fence probably did more damage than the cannon shells.  He also moved cannon to both the right and left flank to rake down the Union line.  Dunham’s cannon were completely useless since they only had four to begin with, one of which was lost at Hick’s field earlier.  After a couple of ineffective rounds they also ran out of ammunition.  This was certainly not a problem for Forrest who continued to bombard them with no plans to charge their position.  While this was going on, Forrest sent a force around the Union right flank through a ravine to capture the Union supply wagons and attack their rear.  Dunham led a group to drive off this rear attack, thereby splitting his forces in two.  At this point Forrest ceased firing and sent in a messenger to demand Dunham’s surrender, which he refuse both times.  However, his men on the front line believed they were surrendering and had started to raise white flags.  Just in the nick of time, Fuller showed up while this was going on and attacked Forrest’s rear capturing a lot of their horse holders since this was a cavalry force to begin with.  Now Forrest found himself between two Union forces, at which points, he orders them to “Charge them both ways!”.  He leads 75 mounted soldiers against the left flank of Fuller, which disrupts them long enough for Forrest to retreat with nearly his entire force.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that Dunham’s men were already beaten and did not put up any resistance to Forrest’s retreat south around their position.  Forrest made it back across the Tennessee just ahead of a very large force coming from Jackson and reported back to General Bragg with more men, cannon, and every other supply than he left with.  The raid was so successful that General Grant pulled back to Memphis and delayed his attack on Vicksburg until the following summer.

Wednesday was not nearly so exciting as all we did was travel a couple of miles to the Pin Oak Lodge where we took in a couple of miles hike through the Tennessee woods.  It was a nice hike and I hope to do more of it over the summer.

We spent Thursday doing laundry and cleaning the RV in preparation for leaving on Friday for Birmingham.

Kal’s father decided not to have a formal memorial service for her mom, especially since nobody left of his generation would be able to make it.  However, Kal along with her brothers decided that the family needed to get together anyway, so everyone made plans to meet at their parents home on Saturday.  Jenny rented a car in Orlando and spent Friday driving up to stay with some friends of hers in Atlanta and drive over to Birmingham to spend the day on Saturday.  William caught a plane to Asheville on Friday where he was picked up by Nikki to spend the day driving to Birmingham.  Mark and Pam drove in from Dallas and we drove south from Lexington.  Kal and I met Will and Nikki at a sports bar in Birmingham where we enjoyed watching a English Premier League Football game while enjoying some craft beer.  From there we met up with Mark and Pam, along with Phil and his family, for dinner at Kal’s parents house.  We spent the night at a nice Best Western nearby and came back to spend the day with Kal’s dad and all his immediate family once Jenny arrived from Atlanta and Phil’s son Jared and wife Joy came over for the day.  Along with some family friends who stopped by later in the day we had a very nice family get together that we have not been able to do for some time.  We all gave toasts to grandma and even threw in a birthday celebration for all the May birthdays.  It was great seeing all the family and I think we all did a lot of good for Kal’s dad who lost the love of his life.  On Sunday we all traveled back to our families and work and we returned to our campsite in Tennessee.

April, 2018 – Savannah, Tennessee

On Monday we had another short trip pulling the RV north to Tennessee.  The trip was mostly on state highways and took about 1.5 hours.  Our next destination was the TVA campground at Pickwick Dam on the Tennessee River.  We had stayed at this campground last spring and remembered it as a lovely campground with a nasty odor from the pulp mill across the river most of the week.  Thankfully, the campground was just as nice and the odor was not nearly as bad as last year all week.  I guess either the pulp mill was not in full operation or we had favorable winds.  I also remembered they made it difficult to back-in your RV by putting up railroad ties on both sides of the pad that are not much wider than the wheel base.  Along with trees, posts, and other obstructions across the road making it difficult to swing the truck, it took me four attempts before I got the RV going at the correct angle.  Once I got everything lined up properly, backing it in was not a problem, although the RV was still at a slight angle since the railroad ties made it very difficult to change the orientation very much.  Other then this problem, this is one of the best maintained campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  While it did fill up over the weekend, for the most part it was very quiet and serene, even with the multiple barges going through the locks each day and into the night.

Since there were no hiking trails in the campground, we decided to cross the Tennessee River on Tuesday to the Pickwick Landing State Park just on the other side.  Last year we had spent out time here visiting Shiloh Military Park, so this was our first time to the state park.  Along with all the water activities associated with the lake, the park operates a full golf course and marina.  Supposedly they also have a disc golf course, however, I saw no evidence of it from their maps.  Since we were there for a hike, I figured I would check into more fully later in the week.  They do have one nice hiking trail that is a 2.8 mile loop going out a peninsula into the lake above the dam.  Along with some nice views of the lake and dam, there is also the remains of the CCC camp that built the original dam on the river and the remains of the docks used when the area was logged.  The trail is relatively flat as it winds through the woods overlooking the lake.  The only challenge was a bridge across a stream emptying into the lake that was underwater due to the high level of the lake in the spring.  Since this was very early in the hike, we decided to cut upstream to look for a place to cross the stream.  We were obviously not the first to take this detour as there was a faint trail along the stream.  Except for scaring up a water snake that immediately dove into the stream, we managed to find a narrow spot without too much trouble.  Kal just about gave up on the hike due to the snake until I convinced her it was more afraid of us then we were of it and had hightailed it into the stream.

Wednesday was very wet with heavy rains that put standing water nearly up to the steps of the RV (only about an inch deep) so we stayed close and relaxed inside the RV all day.  Thursday morning we were woke up at 6:00 in the morning with a call from Kal’s dad that her mother had passed away during the night.  While greatly saddened we were also relieved that it was finally all over, especially since her dementia had gotten so bad she hardly recognized anyone.  Obviously the rest of the week was spent close to the campgrounds with multiple phone calls, texts, Facebook posts, etc to contact everyone and await the decision about memorial services.  We did get the bikes out a couple of times to ride around the campgrounds, but for the most part we stayed close to the RV the rest of the week.

We did drive into Savannah on Friday to go to the store and took a few hours to check out the Tennessee River Museum in downtown Savannah.   This is a small museum with exhibits highlighting the history of the Tennessee River.  Exhibits included paleontology and geography of the area, archeological evidence of the Indian cultures, early settlement history, a large section on the Civil War, the brief history of steamboats on the river, and the history and current cultivation of freshwater mussels.  It took just over an hour to peruse the exhibits which was a welcome change from the stress of the week.PetrifiedWood