Category Archives: National Park or Forest

National Park or Forest

Valley Forge, PA NOV 13, 2022

After staying the night near Philadelphia, we left the next morning for Valley Forge National Historical Park.

It was windy and very cold, the coldest day of the trip. It was a bit of a hike uphill from the parking lot to the Valley Forge Visitors Center, and the biting wind took our breath away.

The Visitors Center had many wonderful exhibits and a film, “Determined To Persevere, the Valley Forge Encampment”. The park has over 2 million visitors a year. 

Valley Forge is where General George Washington and the Continental Army wintered from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778.  In December, 1777, 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into Valley Forge to build what would become the fourth largest “city” in the United States at that time. Many of the women were married to the soldiers or had been widowed in the war. They cooked, did laundry, gathered wood, guarded weapons, served as spies and served as nurses. The Valley Forge encampment lasted six months with two miles of fortifications and 1,200 log huts made of wood with straw walls, tightly packed clay and wood burning fireplaces.

The men had limited supplies and tools, dragging logs, some weighing hundreds of pounds, through cold mud. Much like any city, there were free and enslaved African Americans and Indians, the wealthy and impoverished, immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Prussia and Scotland, as well as those of different religions. Nearly 35 percent of the Army did not speak English as their primary language. 

At the time the British had taken over Philadelphia and General Washington decided to winter his troops at Valley Forge, a day’s march from Philadelphia.

While at Valley Forge they could train the soldiers and recoup from the year’s battles, while sitting out the winter weather and waiting for more supplies. Even before fleeing Philadelphia, the Continental Congress had struggled to support the war effort with sufficient food, clothing and equipment. One of the displays said a letter written by a soldier said half the men were almost naked with tattered clothing, walking barefoot on frozen ground with neither coats, hats, shirts or shoes. While at Valley Forge, conditions reached their worst. While it was beneficial to have all the troops together for training and to resist British attack, it was detrimental when influenza, dysentery, smallpox, pneumonia and typhoid spread throughout the encampment. Nearly 2,000 people died of disease and malnutrition, many using clothing and blankets from infected people. Dirty water, contaminated with human waste, contributed to disease. Washington, though a controversial decision, ordered mass inoculation against smallpox. Valley Forge was the site of one of the first state mandated mass immunization programs in history.

During the first month of the encampment the soldiers mainly ate fire cake, a mixture of water and flour baked over a fire. The Continental Army’s prescribed daily ration included one and a half pounds of meat, a pound of bread and two ounces of alcohol (2,700-3,000 calories). However for much of the encampment, the soldiers received a fraction of this, often no meat at all (often less than 500 calories daily). Winter weather and impassable roads made getting food and supplies to the encampment very difficult.

During this time Washington continued to persevere and inspire his troops. He brought in experienced officers such as former Prussian officer Baron von Steuben, who spoke no English but volunteered to teach the soldiers new military skills, improved hygiene to fight disease and instruct them how to fight as a unified army. These reforms in fighting tactics and army organization became the foundation for today’s modern United States Army. Steuben’s regulations, called “The Blue Book” is used as the Army’s basic training manual today.

Benjamin Franklin and other ambassadors traveled to Paris in 1776 to court France as an ally. In May 1778,Washington received word that treaties of alliance with France had been secured.  This alliance helped change the course of the Revolutionary War. The British evacuated Philadelphia and Washington and his united troops marched in pursuit. 

One interesting note is that history books do not always adequately convey the impact of war on those whose land the war is fought. After the Valley Forge encampment departed, a ruined land was left behind. Soldiers had cleared forest for many miles and demanded for military purposes farm animals, food and supplies, paying with worthless Continentals currency. This left farmers and their families with little food to eat or sell. The winter weather and activity of thousands of people had turned the fields to deep mud. The fields were so damaged that no crops could be planted that first summer. The farmers quickly got to work to dismantle the huts and plow the fields so they were able to grow crops again by the next summer. General Washington returned to the site in 1787, pleased with how the land and agriculture had been restored.

These Huts Represent The Originals

We spent quite a bit of time at the Visitors Center and since it was bitter cold, we didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the outside displays. We did stop at the National Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1917, to honor the soldiers’ perseverance.

We also stopped at Washington’s Headquarters and office, a stone house that was the residence of Washington and his staff. In the rooms were furnishings and clothing from that time.  In the distance was a statue of George Washington.  

The Kitchen

There are 52 monuments and markers in the park. Nearby the house was a pretty covered bridge.

Valley Forge became a state park in 1893.  On July 4, 1976, on the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence, President Gerald Ford visited Valley Forge and signed legislation establishing Valley Forge National Historical Park. President Ford said, “Grateful Americans will come to this shrine of quiet valor, this forge of our Republic’s iron core”. 

Near Washington’s Headquarters was a train station that is no longer used. In 1950 and 1957 the Boy Scouts held their National jamboree at Valley Forge.

Thousand of Tents for the Boy Scout National Jamboree

A Typewriter In the Depot

With better weather it would be easy to spend an entire day or two here. There is a ten mile auto tour, trails, ranger tours and a tour by trolley to enjoy. 

Leaving Pennsylvania we stopped briefly at the gazebo in Stephens City, VA where we were married eleven years ago, the first time we had been there since our wedding.

We spent two nights in Lexington, VA with a good friend and former coworker. We had a wonderful lunch visit with another former coworker in Marion, VA. Cold, rainy weather followed us. Our last night was in Lancaster, SC where we had a nice dinner with Bill’s sister and her husband. 

We arrived home on November 16th, just in time to repack for our next trip. 

Next up: One of us arrives home sick. Cruise or no cruise? Stay tuned! 


Touring D.C. Day 3 NOV 10, 2022

Our last day in D.C. we again set out early on a chilly morning. We took the metro and got off at the stop closest to our first planned visit, Ford’s Theater. We had booked a tour of the theater ($5 each) and arrived about 45 minutes early. We asked one of the guides if we could take an earlier tour and he agreed.

Other than reading, one of Lincoln’s favorite forms of recreation was going to the theater. On the evening of April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln, sitting in the Presidential Box, attended a performance of the play “Our American Cousin”. At intermission the President’s bodyguard left and went to Star Saloon for a drink and did not return for the beginning of the next act. A stagehand let Booth in through a back door. Booth wedged the door of the Presidential Box open with the leg of a wooden music stand he left there earlier in the day. John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head. Booth jumped from the stage, got entangled in the balcony decorations, and landed off balance, breaking a bone in his leg. He ran out the back door of the theater, mounted his horse and escaped from the city.

John Wilkes Booth, an actor and native of Maryland, was very familiar to Washington audiences, having performed in area plays. In fact, in November, 1863, President and Mrs. Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater to see the play, “The Marble Heart”, starring John Wilkes Booth. During the play, Booth looked up at the Presidential Box when delivering his most threatening lines. One of the people watching with Lincoln in the presidential box commented that Booth seemed to be saying those lines to the President and Lincoln agreed.

In July, 1864, Booth met with some Confederate agents in Boston and hatched a plan to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage in exchange for the release of southern prisoners. On Inauguration Day, 1865, Booth and five of his co-conspirators stood a few feet from Lincoln as he talked about healing the nation. After Lee’s surrender, Booth had to quickly change his plans and he and his conspirators made plans to assassinate Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

After breaking his leg from his leap from the balcony, he rode to the house of a doctor who set his leg. Booth had planned on escaping through the Maryland countryside to Virginia and then south where he thought he would be a hero. Along with a co-conspirator, and slowed by his broken leg, they were given food and shelter by Southern sympathizers, though many refused to help. On April 26th while hiding in a barn near Port Royal, VA, Union soldiers surrounded them. His co-conspirator surrendered immediately while Booth was shot and died three hours later. He asked the soldiers to “tell my mother I died for my country”. The other co-conspirators were soon arrested, received the death sentence and were hung. Among them was the first woman executed by the federal government. The stagehand who let Booth in the back door received six years of hard labor. The doctor who set his leg was given a life sentence. Initially the doctor said he had not recognized the injured Booth that night. However it was discovered that the doctor had met Booth on three occasions, twice at his farm and once in D.C. He worked on the Confederate underground, failed to notify authorities that Booth had been at his farm, and lied about the direction Booth traveled when he left the farmhouse. President Andrew Johnson pardoned and released the doctor and stagehand in 1869.  They had been sent to Fort Jefferson in Florida. While they were there, the doctor helped many prisoners stricken with yellow fever. He was pardoned for his work at the prison.

President Lincoln, unconscious, was carried to the Peterson house across the street and placed in a back bedroom. The rooms in the Peterson house are 1865 period pieces but none are original to the house. The bed on which Lincoln died is in the Chicago History Museum. The bed was short for the tall president so he was placed diagonally on the bed.

Mrs. Lincoln and their oldest son Robert were with him. Over 90 people would pass through the house to pay their last respects to the dying president. The doctors knew the wound was fatal and Lincoln never gained consciousness. He died the next day, April 15, 1865. Days earlier, General Robert E Lee had surrendered at Appomattox to General Grant. After four + years of struggling to preserve the Union, President Lincoln did not live to see the beginning of the healing process.

Our self guided tour included Ford’s Theater as well as the Petersen House, the house where Lincoln died. Along with us on our assigned tour was a group of high school students. These two historic places really had some interesting displays and facts about the Lincoln assassination. Unfortunately the students were more interested in running around and horseplay. Typical high schoolers. I wish they had taken the chance to learn about this history more seriously.

Last Formal Photo taken February 5, 1865

The museum had Booth’s gun on display. After Lincoln’s death the War Department kept it. In 1931 they received a request to display it at the Ford’s Theater museum. The War Department denied the request saying displaying the gun would “create interest in the criminal aspect of the great tragedy, rather than in the historical features thereof, and would have more of an appeal for the morbid or weak-minded than for the students of history”. The War Department transferred the gun to the National Park Service in 1940 where it has been displayed ever since.

The museum had a replica of the funeral train which took Lincoln’s body on a 14 day, 1,700 mile journey where over seven million Americans viewed the casket as it made its way to Springfield, Illinois for burial. Bill and I visited his tomb in Springfield in September, 2013.

Today Ford’s Theater is a national historical site but also an active theater. In 1866 the federal government bought the theater and in 1932 opened the Lincoln Museum.  It was entrusted to the National Park Service in 1933.

It underwent extensive restoration in 1964. While we were there workers were busy preparing for the next performance.

A portrait of the Lincoln family was painted by Samuel B. Waugh. The print showing Abraham Lincoln, sitting in chair at the left end of a table with Thomas sitting next to him, Mary Todd is sitting on the right, and Robert Todd is standing behind the table.

Painted one Year After Lincoln’s Death

After leaving Ford’s Theater we decided to grab a geocache before our next stop. We found one at the US Navy Memorial Plaza. There have been many times where finding a geocache has taken us places we would not have ordinarily found. This is one of those times, made even more special by the group of Navy veterans visiting that day.

Next up was the National Archives Museum. We did not need a timed pass for this museum.

We came here to see the original documents of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. They are located in an area called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. The three documents are known as the Charters of Freedom. They are located in a cool room with dim light to prolong the life of the documents. No photography is allowed for the same reason. The writing on the Declaration of Independence is very faded and hard to read. The parchment document had once been proudly displayed for 35 years in a window of the Patent Office Building where it had been exposed to sunlight. We waited in a short line to get in since they only allow a limited number of people in the Rotunda at a time.

Picture from Condé Nast Traveler

Today, the documents are sealed in glass “in the most scientifically advanced housing that preservation technology can provide”. There is a guard standing by the four-pages of the Constitution of the United States and he will scold you if you lean on the glass for a closer look. (I know from personal experience.) When Bill visited here many years ago he was told that at night they lower the documents into underground vaults for safekeeping. When Bill mentioned that to one of the guards, she said she could not confirm or deny that. Times have changed! 

Picture from Condé Nast Traveler

After a quick lunch at the food court in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, we headed to our last stop of the day, the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian. We also did not need an entry pass for this building. We had really looked forward to visiting this museum but it was later in the day and I think at this point we were really tired after three days of sightseeing. We didn’t spend as much time as originally planned and toured the three floors of exhibits/artifacts rather quickly. The first floor had Inventions, American Enterprise and the Value of Money.

Adding Machine from 1927

An Early Portable Computer by IBM, “SCAMP” 1973

The second floor had American Democracy, Many Voices, One Nation and a very interesting Star-Spangled Banner exhibit.

George Washington’s Surveyor Compass

George Washington at Princeton

The third floor had The Price of Freedom, (Bill’s favorite) and the American Presidency and First Ladies exhibits. This was my favorite. Unfortunately all my pictures from the museum are gone from my phone as well as some of Bill’s. We can’t figure out how that happened. 

From the Revolution War Exhibit:

General Charles Cornwallis; letter of surrender and sword.

General Charles Cornwallis was so Mortified by Defeat sent his Second in Command to Surrender and Offer the General’s Sword to Washington.

From the Civil War Exhibit:
From the World War II Exhibit:

We were glad to sit down on the metro and get back to the hotel. Another day of walking 5+ miles had caught up with us. 

Some closing thoughts on D.C. We were really pleased with our D.C. experience. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, from the workers in the metro to the U.S. park rangers and guides in the museums. Everyone seemed really glad we were there and wanted us to have a great experience. The city itself was clean and felt safe. Even the traffic was tolerable. Unlike other U.S. cities in our recent travels, we did not see homeless encampments, people sleeping on the street or panhandlers. 

Next up: a day in Philadelphia

Touring D.C. Day 2 NOV 9, 2022

While visiting Washington DC we stayed at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The hotel was conveniently located two blocks from a metro station. One new thing to know when touring DC is that now many tourist attractions have a timed pass entry, meaning you can book a reservation online up to a month before you visit. The Washington Monument (National Park Service) charges a $1 processing fee for each person. The positive side of this is you do not have to wait in long lines to get into the most popular attractions. The negative is you have a set time to be there which takes away the flexibility of changing your plans or want to stay longer at one place. We found ourselves often checking the time and calculating how long it would take to get to the next place. The National Mall is 700 acres with fourteen monuments and memorials and there is a lot of walking from one place to another. When planning our trip we tried to get reservations at places close together each day, but there was still lots of walking both days. 

We got up early and after breakfast at the hotel we walked to the metro and had an easy ride into DC. It was another cold morning! First stop was the Washington Monument. We had a short wait until our timed entry. We heard a park ranger tell some tourists that all tickets had been given out for the day. Their options were to try to book online for the next day or show up tomorrow around 7:00 AM and get in line to see if there were any tickets available.

First we had to go through security. A tourist from France was stopped when security discovered small fingernail clippers in her purse. She was confused when she was told to throw them away or not go in. She left and came back so I assume she threw them away or gave them to someone outside.

Years ago you could walk up the steps to the top of the Washington Monument but that is no longer allowed. Now you have to take an elevator. I overheard a woman tell the park ranger she walked up the stairs with her parents many years ago and wanted that experience with her child. The park ranger kindly said no. 

Work began on the Monument in 1848. Originally the plans called for a statue of Washington on a horse but the design evolved into a towering obelisk. By 1854 the stone structure reached 152 feet. War and lack of money halted construction and it stood incomplete for twenty years.

During this time the Monument was used as a fort and training ground for Union troops. A soldier named David C. Hickey carved his name into the stone wall and it is still visible today in the lobby of the Monument.

The top of the Washington Monument is made of aluminum, which at that time was considered a precious metal because it was so difficult to mine. In the 1800’s it was considered more valuable than gold or silver. The 100 ounce aluminum cap also serves as a lightning rod. 

When it was dedicated in 1885, it was the world’s tallest building at 555 feet. It lost that honor in 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was opened at 986 feet. However today the Washington Monument is considered the world’s tallest freestanding stone structure. There are over 36,000 stones in the Washington Monument. There are 193 stones lining the Monument ‘s stairwell symbolizing the idea “Out of Many, One”. The Washington Monument Society asked for donations of carved stones to honor George Washington. States, cities, countries and civic groups sent stones to be part of this famous Monument.

These Stones line the Stairwell. From the Elevator You Can Glimpse Them.

This Stone Given by Kentucky

We rode the elevator to the observation level which took 70 seconds. It seemed crowded on this floor and the windows were very small so you had to patiently wait your turn to look out. There were several windows with views overlooking DC to the north, south, east and west.

Our next reservation was for a tour of the U.S. Capitol. We had also booked this online about a month ago. No charge per person. I must say planning to visit these sites would be difficult for people without computers and internet access! It was a bit of a hike to get from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. Bill grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck on the way.

Security was tight with no food or drink allowed, along with the usual banned items.  We could see discarded food and drink items in the nearby trash can. Even unopened food packages were not allowed.

The original Capitol cornerstone was laid by President George Washington in 1793. In 1800 the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington DC. and moved into an unfinished building. By 1814 two wings had been added for the House and Senate. The Capitol and other public buildings were burned in 1814 during our second war with Great Britain, the War of 1812. The exterior walls survived but the interior was gutted. By 1819 the wings were reopened and the center building reopened in 1826. By 1850 many new states had been admitted to the Union so new, larger wings were added by 1859. The old House wing became Statuary Hall and Congress invited each state to contribute statues of its most notable citizens. Today these statues are found in Statuary Hall, the Rotunda and throughout the Capitol building. 

In 1857, an American sculptor completed the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom, which weights 13,000 pounds and is 19.5 feet tall. The statue has been restored and is on display here. The plaster model was cast into bronze. In 1863 the Statue of Freedom was placed at the top of the dome.

Many additions and renovations to the Capitol have continued over the years. 

The Rotunda is the heart and center of the Capitol. It is a ceremonial space where state funerals have been held. Visiting heads of state are met here and historic events have been observed.

Our tour began at the Capitol Visitors Center where a large group of us was shown a thirteen minute film called “Out of Many, One”. We were then divided into groups and assigned a guide. Our guide gave us each headsets so we would be able to hear him as he led the tour. The guide talked about all the statues provided by each state.

The National Statuary Hall was used in the past by the legislators and many statues today.

Florida state Civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune is the first Black American to represent a state in Statuary Hall.

Congress Honored Morse for his Message “What Hath God Wrought!”

Our last stop of the day was The Library of Congress and once again we had a pre-booked timed entry. We were getting tired but fortunately it was close by.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of the four United States Library of Congress buildings

They didn’t offer guided tours here but you still needed a timed entry pass. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library.

Twelve figures that decorate the dome is a mural of twelve seated male and female

The ceiling of the main reading room is a mural that represents twelve countries as of 1897:

  • Egypt represents Written Records.
  • Judea represents Religion.
  • Greece represents Philosophy.
  • Rome represents Administration.
  • Islam represents Physics.
  • The Middle Ages represent Modern Languages.
  • Italy represents the Fine Arts.
  • Germany represents the Art of Printing.
  • Spain represents Discovery.
  • England represents Literature.
  • France represents Emancipation.
  • America represents Science.

It has over 173 million items with collections in 470 languages. Among the collections are more than

  • 51 million cataloged books and other print material
  • 4 million recordings
  • 17.5 million photographs
  • 5.6 million maps
  • 8 million pieces of sheet music and
  • 75 million manuscripts


Presiding over the Library of Congress from a central position is Minerva, the Roman Goddess of learning and wisdom.

The Great Hall has paintings and sayings all around. These are a few that we liked.

Also located here is the U.S. Copyright Office, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, the Congressional Research Office and the Law Library of Congress. 

The Library of Congress was originally established in 1800. It was burned and destroyed by the British in 1814. At the time it had 740 books and 3 maps. Thomas Jefferson, retired and living at Monticello, offered his personal library as a replacement. Congress appropriated $23,950 to purchase Jefferson’s collection of 6,487 books. This helped the Library but also helped Jefferson who was deeply in debt by this time. The Thomas Jefferson Library is located on the 2nd floor.

Facing a shortage of space and wanting to protect the collection from fire, a new Library was built and opened in 1897. And what a beautiful building it is!

We really enjoyed walking around the building. We encountered a friendly, helpful docent we talked with for a while. He answered our questions and obviously loved what he was doing. 

The Gutenberg Bible is considered one of the Library’s greatest treasures. It was produced in Mainz, Germany in the mid 1450’s. It is the first book printed using movable metal type in Western Europe.

It had been a busy, fun day. We walked to the metro station and then the two blocks back to the hotel. According to our watches we had walked over six miles. We were tired but what a great day!!!

Next up: Our last day in DC


Appomattox & Charlottesville, VA Nov 5, 2022

We had really been looking forward to our November road trip. The marriage of the son of Bill’s college friend in Bethlehem, PA was the reason for this trip, along with visiting family and friends and some sightseeing along the way. 

I have always had an interest in American history and my mother often spent her summer vacation time encouraging this love of history. I remember visiting Appomattox Court House with her when I was around fifteen. Bill had never been there and I wanted to return because my memories of this historic site had faded over time. Located in the center of the state, it was somewhat on our route to Charlottesville, my hometown.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, a preserved 19th century village, was the site of the April 9, 1865 surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, signaling the end of the Civil War. In essence, a new nation was born here. The park was established in 1935, made a national monument in 1940 and a national park in 1954.  I am so glad our government over the years had the foresight to preserve and protect these historic sites. Bill and I have visited and enjoyed so many of them over the years. In some cases the government stepped in just in time as people ravaged areas stealing artifacts, spraying graffiti, etc. But I digress. 

General Robert E Lee’s decision to surrender was after The Battle of Appomattox Court House, one of the last battles of The Civil War. Lee had abandoned Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy after a nine and a half month siege of Petersburg. He hoped to join his army with remaining Confederate forces in North Carolina. Union forces pursued Lee and cornered his army at Appomattox Court House. Lee made the decision to surrender and consider the terms that Grant offered. A white linen dish towel was used as a Confederate flag of truce, carried by a staff officer. Lee requested the surrender take place at Appomattox and Grant agreed. The McLean House was selected as the location for the meeting and signing.

We took a tour of the McLean house and surrounding buildings which included much more than just the parlor where the surrender occurred. 

In back of the home was a building where slaves lived.

Also on the property was a traditional “out house”.

Lee arrived first and waited for Grant in the parlor. It was the first time the men had met face to face in almost two decades. Lee was relieved at the terms of the surrender. His men would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason and the officers were allowed to keep their sidearm, horses and personal baggage. The men were allowed to take home their horses and mules for spring planting and Lee was given a supply of food rations for his starving army.

Captain Robert Todd Lincoln [8], son of President Lincoln and a junior member of Grant’s military team, stands directly behind his general.

Grant’s only request was that the Confederates pledge not to take up arms against the United States. As Lee left the house and rode away, Grant’s men began cheering in celebration. Grant immediately told them to stop, saying, “the Confederates were now our countrymen”. Three days later, at surrender ceremonies, 28,000 Confederate soldiers came to Appomattox to turn over their flags, stack their weapons and begin the journey home. And with that, the country began the long healing process. In less than a week, President Lincoln would be assassinated by a Southern sympathizer who believed the Confederacy could be restored. 

Nearby was Clover Hill Tavern, where printing presses produced 30,000 blank paroles. These paroles were required for the Confederates en route to their homes.

After finishing at Appomattox we drove to Charlottesville for a quick two night stay. It had been six years since I last visited my hometown and my thoughts were, how could some things have not changed at all and some things changed so much??? Time was spent visiting with family and friends and involved a lot of eating! What hadn’t changed in six years was the love I felt and experienced during the time spent with family and friends. It was as if time had stood still and we picked up as if it had only been yesterday since we last saw each other. A deeply personal and heart wrenching change was that in the past six years my much beloved Uncle Donald had passed away. I was grateful for the time I spent with Aunt Barbara, his wife. An important part of this visit was visiting his grave and those of other family members. Barbara definitely spoiled us with ham biscuits, chocolate chess pie and a big bag of snacks and treats to take on the trip. Thank you so much, Aunt Barbara!!

Now for the changes. The Charlottesville I knew no longer exists, and the changes in six years shook me to the core. Gone is the statue of Stonewall Jackson. This statue once sat next to the County Office Building where my mother worked for over 35 years. She looked out her office window at this statue everyday and often sat on a bench at the base of the statue and ate her lunch. 

Gone is the statue of Robert E Lee in Lee Park.  This park is across the street from the church I attended as a child. I walked through this park and past Lee’s statue countless times on my way to the public library. As a child there was once a live Nativity there every Christmas. That hasn’t occurred for many many years. 

Gone is the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea, once located on a major thoroughfare in downtown Charlottesville. All that is left is an ugly base with no statues. 

Gone is Jack Jouett Middle School in Albemarle County. It is now called Journey Middle School. Jack Jouett?? Really? 

I heard that next to go is Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, also in Albemarle County. That name change will sting should it happen, and it probably will. My mother and her siblings attended that school as did many of their children. I did my student teaching there and a cousin taught there.

Rumor has it that they want to take any reference to Thomas Jefferson from the University of Virginia. Jefferson is the father of the University of Virginia. It is there because of him. I certainly hope historians and alumni fight any attempts at this. 

Growth has exploded in Charlottesville and Albemarle County with new roads and new construction crammed onto every spot of available space. We drove to my last house in Albemarle County. The area, called Dunlora, once had a beautiful impressive brick entrance . The entrance is now gone due to widening of the road and changes in traffic patterns. It didn’t even look like the same place. 

I drove through the neighborhood where I Iived as a child, not far from the University of Virginia. A few of the homes once had huge yards once full of majestic old magnolia, pine and holly trees. The original owners have died and the homes sold. Because of the large lots, the homes have been rezoned to multi family lots. Huge apartments, townhouses and duplexes have been built, grazing or overshadowing the old, once beautiful homes around them. 

Charlottesville, I hardly knew you. 

NOTES: Legally, the war did not end until August 20, 1866, when President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation that declared “that the said insurrection is at an end and that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole of the United States of America”.

[from: Trudeau, Noah Andre (1994). Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 397. ISBN 978-0-316-85328-6. The Supreme Court decided that the “legal end of the American Civil War had been decided by Congress to be August 20, 1866 — the date of Andrew Johnson’s final proclamation on the conclusion of the Rebellion.” Page 397.]

Next up: 3 days touring DC

Mammoth Cave NP, KY & Metropolis, IL SEP 14, 2022

Our next stop as we continued to Illinois was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

With over 400 miles of surveyed passages, it is the longest known cave system in the world! And keep in mind there are sections of Mammoth Cave not yet discovered and explored! Geologists think there could still be 600 more miles of undiscovered passageways and every year more passages are explored. The passageways don’t stretch in a single line, but intersect and run above and below each other like a big plate of spaghetti. Mammoth Cave has at least 27 known entrances, with about a third of those being natural. The next longest known cave is Sistema Sac Actun Cave in Mexico at 234 miles. 

Unlike many caves formed of limestone that erode over time, Mammoth Cave is covered with protective layers of sandstone so water does not easily erode the rock. This protects the many layers of limestone rock that formed the cave passages over the last 10 million years. Mammoth Cave was formed by water sinking into the ground over time and flowing through underground streams to the Green River.

Mammoth Cave is home to diverse life forms including eyeless cavefish which can live for up to two years without food, cave crickets which spend their entire lives underground, and raccoons and bats which shelter in the cave but go outside to hunt for food. Thirteen species of bats can be found at Mammoth Cave. Thousands of bats live in the cave though they are seldom seen. We did not see any during our visit. Crayfish and shrimp live in remote areas of the cave closer to the surface near water. 

American Indians found the underground passageways of Mammoth Cave more than 5,000 years ago. In 1798 a Kentucky homesteader shot and wounded a bear and followed it into the natural cave entrance, bringing the cave into recorded history. Early visitors found discarded moccasins, torches made of reeds and several mummified bodies, preserved by the cool, dry cave air.

By 1816 Mammoth Cave had become a tourist attraction, making it the second oldest attraction after Niagara Falls. In 1926 Congress authorized the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) got to work building trails and cave walkways etc. It officially became a national park in 1941.

One of the earliest uses of Mammoth Cave was as a source of nitrate used for producing saltpeter, a key ingredient of gunpowder. The War of 1812 and the Civil War increased the demand for the nitrate. 

In 1842 a physician believed the constant temperature of the cave air would benefit tuberculosis patients. He had stone and wood huts built inside the cave for a dozen patients. No one was cured and the sanitorium was shut down a year later. Other uses of the cave included a mushroom farm, a sleep cycle experiment and a civil defense shelter in the 1950s and 1960s.

There is a large selection of cave tours to choose from and since we were on a fairly tight schedule, we booked our tour ahead of time to be sure it wasn’t full. It was hard to pick, but we decided on the Historic Tour, a two hour, two mile tour with 540 stairs including squeezing into some tight places. 

When we first arrived we spent some time in the Visitors Center watching a movie about the Cave and looking at the large number of exhibits.

Next was our pre-booked tour. We had an excellent park guide who obviously loves his job. With his charming Kentucky twang, he had us laughing throughout the tour with his sense of humor and interesting stories about the cave.

A Visitor Center Picture

The tour began with a downhill hike to the cave entrance. We knew what that meant. A long uphill hike on the way back!

People who are tall like Bill had to really watch their heads as we bent and stooped along low passageways which were particularly challenging on stairs, and squeezed through “Fat Man’s Misery”.

We really enjoyed Mammoth Cave even though it is not the prettiest cave we have visited. Since most of Mammoth Cave passages are dry, it doesn’t have many stalactites and stalagmites.

Half The Way up the Stairs

Leaving the park, we headed towards Illinois. In Pembroke, Kentucky we noticed a huge monument in the distance rising in the sky. It looked just like the Washington Monument.

Why in the world is that out in the middle of this small farming community in Kentucky? We had to find out so we turned in the direction of the monument. Turns out it was Jefferson Davis State Historic Site. Jefferson Davis was born on this site in 1808 and the 351 foot obelisk is constructed on a foundation of solid Kentucky limestone. NOTE: Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.

There is a museum, visitor’s center and elevator that takes you to the top of the obelisk. We were in a time crunch to get to Illinois by dark so we just took some quick pictures. I would have liked to see the view from the top.

We reached Metropolis, Illinois, our destination for the next several nights.

Can you guess what the top attraction in Metropolis is? Yes, that is right. It is home to Superman.

We did find some time to visit Superman, but most of our time in Metropolis was spent honoring and remembering cousin George and visiting with his family. George proudly served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He was buried next to his parents with full military honors. His family traveled from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois and California to honor him and it was nice being with them. 

On the way back to Florida we stopped to see some of Bill’s cousins in Alabama and Georgia. 

Next up: Another road trip in November. This time for a happy occasion. A wedding in Bethlehem, PA! 

Bison, Prairie Dogs & Horses, Oh My! AUG 18, 2020

After two months in Montana we entered into North Dakota, a new state for us. Unfortunately the very hot weather followed us. Our first stop was the tiny town of Medora, pop 128.  Our reason for coming here was to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. IMG_20200818_150523IMG_20200819_114704IMG_20200819_115655

This 70,448 acre park, located in the badlands of North Dakota, became a national park in 1978.  The North Dakota Badlands were formed through large volumes of sediments of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone and clay being deposited into the plains. IMG_20200819_114944MVIMG_20200819_115017IMG_20200819_115156

Over time the Little Missouri River carved the terrain into many strange and brilliantly colored formations. Erosion from water and wind continues to shape the badlands today. Theodore Roosevelt first came to the badlands in 1883 at the age of 23 to hunt bison and experience adventure in the west. IMG_20200820_122721IMG_20200820_122725IMG_20200820_122910

After the tragic death of both his mother and wife only hours apart on February 14, 1884, he returned to this area to grieve in solitude. He liked the area so well he established a ranch and adopted a rancher’s lifestyle. Even though the ranch failed, his love for the beautiful rugged land brought him back time and again for the rest of his life. During his presidency he signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaimed eighteen national monuments and worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of federal reserves. This resulted in 230 million acres of protected land, earning him the name “Conservationist President”. IMG_20200819_150942

At the South Unit Visitors Center we saw Roosevelt’s cabin which had been moved to this site. IMG_20200820_134328IMG_20200820_134225IMG_20200820_134240IMG_20200820_134217

The park is divided into a North unit and a South unit. We spent the first day exploring the North unit which was located an hour from our campground. In the park was a fourteen mile scenic drive with colorful majestic formations. We also saw some bison. IMG_20200819_121326IMG_20200819_124158IMG_20200819_124327PANO_20200819_130223.vr

Another day we drove the South unit of the park with a 36 mile scenic drive. The entrance to this section was located less than a mile from our campground. We had a wonderful day seeing bison, prairie dog towns and herds of wild horses. IMG_20200819_144958IMG_20200819_150423IMG_20200819_150449IMG_20200820_110910

We saw many herds of bison, one of which walked down the middle of the road, passing on both sides of the car. This time of year is rut season for bison and they can be more volatile and quick to anger than usual. IMG_20200820_121200IMG_20200820_113925IMG_20200820_121258


Taking A Dirt Bath

It was more than a little unsettling to have them so close, especially after seeing a news report on TV of a bison attacking a car and destroying a tire with his horns. IMG_20200820_121313

Click this link below to see our bison video. VID_20200820_121344

We also saw plenty of really cute prairie dogs as we passed through several prairie towns. IMG_20200820_102700

We loved seeing them pop up out of their holes and look around. Since they were very close to the road we had to be especially careful with driving. IMG_20200820_102959IMG_20200820_104157MVIMG_20200820_104318IMG_20200820_111743

Our favorite part of the day was, seeing several herds of wild horses. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few national parks where you can see free roaming horses. By the late 1800’s European settlement of the plains had reached the Dakota. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring and use them as ranch horses. When the area that would become the park was fenced in 1954, they removed 200 branded horses. IMG_20200820_112946IMG_20200820_120728

A few small bands of horses eluded capture and went unclaimed. These horses continued to live free range in the park in stallion led groups. The park conducts roundups every three or four years and sells horses at public auction. IMG_20200820_130306IMG_20200820_130536

We were told this little foal was just two weeks old.

We had a short, hot but pleasant stay in Medora. IMG_20200820_132306

Next up: the capital city of Bismarck.


Billings, Montana AUG 11, 2020

We drove from Lewistown to Billings (pop 104,000) for a one week stay. The weather during our stay was hot, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees on our last day! 

Billings most striking feature is the Rimrock, a natural feature rising 500 feet above the Yellowstone Valley. Legend says that in 1837 two Crow warriors, dressed in their finest and singing death songs, rode a solid white blindfolded horse over Sacrifice Cliff from the Rimrocks. They did this to appease their gods in order to halt the spread of smallpox among their people. The Native Americans call the cliff “The Place Where the White Horse Went Down“. The Crow, who had no immunity to the disease, had contracted smallpox from the people of the American Fur Trading Company. The disease caused great loss to the Crow people between 1837-1838. IMG_20200814_142111

The Rimrocks sandstone formations were formed 80 million years ago. The Western Interior Seaway, where Billings is today, slowly rose and fell over time, leaving behind compressed sand that became this massive formation. The Yellowstone River has been cutting into it for a million years, leaving a canyon in the bedrock. IMG_20200814_144013

We drove along the top of the Rimrocks with nice views of the city of Billings below. MVIMG_20200814_143927

Then we visited Riverfront Park where we found a geocache and got a glimpse of the Yellowstone River. We had several views of the Yellowstone River flows through Billings. IMG_20200814_155839IMG_20200814_152617

We also stopped by Boothill Cemetery, the final resting place between 1877-1881 of three dozen individuals, many who died with their boots on. This is one of many such named cemeteries throughout the west. Buried in this cemetery was Muggins Taylor, the scout who brought the world the news of Custer’s last stand. There was a large rock memorial with quotes on each of the four sides.

Quote 1:
“This Monument Marks A Historic Site
Where Thirty-Five Lie Buried
For Fortune and Fame
Lost Their Lives Lost Their Game” 

Quote 2:
“Upon This Rugged Hill
The Long Trail Past 
These Men Of Restless Will
Find Rest At Last” 

Quote 3:
“The Stream Flows On But It Matters Not
To The Sleepers Here By The World Forgot
The Heroes Of Many A Tale Unsung 
They Lived And Died When The West Was Young” 

Quote 4: was unfortunately too worn to read IMG_20200814_154906

On Saturday we drove to Red Lodge, Montana to begin driving the Beartooth Highway (All-American Highway) which goes from Montana into Wyoming. Charles Kuralt called this “the most beautiful roadway in America“. IMG_20200815_143822


Can You See The Bear’s Tooth?

It is also designated one of the most dangerous roads in America as it climbs to 10,947 feet with numerous switchbacks.

On our GPS you can see the five switchbacks which gain about four thousand feet. IMG_20200815_125116IMG_20200815_111529PANO_20200815_115105.vr

Completed in 1936, it provides views of some of the most rugged and wild areas in the lower 48 states.  Along the way are visible twenty peaks over 12,000 feet, 950 alpine lakes, glaciers, Rocky Mountain goats, waterfalls and wildflowers. It took us eight hours to make the round trip drive with all the scenic overlooks. What a beautiful drive! IMG_20200815_121312IMG_20200815_122042IMG_20200815_131837IMG_20200815_122318IMG_20200815_131631IMG_20200815_130922

This is a herd of Rocky Mountain Goats, many are still shedding their coats. IMG_20200815_125852_1IMG_20200815_125854


Pilot and Index Peaks

We saw Lake Creek waterfall and snagged a short video with sound. MVIMG_20200815_140748

Lake Creek Waterfall
Select this above link to see and hear the video. MVIMG_20200815_140844

We went to Crazy Creek waterfall and turned back for home. IMG_20200815_142828

We liked this old wrecker we found in one of the small towns we passed through. It looks like one of the cars (Mater) in the animated movie “Cars”. Mater is the rustiest, trustiest tow truck in Radiator Springs. IMG_20200815_165750
And an interesting sculpture as well! IMG_20200815_165828

After two wonderful months in Montana, it is time to move on to North Dakota. 

Next up: Medora, North Dakota 

Cascade, Montana July 16, 2020

This blog posting is dedicated to our good friend and blog reader Bob M. who grew up in Great Falls and Helena. Bob, you have a really beautiful home state. We are certainly enjoying our time here! 

Our current stop was south of the tiny town of Cascade, Montana near the Missouri River about thirty miles south of Great Falls for a six night stay.

This is such a beautiful part of Montana. Interstate 15 goes back and forth over the Missouri River.

One day we went sightseeing and geocaching. We saw lots of fishing and people enjoying the water. MVIMG_20200716_133334IMG_20200716_144620IMG_20200716_144955IMG_20200716_145027

Bill found a geocache located at the 1930 Hardy Bridge which crosses the Missouri River. This bridge was used in the 1987 movie “The Untouchables”. This area was portrayed as Canada in the movie. During filming a sign saying “Welcome to Canada” hung from the bridge. After filming ended they left the sign on the bridge which really confused people traveling through the area! The sign is gone today. IMG_20200716_132551IMG_20200716_132603IMG_20200716_150747

On Sunday, July 19th we took a two hour boat trip with the Gates of the Mountains boat tour company. The marina is located on the Missouri River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains between Helena and Great Falls. IMG_20200719_094659IMG_20200719_09531600000IMG_00000_BURST20200719100145261_COVER

In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled down this section of the Missouri River, marveling at the limestone cliffs at a height of 1,200 feet. The Expedition was traveling against the current as they sought the headwaters of the Missouri River. 00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200719100346470_COVERIMG_20200719_100729IMG_20200719_100815IMG_20200719_102147IMG_20200719_103309IMG_20200719_103349IMG_20200719_110619IMG_20200719_105404

From a distance, the bends in the waterways made the great stone walls appear to block passage only to then open up like gates as the expedition approached. IMG_20200719_104707IMG_20200719_105545IMG_20200719_105514

Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal, “I shall call this place: Gates of the Mountains”. 

Our boat was named Sacajawea 2. This tour boat company has been giving tours for over 100 years and the two hour tour was a great deal at only $14 a person (senior price). We saw four eagles, a huge eagle nest and bighorn sheep. IMG_20200719_103900IMG_20200719_103948IMG_20200719_113404IMG_20200719_113603

This actual boat was used in the Clint Eastwood 1974 movie “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”. In the movie the boat was named “Idaho Dream” a mailboat on the Snake River. Several scenes were filmed on our section of the tour. As the guide pointed out the Snake River does not look like the Missouri River. MVIMG_20200719_111637

We also saw a Native American pictograph of a bison which was hard to see in the distance. IMG_20200719_104339

We also have rock formations that appear to be various animals.


This Looks Like a Person


Do You See an Elephant?


This Looks Like Groot from the Marvel Movies


Do You See a Monkey’s Face?

We stopped briefly at the Meriwether Picnic Area, named for the area where the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery camped on July 19,1805, exactly 215 years ago on the day we took the boat trip. IMG_20200719_110553IMG_20200719_111156IMG_20200719_111004

One evening from our campsite we could see a doe and her fawn. We love Montana! IMG_20200719_185038IMG_20200719_185029

Next up: Great Falls

Yellowstone NP part 4 June 28, 2020

On our last day in Yellowstone NP we drove from our campground to Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way we passed the 45th parallel sign. IMG_20200627_092030

As we entered the village of Mammoth Hot Springs we were delighted to see a large herd of elk grazing in the traffic circle. We especially enjoyed seeing all the calves. IMG_20200627_092725MVIMG_20200627_092838IMG_20200627_092754

We continued on to the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces area. MVIMG_20200627_100856IMG_20200627_101630

Mammoth Hot Springs has mineral laden hot water from deep within the Earth’s crust which finds its way to the surface and builds beautiful tiers of cascading, terraced stone.  Hot water and gases ascend through limestone deposits, sculpting the rock.  Once exposed to the air, calcium carbonate from the limestone is deposited as a rock called travertine.  These hot springs do not erupt but instead build these spectacular terraces.  The terrace sculpting has been going on for thousands of years as thousands of gallons of water well up and deposit large amounts of travertine, or limestone, daily and as quickly as three feet per year! IMG_20200627_093730IMG_20200627_094605IMG_20200627_094707IMG_20200627_100314IMG_20200627_100616

We walked around the extensive boardwalk area, up and down many steps as we made our way around the area. Just beautiful! IMG_20200627_100840IMG_20200627_100958IMG_20200627_101150IMG_20200627_101308IMG_20200627_101313IMG_20200627_101416

Near the parking area is what they call “Liberty Cap”, a dormant hot spring cone 37 feet tall. The 1871 Hayden Geological Survey strangely named the cone after the peasant caps worn during the French Revolution. They were also depicted on early American coins. IMG_20200627_093722

The village of Mammoth Hot Springs is where the Yellowstone park headquarters is located and it has a village of stores, gift shops, a Visitors Center and a couple restaurants.  In the early days of Yellowstone National Park’s existence the park was protected by the U.S. Army from 1886 to 1918. From what you might wonder. From people damaging the geothermal areas and hunting the wildlife.  The original buildings of Fort Yellowstone such as the guardhouse, jail and soldiers’ barracks are preserved and still standing in Mammoth Springs today. IMG_20200627_101706IMG_20200627_101816IMG_20200627_102322IMG_20200627_105550

This concludes our time in Yellowstone NP. Next we continue our summer travels into Montana. 


Yellowstone NP part 3 June 24, 2020

Yellowstone is such an amazing national park. Whatever your interest, it has something for everyone. Geysers, hot springs, animals galore, gorgeous scenery and waterfalls. On our third day into the park we focused on waterfalls. IMG_20200627_105328

Yellowstone has a grand canyon. Not as huge or magnificent as THE Grand Canyon, but still fabulous and beautiful with not one but two magnificent waterfalls. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River was created from a lava flow 484,000 years ago.  It is mainly made of rhyolite rock.  Past and current hydrothermal activity weakened and altered the rock, making it softer.  The Yellowstone River eroded these weakened rocks to deepen and widen the canyon, a process continuing today.  The canyon is twenty miles long, more than a thousand feet deep, and between 1,500 and 4,000 feet wide with two waterfalls. IMG_20200624_100902

One end of the canyon begins at the 308 foot tall Lower Falls which may have formed because the river flows over volcanic rock more resistant to erosion than rocks downstream.  The same is true for the 109 foot Upper Falls. IMG_20200624_100707IMG_20200624_110656

When we were here five years ago we hiked several trails around the falls and one strenuous hike with 13 switchbacks that took us to the top of the falls. This time the trail was closed due to the pandemic. Just one of many things still closed throughout the park. But we still had plenty to see and do to keep us busy. IMG_20200624_105630IMG_20200624_110752

Along with visiting the canyon we drove through Hayden Valley where we saw plenty more bison, some elk and a bear. IMG_20200624_141025IMG_20200624_142401

We didn’t get a picture of this bear since he was too far away to get a clear picture. IMG_20200624_123955IMG_20200624_123747

This area took us along Yellowstone Lake (elevation 7,733 feet) with stunning views of water with snow capped mountains in the distance. IMG_20200624_124355

We stopped at an area with rapids where we actually talked with a park ranger, our only real interaction with a ranger all week. He told us if we looked closely we could see fish. This time of year is when the water flows at its highest. The fish were waiting because they knew as the water flow decreased during the hotter summer months, it would be time to swim back to the lake. We enjoyed some time there, watching the fish near the surface occasionally jumping out of the water. Too fast to catch with a camera! MVIMG_20200624_132732IMG_20200624_132824

This hill side is called Roaring Mountain. On the hill side if you zoom in you can see two active steam vents. IMG_20200624_150410IMG_20200624_150855

We stopped at a mud volcano area with a nice boardwalk around the hot springs. There were plenty of signs warning people to stay on the boardwalk because thermal areas have a thin crust above boiling hot springs and scalding mud. Some of the pools are acidic enough to burn through boots! More than twenty people have been scalded to death and hundreds more badly burned or scarred because they left the boardwalks. Imagine our surprise when we saw three bison very close by as we reached the halfway point around the boardwalk. A ranger was there and stopped people from continuing to get close to the bison out of fear of them becoming agitated.  We saw this happen on our first day when a lady with a camera got too close, and we were glad of the strong fence.  One was rubbing against a small tree, evidently trying to rub off the last of his winter coat. IMG_20200624_135718

Another was drinking water from a small pool of muddy water, yuck!! IMG_20200624_135544

The third was actually inside a mud pot area and we wondered how hot the ground was on his hooves. Eventually another ranger came with yellow caution tape and stopped anyone from entering that area of the boardwalk.  IMG_20200624_135520

The elevation drops significantly by a waterfall on the Gardner River as we travel to Mammoth Hot Springs and eventually to the North Entrance at 5,314 feet. MVIMG_20200624_153847

Near this waterfall we saw a lone Dall sheep high on the hillside feeding on the grass. He was so high up it was difficult to get a clear picture. IMG_20200624_154120IMG_20200624_154219

The next day Bill took a half day white water rafting trip on the Yellowstone River with the Yellowstone River Raft Company located in Gardiner MT.  IMG_20200627_111804MVIMG_20200626_095218

They went right behind our RV and I was waiting to take his picture. IMG_20200626_103952IMG_20200626_104012~2

The river was running with a good volume/flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second. He had a great time/ride and was glad to add the Yellowstone River to the lists of rivers he has rafted. IMG_6614~2IMG_0815~2IMG_6604

Next up: Our last day in Yellowstone NP