All posts by exploRVistas

Full time RVers. Our motto is "Don't just see it...BE it"©

New Digs in Florida

In our last post, we mentioned that we had received a call that had us make a quick exit from Georgia. Wow…we hope we didn’t build that news up too much! The call was from the park we stayed at the last two winters, telling us that a site we were in hopes of getting had opened up. Several of our readers who visited know how cramped we were on our former site. We barely were able to get both of our vehicles in, and sitting on our patio meant we were in a tunnel between our truck and our fifth wheel. The truck is seven feet longer than the Escape, so we weren’t able to switch them.  Needless to say, we didn’t meet a lot of folks out walking, as they didn’t see us sitting there!

This is our old site.  As you can see, it was a tad cramped. Soon after this photo was taken, the site between the truck and the next trailer over was occupied. From our dinette we could see what they were having for breakfast!

The only reservations the park takes is for returning customers, for the site they were previously on. The only way to get a bigger site is to request one, in hopes that someone leaves…which rarely happens. Well, we lucked out. One of the best sites in the park opened up, and the park called us and asked if we wanted it. We immediately said YES! By all rights at that point it was ours, and we could have taken our time to get there…but we wanted to get the rig on the site as soon as possible. Having a prime site sitting empty made us a tad nervous….so we hit the road for Melbourne Beach!

The new site is on a corner and is about 30 yards closer to the beach than the old one.  There is a spot behind the RV for the truck, and a separate spot next to the rig for the Escape.  The landscaping was put in place by the previous tenants…not by the park…so it is our responsibility to maintain it.  It definitely needed a bit of sprucing up, since the weeds had been growing all summer.

We have always liked the looks of it, so we started in on pulling weeds and trimming.  The soil is very easy to work, as we are basically living on a sandbar.  Nothing like the Michigan clay we used to struggle with.  We also raked out the soil in front of the trailer and planted grass seed, as the previous tenants took their patio blocks they had purchased and placed there.  Our truck tires ended up sinking in, so we wanted to firm that dirt up, as we pull our trailer off the lot at the end of each season.  Lots of our neighbors keep their RVs here all year, but our rig is our home…so it goes with us.

We added some red mulch to keep the weeds down and add some color….

…and put in a row of solar path lights.  🙂

So that is our big news.  We fall asleep at night to the sound of the ocean waves and we usually have a decent breeze to keep us cool.  We are also meeting a lot more people, which makes it fun!  As long as we keep renewing here each year, the site is ours.

While Melbourne Beach is a great place to winter, the other seasons can be a bit brutal.  Last year, Hurricane Matthew passed 15 miles to the east and tore off a few carports on some of the mobile homes in the park.  There was surprisingly little damage, seeing how close the eye was.

This year was far worse.  While the eye of Hurricane Irma passed more than 50 miles to the west of Melbourne Beach…the storm was so huge, it really affected the area.  This area was on the right side of the eye, which is often referred to as the ‘dirty’ side.  There were several tornadoes that formed, along with a bunch of rain.  Just in our park,  a couple of RV’s and mobile homes were destroyed, and several awnings were torn off.  And throughout the Space Coast area, there was far more roof and sign damage this year.

We also have a visitor from Key West.  This sailboat was ripped from its mooring in the Keys, brought around the east side of the state by the wind and currents, and deposited on the beach in front of the condos just north of our park.  Unfortunately, the owner is currently in prison for some really nasty stuff, so there is a bit of red tape involved in getting it moved.  It definitely makes an interesting conversation piece!

If you are in the area this winter, drop us a line and maybe we can get together.  And as always, stay tuned to see what interesting things we come up with this winter.  We are sure we will find plenty of new adventures!


 

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Plains, Georgia

Heading out of Alabama on Wednesday, November 1st, we set our sights on a place we’ve wanted to visit for a long time: Plains, Georgia. With our interest in exploring U.S. presidential hometowns and museums, this town has always piqued our curiosity. Plains is the birthplace and home of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter and is about as ‘small town America’ as they come. What is unique is that the entire town has been designated a national historic site. As with many of the other places we’ve seen on this particular trip, it is not located along either of the two normal routes that a Michigander would take to get to Florida. This go-around would afford us the opportunity to finally check Plains out.

Scoping the town out on Google Maps, we knew we would be able to pull our fifth wheel in behind the visitor center. Thinking this would be a quick stop…and given there weren’t any campgrounds showing up on any of our apps…we thought we would be on our way before nightfall. We did want to check out as much as we could in that time frame, as the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site keeps coming up as a possible place to volunteer on our searches for those types of jobs.

The visitor center is housed in the old Plains High School. Both Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Smith Carter graduated from here in the 1940’s.  When we mispronounced the First Lady’s name, the park ranger said “It’s pronounced ROSE-a-lynn, not Roz-a-lynn.  She will correct you, if you call her that”.  🙂

Inside, there is a recreated classroom and principal’s office. The rest of the buildings rooms are devoted to the president’s life.

Hey…I know her! She’s got MY vote!

During our visit we earned our Junior Ranger badges. While speaking with the volunteer working at the entrance, we discovered that there was a campground just up the road. We decided to head up there and set up for a few days, as we had several things in the area we wanted to see. As we pulled in, we saw this:

I remember that smiling peanut being on the news back in the 70’s! It’s still there, folks.

We also visited Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home. Located a few miles west of town, his parent’s farm spread out over 360 acres.

The simple frame house sits next to a road and a railroad. During the Great Depression, hobos would stop by and request food. When Miss Lillian asked one of them why so many stop by their house, he pointed out the symbols drawn on the mailbox post that indicated it was a safe house to visit.

She instructed her children to keep the symbols as they were.

The farm featured a windmill that was purchased for $100 in 1935. This brought indoor plumbing into the home…

…but note the shower head; a simple bucket with holes punched in the bottom.

Miss Lillian not only kept the household running while her husband farmed, she was also a nurse at the hospital in town. In fact, Jimmy was born there, the first president ever to have been delivered in a hospital. If she was working when the children would return home from school, they would stop at this desk to see the instructions she had left them. The kids nicknamed this desk ‘mother’, as a result. It was also interesting to see how much she had the children read, including at the dinner table.

Between the home and Plains, we came across Lebanon Cemetery.

In it, we found the Carter family plot, with not only Jimmy’s parents….

…but also, Jimmy’s brother Billy, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1988. He was a colorful character who liked to drink beer. He owned the local Phillips 66 gas station in Plains, a place the press liked to hang out when his brother was running for president. On slow news days, people like Dan Rather, Ed Bradley and Tom Brokaw could be found here looking for a story.

The station looks pretty much like it did in the 70’s on the outside. When it was suggested that businesses spruce up their store fronts, Billy proclaimed that he’d shoot anyone who as much as laid a paint brush on his place. Unfortunately, the museum to him inside is modern and lacking character. There is a fair amount of memorabilia though…

…including cans of his famous Billy Beer. I’ve drank a few cans of this back in my younger days. 😊

Across the street from Billy’s station sits Plains’ main business district.

The row contains several gift shops and a restaurant that Jimmy and Rosalynn still frequent. They live just up the street.

Immediately east of the business district is the local elevator. That farm wagon behind the tractor is loaded with peanuts. We saw load upon load being brought to market while we were there. I’m am not a fan of peanuts, but Diana purchased some in one of the shops in town and reported them to be delicious!

On the west end of the business district is Jimmy Carter’s campaign headquarters.  The train depot was chosen, because it was the only vacant building in town that contained a bathroom.

Since his presidency, Jimmy and Rosalynn have remained active throughout the world.  One of the organizations they work with is Habitat for Humanity.

Even in their 90’s they can still be found on job-sites, working right alongside the rest of the crew.  When we were shopping in neighboring Americus, Georgia, we discovered that the organization is headquartered there.  One block over from their offices is their Global Village, which we visited.

After viewing a short movie, we toured the collection of buildings.  The first part depicts many of the slums that are found throughout the world.  Once through that section, Habitat shows the types of houses they construct, which vary from country to country.

None of them are extravagant, by any means, but all are functional.

This one, from Papau, New Guinea, was built by a group called RV Care-A-Vanners, which is part of Habitat for Humanity.  We found that interesting, so we may check them out in the future.

While Mr. Carter was president, you may recall that he had solar panels installed on the White House.  For a long time, there were tax credits for solar, as a result of his initiatives to explore clean energy solutions. Earlier this year in Plains, a 10 acre solar farm was opened on one of his soybean fields.

It provides enough energy to power most of the homes in Plains, which can be seen in the background.  He leases the land to SolAmerica, which earns him about $7,000 a year.

When we found out the Jimmy Carter was going to be teaching Sunday School at his church that week, we extended our stay so we could listen to him speak.  Its quite a process to attend (including Secret Service screening), requiring that we arrive at 6:00 AM and not getting out until 1 PM.  On Friday morning, we received a call with good news that had us scrap those plans, and pack up and hit the road.  Stay tuned to find out what it was that put us on the move so quickly in our next installment of exploRVistas.com!


Get a copy of Jimmy Carter’s Memoir “A Full Life” on our exploRVistas Amazon link HERE.


explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Tuskegee, Alabama

Our last stop before heading into Georgia on our way south was Tuskegee, Alabama.  We arrived in neighboring Auburn on October 30 for a two night stay, and visited Tuskegee on the 31st.  We had wanted to check out two sites administered by the National Park Service: Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site and Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Moton Field was used for primary flight training in World War II for African-American pilots.  Located a few miles north of Tuskegee, it was part of what was deemed a politically-motivated military experiment to see if African-Americans were capable of maintaining and operating fighter planes.  President Franklin Roosevelt, the NAACP and the black press pushed the Army Air Corps in the early 1940’s to allow African-Americans to fly, as they had been barred from doing so prior to that.  Blacks were considered at that time to be lazy and intellectually unable to serve in the Air Corps, and there was actually an Army doctrine in place from the 1920’s keeping them out of the air.  Of course, those who served in the squadron worked hard to prove that doctrine wrong.

When Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit in early 1941, she asked ‘Chief’ Anderson, the head flight instructor at the institute, if Negroes could fly airplanes.  He replied that they most certainly could, and offered the First Lady a ride, which she accepted.  As she exited the airplane after her half hour flight, she famously said “I guess Negroes can fly.”  Her visit helped solidify the programs legitimacy and move it forward.

Cadets did their bookwork at neighboring Tuskegee Institute and their initial flight instruction at Moton Field.  Advanced training took place at Kennedy Airfield in Tuskegee, which no longer exists.  The plane pictured above is a BT-13 Stearman, the same type of plane my father flew at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama….barely over 40 miles to the west.  

The pilots eventually flew P-51 Mustangs, considered to be one of the best planes in the U.S. arsenal.  The squadron took it upon themselves to paint the tails of their planes red to make themselves stand out.  They were proud to be flying, and they wanted other pilots to know it.  Their primary mission was to provide bomber support over Nazi Germany.  They posted a distinguished record while serving their country.

It is important to note that when we hear the name Tuskegee Airmen, the title encompasses everyone involved in the squadron…from the pilots themselves to the cooks and waitresses in the canteen.  These people fought not one, but two wars; the battle against Germany and the fight for racial equality.  Disembarking the ships that carried them home from war, they were immediately segregated into separate areas.  It would not be until 1948 that the military was desegregated by law.  

Even then, it was not until 2007 that the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

After visiting Moton Field, we continued on to Tuskegee University.  This school of higher learning was established in 1881 by Dr. Booker T. Washington as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers.  It eventually became Tuskegee Institute, then later became a university.

One thing the school is known for are its’ student-constructed buildings.  Even the bricks were made by the undergraduates.  One such building is the George Washington Carver Museum.

Dr. Washington hired George Washington Carver as a professor during his tenure.  The famed botanist worked at the institute for 47 years.  During that time, he championed rotating crops of sweet potatoes, soybeans and peanuts as an alternative to growing cotton, as the latter was stripping the South’s soil of its nutrients.  Though many inventions can be credited to him, he was more interested in helping his fellow man than applying for patents.  Still, his work is highly regarded, and the museum at Tuskegee was a fitting tribute to his efforts.

Our trip to Tuskegee was an eye-opener for me, personally.  Rising from slavery to become pilots and professors, the African-American people of this community have had to overcome obstacles this white male has never had to face.  Having grown up in the racially segregated Detroit metro area, I was often confused as to why people didn’t treat each other as equals.  In today’s political climate, it seems we are going backwards from the gains made since that era.  On this Veteran’s Day in 2017, we need to remember and respect each other’s contributions to our common goal, and acknowledge when those being slighted cry out for change.  Because, at the end of the day, we all bleed the same color blood.

Cheaha State Park

Sometimes the hidden gems are found when you take your time…

For so many of our working years, our focus on the Michigan/Florida route was to get there…which involved only two overnights.  To us, Alabama was mostly flat, as we slid down I-65 to Montgomery, then down US-231 to the Florida line.  We knew there were many portions of the state we were missing, and that we were going to want to experience those at some point.  We had the time on this trip, so ‘some point’ had arrived!

We pulled out of Huntsville on Saturday, October 28th and headed south on US-431.  The first portion of the route took us through some beautiful waterside views of Guntersville Lake, which is actually the dammed-up Tennessee River.   The remainder of the highway to our next stop in Oxford passed through a secession of towns that had grown together to become a bit more congested than pretty.  Still, we found it far more interesting than I-65!  😊

We set up at CWGS (an acronym for Camping World / Good Sam) campground in Oxford, which is located right next door to the local Camping World.  Our first intention for this two night stop was to grocery shop, do laundry, and sit out the rainy, cold day that was forecast for Sunday.  With all tasks accomplished early in the day, and with clearing skies, we set out to do a little exploring.   Just south of Oxford, the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains terminates in Cheaha State Park.  This is Alabama’s highest point, a spot recently visited by our friends Debbie and Steve, on their quest to climb each state’s tallest peak.

After setting the GPS, we headed straight south out of Oxford.  Several miles up the mountain, we came to a cable across the dirt road.  Hmmm….it looks like Greta Garmin needs an update. Back down the mountain we went.  We found the correct road, a 13 mile scenic route off of US-431.

The first turnout revealed that this was going to be a pretty drive!  We continued on up to the top of the mountain and found a historic stone lookout tower, along with a sign declaring we were at Alabama’s pinnacle. 

The tower was constructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, along with most of the parks buildings, bridges, and trails.  They even constructed the dam that forms Cheaha Lake.  There is a museum adjacent to the tower devoted to the CCC, and the tower itself is open to visitors.  I asked the volunteer in the museum where the official benchmark was located…

…and it turns out that we had practically stepped on it on our way inside.  😎

From there, we checked out an accessible boardwalk out to Bald Rock.  

This very popular pathway parallels the old CCC trail that runs out to one of the best viewpoints in the park. Every so often, a stairway leads down to the original route.  

Coming around the corner toward the viewing platform, we catch our first glimpse of this amazing vista!

The view is absolutely stunning!  And the fact it is accessible to all just makes it that much better.

Even though we were chilly, we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at Cheaha State Park!  Be sure to stay tuned to see what we find on our next stop!

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Search and shop our exploRVistas Amazon link HERE !

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Ever since we were kids, Diana and I have been interested in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA.  We’ve been to Kennedy Space Center numerous times, and have watched the shuttle Columbia launch from Titusville along with several SpaceX launches from Melbourne Beach.  We also saw Columbia land piggyback on a 747 at Kelly AFB in San Antonio, and heard its twin sonic booms at Disney World as it came into Kennedy on approach.  We’ve seen many moon rocks and crew capsules around the country, but….

…we had never been to Huntsville, Alabama and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, better known as Space Camp!  Oh, man…had this been here when I was a kid, I would have bugged the heck out of my parents to send me. 😊  We actually weren’t here for Space Camp itself, but to see the artifacts they have from the space program and to take a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center…the place where Werner von Braun and a team of NASA scientists developed the moon rocket.   We camped two nights right at the center in their RV park, which was a bargain at $18 a night for full hookups!

Upon entering the main museum building, we saw this interesting graphic.  It compared what human history would look like if it were put on a year long cosmic calendar…with the beginning of the universe being at 12:01 AM on January 1st.

Recorded human history has all occurred in the last 14 seconds, according to this display.  Talk about putting things in perspective!

Before we entered the mockup of the Space Station, Diana decided to pose with Astronaut Scott Kelly.

After spending a year in space, Scott was feeling a bit flat.  😉

The mockup of the International Space Station was really cool, as it showed experiments, crew quarters, exercise equipment and the toilet.  We were surprised that the crew members are required to exercise 2-1/2 hours a day to prevent muscle atrophy!  The other items in the main museum were hands on and mostly aimed at kids, so we buzzed through it fairly quickly.

Two of the displays outside were very impressive.  The first is a mockup of a complete Space Shuttle stack….the only one in existence in the world!  The main tank and the solid rocket boosters are the real deal, but the orbiter is a mockup used in testing when the shuttle program started.

It’s amazing how big it is!  The other thing we had never seen was a vertical Saturn V rocket, the one used to send astronauts to the moon.  That’s the rocket in the first photo of this post.  It’s a full scale model, standing at over 360 feet tall.

Better plug my ears, just in case they decide to light this thing up!

The other museum building on the grounds is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which has an actual Saturn V on its side, similar to the one at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Our guide, Kiri, took us step-by-step, explaining the rocket.  She also showed us many of the other displays in the building, including…

…Ed White’s umbilical, maneuvering unit and helmet from the first American spacewalk in 1965.  

I actually remember when he did that!  Unfortunately White, Gus Grissom, and Grand Rapids native Roger Chaffee were killed in a preflight test when their Apollo I capsule caught on fire less than two years later.

The museum also had the Apollo 16 capsule, a chunk of Skylab that was recovered in Australia, and one of the biggest moon rocks we’d seen yet.

Diana also found herself a rocket scientist!  Lt. Col. Otha ‘Skeet’ Vaughan was involved with the development of the Saturn V, the lunar rover, and several experiments that were flown on the Skylab and shuttle missions.  He began his Air Force career in 1951, started with NASA the day it was founded in 1960, and he is still a civilian pilot today.  He actually worked under Werner von Braun, which we thought was pretty darned cool!  Listening to him talk about those early days when they all were fresh out of college and didn’t know what they were doing was fascinating.  One of the early rockets was destroyed by fuel oscillation; in other words, the fuel was sloshing around in the tank.  One of the engineers discovered that if they floated empty beer cans on top of the fuel, it would dampen the oscillation.  They tried it on the next flight and it worked!  😊

The last thing we did was to take a bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Redstone Arsenal, which is named after the red clay that the base is built on.

This is the stand that they used to test the Redstone rocket; the type that Alan Shepard was launched on to become the first American in space.  The ‘386’ is a scoreboard of sorts, as they would change it after each test to show the number of engine firings they conducted there.

The stand where they tested the first stage of the Saturn V is pictured above.  When they first fired it, they expected to have some windows in Huntsville shatter, so they warned residents of the possibility.  What they didn’t account for was the cloud cover that day, which allowed the sound to travel the 100 or so miles to Birmingham and break windows there!  It also scared the hundreds  of skunks in the vicinity, causing them to stink up the area for some time afterwards.  🙂  It was one of the loudest man-made sounds ever, coming in second to a thermonuclear bomb.

Perhaps the coolest place we saw on the tour was the International Space Station Payload Operations Center.

All of the space stations’ U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian experiments are conducted through this center. These people are in constant communication with the ISS, monitoring each experiment, as well as the crew.  The large display on the wall in front of them showed multiple feeds, including live views from both inside and outside the station.  I checked my ISS Spotter app on my phone and the tracking feature was spot on with the live map on the wall.  😊

We really enjoyed our time at the NASA facilities in Huntsville!  Of special note: the bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center is open to U.S. citizens only.  It is also an additional $20 per person, over and above the museum entrance fee.  We wanted to let folks know that before they make a trip to the facility.  The museums do not carry the citizenship restriction.

When we visited the Museum of the Rockies we purchased an annual membership in ASTC (Association of Science Technology Centers). This covered our admission fee, so we visited the day we arrived as well as the following day. 

Thanks for exploring the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with us!  Be sure to stay tuned to see what vistas we find on our next adventure!

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Follow NASA, including live feeds from the ISS by downloading your free NASA app HERE!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising annd linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Johnny Cash Museum

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.

Most people over the age of 50 have heard that line, followed by the tune Folsom Prison Blues…as that is how Johnny would open his shows.  Whether or not a person is a country music fan, they most likely know a song or two by the performer.  The Man in Black, so named for his trademark clothing shade, had a career that spanned six decades.  He sold over 90 million records during that period.

When we met up with our friends Jodee and Bill last year in Nashville, they had just visited the Johnny Cash Museum. Bill Miller, a former resident of the same small town in California where Jodee and Bill grew up, had recently opened the attraction.  Bill Miller’s son had also opened Nudie’s Honky Tonk.  The bar is a tribute to Nudie Cohn…the tailor who specialized in the rhinestone-covered suits that country stars so often wore.  We checked out Nudie’s and the Country Music Hall of Fame with Jodee, but missed seeing the museum.  With that in mind, we set out to see the tribute to Cash this year.

Located just off of Broadway, the Johnny Cash Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Nashville.  Not long after it opened, Miller debuted the Patsy Cline Museum on the second floor of the building.  Just yesterday…on the 50th anniversary of the release of the song Sing Me Back Home, Rolling Stone Magazine announced that Bill and his wife were opening the Merle Haggard Museum next door.  Needless to say, this is fast becoming a popular spot!

We learned that Cash was given the name J.R. by his parents.  When he was in the service, the Air Force told him he had to have a full name, so he chose John.  He was a Morse Code Intercept Operator assigned to monitor the Soviets, and was the first person in the west to learn of Joseph Stalin’s death.  Prior to the service, he worked for a whole two weeks in an auto plant in Pontiac, Michigan.  Sure glad that job didn’t pan out!

Once out of the service, he began his musical career, quickly finding his way to the top of the charts.  The museum walks the visitor through his career in chronological order, with many interesting artifacts from his life, including this Gibson guitar, which was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  All of the good and bad aspects of his life are presented, though the focus is more toward the positive. There are several videos that show the entertainer along the way, which we really enjoyed.

This orange duster and the Guild guitar featured on the cover of Rolling Stone were gifted to Bill Miller by Cash, as a token of the friendship they had built up over the years.  Bill visited Johnny just 6 days before the singer’s death.

From there, we walked up Broadway a couple of blocks to Nudie’s.  

We enjoyed lunch and a drink at the longest bar in Nashville!  When one of the band members came around with the tip jar, he asked if we had any requests.

Our choice of the Johnny Cash tune Ring of Fire was played for the second time that day, another tribute to his continued popularity.  😊 We once sang a “spectacular” version of this song, led by our friend Mike, while in a traffic jam after the fireworks in Traverse City…windows rolled down, of course!

If you make it to Nashville, be sure to check out the Johnny Cash Museum and Nudie’s Honky Tonk.  It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon!

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Search for all things Johnny Cash here on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising annd linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Kentucky – Foster and Lincoln Style

When we worked at Amazon in Campbellsville Kentucky last fall, Diana and I mentioned to each other how great the area would be to visit without the work obligations.  Keeping that in mind, we set out to do just that this year.  There were several places we had yet to visit in the area, plus we had some friends we wanted to see.

We pulled into Three Springs RV Resort in nearby Columbia early on Saturday, October 21.  That was the campground we stayed at while we were working last year.  We chose to return for the resort’s peaceful setting, plus Greg and Nevis are really nice people.  We were able to catch up with them for a few minutes before heading off to visit our friends.

That’s Linda & Steven on the left and Bill & Kelly on the right.  Seeing that Diana and I are Amazon Associates through our blog…as are Kelly and Bill, all six of us are currently employed by the company.  We help generate the orders that they will be filling this Christmas season.  It was  really great to be able to spend a couple of happy hours with them, along with dinner at Brothers Restaurant. 😊

On Sunday, we set out to visit several sites we missed last year.  Our tour took us north to Bardstown, then meandered down through Hodgenville and back to Campbellsville.  The route was over Kentucky’s famous backroads, which are quite often too narrow for two passing vehicles.  However, they do feature state-of-the-art rumble strips on their three inch wide shoulders.  Closest we can figure, they are there to notify the driver that they have left the roadway and are hopelessly dropping into the ditch. 😉  But….

…the land the roads traverse is absolutely gorgeous!  Autumn certainly is a beautiful time to be in Kentucky.

Our first stop of the day was My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown.  Built in 1795 for John Rowan, a prominent judge and U.S. Congressman, the home was originally named Federal Hill.

Mr. Rowan’s cousin was composer Stephen Foster, who was a frequent visitor.  The estate was the inspiration for Foster’s ballad My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night, which was written in the mid 1800’s.  The home was passed through several generations before being purchased by the Commenwealth of Kentucky in 1923 to preserve its’ history.  The tune itself was adopted as Kentucky’s state song in 1928.

Our tour was conducted by guides dressed in period attire, with this gentleman singing his rendition of the song in a beautiful tenor voice.  No photography is allowed inside the home, so we aren’t able to show the mostly original furnishings and artwork that reside there.  With Halloween approaching, the current tour theme dealt with the 19th century death customs.  It was interesting to learn how people grieved back then, as compared to now.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to My Old Kentucky Home State Park!

Our next stops were devoted to the early life of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.  While most people associate Illinois as Lincoln’s home, it is Kentucky where Lincoln spent his first years.  The first place we toured was his boyhood home at Knob Creek.

Located along the Old Cumberland Trail (now US-31), this farm was where Lincoln lived from age two to age seven.

This cabin is actually the home of his friend Austin Gollaher.  It was moved to this location to show what the Lincoln home would have looked like.  After the Lincolns left, Gollaher used the wood from the Lincoln cabin to build a horse stable.  In the distance behind the cabin, a sign denotes the spot where Austin saved young Abe from drowning when the two boys attempted to cross the swollen creek by jumping from rock to rock. When Lincoln slipped and fell, Gollaher extended a tree branch to him and pulled him to safety.

From Knob Creek, we continued on to Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.

We arrived to find this Beaux-Arts neo-classical stucture sitting on the approximate location of the cabin where Lincoln was born.  We ascended the fifty-six steps, with each one representing the number of years in Lincoln’s life.

The building houses this cabin, which was at one time thought to have been reconstructed from the original Lincoln logs.  It was discovered years later that this was not the case.  The literal historians in us were initially disappointed with this location, as very little remained of the original farm.  But in the end, we saw the symbolism this place was meant to portray: it is possible to be born in a log cabin and ascend to become President of the United States.

Next up, we travel to Tennessee to examine the life of country music royalty.  Be sure to stay tuned for that adventure!

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Rural Indiana – The Heart of the Midwest

There’s something about Indiana that makes Midwesterners like ourselves feel centered.  Perhaps it is because so many interstates converge on Indianapolis, which has earned the state its moniker The Crossroads of America.  Or maybe it’s the laid back rural landscape that holds very few surprises as we travel over it. Having lived our adult lives in West Michigan, the US-31/I-65 corridor through the Hoosier State has become a familiar route to us, as it was our preferred path south for our Florida vacations.  Even though we’ve yet to reside in the state, we’ve come to know it fairly well.

© 2017 Google Maps

Our first stop on our way south on Thursday was the town of Donaldson, Indiana.  Located on the old Lincoln Highway, this unincorporated community sports a post office, a railroad crossing and not much else.  If you keep going beyond the tracks for a mile or so, a steeple appears above the treetops. You may have recalled our post Paradise in a Corn Field back in 2014, when we introduced you to the beautiful convent where my aunt lives.  This is that steeple and convent.

Now known as The Center at Donaldson, this gorgeous piece of real estate is something to see.  A few years ago, my uncle (my aunt’s baby brother) took up residence at the independent living facility the sisters operate on the grounds…so we get to visit both of them on our way through!

Aunt Marge just turned 93 and Uncle Ed is now 91.  Both are doing quite well.  It was so good to see them!

The sisters graciously allowed us to park the rig at their receiving facility overnight, complete with electricity and water.  We left them a donation for their kindness.  

If you are ever going to be in the area, let them know through this link so they can give you a tour of their facility.  You won’t be disappointed.  People of all faiths are openly welcomed.

On Friday, we continued south around Indianapolis to Seymour, Indiana.  This is John Cougar Mellencamp territory.  We didn’t see any ‘little pink houses’, but the one that motivated him to write the song supposedly still sits west of town.  Our destination that day was Chateau de Pique Winery, a member of Harvest Hosts.

This 80 acre vineyard sits in the middle of some beautiful rolling farmland.  The tasting room is housed in this barn.

Angel greeted us and introduced us to their wines.  Yes, they also serve beer and mixed drinks as well.  We took a bottle of their Cabernet Franc home with us to enjoy that evening.

Our camping spot was behind the outdoor reception tent, complete with water and electric hookups.  Most Harvest Hosts don’t offer any hookups, so this was a treat!

Up the hill from our spot was this outdoor wedding venue.  They held a rehearsal just after we took this photo.  Not wanting to crash the party…

…we held one of our own.  😊   If you are a Harvest Hosts member, put Chateau de Pique on your radar!

Next up, a trip down memory lane in Kentucky, plus several places we had not seen before.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Click here to stream John Mellencamp’s Pink Houses on Amazon Music Unlimited!
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Further South in Michigan 

Who says you can’t go home?

Once we left Leelanau, we headed south and set up base camp in Byron Center to take care of our various doctors’ appointments.  When we arrived at Woodchip Campground, we experienced a bit of deja vu, as we were assigned the site next to the one where we wintered in 2014/2015.  With just one week scheduled to accomplish everything we had planned this go-around, we had our work cut out for us.  Still, we made sure we had time set aside to see friends and family and have some fun!

The first visit we made was to see my sister Judy and her husband Dale.  We failed to get a photo this year, but it was great to see them!

Here’s a photo of us from last year.  They took a cruise to Alaska in May and were fortunate enough to see Denali without clouds for almost their entire stay!  

Ok, so hang on…I’m going to my best to confuse the heck out of you on this one.  The next day we visited our friends Diane and Terry.  Diana taught with Diane, and Diane’s sister-in-law Diane.  Yes, Diane, Diane and Diana…and they were actually a team of three several years!  Anyway, Diane and Terry had a former German exchange student of theirs visiting while we were there.

We hadn’t seen Adrienne for several years, so it was definitely a nice surprise!

Later in the evening, Diane’s brother Bob and his wife Diane showed up with their triplets!

My goodness, these three are growing up!  From left to right is Allyson, Diana, Anthony, and Madelyn.  Anthony finally achieved his goal of growing taller than Diana!  So we failed to get a photo of either Diane….

…but we did get a photo of Terry giving Adrienne her first motorcycle ride!  It sure was good to see these friends!

The next morning, Diana had a mammogram appointment, which turned out great. We then buzzed out to Holland to get an adjustment from my long-time chiropractor.  If I could have him tag along on our travels, my back would be eternally grateful.  🙂 After that we headed to Detroit for a Tuesday appointment with my doctor at Henry Ford Health System.  This was a routine follow-up from my prostate surgery back in 2010.  On the way, we went to Flushing to see Diana’s Aunt Marion, Uncle Bob, and her cousin Debbie.  We really enjoyed visiting with them.  We then dropped south to Ortonville to visit the cemetery where Diana’s family is buried.  From there, we drove to Mt. Clemens and stayed the night at our niece Becky’s house.  Once again, we totally failed to get photos…arrrghh.  Becky and her hubby Dan were excellent hosts and made us a yummy dinner. Diana’s sister Cheryl also came over with our nephew Jared.  It was great to see everyone again!  Tuesday’s appointment went extremely well, and I’m happy to report that I’m coming up on 8 years cancer-free.  Yesssss! ☺️   We then drove back to Byron Center.

Sound like a full week?  Well, the week ain’t over yet folks….

Wednesday morning, we both had our annual physicals with our primary-care physician, then had our teeth cleaned at our dentist.  The physicals went well; the dentist, not so much.  It turns out we both needed crowns.  One of those resulted in us pushing our stay in Byron Center into the middle of the following week.  And just so we could say we had a happy hump-DAAAAY, I started my colonoscopy prep in the afternoon.  Oh joy.  After drinking a gallon of that horrible concoction, I was moved to use many bad words in my opinion of its maker. 

Thursday was my colonoscopy (my third) and all was well…except this is the second time in a row I’ve woken up halfway through.  Jeez…knock me out already, would ya?  Good part is, I’m good to go for another 5 years.

Friday was my appointment for my crown.  I was able to get a one-visit crown, which was a traumatic 3 hour long deal the last time I did it.  This time, while still 3 hours, was much better.  I asked for gas.  😉   

So by this time, you are probably thinking we are ready to drop, right?  Not.  We headed to Kalamazoo for WMU’s Homecoming!

From bottom left: Jim, Mike, Bill, Nina, Karen. Back row, from left: Billy, Cindy, Sue, Diana, Sheryl, Paul, Jim

We crashed at Mike and Cindy’s house for the weekend, even though they were going to Detroit on Saturday morning for a wedding.  Their son Brian and his girlfriend Sarah came over and took the role of surrogate hosts; oh, my…we knew the day would come that the kids would have to chaperone us!

Saturday came, and so did the rain and lightning.  It poured hard all day long, and the storms forced the postponement of the football game until Sunday.  

There was concern that the game would have to be played at a different location, as Waldo Stadium was completely flooded.  With a Herculean effort, more than a million gallons of water were pumped from the field in time to play Sunday afternoon.  Not sure how that affected folks downstream, though.  Anyway, most of us skipped the Sunday version of the game, as we needed to head out.  For us, that meant Byron Center again.

Monday we ran a bunch of errands.  One cool thing I want to highlight about that:  while we were at Camping World, I brought in a step I had purchased a while back.  One of the legs had broken on it, so I wanted to see what the warranty was.  The box didn’t say, but it did say that it was rated at 1000 pounds.

And seeing as we are Good Sam Life Members, Camping World was able to tell exactly when we bought it.  May of 2012.  Probably way out of warranty, but worth a call.  Stromberg Carlson requested a photo and a proof of purchase (which Camping World provided), so we zipped that all off to them.  Within an hour, they were sending us a new step!  That is great customer service that deserves to be mentioned.  And a big shout out to the Byron Center Camping World for their assistance!

On Tuesday, Diana went to lunch with her friend Colleen.  They grew up together in Ortonville, and she now lives in Rockford, just north of Grand Rapids.  I stayed home and caught up on a few projects and repairs.  Wednesday was Diana’s crown and we were ready to go.  We lifted our jacks Thursday morning and headed south towards warmer temperatures and more adventures.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with!

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Leelanau, 2017

There is just something about Leelanau County that keeps drawing us back.  Since we were coming back to Michigan for annual doctor appointments, we knew we would definitely want to make time for our beloved finger of land on northern Lake Michigan.

On September 24, we headed across the Mackinac Bridge, completing our quick trip across the Upper Peninsula.

It’s always a thrill to pull a 13 foot tall fifth wheel over this span…especially since the railing is only 3 feet high!  The Mackinac Bridge Authority limits loaded trucks to 20 mph for good reason, as the crosswinds can be formidable. As a result, I had a good 15 minutes to ‘enjoy’ my unobstructed view over the rail on the 5 mile crossing. 😉

We stopped by Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to see how it was doing.  You may recall that my great-grandfather was the general contractor on the lighthouse and barn way back in 1892. I worked with Mackinac State Historic Parks for several years to get to light station reopened as a museum.  It’s great to see that the buildings are in fine shape.

The next day, we headed toward Leelenau.  When we drove through the intersection of Grandview and Division in Traverse City, we essentially completed our circle of the country we began last October 1st.  It was pretty overwhelming to reflect on the amazing experiences we’d had over that time period. It was also exciting to see what was new on the peninsula.

Our friends Rod and Mary had built a beautiful cottage just up the road from Wild Cherry Resort, so they invited us to use their RV pad.  They worked their tails off over the summer and have ended up with a dandy little slice of paradise!  We really appreciated being able to stay on their property.  We had piled up a ‘to-do’ list of items that needed attention on the rig, so I picked away at most of them.  It was there that our refrigerator door fell off, so that assumed the top item on my list.

We also stopped into Wild Cherry and saw Jim the owner, Paul, JoAnn, Skip and Rex.  Later in the week, I saw Rex’s wife Nellie in the grocery store.  Rex broke his leg earlier in the summer but is back mowing at the age of 93.  I snuck up alongside of her and said “Hey, Beautiful…how are you doing?”  She said “Well, hello!  I’m fine…it’s him that’s the problem!”…pointing to Rex back by the meat department.  😊

Rod also took us out sailing on Suttons Bay.  The breeze was stiff enough to allow us to sail with only the jib.

Mary and Diana were enjoying the wild ride!

On Saturday, September 30, we went to Leelanau UnCaged with Lane, Patti, Rod and Mary.  The event was a street fair in Northport which morphed into a park party with three bottles of wine and snacks from the town grocer. 😉   The six of us previously had gotten together for dinner at our place a couple of days before and also got together later in the week when Lane and Patti had us over to their place for dinner. It’s always a great time when we are together!

Later in the week, we went over to John and Julie’s new place on the southern end of the county.  John was one of my college suite mates and a fellow Zamboni driver.  He and Julie just built a really cool place that features beams and planks from a huge pine tree that grew where the house now sits.

After we hung out there for a bit, we headed to the village of Cedar for dinner.  Man, it’s great to be able to catch up with these two!

On Tuesday, Diana and Mary headed to Grand Rapids to do some shopping and to check out Meijer Gardens and some of the Artprize entries there.  I rode along with Rod to Traverse City where he was having his boat stored for the winter.  It was neat to see the process of pulling the vessel out of the water.

First thing they did was lift the mast from the boat, secure the rigging and then store it on a trailer with a multitude of other masts.

Then they had Rod pull the cruiser into slip and over the slings.

Up she goes…

…and loaded on the cradle.  Pretty cool name, seeing that Rod is a retired commercial airline pilot who took up sailing.  😎

It sure was great to get back to Leelanau for a few weeks and see everyone!  From here we head down to Grand Rapids for our doctor’s appointments and to see more friends and family.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with during our time there!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!