Virginia, Part 2

Our Virginia adventure continues on the Northern Neck peninsula camped near Colonial Beach.  Virginia’s Northern Neck is bounded on the south by the Rappahannock River and on the north by the Potomac River.  Fredericksburg is the largest city in the area.

Stratford Hall is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.  He was born in this great house built by Thomas Lee in the 1730s.  Four generations passed through its stately doors including the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War hero Light Horse Harry Lee and of course the great civil war general.  It sits on the Potomac River. We had a great tour and highly recommend a visit.

Stratford Hall

The Great Room

A parlor

18th Century Carriage

Slave quarters

George Washington Birthplace is a National Monument also sits on the Potomac.  The home is a 1931 replica of the original which burned in 1779.  The National Park Service does its usual great job of interpreting the site.  This park is viewed as a living memorial with a Colonial era kitchen, garden and farm.  Compared to the Lee family the Washington’s home was very modest

Replica GW Birthplace

English garden

Fredericksburg is a very old city on the Rappahannock River.  Our first stop there was Chatham Manor, a home whose entrance hall is larger than 99% of the entire homes in Virginia at the time of the Civil War.  The home sits on high bluffs above the river overlooking the city.  It was used as Union Headquarters during the bombardment and assault December 11-13, 1862.  The city was badly damaged but the Union was soundly defeated by Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson’s forces.   We went on to tour the battlefield known as Chancellorsville which was fought April 27 to May 6, 1863.  This was another great Confederate victory but cost the life of Lee’s top general, Stonewall Jackson. It was from here that Lee went on the offensive marching northward to Pennsylvania and a little town called Gettysburg.

Chatham Manor

Union cannon along the Rappahannock River

The Sunken Road at Fredericksburg

1863 photo of same

Confederate cannon

Tangier Island is  tiny island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay.  It is reached daily by seasonal ferry from Reedsville.  We went on the very first sailing of the season.  99% of all soft shell crabs are harvested by crabbers on Tangier and nearby Smith Island.  The season was just about to open so the boats were getting ready.  It is a very quaint island where everyone knows everyone and the streets are golf cart paths.  We had heard they spoke an Elizabethan English due to their isolation but we never heard that.  The island may not be around for long.  It is very very low and ocean rise is a huge threat.

Ferry to Tangier Island

Climate change is causing the island to disappear

Crab boat

Colorful crab processing shack

Oldest home on Tangier Is.

Cluster of crab processors

Cool day on Chesapeake Bay

Reedville Virginia is at the eastern end of the Northern Neck peninsula.  It is the home the menhaden fishing industry and brings in the second largest tonnage of any fishery in the US (Dutch Harbor Alaska is 1st).  Menhaden is a small fish harvested for its oil.

Reedville’s Mehaden fishery

Historic Stack

Victorian mansion in Reedville

Chesapeake Skipjack at Reedville Museum

We always know we’re in a good place when we have much to come back for and the Northern Neck checks that box.

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Where We Stay

We don’t often write about where we park our RV during our travels.  We have always felt that what we do outside of our one bedoom apartment on wheels is usually more interesting.  Many people ask if campground fees are our biggest expense.  Many are also interested in how to travel all over the US on a budget.  Here is a little discussion of our personal style of full time RV living.

Early in our first year full-timing, we discovered Thousand Trails campground membership program.  We had purchased a zone pass for the Pacific Northwest since we planned to visit our son in Seattle and they had the nearest RV park.  The plan worked pretty good but we had to move out for one week out of every three, then back again and repeat.  Our neighbors Mark and Lynn told us they had purchased a resale membership for the whole country with 3 week stays and no mandatory time out of the system.  So we found a broker who sold us a membership previously owned by a man who was moving to Nicaragua.  The cost was $2500 plus a $750 transfer fee.  We then pay only $45 per month maintenance fee and all our campground stays are free!  In 2016 we stayed 228 nights at Thousand Trails locations. We have 86 places to choose from and we can stay 1 to 21 nights at no charge.  Its a pretty sweet deal .   Thousand Trails has an affiliated club called Resort Parks International.  They offer $10/night RV parks but we find they have extremely limited usefullness.

Thousand Trails Orlando

Solar install at 1000 Trails Palm Desert CA

Aside from Thousand Trails we often stay at Elks lodges.  Many lodges offer full service RV sites or at least a place to park for a small donation.  Our friends Sharon and Mike told us about the Elks and we joined specifically for the travel benefits.  We support their charitable efforts even if we don’t often visit the bar.

Friendly Elks RV site

We also love boondocking.  That is, we love parking on typically BLM land usually out West with no hookups, few neighbors, dark skies and total peace and quiet.  Our 2016 solar installation and inverter upgrade has made this type of “dry” camping so much more enjoyable.

Boondocking in the Alabama Hills California

Another component in our camping story is Escapees.  They are an organisation founded by fulltimers to support the lifestyle.  We stayed at one of their parks in Florida for a very modest fee and found them to be the friendliest RVers we’ve ever been around.  They also sell a Days End Directory with member verified free or nearly free places to stay overnite all over the country.  Their directory led us to a city park near Casa Grande AZ where we stayed 2 nights and had some of the best desert mountain hiking we’ve ever experienced.

Escapees Sumter Oaks – Bushnell Florida

Casa Grande views from a free city park

Sometimes when we are just traveling for several days in a row we will stay for one night at a Wal-Mart or similar parking lot.  We are careful to park out of the way and never put down jacks or awnings.  And of course we always manage to shop a little.  We appreciate the courtesy and don’t abuse it.

Free city park camping near Winslow Arizona

We still love National Parks and Forest camping which is so reasonable with our senior pass.  State Parks camping sites tend to be hard to get and pricey with many charging a daily fee in addition to the camping fees.  Good Florida parks are generally booked 11 months out during prime season.  We will include these campgrounds when the location is great.

Passport America is another club we’ve joined.  Its very inexpensive and provides a 50% discount to member parks.  They have a lot of campgrounds but stays can be very limited, like N/A Florida in the winter and often no weekends and /or 2 nights per year.  We use them most when traveling for days in hot or cold weather.

And of course saving the best for last, we had the most beautiful campsite on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur Mexico for $5/night.

Mexico beachfront camping $5/night

Campsite view

Every full-timer has their own style.  And styles evolve.  This works for us right now.  We’re sure we’ll be able to update in the future.  Happy trails.

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Virginia is for History Lovers, Part 1

Our east coast tour continues into Virginia.  Wow! As soon as you enter Virginia you are awestruck at the American history at your feet.  We have visited many times, most recently a summer long stay near Charlottesville.  There we fell in love with Monticello and that entire area.  This time we are in tidewater Virginia, the area along Chesapeake Bay in the Eastern part of the state.  It is the area of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg – places we’d seen before.  We stayed on the middle peninsula north of Hampton between the York River and the Rappahannock River.  Our RV park was on the Piankatank River.  The history of this area starts with Chief Powhatan, John Smith and Pocahontas, then the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.

Hampton – Fort Monroe is the largest masonry fort in the US.  Built from 1817 it guarded the entrance to Hampton Roads.  It was an active military post until 2011 and it was recently designated a national monument by President Obama.  Part of its significance is that the very first slaves brought to North America landed at nearby Point Comfort and the very first slaves freed during the Civil War got their freedom at Fort Monroe.  Fort Monroe was never held by the Confederacy even though it is in Virginia.

Ft. Monroe entrance

Quarters

Exterior walls and moat

Casemate Museum

Chesapeake beachfront

Gloucester Courthouse is a very historic town on the middle peninsula.  Colonial era buildings are preserved in the center of town.  We had a couple great lunches at Olivia’s Restaurant.  Nearby we visited the modest 1851 birthplace of Walter Reed the US Army physician who came to prominance when he proved that yellow fever was spread by mosquitos.  Thomas Jefferson wrote early works for Virginia and colonial independence while staying at Rosewell, home of John Page (his close friend and fellow student at the College of William and Mary).

Gloucester Courthouse Square

History Museum

Walter Reed Birthplace

Rosewell

 

Every April the garden clubs of Virginia sponsor Historic Garden Week all over the state.  In 2009 we toured magnificent properties in the Charlottesville area and this year we were lucky enough to tour homes in Gloucester and Mathews Counties.

Exchange, built 1720

on the North River

Green Mansion, built 1903

English croquet

“Pumpkin Corner”

Wyndham, original home 1879

Gardner 2005

Fabulous flower and vegetable gardens

Peninsula on Horn Harbor

Whenever possible, we like to tour a new area by boat.  Miss Hampton II offered an interesting tour of Hampton Roads.  After cruising along Ft. Monroe we stopped at Ft. Wool, an island fort built after the War of 1812.  We cruised past the US Navy’s Norfolk Yard, the largest naval port in the world.  We saw 3 huge nuclear powered aircraft carriers including the newest supercarrier Gerald R. Ford and many other state of the art of war ships.  It was a beautiful day on the water.

Hampton Roads Harbor Cruise

Ft. Monroe Lighthouse

Ft. Wool

Island fortress

Norfolk Navy Yard-
USS Gerald R. Ford

As avid history fans, we love Virginia.  Also nice that we were able to camp and kayak on the Piankatank River.

Kayaking on the Piankatank River

 

 

 

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Trains of North Carolina

North Carolina has a long railroad history.  Many towns celebrate their rail heritage with murals.  In some towns the depot is a focal point for weddings and other events.

Salisbury Depot

Thomasville NC Mural

South of Winston-Salem is the small town of Spencer which is home of the North Carolina Transportation Museum.  This is a huge 60 acre site on the grounds of the former Southern Railroad shops 150 miles from Atlanta and 150 miles from Washington DC.  The museum features a 100 foot turntable and 37 stall roundhouse built in 1924.  We had a train ride and a guided tour.  There are many vintage autos on display and a model of the Wright brothers first successful airplane.  It was easy to spend a full day exploring the museum.  Nearby Salisbury has an active North Carolina Amtrak depot and very active Norfolk Southern rail line.

NC Transportation Museum train ride

Tour guide

Back shop

37 Stall Roundhouse and turntable

Southern Railway F Unit

Contemporary Norfolk Southern freight at Salisbury

North Carolina Amtrak at Salisbury

While touring the museum we learned of an excursion led by the famous Norfolk and Western steam locomotive 611, the Spirit of Roanoke.  We had seen 611 several years ago as a static display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.  It was the last steam locomotive built by N&W and that it was completed on May 29, 1950, 2 days after Randy’s exact birthdate!  Donations from fans in 50 states and many countries have restored the locomotive to operating status.  Needless to say we had to book passage on this beautiful historic train.  We would be steaming out of Spencer NC, 611’s winter home.  Our plan was to stay in a hotel in nearby Salisbury and photograph the Saturday and Sunday morning excursions ahead of our Sunday PM trip from Spencer to Greensboro and back.

611 Roaring by

Volunteer crew

Crowds at Spencer

Randy and 611 –
Born same week 1950

Vintage B&O Dome

We rode in N&W Florida

Tailcar from CB&Q California Zephyr

Check out our video of 611 April 9th, 2017.

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North Carolina

Seemed like a good idea to leave Florida in early March and start our trek North. The entire country had been enjoying record warm temps and Florida was already near 90 degrees.  Of course mother nature had a surprise for us and a little March snow along with night temps in the 20s.  But then the sun returned, temps moderated and we enjoyed beautiful days and comfortable nights.

Winters last gasp

We have been to North Carolina many times.  It has always been popular with Floridians as a getaway from the hot summer.  This was our first visit as full time RVers.  On this trip we are explored central North Carolina near Winston-Salem, an area known as the Triad.  It is also part of an area known as the Piedmont.

It is a beautiful area of gentle rolling hills, abundant deciduous forests, big rivers, old houses, farms and tobacco sheds.  It also has a lot of railroad and American history.  After the warmest February on record and snow our first morning in NC, Spring was more typical with one front after another.  Warmish days, followed by cold nights and chilly afternoons, then warm and sunny.  We found plenty to do.

In nearby Greensboro we visited a model train show and railroad history society housed in the historic depot.  Then we learned of a historic re-enactment of the crucial Revolutionary War Battle of Guilford Courthouse.  The event was held at the National Military Park.  The actors did a great job and the narrator was very informative.  Nearby Greensboro was named after the American General Nathaniel Green.  Green never won a battle but won his campaign against General Cornwallis.  The British abandoned their efforts in the Carolinas and Cornwallis went on to Virginia where he eventually surrendered ending the war.  The huge crowd enjoyed the event and the colonial life actors in camps and historic settings at the park.

Guilford Courthouse Battlefield Re-enactment

Colonial era farm

Blacksmith in character

Winston Salem is home to Wake Forest University and we visited Reynolda Gardens created by Katherine Reynolds of the tobacco fortune.  The gardens were in late Spring mode with lots of daffodils and a classic Lord and Burnham greenhouse filled with familiar tropicals.  The adjacent campus was very beautiful and we found lots of walking opportunities.

Beautiful Lord and Burnham greenhouse

Well managed greenhouses

Formal gardens

Spring flowers

Daffodils

Thomasville is famous as chair city.  Once a hub of furniture manufacturing it is now a quaint town in the Triad of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point.  Most of the production is now overseas.  In 1960, Lyndon Johnson’s train stopped here during JFK’s campaign.  LBJ got up on the chair.

Thomasville’s Chair

Mural of the Southern Railway

Visitor Center in 1870 Depot

Roanoke Rapids is a small city we had never visited before.  Turns out it was a transportation hub in the 19th century.  With railroads and a canal, it was a historic magnet for us.  A 7 mile hiking trail drew us into a walk from an old cotton mill, to a depot, to the falls (rapids) and the canal.

Bateaux in canal lock

7 Mile trail along the old canal

Roanoke Rapids

North Carolina was a pleasant place to spend a month in Spring.  People were friendly, roads were good and not crowded.  Weather was variable but not severe.  We can see ourselves coming back for more exploration.

 

 

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Low Country and South Carolina

Reminds me of something

South Carolina’s Low Country is a great place to visit.  We had a limited time so we had to make the best of it.  Magnolia Plantation was spectacular when we visited during the peak week of azaleas.  Riotous color everywhere.  Charle Kuralt called Magnolia his greatest Charleston pleasure.  The gardens saved the plantation when they were opened to tourists in the late 19th century.  The Drayton family has called Magnolia home since 1676.

Be sure to click images to enlarge.

Southern Beauty

Magnolia Plantation

Anybody know his name?

The gardens of Magnolia

More Azaleas

Cac Caw Nature Preserve is a county park near Charleston.  A former rice plantation, the preserve is now half history and half nature park.  There are 11 different habitats for wildlife many of which would not exist without the rice plantation period.  We hiked 7 miles of trails and saw eagles, ospreys, herons, egrets and alligators.

Former Rice Plantation

Cypress Swamp habitat

Frampton Planation is now a visitor center.  The family dates from the antebellum period and still live in the area.  The 300 year old oaks are a trademark of South Carolina.

Frampton Plantation

On our way to the Orangeburg Elks we visited the little town of Branchville SC.  Branchville is a very historic railroad town.  In 1833 the longest railroad in the world ran (133 miles) from Charleston through Branchville to Hamburg SC.  Soon Branchville was the very first rail junction in the US when a line was built to Orangeburg!  The very first railroad restaurant was established in the depot here!  So naturally we had to check it out and sample the local cuisine.  The Elks provided a nice spot for the night.

Branchville Depot

Friendly Elks RV site

 

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North Florida and Folkston Georgia

Our primary reason to visit North Florida was to see our daughter and her family in Fleming Island.  We found Green Cove Springs to be a nice base.  The town has a rich history and lovely springs today.

Springs at Green Cove Springs

1876 Church at Green Cove Springs

Folkston Georgia is just across the stateline from Florida and has long been a favorite train watching sight.  We have been visiting whenever in the area for over 15 years and the town keeps improving the experience for railfans.  Our visit this time was especially enjoyable as we met a great many super nice people including some young men from North Carolina who were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about CSX.  Folkston is known as “The Folkston Funnel” since CSX mainlines from several areas converge to funnel nearly all traffic past the Okeefenokee Swamp into Florida.  The boys counted 60 trains in their first 24 hours! We saw the Tropicana Juice train, Amtrak’s AutoTrain (twice) and many many more.

Folkston Georgia
Gateway to the Okeefenokee Swamp

Historic Depot

Railfan Platform

1 of 60 trains per day

Northbound CSX

Amtrak’s Silver Meteor heading to Miami

Chris and Jeff – Railfans

Every year there are ten times more railfans than residents visiting the Folkston Funnel.

 

 

 

 

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