Cades Cove: A Pioneer Paradise

Spending the day at Cades Cove is a must for every visitor to the Smoky Mountains

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in the ancient Southern Appalachians, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is almost as renowned for its well-preserved pioneer settlements as for its natural beauty. More than 90 historic structures—homes, barns, churches, and gristmills—have been preserved here, including the largest collection of log structures in the eastern United States.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove, on the beautiful Tennessee side of the park, offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley has a rich history. For hundreds of years Cherokee Indians hunted in Cades Cove but archeologists have found no evidence of major settlements.

Cades Cove, John Oliver’s Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Settlers came to this area in 1819, migrating here from Virginia. Later they came from North Carolina, enriching their culture from the old world with knowledge gained from the Indians. They cleared the land for farming and set about building log houses, barns, smokehouses, and corncribs. By 1830, the population had already grown to 271 and by the 1850s the population of Cades Cove peaked at 685, occupying 137 households.

Cades Cove, Methodist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With this population growth the soil quality deteriorated. The opening states of the West brought the opportunity of more fertile frontiers and by 1860 only 269 people remained.

Cades Cove, Missionary Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Largely isolated by the mountains that surrounded them, the residents of Cades Cove were by necessity a close-knit, hardworking, and self-sufficient group. Plentiful game, such as deer and bear, provided meat to accompany garden vegetables. Over the years mills, churches, and schools were built to support the growing community.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1927, the state governments of North Carolina and Tennessee began buying up land for a national park. Many of the Cove’s families willingly sold their properties, but others initially fought the effort. Members of several families signed life leases that allowed them to remain on the land during their lifetime.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Gregg-Cable House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the National Park Service maintains the location as it looked in the 1800s. An 11-mile Loop Road circles the Cove, with stopping-off areas at several homesteads, three churches, a working gristmill, and a number of trails and overlooks.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Millrace and Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Halfway through the Loop, make a point to stop at the Visitors Center in the Cable Mill Area. Photo opportunities are ample and restrooms available. Wandering the Cable Mill Historic Area, we explored the Visitor Center, Blacksmith Shop, LeQuire Cantilever Barn, Millrace and Dam, Cable Mill, Smokehouse, Gregg-Cable House, Corn Crib, Barn, and Sorghum Mill.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Drive-through barn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1972,the Visitor Center is a place for visitors to obtain information and buy books, post cards, maps, guides, batteries, and other items.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, LaQuire Cantilever barn and millrace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Large barns were common in the Cove where farmers needed shelter in the cold months for livestock. The overhang in cantilever barns such as the one here provided shelter for animals as well as storage space for farm equipment.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A second barn in the Mill Area with a drive-through in the center and stalls on either side, was more typical in East Tennessee than the cantilever barn. Two men with pitchforks, one on a wagon of hay in the drive-through and the other in the loft, could transfer the hay to the loft in a short time. The drive-through sometimes served as a storage place for farm animals.

Cades Cove, Primitive Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We had visited twice previously; over 30 years ago and about 12 years ago when we gave up due to gridlock on the loop road. On that day, the traffic was heavy, bumper to bumper to times. On this visit, we purposely avoided the weekend.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Millrace and Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve been to many frontier museums and exhibits, but Cades Cove is unique in that an entire valley has been preserved, allowing a rare opportunity to see what the pioneers saw generations ago.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From our home base at River Plantation RV Park in Sevierville, we traveled south on US-441 to Pigeon Forge; at Traffic Light #3 we turned southwest on US-321 to Townsend; turned south (left) on SR-73; west on Laurel Creek Road to Cades Cove Loop Road. We returned home via Townsend and Marysville on US-441 to Sevierville.

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Texas Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

4 Historic Sites to Visit This Summer

Planning a road trip this summer?

From sea to shining sea, the U.S. has preserved sites and other areas of national historic significance.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A National Historic Site (e.g., Hopewell Furnace, Pennsylvania) is a protected area of national historic significance and usually contains a single historical feature directly associated with its subject. A related but separate designation, the National Historical Park (e.g., Appomattox Court House, Virginia), is an area that generally extends beyond single properties or buildings, and its resources include a mix of historic and sometimes significant natural features.

San Xavier del Bac Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All historic areas, including National Historic Sites and Parks, in the National Park Service are automatically listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are about 80,000 sites, the vast majority of which are neither owned nor managed by the National Park Service. Of these, about 2,500 have been designated at the highest status as National Historic Landmark sites (e.g., San Xavier del Bac Mission, Arizona).

Learn something new on your summer road trip by visiting these four iconic historic sites.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room structure about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This exceptionally well-preserved site gives us a glimpse into the rich history of the North American continent before the arrival of Europeans. There are plenty of places to park your RV near the site, so give yourself a few days to fully explore its many wonders.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River. As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Saratoga National Historical Park, New York

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Site of the first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) rank among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here, American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Fort Frederica National Monument, Georgia

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the interior coast of Georgia’s St. Simons Island, Fort Frederica National Monument preserves the remains of a military outpost consisting of a fort and town that for a time was one of the most important settlements in the American Colonies. By the 1740s Frederica was a thriving village of about 500 citizens.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Invading Spanish forces were defeated by English forces at the Battle of Bloody Marsh during the summer of 1742. The Spanish soon gave up their campaign and returned to Florida. This British victory not only confirmed that Georgia was British territory, but also signaled the beginning of the end for Frederica.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

King of the Road: America the Road Trip Capital of the World

Get your kicks on Route 66

You can travel by plane, by bus, or by train, but you’ll never experience the satisfaction you’ll have with an RV road trip. There’s something about the long and winding road—and the RV lifestyle—that’s partly hypnotic and wholly satisfying.

In a commission survey for Hertz in the UK which polled 2,000 British adults, the top road trip in the world is a drive along Route 66 with 56 percent of respondents naming the US as “the road trip capital of the world”.

Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mother Road! Route 66. Main Street of America! Will Rogers Highway. The quintessential American Road Trip!

“The influence of social media has had a huge impact on destinations of choice, bringing increased awareness of less well-known areas, as well as ensuring that gems such as the Route 66 are still as popular as ever,” Temerity Vinson, senior director of international marketing said in a news release.

Historic Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mother Road stretches from Illinois to California through eight states. Once among the main routes for cross-country travelers, the largely two-lane road was decertified as a U.S. highway in 1985 in favor of modern interstates.

Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mention of Route 66 to most baby boomers conjures up images of George Maharis and Martin Milner cruising along in their early Corvette roadster in the television series of the same name.

While reminiscing you have the popular rhythm and blues standard (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 echoing through your mind. Composed in 1946 by songwriter Bobby Troup, this hit song was followed by the Route 66 TV drama in the early ’60s.

Powderhouse Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the original highways in the U.S. highway system, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, totaling in 2,448 miles of ribboning highway. A major route for western migration in the 1930s, the route is chock-full of history, nostalgia, and sites you’ll see nowhere else.

Route 66 Mural in Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas or see a living ghost town with gunslingers and burros (Oatman, Arizona). Spend the night in a tipi at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. And be sure to visit the near-by Petrified Forest National Park.

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, Route 66 was followed in the Hertz survey of British adults by the roads around Grand Canyon and the Pacific Coast Highway, giving the U.S. three spots on the top 10 list.

Wigwam Motel in Hollbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrating its centennial this year, Grand Canyon National Park has become one of the country’s most beloved sites. More than 6 million people visited the park in 2017.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is difficult to comprehend through photos or words.  Much of the canyon is over a mile deep, 15 miles wide, and 277 miles long, carved through geologic formations that are over 1.7 billion years old.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular viewpoints, such as the South Rim, are visited by over 90 percent of the park visitors. Roughly 30 miles of the canyon along the South Rim is accessible by the road. The North Rim, about a 220-mile drive from the South Rim, gives access to the Kaibab Plateau and Bright Angel Point.

Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Centennial celebration events will include a historical symposium, a living history week, and an effort to showcase some of the lesser-known sites through social media and other events throughout the year. Focused ranger-lead talks on the geology, cultural history, and natural resources will be available as well.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to celebrate the Grand Canyon on its 100th birthday is to see it yourself and take in the natural wonders spanning 13,000 years of human life, and eons of time before that.

Take the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Furthermore, the survey identified the ingredients of an epic road trip as wide-open roads, driving past famous attractions, and spotting wildlife along the way. Discovering views and enjoying the scenery is the main purpose for adults over 38-years-old while millennials want to enjoy a new experience.

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the survey, over two-thirds of millennials use Instagram to plan their trips, and 36 percent say they’d have a hard time remembering it if they didn’t post photos to the platform.

Worth Pondering…

I hear the highway calling. It’s time for a road trip.

Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Served Their Country

Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions

Each May, America commemorates those who have died while serving in the armed forces by organizing parades, picnics, and visits to cemeteries and national memorials across the country.

This Memorial Day, honor those brave men and women by exploring the country’s national parks, many of which are home to preserved historic sites, monuments, and memorials dedicated to celebrating military history.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In an earlier post we commemorated the sacrifices made for a revolutionary idea by exploring some of the significant landmarks that witnessed the beginning of the new nation.

In today’s post we’ll dig a little deeper into American history and find a wealth of other national parks and programs throughout the U. S. that are equally exciting. This Memorial Day, take a moment to learn more about the incredible men and women who have fought for and supported America throughout its history.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

From the soldiers that fought in the Civil War to the men and women who sacrificed their lives during the Cold War, Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions. 

The American Civil War

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

From 1861 to 1865, the American union was broken in a Civil War that remains a defining moment in America’s history. Its causes and consequences, including the continuing struggle for civil rights for all Americans, reverberate to this day. From the war’s outbreak at Fort Sumter, to the largest battle fought at Gettysburg, to the closing chapter at Appomattox Court House, more than 40 Civil War battlefields are preserved by the National Park Service.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bloodiest battle of the civil war, which served as inspiration for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, was fought on the beautiful grassy knolls of this Pennsylvania battlefield.

Start at the National Park Service Museum and walk the trails on foot or experience them on horseback. Complete your visit with a stop at Soldiers National Cemetery, the resting place for many Union soldiers as well as those who perished in all American wars since 1865.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia and Tennessee

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.” The Confederates were victorious at nearby Chickamauga in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga that November provided Union troops victory and control of the city.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The American Indian Wars

During the late 19th century, as the United States sought to expand its territory further west, a policy of removing the American Indians from tribal lands was adopted. The resulting distrust and broken promises ultimately led to violence, and more than 1,500 armed conflicts were fought during the Indian wars. Today, the National Park Service preserves several of the battlefield sites of the Indian War and interprets its effect on native peoples and their cultures.

Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas

Fort Davis National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and in the frontier military.

Fort Davis National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Cold War

The nearly 50-year period of political and military tension between the Western world and communist countries known as the Cold War led to the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons by both sides. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site tells the story of these weapons that not only held the power to destroy civilization, but also served as a nuclear deterrent which maintained peace and prevented war.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota

Minuteman Missile National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve


During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. Hidden in plain sight, for thirty years 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. The Minuteman Missile remains an iconic weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It holds the power to destroy civilization, but is meant as a deterrent to maintain peace and prevent war.

This Memorial Day weekend take time to thank those who have served and protected America.

Worth Pondering…

Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

—John F. Kennedy

Honoring Memorial Day the Revolutionary Way

What better way to honor those who served their country than to visit a national park that preserves the places where they fought?

History buffs may recognize Saratoga National Historic Park as the site of the turning point of the American Revolution or Valley Forge National Historic Park as the site of George Washington and the Continental Army’s 1777-1778 winter encampment. Anything related to Boston and that memorable tea party may also come to mind when thinking about the Revolutionary War.

But how many would recall places such as Cowpens and Guildford Courthouse as significant locations during America’s national history?

Freedom Trail, Boston National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

As we remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, take time this Memorial Day holiday to commemorate the sacrifices made for a revolutionary idea. Explore some of these lesser-known, but profoundly significant, landmarks that witnessed the beginning of a new nation.

Freedom Trail, Boston National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Dig a little deeper into American history and you will find a wealth of other national parks and programs throughout the U. S. that are equally exciting. This Memorial Day, take a moment to learn more about the incredible men and women who have fought for and supported America throughout its history.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

From the soldiers that fought in the French and Indian War to the men and women who sacrificed their lives on Flight 93, Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions. 

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Sites of Remembrance

The National Park Service has the honor of preserving battlefields, military parks, and historic sites that commemorate and honor the service of American veterans.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

What better way to honor those who served their country than to visit a national park that preserves the places where they fought?

The American Revolution

USS Constitution (“Old Ironside”), Freedom Trail, Boston National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Fought from 1775 through 1783, America’s Revolutionary War resulted in the independence of the United States of America. Battles were fought from Maine to Florida and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana. Places such as Bunker Hill, Cowpens, and Yorktown entered the American consciousness and lexicon, and are today preserved by the National Park Service, allowing visitors to stand in the spot where the Founding Fathers debated whether to break away from England, or where patriots fought.

Boston National Historic Park, Massachusetts

Paul Revere House, Freedom Trail, Boston National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Boston had been a thriving city long before the United States itself existed. Founded in the 17th century, Boston has been the center of attention in New England since the colonial period. As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. For over 350 years, some of the world’s greatest patriots, writers, thinkers, athletes, and artists have called Boston their home, leaving an indelible mark on this incredible city in the process.

A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

Saratoga National Historic Park, New York

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve


Site of the first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga rank among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Here in 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender, an event which led France to recognize the independence of the United States and enter the war as a decisive military ally of the struggling Americans.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The battle at the “Cow Pens,” one of only a few successful double envelopments in history, is recognized by historians as one of the most important of the American Revolution. Coming on the heels of a patriot victory at nearby Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780, Cowpens was the second successive staggering defeat for British forces under General Charles Cornwallis.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This Memorial Day remember those who fought and died for our freedom.

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

4 Amazing History Destinations

Use this list to plan your next getaway to one of the most beautiful historic places in the US

History is best understood by walking the ground where it happened, says filmmaker Ken Burns.

“You feel the presence of what went on before. We go to these places because we’re aware that the ghosts and echoes of an almost inexpressibly wise past summon us.”

Despite what the History Channel tells you, there’s more to the past than Truck Night in America, Pawn Stars, and UFO Cover Ups.

There’s history everywhere you look—maybe even in the city you are in right now. But, not all can be as historic as, say, Old City in Philly. And that is why we consulted our history books—and my journal from 20+ years of RV travel—and power ranked America’s most beautiful historic cities.

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Boston, Massachusetts

Walk into history and experience more than 250 years of history on Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail—the 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 nationally significant historic sites. Preserved and dedicated by the citizens of Boston in 1951, the Freedom Trail is a unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond. 

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Step inside the places where the American Revolution was launched, from pews and pulpits, private homes, and public offices, with fiery speeches and midnight rides.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today the Freedom Trail is a world-renowned, signature visitor experience attracting over 4 million people annually to visit Boston’s 17th-, 18th- , and 19th-century sites.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Charleston, South Carolina

One of the oldest cities in the country, Charleston is often described as a living museum. With a whopping 97 properties listed on the National Register for Historic Places, history is ingrained in every aspect of Downtown Charleston—right down to the horse-drawn carriages.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Stroll Broad Street’s federal period homes or King Street while snapping photos of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (1752) and Charleston County Courthouse (1792) along the way. From the historic mansions that line the Battery promenade near the waterside, Fort Sumter-facing White Point Garden to the cobblestone streets and gas-lit alleys of the French Quarter (yes, Charleston has its own French Quarter), you can’t escape all the history that’s packed into the heart of this city. And when history is this beautiful, why the hell would you want to?

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Galveston, Texas

Galveston offers one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country. Not to be missed attractions include the Broadway Beauties—1895 Ashton Villa, 1892 Bishop’s Palace, and 1895 Moody Mansion—which portray early 20th century family life among Galveston’s elite.

Ashton Villa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Grand 1894 Opera House ranks among the nation’s finest historical theaters, the Texas Seaport Museum and 1877 Tall Ship Elissa highlight the history of the Port of Galveston, and The Great Storm documentary details the 1900 hurricane which killed 6,000 and changed the Island’s history. The Ocean Star Offshore Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum and the Railroad Museum in the restored Union Depot combine to enhance Galveston as a wonderful historic destination.

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Founded in 1607, Santa Fe is America’s oldest capital city and also houses the oldest public building in the country, the circa-1610 Palace of the Governors which was originally the seat of government for the Spanish colony of Neuvo Mexico. To wander the Downtown Santa Fe Plaza is to immerse one in traditional adobe structures in what is one of the country’s most uniquely picturesque urban experiences. There are time-warped old buildings and churches including the stunning Loretto Chapel famous for its miraculous staircase and San Miguel Mission, reported to be America’s oldest church built between 1610 and 1626.

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But, history’s not the only thing going down in Santa Fe. The city’s unique cuisine and renowned art galleries are as integral to the area’s charm as anything from a dusty old history book.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.

—Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

Eureka: Exploring California Gold Country

If you love history, beautiful scenery, and small towns, Gold Country is a trip worth taking

Nestled against the western slope of the Sierra Nevada the foothills offer outdoor adventure, farm-fresh produce, and relaxed wineries.

On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall, a carpenter from New Jersey, picked up a few shining flecks of gold in the tailrace of the sawmill he and John Sutter were constructing on the South Fork of the American River in the valley the Nisenan Indians knew as Cullumah.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

James Marshall was building the sawmill to supply lumber for Sutter’s Fort in the Sacramento Valley. John Sutter had ambitious dreams of creating an empire—the New Helvetia in the Sacramento Valley.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The gold discovery site and several historic buildings in present day Coloma became part of California’s state park system in 1927. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park features a statue of James Marshall pointing at his gold discovery site, full-size replica of the original sawmill, over 20 historic buildings (many original and restored), living history demonstrations, video presentations, and costumed volunteers. Visitors can try their luck panning for gold and enjoy hikes and picnics under the riparian oak woodlands. 

Placerville during the Gold Rush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The discovery of gold was truly “dumb luck.” John Sutter and James Marshall started out as partners in the lumber business. In the fall of 1847, construction began on a sawmill, and by early 1848, it was ready to be tested. However, the tailrace, which carried water away from the mill was too shallow, and had to be deepened so the water would not back up and prevent the mill wheel from turning. It was during his inspection of the watercourse that Marshall found the shiny flecks. Four days later, the sample was confirmed to be real gold.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

By May 1848, San Francisco was reported to be “half empty” as every able-bodied man—doctors, lawyers, gamblers, merchants, miner, and more—headed for Coloma. A great number of Oregon Trail pioneers now had a good reason to head south. News also spread around the world. Many Chinese workers were lured to California, too, by the promise of gold.

The “easy” placer gold at Coloma played out within the first 10 years, sending prospectors into the surrounding hills where many hard rock mines were established.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Soon after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill sparked the California Gold Rush, the small town of Old Dry Diggings sprang up. Later in 1849, the town earned its most common historical name, Hangtown. The name was changed in 1854 when the City of Placerville was incorporated. Placerville was named after the placer deposits found in the river bed.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Other towns followed. One of California’s smallest incorporated cities, with a population of just over 200 residents, Amador City is a little city with a lot to offer. It all started when Jose Marie Amador, a wealthy California rancher found gold outcroppings were discovered on both sides of the creek.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

As the “easy” gold was mined out on the upper part of the creek, mining explorations gradually moved. Founded in 1853, the Keystone Mine was the city’s most famous gold mine and a major reason for the town’s growth. It reached a depth of 2,680 feet and before closing in 1942 produced an estimated $24 million in gold.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Jackson, the city that produced more than half the gold pulled from the Mother Lode, home to the deepest mines on the continent, the Argonaut and the Kennedy both in excess of 5,000 feet deep, is the largest city in the historically rich and beautiful wine country of Amador County.

Amador County Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once the richest mining area in the Mother Lode, today Jackson’s main industry is tourism.

Moke Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Founded in 1848, Moke Hill, as the locals called Mokelumne Hill, was among the richest of the digs. Claims in some areas were confined to sixteen square feet and many fortunes were made. It was the county seat in the early days and, although it held no exclusive rights, it was known as one of the most violent, bawdy towns in the Mother Lode.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Several good strikes were made by early miners at Angels Camp. The source of gold played out quickly but hard rock mining kept the gold industry flourishing in Angels until recently. The town is honeycombed with tunnels from the many successful mines.

Most of the 49ers never intended to remain in California permanently. Most meant to seek their fortune and return to wherever they called home. But many sent for their families and stayed, causing a culturally diverse population to grow rapidly between 1848 and 1852.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Over the next 50 years, roughly 125 million ounces of gold was taken from the hills in the California Gold Country.

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

Coronado National Memorial: A Journey of Conquest and Exploration

For Wealth, For God, For Empire

These were the driving motivators of a journey through the arid desert and rugged mountains of the southeastern Arizona landscape now designated as Coronado National Memorial.

This exhilarating initial expedition left the Spanish with none of the gold they’d expected to find but opened a way for later Spanish explorers and missionaries to colonize the Southwest, developing the distinctive Hispanic-American culture we know today.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Early in the 16th century, Spain established a rich colonial empire in the New World. From Mexico to Peru, gold poured into her treasury and new lands were opened for settlement.

The northern frontier lay a few hundred miles north of Mexico City; and beyond that was a land unknown. Tales of unimaginable riches in this land had fired the Spanish imagination ever since their arrival in the “New World”.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

After Cabeza de Vaca arrived in Mexico City in 1536 with a story of mythical seven cities of Cíbola “filled with gold, streets lined with goldsmith shops, and doorways studded with emeralds and turquoise,” Viceroy Mendoza planned an official expedition and chose his good friend Francisco Vásquez de Coronado to lead it.

On February 23, 1540, Coronado’s crew of over 300 Spanish soldiers, over 1,000 Aztec/Mexica allies, a handful of Franciscan priests, and scores of servants and slaves set out to unearth the cities for themselves.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

On July 7, they reached Háwikuh, south of present-day Gallup, New Mexico, and first of the fabled Cities of Cibola. But a major disappointment awaited the Spaniards. Instead of a golden city, they saw only a rock-masonry pueblo occupied by Indians who were prepared to defend their village. After failed peace negotiations, the Spaniards attacked, then used the ravaged village as their headquarters, sending troops as far west as the Grand Canyon.

As they went east near modern-day Santa Fe, they met “The Turk,” a Plains Indian who astonished them with his tales of unbelievably great wealth further to the east in a land called Quivira.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While they waited to launch their next expedition in the spring, a hostile situation developed. A series of battles followed, resulting in the Spaniards killing the occupants of one pueblo and forcing the abandonment of several others. However, The Turk remained friendly with the Spaniards and in 1541 led them to Quivira, near modern-day Salina, Kansas, and they were disillusioned once again.

It was here that the Spaniards’ belief in the seven cities of gold vanished. Although The Turk had indeed led them to Quivira, it was a village of primitive grass huts with no gold to be found.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Turk was eventually executed after admitting his deception. Coronado and his men soon after began their long grueling return march back home mired in bitter disappointment at having failed their mission

They finally reached Mexico City in the spring of 1542, where they were publicly scorned and discredited.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ten years after his return, at the age of 42, Coronado died in relative obscurity. He could not know, however, that his courage had set the stage for the larger-than-life saga of the great American West.

The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, which was the route believed to have been taken by Coronado’s expedition. Today, the park stands as a reminder of the geographical and cultural bonds between the two countries.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you’re interested in life in this region before the Coronado Expedition, take a tour of the Coronado Cave, which may have housed inhabitants from 8,000 years ago. One of the few undeveloped caves in southern Arizona it stands 600 feet long and up to 70 feet wide, making for a moderate hike followed by as much exploring as you wish. 

For those looking to stay above ground, the scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico. The park also features over 8 miles of trails that run the gamut from an easy 1-mile hike down Coronado Peak Trail to a difficult 4 miles through Crest Trail toward the highest point in the range, Miller Peak.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Even though the Coronado Expedition was inspired by a grand myth, the discoveries it yielded (or lack thereof) impacted the entire region for years to come. Take a road trip to Arizona and witness the stunning, natural beauty and rich history of Coronado National Memorial for yourself.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.