14. From Shenandoah National Park to the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

One of my favorite singers John Denver once sang “Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.  Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains blowing like a breeze.  Driving down those country roads on the very top of the Appalachian Mountain Range was an amazing site.  Sometimes we could see both sides of the valleys below, as we pulled our 38 foot home behind us on the narrow crooked roads!  img_2669

The town of Front Royal marked the start of Shenandoah National Park and the first campground where we would stay.  In the first part of the park, the road is called Skyline Drive.  One of our first stops was Harpers Ferry.  Harpers Ferry is situated where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet.  This area was perfect for industry because of the potential power the two rivers could generate.


St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church is a very unique style of architecture.  It is called Fantasy Gothic.  The church was the only church to be spared in town from destruction.


A very beautiful church inside and out.


The two things Harpers Ferry is known for industry and John Brown.  They had a large gun manufacturing plant here and John Brown tried to take the U.S. Arsenal over in an armed slave revolt with only 18 men (13 white and 5 black men.)   He did not succeed and died in the raid but did bring the issue of slavery into the for front of the Nation’s mind.  Some say it helped speed up the progress the Civil War.


Thomas Jefferson stood at this spot to view the beautiful passage of the river through the mountains.  The rock has to be supported underneath because of all the “traffic” the rock gets to view the spot where our 3rd President of the United States once stood.


Here is the view from Jefferson rock.


A small part of the Appalachian Trail that passes directly through the town.


Our family all read Bill Bryson’s book “A Walk in the Woods”, which takes place on the Appalachian Trail, so we had to check out the visitor center.


The historic homes were still well preserved.


Kelly wanted to jump on the trail but it would have to wait. (Besides it was really raining hard!)



This was where B & O Railroad passed through to Maryland Heights. The tunnel was built to bypass a sharp curve.  We saw two trains running side by side one going North and the other going South!


One of the town’s cute Inn’which also had a Cafe.


The two rivers colliding together.


The old remains of a bridge that was once used to transport goods in and out of the busy town.


This tower commemorates the battle of Antietam.  It was the first Field-army level engagement to take place on Union soil. It also was the bloodiest single day battle in US History.


This brigade was on of the largest with 5 regiments in it.  In the battle, the Irish Brigade found themselves in the center of the Confederates line and had a 60% casualty loss that day.


Kelly and I hiked into this ghost town that was slowly being restored for people to be able to stay overnight.  They still have several years before it will be completed.


The view on the way to Blowing Rock North Carolina.


The city park in Blowing Rock was gorgeous and the charming town drew in tourists that were also waiting for the colors to turn.


This is just one of the old historic cabins that have been preserved over the years.  Imagine living on top of a huge mountain range in Winter with no electricity or running water.  Those pioneers were a “hearty bunch”.


This was our view from our campsite in Front Royal, Virginia.


We stayed in Front Royal which is also known as the canoe capital of Virginia.  The town got its name partially from a giant “Royal Oak” tree in the towns square.  The local military would practice their drills there and the commander would shout “front the Royal Oak” and it was eventually shorten to just Front Royal.  Andrew (our youngest son) would be arriving at Dulles Airport in Washington DC the next day to join us on our trip.



One of the many sights to see heading South on the Shenandoah Skyline Drive.


Andrew posing for the camera on one of our hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Still no real color and it was already Oct. 11th, but it was an amazing view!


This dog was having a blast in the cold mountain stream waterfall.


Kelly and Andrew went back to college at the University of Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson founded this University and famous people like Edgar Allan Poe attended school here.


The students have deluxe study halls here.  Upstairs, each student has their own study area furnished with whatever they could need!  Everything was in mint condition even though the college was built in 1819!


We made it to Charlottesville Virginia.  The city that was home to two Governors who became future Presidents of the United States- Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. We ate lunch at the famous Michie Tavern.  The fixed menu was like a salad bar where doors behind the food bar opened up to restock the food as needed.  It was a very interesting concept. The food was good and the chicken was one of the best fried chicken recipes I have ever tried.


Andrew, a self proclaiming Thomas Jefferson fan, loved Monticello!  Most of the city of Charlottesville and Thomas Jefferson’s home were spared during the Civil War.  This is the same view of Jefferson’s home which is on the back of the United States nickel. President Jefferson began designing and building his home at age 26 after inheriting the land from his father. The interior included a wind plate that connected to a weather vane, showing the direction of the wind and a “Great Clock” that Jefferson also designed.  He also built beds in alcoves that saved space and created more storage.  A very interesting and unique home!


Posing in the dome room. 


We then headed over to the Carter Mountain Orchard and sampled an apple slush and apples that were grown on the orchard.  We also walked up a nearby hill to view Charlottesville from above.  Wish we had more time here and with Andrew.  He had to go back to Seattle to work and I know he missed his girlfriend Becky too!


We headed down to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We stopped at a place called “The Peaks of Otter”.  We got there late after driving 100 miles on the narrow and crooked parkway. Our site was way to small for our fifth wheel and I had to walk through the whole campground trying to figure out which site WOULD work.  After much deliberating we finally squeezed into one.  The next day we were able to move in a spacious site right next to the dump station!  In the picture above, I am still waiting for the colors to change.  Next stop “Meadows of Dan” campground.


We went down into North Carolina just so I could go to the town of Mt. Airy.  Andy Griffith once lived here and wrote many places from his home town into the show, but called his stage home Mayberry.  It was a very nice town and it just so happened that the Autumn Leaves Fall Festival (the largest event in Mt. Airy) was going on at the same time!


We made it to church. Turns out Andy Griffith used to attend here.


Kelly and I toured the Andy Griffith Museum, and this was Andy’s first major movie.


We toured the town in a squad car and the local guide told us about all the highlights of the town.  Some funny Barney Fife quotes are-  “There are only two kinds of deputy- Quick and Dead!”  “With me a case is open until it is closed!”  “Coming over here without my gun and belt,  I felt absolutely NAKED!”



After Mt Airy we went back down the Blue Ridge Parkway to the amazingly beautiful Mabry Mill and had to capture a photo of one of the most photographed spots.


Many people were waiting at this spot for just the right time of day to take this picture and for other people to move out of their photograph.



This is the Parkway Craft Center at the Moses Cone Manor House.  Mr. Cone was the inventor and manufacturer of denim cloth and sold it to Levis Strauss.  It was an impressive house.  Inside on the lower floor was a craft center filled with local art.


On our way to Grandfather Mountain, I found the most popular spot where all the photographers take their pictures of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The Linn Cove Viaduct was constructed in several parts then put together like Legos.  Amazing!


Kelly and the mountains of many colors!


There’s bears in them thar hills!  Part of a bear rehab program at the mountain.


Quite a view from the bridge!  Kelly and others decided to go farther on the top!



We took a short hike to Linville Falls and saw more autumn color.  Now onto Asheville North Carolina to pick up my sister Loray (AKA Sam.)


After picking her up at the airport, we went straight to the Biltmore Estate.  Here is a selfie of us in the gorgeous gardens.  George Vanderbilt was only 25 when he started building the largest privately owned house in the United States.  It is 176,926 sq. ft. and has 250 rooms!  I would have loved to go with him on one of his extensive buying trips overseas.  He was a wonderful designer and had great taste.


When we went to the Biltmore Estate, they were starting to decorate for Christmas and had some Holiday fashions on display.  They were stunning!


I can’t even imagine living in this extravagance!


We spent a day in Asheville North Carolina.  The city is known for it’s Art Deco architecture, art galleries, craft beers, hipsters, music and outdoor recreation.  My sister and I ate at the popular Tupelo Honey Cafe.  I had the best grilled brussel sprouts!


The next day we decided to see the surrounding areas and took day trip to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock.  Lake Lure was where they filmed one of my sister’s and my favorite movies, “Dirty Dancing”.  We saw the stairs where Baby carried the watermelon and the area where they practiced the famous lift in the water.


For exercise we went to Chimney Rock State Park and hiked up 500 steps to the top.  It is not quite as tall as our Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach but close. At the top, with the panoramic view we could see 75 miles of beautiful scenery!



We made it!


With more sites to see we headed South to our campsite in Cherokee, North Carolina. There was a forest fire not far from our campground and on the way to the campground the smoke was really bad. I am sure nothing compared to all the fires that they are having now in that area. Our campground was fine we did not have any smoke.


This was near our campground..


Kelly met a very distant relative at the Museum of Cherokee Indians.  Kelly is a 1/16th part Cherokee Indian.


The Mountain Farm Museum, is a living history exhibit.  It had a log farmhouse, an apple house, and a blacksmith shop to name a few of the buildings. Kelly hiked the Oconaluftee River Trail almost back to Cherokee.  We saw a few Elk that the tourists were amazed by.  It was nothing compared to our local 80+ herd in Seaside/Gearhart!



Very tame Elk!

Welcome to Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg KOA

Then we moved on to the KOA campground at Pigeon Forge.  It was by far the best KOA that we stayed at and a good way to end my trip.  It was right next to the transit center and Old Mill Restaurant and shops.


Dolly Pardon is an icon around these parts, and after this trip I have even more admiration for her.  She loves to read and started a program that provides a book a month to East Tennessee children under 5 years old to spark their love of reading. She has also worked with preserving bald eagles, helping US soldiers, hospitals, human society for dogs, and supplies musical instruments for public schools.  Recently she is giving $1,000 a month to families who have lost their homes to the fires in that area.


We went to the Dixie Stampede dinner show.  I would recommend it to everyone!


Kelly and Sam riding the Tennessee Tornado at Dollywood.  


On our last night, we went to the Island in Pigeon Forge.  It is part shopping mall, has restaurants, and all different kinds of entertainment.  We had to go into Paula Deen’s largest store and later watch the light show rocking in rocking chairs which lined the large fountain. My sister and I want to go back and spend a whole week in Pigeon Forge next time. 

I flew back with my sister because our Mother was going to have a procedure two days later in Portland.  I had to say good bye to Kelly and then his road trip began!  I did a lot of praying for his 3,500 mile journey home!  He did have some troubles, but made it back home safely in record time.  This concludes my RV Having Fun Yet segment which lasted from June 17th thru October 29th.  It was quite an adventure!  **Special thanks to our oldest son, Cameron McKirdy, for helping me get started with this blog.


13. Leaf Peeping in New England

At the top of Kelly’s retirement trip was experiencing Fall in the Northeastern part of the United States.  We became part of a group called “leaf peepers”.  People travel all over the world to see the colors of autumn in New England.  One encounter was with a group of Japanese tourists who unloaded off a big tour bus.  A man jumped off the bus and became fascinated with us!  He began taking many photos of our trailer (even the hitch!)  He only spoke a few words in English, but I understood he wanted to know all the places that we had traveled with our trailer.  I showed him the vinyl map of the United States and the colored state stickers marking the ones we had traveled to on this trip.  He started taking my picture like I was a celebrity.  It was very interesting.


Our first stop was Burlington VT.  It is the largest city in the state. We stayed at an Elks Lodge there for two nights.  During our stay we saw the Ethan Allen Homestead, beautiful views of Lake Champlain, rode our bikes along a pretty rail trail, and went to Church Street Marketplace.  I thought only Portland and Austin TX were the only cities that claim to be weird, but the whole state of Vermont is also competing for the title.


This is Ethan Allen’s homestead.  A little different from the high end line of furniture who borrowed the Ethan Allen name so that the people would think of the strong Vermont Revolutionary leader.  Ethan became interested in buying land and because of the legal disputes he was having with the land deals, he formed the Green Mountain Boys.  The purpose of the group was to drive New York settlers from the Grants.  Later when the Revolutionary War broke out, he and the “boys” seized and captured Fort Ticonderoga.  He also participated in controversial negotiations with the British over the possibility of Vermont becoming a separate British province.  Artists have created an image of what they thought Allen would of looked like but there is not any true image of him anywhere.


Church Street Marketplace is a pedestrian shopping and dining mall.  Very nice! 


This brand name is known all over the state and we visited the factory and tested some of their ice cream flavors.  They even have a graveyard for the past flavors that they retired or stopped production of.  Their ice cream is known for the chunks of yummy things that they put in it.  I was surprised when they just gave us plain vanilla!  They sold the company in 2000 but the partners are still active in politics and the causes that they believe in.


I could not believe how much maple syrup is sold here!  How would you ever use up a whole half gallon of syrup before it crystallized. You would have to eat it on everything like “Elf” did in the movie. I found out it contains vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and B6. It also has antioxidant properties that protect our body from free radicals.  Our son Andrew has been telling us that Maple Syrup is a better option to use in our coffee each morning than other sweeteners.


A view of Lake Champlain in Burlington VT.


One of my favorite towns on the trip was Stowe VT.  It sits in a valley between Mount Mansfield and the Green Mountains.  It is a quaint, beautiful town of about 5,000 people.  In the Winter it is popular for skiing but we hiked a long winding trail near a river for our entertainment.  Maria Von Trapp the matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers who became famous because of the movie “The Sound of Music” also lived here.  Her family owns a huge Inn, brewery, restaurant and conference center just outside of the city.  I love her grand kids who have preformed in our area as the Von Trapps, but recently broke up.  They are so talented, I know we will see them again.


This was a site next to a grocery store in Stowe that I just had to capture with a photo.


Homes like this were all over the town.  The homeowners really kept up their homes and yards for the visitors to enjoy too.  Like me!


Here is a picture of the original Von Trapp family singers.


This is the Inn at the Von Trapp property.  It has a setting similar to Austria, their homeland where they escaped just before World War II broke out.


The Long hiking trail in Stowe is 265 mile trail system.  We only went about 4 miles.  


We saw another capital in Montpelier, VT.  It is least populated capital city in the United States with about 8,000 people living in the town.  It was a wonderfully decorated building and a treasure to its community members.




We went to Cabot Creamery to test out all 30 samples of their cheeses and then they recommended we go to a local apple farm to pick our own apples.  Great weather for outside activities and lots and lots of apples!  I made applesauce with maple sugar for when Andrew will come to visit in a couple of weeks.  It turned out yummy!


I took this photo as we were flying down the road.   It was a good way to transition into another state.


We hiked up to view Beaver Lake and then walked around the lake.  It was a very rocky trail, and took us way longer than we expected.  We did make it back before dark though.


View of Beaver lake.


This is Lonesome Lake near Franconia Notch.  We also hiked around the lake that had views of all the ski lifts in the area.


We visited the New England Ski Museum and saw Bode Miller’s Olympic metals. It was one of the first ski museums in the United States.  Bode is from the area and locals are very proud of him!  This was the first resort based ski school in the states when it opened its doors in 1929.


Another hike near our campground.


Coming back from a day of sightseeing, I could not stop taking pictures!  The pink fog was amazing and the views kept changing each moment!


New Hampshire is definitely a beautiful state!


A cute church in the small little town of Sugar Hill. The name comes from a large grove of Sugar Maple in the area. Actress Bette Davis used to spend her summers here.


This is from the top of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway.  In the top left part of the mountain you can see the Appalachian Trail.  Kelly wants to hike it at some point on our trip.  We read the Bill Bryson book, A Walk in the Woods which was made into a movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte about the trail.  It stretches from Georgia to Maine along the ridges of mountains, forests, roads and farms.  The “AT” is the longest hiking only trail in the world!  


What a view from up here!  Now we will head to the Flume Gorge.



The Flume Gorge is a natural gorge that extends 800 feet horizontally at the base of Mount Liberty.  The walls are solid granite and can be as high as 90 feet tall in parts of the flume.


This is one of 7 covered bridges in New Hampshire.


We ate at the famous Polly’s Pancake Parlor which has been featured in Road Food, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Cooking with Paula Deen and in the Food Network Magazine.  We must have ordered the wrong thing.  It seemed very average.  I know now how spoiled we are with the Portland and local restaurants in our region of the Northwest.  Our restaurants are SO much better!                         Onto Maine….


We stayed at another interesting Elks Lodge in the little town of Chesterville, Maine. We went to their county fair just to experience something local.  It has fun seeing the people get excited about their fair.  We watched a “horse pull” which consists of a team of two horses that pull tons of rock, saw usual farm tools, and looked at the handmade or homegrown exhibits. 


Did you know, for almost 130 years Grange Halls have existed as community centers where locals gather for events, dances, potlucks, town meetings and political rallies?  I loved our little grange in Kellogg near Elkton, OR.


Then we arrived in Bar Harbor Maine.  This would be the most Easterly place on our trip.  We could not wait to see Arcadia National Park.  I helped Andrew do a “brochure” on the park about 20 years ago in Mr. Nelson’s 4th grade class.  (The same Mr. Nelson and his lovely wife Judy that we visited in Virginia, on this trip.)  It looked so beautiful, I always kept that trip in the back of my mind.  I loved the town and surrounding area!


These sunflowers were growing wild in a field.   To pretty to pass up.


Kelly wanted to attend this historic Episcopal Church.  It was built in sections from 1877 to 1938.  The English Gothic style church also has a cemetery connected to it like many churches back East have.  The windows where designed by the Tiffany Studio and it had a  bell tower at its peak.  We went to the service, but it was not my cup of tea.


Later that day we went sailing on the 4 masted schooner ship the Margaret Todd.  She was first launched in  1998, so she is not very old.  


 The weather turned cold quickly, and that day I had to wear 4 layers of clothing to keep warm!  One layer for each mast!


At low tide we walked the “bar” to Bar Island.  This spectacular view of Mount Desert Island and the city of Bar Harbor made the hike special.  Some people have been stranded on the island overnight until the next low tide or they can pay the high price of a water taxi back to Bar Harbor.


John D. Rockefeller donated about 1/3 of the land in Acadia National Park and built the carriage roads that are used for hiking and biking.  The Vanderbilts also had cottages here.  They also had an artist community, a number of journalists lived here as well as sportsmen which lead to the “rusticators” coming to the island. Rusticators were tourists that came to get relief from the city and its noise, pollution and crowds. Eventually, they decided that they missed the comforts of home, and many hotels and resorts were built to satisfy their needs.  So many gorgeous views it is easy to see why everyone wanted to see this place.


While in Maine…do as the Mainers do.  That is the real name of people from Maine. Each lobster has to weigh only one and a quarter pounds or less to serve at restaurants. They throw back the larger lobster because they are good breeders and can live as long as 100 years! 

While in the National Park we hiked of course and also attended the Arcadia Night Sky Festival.  The event was put on by the local chamber and was very well organized. They had chartered school buses to take people up to the top of Cadillac Mountain.  They then had 50 different sized telescopes observing different constellations in the beautiful but VERY cold night sky!  It was very memorable.

Back to New Hampshire.


This KOA was nice and had hiking trails around the lake here.


A view of the lake and the leaves are starting to turn. 


The Conway Scenic Railroad station was built in 1874.  The unique Victorian style building was were we waited before boarding the Notch train.  The “Notch”, “Hollow” or “Gap” are all terms for the space between mountains that cause a valley.  These were the natural low spots where early pioneers used to navigate thru the mountain ranges. So our Notch train took us by dramatic bluffs and steep ravines and it was amazing to think about how they constructed these tracks through such rugged territory.


Enjoying an old-fashioned railroad experience on a vintage train.


I felt like I had gone back in time at Zeb’s General Store in the village of Conway.


Views from the KOA campground hike.


The colors were just starting to turn when we had to leaf.  LOL

Back thru Vermont…


We had to really search for color!


Hiking around Rutland VT.



Hathaway Farm Corn Maze has 12 acres and was the largest maze in Vermont!


The political themed maze had 4 clue stations in it.  We had to answer the Republican and Democrat multiple choice questions correctly and then the answer would point us in the right direction.  We ended up going out the entrance and going back through the exit to find our way out that way.  It was hard and I walked about 20,000 steps on my Fitbit!   It was nice to do something different for exercise.

Vermont Country Store, Rockingham            Name tells it all

We stopped on the way back through Vermont at the famous Vermont Country Store.


The hamburgers at the little food cart were one of the best we have ever had.

Next blog- Onto Shenandoah National Park.