And then there was North Carolina

We have found two new favorite places to stop.  Preparing to leave Walden Creek RV Park in Pigeon Forge which we will return to again – this was our second stay, I did some online research and found that many participants really liked Mama Gertie’s Hideaway Campground just outside Asheville.  The drive through the mountains was beautiful and uneventful.  We managed to avoid Interstates until we got near Asheville.

The campground is set on a mountainside.  The roads are fairly steep, but the angles are such that we never bottomed the hitch.  The turns to access the pull throughs were designed to make access easy.  We really enjoyed the owners and the other RVers there.  Oh and it was quiet, no road noise and although we heard some trains during the day, we never heard them at night.  We give this a five star.

While there we returned to The Biltmore Estate for the first time since 1984.  It is a phenomenal private residence and this time we arranged to take a Behind the Scenes tour which took in the boilers, the kitchens, and the service areas that are not open to the audio guided self tour which we also took.  The next day we drove up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and took a short hike, about 2 miles with some steep parts (actually some not so steep parts mixed with mostly steep).  Having finished that by 1:30 we continued on to yet another RV dealer, Tom Johnson RV, which turned out to have sold all of the coaches we might have considered, including those they had on order.  Oh well back to Gee 2.

Today we set out towards Virginia.  I may have mentioned that last Fall we joined Harvest Host which is a group of wineries, farm markets, etc that have space for an RV or two to stay the night free while sampling the products – the sampling is not mandatory but seems courteous.   As we have crossed the country we have only been within easy range of one participant and that was a huge winery in the Paso Robles area and the facility seemd to be a very large very busy gravel parking lot between the tasting room and the highway.  We did not stay.  So as we prepared to move on today I looked up Harvest Host participants along the way.  The one I selected based on its closeness to our route was Thistle Meadow Winery.

A diversion, as we pulled in there was the smell of overheated brakes.  In the distraction of arrival I did not jump out and examine the car and coach. brakes.  Later when Tom was taking us on a tour, I noticed lights on the back of the car, brake lights!  I asked him to bring us right back and I found the front brakes still hot and one wheel cap had fallen off.  I pulled up on the brake pedal and the lights went off.  We left again on our tour with Tom.  Much later, I opened the car and discovered a Meyers Lemon that we had picked in Davis, CA had been rolling around on the floor for 6 weeks or more and had lodged in a position to prevent the US Gear brake piston from retracting fully, causing the brakes to drag!  Later yet as we walked the yard I spotted the missing cap and was able to put it back in place.  We disconnected the car from the coach and drove it around the yard, there is no indication of any brake problems.  We will have them inspected in Charlottesville next week.

Back to Thistle Meadow and owner Tom Burgiss.  Tom is a garrulous 80 year old who has not figured out that he can retire, nor does he want to.  He offered us electricity, but the outlet is many feet up the power pole and frankly since we did not expect to have it we decided to say thank you but we would be fine without it.  As we were setting up he came over and walked me over to the field across the road from the coach and pointed out the area where they have weddings, with a covered area for the Bride and Groom, I almost said chupa, but that is hardly likely in these parts.  Then he came by with the car and took us to see the house which is where they lived for many years – his mother was born there 101 years ago.  As we toured he pointed out that they ran it as a B & B for 35 years and now they rent it out for mountain getaways.  Then he drove us up the road accompanied by Rosie a greyhound mix running alongside at speeds up to 35 mph , of course she does have some shortcuts.  There new house is designed to support them through the last stages of life with wide hallways and roll in shower and and few large rooms.  It is a lovely place and I hope that there preparations are not needed for many years.

Tom then took us to the winery where we tasted some wine and saw where he makes it and then to the warehouse where he prepares and ships kits for home wine making or small winery setups.  We were very impressed and plan on buying some of his Malbec before leaving.  It is made from concentrate of Malbec grapes imported from Argentina.  I could go on, he was a pharmacist, he had his own plane and I am not sure that there is anything he hasn’t tried short of brain surgery.  What a blast.  Oh yes his car is a nice new Subaru Outback with 6 speed manual shift!  Definitely a man after our hearts.

I think Carol is presently writing the same story for her post.  Read us both to get the full story. Her posts are at

and there went MS and AL and on to TN

Whew, we’ve been on the move.  As we entered Mississippi we were headed for the Natchez Trace Parkway (hereafter NTP) and planned to stay the night at Rocky Springs Campground, taxpayer supported through the National Park Service and free to all, no hookups and no dump, but free.  As we drove in, it was swarming with kids.  Every site was full at 1 PM on a Friday and even if there had been an empty, I doubt we would have stayed given the level of energy we saw.  On to Springridge Mobil Home and RV Park outside of Jackson.  It left a lot to be desired, the asphalt was crumbling and the spaces were tight and  it was clear that many of the utility posts had been hit more than once.  However it was not terribly pricey, it was available on a gorgeous spring break weekend, so we stayed.  We toured Jackson after Shabbat service at Temple Beth Israel.  It was March 17 and the good people of Jackson take it very seriously, although they don’t look Irish 🙂  We were barely able to drive around the state capitol building and the entire area was completely parked up for the parade.  We made our escape back to the campground and watched a movie.

The next day we got back on the NTP and made it to Jeff Busby Campground.  This is much further from a large city and had room for us to camp overnight.  Since there was nothing to hook up, set up was easy and we were soon climbing the nature trail to the top of the mountain.  At 603 feet this is the high point of Mississippi.  There is a group of people who attempt to visit the “high point” in all 50 states.  Mississippi, Florida and Rhode Island are all fairly easy at well under 1,000 feet.  Although until recently RI was very hard as it is on private land and the owners only made it available one day a year.  I understand they have now opened that up.  I have several “high points” although I have not kept track as it does not seem likely I will get to 50.  Alaska is Denali and Washington is Mount Ranier for just a couple of unlikely places for me to reach.  I can think of several others I have done including Mount Marcy (NY), Florida, Mt Pisgah in NC.  As I said I have not bothered to keep track.

From Jeff Busby it was onward to Alabama and the home of Tiffin Motorhomes, finally.  We stayed at Camp Allegro amid a sea of Tiffins awaiting service.  As the snow birds migrate up and down the east coast they make appointments well in advance to stop in Red Bay to get whatever service their coaches may need as they pass by.  We have never seen such a friendly loose operation.  At the suggestion of the man who checked us in, we drove over to the paint facility in Belmont Mississippi to see the coaches coming off the paint line.  The guard at the gate noted our names, gave us safety glasses and told us to feel free to enter any coach that was unlocked and to wander around inside the painting building.  Sure enough we walked through several coaches that were sitting waiting to be driven to dealers and then walked into the building which houses 16 paint booths, each big enough to house a 45 foot motorhome with room for the crew to paint it.  They drive the coaches around inside the building from station to station and visitors are free to wander through at their leisure.

Surely the factory couldn’t be as loose, wrong.  The difference there was we were issued name badges that said “visitor” and given a guided tour of everything but R and D and the welding shop.  Then we were told we could go on any nearly completed coach on the floor and feel free to go look at whatever we wanted to see and talk to anyone we wanted to ask a question of.  Indeed, we were told that people whose coaches are being built are free to come in and watch the building in process.  We were free to take pictures and did,  but I doubt they would be of any interest, haven’t even looked at them ourselves yet.

Later that day, Tuesday, we were back on the road headed for . . .  well we weren’t quite sure, but as we rolled we found an Elks Lodge (#91) in Chattanooga TN another state line and another time zone, we are now in Eastern Time Zone.  The parking is along the back of the lot with a creek and grassy yard to look at. The hookup consists of two 20 amp outlets.  Plenty for us as we were prepared to dry camp.  After resting a bit following our longish day, we got out to see some of Chattanooga.  We toured Ruby Falls, Rock City and rode the Incline Railway.  Then we had a very nice dinner at 212 on Market Street followed by a grocery shopping expedition before returning to Gee 2 to write this.

All three sites we toured are on Lookout Mountain which extends from TN into NC and GA.  From the overlook at the top of Rock City one can see seven states, from Tennessee to the two Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Kentucky and oh yes Alabama.  If that viewpoint were all there was, as we had been lead to believe, it would have been sufficient, but Rock City is a winding path through a natural rock formation that has been decorated with gnomes, Fallow Deer, a magnificent garden and all of Mother Goose.  Ruby Falls, on the way up Lookout Mountain, is a cavern – we seldom will pass up a cavern – that ends at a 146 foot underground waterfall and it is named for the discoverer’s wife Ruby.  Unfortunately in the Depression era when times were tight the cavern was opened to unguided tourists and much damage was done to what must have been many glorious formations.  There are very few undamaged formations to be seen and the presence of thousands of tourists who insist on breathing has done further immeasurable damage.  It was still worth seeing and I would not suggest that anyone coming to Chattanooga bypass it.  The Incline needs to be seen and experienced.  It travels a mile and at its steepest the track is at 72 degrees!  That is the steepest Incline in the US if not the world.  It consists of two cars on a double cable.  When it was built in 1895 they had to minimize the width of the track for cost purposes.  Thus the bottom half is a single track.  At the midpoint, where the cars must pass there is a double track so they can.  Above the switch, there are three rails!  Both cars use the middle rail, not at the same time of course.  This keeps the cable from coming in contact with the section going in the other direction.

In the morning, after we do some computer work, we will head for the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area.  It is a bout two and a half hours by Interstate.  I have no idea how long it will take if we choose some other route.

and there went Louisiana

Whew, two nights at Paragon Casino RV Park in Marksville, about half way across LA and here we are in Mississippi, Jackson actually.  We did very little in Louisiana.  We most certainly never entered the casino as we had reports that the small non-smoking area was open to the rest of the area.   Not that we are gamblers, but I have been known to enjoy a few hands of 21, given the chance.

Carol found a brochure for Wesmar Farms which raises goats and sells goat dairy products, fresh milk, and a variety of cheeses made on the farm.  We picked a day that they listed as a market day so no tours were available.  We sat and drank coffee while sampling cheeses and then had a “formal” tasting.  We ended up buying a quart of milk and several of the cheeses, then the lady of the farm brought over a small wheel of her brie which she is learning how to make and gave it to us.  Our instructions are to enjoy it and please let them know what we think.

This morning we left for the Natchez Trace Parkway with the hope of getting into Rocky Spring Campground which is a no fee, primitive camping area on the Trace.  It was full, mostly with families with small kids.  Even if there had been room, I doubt we would have stayed.  We are getting to. . . something. .  . to gladly put up with hordes of children that are not related to us.  Thus we found ourselves in Springridge Mobilehome and RV Park just outside Jackson.  We are staying two nights as Saturday is still Spring Break Week and St Patty’s Day.  Vicksburg Elks was temping until we realized that the place was likely to overflowing one way or another for the wearing of the green.

We are trying to slow down, but somehow events are conspiring to keep us moving and the glorious weather has kept us happy even as we move north and watch Spring happening around us.

Crossing Texas – a Potpourri

Leaving New Mexico we entered Texas on I 10 passing through El Paso without pausing.  We continued across as far as Fort Stockton, again, where we pulled into the Wal-Mart to spend the night.  We hoped that our departure in the morning would be less eventful than our previous stop here when the bedroom slide out would not retract..  It was, and West Texas slipped under our wheels at a steady 64 mph, the speed limit in those parts is 80, but very few seem to be going that fast.  It is indeed an empty stretch of the country.  The road is not crowded and there is little in the way of civilization so see.  The scenery is mostly desert brown with plenty of growth and vistas with mountains in the distance.  Eventually this is enlivened with pumpjacks pulling oil out of the ground to feed the nation’s thirst for liquid energy.

We entered Fredericksburg to stop long enough to buy some salsa at Russlin’ Robs on Main St.  We parked a block over, where, by some miracle, we have generally been able to find curb parking for the rig when we have come into town.  Our route from Fredericksburg took us to TX 46 to New Braunfels and yet another overnight in Wal-Mart to go shopping at Camping World and PPL Motorhomes for a new to us motorhome.

Two stops in the New Braunfels area to shop for a motorhome.  We looked at a new Tiffin and a used Winnebago Journey.  Not ready for prime time.  At Camping world we ran into a sales lady who on seeing we were from Rochester asked if we knew any salesmen at Meyers Campers/Camping World and we acknowledged that we had bought two coaches from Gary Metz there.  Turns out they knew each other well from working the same RV shows and she had just learned that Gary was in hospice.  This was a bit shocking as I had been thinking of calling him to start working on a deal.  Roz had nothing wonderful to show us so we bought a part for the TowGuard and moved on up to Buda (pronouonce that “Byuda”) just outside of Austin to look at Winnebagoes.  They had one Journey on the lot.  What is it with these dealers, four televisions and a residential refrigerator.   When do you go camping?  What do you do if you want to spend two week in the desert where there is nothing but solar and burning fuel for the generator to run those appliances?  Oh yes they all having dining tables with loose chairs, and what happens to those chairs when you hit the brakes HARD?  There are no floor locks for the chairs in most of the coaches we look at.  It turns out dinettes are a problem for some of our friends.  Not our problem.

We stayed in McKinney Falls State Park outside Austin for two nights, couldn’t get any more and were lucky to get that, it was Spring Break Week.  We put up the TV antenna and found PBS available.  They were in begging mode and thus the show we caught was really good.  We got to watch 90 minutes of “The Best of Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-in”  The show from the late ’60’s was so good that we were in hysterics even though the humor and the politics were 40m years out of date.  For those too young to remember, Monday nights were sacrosanct, with no DVR or VCR we had to be there in front of the set when the show was on and we were!

Sunday morning we met Leigh and Pat and and had lunch and then on to the Blamton Gallery and the Ransome Gallery, both on the UT Austin Campus.  The former had a wonderful show of Hudson Valley School paiintings and then a display of western art starting with more Hudson Valley School.  Not totally exhausted we walked to the Ransom which had a show based on the King James Bible.  The first piece in the show was a first printing of that bible.  Their collection is impressive and much of the work shown was from their collection.  Both shows are worth some time if you are going to be near Austin.  We know some of my readers are not fond of Texas and there is much in its politics to be fearful of, but there is much to enjoy in the state.

The next day found us returning to New Braunfels to return the part we had bought, It did not work as hoped.  This forced us to route through  north west Houston on our way to Livingston to get our mail.  Bad mistake, we would have been better off spending the gas to go back around Austin nd cross counry through Bryan TX.  Nonetheless we got to Livingston, got our mail and after two nights drove to Nacogdoches to look at a couple of used Foretravel coaches.  Oh well, they may be superbly engineered and built, but the interiors make no sense to us and would require major changes to be acceptable.  Who needs mirrored ceilings and accent lights, among other useless amenities?   We left Texas .with more ideas of what we don’t want, after only five days.  We landed at Paragon Casino in Marksville LA.   And here we sit.

The trials of keeping Gee 2 together have not lessened.  The gasket around the driver window has loosened, this is the window we had replaced last August.  We are in touch with the installer about keeping up their guarantee.  This morning, when Carol lifted the bed to store the pillows, there was a breaking sound and the bed canted to the side.  After breakfast we pulled the mattress and I repaired the hinge mechanism.  Another case of a mechanism designed for limited use, not for long term living. My repair was also in the realm of “good enough.”

We continue to head towards Virginia, slowly.  We are not sure where we will go when we move on tomorrow.  Probably toward Natchez MS to pick up the Natchez trace Parkway.  We will let you know when we know.

Time in Amado with Tequila Acompaniment

The very next day after our trip to Nogales we drove to Madera Canyon a highly reputed birding and hiking park, part of the Forest Service system in the Coronado National Forest.  Not knowing what to expect we settled on the Nature Trail for starters as we expected a very tame trail on which we could warm up and get into the swing.  After finding a parking spot at the Madera Canyon Trail head, we set out on the nature trail which passes by this parking lot.  We soon realized that we were on a very nice trail with plenty of elevation change and also many birds.  Western Scrub Jay, Acorn Woodpecker and Bridled Titmouse to name a few.  Four hours later we returned to the car and drove back to the coach, with a stop at Safeway to refill the larder.

Early, for us, the next morning we set out again to the Titan Missile Museum Click here for the web site near Green Valley, just off I 19.  When the entire Titan Missile installation around the country was dismantled and destroyed as part of the SALT Treaty this site was preserved as a museum.  The silo (they called it the launch duct) has a disabled Titan II missile in it and the cap or top door is fixed in half open position with tons of concrete to prevent it from being opened or closed.  The internal blast doors are also disabled.  The tour encompassed the entire site above and below ground.  Our volunteer guide, Chuck, had been a launch site officer and had served the shifts in a control room in the seventies.  The nature of the site is frightening as everything is mounted to withstand a direct hit.  Indeed the launch door is beveled so that it will plow aside debris from a surface explosion as it opens.  In a cute play, Chuck invited a young girl to take the Launch Commanders chair.  I should have seen what was coming, but. . . as Chuck talked about the workings of the command center he set up the requirements for an actual launch – which thankfully never happened.  All of a sudden he placed the Commanders launch key in the lock and took out another key for a console several feet away and before we were quite ready, he had Marilyn turn the key with her left hand.  The electronics reflected the beginning of a launch sequence as he turned the second key.  As the klaxons sounded my palms were sweating and I had flashbacks to Dr Strangelove (or how I came to love the bomb).  It was a very eerie and unpleasant experience.  We can be thankful that these systems existed when they did and even more thankful that they accomplished their mission of deterrence with out ever being tested in the real world.

After lunch back on the coach we went to Tumacacori Mission, just south of Tubac.  This was a mission first built by the Jesuits and then taken over by the Franciscans after the expulsion of the Jesuits.  Its construction was never quite completed  before it was abandoned and left to disintegrate until Theodore Roosevelt designated it a National Historic Landmark in 1907.  The Franciscan Mission is in reasonable shape if mostly a restoration and the foundation of the Jesuit church is just visible.  From there we could not resist another stop in Tubac for the galleries and shops before returning to the coach for dinner and a movie – Anonymous.

On Tuesday high wind warnings had us on the move early and we made it into the Elks Lodge in Las Cruces  NM well before the winds were to hit.  We had emailed Leorah and Stuart to let them know we were passing through and they told us about an annual lecture at NMSU that was to be given by Jaron Lanier whose CV is too long and varied to give here, musician/computer science/author [You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto] and more.  The weather for Wednesday continued high wind warnings – predicted winds to 60 MPH and gusts beyond that – so we are staying put and will attend Purim Spiel at Temple Beth El here in Las Cruces.  Stuart Kelter wrote the spiel so we don’t want to miss it.

Oh, the Tequila, well when I started to write this I had a small glass of it along side the computer and was sipping on it.  Good stuff, very smooth, not cheap even in Mexico.

Catalina State Park to Amado AZ

After we called Dean and Jane we called the state park and found that there was only one site available for three nights and it was one away from them.  After a 112 mile drive down from Scottsdale we settled into the park and were joined by Dean and Jane for Happy Hour.

Jane told us that she had a planned hike with a group for the morning.  The profile was 5.5 miles round trip and the elevation difference between the start and the high point was 900 feet.  Her hiking group rated it easy to moderate.  I will try to up load the actual profile as an attachment, but needless to say the description left out some details like the elevation changes along the way which resulted in a lot of steep climbing and, oh by the way, much of the trail was rock and narrow passages through more rock.  We stayed with the group most of the way to the pools, the hike was to Romero Pools.  Carol and I dropped back the last half mile as our lack of recent climbing caught up with us.  We rejoined at the pools and took a half hour break before beginning the descent. 

 Carol and I brought up the rear and were dropping back most of the way.  We returned to the trail head about 20 minutes after the gang.  We took the afternoon off to read, recoup and clean up.  Happy Hour on their coach was accompanied by a great bottle of wine from our expedition with Anna Lee and Jerry – this bottle was from Hahn the Syrah, yummy.

The next day we located the UPS Store that had our mail and did a bit of shopping.  We put stuff away and went for a bike ride in the park.  We road all the paved roads and even some of the dirt.  Although we were sore when we got off the bikes it was good to get back on them.  We had not taken a serious ride since December in Livingston.  Neither the locations we were in nor my sore wrist had been conducive to riding.  The wrist was sore before we left Rochester and after the ride in Livingston I had to splint it and rest it completely for a week.  At some point it has stopped bothering me.

We could not make our minds up where to go from Catalina SP.  We had read a lengthy article in the NYTimes Travel section by Paul Theroux on Nogales and decided that it was time for us to venture across the border into Nogales Mexico even though US State Department says Mexico is dangerous and everyone we mention it to agrees that it is foolish to go there.  So we are a bit foolish.  We drove to Nogales, AZ and parked a short walk from the border.  As in most other places the walkway is reasonably controlled, sort of a cattle chute with no turning back once you enter.  The fence, wall, that extends through the town is a steel obscenity.  Peering through the bars from either side must be what it feels like to be in prison.

The Fence seen from the US

  The silliest thing is that three miles out of town you can walk around it!  Nogales Mexico does not feel any different that Algadones, or any of the other border towns we have visited over the years.  Lunch at La Roca was a real treat.  It was better than many of our previous experiences.  We walked in on a huge baby shower that occupied two thirds of the tables with very well dressed women and several very large stomachs.  There were three tables of Americans along one wall, we were at the middle table.  We did talk to a few others who had come over the border.  All in all it would seem that the most of the people we saw were Mexicans and there were very few Americans from north of the border.  The Chicken Mole was wonderful and well seasoned without being excessively spicy.  I also had a lovely soup and Carol had Chiles Rellenos.  She gave the dish high praise.

After lunch we did a little shopping. Carol bought a small bottle of Vanilla and I bought a bottle of Blue Agave Tequila for me.  Then we located the line to get back over the border. We no sooner got ourselves situated when the couple from the table next to us came walking along and joined us in the line this gave us someone to talk with for the hour long wait to get to the border.  They have had a place in Tubac for twenty years and come over to Nogales fairly often.  We parted at the parking lot and we headed up I 19.  We got off in Tubac and began to wander through the galleries and shops near the presidio. This is a very substantial art market. After a couple of hours the galleries were closing and it was time for us to return to the coach and have supper.

Here is a picture of a Hudson Hornet I saw in Tubac.  Mostly I remember that my father had one that started out green and eventually was repainted brown, this must have been when I was 10 years old.