Dec 31, 2012

Dec 31 - Dar's First Post - Bush Presidential Library

This is my first post on our blog. Thom's having writer's block. Not that there hasn't been anything to blog about, we've been doing a lot, just that now he's about 8 entries behind.  And as the old saying goes..."the behinder I am, the behinder I get" until the task starts to become overwhelming.  He likes his posts to be interesting, as well as a journal of our travels.  So in our discussion this morning over "his problem", he asked me what I would write about for our visit to the Bush Presidential Library... that wouldn't be the same ol' Bush did this and that, and then this and that.  We lived through the Bush years, so what did I find interesting about the library museum?  My mistake was telling him and now I've got myself into the position of writing this blog. I have asked his editing help, since he has such a way with words that I feel I lack. Passion and passionate I can get, but then putting it down in words becomes hard. So here it goes...

Bush Presidential Library and Museum:

Today we visited the presidential library of George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States. It's set on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.  We were surprised by the number of buildings it encompasses.  Besides the museum and library buildings there are two others.  One is the George Bush School of Government and Public Service. The upper story of one of the buildings houses an apartment for George and Barbara when they visit College Station (often to watch one of the football games). A real treat for some visitors is getting a personal view of George or Barbara at the library museum.  A docent told us that Mrs Bush had been there 2 weeks ago to view the Christmas tree adorned with handmade needlepoint ornaments.  More on that in a bit. Former President George Bush has even parachuted onto the library  grounds proving that "old guys can still do stuff," as he kicked off his 75th birthday with a 12,500 foot jump. He also jumped out of perfectly good airplanes for his 80th and 85th birthdays. So one never knows who might "drop in" while your visiting.  At this writing former President Bush was in the hospital and recently moved out of intensive care following complications of bronchitis.

George Herbert Walker Bush was sworn in as president of the United States in January 1989 and served until January 1993. During his term in office, the Cold War ended; the threat of nuclear war was drastically reduced; the Soviet Union ceased to exist, replaced by a democratic Russia with the Baltic states becoming free; Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified with Eastern Europe; and he put together an unprecedented coalition of 32 nations to liberate Kuwait. He was also only the second American president, at the time, to serve a full term without party control in either chamber of Congress. Nevertheless, among the laws President Bush signed into effect were the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act.

Perhaps one of the most recognizable symbols of the Cold War is the Berlin Wall. In one of the exhibits is a 12-foot tall section of wall, that once symbolized oppression, communism and division. As I looked at it there was a swell of emotions from sorrow and sympathy, for families separated and lives lost trying to escape, contrasted with elation they must have felt when the wall came down and families could reunite.

Little known to me was Barbara Bush's interest in needlepoint. She began doing needlepoint to keep from being bored listening to George's same speech a hundred times.  On display were a couple examples of purses she made.  I was drawn to the one showing scenes of Washington DC on it.  How do you describe what needlepoint is. I looked at various definitions to try and explain it to Thom. "Type of embroidery in which stitches are counted and worked with a needle over the threads or mesh of a canvas foundation" per Webster. Um...never mind. Most needlepoint designs completely cover the canvas. It's very tedious, tiny work. It appears like tapestry when done, the difference being tapestry is done on a special type loom. Having done some of this type work myself, I was completely awed to see a photo of a 10-by-14-foot needlepoint rug Mrs Bush made.  It took her almost 9 years to complete and laid on the family sitting room floor at the White House.  While under construction, sections of the rug, in basket weave on No. 10 canvas, accompanied the Bushes to 17 countries and 36 states. The design included personal data, such as grandchildrens' initials and important family dates.

photo of Mrs. Bush's needlepoint rug from George Bush Presidential Library and Museum website
There were a couple of holiday themed needlepoint displays in the museum. One is a needlepoint creche scene that was stitched by the "Saintly Stitchers" of Saint Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. It contains 54 characters and was presented to President and Mrs. Bush in 1989. This creche inspired the needlepoint display of Noah's Ark and ornaments that were used on the 1991 White House Christmas Tree.

Back to the docent telling us about Barbara Bush's visit 2 weeks ago to view the 18-foot Christmas tree at the library museum. It's covered with needlepoint ornaments and surrounded by needlepoint buildings that were from the 1991 White House Christmas tree.   214 members of the "Saintly Stitchers" and 271 White House staff and volunteers stitched for two years on these one-of-a-kind ornaments. The 1,200 ornaments plus buildings have been packed away since former President and Mrs. Bush left the White House Jan 1993. This is the first time they've been displayed since. For me this was very exciting. The detail work was phenomenal. All the staff at the museum were excited, talking about it and having their pictures taken beside this historic tree before it gets taken down. I would too, if I were I did.


Dec 30, 2012

Dec 30 - Shreveport to College Station

Once again we're motivated to move further west by the promise of rain for the next two days. But where to next?

Searching the Texas map we found the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station Texas, one we had yet to visit. Another of the themes that direct our travels, Presidential Libraries are usually good spots to re-live some history and learn more about these people we elect to lead us. It really seems that as you learn more about a particular time and the key players of the era, it all starts to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and the big picture becomes clearer.

So we were off to College Station. Our route was I-20 to TX-31/US-259 to Henderson Texas. Then US-79 to TX-6 at Hearne south to College Station. At  260 miles and with a lot of holiday traffic to keep things from getting too boring, it was a longer day than usual for us. We arrived at Lazy G RV Park on the south edge of town about 3pm.

We weren't impressed at all with Lazy G RV Park. It generally felt shabby and in need of a lot of TLC. There were a lot of permanent denizens, usually a sign of a place we'd prefer to avoid, and the owner had the whole place for sale. If we return to College Station in the future we'll seek out a better alternative. But we were here to see the Bush Library and it was only for two nights, so we endured.

Dec 29, 2012

Dec 29 - Vicksburg to Shreveport; Dinner with Ben and Sarah

Our 180 mile drive today took us from Vicksburg Mississippi to Shreveport Louisiana on I-20. Not much to report relating to the drive, but of note was the rest of the day.

We grabbed the last un-reserved big rig site at Tall Pines RV Park on the west edge of town and called Nephew Ben to see about plans for that evening. We were trying to fit a visit in with Ben and Sarah between their Christmas trip to Florida and the arrival of some friends from Lincoln Nebraska that were coming in for the New Years holiday. If everything worked out right we'd have about 4 hours this evening.

Ben suggested a new Indian restaurant - Indigo - not far from their apartment. We met there about 6pm and had a simply wonderful time catching up on their lives and learning about Indian Cuisine... something these two meat and potatoes Midwestern explorers haven't been exposed to. Well into my 60s, new experiences are savored as they don't happen as often as they used to. This was a case of the young-ish leading the old-ish in learning a new trick.

But it was the far ranging conversation that was even more enjoyable than the food, and that we continued back at their apartment. Both Ben and Sarah are smart kids that can carry a discussion to places that could challenge the unprepared... archeology (their main field), science, history, geology, culture... all woven into a cloth of thought that covered a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Thanks Ben and Sarah for being such entertaining hosts.

Sarah, Ben, and, of course, Tolstoy

Dec 28, 2012

Dec 28 - The Mississippi State Capitol

I was grumbling to Dar about all the rain we've been getting the past few weeks and thought some facts might make her more receptive to my childish whining about stuff I have absolutely no control over. So I checked with the US Government... NOAA to be precise... and found that most of Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Georgia have received between 4 and 6 inches of rain in just the last two weeks. And we were there. Great information... but it didn't help at all as she still thinks I'm making a big deal over nothing.

It rained most of the night. I woke to rain. And it rained most of the day today. It's probably still raining as I punch out this post from under the covers of my bed... a place I find more uplifting than looking out windows at puddles, mud, and dreariness. I'm trying to be mature about this, but there's only so much a guy can take.

We drove over to Jackson Mississippi this morning and found the State Capitol in the middle of a downtown that felt abandoned. I suppose the days between Christmas and New Years are a grand time to take that unused vacation time or to just play hooky. There were so few people that parking was readily available, many restaurants were closed for the whole week, and traffic was so light they could have turned off the traffic signals to save a few bucks.

There's actually two Capitols here... the old historic one that's now a museum, and the "new" Capitol that was built in 1903. It's this newer building that was the target of today's exploration.

Did I mention it was raining? We parked as close to the Capitol as we could, grabbed an umbrella each, and scampered to the front door. Inside the door there's a security screening station where it took a couple passes to successfully get through the metal detector. The guard found my little pocket knife which he said he'd have to confiscate as they're not allowed inside... but, on second thought... he told me to go ahead and keep it as there were few people in the building and certainly no one they needed to protect from a mild-mannered mad-man from Wisconsin.

The building is designed in the traditional style (central dome, columns, rotunda, space for legislature, executive, and judiciary). As government grew, the Supreme Court and the Governor moved out to more spacious accommodations across the street. Both houses of the legislature still meet here but there's not enough office space to give every legislator a private office. Some use their desk on the floor of the House or Senate chamber as their office.

While looking down on the House chamber from the gallery above, I noticed a dozen or more curiously shaped sticks (walking sticks? canes? or what?) on various representative's desks. I asked our tour guide what they were?  She didn't know but said she'd find out. An official from the House was handy so we asked him. He smiled, chuckled, and said some people might not like the answer.

You see, often legislators lean back, recline, in their big oversized and overstuffed desk chairs, and get very comfortable during long sessions as they listen to arguments, debates, and speeches. When it comes time to vote on a bill (the House uses an electronic voting system), they grab their stick, and from their comfy reclined position reach over to the little keypad on their desk and tap the Yea or Nay button... all without having to waste any more energy than necessary by sitting upright to vote with a finger. Down here in Mississippi, this is what they refer to as an energy saving vote.

Something else unique in this Capitol is that the House and Senate chambers are turned 180 degrees from the traditional. In every other Capitol we've visited walking onto the chamber floor from the rotunda side, you'd be entering the chamber at the back. The focus of activity, the front of the chamber, is on the furthest side from the rotunda. Here, that's reversed. You enter the chamber at the front and the focus of activity is on the side closest to the rotunda. Each chamber also has it's own massive dome which adds even more magnificence to an already impressive space.

The interior of the building is very light, illuminated by more than 7,000 incandescent bulbs that form constellations of light that's both impressive and attractive. The building lacks much in the form of symbolic art but decorative art is all around in the form of leaded glass windows, brightly painted walls, and repeating design motifs. It's the only State Capitol I can recall that has stained glass windows depicting historic elements of the State... in this case the Native American, Mother Mississippi, and the Pioneer Settler.

Also unique among the Capitols we've visited is the method of funding for the building. In this case, the 1903 price of just over $1,000,000 was paid for by the Illinois Central Railroad... as settlement for back taxes owed to the State.

We both really enjoyed our visit to the Mississippi State Capitol. Our guide, who was knowledgeable, fun, and energetic, really added to the experience and provided some background that we wouldn't have picked up on our own.

After our visit we repaired to an establishment a couple blocks away called Ol' Tavern for a couple craft brews and an excellent lunner. The old building was exposed brick and wood, high ceiling'd, basic, and had the feel that many generations of State workers and legislators relied on it for sustenance over the years.

It was about as good a day as one could hope for. And even the rain stopped before we were through.

Dec 27 - Demopolis to Vicksburg

The Gulf Coast states have been on the receiving end of a series of weather events that have delivered heavy rain, high winds, and a few tornadoes. With all the watches and warnings our little NOAA weather radio has been squawking and squealing like a cat with it's tail caught in the front door.

So it was no surprise that after our Christmas Day storm, yet another was predicted for later in the week. So we took advantage of the lull in the action to make the leap a little further west today, Thursday. Doug and Kay also left Demopolis today on a more southerly tack toward the Gulf.

Our stay at Foscue COE campground near Demopolis turned into a 9 day stay... longer than we thought it would on arrival. But with good neighbors like Doug and Kay, the pleasant surroundings of our preferred type of campground, and the urge to take a little "down-time" during the Christmas break, it was a pleasant and relaxing time.

Apparently that "down-time", for me, included an extended break from blogging. I woke thinking about it this morning and will have to make a big effort to get caught up before we're adding even more explorations to the backlog... like our visit to the Mississippi State Capitol on Friday.

Our drive today was good except for the volume of traffic on I-20. For the record, our route was US-80 to I-20 to Vicksburg, a distance of 190 miles. Weather cooperated... cloudy much of the day but no rain.

We're parked at the Ameristar Casino RV Park on the south side of Vicksburg. We were here in December of 2007 when we explored the Vicksburg National Battlefield Monument and the Courthouse Museum downtown. Our goal this time is to see the Capitol over in Jackson, 45 miles east of us and right along our route earlier today. I wasn't comfortable with any of the very few RV park options closer to Jackson... the reason we're here in Vicksburg.

With yet another storm system coming through the South Sunday night or Monday we're motivated to head further west Saturday. And watch for a few "fill-in" posts covering the past week or so over the next few days.

Dec 25, 2012

Dec 25 - Christmas with Friends

This is our 6th Christmas in an RV. How have we coped with being away from family during the holidays?  Where have we been for Christmas in the past 5 years?

I looked back at the bus-house log and found our Christmas spot for each of the past years:

2007 - Sandollar in Rockport TX (decorated big tree over bus-house)
2008 - Sandollar in Rockport TX (diff site... lights in tree again)
2009 - Sandollar in Rockport TX ("our" site)
2010 - Lost Alaskan in Alpine TX
2011 - Lone Star Corral in Hondo TX
2012 - Foscue COE Park in Demopolis AL

This year we rendezvoused with our friends Doug and Kay from Minnesota about a week before Christmas. They had both been a bit under the weather... first Doug and then Kay... and we thought being around for a few days might take their minds off things.  By Christmas everyone was on the mend and we all decided that since we were here, and since no one was in a rush to be anywhere in particular, (and since Christmas comes but once a year)... this would be a fine place to spend the holiday.

So between the four of us we created a pretty darned good holiday dinner... ham, sweet potato casserole, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries, Christmas cut-out cookies for desert, and a little holiday wine to keep the spirit merry. It turned out as good as we'd hoped and no one left the table hungry. And plenty of left-overs for the next day.

Later that evening we attended a gathering of all the Park denizens in the main laundry room... aka: storm shelter. Predicted heavy storms did indeed materialize and when a tornado sighting was reported with a cell that had Demopolis in it's cross-hairs, we scampered to the shelter for an hour or so to join in the festivities... mostly story telling... while we waited out the storm to pass. No damage in our area and the bus-house was still there when we returned. Another "first" for our intrepid explorers.

So, how have we dealt with being away from family for Christmas? We've coped, we've dealt with it... but would still prefer to be with them if we could. Flying during the holidays is expensive and a real hassle... not something this now laid-back and simplified couple would like to do. And family is all in the North, not the place we're going to take the bus-house during the winter. However, our future plans involve a much smaller and more capable rig that would make forays into the frozen northland a real option. It's one of our reasons for down-sizing... and we're SO looking forward to it. But more on that later.

Dec 22, 2012

Dec 22 - The Tenn-Tom

Not many people know about it, but the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (the Tenn-Tom for short) is an alternative route for commercial barges and private watercraft to travel between the nation's midsection and the Gulf of Mexico.

Taking advantage of the natural closeness of the Tennessee River and the Tombigbee River near the border of Mississippi and Tennessee, the oft talked about and proposed waterway became a reality in 1984 after a 12 year project that ultimately became the largest earth moving project in the history of the world. I know it boggles the mind (at least it did mine) but more than 300 million cubic yards of dirt and rock were moved... more than was moved during the building of the Panama Canal.  The major features of the waterway are 10 locks and dams, a 175-foot deep by 29 mile long cut between the Tombigbee River watershed and the Tennessee River watershed, and 234 miles of navigation channels. Total cost was just under $2 Billion.

We're camped just a few hundred feet from the waterway and the Demopolis Lock and Dam. From our campsite we and can see and hear barge tows plying the river. Until you get out and explore a little, things like this are easily overlooked.

courtesy of GoogleMaps, our camp is the blue-ish marker and the Demoplis Lock and Dam are seen in the upper/slightly left portion of the photo.

Dec 20, 2012

Dec 20 - Along the Tombigbee

The big storm that's plowing it's way through the heartland of the USA today, dumping a foot or more of snow over our home state of Wisconsin, is giving us a wet and overcast day here in Alabama too. Our NOAA weather radio, which I try to remember to flip on when there's a chance of severe weather overnight (we just sleep better), woke us with a tornado watch about 4:30am. A subsequent series of other warnings and watches, about every 10 minutes, interrupted REM cycles until I just surrendered to nature, got up, made some coffee, and watched the progressing storms online. Here along the Tombigbee near Demopolis Alabama there was only one squall line that kept us on our toes as it blew through with heavy rain and a few heavy gusts. It was all over by late morning but the temps are dropping from the upper 60s to the lower 50s. Supposed to freeze tonight.

I haven't mentioned that we're here at this Corps of Engineers park with our friends Doug and Kay from Minnesota. We've crossed paths with this intrepid duo most recent winters... usually Texas. But this year our respective map scribbles intersected here in Alabama. Neither of us have immediate plans so we may just hang out here for a few more days.

The drive to Demopolis Alabama from Montgomery was short and sweet on Tuesday. A distance of about 95 miles, US-80 was the only road I had to remember as we plied our way west. You know, we're really enjoying these short 100 mile days.

Dec 17, 2012

Dec 17 - Nature Settles Down

The National Weather Service got folks a little excited yesterday and last night, as they predicted a good chance of heavy thunderstorms and high winds for the overnight hours. They added to the effect by using the T word (tornado) in every update too. Of course, we're sitting right in the middle of the affected area in central Alabama.

Dar made sure we had a "go-to" spot all picked out in the event she decides to issue an evacuate order, bail out, and seek safety near something a little more substantial. She determined her best spot is next to a concrete bridge (not under it... no good you know) in a ravine just a few steps from our door. And my best spot, I determined, is next to her. I mean... she IS the Safety Director.

Of course the whole thing was a bust. It rained quite a bit... in fact it rained much of the day. But the only thunder we heard was weak and distant, the only wind was a gust here and there, and the only tornadoes were on the big screen... if you happened to be watching The Wizard of Oz.

Yes, it's a good thing we weren't in the news this morning. These guys and gals have a tough job... predicting what nature is going to do with a complicated set of inputs. But I gotta tell ya', I think they err on the side of predicting the worst case at times of uncertainty. Better to have people overly alert than to have them sleeping when things turn dangerous. But you know the old story about crying wolf too many times.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, looks like a good day to make the move over toward Demopolis Alabama and the Tombigbee River and Waterway.

I've added a few posts, out of sequence, to fill in the gaps from the last week or two. And I'll be adding a couple more before I'm caught up. On the off chance you'd be interested, look through the post archive from earlier in December for posts you may have missed.

Dec 16, 2012

Dec 16 - Weather Delay and News Commentary

Originally we had planned to move today. However, a 100% chance of rain held us back and caused a delay in our westward trek. Not that we needed a reason to slow down... after all, we're in meandering mode. But with a complete set of hookups, a new solid concrete pad, and a wonderful setting next to an arm of the R.E. "Bob" Woodruff Lake in central Alabama, we decided to just chill  out here until the rain stops. Looks like Tuesday will be moving day.

We went to visit the Alabama State Capitol on Thursday. I owe the journal a post for that day and it will be forthcoming when I get around to it in the next day or two. I have made some progress with a couple other posts in the last day or two.

In the news, we see the President and Speaker of the House (Obama and Boehner) are, as of this moment, still miles apart, playing the roles of Thelma and Louise in a sick remake of the original movie of the same name. Unfortunately, they'll be pulling a trailer loaded with all 300 million of us as they drive off the "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year.

Then on Friday we all learned of the tragedy at the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut. 20 young children and 6 or 7 adults were gunned down in a senseless crazy act. Like most people, I could rant and yell and make assumptions and say what we need to do to stop this. But I won't. I don't think you can stop someone from doing crazy stupid things when they're planning their own suicide as the final act in a horrific play. The solutions are much more complicated than gun control, disarming the population, locking everyone in armored rooms, and turning the USA into a police state. Unfortunately, the people we have running the joint don't have the ability to think deeply or long term (or at all), so it's anybody's guess what we're going to do about it. In all likelihood, very little.

And, looking at the calendar, I see this coming Friday is the end of the world.


That's right. Some people think this because the Mayan Calendar just ends on December 21, 2012. Hmmm.  I looked at my calendar and it looks like I've got the same problem... only my calendar ends on December 31. But then I remembered that when confronted by the same problem last year I came up with what I thought was a creative solution... I got a new calendar. You'd think one of these gullible people would have thought of this before they assume the end of a calendar means the end of the world and get everyone so riled up.

Dec 13, 2012

Dec 13 - The Alabama State Capitol

Today we explored the historic Alabama State Capitol. Built prior to the Civil War, what it lacks in size and stature it more than makes up for in historical significance. In 1861, it temporarily served as the first Capitol of the Confederacy... where the first Confederate Congress met, formed a government, and wrote a constitution... where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as the first President of the Confederacy. Later in 1861 they moved the Capital to Richmond Virginia.

Not large by any means, the building was built in the traditional style with a central dome and rotunda flanked by two wings that originally contained the legislature... the House on one side, Senate on the other. It's among the oldest Capitols in the United States (the 11th oldest), having been built in 1850.

While the building is still the official Capitol and does house the Governor's and a few other departmental offices, it's now mostly a museum. In 1940, the Supreme Court vacated the old building and moved to it's own digs in the same neighborhood. And during an extensive Capitol renovation project in the 1980s, both houses of the Legislature moved to a large building across the street now known as the Alabama State House. That move was supposed to be temporary but as the sands of time slip through the government hourglass it's beginning to look more and more like it was permanent. I think they got used to their plushy surroundings, private offices, and modern conveniences. In deference to the law and to the old Capitol building, they do open the legislative session each year in the old chambers.

Historic Senate Chamber. The Confederate Government was formed here.

We were able to wander through much of the old Capitol during our visit, except for the Governor's Office which was strictly off-limits.

The central core of the building is three stories above a below-grade basement, as is the East Wing addition added in the 1880s. The North Wing and South Wing additions, added in the early 1900s are each two stories above a raised basement. From the outside it presents itself well as the State Capitol. Inside, although bordering on spartan, it's been nicely restored to the elegance of an earlier time.

House and Senate are buried deep in the upper floors of this office building.

During our usual visit to a State Capitol we get onto the floor of the House and Senate Chambers. Since they hadn't moved back into the renovated Capitol yet, we had to trudge across the street, to the so-called State House, take an elevator to the 5th floor, and beg our way onto the floor of the House Chamber. From there we had to take another elevator to the 7th floor where more pleading got us into the Senate Chambers. Both were business-like spaces that resembled an office building auditorium. I wonder, with all the current glorification of all-things-business and the corresponding shunning of all-things-government, if we were looking at the future. I mean... just think what the real estate those old Capitol buildings are sitting on is worth?  Just imagine what a developer could do with condos and strip malls and trendy restaurants right in the middle of town... why, it boggles the mind!

Across another street from the Old Capitol was the historic First White House of the Confederacy. We stopped by and did a self-guided tour of the nicely restored large old home. It served as the residence of Jefferson Davis for only a few months, but the local First White House Association has made it their life's work to preserve it.  More photos in our online photo album from today.

The Intrepid Explorers on Jeff Davis' front porch.

Dec 12 - Sweet Home Alabama

Recent explorations of historic figures and events have motivated me to seek out and read more about these characters and the times in which they lived. First, it was a free biography (Robert Toombs Statesman, Speaker, Soldier, Sage [link]) on Robert Toombs, a key figure in the Confederacy. Although written as a glowing and biased biography, it held my interest and was insightful. One of only four confederates who was to be arrested and held after the Civil War (the others were Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and another I can't recall right now), Toombs is the only one of the four who evaded capture, spending time on the run in Havana Cuba and Europe until he returned to the USA in 1867 after the risk of arrest expired. He remained an unreconstructed rebel, never requesting a pardon for his part in the war, and was bitter about the whole affair until his death.

I'm now reading an excellent biography on FDR by Doris Kearns Goodwin titled "No Ordinary Time". Focused on the 1940 to 1945 war years, she does an excellent job of weaving earlier events in FDR and Eleanor's lives that shaped who and what they were in those later years. Immensely entertaining and so pertinent considering our recent stops.

Today, December 12 we pulled the jacks at FD Roosevelt State Park and headed on down the road to a campground near Montgomery Alabama. The route was GA-18 to I-85 to US-80. Gunter Hill Corps of Engineers campground is just 8 or 10 miles west of Montgomery.

What we found at Gunter Hill COE was a real surprise. The "Catoma" loop, the larger of the two camping areas at Gunter Hill, was just re-opened in September after having been closed and totally reconstructed for more than a year. Without a doubt, it's the nicest campground we've ever stayed at. The setting is heavily wooded and the sites are widely separated... two elements that make it a campground. But the re-done sites are all new level concrete pads, new 20/30/50 amp service, new water service, and new sewer hookup... all right at the site... overshadowing many RV Parks we've stayed at over the years. For a big whale of a rig like ours it's the best of both worlds. And this time of year virtually no one is here... perhaps 6 or 8 rigs scattered among the 80 campsites in this loop during our stay. Very secluded and lots of solitude.

We're parked right next to the water... an "arm" off Woodruff Lake, a dammed up portion of the Alabama River. Egrets, ducks, and other waterfowl entertain and add to the ambiance. We share the woods with deer that we've seen every day and squirrels cause a constant ruckus on the fresh-fallen crunchy oak leaves. We might stay a while.

Dec 11, 2012

Dec 10 - FDR and Warm Springs, Part 2

After our visit to the Little White House we drove down the hill a mile or so to the town of Warm Springs. Taking a left at the light (the only traffic light in town) and about another half mile further is the main entrance to the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.

It was here that FDR first came in 1924, seeking a cure for his paralysis. The warm springs for which the place is named flow out of the ground here at a steady temperature of 88f degrees... all 900 gallons per minute of it. That's certainly not hot, but it all worked out for the best as the name "Hot Springs" was already taken. More than the temperature, it was the curative powers of the minerals in the water that were thought by some to be beneficial.

In the late 1800s prosperous folks from the large cities of the southeastern U.S. came to Warm Springs to relax and find relief from the summer heat. But during the early 1900s other newer resort venues were drawing these customers elsewhere and caused a decline in the number of visitors.  With fewer guests, the place began to deteriorate. In 1926 FDR bought it all... the hotel, the springs and pools, and 1700 acres of surrounding Georgia forest. He developed a plan to shift it's focus from a resort destination to a polio treatment center -- the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. For the next 30 years tens of thousands of people, most of them children, came here to learn to live with the effects of this crippling disease.

We learned that what set this facility apart from the others that were performing the same task around the country was "The Spirit of Warm Springs".  From the beginning FDR didn't want this place to feel like a hospital. He wanted a positive and optimistic environment with a focus on both physical and mental rehabilitation. The buildings were designed to feel more like a college campus than a hospital... modeled after the University of Virginia. Treatment focused on learning to be independent and confident.

With the introduction of a vaccine for polio in the mid-1950s, and the quick decline in new cases, the Foundation shifted it's focus to rehabilitation from all types of disabilities. In 1964 the ownership of the place was transferred to the State of Georgia where it remains today.

What we found today was a large campus that includes two hospitals, housing for residents, and facilities for both medical and vocational rehabilitation. Employing more than 500 people, the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation is continuing the fine legacy created by FDR.

Just a short distance away are the historic Warm Springs Pools -- no longer in daily use but preserved as part of the State Park. With only a half hour to visit before they closed for the day we did a quick pass through the museum and saw the pools that FDR enjoyed so much during his visits here.

Dec 10 - FDR and Warm Springs, Part 1

Unfinished Portrait
(copyright 1945 Elizabeth Shoumatoff)
The decision was made to spend today in search of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Some initial research gave us this background:

FDR was born 1882 in Hyde Park New York. A distant cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, he also was born into a family of wealth and privilege. In 1905 he married Eleanor Roosevelt, a niece of Teddy Roosevelt and a fifth cousin to FDR. In rapid succession they had 6 children, one of which died in infancy. In 1911 he was elected to the New York Senate until he resigned that office in 1913 to become the Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson. In 1920 he ran, unsuccessfully, for Vice-President with James Cox of Ohio. After the loss he returned to Hyde Park to practice law. Later, in 1928 he ran for Governor of New York and won. He served as Governor until the end of 1932 when he was elected President.

In 1921, at the age of 39, he contracted polio which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down. He spent years and considerable effort to regain some ability to walk again but was unsuccessful. This paralysis was the reason he came to Warm Springs Georgia in 1924. The naturally heated warm springs were reported to have curative effects and he was willing to try anything.

This first visit resulted in 40 more visits to Warm Springs before his death in 1945. During the intervening years he purchased a declining resort in the area and turned it into a leading polio treatment center which still operates today as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.

During his run for the Presidency in 1932 he had a small vacation cottage built on the side of Pine Mountain, just a short distance from Warm Springs. This is the place that would become known as the "Little White House" and was where he died on April 12, 1945. (links to more info on the cottage [here] and [here])

Today would be spent chasing FDR, seeking to be where he was, to see what he saw, to feel what he felt... to try to understand... to make sense of all the puzzle pieces that made up this complicated man.

View from Dowdell's Knob (click for larger image)

First up was a stop at Dowdell's Knob, a favorite spot of FDRs. Perched at the top of a high knob along the Pine Mountain Range he often came here to enjoy the view and contemplate. There's a story that just days before his death he directed his secret service guys to drive him up here, park, and told them to walk away and leave him alone in the car... and not to come back until he blew the car horn. He reportedly sat there, alone, for over two hours. One can only speculate what he thought about.

FDR's cottage... the Little White House
Next up was The Little White House Historic Site operated by the State of Georgia. The facility includes a welcome center and very interesting museum in addition to the scattered small buildings that made up the Little White House complex.

So small.  Much smaller than I imagined. His little cottage was built in the style of many other small homes in the area. Wood. Warm wood. The walls and ceilings were wood, not plaster. The central living area served as what we might call a "great room" today, but very compact and just large enough for a few chairs, a desk, a table, and a few other items. Bookshelves and nautical themed paintings on the walls. Models of ships... one of which he built with one of his sons. He loved the sea. Some might call it messy... to many knick-knacks, mementos... but it was comfortable and warm. A place to relax.

There's a story that one closet, near the front door, was his private space and he had the only key. Come late afternoon, when he had excused anyone he couldn't trust implicitly, he'd open the closet and brought out the makin's for cocktails that he had stashed within. In the early years the nation was still under prohibition. But FDR had come to know some locals who helped him procure locally produced adult beverages, moonshine, for his use. He called these afternoon sessions with his friends and staff "chillin' hour".

Over the years he designed things. The hand controls on his car were of his own design. In the living room of the cottage is a floor lamp, but unlike any floor lamp you've seen before. This one was primarily a fan that he designed to pull cigarette smoke away from guests and blow it up toward the ceiling. He also designed his own wheel chair that was much smaller and compact than the normal large clunky models... and one he could easily cover, disguise, if he chose.

The day he died, April 12, 1945, he was having his portrait painted by Elizabeth Shoumatoff in the living room of the cottage. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, was carried to his bedroom, and died two hours later. He was 63.

Here are a couple more photos from our day. But visit our online album for the complete photo story.

At Dowdell's Knob
The living room in the cottage... actually, about half the living room.

Dec 10, 2012

Dec 9 - On the Ridge

Sometimes, there are no roads that go from here to there. That's how I felt when plotting a course to our next destination, FD Roosevelt State Park in western Georgia.

We all know about red highways and blue highways. But if you mount-up those 2.25+ readers, look real close and squint, on some maps you can see black roads and even some light gray roads. Red and blue highways... no sweat. Black roads... usually ok.  Light gray roads? I've found that fitting the bus-house on light gray roads can be a problem. They can be too narrow, too low (clearance issues), and too restricted (mostly weight restrictions). You just don't know till you try it.

Not feeling particularly sporting for our move from High Falls to FD Roosevelt State Parks today, and with a lack of red or blue highways to choose from, we picked the best black roads we could find for the 75 mile jaunt.

Briefly, we took GA-36 through Barnseville and Thomaston to Woodland GA, where we grabbed GA-41 toward Manchester. Just before Manchester we made a left on GA-190 - also called Scenic Heights Road because it follows the top of a high narrow ridge called the Pine Mountain Range. We took this road all the way to FD Roosevelt State Park, about 15 miles where the going was slow, the grades steep, and the curves tight.

We found a good campsite for three nights and prepared for exploring all the FDR locations around Warm Springs GA tomorrow.

Dec 7 - The Recurring Dream Walk

I think I've written before about my recurring dream. In a nutshell here it is:  In my dream I'm trying to get somewhere... an airport... a meeting... a dinner engagement.  But despite my best efforts I just can't seem to get there.  Everything imaginable happens to slow me down... the craziest most improbable things... things that aren't rational or explainable. It feels like my feet are in quicksand or concrete. I wake up tense and irritated, but, once I realize it was just that dang dream again, relieved and happy I'm awake. Often there's a lingering desire to get back into the dream and complete the journey... and find some closure.

I've attributed this dream to some latent fears I must have had of missing flights, appointments, or deadlines during my life in the business world. It doesn't happen often now that I'm retired and not in the rat-race anymore. But once in a while... every month or we go again.

All that was a set-up for this. The other day during our visit to downtown Atlanta I had a wide-awake version of my recurring dream. It started innocently enough at the Capitol when we asked for directions to Max Lagers Grill and Brewery. We love discovering new craft beers and often combine visits to Capitols with visits to brewpubs.  Dar said it was on Piedmont Street... 320 Piedmont I think. They looked at each other with unknowing eyes but when they heard "Piedmont", sprang to life. "Well, Piedmont runs right alongside the Capitol and those two tall towers just across the street are, I think, 225 Piedmont. So it should be just a block from there. Off we walked.

Here's a block-by-block recap of our short jot to lunch at Max Lagers Grill and Brewery. The blocks I mention below are city blocks.

Block 1 of our trek (right across from the Capitol): didn't look right for a restaurant area. Didn't smell right either. Did find a building with a 276 on it, so we walked on.

Block 2:  found a 156 Piedmont. What's going on? The numbers are going down. We discussed and decided we may have to walk it down to zero before it'll start climbing back up again... and to the target of 320 Piedmont.

Block 3:  found an 88 Piedmont. Kept walking.

Block 4:  found a 68 Piedmont. Huhhh?

Block 5:  28 Piedmont.

Block 6:  23 Piedmont.  I'm now firmly fixed in my dream and my feet completely caked with wet concrete... and I... just... can't seem... to get... there.  I'm starting to sweat, feeling clammy.

Block 7:  64 Piedmont. This is getting ridiculous. Who assigns numbers to buildings in this town anyway?

Block 8:  After finding an 87 Piedmont, we stop to discuss. Dar looks at the guide book and informs me Max Lagers is on Peachtree... NOT Piedmont. What??? This is the kind of pin-point precision one looks for in a navigator, isn't it?

Block 9:  Sketchy map seems to indicate Peachtree parallels Piedmont a couple three blocks west. Off we go.

Block 10: cross Courtland Street

Block 11: Ahh... Peachtree Center Ave.  We now resume our northward crawl.

Block 12: found a 125 Peachtree Center Ave.  Keep walking.

Block 13: found a 181 Peachtree Center Ave??

Block 14:  209 Peachtree Center. I'm getting tired and more convinced than ever that I'm in my dream and will NEVER get to our destination. We'll probably die of thirst and hunger and no one will know why these two otherwise healthy people are laying dead on the sidewalk... in the Twilight Zone.  Found someone walking by, looked like they worked in one of the hotels around here, and asked when... indeed, IF we'd ever find 320 Peachtree??  After a short friendly exchange he determined we were looking for Peachtree Street, not Peachtree Center Avenue. Peachtree Street is one more block to the west. But he warns us to be careful... there is a Peachtree Plaza, a Peachtree Way, and a Peachtree Court, and a...  I stopped listening.

Block 15: found Peachtree Street.  Found a 237 Peachtree Street. We've GOT to be close.

Block 16: found a 265 Peachtree Street. I can't take much more of this.

Block 17: a short block... it's all a Park.  Found a fellow whose job it is to help tourists with directions and  information. It might be more accurate to say he found us. I started, "Oh please, kind sir, can you take pity on a couple visitors... tourists really? We've traveled far and are weary with the dust of the road. Can you help us find refreshment and sustenance at a place called Max Lagers?  We've traveled too far to have to turn back now."

To make a long story a little bit shorter, let me just say he did help us. He pointed to a sign, just a short half-block away, and said "Go there, young travelers. They will help you".

A few moments later we happily perched on barstools, were holding a tasty pint of craft beer, and toasting our accomplishment. We thoroughly enjoyed an excellent lunner too... but the thought of having to walk back to our car was heavy on our minds. What if this will be the part of the dream where we NEVER get there???

Come to think of it... I'm not sure any of this actually happened or if it truly WAS all a dream. I'm getting tired and my eyes are heavy. It's all fading so fast.

Dec 7, 2012

Dec 7 - Atlanta and the Georgia State Capitol

Decided to wait a while this morning and let the rush-hour traffic in the Atlanta area moderate a bit. My experience is that it never abates completely. For a while (and on the recommendation of some good friends) I considered parking out near the airport and catching MARTA, the public transit train system, in order to avoid parking hassles downtown. But after some research I wasn't confident this option was much better as the stations were some distance from our route. I just decided to tough it out.

The drive in went amazingly well. We'd mapped the route out in detail and encountered no real slow-downs at all. Exiting I-75 when we saw the golden dome of the Capitol, it was only a matter of a few blocks to a parking lot just a block from our target. While the parking was easy... it was expensive.

The Capitol was constructed after the Civil War between 1883 and 1889. The budget was $1 million. If you can believe it... prudent spending brought the completed building in UNDER budget and the Capitol Commission actually returned about $100 to the treasury. Seems they could have had a party or something with that hundred bucks and still be congratulated for coming in right on budget.

It's a big, grand old building. Four floors and just a few feet shorter in height and length than the US Capitol in Washington DC. Much of the interior is done in mostly Georgia building materials, mostly marble and wood, but the exterior is Indiana limestone... an effort to keep building costs under control.

Atop the gold leaf gilded dome is a statue of Miss Freedom. Although she looks petite and trim, she's 26 feet tall and weights 1600 lbs. The torch in her uplifted right hand is lit at night.

We did the guided tour, learned about some of the many portraits of key figures in Georgia history (including Confederate leaders) and most of it's previous governors, and stood in both the Senate and House Chambers. The 4th floor houses the Capitol Museum, a collection of artifacts and exhibits from Georgia history. We also visited the Governor's Office suite. Unfortunately, the new Governor, Nathan Deal, was out that day... someone said perhaps he was out making deals. But we did talk with his secretary who gave us a short private tour of his office as well as a bag of Georgia peanuts. How can you beat that?

This was our 27th State Capitol. I gotta tell you... they're all starting to look alike. Except for Florida... which is in a class by itself.  As always... more photos from our day can be viewed in our online albums.

We did spend more time downtown after our almost three hour Capitol visit. But that will be the subject of another post.

Not sure why there was a newspaper slot on the door to the mensroom...?

Dec 6, 2012

Dec 6 - High Falls State Park

Today it was all two lane roads. Well, some were barely two lanes... like a lane and a half... but there was a stripe down the middle and that's usually a sign you're going to have to share the road with oncoming logging trucks and other traffic.

The almost 100 mile drive today was otherwise pleasant as we meandered through rural Georgia. I wish I could report all the neat things we saw along the way... but this part of Georgia is mostly wooded and all we saw for most of the drive was trees lining both sides of the road. Don't get me wrong... even though the trees got a little repetitious, I greatly prefer them to housing developments, strip malls, and traffic.

At High Falls we signed up for three nights, found an agreeable campsite, and settled in. This park, like AH Stephens the last few nights, is mostly empty. Even though we're close to Atlanta and a whole bunch of people with campers, most folks are thinking about the upcoming holidays. Camping is a summer thing... right? Sure it is. And that's just the way we like it too.

Dec 5, 2012

Dec 5 - Around the Old South

The past few days we've been exploring the area around A.H. Stephens State Park and letting the days comfortably come and go as they do when you're in no hurry... have no place to be by a certain date. And we're firmly in "meander" mode now. Our original thoughts of staying here for two nights morphed into four nights with no more than a quick and unanimous voice-vote to make it so. The campground is still quiet... a few campers come and go... the camphosts have returned from their day off... but it's still peaceful solitude most of the time we're here.

We went out for a drive on Tuesday with visiting the historic town of Washington Georgia on our minds. With fine examples of antebellum homes, a vibrant courthouse square, a noted history museum, and the preserved home of Robert Toombs, one of the movers and shakers of the confederacy, we felt we could be entertained all day. What we didn't account for was that it's Monday, and on Monday the Toombs home and the museum were closed. (lesson learned). We had a scrumptious lunch in a restaurant on the square and drove around town to absorb what we could.

Returning from Washington, we saw that the Kettle Creek Revolutionary War Battlefield was just a short distance off our path home. We drove a few miles to the top of the knob, a small hill that rose sharply above the surrounding land, where a small cemetery and a number of markers and monuments described what happened here back in 1789. As Revolutionary War battles go, this was a small one... more a skirmish than a battle. But I guess when the lead starts flying one is no less important than the other to those in the middle of it.

Nan and Bill... holding "Ol' Bill" the walking stick he
carved for us.
Then yesterday we drove up to Lexington Georgia to visit with Bill and Nancy... friends we know from our time in the UP of Michigan. Their main home is here outside Lexington but they've been spending summers in the UP of Michigan for many years... which makes them "reverse snowbirds". Bill used to teach at the University of Georgia in Athens, so they decided that they'd treat us to lunch on the UGA campus and show us around a bit. It's a big campus, lots of activity, lots of kids... most of which seem much younger than back when I was going to college. They apparently let them in at an earlier age down here in Georgia. Thanks Bill and Nan for lunch and the tour of campus.

We're thinking we'll move tomorrow, Thursday, to another State Park south of Atlanta. If we can find acceptable accommodations, Dar's trying to talk me into a run (with the car) into the big city to see the Georgia State Capitol. If I can find enough tranquilizers and muscle relaxants, soothing music and my "Yoga While U Drive" tape... I just may go along with this batty plan. But just this once.

If one assumes this is the best likeness of old Toombs
they could come up with... he must have been a very
unhappy man.
The Square in Washington Georgia

Kettle Creek Battlefield

Dec 3, 2012

Dec 2 - Into Georgia

By a little after 9am yesterday we had the big wheels turning (Proud Mary keep on burning...) as we said our Good-Byes and headed down the road from Cousin Deb's house.

We'd decided that we'd slow things down a notch and only do about 150 miles on this leg... stopping at A.H. Stephens State Park just off I-20. We've been here before, 5 years ago, a visit that left us with a very positive impression of Georgia State Parks. [link to that post]

What a difference the time of year makes. In the summer, I'm sure this campground is packed... every site packed with campers, kids, dogs, smoke, burning meat, music, and more. Today, we're the ONLY people in the campground... even the camphost's rig appears vacated. So we had the exact opposite experience than we would have 6 months ago.

I liberated left-over wood from a few other campsites, enough for a nice small campfire last night... the first one in months. We listened to the crickets... or were they frogs? We stared at the stars overhead, the ones we could see through the forest canopy, searching for a satellite or UFO or a new supernova. We poked the lazy fire, urging the last unburned bits into a glowing bank of embers. We thought about how much we're enjoying this nomadic lifestyle... how much we're looking forward to a winter of travel and discovery.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...