Sunday, September 23, 2012

Home from beach trip!

September 21, 2012

Can’t believe we slept 10 hours!  Guess this doing nothing grows on you – but that is what a vacation is for right?  Even retirees get to take a vacation!  Ben is on the phone organizing inspections for next week and Jane is actually writing blog entries and transferring photos to the computer.  Glad to report the new coffee pot works fine!  

After a quick lunch we headed to the beach for some fun in the sun. The water was too murky for Ben to see anything so he just enjoyed swimming. We watched some campers with their sail boat.  They were having a great time however, had to dismantle boat and carry back to their campground each night as nothing is allowed on the beach at night due to the turtles. It is also not legal to dig a hole and leave it overnight.  We saw several nesting areas but it is too late in the season for the hatching.
Jane made it over to the camp store and finally got the first few days of the blog posted.  They have two MIFI hot spots here for use by the campers. It was easy to use and able to upload photos – so no excuse for not posting each day other than I was lazy.

We drove up to the lighthouse and took a few photos and then headed across to St. Helena Island to buy seafood to bring home. 

We had been to White’s Seafood earlier in the week and while the shrimp was great the selection of fish was very limited. We tried Gay’s Seafood today and their selection was much better. We bought 5 pounds of shrimp, 2 packages of flounder filets and 1 of grouper.  That is about all the refrigerator freezer area will hold!  In fact more – I put some right under the freezer too!

We drove aways back on St. Helena Island and selected the Foolish Frog for dinner tonight.  It was perhaps even better than last nights’ dinner. Jane had Coconut Shrimp with two great dipping sauces and Ben had the special – Wreck Fish with scalloped potatoes and asparagus.  Both were fantastic.  We had never heard of Wreck Fish but it is native of Charleston. The cream sauce for the potatoes had a bit of thyme and the sauce on the Wreck Fish had some red sweet pepper and a little bit of heat.  The Foolish Frog is one of three restaurants in downtown (crossroads) of Frogmore - about 7 miles from Hunting Island.
Back at camp we managed to clean up most of the campsite and take down the fly tent over the picnic table. We wanted to make as early a start as possible tomorrow.  

September 22, 2012
Up at 7:00 for a change!  The dense woods is really great since there is always shade but it is dark early in the morning  - usually at the beach the sunshine wakes you up early – not the case here!  The campground began filling up all the empty spots last night. After we went to bed someone came into the site right beside us that had been empty since Tuesday. We were packed up and on the road by 8:15 – Ben had been able to find an easy way to handle both a bike and the kayak.  Jane did not take her bike – don’t know if we could have found room for 2 bikes and the kayak.

Sky as we leave Hunting Island

We had to pass over two draw bridges – one from Hunting Island to St. Helena Island and then another back into Beaufort. The one in Beaufort crosses the Inland Waterway.  We had only been stopped once during the week when shrimp boats were returning. This morning we waited at the Beaufort Bridge while a sailboat came into port. 

From there it was an uneventful trip home. We stopped between Columbia and Spartanburg for lunch at a Taco Bell. I had never had the Dorito Loco Taco’s – they are really quite good. 

We were home at 3:30 – about a 7 hour drive.  We had only stopped twice once for a gas/bathroom break and again for lunch.  We had sunshine all the way with only a very few trees beginning to have faint color.   We will be planning a trip back in a few weeks for the color!

September 23, 2012

Since we had only unpacked the seafood and a few essentials yesterday – today meant about 3 hours of work to clean out the Sprinter.  Funny how it takes nearly the same amount of time to move in and out for a 1 week trip as for a 6 week trip!  Only difference is a bit more food to plan and buy and perhaps a few more clothes for the longer trip.

Great trip and we are already planning a trip back to Hunting Island next fall. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

On The Road Again - Hunting Island SC

September 17th

We left home at 8:15 for a few days at the beach. Our goal was Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort SC.  It was not raining but there was thick fog hanging in the mountains as we crossed Sam’s Gap. We drove through some rain showers off and on as we passed on across to Spartanburg and Columbia. 

We turned north up Interstate 77 at Columbia to  make a quick lunch stop at Congaree  National Park. It was one of those parks that you always saw on the map and said “we need to go there someday and get their stamp in our passport book!” Well today was the day!  It was maybe 15 miles out of the way but we crossed it off the list!  A huge pine and cypress forest and sometimes swamp along the Congaree River.  We ate a picnic and browsed through the exhibits in the visitor center. Since the mosquitoes were at level 5 on their 1-6 meter we skipped a hike on the raised boardwalks!

Back in the Sprinter we continued on back roads to Orangeburg to rejoin the Interstate and head south towards our destination. There were many crops ready for harvest including many cotton fields.

We reached Hunting Island about 4:00 and found our campsite. We had read the internet map wrong when we selected the site and we were a bit further from the beach than we had planned but it is a less than 5 minute walk. We could have moved closer but would have had to move on Thursday for someone who had a reservation for next weekend so we just stayed where we were.  We have the correct sites circled on the camp map for next time. Almost all the sites have water and electric and are well separated with brush and trees.  There is one row of sites right next to the sand dunes that do not have power but remainder are all serviced sites. There are 200 campsites but it seems much smaller as they are really spreadout. We had a quick hot roast beef and mashed potatoes supper before we begin our week of eating seafood.

September 18th

We woke up to rain – not much but a little. It was a very windy day  - blowing the rain out within an hour.  Jane walked to the beach and watched the rather rough surf for a while. We enjoyed doing a lot of nothing until lunchtime.

After arranging our evening with Jane’s cousin on nearby Fripp Island, we set out to explore St. Helena Island.  We drove past several of the original plantation homes and saw a huge vegetable farm.  There was not much growing right now but there were huge trucks, buses for migrant workers, and huge empty fields.   We visited Fort Fremont which is now only a ruin. It was built in 1899 to protect Port Royal Sound.  Across the sound is Parris Island which we may or may not have time to visit later in the week. 

We attempted to visit Penn Center which is a center dedicated to preservation of the Gullah Geechee culture. It is the site of the first school for black freed slaves in the country.  It was 3:30 and the Center closed at 4:00 so we plan to go back another day.  We found a hardware store back on Lady’s Island to buy a plug that Ben had forgotten. We got back to camp just in time to clean up and head across the bridge to Fripp Island and a visit with Jane’s cousin.  During childhood the two cousins along with two other cousins spent a couple weeks every summer visiting grandparents in Kellogg Iowa.  It had been a number of years since visiting in person so a great visit was enjoyed.  True to our seafood promise – we had shrimp!  Mmmmm Good!!!

September 19th

A good night’s sleep again – and we woke up to clearer skies. We headed over to the beach and spent an hour or more just walking. Much calmer surf since the wind was down.  It seems there is a sand bar that is stopping the shells – almost nothing on the beach to collect.  After some middle of the day reading and resting, we ate lunch and headed out for a bit more exploring. 

We visited Penn Center. It did indeed have an impact on the education of the freed slaves living on the Sea Islands . It began in 1862 even before emancipation.  Half days were spent in educational courses and the other half  day spent in occupational classes.  Some of the students lived at the school and others attended the classes daytime only.  The center closed in the 1940’s as a school but has remained a vital part of the black culture. Martin Luther King wrote part of his “I have a dream” speech here. Today the location serves as a meeting site, a museum, and helps blacks in the area understand their land rights and helps with passing on the Gullah Geechee culture.  In 1976 it became a National Historic Landmark.

We drove back into Beaufort and visited several art galleries. We are both always looking for new ideas for casting metals or beading. As we drove back to Hunting Island we stopped at one of several seafood shops and bought some shrimp for dinner and some bait for Ben’s fishing.

We had Shrimp Creole tonight and it was very good. I used a mix from Zatarain – all I needed was a can of tomato sauce, the shrimp and rice.  Not sure about the TV reception – we are watching a series of Jessee Stone movies that we brought on a hard drive.   The phone reception is spotty – it will be a few bars 3G and then it will be 1 bar E.  Jane the usual blogger is quite lazy and not making the trek to the camp store to get WIFI to post! In fact has not even written posts – is doing them all on 20th while Ben is fishing.

September 20th

Ben had a long talk with the ranger as he was setting up traps to catch a raccoon. He has been bothering neighboring campers – evidently he sets the traps and catches him with peanut butter and honey. Then the ranger takes him away to another area of the park. Of course the raccoon eventually comes back but usually not until the complaining camper is gone!  We got up and had breakfast – the bad thing this morning was the coffee pot failed. We have had this pot probably  10+ years – amazing it has worked this long…but it is going to be tough to find one that is basic and fits in the space allotted in the sprinter! 
We bought a cup of coffee in the campstore as we headed out for our day of adventure for Ben.  He first took the kayak out for about an hour of fishing and exploring in the salt march from the north end of the island.  He had fun but caught nothing.   We ate lunch at the Nature Center and then Ben spent about 2 hours crabbing and fishing along the inlet between Hunting and Fripp islands.  The huge excitement during this time was the dolphins that were playing in the water about 100 feet out in the water. They were fun to watch but did not get a good photo. 

What did Jane do?  Read a book, catch up on email and facebook since there was 5 bar 3G on this end of the island! And Jane finally wrote the blog entries for this week. 

After washing all the bug spray and sand away we headed out to find a coffee pot and eat seafood in a restaurant tonight!  The Beaufort Wal-Mart was all the way across town – 17 miles – on the Hilton Head and Parris Island side of town.  Thinking we might have problems finding a coffee pot that would fit in our space we wanted to go to Wal-Mart where there would be a variety.  We were able to find one without all the bells and whistles that fit in the space!  And only $9.99 – wonder how long it will last?

We came back across Beaufort and ate dinner at the Dockside Restaurant. It was very good.  We give high marks to the Crab Cakes, Potato Crusted Grouper, She Crab Soup, and the salads and sides.  With a nice view of the marsh and bay it was a very pleasant meal. We still prefer Maryland Crab Cakes but these were very good. 

Another Jessee Stone film and off to sleep! Jane is reading a trilogy of books by Heather Graham set in Key West.  They are historical fiction with a touch of ghost culture and beach settings.  They are OK and do hold your interest.  Finished book two so should finish the third by the time we get home!  My goals for tomorrow are to get the blog posted and read….can’t do much real work on our last beach day!
Glad this finally got posted - will probably do the remainder when we get home! 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ben's Review of Butterfield Trail Adventure

We wanted to return to Indian Country, the Four Corners area of the Colorado Plateau, and to take a different route from our East Tennessee home, across the country into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Some how we found a reference to the Butterfield Trail, the Overland Mail route of the first transcontinental mail from Memphis Tennessee and Tifton Missouri to San Francisco. That sounded like an adventure worth pursuing so we began planning. The Butterfield Trail crosses Arkansas from Tennessee and another branch from Missouri to Fort Smith Arkansas. It then descends through Oklahoma, crosses the Red River into Texas and then across north central Texas to El Paso, to Mesila (Los Cruces), New Mexico and through Apache Pass in Arizona across to Tucson and Yuma,  thence over towards San Diego, north to LA and up the fantastic San Joaquin valley to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. 

The 1857  route of the overland mail was chosen to provide the most level passage free from winter rigors. The mail had to go through. The US Mail contract required delivery in less than 25 days and the stage rolled 24 hours a day twice  a week in both directions along some well used routes and broke new ground in others. The 900 miles across Texas is pure history as the cattle and military trails and places come into view.

When you read about the Overland Mail, you learn about John Butterfield who was the winner of the US Government contract. In 1857, he was perhaps the most capable of the stage and freight businesses to bid on the contract. Truthfully, I have not seen the bidders list but know that Butterfield was very knowledgeable of how to manage stage coach and freight transport. He took about a year to survey the route, develop stations, secure the men, animals, coaches and logistical support to hold it all together. 

Although he was seemingly traipsing out into the vast unknown that was in 1857 the breadth of America, that was only partially true. Butterfield was able to put together pieces of known and well traveled routes and make them part of what is now known as the Butterfield Trail. Such a route was well known along the Arkansas River from Memphis to Fort Smith. Another segment incorporated portions of the established route from San Antonio to El Paso. At that point  the route followed for a while the El Camino Real, the well worn trade trail from Mexico up the Rio Grande valley. Further on in parts of Arizona and California, the Overland Mail  follows segments of the  Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. I am not able to say with certainty when the two were the same and when they were not. 

The Butterfield story promotes John Butterfield and the easterners desiring to make stronger ties to the west, to California. When attempting to pin down the route, California was for us a problem. Unlike other states, Californians do not seem to place the same historical value on Butterfield as other states, especially Texas. We were never able to get a good handle on the route and stations in California. That is, until the trip along the trail was over. Our Overland Mail adventure ended  in San Francisco at the Montgomery Street offices of Wells Fargo and the Wells Fargo Museum. There it all fell into place. Understanding came quickly.   

As an aside, it turned out that our foray into the city might take place over the Memorial Day weekend. Banks would likely be closed and the museum also closed. I called Wells Fargo to learn when it would be open, and verified we needed to go earlier than planned. I told the man on the phone about our van and asked about parking the high topped vehicle near the museum. He politely told me they were right down town, the heart of the financial district, and there was probably no parking for us. Then he suggested forgetting about driving and making the final leg into the city on BART. We picked up the train in Dublin, about 30 miles outside the city and got off about 3 blocks down Montgomery street from the museum. After visiting the museum we ate a sandwich at a nearby deli, reboarded the train and returned to our Sprinter. Our visit in San Francisco lasted only about two hours, but we actually went to the end of the Butterfield Trail, accomplished the mission, and saw a very informative museum to boot.  

While there were surely powerful political forces in the east promoting mail overland to the west, there was an extremely powerful western entity pressing at least equally as hard. That was the San Francisco based Wells Fargo organization.  Wells Fargo needed to develop more rapid communications with the east. When Butterfield developed the California leg of the route, he partnered with Wells Fargo Express that pretty much had everything already in place.   The presence of Wells Fargo in California and the influence on America in general is perhaps a subject worthy of more study.

Wells Fargo at the time was actually two organizations. There was Wells Fargo Express and there was Wells Fargo Bank. The express arm operated freight and passenger service in California. It was the banking arm that needed, actually demanded, more timely and regular trusted mail service east. The business of business, transcontinental business, was dependant on transmittal of all kinds of documents. The only method was the US Mail. The political task was to change the status quo of lengthy service by ship around South America or across Panama to a quicker transcontinental route. Thus the freight arm of the company was utilized to become part of the solution to the banker part’s problem. 

In the east, Butterfield operated a similar organization American Express. I do not know as much about that organization. It is worthy of note that the two freight/banking organizations still exist as major American financial businesses and were instrumental in the development of strong east/west ties way back in1857 when there was no America as we know it today.
The part I liked best about riding the route of the Overland Mail was through Texas. I freely admit a bias. I like, really like, Texas. I never cease to be amazed by the state’s immensity.   The Butter Field trail misses the Texas cities. The biggest city is probably Abilene or perhaps San Angelo but most of the way is through north central Texas towns and villages. There were also some dead and like the Flats at Fort Griffin, even  towns that are gone. It passes through the heart of Texas and of America. It is the definition of "Fly Over Country". 

The route is not however random, it is very specific. It follows rivers, staying always close to water. It is directed to points where rivers and creeks can be crossed.  This business of crossing seems trivial in an age of National Highways and bridges. When there were no bridges, the high banks of a creek or river were formidable obstacles to a horse drawn stage, a cavalry troop or a cattle drive. They all followed a route across Texas that allowed rivers to be easily crossed.   The small towns noted were not there. They developed because of the route. The town of Bridgeport, the Stage Coach Capital of Texas, got on the trail simply because an enterprising citizen took it upon himself to build a bridge to allow the mail to cross the river.  

Perhaps the best example of this problem is Horse Head Crossing of the Pecos River. For many years, it was the only location for crossing the Pecos. Apparently some travelers marked it with the skulls of dead horses and gave it a name. The Pecos River is a pitiful river. It has little water and unless flooded is not very deep. It flows through sandy soil though and has cut a trench with vertical banks perhaps 15 feet high. At Horse Head Crossing there is a fairly small area on both sides of the river where the banks are cut back with a fairly gentle slope to the river bed. It was the only such place for hundreds of miles. Everybody crossed there…. The Overland Mail, the Army, the massive cattle drives, the Comanche’s. Every body, patiently followed the river till they got to the place, the only place, they could cross. On our trip, we traveled about 10 miles from the highway on the west side of the river over to the crossing. It was not only there but very obvious why it was used. The Eastside is no longer accessible since it is on private ranch land and the trail or road is long gone.  Today there are bridges that cross this river in the still remote and desolate country through which the Pecos meanders.

The trail across Texas today is marked in large segments, not as the Butterfield Trail, but at the Texas Forts Trail. The Army moved west and as it did so established forts. There is a string of forts all across Texas. Generally, those most westward are the most recent. Those to the east were abandoned and the troops moved west. The Forts in Texas are all about settlers and ranchers and Comanche’s. There  are various mentions in the books about massacres and battles and friction between the westward advancing Americans and the Comanche residents at numerous points along the trail. The people who fought and died in these engagements are remembered.
Today, these forts are assets, even in ruins. They become the property and pride of the town. There is a competition on development  to see which town can develop the asset and hype it the most. Some provide rides in golf carts or ATV’s to cover the expanse of the fort in comfort and in the shade. It is American history at the most basic level, hands on in the actual place it happened.

There is one oversight that seems near universal. That is, the stage coaches themselves. What we see in literature and the actual preserved or replica coaches along the way are the “Concord” coaches that were very numerous in the times after the Overland Mail era.  These are the stages of movies and television but not the vehicles that carried the Overland Mail over most of the trip.
The fallacy seems based in the concept of what was happening. The Overland Mail contract  was primarily  to carry the mail, not to carry passengers.  There is near universal agreement that the  vehicle primarily used was the “Celerity Coach” a much more rugged yet lighter vehicle. Being rugged and light it could take the rigors of the trail and also use less horsepower.  The coach was very accurately named because celerity means speed, quickness. Both were desirable traits for hauling mail across the rigorous transcontinental Butterfield Trail. Alas, Celerity Coaches must all be gone because no one has such a coach restored and on display.

National Historic Trail.
Early on, I learned that money had been appropriated and there was an effort underway by the National Park Service to study the Butterfield Trail/Overland Mail route  as a possible National Historic Trail. This effort is being carried out from NPS offices in Santa Fe. Believe it or don’t, but a call to the NPS offices in Washington was returned by a dedicated NPS Historic Trails person in Santa Fe. We received a fairly long E mail list of sources that was both very helpful and interesting.

I also spoke with a representative of the Arkansas historic trails group and purchased Kirby Sanders’  turn by turn  book “Drivers Guide to the Butterfield Overland Mail Route” that enabled us to closely follow both routes across Arkansas. She also threw in an unpublished  draft of a similar book for the 900 miles across Texas and New Mexico.  Both are excellent references and pretty much made the trip possible. Also of major benefit was “900 Miles on the Butterfield Trail” by AB Greene describing the Texas/New Mexico route. There are sections of the trail that vary somewhat in the two sources but they are mostly over areas on or around the vast private ranch holdings. AB Greene provides a more flavorable account for the various places along the way.  
It was a great trip……. America at it’s very best.