Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gettysburg, PA

Gettysburg National Park

July 29, 2009
York County, PA

It has continued to be a rainy, yet informative time for us since the last post.

This past Monday we spent the day with my brother, Jeff, and his grandson, Isaac, on a very informative tour of Gettysburg National Park. As a retired Army officer after over twenty years of service and residing nearby in Thurmont, MD, Jeff provided a tour of the park and battle history that cannot by matched by even the best "official guides" of the area. Over a five hour period he took us step by step, day by day through the four day bloody battle while providing little known facts about tactical maneuvers, how decisions were made by Generals from both sides, accounts provided by soldiers who fought there and how local residents were impacted. His information brought the battle's history to life in ways that were, at times, very haunting.

Here are a few of the interesting things we learned:

- The bottom picture shows Jeff, Isaac and myself by a statue dedicated to the memory of Old John. Old John, a retired veteran, was a resident of Gettysburg when the first Northern troops marched through town. Even though he was over seventy at the time he felt it a patriotic duty to defend his nation and, after grabbing his rifle and stovepipe hat, offered up his services. Numerous officers tried to discourage him, but Old John was adamant in his intent to fight. He ended up being wounded three times and became one of the lesser known heroes for the cause.

- The reason that Gettysburg was the site of a major battle arose from a simple necessity for Southern troops.... they thought there were shoes available in the area. For this reason, Southern leaders chose that destination in their march into Northern territories.

- Civil War monuments have significant messages in their designs. The top picture is a monument dedicated to Robert E. Lee. Note that all four legs of his horse, Traveller, are firmly planted on the ground. This is because he did not die in battle. Another monument in the park of another General shows a horse with two legs off of the ground; one unfortunately killed in combat. Markers indicating the headquarters of Generals are also numerous throughout the park marked by cannon barrels planted upright in concrete bases.

Thanks again to Jeff for a fascinating day. The park is definitely worth a visit for no other reason than a vivid reminder of one of the major, although darker, turning points in our nation's history.

Photos by Debbie
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Friday, July 24, 2009

Into The Rain

York County, PA, Indian Rock Campgrounds & The Heritage Trail

July 25, 2009
It's been a pleasantly cool, but rainy week for us in York County, PA.

We left Virginia early morning of the 17th under cloudy skies. Our route took us back onto S.R. 608, which we followed to Route 24 and headed West into Roanoke. By the time we connected with I-581 a steady rain began. The majority of our trip was North on I-81 and, unfortunately, defined by constant rain; at some points outright downpours. What should have been a pleasant journey through the foothills of the Blue Ridge & Allegheny Mountains proved to be a very long, difficult drive. As we made our way East along Route 30 through Gettysburg towards York, PA the rains continued, leading to several leaks throughout the rig. By the time we reached the campground there was a steady drip through the front, overhead console and the bed was completely soaked from water forced through the AC unit while driving through the heaviest downpours. Oh well, some of the minor hassles of living in a motor home.

Our latest stay is at the Indian Rock Campgrounds located in farm country about 3 miles from the town of York. It is a private grounds with 30 RV sites and open areas for primitive camping. It is clean, quiet, friendly and has a wifi connection. Surprisingly, for this part of the country, it is open all year and there are about six full-time RV residents throughout the property. We had originally reserved for 7 nights, but have decided to extend for another week. It's comfortable and very reasonably priced. Although we have had a lot of rain, the cool nights have been great for sleeping.

A nice surprise was discovering that within short walking distance there are two places for local produce and meats. One is Miller Farms (pictured above) where we can find fresh from the field corn and tomatoes. The other is Miller's Meat Market which offers not only some of the best meats anywhere (both fresh and smoked), but also a wide variety of homemade soups, salads, slaws, original sauces and gourmet spices. We are eating very well.

Another perk is close access to the York Heritage Rail Trail. Dedicated in 1999, this trail runs along sides of train tracks that were originally part of the North Central R.R. system. The entire trail is 21.3 miles in length, starting at the Pennsylvania/Maryland border and ending in downtown York. One of the many historical aspects along the trail is the 370' Howard Tunnel; one of the oldest working tunnels in the world. The track is still used for rail transport, but very infrequently. Deb & I walked about 6 miles along it into York yesterday. It is nicely surfaced, well maintained and can be used for hiking, jogging, biking and horseback riding. We passed through hardwood forests, along steams and historical old farms and enjoyed numerous varieties of wildflowers lining the path. A highly recommended "point of interest" if you're ever in the area.

Studying the history of York County over the past week has been fascinating. In almost every way possible, this area has been in the center of major events that defined our country's early history.

It was first settled in 1729 by family and friends of William Penn. Based upon abundant natural resources and close proximity to major waterways, the region quickly developed into a thriving industrial and agricultural region. During the years 1777-1778, the 2nd Continental Congress convened in York for drafting the Articles Of Confederation. Later, the area became a major supply center and medical treatment outpost for the Civil War. It was frequently visited by early Presidents who passed through on the few railways then leading North out of Washington D.C. Abraham Lincoln utilized these railways for delivery of his Gettysburg Address. Unfortunately, it was also a part of his funeral train that passed through on April 21, 1865 where thousands of people lined the tracks waving American flags.

Hopefully, the weather will be less rainy for us over the coming week. I'll update you later on our activities as time and wifi access allows.

Photos by Deb
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Monday, July 20, 2009

Heading North

Smith Mountain Lake State Park, VA

July 20, 2009
We left NC on July 13th and started for VA in a light rain. Heading out on I-40 East, we picked up Route 220 North in Greensboro. Somehow we missed the a sign and ended up on Route 29. Thanks to Deb's quick navigation skills, we were able to take Route 58 West out of Danville, VA which brought us back to 220. Thankfully, the rain had stopped. We followed this Route all the way to Franklin, VA where we picked up SR 122 towards the park. It was a beautiful drive through the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge lined with productive farms and small towns. Along SR 122 we passed the Booker T. Washington Nat. Mon. and through the town of Burnt Chimney where a sign stated it was first inhabited in the 1750's. After turning onto SR 608 we headed South through more rolling farmland to SR 626 and entered Smith Mountain Lake State Park.

Smith Mountain Lake itself was created in 1960 when Appalachian Power built a dam on the Roanoke River in Smith Mountain Gap creating the 2nd largest body of fresh water in the state. Construction of the dam was completed in 1966, and in 1967 the power company donated the first parcel of land for the park along the North shore. The state bought the rest of the park land over the next six years and it opened to the public in 1983. (The pictures above are of a small cove area of the lake.)

The park is in a setting of mature hardwood forests and is very well kept. For its size, it offers a broad variety of activities including camping, swimming, boating, hiking and interpretive programs. We were able to obtain the last pull-through site that was level, nicely paved with crushed limestone and, mercifully, very few insects. We could book for only four nights and the campground was almost to capacity for our entire stay, including the primitive sites. This started to make sense after Deb told me she saw a news piece that RV sales are booming right now. People have decided it is cheaper in the long run to vacation in an RV as opposed to staying in motels and eating constantly in restaurants. The only odd surprise was the lack of wildlife. Other than a few squirrels, there were very few birds and no signs or tracks of animal species you would expect surrounding a lake ecosystem.

Our time passed quietly. We read books, Deb took a few photos, I did some writing and we hiked on a short trail. It was a very peaceful stay and, for me, one of contemplation about our nation's history. As I looked into the lush hardwood forest surrounding our site, my thoughts kept going back to the settlers of the small towns we passed through who lived in the area over twenty years before the Declaration Of Independence. What would they think of the area now?

Update you from somewhere down the road.

Photos by Deb
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Out Of The Campgrounds

July 12, 2009

It's been a pleasant five days for us here in the gently rolling hills just South of Winston Salem NC. We are parked at the property of our friends Ann & Dave Hale. Thank you friends for your hospitality. It has been a pleasure to spend time in a rural area defined by well-kept horse farms, friendly people and beautiful vistas.

It has also been nice to have a short break from staying at campgrounds.The places we have stayed up to this point have been nice, but there is a lot to be appreciated in private solitude and modern conveniences like a steady wifi signal and indoor plumbing.

A few observations on campground living. We are far from pros in full-time RV living at this point, but we have enjoyed learning some of the rhythms and patterns of people at the places we've stayed. We are normally at a spot longer than most guests; usually five days or more. The average stays tend to be no more than four days and are usually over weekends. There is a nice mix between RV and tent campers and, so far, all have proven to be friendly, respectful and trustworthy. There have been numerous times we have left our site for extended periods of time and not worried about leaving things like chairs and other items outside. No one has touched or stolen them while we were gone. Most campers wave hello when passing by, but tend to stay to themselves. I think this is because most people come to campgrounds to, for the most part, get away from people and everyday life for a little while.

One of the more humorous aspects of observing people is their obsessions with setting up satellite dishes. This is a modern day camping trend I had not anticipated. Most big rigs already have them attached, but for most there is a labor-intensive process of mounting the unit and then figuring out the direction to receive a clear signal. While at Skidaway State Park we had a couple from Riverside, CA beside us who spent at least two hours trying to align a dish. There were constant shouts from the wife, who was looking in a window, of "74", "76", "82", "86" and then "Too fuzzy. I Quit". At that point I was heading to the dumpster and the husband stopped me to inquire, "Do you have a dish?". I informed him we only had a small TV with an antenna. Exasperated, he replied "Well, If I can't get this figured out I guess we'll just have to waste our time doing nothing". This sent my brain into a spin. When did not watching the tube, especially in the middle of a park, become a lifestyle of doing nothing? It gives me one more thing to ponder about modern life.

We're off to Virginia tomorrow and will update more of our travels as computer access allows.

Photos By Deb
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

South Carolina

July 7, 2009
An apology for the layout. This program has its own quirks that, now matter how I structure the paragraphs, it ends up entirely different when I post. Will try to edit for corrections at a later time.

It's been a busy two weeks for us in the Greenville, SC area. My parents and sister live here, which has provided for good family time plus several trips into the mountains. Unfortunately, we have had limited computer access. Apologies for the length of time between posts.

On our way to Greenville we made a quick stop at Wms.-Brice Stadium in Columbia for the included picture. It is of me holding the Geyer Family College Bowl Football trophy in front of the home field of the South Carolina Gamecocks. For those not in the know, each year our family holds a competition to determine who can pick the most college bowl winners for the season (which, in my opinion, has become absurd in the number now played each year). The winner then takes possession of the trophy and, on more than one occasion, the loser has forwarded the trophy to the winner in disassembled pieces. It would be an understatement to say our clan is VERY competitive to the point of needing a Dr. Phil intervention. As fate would have it, Deb won this year. The win was an especially sweet in that it was her first time in the competition. Given our new travels, we decided to add a new dimension to the tradition. (Yes, we can be as competitive as the rest.) We will be taking as many pics. as possible of the trophy in front of stadiums of teams eligible for bowl bids. It will be interesting to see if future winners can match the number of pics. we document.

For the first few days we helped my parents with tasks around their property and settled into our site at Paris Mountain State Park. Developed in the mid-1930s by the CCC as a watershed for the area, the park is more urban in setting than most state parks but still beautiful and well-maintained. There are ample hiking trails, a large lake for swimming and, blessedly, paved camping sites.

As an aside, if you are ever in the Greenville-Spartanburg area do not pass up a meal at Bucky's Bar-B-Q. Located on the outskirts of Greenville in a non-descript metal building, it is the best Carolina Bar-B-Q you will find anywhere! Offering chopped pork, ribs or chicken plates and sandwiches from meats smoked in an attached shed, it is a melt-in-your-mouth experience. Sides range from crispy sweet potatoes to baked beans to coleslaw and are all homemade delicious. My suggestion is the chopped pork sandwich smothered in their mustard-based sauce topped with a large garnish of coleslaw. It's the only way to eat a true Carolina Bar-B-Q sandwich.

Another must do if you are anywhere close to Ashville, NC is visit the Biltmore Estate. Do not pass Go, do not give it second thought, do not put it off until a later time. There is a reason it is on the official Things To Do Before You Die list. Deb and I spent a day there and, believe me, it is unlike anything you will experience in your lifetime.

Completed in 1895 by George W. Vanderbilt, it is officially registered as America's largest home. Vanderbilt's goal was to create an American castle that riveled those he had visited in Europe and, with unlimited wealth, more than passed all expectations. The estate alone was once the largest single-owned property in America. A portion of the land and home is still privately owned by Vanderbilt's grandson, William A.V. Cecil, with the remaining land becoming part of what is now the Pisgah National Forest. The Castle (home) is filled with priceless masterpieces, antiques and intricate architectural details. The gardens and grounds, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead whose best known work is New York's Central Park, are beyond words. Any further descriptions I could provide would not be adequate to the overall experience. Just Google Biltmore Estate and be amazed.

It has been nice to spend quality time with family and enjoy the Greenville region. It's not only a nice place to visit, but also a nice place to live. We are still enjoying our full-time RV lifestyle and look forward to sharing more of our adventures from somewhere down the road.

Photo by Debbie
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer