Category Archives: US Deep South

Everyone MUST go to Columbus, Georgia

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We spent a fast paced 3 days in Columbus, Georgia over the US Thanksgiving long-weekend and LOVED every minute of it. We knew very little about the town other than what I had seen online from the Kellogg and Holcombe families kayaking experiences and were blown away by the amenities, the history and the people.

Columbus is located on the Alabama/Georgia border with the Chattahoochee River running right through the middle of town. It was built on a bluff beside the river and founded in 1828, named for Christopher Columbus. In 1850 the railroad arrived and by 1860 it was one of the more important industrial locations in the south, with textile mills up and down the river. With the civil war in 1861 Columbus industries increased capacity and Columbus ranked second to Richmond as a centre of commerce within the Confederacy.

Although much of the town was destroyed at the end of the Civil War by union troops, most things were quickly rebuilt and by the Spanish-American War the town was thriving again. The addition of Fort Benning has also been a significant contribution to the community and local economy.

The late 1990’s saw a significant revitalization occurring through the establishment of a Business Improvement District downtown. This non-profit group has focused on major capital investments that have resulted in Columbus being noted as a top place to live as a young person.

We made good use of our bikes to explore Columbus and rode all the way out to Fort Benning and the National Infantry Museum (37km round trip). It was a beautiful fall day and the river walk trail is very scenic and well maintained. The museum itself is a bargain – there is no entry fee, just a requested donation of $5.00. The exhibits cover off the life of the Infantry from the Civil War to current day as well as highlighting the role that Fort Benning plays in the development of the Infantry. Needless to say, Hunter was thrilled and we spent a good 3 hours wandering around the various exhibits.

The main draw for us to go to Columbus was the whitewater play park that they have built right downtown. As part of their Ready to Raft 2012 campaign, the community developed over 8 miles of whitewater features on the Chattahoochee and some great play features right in the middle of downtown. This created the longest urban whitewater rafting venue in the world. The river is dam released and while we were there the water ranged from 1 Turbine (about 1,000 cfs) up to 3 turbines (about 8,000 cfs). At times it can run full out at between 15-18,000 cfs, which makes it the biggest water volume on the east coast outside of the Ottawa River. On both Saturday and Sunday it was running at 1 turbine during the day and then shifted to 3 turbines at 5pm. We planned our paddles to warm up at 1 turbine and then get to ride the flow increase all the way up to 3 turbines – it was really neat to see the features change as the flow increased.

There is a nice big island right at the put in and it usually attracts lots of people for photos along the river and to watch the paddling scene. The lights kick on just as dusk starts and stay until 10pm in the winter and 11pm in the summer making you feel like a total rockstar! It does help to have paddled the features during the day so you have some sense of the water…

IMG_3157Broadway Avenue is 2 blocks up from the river and full of shops and restaurants. We did not move the truck between when we arrived Friday night and when we left on Monday at lunch time. Everything we needed was in walking or biking distance, which was so handy. Best dinner was had at Your Pie – a custom pizza place in the historic district. Hand made, brick fired pizza plus yummy drinks on tap. It was so good (and came after our epic day of biking) that we ordered a full second round of pizzas!

DSCN1501Our amazing experience in Columbus was completely due to the five star service from the staff at The Outside World, a local gear store in town. They helped us find somewhere to park, pointed out everything we needed to know and were beyond friendly. They also have great gear in their store! In addition to that, every kayaker we ran into was happy to contribute to our knowledge and education about the water and the waves.

Columbus has something for everyone and we will definitely be back again!

 

 

5 days in the BIG EASY

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There are not many big cities on our list of things to see and do while we are away for 8 months – I guess that is somewhat telling about our interests… we are just not big city people. Our stop in New Orleans was all about history and culture – closing off our work on American History, experiencing the mighty Mississippi River and learning about the southern culture through food and music.

To make the most of our visit we stayed at the French Quarter RV Park. As it is 5 minutes north of the French Quarter, it is very expensive and right next to I-10 but well worth it as we were able to park everything and just walk everywhere. It was even a novelty to be able to grab a taxi when it was pouring rain and go out for dinner.

We woke up on our first morning at the campground to this really cool view out the window – the Ghostbuster car! It turns out that they were here for a VIP event at the NADA conference that was in town. You can rent it from Bob’s Prop Shop in Texas…

In order to get a history overview and see as much of the old city as possible, while still having fun, we did a bike tour with Crescent City Bike Tours. Their business is just in it’s first year and is run by a very friendly couple Kristine & Richie and it reminded me very much of Boreale, our local bike company. The tour was close to 3 hours and we learned lots of neat facts while seeing some great architecture and being active. The pace is quite easy and the bikes are big cruisers so it’s a great idea for almost anyone.

Just around the corner from the RV Park was historic St. Louis Cemetery (#1). Right next door to us was the larger St. Louis Graveyard (#2). We stopped into #1 on our way downtown one day and checked out what a historic graveyard is like. Due to the water table here (at, below, or barely above sea level) you are not able to burry anyone underground here. In many cases, families have crypts with up to 8 people in them!

We took a wander down Bourbon Street late in the afternoon one day to get a sense of the area without the chaos of the evening crowd. At 5pm things were definitely getting warmed up. Hunter thought it was much too loud and chaotic for his tastes. I figure that’s a good thing!

One of our outings was on the Creole Queen – a paddle wheeler that takes people down the Mississippi River for history cruises. We went on the afternoon cruise out to the Chalmette Battlefield – site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. It was a sunny day, which was nice after a number of rainy and cool ones. We enjoyed being out on the river and seeing all the boats, barges and tugs. We were really disappointed to learn that the Battlefield site, which is a National Historic Site managed by the National Parks Service, is closed on Sundays and Mondays. This made it a very flat experience with me reading information off my iPhone.

Our culture efforts were focused on food and music.

  • We started out at Mulate’s (Business District) for live Zydeco music (band there every night) and Cajun Food. We boldly got a sampler platter to start with and tried frogs legs, grilled alligator, fried crawfish amongst other things. They also had yummy crawfish étouffée and jumbalaya
  • We experienced live Jazz at Preservation Hall (FQ) and this was Hunter’s favourite and a bargain at $20.00 per person (they let Hunter in free)
  • We did the House of Blues Gospel Brunch (FQ) for yummy southern food (waffles & fried chicken!) and amazing Gospel
  • Cafe du Monde (FQ) for Beignets and Hot Chocolate
  • The Grill (FQ) was an awesome find when we couldn’t get into Deanie’s (FQ) – true diner layout and service, really good food and dirt cheap prices
  • Hard Rock Cafe (FQ) because Hunter really wanted Ribs and the House of Blues was closed for a private party

The absolute recommendations that we have are The Grill for any meal, Preservation Hall for intimate Jazz in a historic building  and the House of Blues Gospel Brunch for anyone that hasn’t done Gospel before.

We spent our last planned day at the National WW2 Museum, which is located in the downtown business district. They have an extensive exhibit section, multiple small videos and then 2 hollywood style movies/experiences. We chose to do everything since we were there. I personally was a little disappointed with the lack of a global focus – it really is about the US’s role in WW2 and there is very little about the events prior to them becoming involved. I found myself doing a lot of explaining to Hunter about what started the war. The scale and scope of the exhibits was impressive and certainly captured Hunter’s attention. We had lunch at the soda shop on site which I would not recommend due to high prices and very slow service.

NOLA road closures jan 29th

Our 5 days actually turned into 6 thanks to Winter Storm Leon (I didn’t know that they named winter storms like they name hurricane’s). It rolled in on Monday night from the west (the direction we are going) and brought snow, freezing rains and high winds, which resulted in road closures, school closures & city shut downs. We hunkered down all day Tuesday and then decided to venture out on the back roads Wednesday to try to make some progress towards Texas. It only took us 6 hours to travel 200 miles…

 

Tybee Island, Savannah Georgia

hunter tybee turtle 2We used Tybee Island as our home base for all of our Savannah activities. It is a great little beach community about 20 minutes east of downtown Savannah. It is a bike friendly community and the local surf spot. We stayed at the Rivers End Campground, which is owned by the City of Tybee Island. It is clean, well cared for and has good internet and cable (and space for us to sprawl since it is low season).

We stayed here before and after our trip to Charleston. One of our reasons for coming was for Tim to try out some surf kayaks. Nigel from Savannah Canoe and Kayak was amazing – he spent tonnes of time with us and allowed Tim to demo abunch of boats.

We had one really nice day onour 2nd stop here so we got out for a beach bike ride and an afternoon of surfing. It was wonderful!

We would definitely recommend Tybee as a place to come and stay. It seems like it is fairly busy from March to September in terms of Campground traffic so be sure to book ahead!

Rock Climbing & Slack lining in Charleston

family photoFor our visit to Charleston we camped at the James Island County Park Campground. It is about 15 minutes away from downtown Charleston and a fabulous facility for outdoor people. It is a 643 acre park with an outdoor centre, bike paths, dog park, playgrounds, canoeing and multiple activity centres where they hold programming. After 3 days of playing tourist, we needed some adventure time. We got up early on our last morning and headed over to the outdoor centre for a morning of playing. They have a slack line area, a portable climbing wall with self belaying, a large climbing wall and a frisbee golf course.

We started in the slack line area and had a great time. They had 3 different heights and we did pretty well on the beginner side. Tim and I did the intermediate but no one tackled the advanced (3 feet off the ground).

We moved over to the portable climbing wall. It has a self belaying system so we could all climb at the same time. After testing it out a few times in one on one climbs, Hunter decided we should have races. Everyone hooked up at the same time, taking 3 steps back from the wall and then GO – you have to get to the top of the wall, hit the button (which rings a bell) and then get back to the ground first to win. We probably did this 10 times and by the end were laughing so hard we had to rest.

The main wall was a pretty busy place so we chose to play in/on the scrambling hut. It is a smallish building and the idea is that you should be able to climb all the way around the walls without touching the ground, yet you are never more than 1-2 feet off the ground. A great learning environment for everyone and often harder than the big walls themselves.

The big wall was the last part of the park that we tackled. It requires that you are belayed by a staff member or that you take a test that demonstrates you can belay. Tim and I took the test (and passed) so everyone got at least one climb in on the big wall. After playing so much on the portable wall, the big wall felt really long in terms of climb time. We were all very tired, in a good way, after our morning here.

We would definitely recommend James County Island Park. The outdoor centre facility is impressive and has very friendly and helpful staff and incredibly reasonable rates ($12 pp for the day). The campground is very clean and well maintained with top notch internet but no cable.

Fort Moultrie National Monument, Charleston

fort moultrie signFort Moultrie was first built in 1776 (at that time called Fort Sullivan) to prevent British naval incursions into Charleston Harbour. It was built of palmetto log walls that readily absorbed the shots and shells fired when 9 Royal Navy warships attacked on June 28, 1776. Colonel William Moultrie and his 400 men fought a day long battle that ended with the heavily damaged British ships being driven from the area. This decisive American victory galvanized the Patriot’s cause for independence, and resulted in the fort now being called Fort Moultrie.

The first fort was beaten up and washed away by storm waves so a 2nd fort was built in 1798 of earth and timber. It unfortunately faces the same demise due to coastal storms. The third and present fort was constructed of brick in 1809. Originally fitted with 40 guns, the fort garrison consisted of 500 men.

On December 26, 1860, six days after South Carolina left the Union, Fort Moultrie’s small Federal garrison abandoned the fort, moving to the unfinished but more defendable Fort Sumter. State militia troops occupied Fort Moultrie the next day. Confederate Fort Moultrie participated in the April 12, 1861 firing on Fort Sumter that began the American Civil War. Heavily damaged by Federal bombardments that commenced in 1863, Fort Moultrie remained in Confederate hands until February 1865.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fort Moultrie underwent numerous changes as improving military and engineering technologies added to the complexities of coastal defence.

New threats of submarine and aerial attacks ultimately rendered static seacoast defences obsolete. On August 15, 1947 the army lowered Fort Moultrie’s flag for the last time, ending 71 years of service.

This was the last of our Charleston Forts and Hunter proudly got another Junior Ranger Badge along with his Civil War Historian patch!

 

Magnolia Plantation, Charleston

main houseRounding out our tour of the Charleston area, we spent the afternoon at the Magnolia Plantation, which was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family and continues to be held by the family. It is the oldest public tourist facility in the low country and the oldest public gardens in America, having opened to the public in 1870 as a way to raise funds to maintain the plantation after it was ransacked by Union troops at the end of the Civil War.

The Plantation started out at 2000 acres along the Ashley River where it grew a number of different crops, finally becoming very prosperous growing rice. It is now down to 500 acres and provides an extensive tour showing you the grounds, the slave houses, the gardens, the house and a small petting zoo that they have developed. The Plantation is also very bike friendly with bike and walking trails throughout.

We started our visit with the movie and then moved onto the petting zoo. The animals were incredibly friendly and very well cared for. Tim was intrigued with the peacocks (as you can see from the photos) and Hunter enjoyed all of the animals.

We then took a stroll through the gardens. They had started out as a 3 season garden but were gradually turned into a 4 season garden. At this time of year, there should be an abundance of camellia’s, azaleas, daffodils, pansies and other flowers. Unfortunately, due to the freezing cold weather, most of the blooms had died off or not bloomed at all. We were able to see some orchids and other plants in the solarium.

Slaves played a big role in the economic success of Magnolia over the years, both in the fields and in the gardens. These houses were occupied from the 1850’s through to the late 1990’s. Many of the slaves stayed with the plantation after the civil war and shifted from being slaves to “servants” or “field workers” – doing the same work but now having their freedom. The neatest thing for me was that the overseeing of the Gardens has been in the same 1-2  families for the last 200 years, having started with the first slave gardener in the 1840’s.

Our next stop was a train tour of the property to see the breadth of the property and some of the local flora and fauna. A number of the old rice fields have turned into swamps and are covered in duck weed – a murky green substance that is on the surface and the ducks just love to eat. Other fields are definitely havens for wildlife but you can see where the rice would have grown. Although the weather was quite cool, were were lucky to see 2 alligators out on the banks trying to soak up what little sun there was.

The last stop on our tour was to check out the house. They do scheduled tours of the house every 30 minutes to limit the number of people in the house and provide you with a historic overview. There is no aimless wandering allowed. The house has an interesting story as it is actually the 3rd house in this spot on the property. The 1st was burned down due to nature and the 2nd was burned down by Union forces at the end of the Civil War. This house was built in sections as the family could afford to rebuild over the last 100 years. It was lived in by the family until 1975, when they decided to open it to the public and move out to a house in Charleston.

Overall it was a worthwhile experience. We chose to do the tour as a package with a guide from Historic Tours of Charleston. The plus side was that this is slow season and there was no one else on our tour so we basically had a private tour (same thing happened with the pirate tour in the morning). The downside was that it felt quite scheduled and rushed and we weren’t really able to wander where our interests took us. It would be a great place to spend the day and either walk or bike ride around. They have a small cafe on site so lunch and snacks are available.

Historic Charleston is rife with PIRATES

hunter & pirate tour guideWe killed 2 birds with one stone and everyone was happy (fabulous parenting moment for me!). We went on the Charleston Walking Pirate Tour and learned about the cities sordid pirate past as well as got to see and experience much of the historic architect. We managed to do a 2 hour walking tour with no complaints about the walking part… The pirate part was really interesting for all of us, with Hunter being more interested in the shooting, jailing, plundering etc., and it fit in very well with all of our American History work.

tim hunter powder museumThe walking tour starts out at the Powder Magazine, Charleston’s oldest public building. It was built in 1713 and used as an arsenal from 1713 to 1748 to defend the colony from the Spanish, French, pirates, slave rebellions and native attacks. It provides you with a great visual overview of the City of Charleston and the founding history.

Historic Charleston has stood for a century as the cultural capital of the south. It was, and still is, an economic centre. It was founded in 1670 and was subject to periodic attacks from French, Spanish and plenty of Pirates. The heart of the city was fortified in 1704, however most of the walls were removed during the 1720’s.

Through our walk we learned all about a number of Pirates, their role in the history of Charleston, the difference between pirates and privateers, the story behind the pirates being offered pardon’s by the British Colonial Government and lots of other juicy tidbits. We also touched lightly on the slave trade. As a compromise between the North and the South, the sale of slaves on the street was made illegal in the 1850’s. This caused the creation of the Old Slave Mart in 1856, where slave auctions were held until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

slave martWe had a bit of a rush between the end of our Pirate tour and the afternoon tour we had arranged. As we walked to our afternoon stop, we took a quick detour to check out the downtown Charleston Fire Station.

Fort Sumter National Monument (Charleston Harbour)

fort sumter signWe have been working our way up to Fort Sumter National Monument as it is the starting point of the American Civil War between the Union and Confederate. We were all quite excited to spend some time here. Fort Sumter is on a small island in the middle of the Charleston harbour and is only accessible by boat, which leaves from either the Fort Sumter visitor centre or from Patriots Point, which was where we caught the boat.

Fort Sumter has a long and varied past. It was built as part of the coastal defence program that was initiated in the mid-1800’s to protect the United States from potential conflicts with the British, French & Spanish. Charleston was a high priority location due to the deepwater port and economic trade so there were actually 4 defence sites built in the harbour; Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson and Castle Pinckney.

On December 20, 1860 South Carolina voted to secede from the United States of America (click on the link for all the reasons why, they are fascinating). After that vote, the South Carolina Governor (confederates) decided to take all of the National fortifications, including the 4 sites in Charleston Harbour. At this time, the only fort that was actually “in service” Federally was Fort Moultrie, under the leadership of Major Anderson. Following the succession vote, he chose to move his men, under cover of darkness, out to Fort Sumter as he felt it was more defendable. At the time, the last stage of armament for Fort Sumter was not yet completed so, although there were very tall walls and a surrounding of water, there were no mounted cannons.

For the next 2 months, the Confederates demanded that the Union leave Fort Sumter and the Union refused. During that time, the garrison was busy trying to complete the armament of the Fort. When the Confederates finally attacked, only half of the cannons had been mounted and the Major Anderson surrender after 34 hours of battle. The Confederate Army was able to hold Fort Sumter for 4 years before it was taken back by the Union as part of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Although a bit rushed, as you are only able to stay on Fort Sumter for 1 hour, we completed another Junior Ranger badge and the 2nd of our 3 forts towards our Civil War Historian badge.

Patriots Point Museum – It’s a naval candy store!

USS laffey 2Patriots Point Museum is located right in the middle of the Charleston harbour. It comprises the USS Yorktown (Aircraft Carrier), the USS Laffey (Destroyer), the USS Clamagore (Submarine) as well as a Medal of Honour Museum, Vietnam Support Base exhibit and Cold War Memorial. Talk about a full days exploration!

We unfortunately only had 2.5 hours so it was a bit of a speedy tour. Having visited the USS Midway (Aircraft carrier) in San Diego a few times, we decided to start with the boats we’d never explored before – the destroyer and the submarine.

They were both really interesting to walk through. The USS Laffey (Destroyer) was built in 1944, in time to support the D-day landings and decommissioned in 1975 after a very full career. TheUSS  Clamagore (Submarine) was built in 1945 and decommissioned in 1975, having served through the Cold War era.

The biggest learnings were around the submarine – they are really tight spaces (width & height) and people slept where they worked. This meant that if you were a weapons tech, you slept in the weapons room. That’s a little too close for comfort for me. Tim and Hunter thought it was really cool and spent quite a bit of time on the Sub. I’m not a big fan of small, confined spaces so my tour through was fairly quick.

The USS Yorktown is only slightly smaller than the USS Midway in San Diego, was built in 1943 and decommissioned in 1970. It is staffed by an amazing group of volunteers that are happy to tell you all about the ship and answer any and all questions that you have. As we were running short on time, we focused our exploration here on the flight deck. Isn’t that just nirvana – having military airplanes ON a military ship!

the Mighty Eighth Airforce Museum

hunter historic plane 2The Mighty Eighth Airforce Museum is an impressive facility that is chock full of information, from the battles in World War 2 (1940’s)  through to the bombing of Iraq (1996).

From the perspective of one who has now seen many Army, Airforce and Navy museums (who knew I had such an interest…) this one was very well done and had a great mix of artifacts, general information and movies to keep the stories and the experiences moving through time.

We spent over 2 hours here and everyone came away having learned something new. It is just off I-95 on the western side of Savannah, with lots of parking and reasonable rates.