East coast trip Travelogue # 2 We have been gone about 29 days so it is time to send the second travelogue. The Blue Ridge Parkway is much more rugged than we expected. It is a lot of hard pulls up and a lot of hard braking going down even using the gears in the automatic transmission. These mountains are not so high but since they start at a low elevation as far as driving they are basically as rugged as mountains out west. The other thing is that they were built for smaller cars so things are narrow and CG spaces small and tree clearance is low and it is long at 469 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway and about 115 miles on Skyland Drive in the Shenandoah NP so lots of driving where you really have to pay attention. The good news is the speed limit is 45 mph on the parkway so that helps. There are lots of pull offs. We seen the Natural Bridge in VA, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, which we actually drove over on Highway 11 and was very nice. The highest point is 6154 feet on the Parkway road and the highest mountain east of the Mississippi is Mt. Mitchell just north of Asheville, NC. We found the CG almost deserted. The Ed Marby mill is the most photographed site on the Parkway. The water wheel drives a small gear to get the RPM's up and then uses pulleys and belts to get different speeds. It had a millstone to grind grain, I drove a saw mill, plainer and double jig saw. It is a working mill and we bought some buckwheat flour and had buckwheat pancakes and got some other recipes as well.
At the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Great Smoky Mt. NP, It has a natural haze which has gotten worse with air pollution; however we hit the rains. Much to our surprise this park is free due to arrangements made at the time of it being formed. It poured almost the whole time we were there. We got there a day early which was Thursday night before the Memorial Day weekend and left on Tuesday morning as we did not want to be traveling on the Holiday because it is so uncertain about getting into a CG. We spend Friday and Sunday in the 5th wheel as it just poured all day long. On Saturday we toured the park and went to what is called Cades Cove which is an open flat valley area that around 1850 peaked at about 700 people. A lot of the structures and history of these mountain people have been preserved and on the one way road you can use the auto guide book and learn a lot about the history of the area. I would also suggest Clingman's Dome and Newfoundland Drive. It was a fun day. On Monday the rain let up and we hiked the Deep Creek area where there are three falls north of Bryson City and also Mingo Falls near Cherokee. This is the eastern band of the Cherokee, which are ones who escaped the trail of tears march or returned. This is a very, very sad story of a terrible injustice done to the Cherokee! We toured the Mountain Farm Museum by the visitors center at the south end of the park which also has a good guide book. Like most NP the big thing here is hiking!
We left for southern GA about 475 miles and immediately noticed we had a grinding noise from the front brakes! All the driving in Mexico and now all the mountain driving has taken its toll. We got to Kingsland, GA just north of FL and got into the CG. I went to the local Ford dealer but they were closing and the only one left was a gal locking up which in hindsight was most fortunate as she was the assistant service manager I later found out. She said to be back in the morning when they opened. I showed up at 7:30 am and found her and she signed me up and got me right in and in about one hour I had the estimate; unfortunately they did not have all the parts but they took me back to the 5th about 5 miles away so we waited and by about 1 pm the next day they called me on our cell phone and the parts had arrived and they called again about 3:30 pm and said it was done and they were sending out someone to pick us up and that it was $130 less than the estimate so she certainly treated us well. She was originally from MN. I went out of my way to thank her and the service manager for good service and a fair price. We then checked out the Cumberland Is area. We really wanted to go there but with the two days sitting in the 5th waiting for the brakes to be fixed we needed to get moving as we have CG reservations in a few days we have already paid for. This is the first and last trip I hope we have to make reservations. Being out east along the ocean things can be full and they have been a number of times. Cumberland Is. is a National Seashore Park and has great sand dunes, water fowl and wild horses and a couple of old mansions on it. It was interesting to learn about Sea Island where President Bush is hosting an economic conference right now. Several other Presidents have spent time here. There is jekyel Is. where the millionaire club was formed and the Federal Reserve was planned here. There are other interesting islands in the area and all along the GA coast. Just north of GA by SC is Hilton Head and Savanna, GA is a good place to visit for mansions. We went to Amelia Is just over into Florida and had a great sea food meal. This general area is a swampy area in certain places and in most areas there are lots of pine and trees. Of the coast are the islands and lot of people have built fancy homes here and also retired here. There are several huge paper mills in the area. One could definitely spend a few days in this general area if one were snow birding down here. If we ever come this way again we will work our way down the NC, SC, GA coast and then cut over to the west. This was our very first hot weather, boy the sun really has power here. It got into the very low 50's in the Great Smokys at night. Here it was in the 90's in the day time but eventually at night it got to the low 70's so you could sleep at night. We had low voltage here so we could not use the AC much.
We made a quick adaptation to our travel plans which turned out to be a great move. Instead of going to Orlando and Disney World we went to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. This is a must!!! The IMAX movies are part of a very reasonable entry fee and then you get bussed onto the site and get to the launch observation site and to an Apollo site showing about the project that put us on the moon. They have the actual control room there and the rocket, moon rocks and much more. It is an all day stop. We then drove into Disney World with the F-350 which worked slick! We went to Epcot, we did not care much for Future World but the Places of the World was better. There are no rides and mostly they are trying to sell you stuff. Have your money for toll roads, parking, entrance fee and eating. We brought our own food and water. France, China and Canada have great movies on their countries. Norway has a decent movie and the USA had some great singers, the China one had a great acrobatic show and a couple of other had decent street shows. After that it is down hill; however the closing light and fireworks and show at 9 pm is definitely top notch. Would we go again, no but for one time it was worth it. We would like to have went on some rides and the Animal Kingdom I think would be worth while.
We then made the trip to the Everglades and Biscayne NP which are nice. We took the glass bottom boat tour of the coral reefs at Biscayne NP. In the Everglades you need to go on the Anhinga trail to see alligators which we did. The boat ride out of Flamingo is good to see Crocodiles and in the winter Manatees. We had a pleasant surprise, the Campground was free at Long Pine Key as it is the off season. The rainy season is late and they are in a long term drought so the Everglades are very, very dry. Hopefully it will get with the program and rain. The rainy season is from May 1st to November 1st and the dry season is in the winter. It was hot and humid but fortunately the bugs were not bad because of the low rainfall.
We then headed down the KEYS to John Pennekamp State Park where you can snorkel. We then went to Key West, they KEYS do not have the bridges I expected. There is only one big bridge called the 7 mile bridge and 3 others that are somewhat like the Platte Winner Bridge, maybe a mile or less. The rest are just short ones from one Key to another and often they have put in some fill to cut down the length of the bridge. The ocean is very beautiful and it it has passing lanes and 4 lane on some of the bigger KEYS so traffic flows good but not very fast. There is hang ups with draw bridges sometimes so figure about 3 hours to drive out to Key West. Key West is a very old city and goes back before the country was formed. The historic seaport area has all kinds of stores, boat rides, vendors, food, museums and you name it. It was loaded with people. It is costing us $40 a night for an RV spot. Diesel fuel is $2.04 and gas is $2.21 and everything in general costs a lot so bring lots of money but a fun place. We took the tour out to Dry Tortugas National Park which is 50 miles west in the Gulf. We found the Keys actually go another 10 miles beyond Key West but are basically not inhabited and there is no road to them. Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas was interesting, we had great snorkeling there and of all the boat tours we have taken which must be at least 100 the Sunny Days, Fast Cat tour was the best as they had a great continental breakfast a huge buffet noon meal, all the soda pop and water you wanted and snacks on the way back. They furnished the snorkel gear and provided a fresh water rinse for us. The history at the Fort was most interesting and it was also a Union prison after the Civil War. We learned in Washington DC and again at the Fort that it was a conspiracy that killed President Lincoln and that 5 people convicted as part of the conspiracy were in prison here. They are working on restoring the fort. It is a 2.5 hour ride at 34 mph so definitely one of the more challenging parks to get to; especially since you have to go to Key West first. I think we are down to only 9 National Parks that we have not been to. I don't know if we will get to them all for sure but it is a distinct possibility. Also at Key West we visited the most southerly point in the USA so we have now made all four extremes, north, east, west and north.
BTW there is a difference between a KEY and an ISLAND. A KEY is formed from fossil life and there are very few places in the world where there are KEYS! It is hot here but fortunately most days by mid afternoon or at least by 6 pm it rains and cools things down and so far it gets down to about 70 degrees at night and stays decent until about 9 or 10 AM so we are getting by OK. I know this is NOT the place of choice in July, August and September. In talking to the locals August and September is ghastly, sticky, sticky, sticky and it hangs on to way past midnight and gets roaring early in the morning. We dodged the bullet and will be OK but the sun definitely has power, we can vouch for that. We also dodged the bugs in the Everglades which can be horrid in the summer!
>From Key West we headed back to the mainland and it only took us a little over 2 hours as the traffic was light and we hit no hold ups. I counted the bridges back in and would say there are seven significant bridges but only two that are really long, the seven mile bridge and one other that is between one and two miles. The other 5 are less than a mile. It looked more like the Keys I expected going back in. We had to pay 1.899 for diesel and wouldn't you know it soon after we gave up and filled for that price it dropped to 1.739, I don't know how they get by with that much difference in a few miles. I suspect as we head north it will be cheaper. This is definitely the highest priced area of the trip. We made a circle as we traveled east, northeast to the coast and then went north and then headed back west along the top of the Everglades on Highway 41. We took an airboat ride along Hwy 41, we went over some areas where the water was only about 6 inches deep, it steers by directing the wind from the prop and you need ear plugs. If you have not rode one I recommend it. We seen some alligators and lots of birds and some fish on the trip. We stayed at another fee National Parks CG as it is off season. Fortunately it rained and cooled it down 90 degrees down to the low 70's. The next travelogue will be up the west coast of Florida, through the pan handle and then across the southeast to Arkansas for our last state.