Thursday, April 21, 2016

Spring Trip 2016 - Part 6: APPALACHIAN ADVENTURES


4.21.16 Thursday
Tuscaloosa to Decatur, Alabama
154 miles

          We are off at 9:30a this morning, but not before we hear a voice calling from the Car Wash about 200 yards away.  We realize it is the young black man who came down to talk with us the other night.  He makes his money offering to wash or wax or detail cars when they come in to use the ‘Do It Yourself Wash’.  One of the pipeline workers had promised to give him a job, but then it rained and the worker got called to a leak in a line over on the Georgia border.  The man was very polite in asking Rick if we needed our truck washed.  Rick said we were driving into the mud everyday so there wasn’t any point!  Anyway, he saw us packing up and called out to wish us well and safe travels!  We left  with just the one RV now in the lot, and no one apparently living there at the moment.
Crimson Clover
     We head back up University, over the river into Northport, and then north on Highway 43 – we will two lane it all the way to Decatur and our reservation at Point Mallard Campground.  The countryside is lush, heavily forested with conifers, deciduous, and thickets underneath.  All shades of green as some trees are still budding out.  Crimson clover lines the highway for much of the way. 
            We travel for about 25 miles behind an RV that was weaving all over the road.  We wondered if the guy was drunk, falling asleep, or what!  It was a little scary, but I imagine even worse for the cars coming in the opposite direction when he was straddling the center line until the last moment.  We lost him when we stopped for a potty stop and lunch in Cullman. 
We finally found it! 
All settled in among the trees. 
            I couldn’t get the campground website to load, so had to rely on Google Maps to get us to the park.  It took a very convoluted route, and we had trouble finding the actual campground, but we made it!  Tomorrow’s route over to Space & Rocket Center will be much easier! 
I couldn't find Baker City on it,
2000 plus miles away! 
Flowers near entrance
      The campground is very full and crowded.  Spaces are close together.  It appears there are many weekly and monthly residents.  One gal I talked with said that her group of friends all live within 15-30 minutes of here, but they come and stay to golf, enjoy festivals, etc.  
            Rick took a long walk along the river and through the golf course, while I opted for a shorter route that also clarified how to get connected with the internet.  Once I figured it out, it was very high speed and wonderful!  I was able to catch up on a number of things! 
            Thunderstorms are on the forecast and we did have light showers this afternoon, but so far the temp is pleasant and cool.  Ready for a day of space adventure tomorrow!  

4.22.16 Friday
US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
A gray day as we cross the
Tennessee River
            Today’s adventure focused on the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.  It was just a 30 minute drive across the Tennessee River and to the center just southwest of Huntsville.  A former sleepy little cotton town, Huntsville became a munitions stockpile during World War 2.  Following the war a team of German rocket scientist moved to America and brought their expertise to US scientists.  Huntsville then became a mecca for racketeers and the development of the Saturn V system.  It is now home to the Marshall Space Training Center, Space Camp, Robotics Camps, and Aviation Camps! 
Statue at entrance
     We arrived at the 9am opening and left at 4:30.  We still didn’t see all the exhibits or try all the interactive opportunities.  There is way more than a full day of activities to see.  AND we didn’t take the 2 hour tour down to the Marshall Center. At the entrance is a bronze statue with the following inscription: "Dedicated to those whose pioneering spirit inspired generations to explore beyond existing boundaries in a never-ending quest for knowledge."
            What DID we do??  We went to two IMAX movies!  The first was Journey to Space and gave a brief overview of the Apollo missions, the Shuttle and International Space Station.  The heart of the movie was on the new technology and emphasis to journey to Mars.  Orion is the new program name and it was fascinating to see the process they are taking in planning and training.  Target dates?  Men on Mars by 2030’s.  The second IMAX was on the Hubble Space telescope, its repair missions, and the tremendous images of the universe it is sending home.  The movie left you feeling very, very small.  I was also overwhelmed with the magnitude of a God who is in charge of it all. I so wanted to take pictures during the movie, but they weren't allowed.  
Rick on Mons Olympus
            Rick tried his handing at rock climbing early in the day which was a good call.  Not busy at all at the time, but a crowded place for the rest of the day!  He looked like Spiderman on the wall as he ascended in progressively more difficult routes three times.  The wall is called the Olympus Mars, which is the largest volcano mountain on Mars and in the entire solar system.  The name was pretty much the only connection to Space I could find! 
Framed rockets
      We walked the outer grounds early in the day, seeing the Pathfinder Shuttle Stack atop the boosters rockets.  SO BIG.  Hard to get a picture of the size when you are right under it!  A number of other rockets on the grounds (Rick wondered if they were all well grounded because they look like good lightning targets otherwise!).  We bypassed the G Force Simulator, a spinner that lets you experience 3Gs of centrifugal force.  We opted for the Space Shot, which simulates 3Gs of liftoff and also simulates microgravity.  You are shot upwards rapidly and then drop down.  I felt like I left my stomach at the top of the drop!  Pretty fun. 
Preparing to take off on the Space Shot
Rick attempts docking
            Lunch between movies at the Mars Grill.  I had a good salad bar and Rick a fat burrito.  Prices reasonable and no tax! (Alabama has a 9% sales tax, even on food.)
            A huge pavilion (Davidson Center for Space Exploration) houses a Saturn V rocket on its side, in sections, with a detailed step by step of the Apollo program and the rockets involvement.  It was pretty interesting.  They had great memorabilia from all phases of Apollo and the Shuttle programs, space rocks, etc.  Rick tried his hand at docking the LEM with the Command Module, but apparently unsuccessfully, so I guess they were lost in space!  By 3:30 we were getting brain dead….time for the Gift Shop!! 
Pathfinder Shuttle atop the booster rockets
            Back to the trailer by 5pm and evening spent writing postcards.  YES!  We finally bought nearly 20 and I didn’t care that they were 50¢ each! 
Ginger prepares for re-entry

4.23.16 Saturday  A THREE STATE DAY!
Decatur, AL to Glasgow, KY
190 miles

      We are on the move today after a rather noisy beginning to last night.  A full park on a Friday night filled with families….let’s just say they were having a VERY good time!  But it eventually calmed down! 
First into Tennessee!
            We pull out just after 9am to head north to Kentucky – under 200 miles away, but we’ll travel through three states today!  Tennessee isn’t very tall south to north!  Our intention originally was to take 231 all the way from Huntsville to just before Barren Lake.  Well, that was going to force us to drive INTO Huntsville, so we went north on I-65 instead, hoping to cut across to 231 at the easiest opportunity.  We left the interstate at Exit 22 and started angling over.  I missed a necessary turn, however, so we ended up in the middle of Murfreesboro before connecting to 231!  Stopped there at a Walmart for lunch in the Subway and grocery shopping.  Rick picked up a few other items, one of which proved fortuitous later in the day! 
And then Kentucky!
       The countryside was green!  Green fields, green trees!  A smattering of white blossomed trees, some very tall, some shorter which I think were dogwoods.  None of them were magnolias, that I could tell.  Farms and lots of small towns (and some big ones!)  Just off the freeway we gassed up and found a post office.  So, … our 18 postcards were mailed in the little town of Cornersville, TN, population 1200.  But the good news was that the mail was due to go out in less than an hour!
Our pristine spot at Bailey's Point!
            Bailey’s Point Corps Campground is literally on a long peninsula of land that juts out into the man-made reservoir of Barren Lake.  We checked in easily and in locating our campsite realized we had scored big time!  A site right above the water with an unobstructed view of the lake.  Water and electric hookups, clean restrooms, hot showers – all for $11.50 a night!  Gotta love the Senior Pass and Corp Parks!! 
Dogwood tree behind campsite
    We take a walk, grab the rest of our Subway sandwiches, and watch the sun go down over the lake.  Life is good!    
And a sunset from our trailer

4.24.16 Sunday
Mammoth Caves National Park

  A misty shroud on the lake this morning, but I was still able to see the full moon as it set around 7am.  We enjoyed the early sunshine and left around 9:15 for Mammoth Caves National Park, located about 30 miles north.  Our most direct route was on a windy little country road that crossed the dam and then headed straight up to junction with the park roads.  It was a beautiful drive through the Kentucky countryside past farms and dilapidated barn buildings.  We crossed both I-65 and Cumberland parkway in arriving at the National Park. 
Sinkhole and New Entrance area
            We spent the next couple hours roaming the Visitor Center, gift shop, and grabbing some quick lunch before our noon tour.  I had made our reservations a week ago, but realized at the last minute that I needed to pick up the tickets!  The gal so nicely gave them to me even though I didn’t have my ID, nor did I have Rick’s Senior Access Pass with me!  Prior to the tour, we were enlightened with the following new revelations about the cave:
a.      Mammoth is the longest cave system in the world with 405 miles currently mapped and more possible as they haven’t found the end yet!   It may not have the LARGEST caverns or ‘rooms’, but the system is like a giant subway map or a plate of spaghetti only 400’ deep.
b.     The upper regions of the cave are not active except in certain places, as the water has now moved much deeper to carve new chambers.  The lowest levels are explored in boats!
c.      The cave was discovered in 1803 and opened for commercial tours in 1816.  This year they are celebrating their 200th anniversary!
d.     Early cave tour guides were often black slaves, men who when ‘underground’ were in positions of leadership with learned educators and politicians from around the world.  What a challenge to remember ‘their place’ when they emerged from the cave at the end of the tour. 
e.     We saw a map of sinkholes in this area of Kentucky.  Each is a potential opening into the cave system.  There were hundreds of them!
Cheater picture from postcard of
Niagra Falls formation

           Our tour began at noon with a bus ride over to the ‘New Entrance’, discovered in the early 1900’s. Two buses carried our group of approximately 75 people.  At least it wasn’t the 112 tour maximum!  Several young children keep things interesting as their little voices asking wonderful questions kept echoing through the passageways.  We first dropped 250 feet down through a series of 280 steps.  The holes is very narrow in places.  In others you can look down to what appears to be a bottomless pit.  We gathered in a large chamber with a very flat limestone roof.  Early discoverers called this Grand Central Station
because 6 passageways lead off of it.  It is a horizontal chamber as opposed to the vertical shafts.  At the end of the tour we entered a third type of chamber….one that is more of the Carlsbad Cavern type – filled with stalactites and stalagmites, columns, straws, draperies, and flows.  Unfortunately I was having trouble with my camera at this point so I didn’t get good pictures.  Maybe I’ll steal a few from the postcards I bought! 

            Back to the Visitor Center by 2pm.  We checked out the gift store one more time and then I drove us back to Bailey’s Point.  The trailer is warm as it sits in the sunshine!  Rick takes a brief power nap while I check out the nature trail.  Sunday calls, including a visit with Jed for his birthday. 
            The sunset tonight was stellar. More color than last night.  What great front row seats we have! 
Rick took a picture of our little trailer as he came down the hill. 

4.25.16 Monday
Bailey’s Point COE, Glasgow, KY to Jenny Wiley State Park, Prestonburg, KY
247 Miles

One of the cuts
            How can I summarize today?  ‘Over hill, over dale!’  or perhaps, ‘Green, Green, It’s Green They Say!’  We traveled through nearly 250 miles of rolling green hills – up and down, in and around.  A cut through the mountain here and there.  Tiny small towns with a host of strange names that Rick read off while I drove for a short stretch.  Gas has gone UP!  We are excited to find it under $2 now, and even went BACK for a $2.04 station!  I remarked that we didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, unless you count the splattering of blooming dogwoods.  But alongside the highway….grass! 
            We stopped in Manchester (just east of London – yes, folks from the British Isles settled in the interior of Kentucky to work the coal mines!)  to grab a bite to eat at a little Mexican restaurant.  We both ordered Hawaiian Fajita Quesadillas – the special of the day.  Pineapple makes everything good!  Finished off the leftovers just now for dinner!
Campsite at Jenny Wiley
  We followed the Cumberland Parkway and then another Parkway, mostly following route 80 through the southern third of Kentucky.  Had a little trouble finding the signs that led us to the campground at Jenny Lake State Park.  Everything wanted to tell me where the resort was, not the campground.  But we stumbled on it and then even discovered our name on a tag on the campsite we had reserved!  The campground is NOT full.  In fact, of the 32 sites on our B Loop, it is our trailer and a lone tent way down at the other end.  We are next to the bathhouse which is nice.  Maybe more will roll in tonight, but I have my doubts on a Monday! 
            Rick and I both take walks, Rick’s a little longer than mine and out on one of the trails along the lake.  We finally were able to pick up some wine at the CVS….they don’t sell it in the grocery stores in Kentucky. 
            It is muggy and humid out today.  A storm is supposedly brewing, but we had big fluffy white clouds all the way across the state.  Warm.  Glad to have the fan and AC in the trailer!  

4.26.16 Tuesday
Meeting Austen in Paintsville!

            Today we met Austen!  While the forecast is for a storm later on, the morning dawns warm and sunny!  We don’t get moving too fast and enjoy a little leisure time, heading into Paintsville around 10:30.  The road follows along the base of some impressive limestone cliffs above one of the many little rivers that flow through each hollow.  Most of these will flow either into the Jenny Wiley reservoir where we are camped or north into Paintsville Lake. 
Cool old Methodist Church in town
            The town was established in the early 1800’s by a gentleman who settled land and built a house along the Paint River.  By 1825 or so, he had platted out a townsite on his land.  Coal is the big business in these parts, and with the demise of coal the town has been hard hit.  Jobs are hard to come by.  The town is spread out on a plain where the hollers open out into Apple Valley.  There is a small Paintsville High School and then the large Johnson County High School where Austen attends.  It is a newer sprawling campus on the plain, next to McDonalds and all the box stores! 
            We drove around for awhile, checking things out, and looking for a thrift store or used book store.  Rick was out of books.  But first order of business was breakfast!  We tried a Bob Evans and it was very good! 
            Eventually we found the city library where I could hook on to some free wifi and Rick found a couple shelves of books available for 5 for $2 – all hardbacks!  We spent about an hour there as we waited for our 1:30 appointment at the high school.  I was trying to post stuff, but pictures didn’t go well.  I did get a lead on a campground for the end of the week. 
       Then it was time to meet Austen!  We went to the main office and waited for Karen Salyer, the Children’s Services coordinator for the school.  She led us to her headquarters down in the basement of the building.  A VERY pleasant and engaging woman who greeted us right off with hugs.  We had the opportunity to visit with her for awhile and learn a little more of the set up and Austen’s situation.  Karen left to grab Austen from class when he didn’t hear the loudspeaker. 
            We recognized the tall young man immediately from the pictures that have been on our refrigerator for the past many years!  He is easily 3 inches taller than Rick, filled out but not heavy, wears glasses, and has a short beard to go with his short cropped hair.  He was obviously a bit nervous, as were we!  Karen invited us into her office where we could visit more privately and eventually came in and joined us. 
            The visit was delightful.  Austen began to talk freely about his home situation, his goals and dreams, plans after high school.  Here Karen was a great help as she could fill in the details, such as scholarship possibilities, needing to fill out the FAFSA, the local voch-tech college within walking distance for Austen.  We pushed hard for him to finish strong and get his diploma.  He has hoped to go for Diesel Mechanics, but with the decline of coal and the need for such mechanics, we encourage him to consider other options as well, such as plumbing or electrical work.  He has a good head on his shoulders and is trying to make good choices.  I was thrilled to hear he was going to church with his girlfriend when possible.  He is currently living with his girlfriend’s grandmother and at 18 is now ‘on his own’.   Karen openly spoke of the need to let God be in charge….the difference between Bible-belt schools and out west apparently! 
            The visit only lasted an hour….Austen had to get back to class.  We took some pictures, I gave him our gifts and explained a few items, we hugged and left.  Karen spoke with us a few moments more and then walked with us out the building.  She does an amazing job, working with some 30 plus youth all sponsored through Children, Inc. throughout the area, often from Kindergarten on up.  With the school she helps identify those who can use the assistance.  But her office was also busy fitting kids with suits for the prom coming up this weekend.  They had a whole filing cabinet filled with clothes of varying sizes.  Karen said our contributions are usually ‘held’ for school shopping at the beginning of the school year and Christmas.  All in all, a good experience and I hope it helps Austen to focus on what he needs to do in the coming weeks and months.  We have committed to turning our sponsorship over to his brother Andrew when Austen graduates the end of May. 
            We stopped at McDonalds for a little more wifi time and a drink, but after 45 minutes it was becoming a zoo with all the school kids!  I called Mom briefly and we were finally able to make a phone connection with the campground in Bryson City, NC to confirm a reservation for Thursday through Saturday nights.  Back to the campground!! 
            Rick took a power nap while I walked C Loop, which is ¾ of a mile to go up and back, and then along the Jenny Wiley and Sassafrass Trails for abit.  I started looking for Austen’s name in trail letters, eventually spelling it out.  Coming back I visited with the park host about adding another night on to our stay.  He told me it would be free since I hadn’t received my ‘free night of April camping’ yet online!  What a deal!  We talked for awhile and I learned of some of his park host adventures.  Today he had to call for a tow truck to pull a man’s truck out of the lake – an mistake launching his boat on a slippery ramp and the boat pulled the whole truck into the lake, with the cab 3 ½ feet under water.  Poor guy.  Just trying to catch some crappie for dinner.  That dinner will cost a truck price.  The store is being rebuilt because last year some guy got mad and drove it off the foundation.  Another man died at his site!  The host was surprised they asked him back!  More people have come in to A loop, but still us and the tenter up the road on B.  Pretty quiet and private. 
    As we read this afternoon, we watched a cardinal using our truck mirrors to preen itself.  That explained all the bird poop and dirt marks on both mirrors and the side windows.  We pushed the mirrors inward and later you could hear the bird scolding us when it return!   Saw a couple of deer on the hillside above.  There are black bear warnings at the campground. 
            Dinner of BLTs out on the picnic table with the tablecloth even.  High class.   Since the laundry room is closest to us, we decided to wash a load while we ate.  By the time the laundry was done, the bugs were coming out, so into the trailer for the rest of the evening.  A good day.

4.27.16 Wednesday
Rain Day!

            Ah, the long awaited storm finally arrived last night around 10!  We had heard the wind begin to pick up a little earlier and a sudden cooling to the humid warm air.    Gradually distant rolls of thunder began to echo and then the rain arrived.  Being down in the hollers in hill country means that thunder really does ROLL – sometimes the sound can last for 10 seconds as it bounces from canyon to canyon and against the limestone cliffs.  Rick battened up the ‘hatches’  and we snuggled in for the night!  Lulls, followed by more lightning, until the early morning hours.  Around 5 Rick went out and plugged the trailer back in.  He slept better knowing there was no danger during the night!
            Now I sit listening to the birds (there are cardinals all over!) and an occasional pitter patter of drops on the roof.  We have signed on for another night as the storm is supposed to continue off and on.  A day of perfect leisure lies ahead! 
            Around 11:30 we finally decided we ought to at least go into town, grab a little internet so I could send a couple emails, and eat lunch!  We stopped first at the library with secure internet where I sent in Austen’s graduation money to CI online, caught all blogs up to date, wrote a couple other emails and checked gas prices.  Just realized the one thing I forgot was to get accurate directions to the campground for tomorrow! 
            Lunch again at Bob Evans, where I wanted to try their all-you-can-eat soup, salad, and bread lunch entrée.  Well, it was good, but service was not.  Slow to deliver, I had to ask for my biscuits when they weren’t delivered and I was half done with my meal, no chicken could be found in the chicken noodle soup, and my biscuits came without butter.  BUT….it did taste good and I didn’t need butter anyway.  Even though it was all you can eat, I was never asked if I wanted any more, etc.  Ah well.  We stopped to pick up a couple items at Dollar Tree and then back to the campground.
            Rick took a longer hike up on the Jenny Wiley Trail, while I trekked a couple miles on the Sassafrass Trail.  Light rain a couple times but nothing major.  Just HUMID to be hiking in the thick woods! 

            More people have come into the campground – there are at least three other trailers in our loop now.  The neighborhood is getting crowded!  (Understand there are 32 sites on this loop!)  (Not sure why that line appears!)


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