Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tis the season . . .

An explosion of Christmas color on a time exposure while twisting the telephoto lens
Photo was at Bellingrath Gardens, AL

With the first week of December almost over, it is amazing how fast the rest of the month will fly by.

It is raining outside our house tonight. The temperature is not cold enough to bring snow, although farther north, in places like Gatlinburg, TN, the forecast calls for some later in the week.

Once, while heading for some snowskiing on Sugar Mountain in North Carolina, we were doing an overnighter in Gatlinburg.

As luck would have it, as we headed down from I-40 in the Knoxville area, a light snow began to fall. That’s the only time I have been in that area to see the white stuff coming down.

I want to return to experience it again, and told my wife if it fits into our schedule this December, expect to be heading that way.

We are already planning a trip to Marietta, GA., the week before Christmas.

Maybe it will happen then and we can drive on up.

The days are shorter, the nights darker and the body more tired. The fingers are also a little bit slower on the keyboard, thus it is easy to take another break and enjoy the holidays. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Next post: Jan. 9, 2018

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gobble, gobble

Circumstances in our area became somewhat out of the ordinary this week so, a day late,  all I can say is

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Heading down homestretch to 2018

I guess most every one, like it or not, is in the homestretch that leads to Christmas and the end of the year.

Is 2017 just about over? Seems like it just blasted off.

In preparation for everything that is going to happen (for us, three more out-of-town trips, and maybe a fourth before Santa arrives), I decided to get a headstart on decorating.

The action plan is underway. Just today, half of our outdoor lights were put into place. I figured I needed to get this done  so that it would be ready in time for Thanksgiving.

For many years, it has been traditional for our grandchildren to decorate the tree (with help from moms and dads) during the Thanksgiving week, so why not have all the decorations up at that time.

Our previous tree helped us celebrate more than 20 Christmases before we decided to retire it.

Still in a box in the overhead storage area above our carport, the newer tree will be hauled down on Monday. It is about 7 feet tall, and although prelit, some of the lights, after just the first year, went dark.

The hope is that the remainder will stay bright for many more years.

And for many more years, our hope is to continue our travels and enjoy the journey no matter where it takes us.

Next post: Nov. 21, 2017

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wear's Valley Road disappointment, delight

While up in the Smoky Mountains back in October, my wife and I on a Monday morning, decided to head over to Wear’s Valley for breakfast.

We had enjoyed a restaurant in the area and was looking forward to another good meal. Upon arriving, we found there were no cars in the parking lot.

A quick read of their sign indicated they were closed on Mondays.

Well, what to do?

We were open to options, but I knew if we headed back to Pigeon Forge there was a place I had been wanting to visit for quite a while.

So we took Highway 321 and upon arriving near the intersection with the main drag, there it was.

For years and years we had passed this particular place and I wondered about it.

Was it that good? Did it have a good atmosphere?

The answer to both was a resounding yes.

Mel’s Diner is now on our list to visit again when heading back to the mountains.

“Are your grits as good as Harbor House on the Mississippi Gulf Coast?” I asked our ebullient waitress.

She said she was familiar with the coast but didn’t recognize the name Harbor House.

“McElroy”s! I said.

There was a quick affirmative response after having recognized its more formal name. She also added the fact that she had relatives on the coast who work for a local building supply store.

Concerning the grits, she said Mel's were just as good.

Well, they were good and comparable and therefore that made my day. The eggs, bacon and pancakes were also excellent.

My wife liked the place so much that she got a gift card to give away at our family Christmas party.

There are others in our family who like to visit the mountains and enjoy good food.

Next post: Nov. 14, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New fire ring a Halloween night treat

Happy Halloween!

There’s nothing like spending such a night sitting around a fire that is situated inside a fire ring from the Elkmont campground in the Great Smoky Mountains.

My wife and I were joined in our north yard by my brother and sister and their spouses, all of whom have taken numerous trips to the national park.

The fire ring was a 50th anniversary gift to my wife and I by the aforementioned relatives.

We moved into our new house just over a year and a half ago, and because we like the mountains so much, we decided to construct a small stream in our yard and top out the look with a park fire ring.

There is a company that makes them, but with a little luck, our niece procured one on a trip earlier this year that she made to Gatlinburg.

Although there was a lot of back and forth concerning getting the fire ring, she was successful and it alll worked out. The fire ring was christened Halloween Night 2017.

We had chili, a staple on our trips, and of course s'mores.

Down here in south Mississippi, the day was clear and we were having a warming trend after a cold front had moved through a number of days earlier.

But as the sun went down, the air began to chill and the fire was all the more inviting.

We can’t get to the mountains as much as we would like, but with the manmade stream gurgling and the warmth of the fire, it was almost like being there.

Next post: Nov. 7, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tram ride offers good view of fire damage

A recent aerial tram ride revealed a lot of the damage inflicted on the Gatlinburg, TN area from fires in the Great Smoky Mountains last year.

My wife and I took the conveyance from downtown Gatlinburg, TN up to Ober Gatlinburg, a popular tourist destination in all seasons of the year.

The view as we moved over the area helped one to easily see the vacant spots where houses once stood. It was also a good way to see how the fire moved through the mountains, causing heavy damage in some areas and skipping others.

Numerous trees stood tall, even though one could see they had been ravaged by the blaze. There was little, if any, life in them.

In an earlier trip, we drove through the area, but weren’t able to experience the damage like we could see from the air. 

A couple years ago, we dined at a local Italian restaurant. The owner came over and talked to us prior to the meal, mentioning and pointing to his house high on the hill opposite the town.

 We didn't see him on our last trip, but where he had pointed to was a place that had suffered a lot of damage.

Next post: October 31

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Greyhound helps solve problem

"Sitting in a Greyhound station, with a ticket to my destination . . . . "

Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” lyrics (although it was a railway station) sum up the thinking for a lot of people in such a situation.

Just last week, for the first time since 1967, I found myself riding a Greyhound bus. The previous occasion was one ordered by the United States government. I was headed for basic training in the army.

The trip started in Hattiesburg, MS and ended in Fort Campbell, KY.

My more recent experience was at the end of a nine-day vacation.

We go camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, and our 2000 Chevy van usually tows our popup camper on the some 1200-mile round trip.

But not this year. The van is showing its wear and earlier there seemed to be a problem with the transmission, so, not wanting to take a chance, we decided on another option.

That included renting a pickup truck with towing capabilities from Enterprise in a town about 65 miles away. That was the closest available location.

My brother took me over to get the truck on the first day of our vacation. 

But returning the vehicle, I decided to not put anyone out and see how I could do this on my own.

So the morning after arriving back home, I headed in the pickup back to Mobile and made it in just a little over an hour and turned it in.

Earlier I had used Mapquest to find out where the Greyhound station was located, and heading back home the day before, we detoured to make sure it was there and operating.

It was.

I had to traverse some four miles of city that had a lot of sidewalks, but then, in some places, my journey appeared somewhat dangerous with vehicles whizzing by.

It took me about three hours to make the trek. I purchased my ticket for the ride to Biloxi where I would use the local transit system to get home.

Other than the fact that it was a 10-hour day, I felt that things went well, under the circumstances. A bit better planning and I probably could have made the round-tripper in about 5 hours.

The Greyhound ride was only about 68 miles and I slept about half the way.

It gets  a little getting use to, having to sit higher above the road and feel the sway of the bus. When awake, I kept an eye on the driver and found that he anticipated traffic issues and made adjustments for them in a safe manner.

I don’t know if I would like to travel a lot on such a bus, but having to this one time, I now know the local schedules and am prepared for a much better experience.

Next post: Oct. 24, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We said goodbye to Nate and then hello

There’s nothing like a hurricane to diminish some of the fun of a vacation trip to the mountains.

That was the situation my wife and I encountered last week upon arriving at home.

We had been gone nine days to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where we camped at Elkmont with one of our sons and four of our six grandchildren.

The days were clear and nights sleeping-bag cold. It was great. 

For the duration, there wasn’t any rain. It seems like that is the first time we’ve ever been up there where we didn’t have any precipitation.

But we’ll get to the mountain trip in another post.

Our grandson Nate was with us in the mountains. And Hurricane Nate greeted us upon returning home.

We had a few days to figure things out to make sure we were prepared, although we always seem to have at least three days of food and water on hand and sufficient flashlights.

We moved into our new house last year, so this was the first time for it to experience a storm.

Although Hurricane Nate was a minimal Category 1, we decided to go to my sister’s house for the duration of the storm.

Arriving Saturday afternoon about 15 miles away and farther inland, we settled in. 

The winds picked up that night, the storm surge did some damage near the Mississippi beach front and the power momentarily went off at our location, but that was it.

Upon returning home Sunday morning, we found a lot of sprigs in the yard from two towering oak trees.

That was about it. 

The electricity had apparently gone off momentarily and there was no damage to our house. Great!

Next post: Oct. 17, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Chesapeake revisit a good stop

My wife and I scratched another itch this past summer on a rerun of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia.

On a previous trip, we failed to stop at the Chesapeake Grill for a meal, but decided if we ever returned, that was one of the things we wanted to do.

Why? I really don't know.

A wedding brought up back to the area, so we decided to give it a try.

Maybe it was because of the location, that being on a bridge-tunnel highway that was so unusual.

Maybe it was for the expanse of water one could view from the tables along the wall of windows.

Maybe it was wanting to just sit there, trying to feel how it would be to experience gale-force winds howling across the open expanse of water with waves kicking up over the highway.

We survived the July day, as waters were fairly calm, the sun was shining brightly and there were a few boats skimming over the waters and a few tankers waiting to get into Chesapeake Bay.

The cost of the food is incidental since one has to pay about $15 alone to just get on the bridge. But I was willing.

My wife and I enjoyed the outing and decided that the expansive “water view” across the bay and fishing bridge was exceptional.

Next post: Oct. 20, 2017 (We’ll be out in the wilderness for awhile.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lake Watauga -- a great place to picnic

On a summer trip to a wedding in Virginia, my wife and I drove Highway 321 east from Gatlinburg, TN and about lunch time, started looking for a place to picnic.

After scouring the countryside and a couple of spots, which we didn’t like, we  continued on. We were half expecting to have to pull off to the side of the road to eat our picnic meal.

And then we traveled alongside a lake and came across the picnic area called the Watauga Point Recreational Area. It was one of a few facilities along Watauga Lake, which was formed in 1948 to help control flooding.

We usually look for a picnic table with a shade tree, a nice restroom and perhaps a good view.

Well, the recreation area just happened to fit what we were looking for. It wasn’t too far a walk to the table, and the view was worth it.

Mountains surrounded the giant Watauga Lake on which a number of power boats were operating. The temperature in July was pleasant.

I made a few trips carrying various picnic supplies to the table and then my wife and I just enjoyed the food and the view.

The drive around the picnic area takes one close to the edge of the lake which is in the Cherokee National Forest. The Watauga Reservoir is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority,

Next post: Sept. 19, 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Irma or Uncle Sam? Closures possible

Vacation travel is sort of on hold for a lot of people in the southeastern United States.

Hurricane Harvey walloped the Houston, TX area pretty hard recently with devastating flooding results.

Other cities in the area also suffered.

And now, the lookout is for Hurricane Irma, which is potentially to have a heavy impact on Florida. Although at this time Tuesday night, there is no forecast that everyone seems to agree on as to where it will finally make landfall in the US, if at all.

Hopefully it will take the track some are anticipating and make a northeast turn before coming into hard contact with Florida. That would push it out into the Atlantic.

A cool front moving across the US could enhance the storm's move to the east, depending on when the front arrives in the Southeast.

My wife and I are planning on heading out during the last week of this month to make our annual camping trek to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A bigger problem than the hurricane could affect our plans. Senators and congressmen will be fighting over increasing the country’s debt.

If that problem isn’t quickly resolved, the national parks would probably be shut down. Such a situation occurred a number of years ago.

We were headed to the mountains and got to a trailhead/picnic area called Panther Creek in northern Georgia.

Before getting out of our vehicle for a picnic, a couple local guys in a government truck pulled up and told us, because of budget problems, they were closing the place down. And quickly padlocked the facility.

Our meal was enjoyed just down the road where we pulled off.

Whether it is hurricanes or the government, the best plans often end up changed because of things out of our control.

Next post: Sept. 12, 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer break

Taking a summer break, please check back on Sept. 6, 2017. Thanks

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mississippi heat stirs thoughts of California

Golden Gate Bridge, looking toward San Francisco

What to do?

Would one want to live under what may be considered a warm wet blanket for three or four months?

Or spend time in an atmosphere that in the past made one feel anew, refreshed, and full of life?

All too often, it is not what we would like to do, but the reality of the situation.

There is home, family, routine. Everyone becomes comfortable with the everyday.

But that’s not to say, one doesn’t think about other options.

On coastal Mississippi, when the nighttime low temperatures start staying in the 70’s, summer has arrived. That’s usually early to mid-May. 

And those low temperatures hang around, often through September and into October.

And daytime temps usually hit the high 80’s to mid 90’s or higher sometimes.

That’s when my thoughts, though not often as much lately, turn to California Dreaming, and along the Coast, with lows in the 40s and 50s and highs usually in the 70's with low humidity.

I would now change that title to “West Coast Dreaming,” because when I bring up California, a lot of people refer to it as a place inhabited by fruits and nuts. Flyover country residents don’t take a liking to the Left Coast.

But I can’t help it. The West Coast still beckons.

Just this past week, for the first time in ages, I told my wife I had a hankering to once again see the Pacific Ocean.

“Are we going to fly or drive?” she asked.

Let's see, eight hours in the air, or drive seven days out, spend seven days there and take another week to get back home.

Flying would seem to be the best option. And when the costs are added up, would probably be cheaper.

But health issues come into play.

It’s been about five years since our last excursion in that direction and I’m getting the itch.

After all, we are retired, don’t have to answer to any bosses and can chart our own course.

The West Coast is getting closer all the time.

Next post: June 20, 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sometimes a little push is needed

Sometimes the body just doesn't want to do what the mind tells it.

"Go ahead, you have got to do a blog post tonight." the brain said.

"Why?" my body asked.

"Because you post almost every Tuesday night. You know. It helps keep you motivated to maybe do some more serious writing in the future."

"But that's in the future," my body responded. "I'm tired. It's not that I don't want to do it, but tonight I am just plain lazy. Well, not lazy, I just haven't done anything or want to dredge up something from the past concerning any of my travels."

"Well, haven't you done any traveling lately?"

"Not really. That is unless you can call going down to the beach a travel event. Yea, that's what I'll do. I''ll call my beach excursion a travel event. Well, I did take a few pictures. I'll put them on this post and with that I have finished out my weekly requirement.

"Now that wasn't that bad after all."

Next post: June13, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Time for lunch in small town Americana

When traveling, people usually want to try something new.

New, that is, as far as a place to eat. There’s that adventure aspect.

But that goes against the grain sometimes when not in somewhat familiar territory or a town big enough to have a “fast food row.”

On a recent trip, on a road in Alabama never traveled before, lunch time arrived when we were in what some would call the “middle of nowhere.”

Well, it was somewhere for those who live there. But to us, there wasn’t a lot of civilization 20 or so miles before we arrived, and upon leaving, it was the same way in the other direction.

I can’t remember the name of the town, but I believe it was Grove Hill. We had gotten off the main highway to take a break and check out our GPS to see how to get where we wanted to go.

After a few minutes of checking and not arriving at a different decision about how to head north, my wife and I decided to have some lunch.

But where.

The road we took off the main highway into the town took us along the side of a courthouse complex. It was a rather large building. This had to be the county seat, I guess. I didn’t know.

We were traveling on the road parallel to the front of the courthouse, but about a block away. We turned toward the building wondering what was in the neighborhood.

The road curved to the right and away from the courthouse. Before I realized it, we were already back to the road we had come into town on.

But wait, there was a restaurant to the northeast of the courthouse that we had just passed. I figured they had to have somewhat decent food. We turned around and decided to give it a try.

I found out that not only did the Courthouse Square Deli and Bakery serve good and reasonably priced food, but they were located in a building that once housed the Clarke County Democrat, which apparently was a weekly newspaper. I once worked on two weeklies.

The paper served the area from 1856 until 1941, al least that’s what the lettering on the building indicated.

As usual my wife got a salad and water and I had coffee and a Philly cheese steak sandwich.

There was a homey atmosphere to the place, and since it was early afternoon, the courthouse workers had apparently already made their appearance at the regular lunchtime hour.

There were a few patrons in the spacious building, enjoying the socializing that comes with a small town restaurant.

We enjoyed the meal and soon set out upon our adventure.

Next post: June 6, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Opryland resort offers unique experience

Opryland Resort complex at Nashville offers abundance of flowers, walking space

The first time I ever saw the outside of the Ryman Auditorium building in Nashville, TN was back in January of 1967.

It was a very inauspicious occasion that took me to the front of the facility that housed the Grand Ole Opry.

Earlier on that particular day, I had hopped on a Greyhound bus in Hattiesburg, MS, heading north. North into the unknown. North to Fort Campbell, KY, where I would undergo eight weeks of basic training.

The bus station in Nashville was close to the Ryman. It was sometime around 2 or 3 a.m. when we arrived in the city. There was about an hour or so wait before the next bus. 

Some others who were also headed to Fort Campbell all decided to walk down to the famous building.

The middle of the night was cold, but I can’t remember it being bitter cold. We just sauntered down to it, walked around and then went back to catch the next bus.

That was my only personal experience with the Ryman until a couple weeks ago.

On a trip to a college graduation in Louisville, KY., my wife and I spent a couple nights with a relative in Bowling Green. The next day we went back to Nashville, taking in the gigantic Opryland Resort Complex and then driving to downtown Nashville.

After a couple hours of walking around the resort, we weren’t much into walking around Nashville so we just did a drive-by sighting of the Ryman and other downtown spots.

The older one gets, the fewer are the places that one wants to spend time walking around and seeing. Our sightseeing nowadays is more akin to ‘one and done” which means giving our attention and energy to just one location.

The Opryland complex was a delightful surprise with all the walking paths, flowers and plants, and open spaces under those giant domes. The waterfalls were great.

I just loved that aspect of it, being able to be outside while being inside.

We spent so much time browsing around that we decided to enjoy a meal at one of their “outdoor” spots before heading out for a driving tour of the town.

Next post: May 30, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Still recovering from the longest day

How long does it take to physically get over an 800-mile day trip?

Well, so far, it is three days and counting for this driver.

The older one gets, the harder it is to recover. At least, that is what I am finding out.

A one-week trip from home for a college graduation some 800 miles away had a few challenges.

The first, of course, was the first day out when we had a flat tire on the vehicle we were renting and easily swapped it out at another rental location on the road.

But the last day, what turned out to be the 6th day, wasn’t what we had in mind.

Unfortunately, my wife had a medical condition that required an emergency room visit of about five hours on day 5. (She missed seeing her nephew receive his diploma.)

Having somewhat recovered from that, the decision was to get back home as soon as possible in case there was another flareup. We wanted to be close to her personal physicians.

There wasn’t another incident, but it was a long day.

Traveling from Louisville, KY to Ocean Springs included another challenge. Just below Birmingham, AL traffic ahead of us came to an almost standstill.

Traffic was barely moving. 

A month or so earlier, we came upon a traffic slowdown and after getting through it, realized that whatever had happened was cleared up and the slowdown was just a long chain reaction to get back to normal speed.

What was the Alabama situation?

After eventually arriving at Alabaster, AL, we saw ahead that traffic was being re-routed off the interstate onto Highway 31. Vehicles were backed up in all directions.

The officer at the off-ramp said there had been a diesel spill a few  miles down the interstate. Both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-65 were re-routed.

After a short stop for a meal, we headed back into the traffic and edged our way through Alabaster. There was a sign pointing to an I-65 connection.

We took the turn, but there wasn’t anyone following. Did we make a mistake?

After about a three-mile distance, we saw the on-ramp to southbound I-65 and easily got on to it.

It was clear sailing. A mile or so down the road, we saw the on-ramp where most of the other vehicles were getting on the southbound interstate.

The two-hour or so delay resulted in our not getting home until  about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, a long way from the 9-10 a.m. start.

All in all, it was a long, tough day, and I am still feeling some of the effects.

Next post: May 23, 2017