NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Mural Monday on the Road

When we were driving around Lexington I had to swing the car around and get a shot of this mural for Mural Monday.  I'm still giggling over it.

We also spotted a giraffe on the side of the road...a running joke in our family because Katrina once mistook a deer for a giraffe while driving down a Wisconsin country road.  Gotta love her! Here's a giraffe for Trina, and quite a colorful one at that!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Asheville Here We Come

Before we packed up to leave Natural Bridge State Park and head to Asheville I managed to convince Katrina and my mother to join me on the Original Trail.  We took our time since Gramma is not used to hiking and I chatted them up the whole way.  It was different to have people to talk to while hiking.

I convinced them to get a little silly.

I had to coax them to keep going twice...we're over halfway there...we're almost've come this far it would be crazy to turn back...

They finally made it to the top! I proved to them they could do more than they thought they could!

On our way back to our cabin my mother pointed out this chimney that I had to check out. Anyone got an idea what it was used for?

Things went well on the road until we were almost to Asheville. I don't know where we were precisely, but the road was suddenly covered with icy snow and people were sliding.  We slowly maneuvered around a stopped pickup, following another pickup that was going too slowly for the climb and we started to slide ourselves a little bit.  Keeping my companions calm was challenging, but I moved around both pickups, crested the hill and pulled to the side for a minute because I saw the plow coming.  The downhill side had been plowed and salted already, and we followed cautiously behind the guy doing the second run in second gear.  In no time we were in third gear and then back in drive and in the home stretch.

We were delighted with our Silver Moon Cabin rental when we finally arrived, escorted by darkness, snow flurries and lots of wind. It's a cutie! Just as described, fully stocked and the owner is very sweet and considerate of our comfort.

As soon as I round up my girls we're off to the Biltmore to see it decorated for the holidays.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Henry Clay's Ashland

Yesterday we made the hour drive from Natural Bridge State Park to Henry Clay's Ashland Estate in Lexington.

Ashland does not allow photography of the interior, much to my displeasure.  However, our tour guide Mike was very knowledgeable and gave a lot of information about the building as well as Henry Clay and his descendants. 

The original structure was built by Henry Clay sometime between 1805 and 1808, but was constructed of a soft sand brick that deteriorated easily and the home was rebuilt by son James in the 1850's according to the original floorplans and salvaging the foundation and some of the original ash wood. Much of the interior is decorated with items from the Clay family's collection, saved and preserved over the years and was in exceptional condition.  My favorite items were the light fixtures, the oil portraits and the marble fireplaces. 

Katrina was interested in the story of Madeline McDowell Breckenridge who was Henry Clay's great granddaughter and a leader of the women's suffrage movement and spoke out against child labor.  The nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920 in time for her to vote before her death in late November of that same year.  She also interested in Clay's role in the Civil War and its relationship to slavery and efforts at emancipation. Clay supported the abolition of slavery but felt that retaining the Union was of greater importance and worked for many years to prevent to splitting of the country over this divisive issue.  He supported the idea of colonization of freed slaves in Liberia and was concerned that a suddenly large population of freed uneducated slaves would be a burden that would cripple the economy and cause other societal problems.  We both thought his set of dueling guns was pretty cool, too!

I purchased the book "Ashland the Henry Clay Estate" from the gift shop so I'd have some information on hand to write this post and was disappointed that most of the details we learned on the tour were not in the book which was basically a description of the photos contained in it.  Luckily halfway through the tour I scribbled a few quick one word notes to jog my memory later.

Located on the estate grounds are some outbuildings, a Civil War Memorial, two extremely old Blue Ash trees and a lovely little garden.  We also wanted to visit the Mary Todd-Lincoln home in Lexington but it was closed for the season.  Ashland was a nice warm-up to our next big destination...the Biltmore!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kentucky Ya'll

We left yesterday and drove 8 hours from the Wisconsin-Illinois border to Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Kentucky.  The park was built in 1895 by the Lexington & Eastern Railroad as a sideline to their freight and passenger business, and was donated to the state in 1926. This was a logging area in the 1800's and the railroad transported logs out of the area which were pulled out by teams of oxen prior to the railroad coming in.

At the 6 hour point we stopped for a lunch break and ended up at the Florence Mall food court which featured a carousel! It made the lines a little more bearable.  We finally made it to our cabin without mishap in the late afternoon and unloaded luggage and groceries for three.

The one bedroom cabin is very basic but a bargain at just over $90 night.  The furniture was old, but functional and it comes with linens and the kitchen is stocked with basic dishes and cooking utensils.

It didn't take me long to throw on a layer of Smartwool and Columbia so I could get a quick preview of their trail system.  I took the first trail I came to which was the Balanced Rock Trail.  Of course it was the one that went .75 mile straight up the mountain! I made it almost all the way up to the Natural Bridge before turning around as dark was quickly falling, but enjoyed my calf-torturing before bed walk.

I was up at 6:00 a.m and eager to tackle the trails again but had to wait until almost 8:00 for enough daylight to get going.  This time I started with the Original Trail, which had a gentler grade to the bottom of the arch with lots of benches to rest along the way.  I especially enjoyed the little bits of green ferns and rhododendron that are still visible this late in the year which sported a light dusting of snow. Best part of early morning weekday walks when it's barely above freezing...I saw not one other hiker in 1.5 hours!

My mom and my daughter are not the outdoor adventurers that I am so I had to rig up my camera for a couple of selfies. I usually find a small rock or twig to support the lens, but today had to fold up my camera strap to level it out.  One of these days I will toss a small beanbag in my backpack...but I never think about things like this except in the moment when it's too late.

When you go underneath to the back of the arch there is a little stairway that goes up to the top of the natural bridge. Fun!

I ignored the "Stay Off" sign and hopped up onto the ledge the get a closer look at the crack that probably aided in forming the bridge.

I traipsed along the top of the bridge, too, which was wide and easy to get across. The other side houses the Skylift which was closed for the season as well as a trail along the ridge to a view of the Natural Bridge.  I found the view uninspiring myself, and even with the bare trees kind of hard to really see.  My opinion is you're better off viewing it from below.

In addition to the Original Trail I backtracked onto a portion of the Balanced Rock Trail that I missed the night before, and then detoured off trail. Tell me...could you resist?

Straight ahead, icy the right unknown adventures

But the trail got thicker and clogged with more fallen trees and thorny brush
 I eventually became aware of the passing of time and made my way back to join my people for a trip into Lexington to tour Henry Clay's Ashland.  More on that tomorrow!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Spongebob Wishes You a Merry Christmas!

A few years ago I made a trio of Spongebob characters out of plywood for our front lawn.  I simply found and printed out free coloring book pages that I liked and then drew them to a larger scale on the plywood by dividing it and the coloring page characters into squares.  I painted a festive Santa-like jacket on Squidward, and Spongebob and Patrick received jaunty hats.

We got our first snow last night, about two inches when it was all done.  Other parts of Wisconsin weren't as lucky as we were and got 12-20 inches of snow.  Katrina will be driving home through the snowy war zone today and battling high winds and blowing snow.  When she finally makes it home she'll find a lasagna and some loaves of homemade bread...and that Spongebob and pals weren't buried in a blizzard!  Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Blast Off to the Badlands, 2011

As I've mentioned in a few posts recently we took a trip to South Dakota with my mom and dad back in June of 2011.  Our first stop was the Badlands and we stayed at Sleepy Hollow RV Park.  Having stayed at the other park in town on our previous visit, we can say with confidence that Sleepy Hollow is definitely the better choice.  The owners were very friendly, laundry was reasonably priced, and the campground was clean and well kept.  The same could not be said of the other joint when we visited. 

Side by side Laredos for us!

We didn't stay long, but took a swing through the Badlands National Park and through the shops in Wall.  I'm not much of a shopper, but my mother picked up a bunch of Harley Davidson shirts for her brother.

No one takes a shot like my tripod!
Flower identification appreciated

Like the good folks at Good Luck Duck, we sprung for a missile tour, but ours was at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota instead of Arizona. The NPS website has this great link to a collection of oral histories from former missile field personnel and local citizens who were part of the Minuteman's history for over three decades.  We took the tour  31 feet underground and got to check out the launch center. I was particularly fond of the artwork.

Being a bit younger than some of my fellow RV bloggers, this piece of our history was just a little bit before my time. The cold war was winding down a bit in my day, so a lot of the information we learned was pretty new to us.  During the height of the Cold War, 1,000 Minuteman missiles were operational in six missile wings across North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri.  Interestingly, the launch control facilities and missile silos of the Cold War, and even those that exist today, were never a secret. Many community members even participated in the construction. The locations of these sites were never kept secret from the Soviet Union, either.  If you want to know more, visit a site on your travels!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas at Durkee Mansion in Kenosha

My friend Jeanna and I were looking for something to do and neither one of us had ever toured the Durkee Mansion at Kemper Center in Kenosha.  I had heard my mother say that she went every year in the week after Thanksgiving to see the mansion and also the trees on display at the Anderson Arts Center on the grounds, but Jeanna and I were were a day too late for the trees and had to settle for the mansion alone. 

Kemper Center is on the Kenosha lakefront and is a collection of historic buildings currently used for  conferences, business meetings, luncheons, weddings and special events.  This 17.5 acres of park along the Lake Michigan shoreline also has an athletic field and both wooded and open spaces.  Kemper Center began as the private home of United States Senator Charles Durkee who came to the Wisconsin Territory from New England in 1836 and soon became the largest landowner in the area that would become Kenosha. In 1865, Senator Durkee’s home became a boarding school for young women. The Episcopal girl’s school became Kemper Hall in 1871, in memory of Bishop Jackson Kemper, the First Missionary Bishop for the Northwest Terretory of the American Episcopal Church.

I was surprised to learn that Jeanna used to cater weddings and other events held at Kemper Center, and she had extensive knowledge of the areas that were not open to the public on that day.  We wandered around the grounds and while I didn't get a true inside "look" at the buildings onsite, I did get to hear a few fun stories. My favorite was her description of how she used to push the catering cart through the darkened hallways at a run to get past the "creepy" mannequins that  were on display in the old girl's school.

Touring the Durkee Mansion is free, but donations are encouraged.  Volunteers decorate this Italianate Victorian home, and we especially liked the doily inspired decorations on the trees.  The first and second floor are open to the public, but the third floor ballroom is closed as it now houses the building's climate control equipment.  The home is furnished with period antiques and they are currently gratefully accepting donations of any appropriate items to their collection.

 One of the unique features of the mansion is the suspension stairway which was the largest of its type in the state.

While Senator Durkee was attending President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in 1865, the new President of the United States Andrew Johnson  appointed him to the governorship of the Utah Territory which was appealing to him since he suffered from chronic rheumatism and sought a drier climate.  St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church arranged to purchase the Durkee home and property and began adding new buildings to the Senator’s home in order to develop it as a girls’ school. Included on the grounds is a separate gymnasium and a chapel and the girls' school remained in operation until 1975.

 While looking for information about the Durkee Mansion online I found a link to an online copy of "Wisconsin's Historic Houses & Living History Museums".  Guess what I'll be reading to see what other nearby historic homes are open for visitors? I'm sure there are many more hidden gems nearby for me to discover and it'll make for great winter travel ideas now that camping season is unfortunately over.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Grand Geneva's Christmas in the Country

For the past few years we've taken the short drive over to the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva after we've finished our Thanksgiving dinner to enjoy their Christimas in the Country outdoor and interior decorations.  This year Wayne did all the cooking and most of the clean-up as usual, and opted out of the drive after having a game of cribbage with my dad while everyone had pie.  Well, everyone but me, who had the surprisingly delicious gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with creamy vanilla frosting.

Katrina didn't make it home for Thanksgiving from Eau Claire this year, but we had my mother's cousin from Georgia as a very special guest and Cory's girlfriend Kati join us for dinner and for our after dinner outing.  Kati lives minutes from the Grand Geneva and has seen their elaborate outdoor display featuring the 12 days of Christmas before but had never gone inside to see the gingerbread house competition entrants or the interior decorating.  We all grabbed pencils and ballots and voted for our favorites in each category, being careful to notice whether the younger group maybe had a little too much help!

Notice Toto and the witch's hat on the left!
Feliz Navidad! I especially liked the use of rock candy in front of the gate.
Nothing says wintry fun like hot chocolate and pond skating!

The Grand Geneva changes their interior decorations every year, and this year it was all about candy and was very "sweet".  I felt there was a message in the m&m's display that I wasn't quite getting, perhaps someone will explain it to me!

Of course all of this was just a warm-up for my upcoming trip where we're hitting the Ashland Estate in Lexington, the Biltmore in Asheville, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for more holiday eye candy. Yum!