Exploring Smoky Mountains National Park – Part II


I commented in my last post that I was a little concerned about traveling through Smoky Mountains National Park because of crowds that would result in delays along the roads and parking issues.   It ended up not being that bad and coming in through the North Carolina side made much of the drive less busy.   When we got to the Tennessee side, it did become busier especially at popular hiking spots.   There were still places though to pull off the road and enjoy some serenity and scenery.   The photo below was at one of those places, a beautiful creek that was a very short walk from the road.   I met a family there and the wife told me that this is their favorite spot in the Park, a place they return to during each Smoky Mountain visit.

Moving on, we came upon a line of cars parked for perhaps a half a mile or more in each direction, overflow from a crowded parking lot at a favorite trail head.   This can be common in other National Parks, so no surprise here either.

The Park has set up “Quiet Walkways,” shorter trails off some of the roads where one can walk with less crowds to areas of scenic interest.    Periodically, we would see a sign for one of those.    We stopped at one that led to this delightful rushing stream in the photo below.   I had the trail and stream to myself until walking a little further when I came upon a young man fly fishing in the middle of the stream.

After my “quiet walk” we headed back the way we came on Newfound Gap Road, stopping at the Newfound Gap Scenic Overlook.   When we had driven past earlier in the day, the parking lot was very crowded and after some attempts and still not finding a parking spot we drove on.   When we stopped on the way back we were able to get one.   The overlook is noteworthy for several reasons.   it is here that the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee meet.

The Rockefeller Monument made from stone is located next to the parking lot and can be seen in the left hand side of the photo above.   Completed in September 1939, it was on this spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Great Smoky Mountain National Park in September 1940.   A plaque on the monument states that the park was given by the states of North Carolina and Tennessee as well as donations in memory of Laura Spellman Rockefeller by her husband John.

This is also the only place in the Park where the Appalachian Trail passes across a road.   During our travels, we have run into the trail in several different states.   In the photo above, you might notice on the smaller sign that it is 1,972 miles to Katahdin Maine, the ending point for the trail and a long trek ahead for the weary hiker!   I read that the Appalachian Trail runs for more than 71 miles through the Park and the highest point on the whole trail is reached here in the Smoky Mountains at Clingmans Dome which is 6,625 feet.

The road to Clingmans Dome leaves from Newfound Gap and in seven miles you reach a parking lot and can walk to an overlook at the highest point in Tennessee.   We contemplated driving up to this very popular spot, but I read reviews where people talked about waiting for an hour along the road to get a parking spot, so we decided to move on.   Above is a view from the Newfound Gap Overlook.

When people come to the park, they really hope to see wildlife, especially elk and black bear.   We didn’t see any bear during our visit, but upon arriving back at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center area in North Carolina we did see a herd of elk in the large meadow.   They tend to gather here in the late afternoon/early evenings and I counted almost 30 of them.   Fall is the rutting or mating season when the males make bugling calls to challenge other males and attract females.   Dominant males gather a harem of up to 20 females.   In the photo below, I watched a mother tending her baby.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains as well as other areas in the Eastern U.S. but due to over hunting and loss of habitat they started disappearing.   I read that the last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700’s and in Tennessee in the mid 1800’s.   By 1900, there was concern that they could be headed for extinction.   The National Park Service began reintroducing elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border.   In 2002, another 27 animals were brought into the Park.

During our stop there was a line of people standing along the edge of the meadow.   The National Park Service has strict rules about observing elk.   Visitors have to remain by the roadside while viewing and cannot enter the fields where elk are located.   The Park website states it is illegal to approach within 50 yards and violation can result in fines and arrest.   I noted that there were some park employees along the road when the elk were in the meadow.   I have seen elk before in my travels, but this was the largest gathering I have ever seen.    It was neat to see them, especially when they are now making a comeback after being absent from this area for so many years.

Thanks for reading!   In the next post we move on to Kentucky!

Exploring Smoky Mountains National Park

It is always neat to add another National Park to the list of those seen.   I believe the National Parks are a must do as they provide a special experience unlike so many other places.   Smoky Mountains National Park made the 6th National Park we have seen during this trip.    I had some concerns about exploring this park, mainly because it is the most visited National Park in America and crowds are high in the summer and fall seasons.    Over nine million people visit the park each year.   One of the reasons is because unlike some National Parks that are more isolated, this park is closer to population centers and therefore easier to get to.    I was envisioning traffic jams with difficulty parking and manuevering through the park.   For those that don’t know, Smoky Mountains National Park is shared by North Carolina and Tennessee and has three different entrances, two in Tennessee and one in North Carolina.   I thought we were fortunate to be staying near the North Carolina side of the park because that is the “quiet side” with less tourist traffic.   On the Tennessee side is the most popular entrance near the busy town of Gatlinburg with the Dollywood theme park.   In this post I will share part of a day exploring the Smokies and finish up that day with the next blog post.

After entering the park and stopping at a few viewpoints I was struck by the amount and variety of vegetation.   I felt like I had landed in Central or South America with all the lush greenery around us.   This was an unexpected delight.    After the visit I read that the park is known for many species of plants, shrubs and trees and on the park website I noted this statement:   “If allowed only one word to justify the Smokies worthiness as a National Park, that word would be plants.  Vegetation is to Great Smoky Mountains National Park what granite domes and waterfalls are to Yosemite and geysers are to Yellowstone.”   As we traveled through I could tell that it is indeed a special place and a very appealing destination for many visitors.

We stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center which had some interesting exhibits and photographs of the families that once lived in this area.   Living in the mountains was not an easy life and these people were tough and self reliant.   In order to create the park more than 1,200 families were removed from their homes and their communities were dissolved.   As can be expected, there were mixed feelings about leaving their homeland.   Some were happy to take the money and settle elsewhere, but many never got over their loss.   Some sold their land and paid rent to stay temporarily.   A few, mostly the elderly, were given lifetime leases.    We also learned of a similar situation when we visited Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.   Many families that lived in the valleys and hills that were proposed lands for the park were asked to leave so the park could be established.   Some left willingly, but others were not happy to do so.

Smoky Mountains National Park is known for having historical structures that can be found throughout.   At the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is the Mountain Farm Museum featuring a nice collection of log farm buildings mostly built in the late 19th century.   They were gathered from different areas of the Smoky Mountains and moved here in the 1950’s to give visitors an opportunity to see how families may have lived 100 years ago.   Buildings include a farmhouse, barn, applehouse, smokehouse and spring house.   And of course I cannot forget the ever present blacksmith shop.   The photo above is a picture of the Davis Farmhouse, a rarity because it is made from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut trees here in the 1930’s and 40’s.

I really enjoyed seeing this meadow view with the barn on the right from the Mountain Farm Museum.   The National Park Service put a much needed sign on the barn which is one of the best I have seen.   It is tragic that people deface historic structures with their signatures and artwork.   It is such a frequent occurrence that it no longer surprises me but still so hard to understand why people feel compelled to disfigure priceless buildings.

Oconaluftee River flows next to the Visitor Center and is a beautiful and serene place to walk.   For those that have the time, there is a trail you can take along the river that goes to the town of Cherokee.   The valley where the river flows once had a Cherokee settlement and although the Cherokee people roamed throughout the Smoky Mountains area, this is the only known permanent settlement within the park boundaries.

After spending some time at the Visitor Center we drove to Mingus Mill, an 1886 grist mill that uses a water powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power machinery in the building.   The mill is located at its original site and at times there are demonstrations of grinding corn into cornmeal.  The mill was the largest in the Smoky Mountains and served over 200 families.   Some families would bring corn and wheat from 15 miles or more to have it ground at the mill.

Water is channeled from Mingus Creek into the elevated flume and carried through a series of mechanisms into the turbine next to the building.   This turns an attached metal rod that leads into the mill and turns the grinding stone to process the grains.   My favorite part of the mill was the flume with its old mossy boards, rushing water and small waterfall from a loose board like you can see above.

Leaving Mingus we continued on Newfound Gap Road which is the main road that crosses through the park, allowing visitors to access overlooks, pull-offs and trails.   You can start the 33 mile drive from either Cherokee or Gatlinburg.   Below is a photo of the road that I took from an overlook.

The Cherokee described these mountains as “shaconage” meaning “blue, like smoke” since they appear to have a smoke-like natural bluish haze.   Large quantities of moisture and organic compounds are emitted from the lush vegetation, forming the natural haze which is thickest on calm, sunny and humid days.   Before visiting the park, I was wondering if I would notice that smokiness but when I saw the mountains, especially in the distance, I could understand how they got their name.

I will close with a shot coming out from one of the tunnels.   Just like on the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are a number of them on Newfound Gap Road as well.   In my next blog post I will continue writing about exploring the park.

Creekwood Farm, Biltmore and Cherokee

When we arrived in Western North Carolina to check into Creekwood Farm RV Park we were told by a concerned worker that we might have a hard time backing into our site.   Since we were staying for 10 nights, she couldn’t find any other place to put us that wouldn’t be occupied by someone else during that time.   After Mark looked at the “problem” spot he thought it would probably work out okay.   When I had called several weeks beforehand to book a stay, I was told that they had one site left and it was usually only used as a vehicle washing area.   The person I talked to thought it would work for our truck and trailer and a reservation was made.    Now it was our check in day and the office was questioning if it would work and whether we wanted to take the site or not.   I said that at this point we really didn’t have any other options except to contact RV parks in the area for availability and it was getting close to the end of the afternoon.   Writing about this isn’t meant to be complaining, but to show the uncertainty when moving regularly from place to place.   I am just glad we have never arrived any where and found our reservation lost or been turned away!   Although I have heard of this happening and even saw it once.   In the end we took the spot and set up our trailer fine.   Our site backed up to another RV and there was only about six inches between our two ends which seemed pretty close, but worked out okay.

It is fun arriving at a new campground and seeing if there is anything special or unique about each one.   Usually I know about the amenities from researching and if there is a creek or river on site then I want to check it out right away.   Creekwood Farm has a nice rushing stream that runs through the park.   Some of the sites are next to the creek where people can sit outside and enjoy the sight and sound of the water.   When you get the last spot in the park like we did, you aren’t going to be next to the creek, but there were still places to go and relax near the water.   Below is a picture of a glider on a deck with a view of the creek.   A few times I took my chair down close to the water and sat and read or watched the leaves falling.

When I was planning our North Carolina trip one of the main attractions I wanted to see was the Biltmore, built by a Vanderbilt and the largest home in America.   I had seen Vanderbilt homes in the Hudson River Valley of New York and Newport, Rhode Island.   I talked to a number of people during our travels who said we had to see the Biltmore when we came to North Carolina.   I had high hopes for a visit there but we ended up not going.   This is the first major attraction on my to do list we decided to skip.   While trying to book online I found out the tickets were $80.00 each with an extra $14.00 for the necessary audio set since the tour is self-guided with no signage inside the house.   With tax it was going to cost us $200.00 to see the home and gardens.   I had never seen such a high admission cost any where else during our travels.   It was also annoying that the ticket price changed from day to day, sometimes lower, sometimes higher and I couldn’t find an explanation why.   Tickets are for timed entry to help manage the crowds, but it was the crowds that made me realize it wouldn’t be worth the cost.   Due to popularity, visitation is heavy with traffic issues and lots of people to maneuver around inside the home.    I came across the word “cattle” in several recent reviews.   Perhaps I will regret having missed the biggest home in America, but as Mark sometimes reminds me, “you can’t see everything.”

The town of Cherokee is the North Carolina gateway to Smoky Mountains National Park, the ending point of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the home of the Eastern Cherokee Nation.   In 1838, most Cherokee in the southeastern U.S. were forced to relocate to Oklahoma, marching on what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”   Some Cherokee from this region had taken land and were allowed to remain and others hid in the mountains to avoid being located.   After arriving in Oklahoma, some Cherokee walked back home to North Carolina.   Today, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians do not live on a reservation given to them by the government but on property they purchased in the 1800’s called the Qualla Boundary.   They live in beautiful and rugged country with mountains, rivers and forests, a sovereign nation with over 14,000 members.   I took the photo above at a stop looking down on Eastern Cherokee lands.

Prior to doing research about visiting North Carolina, I did not realize that the Eastern Cherokee lived so close to the Great Smokies.   During my social work career I often had to interact with the Cherokee tribes including not only the Eastern Band but also the United Keetoowah Band and Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.   Since we worked with families through juvenile court for child protection issues, we had to inquire if families had Indian ancestry.   Cherokee was one of the tribes frequently mentioned by our clients and involved written notice to each tribal office to determine if the children were eligible for enrollment and if the tribe wanted to get involved.   So it was interesting to drive around the town of Cherokee and see the enrollment office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs  and the tribal court building, etc.   I took the photo above because I thought it was neat how all of the street signs as well as some signs on buildings were in both English and Cherokee.   I read that students are taught the Cherokee language in school and each high school student is required to pass a Cherokee language class before graduation.   It is encouraging that active measures are in place to keep the language alive among tribal members.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian was an informative and worthwhile visit to learn more about their history including interaction with the European or white settlers, their livelihood and culture.   Outside of the building is a really neat statue carved from a single redwood tree from California and donated and shipped by Georgia Pacific Company.   The statue honors Sequoyah, a Cherokee who invented the Cherokee alphabet.   We learned that Sequoyah, who was illiterate, believed it was important to capture the thoughts and words of his people.   It took him two years, but in 1821 he completed his first syllabary, a writing system or kind of alphabet in which each character stands for a syllable.  It was a success with the people easily learning to use the syllabary allowing them to communicate and keep records in their own language to help and preserve their culture.

Below is a photo of one of my favorite pieces in the museum, a face mask made from a hornet’s nest.   It is difficult taking photos through glass so sorry for the spots of light in the picture.

After the museum we headed across the street to Qualla Arts and Crafts, a Native American Cooperative for Eastern Cherokee artwork.

There was a large selection of baskets, pottery, wood carvings, beadwork and jewelry.   I really enjoyed seeing the many baskets made from a variety of materials, such as river cane, honeysuckle and white oak.  Some were behind glass like in the photo below due to their museum quality and others could be purchased in the gift shop area.   They were all quite beautiful but also very expensive.

Leaving the town of Cherokee we drove to Mingo Falls located within Cherokee lands.   As is typical with most falls in the Appalachian mountains, a long set of steps had to be traversed to get to the falls.   The Falls cascade 120 feet down a rock face in a lovely forest setting.

Thanks for checking in!   In the next post we find ourselves in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Blue Ridge of North Carolina


Leaving Virginia we headed to our next spot located a short drive away from the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.   The Blue Ridge Parkway in this area is different from Virginia in that the mountains are higher and more rugged.   In Virginia there were small towns near the Parkway and you could get on and off at more places.    During our North Carolina stay, we explored the most southern part of the Parkway that extends from the city of Asheville to the town of Cherokee near the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   We drove the Parkway two different times, the first day starting mid afternoon after having our air conditioning unit repaired.   Small trailers like ours are not meant to be lived in and we run the unit almost every day.   It had stopped working and this was the first day we could get someone out.   He was efficient and so nice plus we really appreciated he could come to us and we did not have to take the trailer to a shop somewhere.   Mark said that my “travel karma” held out because the repairman had just the right part we needed.    But, it was a perfectly sunny day, the mountains were calling and I was eager to get on the road after a few days of wet weather and resting up from our travels.

We began near the end of the Parkway at Cherokee heading north into the highest elevations of the Parkway.   Driving through these mountains you don’t see signs of civilization.  There are over 250 pull offs and overlooks on the 469 miles of Parkway that travels through Virginia and North Carolina, so plenty of places to stop for views like in the photo below.

We stopped at the highest point of the Parkway at 6,053 feet.   I expected grand views here, after all it was the highest point, but it was not as nice as some of the others and did not have the wide open views I was expecting, especially with the tree cover.

After traveling up the Parkway we decided rather than backtracking to get off on a side road for the drive back to our campground before nightfall.   We followed a beautiful creek and in one spot stopped to see this cascading waterfall.   The drive was picturesque but not entirely relaxing because we had neglected to fill up the gas tank prior to our drive which took us much further than we anticipated.   When we finally reached a back road gas station it was closed but my trusty gas buddy app showed another station just a few miles down the road and thankfully it was open.

The next day we headed to Asheville about 20 minutes north of where we were staying.   Our plan was to connect here with the Parkway and head south.   Our first stop was the Folk Art Center where artists from Maryland to Alabama belonging to the Southern Highland Craft Guild display their works.   The building is great and is also a bit of a museum with signboards explaining about early Appalachian crafters and displays of historic crafts such as woodcarving, basketry, pottery, furniture, textiles and dolls.   My favorite creations were the corn husk figures, brooms and blacksmithing exhibit with some interesting metal sculptures.   There are a number of items for sale which are quite expensive, for example a handwoven dish towel for $90 and a $14,000 coffee table.   No photos are allowed inside so I can’t share any of the great artwork on the blog.

Tunnels carved through the mountains are common on the Parkway in North Carolina.   I learned there are a total of 26 with 25 being in North Carolina so we came upon them from time to time on this part of the drive.

It is hard for me to pass up a great waterfall (Mark says ANY waterfall) so we got off the Parkway once to drive a very scenic and winding road to Looking Glass Falls.   The 60 foot Falls are popular and just off the road with a few different viewing areas as you head down the stairs to the stream below.

After returning to the Parkway we stopped at Graveyard Fields, an area with a hiking loop to two waterfalls.   I walked to the first falls, called “Lower Falls” crossing a stream and down a number of steep stairs to the base.

People were enjoying climbing around the rocks to get closer to the cascading falls.

At the time we were visiting before mid October we were hoping to find fall colors, but they were just beginning so we saw only a few trees here and there with some red and orange.   From what we heard the colors are a little behind in Appalachia this year due to warmer weather and more rain.   In some years it can be the end of October for peak fall foliage.  It is hard to predict the best fall color times and even though we missed it on the Parkway, the beautiful green mountain views like you can see in the photo below were certainly worth the drive.

I will close with a few photos from early evening when the sun was starting to go down.   The shadows and evening light were beautiful on the mountains.   I hope you enjoyed this post about our trek along the North Carolina Blue Ridge.

Andy’s Mayberry

The little town of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show is alive and well in Mt. Airy, North Carolina.   Andy was born and raised here and the town has not forgotten their favorite Sheriff, Andy Taylor.   Although officially called Mt. Airy, the town also seems to think of itself as the real Mayberry and a trip to the historic Main Street serves as a reminder.

Some of the stores and businesses are named after characters from the TV series like Opie’s Candy Shop, Aunt Bea’s BBQ, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Barney’s Cafe where we had lunch.

At Floyd’s Barber Shop, Andy Taylor’s regular hangout, you can still get a hair cut and next door is the Snappy Lunch which prides itself as being the only original business in town from Andy’s younger years that is mentioned on a few episodes.   Here you can try their specialty, a large fried pork chop sandwich and the line can get long waiting for a seat in this tiny establishment.   Around town you also see businesses using the word “Mayberry” such as Mayberry Market, Mayberry Antique Mall, Mayberry Motor Inn and Mayberry Mules and Wagon Rides.

As we wandered the Main Street, a period squad car passes by sounding the siren.  A company offers tours in the car around town.    I got a shot of the car next to the Earle Theater where we went to a radio show and a music jam, which I talked about in my previous blog.   As a boy, Andy Griffith used to go to shows at this theater.

Mt. Airy seems to be a happy place, as tourists wander down the Main Street checking out the shops, eating snacks and ice cream and enjoying all the Mayberry memorabilia on the buildings and in the shop windows.  Every year in September there is also a Mayberry Days Festival celebrating their most famous citizen.

Speaking of ice cream, here is something a little different – home made moonshine ice cream.   The store front is fun looking and although I am not into hard liquor I thought I shouldn’t pass up trying some.   I got a scoop with liquor soaked cherries and chocolate chunks but couldn’t detect much of an alcohol flavor.    A few episodes of the show deal with moonshiners including one called,  “Alcohol and Old Lace” that actually mentioned the town where we were staying – Fancy Gap, Virginia.   Fancy Gap is about a 20 minute drive up the mountain from Mt. Airy.   In this episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife are trying to locate and shut down moonshine stills in the area.    Barney suggests checking out Fancy Gap.   Andy replies:  “Yes, there are a lot of holes and hollers around there a fellow could hide something in.”   In the end they found the stills they were looking for, although none in Fancy Gap.

The Andy Griffith Museum in Mt. Airy has the largest collection of Andy memorabilia, much of it collected by one of his lifelong friends.   The museum is rather small but packed with facts and items from his life as a TV star, film star and musician.   Both of his TV shows, Andy Griffith and Matlock were long running series.   The Andy Griffith Show played for eight seasons, from 1960-1968.   I have never watched a Matlock show and didn’t tune in faithfully to the Andy Griffith show, but I did enjoy watching some of the episodes in my much younger years.   The museum has original clothing worn by many of the actors, like the suits (photo below) worn by Don Knotts who played Barney.

Here you can find the pants, shirt and hat worn by Goober, the likeable filling station mechanic.   Actor George Lindsay had the original cap he wore bronzed and put on a plaque after the show.    He thought it would look good on his wall but decided later that it would be better off at the museum.   You can see it in the photo below.

The centerpiece of the museum is the replica courthouse and office.   Some of the items in the office are originals from the series.   Videos from his shows and films play in various parts of the museum to add to the experience.   The museum is right next to the Andy Griffith Playhouse which hosts performances on a regular basis and was the building where Andy once attended Elementary School.   For those that want to get more of the Andy experience, you can book a stay at his former childhood home, a two bedroom house now owned by Hampton Inns.

After our Mt. Airy visit, I decided to watch a few episodes of Andy Griffith including the “moonshine still” episode.   Luckily, Amazon Prime was carrying the series so I could watch it on my Kindle.   I had forgotten how delightful and heartwarming the show could be – a time when life was simple and Sheriff Andy Taylor took care of Mayberry with a gentle spirit and a dose of good humor.   I am glad that Mt. Airy is keeping his spirit alive.

I will close with a photo I took on a hill looking down on our campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fancy Gap.   On the far right is the parkway road and although you can’t see our trailer, our site was on the far left in the photo.

In the next blog we move on to our next camping spot in North Carolina and closer to the most southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From Charleston to North Carolina and Virginia

In this post I wanted to update our travels in the past several weeks.   We left Charleston on March 30 after a 17 night stay, our longest since our month stay in the Cajun Country of Louisiana last November/December.   It was a great stay in South Carolina and we could have stayed longer since there was so much to see and do, but we needed to push on.  I had to say goodbye to the huge oaks and Spanish moss, how I will miss them!  It is a sight I have grown accustomed to in the almost five months we had been traveling in the South.   So, I took a little souvenir with us.  Although most of it blew off our spare tire within a short period of time, there is still a few strands dangling.

Our stay in Eastern North Carolina was brief but sweet at only four nights and I felt we were “shortchanging” the state.  But I was anxious to get to Virginia and the sights there.  North Carolina has much to see and I am hoping we will get back to the mountainous western part of the state during the fall season.  We weren’t crazy about the RV park we stayed in, although it was out in the country and fairly quiet.  But the best thing was stepping outside from our trailer the first evening and seeing the sunset so bright it was like the sky was on fire!

One day we visited Raleigh, the capital city and spent several hours at the State History Museum.  I really enjoy seeing the state museums when we have visited the different capitols as we learn a great deal about each state’s important events.  This museum was well done along with the museums in Baton Rouge and Topeka.  When we walked in we saw a replica of the Wright Brothers Flyer, built in 1903 and the first aircraft to take flight, although only for 12 seconds.   It is positioned 12 feet above the floor, the same height as it was flown.   A few years ago I read a novel about the Wright brothers and have wanted to visit Kitty Hawk where they first took to the skies.  I was researching traveling there and possible RV parks but my hopes were “grounded” when we realized that traveling there did not fit in well with our plans and staying on our chosen route.  Perhaps we will make it to Kitty Hawk at another time.

I try to make a plan to visit each state capitol if possible and it worked out well as the historic North Carolina capitol is right across the street from the state history museum.  This capitol is now used for the governor’s office only and is very visitor friendly for exploring inside.   In the picture above, a statue is located in front of the building with the three native North Carolinians who served as U.S. presidents.  This is the second building on site as the first one burned to the ground in 1831.  The cause of the fire is ironic.  While the roof was being fireproofed the workers were careless and boiling lead solder spilled setting it on fire.  It burned to the ground in several hours.

A wheelbarrow filled with wood is a strange sight in a capitol building.   It was placed here to show why the stair steps are worn and chipped.  In the early days of the capitol slaves had to lug iron rimmed wheelbarrows loaded with firewood up several flights of stairs for the fireplaces.  As I walked up I did notice the wear on the steps and thought how awful to lug that load over and over while the legislators were in session.

We visited the Bentonville Battlefield, site of the largest Civil War battle in North Carolina.   There was a driving tour which was okay, but the highlight was visiting the Harper house located next to the Visitor Center.  It was taken over by Union soldiers in March of 1865 as a hospital.  The Harper family of eleven members was allowed to remain in the rooms upstairs while 500 Union and 45 Confederate soldiers were treated downstairs during the three days of battle.   The house has been set up to look like a hospital with operating and recovery rooms.  The most unusual “discovery” in the house was the round dark outline on the floor in one of the operating rooms.  It was analyzed and found to be blood.  Popular thought is that the stain is from the Civil War although there is no way to determine the stain’s age.

Leaving North Carolina we arrived to the Virginia border and another welcome center.   I discovered that Virginia’s motto is “Virginia is for Lovers.”  A lady at the center recommended we stop at a peanut shop five miles down the road.  Southeastern Virginia is known for growing large sized peanuts that are often roasted in the shell.  There were no peanut samples at this welcome center.   Florida has the only state welcome centers we have visited with free samples of the state specialty – as can be expected it was orange or grapefruit juice.

The Good Earth peanut shop was in a ramshackle but cute building out in the country.  There were lots of samples here and of course we came away with some peanuts.  Mark wanted to get an even bigger bag than the one he is holding but I disagreed as we are in a small RV!

Have you ever heard of peanut soup?   After getting to the Williamsburg Virginia area I saw it on a couple restaurant menus and one day decided to try it.  It was pretty good but not something I would eat on a regular basis.

We arrived at our RV park outside of Williamsburg.   The park was in a really nice country setting with trees at the sites and surrounded by forest with nature trails.  I was surprised that the hardwood trees were not leafed out even though it was April.  This winter and spring have been colder for Virginia and the South so the leaves are slower to come.  But we did have a spring surprise at the park – gorgeous cherry trees in full bloom greeted us.

As I write this we have moved on after a few weeks at Williamsburg to our next camp further west near Charlottesville Virginia.  In my next blogs I will be writing about our stay in Williamsburg and all the history we saw there.

Thanks for reading and hope you all are enjoying lovely spring weather!