Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Helena, West Helena, Arkansas

Cross the bridge over the mighty Mississippi and you'll arrive in Helena/West Helena Arkansas.  Located on the southern tip of Crowley's Ridge, the city was established in 1820 and incorporated in 1856. Fort Curtis is replicated in the city limits. It was here on July 4, 1863, when the Union forces turned back the Confederates in the Battle of Helena.

The earliest inhabitants of this area were Indians of the Hopewell Culture around 500 B.C. Evidence of their settlements still remain in mounds nearby. In 1541 explorer Hernando de Soto crossed over the Mississippi river and held the first Christian service west of the river here.

The City hasn't changed much over the years. What we found was a lot of decay and not much redevelopment. Many of the buildings were vacant and in dire need of repair. Even their lone grocery store had closed it's doors and moved to West Helena which was just slightly better than Helena itself.

One of the highly touted attractions of this area was the nearby River Park bordering the Mississippi River.  The River Park features a 60 foot boat ramp, one of the largest public access ramps on the lower Mississippi. A boardwalk takes visitors right to the edge of the river, with interpretive panels that explain some of the local ecosystem and Civil War history.

Helena is the only downtown on the Mississippi River for the 300 miles between Memphis and Vicksburg.

Unfortunately, we found the River Park to be too far away from the river and it too was in a bit of decay.

I did get this nice picture of the bridge though.

This huge once stately home shows some of the unfortunate decline in this area. It is a huge home with a beautiful wraparound porch. Sadly, it is falling to Mother Nature with the side and rear covered with vines. Several of the windows were broken and the house was vacant. I couldn't find any information about it's history.

Fort Curtis played an important part in the Union forces occupation of Arkansas and Missouri. It's location on the Mississippi River provided ammunition and supplies to Union troops all along it's borders.

The original fort was abandoned around 1866. After the war, the City of Helena grew around it.

One of the buildings that housed the troop commanders overseeing Fort Curtis.

The fort was constructed within the confines of earthen berms which provided protection against approaching enemies. Besides the immediate fort, the Union Army built four nearby batteries as a buffer against Confederate troops.

While there are no barracks or housing inside the fort grounds, you can get a feel for the fortification. The large walls were protected on all four sides by six thirty two pound siege guns.

In the summer of 1863, Confederate troops gathered for an attack on the city in an effort to provide some relief for their comrades under siege at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and to push the largest contingent of Federals out of Arkansas.

However, inadequate reconnaissance by the Confederates led them to believe the Fort was vulnerable when it was not. 

As the battle opened, Fort Curtis was not directly attacked by the Confederates, who directed their attention to the batteries. Artillery pieces inside the fort shelled the approaching Confederates with ease. The attackers were able to capture Battery C, and the Confederate General ordered these troops to continue their assault with a charge against Fort Curtis across 700 yards of open ground. The attack failed before it reached the fort. By 10:30, Confederate forces began to retreat, bringing the battle to a close.

To the right, an below are pictures of the cannons used to protect the fort. They are actually called thirty two pound siege guns for the weight of the lead balls they fired.

I'm not sure how I'd feel looking down the barrel of one of these babies. Thirty two pounds of lead can really do some serious damage.

This is the Centennial Baptist Church as viewed from within the Fort grounds. It is the only known example in Arkansas of a church designed by an African American architect for an African American congregation. Henry James Price, a member of Centennial Baptist, designed this Gothic Revival church.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lake Thurmond Corps of Engineers Park - Augusta, Georgia

J. Strom Thurmond, a politician, served for 48 years as a Senator from South Carolina and ran for the U.S. Presidency in 1948. The dam and lake are named in his honor, but the lake is also known as Clarks Hill Lake since half of the lake is in South Carolina and half in Georgia. There are about 30 campgrounds surrounding the lake, which is actually a reservoir built in 1946-1954. There was some controversy relative to the naming of the lake. Originally it was named Clark Hill Lake after a Civil War hero from Georgia. However, in 1987 Congress renamed the lake after the long term Senator from South Carolina. This really angered the folks on the Georgia side of the lake. In response, the lakes name was changed to include both and it officially became know as the J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake at Clarks Hill. To this day, however, Georgia still refers to it as Clark's Lake. When politicians get involved, it seems the fun never stops.....

There is a new and beautiful visitor's center adjacent to the dam itself, with excellent fishing just below the dam.

Getting to the lake, dam and all the campgrounds is done by following another beautiful highway, U.S. 221. The lake is about 12 miles upstream from Augusta. It was created by the dam across the Savannah River.

We have found many of the campgrounds created by the Army Corps of Engineers have spacious sites that will accommodate any size rig. Most of the interior roads have also been widened in order to allow the larger coaches access. This is ONE site at this campground. You enter here and exit on the road on the right. The coach sits sideways overlooking the water.

Jasmine was making sure there were no squirrels wandering around our site before we set up.

This is another example of the spacious sites available at this campground. You can see the electrical pedestal on the right with the picnic table, fire pit, lantern pole and BBQ where Debi is standing. Unfortunately, like most COE parks, there's only water and electric. No sewer, but there are two dump stations at the campground.

While you cannot see the campsite itself in this picture, (follow the access road down and you can see the BBQ stand) this is the access road to the campsite. Each one has it's own access road into and out of each site. Lots of privacy and awesome lake views.

One of several fishing piers within the park. You can see a fishing boat in the background. There are several campsites overlooking this pier, and some sites situated so you can actually fish directly from your site.

Here we are after choosing our site. Notice the spaciousness. We liked this site because of the privacy and the layout. At the back of the site is the walkway directly to the beach. Each site has a fire pit, a BBQ, a built in serving table and a picnic table.

Also on site, is a marina and a swim beach. There are many picnic tables surrounding the swim beach so you can enjoy lunch while spending the day on the sandy beach.

With the America the Beautiful card, a weekly stay was a reasonable, $13/day!

Hilton Head Island to Augusta Georgia

After spending most of the year touring in the southeastern portion of the country, we decided to begin our journey westward. We reluctantly left Hilton Head Island and headed back into Georgia for a stay near the town of Augusta, site of the Masters golf tournament. The Masters is held each April and I'd heard many wonderful things about the golf course during the televised game that I wanted to see the course first hand. Unfortunately, I was to be disappointed later as I failed to read up about the facility prior to our visit. Anyway, we headed our journey west on Hwy 278, a pleasant four lane divided highway with very little traffic.

The Savannah River provides the dividing line between South Carolina and Georgia. Taking Hwy 278 westward returns you to Interstate 95. From there you can take US 301 west and stay in South Carolina or return to Georgia and take Ga. 21. Since we love small towns and tend to prefer back roads we chose Ga. 21.

Once on Ga. 21, we were treated to an endless view of meticulously kept farm houses. Fields of cotton appeared all along this route. Most of the fields appeared to be ready to be harvested.

Cotton is a fairly hardy plant and has genetically been altered to provide immunity from many of the pests that preyed on the plant in earlier times. Each plant produces seed pods called "bolls" which then open to produce the white cotton you see here.

Picking cotton is now a thing of the past and is used only for movie making. Since the early 1950s cotton is 'picked' by huge machines which can clear a field in much less time. While the cotton is harvested in record time, compared to picking by hand, there is a lot of cotton left behind by the machines. Seems we sacrifice quantity for quality.

Clearing a cotton field was tiresome and back breaking work. Today a field can be cleared quickly and easily using these machines. The cotton is rolled and encased in a plastic covering, then placed in rows, waiting to be transported for processing. Here we see one of these machines working one of the fields.

Where Hwy 278 was a nice four land divided highway, Ga. 21 is only a two way single lane hwy. Still, it was wide with very little traffic. Farm houses continued to dot mile after mile.

Seems like every small town was set up the same, with a town square in the middle. Usually there was either a park set in the center with shops all around the square, or the town hall with accompanying businesses around the square. Although they were all similar, each was unique in their own way.

In the little town of Hilltonia, Ga. we found larger homes than the smaller farm houses leading up to the city. The entire town was immaculate and show pride of ownership. No cars in the front yard, no piles of trash and junk littering the side yards and carports, just freshly mowed yards and neatly trimmed hedges.

We had jogged off Ga. 21 onto US 301 and then west again on Ga. 24. We found more of the same type roadway except the curbs and gutters fell away to trimmed grasses and more farms.

If you have the time, you owe it to yourselves to get off the Interstate highways. Most of these little traveled roads are ideal for even the largest rigs. Each area and town is unique and offers a more relaxing and enjoyable drive. It does require a little more thought and planning but the rewards are numerous.

We are entering the town of Sardis, Ga. That is a large grain elevator used to process the cotton harvested from the nearby fields. Each boll of cotton contains seeds which must be separated from the cotton before it can be woven into material.

The United States is the third largest producer and the largest exporter of cotton in the world. We produce over 16 million bales of cotton each year. Each bale is about 17 cubic feet!

Passing through the town of Sardis, Ga. population around 1000. If you blink while passing through, you'll probably miss most of the downtown area. It did have one traffic light.

Since we decided to stay north of Augusta, we used back roads to bypass the city itself. This is Hwy 104 in Ga. Once settled into our campground, we will return to Augusta to visit that city.

When old airplanes can no longer function as designed, they're either scrapped or put on display . Military jets find their way into parks, twin engine planes get impaled on poles and draw attention to restaurants.

The Enterprise Mill was built in 1845. Originally, a flour mill, it underwent many transformations over the years. It was built along the Augusta Canal which provided for transportation of goods to and from the mill. It ceased operation in 1983 and now houses a museum, shops, a restaurant and many offices. It is a perfect example of what can be achieved through redevelopment of a decaying portion of a city.

We were really disappointed in the Augusta National Golf Club. It is a private club and contrary to all the hoopla television provides, we found the entire "mystique" surrounding the facility to be appalling. While it is a "members only" club, they prohibit females from joining. After some nasty lawsuits, they've allowed only two female 'members'. Picture taking of the grounds and facilities are prohibited.

Located adjacent to the downtown area is the riverwalk. Unlike the riverwalk in many other cities, Augusta's Riverwalk has no small shops and restaurants. It is simply what it says it is...a walking trail along the side of the Savannah River.

There is a marina and a small gift shop along the riverwalk but nothing compared to places like San Antonio, Texas. We found the area to be quiet and peaceful though and perfect if you're looking for a place with solitude and comfort.

Adjacent to the riverwalk is the St. John's Episcopal Church. Established in 1750 by the Church of England it is the oldest church in Augusta. It is located on the Riverwalk at 6th and Reynolds streets.
Here's an example of one of the beautiful homes along the Riverwalk. I love that front porch!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Men, freed during and immediately after the Civil War, and their families, made up almost all of the population of Daufuskie Island until near the end of the 20th century. Many of these people owned small farms or worked in the oyster industry. Daufuskie Island is listed in the National Register of Historical Places as of 1982.  It is a 5,200 acre island accessible only by boat or ferry and lies between the Cooper and New Rivers in South Carolina. Spanish and English explorers mention it in their writings as early as 1521 and again in 1665. Indigo was the main crop on the island before the Civil War. In 1861, when Union forces captured the sea islands, most of the plantations were abandoned by the plantation owners. Those that were left behind were the workers and their descendants. They continued living on the abandoned lands establishing small farms and eventually became involved in oyster harvesting.

Since Daufuskie is an island, it's only accessible by boat or ferry. We booked passage on the  Calibogie who provides daily trips to the island, transporting passengers and goods.

On the way to the island, we passed many beautiful plantation style homes lining the river.

Nestled among those trees is a small lighthouse to assist sailors in navigating the rivers surrounding the island. It is privately owned and sits at the end of Haig Point, a private enclave.

Along the way we kept an eye out for dolphins. We spotted two pods but none swimming close enough to our vessel for a decent picture.

After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the Freeport Marina at Cooper River Landing. The large building is the marina lodge where we enjoyed a delicious grouper sandwich.

After having lunch, we headed out the main road leading into the island. While vehicles are allowed on the island, they are not prevalent. Golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation here.

We decided to rent one of the many golf carts on the island and do a self guided tour of the island. Armed with a set of maps and tourist information, we headed out onto the "Attitude Adjustment Boulevard" to begin our exploration.

First thing we discovered was the south facing beach along the Atlantic Ocean.

The beach was uncrowded and provided an hour and a half of beachcombing for us. We found several sand dollars and many beautiful shells

Along the way, we found this big nest in one of the trees. It is the home of one of the bald eagles that frequent the island.

This is Daufuskie Island's oldest and largest oak tree. That home is a 1700 square foot home.

An early church on the island.

Behind the church above, is this small building. This one room structure was used as a "prayer" room. It housed several benches and many prayer books. Church goers would enter this room to pray quietly. Soon someone inside would begin a song and everyone would join in.

After exploring the island, we returned to the marina, turned in our golf cart and spent a few minutes relaxing on the deck of the restaurant waiting for our ferry to return to take us back to the mainland.

Finally, we spotted the boat coming into the port. I thought the bird house off the pier was unique.

The "Calibogie" arrives in port. The ferry was named for the Calibogie river which runs along the northern side of Hilton Head Island.
All good things must end, and we bid goodbye to Daufuskie Island.