Category Archives: National Monuments

Fort Pulaski

On the east end of Cockspur Island, in the middle of the Savannah River, sits one of the most massive brick fortifications ever built; Fort Pulaski.  This impressive structure was named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier who fought in the American Revolution and lost his life during the Battle of Savannah in 1779.  It was constructed over an 18 year period beginning in 1829, and sits on the Georgia side of the border with South Carolina. Sporting 7-1/2 foot thick walls that tower 32 feet above the 8 foot deep moat, it was felt that the structure was impenetrable.

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It was part of a coastal defense system put into place by President James Madison after the War of 1812.

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It is interesting to note that preliminary construction of the fort…including the canal system seen above…was the first assignment for a young cadet fresh out of West Point by the name of Robert E. Lee.  He was here from 1829 until 1831.

Even though it was completed in 1847, Fort Pulaski had not yet been manned by the army, nor was it fully gunned by the time 1860 rolled around.  On January 3, 1861, Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown ordered the state militia to occupy the fort.  This was in response to federal troops seizing Fort Sumter to the north at Charleston just two weeks earlier, after South Carolina voted to secede from the Union.  Savannah was an important port for the southern states, and vital to the success of the Confederacy.

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Work began in earnest to ready the post for the battle that was sure to come.  Thick timbers, such as can be seen in the photo above, were leaned against the inner walls.  This allowed a protected passageway between the casemates that surrounded the perimeter.

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Within a year, Union troops were setting up a series of 11 batteries on nearby Tybee Island, just to the southeast.  Those positions are signified in red in the above photo.  With the south and southeast walls of the fort (noted in green) at more than a mile away, it was felt by the Confederates that they were safe from anything the Union army could lob at them from that distance.  What they did not know was that the Federal troops had a new weapon: the 30 pound Parrott rifled cannon.  This gun had spiraled grooves the length of its bore which increase the accuracy and velocity of its 30 pound bullet-shaped projectiles.  This gun had a range of nearly five miles, so breaching Fort Pulaski’s walls at a mere mile away was a fairly easy task.  There were five of these guns in the Union’s arsenal on Tybee’s shore, along with five smaller rifled guns and twenty-six mortars.

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On April 10, 1862, Captain Quincy A. Gilmore sent a boat to Cockspur under the flag of truce to demand the confederates surrender the fort.  That demand was refused, so Gilmore ordered his men to open fire. Thirty hours and over five thousand shells later, the Union army opened a hole in the southeast corner of the fort.  The area that was destroyed was reconstructed and can be seen above as darker red brick.  The rest of the garrison walls still show the damage to this day.  Fearing that his powder magazines would be breached and the entire fort would be destroyed by the resulting explosion, Confederate Col. Charles H. Olmstead surrendered.  Similar to the unsinkable Titanic that sank almost 50 years to the day later, this impenetrable fort was penetrated.  Needless to say, confederate leaders were shocked.

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Visitors today can still see some of the shells embedded in the walls, the backs of which all face northeast.

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Even the tip of the southeastern-most cannon was damaged in the battle.

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This is the view the Union soldiers had from Tybee Island, about one mile from the garrison’s southeast flank.

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Amazingly, little Cockspur Island Lighthouse received hardly any damage during the siege, even though it was in the direct line of fire.  It is still standing strong.  It was re-lit in 2007 for historical purposes.

The 30 hour battle at Fort Pulaski rendered brick fortifications obsolete.  Union troops repaired the hole in the outer walls and turned the structure into a prison until the end of the war.  It was here that the Immortal Six Hundred…Confederate prisoners who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States…were held under horrible conditions. Thirteen of them died there and were buried along the outside bank of the moat. By 1880, only a lighthouse keeper and a caretaker remained.  They too were soon gone, and the fort was left to the forces of nature.  In 1924, Fort Pulaski was made a national monument, with restoration efforts taking place during the Great Depression.

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We learned a lot from our visit to Fort Pulaski, all while each adding a Junior Ranger badge to our collection.  If there is one important takeaway from this monument, it is the fact that no one is invincible.

Stay tuned to see what we find as we explore further up the coast.  Until next time, safe travels!

Jekyll and St. Simons Islands

When we left you last, we had explored northern Florida in an area that had been contested by the French and the Spanish back in the 1500’s.  On Thursday, we moved a mere 70 miles up the road to Brunswick, Georgia.  Here we found stories of the pre-Revolutionary British, the Civil War, the early 20th Century elite, and modern day foreign trade.  With only a few days here it was not only a lot to discover, but it was hard to keep it all straight!

We began by pulling into our first Boondockers Welcome location.  This is a program where people allow you to camp on their property for free.  This particular location was hosted by Leslie and Skipper, and they were just super to us.  We even hung out with them one evening around their fire pit, and got to know them and their neighbors over cocktails.  To show our appreciation for their hospitality, we gave them a small gift bag with some goodies from Michigan.  🙂

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They lost several trees during Hurricane Irma.  Fortunately, they all fell across the driveway when no one was home.  Thank you again, Leslie and Skipper!

On Friday, we headed out to St. Simons Island.  This particular barrier island is home to Fort Fredrica, an 18th Century British outpost and townsite.  The settlement was put into place under the watchful eye of James Oglethorpe; a soldier, member of Parliament, and a visionary.  His plan was to establish somewhat of a Utopia for people in debtors prisons back in England, all the while creating a buffer between British colonies to the north and the Spanish to the south.  A fort was erected along the Altamaha River in 1734, and a fortified town was laid out just behind it.  There were 84 lots, most of which were 60 by 90 feet.  Each family also received 50 acres in the surrounding countryside to raise crops.  As the town began to spring up, the Spanish to the south took notice.  Sensing the rising tensions, Oglethorpe sailed back to England and brought back a regimen of over 600 soldiers.  In 1740, the British went on the offensive and set sail for St. Augustine.  The ships bombarded the Spanish fort for two weeks straight to no avail.  Details as to just why that was, can be viewed in our post on St. Augustine by clicking here.  The British headed back to Fredrica and the Spanish followed not too long afterwards.  They brought an army of 2000 men with the intention of taking the fort and town.  Unfortunately for them, the British were more familiar with the area and their troops and townsfolk  used guerrilla tactics to chase the Spanish soldiers back south.  Without too much bloodshed, the skirmish ended and order was restored.

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When we arrived we requested our Junior Ranger materials, and enjoyed the movie and displays in the visitor’s center. Not letting the fairly steady rain deter us, we headed out through the town-site to the fort.  The river has changed course, so much of the location of the fort is now underwater. A couple of magazines remain above ground. The foundations of many structures have been unearthed by extensive archaeological studies, including the storehouse which John Wesley lived above.  We were able to make out the earthen berms that were the base of the fort’s walls, as well as footings of many of the homes.

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The town’s streets were well marked, as were each of the foundations.  After we received our badges, we went to explore the rest of the island.

Across from the fort is this monument and memorial garden to John and Charles Wesley.

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John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist Church. Diana is United Methodist and was pretty excited to walk the same ground as John Wesley, especially on Good Friday.  He made five separate trips to Fredica from England in 1736 and 1737.  It was after leaving Georgia for the last time that he began the Methodist Church.  There is a large Methodist conference center and museum on the island.  We drove around the beautiful campus, but were too late to tour the museum.

We also visited the St. Simons Lighthouse.

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This impressive structure looked very familiar to us.  It turns out that the engineer responsible for it was a man named Orlando Metcalfe Poe.  He was General Sherman’s chief engineer who accompanied him on his March to the Sea near the end of the Civil War.  After the war, Poe became the chief engineer of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. He developed this style of lighthouse and St. Simons was constructed in 1872.  Just prior to that, Poe was promoted to become the Great Lakes lighthouse chief engineer, as the region’s burgeoning shipping industry required sentinels to keep them safe.  He oversaw the construction of 8 lighthouses on the Great Lakes that used this same design.  He also designed the first of the Soo Locks, which was named after him.  He was injured during its construction and died of a subsequent infection in Detroit shortly afterwards.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His lock, which he never saw completed, was totally rebuilt in the 1960’s to allow 1000 foot freighters to pass between Lake Superior and the lower lakes.  They kept his name on it. 🙂

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The view from the top is outstanding!  The original 3rd order Fresnel lens is still in use.

While we were at the top of the tower, we asked a local woman about the ships pictured above.  Brunswick is home to a huge port that deals with ‘roll off-roll on’ cargo, in other words…vehicles.

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This is a screenshot of the port from Google Maps.  The five rows in the area circled in red contains over 3000 cars and trucks.  Considering all the other vehicles in the lots, there has to be well over 50,000 of them there!  We saw several of those ships coming and going while we were in Brunswick, so they must really employ a lot of people to move those cars.

On Saturday, we made our way to Jekyll Island for a bike ride.  We had scoped it out on Thursday evening, and we found the paths on the island to be favorable for our TerraTrikes.

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That day, we visited Driftwood Beach.  In the photo, I am looking across the water at St. Simons lighthouse.

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We also toured the historic district that was established in the late 1800’s.  The Jekyll Island Club attracted the wealthy elite; names like Rockefeller, Morgan, and Vanderbilt.

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Here is the Rockefeller ‘cottage’.  🙂

So on our return trip, we set out to circle most of the island.

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We rode through the historic district…

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…over the marshes…

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…and along the seashore.  It was good to be back on the trikes!

That wraps up our time in Brunswick.  Our next destination is Savannah, but not before a quick stop to see a good friend.  Stay tuned for that adventure!  Until then, safe travels to all.

 

 

 

Timucuan Preserve and Jacksonville

On Tuesday, March 27th, we packed up and began our journey towards Maine and then Michigan.

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It took a little bit, as we had so many ‘see you in the fall’ goodbyes!   We will miss seeing everyone and look forward to next winter. We did manage to hit the road before noon.  🙂

Our first stop was Jacksonville, Florida, to take care of some errands and to do a little sightseeing. Diana tried out her new Moose membership to get us a nice little camping spot for two nights.  Wait…what?  Moose membership???  Let’s back up a step.  On Sunday, we met Diana’s sister Cheryl and her hubby Doug for lunch at the Beach House at Patrick Air Force Base.

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They are also fulltime RVers. Cheryl mentioned to us that she was a Moose member and how Moose International was not only a great fraternal organization, it also allowed RV parking.  We decided to have Diana join first to see if the membership is something we will use.  We met them next night at a local Moose lodge and with Cheryl as a sponsor and $35, she signed up!

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Long story short, we ended up with a last minute overflow spot at a lodge in Jacksonville.  For $15 a night we has access to electricity, water, and a dump station….perfect!

First order of business was to get our mail in Green Cove Springs and head over to the DMV to renew our Escape and trailer plates.  We have always been impressed with our adopted hometown, in that they embrace having thousands of their residents be fulltime RVers, marine cruisers, and military.  Many of those folks never see the town after the first initial contact, but we like making an appearance at least once a year.  Tuesday was our second time through this season, and I have to say they outdid themselves.  We pulled into the parking lot at our mail forwarding service at 4:30 PM and grabbed the mail.  We then drove two miles to the DMV and were in and out by 4:45 PM.  That’s 15 minutes to take care of both items. Impressive, to say the least!

So that left Wednesday free for us to explore the area around Jacksonville. Looking for anything that fell under the National Park Service auspices, Diana found Timucuan  Ecological and Historic Preserve (pronounced tee-moo-kwan). This vast area encompasses several national and state sites, not far from a major city.  It was donated in the 1960’s by a man named Willie Brown.  He was offered millions of dollars by developers, but he wanted it saved as an unspoiled wilderness for future generations. On this particular day, we chose three locations.

First up was Fort Caroline National Memorial.

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This is where the main visitor center for the entire preserve is located. Inside, the story is told of  this place where the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and St. Johns River meet.  There is evidence of over 5000 years of human habitation that has been unearthed in the area.  The first people here were the Timucua, a broad group of several tribes of natives. Sustained by the marine life found in the salt marshes, and also by plants and animals of the land, these people thrived here for centuries.

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This wooden owl was found in the preserve and is estimated to have been carved in the 1400’s.  It is the largest wooden effigy ever discovered from an archaeological site in the Americas.

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This yellow pine dugout was also unearthed here.  These canoes were the mode of transportation used on the St Johns waters by the Timucua.

In 1562, a French expedition, led by Jean Ribault, landed here and claimed the land for France.  Ribault left 50 settlers to establish an outpost and returned to France.  In 1564, the French built a triangular fort and named it ‘le Caroline’.

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The French did not do well in this new land and were facing starvation when Ribault arrived with help from their homeland. The relief increased the population, and also caught the attention of Spain.  The Spaniards soon established a claim to the south at St Augustine, with the intention of dislodging the French to their north.  Ribault sailed south to attack the Spanish post, only to encounter a hurricane that disrupted his ships and he beached too far south.  Admiral Pedro Menendez seized the opportunity and marched north to Fort Caroline.  His men massacred 140 French people, sparing women and children. 40 to 50 French escaped and were able to sail back to France. He then marched south and found the shipwrecked men.  The French pleaded for mercy to no avail.  Menendez killed 350 of them…all but those professing to be Catholics or musicians. That site became known as Matanzas, a Spanish word meaning ‘slaughter‘.  After driving out the French, the Spaniards took over Fort Caroline and renamed it San Mateo.  In 1568, the French returned for the sole purpose of seeking revenge. They killed most of the Spanish at the former French outpost, except for a few who escaped to St Augustine.  After burning the fort, the force returned to France.

From Fort Caroline, we drove northeast to  Kingsley Plantation.

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Along the way, Edsel 2 took his first ferry ride!  As you can see, Diana is sporting her Fort Caroline Junior Ranger badge.  🙂

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Kingsley Plantation was built in 1798 and is the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida.  No small feat, considering it’s exposure to hurricanes, termites, fire, and humidity.  The story is told here of plantation life, with the owners fortunes amassed at the expense of slaves’ labor and freedom.

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Located on the St Johns River, the farm was perfectly situated to transport its goods via water.  Cotton was king here, as was indigo, and sugar cane.

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Near the entrance to the property were the remains of the slave quarters, laid out in a semi-circle.  These 23 structures housed 60 to 80 men, women, and children.  They are made of tabby. This construction material is oyster shells cooked with water and lime, and then mixed with sand to form cement. The horrors of slavery were well portrayed here, serving as a reminder of this disturbing time in American history.

Our last stop was Ribault Club.

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This was a millionaires resort built in the 1920’s.  During the depression, membership declined and the building fell into disrepair.

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The State of Florida acquired the property in 1989, and through a partnership with the National Park Service and the City of Jacksonville, restored the club in 2003.

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The building is used mostly for weddings and events, and is open for the public to view at other times.

We really enjoyed discovering Timucuan Preserve on what turned out to be a beautiful day.  We left several sites to explore at a future time, making sure we thoroughly soaked in the beauty and history the areas we visited.  Be sure to follow along to see our next adventure as we head north along the eastern coast.

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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Feeling ‘Midwest’ in North Dakota 

When we last posted, we were leaving Jim and Barb’s place in the Black Hills of South Dakota and heading up to Bismarck, North Dakota.  We broke that trip up into two days, with a stopover in Bowman, ND for the night.  The trip from Bowman to Bismarck on Friday, September 15 was pouring rain with a stiff headwind.  Even though we were losing elevation across the plains, the transmission in the truck was constantly downshifting to compensate for the rush of air coming at us.  The upside?  Free car washes!  I barely recognized the truck, as the layer of tan Oregon dirt on it had become part of the North Dakota soil beneath it.

Once in Bismarck, our goal was to see a friend of ours who lives there.  Nina has been working as an engineer for a road construction company in the area after graduating from Michigan Tech a few years ago.  We met up with her and her friend John, who was visiting from Minneapolis for the weekend.

We had breakfast and checked out the street fair that was going on downtown.  Very fun!

Nina is part of the second generation of our WMU friends. It was great to see her and to also meet John! 

That afternoon, Diana and I headed to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.  It’s located directly adjacent to the State Capitol.

Diana saw this unique bison statue, which uses reinforcing rod for the fur near its head.  :). While we found the museum interesting, we realized that we really prefer to see artifacts in context; in other words, where the history actually occurred.  They definitely had a lot of things to look at, though!  A little bit of everything that is North Dakota.

A nice surprise for me was that the state tree of North Dakota is the American Elm.

Growing up in Detroit, almost every street was lined with these vase-shaped giants.  It gave the roads a bit of a gothic archway effect.  Dutch Elm Disease wiped most of them out, and I watched as they cut them down, one by one.  To say I was thrilled to see these in North Dakota was a huge understatement!

The next day, we met up with our friends Kat and Bob, who we last saw in Prineville, Oregon.  They are headed to the sugar beet harvest, so we took the opportunity to check out a few Lewis and Clark sites with them.  The first place we visited was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Washburn.

It is a beautiful building with nice collection of some of the items that would have been brought on the expedition.

One particularly interesting piece was this air rifle; the same type that Meriwether Lewis took along on the journey to impress the natives.

  But the best part of this museum was located a few miles up the road:

A re-creation of Fort Mandan, the place where the expedition spent the winter of 1804/1805.  Now this is in context!  While this fort isn’t the original, nor is it even in its initial location (which could possibly be underwater, as the river has changed course), it is built to the specifications described in the journals, using the same materials. Not only that, it is furnished and stocked with similar items that would have been there when the Corps of Discovery occupied it.  If that isn’t enough, tours are led by interpretive rangers, who encourage visitors to actually pick up and examine the different items in the outpost.  They sure know the way to these history buffs hearts!

Our interpretive ranger, Robert, explained each room in the fort to us.  While there were only 6 people in our group, there was also a tour bus that was being led by another ranger.  Robert explained that the combined groups totaled the amount of people who lived at the post, so it was a great visual in that regard.

Here he explains the lead canisters that Meriwether Lewis had designed to store the gunpowder in.  Each one contained 8 pounds of lead and 4 pounds of gunpowder, as it took half the weight in powder to propel a lead musket ball.  Each was sealed with wax to keep the powder dry, which it succeeded in doing the entire journey.

This would have been Lewis and Clark’s quarters.

By golly…Bob makes a pretty darned good Meriwether Lewis!

When Robert found out I was related to George Drouillard, he decided to put me in his clothes to see if there was a resemblance.

I do believe I have the French-Canadian nose down pat!  We want to give a huge thank you to Robert and his colleagues, as they deliver on what is an important piece of American history!

We had one other thing that we needed to do before we left there:

Diana wanted to see the statue of Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland dog.  😊

From Fort Mandan, we drove up to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

While this looks like a lawn with mounds scattered around it, it’s actually where Sacajawea lived with the Mandan Indians.  These mounds are all that remain of the earthen lodges they lived in.

This is an example of the exterior of one of the lodges…

…while this would’ve been what the interior looked like.  Quite large, sturdy and warm.  Even still, the natives only expected them to last around 10 years.  Not your average teepee, but I’m sure the winters up here dictated the use of these!

It was great to see Bob and Kat again, and to experience the transition from the West to the Midwest in beautiful North Dakota!
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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!

A Bunch of Fun Meet Ups in the Black Hills!

A few posts back, during our wrap-up of our time in Oregon, we received an offer from Jim and Barb to stay on their property in South Dakota.  We had been following their blog, Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure, since 2014….yet we hadn’t met in person.  Our original plan was to take our time and visit several Lewis and Clark stops on our way through Idaho and Montana, but the smoke in those states put a damper on that.  We were scheduled to meet a friend on her day off in Bismarck, North Dakota on September 16, so a detour to South Dakota would add 300 miles to the trip. 

Except this isn’t a trip….it’s a journey.  😊

We had the time, our home has wheels, and we really wanted to meet them!  We found our way towards their place and up to the back of the property, to a site that Jim had just leveled out for us with a skid steer.  Sweet!

How’s that for a view?  To top it off, Jim and Barb made us a delicious dinner of Pasha Lake walleye.  Very tasty!  We then watched the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints…which was OK with me, as my Lions had won earlier in the day.  The Vikings and Lions are in the same division.

Of course, their dog Daisy had to let me know what she thought of the Detroit Lions team colors on my shoes.  😉

The next day, we walked their property and checked out some of the trail cameras they had placed.  They revealed that there is plenty of wildlife that make their way through the land!  We then went for a drive with them and saw the Crazy Horse Memorial.

This is definitely a work in progress.  It’s hard to imagine how huge this carving is, until you zoom in on the top of the warrior’s arm.

Those are two huge backhoes up there!  There is a lot of controversy surrounding this monument and Mount Rushmore, as the Oglala Sioux consider this sacred ground.  Since this mountain is being carved, it would be nice to see it finished.   The Native American museum at the site is very well done.  Tribes from all over the country are represented.

The next day, Diana and I met up with her cousin Nancy and husband David.  You may remember them from our trips to Big Bend and also to Napa Valley.  They were on their way from visiting David’s South Dakota relatives and heading out to see their niece and family in Colorado. Getting to see them was another bonus to being in the area. We toured Mount Rushmore this time!

Walking on the Presidential Trail, you really can see the intricacies of the carvings.  But when you back away…

You can clearly see they’ve been busy adding additional figures…by George!  

On our way out of town the next day, we stopped by the Mt. Rushmore KOA and saw our friend Kathy, who we met at Amazon last fall.  She’s been working at the campground all summer and has really enjoyed it.

We failed to get a picture, so I borrowed her Facebook profile photo.  She’s the one on the left.  😉

So as far as detours go, this was an excellent side trip!

We really appreciated Jim and Barb’s generous offer and we had a marvelous time with them!  It will be great to meet up again down the road, that’s for sure!

Up next, we move up to North Dakota. More time with friends and some great Lewis and Clark discoveries!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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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!

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The past couple of months could be labeled as ‘the summer of really old stuff’ for us.  Whether it’s looking at galaxies or nebulae through Prineville Reservoir’s telescope that are thousands of light years away or hiking among rocks that are even older, we’ve seen things that are downright ancient!  Even being the history and science buffs we are, some of what we’ve seen has been hard to wrap our minds around.  One place in central Oregon that examines this prehistoric strata is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Spread out over a wide portion of the area in three locations, this park is home to fossils that date back 40 million years!  It also is fortunate to have some of the most stunning scenery in the state.

During our time in Prineville, we made three separate visits to John Day Fossil Beds.  Our first two were to the Sheep Rock and the Painted Hills units.  One of those visits was with our friends Bob and Kathrun, on our way home from our day trip to Kam Wah Chung.  Our last visit to the park this past week was to the Clarno Unit, so we could get out to see some actual fossils embedded in the exposed rocks.

The Sheep Rock unit is where the Thomas Condon Visitor Center is located.  This was our first stop.

Mr. Condon was a minister/scientist in the 1800’s who believed that the church had nothing to fear from the concept of evolution, as it was simply God’s way of working.  During his time at The Dalles, Oregon, he was intrigued by the fossils that gold miners would bring him.  That led him to Oregon’s interior and the area surrounding John Day.

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The visitor center named after him is outstanding!   The first thing we did upon arrival was to get our Junior Ranger books.  Looking through them, we knew this was going to be a difficult subject to grasp, as it spans so many millions of years.  We started through the gallery, which goes from the oldest fossils to the newest.  The floor is painted different colors to show what era or age you are in, which we found helpful.

To fully understand what happened to make this area such a treasure trove of fossils, you have to first know that this land was once the coastal area of Oregon.  The Cascade Mountains had yet to rise to the west, and the area around John Day was itself a volcanic region.  In fact, it was tropical, featuring versions of many of the creatures found in our current southern climates such as: giraffes, crocodiles, and hippopotamus.  Each volcanic eruption would bury more and more plants and animals, building layer upon layer in giant time capsules.  Over time, the volcanoes became extinct and the volcanic activity moved west.  As the current Cascades rose, the moisture from the ocean was somewhat cut off from the John Day region and the area became the high desert it is today.  Wind, rivers and rain eventually eroded the land, creating the massive valleys in the area and exposing millions of years worth of fossils, all stacked up like a giant birthday cake.  The lower the paleontologists looked on the hills, the older the fossils were!

As we worked through the Junior Ranger book, we began to understand how large of an area the fossil beds covered.  One of the ages actually extended all the way down to Prineville over 100 miles away, which we know is part of an extinct volcano.  The other thing we found extremely interesting was the timeline of the modern day horse.  They began as very small animals, evolving over time to nearly the size of today’s equines.  They were prevalent in both North America and Eurasia, but became extinct here around 11,000 years ago.  When the Spanish explorers came here in the late 1400’s, they unknowingly reintroduced them to the continent.

We completed the books and were sworn in as… Senior Rangers!  Wait a minute….what’s up with that???  Must be because my head was too big for the hat!

Once we left the visitor center, we explored the surrounding Sheep Rock area a bit.

The Cant Ranch is just up the road, and is an interpretive site run by the National Park Service.  It was closed the day we were there, so we walked around the grounds.

How’s that for a view from your back porch?

Just south of the visitor center is Picture Gorge.  Named after petroglyphs high on the gorge walls, this cut through the hills was created by the John Day River.  We drove through this with Bob and Kat, and it’s a great example of the layering in the area.

On our visit to the Clarno Unit, we took the 1/4 mile Fossil Trail and examined the plant fossils embedded in the rock.

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The hills across the road are all that’s left of the ancient volcano that created the palisades at Clarno.  Imagine that someday giants like Mt. Hood will be whittled down to this size.  Also note the evidence of the recent wildfires on the hills.  We saw miles and miles of charred land.

We saw fossilized leaves and sticks….

…a very-much-alive Western Fence Lizard…

…and a rabbit.  Good thing the volcano isn’t active, Mr. Bunny, or you could end up a fossil!

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With us examining every book and cranny of the rocks on the trail, that quarter mile took a long time!  The palesaides faced south, so the sun reflected off of them and the temperatures soared quickly.  We decided to save the other trails for another time.

The other place we visited, both with Bob and Kat and by ourselves, was the Painted Hills.

These hills were actually part of an ancient riverbed, with the alternating colors coming from different climactic periods.  As forces beneath the surface uplifted the soil, erosion exposed the layers we see today.

We really enjoyed exploring John Day Fossil Beds over the time we were in Central Oregon!  We just scratched the surface, that’s for sure. 😉

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A Closer Look at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and other cool stuff by shopping our exploRVistas Amazon link HERE.

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Mount St. Helens

“Vancouver, Vancouver…this is it!”

Those were USGS volcanologist David Johnston’s last words from a ridge overlooking Mount St. Helens when it erupted on May 18, 1980.  He was a mere 6 miles from the crater.  The pyroclastic flow….hot gases and rock…took less than a minute to overtake his position and sweep him away.  He was never found, although pieces of his trailer and backpack were.

Besides him, 56 other people died…but thousands others were saved by Johnston’s warnings of an impending eruption.  

Harry R. Truman was another of the volcanos’ victims.  He had owned the Spirit Lake Lodge since 1928, which was located just 1 mile from the base of the mountain. He refused to heed the evacuation warnings, choosing to believe that the increasing earthquakes would settle down. The building, lake and him are buried beneath 150 feet of rock from the blast, and a new Spirit Lake formed at a higher elevation above the location.

Diana and I had visited Mount St. Helens back in 1996, just 16 years after the 1980 eruption.  At that time, thousands of acres of surrounding landscape laid barren.  The closest approach we could make by road was the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, a good two miles back from Johnston’s campsite.  We had heard that they had built a new visitor center since then, so we definitely wanted to get back and see it while we were here in Oregon.  We also wanted to see our friends Lee and Tracy, who are work camping a few hours away from there.  The four of us made plans to head to Mount St. Helens on Tuesday, August 2nd.

Coming in from the west, there are several viewpoints along the way.  With the top 2000 feet of the mountain removed by the eruption, it looks less than spectacular from this angle.  The land outside the park boundaries is owned by Weyerhaeuser Corporation, and was replanted three years before we were last here.  Those trees have grown a lot in the time since.

Upon arriving at the new visitor center, the view of the crater and the surrounding landscape opens up dramatically.  At this point, we are a full mile closer to the mountain than David Johnston was when it erupted.  The lava dome in the crater has grown dramatically since we visited in 1996.  It won’t be too many more years before it is higher than the edge of the crater rim.

Mount St. Helens has a major eruption every 125 years, so we were in the presence of a very active volcano.  While the steam rising out of the mountain was slightly unnerving, it also made being there very exciting!  

Here is Tracy taking in the view.  Her standing there really puts it into perspective how close we were to the crater.

We took a trail that heads out above the Johnston Visitor Center and towards a straight-on view of the volcano.  Looking back down, you can see how the building is built into the hillside.

And off to the north…the direction the mountain blew…an entire forest of trees still lays over from 37 years ago.  This area within the boundaries of the national monument is being allowed to regrow naturally, and it is amazing thing to see how quickly that is taking place.  

Still, it’s going to take a long time for a complete forest to return, only to possibly be blown over again by future volcanic activity.  

Diana and I remember the vivid red sunsets in Michigan during the summer of 1980 that were caused by the volcanic particles in the air.  That doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago.  Heck, had David Johnston survived, he’d only be 67 years old today.  To see how much things have changed in such a short period of time definitely make Mount St. Helens a place we want to come back to in the future!

Be sure to CLICK HERE to see Tracy and Lee’s excellent post about our trip!
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A Mount St. Helens day hiking guide, plus anything else imaginable by searching our exploRVistas Amazon link by clicking 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!
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