Pictures can be found here
Our last update was at the beginning of summer at my sonís house outside Dallas. Our goal for the summer is to attend my 50th high school reunion in New York State at the end of September. So, this update will fill in the in-between.
We left my sonís house on Monday of Memorial Day weekend. Our first stop is in Choudrant, LA at a place that works on Alfas. Dick Albritton and Ronnie Wolfe run a business that specializes in fixing some of the things that are unique to Alfas and hard to get worked on elsewhere. Our primary reason for stopping here is to get our heat pump serviced. The heat pumps in Alfas are not that unique, but to work on them they must be removed from the bus. The removal is the tricky part that most shops wonít tackle. Ronnie has it down to a science and makes it look easy. Our unit has not acted quite right in the whole five years weíve owned it. We spent over a thousand bucks to have it fixed by the Alfa specialists in CA during our first year of ownership, but they didnít fix anything. Of course we didnít know they hadnít accomplished anything until we were hundreds of miles away, so we lived with the poorly performing unit all this time. Ronnie removed the unit and immediately found that the part the other place charged us to replace had not been touched. Then he properly diagnosed the problem and found that it was low on Freon. It was obvious that the other place never put gauges on it. There also was no evidence of a leak. Dick and Ronnie agreed that it was probably undercharged from the factory. Dick said it wasnít the first time heíd seen that. They charged it up, and reinstalled it. It cooled better than it ever has. One of the cool things about getting work done here is that they have room and hookups for a half dozen rigs. So if your rig is your home, like ours, you stay right here. During the evening, we noticed that the a/c fan would stop and then restart when it shouldnít. After this happened a few times, we correlated it to when we ran water (so the pump ran). At first this made no sense at all, but then I remembered that the water pump and the thermostat are on the same 12v circuit. I got out my meter and observed a voltage drop at the thermostat when the pump ran. I reported this to Dick and Ronnie in the morning. Part of what Ronnie did was to replace the control board in the heat pump with a new updated one. I suggested the board was either bad or at least different. After much conversation, it occurred to us that we had several other Alfas on the premises that we could compare to. (Dick owns one himself.) So, we checked the voltage on Dickís, and the voltage drop on his was even greater than mine. So, Ronnie swapped the new control board with another new one, and the problem went away. Another part bad out of the box. Must be my luck today. While we were here, we also had Ronnie clean our radiator and replace the check valve on the fresh water input. Both things I could do myself, but itís so much easier to watch somebody else do it.
Choudrant is in NE Louisiana. When we left Ronnie, we headed north with the intent to just go a short way to Lincoln Parrish Park. Alfa friends had recently stayed there and recommended it. When we got there, with no reservation, we found that they were full do to an event that weekend. The helpful girl in the office suggested a state park a little further north. So, we continued north to Lake DíArbonne State Park in Farmerville, LA. We spent a couple of days here enjoying the camping atmosphere and looking at the lake out of our windshield. Using more county/state/Corp of Engineers parks instead of RV resorts will become a theme this summer.
Continuing north, we left Louisiana and went to central Arkansas. We had planned to spend a couple days in downtown Little Rock, but due to the Arkansas River being at flood stage, the RV park is underwater. So, we made an alternate plan and found a Harvest Host called Heifer Farm. Heifer farm is a farm owned by Heifer International. They are an organization that teaches people in impoverished countries how to farm and provide for themselves instead of relying on aid. It all started with the idea that you can give someone milk forever, or you can give them a cow and teach them how to care for it, and they have milk forever. As Harvest Hosts go, they were one of the best weíve ever stayed at. Most Harvest Hosts simply have a parking lot and you are dry camping. This farm has spaces for five or six RVs, all with full hookups. Free. There wasnít anything going on at the farm the one day we were there, but we visited their visitor center and learned about the organization, and bought some meat that had been grown there.
Our next stop is near Fayetteville, AR. This means we have to cross the flooded Arkansas River somewhere. Due to the flooding, many roads are closed. I researched the road closures and plotted a route north to Dardanelle where we could get across the river to Russellville. There were a couple of skinny country roads involved, but we made it. We went through a lot of flooded countryside where the road was pretty much the only dry land. We saw a couple places where groups of cows were huddled on a small island in what had been their pastures. We finally got to Prairie Creek Corp of Engineers park in Rogers, AR which is near Fayetteville. This park is on Beaver Lake. We are going to spend almost two weeks here, arriving on a Sunday afternoon and departing two Fridays later. Corp of Engineers parks are commonly near a lake that was created by the Corp building a dam. They are typically cheap compared to an RV resort, and with a National Parks Senior Pass, they are even cheaper. The downside is that they tend to be full on weekends with local folks who come out to the lake for a weekend of camping. We were lucky to find this spot with a weekend opening. We visited several places during our two weeks here. Fayetteville and Bentonville are not far from Rogers.
In Fayetteville we found a few breweries, a cool, old, dark, basement restaurant called Hugoís, and the University of Arkansas.
Bentonville is the headquarters of Wal-Mart. If you know me well, you know I am not a Wal-Mart fan. But, I donít eat SPAM either, and we went to the SPAM museum a couple years ago. So, we had to go to the Wal-Mart Museum. I must say, it was interesting to see the whole history of the company. Too bad old Sam couldnít live forever. Next to the museum was a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. I have never been in one of these so we checked it out (we needed beer anyway). It was a nice store with just groceries and grab-and-go food stuffs.
One day we drove the Boston Mountains Loop. It was a pretty drive south through the mountains about 40 miles until it hits I-40. To return north you use I-49, which although it is an interstate highway, runs through the mountains and is pretty scenic. Along the way we stopped at Lake Smith State Park for some nice views.
One day we drove about twenty minutes east to War Eagle Cavern. In addition to a nice cavern tour, this place has a maze you can get lost in, and a fun crooked house where the floors and ceilings and furnishings are all built at funky angles so you easily get dizzy and disoriented trying to walk through the place.
One day we spent a few hours at the Turpentine Creek Cat Sanctuary. This place recues big cats from bad situations. We took a guided tour that was just us and another couple and got lots of info about each animal and the place they had come from. Many came from personal ownership cases like where somebody thought it was a good idea to keep a tiger in their garage. It was eye opening to hear how laws vary so much from place to place regarding personal keeping of exotic animals.
Twice we drove about an hour to Eureka Springs. As the name implies, Eureka Springs was built during the heyday of the belief in the healing powers of natural hot springs. There are several old hotels and the bath houses of the era still there. One day we were there we drove around the historic loop streets by ourselves, and the second day we took a narrated trolley tour. The tour was very informative. It stopped at one of the more infamous hotels of the era, the Crescent Hotel, so we could wander around the grounds. The short story of the hotel is that it was built in the late 1800s as a luxurious hotel. By the 1930s the hotel business had slowed and the place was turned into a womenís college, and then was purchased by a guy who turned it into a cancer hospital, claiming to have a cure which of course was bogus. It is said that many of the poor souls who died there as a result of this scam still haunt the place. After the crooked doctor went to jail, the place went through many hands trying to run a hotel again, and since the 1970s it has slowly been restored and today is a boutique hotel. It was fun to walk the halls and see how the building has settled over the years so nothing is level. In addition to the large old hotels in the downtown area, there are many other interesting historic homes in town. Even those that have been restored retain their exterior look of the past.
One day we went to the Daisy BB Gun Museum in Rogers. Who would think you could make a museum about BB guns? It was interesting to see the history of the company as well as all the special edition guns they made and variations from year to year.
Even with all the side trips we took, there was still a lot of time for relaxing in the park. A lot of reading and people watching was accomplished. The weekend was especially busy with all the spaces full and lots of traffic coming in pulling boats.
Two weeks had passed and it was time to move on. Next stop was near Branson, MO. The primary purpose of this stop is to attend a Parrothead event called Summer Solstice. The event is held at a lakeside resort outside Branson, and we are staying at an RV park a mile or so away. We got here several days prior to the event because we have never been to Branson before. By coincidence, old cruising friends Mike & Cynthia, who now also have an RV, were in town too. They lost their boat in St. Maarten during hurricane Irma, the same storm that destroyed our old boat in the BVI. They were evacuated from St. Maarten to Puerto Rico on a cruise ship, only to be hit there by hurricane Maria. Eventually they were evacuated from there by cruise ship to Florida. Despite their propensity to attract storms, we met up with them a couple of times. We toured the Branson riverfront with them and enjoyed catching up. Branson itself is a huge tourist trap, with place after place offering rides and other daytime amusement for the kids, and show theaters for grandma and grandpa in the evening. The shows seem to be all very family friendly and old-country music style. We were going to take a ride on the Branson Scenic Railway, but after reading many reviews that complained that the views were of nothing but the trees lining the tracks, we decided to pass on it. We did do a moonshine tasting though. For $10, they give you thirteen little shots (they use communion cups) in rapid succession with a funny running commentary on each flavor. Then they hope to sell you overpriced ďmoonshineĒ, which is flavored low-proof booze. Hardly moonshine, but a popular fad in the alcohol business.
After our few days by ourselves in Branson, our friends Eric & Gina from RadioTropRock showed up and were in the space right next to us in the RV park. They hosted a group of about thirty parrotheads who went to a show in Branson called Parrotville. Parrotville is what they call a Jimmy Buffett tribute show. It is a song and dance show, acting out Buffett standards. It was fun, but a little cheesy.
The actual Summer Solstice event started Thursday evening. The venue is a resort right on the lake. Overall it was a fun event and we got to see lots of friends. There were a few hiccups with the schedule, and some rain tried to spoil things Saturday night and Sunday morning, but we had fun.
From Branson we headed towards St. Louis, with a three day stop in the Mark Twain National Forest at another federal campground. Red Bluff Campground is a Forest Service campground on Huzzah Creek, near Davisville, MO. When we got to the campground, we found a hosts RV, but no host. We had a spot reserved, but there was no map of the campground on the bulletin board, I unloaded the car so I could drive around and find the spot without getting the bus in a place I couldnít get out of. I found the spot and immediately knew that their claim that it could accommodate a forty-foot RV was not accurate. I did find a bunch of empty spots that were plenty long, but had no hookups. When I returned to the bus, I found Barb talking to the camp host. I explained to him that the spot we reserved was not going to work, and he agreed. I asked if we could take one of the big spots and run our generator as needed. Since we would be one of three people in the whole campground, he said sure. We spent three nights here, and did a lot of reading. We couldnít see the sky for our DISH network TV, and had no cell service for phone or internet. So, we did a lot of reading. I found we could get cell reception at the main road because it was up out of the river valley. So I went up there daily and parked to get e-mail and download books.
After three days off the grid, we headed to downtown St. Louis. We are staying at the Casino Queen RV Resort, which is actually across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis. This was an interesting RV park, because it was totally unmanned. The day before arriving, they sent an e-mail with the gate code and our site assignment. Our arrival was delayed about half an hour because construction on the bridge over the Mississippi caused me to miss a turn. The resulting detour through East St. Louis was interesting, but we finally got to the park. This park is directly across from the St. Louis Arch which was one of the two reasons to stop in St. Louis, the other being the Anheuser Busch brewery.
We started our tour day at the Arch. We were early for our reservation to the top, so we had about an hour to tour the museum. It was quite interesting to see how it was built. Until we were there, I had no idea how the ride to the top worked. They call it a tram, not an elevator, but it was hard to imagine how a ďtramĒ worked on the curve to the top. If you havenít been there, Iíll try to describe it. Eventually your group is called and you line up in a narrow little multi-level stairway standing in front of one of eight little doors. There are five people in front of each door. Eventually you hear the tram arrive, the doors open and people get out. The five of you then crouch down to squeeze in the little door and sit knee-to-knee in this tiny little capsule. Two on each side facing each other and one on the end. It really is tight quarters. Two pods away from us was a family with a maybe five year old son. When he saw the little door, and the tiny capsule, he freaked out. He was screaming and put his hands and feet out like a cat being put in pet carrier. His parents literally stuffed him into the capsule. Once everyone is loaded, the doors close and the chain of capsules heads to the top. We could hear the kid still screaming all the way to the top. At the top, you exit into the observation area which is pretty narrow but still accommodates 160 people. Surprisingly, you can stay as long as you like and the area doesnít fill up. I guess there is only so much to see so itís self-regulating.
Once done at the arch, we headed south to the Anheuser Busch brewery. Since we hadnít known how long we would be at the arch, we had made our tour reservation at the brewery for one oíclock. We got there an hour and half early, so we went to their beer garden and had lunch. The tour we booked was one that includes the packaging area. High speed equipment like a bottling line just amazes me. The tour also included a visit to the Clydesdale barn. Of course there is a whole Clydesdale farm elsewhere, but horses are rotated through this show barn. This whole facility was more interesting than the Houston Anheuser Busch brewery that we toured a couple years ago, because being the original brewery it has more history and original old buildings. Of course after the tour there were free samples in the tasting room.
From St. Louis we headed east to Haubstadt, IN. Haubstadt is in very south Indiana. Our reason to go here was to meet up with old cruising friends Mike & Lynn. Mike & Lynn spend most of the summers chasing the USAC Sprint Car circuit. USAC Sprint Cars race on small dirt tracks all over the Midwest all summer. Mike and Lynn have a small RV that they travel from race to race in. These small dirt tracks allow camping on race weekends, so we met the day before the races at the track. We enjoyed catching up with Mike & Lynn and meeting some of their friends who also follow the circuit around. Come Saturday evening there was a threat of rain, but we were in the stands when the first heat race started. When only one or two heat races had been completed, a storm built very quickly. It started to rain some, but the wind went from nothing to hurricane in a matter of seconds. Stuff was blowing everywhere and people were heading for cover. We hesitated to leave for a few minutes until we heard thunder. We retreated to the RVs, hoping there wouldnít be a huge amount of rain, but then the skies opened and it poured. The races were cancelled and we spent the rest of the evening visiting more.
Our trip now took a turn south. We left Haubstadt and went to Tail Waters Campground, about twenty miles east of Bowling Green, KY. This is another Corp of Engineers park on Barren River Lake. The park is actually just below the dam that makes the lake, so the RV spots are along the river. We will be here three nights, leaving on the fourth of July since the park was all booked up for the weekend of the fourth. Again, being down in a river valley, we have no cell or TV, so weíll have to entertain ourselves. In addition to the lack of electronic entertainment, it turns out we are in a dry county. Yes those still exist in some states. Good thing we are well stocked. The day after we got here, we drove into Bowling Green to visit the National Corvette Museum. I have never owned a Vette, nor even dreamt of having one, but they are an iconic part of American automobile history. We have driven by the museum on I-65 several times and not had the time to stop, so this trip we took the time. It also was even more intriguing to see it since it reopened after a sinkhole swallowed several cars inside the building. We spent a couple of hours in the museum and I really enjoyed it. The Corvette was born the same year I was, and I was a Chevy guy in my teen hot-rod years, so I enjoyed a lot of the details. In the rotunda, where the sinkhole was, they have all the cars that fell Ė the ones that could be repaired have been, and several that were beyond repair are displayed as well. After the museum, we met up with Kemah friends Mike & Kay for lunch. They are traveling in their RV also, and just happened to be in the area. The next day, we awoke to some storms in the area. While we didnít appreciate the high winds down in the valley, they were high enough to take down a limb which took out the main power line to the campground. When we left the park to take a ride around the lake, we saw the limb and nobody was working on it yet. We took several hours to circumnavigate the lake, detouring through each of the Corp of Engineers parks along the way. When we got back to our park, the power was fixed and all was well. On the morning of the 4th, we were packing up to leave. Our neighbor asked me why we werenít staying for the weekend. Well, because we didnít make reservations six months in advance and the park is full for the weekend.
The forecast for travel day is for thunderstorms. We are headed southwest to Clarksville, TN today. It is a less than two hour drive, so we are not in a hurry. We werenít long into the trip when we could see that we were obviously going to drive into a big, dark storm. Since there was no rush, and there was a wide shoulder (we werenít on an interstate), we decided why deal with the stress of driving in a storm? So, we pulled over and sat for almost an hour as the storm passed. There was lots of wind, heavy rain, and some lightning. When the rain had almost stopped, we carried on to Clarksville. As evidenced by the A-frame office building, the RV park obviously used to be a KOA. Unlike some former KOAs weíve been to, this one was still very well kept. We had a nice long pull through spot in the back corner of the park. The only downside was that meant we were closest to the interstate which borders the property. We have been close to traffic before, even closer than this, but for some reason after a week this noise was bothering me. The first night we were here was the 4th of July, and being in the south, where personal fireworks are readily available, the whole evening sounded like a war zone.
Our reason for coming to Clarksville was that Barb has a sister here. Unfortunately, she is still amongst the working class, so over the course of the week we visited her a few times when she wasnít working. On the weekend we enjoyed a nice BBQ at her house.
History repeated itself here as I tore the front bumper cover off the car while unloading it from the dolly. We did this twice with the old Cruiser, and now with the new one. Once again it was self-inflicted because I didnít pay attention. This time it was because we leveled and setup the coach before unloading the car. In our spot, to be level required jacking up the rear quite a bit. This made the dolly be at an unusual angle such that the bottom edge of the bumper cover caught the dolly. This could have been avoided by unloading the car first as we usually do, or by waiting for Barb to be watching so she could have told me to stop before I did the damage. Oh well. Itís a relatively cheap and easy piece to replace, although the new one wonít match the color of the car.
We had the opportunity to visit several breweries and a distillery while here. We found Blackhorse Brewery and Strawberry Alley Ale Works where we enjoyed nice meals and their craft beers. We also visited Old Glory Distilling where we had a nice private tour of the facility and met the resident cat. The building was built to look like an old warehouse, but it is entirely new. In addition to the production area, they have a nice bar, gift shop, and event space.
One day while just driving around, we found a usual sight at the riverside park. The Nina and Pinta were docked here. These are replica ships that tour around educating about the history of Columbusís travels. Iím not sure which version they espouse. We heard several different ones during our Caribbean travels.
One day we took a trip to Dunbar Cave State Park. Dunbar Cave was exploited as a place to live by prehistoric peoples, a resort after the civil war, and a music entertainment facility in the late 1940s. It wasnít until 1973 that the state bought the property and preserved the cavern. There are no lights back in the cave, and each visitor is required to bring their own flashlight for the tour. After some of the other mostly preserved caverns we have visited, it was different to see one that had been exploited so much.
We did have a significant RV equipment failure while we were in Clarksville. Barb was doing a load of laundry, and when the dryer cycle had just started, we smelled a strong electrical burning odor. She immediately shut the machine off and I switched off the breaker to it. We have a friend who is trained in repairing the Splendide RV washers, but unfortunately it has to be removed from the cabinet it sits in to do much of anything, and that is a two person job that will have to wait until we get to my brotherís house.
Next stop was Nashville. Or at least close to it. We found another Corp of Engineers campground about twenty miles east of Nashville with availability for two weeks. Cedar Creek Park is on Old Hickory Lake which was created by damming the Cumberland River. The spots were nice and large, and we are in an open area which gives us good satellite TV and cell reception. At the turnoff to the campground, there was a sign indicating there were deer ahead. They werenít kidding. In the mile between that sign and the campground at the end of the road, there was a resident herd of deer that we saw almost every day.
On our first full day here, we drove into Nashville. This is our first visit to Nashville although we have driven through before. We found a place to park near downtown and took our first walk along Lower Broadway where all the action is. The first five blocks of Broadway, from the river to 5th Ave., are club after club, most carrying the name of some country music star. In the theme of seeking craft breweries for lunch, we went to Rock Bottom Brewery. Although they are a chain, they are the only brewery on Broadway. We had a nice lunch and then walked up and down both sides of Lower Broadway. I was a little surprised by the action in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. There were lots of open-top party buses with rowdy crowds, pedal bars, bachelorette parties, and loud music blaring from each venue. Much as I hate to admit it, I felt a little old in that my loud, drunken partying ship has sailed.
Another day during our two weeks we went back into Nashville and took an on-and-off trolley tour. There are several trolley tour companies in Nashville. The one we chose was Old Town Trolley Tours. They are the same company that runs the tram tour in Key West. Since you can get on or off the trolley at any of their stops, I researched where we might be able to park for free. Parking in downtown Nashville is very expensive. I found that one of the stops, The Parthenon, has free street parking available. So we parked there, checked out The Parthenon and then found the trolley stop. We had pre-paid tickets with us, so we just showed them and hopped on. The Parthenon stop is about midway through the fifteen stops on the route, so we enjoyed the tour until we got to their terminal stop downtown. We got off here and explored some. We had lunch at the Broadway Brewhouse, which isnít a brewery, but has lots of craft beers. Then we walked up to Legends Corner at 5th Avenue. We knew that years ago our friend Thom Shepherd had a regular gig here. Legends is more our kind of place than the big loud honkytonks down the street. It is more like a neighborhood bar with live music. There was a trio playing so we sat at the bar and had a couple beers until their timeslot was done. We walked from Legends back toward the trolley stop. Near the trolley stop we found the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge across the Cumberland River. We walked to midway across the bridge and enjoyed the elevated views of the river, downtown, and the Tennessee Titans stadium on the other side of the river. At the base of the bridge we found Big Machine Vodka. Big Machine Vodka is owned by the same guy who owns Big Machine Records, the music publisher that Taylor Swift has been feuding with over the past year. We didnít take the tour, but we did purchase lemonade slushies to enjoy while waiting for the next trolley. The slushies were tasty, but outrageously priced. Of course unless you ask in advance, the price is not displayed anywhere. Back on the trolley, we listened to a little more of the tour and got off again at the Marathon Auto Works. While the whole complex of shops now occupying the old Marathon Auto Works building is cool, the primary reason we stopped here was because one of the shops is Antique Archeology. Antique Archeology is the company featured on the TV show American Pickers. We visited their Iowa shop last year and found it to be more of a souvenir shop for the show, than a collection of stuff they have picked. Well, the Nashville store is more of the same. While we were in the Marathon building, we found another small distillery and brewery called Corsairs where we enjoyed a beverage before catching the next trolley. We re-boarded the trolley and got off again a couple stops later at the Farmers Market. Although the farmers market stalls were mostly empty, there was and ice cream shop there that was highly recommended. The ice cream did not disappoint. We caught the next trolley and returned to where we started at the Parthenon. It was definitely a good way to see the highlights of the city.
During our two weeks near Nashville, we took the opportunity on three different days to have meals at three different lakeside restaurants. One was Fishtales Grill, located at Cedar Creek Marina right by the campground. We had Sunday brunch there both Sundays that we were here. We had lunch one day Shipwreck Cove Restaurant on J. Percy Priest Reservoir. And our third visit was to Samís Sports Grill located at Blue Turtle Bay Marina. All were nice places to sit on the water and enjoy a meal.
Two weeks had passed, and it was time to move on. Our normal mode of operation is to move the bus from point A to B, and then do all our touring by car. But today, we are going to depart from that mode and make not one, but two stops in the bus between points A and B. We left the campground about 09:00 so that we could travel about an hour southwest and have breakfast at the Loveless Cafť. The Loveless Cafť had been featured on the Today show a few months ago and got my attention. They are known for their southern food, especially their biscuits. I had studied Google Earth to see if we could park there, and we timed the visit for what I hoped would be a lull between breakfast and lunch. I even called to ask about the parking, and they told me if there wasnít room in the main lot, they would be happy to move a chain which would allow me access to a big open lot. When we got there, I found room at the very back of the parking lot, but if I parked there I would probably impede the departure of a large truck that was making a delivery. So, while I was stopped, deciding what to do, a guy came out and waved to me to follow him. He went to the corner of the lot and took down a chain that let me get into the other big vacant lot. With that accomplished, we went and put our name on the waiting list. Yes, even mid-morning, there was still about a half-hour wait. We enjoyed a very good breakfast, and yes, the biscuits were very good and plentiful. After our meal, we headed south towards Lynchburg, TN, the home of Jack Danielís. There are several levels of tours that you can get here, and the good ones require reservations. I had tried to make a reservation online this morning, but was unable to. I called them from Loveless Cafť, and the lady said to just come in and theyíd get us in. Again, I had researched the parking and it looked like they had a large parking lot across from the visitorís center. When we got there, we found that they had about ten spots for busses, but they were pull-in spots, meaning I would have to back out, which we canít do with the car in tow. I drove around the perimeter and found where I could take about six spots and park. As soon as I stopped, a Security truck came driving up. I thought he was going to tell me I couldnít park like that, but instead he very politely told me to follow him and heíd get us where we couldnít get blocked in. He led us around the lot and had us park along a curb where there actually was sign for RV parking that I had missed. We thanked him and headed in to the visitors center. I went to the ticket counter and found we could get on the tour I wanted in about 45 minutes. The tour was very good. Our tour guide was funny and very informative. We saw where they burn piles of wood to make the charcoal that the whisky gets filtered through, the original office building, the filtering room, the aging room, and of course the tasting room. We enjoyed a nice tasting session with samples of five of their products.
So far our unusual day of merging travel with sightseeing had worked out perfectly. But that was about to change. Our next stop is at a small family distillery which is a Harvest Host. Prichardís Distillery is about twenty miles from Jack Danielís and should take about thirty minutes to get to. That is if you follow directions. Things went south when I turned the wrong way out of the Jack Danielís parking lot. My navigation device kept telling me to turn around, but I thought I knew better, as it had led us astray a couple of times over the past couple of weeks. After going about five miles the wrong way, we realized we were seeing things we had seen on our way into town. We should have been continuing through Lynchburg, not backtracking. Unfortunately, without being able to back up while towing, our turnaround options are limited. We passed a church with a large parking lot, but they also had prominent signage saying ďNo TrucksĒ, so I respected their desire to keep heavy vehicles out and kept going. Barb was using her phone and Google Maps to try and find a suitable ďaround the blockĒ type of turnaround, but we were out in the country and the side roads looked a little sketchy. We finally saw what looked like an opportunity to make a turn which would lead us back to the highway going the direction we should be. But during this detour, I made another wrong choice when faced with a five-way intersection, where I didnít have to stop, and not much signage. I made the wrong choice which put us on a skinny back road for several miles. This road finally came back to the highway we wanted, but at such an angle that I couldnít possibly make the turn. So, we were back on the highway still going in the wrong direction. As we approached the church with the big parking lot for the second time, I begged for forgiveness and turned in. We were able to circle around and get back on the highway before any lightning bolts came from the heavens. I trusted the navigation the rest of the way and waved at Jack Danielís as we passed by. We had been in touch with Prichardís and told them we wouldnít be there before they closed, and they told us not to worry, as they would leave the gate open. We found Prichardís and could have turned around in a large field, except I wasnít confident that the ground wasnít soft. So, we unhooked the car and I backed into a spot along the edge of their gravel parking lot close enough to the building such that we could plug into the power plug they offer. We settled in for a relaxing evening after what had been a big day by our standards.
Prichardís opens at 9 AM, and we are no hurry today as we are only traveling about a hundred miles, so we took time to have some breakfast, and then went over to the distillery about 10 AM. Two carloads of ladies (all older than us) had arrived about ten minutes before we went over. When we went in, the tour girl was just starting a video for the ladies, so we just sat down in the back of the room and joined in. After the video, the girl took us on a tour of the premises. Prichardís building used to be a school house. It turns out the ladies were there because one of them went to elementary school here. As we got the tour, the lady pointed out what classes had been in each room. Some of the tidbits the tour girl knew and some she didnít. After the tour there was a nice tasting of their many products. Of course a stop at a Harvest Host wouldnít be complete without a stop at the gift shop, where we spent twice as much as we would have spent on an RV park for the night. But, we get to enjoy our purchase longer this way.
After our distillery tour, we loaded up and headed east to Chattanooga, TN. We had four days to play in Chattanooga. One day we spent at The Tennessee Aquarium. The aquarium is in two separate buildings, one focuses on the fresh water river environment, while the other focuses on the salt water sea environment. It was very well laid out and interesting. After the aquarium we hit a brewpub about a block away.
Another Chattanooga day was spent visiting three attractions that are very close together. First stop was Ruby Falls. Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall, deep under Lookout Mountain. The tour takes you into a cavern much like others we have visited. Since we were basically walking into the base of a mountain, there was no great descent into the cavern. The tour starts with an elevator ride down 26 stories. Once at cave level, we walked on a nice paved path, seeing typical pretty geologic formations, and then arrived in the waterfall room. The waterfall comes from the ceiling of the room and falls 145 feet into a pool at our feet. It really was quite spectacular.
Second stop of the day was Rock City. Rock City is a walk through some very interesting rocks on top of Lookout Mountain. The walking path is about ĺ of a mile long, passing through interesting plants, rock crevices, a swinging bridge over a crevice, a lookout point where you can see seven states, and a couple of fun exhibits in cavern rooms. There is a restaurant about halfway through the walk and plenty of places to just sit and enjoy the views.
The third attraction nearby is the Incline Railway. When you buy a ticket for the incline railway, it is for a round trip and you can start at either the top or the bottom. We started at the top, where there is nothing but parking and the railway terminal, and rode to the bottom. At the bottom the terminal is in the St. Elmo neighborhood. We walked a couple of blocks to a brewery and enjoyed a couple of beers before returning to the railway for the ride back to the car. It was a full day, but all good.
One of the music venues we had been recommended in Nashville was Puckettís Grocery. Puckettís was a general store that became a music venue also. The original location was a little out of the way for us to visit while we were in Nashville, but they have several locations now, and one of them is in Chattanooga. We made a reservation for dinner timed to let us have time to eat before the show. We got there early and had a drink at the bar before being seated at a table right by the stage. After we ate, we listened to Barrett Baber and Dustin Christensen, who both went far on the TV show The Voice in 2015. It was country, not Trop Rock, but it was good original music.
From Chattanooga we moved a couple of hours northeast to Pigeon Forge, TN. Pigeon Forge is home to Dolly Partonís Dollywood amusement park and a host of other amusement businesses. It was very similar to Branson in that it exists only for family vacations. Less than ten miles south of Pigeon Forge lies Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is also a tourist trap, but it seems to be more hotels and shops as opposed to amusement rides. In late 2016 a massive wildfire almost destroyed Gatlinburg. You can easily still see where the fire burned right to the edge of the main part of town in places. Many homes outside the immediate downtown were destroyed. One of the casualties of the fire was a chairlift that took people from downtown to the top of Crockett Mountain where there was an observation deck. The chairlift has reopened this past spring and now in addition to the observation deck, there is a pedestrian suspension bridge between peaks that hangs 140 feet over the valley below. The bridge deck is wooden, except for about fifteen feet in the middle where there are glass panels. We were in line to buy tickets to ride up and walk the bridge when there was a loud clap of thunder. For safety reasons they stop the chairlift when there is lightning in the area, so we went on to lunch. While we were eating, the rains came and it looked like it would keep raining all afternoon, so we never got to walk the bridge. We did however do another moonshine tasting, similar to the one we did in Branson. The girl doing the tasting and narration was quite funny.
After the moonshine tasting, we drove back to the bus in Pigeon Forge. We hadnít been home long and turned on the local TV news to learn that there had been a rockslide and trees down closing the road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This apparently all happened minutes after we had passed through in a downpour. Guess we got lucky.
For lunch one day, we went to a bar called the Roaminí Gnome. Since we have a traveling gnome on the dashboard of the bus, it just seemed like a place we should check out. We were the only customers there a little after noon, which normally isnít a good sign, but the food was fine and they had a selection of craft beers. Of course there were also gnomes tucked away in various places throughout the bar. Another day we went west out of Pigeon Forge to have breakfast at a restaurant called Hillbillyís. We knew about Hillbillyís because a friend recommended it, but as I am writing this I canít remember who it was. It was a good recommendation though. It was a good breakfast despite the kid who had a meltdown. After breakfast we continued away from Pigeon Forge and made a big loop through the edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park and along the Little River Gorge back to Gatlinburg. It was a very pretty ride.
On our last day in town we went to a place we noticed as we came into town a few days ago. It looked like it should be a furniture store, but the sign said that it was The Muscle Car Museum. I have no idea why a muscle car museum would end up in Pigeon Forge, but it was only $11/person, so what the heck. It turned out to be quite a place. Lots of very nice cars and many of them were Mopars which made me happy.
From Pigeon Forge, we moved on to western North Carolina. The park we stayed at a few years ago in Ashville was full, so we ended up at a park between Ashville and Hendersonville to the south. We have several former cruising friends who live in the Ashville/Hendersonville area. We visited with friend Roxanne a couple of times. First we went to her house and she gave us both haircuts. She was a hair cutter in a previous lifetime, and still takes care of friends. Another day we went to dinner with her and then went to Hendersonvilleís Music on Main. They have a bandstand right downtown where they have free concerts and a car show weekly during the summer. After the music we walked a couple blocks to Sanctuary Brewing Company for a couple of beers. The other time we got together was at Point Lookout Vineyards. As the name suggests, this winery is on top of a mountain. There were some other folks there that Roxanne knew and we had a nice visit for a couple of hours.
We met other cruising friends, Richard & Harriet, for lunch at the Grove Arcade in downtown Ashville. The Grove Arcade isnít a gaming arcade. It is a collection of small shops and restaurants in one old historic building. It isnít an old office building converted to this use. This is what it was built for in the 1920s. But, it was taken over by the Federal government during WW-II and converted to offices. It remained a Federal Building until the 1990s when it was remodeled back to its original use on the ground floor, and some offices and some luxury apartments on the upper floors. We had lunch at Carmelís Kitchen and caught up with Richard & Harriet.
The other cruisers we visited with were Hunter & Devi. They, and their dog, joined us for lunch not far from where we were staying at the Green Sage Cafť. We had a nice lunch and sat on the patio and visited for quite a while.
One other day we took a ride from Ashville to Little Switzerland via the Blue Ridge Parkway for lunch. When we were in Ashville a few years ago, we had taken a ride south of Ashville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and this trip is north from Ashville. Little Switzerland is a small community just off the parkway with a Switzerland theme. We didnít go to their restaurant for lunch, but rather a small place down the road a little called Mountain View. We had a nice lunch, enjoyed the views, and returned via the parkway to Hendersonville. A ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of those deals where you see different things depending on which way you go.
From North Carolina, we headed north to Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, TN. Bristol is right on the Tennessee/Virginia border, and the town straddles the state line. State Street is the main downtown street, and there are little brass markers on the centerline of the street indicating TN on one side and VA on the other. They warn you about watching out for tourist pedestrians taking pictures straddling the state line. As with other NASCAR races we have camped at, we arrived the first day camping opened, which is usually the Monday before race weekend. Since NASCAR camping tends to be pretty tight quarters, I would rather get there early and leave late so I donít have to work hard at getting in or out of my spot. Where we are camping is normally the parking lot for the dragstrip at the facility. Most NASCAR tracks weíve been to before give you 40íx20í spaces, which is tight for us. Here, the spaces are only 40íx16í, so it is really tight. As our neighbors arrived, we worried about how close we would be, but it worked out great. We had groups on both sides of us who have six spots each. On one side, the spot between us was where they had their seating area, and on the other side they used that space to park their truck, so the just hugged the other edge, giving us some space. We took it easy during the week, but did go out a few times. We went to see the movie The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is about racing, but more about life and itís all told from a dogís point of view. Then we enjoyed racing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Bristol is a unique NASCAR track. It is only a half-mile track, which is the shortest NASCAR runs, and the seating is stadium style all the way around the track. They hold two race weekends here each year, one during the day, and one at night. The night race is considered one of those must-do things for a NASCAR fan, and we were not disappointed.
From Bristol we are heading to my brotherís house in New York State. We could have done it in one long day, but decided to break it up in two instead. It was a good thing we did, as we ran into a lot of traffic. Our mid-way stop is at a Harvest Host called Jackís Hard Cider. We planned a four hour drive which would have had us arriving in plenty of time to visit the tasting room. But, that four hour drive turned into almost seven, so the tasting room was closed when we got there. There was one other couple camping there and we chatted with them a bit after we got settled. It turned out we had a lot in common, as they had gone around the world in a sailboat before trading that life for an RV. The next day, the tasting room doesnít open until noon, and we need to be on the road, so we left without getting to taste the cider.
We arrived at my brotherís house early in the afternoon where we are going to park for the first time on his newly blacktopped driveway. On the advice of the paving guy, we put sheets of thick plywood under each wheel to spread out the load on the relatively new (three weeks) blacktop. The primary reason for returning to this area this summer is to attend my high school reunion. But, as with other years, my brother always has projects going on, and some of them require two people. We didnít waste any time getting into the projects, the larger of which included putting a metal roof on his large back porch, and building a 24íx12í shed where he can put his tractor and riding mower in the winter. Last year we built a similar shed out by his bee hives. That one wasnít quite square which resulted in some challenges when putting the metal roof on it. We did much better on this one.
Last summer when we were here, I worked on my brotherís 65 VW Bug, getting it mechanically fixed up with brakes, shocks, and a tune-up. Over the winter he made a deal to get it painted, and the interior restored to original. It has taken longer than expected, but while we were here he finally got it back from the shop. It looks great.
Of course while we were in NY, we visited my daughterís family a couple of times. They are on Long Island, a couple of hours from my brotherís house. One of my grandsons is in his 20s and works, so heís not always available when we visit. The younger three grandkids are teenagers who either have summer jobs or summer school activities, so they too are always coming and going. This year, both times we visited, all four of the grandkids were there. It was great to see them all at once. It was cool to see how all they are suddenly becoming young adults instead of ďkidsĒ. We really enjoyed visiting with them all and got a great picture of us all together.
I attacked several bus projects while we were here, including getting the washer/dryer out of the cabinet, which required my brotherís help. Once it was out, I was able to take it apart and I found a fried part on the control board. I ordered a new control board and replaced it. We got it installed again and it works fine. I also replaced the brake pads on the tow dolly. They had needed it since mid-summer, but I delayed it until we got here. Our car got some attention too, when I replace the front bumper cover that I damaged back in Tennessee. The new bumper cover comes in flat black, ready to be painted to match the car. I checked with a local body shop to see how much painting would be, and it was way more than I was willing to pay, since the flat black bumper doesnít look bad.
As I said, the primary reason we came to NYS this summer was to attend my high school reunion. I was in the Class of 70, and we combined with the Class of 69 for the reunion. So, it was my 49th, and their 50th. The reunion was the last weekend in September. On Friday evening, a group of us met at a local bar for an informal meet and greet. The main event was held at a nice event venue that has been there since before we graduated. Although the venue has been around forever, it has been well kept and is one of the premier event venues in the area. Our school was pretty small, with maybe 120 people in each of the two classes. Unfortunately, many are gone now, and many have lost touch with classmates. But, we still had a nice turnout of maybe 100 people, including guests, and even a couple of teachers.
Our trip from Texas to New York this year was a zig-zag affair through Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. So, there is no reason to expect weíll take a direct route back. From my brotherís, we headed southwest in eastern Pennsylvania to Pottsville. Pottsville is the home of the Yuengling Brewery. There are actually no RV parks within about fifteen miles of Pottsville, so we landed at the Echo Valley RV Park just as early as we could, and immediately drove back to Pottsville in order to get in on the Yuengling tour. The Yuengling plant is quite old and although they do have additional newer, larger plants now also, this original brewery is still in use. The tour includes a stop in their tasting room of course, and we were lucky enough to be there on the release date of a new limited edition brew. Yuengling partnered with Hershey, which is not far away, to brew a chocolate porter that was delicious.
The next day we traveled northeast across Pennsylvania to a Harvest Host called Starr Hill Winery in Curwensville, PA. The road into Starr Hill is a mile or so of narrow neighborhood street. Once there, they have a nice paved horseshoe shaped drive. They just have you park at the end, blocking the drive, but most traffic goes in and out one side anyway. They have a 50 amp plug available also, so no generator was needed. We went in the gift shop and tasted some wines and then purchased a bottle. The view out our windshield was out over a valley of trees just starting to show their fall colors.
Our next destination is Nappanee, IN to visit P.J. at MCIRV where we had the bus re-skinned and painted. P.J. is very active in the local volunteer fire department, and I had seen a post on his Facebook page about a pancake breakfast they were having on Saturday. So we are going to arrive on Friday and hopefully surprise him at the breakfast. From the winery to Nappanee could be one very long day, or we could make it two days. Since the Ohio Turnpike has great rest areas that welcome overnight parking, unlike most states, we stopped outside Toledo for the night. The rest areas have actual RV parking with electric, but those spots are limited to 40í long vehicles. With the car, we are 57í long, so we park in the area where trucks park instead. Like when we stay in a truck stop, we donít put out the slides, but itís fine for a night, and the price is right. In the morning, we continued on to Nappanee and went to Pla-Mor RV Park. In the past when we have come to MCIRV, we have stayed at the shop, but since we want our visit to be a surprise, we didnít do that. Saturday morning, we went to the firehouse for the breakfast. We paid at the door and got in line for pancakes, keeping an eye out for P.J. the whole time. We didnít see him by the time we finished eating, so I finally asked another fireman where he was. The breakfast started at 6 Am and we didnít get there until about 9 AM. Turns out he was there early and had apparently left just before we got there to go to his daughterís track meet. Since we didnít know where the track meet was, we gave up on the surprise plan and texted him. He was surprised to hear from us, but he had plans most of the weekend, so weíll just see him Monday at the shop. We relaxed at the RV park for the rest of the weekend and went to MCIRVís shop Monday morning. After visiting a bit, P.J. had one of his guys fix a couple of things on our big slide. As usual, these were things I could do myself, but they were much easier with proper ladders. After going to lunch with P.J. and Ben, we left MCIRV and headed south. From here we are just booking it to my sonís house outside Dallas. So, we arenít going to spend time and money on RV parks. Outside Indianapolis we stopped at a Flying J truck stop where we parked for the night. The next day, we made it to outside Memphis to another Flying J. Both stops were typical truck stop overnights.
The next day, we got to my sonís house in Josephine, TX, northeast of Dallas. We pretty much just hung here for nine days. We did take a ride into Plano to see the progress on the new Shutterfly building that my son will manage when itís done. It is currently the bare concrete shell, but they expect to be operating in January.
From my sonís we drove to Kemah. But, we arenít home yet. We are joining the Karavan to the Keys which we have done all or part of for the past three years. The Karavan is a group of musicians and their fans who are traveling from TX or points west to Key West for the annual Parrothead gathering, Meeting of the Minds. The Karavan is hosted by Donny Brewer. Most of the Karavan participants are traveling in RVs and we will stop six times between Kemah and Key West, with shows most nights at the stops. The Karavan stars this year in Kemah at T-Bone Tomís. The city has allowed us to park for two nights in the parking lot across from T-Boneís so we are walking distance to Donnyís show Friday and Jerry Diaz and Hannaís Reef Saturday night. Sunday we moved to Cajun Palms RV Park, near Lafayette, LA. Crawfish Town is a restaurant adjacent to the park that is normally closed on Sunday evening, but they opened just for about fifty of us and we had a great meal and a show from Danny Rosado. Monday we moved to Island Retreat RV park in Gulf Shores, AL. We will be here for two nights. The first night we went to Luluís to see Brent Burns. The second night we had a private show featuring Eric Erdman, Mike Nash, Wes Loper, and Donny Brewer. So far, almost every RV on the Karavan has had an issue. This stop was our turn. Our exhaust pipe has rusted so the chrome tip on the end is disconnected from it and just dangling from the hanger. I cut the hanger off so the tip wasnít bouncing around, and Iíll deal with it when we get parked for the winter. Next stop was the parking lot of Bass Pro Shops in Gainesville, FL. We pretty much took over the whole side parking lot where employees usually park. Between two of the rigs, we set up chairs and tables and had a pot-luck dinner, followed by some informal jamming with the musicians present. Next stop was near Kissimmee, FL at the home of Bill Cockrell who is a Trop Rock musician himself and has a large property. We had about fifteen rigs there and two nights of music. The performers were Bill Cockrell, Eric Erdman, Erica Sunshine Lee, Sunny Jim, Thom Shepherd and Coley McCabe, Aaron Scherz, Kristine Jackson, Chris Holmes, and Danny Rosado. Of course there were numerous collaborations of all these performers as well as others from earlier shows. The performances you will never see anywhere else are why I love the Karavan. Unfortunately, Friday evening, some rain came and shortened the show a little, but that was the first bad weather we have had in a week, so weíve been lucky.
Saturday was a down day for us. Most everybody was staying at Cockrellís until Sunday. Some folks went into Orlando to the Margaritaville Resort to visit J.D. Spradlin while he did his live radio show on Radio Margaritaville. We elected to not go and just hung out relaxing before the four day drive back to TX. Sunday morning, we pulled out with everybody else, but as they turned south to Key West, we turned back north to return to TX. We didnít push hard and took four days to make the trip, with stops in Tallahassee, near Mobile, AL, near Lafayette, LA, and finally Kemah where we are staying at the same park we have stayed at the past four years.
Thus ends our summer adventure. Until next timeÖ