Southeast Tour: Christmas in Savannah

Oh what fun it is to ride…ūüé∂


fullsizeoutput_829dSince our grandson’s family would not be with us during this Christmas holiday, Sally proposed a road trip to celebrate her birthday and Christmas with her twin sister Julie in Savannah, Georgia. ¬†When older sister Jo disclosed her intention to also join us in Savannah, the trip plan was locked in.

Deciding to take our camper to make a grand sight-seeing / camping tour, we determined to stop in St Louis to visit friend Doris, re-explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and visit cousin Jackie in Tennessee.  On the return from Savannah, we planned to bask in the sunshine throughout the warm sunny south, touring the Natchez Trace, antebellum mansions in Natchez itself and finally do some camping and hiking on the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas.

Most of our plans came to fruition however, due to unseasonable cold weather bringing snow and ice to portions of our intended route, we had to make some changes and regrettably our shorts and sandals never were unpacked.

Driving across Kansas and stopping in Saint louis, we spent a couple of nights with our friend Doris who lived across the hall from us in Shanghai, China.

Continuing on, we arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as the temperatures began to drop and the clouds rolled in.

Cade’s Cove Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Neither of us had visited the park since we were young people, so we excited to se whether it had changed over the years. ¬†To our great satisfaction, the park was pretty much as we remembered it, except for some welcome updates to visitor’s centers, roads and campground facilities. ¬†The Park service describes the park this way:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The sprawling landscape encompasses lush forests and an abundance of wildflowers that bloom year-round. Streams, rivers and waterfalls appear along hiking routes that include a segment of the Appalachian Trail. An observation tower tops Clingmans Dome, the highest peak, offering scenic views of the mist-covered mountains.

Our first night we camped at Cades Cove, intending to drive the scenic one-way tour in the morning, stop by the visitor’s center, then make a driving tour among the natural and historic attractions of the park. ¬†The second night, after our tour we camped at the pretty Smokemont Campground at the intersection of the Oconaluftee River and the Bradley Fork River.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground-hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible.

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. The first Europeans settled in the cove sometime between 1818 and 1821. By 1830 the population of the area had already swelled to 271. Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park.

Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored eighteenth and nineteenth century structures.

Primitive Baptist Church, established 1827

Dan Lawson Place 1856

John P Cable Mill 1870

In Cades Cove there were few sources of power which the frontiersman knew how to harness. One of those power sources was the water wheel such as drove the early grist mills. Cable Mill is one of those. The Smoky Mountains Natural History Association keeps Cable Mill running in Cades Cove to teach the Smoky Mountain visitor a little about life in the 1800’s. The mill is operated April-October.

A handful of enterprising residents in Cades Cove built water driven mills to grind grain. Their hope was that other Cades Cove families would prefer paying them to grind the grain rather than to struggle with the small inefficient tub mills at home. The tub mills were only capable of processing a bushel of corn each day. The entrepreneurs were correct and ran fine business in Cades Cove as a result.

Cornmeal was the only grain that could be ground in the tub mills and so the waterwheel driven mills that could grind wheat into flour was a welcome addition to the cove. Now biscuits could be eaten some of the time instead of cornbread.

Payment for grinding grain did not always mean money exchanged hands in Cades Cove. Sometimes money was paid but other times the miller was paid a portion of the resulting flour or meal. Besides John Cable, his son and also Frederick Shields operated mills. Cable and Shields took double advantage of their waterwheel by using it to power saw mills as well. Cable was the only person in Cades Cove to use the overshot water wheel. Like most business men in the Cove, Cable was also a farmer. He could be summoned from the fields by a large bell he had on the property for that purpose.

In the history of Cades Cove, the saw mills were important because they changed the way people built houses. Before the saw mills, homes were built of logs. After the saw mills, the homes were built almost exclusively of lumber and frame construction. Also, most owners of the log homes in Cades Cove bought lumber for siding to cover the fact that they were living in old-fashioned cabins. This practice of siding cabins was very common in America. Some people with homes from the 1800’s are rediscovering their homes past.  As they remove siding in order to make repairs the discovery is made that their house is really a cabin with board siding over it. Some choose to restore their house by removing the boards and letting the original cabin show through.


Intending to drive a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit cousin Jackie and end up in Asheville, NC. Much to our disappointment we found the Parkway closed due to recent heavy snowfall.  reluctantly we altered our plan, heading directly for the lovely city of Asheville, North Carolina.

Ashville North Carolina

Asheville is a city in western North Carolina‚Äôs Blue Ridge Mountains. It‚Äôs known for a vibrant arts scene and historic architecture, including the dome-topped Basilica of Saint Lawrence. The vast 19th-century Biltmore estate displays artwork by masters like Renoir. The Downtown Art District is filled with galleries and museums, and in the nearby River Arts District, former factory buildings house artists’ studios.

The Princess Anne Hotel in Asheville

My TripAdvisor Review for the Princess Anne Hotel:

Stopping in Asheville on our way to Savannah for Christmas, we were looking for a special place to celebrate my wife’s birthday.  After perusing TripAdvisor reviews for B&B’s and hotels, The Princess Ann Hotel appeared to be perfect. And it was!

Charming Olivia checked us in and oriented us to Asheville and the hotel‚Äôs fun list of amenities, including wine/hors d’oeuvres during happy hour, dessert wine in the later evening and a tasty and filling breakfast. ¬†Lovely Kelly handled our evening queries, and vivacious, friendly Jenny served our breakfast with a bright smile.
Seldom have we encountered better service, and we have travelled the world over. These young women helped make our stay especially memorable. ¬†The rooms are clean, comfortable and affordable. Service is top notch, and the little ‚Äúextras‚ÄĚ make your stay all the more enjoyable.

Oh, and lest we forget, another highlight included the hotel General Manager, Samantha, appearing as T-Rex (see attached photo) next to the Christmas tree. What fun!  This is not your average B&B! Trust me. Go ahead and book a room and see if it’s not all I suggest!

We used the Princess Anne as our base to explore Asheville’s Art and River districts. ¬†Hiking a mile into the city center we enjoyed perusing the shops and nifty architecture.

Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia

Making the short drive from Asheville to Savannah we arrived at Sally’s twin sister Julie and husband Denny Coulter’s lovely home on a salt marsh on Skidaway Island.

Sunrise view from Julie’s patio

Touring Savannah & Nearby Tybee Island

Savannah, a coastal Georgia city, is separated from South Carolina by the Savannah River. It’s known for manicured parks, horse-drawn carriages and antebellum architecture. Its historic district is filled with cobblestoned squares and parks such as Forsyth Park shaded by oak trees covered with Spanish moss.

River Street is a glittering, multi-faceted gem along the broad Savannah River. The century old buildings, once cotton warehouses, have been converted to antique shops, distinctive boutiques, spectacular galleries, quaint brew pubs, fabulous restaurants, unique nightspots, elegant inns and hotels.

Tybee Island is a barrier island and small city near Savannah, Georgia. It’s known for its wide, sandy beaches, including South Beach, with a pier and pavilion. In the island’s north, Fort Screven has 19th-century concrete gun batteries and the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. The still-functioning 18th-century lighthouse has been rebuilt many times.

The Twins Celebrate their 29th Birthday!

Christmas DayūüéĄ

Sally loves celebrating with her sisters!

Natchez, Mississippi

Alas, all good things must end. ¬†The time was upon us to head back to Colorado by way of Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. ¬†A long day’s drive from Savannah finds us near the Natchez Trace.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a National Parkway in the southeastern United States that commemorates the historic Old Natchez Trace and preserves sections of the original trail.

The gentle sloping and curving alignment of the current route closely follows the original foot passage. Its design harkens back to the way the original interweaving trails aligned as an ancient salt-lick-to-grazing-pasture migratory route of the American bison and other game that moved between grazing the pastures of central and western Mississippi and the salt and other mineral surface deposits of the Cumberland Plateau. The route generally traverses the tops of the low hills and ridges of the watershed divides from northeast to southwest.

Native Americans, following the “traces” of bison and other game, further improved this “walking trail” for foot-borne commerce between major villages located in central Mississippi and middle¬†Tennessee. The route is locally circuitous; however, by traversing this route the¬†bison, and later humans, avoided the endless, energy-taxing climbing and descending of the many hills along the way. Also avoided was the danger to a herd (or groups of human travelers) of being caught en-masse at the bottom of a hollow or valley if attacked by predators. The nature of the route, to this day, affords good all-around visibility for those who travel it. At all times the route is on the high ground of the ridge dividing the watersheds, and affords a view to either see or catch the scent of danger, from a distance great enough to afford time to flee to safety, if necessary.

By the time of European exploration and settlement, the route had become well known and established as the fastest means of communication between the¬†Cumberland Plateau, the¬†Mississippi River, and the¬†Gulf of Mexico¬†settlements of¬†Pensacola,¬†Mobile, and¬†New Orleans. In the early post-American Revolutionary War¬†period of America’s (south) westward expansion, the Trace was the return route for American flat-boat commerce between the territories of the upper and lower¬†Ohio,¬†Tennessee, and¬†Cumberland River¬†valleys. The Americans constructed flat-boats, loaded their commerce therein, and drifted upon those rivers, one-way south-southwestward all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana. They would then sell their goods (including the salvageable logs of the flat-boats), and return home via the Trace (for the middle section of their return trip), to as far away as¬†Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The original Natchez Trace footpath worn down from hundreds of years of foot traffic

Historical sites along the trace include Emerald Mound

Emerald Mound: as it is now from the air, and an artist’s conception of its look when in ceremonial use.

The¬†Emerald Mound Site¬†also known as the¬†Selsertown site,[3]¬†is a¬†Plaquemine culture¬†Mississippian period¬†archaeological sitelocated on the¬†Natchez Trace Parkway¬†near¬†Stanton,¬†Mississippi,¬†United States. The site dates from the period between 1200 and 1730 CE. It is the¬†type site¬†for the¬†Emerald Phase (1500 to 1680 CE)¬†of the Natchez Bluffs Plaquemine culture chronology[4]¬†and was still in use by the later historic¬†Natchez people¬†for their main ceremonial center. The¬†platform mound¬†is the second-largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the country, after¬†Monk’s Mound¬†at¬†Cahokia,¬†Illinois.[1] The mound covers eight acres, measuring 770 feet (230¬†m) by 435 feet (133¬†m) at the base and is 35 feet (11¬†m) in height.¬†¬†Emerald Mound has a flat top with two smaller secondary mounds at each end. It was constructed around a natural hill. Travelers in the early 19th century noted a number of adjoining mounds and an encircling ditch that are no longer present.This site once had six other secondary mounds which were lost due to the plowing of the surface of the mound.¬†Emerald Mound was stabilized by the¬†National Park Service¬†in 1955.

Natchez’s Antebellum Mansions

Natchez is a city in Mississippi. Set on the Mississippi River, it’s known for antebellum mansions like the unfinished, octagonal Longwood, and the Melrose estate, part of the Natchez National Historical Park.

Perusing Architectural Digest, I found an article entitled “9 Grand Antebellum Homes Rich in History and Stunning Southern Design” (click the link to be taken to the article). ¬†Four of the featured homes are located in Natchez. ¬†Sally and I decided to view one (Melrose) and to tour two others (Longwood and Rosalie Mansion).

Longwood Plantation

Longwood Plantation designed by Samuel Sloan

Natchez’s Longwood plantation is interesting for not only its distinctive octagonal design and Byzantine-style dome, but also for its history. The upper floors were never finished, and just nine rooms, all belowground, were completed out of the 32 planned by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan.

The atrium brings light and natural air conditioning to the entire builing
26 fireplaces in each corner of every floor would have heated the planned 32 rooms in winter

 Rosalie Mansion

Rosalie mansion 1

Completed in 1823,¬†Rosalie Mansion¬†features a Greek Revival‚Äďstyle center hall, columned exterior, and front portico, becoming a template for the architecture of many other Southern plantations. Situated on the bluffs in Natchez, the home is a prominent landmark as you drive into downtown.

Our lovely, knowledgable tour guide.


The historical churches and mansions along our route, provided occasions for graveyard touring and photography.  Attached are a few of my favorite photos.



Ozark Mountains Arkansas

Intending to spend a few days camping and hiking in the Ozarks, we found temperatures that were below 20 degrees at night and barely at freezing during the day.  Unfortunately, David contracted an awful cold, making hiking a bit of a chore.  Waking our first morning to 10 degree foggy weather and a coating of ice on the truck and roads, we determined to make a dash back to Fort Collins.  Reaching home after a fifteen hour drive, we unloaded, ate dinner and were in bed before midnight.

Arkansas has wonderful state campgrounds
Sick boy, icy roads, “white knuckle” driving

We had a wonderful trip, if a bit chilly, and refreshed our appreciation of southern charm and hospitality.

Author: David Willett

Worked at Agilent Technologies and Hewlett-Packard, attended University of Washington and Michigan State University, lived in the Netherlands, the Peoples Republic of China and the United States, visited 36 countries, 11 of 13 Canadian Provinces and all 50 U.S. states, living in Fort Collins, CO, USA

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