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.

The Birds!

Now, you might think I’m referring to the horror movie classic by the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Could this be the re-make? No…not really! But it sure would make for some fantastic video!

If we had to make a choice, bird watching would not be at the top of the list of exciting thing to do. Now don’t get me wrong. We love all things nature and having had numerous bird feeders, bird baths, etc, we’ve enjoyed having feathered friends around. This on the other hand is bird watching on steroids!

In Arizona, just south of the small town of Wilcox, there’s a place called White Water Draw. Each winter twenty five to thirty thousand ( yes, I said thousand!) Sand Hill Cranes migrate to this oasis in the desert. It’s one of the most incredible acts of nature we’ve ever seen!!

The routine is pretty simple. Shortly after sunrise, the cranes all fly off to farm fields miles away to feed. Late morning they all return until early after noon at which time they all fly off again and return …everyday, all winter long!

Look closely high in the sky! As far as the eye can see. Sand Hill Cranes! You would think that with this many birds landing they would be on top of each other. Nope! They manage to pick out a postage size spot of real-estate and set down. Truly amazing!

This whole day came completely as a surprise. We had no idea what an awesome experience we were in for. Witnessing first hand nature at its finest! Making the day even better was to share it with good friends John and Evelyn Avery.

Tombstone: Too tuff to die!

A little more than 40 miles north of the Mexican border is the town of Tombstone. The town they say is too tuff to die!

Wyatt, Virgil & Morgan Erp along with Doc Holiday, Ike Clanton ,and the infamous red sashed “Cowboys” once walked these streets.

Movies and television have played and re-played Hollywood’s version of the famous gun fight at the OK Corral. Walk in to any of the area gift shops and you’ll find a vast array of books on the subject or the life of Wyatt Erp. But there’s a big difference between the legend and fact. But hey! Let’s not ruin a good story with facts!

Today Tombstone is alive and well as a popular tourist stop. Gift shops, tee shirts shops, saloons serving food now occupy most of the town. You can watch a reenactment, ride in a stage coach, cozy up to a bar for a beer, or get caught up in the moment with your own …….


A Time To Reflect

Another year has come and gone. Tradition it seems, is to look back and reflect on time gone by. Politics, war, natural disasters, and senseless hate has dominated the news.

But the sun rises on a new year with hope. Hope that the wars will end, the hate will stop, our leaders will be wise, and our planet survives.

As we reflect, we’re filled with gratitude. We’re thankful for our wonderful family, the opportunity to travel this great county, and for the many friends we have met along the way.

So with hope and love in our hearts, to our family and friends, to all who follow our travels, we wish you all that is good in the coming year!

4 Wheel’n…..

Or otherwise know as a bunch of retired guys tearing up the desert acting like teenagers!!

If you really want to see Arizona, you have to broaden you horizon and go off road! There are hundreds and hundreds of miles of trails that criss-cross the state. Some are in the valleys, and some go deep in to the mountains where a lot of western history was made.

Benson Arizona is just one of the many small towns that attract snowbirds looking to escape northern winters. It’s also a perfect place to escape to the back country and get an adrenaline rush and marvel at the beauty of it all!

When I was given the opportunity to tag along on, it took all of a split second for me to say “OH HELL YES!!” It’s 8:00am and the caravan gathers to discuss the days ride. Actually, more trash talk than planning! All loaded up, lunches and water stored, we follow the leader to where the the pavement ends, the road narrows, and the adventure begins.

Oh this is going to be fun!

My mental image of Arizona desert prior was lots and lots of sand and cactus. I was completely wrong! Rugged terrain for sure and yes plenty of cactus. But what I didn’t expect was deep canyons, lush greenery, and plenty of wild life (of which I was too slow to capture on the phones camera).

Plenty of cactus! In fact for the most part if it grows here, it will hurt you!

How far we went into the back country I’m not sure. All know is within a few minutes I was totally lost. Thank God the guys leading the pack knew where we are…….I think!…. They do don’t they??

Crumbling remnants of an old town, though small, still stand. As the story goes, the former resident of this place is buried here.

Sooooo much fun! My Thanks to everyone for inviting me along!