Sunday, November 15, 2015

November 15, 2015

Our last posting was from Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium. The last few days of the trip was devoted to geocaching for the most part. Some of our interesting stops were …

… Greenville, Georgia where we met a woman who was renovating the former county jail (built in 1896) and gave us a tour of it, including the hanging tower with trap-door floor and the old holding cells.

… Little River Canyon National Preserve in northeastern Alabama, another wonderful National Park Service site with a beautiful waterfall and canyon.

… Jackson, Mississippi in a ferocious thunderstorm (no camping the last night of the trip).

… Texas Welcome Center on I-10

During the final miles of our grand adventure, we discussed ways to describe it in one word. We thought of “amazing”, “epic”, “awesome”, and “multi-faceted.” In fact, it was all of these and more.

To summarize, we traveled 20,000 miles in 140 days through 20 states and 4 Canadian provinces. (And 1,439 geocaches) We visited 7 Canadian national parks, 4 U.S. National parks, and numerous historical and natural sites in both countries. We slept in our truck 97 nights, motels 12 nights, and stayed with friends and relatives 29 nights (and one night on the Newfoundland Ferry). Night #140 was in our own bed.

This is the end of “the road” for now. Thanks for following us on our journey.

Brian and Kris

P.S. We were home only 3 days before we were on the road again for a quick trip to the Hill Country to camp at Enchanted Rock State Park with our son, Mark, and his wife, Krystal. We hiked to the top of E Rock together on a gorgeous fall morning.

Home again with grandsons, Logan and Caleb.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

November already!

      It is now November, and we are still on the road, albeit closer to home. We have had an excellent trip since we last checked in.

After getting on the road again after the tire episode, we stopped in Richmond to see Keith Hill. I've know him since Cub Scouts in New Orleans WAY back when. It was a nice, but short visit with him at Panera Bread.  Sarah couldn't make it for breakfast, so it was good we connected with her on Sunday.

Once again, we visited places that were at the end of their season, which is fine with us. Shenandoah National Park:  105 miles of Skyline Drive was beautiful – we hit the leaves at a good time, and not on a weekend when many other visitors would be there. We camped in the cold – 38 degrees in the morning – and finished the drive the next day.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

One of the overlooks on Skyline Drive

Autumn in the Appalachian Mountains

After a night in a motel because it was rainy (and cold), we started the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 0 in Virginia. The day was foggy and drizzly, but still nice – meaning not as many people were driving! Not much to see from the overlooks, and we've seen fog before, but the leaves were amazing.

Our campground was almost empty the first night. We walked around Abbott Lake to get to the lodge at Peaks of Otter (milepost 86 if you care), and weren't too impressed with the Lodge, but had a nice walk.  It was another cold night, and LATE sunrise, and a beautiful day. We drove to milepost 235 {half way!] and camped again. Mabry Mill was a place we couldn't pass up. We've been there before, but it is the iconic point of interest on the Parkway. One of the information signs said that other states have used pictures of it on their postcards.

 You can't stop at Mabry Mill without taking a picture!

We continued the next morning for a very interesting day. One cache that we found was at a small building that said “Jail and Wedding Chapel”. The fact that the owners were “The Kissel Clan” made it even more interesting for us. Soon after that fun cache, we found one at a church that is decorated with fantastic frescos – the main one is of the Last Supper. There was a recorded narration of how (and why) it was created, which was quite informational, too.

 Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Glendale Springs, NC

Fresco by artist Ben Long, The Last Supper

 Later in the day, we stopped at the Linn Cove Viaduct – quite an engineering marvel – and drove up to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. It was getting late and we pressed on through the dark to get to a campground that had showers, because, after three days, we needed them!

The view from Mount Mitchell

Saturday, October 31, was day #133 of our travels, and after taking a great sunrise picture before eating breakfast at Mt. Pisgah Lodge, we finished the rest of the Parkway to milepost 469 and entered Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We've been to “the top of old Smokey” before, but there is a geocache there, so off we hiked uphill to the summit of Clingmans Dome in the cold drizzle to see it again. We didn't stay long, though! 

Sunrise from Mount Pisgah Inn

The Devil's Courthouse, Blue Ridge Parkway

The last milepost on the Blue Ridge Parkway - we drove the entire route!

Observation Tower on Clingmans Dome

The view from Clingmans dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I was glad to be wearing my foul weather gear in the windy drizzle up there.

Daylight Saving Time ended, so we were up earlier than usual on Sunday. We drove into Gatlinburg, Tennessee for Mass.  We did a few caches in town and headed west for a campsite at Cades Cove. There is a one-way loop in Cades Cove that we drove. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic in two places that really slowed things down. We found out why: there were bears at the two places. We were able to see them, but couldn't stop for pictures.  We ended our visit at GSMNP with a campfire just before it started to rain again.

Cades Cove

We couldn't have planned our trip any better if we had tried to see leaves near their peak. GSMNP had some spectacular views, too.

Next, we headed toward Atlanta. Daughter Kim went to the aquarium there a few years ago, and highly recommended it, so we had it on our 'to-do' list. The Georgia Aquarium was great, and Kris got to experience the excitement of a school field trip without the responsibility of keeping track of a bunch of kids. There were many school groups there today. The big tank is about the size of a football field and 30 feet deep. It features 4 whale sharks which are the world's largest fish. We enjoyed a fabulous dolphin show, but kept returning to the huge tank to watch the whale sharks.  The ones here are about 15-20 feet long.

Kris pointing at a whale shark
huge viewing window at Georgia Aquarium

Seen while geocaching:
the "Pickin' Porch"

another fresco

and another

cave opening, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October - Part two

October 25, 2015

Greetings from Virginia! We have now passed the 4-month mark on this grand adventure and are thinking about how and when it will all end (likely in about 10 days). We will spend a little time at Shenandoah National Park before taking our time to drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, something we haven't done in more than 30 years. You can't really do the Parkway in a hurry and we have enough time to do it at a leisurely pace.

Since our last blog posting from Brian's mother's house in Johnstown,
Brian and his mom on the bench dedicated to his dad

we resumed our explorations with a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. We saw the museum exhibits, the recently restored Cyclorama painting, and saw an excellent film in the museum before driving around the battlefield. A stop at the Soldiers National Cemetery and the Lincoln Address Memorial on a beautiful fall day was a highlight of the visit. The Eternal Light Peace Memorial in the northern part of the park was the last stop before finding a campsite for the evening.
 Gettysburg NMP

Next stop was Reston, Virginia to visit a long-time friend, Peter Miller and his wife, Denise. We spend a pleasant evening reliving the past and telling stories of more recent events. The next day was cold and blustery so we spent the day at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's center near Dulles Airport where the “big ones” are kept: space shuttle Discovery, large airliners and jets, a Concorde, and even the balloon gondola made famous by Felix Baumgartner. We viewed a great IMAX 3-D film about space outside our solar system.

 Brian standing next to Discovery

There are so many historic Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia and we chose to visit Monocacy National Battlefield where the “battle that saved Washington, DC” was fought. Excellent exhibits at this little-visited park near Frederick, MD. We didn't travel very far that day because we were headed for a series of 50 geocaches known as the Maryland Star. We hiked a total of 10 miles over the next 2 days to find them all and were fortunate to find a county park campground just a few miles away.

Next, we crossed Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis and spent a little time on the Delmarva Peninsula and camped in Delaware (a first for us). We were in no particular hurry and had planned another night camping at a state park at the southern end of the peninsula only to find the campground closed when we arrived just after sunset. With limited options in that part of the state, we decided to head off over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that evening instead of the next morning and ended up in Newport News, VA for the night. It would have been better to cross the Bay during daylight hours so we could see the views, but it was not meant to be.

We continued on to Richmond and made a stop to visit with another long-time friend, Sarah Hill, who graciously took us on a driving tour of Richmond. We wanted to see the statue of Lincoln named “To Bind Up the Nation's Wounds” that commemorated his visit to Richmond in April 1865 at the Richmond National Battlefield Park and Sarah knew right where to take us. 

Sarah and Brian

 We continued on just past Richmond to Ashland to spend the weekend with some of Brian's Luther cousins David, Stewart, and Janice. 
Brian and Janice
Kris, Brian, David Luther, Janice Luther

 We left their house on Sunday morning with plans to drive in to Richmond to attend mass at the cathedral. We stopped for ice and gas and to put air in a tire on the truck. The valve stem broke off when Brian tried to add air and that put the end to traveling for the day. After getting the spare put on, we ended back at David's house for another day and will be getting the tire fixed before heading off into the Blue Ridge Mountains. We are ever so grateful that we were just down the road and have wonderful family to stay with instead of being far from help.

Brian here :
Now for my view of things – as usual, Kris pretty much summarized things very well.
BUT – she forgot to mention that we had hoped to go back to see Sarah and Keith Hill today. I knew Keith when I lived in New Orleans while in Elementary school. He moved to Huntsville, AL, and I moved to Houston. After we graduated High School, he moved with his parents to Houston, and met Sarah, who graduated with me. He wasn't in town on Friday, so we didn't get to see him.
It has been great visiting with family and friends this past week, and the time with my mother in Johnstown was a special treat. I hadn't seen my cousin Janice in a long time, so getting to spend time with her was also something that I'll remember since we were really close when we were younger.
I guess all good things have to come to an end, and it looks like this adventure will soon be over. There is no way to describe the experience, or how much I appreciate that we could do it.