We are finally catching up and in to October! We have been patiently waiting for our visit to Washington D.C. We have been planning on this visit since the beginning of the year since we were going to meet up with our boys for their first visit to D.C. I have been here twice before, once with my high school trip and once with Rick right after we were married. We came out with the restaurant he worked for at the time, The Machine Shed. They were invited to D.C. for the Folk Life Festival, sponsored by the Smithsonian, that ran the week before and the Fourth of July weekend. In 1996 the featured state was Iowa, where the Machine Shed restaurant is based. The restaurant had two food tents on the National Mall that we worked at. We had a blast even though temps were over 100 and HUMID!! We were ringing wet all day long, but to be there to see the fireworks on the National Mall was a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Since the entire family is in to history, this was a highly anticipated trip to share the museums, monuments and everything that is D.C. with the boys. Then COVID hit, and the riots. We started to second guess whether it was wise to go or not. We watched the openings start to happen and decided that there was enough open to make it a monumental trip. (Ha, see what I did there??? Monumental... HAHAHA) The Washington Monument opened the week we were there but with VERY limited tickets to ride the elevator to the top. Unfortunately we did not score a ticket.
We stayed at Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, MD, which is the closest rv park to downtown D.C. Even though the parks specific D.C. tours were not running, we really enjoyed our stay and took advantage of the free bus transportation to the METRO station nearby to hop on the subway to downtown. I was apprehensive at first with the METRO since I am not a public transportation kinda gal, but it was pretty empty and we didn't have any issues.
The rv park was really nice. It was gated and nicely landscaped. Being the beginning of October we did not partake in the pools but they looked like they would be very busy in the summer months. They had a very comprehensive store, including an RV section that would rival a small Camping World! We were able to get our mail forwarded to the office and order some Amazon items while we stayed at the park. The sites were decent sized and the park was about 1/3, maybe half full on the weekend and emptier during the week. Many of the amenities were on abbreviated schedules or just not in play due to COVID. Kids would have an amazing time here and never need to leave the park. I really enjoyed the super nice, clean laundry room. The only negative was the traffic noise. Oh my goodness... The location is at the intersection of two interstates that were always busy! Even inside with the AC running, you could still easily hear the traffic. I will say though, after our 4th day there, it became background noise. I would definitely stay here again, but would choose a different area of the park to stay in that would be a bit quieter.
We arrived two days before the boys flew in so we could get acclimated and organized before they arrived. Rick also was able to meet up with his roommate from his time in the Army in Fulda, Germany back in the late 80's. They picked up like no time had passed at all and had a great afternoon catching up.
The boys arrived on the red eye and had no issues on their flight from WI. Masks all the way and no middle seat passengers so they had room to spread out. With only 4 full days we had to maximize our days while the boys were with us. We decided to hit the ground running and tour DC by the hop on, hop off trolley. On the first day we stayed on the trolley through the first several stops to be able to go to the American History Museum. The driver was a great tour guide and pointed out alot of the buildings and structures we were passing and the history all around us. The plan was to then jump back on the trolley after the museum and ride around the monuments before heading back to our first stop to catch the Metro back to the station and then the bus to the campground. We paid a bit more to add on a day and the plan was to take the trolley the second day and stop at the stops we wanted to explore more. We had the best of intentions but unfortunately the unrest in the city had different plans. All went well the first day, getting to the Metro station on the free Metro bus, riding the Metro to downtown and then getting on the trolley.
Our first hint of an issue was when the driver said the stop for the White House was unavailable for the day. No problem, we'll hit that the next day. We then took the trolley past Fords Theatre, Union Station and the Freedom Bell, around the Capitol and Library of Congress, past the US Air and Space Museum that is under renovation until 2022 and got off near the Smithsonian Castle so that we could walk to the National Mall and over to the Museum of American History. With Covid you need to buy a time ticket to enter those facilities that are open, even though it is free. We had a bit of time to kill before our time so we grabbed a quick lunch from the food truck on the mall near the Washington Monument and watched the Semi Trucks gathered on the mall in support of President Trump. Even got the boys to pose for a family selfie.
I don't remember visiting the National Museum of American History in the past and was really impressed with the broad spectrum of American History it covered. Think more pop culture history than historic history. There was the iconic batman car, dresses from numerous First Ladies through the years, Julia Child's kitchen with all her authentic cookware and stove, the modes of transportation through the years, a tribute to our military including a piece of the Berlin Wall, the last Vietnam Huey in service and the coolest house shown through the centuries in cutaways, chronicling five families that lived there,
We spent a couple hours in the museum and could have probably stayed longer but we were getting tired and were looking forward to getting back on the trolley to see the rest of our DC tour. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for us. As we waited for a trolley to come by, 10 minutes stretched into over a half hour and a loud, demonstration was getting closer and more fired up. Knowing this was not going to be a good situation, especially since there were squad cars with lights on and police on horseback with the crowd growing closer and getting more enraged, we decided to start walking in the other direction, and in a brisk pace. We realized that the trolley had probably shut down in this area due to the escalating situation. We hoofed it over 14 blocks back to the Metro and called it a day. Well the fun for the day wasn't over. We successfully got on the Metro back to our bus stop and then proceeded to wait over an hour for the bus. With patience running short, we decided to hail an Uber and after over a half hour one arrive to take four weary travelers back to the RV park. Oh, but the easy 15 minute ride turned into almost an hour as there was a water main break and the Friday 5pm traffic was being diverted down tiny streets and alleys. By the time we got back to the RV we were sooo tired and hungry!
We all slept good that night and were ready to try again figuring it can only get better, right? Wrong!!! Saturday was also going to be a challenge with ALOT of unexpected walking but it was worth it to visit the monuments that we did not get to see the day before. When we arrived to the trolley we were informed that there were some scheduled marches and rallies and that the trolley stops would be very abbreviated, even more than the day before. They tried to include a couple off the beaten path streets but the tour just wasn't getting at what we wanted. The second day, we decided to get off at the same location near the castle and walk down the National Mall to the Washington Monument to try and see most of the monuments in that location. We were very aware of the environment around us to ensure we didn't get caught in the middle of a bad situation as it was a very active day for protests. For time frame, this was 4 weeks before the election.
It was another beautiful day, weather wise, and we had a nice stroll down to the Washington Monument. We noticed there was a rally set up with a stage off to the side of the monument and there were alot of people around listening to the speakers on the stage. There was music and cheering at this rally so we felt a bit at ease. There was still a large police presence in the area. Getting closer we saw it was a pro-Trump rally. We weren't able to get too close to the monument since it was gated off and police were all around. Both were certainly a theme all around DC, which was unfortunate. Definitely a repeating theme...
We then made our way over to the WWII memorial which was beautiful! Rick took some wonderful panoramic pictures to try and capture it all.
At this point we realized there was no way we were going to be able to walk to all of the monuments so we had to narrow down the list. We walked past the WWI memorial on our way to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This is one of the best memorials in my opinion. The soldiers seem to be walking through the mist in the shadow of their fallen comrades etched in the granite wall. The memorial is supposed to be even better when lit up at night but unfortunately with the unrest in the area, all night time tours were canceled.
The Lincoln Memorial was next up on our list. This was the most multicultural experience in our entire DC trip. Upon walking up we saw numerous people dressed in white, holding colorful umbrellas and singing/chanting on the steps of the reflecting pool in front of the memorial. Upon a closer look, it was a large group of Jamaican individuals. Not sure if it was a rally or reunion but they were definitely enjoying themselves. Behind them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a group of Amish who gathered on the steps and began to sing church type songs. There were various other peaceful groups mulling about the area, enjoying the beautiful day. It seemed a very appropriate place for all to be gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Our last memorial was the Vietnam Memorial which was another moving experience. The understated simplicity of the memorial is overshadowed by the angles and the extensive length. To see the small trinkets and letters certainly put it all into perspective!
At this point it was late afternoon, we were hungry and tired. We debated getting another Uber because we knew the trolleys were no longer operating but decided to walk several blocks to get something to eat in the Washington University area on our way back to the Metro. After a little to eat we were ready to power through our last trek to the Metro...uphill. We could hear chanting and megaphones in the distance and knew our time in DC was up. After 20 some blocks later, we arrived back at the Metro. The walk back did leave a lasting impression on all of us. We walked past numerous blocks of beautiful, historic buildings that had damage and graffiti spray painted all over them. There were also numerous businesses boarded up. These buildings were all around the White House. We did manage to get a picture of the White House from a block away through chain link since there were multiple layers of tall fencing. Some of the fences had respectful Black Lives Matter messaging with some having more hateful anti-Trump messaging. It was a certainly a solemn walk through the destruction.
We had a successful Metro to bus transfer back to the RV park and we all agreed we were ready to explore other areas of DC. On Sunday, Nicholas met up with one of his friends to tour around DC in his little european car. Meanwhile, Rick, Brady and I decided to go to the Air and Space Museum out near Dulles Airport since they are housing several items from the downtown DC location that is under renovation. We spent several hours at the museum and saw alot of different aircrafts, including Space Shuttle Discovery. We'll let the pictures do the talking.
Our time with the boys was drawing to a close, so on the last day we decided to take a drive down the beautiful George Washington Memorial Parkway to Mount Vernon. We purchased tickets online for the grounds but did not buy tickets to the house as there were only ones at the end of the day available. Good thing we didn't since only part of the first floor was open. We could peek in the windows and see a bit. Besides, the grounds are really where its at. Not only is there the main house, but the rest of the farm, gardens, greenhouse, wharf, slaves quarters and memorial, the tomb of George and Martha Washington and a first class museum. The museum itself was worth the price of admission. We also learned that Mount Vernon is privately owned and operated since 1858 by the Mount Vernon's Ladies Association. Another interesting fact is that the mansion only looks like stone but is actually all wood. A process called rustication where sand is thrown on the wet paint..
Once seeing the iconic mansion, we moved on to explore the property. The gardens and the greenhouse were very well kept and had identifying markers for all of the plants, trees and flowers, including the massive Tulip Poplar, circa 1766.
The tomb of George and Mary Washington was an interesting one. There was an original tomb built prior to either of their deaths, but it came upon ill repair and in an undesirable area. In George's will he directed that a new tomb be built below the vineyard hill. It was completed over 30 years after his death and George, Martha and 20 other family members were moved to the new tomb.
George Washington is quite the progressive farmer back in the day and has some pretty sophisticated ways of farming for that time period. He practiced 7 year crop rotation, transitioned from tobacco to wheat and incorporated a mill and distillery.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the grounds was the museum. It was very well done and depicted the life of George, his family, as well as an exhibit on his evolving viewpoint on slavery during that time, which was quite interesting. In his will, his slaves were to be set free, however, those slaves owned by Martha, reverted back to her family upon her death, leaving many slave families ripped apart. The most interesting part of the museum was the life-sized forensic models that depicted George at ages 19, 45 and 57 as we would have looked based on thorough research.
Our time in Washington, DC had come to an end and we sure packed alot into a couple days! It was quite a challenge to navigate the politically charged climate in the city, coupled with all of the COVID closures, but I think the boys got a good feel for all the DC has to offer and will most likely be back some day when they can explore more of the museums and areas that were closed.
The boys caught an early morning plane on Tuesday and we headed out on Wednesday to Richmond, VA for our next adventure. Whew...and we are still not caught up to where we are now in North Carolina. One more post should get us up to date. Writing this post has really made me realize just how much we had packed into the last couple months!
Wow...where has time gone??? October has just flown by and I am behind in travel updates. We are going to try and get caught up with the next two posts, wrapping up our time out east exploring battlefields and lots of history.
After leaving Harpers Ferry KOA we rolled on down the road to another wonderful Boondockers Welcome location. We spent 3 nights at a wonderful spot in rural southern PA near Gettysburg. Our host couple was the sweetest Amish couple who warmly welcomed us and helped us get tucked in behind their house and even supplied 50amp hookups and water. The nights were peaceful and our days were filled with exploring.
While parked on a nice paved driveway, Rick was able to perform some annual maintenance. Last year we upgraded to the independant suspension and it was time to grease the zerk fittings. With the new suspension it made quick work since we went from 12 to 4 fittings.
Our main reason for picking this location was its close proximity to Gettysburg National Military Park. I had visited Gettysburg on my high school trip to Washington DC, but that being oh soo many years ago, this felt like a new experience. We took two days to tour Gettysburg. Fortunately, this visitor center was open and we toured the museum and bought tickets to see the movie and cyclorama. Rick was able to get some panoramic shots of the cyclorama depicting the battle but pictures really can't do it justice. It was really interesting how they made the cyclorama painting 3D with period props and landscape in front that sort of faded into the painting.
The next day we toured the battlefield via the auto tour. It is very well laid out and marked and it was amazing to see all of the monuments throughout the battlefield. The detail on some were so intricate.
The monuments for the WI Iron Brigade who fought at Gettysburg were not as elaborate as the NY and PA monuments but beautiful nonetheless.
The auto tour was well laid out and chronicled the 3 days of battle in early July, 1863. Some areas of the battlefield were pretty sobering, especially Little Round Top that overlooked Devils Den and Wheatfield where some 4,000 soldiers lay dead our wounded on day two.
The climactic moment was on Day 3 on Cemetery Ridge, famously known as Pickett's Charge where 7000 Union soldiers repulsed the bulk of the 12,000 Confederate soldiers and defended Copse of Trees, The Angle and Brian Farm. Total casualties for the 3 days totaled 23,000 Union soldiers and 28,000 Confederate soldiers. On July 4th, Lee's Confederate troops began retreating.
The final stop of the tour was the National Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address on November 19, 1863 at the cemetery's dedication.
Since we still had some time to burn in the late afternoon, we drove right next door to Dwight D. Eisenhower's home that he bought after he retired from the military after WWII. Earlier, prior to WWI he trained on tanks at the Gettysburg battlefield, which was strangely a tank training area prior to becoming a national park. He loved the area and wanted to come back. This farm is adjacent to the national park. Once retired, he hosted several notable dignitaries from his Supreme Allied Commander years at the farm including Field Marshall Montgomery, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, just to name a few. Once he became president he used the farm as his retreat. Due to Covid, we were only allowed to roam the grounds and could not enter the house or farm buildings.
On our last day at our PA Boondockers location we took a drive to Carlisle, PA to visit the US Army Heritage and Education Center located on the grounds of the Army War College for officers. This was a free museum to honor the American Soldier and preserve their experiences. They have an education and research center that has a comprehensive collection of contemporary and historical materials that are available for research and education opportunities. This portion of the complex was still closed due to the epidemic but the museum, inside and out was open to the public.
The outdoor Heritage Trail had several static displays of key points in Army history.
The WWI exhibit included a replica of the trench system and a German pillbox.
We did have many more pictures of the outside exhibits and the museum but for some reason they went MIA. The museum inside was dedicated to the military history from the viewpoint of the soldier and their families. It was very well done and a must do when in the area. Plus, did I mention it was FREE?!?!?!
From PA we traveled south of the Mason Dixon line to our next destination...D.C. More to come on that in our next post.
When in the eastern US it's hard to not come across historic places, especially battlefields. I visited some of these battlefields on a class trip to Washington DC in high school, which was many moons ago, so most everything was new to me. I guess back then I wasn't as interested in history as I was having fun with friends. Rick loves history, especially military events, so I had my own tour guide! We had a couple weeks before our workamping gig in NC so we decided to immerse ourselves in history. We were also going to share some of that history with the boys later in the trip.
We started in Harpers Ferry, WV where we stayed at a KOA that was situated on part of the battlefield where John Brown raided the arsenal years before the Civil War started in an effort to arm slaves to start a rebellion. It was interesting to see the union defensive positions within the campground, but that was about all the campground had going for it, in our opinion. The sites were on top of each other, with sewers hook up next to your picnic table and rules were not enforced, nor was management responsive to issues. Part of the park has many full time residents, who feel rules do not pertain to them and parties can go all night long. With a nightly rate in the high $60's to $80's, it again reinforced our feeling that KOA's just aren't our thing and are not worth the price.
The town of Harpers Ferry is actually the the National Park and the park service owns several of the buildings and has museums and period setups in them. Due to COVID some were closed but others were open and were pretty interesting. Historical importance here goes back to the days of Lewis and Clark.
During the course of the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands several time due to it's critical location on the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers with railroads running through the area.
We walked around the rest of the town and found several beautiful homes, a cool hotel up on the bluff that folks are trying to bring back to life and also the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The National Park also includes area surrounding the town of Harpers Ferry were several battles were fought. Bolivar Heights, an area above Harpers Ferry was the site of 5 different engagements throughout the Civil War with other areas being key confederate victories for Stonewall Jackson's confederate troops. It was a beautiful sunny day to drive the area and take a couple walks, which had some amazing views!
We also visited Monocacy and Antietam battlefields while in the area. Both of these battlefields were driving tours through the countryside. Visitor Centers were closed but Antietam had park rangers in a tent out front who were more than happy to answer questions and hand out guides.
Monocacy is a lesser known battlefield and it showed as we were the only ones we saw touring the sites. This battle encompassed several family farms and was the battle that saved Washington, D.C. on July 9, 1864 during the third and final Confederate Invasion of the North.
Our last battlefield in this area was Antietam. In September of 1862, General Robert E. Lee's forces engaged Union Gen. George B. McClellan's union soldiers in what was known as the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War. Throughout this driving tour, there were many monuments, Dunker Church which was the focal point of the Union attacks the morning of the battle and the beautifully preserved Burnside Bridge which Union Gen. Burnside finally overtook and pushed Confederate forces back toward Sharpsburg. Sunken Road, also known as Bloody Lane, was the most sobering portion of the tour. To stand where soo many lost their lives and to read the observation..."They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fence rails. Words are inadequate to portray the scene." It really amplified what took place in this unassuming country lane.
There were several other roadside historical markers and areas of interest, but we just ran out of time in the area. We ended our area battlefield tour with a fantastic german sampler dinner for two at Schmankerl Stube in Hagerstown, MD.
Next up, the biggest battle of them all...
West Virginia was not on our radar this year but, again, due to the pandemic, we rerouted ourselves to explore this wild and wonderful state. Most states have different areas to explore and W. VA was no different. There is the coal mine area in the SW part of the state, know as the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains, which we unfortunately didn't have time to dive into and just to the north is the Metro Valley and Mid-Ohio Valley region, which we spent our first few days in the state exploring.
The drive from Kentucky was a short one, but was beautiful drive along 64 and then north on 77 to Rippling Waters Church of God campground. We found this quaint place on Passport America and scored a pull thru, full hook up site for $20 a night. They are known for their chapel by the water, which was beautiful view from our rig. The people there were soo friendly and accomodating. They have a small pool, which was closed due to Covid, a laundry and fishing in the little ponds on the property. The road to the campground is not for the faint at heart, but taking it slow around the sharp corners got us there unscathed. It is a narrow country road and really only traveled by the locals to and from their homes.
We used this location as our base camp to explore Charleston, the capitol of WV and surrounding areas. We spent a day in Charleston and were fortunate enough to get into the West Virginia State Museum, which is a must do when in the area. It was free and definitely rivaled museums we have paid for. They had beautiful champion quilts displayed in the entry area and the museum chronicled the history of WV. The timeline was well done and reminded us of the Streets of Old Milwaukee in the Milwaukee Museum back home.
Unfortunately the Capitol was closed to visitors and there were working on the gold dome so the pictures aren't the best but still beautiful grounds and monuments on the campus.
We had lunch at Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille in downtown Charleston that is known for their fried feta. Of course we had to try it....AHHHMMMAAAZING!
We then went to check out the Capitol Market which is a permanent market in the restored train depot. It expands in the summer and fall to the outdoors to include a farmers market as well. Such beautiful fall flowers and produce everywhere!
We took a day to head north to Parkersburg and explore Blannerhassett Island Historical State Park and Museum. This state park is an island out in the Ohio River. We took the steamwheeler ride to the island and then were able to explore the grounds by horse drawn carriage ride and then took a guided tour of the mansion. Such an interesting backstory to the Blannerhassetts from them being second cousins, to hosting many dignitaries to the conspiracy plan with Aaron Burr that eventually had them flee their beautiful estate on the island when the scheme collapsed. The museum on the main land in Parkersburg did a good job of representing the history of the area, which is rich in the oil and gas industry.
We then relocated to the middle of the state and set up camp at Summersville Lake Retreat. This RV park is located high above Summersville Lake, which is the largest lake in WV. Is is a COE lake, with high rocky cliffs and the largest manmade rock dam in the US. Due to Covid, the park was peacefully quiet during the week and we just had one night neighbors passing through. Our site faced the woods, which provided a beautiful backdrop to our stay and behind us was the lake's lighthouse, high on the hill.
This location gave us the ability to visit some of what WV is best known for...it's rivers and the largest man made steel bridge in the western hemisphere. We spent a day exploring the New River Gorge area, marveling at the majesty of the bridge and the beauty of the river. The National Park Service did a great job with the overlook viewing platform near the bridge, with its 178 steps. The bridge views and those up river were soo beautiful! The bridge is a major road that now connects the two sides of the gorge that, prior to the bridge being built in 1977, travelers had to wind down through the gorge to get to the other side over a narrow bridge that took 45 minutes. We took that route and it was very narrow and at times a bit nerve wracking in a big dually truck! There was even a point where we needed to stop and back up a bit to get around a corner. Once at the bottom of the gorge, we spent some time standing on the old bridge, watching kayakers go over some of the world famous rapids.
Our time here wrapped up quickly and we were on to our next stop to visit the now famous secret bunker under the west annex of the beautiful Greenbrier hotel. We stayed across the border at Glen Maury City Park for the weekend and we can honestly say this was one of our least favorite stays. It was party central for the locals, a true hootenanny with banjos going all night in the site next to us and a large birthday party across the street trying to drown them out with their own blaring music. There are really no rules at this park and we ended up having the AC fan on all night long to try and get some sleep. The set up there was just a large field with a power box that could accommodate 6 30amp hookups and a water bib that was used by numerous people who just added splitter after splitter. There were no sites per say, but just where you could find room and could reach electric. Thank goodness we used our Passport America and got half off the site at $17 a night. Regardless, we would never stay here again on a weekend and maybe during the week for one night if needed. We actually were able to get into a larger spot, if you can believe that by the picture. What you can't see is that there is a Class C to our left, just out of the picture frame.
The park was located in a cute little patriotic town, Buena Vista, VA, who proudly displayed their flags and honored their veterans.
Our visit to The Greenbrier hotel was an interesting one, to see the 112,544 sq ft bunker that was built for Congress in the 50's, and remained a closely held secret for over 30 years. The bunker was carved deep into the mountainside as a Cold War emergency shelter and the west wing of the hotel was built atop it to "hide" what they were really building at the time. Due to some of the bunker area still being used by a data storage company for some of the Top Fortune 500 companies, we were unable to take pictures anywhere and you could not take anything with you into the bunker area, including any electronics or purses. So, in lieu of pictures of the hotel or bunker, here are pictures of postcards they gave us after the tour and a stock picture of the hotel.
Well that wraps up our tour of West Virginia...most of it. Did you ever realize how oddly shaped WV really is? We are now off to the tiny little piece in the waaaayyyy upper east that really looks like it should be a piece of VA or MD.
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