Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
October 29, 2016 - Rock City, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gulf State Park Pier

On Tuesday we explored the Gulf State Park Pier. Upon check-in at the park, we had received a coupon for free admission to the pier. Otherwise, it's $3 per person to visit, and more to fish from the pier.

The original pier was built in 1968, but was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. This new 1,540 foot pier was built a bit east of the old pier in 2008, and is the longest on the Gulf Coast.

We went on a warm and windy day to see the high surf. The tall buildings are part of Gulf Shores, Alabama.

There were several people fishing, and the pelicans were looking for a handout.

We've been keeping busy walking and bike riding. There are lots of trails to explore in the park. The other day we biked the Cotton Bayou Trail and discovered a cute primitive tenting area. The three tents look like the type you see in Civil War era movies with cots inside. Each has a solar panel in back to provide power for lights inside, a porch with chairs and a fire pit.

There is a communal wash station with a sink and hand pump.

A portable toilet is off to one side and there is an outdoor shower. Inside the shower is another hand pump with instructions to pump 100 times to fill the tank on top. I'm guessing the water is pretty cold. It would probably be smart to fill the tank in the morning, and shower later in the day. It looked like a fun place to camp when the nights are not too cold. You have to hike in 1.5 miles on the trail, and the cost is $50 per night.

As we were biking along the trail, two large birds flew up in front of us. One of them landed high up in a nearby pine tree. I couldn't believe I was seeing a great blue heron up in the tree. I've never seen one in a tree, and would have guessed they stay on the ground. I've only ever seen them on the beach or in marshes. The picture isn't the best, as I only had my cell phone camera with me.

Thanksgiving was pleasant, but quiet. I spoke to my mom and both of our boys, and then enjoyed some beautiful beach time while Kevin watched football. It was near 80 degrees that day.

Since then, we've had some much needed rain and it has cooled off a bit.

Last week we also played a round of golf at the course in the state park. It is a nice course, and not too difficult. We're going back tomorrow to play another round.

Today is December 1st, and there has been a steady flow of RVs coming into the park. I think some snowbirds are arriving. We'll be here until the end of the month, but are leaving for about a week to drive back home for Christmas. I'm looking forward to being with family for the holidays this year.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Relaxing at Gulf State Park

We arrived at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama on November 11th. We spent our first week here relaxing and exploring in the park. We spent five days here in March of 2014 and wanted to come back this year for a longer visit. During the winter months, it is very hard to get a spot as the snowbirds fill up the park. Right now, there are many vacant spots making our visit super peaceful. Love it!

The park is huge with almost 500 full hook-up sites, which is unusual for a state park. Since our last visit, they've added a fifteen percent state park fee making the monthly rate around $700 which includes electricity. There are lots of biking and hiking trails, tennis courts, a nature center, golf course, laundry room and pool open in the summer. We've really been enjoying walking and biking on the trails. Several new trails and boardwalks have been added since our last visit, so at least they are using the added tax for improvements.

The beach is about a ten minute bike ride from our site. Kevin and I road our bikes there once, and I've gone back two more times by myself as Kevin is not much of a beach person.  I love watching the waves, hearing the surf sounds, walking in the water and along the shore. Each time I go, I see something new.

There are a lot of these birds; I think they are called least terns.

This heron was hanging around some fishermen. He was not at all shy, probably only five feet from the people. I was able to walk within a few feet of him before he flew off.

This strange creature washed up on shore one day. It looks like some kind of ray; I think it was dead.

One day there were lots of jelly fish washed up. We saw them in Texas, but they had a blue look to them there. The ones here have pink markings.

We've seen many birds and butterflies. These were right at our site.

This is a mockingbird. When it flies, its wings are black and white; very pretty.

A few nights ago, the super moon was all the hype on the news. I tried to get a night time picture, but I don't know how to do it, and none of them turned out. This was the following morning, just before the moon set. Very beautiful.

We've enjoyed spectacular weather since we left Wisconsin. Today a front is coming through which will drop the temps into the 60s for two days. Next week will be back in the 70s and sunny. We plan to golf next week.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Mississippi State Capitol

Yesterday we headed to Jackson to tour the Mississippi State Capitol. On the way, we passed the Old Capitol which is now a museum.

The current Capitol was opened in 1903 at a cost of $1 million. The money came from a lawsuit by the state against the Illinois Central Railroad for back taxes. In 1982 it was restored at a cost of $19 million. It is a beautiful building.

The eagle on the top is 8 feet high and 15 feet wide. It is made of solid copper and covered in three ounces of gold leaf.

Here's a picture of the rotunda from the inside which is 180 feet high.

There is quite a bit of marble in the building, but much of what looks like marble is actually man-made art marble called scagliola. Due to many years of smoking inside, the man-made marble is more yellow looking than the real marble.

We joined a tour of the capitol when we got there. We've been to several state capitols, and many of them seem pretty empty and not much is going on. Usually, you are given a sheet of paper for a self-guided tour. The Mississippi Capitol was buzzing with activity. Southern hospitality was evident in everyone we talked to. There were several meetings going on. The Senate and House Chambers were full of high school students participating in a mock government exercise.

The ceilings of the Senate and House Chambers are gorgeous stained glass. This is from the Senate chamber.

Notice all of the light bulbs? Electricity was pretty new in 1903 and the architect was excited to add lots of electric light. There are 4,750 original light fixtures. Also, notice the colorful palette of the walls. Originally, most of the walls and ceilings were white plaster. In 1934 a major painting program was undertaken, funded by the Civil Works Administration. This was just one of the programs during the depression to put people to work; in this case artists.

In the House chamber hallway there were pictures of all of the house members for each term session. One of those included the author John Grisham. I knew he was an attorney, but didn't realize he had been a politician as well. Our tour guide told us he served from 1984 to 1990, and it is rumored he wrote much of A Time to Kill while in office.

We've been staying at Springridge Mobile Estates and RV Park. The RV portion is an asphalt lot with hookups in the middle of the older mobile home park. Nothing to get excited about, but fine for a few days to explore the area. Our neighbors have a motor home toy hauler. You don't see those too often. Their little smart car fits right inside.

We've been in tourist mode and quite busy for the past month. Today we head to Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama where we will be until the end of December. We're looking forward to some relaxing, biking, and beach time.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Vicksburg National Military Park and Cemetery

Yesterday we visited Vicksburg, Mississippi where a major battle of the Civil War was fought. Over 20,000 people lost their lives in 1863 during the siege and defense. We've visited several Civil War National Battlefields and Military Parks on this trip. There are very many in the South.

After viewing the movie in the Visitor Center, I wondered what these soldiers would think about our country today. It seems we are very divided as a country, which is what many of them were fighting against. Made me feel sad.

Vicksburg is located on the Yazoo River near the Mississippi River and was an important port for the Confederate Army. The Confederate soldiers were positioned on the top of the hills surrounding the city, and the Union Army was pushed back again and again. Eventually, the Union surrounded the city and cut off their supplies. The South ended up surrendering as they were starving and dying of disease. The occupation of Vicksburg cut off a major supply route for the South.

There is a driving route through the park where over 1,340 monuments can be seen. Many are stone markers honoring the different infantry divisions, placed near where they fought. There are also quite a few bronze busts and statues honoring the officers. Many of the states erected large monuments honoring the soldiers from those states. There is a beautiful arch leading into the park.

Throughout the park are hundreds of stone markers like the one below honoring the infantry groups from each state. The Union states that fought here were mostly from the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana. We saw markers for Missouri on both sides as that state was divided during the Civil War.

The park was established in 1899 and many surviving soldier's groups began erecting the monuments where they fought. States commissioned artists and sculptors to create memorials, and the first state memorial was erected in 1903. Over 95 percent of the monuments were erected by 1917. The largest, shown below, is from the state of Illinois.

Shirley House is the only surviving wartime structure in the park. During the siege it served as the Illinois 45th Infantry headquarters. It has been restored to its 1863 appearance. I loved the roses still blooming along the path.

Wisconsin had a very nice state monument.

During the Civil War, ironclad steam ships were constructed. One of them hit mines on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg on December 12, 1862. It sank in twelve minutes with no loss of life. In 1956 it was discovered resting at the bottom of the river encased in silt and mud. Extensive salvage operations allowed it to be recovered from the bottom of the river in the 1960s. It is the only remaining ironclad of its time and is now on display at Vicksburg National Military Park.  It was amazing how over 100 years later, the silt had preserved so much of the ship and the artifacts lost by the sailors. There was a small museum displaying many of those artifacts.

Vicksburg National Cemetery is the second largest national cemetery and covers over 116 acres inside of Vicksburg National Military Park. Over 17,000 Civil War Union soldiers are buried here. The Confederate soldiers are buried at a different cemetery in Vicksburg. When National Cemeteries were first established, only Union solders were buried there. There are also soldiers buried here from other wars. Burials were stopped in 1961.

Most of the soldiers are unknown. About 5,000 were identified. As you can see from the picture below, some graves have larger stones with names on them, but most of them are just small concrete posts marking an unknown grave. So many lives tragically cut short.

Many southern states did not have money after the war to erect state monuments, so some of those were erected quite a bit later than the northern ones. Their style was definitely more modern looking. Alabama erected theirs in 1951. The female figure represents the State of Alabama inspiring her Confederate defenders of Vicksburg.

After finishing at the park, we drove to downtown Vicksburg. They have a levee wall along the Yazoo River with murals painted along it. We drove past, but didn't find a parking place, so didn't stop. It reminded me of the wall in Paducah, Kentucky.

Downtown Vicksburg is the home to the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum. The restored 1890 building is where Coca-Cola was first bottled in 1894.

We've seen an interesting tree in the south with maple like leaves and spiny balls hanging from its branches. I found out its the sweet gum tree. The balls protect its seeds. Very interesting!

Whenever we travel to a new area for us, I try to remember to look at the Roadside America website for unusual or quirky things to see. One of them is a cell tower shaped like the Washington Monument along I-55 in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tupelo and Natchez Trace Parkway

We've been at Natchez Trace RV Park near Tupelo, Mississippi for the past week. We've experienced some beautiful weather and had some time to relax, as there doesn't seem to be much to do in Mississippi. Our original plan was to arrive at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama on December 1st, and explore as we slowly made our way south. We've actually reserved our site in Gulf Shores beginning on November 11th because there just wasn't that much we were interested in exploring on our way there.

Tupelo's claim to fame is that Elvis Presley was born here on January 8, 1935 in a house his father built, pictured below. I didn't know that he had a twin who was still born. The Presleys lived in Tupelo until Elvis was 13 years old when they moved to Memphis to try to make a better life, as they were quite poor in Tupelo.

There is a nice park near downtown dedicated to Elvis. A museum, memorial chapel, birth house, childhood church, statues and fountains are all in the park. You can pay to get a tour and see the museum, or you can just wander around for free. We are not super big Elvis fans, so we just wandered around a bit.

We did go into the gift shop and found out we could watch the movie about his life in Tupelo for free. This picture of Elvis as a boy was on the wall.

This statue represents Elvis at age 13 when the family moved away.

His childhood church was moved from a block away to the museum grounds. Elvis enjoyed singing and often sang in church.

For his 11th birthday, Elvis really wanted a rifle or bicycle. His mother took him to Tupelo Hardware to pick out his present, but she wouldn't let him get the gun or bike as she thought he would hurt himself with either of them. A store clerk showed him a guitar, and although he really didn't want it,  his mother bought it for him for $7.75. As they say, the rest is history! The hardware store opened in 1926 and is still in business being run by the fourth generation of the Booth family.

While we were here, we also visited the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center. I had heard of this parkway, but really didn't know much about it. It's a 440 mile scenic road that goes from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. Commercial vehicles are not allowed, but recreational vehicles are.

We discovered that the route was used by Indians many years ago. Traders from the north would bring their goods down the Mississippi River on flatboats to sell in the south. Since they couldn't take their boats back upriver, they would sell the boats as well and use the Natchez trail to walk back home. It became a popular route and was used heavily until steam ships were invented. The trail was becoming overgrown when the Daughters of the American Revolution members lobbied the government to have it paved and preserve the roadway for its natural and cultural heritage.

One of the brochures I picked up about Tupelo suggested eating at the Neon Pig Cafe. They have a burger called the Smash Burger that was voted as the best burger in America in 2015 by (which I've never  heard of). The cafe is a farm to table establishment and also a butcher shop and market. The burger is made of a mix of ground steaks and has a hearty smokey flavor. We each ordered one, but neither one of us were too impressed. It was actually too smokey for my taste, and we both ended up with indigestion to boot. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Tomorrow we're heading to Jackson, Mississippi for a few days. We'll see what we can find to explore there.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Chickamauga National Military Park

Late yesterday morning we visited the Chickamauga National Military Park in Georgia, about fifteen miles from the RV Park. There are two National Military Parks in the Chattanooga area where two significant battles were fought during the civil war in 1863. We visited the other one at Point Park on Lookout Mountain on Friday.

We started our visit by looking at the exhibits inside and then watching a movie that explained both battles fought here in this area in the fall of 1863.

The Battle of Chickamauga took place over a three day period in September. Both battles were about the control of Chattanooga, the gateway to the South.  The Confederates were victorious at Chickamauga, causing the Union Army to retreat to the Lookout Mountain area in Chattanooga. The problem was the Union still controlled Chattanooga, so in November the Confederate Army attacked again. This time the Union was victorious, and was able to cut off an important supply route to the South.

In 1890 the battlefields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga became the nation's first national military park, five years before Gettysburg. Civil War veterans spearheaded the legislation through Congress. There is an auto tour route where you can see many of the memorials that were erected by different organizations.

This one is from a Florida regiment.

Another beautiful monument.

And, of course, lots of cannons. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives in this beautiful scenic area. So sad!

Here's a site you don't see too often. This rig was on the interstate in front of us a few days ago. Some people really like their toys. There was a motorcycle on a lift, the car on a tow dolly, two bikes on a hitch on the car and two kayaks on top of the car. Wow!!

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rock City

Yesterday we visited Rock City, the last of the three attractions on Lookout Mountain. It's an unusual place mixing natural beauty with touristy type traps. They describe themselves as a geological and botanical wonder.

It began in the 1920s when Garnet and Frieda Carter began to develop a large walk-through garden on their private estate. They marked paths through the huge rock formations. Frieda gathered over 400 varieties of plant life to form gardens. In 1932 they opened their Rock City Gardens to the public.

We wandered through the maze of paths until we got to the highest lookout point. Along the way there were interesting rock formations and some tight squeezes through the rock walls. Here is a view of Lover's Leap. There is a waterfall coming down from the top into a pool. Legend has it that two Indians from warring tribes fell in love and eloped. When their families caught up to them, they threw the groom off the cliff. His distraught bride jumped after him. Gruesome story!!

Seven states are supposedly visible from atop. It was a bit hazy, so I have no idea if we actually saw all seven of them, but I'm going with it.

Flags from each of the states are also on display at the top.

Views from the top were spectacular. This corn maze was visible; a different perspective than you usually get of a corn maze.

Frieda collected statues and gnomes which are on display throughout the gardens. I particularly liked this eagle statue with the fall leaves behind it.

Each weekend in October they are celebrating "Rocktoberfest". We sat and enjoyed listening to a German band while Kevin tried their Octoberfest beer. One of the band members played a song using cow bells. Pretty awesome.

They also have a raptor show three times a day. I think this was the best part of the place. Several raptor birds were brought out and the presenters told us about them. A few of them even flew over the heads of the audience. All of the birds are not able to live in the wild for various reasons mostly having to do with human imprinting.

This is a barred owl.

Next is a barn owl. The circular disk around their face acts like a satellite dish and makes them hear super well.

This eagle was shot when it was quite young, and its left wing had to be amputated. His handler is an avid hang glider and has fashioned a sling so the eagle "flies" with him. How cool is that. He's even written a book about their adventures.

Of the three Lookout Mountain attractions, I think Rock City was my least favorite. It is a pretty area and the path through the rocks was pretty cool, but that was about it. Having the German band there made it more interesting, as well as the raptor show.

As you continue to follow the path towards the exit, you go through Fairyland Caverns. Inside are scenes depicting different fairy tales using figures and black light. I'm sure kids enjoy it.

The Carters were certainly ambitious and entrepreneurial. Garnet invented the first miniature golf course called Tom Thumb which became a franchise. He also started a unique promotional campaign to bring tourists to his gardens. At its peak the phrase "See Rock City" was painted on over 900 barns along highways leading into Chattanooga. It's amazing to me that this somewhat hokey attraction still draws huge crowds, including us :)

Aside from the attractions, Lookout Mountain has many grand and stately homes on top as well as some Bed and Breakfast hotels and even a Starbucks. It's a pretty place, but the road going to the top is very narrow and windy.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!