Thursday, August 30, 2007

Kentucky and Missouri

It seems like forever since I’ve been able to post. So now it’s catch-up time. Boy! Do we miss easy internet access.

We toured another cave just outside Cave City, KY. Crystal Onyx Cave is a small cave, but was very beautiful inside. We spent a little less than an hour inside and really enjoyed it. Here are a couple of shots that we took while inside.

Our tour was very “intimate” with only five people and the guide. There was one section that was down a flight of stairs and the other 3 chose not to go down. So our guide took us down and then snapped our picture while we were down there, near one of the formations.

Proof that we did indeed get into the caves of western Kentucky!

Then we were back on the road again. We stopped outside of Paducah, KY, for lunch at KFC. It just seemed so appropriate! (tee hee) We drove about 250 miles to Cape Girardeau, MO. This shot is of the bridge that spans the Mississippi river between Illinois and Missouri. I thought it was pretty cool.

We arrived at Cross Creek RV Park on the north side of Lake of the Ozarks the following day. This is a really nice park, though very hilly. I think all of MO is hilly. It is beautiful, though.

We did a little sight-seeing and had several lunches out. We soon decided to spend only seven days there instead of the nine originally planned. We’d spend the extra days in St. Joe instead. Julian did some fishing and he caught several pan fish. In the end he didn’t keep them. But I DID see them and can attest to his skill on the lake here at the campground.

We gave Heidi a haircut one morning. We never look forward to doing that, but she looks great now that we can see her face again. She was way past due for her grooming.

We visited Ha Ha Tonka State Park. (I have no idea why it’s called that!) But it was a great way to spend the morning. The land was originally purchased by a rich guy from Kansas City in the early 1900s. He started building a 60-room mansion, but was killed in a car accident a year after construction started. His sons completed the house many years later, but had to sell it early on. It was run as a hotel for a period of time before a fire gutted the entire structure in the early 1940s. This is what’s left of the main house, now referred to as the castle.

One can easily see that it must have been a grand property in its day. And the views are fabulous as the house sits on the top of a bluff overlooking a part of the Lake of the Ozarks.

After seeing the castle, we drove to the natural bridge, which was formed by sink holes on either side of it. From there, we drove to the opposite side of that part of the lake. This is a shot looking back up at the castle ruins.

It was a beautiful park and a great way to spend the morning.

From Lake of the Ozarks, we drove 225 miles to St. Joseph, MO, on Wednesday. The scenery was awesome! The tree-covered hills of the lake area gave way to farm country and somewhat flatter terrain. We discovered that there are Amish in Missouri – we even saw a couple of horse-drawn carriages. This form of travel is so amazing. The USA is a gorgeous place to be!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Moving Time

We enjoyed a quiet day at home last Sunday. The weather was a little cooler, so we had lunch on the patio. We both sat outside reading our books, till we finished them. There was time for naps and playing cards. We had cocktails at the creek and watched the hoards of ducks on the creek. The babies have grown so much that they are hard to tell apart from the adults. A month is a long time in “duck years” I guess.

Monday found us at the casino for one last fling. No, it wasn’t profitable. Yes, it was enjoyable. We stopped at Maggie Valley Pizzeria on the way home for one of their wonderful special pizzas. We nibbled on snacks and had a late dinner of delicious pizza before watching the Bronco game. We only watched the first half and then it was bedtime. But we found out in the morning that there was very little scoring in the second half anyway. So I guess we didn’t miss anything. Hooray for the win!

Tuesday was kind of an organizational day. Then we went out to dinner. We went to Sweet Onion again, since we had enjoyed it so much the first time. Then we got real serious about organization on Wednesday. We got most of the outside stuff packed away to make the final cleanup easier in the morning. Most anything we wouldn’t need was stowed away.

Thursday morning we took off for the next stop in Kentucky. Not far from Knoxville, TN, we had a jack error. This happens occasionally and can usually be fixed on the fly. Not so this time. We pulled onto an off ramp and played with it until some lubricant finally got the thing to retract all the way. But by Somerset, KY, the darned thing went off on us again. It was mid-afternoon and hotter than you-know-what. We pulled into a K-Mart parking lot and started working on it, but it went down all the way and would not come back up. After a couple of phone calls we learned how to raise it manually. Whew!

We arrived at Diamond Caverns RV Resort late in the afternoon and had a hard time finding a spot we liked (it wasn’t assigned, we could pick). None of the sites seemed very level, but we finally got onto one and got leveled out pretty well. The worry of whether or not the jack would come up gave Julian a restless night. So we went through the exercise of raising them and it was perfectly fine. Did the whole thing again and it was perfectly fine. So maybe it will behave. In any case, we decided against changing plans to go for service.

We did some driving around to see the area. We went up to Mammoth Cave which was only a few miles from our campsite. We picked up all the info so that we could decide which tour to take. So Saturday, we went back to the park and took one of the tours. We walked about 2 miles in under two hours with over 400 stair steps included. It was work getting up some of those steps – we walk a lot, but don’t do steps or hills that much. The cave was very cool to see. But it was just a cave – not nearly as visually interesting as Carlsbad Caverns. There were no stalactites or stalagmites, but impressive in its immense size. Here’s a shot of us outside, after finishing the tour.

After that, we drove to Bowling Green, only about 30 miles away. We had lunch and did some scouting around there. By the time we got home, we were pretty tired. Julian took a nap and I went to the Pavilion to get onto the internet.

We will be leaving here on Tuesday, 8/21. After 2 days of driving, we’ll be at Lake of the Ozarks for 9 days. Hopefully we’ll have pictures to share while there. I’ll only have dial-up access, so the blog entries may be few and far between.

As always, happy tails till we meet again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Quiet Week

Here it is Sunday again, and I haven’t written anything. That’s partly because we haven’t done any true sight-seeing.

Our friends left on Monday, around noon-time. They had a short drive to Atlanta where they were going to get to see their new granddaughter for the first time. After they left, we went out and did some grocery shopping and then hung around and had dinner in.

On Tuesday, we made a big circle around Asheville. We had wanted to get some goodies from the Biltmore store, so that was our first stop. We had bought a key lime cheese ball mix last summer, but gave it away. So we had to get one for ourselves this year.

Our next stop was at a Super Wal-Mart. (The regular Wal-Mart here has been found lacking.) There was a Kohl’s store right next door that we wanted to pop into as well.

Then we were off to find Heidi some food. We didn’t get what we really wanted until we got to the third pet store. And what a challenge that was. We wound up on the phone with the owner to get directions until we pulled up in front of the place. (Microsoft Streets and Trips had been no help at all.) But she had everything we needed so it turned out to be worth the effort.

Besides, we found the restaurant we had liked so well from last year. So we just had to return to Thai Basil for lunch. It was every bit as good as we’d remembered and were so glad we had found it again.

Wednesday was a do-nothing day. We read. I scrapbooked a little. We played cards. Just a relaxing day.

On Thursday we decided to return to the casino. Turned out not to be such a good idea. Neither one of us had any luck to speak of. But we had fun. And the lunch buffet was terrific as always.

I got my hair cut on Friday (isn’t that exciting?). She really cut me short. I guess it will last longer that way. After I picked Julian up at the grocery store we stopped at a restaurant for lunch that he’d been eying since we got here. It turned out to be fairly mediocre, at best. But now we know.

I’m on a mailing list for upcoming events in North Carolina. We wanted to do something on the weekend and I found the 3rd Annual Blackberry Festival in Mars Hill, north of Asheville. We’d enjoyed the Mater Festival and decided this could be just as fun. So we decided to go.

It took almost an hour to get to Ebbs Chapel Community Center, where the event was being held. What a gorgeous locale.

This “event” was little more than a church bazaar, but we sure enjoyed it. There were only about a dozen booths, if that. We gave them high marks for getting this festival onto the state's tourist bureau web site.

The craft items were nice and of good quality and we’re pretty certain they are all made by the folks of this little church community. Only one of the booths was selling anything blackberry related. We bought blackberry jams. The same booth also had different bean and split pea soup mixes, which we had to purchase. Definitely some yummy-looking stuff.

The best part was this guy:

Yes, this little, tiny Festival had an Elvis impersonator. The funniest part was that he was really quite good! Obviously, not that great to look at, but he really could sing. Really!

We headed back to Asheville to find some lunch. The scenery was as marvelous here as everywhere else we have been in North Carolina. This turned out pretty well for being taken through the window of a moving car. It really shows some of why I love the views up here. These mountains are beautiful.

This may be the last entry for another week. We are leaving here on Thursday for Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. We’ll have internet there, I think, so I will probably post after visiting the caves. Until then, happy trails to you all.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

It’s been a very busy week – that’s why the blogging got a little behind. Monday was the trip to Devil’s Courthouse. Tuesday was a shopping day, groceries and other necessities. We had dinner out with our friends at a marvelous restaurant called Sweet Onion. Wednesday found us just about as far west as you can go in North Carolina to walk the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Thursday was gambling day. Yes, we went back to the casino, but this time we actually brought home more money than we left with! No, there weren’t any big jackpots, but it’s still a huge win to have even a few dollars more in you pocket when you leave a casino.

This brings us to Friday and a wonderful train trip through the Nantahala River Gorge. We went with our friends again and with their daughter and her husband who are visiting for a few days. We drove less than an hour to Bryson City where we boarded the train at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot.

Here’s a view towards the front of the train shortly after leaving the station.

This is crossing the Fontana Lake Trestle. You can see how low the lake is. They are having a drought here, too.

Even with the water so low, there are still quite a number of house boats out there. They are all under strict code, can only be accessed by boat and only in certain of the summer months.

After passing Fontana Lake, we entered into the Nantahala River Gorge. (It’s not what I expected with a name like “gorge”, but it was quite beautiful.)

Once past a certain point, we started seeing lots of whitewater rafters. This was not heavy whitewater and something a beginner could handle. It was fun to watch all of them pass by. It looked like they were having a terrific time.

The train stopped at one point and maneuvered the engine onto the opposite end of the train. Then we began retracing our “tracks” towards home. We stopped in a small village where we had an hour to get lunch and walk around a bit. We were right by the river, near a spot where all the rafts were taken out of the water. We saw about a dozen come in while we were eating our sandwiches.

This little water fall was right near where the train was parked.

Then back on board for the return to Bryson City. Since the train itself didn’t turn around, they asked that everyone switch sides for the return trip. We quickly discovered that we had enjoyed the better views on the way out. We could see some body of water (rivers and lakes) on the entire trip. It was mostly rocks and trees on the way back. Coupled with full tummies and the rocking of the train, we found ourselves getting a bit sleepy.

Once back at the depot, we went into the model train museum right next door. That was a definite trip down memory lane. They had a huge table, maybe 15 or 20 feet square, set up in one room. They had every kind of railcar and every auxiliary piece of gear you can think of: mountains with waterfalls, whole cities, little people and everything. The round house had at least a dozen engines inside individual “garages”; there were all types of switching gear, a coal plant and loaders, passenger trains, cargo cars, you name it – they had it working and rolling around this huge display. It was awesome.

Along the walls and in a couple of other rooms were hundreds of other engines and cars in display cases. Some were shiny and new, one set was even gold-plated. And there were also the old ones going back to the 1920s. It was really something to see. Julian and Larry were trying to find the same models they had enjoyed as kids.

It took me back to the great table that we had in the basement, on pulleys to take it from the ceiling down to rest on the pool table. I could even smell that familiar smell when the trains were in motion. We were glad we stopped in there! Ah, sweet memories!

On Saturday, we went up the road to Canton to the 4th Annual Mater Festival. It’s a small event, but it was fun to walk around to see all the crafts. We bought a couple of tomatoes, but haven’t tasted them yet. Then we went for lunch to a Mexican restaurant. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t Colorado Mexican either. We’ll have our share of good Mexican while in Colorado and New Mexico later in this trip. You just can’t get it out here.

Today is Sunday. We’ve done the laundry and cleaned the house. Later we’ll play cards with our friends and then all go out to dinner. They’ll be leaving tomorrow, so it will be sort of a farewell dinner. We’ve really enjoyed them being here. And with them gone, we probably won’t be out doing quite as much sight-seeing. Check in here anyway, you never know what we might find to share with you.

“Only God Can Make a Tree”

It’s not like we haven’t seen any trees since we’ve been in North Carolina. They are everywhere and of every kind. But our hike through Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was something else!

This was another excursion with our friends, the Demalines. Here we are at the base of the 1¼ mile trail which passes by the memorial.

This is the first sort of water fall/stream that we walked over. It was way cooler in person than this picture shows.

This is a sampling of what this forest was like.

… and how tall the trees were.

… and how big around they were.

The trail makes a loop through the forest and this memorial plaque is more or less at the midpoint of that hike.

Here are just some additional shots as we made our way back to the parking lot.

Like Joyce Kilmer said, “…only God can make a tree.” I think He outdid Himself here.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Devil's Courthouse

On Monday, July 30, we went to Devil’s Courthouse. This is a rock formation off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We took Heidi with us and our friends also took their dog. We figured it was time to include the puppies in our outing.

The drive to this particular spot was just as beautiful as every other drive we’ve taken. North Carolina is a beautiful state. We are in constant awe!

We parked the cars in the lot and took the pups for the half-mile hike up to the lookout. This was a fairly steep walk, which we tried to capture in these pictures. Photos just never do it justice though. This is Larry & Barb in the early part of the trail, where it was still paved.

The last part of the trail was gravel. This is Julian and Larry with Panda in the lead. She’s a 9-year-old Boxer who loves to hike.

When we got to the top, we shot this photo back down to the parking lot. Our cars are the two farthest to the left side. Can you make them out? It’s a LONG way down there!
We were told that on a clear day you can see three or four states from this vantage point. Well, it wasn’t a clear day. The fog kept coming and going the whole time we were there. It was so pretty up there, in spite of the fog. Here’s proof that Heidi and Donna made it up to the top, too. Honestly, Heidi is a huge wimp when it comes to walking, so we were pleasantly surprised that she made it up and back without a problem. She actually seemed to enjoy it. After we got back down to the parking lot, the fog had rolled in even worse at the top. We were sorry we hadn’t taken a picture of it when we arrived, it was much clearer then. So we kept snapping pics until the fog wasn’t so bad anymore. Here’s Devil’s Courthouse from the parking lot. You can make out some other hikers up at the top.

From there we drove the Parkway a mile or two until we came to a picnic area. We had packed hot dogs and all the trimmings for a nice picnic lunch. Larry did a great job cooking the “dogs” while Barb managed to spoil the (other) dogs with treats. We had a really good time even with the fog coming and going.

Then it was time to head home and just put our feet up. It was quite a hike and we were all a bit tired. But it was definitely another wonderful day in North Carolina.