Onward to Tennessee

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The countryside we drove through as we headed to the Rock Island State Park was gorgeously green with rolling hills, grassy pastures and deciduous forests. Once off the interstate, our trip wound through the countryside and through small towns. We passed through Lynchburg and noted the scrum around the Jack Daniels distillery. There had been signs advertising it for miles and miles, since back at the Interstate. Free tastes to drivers? Is that such a great idea?

Turning off the highway at last, a narrow road led us past the small settlement of Rock Island and on to the park. Rock Island was a sweet looking village. It had a couple of small antiques shops, a local market and two churches. One of the antiques stores also sold cord wood. We would be stopping there later.

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The road was narrow and twisted constantly. It was heart-in-your-mouth exciting especially when hauling a 28 foot trailer. A river ran next to the road. This was the Caney Fork River and Gorge. We crossed a small bridge over a stream and passed an abandoned brick mill building nestled between the river’s shore and the narrow road. It felt like we cleared the corner of the building with barely an inch to spare. The river was now roiling and wild. It raged and fell cascading down the Great Falls Dam. The TVA had a power station here and it felt familiar to encounter this power force again.

We made our obligatory stop at Ranger Headquarters. The amiable woman on duty gave us an assigned site right next to the Camp Host. When I asked if there were other sites open, she agreeably took a highlighter and marked almost every other site in the park. We had our choice among many.

We chose a site at the back of the park. There was a tag on the site marker saying someone was supposed to be in that site. We were momentarily confused and I called the ranger with a miraculous bit of cell signal. She assured me the site was available. It was only afterwards we realized the tags were from the previous May. Very odd. Those tags stayed in place for a whole year and this was the week which duplicated them? Why did they stop putting out reservation tags? What did that mean for park maintenance? It remains a puzzle.

We backed the trailer onto the pad. The picnic table and grill were nestled behind the site pad and that made it feel even more private. There was a nice even gravel pad and the picnic table was on a sort of gravel platform. The fire pit was well placed and called to us.

A man came by with his truck. He dropped off some wood. He was heading home to Michigan and gifted us the logs. They were enormous chunks of wood and would make for a very big and long-lived fire. But not tonight, we were tired and ready to have dinner and turn in.

It was 4:15 a.m. and I was lying awake in bed when suddenly light suffused the Airstream bedroom. I looked out our open front bedroom window to see the back up lights to a car. It backed itself into the camp site next to ours and turned off the engine.

This was very odd and unsettling. What was this white SUV doing parking in the site next to ours in the wee hours of the night? There was no one anywhere near us and we felt suddenly alone and very vulnerable. I woke Jim and we considered what to do. We could see the driver in the reflected light as he checked his cell phone. Why was he here? Was he drunk? Did he have some nefarious intent? Had he had a fight with his wife and drove off angry? What was he doing in the middle of a campground in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night?

I went to get my phone and the campground info to see if there was a number to call for security. There was no cell signal. Jim turned the outside trailer light on to signal that we were aware of the interloper. Next he hit the unlock button on the truck so it beeped and flashed light. Shortly thereafter our sometime neighbor fired his ignition and drove off. We sighed with relief and went back to bed. It was the first time we had felt the slightest concern for our safety at the hand of another after so many weeks on the road.

The next morning we were determined to get out and hike. We could not live in fear of ticks forever. There were numerous trails available in the park. First we poked around some of the park roads and visited what in warmer weather was the beach area. Then we drove out of the park past the Great Falls Dam to hike the Collins River Nature Trail.

This trail was a three-mile loop through the woods. It followed the bank of the Collins River which was just visible through the trees and then looped around back to its beginning. It felt really good to be hiking in the woods. It was hot and sunny already, but the trees kept us shaded and cool. When we got back to the truck, we stood broiling in the sun while I did a tick check. Most happily there were no ticks. Hooray for us! We had managed to enjoy a hike with no negative after effects.

After our hike, we visited the Caney Fork Gorge and the Great Falls Dam.

The mill building which had so frightened us when we were first driving in to the park turned out to have been the only mill in Franklin County. It operated for ten years before a flood wiped it out in 1902. The waters washed the giant turbine away and it was too expensive to replace it so the mill simply closed down.

Across the street there was an odd castle-like structure. This was a spring which had supplied drinking water to the mill. It was mossy and eerie and I am not at all sure I would want to drink this water.

After dinner we made a lovely fire and sat out in the cool night air, warm from the fire. I had made a pot of beans and we ate those by the fire. The stars were bright overhead and we sipped wine and enjoyed the evening until late. Thanks in part to the wood from our Michigander friend, our campfire was still burning the next morning when we got up.

We knew there would be rain on our second full day at the park. All day and that night it rained and rained. We spent the morning cleaning and doing our laundry. Later we drove into nearby Sparta to look around. With no cell or wi-fi at the campground, we sat in a bank parking lot for an hour catching up on email.  Back in camp that afternoon, we took advantage of breaks in the downpour to get hitched and ready to go the next day. It was a quiet and early evening with reading and a little music.

The next morning we woke to a grey and wet world. We pulled out and headed east. We were very excited to be visiting our next stop, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Ticked Off in Arkansas

We left Texas via Texarkana. Our route into and through Arkansas was atypical in that we were on a major highway. Interstate 30 headed northeast taking us in a direct line past Hope (birthplace of that most famous Arkansan) and directly up to the Hot Springs area. The truckers in Arkansas appeared to be fierce and not terribly thoughtful. Usually, truckers make space for us to change lanes and there seems to be a brotherhood among us. These truckers seemed intent on running us right off the road.

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Our next stop was the Lake Catherine State Park. The land for this park was donated to the state in the 1920’s when Harvey C. Couch, a very successful local businessman, built the Remmel Dam to generate hydro-electric power. The power station was later switched over to natural gas and oil. This is one of a pair of man-made lakes and dams serving the Hot Springs area.

The park is quite pretty. The campground at the park has two sections for rv camping and a group of cabins. The park caters especially to fishermen and golfers. Just before you reach the park, there is a large public golf course with housing and a restaurant.

5217 362Our site was beautifully situated right on Lake Catherine. Our lounge backed up to the shore just a few feet away. Tall maples ringed the site. Our neighbors to either side were a discreet distance away from us. Groups of quacking ducks and honking geese were our constant companions for our stay along with a heron or two. Once again, we got out all of our paraphernalia and decorated our site.

Did I mention the power plant dominates almost any view of the lake? Yes, right in front of us on the opposite shore of the lake sat the hulking power station. It was an omnipresent anchor to our, and anyone else’s, view of the lake.

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Of course, without the power station there would be no Lake Catherine. It gleamed in the sun and emitted a constant low-level hum. At night it was aglow with light and continued to emit that low-level hum. Like an unwanted dinner guest with bad table manners, it had pulled up a chair at the head of the table and anyone else at the table could only avert their eyes to enjoy the otherwise sumptuous spread.

This we did. We sat out in the evening air and watched as the sun slowly set and the world darkened around us. The power plant glowed and hummed and we steadfastly enjoyed a quiet evening at lakeside.

This park had quite a nice system of trails so the next morning we packed our lunches and headed out to hike the park. At the trail head there were interpretive signs informing us that this park, too, owed its infrastructure to FDR and the CCC.

We had a planned route but, as happens all too often, we missed a trial turn and ended up taking a different route. We both agreed this was actually much better. The first trail was called the Falls Branch Trail. It was a wooded trail and mostly followed the course of a small brook winding up and down rocky, mossy hills. There were lots of little water falls and it was cool and comfortable hiking in the woods.

To get to our next trail, Falls Creek Falls, we crossed the Falls Creek by the pretty waterfall for which it was named and headed up a steep and rocky trail. Our plan was to break for lunch at a spot on the top of a ridge with views down to the lake (and power plant) below.

We were out of the wooded area and hiking through tall grass and bushes at this point. It grew much warmer in the sun. We had feared we would leave behind good hiking as we headed east, but this trail made us feel there was hope for more good hikes in the future.

We made it to a bench overlooking the wooded hills and peaceful lake below us. We broke out our sandwiches. We were happily munching away when we became aware that we were sitting in the middle of a huge tick colony. Ticks were falling from the bushes onto us, crawling up our legs and swarming Dakota. For some reason, that ended our lunch break quickly. We gobbled last bites and retook the trail at a fast pace.

The rest of the day’s trail was easy walking and we made good time looping back to the Falls Creek Falls. From there it was a short hike along the banks of Lake Catherine back to our trailer.

The first thing we did back at the trailer was get out the tweezers and flamestick and check Dakota for ticks. There were quite a few. Ugh. We checked ourselves as well. The ticks made a satisfying popping sound when they were incinerated.

Rather than do more hiking at Lake Catherine, the next day’s plan was to head in to Hot Springs and visit Bathhouse Row and hike in the national park. Hot Springs National Park claims to be the first national park. The hot springs in the area had been drawing people for years and the area had slowly been developing in a haphazard fashion. In the 1830’s the federal government took the unprecedented step of “reserving” large parcels of the land for use by citizens. The creation of Hot Springs Reservation was the first attempt by the government to protect a natural resource. It was a bit ham-fisted, however, and failed to clearly delineate boundaries.

Over the years the bath houses in town had evolved from tents and crude lumber shacks to wooden structures. Hot Springs Creek ran right down the main street. The town was subject to frequent fires and the creek regularly flooded. In the 1880’s the federal government covered over Hot Springs Creek so that it ran under the main street of town. Next the government approved private development of new and more elaborate bath houses. Hot Springs’ reputation and popularity soared.

This popularity endured until the 1950’s when healing cures fell out of fashion and the bath houses slowly declined. Today only two of the bath houses are still in operation. The Fordyce, arguably one of the most elegant, now serves as the Visitors Center for the national park.

We drove into town and parked the truck on Central Avenue. Dakota was immediately engulfed by adoring fans. Central Avenue is the dividing line between the park on one side and the town’s business development on the other. Small shops and touristy places are on the town side and the row of preserved bath houses are on the park side.5217 467

Walking through the Fordyce was a treat. We took turns. One of us stayed with Dakota on the wide front porch while the other savored the vestiges of a bygone era. It was beautifully preserved, an elaborate and gracious emblem of the past.

After The Fordyce, we strolled the main street past the balance of the bath houses and back to the truck. We headed up Hot Springs Mountain Drive as it snaked back and forth up Hot Springs Mountain to the very top. Here we planned to walk the Goat Rock and Dogwood Trails.

The parking lot gave us a grand vista from the top of the mountain across wooded hills and the town below. It was very warm as we hit the trail. The sun was strong and the air heavy. We stepped off the trail to enjoy another overlook. When we got back on the trail, I noticed Dakota already had a tick on his paw. I removed it and we continued.

There were a few other hikers on the trails which was surprising since they seemed somewhat overgrown. I was feeling twitchy about ticks. We stopped for lunch at a stone shelter by the road. Sitting there eating my sandwich, I found another tick crawling on my arm. We never did see Goat Rock. If there was an actual Goat Rock, it eluded us. We completed our hike on the upper loop of the Dogwood Trail. I couldn’t find any dogwood either.

Back at the parking lot we checked Dakota for ticks. They were everywhere. We kept finding them and scrunching them into the pavement. I lost count around thirty. It was a total nightmare. Every time I ran my fingers through his fur, I found more. And more. Finally, it seemed we had them all. We got back in the truck and headed home, stopping in Hot Springs at a Kroger for groceries.

As we entered the park, I found a tick in my hair. We both felt itchy all over. When we got back to our camp site, I swept off the mat and laid Dakota down for another tick check. Unbelievably, we found more ticks. We found a few dead ones which meant we had missed them from before. We also found a few which had latched on to his skin. With dark satisfaction, Jim incinerated each tick, even the dead ones, with the flame stick. We felt terrible that we seemed not to have been diligent enough to protect him.

5217 363Sadly, we were no longer comfortable in this camp site. As I stepped into the trailer, a small tick fell from overhead onto my hand. In my research on ticks, the CDC said ticks can only crawl up their hosts. Experience proved otherwise. Later while sitting on the bench seat, I looked down to see another tick beside me. We felt under assault. Obsessively, we continued to go over Dakota checking for missed ticks.

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We holed up in the trailer. No more sitting outside on our mat enjoying the night air and scenic view of the lake and power plant. We contented ourselves with the view through the screened window.

Eastward Ho!!

The drive from Pedernales Falls to our next stop at Mission Tejas State Park was tougher than we expected. The mileage wasn’t that far outside our normal range, but the drive seemed to take forever. We stopped for diesel once and then again for lunch.

We were hungry and I had just remarked that the Texas highway department would do us all a favor if they put more rest stops along the highway when a blue rest stop sign appeared. I guess they heard me. It was a little late for lunch, but the rest stop looked green and serene. We pulled into a nice long spot by a picnic table and opened up the trailer. I was in the midst of making sandwiches when another Airstream pulled in to the rest stop! It was very exciting and seconds later our new neighbors were knocking at the door.IMG_2288

Susan and Bob live in east Texas and had bought their Airstream in 2008. They actually bought their Airstream at Colonial from Patrick! (Patrick Botticelli is a legend in Airstream circles for his videos available on YouTube). That makes us sort of related. Cousins in Airstream ownership. We had two good chats. They were very friendly and enthusiastic. That is how Airstreamers tend to be especially with each other. It is a special society.

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Buoyed by our close encounter with another Airstream, we pulled back onto the highway right behind our fellow Airstreamers. We followed them through mile after mile and town after town until a construction stop light divided us. “Goodbye Airstream Buddy!”

It was after 5 when we reached our destination. Mission Tejas State Park is an old CCC camp and was founded and built in 1934. Not a big park, it has only 14 camp sites about half of which are for tent camping. It looked like they were in the midst of building a new park entrance when we were there. We never really did ask about that.

The site the ranger assigned to us was one of the worst we have ever had. It was narrow. It spanned a rise with trees on the street side and behind. The pavement was laughably uneven. It was supposed to be a full hookup, but we could see no evidence of a sewer connection.

In a comedy of errors we hadn’t dumped because we thought we would have a full hookup. When we saw no evidence of a sewer connection, we pulled off the site to head back to the dump station. We were so tired we were almost staggering as we returned to the site and worked with the Andersons to level the side to side of the trailer. We finally got it level. As we finished connecting shore power and water, we found the tiny little opening which was the sewer connection. We never did bother hooking up the sewer, we had already dumped. The site was so uneven we decided not to un-hitch. We would just stay put in the park for two days.

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Despite these rather sad beginnings, we liked our site. The trees surrounded us. It was green and leafy. The first day there were few campers. On the second day several families arrived and the forest rang with the kids’ excited voices and happy laughter and the deeper voices of parents chatting and catching up.

 

The park didn’t have a lot of trails, but there were enough. We hit them first thing the next morning. There was almost no cell signal at our site and we figured we would follow the trails and end up out at ranger headquarters where we could hopefully catch some signal.

Heading out to hike the first thing we did was to walk up the hill behind our site to check out the bathhouse as well as the Commemorative Mission building next to it. The bathhouse looked perfectly fine. It was a study building and clean. It is always reassuring to know a hot shower is attainable.

Next we headed to the Commemorative Mission. This was a replica mission building was erected by the CCC when they built the park.

It was a beautifully crafted replica of an old log building. Mission Tejas got its name from the Spanish who tried valiantly to settle the area and convert the local Caddo tribes. Tejas means “friend.” The Caddos were farmers. Ultimately, the Spanish attempt to convert the Caddo and other local tribes was a failure. Disease decimated the local tribes who attributed their illness to baptism.

The park is heavily forested with pine, oak and maple. We first walked a nature trail around a pond which let to yet another trail called the Cemetery Hill Trail.

We took a brief detour onto the Lightning Trail. This trail zigzagged through the woods, hence its name, and met back up with the Cemetery Trail which led, as one might suppose, through the woods to a cemetery. This was the local cemetery and still very much in use. The oldest graves, dating back to the 1800’s, intermingled with the newer graves charting generations of local inhabitants. We spent some time assimilating a bit of family history based on the names and dates on graves.

One of the highlight historical sights in this park are the CCC baths. The park literature and signage on the trails exhort the visitor to see the CCC baths. In my mind I was picturing some good-sized bubbling springs which one could paddle around in to get clean and cool. I idly imagines if it was warm enough I could give them a try. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we got to the springs, we saw three holes which punctuated the earth. They were glorified puddles. There were the initial spring, the soaping and cleaning hole and the rinse hole. Imagine scores of sweaty, dirty men bathing in succession in the tiny, mud-lined holes.

The men on the CCC crews lived in primitive conditions and worked really hard. They earned $30 per month, $25 of which was sent home to their families. Most of the men came from poor homes and in the depths of the Depression, these jobs saved their families from starvation and gave them skills and a sense of purpose. They built roads, bridges, parks like this, strung telephone and electrical wire and planted quite literally a billion trees. These CCC camps were stationed all over the country and did so much to build the park system which Jim and I have been so thoroughly enjoying. I give FDR full props for this. The CCC saved lives and constructively employed what would otherwise be lost resources.

After viewing the CCC baths, we headed along the Big Pine Trail to ranger headquarters. We sat on the old buggy seat on the front porch and Jim downloaded the paper (sadly only part of it came through) and I tried to send a couple emails with little luck. Oh well, the hiking was good enough even without a digital payoff.

Another major sight at the park is the Joseph Rice Log Home. This cabin was originally erected in another location along El Camino Real (the King’s Highway). Joseph Rice and his wife added to the cabin as they added to their family. It became a stopping off point for travelers. Eventually the cabin was no longer inhabited and was used for storage until it was donated to the park by the family.

 

Most fascinating in looking at the cabin was the interpretive information about building techniques. Squaring off the logs, smoothing them and then maneuvering them into place was a substantial undertaking. It is hard to conceive of the painstaking labor involved and the craftsmanship required to get a roof over one’s head. It is possible to see the marks from the shaping tools on the logs. It is all beautifully preserved.

Our return hike to our site followed the Karl Lovett Trail through a pine woods. The ground was thickly carpeted with pine needles and the red earth shone through in spots. The woods we had been in before were dense and green, this section of the park was much more arid and piney. We paused to look at the signage for the old fire towers. Jim always loves a good fire tower. He climbed one once in northern Michigan and it takes little prompting to get him to reminisce about the experience.

When we had spoken to the ranger at headquarters, she warned us the ticks were bad. When we got back to the trailer, I spread the blue quilted movers blanket we keep in the truck and began a tick check. Bingo. Dakota had a pretty good crop of ticks on him. Jim grabbed the tweezers and fire stick and we removed some ticks. This was an unpleasant reminder that we were no longer in the dry country. We would need to be careful moving forward.

IMG_2304We spent the afternoon reading and knitting (I was knitting, not Jim). It was a delight to use the sturdy bathhouse with hot running water and not the CCC bathtubs.  We enjoyed the quiet and relaxing afternoon. We had a cozy dinner. Since we had not unhitched the next day’s getaway would be swift. We would head to our last park in Texas. The eastward push was really underway.