Fleeing the potential wrath of Hurricane Dorian, we left Lincolnton, Georgia, heading west. (Before heading out we took our regular walk down at Bussey Point.). For the most part we took the scenic route on GA-16, which is a pretty drive.
In Eatonton we took a break to check out the Uncle Remus Museum. Joel Chandler Harris was born in the area in 1845. Joseph Addison Turner published a newspaper, The Countryman, on his plantation and hired Harris as a printer when he was 16 years old. He honed his writing skills there, and later worked for The Macon Telegraph, The Monroe Advertiser, and The Atlanta Constitution. During his time on Turner’s plantation, Harris heard many African folk tales that he retold often. Friends and acquaintances encouraged him to write about them, and Uncle Remus was born, first written about in stories adapted from the folk tales and published in the Constitution. The museum is composed of several slave cabins from the area and is very informative. In fact, the lady there was almost too informative…we thought it would be a 30-minutes stop, and she just kept talking!
Once back on the road we passed through Forsyth, Georgia, where we noted the beautiful courthouse. MW has for years talked about traveling around the country taking pictures and writing the history of beautiful courthouses. He says it would make a great coffee table book, and this one would definitely make the cut. We made one more stop for a quick lunch at Wendy’s before arriving at our home for the night, John Tanner Park. Arrival was a little overwhelming! The parking lot was slap full; folks were even parked in the grass. This was Labor Day weekend, and we thought we were in for a loud night, but the traffic turned out to be mostly beach-goers. The camping area was in the trees with lots of pull-throughs, but the roads were a little steep and not marked for direction although they appeared to be one-way. The large sites were level, and albeit older and cramped, the bathhouse was clean. The park also contains a large beach, miniature golf, trails, and other amenities. After setting up we ran out to meet Mom and Larry for a quick dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse, then came right back. I talked to the kids (sitting outside where my ankles were eaten up by something and itched for days) before we turned in to be up for an early start.
Tuesday we were up and out early heading into Alabama. I’m not sure how far we were down the road before we realized that it was our Anniversary. BOTH of us forgot! I did remember it a few days prior, but not this morning. That is a first. Is it downhill from here? Maybe it is just that we celebrate “US” every day. Who am I kidding? We are just getting old and forgetful! LOL
We intended to drive through the Talladega National Forest, but the road was closed for a bridge issue. Our first attempt at getting around was following the detour signs before we realized they were taking us WAAAYYY out of our way on questionable roads, so we found a place to turn Petunia around and picked our own way. After going through Heflin and Piedmont, we hit US-278 west to Cullman. I found a nice place to enjoy our anniversary lunch, but between traffic and small parking lots, it didn’t work out. We ended up at Panera Bread for salads.
Towing a large fifth wheel has meant adjusting our road-trip mentality somewhat. In the past we just popped in and out wherever the whim sent us. When we had Penelope, the smaller travel trailer, she limited us some. Now with Petunia that limitation is a bit larger. We have to make sure we don’t get ourselves into spots we can’t get out of, which includes tight turns with obstructions, parking lots where folks block you in without thinking, dead end roads with no place to turn around, and anywhere with low clearance. (Amazingly the latter is sometimes not posted until you are 50′ from the bridge. Yikes!) We use a variety of things to help us navigate, but satellite view in Apple Maps is the most helpful in cities when trying to find parking.
After lunch we back-tracked just a little bit to check out Ave Maria Grotto. This place was amazing. It is located just outside of Cullman at St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine men’s monastery in Alabama. The Abbey was founded in 1891, but the Grotto’s origins aren’t until 1912 when Brother Joseph Zoetl, a monk there for almost 70 years, built his first replicas. When not working at his assigned job, Brother Joseph created miniature buildings using stone, concrete, and other unwanted or donated materials (broken plates, tile, beads, marbles, shells, etc.). His original works were placed around the gardens at the monastery, but were moved to their present location, a former stone quarry for the Abbey, in 1934. His last replica was created in 1958 of Lourdes Basilica Church. There are literally hundreds of houses, cathedrals, and other buildings, items, and scenes from history, as well as a few fantasy scenes. Bethlehem, the Statue of Liberty, the Alamo, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, Gethsemane, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and many biblical scenes including the crucifixion and resurrection are represented. Although it was sweltering, we enjoyed the walk through and looking at this fascinating place.
Once back in the car we continued west on US-278 to Corinth NRA campground near Double Springs, Alabama. This place was really nice. We stayed on the first loop with hook-ups, where most of the sites were shady and spread apart. Ours was crazy long. We backed Petunia in and could have parked three cars in front of her! It was level and typically had 50 amp, but one of the lines was bad so we used the 30. The park was mostly empty with only three other folks on our loop while we were there. We took a walk through the other loop and it was similar, although the sites were closer together. Not too many folks there, either. I LOVE it when kids go back to school, and it becomes full-timer season. Generally speaking, as long as we are arriving during the week we’re okay, but getting something on the weekend in the summer can be tough. It definitely changes our planning, as we prefer no plan. We have to keep an eye on holidays and festivals throughout the year, though.
After checking in and chatting with the campground hosts a bit, we set up and headed out to dinner at the Lakeshore Inn Restaurant, their recommendation. The place was pretty empty when we arrived, but it was early. We sat at a table facing the lake. It had a beautiful deck, but I’m certain we would have died of heat stroke if we sat out there. (When are we going to get out of the 90s?!?! Seriously, we drove through a town the other day with a heat index of 105!) The food was good, but the place was a bit run down and the service was not great.
On Wednesday morning we were up early to take our walk, this time around the campground. I rarely like being woken up at 6 AM to go walk, but I always end up enjoying the early morning outside. We didn’t see any animals on this day, but often do. We did see a rather interesting sign, though. Befuddling!
After cleaning up, we headed out to take in a few sites. The first stop was to check out Natural Bridge. This is the largest natural bridge east of the Rockies, measuring in at 60′ high and 148′ long. Formed over millions of years, the sandstone was washed away leaving veins of iron ore holding up the bridge. It is on private property, but they only charge a couple of bucks to take the short walk to see it. It was clearly a big deal back in the day, but the facilities are a little run down now. The bridge, though, is awesome! Another interesting note about this area: in 1862 Winston County opposed secession and voted to remain neutral. They were branded “Torries”. After walking around for a bit and checking out the bridge, we took a scenic route that led us to Jasper, Alabama, where we popped in at Jack’s for some breakfast. Then we headed back up to Houston to check out the old jail. Built in 1868, it is the only surviving log jail in north Alabama. It would have been tough living in there, especially in the summer. They did put holes in the walls to pee through, which was nice of them. 1) I didn’t touch anywhere near the hole. 2) What if you had to do the other? The final stop for the morning was the Corinth Baptist Church on the way back to the campground. Built a few years later in 1884, this is still an active church. I liked the women’s room.
After dropping MW off at Petunia, I headed into Double Springs to use some free wifi at Jack’s. I stayed for a bit, but it was very slow, so I headed over to Subway (the only other game in town). I walked in and asked the lady at the counter if they had wifi. Visualize…I was carrying my computer bag, told her I wasn’t hungry, and purchased a drink. She said “Yes we do. I think the password is ******.” It wasn’t. After attempting to get in, I told her the password didn’t work, and she said “Oh, it isn’t for customers to use.” What do you suppose she thought I asked about it for? Someone needs to give that woman a sign! Totally frustrated, I headed back to Petunia and gave up work for the evening. We had sandwiches for supper and watched a little TV before turning in.
Thursday morning we were northbound for Tennessee. Except for gas stops, we headed straight for the Wyatt & Mae Banks Campground near Counce, Tennessee. Wyatt Banks is my uncle, and he let us stay at this primo little site right on the bank of the Tennessee River. He and a friend built it years ago so that they would have a place to stay on the weekends (he lives in Savannah, Tennessee) and now he rents the sites. There is no bathhouse, but the sites are full-hookup and shaded, and several face the water. Uncle Wyatt was waiting there when we arrived, so we got to visit for a bit after setting up. After he left, we sat out and enjoyed the river view. Despite temps in the high 90s, this little spot gets a nice breeze and seems cooler. We relaxed for a bit, watching the occasional barge or boat pass, fish jump, a heron stalking, and to our surprise, a bald eagle fly over the river. Later, we went down to the Red Wood Hut in Counce. Uncle Wyatt mentioned this place before he left. It is right across the street from the plant he built, and I bet he spent quite a few lunch hours there back in the day. They serve a variety of meat and three meals, and caught both of us with the catfish special. An added bonus was the white beans they serve ahead of time, like other places serve bread. Yum! All was good. Full and happy, we headed back to Petunia and settled in for the night. One other thing we noticed as we headed back was the huge pile of wood at the PCA container board mill across the street. I’ve never seen that much wood stacked up, so I snapped a pic for you.
Friday morning we headed out for our walk, trying to find the eagle’s nest to no avail. After cleaning up, we drove over to Shiloh National Military Park to check that out. In all honesty, going to military battlefields for me is simply going to a park where history happened. It’s interesting, and there are moving stories (in this case the loss of 23,746 soldiers was tragic), but the best part is going with MW. To him it’s like a magnificent game of invisible chess. He sees the lines marching forward, upcoming flanking movement, guns blazing, and cannon bombardments. For him it is a true experience, and I just love seeing him enjoy himself that much. Sometimes he describes the battle scene to me, pointing out the ridge that one army came over and the trench where the other was hidden. I’ll admit, though, that after watching it for a bit, I find a bench to sit on or wait in the car while he surveys the field, especially in the heat! Once we completed the driving tour, we headed back to Penelope so that I could join a work call. Later we headed over to Savannah for a quick lunch at Hardees before going to the Tennessee River Museum to check out the cultural and historic information about the area. Finally it was on to Uncle Wyatt and Aunt Mae’s for dinner. They’ve lived in Savannah for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve visited. We had a great evening and really enjoyed catching up.
Saturday we drove back down to Tuscumbia, Alabama, to check out a couple of sites. First was the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. This is not a really big place, but it does contain quite a bit of memorabilia and information about a multitude of artists. (They even had the hand-written lyrics for our wedding song, I Swear.) Anything to do with music is always fascinating for me, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Of course we all know that Alabama and Hank Williams are from Alabama, but there were a LOT of people that I did not know about like Tammy Wynette. We spent an hour or so looking it over.
The next stop was lunch at Stephano’s in Muscle Shoals. This was a little diner-type place that has been in business for at least 60 years. It could use some updating, but the food was pretty good. They serve several meat and three options along with sandwiches. We both had Italians, and they were great. We did not sample the desserts, but the lemon meringue pie was at least 6″ high! (Sigh…next time.)
Stop number three was Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller. The little house, with only two rooms, was originally an office next to the home of her grandparents on their 640-acre tract. When Helen’s father married her mother and came back to Tuscumbia to live, he converted the office into a bridal suite. Anyone who read the story of Helen Keller (or saw the amazing movie with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke), would recognize the well pump that sits right behind the main cottage. What I didn’t remember from the book is that Helen was not born deaf and blind, but became so due to an illness at the age of 19 months. No wonder she was half wild by 1887 when her parents took her to see Dr. Alexander Graham Bell (yes, that one), who referred her to the Perkins Institute. That turned out to be the pivotal moment in her life. At Perkins she met Anne Sullivan and began her journey towards understanding. (I also didn’t remember that Anne was partially blind, which is why she was at Perkins in the first place.) Anne returned to live with the Kellers and work with Helen. She was creative in her approach, at one point even telling Helen they were going away, then having them driven around the estate for several house before ending up back in Ivy Green. (She felt that she would achieve a better result without constant interference from Helen’s doting parents, so moved them next door.) Once Helen understood “water”, there was no stopping her. She attended Radcliffe College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and went on to speak and write extensively. The site is well preserved and includes 10 acres of the original land. It showcases much of Miss Keller’s accomplishments and talks about her relationships with both Anne Sullivan and her companion after Anne’s death in 1914, Polly Thomson. Helen spent her life advocating for people with disabilities, and died in her sleep in 1968. We really enjoyed taking it all in and walking the gardens. After a long day of playing tourist, we headed back to Petunia to put our feet up and relax.
Sunday morning we cleaned up a little around Petunia and enjoyed watching the river flow by. Later in the day we picked up barbecue from R & B’s Barbeque & Restaurant in Counce. Our plan was to get some pulled pork and brisket for sandwiches along with fixins. I asked for a pound of each of the meats, some sauce, buns, and two pints each of slaw and beans. The sweet young girl said that it was cheaper to get the larger sides, so we agreed. We ended up with what she called a half-gallon, but I’m telling you a gallon of milk would have fit into each container easily. (As I write this, half of the beans are still in the freezer as I’m a little beaned out for the time being!) It was seriously enough to feed a small church! Uncle Wyatt and Aunt Mae were just as surprised by the giant BOX of food as we were. After dinner Aunt Mae gave me a tour of the property. It would have been amazing to see that huge barn filled with horses – 19 stalls! We spent a nice evening visiting, then headed for home.
Monday was once again walking day. We’ve been pretty good at putting in 40 to 60 minutes three times a week since mid-July. Taking a walk with MW is pretty much speed walking for me, which definitely gets my heart pumping. At first it just wiped me out, and my knees gave me fits in between walks. I went back to icing, which helped a lot, and thankfully, progress has been made in both areas. I notice more strength and stability than I’ve had since knee surgery last year, so that is totally worth it. We spent some time after returning just hanging out enjoying the river, then headed over the Wyatt & Mae’s in the afternoon to visit. In the evening Uncle Wyatt took us on a driving tour of Savannah, showing us where the kids live, the factory, and other areas. After that, it was time to head for the hills.
Tuesday the dreaded was upon us…laundry day. In all fairness, I don’t mind it since I can get everything done in about 2 hours at a laundromat, usually with free wifi to boot. We headed into Savannah to the Suds Your Duds to get the ball started. This was the cleanest, nicest laundromat we’ve ever been in. The owner came out, and I let him know that, which started a conversation. He is a fellow camper, and it turns out that Wyatt & Mae’s granddaughter, Shelby, is married to his son. On top of that, he worked for Uncle Wyatt for years. I LOVE small towns. After finishing the clothes, we headed back to Petunia to get it all organized. On the way back, we checked out the picnic area at Shiloh as we were passing by, and I took advantage of the bathroom while there. Thankfully, I was paying attention, because there was a rather large (to me) visitor in the toilet. Honestly, if I had sat down and that thing touched my butt, MW would find me laid out in the floor dead with my pants around my ankles. Not a pretty way to go!!! We relaxed that afternoon and headed over to Top O’ the River for…drumroll please…more catfish. If you are in the area and looking for the feline swimmer, this joint definitely served up a winning plate. Savannah has had a strong link to catfish since the early 1950s. The moniker came about when a toy gunmaker named Cecil Parris kept having his returned packages delivered to the “other” Savannah (Georgia). He was a catfishing enthusiast, so he convinced the post office to add “Catfish Capitol of the World” to the postmark to help differentiate the two cities. The name caught on, and they continue to celebrate every year with the National Catfish Derby, an event started by old Cecil himself.
Wednesday we took our morning walk, then I got a little work done while MW relaxed and enjoyed the river. Just after lunch Aunt Mae called to see if we were interested in a factory tour over at Tri-Matic Springs. Heck yeah! We love seeing how things are made! We took an alternate route into Savannah this time and saw a neat representation of Calvary and the Tomb on a hillside. At the plant she introduced us to Shelby Blackwelder (her granddaughter) and Logan who, along with being Shelby’s husband, is the Assistant Plant Manager. (The plant is owned by Mae’s daughter and son-in-law, Teresa and Jeff Collier. It was started by Jeff’s father Marvin Collier in 1984. Mae works there, too.) Logan’s tour was very thorough. He explained wire weights, supply chains, set-ups, and how different equipment worked. We were amazed that he has only been working there for 18 months or so, because he appeared to know everything about everything. It seemed like a LOT of information to absorb in a relatively short period of time. Except for the heat, which is often present when touring factories, it was awesome! After we finished at the spring plant, he walked us over to the plating plant, a separate company named Southern Plating, Inc., and gave us a quick run-through. My favorite part of the whole deal was the machines making the springs. How different our lives would be without these marvels. It would not be a leap to say that springs from this little plant have helped everyone reading this article. From various spray cans to lawnmowers to faucets to automobiles, they are all over the place. After thanking him for the great job, we headed back over to Wyatt and Mae’s for a final visit and pizza supper. Then it was home to gear up to move on Thursday.
See you on the road!