Schoodic National Scenic Byway – Downeast Maine at its best!

June 2015 – While we were in one of the Maine visitors centers getting info about Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park, I noticed a tiny brochure entitled, “Schoodic National Scenic Byway.” We love scenic drives, and any drive that has been designated as a National Scenic Byway is always really outstanding.

I tucked that little pamphlet into my stack of literature with a happy smile, and one sunny morning we took off on what turned out to be a truly inspiring tour.

Schoodic Point Scenic Drive Mt Desert Island Maine

Coastal views on the Schoodic National Scenic Byway

This short drive takes in some of the best scenery that northern Maine has to offer, and what’s even better is that we saw almost no other tourists all day long. This was quite a contrast to Acadia National Park and all of Mt. Desert Island which were teeming with visitors.

Rocky beach coast of Maine Acadia National park

Pebble beach and rocky shoreline in Maine

We were loving the raw and rugged coastline that we found in this part of Maine, and at one point we stopped to watch the waves crashing on the granite boulders.

Crashing waves northern Maine coast

Fantastic!

At the tiny hamlet of Wonsqueak Harbor we found a gem of a little cove and stopped for pics.

Wonsqueak Harbor Maine near Acadia National Park and Schoodic Point

Picture perfect Wonsqueak Harbor


The water was wonderfully calm in the many bays that we passed, and it was crystal clear. It was so clear in Winter Harbor that Mark got an awesome photo of the swaying seaweed beneath the water with a classic pine covered shore in the distance.

Underwater seaweed Schoodic Point Maine

Above and below — talk about clear water!

Acadia National Park has a little branch on Schoodic Point that is isolated from the rest of the park over on Mt. Desert Island, and as we passed through the heavily wooded shoreline, we were engulfed in the most delicious smell of pine. I don’t know if it was the damp morning air or what, but we breathed deeply and felt so refreshed. Mark later bought a bag of crushed Balsam Fir needles so we could enjoy it in the rig wherever we parked!

Passing the tip of Schoodic Point, we came to the most engaging part of the tour: Prospect Harbor.

Prospect Harbor Maine

Lobster boats in Prospect Harbor

This harbor oozes downeast Maine charm. It is filled with lobster boats, and on the far shore you can see Prospect Head Light.

Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse Maine

Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse

Nearby we found some wild irises growing by a small pond.

Wild irises northern Maine coast

What are these doing here? How pretty!

Next to those were some wild lupines.

Wild lupine northern Maine coast

Pink, purple and blue wild lupines were everywhere!

But it was the pretty Maine scenery of the waterfront communities that really caught our eye. The tides are big here, so there are tall ladders that go from the docks down to the water.

Lobster pots Prospect Harbor Maine

Classic Maine lobster dock with traps stacked six high.

Out in the water, dinghies waited patiently for their owners to return from a day of lobstering.

Row boats Prospect Harbor Maine

Beautiful Prospect Harbor

What we loved about this area is that it is very real and not a fake put-on like so many seaside villages that are decorated with cutesie lobsters, bouys and traps.

This whole region is a true working community of active lobstermen. Evidence of the lobster trade was everywhere. We saw lobster pots stacked high all over the place.

Skiff and lobster pots Prospect Harbor Maine

Lobster pots and a skiff
These aren’t props, but they do make for great photos!

The lobster boats in the harbor sat peacefully in the morning sun.

Prospect Harbor Maine

Scenic quaintness aside, this is a working harbor.

Most of the homes in the area are owned by working lobstermen, and we passed one house after another that had a huge stack of lobster pots in a side yard or even in the driveway. On top of the stack would be a neatly coiled pile of rope and a big collection of identical bouys strung together.

After seeing so many seaside towns that use old bouys with all different color schemes and patterns as colorful ornaments, I was fascinated as we passed one house after another, each with its own colored bouys adorning a neat stack of pots. One house had all white bouys with a blue stripe. The next had all orange bouys with a white stripe. And so on. I was so caught up in musings about these folks and their lifestyle that I totally forgot to take any photos! This stuff was real. I loved it!

Down on the wharfs and the docks, things were a little more chaotic. Little coils of rope were all over the place, and a scramble of different bouys was scattered about.

Lobster pots and line on the docks at Prospect Harbor Maine

Coiled rope, lobster pots and bouys on the dock at Prospect Harbor.

13 701 Lobster pots Prospect Harbor Maine

We wandered around the docks and watched a lobsterman with a big bushy beard coming up from his boat at a brisk pace. His step was nimble and quick, and his smile was big and warm.

He stopped for a moment when we greeted him, and in no time we fell into conversation. We discovered he was going to be 82 years old in August, and he’d been fishing and lobstering since he was 7 years old. “I’ve been doing it all my life,” He said. “My grandfather took me out to the Grand Banks to fish when I was 9!”

Now that is the real deal.

My own great-grandfather was a lobsterman, and counting out the years, I realized both his grandfather and my great-grandfather would have been out on the sea working their trade in the same era in the early 1900’s. We laughed that both of our ancestors had used boats powered only by oars and sails.

True Maine Lobersterman Prospect Harbor Maine

We meet a true Maine lobsterman who’s been at it for 75 years.

As he drove off in his pickup, he didn’t tip-toe away. He peeled out and squealed the tires! I hope we live with such gusto when we’re 82!

At Prospect Harbor we’d reached the end of the Schoodic Scenic Byway, and we turned around to go back. Retracing our steps a little ways, we came across a huge field of wild lupines.

We learned later that these gorgeous flowers that blanket every corner of the coast in rich shades of purple, pink and blue are actually invasive in Maine. Admiring them and sitting among them, it was hard to imagine them having any kind of evil intent. Something that cheers up the countryside so much just can’t be called an invader. I think they should be called guests!

Snuggling in the wild lupine flowers northern Maine

These big Maine lupines make wonderful company!

Further on, we took a slight detour off the Schoodic Scenic Byway and stopped at Grindstone Neck, a beautiful outcropping of vast granite slabs that stretch out to the sea just west of Winter Harbor.

Couple at Grindstone Neck Winter Harbor Maine

Scenic Grindstone Neck

We romped across this rocky shoreline for a long time, exploring the nooks and crannies and tidepools along the way.

Grindstone Neck Winter Harbor Maine

Craggy rocks at Grindstone Neck

Tidepool Grindstone Neck Maine Acadia National Park

A tidepool at Grindstone Neck.

We finally tore ourselves away from the water and were just getting back in our truck when who should pull up but one of those adorable Ford Model A cars that was part of the big rally we’d seen back in Mt. Desert Island!

Ford Model A car parked at Schoodic Point Maine Acadia National Park

Hey, it’s one of those Ford Model A’s!!

We had no sooner gotten a pic of this pretty car posing for us when another one arrived and parked right next to it.

Two Ford Model A cars parked at Grindstone Neck Maine

And another one!!

Then suddenly two more came along and pulled in right alongside. How cool!

Four Ford Model A cars Grindstone Neck Winter Harbor Maine

What a handsome line up!!

This beautiful sunny day was a real high point in our visit to Maine. If you have an RV road trip planned to the northern coast of Maine, be sure to spend a day enjoying this wonderful drive.

The route for the Schoodic National Scenic Byway begins on coastal Route 1 a little southeast of Ellsworth in the town of Hancock, and heads southeast from there. Even though you’re going southeast, though, technically you’re northbound on Route 1. It is New England, after all!

After a few miles, turn right on Route 186 South and follow the coastline around Schoodic Point on up to Prospect Harbor. That is the official end of the drive, but continuing on to Corea is a special treat. Finish by looping back via Route 195 to Route 1, or turn around, as we did, and retrace your steps. See the map link below.

UPDATE: The new Schoodic Woods Campground managed by the National Park Service is opening on September 1, 2015. Here is a newspaper article about the opening. The land was donated by a family foundation. Undoubtedly the family name begins with the letter R, since that family has been extremely active and generous with their land holdings on Mt. Desert Island for nearly a century.

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Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons

May, 2015 – As we took our RV north through Virginia, hopping on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we followed the blooming of the rhododendrons as they blossomed first in the south and then in the north. In fact, we followed the rhododendron bloom all the way from the Smokies to northern Maine over the course of five weeks! We also decided to contine the travel theme we had begun in the southern part of the parkway in North Carolina: Waterfalls.

Rhododendron selife Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Lavender rhododendrons and stairs defined our Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall hikes in Virginia

Seeing waterfall pics is very inspiring, but actually getting to them on a hiking trail usually involves a lot of vertical hiking, either climbing up to the top of a waterfall or scrambling down to the bottom of one. We got some great stair-stepping workouts on our quest for beautiful waterfalls in the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway!

APPLE ORCHARD FALLS

The first waterfall we went to was Apple Orchard Falls. This hiking trail crosses the Appalachian Trail, and we were astonished as we approached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail to meet a fellow who was spending his summer hiking from Georgia to Maine!

This hiker, Brian, was traveling light for a 4 month walk in the woods, but he said he was doing great. Unlike most of his fellow hikers, he hadn’t had to replace his hiking shoes yet, and he’d knocked out 770 miles of the trek with another 1,400 or so to go before he reached Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Appalachian Trail Through Hiker Brian (Porkchop)

Brian is walking from Georgia to Maine this summer, and we met him 1/3 of the way into his trip.

We bounded down the trail to the bottom of Apple Orchard Falls after that encounter, so excited to have met an Appalachian Trail through-hiker in the middle of his journey. At the bottom we found a pretty waterfall cascading over the rocks.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Apple Orchard Falls

Better yet, there were rhododendrons blooming all around the lower part of the waterfall and even more along the stream that fell loosely over the rocks into the woods. We were in seventh heaven running around taking pics. In no time we were in our own worlds, totally separated. It was long after we were out of sight of each other that we realized we’d left our trusty two-way radios in the truck. I had no idea where Mark went, but I followed the rhododendrons!

Rhododendrons Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Rhododendrons were blooming all over the place

Rhododendrons are a magnificent flower, and I crouched and crawled and snuck under branches along the river banks to try to find places to get pics of them with flowing water. I couldn’t believe they grew wild in such abundance. Everywhere I looked, they were in all stages of bloom:

04 406 Rhododendron blooming 1

05 406 rhododendron blooming 2

06 701 Rhododendron blooming 5

07 701 Rhododendron blooming 6

When I’d had my fill of rhododendrons and waterfalls, I hiked back to where I’d last seen Mark at the bottom of the falls. I searched around there for a long time wondering where he’d disappeared to along the creek. I yelled his name, bunches of times, but there was no answer. Oh no!

The return hike to the truck was a one and a half miles or so straight uphill. This trail was STEEP, and I was torn. Should I stay at the bottom? Should I go back to the top?

I finally decided to take the chance that he had gone back to the top. It was late, after all, and if he couldn’t find me I figured he’d return to the truck up top. I hiked nervously straight uphill, sweat pouring down my back.

What if he wasn’t at the top? I wondered. Would it make sense to go back down to the bottom to look for him? And what if I couldn’t find him down at the bottom? Should I then hike back up again?

At exactly what point would I try to get help? And how many miles away would help be? And would those helpful people then hike to the bottom to look for him this late in the day or wait til tomorrow? What if he’d gotten injured and couldn’t move? My imagination ran wild.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway VIrginia

Apple Orchard Falls

I continued yelling for him periodically, morosely envisioning the headlines, “Dead hiker found at waterfall, two-way radios found in truck.” How foolish of us!

As I hiked the last 100 yards straight uphill I craned my neck looking for the truck. When I finally caught a glimpse of it just beyond the last tree, I saw the door was open and Mark’s smiling face poked out from behind it and we both ran and gave each other a huge hug. What a relief!

Fallingwater Cascade Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades — with overhanging rhododendrons

FALLINGWATER CASCADES

The next hike proved much more straight forward. Fallingwater Cascades is just five miles away from Apple Orchard Falls, and is a much shorter and easier hike.

Fallingwater Falls rhododendrons Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

The rhododendrons were blooming here too, but I stayed on the trail this time. The waterfalls were lovely.

Fallingwater Falls Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

CRABTREE FALLS

Our final waterfall hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia was Crabtree Falls. When we saw the name of this waterfall we did a doubletake because we had already hiked a Crabtree Falls in the North Carolina part of the Blue Ridge Parkway a week or so ago.

12 406 Fallingwater Waterfall Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

So we were surprised when the gal at the visitors center who told us about Crabtree Falls in Virginia had never heard of the one in North Carolina. However, the Virginia falls is the tallest waterfall in the east, a claim to fame the North Carolina Crabtree Falls doesn’t have.

Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia lower waterfall

Crabtree Falls — Lower falls

We found out that when you hike the tallest waterfall in the east, you are in for a LOT of stair climbing. Crabtree Falls consists of three waterfalls sections that are each unique, and between each section there are staircases and some steep trails.

Crabtree Falls hiking trail Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Not only is this hike steep, but there are a ton of stairs!

Each staircase brought us to more waterfalls.

Lower Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

And then we climbed more stairs!! Some stairs were built into the trail. Others were just plain old staircases!

Hiking trail stairs Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

In some places the stairs look natural, and in some places they are just staircases.

After the stairs we saw another bit of the waterfall. Different shape. Same falls!

Middle Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

As we climbed higher, we got more and more tired. And obviously the rangers did too, because up near the top they quit building stairs and just let the tree roots be the stair cases!

Root staircase Crabtree Falls Virginia

Nature’s Staircase!

At the very top of the waterfall, the stream flowed between the rhododendron bushes and then fell right out in front of them. Just beautiful. And this time, since we had started the hike at the bottom and had climbed to the top, we gleefully ended our hike by descending down the stairs instead of trudging up!!

Top Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

If you take your RV along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the parkway itself is fine for driving except for two low bridges at the far south end in North Carolina.

No matter where you drive in this area, be prepared for steep hills. We were very grateful driving in these hills to have recently outfitted our truck with a diesel engine tuner to improve its towing power and to have outfitted our trailer with electric over hydraulic disc brakes.

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Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) – Wildflowers Everywhere!

May, 2015 – The south end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is in Cherokee, North Carolina, right next to the Newfound Gap Road that traverses Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and we enjoyed some wonderful views at the beginning of this scenic drive.

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina (see the motorcycle on the road?!)

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Pretty views from the Parkway

Motorcycles were everywhere, but this is a road that would be great for cycling too because, even though there’s no shoulder, there’s very little traffic.

Cyclist on Blue Ridge Parkway

There are so few vehicles on this road, it makes for good cycling.

Two tunnels at the south end make it best for tall RVs to find an alternate route, but they are neat to drive through in something smaller!

Tunnel on Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

The first few tunnels are a little low for an RV

Tunnel View on Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Spring was in full bloom and we saw lots of wildflowers. White trillium and huge bright orange azaleas were blossoming on either side of the road, as well as some pretty pink flowers. Down at our feet, while tromping around at an overlook, we spotted a big yellow butterfly. He flew off when a matching butterfly landed nearby.

Trillium

Trillium

Azalea flower Bllue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Wild azaleas

Pink wildflower

Pretty in Pink

Butterfly or moth

We watched several of these guys flying around…and this one landed by our feet.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was built between 1935 and 1983 to give people a way to travel along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains and enjoy their ethereal beauty without interruption between Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south, in North Carolina, and Shenandoah National Park to the north, in Virginia. It is a narrow ribbon of protected land that threads its way across these two states, from the southwest to the northeast.

Motorcycles on the Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

A Path Between the Trees

Ironically, because much of the road is lined with tall trees, it is often impossible to see across the valleys! At many overlooks the trees have grown so tall since the time the overlooks were constructed that you can’t see the view at all. Looking past the sign that says “Overlook” all you see is trees! But every once in a while the vistas open up, and the views are lovely.

Blue Ridge Parkway mountain views

Although many overlooks have no view, occasionally a stunning one opens up.

Oddly, driving through all these twists and turns under an endless archway of trees can get a little tedious after a while, since the views rarely change (in the fall, however, I imagine the colors are extraordinary). So, we hopped on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway as we snaked our way north, enjoying the activities, small towns and hum of life that goes on alongside it.

Even though the Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the National Park System, just like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is no fee to enter or drive on it. It intersects other roads frequently, and in many places the locals use it as a shortcut from here to there.

At one point in our travels on and off the parkway we found ourselves on I-40 just west of Asheville, North Carolina. We were zooming along on the freeway when we suddenly saw a massive field of wildflowers at the side of the road. Mark slammed on the brakes (yay for our new trailer disc brakes!) and pulled off the highway.

Wildflowers I-40 Asheville North Carolina

Driving on I-40, west of Asheville, we see a meadow full of colorful wildflowers

The wildflowers were just stunning. We’ve seen so many photos of fields of wildflowers over the years, and we’ve always dreamed of taking wildflower shots where the land was blanketed in color. But where are those photos taken? We just don’t see fields of wildflowers in our travels like some people manage to get in their photos.

wildflowers

All shades of pink and red!

Well, I guess one huge field of wildflowers can be found on the eastbound side of I-40 just west of Asheville, North Carolina!

Wildflowers I-40 Asheville North Carolina_

There were even a few blue flowers in the mix!

Wildflowers on the freeway Asheville North Carolina

We were thigh deep in flowers and loving it!

I don’t know what kinds of flowers these were, but they were blooming in all shades of pink, red, white and peach.

Wildflowers on the Interstate North Carolina

As the cars flew by us on the highway, all in a rush to get somewhere else, we stayed in this spot for over an hour enjoying this glorious display of Nature’s handiwork.

Wildflower Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Spring wildflower

Many people drive the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the vivid display of rhododendrons that happens every spring. But we discovered that spring is a great time for flowers in other places in North Carolina too, even out in the wilds of I-40!

RV in wildflowers I-40 Asheville North Carolina_

If you want your rig surrounded by wildflowers, the Blue Ridge Parkway is nice — but try I-40 too!

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Georgia’s Antebellum Trail – Milledgeville, Eatonton & Madison

May, 2015 — As we scouted around for a good route to travel north through the middle of Georgia from Thomasville to North Carolina, we came across the Antebellum Trail. This route passes through several pretty and historic small towns in Georgia that have strong roots from before the Civil War. We were on the hunt for statuesque antebellum mansions, and all the towns on the Antebellum Trail boasted at least a few.

Antebellum mansion with rhododendrons in Madison Georgia

Roses bloom in front of an elegant antebellum house in Madison, Georgia.

There are seven towns and cities on the Antebellum Trail, and we ended up visiting three of them: Milledgeville, Eatonton and Madison. In each of these towns, caring homeowners and historical societies have lovingly preserved these elegant old homes.

Antebellum house in Eatonton Georgia

Matching double-decker rotunda porch wings! (Eatonton, Georgia)

And thank goodness they have, because old wooden homes just don’t stand up to the elements all that well. For every four or five true beauties that we gazed at on these lovely old town streets, we saw a forlorn one that had succumbed to the ravages of time.

Crumbling antebellum house in Milledgeville Georgia

Occasionally we came across crumbling relics.

There is a majesty to the tall columns and proud, imposing front porches of these antebellum mansions, and it seems that the number of columns that lined the front of the house made a statement about the wealth of the people that lived within. We read little signs on plaques that referred to the home being a “four column house,” or a “six column house.”

A four column antebellum mansion in Eatonton, Georgia

A four column mansion in Eatonton, Georgia

And then, of course, there were the people that built their house with columns going all around the outside. Wow!

Stately antebellum mansion in Milledgeville Georgia

Aw, heck, why not have columns on all sides? (Milledgeville)

There were inviting front porches everywhere we turned, and straight-backed rocking chairs adorned many of them. Even the simplest historic homes that just had a few posts holding up the porch roof rather than a row of grecian columns still had a row of rockers out front.

Rocking chairs on a porch in Milledgeville Georgia

Straight-backed rocking chairs grace almost every front porch.

Milledgeville was in high spirits when we visited. We just happened to arrive on First Friday, a big downtown party that takes place on the first friday of every month. Impromptu bands made music in the street, and all the merchants and bistros threw their doors wide open. Throngs of people filled the sidewalks.

A band plays at First Friday in Milledgeville, Georgia

We pulled into Milledgeville on First Friday, and bands were playing on the sidewalks!

If this weren’t enough, there was an antique car show going on at one end of town. As we walked towards it, we heard music coming from the large lawn across the street — the front lawn of the Georgia College and State University campus. We walked over and discovered it was a spring outdoor concert. One group of kids after another got up onto a makeshift stage and played jazz tunes and big band music. What fun!

Georgia Collete & State University

There was an outdoor music concert at Georgia College and State University too!

As we wandered back to the truck, we noticed lots of college students dressed to the nines walking around. It turned out that tonight was their big Senior Formal. The smell of perfume and cologne wafted over us, and we marveled at the shiny shoes, snappy ties and slinky dresses. Oh, to be young and sexy!

College Kids on a roof in Milledgeville Georgia

Hey — what’s going on up there?

Meanwhile, some of the underclassmen seemed to be cutting loose with a prank or two. Many of the old homes around Milledeville are student housing of one kind or another, and I spotted a pair of boys climbing out of a window onto a rooftop. This was going to be quite a night!!

Coming down a few notches to a much lower key, we visited nearby Eatonton, a tiny town with just a few cross streets.

Downtown shops Eatonton Georgia Antebellum Trail

Peaceful Eatonton, Georgia

Exploring the outer edges of town, we went down one side street and noticed we were about to drive under a very low train bridge at just the last second. “Will we make it?” Mark looked at me wide-eyed. I hopped out to see. Just barely!!!

Low bridge in Eatonton Georgia

Going under the limbo stick!

The Civil War is still felt in this part of the south, and we read plaques in every town that talked about General Sherman’s 1864 “March to the Sea” where he barnstormed across Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah, mowing down everything in his path.

Civil War Memorial Eatonton Georgia

A statue commemorating all the Confederate soldiers
that fought in the Civil War

On the other side of the grand Eatonton Courthouse in the middle of town we found a statue of a very different sort: Brer Rabbit!

Brer Rabbit in the Briar Patch Eatonton Georgia

On the flip side — Brer Rabbit!

Eatonton was the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris who compiled a collection of stories about the wily Brer Rabbit (“brother” Rabbit) whose cunning and wits saved him (usually) from various scrapes. Harris’ stories were told by the fictional Uncle Remus, but he had heard them himself as a boy from the slaves on the plantation where he grew up.

Writer's Museum Eatonton Georgia

How many towns have a Writer’s Museum? Tiny Eatonton does!

Harris wasn’t the only famous writer from this area, and The Writer’s Museum on Eatonton’s town square is dedicated not only to him but to Flannery O’Connor as well. We knew little about either writer when we walked into the museum, but by the time we emerged we just had to check out Flannery O’Connor’s homestead on the outer fringes of Milledgeville.

The narrow road into the estate is so well hidden that we almost missed it, but the home and grounds within told the intriguing story of this young, brilliant writer who succumbed to lupus at age 39 in 1964.

Flannery O'Connor Homestead Milledgeville Georgia

Andalusia Farm — home of 20th century writer Flannery O’Connor

She wrote her most famous works while living at this house between the ages of 27 and 39, and due to her decreasing mobility, she spent much of that time inside where she enjoyed the views from the large windows.

Flannery O'Connor Home in Milledgeville Georgia

Flannery O’Connor suffered from Lupus, and as she became less mobile she stayed indoors more and more.

When we got to the trendy town of Madison, we were most impressed by the dramatic courthouse which stands on a corner facing outwards towards the heart of town.

Courthouse Madison Georgia

Madison has the most flamboyant of the courthouses we saw on the Antebellum Trail

At the visitors center we were told we should visit Madison’s new city park, and when we got there we saw why. It is a beautiful brand new city park for outdoor events and gatherings that was dedicated in 2009 but that looks as though it might have been around when General Sherman came through!

The Town Park in Madison Georgia

Urban revitalization in the small town of Madison — a wonderful new outdoor park that blends right into the historic look-and-feel of the town.

Our stay in Georgia was brief, but we thoroughly enjoyed sampling each of these unique towns and wandering at a leisurely pace along the Antebellum Trail. If you are taking your RV on a north-south route through Georgia, the Antebellum Trail is a wonderful way to go.

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Natural Bridges National Monument & Utah’s Bicentennial Highway

Early June, 2012 - We left Mesa Verde and drove the dramatic Bicentennial Highway to Utah's unique Natural Bridges National Monument.

At the top of Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

A wwoden ladder on the Sipapu Bridge trail.

Some folks were put off by the

trail's wooden ladders.

Looking down a wooden ladder on the Sipapu Bridge trail of Natural Bridges National Monument.

Looking down is a bit unnerving!

climbing a wooden ladder at Natural Bridges. On the trail at Natural Bridges NM.

The trail hugs a sheer canyon wall.

Hiking behind a barefoot person at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Barefoot tracks...

Exotic rock formations along the trail. Dramatic cliffs line the walls along the Sipapu Bridge Hike in Natural Bridges National Monument.

Dramatic cliffs and rock

formations everywhere

Down by Sipapu Bridge. Natural Bridge Nat'l Monument Natural Bridges National Monment

Full sized trees at the base of the cliffs.

Stiped cayon wall at Natural Bridges NM.

Massive leaning walls are painted in vivid stripes.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument

Sipapu Bridge

Ladders are central to the hike to Sipapu Brige.

Ladders...

The NPS has carved stairs in the sandstone on the trail at Natural Bridges National Monument.

…and carved stairs.

Cactus flower, Natural Bridges National Monument Striped cliff walls, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Striped cliff walls.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Kachina Bridge

Kachina Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Mark is dwarfed by Kachina Bridge.

More ladders and steep hiking at Natural Bridges National Monument. Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge - delicate and soaring.

Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge.

Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

The base of Owachomo Bridge.

"Bears Ears"

The Cheesebox, Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

The Cheesebox.

Jacob's Chair, Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

Jacob's Chair.

Scenic Bicentennial Highway.

Scenic Bicentennial Highway

Driving through Glen Canyon on the Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah. Bridge over the Colorado River, Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Bridge over the Colorado.

Colorado River, Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Colorado River.

Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah. Scenic overlook along the Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Scenic Overlook on the

Bicentennial Highway.

Ghost town Hite City was buried by Lake Powell.

Ghost town Hite City lies underwater here.

SR-95 Bicentennial Highway. Rock formations along State Route 95, the Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

The gods were messing with finger paints.

Scenic Route 24, Utah.

Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Driving along Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Natural Bridges and Utah's Bicentennial Highway

Early June, 2012 - After leaving Mesa Verde National Park we were

totally enthralled by the scenery that surrounded us on Utah's

Bicentennial Highway.  This area is rich with exotic rock formations, and

three special ones are clustered at Natural Bridges National Monument.

While getting our hitch extension fabricated in Blanding we had learned

that our welder, Jack, had grown up playing among the bridge

formations before the modern park rules became so strict.  "It was in

our backyard and we could camp anywhere in those days.  I grew up

climbing all over those bridges."

Now it is a formal tourist attraction,

set aside and protected by the

government, with signs telling you all

the things you shouldn't do.

However, rather than having to scramble down scary drop-offs and wondering how the heck all

these formations got here, the National Park Service has built beautiful trails to the bridges and

offers all kinds of literature and books that explain everything about the geology, the wildlife, and

nature in general at their terrific visitors center.

Just like Canyon de Chelly where the canyons

are equally as stunning as the cliff dwellings, we

found the setting, the vistas and the hikes as

thrilling here as the bridges themselves.  There

are only three natural rock bridges, but there is

an infinite number of spectacular views.

All together it's just four miles of hiking, but you

can skip doing your stair stepping workout on

the day you go.  Each bridge hike is a nearly

vertical descent to the base of the bridge, and

then, after admiring it, you've gotta climb out.  We quizzed

everyone we passed whether each hike was worth the

effort.  Most said "Yes!"  But one couple was put off by the

rickety looking wooden ladders.  We found the ladders were

actually really fun!  They're rock solid and shiny smooth

from thousands of hands and feet using them.

The trail to Sipapu bridge is

sandy and hugs a sheer canyon

wall.  There are all kinds of

footprints from previous hikers,

but the ones that caught my eye

were the barefoot ones.  I felt like

I was following an Indian.  But it

was just someone wearing those

newfangled Vibram FiveFingers

shoes!

We scampered all over the place, soaking

up the towering cliffs and basking in the

silence.  It is hard to imagine that the

immense natural force of flowing water

created these formations.

Many of the rocks are beautifully striped,

carefully painted in vibrant hues by

mother nature.

The size and scale was hard to

capture with the cameras,

especially trying to draw into the

lens that sensation of being

embraced by soaring cliffs and very

hot sun.

Mark got to the

Sipapu bridge

first, and when

he called back

to me his voice

echoed

wonderfully

between the

rocks.  He let

out a few extra hoots

and whistles, enjoying

the effect.  I hooted

and whistled back and

marveled at hearing

the sound perfectly

duplicated.

Climbing back out we noticed

how the Park Service has not

only installed fantastic Navajo

looking wooden ladders, but

has carefully sculpted out lots

of stairs in the rocks as well.

And we learned these bridges

were first found by Cass Hite in

1884 when he was searching for gold.

Kachina Bridge was up next, and

again we descended on a nearly

vertical path into a vibrant green

wash filled with trees and refreshingly

cool shade.  The rocks here had

been painted in stripes too, and bird

songs echoed off the canyon walls as

they flitted from tree to tree.

We staggered around in the sandy wash at the base of the bridge, craning

our necks as we tried to take it all in.  This bridge is thick and squat, and the

underside is decorated with scraggly petroglyphs.  People have lived here

off-and-on for 9,000 years, including a few Mesa Verde cliff dwellers who

moved over here for a few generations around 1200 AD.  This must have

been a great spot to while away the hottest summer hours back in the days

when air conditioning was unavailable and people entertained themselves

by pecking out images on rock walls.

The steep climbs and descents began to blend together in a

haze of sweaty huffing and puffing as we put one foot in front of

the other and hiked up and down the canyons.

The last bridge in the trio is

Owachomo Bridge.  Where

Kachina Bridge had been thick

and massive, Owachomo was

thin and delicate.

Still mighty at its base, from a

distance the narrow stone

seemed almost wispy as it

soared across the expanse.

As we left Natural Bridges National

Monument we caught a glimpse of the

twin peaks the Indians called "Bears

Ears."   What a perfect name!

Many rock formations, cliffs and mesas

around here often beg to be named

because their shapes are just so

familiar.  The Bicentennial Highway

took us past the Cheesebox and

Jacob's Chair.

Back on the scenic Bicentennial Highway the views really got us excited as we

approached Glen Canyon and the Colorado River.  I was practically jumping up

and down in my seat with excitement as the truck swept around one gorgeous

curve after another.

Mark just puttered along, patiently driving, while I whirled around from side to

side snapping hundreds of photos out the windows.  I even climbed up to sit in

the truck window a few times to get pics over the roof.  It is just that gorgeous!

This section of the road must have

been a huge challenge to construct,

and I kept thinking of Ferd Johnson

from the visitors center back in

Blanding who described living out in

these canyons for over two years

while building the highway and the

bridges across the river.

What a place to work!

We stopped at a scenic overlook after

crossing the river and learned that

when the river was dammed back in the

1960's, the new Lake Powell flooded

not only countless ancient Indian

settlements complete with artifacts,

petroglyphs and other priceless

treasures of humankind, but it flooded

an old mining ghost town as well.  Hite

City had boomed when local miners got

"uranium on the cranium" and started

searching the area for "hot rocks."  Now

the entire town lies underwater.

Back in Blanding, both our welder, Jack, and highway builder Ferd

told us they remembered this canyon vividly from the days before it

was filled with water.  What an event it must have been when the

dam was completed to see the water rise against the cliffs and

transform the landscape.

Eventually the scenery along the Bicentennial Highway simmered

down to downright boring, and I settled down in my seat.  From

Route 95 we turned west onto Route 24, and then the views began

to build yet again.

Swirling patterns filled

the rock landscape.  It

seemed the gods had

gotten their hands

colorfully dirty, messing

around with finger

paints, and then had

smeared their prints

across the rocks.

We approached some

towering pale cliffs and

then found ourselves

deep in the heart of red

rock country.

We had arrived at Capitol Reef National Park.  What a

spot!  The bright green trees, burnt orange rocks and crisp

blue sky made a vivid feast for the eyes.  We happily

agreed to settle in here and explore the area for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Natchez Trace Parkway, MS – Echoes of History!

Natchez Trace Parkway

The Old Trace

Mount Locust "stand"

Dining room - with seating for 6

Parents' bedroom

10 kids slept here (5 in each bed?!)

Grandmother and eldest daughter slept here.

Driveway to Stanfield

Stanfield, where Andrew Jackson was married.

Rocky Springs Campground

Rocky Springs:

Population 1860 - 2,616

Population Today - 0

Bank vault

Rocky Springs Church, built 1837

Rocky Springs Graveyard

French Camp

Natchez Trace & Jim Henson Museum, Mississippi

April 29-May 2, 2008 - We left Natchez and ventured onto the Natchez

Trace Parkway, a 444 mile road that follows a primitive trail linking

Natchez, Mississippi with Nashville, Tennesse.  The Parkway is a

remarkable two lane road that is closed to commercial traffic and has a

speed limit of 50 mph.  The National Park Service oversees the Parkway

and maintains three free campgrounds along its length.  Because of the

low speed limit the traffic is non-

existent and we often drove for many

miles without seeing another vehicle.

There is a lot of history along the

Trace and at times it felt like we were

viewing layers of history.  We saw

Indian burial mounds from 4,000

years ago and travelers' "stands" or

inns from 150 years ago.

The original Trace was created by buffalo and other animals migrating north-south.  The ancient

peoples used the trail for their own migrations.  In the 1700's European traders would bring furs

and other goods down the Mississippi by boat, sell their goods in Natchez (and even sell their

boat for lumber) and then walk back to Nashville and other points north to do it again.

The Trace became a popular

place for highway robbers, as the

folks walking north from Natchez

had money in their pockets and

little protection.  In the early 1800's, seeking to bind the vast and

turbulent frontier to its northeast seat of power, President Jefferson

ordered the army to widen the trail and make it a road passable by

wagon.

As was noted by the Secretary of State at the time, "the passage of

mail from Natchez is as tedious as from Europe when westerly winds

prevail."  The Trace vastly improved communications, but by 1830 it

fell into disuse as steamboats going up and down the Mississippi

river offered easier transportation.  The Natchez Trace Parkway

weaves along the original Trace route.  At times the original Trace is

visible.  It is a mere hiking trail.  After the Trace was built into a road,

"stands" or inns popped up along the route.  These offered food and

lodging to travelers -- on a very simple scale.

We visited the Mount

Locust stand.  A family

operated this stand with

51 slaves.  In the main

house the parents slept

in one bedroom.  The

grandmother and eldest

daughter in another.

The other ten kids slept

in the remaining

bedroom.  The

mattresses were made

of corn husks and rope.

Visitors made do on the

porch.

Looking at these

cramped

accommodations it was

hard to imagine that

arriving at one of these

stands was all that

inviting.  However, after

walking or riding a horse

all day on a dirt trail

these intrepid travelers must have been accustomed to truly roughing it.

Nothing like us, with our motorized transport, smooth paved roads to drive on

and a buggy with a well stocked fridge, freezer, hot shower and 12 inch mattress.

We stopped briefly at Stanfield, the mansion where Andrew Jackson was married.

Like others we had visited, there was a long tree-lined drive up to the house, and

the house was a

pillared beauty.

At Rocky Springs Campground, one of three lovely and free

campgrounds on the Trace, we were treated to a gorgeous morning

with filtered sunlight pouring through the trees.

On the edge of this

campground is the

ghost town of Rocky

Springs.  All that

remains of this once

bustling town is the church, the graveyard and two bank vaults.  The abandoned

bank vaults reminded me of the vault we had seen in the Gulf Coast town of Bay

St. Louis, MS.  However, the once prosperous rural town of Rocky Springs wasn't

devastated by a hurricane.  Instead its death came from many sources:  bad land

management that cleared hillsides for cotton leaving

erosion scars that can be seen today, the Civil War, a

yellow fever epidemic in 1878 and a boll weevil infestation.

It was eerie to walk a small trail through the woods where

there had once been cotton plantations and 2,616 residents.

There is nothing but trees now.

Up on the hill the church is still used, but

the cemetery's stones all date from the

1800's.  How can a town vanish in just a

little over 100 years?

Port Gibson is one of the larger towns at

the southern end of the Trace.  At one

time it was considered "too beautiful to

burn," but we didn't find it particularly

inspiring.  There was an interesting mural

on the wall of one building, and a small street with a handful of

stores, some in business and some shuttered.  More intriguing were

the homes on the outskirts of town where the Confederate flag was

flying.  Some flew the flag along with the American flag, and some

flew it alone.

We took advantage of this ideal area for cycling to do a few rides along

the Trace.  With no noticeable traffic, modest rollers, and interesting

historical sites every few miles, we thoroughly enjoyed our rides.  One

day, while camped further north on the Trace at Jeff Busby

Campground, we rode our bikes down to French Camp.  This was a

bustling community in earlier days and had several pretty buildings.

Besides the recent historical sites that can be seen on Natchez

Trace, there are a lot of prehistorical sites as well.  We stopped

at several Indian ceremonial and burial mounds.  Archaeologists

have dug through these mounds and made some startling

discoveries.  At one site, when the leader of the tribe died it

seemed that all his attendants were killed and buried with him.

Often they were killed by strangulation.  Likewise, when a parent

died sometimes the rest of the family would be strangled and

buried with the parent.  As I pondered all this back at the

campground -- in the pretty setting sun -- it occurred to me that even though lots of people have concerns about individual rights in

our culture today, at least we don't do that.

After we left the Natchez Trace Parkway we headed west and

north towards Arkansas.  I was dozing when suddenly Mark

said, "Look, Kermit the Frog...!"  I woke up just in time to see a

billboard for the Jim Henson museum.  We spent a very happy

hour at this little outpost in Leland, Mississippi that is a

charming museum of Jim Henson memorabilia.  It is run as a

labor of love by a woman who raised her children watching

Sesame Street.

I remember when that television show first aired in 1969.  As a

nine-year-old its alphabet and numbers lessons were a little

juvenile, but I remember loving the gentle humor and I

watched it for many hours with my younger sister.

Mark knew the show from raising his kids watching it.  He had been a

teenager when it first aired, so he never saw the episodes I did.  It was

amusing standing around with the proprietor and realizing that all three

of us had watched it during different eras and we remembered different

things -- even different muppet characters.

This little stop in Leland rounded out a delightful visit to Mississippi.

From there it was on to the Ozarks in Arkansas.