Monthly Archives: May 2024

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NOTE:  This post contains four (4) photos.  First photo taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.  (All other photos taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

01-19 February 2024 — Preparing for another cruise

Cabella (the cat) has several places around the house that she likes to sleep but, when available, this is her favorite.

I suppose the first thing of note about this month, but not the most important, was my birthday; seven decades and change, and still counting.  Not bad for a guy my height and weight.  I am still in generally good health and feeling good about our active retirement, which is what really matters.  Happy birthday to me.

From the moment Linda had booked the cabins, preparations had been on-going for our upcoming Disney DREAM cruise.  Research was done, and shore excursions were booked.  Our daughter (Meghan) is an excellent and enthusiastic researcher, and she dug in.  Our 5-night cruise included a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirates Day,” all of which required some kind of suitable attire (or costume) in order to be a full participant in the events of those days.  She also learned that it was common practice to “decorate” cabin doors.  The doors are steel, and the decorations need to be magnetic, but it turned out that such decorations and widely and easily available.  The group ended up agreeing on custom t-shirts, one for Marvel Day and one for Pirates Day.  We each got our own color for each shirt, but the same designs.  (We did something similar a few years ago the first time with did Walt Disney World with Paul and Nancy.)

Linda and Diane try to get-together and walk once a week.  Weather permitting, they meet at Kensington Metro Park.  This image from February 9 clearly shows that the lake was still mostly covered in ice.  (Photo by Linda)

Of the ten of us going on this cruise, only Linda, her sister (Sr. Marilyn), and myself had ever been on a cruise.  Linda and I tried to provide useful/helpful specific information about packing, luggage, embarkation, etc. without overloading everyone.  Each family or individual was on their own to make flight arrangements to/from Fort Lauderdale International Airport, as well as hotel arrangements, but they were all experienced travelers, including the three grand-daughters.

 

 

I got this MURDLE (Murder Puzzles) book for my birthday from our friend Kate,.  Linda and I were at one of our local Panera locations, and I took the book with me to work some of the puzzles.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda booked us into the Hyatt Place hotel about 1/2 mile from the Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades in Hollywood, Florida (Fort Lauderdale area) and shared that location with everyone else.  Our daughter and her husband, his daughter (Katie), and Linda’s sister also stayed there.  Our son and his family made a reservation at the nearby Embassy Suites as they were able to get a room that would comfortably accommodate all four of them.

 

 

 

 

Sadie at home being Sadie a few days before the Disney cruise. (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s about all there is to say about everyday life while getting ready to go a trip.

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Note:  There are six (6) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

January 2024 — Rearranging furniture, and a night out

A week after we returned from Florida we had a proper snow event, as seen in this view of the rear deck of our house.  (Photo by Linda)

We enjoyed our brief sojourn to Florida, including our short cruise on the MSC Magnifica, but not enough to spend 116 days aboard the ship, in that class of stateroom.  But it was also good to be back home.  We have had a relatively dry winter, but we knew winter was not over.  Winter weather here can linger, if intermittently, until April.  Indeed, some of the worst ice storms we have had in this region occurred in April to early May.

We decided to rearrange the furniture in our basement recreation room to provide better viewing of the TV set, which included moving the TV set and associated furniture and electronics.  As a result, we also had to relocate the LAN Ethernet and OTA TV antenna coaxial cables.  Fortunately, I had left extra cabled coiled up above the suspended ceiling when these cable runs were originally installed.

The TV was previously located by the post next to the ladder at the left of the frame, so the LAN Ethernet and OTA TV antenna coaxial cables had to be relocated to the new location at the right edge of the frame.  I had to move quite a few of the ceiling tiles out of the way in order to affect the relocation, but I had plenty of cable to work with.

The Rec room TV/furniture arrangement as seen looking to the northwest from near the stairs to the main level.

The Rec room TV/furniture arrangement as seen looking northeast from near the bar.

The Rec room TV/furniture arrangement as seen looking east from the northwest corner of the basement.

Kate (L) and Linda (R), at Socotra Coffee House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  This was a new place for us, and looked like a very new establishment.  It features coffees, teas, and desserts of Yemeni origin.  ABIR, we each had a different coffee.  We agreed that they were different from what we are familiar with, but very good.  The desserts were also unusual in the sense of being unfamiliar but, again, very tasty.  The fact that there were open late was a bonus and provided a new option for someplace to go after dinner to enjoy extended conversation over coffee and dessert without the (apparently) inescapable noise of our usual restaurants and bar/grill establishments.

One of the things we look forward too each month is getting together with our friend, and my former colleague, Kate.  On this occasion, we tried a new place for coffee and dessert; Socotra Yemeni Coffee House on Packard west of US-23 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It was a nice way to close out the month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE:  There is one (1) photo in this post taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 15 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (4 of 4), Return to Miami and home.

We took many more photos on this brief cruise than I have used in these blog posts, but they were mostly for our own documentation in support of a decision-making process.  During the cruise, we had not yet decided to cancel the World Cruise but were actively discussing the pros and cons of doing the trip on this ship with this cruise line.  It came as something of a surprise to us that we made that decision while sitting in the Miami International Airport waiting to fly home.  After letting Paul and Nancy know our decision, we called our travel agent before we even got on the jet.  But then, once it was clear that we did not want to do this trip on this ship, there was no reason to wait.  If nothing else, we had a significant deposit on file, and the sooner we got it back the better.

Apparently someone at the Miami International Airport has a sense of humor.  This waste basket had two separate holes, one marked “Waste” and the other “Recycle.”  Note, however, that the can contains no divider and has a single bag where everything goes.  (Photo by Linda)

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NOTE:  There are 16 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY a6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 14 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (3 of 4), Ocean Cay

A panoramic view (Google Pixel 6 Pro panorama mode) of Ocean Cay taken from our stateroom balcony on the MSC Magnifica.

A composite of 8 images (SONE alpha 6400) forms a panoramic view of Ocean Cay, MSC private island in the Bahamas.  Photo composited with Microsoft Image Composite Editor.

A view of one of the elevator lobbies in the MSC Magnifica provides a sense of the “style” of the public areas of the interior.  I took very few photos of the interior of the ship, in part because I wanted to respect the privacy of our fellow passengers.

L-2-R, Nancy, Linda, and Paul on Ocean Cay, Bahamas.  The island was originally the site of mining operation.  MSC has rehabilitated it, creating both a marine reserve and pleasant place for their guests.

A map of Ocean Cay.

The MSC Magnifica as seen from Ocean Cay.  (Photo by Linda)

Another (better?) view of the Magnifica from Ocean Cay.

One more view of the MSC Magnifica from Ocean Cay.

L-2-R, me (Bruce), Nancy, and Paul.  We were not able to snag a cabana, but found these lounge chairs unoccupied.  (Photo by Linda)

Part of the coastline of Ocean Cay.  I recall that the day was pleasant but, as this photo shows, it was overcast.  Those are not mutually exclusive ideas.  (I am not a sun bunny.)

Not exactly the MSC Magnifica, but technically Linda is still in an MSC boat.

I (Bruce) try the same ship on for size.  (Photo by Linda)

Another view of the MSC Magnifica as seen from Ocean Cay.

Dramatic weather often makes for interesting photos.  Ocean Cay, Bahamas.

The lighthouse on Ocean Cay as a “Disney like” illumination system that is used to put on a light show just before a ship departs from the island.  We took videos of the show, but I don’t post videos here because of the large file sizes.

A view of the central lobby of the MSC Magnifica.  The interior décor of MSC ships is a somewhat glitzy “over-the-top Italian.”  I’m not saying it isn’t attractive, it’s just not really our style.  That was not a factor, however, in our decision to cancel our World Cruise booking on this ship.  Indeed, we found the ship, service, food, and entertainment acceptable given the price.

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NOTE:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY a6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 13 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (2 of 3), Nassau, Bahamas

We sailed overnight and arrived at Nassau, Bahamas early this morning.  The MSC Magnifica is tied up at the dock with guests going ashore (including us, obviously).

A composite image of the lobby of the British Colonial hotel in downtown Nassau, Bahamas.

The area near the port in Nassau, Bahamas has a quintessentially Caribbean look.

An outdoor “mall” of little shops near the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas.  Linda is in the lower right corner (white shirt) walking away from the camera.

The MSC Magnifica in the Cruise Port in Nassau, Bahamas with two more cruise ships behind it.  The Disney WISH is just behind the Magnifica.  The ship in the background is a Royale Caribbean vessel.

We did not spend very much time in Nassau, as we explored it when we were here in 2012 &/or 2013 and not much had appeared to change since then.  Following are a couple of views of our stateroom.  We had the room next to the room we booked for the World Cruise in 2025.  Paul and Nancy were in the same suite that they booked for the World Cruise.

Our stateroom as seen from the balcony doorwall looking towards the door to the hallway.  Closet to the left and bathroom to the right.

Our stateroom as it appears when coming into the room.  Beyond the queen-size bed is a desk (on the left) and 2-seat sleeper-sofa.  There’s a hassock under the desk and a small table in front of the sofa, and two chairs on the balcony (which stay out there).  The sofa was so uncomfortable that we could not sit on it for more than a few minutes.  Although this was not our stateroom for the World Cruise, it was next to it, and we had no reason to believe that the sofa in that stateroom was any better.  This ended up being the deal-breaker for the World Cruise.  Paul and Nancy were equally unimpressed with their suite.

Pulling away from the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas shortly after 5 PM.  (Photo by Linda)

Linda on the starboard promenade as the Disney WISH backs out of its berth at the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas.

Every cruise line has a logo or emblem that they display on each of their ships.  MSC’s emblem is patterned after the compass rose.  I believe MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company, or did at one time.  MSC is a major shipping company, headquartered in Switzerland, but I think the MSC Cruise Line division operates out of Genoa, Italy.  We often see their pale-yellow shipping containers.

A view of the starboard bow of the Disney WISH with the Royale Caribbean ship sailing away behind it.

I think this is another Royale Caribbean ship leaving Nassau, Bahamas ahead of us.

The MSC Magnifica leaving the dock at the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas.  This is a view of the dock from the stern of the MSC Magnifica.

After a pleasant enough day in Nassau, Bahamas our ship set sail at 6 PM for an overnight trip to MSC’s private island, Ocean Cay.

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NOTE:  There are two (2) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

FRIDAY 12 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (1/3), Embarkation & Sail Away

A subtitle for this post would be “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” (but not in that order).  As mentioned in the previous post, back in February 2023 Linda and Nancy found an “around the world” cruise on MSC for what seemed to be a very good price.  The World Cruise was scheduled to depart Genoa, Italy on 6 January 2025, head west across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil and take 116 nights to circumnavigate the globe.  Much of the trip would be south of equator, eventually coming up the Suez Canal into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back Genoa.  The itinerary included 50 ports-of-call spread across 21 countries.  We have never been south of the equator, and this seemed like a unique opportunity to visit places me might likely never get to otherwise.  And the price seemed really fair—almost too good to be true—but it would only be a bargain if it was truly “value for money.”

Reviews of MSC from sources like Cruise Critic, and Gary Bembridge’s Tips for Travelers Youtube channel were mixed, so we had our concerns about basic cruise things like food, service, and entertainment.  But top of your list was whether we would enjoy being on this ship for that long, and especially whether our staterooms would have adequate storage and comfortable seating.  The later, we have learned in limited but recent cruising experience, is not a given.

Sometime in the intervening months, Linda found that the Magnifica was doing a 3-night round-trip sailing, January 12-15, 2024 from the Port of Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, and back.  The cruise started on a Friday and returned on Monday, which meant it was going to be a bit of a “party cruise,” but that was not really relevant to us.  We wanted to check out the general condition of the ship, especially the staterooms, as well as the food, entertainment, and service.

The Miami Cruise Port is about a 4-hour drive from Polk City, Florida.  Rather than spend that much time in a car, and pay quite a bit for parking at the Port, Nancy and Paul had decided to take the relatively new high-speed rail from Orlando to Miami, which meant we were going to take it as well.  The Orlando International Airport was about a 1-hour drive from Paul and Nancy’s house and had convenient parking dedicated to the train.  The parking was under roof and reasonably priced, at least compared to the cost of parking at the Port.  We all purchased our tickets well in advance and had reserved seats.

We enjoyed taking the train, which allowed us to relax and doodle on our iPads (or read).  The end of the line terminal in Miami was walking distance from the Cruise Port, so we decided to walk there with our roller bags rather than hail a cab or call an Uber/Lyft.  That turned out not to be our best decision of the trip; it was a warm, sunny day, and we found the most direct route blocked by construction.  We ended up walking a bit father than we originally planned, but we got there, so all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

I distinctly remember that embarkation was relatively smooth but, ABIR, we had to wait a bit to get into our staterooms.  This is not uncommon, and we found a lounge to sit in while we waited.  (Drinks are always available immediately upon embarkation.)

 

Sail Away was at 6 PM.  A few minutes later, the Magnifica pulls away from the MSC Terminal at the Port of Miami.  The view is from our starboard side stateroom balcony.  ABIR, we were on Deck 9, just above the lifeboats (obviously).  (Photo by Linda)

 

Looking back at the Miami skyline with sunset well underway.  The ship has cleared all of the buildings but has not yet cleared the breakwater.  (Photo by Linda)

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Note:  There are four (4) photos in this post.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 06 – THURSDAY 11 January 2024 — A quick trip to Florida in advance of a short cruise

Back in February 2023, we were waiting for a couple of days before boarding the NCL Joy for our trip with Paul and Nancy from Los Angeles , California to Miami, Florida via the Panama Canal.  While Paula and I were our buying some beverages, Linda and Nancy found an “around the world” cruise on the MSC Magnifica for what seemed to be a very good price.  Paul and Nancy had never sailed with MSC, but we had on two previous occasions (2012 and 2013).  We were on the MSC Poetia both times and had a good experience each time.  These were the first cruises we were ever on, and they were special Holistic Holiday at Sea programs organized by Taste of Health out of Miami, Florida.  The program featured plant-based food and provided its own ingredients, executive chef and assistants to supervise the regular kitchen workers.  It was basically a floating educational experience.  As best we could recall, the ship was very nice, the service was fine, and the staterooms were comfortable.  Indeed, we had a waiter who was outstanding!  We did not, however, have any experience with the usual ship food or entertainment, nor had we signed up for any shore excursions.  It had also been 10 years since with sailed with MSC, so there was a lot we did not know about what it would be like to be a regular passenger on one of their ships.

The world cruise was scheduled to depart Genoa, Italy on 6 January 2025 and take 116 nights to circumnavigate the globe back to Genoa, much of the trip south of equator.  Sailing west from Genoa through the western Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean, the itinerary went to South America, around Cape Horn, and up the west side of South America before heading off to French Polynesia and points west, with stops in New Zeeland, Australia, and Malaysia, eventually coming up the Suez Canal into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back Genoa.  21 countries and 50 ports-of-call.

We have never been south of the equator, and this seemed like a unique opportunity to visit places me might likely never get to otherwise.  And the price seemed really fair—almost too good to be true—but even “value for money” involves money, and it was enough money that we had our concerns about whether we would be comfortable and enjoy being on this ship for this long.

Sometime in the intervening months, Linda found that the MSC Magnifica was doing a 3-night round-trip sailing on January 11-13, 2024 from the Port of Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, and back.  The cruise started on a Friday afternoon and returned on Monday early morning.  The timing meant it was going to be a bit of a “party cruise” as people local to the area could take Friday afternoon and Monday off from work and go to the Bahamas on a big cruise ship.  That was not really relevant to us, however, as we wanted to check out the general condition of the ship, especially the staterooms, as well as the food, entertainment, and service.

On January 6th we flew into Tampa – St. Petersburg International Airport, where Paul and Nancy picked us up and drove us to their new home in the Mount Olive Shores North (MSON, pronounced “Moe-son” or “Moe-sen”) development in Polk City, Florida.  MOSN is an RV community that includes several lakes.  Some of the lots are just RV pads, with perhaps a small storage shed and/or a gazebo, while others lots have large homes with carports or garages for maximum-size Class A RVs.  This fenced/gated community has a strong HOA.  The homes and properties all have a certain look, albeit a nice one, and are all well-maintained.  Class A motorhomes and large 5th wheel travel trailers have to be under cover or inside while smaller motorhomes must be inside (out of sight).  Travel trailers are not permitted.

We were familiar with the Polk City area and MOSN, having wintered three times at the LeLynn RV Park and visited Paul and Nancy at MOSN when they had their previous Winnebago Tour motorhome on a lot there for one winter, and again when they had the American Coach Eagle motorhome on a different lot there.  But this was our first opportunity to see the lakeside house/property they had purchased.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Nancy, and me (Bruce).  In the central plaza at Disney Springs.  The stairs to the closest parking garage are to the left.  (Photo by Linda)

We spent five (5) nights at Paul and Nancy’s home.  We had just spent all of November with them at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but it was nice to see them again.  As usually happens when we are together, Nancy and Linda did joint menu planning and took turns as chef and sous chef.  Paul and I did our part, and ate whatever we were served.

 

Almost every store at Disney Springs is interesting.  Some are unusual, and a few are amazing.  The M&M Store, was all three!

But first on the list of things to do was a visit to Disney Springs.  When we get together with Paul and Nancy in this area, we always visit Disney Springs at least once.  Once turned out to be all the time we had for this visit, but we did manage to find some things at the Marvel Studios store for our cruise in February on the Disney Cruise Line DREAM.  After all, the cruise included a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirates Day” themed events.  We had dinner there, somewhere close to the Cirque de Soleil building, but I don’t recall exactly where or what we had to eat.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Linda, and Nancy pose in front of the Sorcerer Mickey LEGO statute in front of the Disney Springs LEGO store.  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is still my all-time favorite Disney animation, but I grew up involved in classical music, so …

Marty and Pat, our friends and fellow Great Lakes Converted Coaches (GLCC) and Converted Coach Owners (CCO) members from Michigan, were at LeLynn again this year, so we arranged to have them over to Paul and Nancy’s one evening for dinner.  It was great to see them, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening.  Our GLCC friends from northern Indiana, Pat and Vickie, were also in the area, staying at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness campground resort, as they do every January (and have for quite some time).  We drove up there one day to visit with them.

 

 

 

 

 

The LEGO Store at Disney Springs has an amazing outdoor display of life-size and greater-than-life-size, figures.  Star Wars is heavily represented in this collection, but this serpent in the water has always been a favorite of mine.

Those are the highlights of these six (6) days; a bit of running around and socializing, with plenty of time to eat, relax by the lake, watch Morning Joe, and chat about RVing and cruising and being (mostly) retired.

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Note:  There is one (1) photo in this post, taken by Linda using a Google Pixel 6.

 

MONDAY 01 – FRIDAY 05 January 2024 — A new year begins with new adventures

Madeline and Cabela around 9:30 in the morning.  Mads looks happy but a bit bleary-eyed, so maybe we did let her stay up until midnight wish 2023 adieu and welcome in 2024.

The youngest and middle grand-daughters spent last night with us.  I think we let the older one (Mads) stay up until midnight, but maybe not.  Or perhaps she was tired and didn’t see the point.  I doubt that, however, as staying up until midnight seems like a very adult thing to do; and at the newly turned age of 11 years, she wants to be very adult.  Anyway, that was certainly my family’s tradition as I was growing up, and we carried that into our adult/married lives.  There was a period of time when my parents even hosted a sizeable party of neighbors and other friends.  We always went outside at the stroke of midnight and made a lot of celebratory noise.  Being in the St. Louis, Missouri area at the time, the weather might be pleasant or cold and snowy.  Marilyn had to return to St. Louis before the turn of the year, but for many of her holiday visits over the years she was with still at our house on New Year’s Eve.  And we were usually working hard to finish a large jigsaw puzzle.  Part of the tradition was also food, especially smoked salmon (me), cold shrimp cocktail (all of us) wine and finely bubbly at midnight.  Carbonated non-alcoholic options were always available, of course.

I don’t recall if Brendan and Shawna drove up to get the girls, but I think we picked them up and brought them to our house and dad/mom drove up to retrieve them.  The rest of the week, through Friday the 5th, mostly involved getting things ready for us to fly to Florida on Saturday the 6th.  From the calendar it appears that:  we renewed our domain name, and possibly our hosting plan; one of us had a doctor’s appointment, and; we went out to a movie with John and Diane and then had dinner.

 

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NOTE:  This post does not contain any photos.

 

THURSDAY 22 February (T2) — The family arrives for the cruise

Katie (our 20-something grand-daughter) arrived from North Carolina ahead of the rest of the family, made her way to the Hyatt Place (via Uber?), and checked-in to the room she was sharing with Marilyn.  We were all hungry so we took her to Carrabba’s for dinner.

Marilyn arrived later from St. Louis, Missouri and waited for our son (Brendan) and daughter (Meghan) and their families to arrive from Michigan.  Once everyone was at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, they got a cab to take them to their respective hotels.

Katie, Marilyn, and Meghan/Chris all stayed at the same hotel we were in.  Brendan and his family stayed at the nearby Embassy Suites as they got a room that would sleep all four of them.

Marilyn, Meghan, and Chris had not had dinner, so we walked to the nearby Publix supermarket where they pickup up ready-to-eat sandwiches and chips and brought them back to the hotel.  We sat in the breakfast room, which had a high table for six, and chatted while they ate.  Brendan’s clan made their own arrangements for dinner.  ABIR (or learned the next day) they had pizza.

Everyone arrived safely, and with all of their luggage, which were the main things.  (When traveling by air, we always try to arrive enough ahead of whatever we will be doing to allow time to go shopping in the event that we need to replace the contents of a lost piece of checked luggage.)  Air travel is always a bit exhausting, but there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as everyone was genuinely looking forward to the cruise.

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NOTE:  There are not photos for this post.

 

WEDNESDAY 21 February (T1) — A Family Cruise is just around the corner

Our cruise on the Disney DREAM was set for departure on Friday, 23 February at 3 PM EDT.  We like to be in the vicinity of a cruise port somewhat ahead of time, so Linda booked a flight for mid-morning today.  Delta Airlines again, of course, as Delta has a major hub at Detroit Metropolitan (Wayne County) International Airport (DTW) and can get us non-stop to many places in the USA.

We were up at 6 AM, got dressed, set the thermostats on HOLD at lower than usual temperatures, and loaded out luggage into the F-150.  We were going to take Linda’s Honda HR/V, but she got a recall notice yesterday for a possible fuel pump problem.  We could not afford having the problem occur enroute to the airport, so we took the truck.  We left at 6:45 AM and arrived at the US Park facility, adjacent to the airport property, about an hour later.  The shuttle was coming down our aisle as we parked and picked us up along with several other customers.  We were at the drop-off point in the garage attached to the main (McNamara) terminal by 8:15 AM, well ahead of our 10:20 AM departure.

We normally roll our bags into the terminal, print the luggage tags for the two larger bags, attach them to the bags and then get in the self-tagged luggage drop-off line, which is usually long and understaffed.  Before crossing into the terminal, however, we noticed a DELTA self-tagged luggage drop counter in the garage.  It was staffed, and there was no line, so we figured we would try it.  There were about eight kiosks for printing the luggage tags, so we took care of that in short order.  There was a short line at the drop-off counter by then, so we joined the queue.  It did not take long for it to be our turn, and in no time our bags were checked.  The agent asked if we wanted paper boarding passes, so we said “yes”; it never hurts to have a backup.  A good start to our trip.

The next step in the process was clearing through the TSA checkpoint.  We had “checked in” for the flight online yesterday and had our electronic boarding passes on our phones.  This was the first time we would go through a TSA checkpoint since we qualified for the Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) and got our Global Entry (GE) cards from the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  We noticed that the boarding passes said “TSA Pre-check” and also said “Digital ID.”  We knew what the first one meant, but we were not sure about the second.

We went to the TSA Pre-check area, showed our boarding passes, and walked right in.  No line.  We were directed to the left where an agent had us stand in front of a camera lens, and then waved us through; no need to show our passport, license, boarding pass, or any other additional ID.  We were motioned towards a scanner lane with no line, set our small carry-on cases and a few personal effects (glasses, belt for me because of the buckle, phone with holder (metal clips), and keys) into a tub on the conveyor and walked through the scanner.  There were no issues and we were through; all without having to remove our shoes!  This was our easiest airport entry ever; more than worth the time and cost to get the TTP/GE program/card (the cost of which was reimbursed by AMEX/DELTA).  All-in-all a much better and less stressful experience than the last time we were here earlier this year.

And with that, there was nothing else to do except wait to board the aircraft.  We always travel with our iPads, which we use for a wide variety of things, such as:  reading, streaming, games/puzzles, research, maps, checking on weather, or logging in to subscribed services, including checking-in when appropriate.  For travel, however, we usually do the final check-in on our phones so that we have the boarding pass / QR code immediately available.  To make sure it is also immediately accessible, we take a screen shot so we don’t have to (rely on) use the app or website.  Sometimes we also bring actual books, but usually avoid the added weight and bulk in our luggage.

Frankly, commercial air travel is not very comfortable nor is it much fun.  I say that as a licensed private pilot.  Most of the seating is too small (narrow) and too crowded together (front-to-back).  Sure, comfort class (if you can get it) and first class (if you can afford it) provide a bit more room, but we choose to spend our money on things like cruises that are slightly less ephemeral.  The dumbest thing about the passenger aviation industry, however, is the way they load the aircraft.

IMHO, aircraft with a single loading door near the front, should be loaded from the rear to the front.  The first people on are the ones seated in the last row.  No “running the gauntlet” and bumping into other passengers to get to our seat.  If the first-class passengers don’t want to mingle with everyone else, create a separate, enclosed waiting area for them.  EVERYONE is limited to one carry-on item that does not exceed the allowed size so that it will absolutely fit in the overhead pin BY THEIR SEAT.  That way, everyone is guaranteed to have a place for their carry-on bag BY THEIR SEAT.  A second small item that will fit under the seat in front is fine with me.

Now that I’ve had my say, I will regain some perspective and acknowledge that, in the end, the only thing that really matters is that the plane takes off and lands safely without any incidents, such as rude/disorderly passengers, or doors that blow off mid-flight.  As for our flight, all’s well that ends well, which ours’ did.

The rest of the family booked flights for the following day.  Once we deplaned at FTL, we headed to baggage claim, retrieved our two checked roller bags, and then headed outside to find the ride-share area.  We booked an Uber, and in short order we were picked up and on our way to the Hyatt Place hotel near Port Hollywood.  We are still relatively new to using Uber, but so far it has worked well for us.

I don’t recall if our room was ready when we arrived at the hotel, but if not, we did not have to wait very long.  Given the price, the room was nothing special, but it was fine for us.  And it had a mini-fridge, which meant we could get keep some beverages cold and/or store any leftovers from meals we ate out.  Besides, we knew ahead of time that the price had more to do with a location that is convenient to both the airport and the cruise port than with the accommodations themselves.

The first two cruises we ever took (2012 and 2013), on the MSC Poetia, sailed from Port Hollywood, Florida.  I suspect a lot of construction has taken place since then, and there was certainly construction ongoing in the area, but neither of us had any specific recollections of the Port to serve as a comparison.

The hotel was a comfortable/safe walking distance to a major shopping area that included a Publix supermarket and several restaurants.  We wanted to stretch our legs anyway, so we went in search of dinner.  ABIR, we ended up at a Poke’ Bowl place and had tasty meals.  We then stopped at the Publix and bought some beverages and perhaps some snacks, but I’m not sure about the latter.

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NOTE:  There are no photos for this post.

 

TUESDAY 20 February (T0) — A Last Minute Thing

By 8 PM, we were basically fully packed and settled in to watch TV before going to bed at bit earlier than usual as, and we wanted to get a good night’s sleep in advance of our flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida tomorrow morning.  But there always seem to be last minute things, and this time it involved the cat’s feeder or, more specifically, the wooden enclosure I built back in August 2023, to house her automatic feeder.  A critter, which turned out to be a raccoon, had been clawing and/or biting the opening where the food drops into a metal bowl, trying to get to the feeder itself.  I decided at the last minute (11 PM) that I needed to reinforce that area before we left.

I made a quick trip to the barn to fetch tools, screws, and see what wood scraps I might have.  I found a couple pieces of 5/8” plywood left over from the original housing project.  They were the same width as the front panel; perfect.  A little drilling, dry fitting, and attaching these pieces to the front with screws, and I was satisfied that the critter would at least be delayed from succeeding until we got home.  So much for getting to bed early and relaxed.  I think that the housing is going to need a metal sheathing at some point in the future.  That point, however, will be when the daytime temperatures are more pleasant for doing this kind of work.

 

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Note:  There are four (4) photos in this post, all taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

TUESDAY 26 to SUNDAY 31 December 2023 — Wrapping up the year

Marilyn was here until she started for home on the 27th.  Our calendar suggests that Linda (and Marilyn) might have had lunch with Diane on the 26th, and that Linda and I definitely went to John and Diane’s house for dinner on the 27th.  Getting together with them between Christmas day and New Year’s Eve is something we done most years since our eldest children were born in 1978, if we are not traveling, of course.  It looks like we also Zoomed with Paul and Nancy on the 29th, but that is something we do fairly regularly anyway.

 

The dinner table decorated with Happy New Year! 2024 napkins.

One of the things we did during the last couple of weeks was create a Happy New Year card.  In the past we have done a “year in review holiday letter” that included, as much as possible, at least one photo from each month, but focused on major events and outings.  We don’t have any notes on the calendar regarding this, so I don’t know the exact dates that were involved.  Nor does it matter.  What matters is we got in done in time to mail it out and have them arrive by January 1st.

 

 

 

 

 

The “girls” at work in the kitchen preparing the New Year’s Eve dinner.

 

Sadie’s place setting at the dinner table.  As Madeline got older we started using placemats that had something interesting on them for them learn.  We started with alphabet placemats.  This one has to do with addition of numbers.

Of note is that we decided to use Shutterfly for the first time to create the holiday card.  Our son/daughter-in-law have used it for some time for all sorts of things, including an annual calendar that they gift to us at Christmas.  The quality of the products has always been very high and Linda suspected that this approach would be quicker than me putting together the annual letter.  She was right, and we were both pleased with the result.

 

 

The big, and not quite as big, sous chefs with their 2024 tiaras.

 

 

 

Knowing that Brendan and Shawna would appreciate some adult only time on New Year’s Eve, Linda offered to have the girls sleep over at our house.  Following are a few photos of our dinner meal, which I’m sure the girls helped the “Ama” prepare.

 

 

 

 

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Note:  This post contains three (3) photos, all taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.

 

MONDAY 25 December 2023 — A Christmas Surprise

Although we do not celebrate Christmas (Easter, etc.) as religious holidays, we have always gathered as a family, if possible, on these days.  Since Madeline came into the world 11 years ago, it has been the family tradition to gather at her parent’s house (our son and daughter-in-law) on Christmas day.  The tradition has always been to have some form of breakfast meal before opening gifts.  That meal has occasionally involved some serious cooking, but more recently has been fruit and bagels with lots of choices of things to put on the bagels.

 

The family at the breakfast table, minus Linda (who is taking the photo).  L-2-R, Chris, Meghan, Madeline, Brendan, Shawna, Sadie and me (Bruce).  Marilyn’s right arm is visible in the lower left of the frame.  Note that Brendan’s family is sporting matching holiday pajamas.

 

Madeline poses in front of the Christmas tree, which is surrounded by wrapped gifts.

Christmas is still a big deal for the two youngest grand-daughters, as the previous photos show, but this Christmas held a special surprise; the revealing of the family cruise in late February 2024 on the Disney Crise Line ship DREAM.  The moment was met with the anticipated squeals of delight.

The girls were, understandably, very excited, especially the 11-year-old (Madeline) who exclaimed (in a high-pitched, excited voice) “I finally get to go on a cruise.”  This seemed to imply that she was “finally” getting to do something that she felt she deserved to do but had somehow been arbitrarily and unfairly denied the experience.  And she was very much aware that Linda and I (Ama and Apa to Sadie) had been on a couple of cruises recently and obviously had enjoyed the experience.  But she had been to Walt Disney World three times and had a very tangible understanding of what it meant to be doing something “Disney.”  We also knew she had been hoping to go a cruise someday (sooner rather than later) and we were pleased at her obvious excitement, and that we were able to make this happen sooner rather than later.

The itinerary was western Caribbean, including Cozumel, but that was not an important detail at this stage.  This was going to be all about the cruise, which would include a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirate Day.”  Arrrgh, matey.

 

Sadie takes her turn in front of the Christmas tree and gifts.

The 5-year-old (Sadie) was also very excited, of course, especially when she understood that whatever else this experience might be about, it was going to be a Disney-based family outing that included her parents, sister, and everyone else in the room, plus her cousin Katie, who was not able to make it home from North Carolina for the holidays.

Linda had booked the cruise, in consultation with all of the affected adults, and we were covering the cost of the four adjacent staterooms and the shore excursions, with everyone responsible for their own transportation and hotel costs.  So, it was really a big Christmas present for everyone, including us.  There will be blog posts on this family adventure sometime in the spring of 2024.

 

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Note:  There are seven (7) photos in this post.  Photos were taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda were taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 24 December 2023 — A Christmas Eve family gathering

One of our family traditions is that our daughter (Meghan) and husband (Chris) host Christmas Eve dinner.  We are not always home at this time of year, but when we are, we look forward to this event.  It’s not just dinner; it’s a whole day family gathering, and many hands contribute to the preparation of the dinner meal.  And it’s not just a meal; it’s a themed meal based on traditional dishes from other countries/cultures.  This year’s theme was African, specifically Ethiopian.  Following are a few photos from that day:

 

When Marilyn visits us for the Christmas holidays, part of tradition is to assemble a jigsaw puzzle.  ABIR, the one this year was borrowed from our daughter, Meghan.  I also recall that it was difficult to do, so I suspect that Linda and I had started on it before Marilyn arrived.  (Photo by Linda)

Marilyn watches as Madeline mixes food coloring into the icing for the cookies.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

Meghan, Marilyn, and Madeline working on the cookies.  (Photo by Linda)

L-2-R, Brendan (our son), Sadie (the 5-year-old), Meghan (our daughter), Madeline (the 11-year-old), and Shawna (our daughter-in-law).  (Photo by Linda)

L-2-R, Chris (our son-in-law), Linda, and Madeline working their way through the serving line.

Another view of the serving line for dinner.  L-2-R, Marilyn, Chris, and Madeline.

A closer view of the main/hot dinner dishes.  Both our daughter and son are excellent cooks, and coordinate with Linda in making sure there are plant-based dishes available at family gatherings.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Note:  This post has three (3) photos, all taken by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

SUNDAY 17 to SATURDAY 23 December 2023 — Getting ready for the holidays

Things were busy for us, as they are for many people, during the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve and the end-of-year holidays.  Our middle grand-daughter, Madeline, turned 11 years old this week, and we attended a birthday gathering for her on the 17th at her family’s house in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She is almost as tall as Linda, and is so grown up in many ways.  We also built a gingerbread house early in this week.  It was a kit that our friend, Kate, gave us late last week when we met her for dinner.  Here are three photos of it from the 18th:

 

Gingerbread house, left oblique view.

 

Gingerbread house, front view.

 

Gingerbread house, right oblique view

 

From our calendar for this time period, it appears that Linda made a second trip to the bakery and had an appointment with her audiologist, who takes care of her Cochlear Implant and associated devices.

On the 19th, we had the core group of our neighborhood “gang” over for some pre-holiday festivities.  We really do enjoy the company of these people.  Although we are all retired, we all seem to have active, busy lives.  As a result, we don’t get to spend as much time with them as we would like.

Linda’s older/only sister, Sr. Marilyn, arrived on the 21st, having taken two days to drive here from St. Louis.  She has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis, Missouri all of her adult life, but has spent many Christmas holidays with us over those years.  Linda and I are both part of relatively small families.  I have a sister and Linda has three siblings, and none of our siblings live in Michigan, or even close by.  We appreciate and value that our children, and our two youngest grand-daughters, have had a chance to get to know Marilyn.

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Note:  There are 3 photos in this post, all taken by me (Bruce) on a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

SUNDAY 03 – SATURDAY 16 December 2023 — Getting back into home life

 

Sunday, December 3rd, 2023 — Getting the house back online.

When we are away from the house for more than a few days, I deactivate or adjust various things:

  1. I deactivate the water softener and chlorinator/filter by unplugging the AC power adapters.  The coin batteries remain in the controllers, but when the signal for a regeneration cycle, the motorized valves cannot respond.  Thus, nothing happens.
  2. I also turn off the UPS units for most of the electronics in the house. The exceptions are the one in the basement that powers the Xfinity gateway/WiFi-router and network switch, and the one by Linda’s desk in the kitchen, which powers the network switch that the whole-house generator communication module is plugged into.
  3. I also shut off the circuit breakers that feed the RV electrical outlets in our driveway.
  4. We might set some mechanical clock timers to control a couple of lights.
  5. We set all of the thermostats down and place them in a HOLD condition. (The thermostat in the workshop of the barn is set to maintain a temperature above freezing in the storeroom above it.)

Thus, one of the first things I have to do upon our return is reverse all of this.  I plug the water softener and chlorinator/filter back in, and will also typically initiate a regeneration cycle on one of them.  Which one depends on their remaining water treatment capacity.  UPS units are turned back on and electronics are powered up.  Thermostats are returned to the automatic/programmed operation, and light timers are put back in the switched position.  The RV outlet by the driveway in front of the house obviously gets turned on.

Apparently I have the (annoying) habit of laundering EVERYTHING upon our return from a trip.  In the case of RV travel, that includes towels and bedding in addition to clothes; sometimes even jackets, if I feel they need it.  This does not happen, however, in one day.  For one, it’s too much stuff that would take too much time and, for another, that much laundry at one go would overload the septic system.  And nobody wants that.  I suspect that I started on this task today, moving everything to the basement, sorting it, and selecting a load or two to start.

 

Monday, December 4th, 2023 — Chores, Chores, and more Chores

Whatever else we did today, I suspect that I spent part of it continuing to do the laundry.  I don’t mind doing the laundry, in fact I somewhat enjoy it.  In any event, it has to be done and Linda handles the kitchen pretty much by herself, so this duty falls to me.  It’s also likely that I powered up my laptop computer, downloaded e-mails, and started copying photos from our various devices to our NAS.

 

Tuesday, December 5th, 2023 — Winterizing the Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer

I do not recall why I waited, but according to our calendar I winterized the Airstream travel trailer today.  My best guess as to why I waited a few days was that I had too much else to do on Sunday and Monday immediately after returning home, but it’s also possible that the weather today was more amenable.  Whatever the case, absent any other information to the contrary, I will just have to accept that today was the day for this task.  This is not one of my favorite RV maintenance tasks, but it is what it is and it has to be done, as the RV portion of our barn is not climate-controlled.  Actually, they main thing I really don’t like is having to do it in the cold.

 

This is a photo of the internals of the thermostat in the shop portion of the barn.  I don’t recall why I photographed it, but I obviously removed the cover to check something.  As it turned out, it is wired correctly, and it works just fine.

For the rest of this time period, we attended to various things.  I obviously put the Airstream travel trailer back in the barn once it was winterized.  Linda had a routine medical appointment, did some child-care for the two younger grand-daughters, resumed walking with her friend, Diane.  She also did some accounting work for the bakery, and booked shore excursions for the Disney Cruise Line DREAM in late February of next year.  (NOTE:  The two youngest grand-daughters did NOT know about this cruise yet, but I did not upload this post until May 2024.)

We also had two different HVAC service companies at the house; Lakeside Service takes care of our BOSCH hot-water baseboard heating system, and Schutz Heating & Cooling takes care of our Mitsubishi-Trane Heat Pump system, which they installed.  We had dinner with friends (and fellow Prevost converted motorcoach owners), Chuck and Barbara, and with our friend, Kate.  We also opened up our Boondockers Welcome site to accommodate a special request from a couple who had stayed with us before.  They needed a place to camp for a few nights while they took care of some medical issues at the University of Michigan Hospital.  It turns out that we are one of the few good options for this situation, and we have had other RVers stay here for the same reason.

 

Saturday, December 16th, 2023 — Cloning, ham radio, and a concert

Earlier in the week, I took the 1 TB Samsung 870 EVO SSD (solid state drive) out of my ASUS laptop computer and tried to clone it to a 2 TB version of the same drive.  I wasn’t sure I had done it correctly, so I arranged to go over to Mike’s house (W8XH, from SLAARC, the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club).  He did the clone of my original HDD to the 1 TB SSD a few years ago and used his equipment to do this one.  While I was there, I had a chance to look at some amateur (ham) radio gear that was for sale and for which he was acting as custodian.

 

This Kenwood transceiver caught my eye, but I was equally interested in the HP Signal Generator underneath it.  Ultimately, I had to pass on buying anything as I am not currently active enough in the hobby to justify buying more equipment.

In the evening, we attended the Holiday “Pops” (popular music) concert of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (AASO) at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor main campus.  The orchestra was good, but our main reason for being there was the Ann Arbor Youth Chorus standing behind the orchestra in the photo below.

 

The AASO and AAYC in concert.  Our middle grand-daughter, Mads, is in the last row, 6th from the left.  She was still 10 on this date, but would turn 11 a week later.

 

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Note:  This post contains two (2) photos near the end.  Both were taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

FRIDAY 01 December 2023 — Another travel day

Our trip last month from home to Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama in October was around 1,400 miles and took 15 days because of our transit of the Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP).  The trip in the other direction was estimated at around 1,050 miles and a little over 14-hours driving time.  A shorter distance, for sure, as it would be more direct and we were not planning our route to include any special sites along the way.  Still, that would be an average daily driving distance of about 265 miles for each of the four travel days we planned for the trip, with a total driving time of 21 hours for an average 5 hours per day.  Our trip yesterday, however, was only 223 miles, so we still had 827 miles to travel over three days, or about 275 miles per day.  That was still within the 150 – 300 miles per day target that seems to work well for us.  In spite of cold temperatures, which would require us to quickly winterize the travel trailer once we got home, we were nonetheless eager to get there.

Our next overnight stop was the Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, a place we have stayed several times, including at the beginning of our drive down the NTNP.  We like this RV park, and find it convenient when RVing up and down I-65 through Kentucky and Tennessee.  Our mapping/routing apps indicated a 256-mile drive which we estimated to be about 5 hours driving time at our estimated average speed of 50 MPH.

Check-in at RV parks is generally sometime after noon, but can be as late as 3 PM.  A call to the resort confirmed that we could arrive and check-in sooner than that.  I suspect, but I do not recall, that we broke camp and were on our way between 9 and 9:30 AM and arrived between 2 and 2:30 PM.  As best I recall (ABIR), the weather was nice when we arrived, which gave us plenty of time to leisurely “make camp,” and then go for a walk around the RV park.  We then detached the truck from the travel trailer and went in search of food and fuel.  I do not recall what the weather was like during the evening and over-night hours, but if we had storms (which can be fierce in this area) they must not have been too bad as we were not awakened and our truck/trailer did not have any damage.

 

SATURDAY 02 December 2023 — A minor technical issue, and home at last

As mentioned above, when we left Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama on 30 November, we intended to take four days to make the trip home, stopping for three nights along the way, and arriving home on Sunday, December 3rd.  Indeed, Linda had made a reservation for each of the three nights.  ABIR these many months later, our last and final stop was booked at the Lebanon / Cincinnati NE KOA northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio and east of I-75, another KOA where we have stopped in the past.  The distance for this leg was approximately 300 miles, with a time estimate a little over 4 hours, which we figured would be closer to 6 hours.  (We use KOAs because when they are convenient to our route as it is easy to book online and easy to cancel with little or no penalty.)

One of the issues for us, when towing the travel trailer, is that the fuel economy of the F-150 / trailer combination usually averages around 12 MPG.  This is about 60% – 50% of the 20 – 24 MPG we can get from the truck during extended highway travel without the trailer.  We have a 36-gallon fuel tank so, hypothetically we can travel 432 miles before running out of gasoline, but we do not like the run the tank below the 1/4 mark if possible.  As a practical cutoff, as we approach the 300-mile mark of a leg we start to incur additional travel time because we have to stop for fuel before reaching our destination.  That also means trying to find a filling station that we can get into, position the rig for good access to a pump, and exit without getting stuck or damaging the trailer.  Yeah, we worry about things like that.  (Our preferred routine is to get to our campsite, set up camp, and then disconnect the truck and go find fuel.)  Fuel economy combines with other factors to determine a realistic ETA such as:  a) the time required to exit an RV park and make our way on surface streets to the highway we plan to travel, and b) the fact that we tend to drive at 62 MPH on highways posted at 65 or 70 MPH.  Basing our ETAs on that average speed has worked remarkably well for us.

Our only technical mishap of the entire trip (with the trailer) happened this morning.  Everything was going according to our usual routine for breaking camp and packing up.  When I tried to unplug the “50A RV” shorepower cord from the socket end of the Hughes Power Watchdog EPO surge/transient protector device, however, the ground pin on the cord broke off and remained lodged in the Power Watchdog.  The ground pin turned out to be potted metal surrounded by brass, and was much weaker by design that I would have expected.  Also, the plug was molded so, given these two facts, there was no chance of being able to do a field repair on this expensive piece of junk.

We did not have a spare “50 A” cord with us, as they are just too bulky and heavy to carry a second one.  (We always had a spare in the converted motorcoach, but we have the space and load capacity for that.)  We also did not want to try and buy a new one as they are expensive, the RV park store was unlikely to have (a good) one much less at a bargain price, and we did not want to take the time to go find one somewhere else.  We did have a “15 A” cord that was sufficient to run the lights (LED) and control circuits for the refrigerator, hot water heater, and furnace, which would allow us to use propane as the heat source, but because we were moving into an area with much colder temperatures, we were not comfortable with that option.

While our planned drive today was 300 miles, we were still almost 600 miles from our house.  That distance represented a 12-hour drive, including one or two fuel stops.  We pondered the situation for a while, but fairly quickly decided to cancel our overnight stop for this evening at the Lebanon / Cincinnati NE KOA, and just go home.  I probably drove faster that 62 MPH, but we still arrived home in the dark just ahead of a looming drop in temperatures.

 

The dining room portion of our open floor plan with the entry vestibule and kitchen.  Rather than try to keep the trailer warm, which would use a lot propane, we unloaded most of the food and other cold-sensitive items from the interior of the trailer.  Some of them are spread out on the table and others are on the floor in the vestibule by the stairs to the lower level.

 

Since we did not have a chance to winterize the travel trailer before getting home, I plugged it in to shorepower (which I had to turn on inside the house), turned on the propane furnace, and set it to about 45 degrees F.  Winterizing the trailer in the next few days would be a high a priority.

 

More of the stuff from the trailer on the counters in the kitchen.  Stuff tends to get loaded into the trailer gradually but unloaded quickly, so the unloading process tends to reveal just how much stuff we have onboard.

 

Much to our delight, and something of a surprise, Cabella (the cat who is not our cat but is basically becoming our cat) quickly appeared and did not hesitate coming into the house.  I worried about her the whole time we were away, even though our neighbor (Mike) was checking on her automatic feeder every week and restocking it as needed.  I was relieved that Cabella had clearly been getting enough to eat and looked well.

 

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Note:  There are three (3) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce), were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 30 November, 2023 — Escaping the weather and making our way home

 

We were keeping a close eye on the weather forecast over the last few days.  Based on what was happening, and forecast to happen, we decided to leave Luxury RV Resort a day early to try to get ahead of a weather system that had the potential to make breaking camp, driving, and setting up camp somewhat unpleasant.  Yesterday, Linda made one-night reservations at Birmingham South KOA (Birmingham, Alabama) and Grand Ole RV Resort (Goodlettsville, Tennessee).  When possible, we like to know we have a place to spend the night before we hookup and pull out.

 

Our travel trailer in its site for the night at Birmingham South KOA near Birmingham, Alabama.

We were successful in avoiding the weather and had an uneventful day leaving Gulf Shores, Alabama except for the “info-navi-tainment” screen/system in the F-150, which had developed an issue wherein it could not remember previous or stored destinations or how to pair with my Pixel 6 Pro smartphone.  I had spent quit a bit of time the last few days fussing around with this, resetting the system and installing updates, all to no avail.  I could still pair my phone, but had to initiate it manually each time.  The GPS/navigation system still worked, but if we turned the engine off for any reason, such as stopping for fuel, we had to re-enter the address of our destination.  Not the end of the world, but the most annoying thing was the radio came on when I turned the ignition on, and I could NOT turn it off or adjust the volume before performing a soft-rebooting of the system.  It was annoying, given the price of the truck, but we have a bumper-to-bumper extended warranty that includes all of the electronic systems onboard, so we knew it would be taken care of once we got home.  Besides, Linda always puts the destination in her phone and tracks our route and progress in parallel with the built-in system.

 

A view of the other side of our travel trailer in its site for the night at Birmingham South KOA near Birmingham, Alabama.  I mean … it’s a thing of beauty and joy to behold, so it has to be shared.

The drive to our first overnight stop was uneventful and we arrived at the Birmingham South KOA near Birmingham, Alabama, well before sunset.  It was a very nice RV park, and setting up camp was routine, even if we were a bit out of practice after sitting in the same spot for a month.  The park was already decorated for the Christmas Holiday season, which gave it a festive look and feel.

We unhooked the truck and drove around the area a bit, mostly to find fuel and food (Panera), but also to just have a look.  In the process we found ourselves driving through some very nice areas with very nice houses.  This wasn’t the first time this had happened to us.  I’m not sure why, but it came as bit of surprise just how much (apparent) wealth there is spread out all over the nation.

 

The entrance road and office/store/laundry building at Birmingham South KOA after sunset, all decked out for the Christmas holidays with the lights turned on.

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Note:  There are 19 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUE 21 – WED 29 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 3/3

 

This post covers our last nine full days at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Our reservation was through the night of the 30th with departure on December 1st but we left on 30 November, one day early, to try and get ahead of a weather system that was moving our way.  Up to that point, however, the weather had generally been very nice.  Gulf Shores is a lovely place, climate-wise, in the late fall and winter.

At the Sunliner Diner in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Counter-clockwise (L-2-R) around the table:  Evan, Anne, Paul, Robert (obscured, at his request), Linda (behind Nancy’s arm) and Nancy.

We continued to visit with Paul, Nancy, and Robert and occasionally also Kate and Charlie from the nearby Escapees RV Club Rainbow Plantation RV Park.  This small group of people are very much kindred spirits; each of them very much of the same mind as us when it comes to religion and politics and food (by and large), which makes for a comfortable and enjoyable time together.

This antique car is inside the Sunline Diner.  The doors on the passenger side have been removed to make a dining booth.

 

Paul makes a final inspection of the layout of our Thanksgiving dinner food in the Luxury RV Clubhouse in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Paul and Nancy’s son, Evan, and his wife, Anne, drove down from Ann Arbor, Michigan and joined us for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Nancy arranged for the use of the Luxury RV Resort clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day, which allowed us to share a meal in comfort with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended, including Kate and Charlie, and shared the work of putting together a nice meal.

 

 

 

 

The first of two tables for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Robert (obscured), Nancy, Anne, and Evan.

 

The other table for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Charlie, Paul, me (Bruce), Linda, and Kate.

 

Me (Bruce) sitting on the sofa in our Airstream travel trailer and using my iPad Pro.  Since Bella is also on the sofa, we were probably dog-sitting while Paula and Nancy were doing something that precluded taking their dog along.

We made a couple of visits to the Sunliner Diner during this time, and visited Historic Fort Morgan at the tip of the peninsula that extends west from Gulf Shores into Mobile Bay, stopping for lunch at a bayside restaurant.  Nice weather and dramatic sunsets continued during these nine days, with the later eventually portending of approaching weather.

 

 

 

A view of Fort Morgan, Fort Morgan State Historic Site, Alabama.

 

One of the entrances to the interior of Fort Morgan SHS.  The rectangular block centered above the opening says “Fort Morgan 1830.”  The two parallel lines on the pavement are embedded railroad ties.  My presumption was that these made it possible to use trollies with railcar wheels to move heavy loads in/out of the Fort.

 

 

The previous photo, this photo, and the next two (2) photos were taken at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site.

 

From Wikipedia:  Fort Morgan is a historic masonry pentagonal bastion fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Alabama, United States. Named for American Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, it was built on the site of the earlier Fort Bowyer, an earthen and stockade-type fortification involved in the final land battles of the War of 1812. Construction was completed in 1834, and it received its first garrison in March of the same year.  …  Fort Morgan is at the tip of Mobile Point at the western terminus of State Route 180 (Alabama). It and Dauphin Island, on which Fort Gaines is situated, enclose Mobile Bay. The Alabama Historical Commission maintains the site.

 

An interior view of part of Fort Morgan, clearly showing the masonry construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another entrance tunnel into Fort Morgan.  I thought the way the bricks were arranged to create the arch was architecturally interesting, although I presumed that they were set this way for fundamentally structural reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the Sunliner Diner for breakfast before Robert checks out of Luxury RV Resort and heads for points West.  From L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  me (Bruce) taking a selfie of the group, Robert (obscured). Nancy, Paul, and Linda.

 

Robert’s class B motorhome and Jeep in front of the office at Luxury RV Resort while he connects them together in final preparation for his departure from the resort.  The foreground is a sitting area with a firepit.  To the left are some holiday decorations that are featured in the next two photos.

 

Linda provides a sense of scale for the Christmas holiday decorations at Luxury RV Resort; a travel trailer pulled by two Flamingoes.  Two lawn chairs and a Christmas tree with wrapped presents are also visible.  [Note that the door of the trailer is on the “driver” side, which is incorrect.  The main entrance doors of all commercial RVs are on the passenger/curb side, with the utility connections (hookups) on the driver/street side, and RV parks and campgrounds are built around this conventional arrangement.]

This photo of the other side of the trailer decoration shows more clearly that the trailer is a large/round straw/hay bale and that the trailer has tires.  A doll (or small mannequin) that is approximately half normal human-size, is holding one end of the brown sewer hose which runs down into the “dump” connection.

 

We were treated to a nice sunset on our final evening at Luxury RV Resort.  This view is looking southeast, so I could catch the sunset reflecting off of the windows in our travel trailer along with the general soft pink illumination of the aluminum siding and the effect of the color on the clouds to the southeast.

 

The play of light on the clouds seems to say “look at this trailer,” so I did.

 

A composite of four images creates a panoramic view of our final Gulf Shores sunset as it provides a wonderful backdrop for our travel trailer.

 

A composite of three images produces a panoramic photo of an amazing sunset behind some of the tall buildings in the downtown/beach area of Gulf Shores, Alabama, as seen from our travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.

 

One of the three images used for the previous composite photo highlighting the letters A I R S T R E A M across the rear of our travel trailer, just above the awing over the large/opening window.

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SAT 11 – MON 20 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 2/3

 

Magnetic Minnie Mouse name placards for Madeline and Sadie’s stateroom door on the Disney Dream.

During our second 10 days in Gulf Shores, Alabama, we did a variety of things.  Linda brought accounting work for the bakery, of course, and spent some time on that.  She also walked almost every day, and we went on a few hikes together.  Linda also spent time planning and preparing meals with Nancy and Robert, and the five of us (the three just mentioned plus Paul and myself) dined together almost every night.  We also continued to make plans, and purchase odds and ends, for the Disney cruise Linda booked for late February next year.  The two younger grand-daughters did not find out about this until Christmas, but I wasn’t posting in real-time anyway (obviously).

 

Our walks along the marsh and over to Gulf State Park afforded a variety of views.  I am always on the lookout for nature images that have an element of abstraction and this caught my eye.

 

As seen from this vantage point, the marsh surrounding Luxury RV Resort extends well to the north and east to Gulf State Park

 

We ate well during our time at Luxury RV Resort, which is to say, healthy, delicious, and attractive.  The dishes shown here are an amazing salad and a pear upside down cake.  Yummy.

The sunrises and sunsets in Gulf Shores can be spectacular, and we had several of each during these 10 days.  Our trailer was parked with the rear end pointing slightly east of south, so the large wrap-around rear windows provided good views of both the sunrise and the sunset; good enough at least to see that something was happening and get outside with the phone and/or camera if called for.

 

 

Our travel trailer and truck against a beautiful sunset, but this turned out to just be the warmup for what was to follow.

I suspect that most photographers take sunrise and sunset photos (and flower photos, etc.), always hoping to capture something stunning and unique.  They can be a bit of clique; I lay no claim to unique, and stunning is rare.  But one of the first photos I ever took that I thought was worth printing and looking at was a sunset I saw while stopped for the night in Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  I was on my way from my parents’ house in St. Louis, Missouri to Red Fox Music Camp, in southwest Massachusetts.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, and I was making the drive by myself, so that probably had something to do with why I liked the photo.  I still have the print, matted and framed, and on display in our rec room.  I have been interested in sunset (and sunrise) photos ever since then.

 

Ooh, that’s nice!  But wait, there’s more!

 

And here it is!  Sometimes you have to go wide, and sometimes you have to zoom in.  The photographic capabilities of the Google Pixel 6 Pro smartphone really are impressive.  And, most importantly, I always have it with me, which cannot be said for my SONY cameras, as much as I enjoy using them and like the results.

 

Robert (out-of-frame to the left, Nancy (right) and me (center) making pasta for dinner.  (Robert does not like his image displayed in social media, so I have tried to respect that in my posts without ignoring his important presence in our group.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought this more subtle, pastel sunset was worth capturing and sharing.  Pretty isn’t always dramatic.

 

Again, zooming in and isolating the most important features of the scene resulted in a stronger photo, IMHO.  But hey, it’s my photo and I get to make that decision.

 

Linda was out for a morning walk and captured this image of work being done to restore the beach in central Gulf Shores, Alabama.  These large pipes were serving a dual purpose, being used here to drag and smooth the sand.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Another photo from the same vantage point as the previous one.  A bulldozer is moving larger quantities of sand.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The other use of these large pipes was pumping sand onto the beach from the dredging barges used to collect it just offshore, up and down the beach for quite some distance.  This stretch of the shore at the northern extent of the Gulf of Mexico is subject to serious weather during hurricane season and the attendant beach erosion.  Nice white-sand beaches, in pristine condition, are central to the economies of the many towns that dot this coastline, and to the region in general.  As such, considerable effort and resources are put into their maintenance.  (Photo by Linda).

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce), unless otherwise indicated, were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WED 01 – FRI 10 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort, Gulf Shores, Alabama (1/3)

This is the first of three (3) posts that cover our time in Gulf Shores, Alabama during the month of November, 2023.

We arrived at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama on November 1st per our reservation, which was for the entire month (we got a better rate that way).  We had stayed here before at the suggestion of our friends, Paul and Nancy, who now keep a 5th wheel trailer here during the winter, with their Goldendoodle, Bella.   Robert, our new friend from this past summer, and his dog Buddy (an English Retriever), were also there for the month.  Our friends, Kate and Charlie, were at their place at the Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV park in Summerdale, so not too far away.  Having explored the area on our previous visit, we were looking forward to just having some time to relax and enjoy the pleasant weather in the company of these friends, including walks to the nearby seashore nearby (~1/2 mile), along with occasional visits to a few of the many things to see and do in the area, such as Fairhope, Alabama.

 

Our first sunrise in Gulf Shores, Alabama (for this visit) as seen from the rear windows of our 2020 Airstream Flying Cloud 27 FBT travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.  The weather was generally good during our visit; not too much rain with mild temperatures and some nice sunrises and sunsets.

 

The passenger/curb side of our travel trailer parked in our site for the month at Luxury RV Resort.  Spacious enough site with a concrete pad/patio with a picnic table and good utility hookups.

 

 

A view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico looking east from the central beach plaza where Hwy 59 ends between E Beach and W Beach roads.

 

A view to the west from the same vantage point as the previous photo.

 

Gulf Shores is a somewhat quirky beachside town that trades on its location.  It’s a well-maintained and attractive place, with beautiful white sand beaches, restaurants (with fish and seafood on offer, of course), night life, surf shops, t-shirt shops, and quintessential “tourist” shops, as well as a very nice state park and lots of nature and history in the surrounding area.  It is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly place as well.  The central beach area was approximately a 1/2 mile walk from the RV park.  The photos that follow highlight a few of these things.

 

Souvenir City on the west side of Hwy 59 in downtown Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Linda is standing in the mouth of the giant shark “sculpture,” which is where the entrance to the store is located.  This place is definitely a “beach town” souvenir shop, and we spent an obligatory amount of time exploring all that it had to offer, which was impressive for its sheer quantity and diversity.

 

The “kitsch” at Souvenir City didn’t end with the entrance shark.  This fiberglass model of the head end of a hammerhead shark was setup for photo ops, and we used it in accordance with the mandatory rules of  tourist etiquette.

 

We only got the entire group together a few times during the month, but Nancy arranged for the use of the RV park clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day so we could share a meal with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended and shared the work of putting together a nice meal, but a bit more on that in post 3 of this set.

 

What would a tourist/beach town be without a diner?  Hungry, I suppose.  Not a problem here.  The Sunliner Diner might not be authentic, in the sense of having been around for a long time, but it definitely had the look and feel, with some nicely preserved/restored old cars thrown in.

 

Just south of Luxury RV Resort, a major marsh extends east from Hwy 59 all the way to Gulf State Park.  This boardwalk provided walking access to the Wade Ward Nature Park part of it.  Linda walked almost every day while we were camped in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and I sometimes went too, along with Paul and Nancy.

 

 

The marsh mentioned in the previous photo caption clearly had some open water as well.  We were always on the lookout for wildlife, especially alligators, of course.  We saw birds and waterfowl and small animals, but never spotted any “gators.”  The Luxury RV Resort office building and a few RVs are visible, center right in the photo.

 

Our travel trailer, center-frame, with the bathhouse to center-right.  It was close enough to be really convenient.  Also, the clubhouse was just across the street, and it also had bathrooms with showers.

 

This photo was taken some four (4) hours after the previous one.  I think Linda is looking out over Mobile Bay as enlarging the photo faintly shows tall buildings on the distant horizon (in the direction of Mobile, Alabama).  But don’t hold me to this.

 

 

The Gulf of Mexico from the beach west of the Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Even when the weather was not all sunshine and unicorns, it was interesting and sometimes dramatic.  A couple of oil platforms are just barely visible on the horizon, center and left in the frame.

 

Another photo from the same place on the beach.  From left-to-right:  Buddy, Robert, Linda, Nancy, Paul, and Bella.  There was a small parking area out-of-frame to the left, with public access to the beach.

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Note:  This post contains 17 photos with captions, and some minor narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 31 October 2023 — NTNP 14 of 14 — End of the Trace:  Emerald Mound (again) and the Town of Rocky Springs, near Natchez, MS

 

The only remaining wall of the Elizabeth Female Academy in Washington (West Natchez), Mississippi.  (See the next photo and caption.)

 

ELIZABETH FEMALE ACADEMY information sign.  Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  The Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818 in the town of Washington (West Natchez), was the first female educational institution in Mississippi. It was named after Mrs. Elizabeth Roach (later Greenfield), who donated the land on which the school was located. The school closed in 1845, due in part to the relocation of the state capital from Natchez to Jackson, the general shift in the center of population, and several epidemics of yellow fever in the area. The site was reduced to ruins by a fire in the late 1870s. Part of a brick wall is all that now remains of the Academy buildings.

Learn more at:  Elizabeth Female Academy – Wikipedia

 

The small sign post at the lower left of the photo says Old Trace with an arrow pointing to the right.  This section of the old (original) trail starts at the opening on the left. 

 

We walked on identified sections of the original (old) Trace when we could.  We enjoyed the short hikes and admired the natural beauty of these places but also thought about the arduous journeys that so many people made along this trail so many years ago and the history that surrounds it.

 

Over time and thousands upon thousands of footsteps, the path of the Trace gradually wore down below the surface level of the surrounding landscape.  As shown here , the depth at this point is over twice Linda’s height.

 

EMERALD MOUND NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK plaque.  We returned to Emerald Mound today as we only had a brief visit yesterday, mostly the find it.

 

 

The trail leading to the top of Emerald Mound was paved but steep.  This photo gives a sense of the height of the mound from the parking lot.

 

Linda on top of Emerald Mound heads towards a smaller mound and information sign.

 

This information sign and graphic provided a visualization of how archeologists think the structures atop Emerald Mound were arranged, appeared, and used.

 

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace.  Sections like this are sometimes labeled “Sunken Trace,” but if that was the case here, I did not document it.

 

A picture of me for scale (and just because) at a point where the Natchez Trace splits into two paths.  We rarely saw splits like this, and have no idea how common or rare this was on the original trail.

 

LOESS BLUFF information sign.  The loess bluff is the shear area behind the sign,  From MS Edge (Co-Pilot):  A loess bluff is a fascinating geological feature formed by the accumulation of windblown sediment known as loess.  Loess (pronounced LOW-ess) is a type of fine-grained, silty soil composed of particles deposited by the wind. It’s typically light yellow or tan in color.  During the Ice Age, glaciers covered the northern half of the United States. As these glaciers receded, they left behind vast expanses of bare land.  Continuous dust storms swept in from the western plains, carrying fine particles of dust and soil. These winds deposited the loess layer over the landscape.  The result?  Bluffs—steep, elevated landforms—made up of this windblown topsoil. Loess bluffs can be found in various regions around the world.  …  Mississippi also boasts its own loess bluffs, where nearly continuous dust storms during the Ice Age created a layer of sandy soil 30 to 90 feet deep.

 

THE TOWN OF ROCKY SPRINGS information sign.  The town was first settled in the 1790’s.  In 1860 it had a population of 2,616 people spread over a 25 square mile area.  Over 2,000 of those people were slaves who tended the fields of cotton, the main crop that made this town possible.

 

The historic Methodist church in Rocky Springs, Mississippi is the only remaining structure of Rocky Springs and continued to hold Sunday services until 2010.  The site and church are now maintained by the National Park Service.

 

MAGNUM SITE and GRINDSTONE FORD information sign.  The Magnum Site is a prehistoric mound and the Grindstone Ford was the threshold between civilization and wilderness on the Old Natchez Trace.

 

MAGNUM MOUND information sign.  Archeological excavation of this mound revealed much evidence about the prehistoric Plaquemine culture that was the precursor of the modern tribes of Louisiana and Mississippi.

 

A view of Magnum Mound from near the information sign.

 

GRINDSTONE FORD information sign.  The FORD marked the end of the old Natchez Trace District and the beginning of the (wilderness of the) Choctaw Nation.  But it was only “wilderness” in the eyes of the Europeans who were moving into and “settling” the area.

 

And that is the end of my 14th and last post on our trip down the Natchez Trace National Parkway.  It was a trip we had long talked about doing, and even planned for, and we were pleased to have finally done it.  Up next, our month in Gulf Shores, Alabama hanging out with friends.

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Note:  This post contains four (4) photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 30 October 2023 — NTNP 13 of 14 — Emerald Mound and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indian, Natchez, MS

 

When we planned our trip, the itinerary included a 1-night stop for 31 October 2023 at The Great Mississippi Tea Company, another Harvest Host location, near Brookhaven, Mississippi.  We had stayed there once before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

EMERALD MOUND information sign.  Built on top of a hill, this flat-topped 8-acre mound was in use from 1300 to 1600 AD by the Mississippian Indians, predecessors of the Natchez Indians.  It supported temples, ceremonial structures, and burials for the civic and religious leaders of a complex society.  It is second in size only to Monks Mound in Cahokia, Illinois.

 

Besides being a nice place to camp for the night (strictly boondocking), the hosts/owners of The Great Mississippi Tea Company were delightful and very welcoming.  We were given a tour of the place—including the tea plants in the fields and the processing facility—and bought some things in their gift shop (of course).  But they also brought us a tea service in the morning of our departure.  That was a nice touch, very nice.

 

Another view of Emerald Mound from the parking lot and entrance to the trail that leads to the top.

 

We were very much looking forward to returning to The Great Mississippi Tea Company, but canceled the stop based on the weather forecast, which called for temperatures near freezing the night we would be there.  In previous posts, I have mentioned the various reasons we can’t really boondock in our Airstream travel trailer, but I didn’t mention one of the most important; it’s really not that well insulated, and that is especially a problem in cold weather.

 

In another part of Natchez, MS we visited the site of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.  The smaller mounds found at sites like this could be easily overlooked if care was not being taken to preserve them and tell their story to any/all who visit.  To learn more, visit the Wikipedia entry at this link:  Grand Village of the Natchez – Wikipedia

 

Before canceling our HH stay, however, we checked with the office at the River View RV Park & Resort to make sure we could extend our stay, as we could not check in at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama until Wednesday 01 December.  The park was not full and there was no difficulty extending our stay for an additional night (3 total).

 

A banner sign on the museum wall at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

 

With that change in plans, we now had two full days to explore the southern end of the NTNP and the area around Natchez, Mississippi.

 

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Note:  This post contains nine (9) photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 29 October 2023 — NTNP 12 of 14 — Natchez MS and Vidalia LA

 

Our truck and trailer backed into our wooded Boondockers Welcome parking spot at The HatchPad Off The Trace in the Farmhaven area of Mississippi.  No epic views, but a lovely, quiet spot in the woods that suited us just fine.  Our hosts’ house is farther back in the woods at the end of the driveway.  While not really visible in this photo, there is a shed to the right of their house with a washing machine and a dryer.  We were invited to use, and took advantage of the opportunity.  (Most commercial RV parks have laundry rooms, so we made use of those when available when needed.)

 

Today we completed our north to south transit of the Natchez Trace National Parkway at the south terminus in Natchez, Mississippi and then on across the Mississippi River to the River View RV Park & Resort in Vidalia, Louisiana, immediately across from Natchez.  In total, we drove all but about 10 miles of the 444-mile-long road, and that was only because a 10-mile stretch in/near Tupelo, MS was closed for construction/repairs.

 

Another view of our truck and trailer in our BW parking spot.  Barely visible near the center of the right edge of the frame is the electrical box where we were allowed to hook up to shorepower.

 

While not an “epic” trip, in comparison to some of the national scenic roads we have driven, it was a wonderful journey at a leisurely pace with light traffic and a nice mixture of scenery, culture, and history.  I mean, we took nine (9) days to pull our trailer from one end to the other a distance that we could easily have covered in two (2 days,) even with the trailer, or one (1) day without it.  But not on the NTNP, of course, which has a maximum speed limit of 50 MPH, with lower limits in some places.  No, this trip was an intentionally “slow roll” and was a kind of “bucket list” item that we had been trying to do for a while.

 

Natchez, Mississippi as viewed from Vidalia, Louisiana across the Mississippi River.  Most of the “downtown” area is to the left of the bridge.  The River level was very low.  The sand bar in the foreground is usually underwater and not visible.

 

As much as we would like to have the ability to dry-camp, our rig is only capable of doing that comfortably for a very short time in a very narrow temperature range.  We have two solar panels on the roof, but we do not travel with a generator, and our battery system is insufficient to run big loads.  We have propane for cooking, refrigeration, hot water heating, and forced-air space heating, but the last three appliances use DC power to run their control circuits, and the fan in the forced-air furnace is a real energy hog, precluding it’s use in cold weather precisely when we need i.  At the other extreme, we have two heat pumps which function as air-conditioners for cooling or can heat the rig efficiently in cool weather as long as it’s not too cold.  But they are 120VAC devices, and they still use a lot of power/energy.  Making the rig truly off-grid capable is something we discuss, but have not reached a conclusion on whether we will undertake the necessary modifications and upgrades.

 

There was a very nice walkway that went along the River by our RV park.  It extended up to and beyond the bridge, so we went for early evening stroll.

 

A closer view of the bridge with part of Natchez, MS visible on the horizon.

 

A barge being pushed (upstream, from right to left) by a tugboat (which seems backwards) passes under the bridge, being careful to stay in the center of the River in order to have sufficient underwater keel clearance.

 

Just beyond the bridge (on the north side) was the Vidalia Convention Center, a very nice-looking facility.

 

A selfie by the Vidalia Convention Center with Natchez, MS in the background.  I think the reason I never smile in selfies is that I am concentrating on framing the shot and also trying to remember to look at the lens, something both of us seem to have difficulty doing consistently.

 

Our site at River View RV Park & Resort on the western shore of the Mississippi River in Vidalia, Louisiana across the River from Natchez, MS.  And no, the name of the town has nothing to do with the onions, which get their name from Vidalia, Georgia.

 

While we were done traveling the NTNP with our travel trailer in tow, we were not quite done exploring the Trace, which I will cover in the post for tomorrow and the next day.

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Note:  This post contains 11 photos with captions and a little narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 28 October 2023 — NTNP 11 of 14 — West Florida Boundary and Vicksburg Civil War sites

 

Heading south on the Natchez Trace NP from our Boondockers Welcome site, our first stop was the West Florida Boundary parking area.  It was also a trailhead for a section of the Natchez Trace.  This photo provides a sense of scale to the trail and surrounding forest.

 

WEST FLORIDA BOUNDARY sign.  This image file is 1200×675 pixels and can be viewed a full-resolution on a suitable device.  The sign on the right with the map shows the territory known as “West Florida.”  The lower lower/narrow strip along the sea was the extent of the territory as of the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, at which time Great Britain gained control of the lands west to the Mississippi River.  The northern boundary of this area was set at 31 deg N latitude.  The region was quickly considered too restricted for settlement, and a year later (1764) the British (unilaterally) moved the northern boundary to 32 deg 28 min N latitude into the lands of the Choctaws and Creeks, approximately tripling its size.

 

This photo was taken at the Reservoir Overlook for the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir just on the NTNP near Ridgeland, Mississippi.  Our BW location was a bit northeast of here, closer to Canton, Mississippi.  The reservoir is on the Pearl River.  The photo is a composite of five images taken with the SONY alpha 6400.  It is 1200×327 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on a suitable device by clicking on the photo.

 

Another composite image from the Reservoir Overlook, this one taken with a Google Pixel 6.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The RESERVOIR OVERLOOK information sign.  The Ross R. Barnett Reservoir is formed by a large earthen dame and covers 50 square miles.  It is administered by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, an agency of the State of Mississippi.

 

Although our focus for this trip was the Natchez Trace National Parkway, we realized that we were close enough to Vicksburg, Mississippi that we decided to detour over there and have a look.  One of the major tourist destinations in the Vicksburg area is the Vicksburg National Military Park and the Vicksburg National Battlefield.  Once we were there, we discovered the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum site within the NMP, and checked it out.  The museum was not open when we visited the site, but we found the ship, as shown in the following four photographs, fascinating.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg National Military Park (NMP), Vicksburg, MS.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  The USS Cairo was the lead ship of the City-class casemate ironclads built at the beginning of the American Civil War to serve as river gunboats for the Union.  Cairo is named for Cairo, Illinois. In June 1862, she captured the Confederate garrison of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi, enabling Union forces to occupy Memphis.  As part of the Yazoo Pass Expedition, she was sunk in the Yazoo River (a spur of the Mississippi River) on 12 December 1862 (near Vicksburg), while clearing mines for the attack on Haines Bluff.  Cairo was the first ship ever to be sunk by a mine remotely detonated by hand.  The remains of the Cairo can be viewed at Vicksburg National Military Park with a museum of its weapons and naval stores.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

The remains of the ship were discovered in 1956 and salvaged in 1964-65.  It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on 3 September 1971.  By 1980 Congress had authorized the National Park Service to accept the boat, move it to the Vicksburg NMP, and put in on display in conjunction with a museum to house the recovered artifacts and tell the story of the boat and its role in the Civil War.

 

One of the bunkers at the Vicksburg National Battlefield site.

 

This photo has nothing to do with the Civil War.  I’ve outlined the fuel economy readout on our F-150 instrumentation cluster.  Folks, you can’t make this stuff up; it really does say 29.1 (miles per gallon).  We had recently filled up the fuel tank and only traveled 39.3 miles, as shown in the lower left, so this was obviously light travel and slightly downhill.  Although this MPG is not sustainable under normal driving conditions, the number in the upper right indicates that we could travel another 747 miles before running out of fuel if we could maintain this MPG.

 

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Note:  There are no photos for this post.

 

FRIDAY 27 October 2023 — NTNP 10 of 14 — A Boondockers Welcome stop

We relocated to our next stopping spot today, a Boondockers Welcome (BW) host location named “The HatchPad Off The Trace” in the Farmhaven/Canton area of Monroe County, Mississippi.  We have been an active BW host site for some years now (whenever we are home), but have rarely used the program as a Guest.  In the search for places to stay along the NTNP, this one looked good, both for location and for the site itself.  And, indeed, it was.

The address was on a road that intersects the NTNP, and the site was not very far down the road.  It was wooded (see photos from Sunday 29 October), and the hosts were very nice.  In fact, we were vaguely acquainted, as it turned out, having both worked the Escapees RV Club Escapade (rally) in Essex Junction, Vermont in the summer of 2016.  They were part of the parking crew, while Linda worked in the office and I (Bruce) was the head photographer and put together the evening slide shows.  With fellow RVers, sometimes very experienced and sometimes brand new, there is always a lot to talk about.

Indeed, most BW hosts are (or were) active RVers, and all guests in this program must have a self-contained RV.  Self-contained means they can “boondock,” as indicated by the name of the program.  And this means they can carry, and arrive with, enough freshwater for their needs during their stay and have built-in tanks for capturing gray- (sinks, shower) and black- (toilet) waste water, with enough unused capacity to see them through their stay.  It also means they can camp without an electrical shorepower connection, either by using house batteries (with or without solar panels) and/or running a genset.  The reality, however, is that most BW hosts offer some level of electricity (which might entail a very modest donation if used) and many also have fresh water available, as well as Wi-Fi for connecting to the Internet.  A sewer connection or dump station, however, is relatively rare.

The Boondockers Welcome program shares a website and common ownership with the Harvest Hosts (HH) program.  HH and BW are similar in many ways, but different in a few important aspects.  BW host locations are almost exclusively private/residential properties (not condominium or apartment complexes).  Hosts configure their BW host profile on the website in terms of number of nights allowed (1 – 5 max), how far in advance a stay request can be made (ours is set to 60 days max), and how far in advance a request must be made, from same day to a week or more (ours is set to one day).  Each host also has a host calendar, and hosts can block out any dates for which they do not want to receive stay requests.  For instance, we do not accept stay requests unless we are home, but some BW hosts do.  Hosts also provide details about their site(s) (length, access, etc.), available amenities (if any) and donation amount (if asked for) to use electricity.

A “stay request” system is used as opposed to a “reservation” system.  The difference is that a BW guest submits a stay request to a specific host for a starting date and number of nights.  The host receives/reviews the request and then accepts or declines it.  If there are questions, communication is handled through a very good messaging feature of the website/app, but the host does not have to give a reason or explanation for not approving a stay request.  The host’s address, phone number, and other details are hidden from the guest until the request is approved.

The original idea behind the BW program was to allow RVers with a home base and some space, to provide a place for other RVers traveling through or visiting an area for a short time.  Basically, to get off the road without having to pay for a commercial or government campground, and meet some interesting RVers in the process.  The program has been a great success, and we continue to enjoy being a host when we are home.

Harvests Hosts locations, by comparison, are mostly business properties, but with the same basic idea of having someplace interesting to get off the road and “camp” for free for a night.  The thinking was that a lot of businesses have parking space large enough for one or more RVs, which would be available after business hours.  It is not unusual with HH that guests are asked to not arrive before a certain time, and to leave by a certain time the next morning so as not to interfere with normal business operations.  Originally, the program only allowed a one-night stay and lacked a system for making a stay request or reservation.  Under the new/second owners, a reservation system was added, and I think HH hosts can now allow a stay of more than one night.

Another difference from BW is that some of the host locations have things to sell; think wineries, breweries, distilleries, bakeries, orchards, museums, animal rescue facilities, etc.  Indeed, most of the original host locations were wineries and some vineyards (which are lovely places to spend a quiet night) followed by breweries and distilleries, but the program has expanded quite a bit as it is also very successful.  It even offers an add-on package for golf courses.  Because the hosts are businesses, there was always an “expectation” that guests would patronize the establishment.  Indeed, we have stayed at several HH locations that were wineries.  They were all wonderful, but proved to be the most expensive “free” camping we’ve ever done.  <<smile>>   But then, we got lots of bottles of really nice, interesting, local wines and met interesting people.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but while the terms “boondocking” and “dry-camping” are often used interchangeably, some folks insist that there is an important distinction, and the difference has to do with where you are camped.  In both cases your RV does not have any hookups (utilities like electric, water, and sewer, phone, cable, etc.) but when boondocking, i.e., camping in the “boonies”, if you run out of anything (water, propane, food, etc.) or need to dump your waste tanks, it might be a very long trip to get to someplace where you can take care of those things (appropriately and legally).  This is also sometimes referred to as “wild camping” (especially in Europe).

While BW can be, and HH usually is, dry-camping, this is sometimes also referred to as “driveway surfing,” a term that derives from “couch-surfing,” which is finding short-term overnight accommodations on someone’s sofa.  Indeed, the CouchSurfing.com platform is the “Air B&B” of couch surfers.  That’s not to say that a BW or HH host location might not be remote—they can be—but they are generally close to civilization with relatively easy access to products and services.  We have, for instance, had BW guests choose our location because of its relatively convenient access to medical facilities, shopping, and/or family/friends.

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Note:  This post contains 8 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 26 October 2023 — NTNP 9 of 14 — Choctaw Boundary

 

The JEFF BUSBY PARK information sign told us that Thomas Jefferson Busby, U.S. Congressman from Mississippi, introduced a bill on February 15, 1939 authorizing a survey of the Old Natchez Trace.  This was a direct result of the research and persistent lobbying of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to create the Natchez Trace National Parkway and resulted, four years later, in the historic road being designated a unit of the National Park System.  This park commemorates his role in the Parkway’s establishment.

 

 

Our explorations today of the Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP) included some of the section between Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi, within reasonable driving distance of the campground, which is near Ackerman, MS.

 

 

 

 

 

These are Swamp Tupelo trees.  There might also be Bald Cypress trees in this swamp, at least we recall seeing both at one point along the NTNP.  The name Tupelo is of native origin.  From the National Forest Foundation website:  “The name “tupelo,” a common name used for several varieties of Nyssa trees, literally means “swamp tree” in the language of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (ito ‘tree’ + opilwa ‘swamp’).”

 

CHOCTAW BOUNDARY  The map on this information sign shows the territory ceded to the USA when “…tribal leaders in central Mississippi signed the Treaty of Doak’s Stand, ceding rich cotton lands in the delta region east of the Mississippi River for approximately thirteen million acres in the Canadian, Kiamichi, Arkansas, and Red River watersheds in southeastern Oklahoma.  The history of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma began with the signing of this treaty on October 8, 1820 and ratified in Congress January 8, 1821.  To a much greater extent than we realized when planning this trip, the history of the Natchez Trace includes the history of the native people who occupied this land for a very long time prior to the arrival of Europeans in what became known as North America.

 

A trip down the NTNP is a trip through more than just American and native history.  Before the British and the eventual founding of the USA, the French and Spanish were here, as the following photo explains:

 

PEARL RIVER  This information sign tells that Pierre Le Moyne (Sieur) d’Iberville (a French soldier, explorer, colonial administrator, and trader) sailed into the mouth of this river in 1698 and discovered pearls, thus the origin of the name.  A hundred years later, the Natchez Trace avoided marshy lowlands by following a route between the Pearl and the Big Black Rivers for about 150 miles.  Since 1812, the last 75 miles of the river have served as the boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana.  D’Iberville is noted for founding the colony of Louisiana in New France.

 

Here’s the information sign explaining the TUPELO-BALDCYPRESS SWAMP.  These trees take root in summer when the swamp is mostly dry, but the seedlings have the somewhat unique ability to survive and thrive in water that that is deep enough to kill other plants.

 

CHOCTAW BOUNDARY (complete sign).  This image is 1200×742 pixels, and can be viewed full size on devices with suitable screen resolution.  In addition to the map shown in the third photo in this post, it includes the two wing signs, labeled INDIAN TREAT and DOAKS STAND.  The sign on the left indicates that a line of trees crossing the (now) Parkway just to the left marks part of the boundary that was agreed to in the aforementioned Treaty.

 

This FRENCH CAMP information sign tells yet another story of how a place got its name.  Around 1812, Louis Leflore first traded with the Choctaw Indians in the area northeast of the Trace.  Because he was of French nationality, the area was referred to as French Camp.  The name stuck and is still used today.  Interestingly, he married a Choctaw woman and their son, who changed his name to Greenwood Leflore, became a Choctaw Chief and a Mississippi State Senator.  The City of Greenwood and the County of Leflore are named for him.

 

This panorama shows another view of the Choctaw Lake Campground while Linda and I are out for an early evening stroll following our day exploring another section of the NTNP.

 

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Note:  This post contains 7 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.

 

WEDNESDAY 25 October 2023 — NTNP 8 of 14 — Choctaw Lake Campground, Choctaw Lake Recreation Area, Tombigbee National Forest, US Forest Service (USFS)

 

Our very generous campsite backed up to a spur of Choctaw Lake in the Choctaw Lake Recreation Area.  Our trailer rear bumper was still quite a way from the water and the site was elevated well above the Lake level.

If you look carefully, you will see a “walking stick” on the trunk of this tree, mid-frame.  I did not have a convenient way to show the scale of this insect, but I estimated it to be 6” – 8” long.  I have always been fascinated by these creatures.

 

Many years ago, when we were much younger, we were tent campers.  On a few occasions we camped in national forest campgrounds.  Some of these “campgrounds” were remote and very rustic.  While that is no longer “how we roll,” the campgrounds in some of the national forest recreation areas are a bit more developed.  Our basic requirements are: 1) a relatively level, and sufficiently large, site (but not necessarily paved); 2) Electricity at the site, and 3) a dump station.  A bathhouse is appreciated, but an outhouse (pit toilet) in place of a dump station is a “no go.”

 

 

 

Choctaw Lake CG more than met our basic requirements.  As with all of our camping spots, we stayed here for two nights, and used the full day to continue exploring the NTNP.

 

Another view of our site at Choctaw Lake CG.  Both the USACoE and USFS campsites included substantial concrete picnic tables.  This site also had something we had not seen before.  Note the black, upside down, “J-hook” at the left of the image.  Every site had one of these.  There were for hanging a camp lantern.  We didn’t have a camp lantern to hang (or didn’t want to dig ours out), but we thought this was a nice amenity that all campsites should adopt.

 

And another photo of our site at Choctaw Lake CG, taken by Linda and featuring yours truly.  (Photo by Linda)

 

And yet another shot of Choctaw Lake while strolling the USFS campground near the shore.

 

We have no idea what this was, and the staff at the Choctaw Lake CG didn’t either.  It was clearly some kind of living organism, and the staff indicated that biologists have been here to study it, but also didn’t know.  I am not one for swimming in lakes, rivers, or oceans, but if I was, I would have given this lake a pass.  Even so, I thought it was visually very interesting.

 

This gravel path extended along the lake shore for quite some distance.  The developed area actually wraps around Choctaw Lake far to the right, out of the frame.

 

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Note:  This post contains 8 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 24 October 2023 — NTNP 7 of 14 — Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield

 

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield sign.

The Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP) passes through a part of the “deep South” that was heavily impacted by the Civil War.  From Wikipedia (paraphrased):  Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield site memorializes the Battle of Brices Cross Roads in which a U.S. Army force was defeated by a smaller Confederate force commanded by Major-General Nathan Bedford Forrest on June 10, 1864, but nevertheless secured Union supply lines between Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The 1-acre site is a grassy park with a flagpole, a memorial monument, two cannons, and some information signs.  The monument and site are very similar to that at Tupelo National Battlefield.  Brices Cross Roads, however, is the only component of the National Park System designated a “battlefield site.”  I felt that last point was interesting in and of itself.

 

 

WITCH DANCE information sign.  The site of local lore, also part of the history of the Natchez Trace.

 

LINE CREEK information sign.  A long time ago a nearby creek that flows through this valley was accepted as the boundary between the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, and remained so until both tribes moved to Oklahoma in the 1830’s.  The course of the creek has changed over the years, but the name has stuck.

 

OLD TRACE information sign.  A 200+ year old section of the “Old Trace” is preserved here, and we walked it.  The sign describes the difficulty of creating and maintaining a nearly 500-mile-long path through the wilderness and how readily nature seeks to reclaim the ground, as shown in the next photograph this section of the trail/road.

 

Maintaining this 10-foot-wide section of the Old Trace involves constant work.  Without continuous human intervention, nature would, it its own time, completely reclaim this path.

 

Elements of Exchange.  Although the type is too small to read in this photo, the map highlights the territories of the Eastern Woodland nations and discusses the materials that served as “currency” for trading purposes.

 

These are obviously mounds, and the photo was taken about 4 minutes after the previous one, so I know they were in the same general area, but we failed to photograph a sign telling me about their significance.

 

OLD TOWN CREEK information sign.  This gist of the historical factoid reported here is that in the early 1800’s ordinary Americans could not be bothered to learn the Chickasaw names for their villages and other landmarks and features.  Thus, a nearby village was dubbed “Old Town” and the name eventually became attached to the creek that runs through the valley.

 

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Note:  This post contains 6 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 23 October 2023 — NTNP 6 of 14 — Piney Grove Recreation Area, Tennessee -Tombigbee Waterway, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

One of the many responsibilities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACoE) is the construction, maintenance, and operation of infrastructure on domestic inland waterways for purposes of transportation, power generation, and recreation.  The Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway (aka the “Tenn-Tom” abv herein as “TTW”) is an example of this mission in action.  The Tenn-Tom is a 234-mile (377 km) artificial U.S. waterway built in the 20th century from the Tennessee River to the junction of the Black Warrior-Tombigbee River system near Demopolis, Alabama.

 

The Freedom Hills pullout along the NTNP.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The recreational use is a byproduct of the first two and primary concerns, but they are very popular with the public, such as boaters, hunters, fishermen (and women), and campers, including RVers.  We had been aware of the USACoE campgrounds for many years, but this was the first time we stayed at one.

 

Our trailer tucked into our site a Piney Grove CG, Piney Grove Recreation Area, USACoE.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The Piney Grove Campground met our expectations based on prior experience with state and federal camping and recreation facilities.  It was wooded, with spacious paved sites and interior roads and well-maintained trails.  It had beaches and boat launches, and functioning/clean restrooms, some of which is illustrated in the following photographs.  Not luxurious, of course, but the somewhat rustic appearance/nature of such a place is part of its charm, at least for us.

 

 

This sign indicates that we are 177 miles from the North Terminus (southwest of Nashville, TN) and 267 miles from the South Terminus (in Natchez, MS) of the Natchez Trace National Parkway.  That makes the NTNP 444 miles long, although I usually report it as 440 miles.

 

The sign at the entrance to USACoE Piney Grove Recreation Area heading in to the campground and boat launch (I think).

 

Another view of our truck and trailer in our campsite at the Piney Grove Recreation Area campground, USACoE.  If deforested commercial RV parks are not your thing, perhaps USACoE (and US Forest Service) campgrounds might be appealing (along with National Park Service campgrounds, of course).

 

A panoramic photo of a finger of the Tenn-Tom as seen from the Piney Grove Recreation Area campground, USACoE.

 

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Note:  This post contains 13 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 22 October 2023 — NTNP 5 of 14 — Tennessee-Alabama-Mississippi State Lines

Today was our full day at Fall Hallow CG/RVpark/B&B.  The weather was nice, and we took advantage of it to further explore the section of the NTNP from here south a way, having explored from here north yesterday.  Fall Hallow CG is in Hohenwald, Tennessee, but traveling south from here, the Trace cuts across the northwest corner of Alabama.  The first photo below is for Pharr Mounds in Mississippi.  Subsequent photos show the signs for the Mississippi and Alabama sides of their common border along the Trace.

 

PHARR MOUNDS information sign describing the largest and most important native American archeological site in northern Mississippi.  The pre-European tribes in this area where part of the much larger and more extensive Mississippian mound culture, whose center was in Cahokia, Illinois.

 

Ancient mounds co-exist with present day agricultural use of the land.

 

Part of the dashboard in our F-150.  Yup, it shows an average fuel economy of 28.4 MPG.  The F-150 is capable of this when not towing the trailer, the fuel tank has just been topped off, good driving, light traffic, and flat roads with no stops.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Crossing into Mississippi from Alabama on the NTNP.

 

I walked to the other side of the road to photograph the matching sign entering Alabama from Mississippi on the NTNP.

 

The terrain in this area was not all flat, and afforded views like this on occasion.

 

Information sign for ROCK SPRING TRAIL which crosses Colbert Creek and meanders through woodlands to get to Rock Spring.  The sign indicates that since 1977 numerous beaver dams have been built here and subsequently destroyed by high water.

 

This panorama of Rock Spring is a composite of four images made with Microsoft Image Composer.  The resolution if 1200×360 pixels, and can be displayed at full resolution on a device with a suitable monitor.

 

This is a bicycle repair station at one of the rest areas in this section of the NTNP.  It has a “rack” for hanging the bike, all of tools one might need (suitably tethered to the post), and an air pump with integrated air pressure gauge.  Although not yet mentioned in this series of blog posts, bicyclists were much in evidence all along the NTNP and this was not the only such repair stand that we saw.  Most of the cyclists were self-contained.  Some of them camped in the NTNP campgrounds while others stayed in motels just off the Trace.

 

A all-purpose, 3-way water/drinking fountain at the same rest stop as the bicycle repair stand; Left portion for filling water bottles, center for drinking, and bottom right for “Fido.”

 

 

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STATE LINE information signs.  This set of signs describes the boundary between Tennessee (right, north) and Alabama (left, south).  The image is 1200×675 pixels, and can be displayed at full size on a device with appropriate resolution.

 

McGLAMERY STAND information sign.  It says that “a stand was an inn or trading post—sometimes both—established along a well traveled route.”  The one here was established in 1849.  It did not outlast the Civil War, but the nearby village still retains the name.

 

Linda picks her way carefully across a stone portion of trail where it crosses a very wet area.