Friday, March 29, 2013

The Great Smokey Mountain National Park

In April our thoughts always gravitate to the Smokey Mountains.  Spring usually arrives here long before we see any sign of it in Maine.  In spite of the cooler temperatures this year, the daffodils and forsythia are in bloom and the spring beauties are starting to pop out along many of the trails. Although the river water is below optimum temperature for trout fishing, Marlin has spent a couple of days giving it a good try anyway.

As usual, I have hiked the trails nearest the best fishing streams and took way too many pictures of the same places I have photographed in the past.  It's kind of like walking on the beach.  I tell myself not to look down because I already have way to many shells, but somehow I end up with pockets full anyway.

Heading up Jake's Creek Trail with Marlin, we again walked through the ghost town that was once the Knoxville's Appalachian Club's summer community of Elkmont.   After the Little River Lumber Company stripped all the timber from this area, they sold lots and encouraged tourism.  At its height there were 70 vacation homes along this old railroad bed.  I believe, the original plan by the Park authority  was to let nature take the buildings back at its own rate.  However at some point the area was put on the National Register of Historic Places.  The current plan is to stabilize some of the structures but I am not sure if that includes restoration.  The clubhouse has been restored and is now used for past owner reunions.

 As you can see from the snow covered ground, it was too cold to fish that day.

Some of the daffodils in bloom along the road.

Along the edge of the trail, I noticed a path leading down to the river.  It looked inviting so we agreed to take a short detour.  When we got to the water, we noticed that the path continued on the other side of the stream and there was a cabin perched higher on the hill.  We were delighted to find documents inside describing the history of the building, the past owners, and information about the artist, Mayna Trainor Avent. 

The cabin is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is maintained by the Park service. Although originally built in 1850, by a Sam and Minnie Cook, many alterations have been made over the years.  In 1918 Cook's daughter and son-in-law sold the cabin and 18 acres to Mayna and Frank Avent.  Mayna is a nationally recognized artist with several pieces at the Smithsonian's  National Portrait Gallery.  Mayna used the cabin as a studio between 1918 and 1940.

Writing in the visitor log.  Unfortunately the pen was out of ink (or maybe frozen).

Documents from when the cabin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  (On the left)

Back of the cabin with the kitchen wing.

View of the approach path from the east windows.

On our way back I got a good look at the support structure for the bridge!  If you click once on the picture you can get a closer look at that log holding up the middle of the span.

Front of the Avent cabin.

Back on the trail we met two hikers who were looking for the path to the cabin.  They told us about a book "History Hikes of the Smokey Mountains", which describes many of the remaining structures in the Park, along with much of the background of each building.

Before departing they took our picture in front of this rock waterfall.  I think I'd like one of these in my back yard!

On our way back to the campground, we stopped at the Visitor's Center and purchased the book.  Seems there are many more cabins tucked away on hiking trails that we can investigate. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nashville, Tennessee

Before arriving in Nashville, we spent a couple of days visiting some friends in Jack's Creek, TN, which is about half way between Hot Springs and Nashville.  It was just about a year ago when we came to meet nephew Mike Cook for the Civil War reenactment at Shiloh and visited with the Huff's. Last year the weather was considerably warmer but we had an enjoyable visit anyway.

Nashville was rainy, windy, and chilly and enormously changed since we were here thirteen years ago.  For that visit we were celebrating Marlin's Dad's 84th birthday, and Linda and John Miles made the trip with us.  Perhaps it was missing Maynard, Linda, and John or maybe it was the timing, but the city seemed tired.   March is spring break somewhere for the entire month, so everywhere we went it was crowded and getting tickets for performances was tricky.

The Grand Ole Opry was sold out, but we spent an evening sampling the vast variety of Honky Tonks along Broadway, heard some pretty good music, and were able to get tickets to  "Flashdance the musical", which is due to open on New York's Broadway this coming summer.  Great talent, good music, with the story based on the old movie Flashdance.  Marlin doubts it will be a hit because the plot is predictable.

The performance was held in one of two auditorium's at the Tennessee Performing Arts building.  This venue also houses the Tennessee State Museum, which showcases the history of the State.  There was considerable space allotted to Andrew Jackson and James Polk, both  native sons of Tennessee.  The only picture taken during the three days we were in Nashville was of a guitar we thought James would be interested in seeing.

 In 1998 a tornado felled 1200 trees on the "Hermitage", the home of Andrew Jackson.  Gibson Guitar built 200 limited edition guitars out of one of  the 275 year old Tulip trees.  The mother of pearl ribbon, which lists significant events in Jackson's life, was only on the first three built.

After a seven block walk, in wind, hail, and one spill on icy pavement, when the Flashdance performance ended, we were glad to be on our way the next morning to the Smokey Mountains and a promise of 60 degree weather.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hot Springs Arkansas

Well, we had planned to go from Fort Davis to Big Bend National Park.  However,  a cold snap was hanging on in the area so we wimped out and headed east.  Unfortunately, the cold has followed us and we only had one day of warm weather and are back in the 40's, with temps in the low 30's at night again.  I know, wah wah wah, when Maine is below freezing, anyway. . . . .

While looking for some warm weather, we visited Hot Springs, Arkansas. Wonderful State Park at Lake Catherine and an interesting National Park,  but this is what I really liked about Hot Springs!

                         Oaklawn Park

Had a fun day as well as winning every race I picked!

 Winner's circle.  It was St. Patrick's Day and this was a special Irish race, hence the green attire

 The paddock where you can watch the horses as they are saddled and mounted.

 Their off!!!!

Aside from the horse races, the usual attraction at Hot Spings is the water.  One hundred and forty degrees of four thousand year old carbon dated water.  Hot Springs National Park  surrounds the city of Hot Springs, which makes it a bit confusing when talking about where you want to go.

The Park was designated a National Reservation in 1832, then rededicated as a National Park in 1921.  The main reason for bringing these springs under Federal control was to conserve and manage the thermal springs, and the natural hydrological system that feeds the springs, as uncontaminated water for public use.

The main street showcases a collection of bathhouses build in the late 1800 and early 1900's and known as Bath House Row.  This street is now a National Historic Landmark. Only two of the classic establishments that are under Park jurisdiction are in operation today, the Buckstaff Bath and Quapaw Bath House. Several others are being renovated and bids are out for companies to operate them as Park concessions.

From what I could gather from literature provided  and searching the internet, the bath house era made a slow decline after police eliminated unlawful gambling in the 1950's, along with the rising cost of operating the spas and a decline in public interest.  Most of the establishments on Bath House row closed by 1965. 

This partially renovated bath house is the temporary home of the National Park Visitors Center while the Fordyce Bath house if being renovated.

We had lunch in the Cafe here.  It was too late for a soak in the spa.

The Buckstaff Bath house is the only establishment that has been in continuous operation since 1912 and continues today to offer the complete regimen of thermal mineral bath, sitz bath, hot packs and Swedish massage.  The Qupaw bath house offers European style soaking spas and private bathing areas. There are several other hotels and spas offering similar services within the town of Hot Springs but not within the National Park jurisdiction.

We climbed (via elevator) the 216 foot high Hot Springs Mountain Tower for a look at the area surrounding the city of Hot Springs.  The third and current reincarnation of the structure opened in 1983 and affords a 140 mile panoramic view of the city and mountain areas.

Our camper in the parking lot

It would be fun to return to Hot Springs, take the mineral baths, and win a few more races at Oaklawn!

After leaving Hot Springs, we stopped in Little Rock and visited the Clinton Presidential Library



 Displays of each years accomplishments.

 Marlin as part of the President's cabinet

 Archive papers.  The tour guide said these papers are not classified as critical.  The most important papers are in a separate building.

 The third floor housed gifts given from other heads of state.  This is a piece of priceless jade

 Table setting for a diner given to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the White House. The china has the White House on it instead of the Presidential Seal.

 The top section of a glass Christmas Tree made by glass artist Dale Chihuly

 A Bill Clinton muppett

Replica of Clinton's Oval Office

At the end of the day, we decided we liked the Johnson Library much better, for many reasons.  If you ever visit these two facilities, let me know what you think. 


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

West Texas

After a week in the cosmopolitan city of Austin, we put on our cowboy clothes and headed toward Fort Davis.  West Texas is a unique, gritty, unconventional, historic, incongruous experience and for some reason, we really like it.

The journey followed part of the military overland route between San Antonio and El Paso that was established in 1855. Four forts along this road were an important piece in the westward expansion toward California.  The army presence provided escorts to wagon trains, stagecoaches, mail carriers and other travelers as well as keeping communication links open.

A replica of a Texas stagecoach at Fort Lancaster.  They don't look sturdy enough to have bounced over the dusty rocky rough terrain out here. It must have taken some determination to suffer the ride.

Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, located on a short but very scenic loop off of interstate 10, between Ozona  and Sheffield, was built on about 80 acres near the Pecos river.  The site contains the ruins of 25 stone and adobe buildings that were completed in 1860.  One of these was the foundation for the "Sutler" store.  This was the stage coach stop, mail relay station, and store which was owned and operated by a civilian merchant.

The most interesting fact about Fort Lancaster was its experiment with using camels for military transport.  Seventy four camels were brought here and were used to carry extremely heavy loads over long distances, using very little water, and eating only desert scrub plants.  The experiment was deemed a great success by the military men leading the program.  However, the soldiers who were required to care for and lead the camels, were in sharp disagreement with that assessment.  The Calvary troopers felt camel duty was a demotion, the camels spooked horses, and they were difficult to work with.

When the Civil War began and the fort was abandoned by the Union troops, the camels were left to fend for themselves.  The great experiment was never repeated.  Perhaps we could still have camels roaming west Texas today, but according to the Fort docent, they had all been neutered before coming to Texas so they could not reproduce and just died out.

Fort Davis
The town of Fort Davis is the location of the reconstructed fort of the same name.  This fort was also part of the San Antonio to El Paso route built to protect travelers and commerce from 1854 to 1891.  Even after the Civil War the Apache and Comanche Indians continued to ride rough-shot over this area. 

Because of their exemplary service during the Civil War, in 1866 the U.S. Army enlisted African American men into peacetime service.  The Ninth Calvary, made up of "buffalo soldiers", was sent to an abandoned Fort Davis where they not only had to deal with Indian raids but had to rebuild the entire fort as well. According to legend, the term buffalo soldiers came from the Native Americans, who thought the black men looked like buffalo.

Facing harsh living conditions, difficult duty and racial prejudice, the African American troops gained a reputation for dedication and bravery and were an important piece in the settlement of the west

Fort Davis

There is a scenic loop that travels from the town, past the McDonald observatory, and through beautiful hills made up of old volcanic formations before returning to Fort Davis.

McDonald Observatory

That night we had a few visitors in our campsite
These javalinas were not the least bit shy.  One came right over to the table to smell our barbeque ribs.  I think he was actually looking for a handout.

This trail followed the original CCC road that was built to the top of the mountain.

The courthouse in Downtown Fort Davis

Main Street, Fort Davis

More of the pack of javelina,