June 2017 – Bloomington, Indiana

While the trip from Vincennes to Bloomington was only about 2 hours in length, we had a good time with our GPS unit.  I suppose I-69 is relatively new since our Road Atlas, which is 4 years old, shows it as a dotted line only halfway to Bloomington.  However, it was surprising that our GPS, which we update fairly regularly, does not have the interstate at all.  For the record, I-69 is completed all the way to IN 37 just south of Bloomington, which is a major 4 lane highway as well.  It was fun watching our GPS spin and recalculate every few minutes as it continued to try and reroute us on all kinds of backroads.  I was a little surprised that it never commanded us to “Land the plane”, since it must have thought we were flying!!  In any case, we pulled into Hardin Ridge Recreation Area in the Hoosier National Forest just after lunch time.  After spending a week on the wide open floodplains of western Indiana, we were now back into very hilly and wooded terrain around Monroe Lake.  This will be our last time this summer to stay in a Federal campground since from here on they are too old for RVs and we will have to stay in commercial campgrounds.  At least the bathrooms had flush toilets unlike the previous USFS campground.  In fact, this was a very large campground with over 200 sites, however, all of them were back-in.  They are all large, spacious sites with a LOT of trees and underbrush.  The trees on the other side of the road and drainage ditch right along the road certainly had me worried about backing the RV into our site.  However, the site was angled just enough to make it possible and I am actually quite proud of the fact that I backed it up without having to pull forward and all in one shot!!  I am certainly getting better with backing it up.

Campsite

We spent Tuesday in the campground with me working on the blog as we waited for my sister, Suzy, to drive up from Tennessee to spend the week with us.  It was great to have company, although we did not do anything all that much different then we usually do.  Unfortunately, the weather turned hot and muggy with temperatures in the mid-90s most of the week with thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.  After a week in the 70s with no rain, we felt we were back in Alabama.  Thankfully, there was plenty of shade although no wind in the forests.

We did challenge the weather and got out a couple of times during the week.  On Wednesday we drove over to Seymour, Indiana to explore the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, the oldest refuge in Indiana.  Back in the 60s the federal government bought up some old farm land that was prone to flooding in order to create this wetland and they are slowly recovering the natural vegetation.  While the wetlands and grasslands are coming along just fine, the forested areas are going to take a while.  You can still tell they are old farm fields, especially since they continued to farm much of it for feedstock until the 1980s.  Along with a very nice Visitor Center that boosts a quartermile paved path around a couple of small ponds, there is also a 4 mile driving tour.  This tour has 12 number stops with explanations in a brochure giving management information.  You get to see all of the varied habitats on the refuge and there are a couple of short trails to wooden overlooks.  It was a short walk through the grasslands to the overlook at North Endicott Marsh where they had a couple of stationary viewers you could use.  Unfortunately, by late morning there was not much to see out in the marsh.  The better walk was the 1 mile loop trail that went to an overlook of Richert Lake.  The trail was recently mowed and traveled through some of the recovering upland forests to the lake.  We had to pick up the pace over the last quarter of the trail to beat the thunderstorm that was rolling in for the afternoon.  We decided not to eat a late lunch at the Visitor Center as we would likely get wet and just headed on back to the RV for an early supper, after stopping at the Walmart in Seymour of course.

On Thursday we decided to try our luck again and headed south to Spring Mill State Park.  This park turned out to get quite the location.  In addition to Spring Mill Lake and picnic areas, there were numerous hiking trails, caves to explore including a boat tour, an inn, and bikes you could rent.  Our main reason for visiting, however, was the Pioneer Village of Spring Mill.  In 1817 a huge grist mill was built utilizing the water flowing out of the caves.  This grist mill is easily the largest grist mill I have ever seen!  It is a massive three story stone building with 3 foot thick walls and a mill race supported by stone columns.  On the hour they give a short presentation of the history of the mill and town along with a quick demonstration of the mill, which still works, although the water is now piped in instead of flowing down the mill race.  After the demonstration, we spent some time in the upper two floors which were an extensive museum with artifacts all the way through the history of the region.  Back in the 20s and 30s the CCC did extensive reconstruction of the mill and town buildings that grew up around the mill.  Consequently there is a lot to see of the town of Spring Mill than just the grist mill.  There is a stone manor house that has a floor plan that convinced us it must have been a duplex as it is certainly split down the middle by the fireplace.  Behind is a nice flower garden with many native flowers and herbs growing.  Along with the house there is a one-room schoolhouse that they called a nursery, a carriage house, exterior kitchen, and spring house.  The town of Spring Mill also had a tavern/inn that was built when it was a major stop on the stagecoach line, a blacksmith, an apothecary, and a mercantile.  There were also a number of houses, some of which had been moved to the area, but others that were original.  They have all of them filled with artifacts from the time period and some of them are being used by local craftsmen.  We got to watch a loom making a rug, a leatherworker and a potter making trinkets for sale.  By the time we had spent nearly 3 hours exploring the town, we were all ready for lunch which we ate at the picnic area just outside the Pioneer Village.  After lunch I tried to talk everyone into exploring one of their many hiking trails, but by this point the temperature had once again climbed into the mid-90s and I could get no takers.  So we headed back to the campground before the thunderstorms could get started up for the evening.

Friday and Saturday we just spent in the campground getting caught up with Suzy and her family and playing some games.  Unfortunately, watching TV was a challenge as we only sort of received a couple of stations and then only in the evenings.  The most consistent station was a PBS channel out of Bloomington, which I was surprised we did not get better since we were so close.  I assume the hills and woods disrupted the signal.  We had a great time with Suzy and it was nice being able to sit and talk without a house full of children since her daughter and her two children live with her in Tennessee.  None of us had anywhere we had to go and nothing we had to do, so we did exactly that for a change.

Suzy left to return to Tennessee on Sunday and we decided to just stay in the campground ourselves.

June 2017 – Vincennes, Indiana

The trip northwest from the Hoosier National Forest to Vincennes was just over 2 hours, half along I-64 and the other half along the four lane US 41.  Except for a brief stop at the rest stop along the interstate our only complaint was the air conditioning on the truck which had gone out again.  The temperature, however, was in the 70s so even this was not that bad.  We pulled into New Vision RV Park just after lunch and they had a number of pull-through sites for us to select from.  New Vision is a small, relatively new RV park right along the highway.  After spending so much time over the past few months in COE and USFS campgrounds, the amenities in the commercial park were a nice change.  We had full hookups, which was nice since the previous campground did not even have a dump station, so we had to empty the tanks immediately upon arriving.  Each site had a little shade, at least over the picnic table, and there was a little room between sites.  Out the front of the RV you could see their small fishing pond that had two families of Canadian geese with their young in tow throughout the day.  There were also at least 8 rabbits that romped around the campgrounds all day long.  The only drawback was the noise.  US 41 is a busy highway and since it was only a stone throw from the campgrounds the noise was constant, especially when a truck crossed over the bridge that spanned the railroad tracks sounding like distance thunder.  In addition, the railroad track was less than 100 feet from the campgrounds and was easily the busiest track we have ever seen.  There was a major train going by at least every half hour, 24 hours a day.  Some of these were coal trains from the many strip mines in the area, but mostly they were container cars.  Finally, one of the strip mines was visible about a half mile away and you could hear the huge vehicles backing up and clanking around 24 hours a day.  For the most part, these noises were not noticeable from within the RV, except the train whistles, especially at night.  Fortunately, there were no railroad crossings nearby (US 41 went over the tracks) so most of the trains would sound only a short blast if any.  All in all, we really loved the campground and would certainly stay again if we are ever in the area.  The best part was that we were finally not surrounded by trees, as this was on the flood plain of the Wabash River.  The terrain was rolling with lots of farmland and a constant breeze all week.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that the temperatures were in the 70s all week with no rain.

The main reason for staying so far west in Indiana, we were just a few miles from Illinois, was to visit the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana.  If you are like me, a National Park for Clark would most likely be for the Clark on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  However, this was not the case.  The Clark of Lewis and Clark was William Clark, George Rogers Clark’s younger brother, by 18 years.  This Historical park celebrates the legacy of George Rogers Clark, a true Revolutionary War hero. After growing up in Pennsylvania, George Rogers Clark moved west into the Kentucky frontier following the Cumberland Trail opened by Daniel Boone.  In the late 1700s, this area had few settlements in constant conflict with the local Indian tribes.  With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, these conflicts with the Indians intensified greatly as the British were supplying them with guns and ammunition in order to raid the colonial settlements in Kentucky and Ohio.  At the outset of the conflict there were less than 8000 regular British soldiers in all of the country north of the rebelling colonists. The western most British outpost was Fort Detroit on Lake Huron, from which Lt. Governor Henry Hamilton sought to control the frontier through Indian allies and French militia from the local settlements.  Most of the Europeans at the time were French with a few Spanish since England had only recently acquired control following the French and Indian War.   In 1777, the Indian raids were so bad that it became known as the “Bloody 7s”.  George Rogers Clark approached the Virginian Governor, Patrick Henry, since all of this area were a part of Virginia at the time.  He had a daring plan to raise a small army of volunteers and take the offensive by attacking Fort Detroit.  In order to do this they would first need to capture the forts at Kaskaskia and Cahokia on the Mississippi and Fort Sackville at Vincennes on the Wabash River.  He was only able to attract 150 volunteers from Virginia, a much smaller force then he wanted, but in May of 1778 set out along the Ohio River to Corn Island near present day Louisville.  There he met up with an additional 75 men from the Kentucky militia and used the next month training them on the island.  While this was a small army it was made up of seasoned mountain men, that could be considered in the same vein as our present day Rangers.  On July 4, Clark’s small army approached Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River and took it without firing a shot by convincing the local militia manning the fort to switch allegiances based on the new alliance with France and promising religious freedom.  He did the same with Cahokia and in October at Fort Sackville as well.  He was even able to convince most of the local Indians to become temporarily neutral in the conflict.  However, this situation was not going to last since Hamilton brought a large force out of Fort Detroit in December to retake Fort Sackville.  As it was now December, Hamilton then dismissed most of the French militia and Indian allies with plans to reform in the spring to renew the campaign.  When Clark found out that Fort Sackville was once again vulnerable, he decided not to wait until spring and in February left Kaskaskia with 170 volunteers.  However, the weather once again played a huge part as the January weather was warmer then usual.  You might think that with temperatures above freezing during the day would be an advantage, it had the consequences of melting the heavy December snows turning the entire trip into a slog through flooded territory.  The soldiers were often in water up to their chests for the better part of two weeks attempting to reach Vincennes.  Thankfully, the local French stilled favored Clark and his men and provided food and dry powder that they had hidden from the British.  Using a number of tactics, including having men walk around with flags, they convinced Hamilton that they were facing an overwhelming force.  In addition, the sharpshooters were able to kill or wound the cannon crews whenever they opened their ports to fire.  After two days Hamilton surrendered, who was taken as a prisoner of war back to the east.  While Clark was never able to mount an attack on Fort Detroit, due to its very strong defenses, he continued to counter the continued Indian raids throughout the rest of the Revolutionary War.  By his efforts and the fact that the new United States was in control of all the territory south of the Great Lakes, the boundaries agrees upon in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War recognized the Great Lakes instead of the Ohio River as the northern boundary.  Thus the Indiana Territory was formed which played a major role in reducing the national debt from the war through land sales over the years.

I was certainly surprised to find an important Revolutionary War site so far west, since Vincennes is right on the state line with Illinois.  Especially since the Historical Park lies on top of the remains of Fort Sackville in the middle of Vincennes along the Wabash River, it is a small park.  Aside from the small Visitor Center, which has a great 30 minute video about Clark, there is only a large marble memorial.  Within the memorial there are a larger than life sized bronze statue of George Rogers Clark and 7 large paintings that tell the story of Clark and the consequences of his actions.  Along with a 6 minute audio program that describes each painting, I got a much better understanding of the event and its importance.

Since the park is so small, it took only 1.5 hours to fully explore it, which still left us with most of the day to explore Vincennes.  There are a number of historical locations scattered throughout town, so we went for a walk through the town to the edge of Vincennes University.  Along the way we took a look at the Old State Bank and Old French House, neither of which were opened during the week, unfortunately.  Located on the edge of campus is the Vincennes State Historic Site and Grouseland, the home of territorial governor William Henry Harrison.  By this point we did have want to take the time to tour both, since we had not yet had lunch.  So we choose to take the tour at the Vincennes State Historic Site which consists of 4 historic buildings.  This turned out to be a great choice as we had a private tour and our tour guide was a delight.  He was very knowledgeable and interesting to listen to as he laid out the history of Vincennes.  The tour began with the Jefferson Academy, which was the first public school in the Indiana Territory in 1801.  It was a little more than a one-room schoolhouse and the curriculum was more closely aligned with our present day high school then college.  In 1806 it became Vincennes University, thus this University is the oldest in the state.  In 1805, the Indiana Territory had grown in population to trigger the opportunity to become a representative government as laid out in the Northwest Ordinance.  Thus, a two story tailor shop was rented to hold legislative sessions with the 5 man Senate using the upstairs and 9 man House the ground floor.  Finally, there is the Elihu Stout Print Shop which contains the original wooden printing press used by Elihu Stout to print the first newspaper in the Territory, along with printing all the laws passed by the new government for distribution.  A very fascinating afternoon and we learned a lot more about Indiana history then we had intended.  We had a nice stroll back to the truck along their river walk along the Wabash for lunch.

Wednesday was another beautiful and cool day so we headed back to Vincennes to explore a couple of more historic sites in the town.  First we went to Sugar Loaf Prehistoric Indian Mound which was used by the Woodland Indians (CE 600-1000) as a burial mound, even though it is a naturally occurring sandy mound.  From the top of the mound you get some get views of the town of Vincennes and the Wabash River valley.  From their we drove out of town to the Fort Knox II State Historic Site.  You might notice the II, which has an interesting history.  Following the Revolutionary War, Fort Sackville was renamed Fort Patrick Henry, but instead of repairing the old fort, a new fort was built just to its north along the Wabash that was named Fort Knox after the first Secretary of War.  However, with the relative calm with the Indians between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the townsfolk got fed up with the soldiers in town.  So a new fort was constructed a few miles north of town, named Fort Knox II, and the soldiers were ordered to stay within 100 yards of the fort.  William Henry Harrison used the fort to muster his force to attack the Indians at the Battle of Tippacanoe in Prophetstown to the north.  This led to his fame and campaign slogan, “Tippacanoe and Tyler Too” that got him elected President years later.  It was also where Zachary Taylor was stationed for a while where he made significant improvements in the fort’s defenses.  They have located the original fortifications of the fort and constructed short wooden poles to show the outline of the fort.  Along with a few interpretive signs, there is not much else to see at the site.  Even with the two locations, we were still done exploring them before lunch, so we went back to the campground rather then eating our picnic lunch.

There really was not much else to see in the area so we spent the rest of the week in the campground, where I worked on making reservations for July and August in Michigan, worked on this blog, doing laundry, cleaning the RV, etc.  The weather stayed beautiful all week and we both hope for having more like it in the future.  However, we are probably too far south to realistically expect very more temperatures just in the 70s.

June 2017 – Corydon, Indiana

From Elizabethtown, Kentucky we moved to our first location with Indiana about 2 hours to the north and west.  It basically followed the path taken by Thomas Lincoln when he moved his family from Kentucky, north of the Ohio River into the frontier of Indiana.  We were looking for a campground near Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana and settled on the US Forest Service campground at Tipsaw Lake.  This campground is situated well within the Hoosier National Forest just north of the Ohio River.  We were somewhat surprised with the landscape, expecting a wide flood plain along the Ohio River.  However, the Ohio River is anything but a flat plain.  The terrain on both sides of the river is very hilly and the Hoosier National Forest is within this terrain.  Just north of the National Forest, the terrain does level out into what we were expecting for Indiana.  However, this week we would be staying in the hills surrounded by the Eastern hardwood forest.  The Tipsaw Lake Campground is a secluded campgrounds with large spacious sites organized in five loops.  Only one of the loops, with about 15 campsites, have electric and water hookups.  Most of the campground is laid out for tents and small units, except for this one loop.  We had a reserved site, but upon looking at the size of our RV, the volunteers offered to move us to the next site over which was not only longer, but also a pull-through site.  We immediately took them up on the offer, sight unseen, and were glad we did.  The site we had reserved would have been a challenge to fit into with our length and I don’t think we would have been able to level the RV.  The pull-through site was also far from level.  It took both boards to level the RV from side to side and this was the first time I had to raise the front of the RV off of the truck to level it back to front.  In fact, we had to hook up to the truck a second time to put more boards under the front legs since they would not extend far enough without them to level the RV.  Even then, I wished we had put more than 3 boards under the legs ( could have put up to 5) as the legs were still extended further then they have ever been and the RV “popped” all week like something was breaking.  However, it does not appear that we have caused any permanent damage, but I will not do that again!!  Except for not being level, the site was very nice with a lot of room and trees.  This was also our first experience with porous cement bricks for paving on the site.  It made the ground look and feel grassy, but the bricks provided a firm surface with no mud after a rain.  I would like to have this more often.  There was only two negatives about the campground,  First, the RV and phone reception was terrible, only PBS would come in reliably.  Second, the restrooms were pit toilets, the first we have run into over the past 2.5 years.  In addition to being just a covered hole in the ground, there was also no electricity and very little light even during the day.  Thankfully, the campgrounds were nearly empty all week so they were not heavily used and did not smell.

Campsite

As I stated before, our main reason for choosing this location was the proximity of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, about 30 miles to the west.  So on Tuesday we went to check it out.  I know that Abraham Lincoln was a very important historical figure, but since his family moved multiple times he has numerous very impressive memorials.  First, his birthplace in Kentucky has an impressive granite memorial built around what they long thought was the log cabin of his birth.  Then the family moved to Indiana for 14 years where Abraham grew up before they moved on to Illinois.  At his Indiana home near Pigeon Creek they have again constructed an impressive memorial, this time out of limestone.  This memorial is horseshoe shaped with five life size murals carved into the limestone depicting five phases of Abraham’s life.  I was disappointed with the inside since the museum consists solely of paintings of Abraham Lincoln and a short film about his boyhood.  The major attraction of the National Memorial are the grounds outside the memorial.  Walking up a well manicured grassy hill that is reminiscent of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., you come to a small pioneer cemetery where Abraham’s mother, Nancy, is buried.  She died just two years after the family moved from Kentucky of milk sickness. This was a deadly ailment of the times caused by drinking milk poisoned by cows eating white snakeroot.  While this plant can also kill the cows who eat it, it also poisons their milk with toxins that were almost always fatal at the time.  Of course, at the time they did not know the cause of the illness and it was in large part a re-occurrence of the sickness 14 years later that prompted Thomas Lincoln to once again move west.  Abraham’s older sister, Sarah, had to take over as housewife for the family, which at the age of 11 was not an easy task.  Thus, Thomas went back to Kentucky in 1819 to marry a widowed friend of theirs, Sarah Bush Johnston and bring her family of three children to Indiana.  Under her guidance the family became one and Abraham grew up to be a tall, muscular young man with a keen intellect.  He often supplemented the family income with the spitting of firewood, as his reputation with an axe was well known.  In 1828, he took a job piloting a flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans.  Along with his anti-slavery upbringing, since slavery was not allowed in Indiana according to their constitution, his experiences watching the slave auctions in New Orleans strongly influenced his views on slavery.KalAtMemorial

From the cemetery it is a short walk through the woods to a Living Historical Farm where interpreters use pioneering methods to maintain the farm.  We had a nice talk with the interpreter about wild game at the time before walking around the small farm.  At this location they have also constructed a metal framework of the foundation of their log cabin.  Leading off of the farm is a one-mile nature trail through the Indiana woodlands.  It was a nice walk in the mid-morning on a warm spring day.  There is also an alternate trail back to the Visitor Center along the Trail of Twelve Stones.  As the name implies there are 12 stones along the pathway from all the places Abraham Lincoln lived, from his birthplace in Kentucky, to his life in Illinois, and finally his years in Washington D.C.  Of course I expected them to be examples of the stones you would find in those places, and some of them were.  However, the majority were from old historical buildings from the area including taverns, stores, and even the home across from the Ford Theater where Abraham Lincoln died.  Each stone has a plaque giving information about where it came from.  Even with the walk, the site took only a few hours to explore, so we ate a picnic lunch on a bench outside the Visitor Center and headed back to the campground for the afternoon.

GregAtLivingFarm

Wednesday promised to be another beautiful warm spring day, so I decided to do something a little different.  We drove to the east to the little town of Corydon, Indiana which is the site of the first state capitol of Indiana.  From 1800 to 1813 the territorial capitol of the Indiana Territory was in Vincennes, which we will be visiting next week. The Indiana Territory included what would become the states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. Shortly after the outbreak of the War of 1812, they decided to move the territorial capitol to a more centrally located site as this part of the Indiana Territory moved toward statehood.  While the location this far south may seem strange, you have to know that most of the population of the area was along the Ohio River, north of Kentucky and thus Corydon made sense.  The first state constitution was drafted in Corydon and it became the first capitol when Indiana became a state in 1816.  By 1825, the population of the state had continued to push northward and they decided to relocate the capitol in the geographic center of the state so they created the town of Indianapolis.  For 9 years, Corydon was the state capitol of Indiana thus solidifying its place in history.  However, it has remained a small town with all of its charms.  The centerpiece of the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site is The Old Capitol building on one side of the town square, which is very beautifully maintained today.  We started our exploration of the town at the small Visitor Center across from the town square where they provided us with a nice brochure, ” A Walking Tour of Corydon, Indiana”.  We were hoping to see a number of buildings from that time period, however, this has been a dynamic town over the years and very few buildings have survived.  We did walk north a couple of blocks to the Branham Tavern, which is the oldest building in town built before 1807 by General William Henry Harrison as his Corydon headquarters as territorial governor.  Nearby is the remains of The Constitutional Elm under which the delegates drafted the first state constitution since the log home they were officially meeting in was too cramped and hot during the summer.  Only part of the trunk remains today since the tree was killed by the Dutch Elm disease in 1924.  We then walked around the downtown area looking at all the old store fronts, all of which have a small plaque giving the history of the building.  As you would expect they have gone through a lot of owners and uses over the years.  We ended up at the Zimmerman Art Glass factory, which is an old gas station from the early 1900s.  We spent about an hour watching the artist quickly craft a couple of glass vases from scratch.  The process was very entertaining, especially with his running commentary about the procedure.  For lunch we ate at a local brewery, the Point Blank Brewing Company, where we got to sample their brown ale and porter beer while we split a wonderful calzone.

After lunch we got in the truck and drove out of town to the only Civil War battlefield in Indiana.  In July of 1863, General John Morgan invaded the north on a lengthy raid with about 2400 cavalry troops at the same time that General Lee was attacking Gettysburg.  This raid extended all the way up to northwestern Ohio before turning back south and one of the only places of resistance was at Corydon.  Around 450 “Home Guard” militiamen faced off against the Confederate soldiers withstanding a couple of attacks.  However, when the Confederates brought up their heavy cannon, the home guard wisely fled back into town.  As this was a fast moving raid, the Confederates did not stay, but left after resupplying by sacking the town and trading for fresh horses.  Within a couple of days they were gone.  We also stopped just north of the Little Indian Creek where they have on display all 35 flags that have flown over Corydon.  I could not for the life of me think of 35 different flags, however, once I saw them I understood.  I expected the Spanish, French, British, and early US flags.  I even expected a Confederate flag, although they had two on display as the official Confederate flag changed in 1863.  The rest of the flags are all the US flags that changed every time a state was added to the Union!  Thus, there have been 35 flags that have flown over Corydon.  This was a fitting end to our day in the small town of Corydon, Indiana.

Thursday was spent doing laundry, working on the blog, and figuring out how we would be traveling through Michigan in July and August.  We were both ready for something different on Friday and since it had been quite a while we had been to a casino, we headed north to French Lick, Indiana.  Unlike nearly all of the Indiana casinos which are on river boats, French Lick is a resort in the midst of Hoosier National Forest.  We understood that at one time the casino was originally technically a riverboat sitting on a man-made lake.  However, we could see no evidence of this today.  It should be noted that the casino is a very small part of the entire resort which consists of multiple restaurants, two hotels, two golf courses, and event centers.  However, all we were interested in was the casino.  It is advertised to be a Vegas-style casino and while I have never been to Vegas, I can state that it has everything I would expect to find there.  They have all the table games, roulette, craps, and many slot machines.  While most of the slot machines cost a minimum of $0.50 to play, we did manage to find enough cheaper machines to keep us busy for a couple of hours.  We both did alright, losing about half our money, which for us is a good day at the casino.

We spent the weekend relaxing in the campground, although we did break out our bikes to ride on the asphalt roads in the campground.  However, we soon discovered that we are not ready for this hilly terrain.  While the grades were not really that steep, they were more then we were ready for.  After trying to go up and down these hills, we decided to limit ourselves to circling the campsites in our loop.  The grade was much more level and 10 times around was a pretty good workout.

May 2017 – Elizabethtown, Kentucky

The trip north from Bowling Green to Elizabethtown was an easy drive as most of it was on I-65 through the rolling hills of Kentucky.  Since I was too late to get reservations at any of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds for Memorial Day weekend, our next destination was a commercial RV Park just a mile from the interstate, Elizabethtown Crossroads Campground.  After staying so many weeks nearly off the grid, it was nice to be in a commercial campground with cable TV, wireless internet, and a laundry room.  While the campground was only about half full during the weekend, it certainly filled up with families for the Memorial Day weekend.  The sites were all pull-through sites which was fortunate as they had very little room between the sites.  For most sites there was barely enough room for a picnic table.  However, our site was a corner site, so we had more room in front of our RV.  We did have to deal with some traffic as everyone exiting the campground had to drive by us.  In total it was a nice, medium sized campgrounds that was well maintained and clean.  Kal was certainly thrilled to have cable as she was able to watch the end of the English FA Cup and some of the U-20 World Cup games in Korea.  Of course, this came with a down size since their cable RV required a small box to operate which meant we only got cable in the living room.  We had to turn it off at night so she could get TV off the antennae, which wasn’t bad reception.

Campsite

As the weather forecast for the week was to be mostly wet, we took advantage of a clear day on Tuesday to explore the nearby Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.  While I grew up believing Lincoln was from Illinois where he served as a US Senator, he was actually born in Kentucky and grew up in Indiana.  At the time of his birth in 1809, Kentucky was still considered the frontier, although most of the agricultural land was under cultivation by then.  His father, Thomas, had learned the carpentry trade where he earned enough money to purchase 300 acres known as the Sinking Spring Farm.  Now this was rocky land, being only marginally suited for agriculture, but it did have a spring.  In this part of central Kentucky, this was essential.  As we learned last week, the extensive cave systems in the area meant there are very few above ground streams, making an accessible spring essential.  When Thomas and Nancy Lincoln moved to their new farm, Abraham’s older sister Sarah was a year old and Abraham was born soon after the move.  Unfortunately, a land dispute took away the farm just two years later, so the family had to move before Lincoln was old enough to form any memories of Sinking Spring Farm.  Without the money to purchase a new farm, Thomas leased a 30 acre farm along Knob Creek about 10 miles to the northeast.  Except for being prone to spring flooding, this land was much richer, however, 30 acres was barely large enough to sustain a family growing corn and pumpkins as their main crops.  Once again a land dispute just 5 years later threatened to end their lease, so Thomas once again set out for the frontier of Indiana Territory just across the Ohio River in 1816.  Abraham’s earliest childhood memories are of this farm along Knob Creek.  Due to prominence of Abraham Lincoln, both of these areas have been well known tourist attractions.  As part of the centennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for a marble and granite memorial at Sinking Creek Farm.  The memorial was completed and dedicated by President Taft in 1911.  This beautiful memorial predates the more well known Lincoln Memorial in D.C.  The 56 steps leading up to the memorial represents the 56 years of Lincoln’s life.  Within the climate controlled memorial is a log cabin representing the size and style of log cabin where Abraham was born.  For years it was believed to be the actual cabin, but carbon dating had proved that it is off later construction, although before being housed in the memorial it had a life on tour to major US cities as a tourist attraction.

GregAtMemorial

After exploring the exhibits in the small Visitor Center and the memorial itself, we went for a short hike around the area.  The path begins at the spring that was so important to the property and passed the location of the Boundary Tree, which died in 1976  but started as a oak sapling next to the original log cabin.

GregAtSassafras

We then drove the 10 miles to the Knob Creek Farm, which was added to the Historical Park in 2001.  Consequently, there is not much to see at this location.  Except for the log cabin that is suppose to have been the home of one of their neighbors and some fallow fields, there is just the Lincoln Tavern.  This is a 20th century building that has housed numerous attractions for tourists over the years.  Now, it is itself an historical building with an unknown future as part of the NPS.

KnobCreekFarm

Once we finished with exploring the National Historical Park, we drove back to Elizabethtown to see about locating a lab that could do our bloodwork.  Every 6 months we are supposed to have our cholesterol checked, with results sent to our doctor in Auburn.  So we checked with the local Walgreens when we got our prescriptions filled and there was a medical complex not far away.  We located a lab and they were sure there would be no problem doing the work based on the prescription we had from our doctor and did not see a problem with our insurance.  We could not get the work done immediately as we had to fast for our triglycerides to be meaningful.  So we headed back to the campgrounds for the afternoon.  Early on Wednesday morning we went back to the lab where they starting entering our information only to run into a problem since our prescription for the bloodwork did not include any diagnosis that would account for the work needing to be done.  This was supposedly needed by the insurance company and required by state law.  Without this information they would not do the work.  So they pointed us to another nearby lab that might be willing to do the work.  Upon looking at our prescription, they were going to have the same problem as the “code” was needed by state law.  However, they were willing to call our doctor in Auburn and get what they needed.  So we waited all day to hear back from them, only to find out that our doctor had no record of ordering this bloodwork to be done and since they had not seen us recently, refused to authorize the work!!!  I don’t know what we are going to do now since we will not be back in Auburn until November.  Our prescription for our meds is good until then, so we might just wait until November.  The other possibility is to try again in Indiana, where their state law would allow it.  I really don’t see the problem, since all we are asking for is to have our cholesterol checked and we have not had this problem before.  In any case, this blew Wednesday although Kal did get the laundry done while I cleaned the RV.

The weather on Thursday was off and on light rain, with nasty thunderstorms in the evening, so we just stayed close to the campground.  Friday, however, was predicted to be a sunny day with more rain over the weekend, so we headed out to explore more of Mammoth Cave.  Previously, we explored a very small part of the cave complex, so this time we were looking for something a little different.  We dropped in on Mammoth Cave Canoe and Kayak in Cave City to check into a kayak trip down the Green River in the park.  They were only too happy to rent us a couple of ride on-top kayaks for the afternoon and we immediately headed out to the river.  Thankfully, since it was during the week, we could drive to the take-out point at Green River Ferry and park our truck so we did not have to time the end of the trip.  We had thought to eat a picnic lunch before heading out, however, the banks were so steep that we decided to use their assistance in launching and away we went.  The trip was 7 miles along the river, however, the current was so strong it would only take a couple of hours for the trip.  There is simply not an easier way to see the countryside then floating down a river on a kayak.  Since we let the river do nearly all the work, we took more than 3 hours for us to make the trip.  The Kentucky wilderness within the National Park is simply beautiful we even enjoyed eating lunch as we floated since the banks were still too steep to stop.  We did eventually find an island with a muddy bank that we could pull over to stretch our legs.  It was also kind of neat to watch the ferry chugging back and forth on its electric motors ferrying cars across the Green River as we approached the take-out point at the landing.  A great trip and one I hope we do again in the future on other rivers.

After the great time we had on Friday, Memorial Day weekend at the campgrounds was not very exciting.  Of course, raining nearly all Saturday afternoon and evening did not help the festivities.  They did try to get things started with a very small parade with the golf carts and lawn mowers on Saturday before the rain, but without much luck.  While we enjoyed having cable TV during the bad weather, I doubt very many of the other campers were happy with their Memorial Day weekend.  By mid-morning Sunday it cleared off and I took the opportunity to visit Freeman Park in Elizabethtown for a round of disc golf.  As the course was located in the city park, it was mostly opened, although I did manage to hit some of few trees that were in the fairways.  The front nine were nicely laid out and except for the distance of some of the holes, I did fairly well.  However, the back 9 were a little messed up when they lost hole 13 to a fenced in dog-park.  I ran into the disc golf club members that were discussing how to rearrange the back 9.  This made it a bit of a challenge to figure out the holes, but since 3 of them were along the lake it wasn’t too bad.  I did skip hole 14 and 16 since the I was not willing to take a chance of losing a disc in the lake.  While hole 14 ran right along the lake, the tee shot was constricted by brush that came nearly to the lake.  There was simply too great a risk I would hook the shot and have the disc land in the lake.  Hole 16 teed off across a small inlet of the lake with the cage on the other side of the water.  Again, just not worth the risk of a bad shot.  Other than that it was a level and open disc golf course and I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon.

May 2017 – Bowling Green, Kentucky

The trip from Bumpus Mills to Bowling Green brought us into Kentucky, although the trip was virtually straight east along the state border.  At the Corps of Engineers campground at Barren River Lake outside of Bowling Green, we were just a half hour from Tennessee.  The campground is called Tailwater, at it is a medium sized campground immediately below the dam.  This meant we had a very nice river flowing past the campground instead of the other, larger campgrounds on the lake itself.  Tailwater is a very nice, well-maintained campground in comparison to the older and smaller campground at Bumpus Mills.  Most campsites are along the river giving good views of the flowing water with the backdrop of a bluff on the other bank.  Nearly all of the sites are back-in but with the large grassy bank of the river, it was a simple matter to back the RV into the site.  It certainly makes a difference when there is not trees in the way of swinging the truck around!!

Campsite

Tuesday was once again time to do laundry and cleaning so Kal took off to find a laundromat in town while I cleaned the RV.  It was sure nice to have a full closet of clean clothes again.  Wednesday was another beautiful day so we headed north to Mammoth Cave.  This was our second time visiting Mammoth Cave, although the last time was over 30 years ago while Kal was pregnant with Jenny and I was in graduate school.  Neither of us remember much from this visit and it sure did not diminish the awe of seeing the huge cave.  We bought tickets for the Historic Tour, however, we had over 2 hours before the tour.  So we spent the first hour in the museum at the Visitor Center, which is well worth the time.  They have a number of interactive exhibits covering the geology, history, and culture of the caves.  I was amazed to find out that the cave complex consists of over 400 miles of explored and mapped caves, already making it the longest known cave complex in the world and it is estimated there are over 600 more miles of undiscovered caves still to be found.  The cave complex extends well beyond the over 52,000 acres of the National Park on the surface.  It was also fun to discover that mapping of the tunnels use many tools I am familiar with from measuring trees.  Among these were Suunto clinometers, which I taught many students over 25 years to use to measure the height of trees.  They also had exhibits of the many unique animal species that have evolved to live in the dark cave environment.  This still left us time to eat lunch before gathering for the tour.

The Historic Tour is one of the longer tours offered while we were there.  It was over two miles in length, would take over 2 hours, and had over 600 steps.  While it sounded like it could be a challenge, it also sound very interesting.  As the name implies, this tour follows much of the path that has been used for tours since the 1800s.  The entrance is HUGE with the ceiling over 30 feet above your head and a small waterfall off to one side.  After walking a quarter mile into this huge cave you come to the Rotunda which is the convergence of two subterranean rivers.   As expected, this cave system is through a deep limestone layer of rock.  What makes the geology so unique is the sandstone overlaying the limestone.  This relatively impervious rock protects the caves and is critical to their creation.  It also makes the surface different then I have ever encountered.  Simply put, there are almost no creeks on the surface.  Instead rainwater exits the surface through sink holes that pockmark the entire area.  This also leads to a number of shallow springs that disappear back underground.  For this reason this part of Kentucky is relatively poor for agriculture due to lack of water.  Instead this water slowly dissolves the underlying limestone creating a vast complex of caves.  Over time the Green River, which drains this part of the area, cuts a deeper path in the limestone thereby lowering the water table.  As this happens the underground rivers drain into lower reaches cutting dissolving new courses through the limestone.  Thus there are now five levels of caves and this entrance is into the area between the first and second layers.  You can actually see where the river channels were somewhat different between the two layers.  This made for an interesting view of the cave where you can see the old caves running at angles to each other.  This area, being relatively close to the entrance has been historically inhabited by millions of bats.  Due to the number of visitors, the bats no longer inhabit this part of the cave complex.  However, the thousand of years of bats had built up a large amount of bat guano, which became important during the War of 1812 for the production of saltpeter, a necessary component for the production of gunpowder.  The remains of the mining operation from this time are still in amazing condition begin stored in nature’s refrigerator, where the humidity and temperature are closely maintained at a very comfortable 65 degrees.  The only change since that time is the construction of concrete walkways and stairs throughout the tour.

From the Rotunda the tour continues along Broadway and Gothic Avenues before descending into the third level of caves.  At this point you cross over the Bottomless Pit, which used to be the end of the tour in the 1800s as this point was impassable.  Today there is a metal grate over the pit, which means you can look straight down into the depths which they have lit with sufficient lights to see the bottom over a hundred feet below.  Just so you don’t think the entire tour is along broad paved walkways, which it had been up to the descent into the third level, the path now snakes its way through a long narrow passage known as the Fat Man’s Misery.  At points you also have to duck your head in order to get through.  Then you descend again into the fourth level to the Great Relief Hall where they have benches to sit for a while.  They do shine a light down a passage that leads down to the fifth level which is now the normal water level.  This is not to say that the fourth level is always dry as it will flood during heavy rains.  They also take advantage of everyone sitting down to turn off all the lights so you can see what total darkness is like.  As this is the lowest point of the tour, the rest of the trip is climbing back up 400 feet.  Most of the climb is up through Mammoth Dome which is a HUGE vertical shaft from the top levels to the current  level of the river.  They have constructed a metal tower to climb up through the dome and with the lights there are a number of spectacular views!!  In my opinion, this was the highlight of the tour as I have never seen such a large underground area.  The final quarter mile of the tour is along Audubon Avenue, which is the other river meeting at the Rotunda and the exit from the cave.  This was truly an amazing experience which I will always remember and if I forget, Kal got some terrific pictures with her camera.

Due to the spring weather and storms we did not get another chance to visit Mammoth Cave this week, which was really unfortunate as there was a lot more to see and do there.  The weather on Thursday wasn’t too bad, so we were able to explore the 1 mile loop trail at the campgrounds.  While a nice walk, I was disappointed we could not go back to Mammoth Cave.

May 2017 – Dover, Tennessee

After having to spend an extended period waiting for the truck to be repaired, we had only five days at our next location, Bumpus Mills Campground.  This is another Corps of Engineer campground, this time on the shores of Barkley Lake on the Cumberland River.  Just across the river and in between Barkley and Kentucky Lake (on the Tennessee River) is the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  For those of you that are aware of this area, you know that we were now in the extreme northwest part of Tennessee, just a few miles from Kentucky and Illinois.  The drive from Nashville took over 3 hours, although most of it was along I-24.  Thankfully, the traffic through Nashville was not to bad mid-morning and there were no traffic accidents to slow us down.  When we pulled into Bumpus Mills we were disappointed not to find anyone working at the check-in station, so we had to find our own way to our site.  Fortunately, we knew our site number from the reservation and it was open.  In fact, there was only two other campers in the campground when we arrived.  This is a very small campground, with only 15 sites and all of them need some work.  They obviously do not spend a lot of time and resources on keeping up the campground, however, the bathroom was kept clean and the view of the lake from the campsite was nice.  It was a back-in site and even with a tree across the road that I had to be careful of, I was able to get into the site with little effort.  After the pressures of the previous week, it was sure nice to be in a new and quiet location.  By the way, we did see the staff working the campground the following morning when they drove by to drop off our hang tag.

Campsite

There was a reason for us to travel to this location, as Fort Donelson National Battlefield was a short drive away on the other side of the lake.  However, this was going to have to wait as it had been over 1.5 weeks since we had done any laundry and we were both running out of undergarments to wear.  There was a fairly new washing machine and dryer outside the bathrooms, however, Kal had only enough change for a single load.  So we picked out what we had to have washed and I cleaned the RV while Kal did a little laundry.  This was the extent of our efforts for Thursday.

On Friday, the weather turned stormy so we once again stayed in the campgrounds.  Once again we found ourselves far from any major towns, so our internet service was non-existent and TV reception was limited to a single analog station out of Cape Girardeau, Illinois.  It is VERY unusual to receive an analog station as they have all gone to digital.  This has its advantages, since the signal was very snowy it was still much better than a broken picture and sound you get when you are out of range of digital stations.  At least we could watch it!!  However, this also meant we were just outside of their weather coverage, so it was not of much use during the storms.  Fortunately, they were not too severe.

By Saturday, we were both more than ready to get out of the RV for a while, so we headed out to explore Fort Donelson National Battlefield.  This Civil War battle also took place in 1862, but preceded Shiloh.  In fact, it was due to the Union victory here that led to General Grant being able to move his army up the Tennessee River in April.  At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederacy controlled all of Tennessee and had established a defensive line along the southern border of Kentucky anchored at Columbus, Kentucky on the west to Bowling Green, Kentucky on the east.  In between were Forts Henry and Donelson along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively.  These forts are only separated by some 12 miles at this point, so constituted a single command.  The problem for the south was that Fort Henry was located right on the Tennessee River and was prone to floods and during the battle in February was nearly underwater.  The Confederates were in the process of constructing a new fort, Fort Heiman, on the Kentucky side of the river and the Union knew that there best chance for a victory relied on attacking before it was completed.  President Lincoln was still waiting for a Union victory in the war, where all the major encounters in the east had been won by the Confederacy and was pressing for something before Washington’s Birthday on February 22.  Thus General Grant got the approval to attack the forts in late January.  Not wasting any time, he moved his troops into position by February 4 along with Flag Officer’s Foote gunboat flotilla.  This flotilla consisted of both ironclad and lumberclad gunboats that were still new to the war.  Plans were to begin with Fort Henry by bombarding the fort from the river while the troops moved up.  However, Foote’s flotilla was so successful that Fort Henry had surrendered before Grant’s soldiers could fire a shot.  Of course, Fort Henry was largely underwater and the Confederates made only a token resistance before retreating to Fort Donelson.  It took Grant over a week to consolidate his position and begin moving his troops the 12 miles to Fort Donelson.  Of course the weather did not cooperate.  Have you ever noticed that the weather NEVER cooperated during the Civil War?  Part of the story of every major battle we have seen has been the terrible condition of the muddy roads, heavy downpours, and in this case a blizzard that hit the night of February 13.  By this point Grant had surrounded three sides of Fort Donelson with the Cumberland River to their back.  Up to this point there had been some fighting as the Confederates kept the Union beyond their first defensive line.  On February 14, Foote once again brought his flotilla to attack the water batteries of the fort.  However, unlike Fort Henry, the river batteries at Fort Donelson commanded a much higher location and were able to fire their seacoast cannon down into the relatively unprotected wooden upper decks of the gunboats.  After nearly 1.5 hours 3 out of the 4 ironclad gunboats were severely damaged or sunk and they had to withdraw.  It was interesting to note that this barrage became known as “Iron Valentines” since the battle occurred on Valentine’s Day, 1862.  Even with this victory, the Confederate Generals knew they could not withstand a siege, so on February 15 they executed a surprise attack on the Union right flank to open up an escape route to the east towards Nashville.  This attack was initially successful, nearly routing the Union forces on the right flank.  However, instead of holding this position, General Pillow ordered his men back to their trenches to resupply for the escape.  In the meantime, General Buckner had pulled most of his men from the Confederate right flank to begin the evacuation.  Thus there was only light resistance when General Grant ordered General Smith to attack the Confederate right believing the strong attack on his right must have left them vulnerable.  This attack was initially successful forcing the Confederates back to their second defensive line of trenches, but was stopped when General Buckner quickly turned his men around once he realized that General Pillow was not holding the escape route open.   By the end of the day, the Union had retaken its position on the right flank, once again cutting off any escape, and had advanced to the first defensive line on the left flank.  In the meantime, the Confederate Generals knew they were in serious trouble.  The overall commander was General Floyd, who had only a political appointment that began two days before the battle when he took over command of the fort.  He turned over command to General Pillow and escaped with his personal battalion of 2000 soldiers across the Cumberland River.  General Pillow also relinquished command to General Buckner and escaped with General Floyd.  Therefore, it was up to General Buckner, who was the only West Point trained commander at the fort, to seek offers of surrender.  When asked for terms, General Grant replied that the surrender had to be unconditional, which led to his nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant in lieu of his initials, U.S.  They met the next morning to work out the details at the Dover Hotel and although the surrender was “unconditional”, General Grant did allow the nearly 13,000 Confederate troops to keep their dignity and personal possessions.  The outcome of this battle was the opening of an invasion route to the heart of the Confederacy, who had to give up all control of Kentucky and most of northern and western Tennessee.  They also abandoned Nashville, which became the major supply depot for the Union army in the west.

It is not surprising that Fort Henry is today completely covered by Kentucky Lake, since it was often flooded due to its location right on the river.  Also the exact location of Fort Heiman has also been lost.  Therefore, the only remains of the battlefields are around Fort Donelson.  They have a nice driving tour that takes in the major locations of the two day battle.  The most notable, of course, is Fort Donelson itself.  For some reason, I had expected to see a brick and mortar fort like you see all along the coast.  Fort Donelson was actually only an earthen fort with 10-12 foot moats in front of the earth walls.  This was for two reasons.  First, its main purpose was to protect the water batteries from land attack, so major fortifications were not necessary.  Second, earthen forts are better able to withstand the pounding of cannon, which you can easily understand after looking at the damage to the coastal forts such as Fort Pulaski in Georgia.  The remains of the fort are in surprisingly good condition as you can easily see the walls surrounding the fort.  Even though a battle was fought here, all of it occurred well outside the fort in the defensive trenches.  The fort itself was never actually attacked from the land and the naval barrage was aimed at the water batteries, which suffered only minor damage.  They also have a replica of the crude wooden huts used by the Confederates both within and outside the fort.  While crude, with canvas roofs, these huts were much better protection during the blizzard that hit then the canvas tents of the Union army, if they even had that.  Part of the tour is also the Dover Hotel which is the only surviving building where a surrender occurred during the war.  For those of you that think Appomattox Courthouse also qualifies, the present day building is a reconstruction as the original building was taken down to be moved to Washington D.C. as a tourist attraction.  This idea fell through, but the wood was left to rot on the ground.  Finally, the tour ends at the National Cemetery where the Union soldiers were re-interred after the war.   As with other battlefields, the losing side was left in mass graves on the battlefield.  It was interesting to find out that the cemetery was also the location of a new Fort Donelson built by the Union army to protect Dover instead of using the old fort since protecting the waterway was no longer a priority.  The Confederates tried to retake Dover twice over the next two years of the war, eventually completely destroying the town.

On our last day in the area we decided to explore the Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.  This NWR was established in 1962 when Barkley Lake was formed and extends along the new lakefront along the Cumberland River.  They is a 10 mile road, mostly along the river and the wetlands created by the lake.  It is a very pretty drive with many views of the lake and surrounding wetlands, often on both sides of the road.  There is a nesting Bald Eagle pair along the drive, however, we were not fortunate enough to see them and the nest is now hidden by the leaves.  We did see a racoon on the one-mile loop trail on the refuge and a Barred owl in the trees alongside the road.  We also found a very nice place for a picnic lunch before heading back the way we came along the river.  It was a very pleasant day and much better then relaxing in the campgrounds!!  So much for Tennessee this spring as we will now be heading into Kentucky.

May 2017 – Nashville, Tennessee

Since we were staying at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, which is only a few miles north of I-40, the trip to Nashville was along the interstate and even had a rest stop that we took advantage of about half way. For the next week, we would once again be in a Corps of Engineer’s campground, this time to the southeast of Nashville, just northwest of Murfreesboro on J. Percy Priest Lake, part of the Cumberland River. Poole Knobs Campground is an older COE campground, which means the roads through the campgrounds are narrow and windy. I was surprised to find out that 54 of the 64 RV campsites are pull-through, with a number of them being “buddy” sites that could be shared between two RVs. Unfortunately, the only site available when I made the reservations was a back-in site. When we pulled up to our reserved site, I was not sure we would be able to back our RV into it. Not only was the approach down-hill, which meant I would not be able to see the RV, but the trees and ditch across the road was going to make it nearly impossible to swing the truck around. An expert might have done it, but I am no expert. Thankfully, the staff showed us the site and offered to less us use the site across the road which would be much easier to get into. I gave it a couple of tries, but could not get the truck swung around. By this point we had two RVs waiting patiently to get by us, so I drove the RV all the way around the campgrounds to line up for another shot and let them by. On the way around I ran into the staff in his golf cart again and he informed me that this new site was only available through Thursday. So I pulled the RV back to the entrance gate to see what else we could find. Even though there were very few RVs currently in the campgrounds, all of the other sites were reserved for the weekend. So our choices were to either go back to our reserved site, or use this other site, leaving on Friday. With the trouble I had already had, I was fairly certain that I would not be able to get the RV into the original site. So with the staff’s assistance, we decided to try and put the RV into the site across the road. With his help I was able to steer the RV into the site after two tries, however, there was a dip in the approach apron that tilted the RV just enough to put the left side right up against a black walnut tree that was leaning in. I pulled the RV back forward and we got out our leveling boards to shore up the dip. However, This only allowed me to get more into a bind with the tree which eventually touched the side of the RV, bending in the gain channels along the edge of the roof. Thankfully, by this point I had managed to get the truck pretty much in front of the RV, so I was able to pull the RV forward again and take a new angle into the site that was away from the tree. After more than a half hour of maneuvering, we were finally in our new site for the next four days. I then spent some time finding a commercial campground near Clarksville, Tennessee and made reservations for the weekend. Since this was very close to our next planned stop, it should work.

Since we had already visited the only National Park in the area, Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, last spring, there was nothing we were trying to visit in the area. There are some other Civil War Battlefields owned by the state in the area and, of course, Kal was interested in seeing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Other than that our only plans were to visit one of Nikki’s high school friends, Charlotte, and her family that live only about 10 miles from our campground. Other than that our only plans were to get the truck serviced at the Ford dealership in Murfreesboro, less than 20 miles away. We had made reservations with them a couple of weeks earlier, so first thing Tuesday morning we drove the truck in for service. Besides changing the oil, fuel filters, and air filters, we also asked them to find the leak in the air conditioning and check out a noise we were hearing in the rear end over the past few weeks. Fully expecting to have the work finished that afternoon, we planned on crossing the street to a nice Mexican Restaurant for lunch and set down in the nice waiting area to wait. This was by far the nicest, largest, and cleanest service department we have ever been in, so is was no problem waiting with our Kindles or TV to provide entertainment. After a couple of hours, we got the bad news. The noise in the rear end was our differential tearing itself up and they were surprised that we had not been towed, much less that we had twice towed our RV with it in this condition. Obviously, we had to get this fixed right away and the cost was now going to be over $2500. We went to lunch while they tried to locate a loner for us since it would now be Thursday before we got the truck back. After lunch, they finally gave up on the loner and had Enterprise pick us up to get a rental. Thankfully, they had a corporate rate of $35/day instead of the normal rate of $55/day. We got our rental and went back to the campground to wait.

RentalCar

On Wednesday, we got further bad news that they were able to find the leak in the air conditioning using a fiber optic camera. They leak was in the central coil, which is buried in the dash. This meant a lot of labor as they had to take out everything under the dash in order to get to it. This would add at least another $1500 to the cost of the repairs and would delay them until Friday. Since we had to leave on Friday, this was going to be a problem for the campgrounds. However, they were not overly concerned as we could move to their “emergency site” that they keep available for just such a problem, since ALL of their sites were reserved for the weekend. Obviously, this would mean I would have to borrow their truck for the move, which I was not comfortable with. However, we both realized that the better solution would be to check with the incoming party to see if they would be willing to use the emergency site instead. By the way, this emergency site is actually a better site, since it is a pull-through site with a view of the lake. So we left it at that and continued our wait. Neither of us were willing to take any risk with the rental, so did not plan on going anywhere, except to Walmart which was less than 10 miles away. However, we did meet up with Charlotte, Jeff, and their two children for dinner at Marvin’s, a local barbecue restaurant that was very good. We had an enjoyable evening, which was a nice break from sitting in the campground worrying about the truck.

On Thursday, we found out they had a supply issue getting the correct parts for the differential, which would delay them until sometime Friday at the earliest. So it was another day sitting in the campground. I could not even do some minor repairs in the RV I had planned, as Kal is convinced we still have a small leak in the front boot, since all my tools were in the truck.

Check-out time at the campground was 3:00, so we had some time on Friday to see if they would finish the truck. Come to find out the differential was giving them problems, so we found out around noon that it would now be Saturday. So we updated the campground staff, who were doing everything they could to help out. As it was now certain that we would have to be there through the weekend, they called the incoming guests to make sure it was alright to move their reservation. As they were tent campers, they had no problem switching, thank goodness, so we were set for the weekend. So I cancelled our reservations in Clarksville. As it turned out, the weather was stormy and cold with temperatures dipping into the low 40s at night and over half of the campers either did not show or canceled their reservations. We could have stayed in any number of campsites that were better than the one we had, but we were glad to have it for the weekend.

On Saturday, the bad news just kept on coming. They had finished the A/C, but were still having issues with the differential. Now they needed a “Shim Kit” which they were having trouble locating, as it is rarely used. This news really worried us, as it made it sound like we had serious problems that went beyond the differential. I just could not understand how they could drop the differential out, fix the interior, and then need shims in order to reinstall it under the truck. If it would not go back in where it came out, then what other problems were there? Kal and I seriously began to talk about whether we would have to trade the truck in, years before we had planned. In any case, it would now be Monday before it was ready.

Sunday was spent worrying around the campground and it was not until noon on Monday that we got any further information about the truck. Now they had two people working on the differential and were hoping to have it finished early on Tuesday!! So we extended our stay another night, which was not a problem as nobody had it reserved until Tuesday.

As you can probably guess by now, Tuesday was yet another delay with the truck which now they were hoping to have done by closing time. We had to again extend our stay another night and the campground staff had to contact another incoming guest to change them to the emergency site. I am sure they were happy to be moved, since they came in after dark and this pull-through site would have been much easier to pull their rig in. The only good outcome of all this was that we were able to watch our Tuesday night line-up on CBS, including NCIS, where we had good TV reception.

We got a call first thing Wednesday morning that they truck was finally finished. We got ourselves around and went to get the truck. Especially since it was early in the day, I intended to sit down and begin the process figuring out whether it would be better to trade the truck in over the next month. First, I had the opportunity to talk with the mechanic about the differential. It turns out that the problem they were having was all internal to the differential. No two bearings are exactly the same and the new bearings would not seat properly. After attempting it multiple times, they had to get this shim kit, which turned out to be difficult to find and delayed them a day in the repair. However, there are some strict tolerances required by Ford for the repair that had to be met, so they kept at it. It certainly took a lot longer than they anticipated, but since the cost is set by their book value, the cost to me was just the car rental. He convinced me that there was no reason to be concerned with the differential and since the repair comes with a two year warranty with unlimited miles, we have decided to once again trust the truck. The total cost for all the repairs and maintenance we had done was just over $5100, which was a lot more than we thought we would be spending at the first of the week. So we had to show off our truck to the campground staff to prove to them we still owned a truck.

While this experience is one every full-timer can relate to, it is not an enjoyable experience. We can be thankful that it did not begin with the truck broken down on the highway, having to have it and the RV towed. While we did not have the opportunity to do any exploring, we were staying in a very nice campground in the woods. We also got to know the campground staff very well, who also had experience with full-timing and met a delightful couple also staying in the campgrounds, Tom & Nancy. For the first time, we found another couple our own ages who have just recently began full-timing. They tend to travel further between stops, which means they have been further west then we have been yet. They are also Escapees members and had stayed a month at Rainbow Plantation in Alabama, although it was after we had left this year. In addition, they are both enthusiastic disc golf players, which was a surprise for all of us. I believe we have met kindred spirits and we have exchanged information to keep in contact in the future.