23 May 2016

The Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park

Sunset at one of the many overlooks

Shenandoah National Park surrounds the Skyline Drive which is an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway and is still in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tom Turkey

When we tried to book a campsite in Shenandoah online there were no sites available. There are two loops that are non-reservable, but that doesn't mean that they will be available, so we rang the National Park, as we have been disappointed before and we were worried because the weekend was the Memorial Day weekend. We told them we were planning to come in on Monday, shouldn't be a problem they advised and it wasn't. We got a great site on a corner but when we went to put our rams down, nothing happened. So Lindsay put the generator on and we brought the rams down and opened the slides. There was no power going from the batteries into the trailer and he couldn't work out why. The fridge can work off gas, but it needs power to operate. No battery power meant we wouldn't be able to stay. What to do. Of course there was no mobile reception at our site, so we went up to the office and they told us we should get reception up at the amphitheatre. We ring Keystone, the trailer manufacturer and talk to their help line; we have two hours to sort it out the problem before they close for the day. She and Lindsay discuss the issue but don't find a solution, but something she says makes Lindsay think about the relay he replaced last week. You see the hydraulics that open and close our slides had been tripping, they would go for a few centimetres/inches then stop, I would wait for it to reset and then push the button again. We rang the hydraulic manufacturer and he said it wasn't his product but the relay, so we bought a new one. Perfect, the slides worked effortlessly and the rams also worked better than ever before. It turns out the new relay we bought has a manual reset button while our previous one automatically reset itself. Something had made the relay trip and we all we needed to do was to push the reset button. Problem solved and we got to stay for the week. It's funny, I don't think anyone stays longer than a few days because when you say you want to stay for a week, they clarify it not once but three times. You want seven days, yes, seven days. Seven days. Yes seven days, a week. Is it my accent?

Dark Hollows Falls
It was supposed to rain, so I thought it might get cold, but it didn't

The campground at Big Meadow is one of the nicest National Park campgrounds we have been in. Green grass with lovely shady trees and large sites. We could easily fit our 5th wheel and truck too. We have sunshine after a couple of overcast days, just the weather we need to sit outside to have a drink. Life is good.

White tailed deer fawn

Lots of black bears

There are plenty of trails. Wildlife in the area includes black bears, white tailed deer, squirrels and many birds. There are a few waterfalls here and we walked to two as it's always nicer if you have a reason to walk somewhere.

Rapidan Camp

The Brown House

President Hoover wanted a summer house to escape the heat and humidity of Washington DC. He wanted it to have a stream so that he could fish and be within an easy distance of the White House. His personal secretary found a fishing lodge called Rapidan Camp through William Carson, who had heard about the search and lured the President to Shenandoah by building a road, securing fishing rights and stocking the stream with trout. It paid off.

Congress and William Carson had offered money to help pay for the property but Hoover refused. While Hoover paid for the property and all the building materials himself, 500 soldiers built the roads, cabins and other buildings, installed a water supply, sewage systems, built furniture and landscaped the grounds with paths, bridges and waterfalls. From the beginning Rapidan Camp was always intended to be donated to the national park when he had finished with it. Not surprisingly though the public were not happy about him using military labour to build the camp. He was the first President to donate his salary to charity, so I guess that made up for some of it. After construction the Marines ran the camp and guarded the Hoovers and their guests within a two mile radius around the camp - no easy feat when you see the forest.

The two mile walk here was through beautiful lush forest, three creek crossings

The Lodge consisted of two living areas with large fireplaces. Lou (Mrs Hoover) had an office which looked down towards the river as she was involved in lots of things including the girl guides. A second bedroom and bathroom was created by closing in a verandah for Mrs Hoover when President Hoover started being woken up during the night to attend to his presidential duties. As was the era, they slept in separate single beds. There are three buildings left – Creel Cabin where the volunteer curator lives, the Prime Minister’s cabin which was a guest cabin and the Brown House (as opposed to the White House) – a lot of thought went into that name.

The Brown House was refurnished seventy years after Hoover used it, so the original items were long gone. Photographs were used to recreate it as authentically as possible. Mrs Hoover liked to shop local, so many items could be recreated by local tradesmen. Native Indian rugs adorned the floors but are no longer on display as mice like to eat them. All the other buildings including the Mess Tent building have been demolished. There is a huge fireplace outside, this was never enclosed by a building, it was like an outdoor fire that everyone could sit around. Other activities for guests to do in the area were horse riding, hiking and of course fishing. Both the Hoover’s were geologists and Mr Hoover’s first job as a mining engineer was at a gold mine in the region around Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Now that's an outdoor fireplace
There are two ways of getting to Rapidan Camp, a six mile drive down a fire road or a two mile hike via Mill Prong Trail from the Milam Gap parking area. It’s a moderate hike, steep in places with three stream crossings. As this was our walk for the day, we hiked.

President Hoover was not well liked as the opposition told the people that he was responsible for the great depression and his summer camp was nearly left to decay.

A lone Yellow Slipper

Big Meadows National Park Campground

19 May 2016

Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg Virginia

Williamsburg is a colonial town, a couple of blocks in the centre of town have been blocked off to traffic. There are numerous free long and short-term carparks dotted around the perimeter. People are dressed up in period costume and talk as though they are still living in that period, sometimes giving a history of the town. It’s probably the only town in America who still love the English!

Booking for busy periods

Graduation Weekend

This weekend is graduation weekend, where relatives come from all around to see their grandchildren etc graduate from school. No such pomp and ceremony like this happens at home, it’s nice to see that some traditions still continue, especially ones that involve the whole family. For us, it meant that we couldn’t get a site at the RV park in Charlottesville on the Friday night, luckily we had booked the next two nights last week when we worked out what days would suit Wells and Dana to catch up. We found a nice county park near the Chickahominy river about 12 miles where we had been the night before. Lindsay loved the short drive, but he better not get used to it, I doubt you will ever have that short a distance again!

Wells, Dana, Jane & Lindsay

We had a great night catching up with Wells & Dana, and meeting Dana's parents. We hadn't seen them for two years, so it was the first time we met Fern, everyone would want a little girl like her, she's just a delight.

Memorial Day Weekend

When we booked Washington DC, we couldn’t get in on the Saturday of the memorial weekend, so we have to add days to Shenandoah national park. Going onto their website they are all booked out, but there were a few walk up sites, so we rang them. They assured us it isn’t that busy during the week, so we should be okay getting a site for the whole week, including the Memorial day weekend. Memorial day is a big thing over here. It’s the start of the school holidays, and a long weekend. American’s don’t get many public holidays, so they all make the most of them when they get them and that means booking up campsites months in advance. We have always been in Yellowstone or just leaving on this weekend, so have never needed to worry about it. We know about it but we still forget.

Summer Holidays

Summer holidays start and finish at different times throughout the country. Where we at the moment they start on Memorial Day weekend and go for a few months. It's weird to think they end their school year in the middle of the year, when we finish in December. Friday and Saturday nights are always busy most weekends, but the weeks start to get busy too during this period. Therefore we need to look ahead and start booking or we may find ourselves out in the cold. 

While over in the west you can often stay overnight in a Walmart (if they allow it), but over on the east coast it's not a good idea. Luckily I saw a comment about crime in a Walmart in Richmond, VA, where we were thinking of staying. Two men would knock on your door in the middle of the night, say you couldn't stay and then rob you at gunpoint when you opened the door. Being in a 5th Wheel, we can't just jump into the driver seat and leave. Scary stuff. It turns out that Richmond has only just been superseded by Detroit as the murder capital of the US! Luckily I found a county campground in Williamsburg for a much safer night. 

18 May 2016

The First English Settlement in the USA

Colonial National Historic Park - Jamestown

Historic Jamestown is the #1 attraction in the Williamsburg area according to Trip Advisor. Someone mentioned the Ranger talks, so we rang them to find out what time they ran. The Archeological Ranger Talks are at 11am and 2pm.

One of the dig sites
As it was still raining in the morning, we went got to the Jamestown Settlement just before 2pm. The docent was a guy who has spent his working life doing character reenactments. He told us the story of how the English came here in 1607. They were lucky that John Smith documented everything that went on as it gave them a wealth of information. They always thought the original settlement was out in the river. But one person didn’t believe them and begged to be able to excavate, he was given permission to search for ten years, that was 28 years ago. He had financial backers, so the Government didn’t have to pay for any of it. They have found more than 2,000 artifacts.

This is what they believed it looked like
At the time the entire eastern part of America north of Florida was called Virginia. King James granted a charter to the Virginia Company to send people to the new world in the hope they would find gold and silver.

There is a brick hearth, that makes this the cook house

One hundred and seven men and boys arrived in April 1607, and were the first successful English settlement in America. The fort was built on a marshy island because it had excellent views of any enemy coming up the James River. Disease and famine nearly wiped them out. Their idea was that they would get their food from the local Indians, and while some were happy to trade with the English, not all were. John Smith was the first Governor, though no-one wanted him because he wasn’t English. He would make deals up and down the coast with different Indian communities, some friendly, some not so friendly. So when the people finally got rid of him they had no idea what relationships were good and which ones weren’t. There was a period called the starving time in 1609-10, where people resorted to cannibalization. Science can now determine what diet people ate. If it was based on wheat, then they lived most of their life in England. If it was corn, they lived here in the colonies. They had identified the four bodies found in the church.

This shows how the walls were constructed

Tobacco arrived about 12 years later and the settlement began to thrive. In 1619, the colony established a General Assembly with members elected by Virginia’s male landowners; it would become a model for representative governments in later colonies.

This is one of the people they believed was eaten, she may have been a servant. Many servants were indentured for 5-7 years to pay for their passage

In 1622 the native Indians attacked the town and wiped out one quarter of the population. They had after all been taking their land and introducing their diseases to which they had no immunity.

John Smith - Governor of Virginia 1608

14 May 2016

Showering when your tanks are dry

We were going to fill up with water when we arrived at Oregon Inlet but we couldn't find the dump station, it turns out, it's down the road at the marina. We decided to set up camp without filling up. We had enough to get by but not enough for showers. So we resorted to our solution that we use camping in the bush at home.
  • Fill a bucket with water, from a tap or the river. 
    • Pour some of the water into a kettle and boil it on the stove or fire. 
    • When hot, tip it back into the bucket, and mix it in.
  • Repeat the previous two steps until the water is the right temperature. It usually only takes two kettles. 
  • Take it into the shower and use a small saucepan with a side handle to pour the warm water over yourself.
  • In the bush we use a 12V shower, the pump sits in the bucket and the showerhead fits onto a shower tent or a window on the car
Of course there are times when you have no water except for drinking and cooking, like when we travel for a week or two across the Simpson Desert. There are no towns and no petrol stations, zip, just you and the sand dunes. Scented baby wipes are the next best alternative.

13 May 2016

The Birth of Motorised Flight

The Wright Brothers National Memorial

No cockpits yet
Capturing history
Full sized replica at the spot where they took off
The only monument to be erected when the people were still alive

This is where the Wright Brother’s came to test out their gliders and Flyer.

It all started when their father brought home a rubber band operated helicopter when they were very young which they played with it until it broke. So they rebuilt it, but made a bigger one, then a bigger one. Their interest in flight had begun. Orville & Wilbur were the two older brothers in the family of five children, who became inseparable.

The local helpers

There were many people trying to achieve motorized flight around the world at the time, but no-one had succeeded. They thought they had as good a chance as anyone else.

I better take one just in case you miss it

Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina fit the criteria they needed for testing their theories – wind for lift, sand dunes for soft landings and isolation – so they could work undisturbed. They came to Kill Devil Hills every September and October. By working on each other’s strengths and weaknesses they conquered powered flight in just four years. During the rest of the year they worked in their bicycle shop back in Ohio, which funded all their work. Gathering research from the Smithsonian helped them understand aerodynamics.

Wilbur had the idea of warping the wings, so that he could rotate the wings and stabilize the flight.

They built a 17-foot glider with an unusual forward elevator. The total time in the air was 10 seconds

They expanded the wing span to 22 feet but the machine was still unpredictable. When they realised they had been using incorrect data, they produced their own.

They increased the wings to 32-feet and added vertical tails to counteract adverse yaw. After Wilbur thought to link the tail movement to the warping mechanism, the Glider could be tuned and stabilized smoothly. They saw that control and stability were related and that a plane turned by rolling. After six hundred more glides, they were satisfied that they had the first working airplane.

The four flights on Dec 17, 1903

Unable to find a lightweight commercial engine, they produced their own. Due to repairs on the engine, they stayed longer than their usual two months as they were determined to make it work. On December 14, Wilbur won the coin toss to test their first plane, but he over steered with the elevator after leaving the launching rail. The Flyer climbed too steeply, stalled and dove into the sand. Three days later after some repairs, Orville took it up. Again the Flyer was uncontrollable, pitching up and down as he overcompensated the controls. Orville managed to keep it aloft until it hit the sand, about 120 feet from the rail. On Wilbur’s second flight he managed to reach a height of 852 feet and keep going for 59 seconds.

*The above timeline was taken from the National Parks brochure

A replica, the real one is at the Smithsonian

The National Memorial for the Wright Brothers in Kill Devil Hills is a museum that has indoor and outdoor exhibits. The hills out the back are now covered in grass but were once all sand. Wilbur called it the Sahara, as there were endless sand dunes to the sea. A memorial stands atop the largest hill. A life-sized replica of the Flyer with the brothers, the photographer and the local helpers, who were needed to push the Flyer is on the other side. You can actually drive around but we walked and got rained on. It wasn't supposed to rain for another three hours. The sheds where they worked and lived in during their time here are next to the museum, as are the distance markers of the four flights they made on December 17, 1903. 

The Ranger explains how the wings move

What I found the most enjoyable though, was the Ranger talk. A very enthusiastic lady told us their story and showed us how the wings moved, how the brothers steered the plane by moving their bodies, left and right, which warped the wings and moved the rudder.

Related Posts:
The Outer Banks
Oregon Inlet Campground

11 May 2016

The Lure of the Sea

North Carolina’s Outer Banks

We have come to North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX for short). It’s a slither of land that runs along the ocean. We drove over three long long long bridges to get here, we have finally left the I-40 which we have been travelling on since California, behind us.

Nags Head Beach Houses
Some pastels

Driving down through Nags Head I couldn’t help but think about the show Beach Flip and Income Property where they renovated some houses just like these. They are colourful weatherboards, two to three stories tall, often on stilts. Some small, some huge. The lucky ones get the perfect position right on the beach. There is a place here that has 28 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms and rents for $40k a week, who has that sort of money? Rents double after Memorial day.

Bodie Lighthouse

Bodie Lighthouse
The lighthouse was built in 1872 and still has it’s original Fresnel lens. The lighthouses try to make a notorious stretch of sea a little safer. They call it the Graveyard of the Atlantic where many ships and lives have been lost. You can only just see the tip of one shipwreck, just across the road from the Pea Island Wildlife Reserve.

Just near Bodie Lighthouse is Coquina beach. I had heard that the beaches around here are pretty special but the one five minutes walk from our campsite isn’t as it is covered with seaweed and the fishermen leave large wheel ruts in the sand as they drive to where they want to fish. Coquina beach is very nice. We found some other residents who think it’s pretty special too.

Digging his den
Watching us, if we moved they ran back into their burrows

The first three days there was just a light wind. Then we got a taste of what it is usually like here. It is afterall the sixth windiest place in America. Coming back from our day trip to Ocracoke Island, we saw hundreds of kite surfers and a few windsurfers. We couldn’t always see the sea, but we could see the colourful parachutes up in the sky as we drove along. It was perfect conditions for them with flat water and high winds. Back at our campground, peoples’ tents were getting squashed by the wind. Just after dinner another storm rolled in with high winds, lightening and heavy rain.

On Pea Island, just down the road from us is a Wildlife Refuge. They have numerous birds and some turtles.

Fishing Pier during the day

We had a copy of the tide schedule so planned to go back to the Fishing Bridge just before high tide. We were early, it wasn’t all the way in so we had a drink at the bar that is hidden behind the shop. There’s an outdoor area to sit that you can’t see from the beach giving you a fantastic view over the pier, beach and sea. We went down to the water’s edge at high tide but it was still too far out, so we couldn’t get the photos we were wanting. Then Lindsay remembered that the moon phase affects the height of the tide, sounds like we need to do a bit more research.

Fishing Pier near sunset, the light was only there for about two minutes
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The Cape has been losing land to the sea for years. They have spent a lot of money moving sand around but it's a losing battle. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1870, 1500 feet from the shore. It has a lovely candy-cane stripe, so is very recognizable. At 280', it is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. But by 1980 it had waves lapping it's foundations and soon it would be lost into the sea. Hatteras Island is a barrier island and the wind and sea have been moving it westward for years. The Lighthouse station was relocated in 1999 at a cost of $11,900,000. It was moved 2900 feet southwest, again 1500 feet from the shoreline. It has more than 175,000 visitors each year, with many climbing the 248 steps to reach the top.

In 1917 German submarines operations began circling just off the cape. In 1942 the Germans were back again with their U-boats. By mid January 1942 nineteen U-boats were operating outside the Outer Banks. They sunk a US oil tanker which had a devastating effect on the Outer Banks beaches. In the spring of '42, during March and April, the Germans managed to sink a US ship a day without incurring a single casualty. On April 14, the Americans torpedoed and sunk the U-85, and while the Germans didn't leave, they didn't enjoy the success they had in the preceding months.

Coquina beach
Ocracoke Lighthouse
Manteo Waterfront

We had organised to meet up with Melanie and Bud for a drink when we got back from the pier. They have sold up everything and bought an RV to live and travel in. While Bud has been retired for three years, Melanie only just retired recently, so it’s a new phase for them. Their goal is to stay south of the frost line, sounds like a good plan.

Bud plays guitar and had invited Rick and Mark from the campground to join us to play some music. Rick plays guitar and fiddle (which is just like a violin but the bridge is lower) and Mark had an identical Taylor guitar to Bud; snap. We listened to a bit of John Denver, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Eagles and a few originals by Mark himself. While they don’t always know the songs each other lead with, they can just improvise. Rick plays fiddle with three bands back home, he used to live in Aspen and knew John Denver. Good music, red wine and good company; a night we will remember for a long time.

Bud and Melanie
Rick and Mark with Melanie in the background

Related Posts:
Wright Brothers Museum

Where we camped:
Oregon Inlet Campground