Thursday, April 29, 2010


The first thing you need to know about the Blue Ridge Parkway is that it isn't designed for speed. This is referred to as America's favorite drive. It's a mostly shoulderless , two-lane road that meanders through leafy hollows and along mountain ridges following the crest of the southern Appalachians. We got on it at Asheville, North Carolina, and drove 80 miles of it to the Great Smoky Park. There were a couple of detours caused by black ice. It had rained and snowed at elevation the night before and there were some sections of the road on the north slopes that didn't thaw out. At one point we had to wait 2 hours before they opened the gate to let us continue.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

It felt like summer in the valley, but by the time we climbed to the top it changed to early spring.

There was a lot of damage from the heavy snows last winter.

For those of you who have read the book or seen the movie, "Cold Mountain", imagine walking across these mountains to get home.

We hiked the entire width of the Appalachian Trail.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today's drive took us through rural Georgia, South Carolina, and into North Carolina. Throughout this trip we have tried to avoid Interstate Highways and stick to roads designated on state maps as scenic routes. We've had some unpleasant surprises, but generally have be rewarded with outstanding scenery and views of how people live in this county.

The mountains begin to rise as you leave South Carolina and head nothwest into North Carolina. These are the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. They are older than the Rockies and feel more rounded, but the rock below is solid granite. Streams create spectacular waterfalls and wonderful sounds of rushing water.

Our destination was the Biltmore House (Estate) in Asheville, NC. We had reserved tickets ahead of time to tour the mansion, but we arrived early enough in the afternoon of the day before that we could tour some aspects of estate using the entry tickets for the following day. We started with the "Kitchen Gardens". Many of the vegetables served in the restaurants on the estate are grown on site.

The scale of the estate itself is beyond grasp. George Vanderbult picked the site, purchased 185,000 acres of land including an entire village which he later tore down and rebuilt and created his dream estate. It was completed in 1895. The mansion has 250 rooms, with more than 174,000 square feet of floor space. It took 6 years and 1000 men to build it. It has 65 fireplaces, 43 bathrooms, 34 bedrooms, and 3 kitchens along with a two lane bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool. Remember, this was all before the turn of the century. When it was first occupied it took a staff of 450 to keep the estate running and the owners and guests properly cared for. Today, it takes a staff of over 2000 to manage the estate and care for the tourists like us who come to enjoy it.

The land around was purchased to preserve the tranquility and the view. Later, all but 8000 acres were sold to the U.S. government and turned into a national forest.

Also on the estate are greenhouses and gardens.

No photography is allowed inside the mansion, so unfortunately we can't share any views from the inside.

When leaving the estate, the exit road takes you right past the mansion. The access roads are just barely wide enough for the motor home so we were able to drive on site and park in one of the many parking lots.

The exit road then takes you through the azalea gardens which were in full bloom. After a day and a half of walking, viewing, wine tasting, and dining we were ready to move on to another adventure.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


After driving all afternoon in a downpour and spending the night watching a thunderstorm, Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Richard B. Russell State Park is one of the many Georgia State parks along the Richard B. Russell Reservoir, the result of a dam on the Savannah River. This is a small campground, 26 sites, but they are nicely arranged and have the added attraction of a view of the water and cable TV. Last night I got to watch the Portland Trailblazers beat the Phoenix Suns. One of the reasons we came here is that there is a golf course in this park. It's called Arrowhead Pointe. It has a Golf Digest rating of 4.5 stars and was voted top new public course a couple of years ago. Marlene used her morning by herself to do some clean up, food preparation and catch up on her reading. She's currently well into "Stones Into Schools" by Greg Mortenson. Anyone who has read "Three Cups of Tea" will love this book also.

The course was beautiful, the sun was warm, and I had a great round. my only regrets were that I didn't wear shorts and that I didn't have anyone to share the experience with. Many people had cancelled because of the storm the night before and the prediction that thunderstorms were possible this day also. There just wasn't anyone to pair me up with. Usually when I walk on as a single, there are other singles or twosomes to play with. Not so this Sunday.

This is a par 3, 136 yards, and surrounded by the lake

Saturday, April 24, 2010


After a nice drive through the Georgia countryside we arrived at Warm Springs, the site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Little White House". It was here he died on April 12, 1945. Marlene had just finished reading "No Ordinary Time", the story of Eleanor and Franklin during WWII.

Our camp site for the night was directly behind the old train station, now a visitor's center, where Roosevelt's coffin was loaded on the train for his final journey back to Washington. When we rolled into Warm Springs, a very small town, we stopped at the visitor's center to ask where we might be able to park for the night. The hostess said, "park here, I'll call the police chief and tell him I have given you permission".

It rained hard that night, the beginning of the big storm that hit the southern states. We would have walked the .8 miles up the hill to the State Park where the "Little White House" sits, but it was still raining in the morning, so we drove up with the Jeep still in tow. There is a small museum on the site where we watched an orientation film and looked at the memorabilia they have on display. In back of the museum a short walk away is the actual house and servant's quarters. Inside, the house is exactly the way it was the day Roosevelt died. While posing for a portrait he suffered a stroke and died. The artist stopped and never put a brush to the painting again.

The unfinished painting is on display in an adjoining building where the humidity and climate is controlled.

This is the President's office. Notice the footrest under the table used to support his paralyzed legs. Roosevelt had polio and came here to Warm Springs to seek relief from the hot mineral springs.

The house is very small. I think no more than 1600 square feet. Two bedrooms, his office, a main room also used for dining, and a kitchen. This is his bedroom. It was so easy to picture him living in this space and sleeping in this bed.

This was a special car, built by Willis, with hand controls so he could drive around the country side near Warm Springs. He also had a 1938 Ford Convertible similarly equipped which he would drive himself.

After leaving the park, we stopped at an antique store in town. The night before I spotted a 1950's Schwinn Phantom which was going on sale the Saturday we were leaving. We didn't hang around because we had reservations at Richard Russel State Park along the Savannah River Reservoir of the same name. I planned to play golf there on Sunday and we had about 150 miles to drive.

The storm hit us just as we were approaching Atlanta. It rained so hard that traffic slowed to a crawl on the interstate. Fortunately we had no problems and arrived safely at our park just as the rain let up. That night we were treated to a thunder and lightning show like we used to experience in Wisconsin while growing up.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Thinking about this trip started more than 10 years ago when Marlene and I read "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", a book based on an incident in Savannah. The main character was a real person, dead now, who restored old houses in Savannah in the late 50s and 60s. We both agreed then that someday we wanted to see Savannah. We finally made it. It was a short drive down from Charleston.

We checked into Skidaway Island State Park. This is similar to the one we just left, but is not as refined, more rustic setting and not as much concrete. For whatever reason there were more Country Coach RVs in the campground, 3 others including the hosts from Anacordes, Wa., than we have seen on the whole trip.

We started exploring Savannah by first taking a tour bus. This works well to orientate us to a new city. Once we get the lay of the land, we then set out on foot to explore in detail what we saw from the trolley.

Savannah is the birth place of Johnny Mercer, the song writer. It turns out his grandfather's house is the house that the character of the book refurbished and decorated with antiques he collected around the world.

Savannah is filled with lots of old buildings and houses of renown architecture.

This is "The Book Store". Meaning, it is the headquarters for anyone who has read the book and wants to go back to the source.

Savannah is also known for it's garden parks. Every four blocks or so there is another small park surrounded by churches or government buildings. That's the way the city was designed. It makes for wonderful walking, sitting, and people watching.

This is the old water front street. Shops below and offices above with entrances off a street which is another level above.

This is the Mercer House, the setting for the book. We toured this house. The guide described the source of all the furnishings and the original art which is still in place as the owner, Jim Williams, left it.

Our final stop was the cemetery where Williams with other characters from the book are buried. This is the Garden of Good and Evil.