Mammoth Cave National Park

Once we realized that Mammoth Cave National Park was only about an hour and a half from Louisville, we added it to our list of things to see during our trip. The day after the wedding festivities ended we packed up the camper and headed down the road. It felt great to arrive at the campground at noon instead of spending all day in the truck. Then I remembered that we had changed time zones so it was actually only 11am. Even better!

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of traveling as retirees. We frequently forget that we can adjust our schedule as needed – and on the fly. So, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I rocked the retirement thing that day. I knew as soon as we got the camper set up Kenn would be asking “So, what do you want to do today?” so I headed him off at the pass. I told him “I don’t want to do anything today. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m tired of being in the truck. I just want to sit outside and read.” Not to mention that we had spent three days people-ing. As much as I enjoyed meeting people and visiting with everyone, this introvert’s batteries were completely drained. I needed to recharge. And I did. All day. Kenn got in the truck and went out exploring later in the day. I stayed at the camper with my Kindle app. It was heaven.

The next day, well rested, we headed to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Obligatory photo with the sign

Now, there are two things to know about Mammoth Cave. (Well, more than two but I’m only going to list my top two here.)

  1. Unlike most national parks, there is no entry fee at Mammoth Cave. According to one of the rangers on our tour, this was a part of the deal when the land was bought up by the state before being given to the federal government: the families who had lived on the land would never have to pay a fee to go “home”.
  2. Mammoth Cave is named for the large size of the cave system; there are no mammoth fossils. (Fossil loving me was greatly disappointed, LOL.)

While there may be no fee to enter the park, visitors interested in touring the caves must purchase tickets (which do cost money) for ranger-led tours. There are a number of tours to chose from; we went with the Domes & Dripstones tour. We arrived at the park an hour or two ahead of our tour just to get the lay of the land. This gave us a chance to locate the stamp for our National Parks passport book and to buy the required souvenirs; in this case, a Christmas ornament. Note to self: check all gift shops before making a purchase. We bought an ornament in the first shop and I found one I liked better in the third shop which meant backtracking to the first shop to make a return. Not really a big deal but it could have been avoided with a little extra care on my part.

We decided it would be a good idea to pick up a couple of bottles of water to take with us on the tour. (When my throat gets dry, I start coughing and my throat gets dry a lot during allergy season. It’s not COVID people, it’s just allergies!) While Kenn was in line to get water, I noticed that the shop also sold soft pretzels. Since I never like to pass up the opportunity for a soft pretzel, I asked him to get one. Y’all, this was the biggest soft pretzel I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t even complain about the $8 price once I saw it.

Now that’s a pretzel!

By the time we finished sharing pretzelsaurus (including scraping off most of the salt) the rest of the tour group had arrived at the shelter. Ranger B arrived to give us the required safety briefing, we loaded up onto two buses, and were on our way. Ranger Alex regaled us with information about the park on the way to our destination. One interesting tidbit: Although the park is forested, there are no old-growth trees since it was predominately farmland for many years. Planting trees was one of the functions performed by the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

The tour began in a sinkhole where Ranger B reminded us not to touch the rocks. Due to the fact that the caves do not receive rain, wind, etc. they don’t want the oils and lotions on our hands to damage the delicate ecosystem. Admittedly, I did touch the rocks a couple of times. In my defense, for once, it wasn’t a matter of me being contrary. (Shocking, I know.) In one spot it was just reflex to put up a hand to keep from bumping my head on a rock. (I had already banged my head when getting on the bus, LOL.) The second time I was navigating a section with a low ceiling and narrow path; my foot slipped on the damp floor and it was either touch the rock with my hand to catch my balance or touch it with my face. I chose the least painful of the two.)

The group stopped at two or three areas while the rangers gave us more information regarding the early days of the park. And, as always on a cave tour, there was a point where the lights were turned off just to show what true dark actually looks like. I have the utmost respect for spelunkers, especially the ones who did their scouting without modern equipment; I wouldn’t want to be exploring a cave system with nothing better than oil lamps.😬

In my opinion, the most spectacular scenery was in an optional section near the end of the tour.

Always look up
Behind Frozen Niagara

The original entrance to the caves is still in use but we just missed a tour group and weren’t interested in waiting around for the next one so we just snapped a couple of pictures and went on our way.

The original entrance

White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, has wiped out 90% of the bat population of Mammoth Caves. One phase of fighting this disease is that, at the end of each tour, all participants must walk across bio-mats soaked with disinfectant to remove any contamination possibly transported out of the caves on footwear.

All in all, a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. The next time we find ourselves in the area, we’ll probably stop in and take a different tour.

Have you been to Mammoth Cave?

Most importantly, soft pretzels, yes or no?

Friday Funnies

We overnighted at a KOA Holiday in Manchester, TN on our way to Louisville. (It was one of the nicest KOAs we’ve stayed at.) Once we rested a bit we decided to take a walk and discovered a huge field behind the campsites with a walking path around the edge. (A small herd of deer kept an eye on us from the far side of the field.) There are all sorts of interesting “statues” lining the trail and the edge of the woods starting with two gigantic squirrels. Kenn said “Please don’t touch the squirrel’s giant nuts,” so of course I did because that’s how I roll.🤷‍♀️😂

Road Trip 2021: Pennsylvania and the Flight 93 Memorial

Even though we had begun the journey home, we still had one planned stop to make – the Flight 93 Memorial. We arrived in Lubek, Maine on 9/11/2021; watching some of the annual documentaries reminded me that the Flight 93 Memorial was in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There was no way we could be so close and not add it to our itinerary.

On our way north, we traveled through eastern Pennsylvania; I wasn’t a fan.🤷‍♀️ Our journey to the Flight 93 Memorial took us through middle and western Pennsylvania, which I loved. We stayed overnight at Black Moshannon State Park, located in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely beautiful.

On the way to our campsite

We arrived at the Flight 93 Memorial with our travel trailer in tow. The parking area was smaller than what you might find at other memorials but there was parking for at least 10 RVs/buses. At the time of our visit, masks were still required inside all federal buildings, which included the visitor’s center.

The visitor’s center features a small gift shop (of course) and a walk-through display. The display features a timeline of the attacks on 9/11/2001 along with items found at various locations. One section also features audio clips from various cockpit recordings and voicemail messages, etc. I skipped this section; I’ve heard enough of those heart-breaking clips in the documentaries I watch every year. I moved on to the section that displays some of the items that have been left at the memorial through the years. The one that ripped my heart out was a printed on a standard sheet of printer paper; the text is on the image below.

Created with Canva

This is where I discovered that ugly-crying while wearing a mask is less than ideal. At this point, I got out of line and went in search of Kenn. Once we finished in the visitor’s center, we moved outside. (Note: if you are looking to stamp your national park passport, the stamp is not located in the visitor’s center. There are a variety of stamps located in the visitor’s shelter at the Memorial Plaza.)

Unlike other National Memorials (I’m looking at you, Mount Rushmore) the Flight 93 National Memorial is quiet, peaceful. We chose to walk from the visitor’s center to the memorial plaza; the walking paths were level and the walk was easy, even for Kenn’s bad knees.

On the trail from the visitor’s center
The stone in the center marks the point of impact of the crash

There are marble memorials for each of the 40 passengers and crew aboard Flight 93. This one tugged at my heartstrings the most because it also commemorates Lauren’s unborn child.

The Tower of Voices is located near the entrance to the park and has its own parking area which includes spaces for RVs and buses. The Tower of Voices was dedicated in September 2020 and serves as “a visual and audible reminder of the heroism of the forty passengers and crew of United Flight 93.” The tower stands 93 feet tall and holds 40 wind chimes, one for each of the passengers and crew. The wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to activate the chimes the day of our visit but there are audio clips available online.

There you have it, dear readers. We have now reached the end of our 2021 road trip – with the exception of a few miscellaneous things I may post about later. So, what does 2022 hold for us? We were planning a trip to Utah this autumn but have put it on hold until next year, primarily due to the increased cost of gas. (Filling up Ruby’s 38-gallon gas tank is no joke, even at the best of times.) However, that doesn’t mean that we are just going to sit around the house and do nothing. We will still be traveling, just differently. We will still be going to South Carolina to help out with the twins and taking day trips and visiting attractions/locations in the South. We’re also planning to visit friends and family that we haven’t seen in ages. And you know what? I’m not even mad about the change. I’m actually looking forward to doing something a little more low key.

Until next time, happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: New York State

Prior to our Vermont decision to head home, Kenn had wanted to visit the Adirondack mountains in New York state, which I was fine with. Once we decided to begin the journey home, he changed his mind so, we began plotting our return route – which turned out to be easier said than done. There were very few places to cross over from our location in Vermont into New York state. We saw a ferry location on the map but weren’t sure that it could handle travel trailers so, we headed for southern Vermont planning to cross into New York there. However, in a moment of serendipity, just as we reached the road leading to the ferry another truck towing an even larger travel trailer turned that way. We said “what the heck” and followed them; if travel trailers weren’t allowed, we’d find some way back to civilization.

It turned out the the Charlotte, VT ferry does indeed allow travel trailers which meant we were able to cross Lake Champlain in style and it made the transition into New York state much easier.

Ruby and Serenity ready for their first ferry ride
The rig in front of us that we followed to the ferry
It was cloudy and windy and the water was choppy

I’m not a big city person so New York city is not on my list of places to visit. But, New York state? I’ll go back to eastern New York state any time. It is absolutely beautiful and is one of the many places I have fallen in love with during our travels.

Some of the most beautiful sunsets of our trip were in New York state

Of course we had to pose with the iconic sign.

Kenn
Me, wondering when I got so much junk in my trunk

Next time: Pennsylvania. Until then, stay safe and happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: Vermont

We left New Hampshire and headed to Vermont. While I had been looking forward to the trip as a whole, Vermont was to be one of the highlights for me. Kenn kept asking me what I wanted to see in Vermont and my answer was always “I just want to see Vermont.” What’s not to love? Rolling, tree-covered mountains reflecting the changing of the seasons. Perfection, right? Alas, not so much.

While I enjoyed the scenery, our stay in Vermont got off to a rough start. Our arrival at the campground we selected was a comedy of errors. The directions provided by the manager left a lot to be desired and her gruffness rubbed me the wrong way. I also wasn’t thrilled with our campsite but we were only going to be there two nights so it wasn’t the end of the world.

The welcoming committee made things better
Might you have some bread to spare?

It was an overcast day but we headed out to get the lay of the land. While Vermont was every bit as gorgeous as I expected it to be, I just wasn’t feeling it – not even when the sun came out and the clouds started breaking up.

Of course, we had to stop and take pictures of covered bridges.

My favorite picture from Vermont

Our campground was only a few miles from Stowe, Vermont. A lot of the “iconic” Vermont photos that I have seen were taken in Stowe. We did a drive-through of the town in preparation to spending time there the next day. Once again, I wasn’t feeling it. After two trips to Bar Harbor, I did not have another trip to another touristy town in me. Later that evening back at the camper, Kenn went out to put the satellite dish on the roof and came back in wearing his “I’m injured” expression. (I have become well acquainted with this expression over the years.) When he was coming down the ladder, his wedding ring got caught on a screw; he was lucky he didn’t deglove or lose the finger. It took some work and some of the oil I put on my dry hair but we managed to get his ring off and put it on the necklace he always wears. (It was a couple of months before the swelling in his finger went down enough for him to get his ring back on.)

Later that evening I had to admit that I was done. I was ready to go home. At that point we had been on the road for three weeks and even if we drove non-stop it would still take us another week or so to get home. During the course of our trip our then pregnant daughter-in-law was admitted to the hospital with gall bladder issues, my oldest sister had a stroke, and our youngest son’s girlfriend’s mom died from COVID after several months in ICU. I needed to see and touch my people and know that they were okay. Kenn admitted that he was ready to head home as well so we cancelled the second night of our stay and hit the road home the next day. (In spite of my first impression, the campground manager was nice. She sent us on our way with some extra sharp cheddar cheese and maple syrup, both products of Vermont. We even got a Christmas card from her.)

Next up, New York state. Until then, happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: Mount Washington Auto Road

Since we were in New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Auto Road was pretty much a must. Kenn has had a fascination with Mount Washington for many years; he frequently checks the conditions at the observatory at the top of the mountain. (Mount Washington held the record for the “fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth”, 231 mph, for almost 62 years. The record was broken in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia during Typhoon Olivia.) As you might have guessed based on some of my earlier posts, the Appalachian Trail crosses Mount Washington.

Our initial plan was to ride the Cog Railway to the top of the mountain. However, since we didn’t make reservations in advance, there were no seats available. We looked into riding one of the non-cog trains but I wasn’t interested in spending almost $200 for the experience. So, it was time to decide if we could handle the drive. Now, driving up a mountain generally isn’t that big of a deal but the Auto Road isn’t just any road. As much as I love the mountains, windy/twisty roads with steep drop-offs and no guard rails are not my idea of fun – and that is pretty much a description of the Auto Road. I went online and watched a few videos of the drive and was comfortable that it was doable. So, it was time for one of those heart-to-heart discussions that are occasionally necessary in all relationships. I assured Kenn that I could handle the drive with no panic attacks and that if (when) I freaked out, I would grit my teeth and keep it internal so that I didn’t distract him while he was driving. He, on the other hand, had to swear that he would keep his eyes on the road. Now, this may seem like a simple request but it is a common issue for us; the whole time Kenn is driving it’s “look at this” and “did you see that?” with my answer being “No, because one of us needs to watch the road!” Kenn promised to focus on the road and not the scenery and we were set. We planned our drive for our first day in New Hampshire but it was closed due to the rain so, of course, we went the second day.

When you arrive at the entrance to the Auto Road, you pay your fee and get a bumper sticker that says “This vehicle climbed Mount Washington”. (When we stopped at the gift shop after our drive I bought a smaller magnet that says “This truck climbed Mount Washington”.) You also pass a sign stating “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.”😬 The drive starts off pretty much like any mountain road: windy, narrow, two lane, trees on both sides. The higher you climb, the fewer the trees. Once you get above the tree line, the road becomes more “exciting” eventually becoming two-way traffic on what is basically a one lane road. The Auto Road is paved – except for the steepest stretch, which is dirt. (I haven’t been able to find any explanation for the unpaved section. I’ve decided it’s because it is so steep and that vehicle tires may get better traction on the dirt rather than pavement.🤷‍♀️ If you know the answer, please enlighten me!)

Going up!

The closest I came to not keeping my freak out internalized happened not too far from the top of the mountain. There were a couple of vehicles coming toward us so Kenn and Ruby were hugging the right side of the road. The only problems with this were the hillside that was right outside the passenger door and the narrow drainage trench at the side of the road. I was terrified that we were going to get a wheel caught in the trench or break off a mirror on the hillside. When we met up with the truck coming toward us, both Kenn and the driver of the other truck rolled down their windows and folded their mirrors in to prevent a collision. Yes, the road is that narrow. Once we reached the parking lot, I was tempted to be overly dramatic and kiss the ground, but I refrained.😂

The area above the treeline is an alpine region where vegetation is scarce and fragile. The landscape is stark and beautiful.

Panoramic photo from just below the treeline

The rocky areas had a “lunar” feel to me.

I could see for miles and miles and miles…
Our Mount Washington selfie graced our 2021 Christmas cards

We spent an hour or more roaming around the top of the mountain before heading back down. I knew the “down” part of the drive was going to be the worst part for me since the passenger side of the truck would be on the side of the road featuring the drop-off and no guard rail. I told Kenn that I was just going to keep my eyes closed until we got below the treeline, at which point nature would provide a guardrail of sorts. I kept my promise except for when Kenn said “Oh no!” or something of the nature that you don’t want to hear when dealing with a two-way-traffice-on-a-one-lane-road situation. Remember the drainage trench I mentioned and how I was afraid we were going to get a wheel stuck in it? Well, some unfortunate driver headed up the road had done just that. Poor guy was stuck. So now, we had the addition of the traffic behind him having to pull all the way to the left side of the road to continue their trek which made the traffic flow even more thrilling. When we reached the base of the mountain, we passed the tow truck headed up to the rescue. I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness that scenario; my freak outs probably would not have remained internalized at that point.

So, yes, it is possible to survive the Mount Washington Auto Road even when you have a fear of heights and anxiety issues. And, I’m glad we did it. Oh, if you’re curious, the Auto Road is 7.6 miles long and the drive up the takes around 30 minutes; the drive down takes 30-45 depending on how often you stop to cool your breaks. The grade averages around 12%.

During our travels, whenever we ate out we tried things we had never had before. After we finished the Auto Road, we decided to eat a late lunch/early supper (what we call “lupper”) at The Public House Eatery in Gorham, NH. Best. Decision. Ever. Everything we had was delicious. Their signature pizza was seriously the best pizza we’ve ever had. Who knew teriyaki-glazed steak tips and mashed potatoes on a pizza could be so good?

Yummy!

Next week, Vermont and New York state. Until then, take care and happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: The White Mountains of New Hampshire

We finished our stay in Millinocket, Maine and journeyed to New Hampshire. Due to his interest in the Appalachian Trail, Kenn has read many books by through-hikers and the White Mountains were on his bucket list. Now, I love the mountains – any mountains; the mountains are where my soul feels most at peace. However, I knew nothing about the White Mountains and wasn’t sure what all of the fuss was about. Y’all. Holy cow. The White Mountains are… breathtaking. Sadly, none of my photos did them justice.

The White Mountains

We planned to spend two days in the area and made reservations at the Lincoln/Woodstock KOA Holiday, which was a fortunate choice; this was hands-down the best campground we stayed at the entire trip. You can read my review HERE. We planned to use the first day to drive the Mount Washington Auto Road, but it rained which meant the road was closed. However, the rain was a good thing in that it forced us to take a down day. We spent the morning doing laundry at the campground. (I was impressed by the laundry facilities; the equipment was commercial-grade and there was a working change machine.😮) Once the rain let up a bit we ventured into Lincoln for food and souvenir shopping. We ate at the Gypsy Cafe, a charming restaurant where both the decor and menu are eclectic. If I lived in the area, I’d eat there at least once a week.

Grilled cheese fondue at the Gypsy Cafe

By the time we ate and completed our souvenir/Christmas shopping, the rain finally let up and the clouds began to clear so we did a little exploring on our way back to the campground. This is when I was able to take my favorite photos from the area. I even made Kenn drop me off on a bridge so I could get a shot that I wanted.😂

The shot from the bridge
Clouds over the mountains

There’s a lot of this beautiful country that we have yet to see, but I would return to the White Mountains in a heartbeat.

Next week, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Until then, take care and happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: Baxter State Park & Mount Katahdin, Maine

When I last blogged about our road trip, we had traveled to Skowhegan, Maine to meet my long-time (40+ years!) pen pal and her husband. You can read about our visit HERE. We then left Skowhegan and journeyed to Millinocket, Maine where we stayed at the Wilderness Edge Campground which was an easy drive from Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin. (My full review of the campground can be found HERE.)

Site 41 at Wilderness Edge Campground

At this point in our journey, we were still eagerly looking for moose. Wilderness Edge offered “moose tours” but all of their tours were full when we arrived. However, a local lodge offered moose tours via boat; the tours were early morning and early evening to coincide with the times the moose would come out of the woods to drink from the lake. We elected to take the early morning tour so we were on the water at 7am. While no moose were seen, we did see a lot of beautiful scenery. And did I mention that it was cold? The temps would have been fine on shore but once you’re on a boat, speeding over the lake, it feels much colder. Thankfully, the tour hosts provided blankets. By the end of the two-hour trip, I was bundled up in a blanket in addition to my own cold weather gear.

Just before launch
Just after launch

We spent most of the next two days exploring Baxter State Park, home of Mount Katahdin. Kenn has long had a dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. We have done numerous day hikes on southern parts of the trail and Kenn has done a few section hikes, beginning at Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the AT. Even though aging knees and an aching back seem to have put an end to Kenn’s AT dreams, seeing Mount Katahdin, which marks the northern terminus of the AT was on his bucket list.

Oddly enough, once we were in the park, we never set foot on Mount Katahdin. The first day, the parking lot(s) at the base of the mountain were full so we had to visit a different section of the park. When we returned the next day, rain was threatening and we elected to continue exploring the section of the park that we had visited the day before since we had only seen a small part of it. (Don’t worry; it was Kenn’s choice. This part of the trip was all for him.) We picked a section of the park and drove through it stopping whenever we felt like it. We took a few short hikes and saw a lot of amazing scenery, but still no moose. (Darn moose, LOL.) We even got to see otters playing in one of the lakes! All in all, it was an enjoyable, relaxing couple of days.

It wasn’t prime leaf season, but the leaves were starting to change
Tiny fungi
Baxter State Park selfie

Until next time, happy trails and… take a moment to back up your important files. The SD card in my phone recently failed, taking a lot of my photos with it. Fortunately, I had copied all of my trip photos to Dropbox so they were safe. Phew!

Road Trip 2021: The Long Distance Relationship

We left Trenton, Maine and headed for the Farmington/Chesterville area. We wound up staying at the Skowhegan/Kennebec Valley KOA; it was further away from our destination than I would have liked but it was an amazing campground that we would gladly stay at again. (My review is available here.) Our first stops were near sites we wanted to see, so what drew us to this area? Friendship.

When I was in high school, I had several pen pals – up to 21 at one point. Over time, that number dwindled to just one and we have now been writing for over 40 years. And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, my remaining pen pal lives in Maine. There was no way I was going to visit the state and not take advantage of the opportunity to meet. So, we exchanged (more) letters and phone numbers and I kept her apprised of when we would arrive. I have to admit, I was nervous. I’m shy and writing is easier for me than face-to-face interactions, but I shouldn’t have worried. Our meeting was… easy. You would think we had known each other for years, LOL.

Kenn and I spent a day with Ruth and her husband, John. We went out for lunch and then stopped for ice cream. We spent the remainder of our time just sitting around our campsite and talking. Ruth asked one of the campground employees to take our picture.

John, Ruth, Linda and Kenn

One of the souvenirs I collect when we travel is (are?) Christmas ornaments. Somehow, I got home from our trip without an ornament for Maine. I turned to Amazon (of course) in my search for a Maine ornament but wasn’t happy with the selection; many of them were too similar to ornaments that I already have. Then, inspiration struck and I turned to Shutterfly where I had the photo shown above printed on a metal ornament. I think it’s perfect and look forward to it gracing our tree in all the years to come.😊

Here’s hoping that it won’t take us another 40 years to get together again!

Until next time, here’s to friendships and happy trails!