Cades Cove

Tucked away in the midst of the Smokey Mountains is a valley that is a step back in time. A “cove” in mountain vernacular, is a relatively flat valley between two mountains or ridges. In this case, Cades Cove, now part of the Smokey Mountains National park, was once a settlement for 132 families dating from 1821.

Tennessee, either through outright purchase or by eminent domain, acquired the settler’s land in 1934 and donated it to the Federal Government for park development. Some fought the procurement all the way to the Supreme Court but ultimately lost. The residents of the cove were able to continue to live on the property until their deaths.  Their descendants were not. The last Post Office closed in 1947.

Some of the homesteads have been preserved along with a few churches and their cemeteries however most have given way to time.

Driving to the Cove takes you along a fast moving winding stream and tunnel of trees. Once there the road narrows to one lane and one way for the next eleven miles past the restored homesteads and over looks.

Gaze across the valley and you might catch a glimpse of a Black Bear with cubs or a herd of dear. Spot either and you will surely to be in a massive traffic jam! On our day, waaaayy off in the distance was a bear……… BEARLY (Oh I just had to!) visible. Traffic? Well no one was moving …except the bear! And if you squint real hard……..You get the idea! Oh well..It’s a nice shot anyway.

What Bear! I don’t see a bear!!

A visit to Cades Cove is a nice change from the commercialism that exist in other parts of the Smokies. It’s definitely worth the trip!

For us, it’s time to move on to the final leg of our return to Michigan. It’s family time!

A Tourist inTennessee

Sometimes in our travels we just have to acquiesce and be a tourist. And since we’re in SE Tennessee, Gatlinburg /Pigeon Forge fits the bill. As a matter of fact, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are one giant family playground guaranteed to melt your credit card!

You can find an endless supply of tee shirt/souvenirs shops, theme park style attractions, alpine slides, zip lines, restaurants etc. etc. all in the shadow of the Smokey Mountains.

There are a couple of attractions that are well worth battling the crowds and traffic. One is the Aquarium and the other is the newest attraction called Anakeeska.

Getting to Anakeeska requires a chair lift ride to the top of the mountain which at times you are dangling 75 feet up. Not for the faint of heart!

Once at the top, you’re greeted with a fabulous view complete with rocking chairs, beautiful gardens, a great lunch spot and walk in the tree tops.

A few years back, this whole area fell victim of a catastrophic forest fire that was deliberately set. The fire destroyed several hundred area homes, businesses, and devastated acres of precious woodlands.

Though Mother Nature is working hard to repair the land, the scars of the fire will be visible for years to come.

The Smokey Mountains are spectacular in their own right and the Gatlinburg area has much to offer for family fun. If you decide to make the trip, just be prepared for the crowds.

Travel’n The Trace

Welcome to the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444 mile National Scenic By-way that takes you from Natchez Mississippi to Nashville Tennessee. It’s off limits to commercial traffic, narrow, limits speed to 50mph, loaded with natural scenery and is a more relaxing drive than driving expressways! The Trace also crosses 4 eco systems and 8 major watersheds, is home to countless plant species, birds, and reptiles.

The Trace dates back many centuries and was a natural travel corridor for several Indian tribes. As the United States expanded, a growing number of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path. Slaves were also marched down the trace. Trader would float cash crops or livestock down the Mississippi River on flatboats, sell the goods and boats, and return via the Trace. In early 1800, Thomas Jefferson designated the Trace as a national post road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez. Today it’s part of the National Park Service and creates a greenway from the foothills of Tennessee, to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi.

One of the many stops along the way was the Cypress Swamp, a nature trail complete with cypress trees, Spanish moss, and alligators!

All along the Trace there are numerous historical stops. The maximum length of a vehicle traveling the parkway is 55 ft. Since we were at the limit our challenge in traveling the Trace was we were too big for some of the pull outs. We had to be careful not to get in a situation where we could not turn around.

Planning to drive the trace is a requirement as there are no fuel stations or food stops. There are small towns along the way but access is somewhat limited. All and all, the trip on the Trace was very enjoyable.

Take me to the River

Situated some 200 feet above the banks of the Mississippi River sits the town of Natchez Mississippi. Steeped in African-American heritage, Natchez encompasses the struggles and triumphs of people who’s ancestors were captured, enslaved, and brought to America more than 300 years ago. Spanish, French, and English immigrants also contributed to the areas rich history.

More than half of US grain exports are transported on the river via barge. Day and night, seven days a week, tugs pushing as many as thirty barges at a time traverse up and down the river. It’s a constant parade!

Fancy a trip on the Mississippi aboard a riverboat? No problem!

Our Coach was parked on the Louisiana side of the river in Vidalia. Two bridges connect the towns, each one way. They add a certain charm to the area along with handling the ongoing traffic that crosses the river.

Slave trading was big business in Natchez. And along with the slavery were huge plantations. And huge plantations had wealthy owners with really big houses. So many of these majestic homes were destroyed during the Civil War however some have been saved, restored for private residences, or repurpose as museums with the purpose of keeping past history alive for future generations.

Does anybody want to guess why the entrance to this house has two stairways? Well, the reason was that getting a glimpse of a woman’s’ ankle was considered risqué so to prevent the gentleman from getting a glimpse, men would use one side and women the other. Hmmm, how times have changed!

On the outskirts of Natchez, deep among the forest trees heavy with Spanish moss is the largest most captivating octagonal mansion in America called Longwood.

Built in 1860 for wealthy plantation owners Hallar and Julia Nutt, the plan called for four main floors, a fifth story solarium and a sixth story observatory. The structure was also to have 32 rooms each with a balcony. Connecting the levels was to be a grand spiral staircase. Crowing the structure was a Moorish dome with a twenty-four foot finial. With the onset of the civil war in 1861 construction was halted and with the exception of the first floor the home was never completed .Numerous family members lived in the home doing only the minimal to maintain the home and was owned by the grandchildren until 1968. A Texas business man purchased the property and restored the lower level and grounds. Later he donated Longwood to the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club with the condition it be left unfinished as a monument to the heart break of War Between the States.

Looking up at the unfinished floors under the dome
The grounds at Longwood

St. Mary’s Basilica built in 1830 was the only catholic cathedral in Mississippi. The architecture is truly extraordinary with original Tiffany stained glass windows and pillars and ceilings adorned with 24k gold leaf.

Azalea’s on the church grounds

Natchez was not a destination that we had previously thought of. As often happens in our travels we come across the off the beaten path gems and this place is one of them. We really enjoyed our stay here! Leaving , we will travel the Natchez Trace, a 444 mile trail used for early 1800s travel between Nashville Tennessee and Natchez prior to the Mississippi riverboats. It’s now maintained by the National Park Service and is off limits to commercial traffic. It should be an adventure!

Lost and found

It was late November and one of the coldest stretches of winter Michigan had experienced in years. Night after night the thermometer dipped into the single digits. A blanket of snow covered the frozen ground by a foot or more and crunched under foot as I walked. Day after day of gray sky. So cold!

I only caught a glimpse of her as she ran seeking shelter under our deck from the snow and ice. It wasn’t uncommon. Our country homes’ large deck was often host to wildlife. Rabbits and chipmunks were frequent guests. But a cat was new and different. I remember thinking the chances of a ferrel cat surviving this bitter cold winter were slim. Weeks, then months would pass and only frozen tracks in the snow gave evidence to her presence there. Surely she had moved on.

It was a rare sunny February afternoon when I happen to glance out a frosty window and there she was, huddled against our sliding glass door trying to gather what little heat she could. Some how she had survived. Susan put a little tuna fish in a bowl and set it close to her which she immediately devoured. “Don’t let that cat in the house” I protested! “That cat is ferrel and will never be friendly.” It was at that point Susan extended her hand through the slightly opened door and made a friend for life. I was so wrong.

Her fur was matted and dirty, her ears bitten by frost, her body a mere six pounds, eight pounds under normal for a cat her size. She had no collar or tags but had been spayed. It was clear she had been abandoned by an uncaring individual or had gotten lost. As far as the cat was concerned, she was home. We named her ” Snickers”.

For the last five years she has been our constant companion. She never tried to escape and in fact wanted nothing to do with the outdoors. She transitioned from living in our home to our motorhome and traveled with us across this country. She was always at the door to greet us even though it sometimes meant disturbing her mid day nap! Snickers had become part of our family and we loved her dearly.

A year ago she was diagnosed with Hyperactive Thyroidism, a condition that is treatable albeit for the rest of her life. As the months passed, her condition complicated by what we, and the vets thought, were allergies. She struggled to breath and medication did little to nothing to help. Time passed. She continued to get worse. A blood test showed her thyroidism out of control in-spite of the med and getting worse. An x-ray revealed a tumor growing on her heart and was causing her difficult breathing. She fought to survive the freezing cold….this fight she would loose.

Its been five days since she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We mourn her loss and feel a void in our hearts left by her absence. She brought us so much joy and in her own way showed us an abundance of affection. We miss her deeply. Snickers may not have been here for the rest of our lives but we were there for hers. We were blessed to have had her.

Sometimes life lessons present themselves in strange ways. In Snickers’ passing, I’m reminded of how precious life is and how so often we take it for granted. Our time with friends and loved ones on this earth is short. Each day we spend with those we love is a gift. And when they are gone, it’s forever.

Going Deep!

We’ve been to the top of Arizona. It only makes sense that we go below it, Right? About 800 feet below it!

The Queen Cooper Mine which is located in the small town of Bisbee Arizona was a major producer of copper, gold, precious stone and silver. It remained in operation from 1915 until the 1970s. After its closure, the mine was converted to a tourist attraction offering educational tours. The mines offices were converted to a museum displaying artifacts from mining days of long ago .

Equipped with miners hard hats, safety vests and lights, we board an original crew transport and head in the mine. Entering a dark and narrow passage just wide enough for our train we make our way one quarter mile into the side of a mountain.

Not exactly GQ!

The photo on the left shows one of the many chambers that were created in the process of removing the copper ore. The photo on the right was taken as we rode the transport in to the mine. You can see just how narrow the passage in was!

Our Guide showing us the fine art of blasting
Dust created by drilling in the rock was reduced by the introduction of hydro drilling rigs.

For the miners, it was a long way back to the mens room when nature called. This was a miners version and probably the first port-a potty! If you wanted privacy….well you were out of luck!

Moving the large and very heavy carts of copper ore was done by pushing by hand or you were delegated to build you leg muscles by towing them with this!

Lavender Pit is a copper pit mine located just south of Bisbee and closed in 1970. This gigantic hole produced copper ore along with silver and”Bisbee Blue” turquoise which is touted to be the finest of all turquoise. The mine is over 900 ft deep.

The town of Bisbee is home to fabulous architecture, antique shops and art galleries. Truly a step back in time. And speaking of back in time, the abandoned downtown of Lowell just a few blocks away is staged with antique cars and original old time store fronts.

The time we spent in Arizona has been truly memorable. The RV park in Benson was a great place to stay and it made exploring the area so convenient. Its a great place to spend the winter months and we will be back! Our time here has come to an end and it’s time to move on. Next stop, Kerrville, Texas! On the road again!

Let’s Climb a Mountain!

Ok.… to tell the truth we drove! But an incredible climb never the less. The star of the day is Mt Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona. Altitude 9,150 ft…. And what a view!

Imagine winding your way past a forest of Saguaro Cactus, towering rock formations, steep cliffs and deep canyons as you make your way to the timber line and snow! (click on any pic to enlarge)

And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of one of these guys. It’s a Ringtail sometimes called a Ringtail Cat. We saw one dart across the road but were not quick enough with the camera so this pic is compliments of the internet. They are very elusive and mostly nocturnal so we were lucky to see one.

A ringtail

We’ve been up and down our fair share of mountains in our travels. All are unique and beautiful in their own right. Mt Lemmon is no exception.