Council Bluffs Iowa and Omaha Nebraska

Our journey across the plains took us the length of Iowa.  Endless farmfields of newly planted or awaiting corn.  The area had recently had a tremendous amount of rain and rivers and creeks were full, many farms still muddy.  The rolling countryside reminded us of large ocean swells going on forever.

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Council Bluffs – Still a big railroad town

Council Bluffs had been on our list for a while as the home of the Union Pacific Museum and a huge collection of Transcontinental Railroad history.  It was here that President Lincoln chose the site where the railroad would begin.  The Union Pacific began building West while the Central Pacific built East from Sacramento California.  The Union Pacific Museum is housed in a Carnegie Library building in downtown Council Bluffs.  The museum is supported by donations and the staff are friendly.  The museum tells the story of the UP throughout its history.  There are great displays of the Transcontinental Railroad as well as UP Streamliners, the Challenger Passenger train and even AMTRAK.  There are displays utilizing all kinds of media including historic steriopticons,  in character video, multi screen video and diesel cab simulator.

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Originally a Carnegie library – Now the Union Pacific Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another prime attraction in Council Bluffs is the Grenville M. Dodge Mansion.  Built in 1869, the home of the Union Pacific’s Chief Engineer for the Transcontinental project. Dodge had been a very succesful Union General in the Civil War and his military talents helped him to great success executing the railroad.  The home was built at the astronomical cost of $35,000 and had electric and gas lighting and indoor plumbing.  The home has been beautifully restored by the city and volunteers gave us a marvelous tour. Dodge was a master of railroad design and construction and went on to build railroads in France and Russia.  While there we saw huge wild turkeys running wild through town. Our docents told us turkeys and deer are a big problem in the city.

Grenville Dodge Mansion

Re-created home scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man in Civil War General uniform

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Council Bluffs was also the location of the first meeting between Lewis and Clark and Native Americans under the council tree on their trek west in 1804.

The view today from the council bluff

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoyed our stay at the Omaha Elks lodge but we weren’t impressed with drivers in town.  Red light running seems to be a pastime there.  Crazy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Port Huron Michigan

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Blue Water Bridge

Port Huron Michigan sits at the Southern end of Lake Huron where the St. Clair River begins.  The Blue Water Bridge connects the city to Sarnia Ontario Canada.  We happened to stay here a few days to visit Randy’s aging aunt Evelyn and cousin Linda in nearby Owosso.

Turns out Port Huron is a pretty interesting town.  There is a beautiful waterfront park which is enjoyed by walkers and fisher people.  We visited the Thomas Edison Depot Museum in the historic Fort Gratiot railroad depot built by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1858.  The museum tells the story of the young Thomas Edison who grew up in Port Huron and first worked on the train reporting and hawking newspapers from 1859 to 1863.  There are artifacts from the site of the Edison family home that include some of the young wizard’s early tinkering.

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Statue of young Thomas Edison

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The Thomas Edison Depot Museum

The lakefront also featured a beautiful lighthouse.  Fort Gratiot lighthouse is the oldest in Michigan.  Built in 1829 it was heightened to 82 feet in the 1860s.  It still watches over one of the busiest waterways in the world.

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Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

The lightship Huron is also on permanent display along the river.  Horon was the last operating lightship in the Great Lakes.  It was retired after serving to make a shoal near the entrance to the St. Clair River for over 50 years.20170520-IMG_8896

No trip along the Great Lakes waterway system is complete without seeing a huge lakes freighter bearing down.20170520-IMG_8903

For a great read and another angle on the Thomas Edison story, read “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore.  It is a historical fiction account of the Current War and the battle between Edison and George Westinghouse over the patent for the lightbulb.

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New York

Unlike Robert E. Lee’s campaign, our journey continued North into New York.  Our goal was to see our friends, Patrick and Lynn in the western part of the state.

On the way, we found ourselves in Corning – yes, that Corning of glass fame.  We took the time for 2 short day tours and were thoroughly impressed.  Dianne being a glass artist herself never passes up a glass destination and Corning’s Museum of Glass has to be one of the top sites in the world.  We learned the history of Corning and Stueben and glass in the United States.  The museum offers many demonstrations of glass blowing, breaking glass, flameworking glass and fiber optical glass.  There is a permanent collection of glass art from 3500BC to present as well as temporary displays of glass art on loan from various collections. The architecture of the museum is also stunning including a recently added pure white building reminiscent of 2001, A Space Odessey.   The museum offers classes in all forms of glass art from a weekend to multi-week.  We would both love to come back and take a class.

After arriving at Patrick and Lynn’s home in Youngstown NY on the Niagara River, we toured the Erie Canal town of Medina.  In addition to the canal we visited the Medina Model Railroad Museum housed in the 1905 freight depot of the York Central Railroad.  It is a huge 204 ft by 14 ft HO scale layout depicting many scenes of the area.  Well done! The museum also owns several pieces of rolling stock and historic locomotives.  They offer excursions much of the year.

Erie Canal at Medina NY

19th Century City block of Medina

Medina Model Railroad Museum

New York Central RR

 

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more Pennsylvania

Addendum to our Pennsylvania blog…

Found more memorable images from our time in PA.

18th Century home in East Berlin

Typical commercial building on the square in New Oxford

Beatifully restored train depot

Typical Pennsylvania barn

Impressive Pennsylvania stone house

Civil War era home with bullet holes in brick and a soldier buried n the backyard

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Pennsylvania, Gettysburg and Hershey

Following Robert E. Lee’s route, we traveled North to Gettysburg PA.  This may be the most significant National Military Park in the US.  The battle there July 1-3, 1863 was seen as the turning point of the Civil War.  The park service does a great job interpreting the story for all visitors with a excellant film and the stunning Cyclorama, a huge 360 degree painting 28 feet tall.  The driving tour is 24 miles of scenes, monuments and cemetery.  So many lives lost.  It’s fitting to honor the fallen with this huge park.

A tiny shot of the Cyclorama

Union artillery

Scene of Pickett’s charge

Confederate artillery

Largest monument – Pennsylvania

 

Facing Little Round Top

Typical monument shows 796 casualties out of 1040 men

Hershey PA is Chocolate World.  The company of the same name turned chocolate as a luxury into a treat for the masses using assembly line production techniques inspired by Henry Ford.  Milton Hershey built a company town that provided well for his workers and their families. He left his entire fortune to a trust dedicated to a school for disadvantaged children.  To this day the trust provides school and housing for kids that need help.  The endowment is healthy and doing good.

Hershey is all about chocolate

Our trip to Pennsylvania was short but we enjoyed the beautiful countryside, the stone houses, the huge barns.  The people we met were friendly and helpful.  We stayed at the beautiful Gettysburg Farm RV Resort.

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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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