More of the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest National Park – traveling 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia.  We’ve been able to travel many sections of it and this weekend we added another 65 miles or so – covering the southern most part from Pisgah Mountain to the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After work, we camped at the Pisgah Campground.  It was fun to dust off the camping gear and we celebrated our first overnight campout in the south with a dinner of Italian Pepper Steak and Creme Brule (ala Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry).

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Surrounded by thousands (and thousands) of rhododendrons 

After a great night’s sleep we packed up and headed out in search of waterfalls.  We found five, including Loghollow Falls, Kissing Falls (yes we did), Lookinglass Falls, Sliding Rock Falls, and Soco Falls.

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Sliding Rock Falls (maybe next time….)

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Queso

In between our waterfall adventures we came across the Cradle of Forestry, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  What a great discovery!  This 6,500 acre site is the location of the first school of forestry in the United States, founded in 1898.  Our timing was great and we enjoyed a burger in the expansive visitor center and then headed out for a couple of loop hikes that traveled through the historic building  areas and railroad sites.

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We love our 36 hour adventures – it’s amazing how much you can see in a day and a half.  We still have a few hundred miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway to travel and look forward to connecting the dots on a future trip.

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Welcome back to Atlanta and the famous Spaghetti Junction

Not Just Peanuts

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Smiles from Plains, Georgia

We just returned home from a two-day trip that included time in peanut country (AKA Plains, GA).  Although we saw other crops along the highways and byways…the big dog around here is peanuts.  Catch this…Georgia grows about half of all the peanuts in the US, with an annual harvest of about 2.4 billion (with a B) pounds.  That’s a lot of goober peas 🙂

We started our trip with a visit to the Plains High School, which is now the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.   Our picnic lunch on the school grounds was great, although a bit hurried due to the infamous gnats that patrol the school grounds (and town, and county, and most of this part of the state) anytime the temperature is above 60.

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This historic site was very enjoyable to tour, partly due to the fact we both attended schools that had this “old-time” feel and also due to the relevance of the Carter presidency during our early adult years.

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The town of Plains was very quaint and we enjoyed visiting with locals, sampling peanuts, tasting peanut ice cream, and recalling the 70s.  You can buy almost any kind of peanut at Plain Peanuts, which is located prominently on Main Street.

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Boyhood home of Jimmy Carter

We enjoyed touring the home of Jimmy Carter along with the Carter Farm, which has goats, chickens, and a pretty good crop of gnats as well.  The Carter’s also had a small mercantile store that fronted the main road.  This store served many in the community and it was interesting to learn how engaged the Carter’s were.  Jimmy lived here from age four until he left for college in 1941.  Water and electricity were not added to the home until 1938.

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Front Porch Sittin’

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The “modern” shower

After our time in Plains, we headed over to Americus, Georgia, which is the “big town” of the area (pop. 17,041).  We enjoyed a nice quiet night at the Windsor Inn, the downtown hotel that was built in 1892. The burgers at The Station restaurant were pretty good as well.

After breakfast we headed over to Andersonville National Historic Site, which has three main features, the National Prisoner of War Museum, the Andersonville Prison Site, and the Andersonville National Cemetery.  It is hard to describe the emotions we felt visiting this site and really hard to comprehend the impact to human life that occurred here.  The prison stockade was initially constructed to house 10,000 POWs – eventually 32,000 men were held here.  12,000 died.  Museum exhibits of other wars are also on display, including POW history from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

We left Andersonville just before noon – headed north to Atlanta.  Our original plan was to catch one of the many many many CrackerBarrel restaurants for a quick and simple down-south-kind of dinner (which has become our “headed home” meal of choice.)  We heard a tip from a coworker about Yoder’s, which is a well known Mennonite restaurant just up the road on Highway 26.  The parking lot was hopping when we arrived and we made our way quickly through the serving line.  I opted for meatloaf and Patti had the chicken.  Oh my it was good!

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After dinner we walked over to the little goat pen to see the goats.  As luck would have it…you can feed the cute goats for only 50 cents.  They saw us coming and got somewhat interested in our arrival, but you should have seen them jump when Patti dropped two quarters in the #10 tin can in the mailbox that served as the “honor payment” station.  They knew they were in for a treat when they heard that dinner bell.

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At 50 cents per 2 ounces serving….I think these two little guys bring in some big dough for the farm!

1600 miles

Wow, that was a loop!

We headed out on a Monday for a six day trip that looped Florida, traveling south on I-95 and then back north on I-75.  It was a great trip and we saw almost as many cars as we did mosquitos.  The population of Florida is 20.2 million people, which ranks third behind California and Texas.  Driving “around” Florida was quite a contrast to Montana, whose population is just over 1 million.

Our trip began with a short drive over to Ocmulgee National Monument, which is just outside of Macon, Georgia. This park was established in 1936 and works to preserve historical traces of inhabitants from 17,000 years ago.  We enjoyed the visitor center and the inside look of the earth lodge, which has a clay floor from 1000 years ago.

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Ocmulgee National Monument

After a great picnic lunch at Ocmulgee, we drove another couple of hours to Savannah, Georgia.  We had heard many people rave about this city due to its history, culture, and great food.  They were right on all accounts.  Established in 1733, it is the oldest city in the state of Georgia and was once the State Capitol.  The city has 22 parks, known as squares, that are beautiful and fragrant.

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Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park

While strolling through the squares we learned that the movie “Forrest Gump” had used Savannah for some of its filming locations, including Chippewa Square for Forrest’s bench scenes.  Although the bench is now housed inside the Savannah History Museum, we found the spot where he waited for the Number 9 bus at the corner of Hull Street and Bull Street.

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Chippewa Square

On Tuesday, I was able to spend time at Fort Pulaski National Monument.  This monument was established in 1924 to protect the fort, which was built in 1847. The construction took 18 years to complete and a young lieutenant named Robert E. Lee designed the canal system and moats.  The fort has about 25 million bricks and some of the walls are eleven feet thick.  A bit of baseball trivia….a photograph taken at Fort Pulaski in 1862 showed soldiers playing baseball on the grassy area inside the fort, one of the earliest known photos of America’s pastime.

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Play ball!

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Amazing craftsmanship

After work we headed to Savannah’s River Street to see the history and check out the fine dining.  The street and many sidewalks and stairs are constructed with rocks that came from the ballasts of the sailing ships that visiting the port.  We enjoyed our stroll along the river and found a great meal at Barracuda Bob’s.  We enjoyed the Low Country Boil, which was a healthy platter of shrimp, potatoes, sausage, and corn-on-the-cob.  We also sampled some fresh pralines and glazed pecans from one of the many shops.

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The “Waving Girl”

We also read about Florence Martus, who is known as Savannah’s “Waving Girl.”  She became the unofficial greeter of all ships sailing in and out of the Port of Savannah from 1887 and 1931, waving a scarf in the daytime and lantern at night.

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Aye, Aye, Captain

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The diner where Jenny worked

After leaving Savannah we drove (and drove and drove) down to Homestead, Florida to Biscayne National Park.  It was very cool to revisit this area, my last time here was 43 years ago when I attended water survival training courtesy of the USAF and Strategic Air Command.  I still remember the salt water deluges from being dunked in the bay in parachute harnesses.

We were very close to Everglades National Park and opted for a 38 mile drive through the park to the end of the road at the Flamingo Visitor center.

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Tropical Wilderness

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Obligatory Flamingo pose

We found out that even short hikes in the Everglades are short lived due to the number and ferocity of the bugs that call this place home.  Even with ample doses of bug repellent applied, we were no match to the persistence of the flies and mosquitos.  They sure keep you moving.

We left south Florida on Friday morning an enjoyed a beautiful drive across the everglades.  We were also able to visit Big Cypress National Preserve, which borders Everglades on the north side.  The temperature, humidity, and bug population precluded any real hiking in this area, but it was very interesting to read how important this ecosystem is to the flora and fauna of the area.

After turning north and rejoining the heavy traffic on I-95, we travelled up to Gainesville, Florida, finding a nice hotel right next to a restaurant and fuel station.  Convenient!  The hotel was nice and quiet and we enjoyed waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing on the agenda and only about 6 hours driving time to return home.  The Atlanta traffic was a challenge (as always) but we found a few shortcuts and made it home almost on schedule.

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Thanks for the Orange Juice!

Kennesaw Mountain

This National Park unit is located about 22 miles northwest of our apartment and encompasses almost 3,000 acres of historic battlefield.  Not being students of civil war history, we did not realize how significant and how tragic this battle was.

The park is surrounded by the community of Kennesaw and, as we found out when we approached the visitor’s center, very popular!  Once we saw the crowded parking lot at the visitor center, we opted to head directly to one of the trails that we had read about, a loop trail that travels from Cheatham Hill around to Kolb Farm and back.

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John Ward Creek

This trail is located in the southern end of the park and is about 6 miles long.  It was a great morning to hike, 60 degrees or so and very wooded.  We had packed a lunch and found a nice group of picnic tables about 5 miles into the hike – a nice time to rest and recharge.

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The Illinois Memorial

The Illinois memorial was constructed in 1914 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle on Cheatham Hill where hundreds soldiers died in June of 1864.  The mountain top battle was brutal and there were so many casualties that both sides called a truce for a few hours to bury those that had been killed.  Interestingly, the accounts of the truce indicated that both union and confederate soldiers worked together to complete the burials.  For a few hours they were working as one team, only to complete that work and then go back to war.

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Cheatham Hill cannons

We had learned a bit of this battle by reading the interpretive signs along the trail, but it wasn’t until we spent time in the visitor’s center that we really understood the magnitude and impact of this battle.   With each bit of this history we learn about the Civil War, the more impact we feel.

Georgia Aquarium

Ranked #1 in the US and #2 in the world, the Georgia Aquarium sees about 2.2 million visitors each year.  With it being only a few miles from our apartment we decided we should up annual count by two and headed out for a tourist-like visit, even though we’re just a couple locals.

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The aquarium was built in 2005 and is a fun place to visit.  We enjoyed the salt water fish displays and then headed to the dolphin show to get a good seat.  It was very well done and a lot like the shows that we’ve seen at SeaWorld.  It is amazing how intelligent the dolphins are and how much fun the trainers have. We sat about ten rows back…just outside the splash zone.

An impromptu “march of the penguins” was held on one of ramps at the aquarium – hard to imagine what was going through their little heads as they made their way up the ramp.

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“Hey Eddie…is it hot in here or just me?”

This aquarium is the only one outside of Asia that houses whale sharks.  It was quite a contrast to see the big fish and little fish sharing the same pool.

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Big fish in a little pond (6.3 million gallons)

It was a great day to be inside.  Although it’s not summer yet, we got a taste of the Atlanta weather, 87 degrees and this thing they call humidity.  Yikes!

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Georgia for three months.  Time flies for sure.  We’ve got a couple road trips on the horizon that we’re looking forward to.  Stay tuned 🙂

….continued

We did take a 15 hour respite at our apartment after that last trip…and then hit the road for a combination of trips that spanned almost three weeks…..wait…four weeks.  Wow, what a whirlwind it has been.

Our first leg of the adventure included flying from Atlanta to Portland, boarding the Hut Shuttle from PDX down to Salem, and then being met by Michael and the girls.  After reunion hugs and hugs and hugs, it was off to Mod Pizza and then home sweet home.

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We enjoyed a couple days in Salem – got to hang out with John and Bella for a time and also take Londynn out for her special birthday breakfast.

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My trip to Oregon ended way to soon – on Monday it was time to catch the Hut Shuttle. Again. Next stop PDX. Again.  And then a short flight to Boise. Again 🙂

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Idaho State Capitol Building

We both stayed quite busy over the next week, me in Boise for work and Patti in Salem.  Time goes by so fast and before we knew it – I was back en route to Atlanta on Friday, and Patti quickly followed on Monday.   Patti is rocking the world traveler mode for sure, she left PDX about 11 pm Sunday night and flew the red-eye direct to Atlanta where we met at the baggage claim area for a quick breakfast sandwich at Starbucks.  From there, we stopped at the apartment to grab my suitcase (and a pillow) and hopped in the car.  Next stop – North Carolina!

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Moses Cone Manor – Blue Ridge Parkway

We drove from Atlanta to Blowing Rock, North Carolina on Monday, enjoying the ever-increasing mountainscape and occasional torrential downpours of the thunderstorms passing through.  The drive was great and we enjoyed a nice dinner and quiet hotel in the quaint little town of Blowing Rock.  I spent the next day at work, reviewing a project at Moses Cone Manor, which is located at Milepost 294 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This was the summer home of Moses and Bertha Cone. He was known as the Denim King due to his textile mills and business relationship with Levi Strauss.  This place was amazing and we got to enjoy  a few extra minutes checking out the trails and history of the 3500+ acre estate.

The next stop on our itinerary was up to  Galax, Virginia to prepare for another project on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was a great drive up to Galax and we enjoyed the winding roads and beautiful vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We were close to Mount Airy, North Carolina and knew this was the town that “Mayberry” was based on so we had to check it out.  We also heard that we had to dine at Snappy’s Diner to have a world famous pork chop sandwich.  Snappy’s (and the pork chop sandwich) was mentioned on one of the Andy Griffith Shows and soon became a major attraction for locals and tourists.

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Downtown “Mayberry”

The pork chop sammich was amazing and we enjoyed a couple hours strolling the streets of “Mayberry” and visiting the Andy Griffith museum.  Although the series wasn’t filmed here, it was the hometown of Andy and the main street was all about the show.  I snapped a quick photo of the Mayberry squad car…only to hear the siren come on….followed by “Barney” pulling over to give me the what for.  “In Mayberry…that’s a drive-by shooting” he said

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Andy and Opie (and Jimmy and Patti)

Our adventure continued as we headed south.  Next stop was King’s Mountain National National Military Park, which is located in South Carolina, about 200 miles northeast of Atlanta.

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Kings Mountain was another amazing place to visit and it was interesting to learn about the revolutionary battle that was fought here in 1790.   This battle was the first major patriot victory to occur after the British invasion and an important turning point in the war.  We hiked the trail through the mountain top battlefield – words really can’t explain what it felt like to be in this wooded area where so many people lost their life.

We landed back in Atlanta friday night.  Traffic was interesting for sure.  It always is, but this week was particularly interesting and challenging due to the collapse of the I-85 overpass near (about 500 yards) our apartment.  The bridge collapse was due to a massive fire the week before.  We’re fortunate to travel most places on foot or by train, but the surrounding streets have gotten a bit more congested due to the street closures and detours. Okay….maybe more than “a bit.”

We kept the pace up after arriving back in Atlanta by visiting the 81st Dogwood Festival in Piedmont Park and also squeezing in a 5-mile hike to Vickery Creek in the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area.

Well… it’s Sunday afternoon and it’s time to relax.  Yeah right 🙂

Stay tuned…..

Blue Ridge Parkway (and beyond)

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Just a small part of the 469 mile parkway

At 469 miles in length, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear National Park in the US.  It travels north from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and catch this…you can drive the entire length without a single stop sign or stop light, but with more than 250 overlooks and historic attractions, it would be a tall order to drive it without stopping. We felt fortunate to be one of the 14,000,000 people that visit the Blue Ridge Parkway each year.

Our trip was 60 hours from start to finish, although it felt so much longer due to the great scenery and interesting sites.  Our overnight locale for this adventure was Asheville, North Carolina, a town that was settled in 1784.  In addition to it being known as a place to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is also home to the largest privately owned home in the United States, the Biltmore mansion.  The “home” is about 179,000 square feet in size, with 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fire places.  Wow.   Although we did not get to visit the estate during this trip, we did stroll through the old Biltmore Village area, which was  built to support the construction of the estate.

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Sunrise at Milepost 408.5 (tough day at the office)

Patti and I were able to drive the parkway from Asheville up to the area of Pisgah Mountain and enjoyed the drive through tunnels and winding roads. A quick hike near the top of the mountain got our hearts pounding as we raced the clock against the impending thunderstorm approaching the ridge.

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Not far from our hotel we enjoyed a quick visit to the Sierra Nevada Brewery.  This place is amazing and we enjoyed a fun dinner together and watching the sunset from the back porch.

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Sierra Nevada Brewing – North Carolina version

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Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center – Asheville, NC

After a quick two days in Asheville we headed south to the home of Carl Sandburg, which is a historic site managed by the National Park Service. Located in Flat Rock, NC, the farm site and home of the Sandburg’s was a wonderful place.  The farm, which is about 264 acres in size, has an impressive (but modest) home and still raises goats that are descendants of the original goat herd that was tended by Mrs. Sandburg.

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Carl and Lilian Sandburg’s home

After our visit and hike around the Sandburg farm we headed south for Atlanta with the goal of making it back to the rental car location before they closed at 6:00 pm.  Following a white-knunckle drive on I-85 into the city, we arrived at 5:59.  What timing.

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It’s great to be back at our apartment in Atlanta for….let’s see… about 15 hours.  After unpacking our suitcases and doing laundry it’s time to repack and head to the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport tomorrow morning.

Next stop….(to be continued).