Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day 21: The Colonial Parkway! Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg, plus Monticello, sort of...

After Kill Devil Hills (Kitty Hawk), we camped for the night in a little state park called Merchants Millpond State Park.  However, we failed to get any photos, guess we were tired.

After a good night's sleep, Angie took the wheel and drove us into Virginia over...

...and under the James River, past Norflok, Newport News, and into...

Site of a huge Revolutionary War victory for Washington.  A group of soldiers and their families were taking a tour of the battlefield as we got there.

I had forgotten how involved the French were in our fight for independence.  If not for Lafayette, the French Army, and maybe more importantly their Navy, Yorktown would have been a different outcome or perhaps Washington wouldn't have attempted it at all.

The Museum has all kinds of artifacts such as General Washington's tent.

If you can zoom in on this, it's a synopsis of the battle and the events leading up to it.  To summarize, Washington originally wanted to attack New York but changed his focus to Cornwallis' position in Yorktown when he learned he could get French Naval support.  The French Navy not only shuttled in additional troops, but prevented the British Navy from bringing in reinforcements and maintained control of the Chesapeake Bay, making it possible for Washington to take Yorktown.

From Yorktown, we drove the Colonial Parkway scenic route over to Jamestown and Williamsburg.  This is a really nice leisurely drive, popular with cyclists, that passes a lot of beaches and other interesting sights.

Jamestown is the site of the first permanent English settlement.  Roanoke actually predated Jamestown but those colonists mysteriously disappeared...

The Jamestown colonists settled on an island because they wanted something defensible if the Spanish or native tribes attacked.  Life was difficult though because they were surrounded by a swamp on one side, a river on the other, and there was no source of clean drinking water.  Also, all the settlers did was look for gold and rely on the local tribes for necessities.  This is a model of the original fort compound.  Note the tower and outline of a foundation...

This "memorial" church is not original to the settlement.  It was built on the foundation of the original church in 1907.

This tower, behind the church, is part of the original structure as seen in the model.

A statue erected to honor Pocahontas, daughter of the local Chief.

Kidnapping!  They sure did things differently back then...

Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown and Governor of Virginia.

Elmo, illustrating the defensive advantage the swamp provided.
After Bacon's Rebellion, in which most of the town was burned, and some other setbacks the capital was moved to Williamsburg in 1699 and Jamestown was mostly abandoned.

From Jamestown we took a quick look at Williamsburg and then continued on to Charlottesville, location of Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.  Jefferson was quite the architect and basically built the house twice.  This model is the original version...

After spending a few years in France, he came back inspired to make some changes. He removed and completely redesigned the second floor and made quite a few other major changes, including adding the dome, the first of its kind this side of the Atlantic.

Unfortunately it was late in the day, raining and cost $25/person to tour the house so we had to settle for just the museum but I'm glad we went.  The house has some really unusual features for the time such as the dome, a tin roof, and skylights.

We had intended to camp in Shenandoah National Park but we've learned the hard way that it's just not worth it to camp in the rain if it's already raining or guaranteed to start.  We headed for a motel in nearby Waynesboro, which is at the southern end of Shenandoah.

Hopefully the weather will improve and we can drive thru Shenandoah tomorrow...

Day 20: Cape Hatteras and Kitty Hawk

After our adventures on Ocracoke, we headed up the island chain, via ferry to Cape Hatteras.

Cool lighthouse. But it was cold, windy, and full of school field trips, so we didn't go to the top.

On to Roanoke Island, the site of the first British colony in the Americas, founded in 1587.  It was doomed, of course, and what happened to the 115 original colonists remains a mystery.  Did the Native Americans kill them all?  Did they die of disease? Hunger? Cold? Did they join forces with the Indians and move? Nobody knows....but archaeologists are trying to figure it out.  They found this old fort (I know, doesn't look like much) and this is pretty much the entire park.

There is an Elizabethan Garden located on the grounds, but the entry fee was more than I was willing to spend.  I wish I had though, because it looked like it was beautiful.

Roanoke proved to be useful again during the Civil War.

Kitty Hawk lies at the northern end of the Barrier Island chain. It was fascinating. Above are life sized replicas of both the glider the Wright brothers used to perform flight experiments and the first plane that ever flew under motor power.

Lift, Power, and Control.  Orville and Wilbur (AWESOME names) were convinced that a flying machine was possible, but they needed to solve the 3 main problems of flight.  There was some knowledge in the field but, for the most part, the Wright brothers had to discover the solutions themselves.  

They looked everywhere for the perfect place for their experiments. They needed wind for their gliders and sand for safe crash landings.  They made a camp at Kitty Hawk and spent a lot of time there over 4 years, conducting over 1,000 experiments before finally achieving flight.

Not bad....

The site of the first motor powered flight in history.  The stone landmark on the left is where the plane started.  You can see the markers for the 4 flights in the middle of the picture.

The first flight, on the left of the picture, was 120 feet in 12 seconds. The fourth flight, marked at the far right, was 853 feet in 59 seconds. 

The reaction from the world was mixed.  While some were astounded at the thought that flight was achieved, most didn't believe the claim and some thought the brothers had stolen ideas and research from other scientists.  And, since Orville and Wilbur were very careful about showing their research and plane to anyone for patent concerns, it took a while for their name to be linked with the first flight.

But, it finally did.  They got a patent (not for a plane, but for a system of aerodynamic control of flying machines) and a groovy memorial park!

This picture is taken from the site of the first flight.  The hill was the site used by the brothers for over 1,000 glider experiments in preparation of the flight.  It used to be covered in sand, but has been planted so the wind doesn't erode it away.

Wilbur was the oldest, so he got his name in first, although Orville's the one who took the first flight.

Wow.  66 years.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Day 19: Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

So after some light sleep, dreaming of fishing trawlers... oh wait, that wasn't a dream... we got up early and headed to catch the Cedar Island ferry over to Ocracoke Island, which is part of the North Carolina barrier island chain.  Ocracoke is also where the pirate, Blackbeard, was killed!

No better way to start the day than with a ferry ride!

It was a dreary morning but at least it wasn't raining and the ferry only cost $15. Much less than those Canadian ferries.

It took about 2 hours to get over to Ocracoke, which is a cute little tourist town but not terribly overrun since it can only be accessed by ferry.  The town only has a couple dozen streets (if that) and most visitors get around on rented bicycles...

...or golf carts.
When we arrived a couple of tour bus loads of teenagers were rampaging thru town, via rented bikes and golf carts, but they all loaded up and left by late afternoon.

Except for the town, most of the island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore...

...and has beautiful, all but deserted beaches, at least when we were there...

...except for Stephen, and his 4 kids, on a cross country road trip in their classic VW camper van!  What a great family and they're having a blast.  They were constantly in motion and I couldn't get a group photo of them but that's Stephen scratching his knee.  He's an expert skier and Pedorthist in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  You can check him out at 

We'd been on the coast for nearly a week and hadn't had any seafood yet so we needed to take care of that before Angie's cravings took over and she had a nervous breakdown...

Shrimp to the rescue!
We ducked into Dajio and took advantage of their daily shrimp hour.

"Hey, what are those!?!"
Dajio was great but we weren't done so we headed down to the Topless Oyster for a dozen oysters... a little special treat, pea crabs!  These were inside a few of the oysters and about as big as your pinkie nail.  Never seen them before but we were assured they were pretty common and safe to eat.  They're tasty!

After the oysters, we were finally sated so it was time to head on to catch the next ferry to Hatteras where we planned to camp for the night.  On our way into the restaurant, a local had asked about the van. She had left by the time we were done with our oysters, but her companion, Robert, was still there and we paused to talk for a minute...

...and ended up drinking beer and camping in Robert's (and his dog, Bonz) driveway instead, oops!

Turns out Robert went to UT for awhile and lived in Austin, "back in the day", about the time Angie and I met.  We had a hilarious time trading stories, trying to figure out if we might have met before or had some friends in common.  I'm sure we probably do.  Robert is an interesting guy.  He's lived on the island for awhile, started the island's community radio station, works here and there, and plays a mean guitar.

These kind of happy accidents have become our favorite part of the trip.  The cities we visit and the natural beauty we see are fantastic but people, like Robert, that we meet along the way are what really makes it worthwhile!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 17 - 18: Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, and Fort Macon

From Charleston we continued north to Myrtle Beach...

We just passed thru but Myrtle Beach looked pretty neat.  The town is definitely a tourist trap but Spring Break had just ended and Summer is still a ways off so the town was actually pretty quiet and sleepy or maybe hungover.  There're still a lot of colorful, older 50's and 60's looking hotels, motels, and restaurants that haven't been leveled yet for high-rises, so we liked that.  We might go back some other time.

We camped for the night at a great campground, Brunswick Beaches Campground, near Shallotte, NC.  Great bathrooms, pool, people, etc.  We also met a nice couple (hey Ken and Diane!) taking their first RV trip (with Bob, their 190lb Great Dane!) that usually travels on their motor yacht.    Everyone we talk to who's traveled by boat seems to love it.
We're kind of getting the boat bug...

Omelette for dinner.
We're really loving our new little fridge.  It's much more reliable than the original one so we're able to keep things like eggs and dairy!

We spent about half the following day in Wilmington, NC.  Another beautiful southern city with a neat waterfront and lots of history...

...and more beautiful old mansions!
This is the Bellamy Mansion.

Just across the Cape Fear River is the WWII Battleship, The North Carolina which saw action in the Pacific.

Continuing up the coast, we visited Fort Macon that afternoon.

This was a Union fort captured by the Confederates during the Civil War and the site of one battle.  The fort's design includes this moat...

...designed to trap invaders between the inner and outer walls.

The fort has quite a history.  Originally constructed to defend Port Beaufort from the Spanish, British, and even pirates.  Partially engineered by Robert E. Lee before the Civil War, it's been a Union fort, a Confederate fort, a prison, and there were even troops stationed here during WWII because German U-boats were off the coast!.  Afterwards, the fort was abandoned and fell into disrepair for many years until it became a state  park.

This model provides a better view of its construction.  Each of the little semi-circles held a cannon.  Kinda looks like a baseball diamond.

This young 23-year old Colonel commanded the fort during its only battle of the Civil War.  The Union bombarded the fort with a new weapon...

...the "rifled" cannon that was much more accurate than anything seen previously.  Union forces were able to target the fort's powder magazine and young Colonel White quickly recognized that they'd be blown to smithereens and wisely surrendered rather than sacrifice his men.

Many of the fort's interior rooms have been set up as small museums dedicated to the many roles the fort has played.

The brickwork is quite beautiful.

The soldiers ate pretty well, although this was what they ate for an entire day.

There're some reproduction guns that you can rotate.

This staircase is dimpled by a Union cannonball that bounced down the stairs!

That evening we camped at a combination campground/marina on Cedar Island, close to where we planned to catch a ferry to the barrier islands the next day.

What a view!

Oh, look at the quaint fishing boats...

Grey morning after a fitful night of drizzling rain, mosquitoes, and remember those fishing boats?  Well, they weren't for looks.  They fired up the diesels at dusk and dragged nets until dawn just off the coast.  We managed to get a little sleep but we might as well have camped by a highway!