Posts Tagged With: Photos

Backroads Across America: Scenic Drive Yields Surprises

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After an hour or so of monotonous interstate driving from southwestern Virginia, we veered northeast toward Highway 60, which follows the Kanawha River in West Virginia. It climbed and twisted along the narrow, rocky river gorge. We had to wait for a wide spot (yep, next to a Family Dollar Store) at a reservoir to take a photo.

Our destination was Charleston, where we are visiting our son Chris and his girlfriend Gail.

It was a beautiful drive, a challenge with the trailer, but as backroads often do, it revealed a surprise: Coal. Our scenic drive book didn’t mention it, but the last section leading to Charleston featured several large coal and chemical plants. It was busy and the surrounding communities looked like thriving company towns.

The valley has been an industrial region since the mid-1800s and the Kanawha River feeds the Ohio River. Daniel Boone and Booker T. Washington spent time in the area.

We paused for a bit of southern culture at a cafe next to a coal plant, where the luncheon buffet featured mashed potatoes that may have had more butter than potato. Delicious! The servers must have liked us, because they called us “Darlin’.”

The state capitol dome dominated the Charleston skyline, but we had to keep going about 30 miles westward to our KOA campground in Milton, where we are staying for five nights. There are other RVs here, although they did not show in Sue’s photos.

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Squeezing in Our Campground

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We’re spending the night in southern Virginia where spring is just beginning to show its colors.  Our campsite was surrounded by trees, but there was barely a leaf to be seen.  It looked quite winter-like.

A good night for what Reg calls “Comfort Food.”

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Although he rolled his eyes when I dropped this in our grocery cart the other day, we thoroughly enjoyed our Deluxe Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinner, incredibly easy to make with the enclosed packet of squeeze cheese!

And what better way to dine on this gourmet delight than from good old fashioned TV trays!  Bon Appétit!

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Backroads Across America: Asheville Leaves Us With Questions

 

Eclectic, mild climate, college town, surrounded by the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains.

City traffic hassles, parking challenges, a place rough around the edges.

Both descriptions fit Asheville, North Carolina. A city of 87,000, there are 425,000 in the metropolitan area.

It was raining when we set out this morning, so we jumped on the Hop-on, Hop-off trolley, thinking we could see the city without getting soaked (I mean that literally.). The weather improved, so we hopped on and off several times and explored.

Do you like college towns? This may be the place for you. UNC Asheville has nearly 4,000 students and is known as a liberal arts school. A community college technical school here has 7,000 students.

Are you a shopper? There are outlets, a mall, lots of shops downtown and in the funkier West Ashevillle neighborhood.

If you like art, this may be your paradise. The River Arts District, which is polishing the rust off the old industrial area, brags more than 220 working artists in a one-mile zone along the French Broad River.  Or, you could explore the former Woolworth’s building downtown, converted into a two-story gallery of local art. In a nice touch, you can lunch or snack at the original soda fountain.

If you enjoy touring old neighborhoods with beautiful homes, you will find them here. Of course, the granddaddy is the Biltmore Estate (see our earlier post).

Music lover? You can listen to live music nightly at various venues. Local performers, but also some big names, especially on weekends. Probably more in tune with 20-somethings. (I promised our sons not to use the “M” word.)

Food connoisseur? Lots of choices downtown. Some pretty funky, some more refined. We had lunch today at a taqueria that doubled as a night club in the River Arts District. Grungy, but the food was alright. There were better choices downtown, but we were hungry and it was there.

Beer lover? Sierra Nevada (yep, the one based in Chico, California) is the big, new brewery in the area, joining a community famous around the country for its choices in local beers.

This city has been put on the map by a host of famous authors, artists, actors, and millionnaires who have called it home. It has a vibe. After three days here, we will move on to Virginia tomorrow morning, not sure what to think of Asheville, North Carolina. Lots of positives. When you visit, let us know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Backroads Across America:  Blue Ridge Parkway Leads to Sierra Nevada

We awoke to gray skies and drizzle, so decided to take a sneak peek at the Blue Ridge Parkway this morning.  Our hope has been to drive a small part of the 469 mile scenic highway on our way to West Virginia.  Today was not the best day for views, but we definitely gained valuable perspective!

As we slowly crept around the twists and turns of the parkway, quickly climbing over 3,000 feet, we soon realized we had no business towing our trailer along this route, no matter how beautiful the scenery.  As we reached the 5,000 foot elevation, our scenery disappeared in the clouds, along with all signs of spring.   A side road took us back down to the lower elevations…for an afternoon in the Sierra Nevada (Brewery that is).

Sierra Nevada Brewery opened their Mills River, North Carolina facility in 2014.  As fans of the original Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California, where our son works, we were curious and couldn’t resist a visit and tour during our stay in Asheville.  

What we found was amazing.  We expected the brew house, restaurant and gift shop, but around back we discovered an outdoor play land.  A massive fire pit, games, a stage for music, an organic garden, a children’s play area and seating everywhere. Unfortunately, today was a little wet to enjoy all that was offered.

If you visit be sure to reserve a tour and tasting. Both Chico and Mills River offer them and they book up quickly.  Our tour guide Sean was friendly, knowledgeable and encouraged questions.  We watched hundreds of bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale traveling along a conveyer system towards packaging.  Fascinating!

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Backroads Across America: USA’s Biggest Home

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It is the Gilded Age and you have become one of the world’s richest people by means of the shipping and railroad industries. What do you do with your riches? If you are George Vanderbilt, you spend 1889-1895 building America’s biggest house near Asheville, North Carolina.

The Biltmore Estate, by the numbers: 255 rooms, 2.4 million cubic feet of interior space, 135,280 square feet, nearly 8,000 acres. A brick kiln on the construction site produced 32,000 bricks a day.

It is a house beyond imagination, even for HGTV addicts accustomed to the expensive whims of home buyers.

We were among throngs who visited today (yearly visits total 1.2 million). The gardens, especially the azaleas, were spectacular. We enjoyed about two hours walking many of the informal trails. The self-guided house tour was fascinating, but we missed getting a feel for how the family lived. It was dark and felt stiff. Exceptions were the 22,000-volume library and the billiard room. The enormous indoor swimming pool was impressive.

They put us in the old horse barn for lunch. We ate in a stall next to the trough. I should point out that it had been tastefully cleaned up and decorated. It is one of 15 restaurants on the property.

Is the tour worth the $60 admission? If you cannot secure a private invitation from George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson, who owns the property and lives in the area, then we think it is a place for the ages, not to be missed when you come to Asheville.

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Scenes From the Rearview Mirror

Today was a turning point…literally.  This morning we headed left out of Hickory Knob State Park Campground, where we spent the last two nights, and watched as South Carolina disappeared behind us.  Today marks the point of our trip when we get serious about heading west and eventually returning home to Oregon.


Hickory Knob was a perfectly fine place for our two night stay, although neither Reg nor I could put a finger on why we didn’t love it.  Our site (pictured above) was tidy and spacious, surrounded by trees – I assume some were hickory trees – and the bathrooms were clean.  I gave my hair a good sudsy wash and powerful blast from my blow dryer, which was a real treat!  


From our campsite, we  walked nearly all of the 7-mile Lakeview Trail Saturday morning, following a part of the shoreline of (controversially named) Strom Thurmond Lake, a 71,000-acre reservoir forming the border between South Carolina and Georgia.  The sheer size of the lake is unbelievable and it appears to be a fisherman’s paradise.  It felt good to lace up the hiking shoes and follow the blue markers along the dirt trail.  As a reward for our enthusiasm, we lazed around the campsite for the rest of the afternoon!


This morning, on a road as straight as an arrow, we aimed for Asheville, North Carolina where we hope to stay dry during our four-day visit.  As South Carolina vanished in the rear view mirror, we wondered what new adventures await us on the return trip.


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Backroads Across America: These Stores Fit the Bill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe wish we had 99 cents for every one of these stores we have seen since Texas. Virtually every town has had at least one, usually both. In some places, they are two of very few businesses still open. In larger places, retail activity has moved from downtown to places like…(drumroll?) Walmart.

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Charming Charleston, South Carolina

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Since leaving home we’ve logged over 4,000 miles in the Tacoma.  It was time to cash in on the last of the free oil changes Toyota offered when we bought the truck.  Reg set his alarm for 6:00 this morning, so we were up and on the road early to make the 7:15 appointment on the far side of Charleston.  The truck was serviced and ready to go quickly (practically before the sun was up!), so we had lots of time to explore the city that we’d heard so much about!

A tremendous number of 18th and 19th century buildings, churches and homes remain in the heart of Charleston.  The old downtown area was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1960.  The best way to appreciate the architecture and beauty of Charleston is to walk, so that’s just what we did…for hours!  Todays photos hardly do it justice.

This was my favorite scene of the day.  I love the fact that Charleston allows kids, both young and old, to splash in the fountain on a warm spring day.  I’ve got to say…we were tempted!

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Backroads Across America: A Day at the Beach

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The Isle of Palms near Charleston, SC,  hosts miles of huge beachfront homes fronting small dunes and miles of beautiful beaches. Today, the water was warm, almost matching the near 80-degree air temperature.

We toured Fort Moultrie, which, along with Fort Sumter, was built to protect Charleston Harbor. Some of the cannons could fire balls weighing several hundred pounds up to four miles.

A bridge away on Sullivan Island, we found the buzzing Poe’s Tavern for lunch. Lots of Edgar Allen Poe illustrations hung on the walls. Why was it called Poe’s? Well, he served at Fort Moultrie for 13 months. I had no idea, did you?

We have decided we could be comfortable in one of the homes here, at least for part of the year. That dream settles as I write this in our tiny home just a few miles away, but in a slightly less glamorous setting.

Dreams aside, it sure felt great to splash in the warm Atlantic water!

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Backroads Across America: Crossover Hookups!?

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Notes from the road

Cowboy bar: Get on your motorcycle, drive to Bandera, Texas, in the Hill Country just north of San Antonio. The 11th Street Cowboy Bar is not to be missed.

Backroads? Have we been true to our blog title? Mostly. We found it tough in Arizona and New Mexico. There aren’t as many roads and some go nowhere, which might be interesting, but the rest of our title is “across America,” after all. From Texas on, we have mostly stuck to our non-plan. Texas calls backroads “farm roads” or “ranch roads.” In the Hill Country, there are many deep dips, with markers showing how deep the water running across is…the marks go up to five feet!

Lonely path: We have usually tried to avoid cities, leading us through the middle of the southern states with some long, lonely stretches. We found ourselves hoping for a small town to break up the monotony. The ones we found were often Twilight Zone-like deserted. An RV from Oregon was not a common sight, let me tell you.

State parks: They are great, of course, and we have lucked out by getting some amazing sites. In RV parks, you see license plates from all over North America. In state parks, you rarely see a vehicle from out of state. But, like I mentioned a while back, RV parks are often more convenient. Plus, the swimming pools don’t have alligators.

 Language, accent. Well, this is a sensitive matter. How do I phrase this? Since Texas, when I ask where something is in a store, I usually hear enthusiastic, friendly replies. Couldn’t be nicer. I think. You see, sometimes I am not sure, if you know what I mean. I smile, say thanks, and continue my search.

Crossover hookups?! OK, RVers, what are they? The guy at our RV park in the Texas Hill Country explained that our sewer line was on the usual side, but the water and electric hookups were in the other side of the site. Are you kidding? Nope. He said our lines would reach. He was right, of course, but it was a challenge stringing them under the trailer. Our next door neighbor called it “backwards plumbing.”

 

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