A Quick Summary – USA TOUR 2010

This fabulous 7-1/2 month journey is over, but the memories will last our lifetimes.  Just for fun, here are some facts, figures and special memories of this trip:

Motorhome Miles – 12,153      Jeep Miles – 9072      TOTAL = over 21,000 miles!

Motorhome MPG – 6.56; average cost per gallon – $2.61

Nights on the road – 225 nights; average cost per night $16.18.  We used no truck stops or Wal-Mart parking lots; but took advantage of Passport America, Coast to Coast and a few Thousand Trails parks.  We also stayed 2 nights at the ‘Kings RV Driveway’ in TX.

Visited 28 states and 1 district: NV, AZ, NM, TX, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, DC, PA, WV, TN, KY, MO, IL, IA, MN, WI, SD, ND, MT, ID, WA, and OR.  Here is a map of the route we took and the states we visited.

Pink states visited on this trip; yellow states on previous trips; white states to be visited in the future

Rode 7 trains: Grand Canyon Railway-AZ, Middletown & Hummelston Railroad-PA, Great Smoky Mountain Railroad-NC, Chattanooga Incline          Railroad-TN, Iron Mountain Railroad-MO, Boone Railroad-IA, Mid-Continent Railroad-WI.

Rode 5 trolleys: Mobile Historic District-AL, Savannah City Trolley-GA, Chattanooga Choo-Choo Trolley-TN, Nashville Area Tour-TN, Memphis River Loop-TN

Rode 8 boats: Riverwalk Barge-TX, Swampboat-LA, Orleans Queen-LA, Everglades Boat Tour-FL, John Pennencamp Glassbottom Boat-FL, Memphis Queen Riverboat-TN, Wisconsin Dells Boat Tour-WI, Wisconsin Dells Ducks-WI

Rode 3 ferries: Padre Island-TX, Dauphin Island-AL, Okracoke Island-NC

Rode 1 zipline: Boone, NC

Toured 8 National Parks: Badlands-SD, Big Bend-TX, Everglades-FL, Glacier-MT, Grand Canyon-AZ, Great Smoky Mountains-NC, Shenandoah-VA, Theodore Roosevelt-ND

Toured 2 National Monuments: Castillo de San Marcos-FL, White Sands-NM

Visited Friends:  Goetzls, Halls, Nicks, Tsuda, Hoffs, Klynes, Spurriers, Griffis and Hoults (AZ), Veaches (TX), Kings (TX), Falcon (TX), Didelots (LA), Allisons (FL), Emonds (FL), Gormels (FL), Churns (FL), Becker-Boyce (DC), Stock-Ruyle (DC), Brumbaughs (VA), Kossmans (PA), Thallers (AZ, IA and MT), Norths (MN), Hasselbergs (MN), Irvings (WI and IA), Davids (MT), Keller (MT), Humphries (OR) and Erika, Kelvin and Kevin (OR).  To all of you that took time to meet up with us and renew friendships, thank you!

Ate: Yes, we ate and drank our way across the country, but we also did a lot of walking; Mike, as usual, gained no weight and I lost 2 pounds.  We enjoyed:  BBQ pork, beef and chicken in TX, AL, FL, TN, Cajun food (jambalaya, catfish, red beans and rice), Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, and ‘drive-thru Daiquiris’ in LA; Lamberts Throwed Rolls in Foley, AL and Sikeston, MO; Key Lime Pie in Key West and alligator in St. Augustine, FL;  southern-cooking at Paula Dean’s “Lady and Sons” restaurant in Savannah, GA; Hobo Hashbrowns in Britt, IA and more margaritas than we should admit to!

Festivals: Lettuce and Bluegrass Festivals in AZ and Huckleberry in Montana

Animals/Birds in the Wild: Peccaries, road runners armadillos, alligators, manatees, roseatte spoonbills, whooping cranes, blue herons, turtles, cardinals, painted buntings, marmots, deer, elk, wolf, coyotes, mountain goats, ducks, mosquitoes, fireflies and no-see-ems.

A Few of Our Most Memorable Times by State:

Arizona: The beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the ‘ghost town’ in Jerome, seeing the Grand Canyon with snow

New Mexico:  The austere beauty of White Sands National Monument

Texas:  San Antonio Riverwalk, seeing Whooping Cranes in the Aransas Wildlife Preserve,  Alamo

Louisiana:  New Orleans, plantations, swamp tour, eating and enjoying catfish (and anything deep fried)

Mississippi:  Hurricane damage, finding the area where Mike lived during his Air Force years

Alabama:  Dauphine Island, getting Mike’s scooter stuck in sand

Florida:  Homosassa Springs Wildlife, Everglades, Key West

Georgia:  Savannah’s park squares, seeing Painted Buntings (birds)

South Carolina:  Charleston’s history, carriage ride

North Carolina:  Cape Hatteras, Wright Brothers Monument at Kitty Hawk., zipline ride in Boone

Virginia:  Williamsburg, Monticello, Luray Caverns

Washington DC:  Smithsonians, Memorials by night, finding handicap accessibility in the metro system, spending 2 weeks with good friends

Pennsylvania:  Lancaster County, Gettysburg, seeing lightning bugs (fireflies) for the first time in over 50 years

Tennessee:  Natchez Trace, Jack Daniels Distillery, Graceland, BB King’s Restaurant and Bar

Missouri:  St. Louis Archway, Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal

Iowa:  Winnebago factory tour and the Grand National Rally, Hobo Museum

Wisconsin:  The Wisconsin Dells, visiting the site of my grandmother’s resort near Hayward

Minnesota:  Redwing, Mayo Clinic

South Dakota:  Corn Palace, Wall Drugs, Badlands

North Dakota  Medora, Badlands

Montana:  Huckleberry Festival, Glacier National Park

Oregon:  Covered bridges, Silver Falls, time with grandkids



Shortly after crossing the Washington border into Oregon, we arrived at Boardman Marina and RV Park.  This beautiful spot on the Columbia River is a city park with tall trees, green grass and large paved sites.  We sat outside and felt a bit of cooling breeze.  Later, we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

A restful spot on the Columbia River in northeastern Oregon

A beautiful sunset on the Columbia River

Salem/Silverton – We have spent time at the Silver Spur RV Park in Silverton, Oregon in the past when visiting family in Salem.  We were pleased to see this park almost full and the increased business has resulted in some improved facilities.  The staff is friendly and helpful and the location (about 15 miles east of Salem) is perfect for us.

Our first day in town we met up with Blynn Humphries, one of Mike’s good friends, who moved from Southern California last year and lives with one of his sons in nearby Stayton.  Blynn took us on a driving tour of his hometown and we ate lunch at his favorite breakfast spot, the Covered Bridge Cafe.

Two old guys enjoy the Covered Bridge Cafe

We saw the home where Blynn was born and raised, the property where he ranched and the businesses where his family worked.  We drove to several covered bridges in the Stayton area and Mike and I did our traditional ‘covered bridge kiss’ in the Jordan Bridge while Blynn played photographer.

A shared kiss in the Jordan Covered Bridge

The Larwood Covered Bridge

We stopped at the Roaring River Hatchery and fed the rainbow trout brood stock.  We learned that 2-3 year old brood trout are kept in one tank; the 4-5 year old brood trout are kept in a separate tank and can produce 8-10,000 eggs each.  A female trout is bred at age 3, and after three breedings, is released into creeks and lakes at age 5.

Mike and Blynn feed the brood trout

I would love to catch one of these 24-inch trout on a line - what a thrill that would be!

Blynn later joined us for dinner at our motorhome that evening; it was a great day learning more about this area with our delightful 82-year-old tour guide.

The next three days were spent with our granddaughter, Erika, and great-grandson, Kelvin.  They spent the weekend with us at our motorhome and 5-year-old Kelvin enjoyed the park’s climbing tower and river snake toss game.  Kelvin and I tried to beat his mom at Foosball; however, she has obviously played this before and we are novices.

Kelvin on the swing

We went to the movies and saw Toy Story 3; a wonderful family film,  except I was teased by both Erika and Kelvin for crying at the sweet ending.

What fun to see Toy Story 3 with my great-grandson and granddaughter

We spent a day driving to Silver Falls State Park and hiked the steep trail into the canyon to one of the 10 waterfalls.

Grandpa Mike and Kelvin ride the paths at Silver Falls

Erika, Kelvin and I in front of one of the falls at Silver Falls State Park

The trail up to the rim was a killer and Mike’s little scooter needed 4-wheel drive (make that 4-leg drive).

Grandpa Mike and his yellow 'doodlebug' needed help to get to the top of the path

On our last night in town, we met up with Erika’s fiancé, Kevin, at one of his favorite restaurants, Vente’s, in Salem for a good meal and good brews.  They are a sweet couple — and, hardworking, responsible Kevin is a great role model for our great-grandson.

Erika, Kelvin and Kevin

It is time to leave Oregon, but we are hoping to see this sweet family again later this year.  Tomorrow we head toward California.  The next chapter in this journal will be a short recap of the places we’ve been and the special memories that we have of our trip.

Meanwhile…California, here we come.


MONTANA – Big Sky Country and Glacier National Park and IDAHO

We traveled Highway 2 across northern Montana with lots of open grassland and straight long roads; you can almost see forever.  Montana’s motto, “Big Sky Country” is very appropriate for this big, wide open country.  There were strong winds and a few small towns along the way; several roads led 30 miles north to the Canadian border.

The Rocky Mountains were a beautiful sight at the end of the long, flat, monotonous road.  It has been a very long time since we have seen any hill higher than 1500 feet.  We stopped at Maria’s Pass, at 5216 feet, named after Meriweather Lewis’ cousin, and also the first of many crossings we made of the Continental Divide.  At Maria’s Pass, there was a 60-foot-tall obelisk that was erected to honor Theodore Roosevelt for his efforts with conservation.

The Rocky Mountains are a welcome sight

The 60-foot obelisk, dedicated in 1931 to Theodore Roosevelt for his efforts with conservation, sits on the Continental Divide in Maria's Pass

We arrived in West Glacier and settled into an RV park in a dense forest that would be our ‘home’ for the next few days.  This dark cool campsite would have been very welcome when we were in the hot, open prairie; however, we had to turn on the heat and find our sweatshirts and jackets.  The outside temperature was 42° in the mornings and a pleasant 75° in the mid-afternoon.

The west entrance to Glacier National Park is a bustling area filled with tourists, hikers, rafters and bicyclists

After a hearty breakfast of huckleberry french toast at a local restaurant, we traveled about 30 miles west to the beautiful little town of Whitefish in the Flathead Valley to meet up with Mike’s friend from his working days at SDC in Southern California.  Every summer, Larry and his wife, Ann, drive from Thousand Oaks to spend time in their sweet, little, rustic cabin that overlooks Whitefish Lake.  We enjoyed our visit and glad we were able to see the great vacation hideaway they have owned since the mid 1960′s.

Ann and Larry David, with Mike in the middle, at their cabin in Whitefish

We drove back into Whitefish to visit the Stumptown Historical Society Museum at the Whitefish Railroad Depot.  The museum had wonderful memorabilia of the Great Northern Railway.   The Great Northern Railway NW3 Locomotive #181, one of only seven built by General Motors, was on display next to the Depot and Museum.

The Whitefish Railroad Depot and Stumptown Historical Society Museum

The Great Northern Locomotive #181

As interesting as the train museum was, I was drawn to the activities across the street in Depot Park.  The annual Huckleberry Festival was happening with over 100 arts, crafts and food vendors.  We enjoyed looking at the beautiful artwork, jewelry and photography, but with no space left in the motorhome or the Jeep, we only bought a jar of homemade huckleberry jam.

Depot Park was the location for the Huckelberry Festival in Whitefish, MT

On another day we entered Glacier National Park and began exploring a portion of the 1 million acre park.  As it’s name implies, Glacier National Park has about 27 glaciers and also over 700 mountain lakes.  Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana and adjoins Waterton-Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.  Together these parks are known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site.

Entering Glacier National Park

Most of the deep U-shaped valleys and lakes were formed during the last ice age and each view was more breathtaking than the last.  We drove the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road and agreed with travel guides that was one of the most outstanding scenic drives in the world.  The road meanders through the gorge created by McDonald Creek and Avalanche Creek.  We stopped at Avalanche Creek for a hike to the bottom and also some photos.

Us, at one of the many overlooks of beautiful waterfalls

The rushing rivers and waterfalls are everywhere in Glacier

Found this cute guy sitting by one of the rivers -- so I took him home

Besides its beauty, Going to the Sun Road is also an engineering marvel. The road built between 1921-1932 is a National Civil Engineering Landmark and a National Historic Landmark, the only American road to hold both distinctions.  Much of the road, especially around 6,646-ft Logan Pass, is built into the sides of near vertical cliffs, using stone-masonry bridges, guardrails, tunnels and arches.  The result is visually appealing with minimum impact on the natural beauty of the area.

The steep, narrow Going to the Sun Road

The Triple Arches was an unplanned substitute for a huge retaining wall; the design was done on site. The left arch was constructed crooked in 1930 and has remained that way for 80 years.

The steep cliffs made driving this road challenging, especially when a wide vehicle approached. Vehicles longer than 21 feet were prohibited; however, we saw a tour bus making its way up the cliff. Look closely and you will see a car beginning to go round the curve.

At Logan Pass, we again crossed the Continental Divide.  We stopped to walk to the top of the visitor observation area after a steep climb up steps, ramps and walkways.  We were rewarded with a ‘welcoming committee’ of a momma mountain goat and her kid walking around hikers and walkers with little concern.

This momma and her kid were the friendly goats; a couple of billy goats glared at the tourists and photographers so we kept our distance.

Besides the mountain goats, we saw many squirrels, including a female sitting at the mouth of her burrow, loudly scolding anyone who got close to her nest.  We saw one little head pop up briefly before the momma jumped in the hole to keep her curious offspring away from danger.  A curious hoary marmot peeked over a pile of construction rubble to watch the cars creeping by.

Momma squirrel protecting her nest and babies

A curious marmot

The two largest lakes inside Glacier National Park, McDonald and St. Mary, at the base of Mount Brown at the foot of the Lewis Range of the Rocky Mountains are beautiful, with just a few sightseeing cruise boats to add ripples to the calm surfaces.

Lake McDonald

The very beautiful St. Mary Lake

We climbed so high up the mountain that we found a glacier near a waterfall next to the roadway

Mountains, glaciers, trees and blue sky -- a beautiful day at Glacier

As if the glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes were not beautiful enough, the entire park was covered with wildflowers.  We had several long stops for one-way traffic around some of the steeper areas that are being rehabilitated.  This gave us ample time to get out of the car and snap lots of pics of the flowers.  Unfortunately, I didn’t buy a book on the wildflowers of this area when we were at the visitor center at the beginning of the park.

Red Spiny Plume

Yellow sweet-smelling flowers with a bee

Magenta trumpet-type flowers

Purple Daisy

Delicate purple bells

At the end of the scenic highway, we finally found a restaurant to eat lunch at 5:30.  We had been on the 50-mile road for 7 1/2 hours (without food!).  Except for the two long road construction delays, most of our time was spent stopping to look, hike and take too many photos.

It was a long but lovely day, and we both agreed that Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks we have seen.  We are glad we could be here in 2010 — Glacier’s 100th anniversary.

After trying to connect with Bob and Esther Thaller since Forest City, Iowa, we finally caught up with each other in the RV park in West Glacier.  We only had one morning to catch up on their adventures over breakfast before we had to head south to Missoula.

Bob and Esther Thaller at the Glacier Highland Restaurant

Missoula – After settling into an RV park in Lolo, we drove into Missoula to meet up with Mike’s high school and boy scout friend, Ed Keller and his lovely lady, Sandy.  The last time we saw Ed was in 2001 and since that time, he has had some medical setbacks.  Although Ed wasn’t able to go out to dinner, we were able to have a nice visit with both Ed and Sandy.

Mike and I found a nearby steakhouse and stopped for dinner.  We enjoyed good steaks and only wished that Ed was well enough to have joined us.

Mike's "before-dinner drink" looks more like 'after-dinner dessert"

Although it is warmer in the Missoula/Lolo area of Montana than it was in Glacier, it is still pleasant and we would like to bottle this cool air and carry it with us as we drive into Idaho where the temperatures are over 100°.

Idaho – We only had a one-night stop in western Idaho at the new Clearwater Crossing RV Park in Orofino after a beautiful,  scenic drive across Idaho on Highway 12.  This lovely 2-lane road is also called the “Wild Scenic River Corridor”, the “Lewis & Clark Highway” and the “northwest Passage Highway”.  The road snakes along the Lochsa River and cuts through the Bitterroot Mountain Range.  Although not the fastest way to cross Idaho, it certainly is a very scenic and pleasant route.

A stop at the Lolo Summit on Highway 12

A quiet spot to stop for lunch as we traveled along the Lochsa River on Highway 12

When we arrived in Orofino at 4 p.m., it was 102°; we stayed in the motorhome until the sun had dropped behind the mountains.  We then enjoyed our patio that overlooked the Clearwater River at the Clearwater Crossing site.

A nice way to enjoy the early evening

In 1805, this area was visited by Lewis & Clark on their westward journey to explore the Northwest Passage.  They built five dugout canoes for the remainder of the journey to the Pacific Ocean.  This Orofino location on the Clearwater River is quite shallow and was used by the Nez Perce Indians, trappers, and explorers to cross the water safely.

Metal sculptures mark the spot where the Nez Perce Indians and Lewis & Clark forded the river at Clearwater Crossing


THE DAKOTAS (The Corn Palace, Lotsa Junk in Murdo, and the Badlands)

South Dakota – In 2008 we did a great tour of the Black Hills of South Dakota and saw Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Monument, Deadwood, Hill City and the Mammoth Site and also bought some Black Hills jewelry.  However, we didn’t have time to visit the Badlands, so it was a priority as we traveled through both South and North Dakota.

According to our RV friends, a must-stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, a folk art icon in the rolling prairies of central South Dakota.  This unusual agricultural architecture was originally built in 1892 by two businessmen who were trying to attract business and political support for the state capitol locating in Mitchell.  Pierre eventually became the state capitol, but Mitchell still gets plenty of visitors to the Corn Palace.  Each summer, the corn and grain murals are removed from the exterior of the building, the new designs are marked on tar paper and attached.  Then, over 600,000 pieces of Indian corn in 9-12 different colors are stapled along with 3000 bushels of grains and grasses to make the colorful murals.  The locals call this art “corn-by-number”.  This year’s large scale theme is “Transportation through the Ages” with horses, bikes, motorcycles, boats, hot air balloons, trains and cars depicted in corn.  The museum inside the building has photographs of the 118 years of designs that have been created since the inception of the Corn Palace. There is also a large gift shop, a theater showing the history of the Corn Palace, and a big amphitheater for community gatherings and sporting events.

The Corn Palace - 2010/2011 Murals

A couple of 'corny' characters

Another view of the Corn Palace

In Murdo, we stopped at the Pioneer Auto Show & Prairie Town, a 42-building eclectic collection of over 250 cars (all dusty), 60 motorcycles (most dusty except for one of Elvis’ that is kept in a glass enclosure), 60 tractors and rooms filled with fossils and rocks, vintage toys, music boxes and miscellaneous junk.  The Prairie Town consists of small themed buildings with antiques to depict a train depot, schoolroom, dentist office, barbershop, etc.  The only inhabitants were the prairie grasshoppers that we see everywhere.  Mike’s highlight at this unusual museum was the restored steam tractors, and I enjoyed seeing the 1921 motorhome on a White frame.  An RVing couple spent $16,000 in 1921 to have their dream built and for the next 3 years traveled the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the coach.  It was quite rustic and didn’t look too comfortable (no microwave, TV, surround sound or satellite antenna, no bathroom (!!), and not even a sofa).  We still admired their adventurous spirits.

One of the steam tractors that Mike found fascinating

The 1921 Motorhome

Mike explores one of the many buildings with vintage cars

We settled into the small town of Wall, home of the famous Wall Drug.  The town of Wall got its name from the wall of rock that forms the ridge through the Badlands — not a Mr. Wall.  Wall Drug Store was started as a small town pharmacy in 1936 by Ted and Dorothy Hustead.  To encourage travelers to stop at their business in the middle of the dusty prairie, they put up roadside signs along the highway advertising “Free Ice Water”.  The little pharmacy has grown over the years to a block-long series of buildings with ice cream fountains, cafes, an outdoor patio, and many, many gift shops.  The entire town seems to exist for the sole purpose of shopping for knick-knacks and souvenirs.  But, as in the tradition of the 1930′s, you can find “free ice water” at several locations in the Wall Drug Store Complex.

Inside the very busy Wall Drugs

We were astounded at the number of motorcycles parked in the street in front of Wall Drugs.  The pilgrimage to Sturgis had begun for the annual rally when the population grows from 7000 quiet residents to 700,000 rowdy fun-loving motorcycle riders and enthusiasts.  It seems Wall is one of the more popular stopovers on the way to Sturgis.

The middle of Wall was filled with visiting motorcyclists

We spent a full day driving through Badlands National Park.  Our first stop was just before entering the park at the Minuteman Missile National Site. The Visitor Center had a short video that gave us a quick refresher on the history of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the mid 1960′s.  The U.S. defense strategy was to deter Russia from threatening our freedom by maintaining a constant state of readiness with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s).  There were over 450 missile sites nationwide with most located in the Great Plains.  The 15 underground Minuteman missile launch control centers in South Dakota could deploy a missile that would fly over the North Pole and arrive at a target in the U.S.S.R. within 30 minutes with an explosive fore of over a million tons of dynamite.  In the early 1990′s the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between these two world powers resulted in the Minuteman missile sites being deactivated.

Many political leaders felt that a nuclear holocaust or World War III was prevented by the threat of our readiness to defend our borders with the ICBM’s.

From the serious to the silly — a mile or so from the missile site we stopped to watch children feeding peanuts to the inhabitants of a Prairie Dog Town.  These cute little black-tailed mammals scampered from hole to hole and occasionally got into a playful tussle with a neighbor.  The ‘town crier’ would stand on his hind legs, stretch his little body as tall as he could, and let out some high pitched yelps that sounded like a little dog’s bark.

Cute little prairie dogs

These little guys were as cute as they could be

We drove the Badlands Loop Road taking lots of photos of the layered sedimentary hills.  Each turn in the road would reveal another vista of interesting formations, rocks, yellow and pink mounds of minerals, cliffs that are being eroded by wind and rain at a rate of 1″ per year, and grass-covered hills.  We even came upon a mountain goat and her kid perched on a high ledge above the road.

Entrance to the Badlands National Park

Us, overlooking the windy Badlands Wall

A Momma Mountain Goat and her Kid

This lonely land was well-named by the Lakota Indians, “mako sica”, which means “Badlands” in the native language.  This area was a sea millions of years ago, and the hills have a wealth of ocean creature fossils embedded in its many layers of dried mud, sand and gravel.

A portion of the Wall in the Badlands

The different colors in the hills are various minerals, including fossilized sea life from millions of years ago.

We traveled northwest and marveled at the endless stream of motorcycles heading to Sturgis.  Along with the many beautiful bikes, there were also motorhomes towing covered motorcycle trailers.   Glad we had the opportunity to see the motorcycle migration and also glad we weren’t staying in Sturgis during this rowdy 70th Anniversary Year.

All through South Dakota, the motorcyclists were making their annual pilgrimage to Sturgis.

Every gas station was packed with motorcycles

This group of bikers were from Poland; they flew in for the Sturgis event -- their English was poor and my Polish even worse, so not sure how the motorcycles got to the U.S.

We made a short stop in Belle Fourche, South Dakota where the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey designated this as the “Geographic Center of the Nation” (including Alaska and Hawaii).  In actuality, the surveyed point is 20 miles north of this little town, but very difficult to reach by car.  The monument is made of etched South Dakota granite, is 21 feet in diameter, and is in a nice park with the 50 state flags and the U.S. flag circling it.

A beautiful setting for this Geographic Center of the Nation plaque with the 50 state flags and the U.S. flag against the blue sky

The etched granite plaque placed by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey

We needed a cool snack on this hot day after our walk in the park at Belle Fourche, and of course, Bea made sure she got ice cream too.

Yes, Bea ate every bite of this ice cream cone, including the cone! (She only gets ice cream once a year so she attacks it with a vengence.)

We arrived in the very small town of Medora, North Dakota and settled into the city’s public campground.  Our goals in Medora were to tour the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, see the North Dakota Badlands, take in a performance of the well-known Medora Musical, and tour Medora to find out why this is the vacation destination in North Dakota.

During the night and into the next day we were treated to a dramatic lightning and thunder storm with some heavy rains.  In the early afternoon, the skies cleared and the sun came out so we drove into Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This relatively small national park, named after our 26th U.S. President, is only 110 square miles and contains most of the Badlands that are located in this state.  After traveling through the Badlands of South Dakota, we found the North Dakota Badlands to be much greener, with trees and vegetation suitable for the several large herds of bison we saw on the 36-mile loop road.  Additionally, the hills weren’t as jagged and harsh as the southern Badlands.

The entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

A bit of history why this park is named for Teddy “Rough Rider” Roosevelt:  Theodore Roosevelt came to the Dakota Territory to hunt buffalo when he was a 98-pound, asthmatic, 25-year old widower.  He liked the wild country, and on a whim, bought cattle land near Medora in the Missouri River Valley and named his ranch Maltese Cross.  A year later he bought another ranch that he called Elkhorn.  After 4 years of ranching, Roosevelt discovered that the area was environmentally fragile, and he became an advocate for conservation of America’s national resources.  Teddy Roosevelt said that his time spent in North Dakota was not only beneficial to his health, but gave him an appreciation for wildlife and natural resources.

In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became President and continued his interest in conservation by establishing the U.S. Forest Service, 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird reservations, 4 national game preserves and 150 national forests.  By the end of his presidency, he had protected 230 million acres of public land.

A lone bull bison on a hill in the Badlands

A female bison with her nursing calf

The beautiful North Dakota Badlands before the skies turned dark.

Halfway around the loop road, the skies opened with silver-dollar-sized splats of rain, then turned into a torrential downpour with beautiful streak lightning, huge rumbles of thunder and even some hail.  The outdoor temperature recorded by our Jeep plummeted from a hot and sticky 98° to 68° in less than 15 minutes.

Dark clouds fill the skies just before the rain, lightning and thunder started.

Our intent was to attend the evening performance of the Medora Musical that pays tribute to the American West and Theodore Roosevelt in the 2850-seat Burning Hills Amphitheatre.  However, the heavy rains in the outdoor venue and lightning strikes while seated on metal bleachers didn’t seem prudent.  Instead, we stayed inside our motorhome and watched the spectacular show of mother nature.

With the rains gone the next day, we had breakfast at the Cowboy Cafe and wandered through the western-themed village.  The town has several motels and restaurants, a post office, bank and lots of gift shops, but no grocery store.  When we asked a shopkeeper, we were told they buy their basic food items at the gas station/convenience store or drive 25 miles to the nearest grocery store.  A little too remote for us city folks.  The little town of Medora is cute, quaint, and quite charming, and as North Dakota’s main vacation destination, we rate it good for a weekend!

One of two main streets in Medora



Minnesota – After the memorable and emotional experience of touring the North Woods of Wisconsin, we headed southwest and stopped in Red Wing, Minnesota.  This small town on the Mississippi River is named for the title given to Dakota Indian Chiefs, “Koo-poo-hoo-sha” which means “wing of the wild swan, dyed scarlet” for the symbol they carried.  Neither the Dakota name or its meaning rolls off the tongue easily, so glad it became Red Wing.

Another Great River Road sign

This town is well known for Red Wing boots and pottery.  We stopped to see the 16′ high, 20 ft. long leather boot and learned that a person wearing it would need to be 12 stories tall.

This huge boot is made of leather with real stitching and laces

As we’ve seen in other small towns, the Red Wing businesses and civic groups enjoy decorating their historical district with replicas of their town’s symbol.

We enjoyed the beautiful hanging flower baskets, the sidewalk sales and farmers’ market and bought a half dozen ears of ‘peaches & cream’ corn (yellow and white variegated).  We also walked along Levee Park and Bayfront Park and watched the pleasure boats being enjoyed on this warm and pleasant weekend.

We enjoyed the lovely baskets of flowers while shopping the sidewalk sales

This ugly jester statue in Levee Park tickled us

The Mississippi River provides recreation for folks in Red Wing

We traveled south through Rochester and drove through the Mayo Clinic complex (13 million square feet).  The Mayo Clinic was started as a family practice in the early 1900′s by Dr. William W. Mayo and his two sons, Drs. William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo.  The Mayo Clinic established the first blood bank in 1933 and its doctors earned the Nobel Prize in 1950 for the discovery of cortisone.

A bronze statue of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie - the Mayo brothers

The front of the main building at the Mayo Clinic

Forest City, Iowa – We arrived back at the Winnebago Industries Service Center again, got on the stand-by list again for service to repair our faulty living room slide again.  We would have been very irate, however, we looked forward to seeing our friends, Bob and Esther Thaller who were in the service center campground too.  They blew a hydraulic hose and needed repairs as well.  There was a good group of us who gathered in the campground to await Monday morning service so, we got out our drinks and had a little patio party.

Winnebago/Itasca travelers gather in the campground for service. The women soon were discussing and showing off their quilts, trading patterns, etc.

We enjoyed playing cards with the Thallers, introducing them to the Hobo Cafe and hobo hashbrowns in Britt, having another hamburger at Shooterz in Forest City and another steak dinner at the Branding Iron in Thompson.  We also enjoyed running into Paul and Mary Witwer, full-timers, who were parked next to us during the WIT Rally.  They had stayed the extra 1-1/2 weeks to get warranty work completed on their 40 foot Tour.  We were glad that the Thallers got their motorhome fixed and could move on, but sorry to see them go.

RVers may travel the world, but the RV world is really small.  As we waited for our service tech at 7:30 in the morning, we ran into Jim & Sandy Irving (spelled I-RVing, per Jim) who we had met at Trails End Resort on Lake Couderay in the North Woods of Wisconsin.  They were also getting warranty work done on their new Navion Class B.  As they don’t tow a car, we all piled into the very cramped Jeep.  We had nowhere to store the stuff in the Jeep (as the motorhome is now in the service bay), so envision Mike’s yellow scooter, my folding bike, 3 big boxes of winter clothes, the auxiliary brake system, along with the assorted stuff we’ve collected in the last 6 months on this trip, 4 adults and 2 dogs — we were quite a sight.  This delightful, good-natured couple took it all in stride and we had the opportunity to introduce another couple to Mary Jo’s Hobo Cafe and hobo hashbrowns.   Doree, the friendly waitress now remembers our standard order and seats us at ‘our’ table.

Hobo Cafe and Hobo Hashbrowns with Jim & Sandy Irving

After breakfast, we walked our dogs, Kelii Irving and Bea Oddo-Desch in the little memorial park next to the cafe and looked at the remembrance plaques of the some of the hobos who ‘met the westbound train’ (died) while in Britt.

Mike and Jim in front of a plaque that reads "Unknown Hobo - 1919"

As none of us had received phone calls from Winnebago that our coaches were done, we headed into Mason City for a couple of errands and a short stop at the Music Man Square. The square honors the life of home-town boy, Meredith Willson, composer of Broadway musicals, “The Music Man” (1962) and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”.  The square is built around Willson’s boyhood home and also contains a venue for music lessons and recitals and a museum that contains a replica of the 1912 River City streetscape.  We took some photos but decided it was too warm to leave the dogs in the car for us to tour the home or museum.

The Music Man Square

Jim and Sandy march along with Meredith Willson (while their dog, Kelii. tries to march in a different direction)

Meredith Willson's boyhood home, built in 1895

We returned to Forest City and discovered that our coaches would not be available for the night.  The four of us gathered the necessary items and booked 2 rooms at the local motel.  The Irvings now had a loaner car from the Dodge dealer and we took this much-roomier vehicle to Shooterz for dinner while the 2 dogs kept each other company in one room.

After taking two long showers at the motel (a real treat after months of short showers in the motorhome), enjoying the continental breakfast, and a picnic lunch at Hardee’s, we were all happy to get our repaired coaches back but sorry to leave the good companionship.  We hope the Irvings will be able to join us in Quartzsite next winter.

After 22 nights total in Iowa, we headed west towards South Dakota with a repaired slide (with fingers crossed), new friends, and looking forward to meeting up with the Thallers along the way.


WISCONSIN – You CAN go home again!

We left Iowa behind and entered Wisconsin at Prairie du Chein (French for Prairie Dog) on the Mississippi River. We have enjoyed following the Great River Road along the Mississippi River in many states on our travels through the central part of the country.

The Great River Road - Wisconsin

Our first major stop in Wisconsin was the Wisconsin Dells in the central portion of the state.  At this point, I need to give an explanation why Wisconsin, the Dells, and our prime destination, Lac Courte Oreilles in Northwoods Beach near Hayward, are important and key stops on our trip.

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and every summer my parents, brothers and I would drive north to Wisconsin to spend our vacation at my grandparents resort, Schafer’s Resort.  And, every year my brother Phil and I would beg our parents to stop at the Wisconsin Dells for us to ride the Ducks.  As the 450 mile trip took one full day, my dad only stopped for gas and bathroom breaks.  Now, it has been 52 years since I last rode through the Wisconsin Dells and wished for a ride on the amphibious vehicles; Mike and I made the Ducks a priority!

We have seen the big amphibious behemoths in many cities during our travels; however, I was saving the experience for the Original Dells Ducks and we are so glad we did.  Our driver, Aaron, was adorable and funny and adept at shifting the tired old World War II duck around the curves of Fern Dell, and up and down Hop Along Hill, Roller Coaster Hill and Suicide Hill.  We learned that these vehicles were designed for transporting troops and supplies to shore and also for surprise attacks from the sea.  The D-Day Invasion proved their worth.  During the war, the original land/sea craft had a code name, DUKW, that translated to:  D for 1942, U for amphibious utility vehicle, K for front-wheel drive, and W for twin rear-driving axles.  The GI’s nicknamed the DUKW, “Duck” for its amphibious nature.  Over 21,000 “ducks” saw action before being retired in 1946 at the end of World War II.  We learned that our duck, New Caledonia, is 7 tons, 31 ft. long and 8′ wide and can do 50 mph on land and 11 knots on water.

The duck ride through the trails was fun but bumpy and the old GMC truck frame groaned and the transmission was grinding.

Our Duck Driver bumping along the road towards the water

But then, we gently drove in the Wisconsin River and the duck quietly and smoothly putted for a mile or so before driving onto a sandbar, across the land again and then a big splash-down into Lake Delton where we all got sprayed.  Besides the unusual rock formations, we spotted a bald eagle flying over the water.

A smooth transition driving from land into the Wisconsin River

The big splashdown!

The New Caledonia Duck -- quite an old lady at 68 years old!

Aaron and Linda at the end of the fun duck tour

It was an experience for me to remember and only wish my two brothers had been able to have the adventure with us.

It was time for a lunch break, so we headed to the main street in Wisconsin Dells — lots of restaurants, tourist shops, and more water slide parks than we have ever seen in one small area.  Additionally, we saw a huge Trojan horse, a gigantic copy of the Coliseum, a humongous upside-down building that resembled the White House (no political statement here), and a hundred other amusement parks to bilk parents of their hard-earned salaries.  We chose a  very classy modern restaurant (except for the bar stools!) for our lunch.

What was this very nice restaurant thinking?

Next we chose a more sedate 2-hour boat ride up the scenic Wisconsin River through the Upper Dells on the Dells Cruise Boats.  We learned that the French explorers named this area the Dalles of the Ouisconsin.  ‘Dalles’ refers to the flat slab-like layers of the sandstone bluffs that line the river.  These towering rocky bluffs are among the oldest exposed bedrock on Earth, forming 500 million years ago in the Cambrian period.  This Potsdam sandstone is only found in this small area of the Dells; Potsdam, Germany; Potsdam, New York; and Zurich, Switzerland.

The Pottsdam sandstone of the Upper Dells on the Wisconsin River

Mike enjoying his ride on the Upper Dells cruise boat

While on the boat, our guides told tales of native Indian legends and early settlers’ hardships and we saw many rock formations such as Chimney Rock, Alligator’s Head and Giant’s Shield.  The boat docked at Witches Gulch and many of us took the hike through the narrow canyons with its fern and moss-covered walls and the lovely sound of water at Witches Falls.

Hiking through the lovely Witches Gulch with ferns and moss clinging to the rock walls

The Belle Boyd (and Mike) wait for the hikers to return from the Witches Gulch

Further up the river we docked at Stand Rock, a 47 foot-high sandstone pillar with a 12×20 flat rock on top.  Stand Rock became a famous landmark due to the invention of the first stop-action shutter by H.H. Bennett in the 1890′s.  Bennett had his teenage soon leap across the 5-foot gap from the main cliff to Stand Rock over 20 times before his stop-action shutter caught the event.  The device made out of wood and rubber bands was called a “snapper” and along with Bennett’s formula for faster dry-emulsion plates, resulted in this famous snapshot earning Bennett first prize in a national photo contest in 1895.

The 1890's stop-action photo of Bennett's son, Ashley, leaping across to Stand Rock; the original photo is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Today, a team of trained German Shepherd dogs perform the leap for tourists (with a safety net).  I was able to catch the dog in ‘ready stance’, but even with ample opportunity, I couldn’t catch the leap “on film” so here is what my eyes saw (thanks to a scanned page out of a booklet provided for a nominal fee from the guides).

One of the trained German Shepherds is poised and ready for the leap to Stand Rock

The 'leap' across the chasm to Stand Rock was too quick for my camera shutter

We also had the opportunity to ride the Mid-Continent Railway in nearby North Freedom, Wisconsin.  We have ridden over 30 trains together and in Missouri Mike got to be the ‘engineer’.   Now he had the opportunity to be a ‘conductor’ in the train’s Cupola Caboose. The train crew who worked and sometimes lived in the caboose had several duties, including keeping the kerosene lanterns burning at the back of the caboose to alert other train traffic, watch for hot spots on the rails, and to watch for hobos trying to hop on the train for a free ride.  We also learned that the conductor might be required to strap a railway torpedo, which is a small cylinder with an exploding powder, to a rail to warn other trains of a problem ahead.  When a train would detonate the cylinder, the engineer would slow the train to 20 mph and be aware that an emergency stop may be necessary.

Mike boards the Mid-Continent Caboose and gets ready for a new experience

The caboose had a pot belly stove, a small desk, ample seating on the lower floor and space for 4 people in the cupola loft.

Matt, the Conductor, with Mike sitting in the cupola of the caboose and getting instructions on setting torpedoes

Mike poses in the cupola of the caboose

The one-hour ride in the vintage 1920′s cupola caboose was a treat.  The rural Wisconsin countryside  was lovely with green fields, cows, and small neat farms.

We traveled north on the backroads of Wisconsin since we usually avoid the freeways and major roads.  As we often do, we found a gem on one of these backroads – the Concrete Park in Phillips, Wisconsin. There were over 200 embellished concrete and glass sculptures that had been hand-crafted with available materials by a self-taught, illiterate, lumberjack/tavern owner/musician by the name of Fred Smith.  Smith began building the rough folk-art in 1949 at the age of 63 on his property and completed 237 concrete lumberjacks, Indians, farmers and animals before his death in 1976.  We were glad that the very rough representations of Sacagawea, Paul Bunyan, and Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln had descriptive plates as we probably would not have recognized them otherwise.  We also wondered if the city of Phillips ever had lawsuits from children (or dumb adults) who were cut from touching the life-size and sometimes giant-sized statues that had big shards of broken bottles embedded in the concrete.  We walked away from the park scratching our heads in amazement, but glad we had the chance to see this strange little park.

Paul Bunyan and oxen with a cowboy and bucking bronco at the Concrete Park

Some of the over 200 statues of cowboys, Indians, animals and some unidentified pieces

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln

Lac Courte Oreilles Lake (pronounced Lake Couderay) – Northwoods Beach - We found this beautiful lake that I remembered from my youth and stopped at the only RV Resort we were able to locate in our various camping books.  Trails End Resort is quite rustic and has been around since the late 1960′s with most of the spaces occupied by seasonal/permanent campers and only a few spots available for us ‘short-timers’.  When making reservations, I told the owner, Michelle Horman, that we were on a quest to find the property where my grandparents had operated a resort on Lake Couderay during the 1950′s.  She had a book she would loan us when we arrived that might help us to locate the property.

We settled into a tight spot next to a beautiful new Winnebago/Itasca Navion rig.  It turned out that this nice couple had been at the Winnebago/Itasca Rally in Forest City, Iowa when we were there.  Although we hadn’t met in Iowa, Jim and Sandy were fun and we hoped we would see them ‘down the road’.

Squeezed into the pines, firs, and birch trees at Trails End Resort. Luckily(?) our living room slide wasn't working again so we were able to fit into this spot.

The next morning, I started my day by taking an early morning walk to smell the air, look at the many birch trees covered with the birchbark that we used to make into tiny canoes, and to generally absorb the wonderful feel of the Northwoods.  I could feel the sweet memories of my childhood surround me as I walked along the shore of the quiet lake and listened to the birds in the trees.

A quiet morning on the lake with birch trees and a peaceful and non-threatening black bear

We got an early start to drive into Hayward, the closest town to Lake Couderay to see if I could remember the town where my grandma and I had gone shopping.  Although the area had changed, Indian dolls and moccasins still have a prominent place in the tourist shops along with beautiful ‘northwoods decor’ featuring pillows, lamps, bedspreads with pine trees and black bears.  We enjoyed a lunch on the patio of a restaurant that has been in Hayward since 1922 although I didn’t remember eating there when I was a kid.

Lunch on the Karibalis patio in Hayward

Linda and 'friend' do a little shopping in Hayward

The very short shopping district of Hayward

We also stopped at the Fishing Hall of Fame, where the great catches of the Northwoods area are recorded and stuffed for all to see.  We chose to just wander around the gardens with the giant Musky and other fish.  Of course, I had to catch a photo or two of the huge fish.

The 'Great Musky' is large enough to walk up the stairs and view the gardens from the deck on his 'tongue'

Now this trout would be a good fighter.

Although I was a little apprehensive to begin the search for my grandparents’ resort as I feared the hunt would be fruitless, it was time to begin.  Mike, in true patient form, drove up and down every little road that led to the north side of the lake.  After almost an hour of trying to get a ‘feel’ for the roads that might seem familiar, using the book and map that I had bought from the Trails End Resort, I was feeling disheartened.  Of course, the area would have changed drastically in 52 years — probably condominiums with bright paint and fancy cars in the drives would occupy this beautiful corner of the world.

As we rounded a corner on another little road, I yelled ‘Stop’ and had an emotional meltdown…there sat my grandparents’ house, 4 of the housekeeping cabins that they rented to families for week-long vacations, the ice house, and even the path that led to the lake — seemingly untouched and preserved for all those years!

Sitting in the yard in a circle was a family enjoying the cool late afternoon with a glass of wine.  I grabbed the set of the photocopied pictures I had brought with me and walked into their circle and tried to explain why I was so emotional.  Once they saw the pictures and heard my story, the Hendricks family was very welcoming and very willing to let me take photos of the houses and cottages.  George and Vera Hendricks have owned the property for over 20 years and spend summers with their adult children and grandchildren.  They spend every summer repairing and maintaining the houses and their hard work shows.    The home that my grandparents lived in and two of the cottages look almost the same as they did in the late 1950′s.  As to be expected, the houses have new roofs, new windows that replace the screened-in porches, and indoor plumbing!  The big white cottage and the log cabin cottage, that were the two largest cottages and also part of Schafer’s Resort, have been sold to individual homeowners.

The warm and welcoming Hendricks Family

The Main Cottage as it looks today (grandparents' home from 1944-1960)

The Main Cottage (grandparents' home) in 1944 when Schafer's Resort was first opened. In about 1956, the addition of the front-door entry was added by my grandfather.

I remember helping my Grandma strip the sheets, clean any dishes left behind by the vacationing families and making the 2 little cottages (Atkins Cottage and Gary Cottage)  and the 2 larger cottages (Log Cabin Cottage and Big White Cottage) ready for the next guests.  In between renters, I was allowed to play in the cottages and pretend that they were my homes.

The Atkins Cottage - 2010

The Atkins Cottage - 1944

The Gary Cottage - 2010

The Gary Cottage - 1944

Back View of the Lake Log Cabin Cottage - 2010

Front view of the Lake Log Cabin - 1944

Back view of the Big Lake Cottage - 2010

Front View of the Big Lake Cottage - 1944

The path down to Lake Couderay - almost identical to 52 years ago!

My summers spent at my grandparents’ resort were some of my best childhood memories, and I am so grateful to have had the ability to go back and revisit the land, the lake, the houses and meet the people who are now making memories for their children and grandchildren.

Atkins Road - still unpaved and unchanged.

Mike was very willing to extend our stay on Lake Couderay; however, I felt like we had found exactly what I had dreamed of finding for many years.  So, it is time to return to our RV spot, celebrate our success and then leave Wisconsin with the knowledge that we can go home again!

A glass of wine, a basket of popcorn, on the deck at Trails End Resort with Lake Couderay in the background -- perfect!


IOWA and MINNESOTA – Amana Colonies, Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Hobo Museum and Winnebago Tour

IOWA – When we started this 8-month adventure, we never would have figured that almost the entire month of July would be spent in Iowa.  We had thought that the only activity in Iowa was to watch the corn grow.  Even though we saw the cornfields start as sprouts and then grow knee-high by 4th of July and then as ‘high as an elephant’s eye’ in late July, we did find a few other fun things to do in Iowa.

Because our living room slide got stuck in the ‘out’ position in Hershey, Pennsylvania and ‘repaired’; then stuck again 2 weeks later in Lynchburg, Tennessee (nothing to do with our tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery, I’m sure) and forced in by an emergency repair guy, but not repaired; we felt it prudent to head to the Winnebago Factory in Forest City in northern Iowa for a repair by the manufacturer.

On our way north we spent 2 nights in Amana Colonies, a unique cluster of 7 closely united villages founded on 26,000 acres along the Iowa River in the mid 1800′s by German settlers.  This religious sect lived communally and worked together until 1932 when they voted to end the communal way of life.  In Amana, we ate breakfast at one of the communal kitchens (most homes were built without kitchens or dining rooms).  The busy Colony Inn Restaurant had no menus as today’s breakfast was served family style with enough food for us to have the energy to plow the fields.  However, we ate wisely and took home enough eggs, meats, crepe-like pancakes and potatoes to feed us for 2 more breakfasts!

The Colony Inn Restaurant served a huge family-style breakfast.

Today, the Amana Society maintains their heritage with quality goods and services.  Mike especially enjoyed the Amana Furniture & Clock Shop, established in 1855, where we toured the workshop and watched craftsmen building the furniture and clocks shown in the showroom.

Mike enjoyed watching the craftsmen build furniture and clocks.

We stopped at the Woolen Mill, in continual operation since 1857, and saw the beautiful woven blankets and sweaters.  We had been given a ‘wooden nickel’ at the Amana Colonies RV Park, for a pound of brats for $1 at the Amana Meat & Smokeshop so we checked out this 1858 butcher shop and bought the brats and some great beef steaks — tender, cornfed beef — nothing better!

Mike is ready to exchange his 'wooden nickel' and a dollar for a pound of brats.

We stopped at the Amana Broom & Basket Shop where I sat for a spell in Iowa’s largest solid walnut rocker and Mike checked out the windmill and humorous garden art.

I feel like Alice in the Looking Glass sitting on this 11 foot tall, 670 pound walnut rocker.

The windmill keeps the 'worker' moving to cut the log.

Some silly yard art; the sign over the tractor reads, "speak about getting stuck"

We saw Amana Refrigeration, Inc. where beverage coolers were made in the early 1900′s and today appliances and heating & cooling systems are manufactured to be shipped worldwide.  We toured Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, S. Amana, W. Amana, Little Amana and Homestead and found these 7  little villages to be friendly, spotless, and filled with flowers flowing from pots and gardens.

Beautiful flowers and quilts in Amana Colonies

We stopped at Lily Lake to photograph the American Lotus, great yellow water lily blooms, and spotted a diamondback water snake trying to devour a fish.

Beautiful water lilies on Lilly Lake

This snake was giving me the evil eye so even though he had his mouth full of fish, I kept my distance by using a telephoto lens to capture him.

We found reservations for the busy 4th of July weekend in the tiny town of Ackley, Iowa.  Now, you wouldn’t consider Ackley a vacation destination and, apparently no one else thought so either, because we were able to get a camp-site for the 3-day holiday.  We were amazed and pleased that this little farming community of about 2000 folks had a fireworks show that was one of the best we’ve seen (next to Albuquerque and Disneyland).  We aren’t sure how this small town got the bucks to put on this 35-minute fireworks extravaganza, but we were glad we got to see it.  We were so close to the firing area on the golf course that our car was covered in fireworks shrapnel and Mike had to move quickly to get one hot chunk out the window of the car.

A happy 4th of July in Ackley

We arrived at the Winnebago Factory in Forest City, Iowa on the Tuesday after the 4th of July weekend only to discover that they gave the employees an added day off.  Winnebago provides free overnight parking with free electric hookups at the Visitor Center; unfortunately, besides the stuck slide, our water pump stopped working and without  a water hookup, we had to go to a nearby campground.  At 7 a.m. the next morning we joined a queue of other travelers who needed repairs and were scheduled for service the next day.  After the slide was repaired, a new water pump installed, and our often balky toilet fixed, we left Forest City and headed north.

Minnesota After Mike and our dog, Bea, were comfortably settled into Mystic Lake RV Park, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I hopped a plane to Southern California to celebrate our granddaughter’s 3rd birthday.  Here’s where I could slip in about 100 adorable photos of Kira taken during my 4-day stay in Newbury Park, CA, but I would also want to include pictures of the rest of our beautiful and brilliant grandchildren, so I will reluctantly refrain.

OK - I lied!

After returning to Mike and Bea, I found that our friends from Quartzsite, Chuck and Lorraine North (full-timers from Washington) and Dave and Sandy Hasselberg (of Minneapolis suburbs) were in the same campground.  We spent a lovely evening eating a great barbecue dinner and catching up on news and travels.  They had also found Mike while I was gone and fed him a couple of times — what great friends!

Chuck took this photo with all of us smiling (because he lifted his shirt and showed off his belly!)

I took this photo and there aren't many smiles -- next time I'll lift my shirt and show off my belly!

Back to Iowa - Although our original plan was to leave the Minneapolis area and drive to Wisconsin, we realized that we had the opportunity to return to Forest City for the annual Winnebago/Itasca Travelers (WIT) Grand National Rally.  As this is an annual event that Mike had always wanted to attend and we were so close, it made sense to drive south again.  We spent the next week making new friends, finding old friends, attending seminars, being entertained at the nightly events and having a great time.  Over 1200 rigs were parked on the WIT grounds on grassy sites with electricity.  There were 47 California rigs that attended this rally, and we had nightly hospitality hours plus a lively game of bean-bag baseball with our California team challenging Nevada.

An energetic game of beanbag baseball -- we lost :(

Found a new coach that comes with CAUTION signs for klutzes like me who tend to run into the side of our slide. In my hand is a 'walking taco' -- a novel way to eat a taco while...walking, duh!

One of the highlights of the week:  I had the opportunity to be a magician’s assistant and saw his magic up close but still couldn’t figure out how he did it!  The State Row Parties were a lot of fun and good food.  Most of the rigs were parked with their home state and we met lots of other California Winnebago/Itasca Travelers.  Each of the states decorated a booth at the end of their state row and served their state’s specialty.  The Californians served wine and cheese — ‘Two Buck Chuck’ (Charles Shaw from Trader Joe’s) and certified California cheese from happy cows (OK, it was from Wisconsin cows but after a little wine, no one seemed to mind!).   After we finished pouring wine and refilling the cheese plates, Mike and I visited Tennessee where we enjoyed their Jack Daniels Lemonade — yumm and Florida’s fried alligator — double yumm and Colorado’s margaritas (don’t know why this is a Colorado specialty but we visited them twice!).  We also tried out bison burgers from Montana and sloppy joes from another state (after the second round of margaritas, no doubt).

After the entertainment one night, we watched the firemen light the huge bonfire and we all stood around and wished we had the ingredients for s’mores.

A huge bonfire -- too warm to enjoy the heat but the fire did chase away the Iowa state bird, the mosquito!

What a kick to find out that our friends, Bob and Esther Thaller, were attending this WIT Rally too.  We originally met this great couple from Southern California at Snowflower near Yuba Gap about 6 years ago when they stopped to find out what game we were playing — Polish Golf (politically correct name is Ladder Golf).  Great to see them again.  And later in the week we went to Shooterz for great burgers and the famous Branding Iron Restaurant for melt-in-the-mouth Iowa cornfed steak.

Esther and Bob Thaller - a light dinner at our rig

While in Forest City, we had the opportunity to ride another train — the Boone-Scenic Valley RR that  traveled 15-miles through the Des Moines River Valley in vintage cars.  The train passed over the Kate Shelley High Bridge, one of the world’s highest and longest double-track railroad bridges.  The bridge was completed in 1901 and named for the 15-year-old girl who risked her life crawling across a bridge during a storm in 1881 to warn an approaching passenger train of a collapsed bridge further ahead.  The train ride was pleasant and a nice way to spend a day.

The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad vintage diesel

We enjoyed a 1-1/2 hour train ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley RR

We drove by Mamie Doud Eisenhower’s birthplace in Boone; this unassuming little home contains furniture from the first lady’s family.

The birthplace home of Mamie Doud Eisenhower is in Boone, Iowa

After the official ending of the rally, we stayed on to enjoy another breakfast at the Hobo Cafe in Britt, with their absolutely sinfully delicious “hobo hash browns” and then we visited the Hobo Museum across the street.

Mike enjoys his coffee at the Hobo Cafe (luckily, it wasn't the re-brewed coffee usually served in Hobo Jungles

A painting of one of Britt's most famous hobos, Steamtrain Maury hangs in the Hobo Cafe

This museum was established to store the many relics left behind by the many hobos that have passed through this tiny town and taken the ‘westbound train’ (passed on).  We learned that a “hobo” is a person who travels and will work; a “tramp”  is a person who travels but does not work (that means Mike and I) and a “bum” doesn’t travel or work.  We also learned that the term, ‘hobo’, comes from Hoe Boys, a term applied to men who traveled the railroads during the Great Depression and worked as day-laborers hoeing the fields.  Every year in August, the town of Britt has “Hobo Days” to celebrate the men and women who ride the rails and travel this country to find work and adventure.  We also learned that the “Hobo Jungle” is a location near the railroad where Bo’s gather to cook their meals and rest.  There is a code of ethics in the Hobo Jungle and a hobo is expected to respect others’ property and gather firewood for the cooking fire.  A visiting hobo might be invited to stay for a cup of coffee or a bowl of stew; however, when the host hobo offers a match to the visiting hobo, this is a hint that it is time to move down the line and start his own campfire.

Some of the displays in the Hobo Museum

The Hobo Code system to warn other Bo's of danger or guide them where to get free services or handouts

Some of the many musical instruments that have been donated to the Hobo Museum by 'traveling men and women'

In the tradition of Hobos, Mt. Dew, Fry Pan, Big Town, Hobo Bill, Sparkey, Steam Train Maury, Slow Motion, Frisco Jack, Virginia Slim and Lord Open Road, Linda (aka Froggy Queen), enjoys a cup of coffee in the Hobo Jungle.

Froggy Queen in the Hobo Jungle

For over 100 years, the little railroad town of Britt has held a Hobo Convention and hobos from all over the country hop freight trains to get to Britt for the celebration.

We took advantage of the smaller crowds of people to take a tour of the Winnebago Factory after the rally had ended.  We boarded a bus and visited some of the workshops where the 100 Winnebago and Itasca motorhomes are built each week.  Although the RV business has taken a serious downturn the last few years, and many motorhome companies have gone out of business or filed bankruptcy, Winnebago is still managing to hold their own in the industry.  It was interesting to find out that Winnebago manufactures almost all of the items found within a coach, including extruding all the plastics,  building all the cabinetry, stitching all the leather and fabric furniture,  producing all the structural body, etc.  In addition to motorhomes, Winnebago Industries also builds liners for water fountains, floating docks, airplane parts, and special buses for game shows and tour companies.  Winnebago has 2000 employees with 40% female staff.  Most of the inhabitants of Forest City work at the Winnebago Industries plant or provide services for workers.

We left the area and traveled east to McGregor, on the Iowa and Wisconsin border.  At the lovely little Pike’s Peak State Park, we found a great RV park with the adjoining 500 foot bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and Wisconsin River.  This area was first explored by Louis Jolliet and Father James Marquette in 1673, the first white men to see what is now Iowa.  After the Louisiana Purchase, the government sent Zebulon Pike in 1805 to explore the Mississippi Valley and select locations suitable for military posts.  Pike was sent to Colorado several years later and the very famous mountain, Pike’s Peak, was named after him.

Mike and I at the Pike's Peak State Park Overlook with the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers in the valley below

Mike admires the flora at the Pike's Peak State Park Overlook

Traveling on the Great River Road in Iowa

Now it is time to move into the great state of Wisconsin and experience new adventures.


MISSOURI: Another Train Ride; St. Louis Arch; and Mark Twain’s Hometown

Sikeston – This small town in southern Missouri has the one of the three Lambert’s Cafes in the country; we had already eaten at the one in Foley, Alabama so it seemed fitting that we stop at this one too.  (When we make it to Branson, MO, we’ll hit the third Lambert’s.)  As we experienced in Alabama, there was too much food, the rolls were piping hot, and we got a kick out of the whole silliness again of rolls being thrown across the room at the diners.

Mike catches a really hot roll at Lambert's-Home of the Throwed Rolls in Sikeston, MO

When we checked into the RV park in Sikeston, I noticed a flyer for a train ride that wasn’t listed in any of my travel books and we soon found out why when we drove to the little town of Jackson and found the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway Company.  The rather dilapidated train was parked behind an Italian restaurant and looked like it hadn’t been run for 50 years.  There was no depot, no one near the train, and we thought we had made the drive for nothing.  Fifteen minutes before the train departure time, a few cars arrived with other hopeful passengers.  Five minutes before the train was due to leave, a couple of cars flew into the driveway, spewing gravel, and a few people ran for the little locked door at the side of the Italian restaurant; one had a train engineer’s hat and overalls, and we became hopeful.  The flustered folks turned out to be volunteers who had forgotten that today was one of the four days this month they are taking the train out for a sightseeing trip.  As I was first in line, I asked if we could purchase the added special for one person to ride in the cab of the diesel with the engineer.  The volunteer couldn’t figure out how much extra to charge for the special ride and couldn’t locate the key for tax, so we got a real bargain.

When I told Mike he was going to be co-engineer on the train, he was thrilled.  Although he had never mentioned it before, this is an experience he has wanted to have since he was a child — we finally found an item for Mike’s ‘Bucket List’.  The sightseeing trip was unspectacular with the highlight the ‘Jackson Inn’ that had been contrived along the rail line.  However, Mike not only got to ride in the diesel cab, but Engineer Larry gave him the controls for a portion of the trip.   Mike was a happy train engineer today.  In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take no matter where it’s going.”

Mike, Train Engineer for a Day - what a hoot!

Guess the Iron Mountain Railway wasn't too concerned about Mike doing any damage to this 1950 vintage 2250 hp E-8 diesel engine

St. Louis Arch - What a thrill to drive into St. Louis and see the huge gleaming arch high above the city!  We drove across the bridge into East St. Louis, Illinois to stay at the Casino Queen.  The St. Louis Arch could be seen from our campsite.

Gateway Arch as seen from our campsite at the Casino Queen RV Park

We drove to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial park, walked up to the tall arch and were dazzled by the brilliance and the enormity of the memorial.  We went into the underground area to see about tickets and found a big area with two gift shops, two movie theaters, two areas to queue up for a ride on the north or south trams to the top of the arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion.

In the Museum of Westward Expansion we learned the history behind the famous Arch was to build a memorial to the city and people of St. Louis and Thomas Jefferson to honor the role they played in opening up the West.  Thomas Jefferson’s interest to explore the vast wilderness west of the Mississippi by arranging the Lewis & Clark Expedition and the Louisiana Purchase were prominent factors in the westward expansion.   The museum had life-like animatronic vignettes of the Native Americas, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, cowboys, soldiers and pioneers along with a covered wagon, ox-cart, carriage and a portion of a pioneer home to describe the people who created the American West.

A tour through the Museum of Westward Expansion in the underground area of the Gateway Arch was an extra bonus

Before our “Journey to the Top” in the north tram, we watched the documentary, “Monument to the Dream” that described the building of the Gateway Arch with actual movie footage.  A St. Louis lawyer and civic leader, Luther Ely Smith conceived the idea of a monument to commemorate America’s westward expansion through St. Louis.  The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial site was designated a national park in 1935.  Euro Saarinen submitted the design for the memorial in 1947, but the actual construction didn’t begin until 1963 and took 2-1/2 years to complete.  The 630 foot tall Gateway Arch is built out of 900 tons of stainless steel panels that are only 1/4 inch thick and uses the catenary curve (the arc of a chain suspended from two points) design, but turned upside down.  We were amazed at the bravery of the construction workers as they worked on cranes on each ‘tusk’ of the arch and then the final placement of the 8-foot center section of the arch that joined the two ‘tusks’ together.  Although they were working 630 feet in the air, there was not a single serious injury during the building of the Arch.

A tribute to the architect of the Gateway Arch at the entrance to the movie, "Monument to the Dream"

It was time for our “Journey to the Top” of the Gateway Arch and we climbed into the small 5-person capsule as it rode up the inside of one of the triangular tube legs of the Arch using a cable car/ferris wheel design to keep us upright.   At the top, we could look east over the Mississippi River where we could see our motorhome at the Casino Queen RV Park and to the west we see the Old Historic Courthouse where Dred Scott, a slave, asked for his freedom.  It was a breezy day and we could feel a slight sway on the top, a feeling similar to being on a cruise ship in calm water.  Wouldn’t want to be up there in a big wind!

From the top of the Arch looking west, we see downtown St. Louis and the Old Historic Courthouse

From the top of the Arch, looking east across the Mississippi River into Illinois, we can see the Casino Queen RV park (the green area in the center of the frame)

This foggy arch is actually a shadow of the Arch on the Mississippi River from high inside the tube

The Gateway Arch is spectacular to see and with each change of the light, a different shade emerges.  Quite a beautiful sight.

The beautiful St. Louis Arch gleams from so many different angles

While walking around the park taking lots of photos of the Gateway Arch, we stopped at the steps leading down to the large parking lot and the roadway to the Mississippi River Cruise Boats.  As you can see from the photo below, the area was under water and many of the tourist attractions were closed due to the flooding of the Mississippi River during the last week.

An arrow points the way in the parking lot to RV Parking -- only if you have an amphibious motorhome!

The St. Louis Gateway Arch at night (scanned professional photograph)

As we moved northward, we followed the Mississippi River Road.  So far, we have been on the “Great River Road” in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois.  Here is one of the road markers we remembered to photograph.

The 12 spokes on the wheel represent the 12 states that have the Mississippi River running through them.

Hannibal – We couldn’t pass the opportunity to visit Samuel Clemens’ hometown and the source of much of his writing in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.  Although we had thought of the writings of Mark Twain’s two mischievious young boys as fiction, we learned that much of their adventures were based on Sam’s early life experiences growing up in this small river town with his best friend, Tom Blankenship.  We toured the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum that also included the Huckelberry Finn (Tom Blankenship) House, Becky Thatcher House,  J.M. Clemens (Sam Clemens’ father) Justice of the Peace Office, Grant’s Drug Store and the Museum Gallery.  We stopped to see the Tom and Huck statue in Cardiff Park and the spot where Tom Sawyer was put in jail in one of his adventures.  And, of course, Mike paid to whitewash the fence.

The welcoming sign at the entrance to Hannibal

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are remembered with a statue in Cardiff Park in Hannibal.

Mike got talked into whitewashing Tom Sawyer's fence

Samuel Clemens' boyhood home that was used to depict Tom Sawyer's home in Mark Twain's famous novels.

Tom Blankenship's house that bears a striking similarity to Huckelberry Finn's house in Mark Twain's novels

By far, the most enjoyable experience of the touring day was the informal “Chat with Mark Twain” in the Mark Twain Museum where questions were encouraged and bits of humor were offered by  ‘Mark Twain’.  It was so enjoyable, we purchased the evening tickets for the performance of “Mark Twain Himself”, with Mark Twain represented again very authentically by stage actor Richard Garey.  This one-man stage show is straight from the writings and shows by Samuel Clemens.  On the handbill, Mark Twain is quoted, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this presentation will be prosecuted. Persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished. Persons attempting to find a plot will be shot. Cordially, Mark Twain” And, “Notice to the Audience – Mr. Twain was at first opposed to printed program for this entertainment.  He has, however, agreed to provide a program for those in distress who wish to fan themselves.”

'Mark Twain' and Linda at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal

We had to give a pat on the back to the town leaders of Hannibal – they really know how to embrace the fame of one of their citizens and make a good living for many townspeople.  On this 175th anniversary of Samuel Langhorne Clemens birth, the 125th anniversary of his popular work “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and the 100th anniversary of his death, we were glad we had a chance to visit his hometown of Hannibal.

Main Street of Hannibal

The city leaders have also learned from previous Mississippi River floods and they now protect Hannibal and its inhabitants with flood gates — ugly, but certainly better than the city washing away.

Hannibal's temporary flood gates protect the city from the Mississippi's damaging waters

To those of you who know how much I love ‘good words’ and especially good quotes, here are a couple of Mark Twain’s that I couldn’t resist sharing with you:

I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people than to travel with them.”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome,  charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Our time spent in Missouri has been enjoyable and we were treated every evening to beautiful sunsets and lightning bugs.

Another beautiful Missouri sunset



Chattanooga – After the pleasant 75° temperatures in the Great Smoky Mountains, we weren’t ready for the 100°+ we found in Tennessee.  Luckily, the Camping World RV Park had a swimming pool to cool us because the power was terrible and we had difficulty keeping our air conditioner working.

We found an indoor flea market that had everything you might need for motorcycles and thousands of used VHS tapes.  As my Harley days are behind me and our VHS recorder stopped working years ago;  we found nothing worth taking home.

We enjoyed the short ride up the Incline Railway – 72.7% straight up the one-mile hill to a viewing platform at Lookout Mountain where we could see for miles into the Chattanooga valley below.

Mike on the Incline Railway

The view from inside the railcar looking down into the valley below

A view of the valley below from the Observation Deck

We drove into the historic downtown and found the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.  Although we had heard the song since we were kids, we had assumed the Chattanooga Choo-Choo was a specific train.  We learned that on March 5, 1880 the first passenger train leaving Cincinnati, Ohio bound for Chattanooga, Tennessee was nicknamed the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.  This historic event opened the first major link in public transportation from the North to the South.  The Chattanooga Choo-Choo route was operated by the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, America’s first municipal railway system.

There is, however, a representation of a train locomotive in the Victorian gardens outside the old Union Station depot that is now a hotel.  Also in the same courtyard is an antique New Orleans trolley car.  Mike loves trolley cars as much as he loves trains, so even though it was 105° with a humidity level that made us feel like we were in a sauna, we took the short ride around the track.  The vintage trolley stalled at least 10 times during the 1/2 hour ride and our trolley driver/conductor/brakeman, Wes, had to run to the back and reset the wire repeatedly.  But, Mike loved the hum of the motor, the clang of the trolley bell and the wood interior of the car.

Mike in front of the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" used as a representation of the railway

Mike checks out the trolley before we take a very hot ride

Our conductor/repairman/guide, Wes, tries to give history while stopping every 3 minutes to repair the trolley (and wipe the sweat from his brow)

Wes uses the trolley pole to set the electric pick-up wheel on the wire for the umpteenth time

Lynchburg – From Chattanooga we headed northwest to the little town of Lynchburg specifically to tour the Jack Daniels Distillery.  A beautiful visitor center, an informative video, and a private tour with our guide, Chris, on a handicap accessible bus was well worth the time and cost (OK, it was free).

Our tour guide, Chris, gave us a great tour -- unfortunately, his Southern drawl prevented us from understanding much.

We learned that this is the oldest registered distillery in America and started by Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel when he was in his teens.  Mr. Jack found Cave Spring in the hollow near his house where the mineral-free water was so good he decided to set up a still to make whiskey and eventually established his distillery in the same spot using the same water source.  His process has been used for over 100 years and the motto is “Every day we make it, we’ll make the best we can”.

Cave Spring with the clear, mineral-free water

We toured the rickyard where 4′x2″ lengths of hard sugar maple are stacked into a ‘rick’ and burned to make the charcoal used to filter the whiskey.  A mash consisting of corn, rye and barley malt is cooked and fermented in huge vats with yeast from a previous batch, similar to the way sourdough bread is made; thereby producing “Sour Mash” whiskey.  The freshly distilled whiskey (140 proof) is slowly filtered through 10 feet of charcoal for mellowing; this is the distinction between bourbon and whiskey.  The whiskey ages for years in new freshly charred white oak barrels.  As the barrels expand and contract with the seasons, the whiskey works in and out of the wood, giving it the dark amber color.  Testers determine when the whiskey is ready for bottling; the barrels in the top of the warehouse where it is warmer mature and mellow faster than the barrels on the colder floor level.

The rickyard where the sugar maple lengths will be burned to make the very-important charcoal to mellow the whiskey

Chris ushers us into the Distillery Room -- "no photos allowed"

Now that we have had some time to enjoy the smell of the whiskey aging in the casks, we were offered a glass of lemonade!  Lynchburg is in a dry county and although the whiskey can be made here (and most of the people in town are employed by Jack Daniels), it can’t be sold here.  There are a few bottles of special decanters (that means VERY expensive) that are sold at the distillery but we decided we would find a ‘wet’ county to buy our whiskey.

Mike drinks his lemonade -- a far cry from Mr. Jack's whiskey

Nashville – Also known as “Music City” and clearly, the focus of the city is on Music-Music-Music.  All the stores, restaurants and honky-tonks have country music playing and you just can’t help tapping your feet as you walk down Broadway.  This is a lively town and the business owners have a strong determination to clean up the damage from the devastating floods of early May 2010.  Thirteen inches of rain fell over a couple of days and many businesses sustained some damage; however, most are still open and providing tourists with southern hospitality.   The huge complex, Opry Mills, that has a hotel, restaurants, shopping, a golf course, the General Jackson Showboat, and the Grand Ole Opry was hard hit with several feet of water and is closed until at least December for repairs.  The beautiful new Schermerhorn Symphony Center sustained $40 million in flood damage and won’t re-open until 2011.

We met up with Casey, a musician and Willie Nelson look-alike while we waited for a sightseeing trolley to show us downtown Nashville.  He gave us a few hints on what to see while we were in Nashville.  Even though Willie recently cut his long hair, Casey says no amount of liquor would get him to cut his!

Mike and Casey, a musician who does Willie Nelson tunes, and works for the trolley sightseeing company between gigs

While on the trolley we learned that Nashville was founded in 1779 by Englishman James Robertson who named the settlement Fort Nashborough.  However, when the French took over the city, the name was changed to the current Nashville.  The main industries in Nashville are 1) medical (there are more hospitals in Nashville than we normally see in a whole state); 2) tourism; 3) printing (mostly bibles); and 4) music.  There are almost as many colleges in downtown Nashville as there are hospitals — 10 colleges and universities.  Two of the most famous women of Nashville are Dolly Parton and Sarah Cannon.  Everyone has heard of Dolly and she has a store on 2nd Avenue.  Sarah Cannon, however, may not be a familiar name to most.  When Sarah and her husband died, their will specified their money was to be used to build a childrens’ cancer research hospital.  The Sarah Cannon Hospital has helped many children and their families in Tennessee; her stage name was Minnie Pearl.  Another generous resident, Dolly Parton, learned that her high school had only 48% of students graduate; she offered $2000 to each student who graduated and the next year the rate went up to 98%.

One of Dolly's size 2 dresses hangs in her shop on 2nd Street

Our trolley tour took us by Music Row where so many Nashville legends recorded their music, including Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Beach Boys, Everly Brothers, Jimi Hendrix and Kenny Chesney to name just a few.  The RCA Victor Recording Company came to Nashville in 1944 and many more companies followed.

The famous RCA Victor Studio on Music Row

Beautifully decorated guitars on Music Row

We strolled the Music City Walk of Fame with plaques and sidewalk stars of famous songwriters and performers on our way to the County Music Hall of Fame.  This beautiful building has a piano keyboard design across the entire front and thousands of gold records on the walls inside.  The members who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame have plaques placed randomly in the 5300 square foot rotunda.

Elvis' star on the Walk of Fame

The beautiful Country Music Hall of Fame building

Gold records from hundreds of music performers

As Mike isn’t too interested in country music, we took a break from music and toured the Lane Motor Museum with over 150 unique cars including European cars, microcars, amphibious vehicles, alternative fuel cars and one-of-a-kind or prototypes.  All the vehicles are maintained and are kept in running order – definitely not a typical car museum.

Mike ready to view the unique cars at the Lane Motor Museum

My favorite car of the museum - a 1952 Citroen. This car was used for 20 years as a Fire & Rescue car on mountainous roads in France where turning around was not an option. This 2-headed car has 2 engines and can be driven frontwards from either of the seats without turning around.

This 2006 Bevel, a futuristic car by Nissan, didn't catch on - only 1 prototype was made

This 1931 Velocar was built in France; a single cylinder, 2 stroke gas engine and bicycle pedals -- the first hybrid? This car does 20 mph (or as fast as you can peddle) and the gas tank holds 1/3 gallon.

We toured the Charlie Daniels Museum as he will be headlining at the Grand Ole Opry we will be attending later in the week.  The small museum was filled with memorabilia from Charlie’s years of performing.

One of the many decorated big guitars in Nashville is in the Charlie Daniels museum

Charlie's boots are big ones to fill

One of Charlie Daniels' many guitars

We spent an evening listening to a band and watching line dancing at the Wildhorse Saloon and enjoyed some music at Legends in the Honky Tonk district.

The Wildhorse Saloon

The 'bouncer' in front of the Wildhorse Saloon was concerned that I would be too wild for the place

We enjoyed watching the country line dancing and listening to the Les Robertson Band while sipping our drinks

Another giant guitar in front of Legends Honky Tonk on Broadway

For those that believe that Elvis is buried at Graceland in Memphis, we discovered he is all over Nashville.

Elvis and I hang out on Broadway

We spotted Elvis in front of Legends.

We did a drive through Bicentennial Mall Capitol State Park with the giant map of Tennessee in the concrete plaza, the Tennessee World War II Memorial and listened to the 95-bell carillon play the Tennessee Waltz.

The black granite wall listing events in Tennessee's history for the past 200 years; the upright granite pillars are the year markers

A section of the World War II Memorial

This 18,000 pound floating globe is a memorial to the soldiers from Tennessee who fought in World War II

Part of the 95-bell carillon in Bicentennial Mall

Next we drove to Centennial Park, specifically to tour the Parthenon that we had glimpsed during our trolley tour of Nashville.  The Nashville Parthenon is a full-size replica of the Parthenon on Acropolis in Athens, Greece.  This Parthenon was originally constructed as a temporary building for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial.  The city loved it so much that in 1920 the city constructed the popular building with more permanent materials.  The 42-foot high statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom dominates the center of the Parthenon with Nike, the 6’4″ goddess of victory, stands on Athena’s right hand.  The original Athena and most sculptures have been lost in the rubble of the Parthenon in Greece; however, fragments recovered in the early 1800′s by the British were used to make casts that replicates Athena, Nike and the pediments on the Nashville Parthenon.  This very impressive building represents Nashville as “the Athens of the South”.

The impressive Nashville Parthenon

Some of the fragment casts that were used to replicate the pediments on the Nashville Parthenon

A small-scale of the pediments on the front and back of the Parthenon

The 42-foot Athena with Nike in her right hand and me at the base to show the scale

On our last evening in town we traveled from our RV park by shuttle bus to the Historic Ryman Theater in downtown Nashville for a performance of the Grand Ole Opry.  The Ryman, built as a church in 1892 with funding by riverboat captain, Thomas Ryman, later became a theater with performances by Caruso, Orson Wells, Sarah Bernhardt and May West among others.  From 1943-1974 it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry.  While the current Grand Ole Opry theater is being repaired from the flood damage, the country’s longest running live radio show is back in the Ryman.  With the announcer, Ed, doing live commercials between each 2-song act, we better understand the radio show that has broadcast since 1925.  It wasn’t as corny as we had expected from our perception of the Grand Ole Opry, even though today’s version of Minnie Pearl and Ray Acuff were at the door shouting “How-deeee” to greet visitors and pose for photos.

The historic Ryman Theater

"Minnie Pearl" and "Roy Acuff" yell "How-deeee" as they pose for photos

A bronze statue of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl in the Ryman Lobby - two of the most famous performers on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

The display cases around the walls of the theater had playbills, sheet music and costumes of famous performers.  The seating was hard wooden pews; however, the concession booth sold stadium cushions along with hot dogs, popcorn, candy and soft drinks.  And unlike typical theaters (or churches!), there was also a bar with hard liquor, wine and beer – and they encouraged you to take it back to your seat.  As the announcer said, “it’s okay to take food and drinks into the theater; it’s not okay to spill them”.

Inside the historic Ryman Theater before it was filled to capacity

A display case with June Carter and Johnny Cash's stage costumes at the Ryman

The lineup of acts included little Jimmy Dickens, 84 years old and recognized in some of Brad Paisley’s music videos, some very good bluegrass bands, and the only other name I recognized, the Charlie Daniels Band.  The only song I had heard from this band was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and both Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed the fiddle playing that Charlie did in this number.

The Charlie Daniels Band played several songs, including "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"

Although the week in Nashville was unbelievably hot with very high humidity and  at least one thunderstorm every day with huge downpours and scary lightning and thunder, we had a great experience.  Thanks, Nashville, for keeping the country’s music alive.

We had one last stop to make before leaving the Nashville area – the famous Loveless Motel and Cafe that has been serving up fried chicken and biscuits from scratch since 1951 in the little house owned by Lon and Annie Loveless at the northern entrance to the Natchez Trace.  This famous cafe has been featured on the Food Network and in USA Today  and Bon Appetit Magazine and visited by Martha Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and Willard Scott.  And, at least today, hundreds of other tourists!  It was 2:30 and we mistakenly thought that the lunch rush would have ended; it was a 2-1/2 hour wait to get seated.  And, that was after we had parked the motorhome five miles away, disconnected the Jeep and drove back to the Cafe (yes, because I insisted!).  Even I have some limits so we drove back to the motorhome, ate our own home cooking, connected the Jeep and started the drive down Highway 100 – the Natchez Trace.

After walking inside this tiny cafe, it is clear why there is a long wait -- can't seat more than 30 or so people at a time.

The Natchez Trace has a very long history:  in prehistoric times, mastodons and giant bison carved the original path, then came the first hunters, followed by the Chickasaw and the Choctaw Indian tribes.  The conquistadors arrived, then the trappers, and the Kentucky boatmen who walked home on the Trace after floating their goods down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and selling their goods and the flatboat as it was difficult to maneuver the boat back upriver.  Then came the mail carriers and highwaymen by horse; Andrew Jackson marched his army town the Trace to the Battle of New Orleans.  After the steamboats began running the Mississippi River in 1820, the Natchez Trace was no longer needed.  Over a hundred years later, interest in preserving the Old Trace Road resulted in the National Park Service beginning to build the Natchez Trace Parkway in 1937.  The Natchez Trace Parkway is also designated an All American Roadway; it has all six categories:  archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic.  The Natchez Trace begins at Natchez, Mississippi and ends at Nashville, Tennessee – a total of 444 miles of beautiful scenic two-lane road with blooming dogwood trees, tupolo and oak trees, and beautiful wildflowers including lupin, coreopsis and tiger lilies.  We stopped to take a short walk on the original Trace Trail — more like the original than the paved highway we’ve been traveling.

Linda on a short walk on the original Natchez Trace trail

At Milepost 385 we stopped at the monument to Meriweather Lewis who died at the age of 35 from 2 gunshot wounds at this site, Grinder’s Stand, an inn run by the Grinder family.  His mysterious death in 1809 was ironic as he had fought in the Whiskey Rebellion, explored over 8000 miles of unknown territory with William Clark and the other members of the Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery (better known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition) and endured political tensions after being appointed as Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory by President Thomas Jefferson.  The memorial was established in 1848, is a broken column to represent a life cut short.  When the Natchez Trace Parkway was established, this site and a pioneer cemetery of over 100 early settlers, was preserved along the Trace.

Meriweather Lewis, 1774-1809

We left the Trace to travel to the Memphis area and on the way, found ourselves passing through Shiloh National Park.  We stopped to learn about the Battle of Shiloh and the significance of Pittsburg Landing.  Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee were camped to wait for Maj. Gen. Buell and his Army of the Ohio; both armies would be needed to sever the rail communications to the Confederate Army.  The 44,000 man Army of the Mississippi under the leadership of Gen. Albert Johnston and later Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, attacked Grant’s troops on April 6, 1862.  The next day, Buell and reinforcements had arrived and the combined forces of the Army of the Tennessee and Army of the Ohio attacked Beauregard’s Army of the Mississippi who withdrew to Corinth, Mississippi.  The 2-day battle resulted in the loss from both the Union and Confederate sides of 23,746 men killed, wounded or missing. This battle is thought to have played a key role in Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s successful 9-month campaign to capture Vicksburg and control the Mississippi River.

Gen. Grant was quoted as saying, “The Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing, fought on Sunday and Monday, the 6th and 7th of April, 1862, has been perhaps the less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood than any other engagement during the entire rebellion.”

Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his troops huddled at this spot under the trees without shelter the night of April 6, 1862

The National Cemetery at Shiloh

Such a peaceful place; it is difficult to imagine the terrible carnage that occurred here 148 years ago

We arrived at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, MS to find beautiful RV sites with grass, trees, excellent power (always a plus in very hot weather), full hookups and all for $11 per night!  A great relaxing place to stay just 30 minutes south of Memphis plus a good dinner buffet at the Casino just a very short walk away.

Our first day touring Memphis had to be to Graceland. Although I’ve never been a screaming Elvis fan, as I was just a kid when he first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, I’ve wanted to visit Graceland for a long time.  So, another item checked off on my ‘Bucket List’.  We found Graceland in a rather rundown area of south Memphis and got in line for tickets.  Amazingly, when we lined up for the shuttle bus to drive across the street to Elvis’ home, there was no wait.  A 3-minute ride on the beautiful 13-acre estate and we are standing on the front steps of this National Historic Landmark (designated in 2006).

Graceland, the Elvis Presley mansion since 1957

Graceland, the Elvis Presley mansion since 1957

Our audio headsets enable us to hear Elvis’ voice from old interviews talking about his love Graceland, his parents and his time in the Army.  His daughter, Lisa Marie provided her recollections of living at Graceland, although she was only 4 or 5 when she moved to California with her mother.  We found out that Elvis bought the mansion in 1957 for $100,000 from a family who had named the house and estate after their daughter, Grace.  Elvis moved his parents and grandmother into the mansion and married Priscilla Beaulieu in 1967; Lisa Marie was born in 1968.

The house has 3 floors with the upstairs bedrooms unavailable to tourists.  The main floor and the basement are said to look exactly as they did at the time of Elvis’ death.  The 1970′s quirky decor is evident and not grand by today’s standards.  Elvis had the 1935 house remodeled to fit his lifestyle with a pool room, music room, jungle room, outdoor pool and the meditation garden.

The living room with all white furniture, stained glass windows and a black baby grand piano

The guest bedroom on the main floor

Chandeliers throughout the house; the one over the dining room table is lovely

Lisa Marie tells visitors that the kitchen, in the center of the house, was where everyone gathered

The Jungle Room with unique furniture and a waterfall wall

The big round chair in the Jungle Room where Lisa Marie would sit on her dad's lap

Elvis' Music Room where he watched 3 TV programs simultaneously, had his record collection of 45's, and the TCB (Takin' Care of Business) lightning bolt logo on the wall

The Pool Room with the walls, ceiling and sofa covered in a wild print fabric -- Elvis' creation we're told

We toured the outdoor buildings, including Elvis’ father’s office, Lisa Marie’s outdoor play yard and the stables.  We found the Hall of Gold to be filled with gold records, album covers and displays of the many movies Elvis starred in along with the costumes he wore.  I was pleased to see that all of Elvis’  jumpsuits on display were from the slim period in his life.

Elvis' gold lame suit in the Hall of Gold

Some of the many gold records in the Hall of Gold

Elvis' Gold records for "Hound Dog" and "Don't be Cruel"

This was my favorite (and, I think, my only) Elvis L.P.

We walked into the meditation garden near the swimming pool and saw the graves of Elvis’ mother, father, grandmother and of course, Elvis.  Difficult to believe he died when he was only 42 years old and in August he would have turned 75!

The graves in the Meditation Garden

Elvis' grave with stuffed animals and flower tributes left by fans

After our short ride back to the Visitor Center, we spent some time in the car museum.  The turquoise Cadillac in front of the car museum was a good place to trade cameras with other visitors and get our photo taken.

At the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum - beautiful turquoise Cadillac

Mike did enjoy the vintage cars including the two Stutz Blackhawks, motorcycles, and tractors and the old gas pumps.  I liked the red MG Elvis drove in the movie, “Blue Hawaii” and the pink Cadillac that was Elvis’ mother, Gladys’ favorite.

Mike and the gas pumps -- he takes photos of them wherever we go!

Wonder if this beauty is for sale?

Now that my need to visit Graceland has been satisfied, we are ready to move on to downtown Memphis, the City of Blues.  Beale Street is our first stop as we are both hungry and ready for some good Memphis-style BBQ.  The music coming from the Superior BBQ Restaurant caught my attention and we popped in to have a delicious pulled pork BBQ sandwich while listening to an acoustical guitarist sing the blues.  As we walked down the 3 blocks of Beale Street we stopped to hear a street musician entertain the crowds with his trumpet.  It was a hot and quiet day on Beale Street today.

Good music - good food at Superior BBQ

Street musicians - unexpected fun

We learned that in the 1850′s Beale Street was a mix of roustabouts loading cotton on the Mississippi steamboats and businessmen with offices near the Cotton Exchange.  By the 1920′s this area became a mecca for musicians, politicians, gamblers and bootleggers; a wild and dangerous area of Memphis.  In the 1960′s the civil rights movements and urban renewal wiped out the bawdy street of sin and today it is a cleaned up tourist-friendly area known for good music and good food.

We got an education in some of the founding fathers of music in Memphis.   W.C. Handy is known as the “Father of the Blues”; Rufus Tucker is called the “Ambassador of Soul”, B.B. King (born Riley B. King in 1925) is “King of the Blues”; and Elvis Presley is simply, “The King” for his contribution of taking his gospel and blues music to a different level and introducing the world to rock and roll.

W.C. Handy - Father of the Blues

Rufus Tucker - Ambassador of Soul

B.B. King - King of the Blues

Elvis Presley - The King

Elvis' 'Note' on the Memphis sidewalk

It was 102° in Memphis and a ride on the Mississippi River seemed like a good idea; however, by the time we walked the 4 or 5 blocks to the river and pushed Mike the last 200 feet over the cobblestones to the loading dock, we looked like we needed to jump in the Muddy Miss to cool down.  Some of the riverboat staff ran up the hill to help and promised a smoother return trip (and they did open up another ramp that kept us off the cobblestones).  We boarded the Island Queen in the Port of Memphis and settled into the air conditioned room with tall drinks to watch downtown Memphis, Mud Island, and the expensive homes on the bluffs drift by.

Hot and tired but we made it onto the Island Queen for our Mississippi River cruise

Memphis from the Mississippi River

We had just enough time after leaving the riverboat to walk the 4 or 5 blocks back up to the very old and dignified Peabody Hotel.  Like all of today’s visitors to Beale Street, we gathered in the lobby of this beautiful 4-star landmark hotel (rooms $260-2500/night) to watch the 5 ducks leave the fountain, shake off the drops of water on spectators and waddle down the red carpet to a John Philip Souza march.  We felt a little silly crowding in the lobby and upstairs gallery for 1/2 hour to watch 5 ducks walk 20 feet to the elevator and their penthouse suite for the evening.  It is a tradition that has been happening for many years and we did our best to support that tradition.

Rolling out the red carpet for the Duck March at the Peabody Hotel

The music has started and here come the Peabody ducks

A couple of good shakes to dry and then off the 5 ducks march to the Peabody Penthouse

Danny Thomas was a benefactor of the Peabody Ducks and got his webbed feet plaque on the sidewalk

We then make our way back to B.B. King’s for a close seat to the stage for the blues band that will start soon.  We spent a fun hour listening to some good music, some fair jokes and stories from the singer/harmonica player, and enjoying a cool drink before leaving the area.  Tonight the motorcycles roared into town for a street show and shine – Beale Street is anything but quiet tonight.

Talented band at B.B. King's Club

The lead singer, harmonica player and the comic of the group




Mt. Airy -  We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway across the North Carolina border from Virginia and then took a little side detour to Mt. Airy.  Even if you don’t  know why Mt. Airy is famous, one look around this sweet little town would give you the answer.  On the main street you will find Barney’s Cafe, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, and Snappy Lunch where the specialty of the house is pork chop sandwiches.  Now, in case you still are perplexed, look for the 1962 vintage police car with a poster of the town’s sheriff.  If you are still shaking your head, then you must be younger than me!

Main Street in Mt. Airy (aka Mayberry)

Barney's Cafe on Main Street

Floyd's City Barber Shop

Snappy Lunch

The 'Sheriff' in the 60's squad car is parked on Main Street

Mt. Airy is Andy Griffith’s hometown and the location was used as an inspiration for Mayberry, the town where the widowed sheriff dealt with a bumbling deputy (Don Knotts as Barney Fife), a meddling Aunt Bee (Francis Bavier), and young son Opie (Ronny Howard) in the “Andy Griffith Show” that ran from 1960-68.  This show introduced us to the young man who grew up to be an actor on “Happy Days” and now an accomplished director, Ron Howard.  A statue in front of the Andy Griffith Museum and Theater of Andy and Opie reminds us of the conversations they had about life, fishing and love.

Andy and Opie on the way to the Fishin' Hole

Boone – Back on the road and heading to Boone where I will check off another “bucket list” item and Mike may join me.  The weather and conditions are perfect as we loaded into a rugged 6-wheel drive vehicle with 9 other daredevils after we had our helmets and harnesses fitted.  Next stop is the Scream Time Zipline where we hooked on, ran down a hill and SCREAMED as we flew over hills, pastures and a small cemetery.  Luckily, we all zipped and no one made a detour to the cemetery (the last burial was in the late 1890′s).

On the top of the hill getting ready to take the first zipline - over the cemetery (inside the white fenced area)

We did 6 ziplines that ranged from 460 feet to 800 feet (for perspective, a football field is 300 feet) and enjoyed every minute.  Mike was a trooper and although the walking on the hills was difficult, he felt the freedom of flying on the zipline and was glad he had joined me.

Mike - zipping across the hills

What a hoot!

After a good lunch in town, we headed out to the Original Mast Store in Valle Cruces, NC, just outside of Boone.  This old-time mercantile was built in 1863 and its advertising slogan was “Quality Goods for the Living, Coffins and Caskets for the Dead”.  We enjoyed the original wood floors, a big pot belly stove with a table and chairs around a table set up with bottle-cap checkers.  Mike liked the wooden hardware drawers and I enjoyed the variety of old-timey 19th century home goods (but now with 21st century prices).

Mike in front of the Original Mast General Store

Mike by the old stove that has been in the center of the store warming customers for years.

Mike likes the wooden drawers holding nuts, bolts and screws

Back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading southwest to Bryson City, a small railroad town on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains.  We settled into an RV park that has RV sites and float-tubing on Deep Creek, about a mile from the railroad depot.

The owner of the Deep Creek RV Park has a sense of humor

I enjoyed spending an evening chasing lightning bugs with kids who use sophisticated net insect cases instead of the mason jars with holes punched in the lid from my childhood.

All the kids (me included) gathered in this field to catch lightning bugs at dusk

Tough to photograph lightning bugs glowing; however, you can see the yellow part of their abdomen

We got to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR) with plenty of time to listen to the band entertain the passengers with country music while we waited to board the train.  The GSMR began running excursions in 1988, almost 100 years after the original iron horse began to operate as the Western North Carolina Railroad on the same rails.  We rode in a restored 1925 coach with air conditioning and large windows to watch the scenery along the Tuckaseegee River, Fontana Lake, and into the Nantahala River Gorge.

The diesel engine pulls into the depot and we get ready to board

Mike enjoyed listening to the band at the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Depot

Enjoying our train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

At the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the train stopped for a one-hour layover for lunch and sightseeing.  We grabbed a sandwich at Slow Joe’s along with lots of kayakers and folks from the white water rafting trips.  The 4-1/2 hour trip was relaxing and very scenic and a nice way to end our journey through the Blue Ridge Parkway.