Gettysburg, 150 years later

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Unknown to us, we arrived at Gettysburg, PA as the town was preparing for its 150th commemmoration of the Battle of Gettysburg, running June 28 to July 7.  I wanted to come here simply because of the famous Gettysburg address, which Abraham Lincoln delivered in two minutes on Nov 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery.  In my Literature class (not History) many moons ago, memorizing and delivering this address was a requirement.  So I really wanted to experience where it was originally delivered.  The beginning iconic phrase of the address still rings in my ears and is stuck in my memory, but I now have a better perspective of the emotion and depth of the message of that historic speech.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Lincoln Address Memorial

Although the actual location is a couple of hundred yards away, this is the Lincoln Address Memorial inside the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery

On our visit, I got so much more than I came for.  I really didn’t know what to expect until I arrived.  We have been to some of the Civil War Trails in our journey, where I learned a lot about American history, particularly the Civil War era.  But on this stop I felt a profound understanding, education and realization about how pertinent the Gettysburg Address still is today.

New York State Monument

Soldiers’ National Cemetery; numbers represent unknown soldiers, and there are thousands of them

We learned that to get a good grasp and understanding of what happened here 150 years ago, one should go to the visitor’s center first.  Unfortunately, the center and its parking lot were already jam-packed full when we arrived on our first day, so instead we took the Guided Battlefield Bus Tour.  There are several ways to see the battlefield, but we opted for the Licensed Guide Bus Tour.  We felt that a self-guided auto tour might be a good option, but with so many people in town the traffic and parking situation was not looking good.  Had we known the significance of this weekend we would have arrived at dawn!

Battlefield at Gettysburg

Observation Tower, note the crowd

Another way to explore the battlefield is by bicycle, and we recommend this option.

Biking at the Gettysburg Battlefield

Look how these smart folks visited the Gettysburg Battlefield – no parking issues for them!

The 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg traces the three-day battle in chronological order.  The licensed guide offered us a unique perspective into the struggles of the battle.  The guide was engaging and knowledgeable, and we could sense his passion and love of his job.  Through his narration we visualized and imagined what it was like when he described significant actions during the fighting.  He gave us a few minutes to reflect and try to understand what happened here.  We highly recommend this bus tour; between it and several hours at the visitor’s center you can come away with quite an education.

View of Oak Ridge, Gettysburg Battlefield

View of Oak Ridge and a monument of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Many areas look much as they did in July 1863, though some are more densely covered by trees.  And of course now you will see the 1,320 monuments remembering the three-day battle’s 51,000 casualties; 23,000 Union Army and 28,000 Confederate Army.  These figures count the dead, injured and lost among them.  The peaceful rolling fields pay silent tribute to this tremendous sacrifice.

Devils Den

Devils Den as viewed from Little Round Hill

The well preserve Gettysburg battlefield, a sacred ground, was considered the turning point in the Civil War 150 years ago.  It is a very poignant reminder of the bravery of the soldiers on both sides.  Below are just a few of the 1,320 monuments, 410 cannon, and plaques within the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Gettysburg Battlefields Monument

Gettysburg Battlefield monuments

Cemetery Hill Attack

Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments

More monuments

Pennsylvania Memorial

Pennsylvania Memorial the largest memorial in the park.

Virginia Memorial

Virginia State Memorial

Gettysburg Battlefield

We came back again very early on July 1st, hoping to beat the crowd at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.  Even though we arrived before it opened, there was already a line ahead of us, which reminded me of the Black Friday shopping lines.

Gettysburg National Military Park  Museum and Visitor Center

Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center

We watched the 25-minute film “A New Birth of Freedom”, which was narrated by  Morgan Freeman.  It gave us an unforgettable perspective about the Civil War – in other words, I finally got it!  The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a sound and light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux, depicting Picket’s charge, completed in 1884.  It was quite a unique experience, like an IMAX of the late 1880’s where  the vast circular painting put us in the middle of the battle.  Canon flash effects on the canvas and sounds of the battle all around gave the illusion of movement.  There were rocks, weapons and other objects in front of the painting that brought a sense of depth.  Very well done!

Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama

Visitors experiencing the Cyclorama presentation

Gettysburg Battlefield Cyclorama

Just a small section of 377′ Cyclorama

The movie, the Cyclorama and the museum is well worth the $12.50 entrance fee.  We highly recommend this historic park to everyone!

As we headed out of town we saw long lines of cars in the battlefield areas and living historian volunteers preparing for the reenactment of the battles by section.

Battlefield Reenactment Volunteers

Battlefield reenactment volunteers

Traffic at the Battlefield

Traffic and parking were tough at the Battlefield

Sally, the Union Mascot

Sally, the Union Mascot

 

Click here for photos and news of reenactment today in Gettysburg.

Happy 4th of July everyone!  Now lets go out and enjoy those fireworks!

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Meandering along Skyline Drive – Northern VA

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Skyline Drive

Driving through the state of Virginia, we learned quickly that it is not only steeped with history but also rich in natural beauty.  This was very evident as we drove north along country roads to our next destination.  We were  graced with the green lushness of the countryside dotted with wildflowers, the beautiful farms and the small charming towns.  Our last stop in Virginia was at Luray in scenic Page County.

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On our first day at Shenandoah National Park we headed south and were met with heavy fog at the higher elevations.  We drove slowly, but because we were unfamiliar with the curves of Skyline Drive we turned around as soon as we saw a safe place to do so.  We did not intend to leave the park empty-handed; instead we looked for a place where we could wait out the fog.  We learned later on that it was at Mile 35 near the Pinnacles Overlook where we made our u-turn.

Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles.  At its southern end it joins the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we were a few days ago.  Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway where most of the scenic overlooks have overgrown trees blocking the view, Skyline Drive has beautiful and plentiful overlooks.

Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley viewed from Stony Man Overlook

Once we got back below the fog, we stumbled onto a gorgeous hiking trail, Buck Hollow.  This is the  3-mile portion of a longer trail, and it’s pretty much a constant descent and rather steep in several sections.  We were paralleling the Buck Hollow stream and at some points made a few rock-hops across the water.  The constant descent going in let us know we’d get a good workout on the way back.  Steve saw a black bear cub, but it smelled him quickly and ran away.  This is really bear and deer country.

We saw these colorful critters and some mushrooms or fungi.

The fog had lifted after our hike , so we continued on to the highest point of the park at the Skyland area.  We stopped first at the Stony Man overlook and took a picture of Stony mountain, where we could follow a trail that led to Stony Man Summit.

Stony Man Overlook

Stony Man Overlook, viewed from the summit…

Stony Man summit

…and Stony Man summit viewed from the overlook

The trail to the summit was an easy 1.6 mile hike, ending with excellent panoramic views.  Unfortunately, some patches of fog were still there and partially obscured our view on this day.

Stony Man Summit

We made it to the Stony Man Summit

The next day was sunny, and we wanted to make use of our 7-day, $15 entrance fee.  This time we headed north and pulled off at many of the over 75 scenic overlooks to see the views.  We went almost all the way to the north entrance and stopped at Mile 5, the Dicky Ridge Visitor Center.

On this drive we met some of the frequent visitors cruising along Skyline, motorcyclists of all shapes and kinds and colors.  It was wonderful to see the wildflowers blooming and wild animals running away from us as we cruised along.

Skyline Drive

Bikers of all colors, brands and sizes

Blooming Wildflowers

Blooming wildflowers along overlooks

There are over 500 hiking trails to explore in the park, and on this day we tackled the Compton Peak Trail, a steady elevation increase of about 835 feet to the summit of Compton Mountain.  There were some steep spots, but the 2.4 mile hike was fairly easy.  At the summit were two side trails, one leading to broad mountain views…

Compton Peak

A pose at Compton Peak

…and the other to an interesting rocky outcrop with columnar joints.

Columnar Joints at Compton Mountain

Looking up at the rocky columnar joints

And along the way we saw more interesting mushrooms or fungi.

There are many more hiking trails and miles for us to explore along the Skyline Drive, we’ll just have to come back to experience more of the Shenandoah National Park.

Finally during this stop, we took a quick side trip for a tour of the Route 11 brand potato chip factory.  We had never heard of the wheat and gluten-free Route 11 brand of chips until Steve stumbled on it while searching for an RV park in Luray.  The Mama Zumma’s flavor, packed with Habanero pepper seasoning, set our mouths on fire and had us grabbing for a cold beer.  Several flavors of these yummy chips are sold at Whole Foods and other stores.

Our base camp was at Outlanders River Camp and we chose it for its proximity to the Shenandoah National Park.  We loved it, for we were surrounded by beautiful greenery and all of the nearby mountains.  You can see Steve’s review here, if you’re interested.

Outlanders River Camp

Panoramic view of Outlanders River Camp

And when the sun came out we enjoyed it to the fullest, with a campfire – even on a hot and humid day.

Outlanders River Camp

Enjoying the sunset

And these lovely duckies were fun to watch!

Ducks

These guys were checking us out as we approached on our evening walk

Green Bee

Green bee – see the ant looking at him?

Next up:  Blackwater beauty, WV

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – Thomas Jefferson

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Appomattox Court House

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….an excerpt of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson.

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument.  We were reminded of that and learned much more history at Monticello.

Monticello, “Little Mountain”, is a remarkable house and one of America’s most famous.  This  was the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third US President.  He designed and redesigned and built and rebuilt  his home over a period of more than forty years.  The 35-minute house tour allowed us to see the inside areas filled with ingenious devices and mementos of this brainy revered founding father.  We were extra attentive, as no photography is allowed on the house tour.  Hearing the docent tell stories about this amazing man took us back over 200 years.  What struck me the most was the polygraph that he invented and used.  It is a copying machine with two pens, where when he writes with one pen, the other made an exact copy – very ingenious!  He started his day at 3AM, writing letters for the next fours hours.  His eloquence in writing prompted John Adams, the second President of the US, to ask Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence.  And of course the issue about his dalliance with Sally Hemings, an enslaved lady’s maid, was asked and confirmed – TJ was the father of her children.

The house tour was a little rushed, but if you are a history buff and admire architecture you will love it.

Monticello

Little Mountain – Monticello

We took the time to check out the basement, which used to be the hub of “dependencies”, activities where slaves performed their daily household work unseen and unnoticed by guests.

On the grounds we joined the Slavery at Monticello Tour, at the Mulberry Row.  Since the structures no longer exist, we listened and imagined the guide’s many stories about activities and life at Mulberry Row.  This street was populated by more than 20 dwellings, the center of work and domestic life for dozens of people — free whites, free blacks, indentured servants, and enslaved people.  Some of the buildings are due to be rebuilt within the next year or so.

Mulberry Row

Mulberry Row

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden

Dubbed “Revolutionary Vegetable Garden”, this is where TJ did some farming/agriculture experimentation.

Jeffersons Grave

Jefferson’s grave

The visitor center holds various exhibits that required some time and attention to go through.  Below is an illustration of the development and ongoing influence of his core ideas about liberty, on a wall of 21 flat -panel LCD screens and seven interactive touch screens.  I even learned that some sayings my mom used to teach me were actually written by Thomas Jefferson, such as ” Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

Boisterous sea of liberty

The next day we stumbled onto yet another historical place, the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.  Little did we know that we had just closed the loop on the Confederacy Trail from Montgomery, AL where the first salvo to cecede from the Union began, to Appomattox Court House, VA where the civil war ended and the nation became one again.

On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all United States forces.  We walked the old country lane where these events took place and in the solitude imagined the activities of those April days in 1865.

Appomattox Court House

Appomattox County Jail

But the best part of this stop was visiting my cousins Vellie and Phebe.  We visited Phebe and Dan at their home in Lynchburg, VA where they showed us their organic garden and served up a delicious meal.

Harry and Vellie Hall gave us a tour of their B&B and Boutique at Diamond Hill Retreat in the city of Charlotte Court house, VA.  It was great to see them again!

Our three-day stay at Paradise Island RV Park was packed with historical lessons and reconnecting with cousins.  We didn’t like this RV park much, so it was fortunate that we spent very little time here – Steve’s review is here.

Upnext:  Skyline Drive in Virginia!

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BMW Zentrum- Spartanburg, SC

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BMW Zentrum

While in the Greenville area, I remembered that John and Pam of Oh the Places they go wrote a story about a BMW factory tour they took in Spartanburg.  It turns out that the BMW Zentrum Museum and “Plant Spartanburg” were just 25 miles from our campground, and I just knew Steve would love the tour – I was right!  The plant, where the X3, X5 and X6 models are built, is the only BMW manufacturing facility in North America.

BMW Zentrum

BMW Zentrum museum and manufacturing plant

This place is HUGE!  There are 7,000 employees working at this plant, and it has been under almost constant expansion since it opened in 1994.  They already have over 4 million square feet of factory space completed, and it will be around 7 million when the current expansion is finished.

We were extremely fortunate to get on this tour.  We had reserved about a week ahead, and only got into their Thursday tour because of a cancellation.  Then we found out that the next day would be their last tour for many months, since they had to re-tool the factory for the expansion and full production of the new X4.  Whew, that was close!  The museum will remain open, of course, but it was the vehicle assembly tour that we really wanted to see.

This was a great tour.  Our guide took us from the point where the bare, painted body enters the assembly plant to where the completed vehicle is driven out the door.  We would have liked to see some of the actual construction of the steel body prior to painting, but it was not part of this tour.  We did learn that once the body is painted – with the doors attached – the first thing they do is remove the doors and send them via conveyor to another part of the factory that does just door assembly.  We were told that door assembly is one of the most complex parts of building the vehicle.  Once the doors are completed, they are put back on the conveyor and sent over to meet the vehicle they belong to near the end of the assembly line.  The inventory control, scheduling, robotics and other complex machines were fascinating to watch.

We can’t compare this tour to other manufacturers, since it was our first, but it was very impressive.  The non-union workforce seems to really take pride in their work, and the job benefits available to them are good.  The assemblers work 4 10-hour shifts per week, and each of them is trained to do 4 different tasks on the line.  During their shift, they are rotated every 2.5 hours to another one of their task specialties, which reduces the chance of repetitive injuries and boredom.

Unfortunately, cameras were strictly prohibited so we have no photos to share with you.  This is a must-see if you are in the Spartanburg, SC area.  But you must make reservations well in advance!  We tried to reserve a tour at the Hyundai factory near Montgomery, AL while we were there and found it was booked for a whole month in advance.  Apparently we aren’t the only ones who like factory tours!

Photography was allowed at the Zentrum museum and here are a few images.

James Bond first BMW

BMW Z3, the one James Bond drove in the movie “Golden Eye”

We stayed at the Ivy Acres RV Park near Greensville during this stopover.  Steve’s review of the park is here.  We loved this quiet park with a view of a beautiful green meadow.

Ivy Acres RV Park

Wide open space at Ivy Acres RV Park

We both enjoyed downtown Greenville a lot – it has many miles of walking/biking trails, and sort of an old-town feel, even though it has a population of about 70,000.  There are many excellent restaurants and other stores too, and parking is readily available.

Falls Park on the Reedy

Falls Park on the Reedy

Liberty Bridge, Greenville

Liberty Bridge

We spent two days walking both directions on the 17-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, and the images below are what we saw along the way while eating yummy food.  We would definitely come back here again!

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At the Michelin store

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Main St, Greenville

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Children’s Park along the trail

Major Rudolf Anderson Memorial

Major Anderson from Greenville was the only casualty during the 14-day Cuban Missile Crisis

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Leaving on a jet plane…

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Baggages

Some of you who have been following our travels may have noticed we ‘ve been putting on the miles since we left Arizona and headed east in late January.  One of the reasons is that I’ll be visiting family in the Philippines for a month and for various reasons we had planned my departure from Charlotte, NC.  In fact, by the time this is published I’ll be soaring high over the Pacific Ocean.

While I’m bonding with family, Steve will be attending a Freightliner chassis class in Gaffney, South Carolina.  He also has a long “Betsy list” of maintenance items to take care of, with the slide/leak issue at the very top.  By the time I get back Betsy should be in tip-top shape and Steve will have upgraded his knowledge of our complicated land yacht.

Even though The Lowes Adventures is taking some time out from traveling, we have a few unpublished (and hopefully interesting) stories lined up.  Steve will be publishing them periodically while I’m gone, so you won’t miss me too much 🙂

Betsy and Steve will be hanging out at Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina until I return.  Then, onward to the great northeastern states!

Kings Mountain State Park

Betsy will be at Kings Mountain State Park for a whole month, that’s our longest stop ever!

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Experiencing the deep south – Montgomery, AL

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Alabama State Capitol
Alabama State Capitol

Alabama State Capitol

With our beach days over for now, we headed back to the hills and north to Montgomery, Alabama.  As any history buff can verify, Montgomery has had two pivotal moments in American history – the birth of the Confederacy and the Civil Rights Movement.  There is no better place for me as an immigrant to delve into it than in the city which was the center of it all.  The city has done a great job of preserving, restoring and marking historical areas that allow us visitors to walk and follow the Civil Heritage Trail.  I will share a few highlights of the many historic sites – hopefully you won’t fall asleep halfway through.

Montgomery is where a fascinating period in American history began, when in Feb 1861 six of the seven seceded states formed a new nation to be called the Confederate States of America.  This is where they established a provisional government, selecting Montgomery as the provisional capital and electing their first and only president, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.

First White House of the Confederacy

First White House of the Confederacy

Because of its significance in American history, the state capitol is a designated National Landmark.  In Feb 1861, it served as the first capitol of the Confederacy with Jefferson Davis being sworn in on the front steps as its President. Much later, on March 25, 1965 this spot is where the Civil Rights March ended.  The march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., demanded voting rights for African Americans.  President Johnson passed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965 five months later.

Just around the corner from the capitol is the First White House of the Confederacy, where the President and his wife lived during the first months of the confederacy until the confederate capital moved to Richmond, VA in May 1861.

Montgomery Bus BoycottWe stood at the bus stop where, in 1955, Rosa Parks sparked the Bus Boycott – signaling the start of the Civil Rights Movement and making Montgomery the epicenter of a groundbreaking societal shift in this country.

An ornate  fountain built in 1885 on top of an existing artesian basin can be seen at the center of town.  It is named Court Square Fountain.
Court Square Fountain

On another day we drove about 20 miles from our campground to the Daniel Pratt Historic Disctrict in the city of Prattville.  We checked out Autauga Creek and the manufacturing complex around which this New Engand style village was developed by Daniel Pratt.  He chose this town to build his gin mill, saw mill and grist mill on the banks of Autauga Creek in the early 1830’s.

Autauga Creek

Autauga Creek and the Pratt manufacturing complex

Olympian Center, Jasmin Hills and Gardens

Olympian Center

Before the rain hit us again, I visited the Jasmine Hill Gardens, nicknamed “Alabama’s little corner of Greece”.  It is a 20-acre garden that features mythical gods and Olympian heroes.  The facade of the Olympian Center, which is the entrance to the garden, is an adaptation of the Temple of Hera the oldest sacred building in Olympia, Greece

The gardens feature reproductions of famous Greek works of art and Olympian heroes and inside was the world’s only full-size replica of the Temple of Hera ruins at Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games.

Temple of Hera Ruins

Replica of Temple of Hera Ruins

Jasmine Hill Gardens

The rain did come, and we had a leak leak similar to the one at Patagonia, AZ.  This time Steve figured out that the rain had created a pool of water on top of the slide cover and seeped through it.  So, we know the cause of the problem and that it only happens under certain conditions.  Now all we have to do is figure out what to do about it. wpid11985-2013-04-05-AL-1380012.jpg

We stayed at our first US Army Corp of Engineers (COE) campground, and it became one of our favorites.  We stayed on the Catoma Loop at Gunter Hill Campground, the newer of the the two loops.  The park is wooded and right on a lake.  Most of the sites are super long and there is generous space between sites.  The downside is that there are no hiking trails, but we made do by walking/biking to the other Antioch Loop, which is about 4 miles roundtrip.  I particularly liked it here, as our feathered friends were abundant in the area.  The park is about 20 miles south of Montgomery.  Click here for Steve’s review.

Steve loves to cook, and when the weather turned gorgeous he did his thing:

And with spring come the blooms!

Next up: LaGrange, GA and a visit to the Little White House.

Even more things to do at Perdido Key, FL

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We were surprised to learn how many things there are to do here at this barrier island, Perdido Key, FL.  More than 60% of it’s 16 miles is set aside as protected land and off limits to development, making it one of the last remaining unblemished stretches of wilderness in the Florida panhandle.  This means opportunities for outdoor fun are plentiful.  Aside from boasting some of the purest, whitest sand anywhere in Florida, they also lay claim to some of the best trails and parks around.  Naturally, we were excited to do some exploring.  The Key is truly off the beaten path, for there were no crowds at any of the places we checked out – even though spring break was still in full force!

Perdido Key

Perdido Key, with the marker indicating location of Perdido Cove RV Resort

Although the first few days were very chilly and breezy, I braved the weather to visit the Big Lagoon State Park, a five minute drive from where we stayed.  It’s located along the Intercoastal Waterway and offers narrow beaches, shallow bays, open woodlands and lots of recreation activities.  There are only two trails to follow, one being the 3.5 mile long Sand Pine Trail which is mostly sand-based with some grasses.  The other is the Estuary Trail, 2 miles long and also sand based with boardwalk portions.  This park is also a gateway site to the Great Florida Birding Trail 🙂  If you like birds, click here to see my Florida bird shot collection.

Big Lagoon State Park

Boardwalk to the pavilion on the Estuary Trail

I climbed the 3-story observation tower located along the east beach and was wowed by views of the park, Gulf Islands National Seashore and Perdido Key.

Big Lagoon State Park

Panoramic view of Perdido Key from the observation tower

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore

After several days we finally awoke to warm and sunny skies, yeah!  So, off for another nature trek, this time to Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park , also a five minute drive from our park.  This preserve offers three hiking trails with wildlife viewing.  Wish we had seen some!  But the trails were beautiful and we didn’t see another human until almost the end of our walks.

The Tarklin Bayou Trail is 1.3 miles (round trip) on an elevated boardwalk that meanders through prairie, cypress and titi forests and ends at an observation area that provides a scenic view of the bayou.  It’s a nice place to stop for a private lunch!

The 7 mile Perdido Trail winds through pine and mixed hardwood.  It crosses seepage streams and some muddy areas, but we managed to cross them without getting muddied up.  On this trail beautiful butterflies were encircling us and I managed to get one good shot.

Lastly, the Wet Prairie Trail is 2.5 miles long and as the name suggests it winds through a wet prairie ecosystem.  It was the most difficult to walk, with a fairly long section of bumpy, moist soil that could use some improvement.

Perdido Key is also one of the six Principal Islands that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  It makes this place very attractive as an active destination.  Our last few days here were spent, where else, on the beach!  Rosamond Johnson Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is considered among the whitest, most beautiful sand beaches in America.  Whether that’s true or not, we thoroughly enjoyed our days at the beach.  The $8 admission fee at Gulf Islands National Seashore was good for 7 days, and we made use of it.  If you go here, be sure to buy the pass as soon as you arrive so you can, too.

Bottle Nose Dolphins

~Bottle Nose Dolphins cruising along the water

Boiled Peanuts

Cajun spiced boiled peanuts

wpid11641-2013-03-29-FL-1370587.jpgFlorida and fresh fish are synonymous, of course.  The sight of a huge array of seafood at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market – not your average seafood market – prompted us to buy a lot more than we should have.   Thanks Erin, we were so delighted with your suggestion to go there.  To end that trip, we stopped at one of the roadside vendors to buy boiled peanuts.  We got both the regular and cajun spiced, and couldn’t wait to get home to gobble them up with a nice cold beer.  Yum!

I also spent a day with my cousin Annie and her husband JD, who graciously gave me a tour around ValParaiso, Eglin AFB, and Destin, including a delicious lunch at a Filipino Restaurant. I had a great time, thanks so much.

Cousin Annie and I

Good times with my cousin, Annie (left)

We were forewarned about some of the pricey RV parks in Florida, so the cost to stay at Perdido Cove RV Resort and Marina was not a surprise.  We liked the park because of its proximity to the things we wanted to do, and we also enjoyed the diverse sights and sounds that we experienced.  Small and large boats/yachts, barges and canoes, dolphins cruised by, and the Pelicans gave it just the right feel.  But it was also under an approach to the naval base, with LOUD jets coming in often.   Click here to read Steve’s park review, if you’re interested.

Perdido Cove RV Resort

Perdido Cove RV Resort

What a busy week we had, it was our last time at the beach for several months.

Finally, a sunset taken from Big Lagoon.

Big Lagoon

Next up:  Our first US Army COE campsite – loving it!

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Southern Sojourn -Gulf Shores, AL

Comments 19 Standard

Mobile Bay FerryWe did something a bit different upon leaving Dauphin Island for our next destination, Gulf Shores, AL.  You see, the ferry is taking only cars and motorcycles right now; no RV’s.  So, Steve had to drive Betsy 85 miles along the Alabama Scenic Byway (not a bad gig) while I simply hopped a ferry ride across Mobile Bay to Gulf Shores – 29 miles total for me!  The Mobile Bay Ferry connects Fort Gaines at Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan on the Gulf Shores side.  Luckily, there was no threat of torpedoes during my crossing, or I guess Steve would have had the last laugh after all!  It was a fun ferry ride as I got a closer look at some oil rigs along the way and watched seagulls trying to catch a free ferry ride.wpid11134-2013-03-19-AL-1360645.jpg

Once settled in at the RV park, we hopped into our dinghy to check out the area.  Gulf Shores is a popular resort destination, hence more frenetic compared to the quite slow-paced life at Dauphin Island.  And add to that, it’s spring break!  The beach and nearby restaurants at Gulf Shores were busy with spring breakers.  Fortunately, most of our desire for long walks on sugar-white beaches and sunny days had been satisfied while we were on the Island.

Not only were the beaches packed, the RV parks were also booked with snowbirders from northern States.  We wanted to stay at either Gulf Shores State Park or Meares State Park (both with over 100 sites), but snowbirders apparently booked their monthly sojourn months in advance, keeping them full until April.  We managed to snag the last spot at Island Retreat RV Resort (love it when they call their park a “resort”) for a few days.  Here, many of the guests were from Michigan, while the rest were from Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky.  There are no RV parks on the beach here, but the Gulf Shores State Park is very close.

For several months now, we have been using the site RV Park Reviews as a resource for our upcoming trip stops.  Steve is now contributing reviews to the site for each park we use.  Although we realize these reviews won’t be helpful to everyone because “different strokes for different folks” and the fact that conditions at parks can change fairly often, we will create a link to our reviews in case you want to take a look.  For now, click here to read Steve’s recent park reviews.

Although the 32 miles of white sandy beaches is the main attraction at Gulf Shores, there are a lot of other things to do here.  For historians, Fort Morgan Historic Site and Museum is at the tip of the western peninsula, where I disembarked from the ferry.  Alabama is a birding paradise – on the coast alone there are six Alabama Coastal birding trails.  When in this area, fresh seafood is king when it comes to restaurants.  With the help of one local dude we found one to satiate our taste buds.  At Tacky Jacks, the atmosphere is casual and the food to die for is the Cajun Shrimp Pasta.  Jason was so right, it was simply the best shrimp pasta we had tried so far.

Mifi set up

New WiFi setup, and it works!

Since we were now near civilization, we took care of some business. With the big “T” day approaching, we gathered all tax docs and did a conference call with our tax preparer, did some banking changes and most importantly we trashed errr… I mean cancelled our Verizon MiFi contract.

Nina’s thorough post about their wifi set up and a personal tour of the setup used by Hans and Lisa at Metamorphosis Road finally pushed us to abandon our appalling Verizon MiFi device and move to Millenicom’s device.  It also uses Verizon service, but the old device never worked correctly and after replacing it multiple times we gave up.  Steve’s blood pressure is almost back to normal now!  Using a micro-to-mini cable to charge the MiFi from the Wilson cradle as Hans suggested also helped clean up the wiring, so everything looks nice mounted to our power panel.  Thanks for the help, all!

Fort Morgan Road Trail

Fort Morgan Road Trail

With all of our business completed it was time to relax and act like retired people!  Our RV park was along a nice paved bike trail, so we took an 11-mile ride along Fort Morgan Road Trail.

Hiking and viewing the birds along the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge was a good way to get away from the crowds.  We walked 10 miles along the interconnected Pine Beach Trail, the Jeff Friend Trail, Gator Lake Trail and the Centennial Trail (all part of the Fort Morgan Loop .)

Here are some of the resident birds.

Osprey

Osprey gathering twigs to build a nest

The south is known for its  hospitality and I felt it here, for I was addressed as “ma’am” at the store, restaurants and most other places.  That’s much nicer than what Steve usually calls me!  I’m beginning to like this place.