Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Moonshine, Illinois - 03/28/12

We are continuing on our journey home to Illinois.

We departed Terre Haute, Indiana at 8:30 p.m. Our destination today is Chicago, Illinois with a brief stop-over first at Moonshine, Illinois.

In the fall of 2003, we were watching a segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show with Bill Geist. His segment was on Moonshine, Illinois and the Tuttle family that operate a store there. It was such a nice piece of Americana that we put it on our list of places to visit. Our first visit there was in the summer of 2004 and we have been returning there every year since.

Moonshine, Illinois is out in the middle of nowhere in the southwest corner of Clark County. The first time we went there we got lost. We finally got directions from a local realtor and as we approached a rural intersection, we encountered another vehicle with the driver waving for me to stop. He too was looking for Moonshine! I told him to follow me, unsure at that point if I even knew where I was going. But we made it into Moonshine just fine. Part of the fun is just finding the place!

Roy and Helen Tuttle bought the old-time (circa 1912) country store in 1982 and promptly made it the best eating house in town. Actually, it's the only building in town, unless you count the porta-potty across the road that’s reserved for visitors.

Aside from cold cut deli-style sandwiches, drinks and snacks, Moonshine is the home of the world-famous Moonburger. You can get a double beef cheese Moonburger, you can get a bacon Moonburger, you can get a Moonburger just about any old way you want it.

The store guest-book has visitors from all 50 states and around the world. The visitors get a chance to enjoy hospitality and ambience from days gone by, no fancy menus or dinner tabs here, just give Helen your first name when you order over the deli counter and pay as you leave. You can sit down on the inside benches or enjoy your Moonburger on one of the picnic tables in the side yard.

We enjoy the Moonburgers, they are very tasty, but we go there for the ambience of the place and the wonderful people you meet there.

We arrived in Moonshine at 10:30 a.m. We had a nice conversation with Helen Tuttle and a few farmers who were having coffee. We ordered two Moonburgers with cheese to-go. We said our goodbyes with a "see you next year" and continued on our way to Chicago.

We arrived home at 2:15 p.m., completing a 6,408 mile trip through Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Indiana.

Total miles traveled today: 284

On to our next adventure!

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Illinois Here We Come - 03/27/12

Time to return home to Illinois!

We departed the Bear Creek Campground in Asheville, North Carolina at 10:00 a.m. Our destination today is a Walmart in Terre Haute, Indiana.

We arrived in Terre Haute at 9:00 p.m. and are settled in for the night at a 24-hour Walmart near Exit 11 on I-70.

Total miles traveled today: 511

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Biltmore Estate - 03/26/12

We awoke to a bright sunny day, with the temperature forecast to be in the low 70’s. This should be a perfect day for our last day here in Asheville, North Carolina. We intend to make the most of it with our visit to the Biltmore Estate.

We arrived at the Biltmore Estate at 10:30 a.m., just a 5 minute drive from our campground at the Bear Creek Campground. Our first impression was one of total amazement at the immense size of the Biltmore house and the surrounding 8,000-acre estate. The original estate comprised 125,000 acres. In 1914, 86,700 acres were sold to the federal government to form the beginning of the Pisgah National Forest.

George Vanderbilt created this country retreat where he could pursue his passion for art, literature, and horticulture. After marrying the American Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) in Paris during the summer of 1898, George and his new bride came to live at the estate. Their only child, Cornelia (1900–1976), was born and grew up at Biltmore.

The Vanderbilts were one of the oldest and best-known families in America. Jan Aertsen van der Bilt emigrated from Holland around 1650. Although his descendants prospered as farmers on Staten Island, New York, they lived modestly; it was only during the lifetime of Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), known as the "Commodore," that the family name became synonymous with extraordinary wealth.

Building Biltmore was, at the time, one of the largest undertakings in the history of American residential architecture. Over a six-year period, an entire community of craftsmen worked to build the country's premier home. Construction began in 1889 and George Vanderbilt officially opened the home to friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895.

The celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France. It features 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The basement contains a swimming pool, gymnasium, changing rooms, bowling alley, servants' quarters, kitchens, and more.

It took us about two hours to complete our self-guided audio tour of the home. Each room we viewed provided its own unique design and elegant decorating theme. If you closed your eyes and just listened to the narration on the audio receiver, you were magically transported back in time to another era. Viewing the servants quarters on the fourth floor and the kitchens and laundry room in the basement provided some insight into the magnitude of their responsibilities and the sparse lifestyle they must have led while living at Biltmore. One can only imagine the hardships they must have endured during the hot humid months of summer and the bone chilling months of winter while performing their duties within this massive house.

Our tour of the Biltmore house completed, we now turned our attention to touring the estate. There are several beautiful gardens maintained on the property next to the house. The gardens had a vast variety of flowers blooming with an abundance of different colors. A wall of tall shrubs separated the gardens from three large ponds. They are octagon shaped, shallow-water ponds. Each pond is stocked with Koi fish. Paved walking paths surround the ponds. Nicely manicured patches of lush green grass placed between the two entrances provide a cushioned entry into the pond area.

Our tour of the gardens completed, we are now ready to tour the estate in our vehicle. There is a one-way road that takes visitors around the entire 8,000 acre estate, approximately 10 miles. Our first stop was at the Bass Pond, which was stocked with a few very large Koi fish. This is a small pond with a paved path that circles the pond. At the far end of the pond the water exits through a narrow channel over a waterfall into a creek. We took a very enjoyable, leisurely walk around the pond.

Another popular stop on this drive is the Antler Hill Village & Winery. The winery provides free wine tastings and there are several restaurants within this area.

There is an exhibit of farm implements that were used on the property in the early 1900’s. There are exhibits that demonstrate the art of metalworking and other crafts. There is a farmyard with livestock and a kitchen garden for visitors to stroll through.

Other stops on the tour include the Inn on Biltmore Estate, the Deerpark Restaurant and the Carriage & Trail Ride Barns.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and memorable visit.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Asheville, Downtown Tour - 03/25/12

The weather forecast predicted it was going to be partly cloudy today, with scattered rain showers and temperatures in the mid-60’s. We decided to take a chance on the weather and tour the downtown section of Asheville, North Carolina.

Downtown Asheville is located about 10 minutes from where we are staying at the Bear Creek Campground. In no time at all we were on a self-guided walking tour of the downtown area. This is a thriving mountain city featuring an eclectic downtown filled with art galleries, restaurants, a thriving live music scene and surrounded by the awe-inspiring scenery of the Appalachian Mountains.

We arrived back at our campground late in the afternoon. We decided we needed to sample some more North Carolina BBQ for dinner this evening. While searching on the Internet, I came upon a webpage for Luella's Bar-B-Que in Asheville. We decided to give it a try. We arrived there about 5:30 p.m. The parking lot was full and the restaurant was overflowing with diners. Their BBQ was delicious, their wait staff was friendly and their service was fast and efficient.

A perfect ending to a day of adventure in Asheville.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway - 03/24/12

The weather forecast predicted it was going to be partially cloudy today, with scattered rain showers and temperatures in the mid-60’s. We decided to take a chance on the weather and tour a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We departed the Bear Creek Campground at 12:30 p.m. Our first stop was the Visitor Center, at Milepost 384 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to pick up a map and literature for our tour. The map showed a waterfall at Linville Falls, located at Milepost 316. We decided that would be our destination for the day, so off we went!

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a two-lane, well-paved blacktop winding road. It is a mountainous road with steep ascents and descents. It has a maximum speed posted at 45 mph. It extends 469 miles along the crests of the southern Appalachians and links two eastern national parks: Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. The northern end, Milepost 0, is near Waynesboro, Virginia, and the southern end, Milepost 469, ends at the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina.

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides awe-inspiring scenes along its length. Overlook areas are provided to view the surrounding area for as far as the eye can see. We were especially fortunate during our visit to witness the effect the sunlight conveyed on the surrounding landscape through a partial cloud cover. As pure white puffy clouds floated slowly through the visible patches of blue sky above, their shadows created the illusion that the mountaintops were actually moving.

Our next stop was at Glassmine Falls, at Milepost 361. We were at an elevation of 5,200 feet and the falls, visible in the far distance across the valley, fall 800 feet into a narrow rapidly flowing river below it. The valley in this area is the water basin for the city of Asheville. It comprises 20,000 acres and provides 30 million gallons of water to the city.

We visited Mount Mitchell State Park, at Milepost 355. This area boasts the highest point east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet. There is a steep trail that leads to a very high visitor viewing tower. The visitor is required to climb a considerable number of stairs to reach the top of the tower. We contemplated climbing the tower, but commonsense prevailed. It would have proved to be too difficult at our age and physical condition. Fortunately, we were spared any further thought of climbing this tower, when cloud cover moved in and hail started raining down upon us. We retreated to the safety of our vehicle, thankful for the Divine intervention that spared us from any feeling of remorse for not climbing that tower.

After driving 68 miles we arrived at Linville Falls, at Milepost 316, at 4:00 p.m. The falls are located about a half mile from the parking lot. The first part of the trail is wide and partially covered with small rocks. The remainder of the trail is an obstacle course around medium sized rocks on a very narrow dirt covered trail. The trail is somewhat steep in parts, but we were up for the challenge on this trail. There are two falls that are fed from a creek flowing down through the mountain. The falls are about ten feet apart, then drop down about twenty feet into a swirling pool of water about forty feet in diameter. This pool of water is then funneled downward very rapidly into a narrow winding channel of rock. The volume and velocity of the water surging through the channel is phenomenal and is a surreal sight to behold. The sound from the roar of the water scouring the rocks was quite loud and made conversation difficult to hear one another. As we were returning to our vehicle, a cloud appeared against a brilliant blue sky backdrop and released its built up moisture content upon us.

We’re getting hungry, time for dinner! While at a gas station I asked the clerk for a recommendation of a good BBQ restaurant in the area. The clerk recommended Countryside BBQ in Marion, North Carolina. We arrived there about 5:30 p.m. The parking lot was full and inside the restaurant, it was packed with customers. We had a premonition this restaurant would not disappoint us with their BBQ. And it did not! Their BBQ was delicious, their wait staff was friendly and their service was fast and efficient.

A perfect ending to a day of adventure on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Chimney Rock State Park - 03/23/12

We were watching the Weather Channel this morning and learned the weather conditions were changing here in Asheville, North Carolina, with rain showers forecast for Saturday and Sunday. The forecast for Monday is sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s. We decided we would extend our stay in Asheville by one more night and visit Biltmore on Monday, March 26. So back we go to the Biltmore ticket office to reschedule our visit from Saturday to Monday. No problem, we are now set to visit Biltmore on Monday with no group tour restrictions. We can tour the inside of the mansion by ourselves as often as we want to.

We were returning to our campground, which is west of Asheville on I-40. I had made a mistake and was heading east on I-40 instead of west. I took the next exit to find a place to turn around. We soon discovered we were southbound on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We came upon a highway exit sign that stated "Chimney Rock State Park" was 25 miles ahead on route NC-74A at the next exit. We had read about this park earlier in the Asheville area travel brochure. Our urge to explore could not be contained, so off we go!

This turned out to be an exciting road trip, consisting of 15 to 25 mph switchbacks rising to ever-higher elevations on a narrow two-lane road. There were short curvy sections of the road posted at 35 mph, but for our size vehicle, a Ford E150 Van, we considered 30 mph was a more prudent speed. Being courteous tourists, we would pull over at the infrequent turnouts along the road to allow the locals to pass us and zip around those mountain roads at what we considered to be nerve-racking speeds.

About 20 miles into our trip we reached an elevation of 2,880 feet. A sign posted there stated this was the highest elevation for route NC-74A in this geographical area of North Carolina. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The entire mountain road runs parallel to a wide shallow creek with crystal clear water rapidly surging around massive boulders that line the creek bed. Brilliant dark green shrubs and majestic evergreen trees were interspersed with lavender colored flowers and rust colored vegetation that formed a scenic backdrop on either side of the creek.

The approach into Chimney Rock State Park is hidden by a large hill and holds a pleasant surprise for visitors upon arrival. As we made our approach over the hill we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the small, quaint town of Chimney Rock. It is located deep within a valley surrounded by massive mountains on all sides. The mountains displayed their abundant variety of colorful trees and their beautiful early spring foliage and flowers of multiple colors. The town is comprised of several boutique shops that offer a variety of locally made products and natural gemstones from the area.

About one-quarter of the way into town is the entrance to Chimney Rock State Park. Chimney Rock is a 535-million-year-old towering monolith with sweeping panoramic 75-mile views from its summit. It has been an iconic focal point in the Western Carolina mountains for well over a century. It is located about one mile from the entrance and is devoid of any trees or vegetation on one side. This side is available for rock climbers to tackle the 400-foot vertical face of the mountain. There is a viewing platform at the summit for those who are physically fit for the challenging hike on the trail and a subsequent stairway climb to reach it. Unfortunately, we are no longer physically able to undertake strenuous hikes of this magnitude anymore. We must now be content to view the magnificence of Mother Nature from ground level.

The same creek that we had followed on the road through the mountains flowed through town. There was a developed pathway alongside of the creek that ran the length of the town. Colorful wild flowers and dark green vegetation hugged the shoreline on both sides of the creek. Massive boulders were dispersed throughout the creek as far as the eye could see. Colorful songbirds filled the surrounding mountains with their haunting melodies. A perfect ending to another most excellent adventure.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Asheville, North Carolina - 03/22/12

We departed the Rest Area on I-26, 12 miles southeast of Asheville, North Carolina at 8:30 a.m. We arrived at the Bear Creek Campground in Asheville at 9:00 a.m.

Earlier in the week we had made reservations at Bear Creek for four nights. It is conveniently located within 5 minutes of the Biltmore Estate and about 10 minutes to downtown Ashville. The campground sits high up on a hill with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

The cost for a campsite with full hookups is $40.00 per night.

Since we arrived in Asheville earlier than we had originally planned to, we decided we would visit Biltmore Estates on Saturday, March 24 instead of Thursday, March 29. We were prepared to pay the $10.00 increase per ticket for the earlier visit. Much to our surprise, the ticket office personnel accommodated our request for the Saturday visit with no increase in price. However, because weekends draw the most visitors, they provide visitors on weekends with a tour group number. There is a 30 minute time interval between the group tours to minimize congestion within the Biltmore mansion. We were assigned a number that started the group tour at 11:30 a.m.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

North Carolina - 03/21/12

We awoke this morning at 6:30 a.m. This is our last morning of camping here at Edisto Beach State Park in Edisto Island, South Carolina. Our mission is to view the sunrise that is forecast to occur at 7:22 a.m. We gathered up our camping chairs and headed to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

We were surrounded in total darkness when we arrived at the beach. We sat in our chairs watching the Atlantic Ocean surf roll in and scour the beach with a thunderous roar. As each minute elapsed the darkness very slowly transitioned to lightness until the sun started to appear over the horizon. What a breath-taking sight! The camera I’m using allowed me to view all the magnificence and brilliance of the sun through the camera’s display as I was taking the pictures. That morning, on that beach, Sharon and I shared another magical moment in our journey through life together.

We departed Edisto Beach State Park at 12:30 p.m. Our destination today is Asheville, North Carolina to visit the Biltmore Estate. Our original plan was to camp in National Forest campgrounds in North Carolina on our way to Asheville. Unfortunately, the campgrounds were either closed for renovation or did not open until April 1, so we drove straight through to Asheville.

While on the Internet last night, I discovered there is a significant cost savings if I book admission tickets for Biltmore online before March 31, and seven days in advance of our visit. The regular admission price is $45.00 per adult from January 2 through March 31, 2012 and did not include a tour of the fourth floor. There was an additional charge of $10.00 per adult for the audio tour. Our online price was $35.00 per adult and included the audio tour and the tour of the fourth floor. We purchased admission tickets for a visit seven days in advance, for Thursday, March 29.

We arrived at a Rest Area on I-26, 12 miles southeast of Asheville at 9:20 p.m. This would be our home for the night.

Total miles traveled today: 309

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Charleston, South Carolina - 03/20/12

We toured the old section of Charleston, South Carolina today. Charleston is a beautiful city full of old southern charm and hospitality. It is also very tourist friendly. It offers free trolley service throughout the historic downtown section and very reasonable parking. We parked in a parking garage across the street from the Visitor Center for about five hours and paid $5.00 for parking.

We topped off our visit with a late lunch at Hyman's Seafood Restaurant, established in 1895.

It is owned and operated by the fourth generation of Hyman’s. The owners, Eli Hyman and Brad Gena are very attentive to their customers. They personally visit each table to solicit their diners comments on the quality of the service and the meal preparation. The walls are lined with plates signed by Hollywood celebrities. Each table has four metal nameplates with the name of the celebrity that had a meal at that table. Any celebrity or sports figure you can think of most likely had a meal at Hyman’s. What a meal! We started with their Carolina Seafood appetizer, which consisted of a crab cake topped with scallops, bacon bits, and cheese and smothered with a rich creamy sauce. Our main entrée was grilled grouper stuffed with a crab cake mixture. We opted to walk, rather than take the free trolley back to the parking garage!

We returned to our campsite in Edisto Beach State Park, and those pesky mosquitoes, at 7:30 p.m. This is our last night here and we will be glad to be rid of mosquitoes at our next destination.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

South Carolina - 03/19/12

We departed the Ocean Pond campground in the Osceola National Forest today at 10:30 a.m. Our destination is Edisto Beach State Park. This state park is located in Edisto Island, South Carolina.

We arrived at the Edisto Beach State Park, at 4:15 p.m. This park is located within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean and is located approximately 40 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina.

There are two campgrounds to choose from: Ocean-Side and Salt Marsh. Ocean-Side is located a short walk from the beach on the Atlantic Ocean and does nor provide much privacy between campsites. Salt Marsh is located within a wooded area, about one-half mile from the beach and provides more privacy between campsites. We selected a campsite at the Salt Marsh Campground.

Most annoying are the mosquitoes. There are swarms of them throughout the area. The only area we were not bothered by them was on the beach by the ocean. Fortunately, we are only spending two nights here before we move on.

The cost for a campsite with electric and water hookups is $31.75 per night.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ocean Pond Campground - 03/13/12

We are still here at the Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola National Forest. We arrived here on March 1, and were planning to depart on March 11, but we have so enjoyed the quiet, relaxed atmosphere and scenery here that we extended our stay through March 18. We will now depart for Charleston, South Carolina on March 19.

We are enjoying newfound friendships with folks from Michigan, New York, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. The couple from Michigan provide a campfire each night for the enjoyment of any other campers who care to gather around the campfire and socialize with one another. Most of them spend the month of March in Ocean Pond, so we will probably see them again in March 2013.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Osceola National Forest - 03/01/12

We departed the Alexander Springs Campground in the Ocala National Forest at 11:40 a.m. today. Our destination is a return visit to the Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola National Forest near Lake City, Florida.

We arrived at Ocean Pond at 6:15 p.m. and were fortunate to get the last campsite available in the electric and water hookup section of the campground. We plan to spend 10 nights here before we depart for a campground close to Charleston, South Carolina.

The Ocean Pond Campground is a very scenic area overlooking a lake. It has paved roads and paved parking pads which is very nice for those of us campers who like to be pampered on occasion. There are three separate sections to this campground. There are 19 sites with electric and water hookups in one section. There are several sites with water hookups, no electric, in another section and there are several primitive sites with no water or electric. We opted for one of the water only sites, since we have a generator and solar panel to create our own electricity. We were able to access the Internet at this campground tethering our Smartphone to our laptop computer.

A nice added feature of this campground is it has very nice flush toilet and shower facilities. The showers are isolated from one another with their own locking door, affording one their own individual privacy while taking a shower.

The cost for a campsite with an electric and water hookup is $12.00 per night with our Golden Age Passport.

Total miles traveled today: 232

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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