New Year 2018

We washed and sheltered our Vistabule on a warm autumn Sunday, ahead of an unusually early cold snap that was forecast to blow into the Southeast. Supplies such as linens, batteries and pantry items, liquid or dry, were packed in the car to take home. Items left in storage were neatly stacked up off the floor. It all took less than an hour.

This preparation for our first winter season of separation created strange feelings, we felt reluctant to leave Lily and the fun camping trips behind even for a few months.

Days later Atlanta had an early dusting of snow. I took a snapshot of one of the courtyards in our apartment complex before the snow disappeared.

Courtyard Dusted With SnowLooking at the blog’s previous November 2017 post, I am surprised that it was written just six weeks back. We have been on several trips without the Vistabule during that time.

On a sunny weekend day between cold snaps, we returned to travel the length of the Cherohala Parkway from east to west, North Carolina into Tennessee.

Cherohala Skyway OverlookA couple of weeks later there was a flight out to the Seattle area to visit our children, grandkids and the furry grands. Two of the fur babies give Earl’s allergies a fit.


To give Earl’s dog allergy a break we normally stay overnight at a hotel or Airbnb. This time we had the fun of sleeping in the kids’ new travel trailer; driveway surfing.

Travel Trailer

The generations always mix family meals, crafts, and games with some outings. Our favorite meal of this trip was at Din Tai Fung, a restaurant known for great Dim Sum.

Dim Sum Restaurant

During our photo I think the kids and my grandson, Milo, were telling me that I’m not allowed to order one of everything on the menu.


Veteran’s Day while my daughter-in-law had her normal workday in her home office, I hung out with my granddaughter, Mabry, who was recovering from an illness. We read, measured and drew layouts for her bedroom. We talked crochet and baking.(Last year at age nine she started baking and decorating her own creations.) We even had a fun time together while emptying the dishwasher and putting clean dishes away. We also played a video game requiring problem solving skills: Unravel.

Here are photos posted by her parents of Mabry reading. It helps that she has long legs.

May Reading

While we stayed home, all of the guys headed out to Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. This time it was its 20th Anniversary and the exhibits covered Jim Henson’s Muppets, along with Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds.


Another day the guys and I walked along Lake Washington and ended up at Ivar’s Seafood Bar for lunch. One of the joys of visiting the Northwest coast is stuffing ourselves with seafood, anywhere we can get it.


One evening Earl and son, Eachean, headed out to see the movie Blade Runner. It disappointed both of them. Meanwhile daughter-in-law, Stephanie, took the rest of us to Glazed Art at the Landing in Renton. I had never painted ceramics before. Both Stephanie and I struggled, while the grandkids quickly whipped out their creations.


Soon after our return, Earl had a business conference in Fort Lauderdale. I tagged along to assist him since his limited eyesight makes solo travel a bit challenging. For the first time, we did not have an ocean view room. It was a nice change to watch the boat traffic on the Intercostal.

Ft. Lauderdale Sunset

Naturally, we could overlook the beach while dining and still reach it easily from the hotel. Still, no touristy outings this time; we focused on relaxation mixed between Earl’s work meetings.

In the New Year ahead we expect to repeat business travel, along with flights to Las Vegas and Seattle to visit our children and grandchildren. While Earl continues to work, as expected, the Vistabule stretches our budget to add numerous additional outings into three and four day weekends and gives us more connection to the great outdoors.

Happy New Year’s! Our hopes of peace, health, happiness, and wonder filled travels go out to you.

Miles 2289 – 2894

Three chapters of the international Tearjerkers group formed the Mighty Southern 3X gathering on November 2-5, 2017 at Georgia’s Skidaway Island State Park.


We headed south a day early, on Wednesday, and arrived after dark. It was late enough that the park office was closed. Stopping by a host camper’s site in the campground, we met Greg who graciously welcomed us and gave information about the layout, facilities, and how to finish check-in in the morning.

Looping around in the darkness to select a site, I glimpsed a campfire on the next road with a group of people waving their arms at us. Soon flashlights were moving through the trees toward us. Several people quickly looked over a few sites. With group consensus, they guided us through trees like an airplane into a terminal and parked us at a pull through campsite for the night.

And so, we quickly met Lois, Richard, Bonnie and Terry. I believe there were more friendly faces whose names I am missing. It was a blur of chatty laughter with a quick Q&A session. Our welcoming committee dispersed back to the warmth of their campfire as we unhitched.

We wanted to grab a quick meal and return before the campground’s gate was closed at 10 pm. Fortunately, there was a shopping center nearby with a Publix grocery store and a sports bar & grill still open. Bellies satisfied and tucked in for the night, we remained curious about what the campground would look like in the morning light.

For the next four days of the Tearjerker’s gathering we had perfect weather, a large campsite and a lovely clean campground for relaxation.


There were one to two optional get-togethers for loads of good food and company each day, some craft time and occasional music, and night time bonfire groups.

There were an estimated 20 Teardrop Trailers to tour, many of them lovingly homemade.

There was plenty of time during any mid-day to enjoy the campground trails, or the numerous nearby sights of Savannah, GA.

I once lived in Savannah’s suburbs and have visited many times over the years. Together, Earl and I previously enjoyed the Riverwalk area and a side trip to Tybee Island. This time, we opted for an Old Town Trolley tour of the city so Earl would get an overview of Savannah’s  history.

Following the suggestion of one of Earl’s co-workers, we also drove to nearby Pooler, GA to visit The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Earl wanted more information about his father’s service as a pilot during WWII.


I felt lazy the entire trip and initially had little interest in going due to having attended far too many air shows and museums during childhood. My aircraft mechanic father had a career as a civilian worker with the Air Force and we had lived by bases in three different states, including Hunter AFB in Savannah.

This Friday, Earl and I arrived 45 minutes prior to the museum closing and a volunteer immediately directed us to the second floor archives. As a retired librarian, I was happy with the turn of events since the exhibits were not our main focus this visit.

Earl had previously submitted a request through The National Archives and had been informed that his father’s service records were destroyed in a fire, so we did not expect to locate any specific information about him. His father’s discharge papers, a training class album and a few pieces of memorabilia are all the information that Earl has in-hand.

A very knowledgeable volunteer in the library unearthed further clues for Earl’s quest. He pointed out that as a transport pilot, Earl’s father had earned ribbons for three theaters. Earl and the volunteer discussed events and timelines as I did quick searches through two reference books provided.

The most comprehensive title was available from online booksellers, so Earl was able to purchase a copy when we returned home. There’s no index of personnel. We will go through the numerous photos labeled with names to see if we can come up with any connections.

This entire camping trip was simply wonderful and we look forward to returning to the unique Skidaway Island State Park.


Dawdle: Sweetwater and Star Walk

On Monday morning, October 2, 2017 weekend campers cleared out from Harrison Bay State Park and only about a quarter of the sites in campground C were still occupied.

Image: Campground C on a Weekday

Campground C on a Weekday

Our little Lily was more exposed, but the wonky triangular camp set-up we had configured still worked well enough.

Image: Site 18 Set-Up

Site 18 Set-Up

The site had a small strip of woods to view from the shelter set in back and we enjoyed the quiet of sitting in its shade, feeling the light cool breezes of warm early autumn weather.

Image: Woods at site 18, Campground C

Woods at site 18, Campground C

We had planned to drive into Chattanooga for a touristy boat ride, but changed our minds. The city is just a day trip from home and we have visited a lot of its sights. The boat ride could wait for another time.

The little town of Sweetwater, TN had come on my radar while researching viewing sites for the Total Solar Eclipse. I thought it “sweet”, and business savvy, of a little town to invite basically anyone and everyone to their front row seat of the once-in-a-lifetime event. I imagined the town was back to normal now. It had appeared to be a picturesque little place. So, driving to Sweetwater became our destination for a late lunch.

The layout of Sweetwater is definitely driven by its many small businesses and, seemingly a history with lack of zoning. It has a scatterbrained mix of manufacturing buildings, business lots, store fronts and offices; with a type of landscaped town center thrown in.

Image: Sweetwater, TN Historic District

Sweetwater, TN Historic District

Instead of a prominent court house square, in the part of town we saw there is more a rectangle with a long silver train car and a gazebo (perhaps bandstand) tacked on at one end. In front, the gleaming train car is surrounded by a stand of flags and various memorial markers, crowded with shrubs and flowers. The street parking doesn’t surround the park area. There’s a variety of types of street parking and a confusing tangle of intersections, with walkers probably making a mad dash across heavy traffic from some angles in order to reach this town centerpiece.

Image: Sweetwater Train, Back Side

Sweetwater Train, Back Side

While the landscaping on the back side of the train is kept plain and simple.

Image: The Hunter's Cafe, Exterior

The Hunter’s Cafe, Exterior

We parked on a dead end side street, and walked over to the corner restaurant: The Hunter’s Cafe. While there, Earl texted with our daughter who lives near Las Vegas and we learned of the tragic mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. The pain and heartbreak of victims, their friends’ and families’ trauma, will last far beyond the single day of the tragic event. We are left to consider what each person must do to help make the nation’s laws and values safer for every American.

Image: The Hunter's Cafe, Interior

The Hunter’s Cafe, Interior

Meanwhile we are sitting in the cheerful interior of  a renovated and clean restaurant, with comfortable seating. Small town USA.

The menu had soups, salads and sandwiches with a few entrees and desserts. (Standard fare, nothing stand out, but we are city folk and our perspective is totally spoilt from living near numerous dining choices.) Earl’s Cream of Broccoli soup was thin, watery, probably just made with milk. Our chicken salad sandwiches and were tasty and fresh. We ordered a piece of Carrot Cake and Apple Cake for take-out, which were both delicious and moist over the next two days.

Image: Sweetwater, TN Sidewalk View in Autumn

Sweetwater, TN Sidewalk View in Autumn

The restaurant was on a city block to one side of the train. The town’s sidewalks were decorated for autumn and Halloween. I especially liked the lamppost banners which each highlight a different historical building and business sponsor.

Image: Sweetwater, TN Depot and Visitor's Center

Sweetwater, TN Depot and Visitor’s Center

From the sidewalk, we saw a glimpse of what looked to be a small train depot building in back of the train, so we hopped into the car and rambled around to take a look at it before leaving town. The Sweetwater Depot serves as the town’s Visitor’s Center and was closed on this afternoon.

Back at Harrison Bay State Park we spent some time roaming around to find a good site to stargaze.

Friday night I had woke up and opened the trailer’s door to see a few very bright stars through our campsite’s canopy of trees. I thought twice before doing it, but woke Earl up to enjoy the sight with me. We sat on a cool bench of the picnic table and enjoyed the view of the stars together. On Saturday and Sunday night there were clouds. With luck the clouds would clear away for good stargazing on our last night in camp.

Image: Harrison Bay SP StarWalk Sign

Harrison Bay SP Star Walk

Yes, Harrison Bay State Park has Star Walk an amazing plot of land with a cleared circular path and stations with glow in the dark lettering to “enlighten” people about the stars.

Image: Harrison Bay SP Star Walk Project

Harrison Bay SP Star Walk Project

We went to check out the Star Walk area about sun down and noticed a few problems.

Unfortunately, at night there just seemed to be access to the Star Walk from the public road into the park. Each campground and the main road to the campground area has a gate, any of which may be locked closed at 10 PM. Plus, if we did get to drive up the long road to the campground entrance, in order to crawl through or walk around that gate, there’s no parking on the camp side.

Also, there is a bank of extremely bright security lights at a store on the public road facing the Star Walk. On the opposite side, within the state park entrance by the Star Walk, there is a single brightly lit flag pole.

So, we scouted around the state park more and came up with a alternative site, still without total darkness, more workable for stargazing in one direction. There’s an area beyond campground C that has picnic tables down a slight hill with a lake view.

Image: Picnic Area at Sunset

Picnic Area at Sunset

It does have some light poles at the hilltop in the parking area, but they don’t seem excessively bright. Campers can walk through the small stand of trees from the campground area to that picnic area, so you just have to be brave enough to do so at night.

As it ended up life did not give us any luck Monday night, the clouds lingered.

So, we got a good night’s rest and packed up Tuesday morning. We took time to pull over for a few last photos of the area before heading towards Interstate 75, homeward bound.

Image: Harrison Bay SP Sign

Harrison Bay SP Sign

Image: Neighborhood Day Use Area by Harrison Bay, TN

Neighborhood Day Use Area by Harrison Bay, TN

Dawdle: The Cherohala Skyway

After a nice sleep-in and late breakfast on Sunday, October 1, 2017 we headed out towards Telico Plains, TN, about 1 1/2 hours from Harrison Bay State Park. The focus of our day was to drive on The Cherohala Skyway which runs 43 miles between Telico Plains, TN and Robbinsville, NC.

A few miles down the road, at a day use pull-off near Harrison Bay, we stopped to take photos of another part of the lake.

Image: Chickamauga Lake, TN

Chickamauga Lake, TN

Suddenly one of us noticed a nuclear warning sign and glancing around, we saw why! Upstream was the tell-tale vapor stacks of the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in operation.

Image: Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, TN

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, TN

It was just unexpected to see the serenity of nature juxtaposed with potential man-made mayhem. A jolting reminder that the mind’s focus may filter out a great deal of surrounding information. As we left the area in our car, we made nervous jokes about what the sign could actually say! (After our return in the evening, we saw we had even missed the same warning sign posted by the campground’s bathhouse.)


Traveling on towards the skyway, we traveled beautiful rolling countryside that included parts of the original Trail of Tears and onward through a major rural industrial park area. Added to the fact that Harrison Bay State Park, the oldest in Tennessee, was initially segregated (plus the looming nuclear plant): it seemed history and science were entwined in our experience of the day.

As we reached the main drag of Etowah, TN, I saw a parking lot sign for The Hiwassee River Rail Adventures. We swung around at the post office and returned to check out an information board.

Image: Hiwassee River Rail Adventures, Etowah, TN

Hiwassee River Rail Adventures, Etowah, TN

Across a walkway was the town’s large historic depot which houses a train museum and offices. There were a few seats available on a train about to leave the station, but since we had not had lunch we did not feel ready to take it.

Image: Historic Train Depot, Etowah, TN

Historic Train Depot, Etowah, TN

After checking our schedule, we bought tickets to return for a train excursion three weeks away. This season has been dry in the area and autumn foliage colors are not expected be the best, but we still look forward to experiencing the train route.

Further along, we swung into the downtown square at Tellico Plains and saw people sitting under bright green umbrellas on a patio at The Cotton Pickin’ Inn that also claims a Diner and Pickin’ Hall. It was a pleasant surprise to see a local restaurant open on a Sunday.

Image: Cotton Pickin' Inn, Tellico Plains, TN

Cotton Pickin’ Inn, Diner and Pickin’ Hall, Tellico Plains, TN

We enjoyed a nice lunch and friendly service there in the pleasant outdoor seating and learned that the pickin’ begins at 6 PM on Saturdays. So, we may be able to return for the music after our train trip in three weeks.

Leaving Tellico Plains, TN, we saw a beautiful covered bridge next to the highway on private property. We pulled into a Harley Davidson’s store parking lot to stop to take photos of the bridge. Interestingly, the store had a park-like walkway to a tidy wooden building that is a restroom provided for Motorcycle riders starting or finishing The Cherohala Skyway. There were also electrical posts in a grassy area, which seemed to me to be there to accommodate tents or market stalls.

Image: Covered Bridge, Tellico Plains, TN

Covered Bridge, Tellico Plains, TN

After taking bridge photos from the little “Harley Park”, Earl wanted a different angle. I u-turned our car and pulled into a gravel area directly across the street from the bridge.

Image: Covered Bridge side view, Tellico Plains, TN

Covered Bridge side view, Tellico Plains, TN

While Earl walked down the road to take more pictures of the covered bridge, I took a closer look at signs along the edge of the parking space. They turned out to be Civil War historical markers.

Image: Historical Marker, Tellico Plains, TN

Historical Marker, Tellico Plains, TN

We were starting The Cherohala Skyway in lush greenery, driving along the Tellico River. There are numerous waterways coming down the mountains, so it gets difficult to keep track of their names along the route. At this point, in a dry season, the river had a shallow flow through a wide rocky gully.

Image: Tellico River

Tellico River

The skyway is known for its many curves, for cutting through both the Cherokee and Natahala National Forests, and for views that compare to those along The Blue Ridge Parkway. Its designations as National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway are well deserved!

Image: Along the Cherohala Skyway

Along the Cherohala Skyway

We expected the skyway to be crowded with motorcycles, bike riders and vehicles on a Sunday afternoon, but The Cherohala Skyway is not as well known as, as long as, or as crowded as, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Image: Mountain Views, Cherohala Skyway

Mountain Views, Cherohala Skyway

As the elevation climbed, there were overlooks for valley views and distant mountains vistas. We made it to 4,470 feet, at The Unicoi Gap Overlook, and decided turn around to head back to our campsite long before the darkness of evening made mountain driving difficult. We will just have to plan to enter the skyway from its North Carolina side to complete the route one day.

There was time and daylight left to stop at a couple of overlooks on the way back down. Our overall favorite was our last of the day, which overlooked a valley dotted with a few lakes. In the past the valley was home to the Cherokee.

Image: Valley Home of the Cherokee

Valley Home of the Cherokee

To top off the beautiful view, before we even had time to react with dropped jaws, we were buzzed by a military jet zooming through the valley and banking sharply in front of us,

On the last few miles of the skyway,  we were behind a beautiful little covered wagon.

Image: Covered Wagon on The Cherohala Skyway

Covered Wagon on The Cherohala Skyway

Then back through the town of Tellico Plains and right to the farmer’s gate, we followed the covered wagon to its home.

Image: Covered Wagon, Tellico Plains, TN

Covered Wagon, Tellico Plains, TN

Later I read about the role that townspeople and covered wagons played in bringing The Cherohala Skyway to fruition. Read the story here.

Our return trip to Harrison Bay State Park continued to be interesting as we noticed photo ops of local color along the way.

Image: Old building made from small stones, TN

Old building made from small stones, TN

Image: Flight of a Heron, TN

Flight of a Heron, TN


Entering the park, we decided to head to the marina to catch the sunset. We watched from the cafe’s deck until lackluster colors faded.

Image: Sunset from Marina Deck Cafe

Sunset from Marina Deck Cafe

As we walked to our parking spot, there was a glorious burst of vivid colors as the sun’s finale.

Image: Harrison Bay State Park Marina Sunset

Harrison Bay State Park Marina Sunset

Sighting deer on the road back to the campsite was a nice calm touch to close our day’s outing.


Sadly, Monday morning as I reviewed this post’s rough draft and double checked names of locations online, I came across news that explained the police, fire and ambulance vehicles we pulled over to let pass while leaving Tellico Plains, TN on Sunday evening.

I struggled a bit over whether or not to add our memory of the military jet we saw to this post, but decided that the last moments of the pilots’ lives and their service to our country deserve to be remembered and acknowledged with our deep appreciation. Rest In Peace.