Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spruce Pine North Carolina

We left Cherokee and headed east towards Raleigh-Durham where Bill and Junior have to catch a flight to Alburquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday. We decided to stop at a small town called Spruce Pine to check out a gem mining attraction. Before we left Wisconsin I had purchased two books detailing mountain roads and the grades - one for the West and one for the East. We have used the Western edition quite extensively but for some reason we failed to check the Eastern edition before heading north on Hwy 226 from I-40 here in North Carolina. We.will.not.make.that.mistake.AGAIN. It was a nightmare of hairpin turns and in one spot actually had a 14% grade....that's right FOURTEEN PER CENT.  Needless to say, we will NOT be leaving Spruce Pine the same way. We will have to go west back to catch up with I-40 and add 70 miles or so to our trip but that will be much better than the roller coaster ride we came here on.

Spruce Pine is called "The Mineral City" as gem mining is an important part of the economy and culture of the area. So on Friday we decided to be real tourists and go to one of the multitude of gemstone mining attractions that are in the Spruce Pine area called Gem Mountain. We decided to go to this particular attraction because it had been featured on TLC's show "The Hunt for Amazing Treasures" and we remembered seeing it.

It goes like this. You go inside the flume area where there is a long trench of cold (did I say cold?) stream water. After buying a bucket of gems which range in price from $25 for a 4 gallon bucket of mixed gems all the way to $800 for a huge, huge bucket of pricey stones like emeralds. We opted to share the $25 bucket and proceeded to look for the next Hope Diamond.

I was a bit disappointed that our bucket did not contain any peridot which is my new gem of choice along with diamonds of course. It took an hour to empty our bucket between the two of us. The guy working at the time was nice enough to come and throw a couple of peridots into Bill's sifter so I did come away with a couple!

 As you can see we didn't come away with anything resembling the Hope Diamond but we did get a couple of decent sized amythests, emeralds and rose quartz pieces. When you are done panning you take your bag into the store where the gemologists tell what what is worth keeping and what is not. Of course they also encourage you to have them cut and set your stones in a piece of jewelry. I asked him how much it would cost to take one of the peridots and made it a silver ring. He told me it would be about $45 to cut it and $40 to mount it. Add that to the $25 for the bucket and I probably could have gotten a much better deal on a sale at Kohls! They were also 4 weeks out in getting the jewelry to you. If they are 4 weeks behind now imagine how behind they are when the full summer tourist season hits. All in all it was a good time and a chance to do something different.,_North_Carolina

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Southern Appalachians

We spent Friday and Saturday nights at Old Federal Campground. Our campsite was right on Lake Lanier and Saturday was a gorgeous day. The only problem was that the campground was a Army Corps of Engineer campground so Bill had to hid his beer again as no alcohol is permitted.

We then drove to Cherokee North Carolina, the southern end of Great Smokey Mountain National Park. We had been here last summer while Bill was working in Knoxville but this time we got to spend 4 nights staying at Harrah's Casino parking lot boondocking.'s_Cherokee

Mingus Mill - Smoky Mt National Park

At this time of year the problem with the diseased hemlocks is not so evident as it was last summer mostly because all the deciduous trees do not have their leaves yet.

This time of year there were quite a few small waterfalls along the road that we did not see last year as they probably had dried up by mid summer and this was the spring run off from the snow in the mountains.

We were able to travel the first 50 miles or so of the northbound Blue Ridge Parkway. It was beautiful of course, but we imagine it is much more scenic in the summer and especially in October when all the leaves are changing. It must be so as rates for just about everything are listed as double the price in October. At this time of year the leaves are not on the trees yet so everything looks quite dead.

We stopped at a visitor center at Waterrock Knob and Bill and Junior had to prove they were in shape so they hiked to the summit which is at 6292 feet. Of couse today his lower back hurts so much he can hardly walk. But he made it all the way to the top. Some of the views from his hike are in the following video.

Fast forward to today in Spruce Pine North Carolina and the temperature is heading downward to below freezing tonight....what happened to spring?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Georgia State Aquarium

Today Michelle and I decided to go to the Georgia State Aquarium as we had wanted to do so the first time we were here and had too much work to do. The aquarium is right in downtown Atlanta near the CNN Building and the Olympic Park.

The Aquarium is the largest in the world with 8.5 million gallons of marine and fresh water.  I especially wanted to go as I remember watching a documentary on the arrival of the first whale shark to Atlanta by UPS plane all the way from Taiwan. It is the only location in the world that you can find whale sharks outside of Asia. It is also one of only six aquariums in North America to have the Beluga Whales.

The lionfish that are seen in the video are becoming quite a problem along the Eastern Sea Board as they have invaded waters as far north as New York. They supposedly were let loose during Hurricane Andrew and have been multiplying at a very fast pace as they have no natural predators. The native fish to the region do not know what they are and therefore are easy prey. Scientists are thinking about importing a predator but we all know how well the mongoose helped control non native snakes in the Hawaiian Islands. The lionfish spines can deliver a painful shot of venom to humans, even causing death in those with heart disease or severe allergies.

Finally at the end you will see "Nemo" we all know, Nemo lives in an anemone. During the presentation the attendant said that the anemones eat fish as they basically sting them with their tentacles and then pull them into their mouth. I asked the attendant how in the world "Nemo" could live in an anemone then! She said that the clown fish have a thick slime that does not allow the poisonous tentacles to penetrate the skin. So Hollywood wasn't just making something up for once!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shame on Some Truck Drivers

I have wanted to tackle this subject quite a few times in the last year as we stay at truck stops quite frequently. Now I know this only pertains to a small percentage of truckers, but like anything else in life it only takes a few to give the entire group a bad name. The first thing that I am talking about is truck drivers being total slobs and not knowing how to use a trash can or dumpster! I have never seen so much garbage lying around when not in a Third World country as I have when we stay at truck stops. Drivers throw everything from fast food wrappers to mattresses to you name it. I have seen tires, condoms and even their piss bottles just tossed and not more than 25 feet away is a dumpster. Now don't give me the spiel that the truck stops are for only for truckers as they are for all travelers. And even if that were the case, truckers DO NOT have the right to litter and not face any consequences. It is so bad that many of the truckers I have talked to are embarrassed by it. One trucker from Michigan who we met in the Laredo Flying J (more on that later) said it is mostly the Canadians that do it but boy, watch out when you are in Canada. I don't necessarily believe that but why should you be able to piss outside next to your truck in plain view of everyone? It is not your private bathroom!

Secondly, as I have stated, most of the truck drivers I have met have been really nice people, just doing a job and trying to get some sleep like we do. We have stayed at truck stops all over the country for a year and a half and have never had a problem until we were staying for one night at the Flying J north of Laredo.

We arrived during the afternoon and took a spot near the back corner so Bill and Junior could get some rest as they were goingin that night to paint the Family Dollar parking lot. Michelle and I went across the road to the TA to do the laundry and I actually had a great conversation with three truckers about the goings on in Madison. Bill and Junior left around 8pm and everything was fine until about 10:30pm when I hear someone pounding on the RV door. I get up and see a woman outside so I ask what she wants. She starts screaming at me that I have no right to be where I am parked as I am taking up truck spots and that Flying J was "fixin" to call the police. I told her to let them call and ask if she owns the place. She screams back that I should fuck off and that she told me I had to leave NOW and pounds on the side of the rig. So I get my cell phone, go outside the rig so she can't do anything to it, and call the cops. The entire time I am waiting for the cops to show up she is in a truck next to us with a guy smoking pot, or so I thought. It turned out they were smoking meth. Anyway, the truck driver who is with her comes out from the truck stop and accuses me of spraying Raid, of all things, into his truck and he has a dog. Well, I haven't owned a bottle of Raid since I went green how many years ago and anyone who knows me knows that I wouldn't do anything to hurt a dog.

So when the cop arrives the two of them ran up to him and told their "story". He came over to talk to me and said, and I quote, "If I were here parked to getsome rest and someone came pounding on my door I would tell them to fuck off." I asked him to take down the license plates in case there was vandalism to the rig or truck. I sat in the rig with the back up camera on watching for quite some time.

When Bill got home around midnight we decided to move the rig to the front of the store just in case they would pull something and do damage to the rig or truck. We did NOT move because we felt we shouldn't be there but simply because we can't afford to pay for any damange right now. I went in to the store and reported it to the manager the next morning and she knew right away who I was talking about. Her words were "She's a piece of work" so at least I wasn't the only one harrassed by her. I also told her about the smoking meth in case she wanted to have them booted out.

I was hesitant to stay in another truck stop during this trip back to Atlanta but I had to remind myself that we have been staying in truck stops since we left Wisconsin and there have really been no incidents until now. It would be different if we were on a pleasure trip and had unlimited funds but in reality we are doing the same as the truckers -- working for a living and trying to save a little cash. The truck stops welcome RVers and I think it's time that the truckers realize this. As I stated previously, it definitely is not the majority of truckers with whom there is a problem but a very small majority. All the same, it definitely does not make us feel good about them at all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Falcon State Park - Roma Texas

We have been staying at Falcon State Park since Sunday March 6 as Bill and Jr had to do the Family Dollar in Roma Texas about 16 miles south. We had to get a campsite as there were not many places to boondock as Roma is a small town not too mention the fact that it has been in the high 90s the last few days. Boondocking is best between 50 and 75 degrees as neither the heat nor the air is needed. In fact, although I hate to say it, it is easier to boondock in the cold rather than in the hot. You can always run the furnace a little bit and then add more can't get away from the heat without the A/C.

Yesterday I had to go to through Roma to get to the Walmart in Rio Grande City for my prescriptions. Here is how close you are to Mexico there.

Later that evening by our campsite we had another visitor besides the multitude of birds that winter in the area.

Tomorrow morning we head back east to Decatur Georgia and some cooler temperatures.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Laredo - Are There Any Nice Border Towns?

We arrived in Laredo on Sunday, February 27 as Bill and Junior had to be at work at the Family Dollar at 8pm. The store was on the south side of town so we decided to first stay at the Walmart about a half mile away. We were going to move locations after a day or so but there were no other boondocking areas close by and this Walmart has a special parking area for oversized vehicles and quite a few stayed multiple days so we decided to do so also. 

That was about the only good thing that happened in Laredo. It was 100 degrees on Sunday when we arrived, which is unseasonably warm even for here.  About 2am it cooled down enough to get some sleep! There was quite a bit of work to do in the Laredo area between merchandising and mystery shopping so Michelle and I had two full days of work -- good part. Bad part? People here drive like jerks -- now I know that happens in most larger cities but after driving Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and the greater LA area I can truthfully say that these people probably drive the worst as you have the Mexicans who cross the border daily and speed limits, no passing zones and other such nuisances are just to be ignored! This is also the most Spanish intensive city that we have been within the US borders. It is everywhere and English is a rarity. It is also very, very weird to see someone with blonde hair. The biggest bad part is that people, especially Latina women, are very, very rude here. I feel I have a right to say that and not sound prejudiced as I speak the language and understand the culture. Bumping into me in a store and not bothering to say excuse me, walking double down an aisle and expecting me to be the one to move appears that common courtesy and the words "permiso" or even (heaven forbid!) "excuse me" are just not taught down here. I am not sure if it was that they treat everyone that way or if it was because I am white. I never had this problem in Latin American countries or in Arizona. The Latinas down here must feel they are better than white women or something -- and I really hate to say that but that is the impression that they give off. I have decided to not be the one to move over from now on. I'm going to plant myself and if they bump into me I will loudly say "¡Permiso!" so maybe they get they idea that they are rude as hell. But then again, maybe they won't.

Now on to Laredo's other issues. It is a typical busy, dirty border town. We were talking to a truck driver from Michigan who said that it used to be a nice little town. Well, unfortunately that seems to have changed. It is one of the oldest border crossing cities and the country's largest inland port of entry. There are two places to cross over into Mexico in town. One is north of town and is just for commercial trucks and the other is in the downtown and is for private vehicles and foot traffic. Here are the web cams of some of the international bridges. As you can see it is easier to get into Mexico than it is getting back!,_Texas

It should tell you something that the most famous resident to come out of Laredo is Tom Delay...when he is not sitting in a federal penitentiary somewhere that is. Other than money laundering the biggest crimes that occur in Laredo is smuggling -- of both people and drugs -- with a few homicides here and there.

It appears that the group that controls Nuevo Laredo on the Mexican side are the Zetas and are bloodthirsty ex-special forces hitmen who are at war with their rivals, the Juarez Cartel.  Laredo citizens have disappeared from the US side....we need to act NOW. Yes, we are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq but we sure the hell are at war here too. We need to protect our borders be it by a better fence or more intelligence gathering and show of force. Everybody who knows me should know that I am not saying this out of discrimination nor prejudice as I speak the language and love the culture. The truth of the matter is that we as US citizens CANNOT do what these people are doing every day -- entering another country ILLEGALLY. Do you think for one minute that Mexican customs would be ok with us just entering, not at a checkpoint of course, and staying for however long we liked? And that doesn't include trying to get social services and who knows what else from the government. As far as the drug problem, I don't see an answer as the demand comes from us. If there were no demand there would be no supply. Is legalization the answer? I am not sure but I do know that what we are doing today sure isn't working. Take a look at what we saw today in Roma Texas about 40 miles south along the Rio Grande from Laredo. I am sorry the video isn't better but I was afraid that the cops or the Border Patrol would take my video camera if they saw it.

Today's front page headline for the local newspaper in Zapata said that students are being cautioned to avoid Mexico during spring break. Unfortunately, many will ignore this warning as there is no drinking age in Mexico. Hopefully they all come back alive.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Back 1100 Miles West

After a long but rather uneventful three day drive from Atlanta we finally arrived in Laredo on Sunday, February 27. Another area, 99% of Texas except for the Gulf Coast such as Corpus Christi, Port Aransas and North and South Padre have now been crossed off of "the list". A drive across Texas is definitely a step above a drive across Kansas or Nebraska but not by much! We definitely know that although God may have blessed Texas he sure didn't bless it with exciting scenery nor any place that we would like to stay for any length of time. So far on the list of "we would love to spend a few months here places" is in no particular order:

1. Heber Valley in Utah
2. San Diego (well MY list at least as Bill keeps up about the traffic!)
3. Gulf Coast of Mississippi
4.Gulf Coast of Texas
5.Black Hills of South Dakota

We do have quite a bit of the country to see yet including many coastal areas that I am sure we are going to love, but it is nice to narrow down our choices.When we got here on Sunday it kept getting progressively warmer, or should I say hotter. It turned out to be around 100 degrees that day and it sure made for a miserable night for sleeping seeing as we are boondocking in a Walmart parking lot a mile or so from Bill's store. We would really like to not have to start getting a campsite until at least June like last year in order to hopefully get ahead a bit. Of course, driving 1100 miles for 2 weeks of work and then driving 1100 miles back to the exact spot, Atlanta, does not make for much savings by the time we put gas in the rig. It is quite evident that Prime does not pay any travel expenses as they don't think twice about scheduling something like this. And now with gas being $3.39 a gallon there is not the ability to pay that plus a campground and get caught up...always something.

We stopped the first night in a small town truck stop about an hour north of Biloxi which was our intended target for Wednesday night. We didn't get out of Austell until early afternoon as Bill worked straight through from 8pm until 12pm the next day....the store had major issues. So he had a beer and rode shot gun while I tried to get us back on schedule. We finally had to stop as the deer were out near the highway in full force and I just don't want to deal with hitting one. We made it to Biloxi by late morning on Thursday and were able to visit the casinos while boondocking in the Imperial Palace large vehicle area. We were a little disappointed in the freebies given upon sign up for a players card. The only casinos that gave anything were  the Island View and the Grand so we at least were able to walk out with some free money. Junior got lucky at the Island View and hit "something" on a slot machine and won about $70....we were playing slots instead of video poker as the casino only allowed free play on slots.

We left Biloxi and continued the drive west along the coast instead of heading inland to I-10, spending the night on the Texas-Lousiana border at a truck stop next to a nudie bar....gotta love it. We had to go right through the center of Houston on I-10 to US 59 so we wanted to hit on midday on a Saturday for the least amount of craziness. We probably will not have that luxury when we head back to Atlanta unfortunately. Saturday night we again spent the night in a truck stop, this time a very small one, which left about 100 miles to go to get to Laredo on Sunday.

About 70 miles east of Laredo we went through the town of Freer Texas...notice the small oil well in the left of the picture which was the first one in Texas in 1860.
Inhabitants include 3,240 people as well as the world's largest rattlesnack as you can see here. It is home to the yearly "Official" Rattlesnake Round Up
of Texas in March. What I wonder is how or what makes it "official"?

Next stop, Laredo, which deserves it's own entry for better or for worse....mostly for worse.