Friday, July 31, 2009

The Great River Road

When our stay in Monticello's White Oaks on the Lake was done, we drove west on Hwy. 24 to Illinois. Sometimes we take an Interstate route and sometimes we take those secondary, 2-lane roads to our next destination. On this day, we took both types of roads and ended up at the far end of Illinois in the town of Colona. Here we stopped for the night at a Coast to Coast membership park. It was a so-so type of place, but good for a one-night stopover.

The morning after, we pulled out of Colona and drove the short distance to the Iowa border. Here, we decided to take a very scenic route to our next destination of Oelwein. After crossing into Iowa, we picked up Hwy. 67 North. You travel on this and connect with US 52, part of The Great River Road, in Sabula, Iowa. The Great River Road (GRR) follows along with the Mississippi River. It was a wonderful drive and this photo shows a view of the mighty Mississippi in Iowa.This route followed beautiful, scenic 2-lane roads. We were surprised to find a lot of hilly terrain in northeastern Iowa....some very big hills, too.

As we drove into the river town of Bellevue, we saw Riverfront Park on our right. There was a nice place to park the motorhome and we could walk down to see Lock and Dam No. 12 on the Mississippi. The photo (above) shows the dam at this location.

We were lucky to be present as a number of river barges were inside Lock No. 12. They were traveling upriver and a tug was with them to push them into the lock as they waited for the waters to rise to the proper level.

This is the south end of Lock No. 12.

When the water in the lock reached the proper level, the gates opened and the tug pushed the line of barges out into the Mississippi to continue on their way north.

With the show over, we climbed back into the motorhome and drove back out onto US 52. After Bellevue, we leave the Mississippi valley and drive along some bluffs where you travel slightly inland. About 20 miles north, the GRR rolls gently into the river town of Dubuque. There is a large bridge here that allows the driver to cross the Mississippi into Illinois and Wisconsin. That was not our intended route so we just continued on US 52. Here is the bridge in the city of Dubuque.

Here was a beautiful red barn we passed around the town of Edgewood.

Our travels today took us through so much of the beautiful farm country of Iowa. It was a nice, leisure day and we enjoyed it.

We got to our destination town of Oelwein in the late afternoon. Our campground was Lake Shore Resort and it was right in the middle of great farm country ! What else?

That's it for long until next time!

Heading West after Front Royal

On Friday morning, July 24, we left our campground in Front Royal, Virginia and began our slow journey toward the West. We had originally planned on avoiding the Pennsylvania Turnpike but changed our plans en route. So we drove northwest to I-70 at the Maryland Pennsylvania border. I-76 is the turnpike and it merges with I-70 until you are close to Pittsburgh. It only cost $13.75 to drive on the turnpike with the RV towing the car. From there you are following I-70 alone. Eventually we got to Ohio and it was time to stop for fuel.

We found a Flying J truck/auto plaza and while I got us a coffee from the C-store, Bruce filled up the rolling condo with diesel.
After the coffee was purchased, it was time for Annie, the Schnauzer, to take a walk and do her thing on the grassy area by the fuel pumps. Mostly she enjoys getting out to sniff all over the place where her "dog friends" have previously been.
We were unable to find a campground within our membership system along our route, so we found a suitable place listed in our Trailer Life book. It was in Cambridge, Ohio and was the Spring Valley Campground. It was the Christmas in July celebration at this campground and we were lucky to get a space. It cost us $29.00 for the night which is a far cry from our $10.00 at a membership park, but all in all, still a fair price. It had full hook-ups, 50 amp, and was right off the interstate.
We left the next morning and continued on I-70 into Indiana. Farm country! We had made a reservation for 3 nights at a park in our Coast to Coast system. $10.00 a night! It was the White Oaks on the Lake Resort in Monticello, IN. and was north of Indianapolis. We got a nice long, back-in space. While we were getting ready to back in, the old guy behind us came out of his RV to see if I needed any help. "No", I said with a smile, "I can do it". I thought he was going to stand there and watch to see if I could actually handle my job but he went back home.
White Oaks on the Lake is exactly that....on Lake Freeman. Lake Freeman was created back in the 1920's to provide hydroelectric power. It is a beautiful lake and while we were there we saw a lot of people with their watercraft enjoying the clear, blue water. There are many beautiful homes and cottages built around the lake and all have boat docks. This resort had a pool, clubhouse, mini golf, basketball, beach, tennis and canoe rentals.
This is Lake Freeman.

In order for us to tackle the problems of backing into RV spaces, Bruce and I use these walkie-talkies. I refuse to run around outside the motorhome waving my arms and gesturing to make Bruce understand which way I want him to turn. With the walkie talkie I can simply give directions and stand still. He has confidence with me giving those directions and looking at the view in the back up camera and we get the job done quickly. We got these Motorola units at WalMart.
We found a McDonald's in the town of Monticello along with a WalMart Supercenter for groceries. On Sunday we went to the local United Methodist Church to worship with the local folks.
Staying in Monticello at the White Oaks on the Lake Resort, was a nice restful 3 days. We hadn't planned on doing any sightseeing in this area. The weather was great and we had good places to walk in the morning for exercise. We also had good books to read and the satellite TV was working just fine! What more could a full-timer ask for?
Until next long for now!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Harpers Ferry, National Historic Site

While staying at the North Fork Resort in Front Royal, we decided to drive up to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was about a one hour drive northeast of our campground. We packed our usual picnic lunch, but left Annie the Schnauzer home with the A/C on. She was happier that way.

Harpers Ferry is a National Historic Park and we were able to enter free of charge with our Senior Pass, thus saving the $10.00 entry fee. Yippee! Since we last visited Harpers Ferry in the 80's, they have erected a new Visitor Center and offer a free shuttle bus service to the Lower Town historic area. Here is a photo of the Visitor Center where we picked up a map of the area. It was only a 5-minute shuttle bus ride to the Lower Town historic area. There were some private cars driving around the town, but the NPS wants folks to use the bus system to eliminate so many cars clogging the small streets and it thus saves on some of the pollution in the area as well. In addition, parking can be a problem.

This is the beginning of the historic buildings on Shenandoah Street. There is a nice bookstore on the left of the photo, and beyond that is the Industry Museum. We browsed in the bookstore but there wasn't anything we felt the urge to buy.

Inside the Industry Museum you can see a demonstration on a video screen showing how rifle stocks were being made. The U.S. Armory and Arsenal, established in the 1790's, transformed Harpers Ferry from a wilderness into an industrial center. Between 1799 and the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, over 600,000 muskets, rifles, and pistols were produced. At times over 400 workers were employed. The invention of interchangeable parts technology helped lead the change from craftsmen-based production to manufacture by machine. In this photo you can see the display of Blanchard lathes in the Industry Museum.

Across the street from the Industry Museum we saw the Dry Goods Store. Inside, was a man in period costume explaining what the townsfolk would come in to buy. He also had some early sewing machines on display and explained to us that buying sewing machines "back in the day" was when credit purchasing originated. Sewing machines were so expensive that people began the practice of buying on credit.

Next door to the Dry Goods was the Provost Marshall office.

Inside the office we met two of the Provost Marshalls. They explained just what the marshalls did during the military occupation of the 1860's. They were nice fellows and answered many questions.

We saw some of the park employees that were in their period costumes coming back from their lunch break.

No town was complete without a tavern. Here is the White Hall Tavern on Potomac Street.

The story of how a man named John Brown believed he could free the slaves is but one theme in this historic site. Abolitionist Brown selected Harpers Ferry as his starting point and was determined to seize the 100,000 weapons housed in the arsenal. Brown began his raid on October 16, 1859. He had an army of 21, which included 5 free African-American men. Thirty-six hours after the raid began, with most of his men killed or wounded, Brown was captured in the armory fire enginehouse, now known as John Brown's Fort. After a trial, Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859. His short lived raid failed, but it focused the nation's attention on the moral issue of slavery and helped head the country toward civil war.
Here is John Brown's Fort, located by the river.

The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet at Harpers Ferry. The rivers produced power for local mills and factories. This view is looking at the Potomac River as it flows toward Washington D.C.

From a place called The Point, you can see a train trestle that is still in operation. We saw a Winchester & Potomac Railroad freight train roll by while we were there. There is also a foot bridge connected to the train trestle and you can walk across to the other side of the river. Actually, the Appalachian Trail goes right through Harpers Ferry and the trail is part of this foot bridge.

The Appalachian Trail sign marker showed the miles from Harpers Ferry to the trail head in Maine and to the trail's end in Georgia. To walk the trail to Maine from here would be 1,165 miles and to go south to Georgia you would walk 1,013 miles. Whew! Too far for me either way.

From the foot bridge on the trestle, I took this photo of the Appalachian Trail.

Also from The Point, if you turn around you can see behind you a nice view of the historic town of Harpers Ferry. It was beautiful.

After we had finished touring the town, we caught another shuttle bus back to the Visitor Center. They had a nice picnic area where we were able to enjoy our lunch in the shade of some big trees.
Harpers Ferry has a rich history with more than one or two defining historic periods in it's complex past. There are six themes the National Park Service has identified to help understand how important Harpers Ferry was. They are: Industry, Natural Heritage, Transportation, John Brown, Civil War, and African-American History. I've barely touched on one or two themes. If you want detailed information, log onto
That's all for long until next time.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

North Fork Resort, a membership park

In Front Royal, Virginia we decided to stay at one of the membership parks in our Coast to Coast system. There were 2 parks to choose from in this area and we selected the one that would provide 50 amp electric service and be nearest to the Skyline Drive entrance. The park was the North Fork Resort. It was easy to find this resort as it was only 1 mile off of I-66.

You can easily see their large sign before you get to the turn in for the resort. It is a private camping resort, which means members or affiliate members only.

This is the guard house where guests do the registration work. There is 24 hour security, 7 days a week. They give you a vehicle pass to put on your tow vehicle for re-entry. We don't usually hang those on our rear view mirror when we are driving as it is a distraction. We put it on the mirror when we are parked in our RV site and when we want to re-enter the park. OK, fine and dandy. We went to drive out the next morning (in our car) and the lady at the guard house wouldn't let us out. She said we had to have the vehicle pass on our mirror. I said, "but we are leaving the park not coming back in." I couldn't figure out why a person would need to have to use their pass to get OUT of a park, but we complied and gave her a big smile and drove away thinking how weird was that.
There are 3 pools in this resort and they were all very clean and well-maintained. There was also a clubhouse with the usual amenities. There was also a mini golf course, pickle ball court, basketball court, and a large athletic field. You are surrounded by mountains at this park which makes a beautiful atmosphere. There were over 200 campsites here.
Our campsite was right on the river and it had full hook-ups with 50 amp service. It was a nice grassy site with lots of trees behind us.

Here is the river behind our site. Some people were tubing down the river earlier in the day.
Another view of this peaceful river.
Even Annie, the Schnauzer, liked to get out and look at the river. She was particularly interested in the ducks out there! Here she appears to be more interested in something down there on the ground...hmmmm...wonder what it could be?

We try to utilize any of the parks in our various membership systems as our first choice. Then if there are non available where we want to be, we select something from our Trailer Life Camping Guide. I'll write in a future posting about our membership program and why we chose to finally purchase one.
Until next long for now!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shenandoah National Park....Skyline Drive

When leaving Salem, Virginia on Wednesday morning, we drove north on I-81 for about 150 miles to the town of Front Royal. This small Virginia town is at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park. We planned on a 2-night stay in this area.

Shenandoah Nat'l. Park extends about 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro, at the south. The park consists of 197,412 acres and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. The park is also a wildlife sanctuary. The park is open all year, but camping facilities close during winter. We got to enter the park "free" by using Bruce's America the Beautiful Senior Pass. Finally.... getting old has some benefits. We have used the Senior Pass 3 times on this trip. It cost us $10.00 to purchase the card down in the Everglades Nat'l. Park and we have used it 2 more times since then. The card never expires.

The Skyline Drive is the only access to the park by vehicle. In 1999 we traversed the entire Skyline Drive with our RV and stayed at all the campgrounds. On this trip, we are just going into the park with our car for a partial drive to enjoy the beautiful scenery. This scenic highway is one of the most spectacular in the East.

Here is the entrance sign announcing your arrival.

The Skyline Drive is a narrow 2-lane road that winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge. There are 75 lookout areas for scenic views.

The sky is often hazy up in the Blue Ridge, but today was more so as thunderstorms were brewing off in the distance. This haze is what gives the Blue Ridge Mountains their name since it makes the mountain range appear bluish. This view is from one of the lookout points toward the East.

This tunnel on the Skyline Drive is 610 feet long and goes through solid granodiorite of Marys Rock.

Summer wildflowers were still blooming throughout the park.

Another field of beautiful wildflowers.

Here is the entrance to Big Meadows, the most popular campground on the Skyline Drive. There are individual campsites and group sites, as well. We stayed here in 1999 with our 30 footer and wondered if our 40 footer could fit in here. We drove in to check it out.
We found several large pull-through sites that would accommodate our motorhome if we ever want to come back up here for a few days. There are no hook-ups, but a dump station and fresh water are available. We did find the campground to only be about 25% occupied. On our previous stay in '99 it was completely full. Could it be the recession? Big Meadows does take reservations (877) 444-6777 if you are interested.

More spacious, empty campsites.

The famed Appalachian Trail goes right through Big Meadows. Hikers can come off the trail here for a hot meal at the cafe and a nice hot shower, as well. Showers cost $1.00 for 5 minutes. Better scrub fast in that shower!
Big Meadows is named after the big expanse of meadow grass you can see from the Wayside area and from the Skyline Drive. The Wayside has a cafe, gift shop, gas station, and camp store. This is the view from the Wayside looking East at the meadow.

This is the cafe at the Wayside. You can see all the backpacks lined up against the wall. The hikers come off the Appalachian Trail to get some hot food.

We did not see any of the Black Bear that inhabit this national park. We did see a lot of deer. Many of them were right inside the Big Meadows Campground and some were along the side of the Skyline Drive.
A mother and her fawn in the campground.

We did see this solitary wild turkey as we were heading back North on the drive to Front Royal.
We enjoyed our afternoon and evening here on the Skyline Drive. We have great memories from our trip on 1999 and when we come back to the East again, we may come up here and "camp" for a week or so.

Shenandoah is one of over 390 parks in the National Park System. If you want further information on this park, or any other park, visit
Until next long for now!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blue Ridge Parkway....The Mabry Mill

The Blue Ridge Parkway is reputed to be "America's Favorite Scenic Drive". I don't know about America, but it is our favorite scenic drive. We first discovered the wonders of the parkway in 1997 on a 6-month RV trip (prior to full time living). We came back here again in 1999 on another long RV trip. In 1999 we stayed on the parkway for 5 weeks just traveling from one campground to the next. The parkway is 469 miles long and it runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Virginia and into North Carolina. The bluish haze you see hovering over this mountain range is produced by emissions of hydrocarbons and water vapor from forest vegetation...hence the name "Blue Ridge Mountains".

On this visit to Virginia we have no time for an extended tour of the parkway. So, we had to make do with an afternoon trip up to Mabry Mill, south of the city of Roanoke. The drive from the city to Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway shows adjacent farms throughout the area. Farming has been a way of life in southwest Virginia for generations. As you drive along, you are rewarded with great views from many lookout areas.

This is a photo of the 2-lane parkway on our way to Mabry Mill.
You can see these split rail fences throughout the region as you take a leisure drive south. Here we are at one of the roadside lookout areas. This view is looking out to the east.

Here is the beautiful Mabry Mill (milepost 176 on the parkway). Mabry Mill is operated by the National Park Service as an exhibit of mountain culture. It has become one of the most photographed attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Besides the mill and surrounding grounds, there is a gift shop and small restaurant.
While we waited for the summer music program out behind the mill, we walked around the grounds and took many photos. (see next posting for music program photos)
The century old gristmill was owned by Ed and Lizzy Mabry. Ed built the mill and the couple ground corn for their neighbors for 3 decades. It created a community gathering place for the folks who called this area home.
My Cousin Gail took our photo with the mill as a background feature.

Here is a view from the back of the mill looking toward the front, and the parkway road.

Although no longer an operating gristmill, that does not deter visitors from taking many photographs of this beautiful building. is another view of the mill. I just couldn't stop taking pictures.

Behind the gristmill, the National Park Service gives cultural history demonstrations throughout the day. Here, outside this original cabin, are period chairs and spinning wheels. Inside the cabin they have a weaving loom. There was no demonstration of weaving or spinning going on at this time.

Another feature of the area is the split rail fence (again). This was right behind the demonstration area by the mill.

This is the blacksmith shop, which is an original building. Inside an actual blacksmith was working at his craft. He was available for questions and photos.

This is the modern day blacksmith. He was waiting for the fire to get hot enough for his project.

The Mabry Mill is one of the most popular gathering spots on the entire parkway. The sights and sounds of rural life in Appalachia resonate from this place on a regular basis during the summer season.
There are many campgrounds on this parkway. They have dump stations and fresh water available, but no hook-ups. On our visits here during '97 and '99 we were driving a 30-foot Southwind motorhome and we had no problem getting a campsite. Now we are driving a 40-foot motorhome and we would be hard pressed to find a lot of campsites available to us. There are one or two at each campground, if we were lucky to get one before it was taken. We drove through Rocky Knob campground on our way back to Roanoke just for fun. The place was half empty. Recession? Who knows? I do recommend that if you are in the area, give some of these campgrounds a try.
Bye for now!