Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nice Couple of Days

Ho Hum.  Nothing much to say except we have had a couple of very pleasant days.

We went for a dusk walk the other night. No pictures except for this one of somebody's sign:

We don't know them, but it's such a nice name!

On Saturday we went on a moderate hike recommended by our hosts Karen and Al.  They had just done and blogged about this hike two days ago, so we're in serious overlap with them.  The hike is High Shoals trail, which leads to two waterfalls.  

This stretch of level trail could have been in any of the last few states, but reminded us of the gardens at the Biltmore estate.  Just so perfect!

Here is the second waterfall at the end of the trail.

Karen and Al said they though we might enjoy the mile or so of rough gravel road into the trailhead. 

Whoopee! Our first real Jeep road! This is why we bought the Jeep to replace our little Hyundai Accent. Complete with a water crossing!

Saturday was a very low key, around-the-rig work day. I emptied my side of the closet and all of my drawers. I sorted out things that I didn't want to keep and filled a goodwill bag and a trash bag. After putting everything back, I found I have more room once again and I'm ready for our next round of travel.

Meanwhile, Craig asked if there was anything he could be doing to help, and I suggested scrubbing the vent and underside of the microwave. It really needed attention since it is above the stove. 

I must say, he did a wonderful job. Far better than I would have done. About half way into the project he went off and bought some TSP. That really helped remove the built up gorm. 

Showers and football may keep us at home on Sunday, but Craig suggested a walk in the morning.  

We'll see.

Life is good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

River's Edge

Last winter, after I was sure our house sale would eventually close, I began making plans for this winter. Craig wanted to go to the Florida Keys if possible, so I used that as my destination goal. Our blogger friends Karen and Al have two lots in a park in the North Georgia Mountains, one of which they rent out. I asked her to save October for us.

As it turned out we arrived on Saturday, September 20. A little earlier than I had planned, but it worked for them because their last visitor had left a few days earlier. 

Their lots are in River's Edge, a lovely private park with large spaces, level concrete pads, full hook ups, and very nice people. It is about 10 miles from the town of Blairsville, which has both a high end supermarket and a Walmart.  What else do we need?

We will be here for a month, so I will have plenty of time to get some cleaning and sorting projects out of the way, and to rest after several months of travel. We spent much of our first day on the computer ordering things that we wanted from Amazon and other sites. Although we have a mail forwarding service, Amazon likes to have a street address for Fedex deliveries.  So if it wasn't needed right away, we kept saying "when we get to Georgia we will order this or that".

It feels like fall is here. The mornings have been cool, and the afternoons sunny but not hot.

There are many places to walk and hike in this area, so perhaps I will get some much-needed exercise. On Monday we went up to the observation tower on Brasstown Bald Mountain. The upper portion of the tower is not open to the public, but there is a large observation deck lower down that is.

Nottely Lake as seen from the observation tower at Brasstown Bald Mountain

We learned that the blue haze in the air over the mountains is not smoke. Its largest ingredient is isoprene gas released by decaying vegetation.

The 360 degree view was fantastic. I hope we can get back to this place the day before we leave so I can take a comparison picture. It seems the trees are just a tiny bit more colorful every day.

On Wednesday we went to Vogel State Park for a short walk. We now have an annual Georgia State Park pass, and hope to use it frequently.

As we drove in we were reminded what was important. 

The small lake which we walked around was very clear and smooth as glass.

Local resident. 

We took the side trail that leads to the Trahlyta falls.

We are looking forward to a wonderful month!

How will you celebrate autumn?

[From Craig]  There are two ways to photograph a waterfall.  You can use a really slow shutter speed, to get a "big fluffy white stream" look.  Or you can use a really fast shutter speed, to try for "each little droplet in its place".  I mostly use the latter approach.  The image above was shot at 1/2000th of a second.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gaffney, Freightliner Service Center

The "Peachoid": Gaffney's water tower

The next stop on our travels was Gaffney South Carolina, for our annual chassis service. Oil change, lube, lots of checks and filter changes. Our Cat engine takes 19 quarts of oil, and it needs to be changed yearly to keep her purring. 

When we went to Camp Freightliner training last spring, our instructor praised the Freightliner home service center as one of the best, because most of their technicians started in the factory (building the chassis) before working there. 

Since we were heading that way, it was convenient to schedule our service there. One plus was that they have free electrical hook ups for customers, and we were able to go on a factory tour to see where and how our Alfa's chassis was built.

There is not much to see or do in Gaffney, so except for a short trip to see the Michael Gaffney cabin (pictured below), we just relaxed for a couple of days.

A very well restored cabin.

The interior was quite large and looked very livable. 

When we were sitting in the Freightliner custom waiting area, I struck up a conversation with one of the other women about blogging. She asked how to start a blog. I did better than tell her. She had her laptop with her, so it was easy to get her started. By the end of the afternoon she had her blog launched, and hopefully will be able to have some fun with it in the future.

Robyn's blog: Honeybear & Sugarbear's RV Travels

Please stop by, encourage her, and tell her Merikay sent you.

We were all first time bloggers at one time!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Biltmore Estate, Asheville North Carolina

We got up really early on Tuesday. After a quick shower and fresh-baked Trader Joe's Almond Croissants, we were out the door before 8 AM. I was disappointed when we weren't able to see all that we could have at the Ford Museum and Village, because we had gotten a late morning start. I felt the Biltmore tickets were pricey enough that we should make an effort to take full advantage of our day.

Note: To get the best price for seniors, plan your visit for a Tuesday or Wednesday. For non-seniors, the further ahead you book your tickets online, the bigger the discount. I believe I was told that online tickets purchased two or four weeks in advance are the same price as Senior tickets.  Also weekends tickets cost more. So if you every have the opportunity to go, plan ahead. Be sure to get the audio tour. It was chock full of interesting information and allowed you to go at your own pace. Also our early morning arrival was great because the house was far less crowded. We noticed how full it had become as we finished our house tour.

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville South Carolina is the largest single-family home in the United States. We learned so much about it, it is hard to summarize it all for a post. So here's what Wikipedia says:

Biltmore Estate is a large private estate and tourist attraction in AshevilleNorth Carolina. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2)[2] of floor space (135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area) and featuring 250 rooms. Still owned by one of Vanderbilt's descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age, and of significant gardens in the jardin à la française and English Landscape garden styles in the United States. In 2007, it was ranked eighth in America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

Photos of the inside of the house were not allowed. All I can say is it was amazing. I have been to Versailles and Windsor. The Biltmore Estate is on the same scale and level of luxury. 

Our next stop on the Estate were the gardens. September is an odd month. Far too late for spring Azaleas and Tulips, and a bit early for the Mums and other fall color, but the layout and variety of trees and bushes were outstanding. 

My favorite part of the gardens was the Conservatory Building. There were beautiful well-planned flower beds all around, and the Conservatory was bursting with exotic and native plants. Some in bloom, some just resting. Orchids to Cactus and many in between. 

We took many flower pictures. This was one of my favorites.

After enjoying the gardens we walked back to the house, boarded a shuttle bus to the parking area, and had a little lunch in the Jeep. There are several restaurants on the grounds, but making a take-along lunch is something I do to make our tourist dollars stretch a bit further.

We had been told to drive our own car to the village and farm on the estate. Originally the village was built to house the house construction crew, and the farm to grow food and raise dairy cows for use on the estate. After the house was finished the workers houses were removed, and it became a staff area. Much of the farm was destroyed by a big flood.

Now the village feels a bit "commercial quaint". There is a winery and we were going to partake in wine tasting (included in the ticket price) after looking around, but a busload of other guests had caught up with us and we decided it was too crowded for tasting.

There was a good collection of old farm equipment, and I found the signage well done and interesting.

One of the ongoing programs is a working blacksmith. We wandered over to watch and were delighted by the fact that the blacksmith was one of the guys we had enjoyed listening to at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial porch jam session a few days earlier. 

Doc Cudd
Doc Cudd is one of 5 people in the country that are considered masters of the playing the anvil as a musical instrument. After his blacksmith demonstration he played the anvil for us.  

I don't think he plays for everyone. After most of the other tourists had drifted away, we stayed and chatted for a few minutes about music. One of the others asked if he would play for us and he did. 

YouTube movie of Doc playing the anvil.

I know some of you don't watch videos in blog posts, but how else can I share this?

Fantastic.  I don't think we will ever have this experience again.  He is a treasure!

It was a long, full day, and when we returned to the Alfa we took a nap. We had leftover chicken stew and homemade bread for dinner.

Another plus of RV travel!  You don't have to find a restaurant for dinner when you're tired. I left the dishes for the morning.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Decisions Decisions!

Before I start this post about our travels, I have to express my dismay about the current situations in the world today. I'm afraid we are coming very close to a new World War. I am not in favor of war, but I know we as a nation cannot isolate ourselves from what is happening. As an American, I believe strongly in freedom of religion. But as a citizen of the earth, I wish we had freedom from religion and that all those making war in the name of their god would make peace with each other. 

In the current world we cannot turn the other cheek. 

That said, this is the post I started Saturday.

We had two choices for what to do with the day.

We could go for an afternoon of front porch, down home, bluegrass pickin' jam session at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville. It is a State Historic site and the house looked interesting. It is an old Victorian style boarding house, and was the model for Thomas Wolfe's novel "Look Homeward Angel".  There might also be some readings. There was nearby parking, and the setting is intimate. The front lawn is not large.
The Shining Rock Riverfest, with bluegrass music played by a series of "upcoming" bands. It lasted from 1:00 PM - 10:00 PM, and was up in the mountains at Camp Hope.  Parking was "limited". 

BBQ would be available. I love BBQ.

But, we had take out BBQ last night from a great little place called "12 bones", and I made some just a few days before at home.  We also enjoyed some in High Point last week ... 

The Riverfest sounded like fun, and quite a local event.

But storm clouds were gathering and the weather forecast was for possible showers.  We could take our rain ponchos and umbrella.  


So what did we do?

I choose the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. It was very close to starting to rain when we left the Alfa.  Black clouds hung over the mountains. Of course because we chose the city venue, it cleared up in town. However when we were driving back we did notice the clouds were still very low and gray over the mountains.

The image above was taken when we first arrived. Later the lawn was full and people were standing on the sidewalk and sitting on chairs on the grass between the walk and the road.

I am not sure if the music was "good", but it was authentic and fun. Take away the microphones, and they might have been a bunch of musical boarders having a front porch jam. 

After listening for a while we went to the Memorial building and saw a video about Thomas Wolfe in preparation for a tour of the house. 

It was quite interesting and well restored. Almost all of the furnishings were original to the house. As a boarding house it had 15 bedrooms and three bathrooms. At times there were over thirty guests. Most were middle class, working or vacationing people, musicians and circus performers, men and women. The cost was $1 per night and included two meals. There were often three to a room, and it was not unusual to wake up in bed with a stranger.

The small front parlor was quite elegant. There was also a large sun porch that the guests used for socializing and relaxing.

Although it was totally different, it reminded me of the big old Victorian house my great-aunt had on the east side of Milwaukee. It was big and dark. This house was big but full of light. My great-aunt also ran it as a boarding house up until the early 50s. I remember visiting her as a very small child and being fascinated by the fact that she had the skin of her favorite Dalmatian made into a throw cover for her piano bench. 

I met a couple of her boarders, and thought they were "smelly old men." No women lived with her.

Strange what you remember.

We have extended our stay here by one day. On Wednesday evening, when I was checking into things to do I looked up information about the tours at the Biltmore Estate. I was dismayed to read that we had missed the senior discount. It is available only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  We had planned to leave this Tuesday. Now we have tickets and will spend the day seeing how the ultra-rich lived in one of the largest homes of the day.

Yes, Karen, I signed up for the audio tours too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Day 2 Blue Ridge Parkway

On Thursday we once again went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway on Hwy 151, but this time we headed south.  

Once again we stopped at just about every overlook and were not disappointed by the views.

Although the day started quite sunny, storm clouds began building up as the day went on. When Craig was admiring the view from this vantage point, I heard the sound of water from the rock wall across the road.

I couldn't really see any water until I got much closer.

There were many tiny streams of water seeping out of the wall. This, and many similar walls were blasted out when the parkway was built.  Fascinating. 

We did take one short hike from an overlook down to a waterfall. 

We planned on eating lunch there, but as we got settled on a friendly rock, it began to rain. 

By the time we got back up to the Jeep it was pouring, so we ate there and drove on. The rain stopped, but the road and views became quite foggy.  However, we enjoyed the ride, even if we couldn't see all that we came to see. The fog was enough to make the place mystical, but not dangerous.

We have a few more days to go up there again, and probably will.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

An Odd Little RV Park

Hominy Valley RV Park
NC hwy. 151, Candler, NC

Actually one could hardly our present location an "RV park", just a "place to park an RV".  

It is a little place along a road that has six 50 amp power, water, sewer hook ups and not much else. The gravel is newish and level, the grass between sites is green and cut, the landscape trees are healthy and seem new.  The other occupants include four trailers that, although not decrepit, are a bit old. Looking at the plumbing around them, they seem to be long time residents. Plus a medium size fifth wheel next to us. I saw an older lady with her dogs yesterday when we pulled in, and an older man came home in a truck carrying what looked like a lunch box late in the day. They may be here on a permanent basis too.  And then there is us.  So the place is full.

There is no camp-host or anyone on site who is in charge. I made a reservation a day ahead by telephone and was told to pay with a check placed into a stamped, addressed envelope that was in a mailbox on site, and put it into the outgoing mailbox at the road. We had a small problem with a leak at the faucet connection, and although it would not have affected us, Craig wanted to let someone know about it so as to not waste water. We are still Californians at heart! He called the same number I had, and the owner's brother-in-law came and fixed it within an hour.

There is only a single line of evergreens between us and the highway, but the highway does not seem to have much truck traffic, so once the day ends, so does the traffic. It was quiet all night. I heard the first car at about 7:00 AM. I don't mind street noise during the day.

All of this for only $15 per night. It is a 50% off Escapees park.
We will be here for a week. When the blinds are closed at night, home is home, wherever it is parked.

Hominy Valley is at the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is just a short drive away via highway 151, which winds quite a bit. Driving RVs on 151 up to the Parkway is not recommended. I looked at campgrounds in the mountains, but could not find anything that suited our needs. They are mostly for tent campers or smaller rigs.

It rained quite heavily Tuesday night, and the weather was pleasantly cool on Wednesday.  

We took our first drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from where it intersected 151, north to a Visitors Center. There were several tunnels. At the VC we watched a movie about how the Parkway was built, and gathered information about hikes and other things we could do while we were here. 

Because of the rain, it was fairly cloudy, and although we enjoyed the views from the overlooks, they did not make the greatest pictures. We think this is the valley where the Alfa awaits our return.

Thursday we will drive south on the Parkway, and possibly take a short hike. Rain is in the forecast, but that doesn't stop us. It seems the storms are very short and there is plenty of sunshine in between.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Weather Better

One thing I have never been really concerned with has been weather condition in places where I am not. Sitting in my house in the Santa Cruz Mountains for so many years, I became accustomed to "perfect" summers. But "perfect" can get boring, and I knew that the weather would be something we would have to deal with in our travels.

Hot, humid conditions are only uncomfortable if you want to do outdoor strenuous things like hiking. For most people, air conditioning is the solution.  We have air conditioning in our Jeep and in the Alfa, so all we would have to do is stay home, or go on driving tours instead of walking.

Monday the weather finally broke. It rained most of the night, and we were pleased to see temperatures in the sixties when we got up.

But Monday was also a planned at-home day. We will be moving on Tuesday, so we have a few prep things to do and I will catch up on the wash. If the temperature stays comfortable, I hope to take a nice long walk around the park this afternoon.

I have also checked the weather forecast for our next location. It looks like it will be at least ten degrees lower during the day. Eighties instead of nineties. I will welcome that!

Next summer we may be wiser about choosing our route.  

Or not!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Traveling On

My blog is becoming more and more of a weekly, or location update. That's fine. I have never felt obliged to post on any fixed schedule.  This is a summary of our activities for September 3 to Sunday September 7.

Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much "do nothing hot and humid" days. Well, we did drive a couple hundred more miles, overnighted at a Camping World, and had two very small, overpriced repairs taken care of.

Thursday afternoon we pulled into a nice campground in High Point North Carolina called the Oak Hollow Campground. They do not take reservations, but then none would have been needed. There are two "loops" and a flat gravel "overflow lot" with hookups. There were a few campers in the lower loop by the lake, but we were the only ones in the upper loop, which was wooded with generous space size. When checking in I asked the man at the desk for a level spot, with 50 amp, near the laundry. He sure got it right. The little building to the left of the Alfa housed the two machine laundry facility. One washer, one dryer.  It's nice that it is just out my window. When I do the wash, I will be able to sit in the coach. To the left of the building is a small but clean swimming pool, that I took advantage of several times.

On our first afternoon I took a walk around the campground. The heat drained any enthusiasm I had for going very far.

There was not a single puff of breeze to disturb the glasslike surface of the lake. This drake had a typical Mallard lady friend. I thought he may have been a cross-breed, but when I got back to the rig and Googled ducks, I learned there is a recognized hybrid called a Domestic Mallard. The article mentioned they sometimes liked to escape back to the wild, preferring freedom to the barn yard.

I had chosen High Point because it seemed like there was a lot to see or do within reasonable driving distance. We had hoped to find a cigarette factory tour, but the last one at the now closed RJ Reynolds factory in Winston-Salem was a few years ago.

We did drive over to Durham and went to the Tobacco Museum and Duke Homestead. It was interesting to learn more about how this crop, and the proliferation of tobacco use, helped the economy of the South after the Civil War. 

House at the Duke homestead

Duke was not the only one to take up tobacco production after the war, but he and his family were the most successful for a number of reasons. We learned a few of them on our tour and at the Museum.

Next we went over to the Duke University campus. We found a parking spot near the admissions building and got a permit for that place.

From there we were able to walk to and through the Sarah Duke Gardens where we enjoyed this quiet frog pond.

Craig found this crossing a little easier than his slippery walk across the head waters of Mississippi.

I am neither about to fall or jump into the pond. I was calling Craig to bring the camera over to me so I could get a picture of this little guy:

He was no bigger than my thumb, and was sitting on a small piece of floating bark. From this picture you can also see the green on the surface of the water is a plant, not scum.

Of course, being a well-funded garden at a prestige University, there were many beautiful plants to be seen. These had to be the largest hibiscus we have ever seen!

The lilies in this pond were amazing. The biggest of the plate-like pads were more than two feet in diameter.

We wanted to tour more of the campus but because I felt it was too hot and too far, we gave up our parking spot. Unfortunately we were not able to park anywhere else so settled for a brief drive around.

We ended the day with a tour of Staggville, a pre-war Plantation part of which has been preserved and is a state-owned historic site. It was recommended to us by our guide at the Duke Homestead.

We were given a guided tour by docents of the main house and of the slave quarters and barn. All of the docents we met this day were excellent, knowledgeable, and nice. It may have been because it was pretty hot, or that it was no longer summer vacation time, but there were only a few other people around. Both the Tobacco Museum and Staggville were free. 

Slave quarters at Stagville

As we have been driving around the area we have noticed many fields of tobacco, and many fields that we think once grew tobacco but are now lying fallow. 

Having had our history lessons for the week, we decided to drive to Hanging Rock State Park on Saturday. It was very pretty there, and the walk would have been nice if the weather had been cooler. Low nineties with very high humidity and no breeze is, as I have expressed many times, not my cup of tea!

The Rock Garden

There were several waterfalls in the park. The kids in the picture below sure knew how to enjoy them.

Actually, I did not see these falls, because after coming down these steps,

and these steps:

and several more sets like them, I said "enough" when faced with the last fifty or so down to the falls.  I chose to wait and let Craig go down.  Down is not a problem, it is knowing that the only way to get back to the air conditioned Jeep is to go back up them all.

Over the last couple of weeks we have repeatedly said we came here at the WRONG time of the year.  But, except for the Northwest it seems the entire country has been having hot weather. Even our friend Al up in Ontario has mentioned how the afternoon heat and humidity has driven him indoors. 

I guess one of our problems is that neither of us are really early morning people.  I used to be, but Craig is just not a happy hiker before about 10 AM, but he also does not seem to be bothered by the heat as much as I am.

To all of this, our daughter recently asked: "So why are you heading for Florida?" We are hoping it will be nice in November, December, and January. 

Hoping ...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Don't drool on your keyboard

[From Craig]  According to, the least expensive fuel in the country (both regular and diesel) is in Roanoke, VA, which happens to be where we are right now.  Today we needed diesel, so we used our GasBuddy app to find the least expensive place in Roanoke.  Our 35-foot Alfa, with Jeep in tow, kind of clogged the place up while we were there.  It is very busy, because "with-it" people from Boston through Atlanta might show up here to get the cheapest fuel in the country.

If you have a station that beats these prices, please leave a comment as to where it is.