Friday, September 25, 2009

Between Games and Between Lakes

On Monday, Sept 21, we left Trail of Tears State Park and travelled to Piney Campground at Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee.
This is a huge campground with nearly 400 sites.

At the check-in station we were informed that a rig had just vacated perhaps the nicest full hookup site right on the lake and so we snatched it up. We realize now that from a cost standpoint we should have done more study of our options. While we love our site and 50-amp and full hookups, we really don’t need all this. We had assumed since this is a national park we would get 50% off with the Golden Access pass like we do at COE campgrounds. Lesson learned: they only give $6 off regardless of type of site. This meant that we were sitting in the highest cost $32 site and were, therefore paying $26 a night. As it turns out, if we would have known it we could have instead stayed in one of the open 30-amp electric only sites with a water spicket nearby for only $12 a night after the discount. .

We certainly have no complaints about the site unless you consider not being able to get good digital television or cellular phone signals a problem. Of course, the closest wireless access is 12 miles away at the Dover McDonald’s. By the way, McDonald’s wireless is not free. It’s $2.97 for up to 2 hours use.

We apparently were sharing this site with a Heron who hunted the waters just outside our rig each morning. Ken named him ‘Harry’ and sat outside each morning having his coffee with him as Harry showed off his expertise at catching his breakfast.
To keep his health in check, Ken’s preference is to have a ‘down day’ after a travel day so we stayed close to the rig on Tuesday. We dropped in to Dover for an email check, picked up a few items at the Piggly Wiggly and then Ken was drawn in by the call of the ice cream bars that they sell at the campground outpost so we had to stop there as well.

We were both mesmerized by the storm clouds rolling in across the lake and the way we could sit under the awning and watch the rain approach across the lake.

Wednesday we drove to the Fort Donelson National Military Park in nearby Dover, Tennessee. This is where the first major Union victory took place during the Civil War.

First we watched a 15 minutes movie at the Visitor’s Center describing the events leading up to the battle, giving background on the key leaders, explaining how the battle was fought on both rivers and land, and describing the surrender and its implications.

We then took a driving tour around the fort.

This gave a really good visual of why the Confederates actually won out against the Union gunboat fleet of 4 ‘IronSide’s with the 12 big guns in the Confederate river batteries. .
I have always envisioned forts with wooden or stone walls but Donelson was surrounded by large earthen embankments with trenches surrounding the outside. The rebels lost the battle on the ground, in the end, mostly because of some stupid mistakes and in-fighting between the various Confederate commanders when they nearly had that battle won.

As we stopped at one of these lines of last defense we were joined by a doe and her fawns who apparently still live in the fort. I found this place to have a strange energy about it, considering that there were literally thousands of soldiers buried where they fell here. The literature describes this place as hallowed ground and you have that sense as you pass through it.

The driving tour also takes you outside the fort in to the town of Dover where the surrender was negotiated at the Dover Hotel. It’s most interesting to learn the ‘human side’ of this history. For example, General Ulysses S. Grant and surrendering Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner were West Point classmates and friends. Because of the tough terms put forth by Grant it is this battle that gained him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Nonetheless, Grant did not want to gloat over the Confederate situation and instructed “to move the whole line forward, and take possession of persons and property but without a word of taunt—no cheering”. Make shift hospitals were set up with the Union looking to the wounded on both sides.
Another interesting point was that some of the 13,000 Confederate prisoners taken were shipped upriver to Springfield, IL. I did not know there was a prison camp in Springfield and now want to do more checking on that since we are regularly through Springfield in our travels.
From Dover, we drove up ‘The Trace’, the primary highway in between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

If you are looking for a tourist area with sites in close proximity this IS NOT it. The LBL area is easily 40-50 miles long, with the attractions we were interested in 20 miles or more from our campground.

Along the Trace we stopped at the Great Western Furnace to learn a bit about this area and pre-Civil War iron production.

An interesting point in why this Iron Works did not produce for very long was that it was manned largely by slave labor and there was an insurrection of these workers, closing down production only 34 weeks after it had begun.

Our final destination was the Elk and Bison Prairie since we were told this was best visited early morning or just before dusk.

As we entered the park it began to rain, but the bison didn’t seem to notice. The Elk however were likely in the wooded areas and didn’t come out to visit.

It was obvious we were in the bisons’ territory and they had no intention of ‘sharing the road’. We sat for quite a while just watching as they grazed all around us.

We were surprised at the number of young calves of varying ages.

One young calf decided that that back of the jeep made a fine itching post. (No pictures since the rain and the way he rocked the jeep didn’t let that happen!!)

On Thursday we decided to follow the suggestion of a campground neighbor who also towed a jeep and try out the LBL Turkey Bay OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) Trails . Ken called before we made the 20 mile trip to insure they were open since it had been raining off and on since we arrived at LBL.

No problem – they were open, so we paid our $15 vehicle entrance fee (that actually was good for 3 days – darn, why didn’t we find this place sooner!) , buckled up and headed for the hills where there are over 100 miles of trails with various levels of challenge. We actually stayed on the easier trails although they have some really challenging trails where 4-wheelers and trail bikes could find some real excitement.

Some of the trails took us along the lake.

But most wound up and down the tree-covered hills. The pictures we took really don’t give a feel for how steep, narrow and winding some of these paths could get. I guess that’s because at those points I was holding on instead of shooting photos!! We had the place almost to ourselves except for a few 4-wheelers. It was a jeepers paradise!!

Suddenly, when we were at the farthest point from the gatehouse, the clouds left loose with the worst downpour we’ve seen in ages. As the brochure notes “Trail conditions are subject to change without notice”. Wow – what an understatement!!

After the rain we had a whole new set of adventures spinning our way through mud pits that had just 15 minutes earlier been the easy parts of the trail.
Ken did an excellent job of driving. There was this once he used a ‘controlled’ slide on a steep down-slope where after the rain we sort of slid sideways down a steep muddy slope rather than actually steering. He was actually more worried about getting out the other side which was steep and required he negotiate between a few boulders besides just make it up the slope. Jeep and Ken did a marvelous job with jeep showing no signs of abuse other than a lot of well-earned mud coverage.

After 3 or 4 hours of playing we made our way back to the GateHouse and found it closed. Apparently they considered conditions too bad to stay open. We actually thought it turned out to be the perfect day for ‘mudding’ and had a blast!!

Ok, so that’s it for our adventures between football games. Ken and I are using Friday as another down day. He always needs to rest up before game day when I think he gets as revved up as the players!

We’ll be back soon with the results of the EIU at Austin Peay game….6pm Saturday, 9/26.

Signing off with a sunset view from our patio here at LBL Piney Campground as we watch the barges pass.

Hugs, C


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Anonymous said...

We live about 30 minutes from Piney and have camped there often. You do have a great site! We take our canoe and bikes and really enjoy the campground. You are right about it being far away from everything! Your pictures were great!