Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Land of Lincoln: Springfield, Illinois

State capitals and famous historical sights are always on my travel "radar". I was happy that we could combine the two in one stop with our visit to Springfield, Illinois. Time to explore the Land of Lincoln!

Young Abe Lincoln, the Railsplitter, greeted us as we entered our campground at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The campground was very large and quiet, and I enjoyed walking around the scenic fairgrounds. Its location was also very convenient for getting to area attractions.

Lincoln's tomb, located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, was an easy mile walk from the fairgrounds. As we approached the granite obelisk, I have to admit, I was drawn in by the elegant peacefulness of his final resting place.

As we entered the tomb we were struck by the sacred beauty of the surroundings. Bronze statues of Lincoln at various times in his life lined the marble halls.

Bronze plaques with some of Lincoln's most famous speeches hung on the walls. The words of his second inaugural address spoken just a month before he died made me pause to think. How would it have been different if he had been able to lead our country during the years immediately following the Civil War?

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, along with three of his four sons are also buried there.

My interest was piqued. What were the forces that shaped a young self-educated lawyer and politician to beat incredible odds to be elected 16th president of the United States and lead our country through one of the most pivotal events in our history?

I would get a glimpse at some answers to my question with a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield.

The museum and library was located two miles from our campground ... an easy walk, and extra steps are always good! Admission was very reasonable at $12 each. As we stepped in, I was personally "greeted" by the Lincoln family.

The museum is divided into two main sections. The first area tells the story of Lincoln's early life leading up to his presidential election.

The museum's displays show how he rose from impoverished and uneducated beginnings to become a successful lawyer and politician is the new state of Illinois. It was his influence as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives that helped establish Springfield as the state's capital in 1839.

Following his surprise election in 1860, the museum's flow lead us into the White House. 

Controversial decisions such as the Emancipation Proclamation were presented through displays that make visitors feel like they are right in the middle of a heated discussion.

Stepping into Mary Lincoln's dressing room, we were also drawn into the controversies that she faced with her elaborate spending. But we were also presented with the emotional struggles that she and Abraham went through with the death of their son and the stress of the war. The museum, through powerful movies and displays, gave us a deeper appreciation for the man who would succeed in keeping our country united but who would also pay the ultimate price for this victory.

After lunch at Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery (always important to entice my "not always loving all this history" sidekick), we visited the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The restored 19th century neighborhood gives a glimpse into Lincoln's family life when they were homeowners in Springfield from 1844-1861. The guided tours of the twelve room house are free, but you have to request tickets ahead of time at the Visitor's Center. Our tour guide brought the home to life as he shared stories of Abe and his family.

A number of items in the house are originals,
but most of the house's furniture, wall and floor coverings
are replicas reflecting that era.
This is Abe's original desk minus six inches.
The neighbor who bought it from them was shorter
than Abe's 6'4" stature so he cut down the legs.
The Lincoln's sons were notorious for misbehaving.
Our guide imagined that Abe bought the "picture machine"
on the table in hopes of encouraging more "quiet" activities.

After our tour of the house, I could tell that Doug was being a trouper, but had had his fill of history for the day. One last stop remained.

Very appropriate that I get my 16th state capitol photo in the hometown of our 16th president! Our trip to Springfield, Illinois certainly made the "Land of Lincoln" come alive for us.

To quote Abe Lincoln:

Until next time ... "Whatever you are, be a good one" ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Smoky Blue Beauties: Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountain National Park

During our recent stays near Asheville, North Carolina and Knoxville, Tennessee, we were in the shadows of the smokey blue hues of the Appalachian Mountains ... our chance to explore the beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile road that meanders along Appalachian ridges through Virginia and North Carolina. The Parkway provides spectacular views as well as easy access to diverse natural and cultural treasures along the way. From our "home" at Lake Powhatan Campground, it was an easy three mile ride to get on the Parkway. We spent a few days exploring the features along the Parkway both to the north and to the south of us. 

From the guide that we picked up at the Visitor Center near Asheville, we saw that many trails, waterfalls, and historical sites are easily accessible from the Parkway. We hiked up Mount Pisgah, checked out a few waterfalls, and found ourselves at one point driving our car through the clouds. We enjoyed the feeling of being alone in nature as there was not the heavy car traffic that is usually found when exploring a national park.

Up, up into the clouds ...
Spring hadn't arrived this high up yet!
While we often found ourselves driving alongside
a high mountain ridge, sometimes we had to
drive through the mountains via tunnels like this one.
There are many places along the Parkway
where you can pull over to snap a picture,
... or park at a trailhead and hike
to a mountaintop or waterfall.
We were able to drive an hour north of Asheville to
Mount Mitchell which is the highest point

east of the Mississippi at 6684 feet above sea level.
Yes, our Rocky Mountain friends are probably not too impressed!
We found Sliding Rock,
a natural waterslide and mountain swimming hole,
during a side trip down into a river valley. While we
passed up the chance to slide into the 40 degree water,
we hear that it is a popular summertime activity. 

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

We were close to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park during our next stop at Douglas Tailwater Campground in Sevierville, Tennessee. Located in both Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky is the most visited national park in the United States. The towns of Pigeon Forge (home of Dollywood) and Gatlinburg are two "gateway" cities into the park. While it was relatively quiet the day we went, I could see by the large numbers of hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions in the area that they are prepared for huge throngs of summer visitors.

We stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, hiked to see Laurel Falls, enjoyed a picnic lunch by Laurel Creek, and drove up to check out the views at the highest point in the park ... Clingmans Dome. A brief walk on the Appalachian Trail that runs through the park got Doug thinking about adding that to his "bucket" list. While we enjoyed our brief exploration of this national park, we can see how large numbers of visitors on the roads and trails could make it challenging at times. 

Beautiful views as we hiked 1.5 miles up to Laurel Falls.
Budding laurel bushes and rhododendrons surrounded the
path and falls. It will be pretty spectacular when their
showy flowers bloom in late May and early June.
We followed the Little Pigeon River until the road
started climbing into the Smokys.
After parking at Clingmans Dome Visitor Center,
it was another 1/2 mile steep hike up to the observation tower.
Magnificent views were our great reward after the hike up.
We saw a number of Appalachian Trail hikers
in the area and decided to check the trail out ...
we would definitely need to train up this kind of RVenture!
We came upon a traffic jam on the way down that was
the result of bears being spotted on the side of the road.
Can you see "Smokey the Bear"?

Reflections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It is always a gift to be able to visit the beautiful national parks during our travels. I am glad, however, that "visiting every national park" is not on our bucket list. We are discovering that some of the "lesser known" National Park Service areas as well as state, county, and city parks are often the greater treasure. The scenery was just as magnificent along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the roads, trails and sights were much less crowded than in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It reaffirmed to us that wherever we travel, the beauty of nature abounds.

For sometimes, the hidden waterfalls that you discover

... and the delicate wildflowers that line your path

... are the real treasure!

As we continue our travels, we are in agreement with naturalist John Muir:

In every walk with nature,
one receives far more than he seeks.

Until next time ... enjoy the hidden treasures of nature that surround you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Best Made Plans ...

I had a conversation with my mother-in-law recently about our travel blog. She enjoys all our upbeat stories about RVentures. But she wondered ... Is there a downside to full time travel? Every day can't go perfectly ... would I ever write about the days that don't go according to our plans?

Well, with sunsets like this one right outside our RV at Seven Points Campground near Nashville, I can't help but think that this is the life! We have just finished four weeks of exploring the beauty of Jekyll Island, Charleston, Asheville, Knoxville, and Nashville. We are having a good time making our way slowly back to Minnesota. Our next stop was going to be a bit further that we usually like to travel in one day (310 miles), but we thought it would be fun to have an extra day to explore a popular state park in Indiana. Long travel days can make me a bit nervous, but as the co-pilot, I was prepared. I had studied our route and figured out two rest stops and a diesel stop.  All was going great until I saw the sign ...

Just as we were crossing the border into Evansville, Indiana, an unusual noise started. I do not like unusual noises especially when we are driving the RV. What would happen next would test my skill level as co-pilot. In the middle of this busy highway through this busy town, I hear, "Find me a place to pull over, and if it is an RV service station, that would be even better."

OK, this is the not-so-fun part about traveling around in a 40 foot RV with a car behind it ... we are not going to be able to just pull into the next service station I see. But, thank God, I did manage to remain somewhat calm and find a Cummins diesel engine repair shop just down the road. We pulled into their large parking area and saw fluid dripping out under the back of the coach.

Not so good ...

Now, while we are bummed that something is terribly wrong with the Wildebeest, I am thinking ... we have a Cummins engine ... we are in a Cummins repair shop parking lot ... I did a pretty good job with this navigation job! Doug believes that it is the transmission, so he goes in to talk with them about it.

Unfortunately, they don't deal with that aspect of RV repair.

Fortunately, they are able to recommend a local repair shop and tow service company, so after a few phone calls and a little time to devise "Plan B", the Wildebeest is on her way to spend time at another high priced repair "spa".

Fortunately, it ended up being a blown o-ring on the power steering/fan clutch hydraulics. At $130/hour for labor, any RV repair job is not cheap, but it turned out to not be quite as costly or time consuming as a transmission repair could have been. 

This is the downside of full time travel. Thing will go wrong. Plans will have to be changed. We may be "homeless" while repairs are being made. But ...

And that is what I need to keep focusing on
... to stay cool under pressure, because it always works out for the best!

Our changed plans allowed us to see the benefit of our Coach-Net RV towing insurance plan that covered the $650 tow bill.

Our changed plans allowed us to enjoy some Taco Bell burritos and a local brew ... and add to Doug's beer coaster collection.

Our changed plans allowed us to explore Henderson, Kentucky, where John James Audubon, American naturalist and painter, lived from 1810-1819.

Audubon (1785-1851) is famous for his extensive study and illustrations of The Birds of America. His detailed paintings depict birds in their natural habitats. Through his studies, he was able to identify 25 new species of birds and sparked interest in the study birds and the preservation of their habitats. I just loved seeing how he brought out the "personality" of the birds in his artwork.

Our changed plans allowed us to take a walk in the woods while listening to the songs of cardinals and many other birds at John James Audubon State Park.

The cool shaded paths were filled with the chorus of birds. Alongside a group of elementary students, we learned about Audubon's life and artwork at the nature center museum.

But most importantly, our changed plans allowed us to realize that it is the people that we share the bumps in the road with that make the journey worthwhile.

Our Plan B involves spending time in Springfield, Illinois visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and seeing another state capitol building! Doug is hoping to run into Homer Simpson :-)

Until next time ... embrace the best "changed" plans ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Love this painting that I saw an art exhibit
at the JJ Audubon State Park Nature Center.
Reminds me of my two sisters and I.
Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful "moms" in my life!